Life In My Kitchen

Spaghetti Dinner at the Cains
One of my favorite pictures! Spaghetti and Roast Chicken at the Cains.

“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.”
Julia Child

They say the heart of the home is the kitchen and I cannot help but agree. It is at my house for sure. We do everything in our kitchen and over the years, we have the best memories that one could ever hope for.

First I have to tell you that Jim’s mom graciously sold us her house when she remarried. That was thirty years ago this week. What a blessing. I doubt we would have been able to afford much at the time and my mother in law made it happen. Thanks Mom. 🙂

From the birth of our son John (Michelene was already born by this time) to the acquisition of cats, dogs, fish, hamsters, cockatiels, you name it, our kitchen has witnessed the evolution of our family. But besides pets and friends, what is really noteworthy is the volume of food that has been consumed over the years from our kitchen table.

Hundreds of pounds of Greek food- spanakopita, baklava, fish plaki, roast lamb- have graced the table. Tons of pasta, interesting soups, Thanksgiving turkeys, Jim’s famous flank steak, amazing chicken egg omelets, bacon, mounds of salads with Michelene’s heirloom tomatoes have all been a part of our food landscape.

Thanksgiving 2015
Thanksgiving 2015

If the walls could talk they would tell the tale of the recipes, good and not so good, and certainly the triumph of success with feeding the entire Cain family on Christmas Eve. Everyone pitches in and the noise, bedlam, fun, and gaiety is simply exquisite. This Christmas there was spiral ham, potato salad, amazing cheeses, little hotdogs in crescent rolls, shrimp cocktail, potatoes, green beans, cranberry orange relish, and my son’s smoked brisket. Oh my.

Jim and his siblings hamming it up! From Left, Chuck, Tom, Katie, and Jim.
Jim and his siblings hamming it up! From Left, Chuck, Tom, Katie, and Jim.

At other times, our kitchen table is the forum for discussions, problem solving, joke sharing, and hilarity over steaming plates of fish plaki and mashed potatoes. Afterwards, during cups of coffee and whatever sweets are in the house- usually something chocolate!- we finish the conversations and clean up the dishes.

I don’t have a fancy kitchen but it is well worn, tried, and true. It has everything I need including a gas oven and two refrigerators- one of which is at least twenty years old and one fairly brand new. It was my intention to take the old fridge downstairs and use it as a backup, but that has never happened. It doesn’t matter now. It’s so darn convenient to have two fridges during holiday entertaining and summer garden harvests. I really like having them both.

About seven or eight years ago, we decided to expand the kitchen and add on a real dining room. Our cousin Clint broke through the wall (a momentous occasion) and added on a spacious extra room. I have a large wooden table with two inserts that I absolutely love and we made the addition big enough to accommodate the table when both leaves are in it. Now we have a small kitchen table and the larger dining room table, perfect for when we have all those family gatherings.

My sister Cally and her husband Raymond in the new dining wing
My sister Cally and her husband Raymond in the new dining wing

My grandson is at our house every day after school and his mother (my daughter Michelene) comes about an hour later after work. It is not unusual for us to eat dinner together four nights a week; true sit down dinners with plates, silverware, warm meals, and dinner conversation. When I tell people this they almost always say “wow” but to us it feels entirely normal.

I’m going to share my fish plaki (meaning braised or baked fish with vegetables) recipe as this is one of our evening favorites. It’s very simple and when served with mashed potatoes or rice, it’s a definite winner. Believe it or not, I made this last night to test the recipe and I forgot to take a picture!! I promise you’ll love it.

Joanne’s Fish Plaki

4-6 Tilapia Loins (thawed & patted dry), or other meaty white fish

1 large sweet onion

4-5 Carrots

16 oz diced tomatoes, (canned, organic, whatever you have in your cupboard)

6 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

6 tablespoons of butter

Salt and Pepper

1 Lemon

Hot Mashed potatoes or cooked rice to serve on the side

Peel and slice carrots into small medallions. Microwave 3-4 minutes covered or steam in a double boiler until just barely tender. Set aside.

Cut the sweet onion into medium slivers and lightly saute in a large skillet in 4 TBS of the olive oil and 3 TBS of butter over medium heat. Lightly salt and pepper them. Cook until barely soft but do not brown. Turn heat down to medium/low.

