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Into the Quiet

Beautiful deer, Photo by my daughter Michelene

Beautiful deer, Photos by my daughter Michelene

“Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness.”
Mary Oliver

How has your new year been so far? After a calm weather period during the holidays, it has been so cold and snowy here in the Northeast. I started my new swim class of the year, diligently bundling up in sweaters and boots afterwards (yes, the class is indoors!), and walking to my car to 2 degree weather.

Cold, yes. But the swim class has lifted me up, reminding me of how much I love a chance to move my body, especially under the water. I’m taking a simple aqua balance class twice a week at the Y, and what a difference in how it makes me feel.

This is typically the time of year when we want to lose weight, start new goals. It’s a good time to re-evaluate what’s working and what to leave behind. I am trying to work on balance. I stand on one leg in swim class while pulling my other leg up and holding it. Sometimes I can stand perfectly still; other times I cannot! But I don’t mean just physical balance. I mean overall balance in my life between work, family, and play.

Life is so busy. I scratch my head over how hard people are expected to work these days. It seems like thDeer Winter 2015 #4ere is never enough time in a day to get it all done. More sales, more meetings, more internet time. Maybe it’s time to take a step back.

So I am Into the Quiet as of late. Yes I am still trying to accomplish much. Yes, I am working on my business and following up on leads. But I am usually wrapped up in my sweater at night, reading or watching a favorite show. I spend time with my mother. I made time to make chocolate chip cookies. I can take a break from accomplishing.

Jim has been putting dried corn out in our back yard for the deer. I have been filling up my bird feeder. Around dusk the deer will sometimes come. The other night we had six deer come for a visit. One was a six point, one a four point. There were some yearlings too. The birds come all day and visit the feeder. What do they remind me of? Peace. Quiet. Why? Because I stop and watch them. I am still.

So here’s to the new year.  A chance to work, but also a chance to rest. To establish new habits of quality time with myself and slow down just a bit. To listen, and to hear myself.

Wonder what he's thinking???

Wonder what he’s thinking???

Winter Deer and Bird

 Winter Birds

Just Beautiful

Just Beautiful

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A Call to Thanksgiving

Loved this selection of Turkey Calls from the Rogers, OH Flea Market!

Loved this selection of Wooden Turkey Calls from the Rogers, Ohio Flea Market!

Note: It’s hard to believe this post is two years old! I’m still grateful for all these beautiful things. But of course I have to add my new granddaughter Penny, her wonderful mom Jessica, and Jess’ family to my list of things to be thankful for!

Dictionary.com defines Thanksgiving as the following: 1. the act of giving thanks; grateful acknowledgment of benefits or favors, especially to God. 2. an expression of thanks, especially to God. 3. a public celebration in acknowledgment of divine favor or kindness. 4. a day set apart for giving thanks to God.

I say “How beautiful.” Not only the definition, which in itself is a surprise, given that God is rarely mentioned in such a public description. This is something I don’t often see.

What are you grateful for? Maybe it’s your family, friends, husband or wife. Maybe it’s your job, your dog, your grandchildren, your mother or father. These days I’m thankful for many things, mostly that I have taken the time to work my own business with the added bonus of spending lots of time with my mom.

I’ve been thinking of the simple things, the not so often thought of things that, when I remember to remember, I am very thankful for.

Here’s what they are:

My Chicken Pillow- Thank you Daleen!

My Chicken Pillow- Thank you Daleen!

My Bed: A few years ago Jim and I got tired of complaining about our bed. We were always sore when we woke up in the morning and it was at least ten years old. Finally one morning I said “That’s it. Time for a new bed.”

Well Jim went out and bought a “Cloud”. That’s right. It was a pillow top mattress that was so comfortable we’ve never had a morning back ache again. As of this moment I have warm flannel sheets on it, an electric blanket. two pillows each (soft and slightly hard), and an awesome decorative pillow my friend Daleen sent me from Spanaway, Washington. When I climb into this bed every night, I tell God how special I feel to sleep in a warm bed, in a safe place.

