The Last Little Bits of Summer

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“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”
William Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Here we are, the end of August and summer is winding to a close. Where has the time gone? I remember writing my late spring blog post, eagerly awaiting summer’s full glory, anticipating the slow, warm days I was so looking forward to.

As I look back, it has been an amazing summer. Beauty has abounded in my area, despite weird weather like too hot, too cool, too much rain. But somehow through it all, I managed a slight tan, many back yard campfires and lots of juicy peaches.

IMG_2510My cousin Christina came from New York with her daughter Ariel and we had two glorious weeks that included trips to the local farmer’s market and our favorite, the Fiestaware outlet. We couldn’t get enough of Chris’ guacamole and made it no less than four times while she was here! There were lots of salads, grilled vegetables and fresh tomatoes from our garden to enjoy. I’ll never forget her glorious lentils, bean soup and our endless cups of coffee in the back yard, as we caught sightings of the local mama deer and her two baby fawns at play.

I went to Chicago for a wedding, my only real getaway, and what a real pleasure that was. Riding along with my aunt and uncle (my mother’s only brother), I hung out with their teenage grandchildren and never knew how really cool they were. The Chicago cousins were so hospitable I feel like sneaking back there for a visit all my own. (Get ready Deb!)

Through all of this, I felt the faith, the presence of grace all the time. If I momentarily forgot it, I remembered it in the sight of the baby hawk flying over my house, the random phone call from a friend, and the early morning sunrise. I realized the preciousness of time, the ability to take this time to rest, rejuvenate and get ready for whatever will be ahead.

School is beginning next week for my grandson. He is going to the seventh grade (wow, where has THAT time gone?) and Labor Day is just around the corner. I’m looking forward to promoting my new business, looking for still more partners and always searching out great event ideas.

I saw a few red leaves on the ground lately and I know fall is just around the corner. Enjoy these last few summer days with a sentimental heart!

DSC_0090Thanks to Christina for all these beautiful pictures!

How was your summer? Are you looking forward to fall?

Join me on my graceful journey.
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An Attitude of Gratitude

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If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. Meister Eckhart

I went to a wedding not so long ago and when the thank you note for the gift arrived, it was a picture of the bride and groom holding a sign that said “thank you.” It was nice but there was no personalization, no signature, just the picture. My heart sank a bit as I thought this was yet another symptom of our too busy lives. Were thank you notes becoming a thing of the past?

So it gave my heart a lift when my husband shared this story with me recently. He said, “There are days when it is terrible to be a nurse in the ER. We see some of the same people over and over again, who do nothing different for their own conditions, and yet they expect us to fix it immediately. I get tired and worn out and wonder for what purpose I am here.”

On one particular day Jim headed back to his station and there was a clasp envelope laying on his desk. When he opened it, there were three thank you notes inside. They were from the children of a woman he worked with; they had all come to Jim’s Honey Party and had participated in spinning the combs and witnessing the delicious, sticky honey that had come from that experience.

The notes expressed gratitude and warmed my husband’s heart. He told me, “It was a great moment to realize that I had made a difference in someone’s life.” I am guessing those little notes restored Jim’s faith in himself and the reason he is here on earth.

I have several boxes of pretty thank you cards and I try and remember to thank people who have given me a gift. But I also try and send a thank you for no reason other than to acknowledge someone else’s loving act of kindness. Recently, my aunt and uncle took me to Chicago for a wedding. They came to my doorstep and picked me up. We spent the entire, wonderful weekend together. Afterwards I wrote them a thank you note because not only did I have an amazing time, but I got to know their teen grandchildren a whole lot better and realized what totally beautiful kids they are.

A few years ago when I was beginning my spiritual journey, I decided to keep a gratitude journal. I wrote a few things down each night I was grateful for. It could be something that happened that day, or a quality I had come to recognize in myself or others. After pages and pages of gratitude, a shift in my thinking occurred. I realized the gift of every day life.