Spread the sauteed onions out flat and lay the tilapia loins on top of the onions. Lay small slices of the remaining butter on each of the tilapia loins (more or less to taste!). Salt and pepper the loins and drizzle with remaining olive oil. Pour the diced tomatoes over the tilapia, coating them as much as possible.

Cover the pan and simmer on medium to low for approximately 20 minutes. If you need to, flip the loins mid way through the cooking time to evenly cook them. When they are almost done, add the carrots on top of the whole tomatoes. Salt and pepper everything, cover and simmer for another five minutes.

Check your fish loins at this time by breaking one of them in the center. Cook more or less to taste. (I don’t like my tilapia over done)

To serve: Present fish with mashed potatoes or rice and spoon the tomatoes and carrots over top of everything. Splash alittle lemon juice over all or serve a lemon slice with the plate.

*Notes: This is a pretty healthy recipe. (well, minus the butter!) If you want more flavorful fish, lightly brown the loins in butter and/or olive oil before placing them atop of the onions (then adjust your cooking time as well). You can also add cooked green beans or peas at the end, really any kind of vegetable that would go well with the tomatoes.

Happy Eating!

Join me on my graceful journey.
1015

Everything is Bigger at Christmas

Aaron Burden

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is only one week away. I have been busy but not SO busy that I forget the reason for the season. There are many wonderful sights and sounds during the holidays and it is easy to get caught up in it all- the quest for the perfect presents, home holiday decor, cookie recipes, you name it.

I went shopping with a friend the other day and in every store we went into, the gift ideas were overwhelming. It was all about the red and green and white and lovely and sparkly. It was clothes, jewelry, perfume, gift wrap, slippers, purses….I could go on and on. It was hard to reign myself in but I did stick to my budget pretty well. It was a tough challenge.

Heidi Sandstrom

So many things are bigger at Christmas. I wanted to take a few minutes to share what I think is the better of the bigger. I hope you share your favorite thing(s) with me in either the comment section or on my Facebook page.

  1. The trees are bigger. I love big trees and I was lucky enough to see The Nutcracker at the Benedum Center this year. The concert hall is beautiful enough to begin with but add a tree, big red ribbons, and musicians and it gets downright gorgeous. I basked in the light of the tree and then in the amazing ballet. I took my mom with me and I’m sure this will be a memory for years to come.
  2. Our hearts are bigger. This is the biggest giving season of all. Don’t forget to write a check to your church or favorite charity. If it’s not in your budget, do some acts of loving kindness. Donate the stuff you no longer wear to the nearest shelter, serve dinner at the soup kitchen, help a neighbor by shoveling his/her driveway.
  3. Expectations are bigger. This is the one thing I try to keep in perspective. It gets easier as I get older. Material things do not hold that much meaning for me any longer. I temper my expectations to allow that everyone is busy, overwhelmed, and tired. I make the effort to love everyone for who they are and not what I think they should be. I keep the focus on love and the reason for the season and I’m a much happier person.
  4. Appetites are bigger. There’s so many good parties with sweets and food. It’s such a temptation. I read those “How to Eat Less at your Office Party” articles but the fact is, I don’t feel good when I overeat. I don’t want to get carried away so I do my best to temper my intake. I save my appetite for those things that I truly want and that’s my splurge. Let’s hope I can keep this attitude. 😉
  5. We miss our departed loved ones bigger. I miss my dad, grandparents, church friends, good friends who I’ve lost. I light my prayer candle almost every day and remember them often. I cannot bring them back but I know they would want me to keep going, keep loving, and keep them in my heart. That’s what I try and do.

I wrote a post for the Orthodox Christian Network this week and it’s up. Click HERE for the link. I wrote about St. Nicholas and I talked about my grandfather (who was named Nicholas) and it brought back so many memories of him. I can see him in his backyard walking or tending his huge gardenia plant in the sunroom. I can hear him chuckling over his favorite tv shows and I can feel the warmth of his hugs. I read my post to my mom and she loved it. We were in heaven over the picture of her parents. I’m almost certain that photo was taken the night before or the day of my wedding. What a wonderful ordinary into extraordinary moment this was for both me and my mom.

Keep your heart in the right place and this Christmas will be a good one. This post dedicated to Alex – May your memory be eternal. 

Heinz Hall- Even the chandelier is gorgeous!
Heinz Hall chandelier- You are the Light of the World
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1015

Sebastian the Rescue Pup

Snow much fun!
Snow much fun!