My Family: I’m not taking them for granted these days. Jim is numero uno, my main man and he is my biggest fan. My kids are terrific and so is my grandson. My mom, well, she is my best friend and my sisters too. I love them all dearly. I tell God, HOLY COW, you couldn’t have done any better job than the family you gave me.

My Country: The older I get the more I realize how truly lucky I have it to be born in the USA. I am protected and feel safe, and I can do and achieve whatever I want. I appreciate those who fight for my freedom and I tell God, please watch over and keep them safe.

My Friends: Kathy, Susan, Lynda, Sherri, Ed, John, Tracy, Karen, and many others including you. If I had a crisis or problem, half would show up with soup or cookies and a box of kleenex. The other half would pray for me. I can depend on them. They are there for me. I tell God, you must really love me.

My Dog: She keep me company during the evenings when Jim works. She barks at strangers. She kisses my friends and makes them feel welcome. Most of all, I feel safe when she is with me. I tell God, thank you for Ms. Jordan.

Jordan the Wonder Dog

Jordan the Wonder Dog

May you realize your true blessings on this Thanksgiving and for many days beyond. You are a treasure and I hope you have a wonderful day!

What are you grateful for?

 

 

 

 

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What’s in the Purple Bowl?

A few years ago we had a bonfire on the hill behind our house. It was a grand affair with many friends and lots of good food. When it was all said and done, there remained behind a purple plastic bowl, the kind you get in a dollar store around Halloween.

Since then, the purple bowl has had a place in our refrigerator. In it go all the leftover scraps of stale bread, ends of tomatoes, leftover peas, salad and any other type of greens or vegetable. Can you guess what we do with this bowl?

Our one dozen chickens are the lucky recipients of the treasure of the bowl!

When I come out of the back door with the bowl, they all come running. I’m guessing they don’t see that well (or are they colorblind?), but strangely enough they see well enough to recognize that purple bowl.

“The girls” as we have fondly dubbed them, peck away at the contents and sometimes fight over seeds (like from the inside of a cantaloupe) or especially something tasty like raspberries. Once I actually saw one of the chickens grab a raspberry and RUN like a bat out of the night, to keep any other girlfriend from getting her prize.

If you remember an old post of mine, I was not happy when the chickens originally came a few years ago. Since then, I have softened quite a bit and will oftentimes let them out of their coop in the evening to stretch their legs. I give our yellow lab/retriever Jordan a fresh egg because she is their watchdog. We live next to a large woodsy area and she is their sentry, watching for any signs of trouble.

I ate a few more eggs this summer than normal and was wondering if my cholesterol count at my recent physical would register the increase. Thank God it was normal, yes normal!, so my sunny side up egg ritual can continue.

I’m not sure where you live but if you have some backyard space you might want to consider getting some chickens. We don’t have a rooster; we had one and they make too much noise. But chickens are relatively easy to raise if you get a couple of good books and peck the brain of someone who already has them. Chances are you know someone who has some! Make sure you have a strong, sturdy coop, especially if you live near the woods. Chickens are a delicacy for woodland animals!

Our chickens are entertainment when we have guests over. During the summer after dinner, we’d sit on lawn chairs in the back yard, sipping iced or hot coffee and let the girls loose. They run and chase each other, dig in the dirt and peck at bugs and plants. You have to watch them if you have a garden though. They’ll eat your prize tomato if it’s just the right height. 😉

Part of a having a simple life is to get down to basics. I’ve learned to appreciate food when I can see its source; where it comes from and what went into its growth. It’s good to know that I can eat a fresh egg whenever I want, and I appreciate that.

Another chicken loving friend of mine turned me onto this great website for more information. Check out Fresh Eggs Daily and learn more.

Blessings,

Joanne

 

 

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Celebrate Me Home

My son John and I, Christmas Day

My son John and I, Christmas Day, Photo by Christina Machuca

How was your Christmas? I hope you had a chance to be with loved ones and the special people in your life.

Did you travel? Are you home?

