A Letter to Penelope

Jessica, John and Penny at her baptism, July 2016

Dear Penelope,

I can’t believe you are already a year old!¬†Where has the time gone? It seems like only yesterday I was at the hospital, holding you for the first time. I was filled with such love and emotion that day. You were absolutely beautiful then and you have grown even more beautiful with each passing day.

Watching your personality develop has been a joy. You smile and laugh at other babies, even when they are not as enthusiastic. ūüôā When we walk into a room, you scan and take it all in. New people are given the once over (as it should be) but you never cry (yet!) over meeting someone you don’t know.

I see other parts of who I think you will be. Forward, assertive, a leader. I took you into a restaurant once and while we were waiting for our guest, I sat you on the table. You opened your arms and began to babble. It was as if you were addressing the crowd. The same thing happens when we go to church. You love to look around and take it all in. I feel like you are absorbing, maybe memorizing it all so that you will always know that church is your home.

Your parents love you deeply and have made many changes to place you first in their lives. They have the entire living room buffered for your safety. Your bedroom overflows with books, stuffed animals and clothes. The toys you have are great for learning. You love to explore, punch musical buttons, and play with your favorite toys all day long.

Seeing the advantages and love you have gives me much to pray for. For all the other babies in the world, I wish that they would be as loved and cared for as you are. When I am not with you, I am never concerned for your safety for I know that your parents are on it. They keep an eye out for you always.

Watching you grow so fast in the first year has been a remarkable experience for all of us. I look forward to the next year and all the joy you will continue to bring to us!!

Love, Nana

My son John, with Penelope Katherine
Mom and Baby
I’m one month old!
My daughter Michelene and granddaughter Penny, on a beautiful summer day.
Helping to serve the cake.
Probably my favorite picture
With Godmother Kristina. Penny still looks at Father E this way.
The only selfie you’ll ever see me do is with Penny.
Fashionable already!
Playing is hard work.
A special birthday with Nana.

‚ÄúI don’t remember who said this, but there really are places in the heart you don’t even know exist until you love a child.‚ÄĚ
‚Äē Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year

Join me on my graceful journey.
1015

The Deep Roots of Family

Three generations- From L to R, Grandmother Katherine, Granddaughter Michelene, Great Granddaughter Penelope Katherine
Three generations- From L to R, My mother Katherine, My daughter Michelene, My granddaughter Penelope Katherine at one month of age.

‚ÄúWe begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be.‚ÄĚ
‚Äē Anne Lamott

I am the sum total of the generations before me. My grandparents, mother, father, and relations even beyond them, reaching far into the history of Greece and Turkey are part of me. The personalities and mannerisms that I have about me, no doubt are deeply rooted. I’m sure I do things my ancestors¬†did without even being aware of it.

When I was little, I would spend three or four summer weeks at my Yiayia’s¬†house in Stockdale, Pennsylvania. My dad used to say that the biggest excitement in town was going down to the gas station and jumping on the bell. ūüôā That may have been true but yiayia’s house was my second home.

These roses are just like my yiayia’s. Gardenia.net

My grandmother had a trellis of pink tea roses that grew wildly in the summer. I was so attracted to them that to this day, I am crazy about roses. Yiayia would take the rose petals and a recipe she had from her homeland of Chios, Greece and make rose jelly. I have no idea the type of rose she had or the recipe but someday I am going to figure it out.

Beautiful Gardenia
Beautiful Gardenia

My grandfather (Papou) planted a big garden, filled with lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. Put those together in a bowl, add a bit of feta cheese, a drizzle of olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar and you have an amazing salad. Papou had the biggest, healthiest gardenia plant I have ever seen. As he aged, he would hum to himself and clean the leaves with a Q-tip. I am deeply attracted to gardenias and wore one on my wrist for my 25th anniversary.

I married my husband partly because when he drove me up the driveway to the family homestead, there was a huge field next to the house, surrounded by woods. I’ve been a nature girl my whole life and that stuck with me. We’ve planted a garden pretty much every year we’ve been married. We grow tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini. I love my backyard and it is an endless source of calm for me. In the morning, I can walk outside in my jammies and¬†not worry about a next door neighbor.

My daughter Michelene is an even bigger nature girl. She has planted dozens of varieties of heirloom tomatoes, dried the seeds, and used them for new plantings. Her yard is huge and she always has something going on- canning fresh applesauce, making homemade sauce, or raising her first batch of baby chicks. Beekeeping is something Michelene does with her dad; check out her first Beefuddled Farms blog post HERE.

Me and Penelope
Me and Penelope

My son John and his partner Jessica are amazing cooks. When I go and watch Penelope, there is always something creative in the fridge. This past week it was pizza and the crust was made with spaghetti squash (no kidding). It was amazing. Penelope is going to have quite a palate I am sure.

As a family we embrace traditional foods but also look for¬†new ways to enjoy healthy choices. I love how John experiments with avocados, squashes and cauliflower and creates delicious wonders. Then of course, there’s always a square of good dark chocolate for dessert. We love that.