Thank you to my daughter Michelene who wrote this beautiful post about her rescue dog Sebastian. Enjoy this heart warming story! xo Joanne

“Life is a Series of Dogs” ~ George Carlin

We had moved into our lovely house in the country with almost twelve acres and rescued a Great Dane named Molly. She was growing up quickly and required a lot of love and attention. After much thought, planning, and financial checking we decided that we wanted to adopt another dog. Our pet needed a pet- someone to run around and do dog stuff with.

We looked for weeks and met plenty of wonderful dogs of all breeds and ages. Some rescue organizations were easier to contact than others and a few private rescue groups never returned our calls or emails. One hot summer day a darling young pup showed up on petfinder.com. He had the cutest face and a slightly tilted head that spoke to his intelligent and inquisitive nature. The rescue group said he had a great personality but he had been adopted and brought back to the shelter three times because he was simply too rambunctious for his previous owners.

Molly was more than happy to tote along on the two hour car ride to meet Sebastian. She rode most of the way with her beautiful face out the window basking in the waves and stares from the other cars. We took Molly to a park down the street to get away from the barking and frantic atmosphere of the rescue kennel and one of the staff members brought Sebastian down to meet Molly. From the moment Sebastian laid eyes on Molly standing under the pavilion in the lush green park- he was in love. Molly was having none of his affections though and gruffly told Sebastian that she was a lady and his rude behavior was not going to be tolerated. There was no aggression in either dog so we asked the rescue group if we could give it a try. They checked our references and said they would be thrilled for us to adopt Sebastian and any other dog we wanted. We were humbled and made arrangements to bring Sebastian to his new home.

Molly and Sebastian
Sebastian (L) and Molly (R)

I left the windows cracked the whole drive home. I wasn’t sure if Sebastian liked car rides, got car sick, or if he would have any other surprises for me. It’s always best to err on the side of caution when dealing with a new animal and I wasn’t about to let him take a flying leap out of the car on the Turnpike. To my surprise, he simply sat in the back seat and gazed at me. It wasn’t intimidating or worrying. He just seemed to be curious about me and my intentions (or maybe he was judging my driving). 🙂

Back home Sebastian fit right in. His favorite place to sleep was downstairs in the doggy kennel portion of the basement with a couch and chair. We figured he liked the quiet after the craziness of the shelter environment which is brimming with anxiety and energy.  He was not into wagging his tail or getting excited over much of anything. We were careful to put him through his paces (checking for food and toy aggression) and give him plenty of exercise in our back yard with an acre of fenced in land. Sebastian loves to play fetch with balls and Frisbees and anything that bounces and scampers across the yard. I’ve shared most of my life with dogs but never had one that played fetch. I was beyond thrilled!

Gavin and Sebastian
Gavin and Sebastian

Sebastian did have some quirks. I don’t think he had ever seen a sweeper, Swiffer, pots, pans, and many other household items. One night he woke me up in the middle of the night barking at the giant canning pot in the kitchen. He was not sure what it was but he was sure it didn’t belong there! Obviously it was a potential threat worthy of waking me up to check out. He also had some skittish behaviors that led us to believe he’d been abused at some point. Molly loves to grab water droplets from the air when Gavin washes his hands and flicks the remaining water drops at Molly. Sebastian cowered from the water drops and any other gesture that he was not familiar with.

Sebastian's Swiffer Face
Sebastian’s Swiffer Face

After about a month of having Sebastian in the house I felt comfortable enough with our trust level to try something new. We were standing in the sun soaked kitchen one beautiful afternoon and I reached down and hugged him lightly with both arms. That was the first time I saw him wag his tail. We had been giving him plenty of space and just thought he wasn’t a particularly snuggly or affectionate dog (we were fine with that). I think he was waiting for us to take him back to the shelter like his previous families had done. This guy was ours and he wasn’t going anywhere! I wish I had a picture of the first time he laid on the couch with us. At first he wasn’t sure what to think about the potentially precarious situation. After about two minutes he was comfortable and snoring so loudly I had to turn the TV volume up to hear it.

On the Couch with Michelene

Time for Snuggling
Time for Snuggling

Sebastian and Molly sometimes get into trouble but they prefer hiking around the many trails and chasing wildlife through the yard. Furniture destruction is only a backup plan for when there hasn’t been enough excitement and mystery in their lives. You never know what could be inside of a couch cushion until you look, right?