I think wherever we are on Christmas Day, that is home. Home is where we can put our feet up, sip a toddy or a good cup of coffee and eat one of our aunt’s delicious cookies.

Home is where our dog is, our children are and the fireplace is lit. There is laughter and music, jokes and good times.

We cherish those we are with and miss the ones who are gone. Our heart breaks a bit but is mended by the knowlege that their memory lives on in our soul forever and ever.

I found this video of one of my favorite songs and it is my Christmas card to you! Blessings to you my friend, for the rest of this year and the year to come! 

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Grace and a Great Greek Cookie

Delicious Finikia!

Delicious Finikia!

I am proud to say I am the grandchild of Greek immigrants. When I was growing up, and still to this day, the holidays were a splendid spread of amazing food and delectable pastries.

The Finikia Set Up Yiayia style!

The Finikia Set Up Yiayia style!

Lucky for me I have a daughter (Michelene) who has a desire to learn those old world recipes before my mom leaves this Earth. We’ve had two “cookie sessions” with my mom, fondly referred to as Yiayia by my daughter.

In these sessions, my mother completely sets up the entire event (as you can see above!), Cally snaps pictures and records video (priceless someday I’m sure), and I of course assist and sample the final delicious creations.

Yiayia decided on a soft nutty cookie called “Finikia” this time. If you have ever been to a Greek food festival, you have no doubt tried Finikia.

Getting ready....

My sister Cally on left, me on the right….Check out that bowl!

The most interesting part of this recipe was mixing  freshly squeezed orange juice into Cream of Wheat by hand. Then, this mixture was folded into the Crisco, egg, sugar, almond and flour batter and viola! a cookie of delicious-ness was born.

A separate hot syrup of sugar and water (with a splash of lemon!) was created and this is what we dipped the baked cookie in. Finally, we rolled them in ground walnuts and Yiayia sprinkled the cinnamon. Ah- they were amazing!

There is really something special about three generations of women coming together to learn a bit of their heritage. I imagine someday this will be a fond memory for my daughter who hopefully will teach her son, my grandson Gavin, how to make this wonderful cookie someday.

I think we ate at least a half dozen Finikia when they were done. Yiayia packed them all up for us so we were free to take them home to our family and friends. If you’re feeling ambitious, I’m attaching my mom’s recipe below for you to give a try. Happy Baking!

YiaYia sprinkling the Cinnamon

Yiayia sprinkling the Cinnamon

The Recipe

The Recipe

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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!

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Happy Birthday to “The Gavinator”!

My grandson Gavin is one of the biggest blessings in my life. As I write this, he is on the eve of his eleventh birthday, growing out of all of his clothes at record speed. He teeters on the border between being a little kid and becoming an adolescent. He wants to be a grown up but he’s just not there yet. Sometimes he’s so good at arguing his point I think he’d make a great lawyer.

The fact that he is here at all is quite a miracle. My daughter is 29 years old as of this moment. If you do the math that would make her, yep, 18 years old at the time of his birth.

It was a big trauma initially when my daughter told me she was pregnant. I am the oldest of my sisters and female cousins and I was worried about the effect this would have on the family. I said something to my cousin Angie one time about it and she said “You showed us how to handle it”. I don’t know what I was worried about. Everyone was supportive. Thank goodness for open and loving families.

Gavin has taught us many lessons. When he was two or so, he stopped calling my husband “PAP” and started calling him Jim. He still calls him Jim. (He calls me Nana) When he was three, he overheard Jim being impatient and short with me. Gavin stopped him and said, “Jim you were not talking to Nana very nice. I think you need to say you’re sorry.” So in front of Gavin, Jim came to me and said he was sorry.

Jim calls Gavin “the Gavinator” I think because he is a powerhouse. He’s all boy. He likes to ride motorbikes, zoom on a skateboard, catch a fish. Jim loves to show Gavin how to fix mechanical things, take care of the chickens, tell a good joke. The men on my husband’s side of the family have a weird sense of humor and thankfully Gavin knows how to play along.

