When Our Children Become Parents

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

“I 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.”
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!




Join me on my graceful journey.

A Shower of Best Wishes

My Grandmother (Yiayia), left, and my Mother Katherine, right, at her baby shower.
My Grandmother (Yiayia), left, and my mother Katherine, right, at her baby shower.

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time. James Taylor

For the last couple of months, I’ve been planning a baby shower for my son and his partner. It’s this weekend and I’ve had so much fun working with Jessica on a theme and figuring out the decor, invitations, and yes, a good game. What would a shower be without a game or two?

Some of my friends are not big fans of showers but I am. I will tell you why. Showers are a rite of passage just like graduation parties, sweet 16 birthdays, weddings, and bar/bat mitzvahs.  A rite of passage is described as any important act or event that serves to mark passage from one stage of life to another.

So that is how I look at showers. I do my best to shop for a special present, be there, and participate. I know the few hours that a bride or mother to be is in the spotlight will likely never come again. Even though it may sound stereotypical, all women should enjoy this time as special. These days, men are frequently featured at showers too so it’s not always traditional! (and that is fine!) I asked my son John to participate and be there on this special day.

I have some very fond memories of my baby and bridal showers. For my bridal shower, it seemed as though my mom invited every single woman from the church – and they came. I was kind of slow opening my presents because there were so many awesome ones! I don’t remember what my mom made to eat that day but I can guess. There was probably her delicious pastichio, spanakopita, greek salad, feta cheese, and maybe chicken or roast beef. She likely had Peppridge Farm rolls on the table. Dessert was probably her famous finikia, diples, coffee, and of course a box of Russell Stover miniature chocolates.

Yiayia and I at my Bridal Shower.
Yiayia and me at my Bridal Shower.

Mom probably used every single piece of silver she had from her own wedding- trays, serving utensils, you name it. I love this picture (above) I found of me with my yiayia. I don’t know where that pink and white umbrella came from but I’m wondering if my sisters might have created it. 🙂 It’s a classic, isn’t it? I bet it is made of pink and white kleenex flowers! I remember the dress I wore like it was yesterday.

I had two baby showers- one from my husband’s family and one from my own. Since Michelene was born in August, I’m sure they were both in the heat of summer. Here’s a photo from the one my mother in law had for me. Once again, I remember this like yesterday, including the dress that was so comfortable and I loved so much.

Me and my Sister In Law Katie
Me and my Sister In Law Katie

I went to a friend’s daughter’s baby shower last weekend and it was beautiful. It was fall themed, in a park setting with (no kidding) cows outside in the field! There was a chili bar with all sorts of toppings, different kinds of cornbread, s’mores for the favors, and acorns and pinecones in glass vases for centerpieces. I said to my friend Shelly, “Well, the shower next week won’t have cows!”. (She really took the cake on that one!)

As Shelly’s daughter Hannah was opening her presents, I thought of the head start she as a new mother will have. Baby blankets, diapers, clothing, undershirts. How would you do it all without a shower? And what a wonderful opportunity to bestow love and best wishes on a couple who are ready to open a new chapter on their lives together.

Of course I’ll share the pictures of the shower with you! Check back in a week or so and they’ll be here!

Join me on my graceful journey.

A Honey of a Day

Honey Gifts for Everyone
Honey Gifts for Everyone

It was a day of sweetness and friends. A bee-utiful education combined with ice cream sundaes and honey. The opportunity to learn more about the environment we live in.

Jim (my husband) and Michelene (my daughter) officially launched their bee business last evening. They hosted their first Honey Party as “Beefuddled Farms,” a name Jim chose a few years ago when he entertained the idea of creating a business out of his hobby.

Michelene Share Her Bee Knowledge
Michelene Shares Her Bee Knowledge

Michelene joined Jim in his bee business almost from the beginning. They learned together what it takes to make a hive from frames and bees. The hard lessons, like losing bees over a very cold winter, have also been part of the education. They have perservered. Two years ago they had to replace almost every hive they had but they did it. They used their experience to manifest a greater success for their bees.