Doggies and their Stuffing
Doggies and their Stuffing

Today we’re grateful that Sebastian has been in our lives for well over a year and is such a wonderful addition to our family. He plays well with people and dogs alike. He and Molly are like siblings with the appropriate amounts of love, playfulness, with a sprinkle of trouble and getting on each other’s nerves from time to time. The shelter dog who had four families took as much of a chance on us as we did on him and we all lived happily ever after.

Gavin, Sebastian and the Tractor
Gavin, Sebastian and the Tractor
Doggies watching Doggies
Doggies watching Doggies
Lots of Hiking Space at Michelene's
Lots of Hiking Space at Michelene’s
We Love Each Other!
We Love Each Other!
Happy Endings
Happy Endings

If you are considering adding to your family, please consider a rescue.

Please post your furry family members on our Facebook link or feel free to leave a comment below about your favorite pet!

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1015

Halloween Traditions

Gavin and his Pumpkin
Gavin and his Pumpkin

“Tis the night—the night
Of the grave’s delight,
And the warlocks are at their play;
Ye think that without,
The wild winds shout,
But no, it is they—it is they!”
Arthur Cleveland Coxe, Halloween: A Romaunt

Are you ready for Halloween? Chances are, you have plans this evening. You may have a party to go to or maybe you’ve already been to one? Maybe you’ve carved a pumpkin and roasted the seeds? 🙂

This past Thursday, we did what we have done for years. We made our way to my mother’s house for our traditional Halloween dinner. There were seven of us this year for her famous pastichio and salad. Jim and I, Michelene and her boyfriend John, Aunt Joy and Gavin- all at grandma’s house.

This has been a tradition of ours for at least thirty years. Since we live at the end of a short lane, I took my own children, and then my grandson to my mom’s. She still lives in the neighborhood I grew up in with lots of houses and even some of the same neighbors. I felt very safe taking my kids trick or treating there for years. When Gavin was born, we did the same thing with him.

Mom makes us dinner (she’s 86 now) and afterwards we hand out candy. I thought about taking some pictures of the kids for this story but I worry about their privacy. So you will have to be happy with this one picture I found from the past. It’s Michelene and her cousins. She loved to dress up as a black cat.

Michelene, Jerra, and Daniel
Michelene, Jerra, and Daniel

One tradition Michelene had with her son Gavin was the yearly carving of a pumpkin. Every year it was a different carving and over time she came up with some pretty good ones. Gavin is now fourteen years old. It’s hard to believe time has gone by so fast.

Gavin loved to carve pumpkins!
Gavin loved to carve pumpkins!

For years we also went to Hozak’s Farm at least one Saturday in October. We would pick out a pumpkin, enjoy hot apple cider, and look at all the Halloween decorations. It’s a great farm with hay rides and beautiful scenery.

Michelene, her friend Joyce, and John
Michelene, her friend Joyce, and John

I’d love to know what you do for Halloween. If you have a yearly tradition be sure and leave a comment below. If you follow this blog via Facebook, attach a picture of your carved pumpkin or your favorite trick or treater onto the post. Happy Halloween!

 

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1015

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.

Jim, I love you so.
One terrific partner.

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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1015

Love and Prosciutto

Joe and I in da' cooler
Joe and I in da’ cooler

God is in the details. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Talk about coincidences. Jim meets a wonderful man last year. It was Joe (above), and Jim fondly nicknames him “Prosciutto Joe.” They click. Joe invites Jim over, Jim buys a prosciutto. (so far, I’ve not met Joe)

In a separate state of affairs, I’m taking a water movement class at the YMCA. I overhear the ladies talking about the recent death of a butcher who was in the class. His name was Joe. He makes prosciutto. I tell Jim. Could it be the same man? We wonder. We think Joe is no longer on this earth. This makes us very sad.

But wait! Joe turns out to be alive and well. AND definitely IN MY SWIM CLASS. Joe and I have a good laugh over the coincidence. In his gorgeous Italian/English way of speaking, he says, “Next time Jim comes over, you come.”

So last Saturday, we came, we ate, and we left with prosciutto. Joe only makes so many and most of them are taken. I think someone else is probably getting one less prosciutto because of my husband.