Gavin told me one day that Jim told him how we came to be together. In a stern voice I said to Gavin, “Tell me what Jim told you.” He said (with a grin) “Nana, you were washing your face by the side of the road one day. Jim was driving by. He stopped and said Come with me and you’ll never have to wash your face in cold water again. So you went with him and he bought you an ax to chop wood.”

I said GAVIN, DO NOT LISTEN TO JIM!!

I have a magnet on my refrigerator that says: Grandchildren are God’s reward for not killing your children. I laugh when I read this but truly, Gavin is a big reward for hanging in there through some tough times. He is for us, I believe, the opportunity to try again, to do better, to be given another chance. And my daughter? Last year she received her bachelor’s degree. When God gives us a chance to swell up our heart, we should take it. Who knows what it will bring?

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Make Way for the Spring Chickens!

In honor of Spring, I want to invite you over and tell you about our chickens. My husband Jim got bit by the chicken bug a few years ago. A friend of the family happened to give us a baby rooster. That baby rooster somehow fostered a fowl love story for my husband and daughter.

The rooster has long passed on but my husband’s love for chickens has only grown. I have to say, I was not thrilled when I found baby chickens in an incubator in my garage a few years ago. I swore that I would not help with them- ever- because I was so bent on not adding one more responsibility to my full plate. Obviously the chickens have persisted and thrived, due largely in part to my husband’s and daughter’s care. They provide us with ample, or more like an abundance, of eggs.

Initially, I was so skeptical of the eggs that I only used them in cake mixes or as ingredients in recipes. I was a bit nervous about eating them hard boiled, fried sunny side up or scrambled. After a few dozen eggs wasted on cake mixes, I realized my ridiculousness and fried up a few. I was forever changed.

There is something special about the eggs. They are fresh of course but without all the modern things done to the poor commercial chickens, there is a distinctive difference in the taste of them. They are the true definition of Organic. Even their appearance is different. The shells are much thicker and the yolk yellower. Scrambled eggs come out the color of sunshine.

My mother called me recently and warned me about a salmonella scare regarding eggs. She didn’t realize our eggs are salmonella- proof.  There is no way our eggs could have ANYTHING other than goodness.

During warm evenings, Jim lets the chickens out of their coop to run around the yard, scratch and eat bugs. Our trusty yellow lab Ms. Jordan guards them with a sharp eye, her motivation being her daily treat of a delicious egg. Letting the chickens run around the yard like this used to be another source of  annoyance, but “the girls” (nickname for the chickens) have won me over.

As you can see by the pictures, we don’t have the run of the mill white chickens. We have Araucanas and Buff Orpingtons. Their eggs are a beautiful soft green and light brown color. It’s convenient for Easter as we will probably just hard boil them!

If you have a bit of space in your back yard, the motivation and a good chicken book or mentor, there’s no reason you can’t have your own chickens. Just remember to make the coop very secure or intruders like raccoons, possums or foxes will make a delicacy of your chickens.

I have to admit, there is something about being able to live off your own land that makes life a bit more meaningful. When we plant our garden in the summer and have abundant vegetables, I remind myself how lucky we are to be able to grow and provide food for ourselves.  Jim’s newest hobby is bees and he’s put in a couple of hives. I can taste the honey already. I’ll bring you around again when I’m ready for that story.

A big thank you to my daughter Michelene Cain, for these beautiful pictures!

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Get ready! Saturday is Jammie Day!

Calvin and Hobbes

Saturdays are for relaxing!

I have been really busy lately. It will be June before my five day work week becomes a four day work week. And as Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes!) would say, the days are just packed. So in order to ward off a winter meltdown, I have invented a new Saturday morning splurge for myself. I fondly call it Jammie Time.

Just in case you think I am talking about grape jam or orange marmalade, let me clarify. I am talking about pajamas. Wonderful, warm and soft pajamas. Last Saturday, I happened to stay in my pajamas until NOON and did not do any form of work. I reveled in the simplicity of an endless pot of coffee, numerous favorite shows in my DVR and a pot of chicken soup simmering on the stove. What luxury! What decadence!