There was finally enough surplus honey to host this bee party. Everyone paid a small admission to come and the reward was a Beefuddled Farms honey sample. There was also ice cream sundaes with teddy graham cookies and honey. In celebration of this event I made homemade lotion from extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, our own beeswax and lavender oil. I sold nearly every jar.

Some Serious Spinning!
Some Serious Spinning!

I have to say I learned a few things I didn’t know about bees. If you spray your lawn with pesticides, you are not helping the bees (how did I not realize this?). Planting bee friendly flowers and even a vegetable garden gives the bees something to pollinate. I know this for a fact. The flowers in our yard and the vegetables in our garden are lush and healthy.

You have to follow your own local ordinaces if you’re thinking of having bees. If you can’t have them where you live, consider purchasing honey from your local farmer’s market. There is a big difference in taste from supermarket honey to local raw honey. Not only does it taste better, but you are giving yourself immunities to local pollen. Just remember, no raw honey for children under two years of age.

There should be a Beefuddled website up soon. For now, follow Jim and Michelene on their honey adventures on Instagram at @BeefuddledFarms. If you’re on Facebook they’re at Facebook.com/BeefuddledFarms.

Thank You for the Beautiful Weather
Thank You for the Beautiful Weather!


Jim Scrapes the Frames. The Screened In Area Kept Bees at Bay
Jim Scrapes the Frames. The Screened In Area Kept Bees at Bay.


Scraping the Comb. Photo by Kris Hughes
Scraping the Comb. Photo by Kris Hughes.


The Sweet Honey. Photo by Kris Hughes.
The Sweet Honey. Photo by Kris Hughes.


After the Scraping, This is the Honeycomb. Jim Melts this into Beeswax.
After the Scraping, This is the Honeycomb. Jim Melts this into Beeswax.


Lotion on the Left, Extra Honey in the Middle, Gifts on the Right.
Lotion on the Left, Extra Honey in the Middle, Gifts on the Right.

“The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams.”
Henry David Thoreau

Join me on my graceful journey.

Being There for Grace

Photo by Zack Wilson
Photo by Zack Wilson

Faith is a living daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times. Martin Luther

There were some particularly poignant moments this past summer when my weddings were in full swing that I felt it. I felt touched by grace and in awe of being witness to such beauty and love. I have been thinking about those moments lately and I wanted to share a couple of them with you.

In June, I had fluffed Shaina’s bridal train at the back of the church, the doors to the sanctuary still closed. The music began and my assistant and I opened both doors simultaneously. Shaina and her father walked arm in arm down the aisle, down to Shaina’s beloved Rob. This is when people I have worked with (yet really barely know) become like little beats of my heart. That is when I know God has given me this magnificent job.

Thank you to Zack Wilson for this photo
Thank you to Zack Wilson for this photo

Then at the reception, I saw it again when Rob danced with his mother Cindy. She was the one who originally contacted me to assist with the wedding. I was honored she hired me and I told her so. I loved the venue, a traditional old country club, and I knew how much it touched Cindy that Rob and Shaina were getting married.

Cindy cried on and off all day and I know this is how I am going to be when either of my children get married someday. We put our heart and soul into raising our children and then- BOOM- all of sudden they are grown up and jumping out of the nest. Next thing you know they are in college, marrying, and where did the time go?

Somehow the families didn’t get a big picture taken at the church and Cindy’s husband asked me at the reception if I could make it happen. I went back and forth between the photographer, DJ, and family tables and coordinated the timing. Next thing you know, everyone is outside and the big picture gets taken.

This Photo is just Gorgeous! Thank you to Zack Wilson!
This Photo is just Gorgeous! Thank you to Zack Wilson!