Last year for Mother’s Day, I made a nice dinner and invited everyone over. For a take home gift, I had little pots of fresh herbs to choose from- basil, rosemary, or parsley. Every year I grow a giant basil plant for a big Orthodox holiday in September. Michelene and John chose basil as their plant to take home. I was proud of that.

Humungous
My prize basil plant

If we look deep enough, we will find clues to what makes up all those amazing parts of us. The combination of ancestry and influences are who we are inside. We can certainly change those things that no longer serve us and in the process, some really good stuff will come bubbling up. Scrap away the fluff (as Pooh would call it) and find your beauty within.

What did you like to do as a child? I’ve read this recently and have tried to go back to it. I loved to jump rope, color, be creative, and be outside. Those are the things I’m trying to embrace as often as I can. (Well, I admit I have yet to buy a jump rope!)

Happy Earth Day!
Know you are beautiful inside and out.

My book, Ordinary Is Extraordinary, is available on Barnes and Noble Nook now! Click HERE for the link. To order from Amazon, click on the book to the right of this post (on the sidebar). I have some good “book” stories to tell you about next time we chat. ūüôā

Happy Easter, Kali Anastasi, to my Orthodox Christian friends! For my latest post on the Orthodox Christian Network click HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join me on my graceful journey.
1015

When Our Children Become Parents

My son John, with Penelope Katherine
My son John with his daughter, Penelope Katherine

‚ÄúI don’t remember who said this, but there really are places in the heart you don’t even know exist until you love a child.‚ÄĚ
‚Äē Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year

My granddaughter Penelope is now one month old.¬†She no longer has that mini newborn look. Her features are becoming more pronounced and her personality is taking shape. Nursing is her favorite pastime along with snuggling. Resting in someone’s arms (especially mommy’s), nice and warm, is her favorite place to be.

It has been a wonderful experience to be a part of Penny’s first month. The excitement of the birth, the few weeks afterwards, and the love I feel¬†towards my granddaughter reminds me of my grandson’s birth fourteen years ago. It feels good to embrace¬†these moments all over again.

Watching my son’s newly acquired fatherhood¬†has been a true gift. Penelope’s mom Jess told me the day after the¬†birth that John said, “I can’t believe how beautiful she is.” I never doubted that he would look into his baby’s eyes and be in love.

When John and Jess found out they were expecting, John was a nervous father to be. I tried to talk to him on a number of occasions but I was too wordy and he, too wound up. Like an organized person on hyper drive, he saw everything that needed to be done- the nursery painted and complete, plenty of frozen meals in the fridge, lots of clean baby onesies ready for action.

It turned out Penelope was on her own schedule. She arrived two weeks after her due date, giving both Jess and John lots of extra time. I called one day to invite them to dinner and Jess told me John was cleaning out closets. By the time Penny arrived, they were both ready.

John and Penny
John and Penny

To watch my son with his daughter is simultaneously¬†a spiritual and hilarious experience. He looks at her like she is the stars and the sky. Then he kisses her hands and nose. Penny stares at him like he is her favorite boyfriend. If she makes funny noises or faces, we all¬†laugh. Baby, Mom, and Dad¬†have a bond of love. If she is crying, John will pick her up and talk to her. Most of the time (unless she wants mommy’s milk) Penny¬†stops crying.

John and Jess are a team. It is reassuring for me to see them in action. They will frequently give each other breaks, taking naps to recharge themselves. John tidies up the house nightly, prepares a nice dinner, then cleans up the kitchen. Jess will nurse Penelope, a full time job at the moment.

A few days ago I spent the afternoon with them. While I held Penny, John cooked dinner. Funky 80’s music played in the background. A great song came on and the four of us danced. It was the best.

I’m a calmer grandmother this time around. Fourteen years of grand wisdom have given me a perspective of when to worry and when to let it go. God has granted us a huge blessing. Her name is Penelope Katherine.

I'm one month old!
I’m one month old!

 

 

 

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1015

Welcome Penelope Katherine!

Penelope Katherine- Welcome to the World!
Penelope Katherine in Grandma Jean’s blanket- Welcome to the World!

Isn’t she lovely? Isn’t she wonderful?¬†Stevie Wonder

She kept us all waiting but finally on January 24, shortly after midnight, Penelope Katherine made her entrance!

We are all so excited for Jess and John. Penelope is absolutely beautiful. In her little pink cap and wrapped in Grandma Jean’s blanket, she is the prettiest sight.

Pretty in Pink
Pretty in Pink!
She's Precious
She’s Precious

It’s been fourteen years (almost fifteen!) that my grandson Gavin was born. In that time he has grown so fast and provided us with so much joy. I am looking forward to many wonderful times ahead with both of my grandchildren.¬†Michelene is already promising walks in the woods. I’m sure Jim will teach Penelope¬†how to fix things. I will share some Greek recipes. It takes a village and we are all¬†excited about spending time with Penelope.

We can’t wait until her¬†other grandparents arrive to meet her. I’m sure Jess and John have been talking to them and sending pictures. We wish them safe travels as they come to share in our joy.

Thank you all for your well wishes and prayers. We truly appreciate them!