I save most all of the thank you notes I receive. There is a shoe box in my closet where I have amassed a collection of notes I’ve received over the years. There are hallmark cards, handwritten notes, some large and some small, but that box serves a purpose. Whenever I am feeling down, I reach for it. I pull out the cards and read them one by one. By the time I am done, my faith in myself is restored.

*The thank you note on the window sill says, “Thank you for giving my shoes back. I liked playing with Jake. A bee is flying.” (sweet!)

Have you ever received a thank you note that you just never forgot? Tell me about it!

Join me on my graceful journey.
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The Right Place, The Right Time

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There is no right time and right place for love… it can happen any time.

Shahrukh Khan

This week we had some serious storms. Rain, thunder, lightning all made their presence known here in Western Pennsylvania. For the first time ever, my family and I went down to the basement because of a tornado warning.

Thankfully, nothing happened. Just a heavy rain, so much rain in fact that it seems the grass and garden grew inches before our very eyes.

The day after the storm, our already fragile old apple tree gave way and a large branch split off. Already filled with young green apples, it was a sight of tangled twigs and green leaves. Jim and Gavin have begun the slow task of making fire logs and cleaning up the mess.

This morning as I was taking my trusty labrador Jordan out to the field, I caught sight of a baby fawn among those apple tree branches. She or he was just a few yards away from me. I hooked Jordan up to her run and walked slowly down to the felled tree.

The fawn perked its head up and looked at me. She still had her baby white spots. She was absolutely, perfectly beautiful.

I went back in the house and grabbed my coffee cup. I set up a chair in my yard and watched a deer family of four in the amazing morning light, prancing about and eating in my neighbor’s yard across the lane from our house, across from my apple tree. The baby fawn was among the family.

As I sat there sipping coffee and watching the deer family, I reflected. I thought about some key moments I had this week.

First, I spent an amazing couple of hours on the phone with a west coast blogger I have friended simply through my own blog. She is Sunday’s Child and if you click HERE, you will have a chance to read what she wrote about our phone conversation. It was so much fun! We talked about many things- writing, blogging, food, chickens- and just imagine, all through meeting in the magic of the internet. I feel like I have a new friend to add to my circle of old and dear friends, and I am blessed with her friendship beyond my own imaginable dreams.

Then, my good friend Cathy came over for a blog lesson. Yes another blogger has been born! As soon as she gets her first post up, I’ll share it with you. While she was here, I have to tell you about something awesome she shared with me.

20130708_161813When we were walking out to her car, as she was leaving, a baby hawk that has been flying around and screeching all week made its appearance just for Cathy. This baby loves to perch on a very tall pine tree behind our house. Cathy and I looked up and squinted our eyes in the afternoon sun just to catch a glimpse of baby hawk. I told her I think there are two of them, born recently and they are screeching to either mark their territory or they are calling their mama for lunch!

Cathy told me it is a very powerful spiritual sign to have hawks in your area. (Here’s what I said to this– Really??) So I looked it up on the internet and found she is right, yes, that many believe hawks to be a sign of power and vision. Check out the website I found HERE that gives more information about hawk totems.

Then, last night I was again among friends and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I can get choked up just thinking about it but suffice to say, someone needed a shoulder of caring and God put me in a bathroom at precisely the right time.

So between fawns, hawks and friends I have had an amazing week. I am truly blessed to be walking in this spiritual world and I cannot forget what a beautiful world it truly is.

Thank you to my daughter Michelene for the beautiful lily picture!

Anything amazing happen to you this week? Share please!

Join me on my graceful journey.
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The Beautiful People

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

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My friend Amy has been through the wringer and back. She is currently recuperating from shoulder surgery and is laid up for at least six weeks.

I’ve written about Amy before. She has three grandchildren already (at age 55) and two of them are to her daughter Mandy, who passed away suddenly three years ago.