The first thing we did when we arrived at Joe’s was eat. We were invited to the dining room table where his daughter Lidia made us fresh cappuccinos to go with our slices of homemade apple pie. Then Joe’s wife Ida presented us with little handheld pies, made with a filling of ground chickpeas, cocoa powder, and of course, Jim’s honey. Amazing.

When I was at that dining room table, I felt like family. We told stories, heard about Ida’s recent miracle, and talked about everything under the sun. Joe took a small break to attend to matters outside but when he returned, into the cellar we went.

The basement reminded me of my grandmother’s house. There was a washer, dryer, a stove, sink, and a table and chairs. Ida showed me her summer herbs, drying on a rack in her gas oven. It’s the old style, with a pilot light!

Sweet Ida and her Herbs, Parsley, Rosemary, and Basil.
Sweet Ida and her Herbs: Parsley, Rosemary, and Basil.

Next, Joe, JIm, and I went into the cooler so JIm could pick his prosciutto. Jim looks around a bit (they are everywhere) and picks THE ONE. Joe says, “Looks like a good one Jim!”. While Ida and I talk (and she gives me a jar of her homemade grape jelly) I hear Jim and Joe talk about salt. Joe tells me it’s all about the salt. I believe him.

I hope this isn't a secret. ;)
I hope this isn’t a secret. 😉

Then Joe and Jim cut a hunk off of the prosciutto, slice it paper thin, and we all taste. And moan. It is so good. So awesome. I can hardly believe I’m witness to this whole morning.

I know from experience that God is truly in the details. The salt, the herbs, the apples in the pie, the foam on the cappuccino, the amazing prosciutto. The deep down warmth of this family is just beautiful. I promised Joe that I would wrap some of his paper thin prosciutto around melon slices for my son’s upcoming baby shower. Joe, it would be my pleasure.

I love these stamps. Joe is a butcher, after all.
I love these stamps. Joe is a butcher, after all.
Jim and Joe and the prize Prosciutto
Jim and Joe and the prize Prosciutto

PS. The barn wedding I did a month ago? Joe is the bride’s great uncle. I saw him at the wedding!

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1015

The Quest for Perfection

More Webs

“Who are you to judge the life I live?
I know I’m not perfect
-and I don’t live to be-
but before you start pointing fingers…
make sure you hands are clean!”
Bob Marley

I have been thinking alot about perfection lately. What I have been thinking about it would probably surprise you. At this ripe age of 57, I am relieved to find that I have very little interest anymore in being a perfectionist.

Why? Perfection is usually unachievable and based on perception. What I may think is perfect, you may not. And what you may think is perfect, I may not. To the degree that we differ, what lies in that gray area? (probably a big difference of opinion)

I will tell you this. I believe that only what is created by nature and the universe is rooted in perfection. When I look at the magnificent sky every day, a honeybee on my basil plant, the face of a new born baby, I know this is perfection. The sun, moon, and stars are perfection. The dew on the morning grass is too.

So what does this awareness do for me? It releases me from the quest of having to do things over and over, ad nauseam. It also gives me the permission to apologize- which I do fairly frequently- without guilt. After all, I am not perfect.

What this isn’t is an excuse. It is not a reason to not try harder; I must be alittle more diligent about my health, attentive to my family, and nicer and kinder to wait staff at restaurants. If I am to be a spiritual being living a human life, I need to not forget that all living creatures are deserving of unconditional love and respect.

Two people passed away that I knew in the last week. Yes, it was sad. I went to the funeral of Margaret (yiayia Teta) this past Monday. There was something at the luncheon afterwards that blew me away. Yiayia had nine grandsons. Seven of them were there. Before we all ate, they stood in a line and said their favorite yiayia memories. It was unforgettable.

I couldn't help taking this picture. Gorgeous- all of them.
I couldn’t help taking this picture. Gorgeous- all of them.

These were truly kleenex moments. What I loved best was each one of them said that yiayia told him he was her favorite. I need to remember that. It is priceless.

At the funeral before the luncheon, I actually listened to the words of the priest. He did most of the service in English and I don’t remember hearing SO much of it ever before. He said basically, you can’t take it with you. Wow, you really can’t.