Lest you think I have completely lost my mind, remember I am an over-doer. Sitting around in my jammies until Noon is kind of a no-no. I usually have a line up of things to do, people to meet, goals to reach. But even God took one day off. Why not me too?

I loved my Saturday morning so much, I want to spread the idea of Jammie Time! I want to encourage everyone to have JT at least one morning a week. The catch is, you cannot do something you consider to be work. Maybe your idea of relaxation is baking. Maybe it’s knitting or reading. Whatever it may be, just go for it! Just don’t go and clean out your extra storage room. That is not relaxing!

By the way, I have to mention my new favorite pair of jammies. They are from Soma, a beautiful store at the mall. They are all cotton and oh so soft. The top is a red Henley and the bottoms are decorated with little black and white penguins that have red scarfs around their necks. They are totally silly jammies but I love them.

It is so worth it to set aside time to regroup and recharge our batteries. Join the bandwagon and embrace Jammie Time! Let me know your favorite JT activity(ies). And spread the word!

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Jordan, the Wonder Dog

I’d like you to meet a special member of my family. This is Ms. Jordan. Just like any other family who has a beloved pet, we think Jordan is just the icing on the cake. We are not sure of her exact breed, but obviously she is a lab/retriever mix. And, she seems to have the gifted traits of both of those breeds.

We didn’t have to pay a cent for Jordan. My daughter Michelene was at a friend’s house one day and when she came out to her car to leave, there was a buttery colored pup sitting by her car tire. Mickey said it’s as if Jordan was saying  “what’s happening! what are we doing next!?” Mickey knew where Jordan lived so she walked to the house, knocked on the door and inquired as to her availability. The next thing you know, she was ours.

Jordan has been with us almost five years now. Her biggest claim to fame is her reputation as a fearless hunter. She will not allow any wild animals in her yard. Raccoons, groundhogs, possums, beware! She grabs any intruder by the scuff of the neck and they are (gulp) history

The reason for this? One reason could be our chickens. We have a coop on our property that is home to nine chickens. When Jordan was maybe a year old, a possum got into the chicken coop in early spring (in the middle of the night!) and the noise should have woke the dead. As soon as we opened the door to the coop Jordan moved in and that poor possum never knew what hit it.

Since then, Jordan has become very protective of the chickens (we call them “the girls”). Every morning, Jordan checks the girls with Jim (my SO) to make sure everyone is ok. When all have been accounted for, Jordan receives her prize: the oh so yummy treat of a fresh egg.  Jordan lays it on the ground, cracks it open gently, licks out the insides, then delicately eats the shell. To watch an 80 lb dog eat something so gently just makes you shake your head in amazement.

The chasing of small prey though has unfortunately had its consequences. Jordan has compromised the ACL muscle in her back right leg. At first, she would limp on and off but gradually this became more of a problem. We took her to the vet, xrays were done and options were discussed. Low and behold, Jordan now wears a harness with a flexible leg cuff that enables her to live just about normally.

The harness/cuff apparatus was an expensive package($400- $500).  Coincidentally (or not!), I received a bonus from work just about the same time we realized Jordan was going to need the harness. Not long after I got the news of the price of the harness, I was in my car. I couldn’t help but feel sad and sorry for myself over spending my bonus on this expensive apparatus. Geez, easy come easy go, I thought. As I was driving the two lane road to work, I noticed a large semi truck coming towards me, on the other side. This truck had a fancy wind deflector on top of the cab. I looked up at the right moment and noticed the word on the wind deflector: JORDAN.

Well, I burst out in laughter. My anger and irritation vanished. I realized at that moment my bonus money was for Jordan, not me. It came through me, that’s all. This event stayed with me for a while. I honestly believe God sees things coming. He sends gifts (opportunities!) through others because he knows what we are going to need. If we are paying attention, we’ll notice they are truly gifts.

I hope I said thank you that day for the bonus which enabled us to give Jordan the gift of a normal life. If not, I’m saying it now, in front of everyone. Thank you!!

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