What do you do when someone close to you loses someone very dear? I’ll tell you what I used to do. Uncomfortable with my own feelings, I would go to the funeral home, make polite sympathies and leave. Then months would go by before I would say “How are you?” to the friend or family person, lacing my greeting with an apology for not being in touch sooner.

I was never comfortable around sick, dying, or ill people. Preferring the land of the living and healthy, it never occurred to me to look deeper into someone’s heart and soul. To align myself with how they might be feeling. To have EMPATHY instead of detachment.

When my mom was in the hospital, I made an effort to smile at strangers all day. I struck up conversations with people in elevators and the cafeteria line. I would glance into rooms and smile at the recovering people inside. I wanted to bring a smidgen of joy to someone’s day…including my own by connecting with others in a similar situation.

I had an idea that there should be a “Smile Wagon” at the hospital. It could be manned by a very cheery person who had a “wagon” of sorts filled with all kinds of happiness stuff. Smiley stickers, mylar balloons, whoopie cushions, etc. The cart could go around, cheering up the patients and brightening their day. Especially the patients who did not have loved ones that lived close. What do you think about this idea? (Should I write to the hospital?)

Back to Amy. When she lost her daughter, I made a conscious decision to keep in touch. I worked in town and her house was 20 minutes from my work place. When she would pop into my head, I would stop by after work, usually unannounced. I trusted that God would let me know when she might be need a sympathetic ear. Once, after she had back surgery (only within a year or two after Mandy had passed), I laid on Amy’s bed with her and we hung out for hours.

During these many times of being with Amy, I did nothing miraculous. Mostly, I just tried to listen and be there.

I was with Amy this week and I asked her about friendship and grief. She told me people fear loss as being contagious (this blew my mind) and of course, many avoided her because they just didn’t know what to say. I’ve heard of others who try and manage the life of someone with such loss, thinking that is the answer. For me, that is too much control, unless the friend really asks for such help.

My favorite author, Anne Lamott, talks about loss often in many of her faith books. I remember she has said something like All you can really do sometimes, is just show up. It is true. By just showing up, I do what hopefully God wishes of me- to just be there for those beautiful people.

Photo taken at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA. by my lovely daughter, Michelene.

How have you dealt with another’s loss or illness? Are you comfortable with lending an ear?

Join me on my graceful journey.
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The Key to Happiness

Photo by Michelene Cain

I walked Jordan, my yellow lab, outside for her morning stroll. The sun was just coming up over the horizon. Soft gray streaks of cloud streamed between glimpses of sunlight, a promise of the day to come.

There was an autumn chill in the air. Fall colored leaves were on the grass, the trees, everywhere. Our chickens were already up, walking about as if they too were ready for the new day.

I had a sudden appreciation for where I live. My home is at the end of a closed lane, surrounded by a natural woods, but with an acre or so of real back yard.

There is much grass to mow in the summer here and many leaves to gather in the fall. The driveway is long and currently needs some patch work. The trees are large and sometimes, we have to figure out how to chop them down when they get too old.

But, I love where I live. There was a time, years ago, when I did not. I wanted a bigger house, more rooms, more opportunities for livable space, a showplace of sorts where I could entertain and decorate.

What I have is a small ranch. We added a dining room and mudroom a few years ago so it’s a bit bigger now. But as I get older, I realize this is a great house for Jim and I to grow old in. Everything we need is on the first floor. Bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living and dining rooms. Only the laundry room is downstairs and someday, we can bring the washer and dryer upstairs to the mudroom. And I certainly can decorate, and do, in the country style that has come naturally to me after all these  years.

What I really thank God for is my natural surroundings. As I get older, I more and more appreciate that I have a view of trees and great sky everyday. When I was a young girl, I loved nature, loved riding my bike, loved pretending I was a campfire girl. Maybe this yard is one of the things that drew me to my husband….the thought of marrying into this yard.

The Hill- A Great Place for Bonfires!