I was reminded (again) this week how fleeting life is. It is over in the blink of an eye. Why waste another moment on the relentless pursuit of perfection, unless it’s the God created variety? My friend Shelly gave me a little plaque once that said “Good Enough is Really Good Enough.” It was the (haha!) perfect gift. I got it out the other day and set it on my dresser. It’s a good time to be reminded of it.

“I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.”
Michael J. Fox

 Don’t forget to check out my sharings on the Orthodox Christian Network.

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1015

Today’s the Day!

Danina and Preston, Electric Lime Photography
Danina and Preston, Electric Lime Photography

Today’s the day, we’ll say “I Do” and we’ll never be lonely any more. Chapel of Love

My sister Mary was a huge Bette Midler fan when we were all growing up. I can still hear us singing the lyrics to “Chapel of Love” when Bette made this song famous once again in 1972.

It is this song that has been ringing in my ears for the last several days. One of my favorite people in the world is getting married today. It is Danina, above, who is marrying her sweetheart Preston. I’m not going to say too much about them, well, because I want to keep the good vibes going. And because I may get emotional, start to cry, and not be able to finish this post. 🙂

So I’m going to talk about my favorite moments at a wedding. Those moments that I truly adore, I wait for, and I believe are gifts from God. I can’t believe when I get to be part of another wonderful wedding day. I am truly blessed.

Here we go:

  1. The moment I see the bride in her wedding dress. Usually her mom and bridesmaids are there with her when she puts it on. The bride may step into her dress or decide to put it on over top of her head. If this happens, sometimes there is a ton of net to navigate and the giggling starts. When the mother sees her daughter in THE DRESS, this is when we all shed a few tears.
  2. When we (the bridesmaids + bride) begin the walk to the where we will meet the groom. This walk is hugely poignant. It is a symbol of “I am ready. I want to be with this person forever.” We walk slowly and usually someone is holding the bride’s train. She is holding her bouquet. It is really showtime.
  3. After the ceremony, when the bride and groom walk up the aisle as a wedded couple. I am usually the first person to congratulate them! This is not the moment to tell them what to do next. I squeeze, hug, and kiss them and say “Congratulations!”. This is important. They are important. This is probably my absolutely favorite thing.
  4. Their first dance. I love this part. I will always stop what I am doing and watch. And take pictures. Usually you can see everyone holding their breath. It’s magical.
  5. When I kiss everyone goodbye at the end of the night. Usually by this point everyone is tired but happy. The night has gone grandly, its been beautiful, and they will remember it forever. We have become almost family. I practically feel like family. And I will remember them all for a long, long time.

So there you have it. My favorite moments. Do me a favor today and send Danina and Preston your best wishes for a happy life together. They are a beautiful couple.

Electric Lime Studios
Electric Lime Studios
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1015

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.

 

Join me on my graceful journey.
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Going to Carolina

My sister Cally and her husband, Raymond
My sister Cally and her husband, Raymond

In my mind I’m going to Carolina. Can’t you see the sunshine, can’t you just feel the moonshine? James Taylor, from Going to Carolina In My Mind

It’s been a melancholy week. My youngest sister Cally, who has been here in the Pittsburgh area practically all her life, has decided to accept a position in Brevard, North Carolina. She is the new Director of Marketing and Communications at the Brevard Music Center.

Here’s what the website says about this beautiful place:

Brevard Music Center is, at once, a place, a summer institute, and a festival.

The Music Center is situated on a wooded 180-acre campus in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. Founded in 1936, the Music Center has matured into one of this country’s premier summer training programs and festivals. More than 400 gifted students, ages 14 through post-college, come to the Music Center to study with members of a distinguished artist faculty and with renowned guest artists. For seven weeks, students participate in a vigorous program of instruction that includes ensembles, private lessons, and chamber music.

I am alternately so excited and sad to see her and Raymond go. We will see them in a few months I’m sure, after the music festival but until then, we will skype, talk and text. Thanks goodness for technology.

Years ago, Cally was the first and only person who took me to see James Taylor live. It was a beautiful concert downtown and he performed with The Dixie Chicks. It was amazing. The cherry on top was that, through a mutual friend, we found out James was staying at the Renaissance Hotel. We went for a drink before the show and Cally got to say hello and meet James!

I will never forget that she took me to this concert. In honor of Cally’s departure, I wanted to share this video.

Cally and Raymond, I wish you the best in your new home and success in all your endeavors. See you soon!

xo Joanne

Join me on my graceful journey.
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