Now it doesn’t get any better than this does it? I absolutely thought this was a magnificent display of God’s grace and love. A family together, celebrating a beautiful event and wow, how much they love each other.

I tell you, I really have the best job.

More wedding stuff later. I need another box of kleenex.



Join me on my graceful journey.

Habitat for Hope

Hands of Hope at Habitat
Hands of Hope at Habitat, Allegheny Valley ReStore

“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”
Maya Angelou

Last  year, I was in need of a new kitchen table. My daughter had moved out and along with her went my table. She had loved it and I told her she could have it.

So what to do about a new one? Jim suggested IKEA and we went and looked. But frankly, pressed board and short life span was just not what I had in mind.

A few weeks passed without a table and Jim asked again. “What would you like?” he said. I answered that I wanted something used and loved, of real wood, with a patina that expressed age and good living. I said, “I’m going to google used furniture stores and see what I get.”

Legs that just don't quit!
My pine table- legs that just don’t quit!

What I found was a Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. Jim and I climbed into his truck soon after and pulled into the parking lot. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a pine kitchen table with gorgeous bulbous legs, sitting outside the front entrance.

Jim said “Jo, there’s your table.” (I got tears in my eyes!)

We bought it, on the spot, for a mere $75. We loaded it on the back of the truck and it’s been in my kitchen ever since. I look at it every day and still can’t believe my luck. It’s just beautiful. And, purchasing this table supported the efforts of a great cause, Habitat for Humanity’s local work to help people of low income afford a real home.

Since then, I have fallen in love with Habitat ReStores. This past spring, I met Jess, the store manager at the Habitat ReStore Allegheny Valley. The store had moved into a new location and was planning a grand opening. I offered to help (there was no keeping me away!) and she said SURE!

Last Saturday there were a few clouds in the sky but the enthusiasm of Jess and the other volunteers pushed them away. Everyone gathered by 10 am to set up popcorn, cotton candy, and game tables for the kids. The chamber of commerce was on hand to welcome everyone and the PA. State Rep., Eli Evanovich came and cut the yellow ribbon.

Very cool! Picture by Christina Otto
Picture by Christina Otto
State Rep Eli, Photo by Christina Otto
(I got a piece of this ribbon!) State Rep Eli, Photo by Christina Otto

There were gift card prizes drawn on the half hour, Snickers the Horse showed up to wave to cars and it was an atmosphere of such fun and happiness. The Hot Dog Guys food truck sold their delicious hotdogs! All for a good cause!

This photo gives me a big smile!
Snickers and the Hot Dog Guys, Jim and Paul!

If you have a Habitat for Humanity ReStore in your area, I hope you stop in and check it out. You will be surprised at all the great goodies there and the low prices. Also, if you have furniture, housewares or construction materials you no longer want, call and ask your ReStore if you can donate them. I’m sure they’d love to hear from you.

Here’s the mission statement on the homepage of the Habitat for Humanity Allegheny Valley. Good stuff:

Habitat for Humanity Allegheny Valley (HFHAV) is a locally run affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry. Habitat for Humanity works in partnership with people in need to build and renovate simple, decent, affordable housing. The houses then are sold with no profit made and with no interest charged on the low cost mortgages.

Volunteers provide most of the labor, and individual and corporate donors and foundations both private and public provide money and materials to build Habitat houses. Partner families themselves invest 350 hours of labor – “sweat equity” – into building their homes and the homes of others. Their mortgage payments go into an escrow fund for taxes and insurance and into a revolving “Fund for Humanity” that is used to build more houses.

Congratulations go out to all those volunteers that day, Jess for her hard work and the local businesses who gave gift cards (Sheetz and Advance Auto) and donated cookies (Eat’n Park) and contributed to a fabulous day of caring and sharing!

PS. I bought a beautiful used desk for my grandson’s room. All wood, only $15!

Love this desk!
Love this desk!

A great day at Habitat for Humanity!

Join me on my graceful journey.