There is a pavilion on top of the hill from my house. Jim’s grandfather and uncles built it ages ago but it still stands. The brothers all got together a few years ago and fixed up the roof, made the poles alittle sturdier. When we once bought the property adjacent to ours (now belonging to my sister in law), the surveyors knocked on my door. They said, Is it possible that the pavilion straddles two separate pieces of property? I said, with a smile, Yes. No one in the family cared about divisions of property back then. It still doesn’t matter.

Because, we are all family around here. We live, surrounded by kin, and that is ok with us. If you want to be alone, you will be left alone. If you need help, the cavalry will show up at your door, probably bearing soup and whatever else you may need.

The point of this is to be happy where you are, with what you have. This doesn’t mean not to dream, not to create goals. But sometimes, in chasing the dream, you realize it is right in your own back yard.

The key to happiness is to appreciate what you have. What are you grateful for today?

Join me on my graceful journey.
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Life in the Fast Lane

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough. Mae West

Boy, it has been a hectic couple of months….

Superwoman
(Photo credit: Gallivanting Gai)

I don’t know how I get myself into it (well, yes I do!), but every now and then I have a schedule that is just a complete whirlwind. I run from one thing to another, changing clothes like a magician, grateful that I don’t have too stressful a job or I’d never be able to keep up with my own social life.

Why do I do this? I’ll tell you. I don’t want to miss one exciting moment. I want to say YES to it all; the action, the fun, and sometimes, yes, the responsibility.

A blogger friend of mine wrote a post last week and I swear she was reading my mind. Her post was called “ENOUGH”. It was perfect. I needed to read it; to remember to slow down, to savor the moments of joy and gratitude in my life. I was finding myself rushing, rushing, rushing. One day I thought, what the heck is the big hurry?

Lately, in addition to or in spite of my full schedule, I have been pondering some big questions. Asking myself, is my life ok, is it meaningful, am I killing myself softly with all this craziness, do I need a change from M&M’s to peppermint patties?

Just kidding…..(but I do love peppermint patties!)

What inspired the pondering is a book I’m reading.  Anna Quindlen’s latest bestseller “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake” is the first AQ book I’ve ever read. I love her already. She pulls out her gutsiest thoughts and plunks them down on paper, writes in amazing honesty, and makes some darn good observations.

So good in fact that she is inspiring me to do some deep thinking. I am reflecting on lots of interesting stuff. My life, my quirky habits and what makes me tick. Here’s a few revelations I just have to share.

I am at my best when I am creating. Taking bits and pieces and pulling them together and making something wonderful out of it all. It doesn’t matter if it’s an amazing event, a new business, chicken soup or a craft project, I am best left without directions and no hot glue gun.

And, I like to teach and to lead. I like to inspire, motivate and cause a change. Positive change that is. Lead from the front after all.

My mother (Katherine) was a serious homemaker, the best really at cooking, cleaning, entertaining and organizing. My father (Mike) was pure salesman, through and through, and he loved to lead, direct, manage and inspire. Perhaps I am a combination of both of them, their (I hope) finest qualities, including the attraction to sweets my mother has evidently passed onto me.

What does this latest revelation tell me? Maybe I have my hand in the pot of each one of my parents. My mother handled her own schedule and commitments, and my dad handled his separately. I wonder if my life is pulled from both of theirs? Magic homemaker (wannabe) on the one hand, project manager on the other. I wonder how many of you reading this are combinations of your mom and dad (or primary caretakers), burning the candle at both ends?

No wonder we are a tired lot. This world is so fast, so busy, so full of stuff to DO. How do I keep it in perspective? First, I count my blessings. I have a full life; family, friends, children, grandchild, amazing partner in Mr. Cain. Second, I can’t stand to be bored. So, when too many activities start to fill my plate to the brim, I knock a few off and slow down just a bit.

Thank goodness it’s the perfect weather for kicking back. I made a big pot of chicken soup last night (no recipe!) and I can’t wait to have a big bowlful of it.