Dad and Baby
Dad and Baby
Mom and Baby
Mom and Baby

One more thing! As if life isn’t exciting enough, after 8am CST this morning (9am EST & Pittsburgh time), I have a guest post on a blog called Lipstick and Laundry! It’s one of my favorite posts from Katherine’s Daughter. Click HERE to check it out. ūüôā

Join me on my graceful journey.
1015

The Next Princess

Penelope
Penelope

“Weaver” in Greek. In The Odyssey, Penelope is the wife of Odysseus who faithfully awaits his return for 20 years. (source)

My daughter Michelene was the only granddaughter on my husband’s side of the family for a long time. She is the oldest, followed by many grandsons- John, Brian, Colin, Jerra, Daniel, Josh, and Jake.¬†(this picture is probably¬†fifteen¬†years old!)

Michelene the Princess Among the Boys
Michelene, the Princess Among the Boys

So we were all very excited when my nephew Jerra had a girl. Michelene declared Ms. Deanna¬†the “Princess, Heir to the Throne.” This was a title most fitting since she would be the next in line to inherit the¬†role of Princess Cain.

Deanna, Heir to the Throne
Deanna, Heir to the Throne

Now we are expecting a new princess. My son John and his sweetheart¬†Jessica are expecting a baby girl! And she is due on January 9 which is John’s birthday of all coincidences. A girl!¬†How wonderful!¬†So now, we have another princess in line to the throne. ūüôā¬†The name John and Jess are considering for her is PENELOPE.

I have to tell you, I was almost certain that John and Jess would be having a girl. Let me tell you why.

When my grandmother passed away years ago she left a pearl necklace. I asked my Aunt KC if I could have it and she said yes. I wore it on and off and soon the string began to stretch. More than one person encouraged me to have the pearls re-strung.

I took the necklace to the jeweler. They asked what size I wanted it. I decided to convert it from a long strand to a shorter one so it would be closer to my neckline.

When I picked up my new necklace, the jeweler offered me a small bag of the unused pearls. I took a look at those pearls and had only one thought. If someday John would give me a little girl, I would have those pearls made into a bracelet for her.

So here we are. Fast forward probably five years at least.¬†I will have a pearl bracelet made and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Penelope's Pearls
Penelope’s Pearls

 

 

 

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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

‚ÄúI wondered if my smile was as big as hers. Maybe as big. But not as beautiful.‚ÄĚ
‚Äē Benjamin Alire S√°enz, 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.
1015

Gifts from my Grandmother

Yiayia In Her Busy Kitchen

If God had intended us to follow recipes,
He wouldn’t have given us grandmothers.
~Linda Henley

The older I get, the more I appreciate my grandmother. Though she has been gone a long time, my memories of her lately are stronger than ever. And more and more, I realize the great gifts she gave me that are very much a part of me.

Whenever I cut a good tomato, fresh from the garden, I think of my Yiayia. My grandfather always put in a big garden and by August, there were plenty of fresh vegetables to be had. Yiayia would make summer salads with her beautiful leaf lettuce and lots of those really red tomatoes.

I love having Basil around!

She also loved fresh basil and would frequently cut a small piece to put behind her ear. She’d walk up from her garden, the basil leaves facing front and she’d have a big smile on her face. I think she just loved the smell of it and liked keeping it close to her. These days, I love basil and we frequently grow a couple of big basil plants every summer. Rubbing the leaves between my fingers and smelling the fresh scent is one of my favorite things to do. I don’t remember if Yiayia cooked with her basil (I imagine she did!) but I love to snip up the leaves and put fresh basil on everything from roasted vegetables to green salads.

As with most grandmas, Yiayia was an excellent cook. She made everything from scratch, mixing most ingredients together with her hands. She had a big ceramic ware bowl she would use to make Greek avgolemeno soup. As a young child, she would let me use her hand held rotary beaters and I’d beat those chicken eggs to a frothy yellow. She’d have homemade chicken broth with rice all ready to go, and we’d add my yellowy beaten eggs to the hot broth just a little bit at a time. She’d finish it off with some lemon juice and the result would be a smooth, slightly lemony chicken soup that was just out of this world. I don’t ever remember seeing a recipe written down for it; I’m sure she didn’t need one.

Holidays were a big deal to her. At Christmas and Easter she’d roast a leg of lamb and do all the fancy sides: Greek oregano potatoes sliced longways into quarters and baked in the oven, a big salad with tomatoes and feta cheese, Easter bread with a red hard boiled egg baked right into it, little black eyed peas drizzled with olive oil and lemon. There was always amazing food at her table during the holidays.

I think the most important gift my Yiayia gave me was her example of what hospitality should be. When you had dinner at her house, she pulled out all the stops. The linen tablecloth and napkins came out, her most beautiful serving pieces and china were polished and displayed, candles were lit. I can remember numerous times when the table would be so full with multiple selections of food, we hardly had a place to eat!

It it really those great times, those “eating” times, that make me realize how lucky we really were. To have had her among us, teaching us all those traditional things that to her came so easily….what a gift!

Join me on my graceful journey.
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