How do you slow down? (or speed up?) How full do you like your plate? Do you ever realize (and give yourself credit) for your strong points? I know…so many questions! Just pick one and tell me your deepest thoughts!

Join me on my graceful journey.
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Fall Into FOCUS

The Giving Tree

I had the privilege of chairing an event last week that surpassed all of my expectations. It was a beautiful event, one really worthy of mention.

It was a fundraiser for a mission center in one of Pittsburgh’s poorest neighborhoods, The Hill District. The FOCUS Pittsburgh center opened only fifteen short months ago and already it is transforming lives.

The guests who attended the evening were special, the doctors and directors who spoke held us spellbound. The donors who gave unselfishly were inspirational. My committee was amazing in their dedication to the planning and execution of the event.

Guests plucked leaves off The Giving Tree and donated activities for kids, snacks for backpacks, and medical supplies for the future clinic.  The silent auction tantalized us with jewelry, gift certificates and beautiful pictures. Everyone walked around with big smiles, happy to make new friends and greet old ones. And of course, there was some delicious food to munch on and enjoy too.

But the real show stealer that night were the people who have been positively impacted by the mission center. I don’t remember exactly how many came, maybe seven or eight. Plus a young child who stole my heart; I couldn’t resist hugging and kissing him, just for good measure.

When Paul, the director of the Pittsburgh FOCUS center, introduced the mission center friends, the little boy’s mother was the first to speak. He held his mother’s hand while she told of her life before she discovered the center. The young mother was clearly pregnant and said she had contemplated abortion. When she found the center the people there embraced her and offered assistance. She kept thanking the center over and over. It was a profound experience for us all to be there and hear her story, their stories. It was an evening I will never forget.

Before I close, I have to tell you my absolute favorite part of the evening. It actually occurred before the event started. Paul was sitting with the guests from the center and suddenly he announced to them that I was the main reason the event was even happening. Those incredible friends jumped up, starting yelling “Thank you!!” and engulfed me in a giant hug, the likes of which I have never experienced. I said then, and I still say now, that was worth every moment of planning.

I believe we are all on a Mission of Grace and Love. We are here to make a difference, help others, and….to love one another.

Join me on my graceful journey.
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Summer Gratitudes

There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart.  ~Celia Thaxter

Labor Day is coming up this weekend and I always feel like it is the end cap to the summer. And though the first day of fall is still weeks away, I swear I can see the leaves starting to change before my eyes. I can hardly believe the summer is almost over.

How was your summer? Here in southwest Pennsylvania it was very hot, then very rainy, and now it’s just kind of perfect. The days are shorter (yes, always a bit depressing) and there is a chill at night and first thing in the morning. I don’t mind it necessarily; it is more comfortable with less heat and it’s much easier to sleep at night. Cooler weather is also perfect for little backyard campfires and toasted marshmallows!

Abundant Tomatoes!

I appreciate quite a few things about this summer. The first was the garden. Jim (my husband) and Michelene (my daughter), did a gorgeous job with the garden. We are still reaping tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, onions, garlic and basil. I never get tired of tomatoes and will eat them sliced and salted as long as the garden will give them to me.

Ariel and Jordan!

My cousins came from New York and brought a few extra persons along. Josh, who is seven, delighted me with the way he hung on his grandpapa (Julio), kissed his cheek so adamantly and hugged him endlessly. Imani came too, a blessing from above, and it was so good to spend some time with her. I am always happy to see Christina, Julio and Ariel. God has really blessed me with a beautiful family.

There were some fun birthday parties tossed into the summer mix; Michelene’s landmark birthday and Cally’s tree house soiree. I made some new friends and embraced relatives I do not always get to see so often. This was one of the best parts of the summer.

Congratulations John!

My son John graduated with a computer science degree and I am really proud of him. I just know he is going to make some great employer very happy!

There were some challenges too and that is always the case, isn’t it? We are getting over a loss and praying for the repair of a relationship. If we know deep in our heart that God loves us unconditionally, it is Grace that will help get us through the bumpy spots. Thank goodness we are not in charge of the universe. All we can do is pray and turn it over.

Last weekend the local township held its annual fair. I didn’t make it to the park in time to join my family, but I saw the ending night fireworks from the comfort of my own front yard. I had Jordan with me and she didn’t mind the noise a bit. As we sat on the lawn, in darkness, my heart was overflowing with love for my full life and gratitude for a summer well lived.

Farewell Summer of 2012!
Join me on my graceful journey.
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The Penthouse Suite of My Mind

Isn’t it amazing what we choose to focus on?

The above image arrived on a piece of mail recently and I just had to take a picture of it. I stared at it for a time, had a good chuckle and then spent a few minutes thinking about it.

Here is my take on the image. There is so much that matters to me and much of it I do not have control over. This includes my family, my kids, my job, my volunteer projects, etc. etc. etc. It is impossible to keep my mind and attention on “everything” important to me, therefore I choose what is meaningful for that day or that moment.

My mind likes to work overtime on worry and predicting the future. Yes, I like to think I have a crystal ball in my head but really I do not. Taking the most mundane thought or concern and turning it into a ridiculous mountain is a part time hobby of mine. Thankfully, an article I read once compared the mind to a house with rooms. It said: if our thoughts are overwhelming us, we can get up and move to another room. We don’t have to “live” in the negative room of worry and self defeat.

I thought this was a remarkable concept.

Since then, when I get carried away in a room of negative thinking, I try and remember to get up and move to another room in my Mind House. Though I can still hear noise from the negative room, I only hear it as mumbling or whispering. In my “new” room, the style and decor is plush and comfortable. The sofa is very soft and has lots of pillows. There is a fantastic view of woods, a lake, wildlife and flowers through the window. I call this room the “Penthouse Suite” of my mind.

If you’re thinking this is purely a form of meditation, you are right. But I have to tell you, it works. The Penthouse is often times where I fall asleep at night. I have to put aside my worries about today or thoughts about tomorrow and imagine I am on that plush sofa.

Keeping my mind focused on positive things is a mental exercise I practice everyday. And, I believe it is possible to train my mind to head to the Penthouse when things get a bit hairy. I’d prefer the plush sofa over worry anytime.

What does the opening image mean to you? What do you “focus” on?

Join me on my graceful journey.
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Fear Not

Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.  ~Bill Cosby

Photos by Michelene Cain

I am afraid of a lot of things. I am afraid of success, failure, ignorance and embarrassment. I am also afraid of spiders, the dark and of being in situations in which I do not have control. If I stopped to let my fears take hold of me, I of course think they would do me some serious damage.

There has been so much in the news lately to make us afraid. People have been committing unreal acts of violence to innocent people, without motive. No wonder there is so much fear in the world. It makes me think twice about going anywhere in public these days.

Fear came up in a conversation recently with some friends of mine. We talked about our worst case scenario and what would we do if it happened. I think we decided that we would just get through it. We’d muddle about, figuring it out. There are people who would help us too if we needed it. To rely on one another is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.

I heard a speaker once who said that when she is afraid she pretends she is a small child, and she runs and hides under God’s great robes. In there, she feels safe. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used that mantra to get me through something scary.

A couple of years ago, I realized I was in a situation that was becoming more and more of a drain. I loved my job but the distance I was traveling had become a huge burden. It would have been easy to stay at that job until retirement but I wanted a better quality of life for myself. The fear of starting a new job all over again, at age 53, was scary.

I finally made the decision that I wanted the quality of life more than I was afraid of starting over. An opportunity opened up for me, close to home, that I had been hoping for. I took the job. A year later, Life is better. It hasn’t all been easy, but it’s definitely worth it. Courage is fear that has said its prayers.

Photos by Michelene Cain
Join me on my graceful journey.
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