Category Archives: Simplicity

Life in Pennyopolis

Penny discovers napkins

Penny discovers napkins with Grandpa Jim

“Everything is ceremony in the wild garden of childhood.”
Pablo Neruda

I stood next to Penny while she played with her new toy- a small plastic basketball hoop. As she plunked the ball through the net, the crowd cheered. When she put it through a different hole behind the hoop, numbers would count down on the screen.

throwing-hoopsThis was fascinating to Penny. I sat behind her, not wanting her to fall backwards, while she stood and put the balls through the holes over and over. Every now and then she would turn around, look at me and smile. It was like she was saying “This is so cool isn’t it!”. I was right there with her, discovering new stuff all over again.

My granddaughter Penny was born on January 24, 2016. If you do the quick math, she is now almost nine months old. I raised my own two children, Michelene and John, plus I helped with my grandson Gavin (now 15 years old- wow!). I’m blessed to spend consistent time with Penny these days.

Life in Pennyopolis (as I like to call it) is like looking under rocks all day long. What we take for granted on a daily basis is brand new to her. Every day is an opportunity for discovery, exploration, and learning.

The day starts out with a good breakfast. Scrambled eggs and the comfort of nursing with her mom. Then maybe a short (or long) nap and it’s playtime. There’s at least an hour or two of solid play before the big afternoon nap.

Lots to do in this fancy toy!

Lots to do in this fancy toy!

I know we all have things to do in our adult life but I think we could take a lesson from children. What if our day was made up of learning, relaxation, exercise, and play? We do have work and grown up responsibilities but what if we allowed ourselves the chance to learn something new or really relax? And, connect with others. Penny is a very outgoing child. She loves to meet new people and usually offers them a big smile. People feel drawn to her, just by virtue of her warm and happy personality.

Every time I spend the day with Penny I am reminded of how simple childhood (and life) can really be. Do we need fancy things or lots of money? No. Even with a basket of napkins to amuse us, life can be enjoyable. 🙂

How about elaborate entertainment? No need for it as there is always music. Penny loves music and will often move herself easily to rhythm. Since she was born, her dad has played his guitar and she has listened.

Penny’s mom Jess has a second degree black belt and they do simple exercises together. Penny giggled and laughed the one day when I was witness to this. It was heart warming.

What if we played simply, laughed more, and lived with less? Getting down to basics has it advantages. More down time, less clutter, more happiness. Reaching out to love, connect, and socialize (without substances or social media) allows us to connect on a fundamental, spiritual basis. This is truly the way to live.

“Play is the highest form of research.”
Albert Einstein

penny-with-apples

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Serenity on the Clarion River

Canoe

Jim and I spent this past weekend in one of our favorite places in the world- Cook Forest State Park, Pennsylvania. We meet up twice yearly with a group of friends and this time we occupied three cabins side by side with a grand total of sixteen people.

We ate all of our meals together and spent most of our time gathered around a perfect campfire. There were lots of good stories, marshmallows and too much food. Believe it or not, there was no alcohol on this weekend and yes, we had a very good time.

Before we left, Jim and I made the decision to head up a bit early on Friday and go for a canoe ride down the Clarion River. We did this once before but took the much longer ride. This time, we opted for a shorter river journey which took about ninety minutes.

Clarion RiverWe had a very nice canoe. I rode in front and Jim took the back seat so he could do the steering. It was one of our shining moments working as a team. Paddling around rocks, shallow water and little rapids, we never once got hung up anywhere. Jim threw his fishing pole in along the way, just for good measure, but the fish must have been somewhere else, probably taking a long nap.

I can’t fully describe for you what the ride was like but I will try. The river was tree lined on each side; great big tall trees, still green but with the promise of autumn in their leaves. A clear, sparkly river with the sun glistening off the surface so much so that it appeared as though diamonds were scattered about. The sound of a red tailed hawk overhead; the sound of my paddle as it glazed the tip of the water.

A couple of times, the sun was warm enough on my shoulders and I angled my hand over the side of the canoe, into the chilly waters of the river. I left it there for a few moments and felt the cool wetness, the temperature of the water being just perfect for the beginning of fall.

There is truly serenity in being among the tall trees, in unspoiled beauty, with clean air and only the scent of pine or a good, smoky fire. My cell phone does not work well in Cook so it’s a good excuse to go unplugged for the entire weekend. The better to enjoy the beauty with.

Sometimes we have to stop and break away. Life is just too busy these days and more and more is expected of us. Making time, pushing ourselves to be in touch with nature should be mandatory, just to clear our heads and refresh our minds. I know it really works for me.

Where’s your favorite place on earth to wind down?

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What Speaks of Love?

The Bonfire

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” ― Mother Teresa

I was loading socks into Jim’s dresser drawer when I remembered a moment in time. It was a flashback to a conversation between Jim and our close friend John.

Jim had asked John what act of his wife’s spoke of love? John thought for a moment and said “The smell of dinner when I drive up my driveway! That spells LOVE to me!”, said John in his big, beautiful voice. I braced myself for what Jim would say. “A drawer full of socks, John. I love when I open my drawer and see it full of socks.”

Since then I have remembered what filling up that sock drawer means to Jim. It speaks of my love for him. It took me only a moment (and thirty years of marriage) to realize how much he appreciated it.

What does Jim do for me that I love? He builds great campfires. He sets up the logs in a nice, stacked fashion, utilizes newspaper strategically, and sometimes even gets creative with a few charcoal briquets just to get things going.

I once told Jim that his fires “flickered in all the right places.” He loved that and says it’s one of the nicest things I have ever said to him.

When I think about it, it’s really those little things that sometimes mean the most. I try and pay attention to what I do for the special people in my life- my kids, my mom, my grandson, my family, my friends. Thoughtful and kind acts are not necessarily about great or expensive gifts. Meaningful acts of loving kindness can be simple and sweet, inexpensive and lovely.

I like to take my mother a mason jar of flowers from my yard when I visit her. Or, I take her something special from the farmer’s market- those little zucchini, an eggplant or some fresh green beans. I know how much she likes those kinds of things.

This weekend, I hope someone does something special for you and vice versa. Have a great holiday!

Does someone you know do something especially kind for you? Or do you have a great memory of a parent or loved one from your past? Here’s your chance to share it with us and give us some good ideas!

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When Less Is Really Better

DSC_0145

“There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” ― G.K. Chesterton

Life is moving in slow motion for me these days. For the first time in many years I have the luxury of enjoying summer, spending time with my mom, family and friends. It’s a big switch for me, multi- tasker that I am, as I am used to cramming as much as I can into my waking hours. It was nothing for me to go non stop from 7am until 10pm at night, rarely stopping long enough to catch my breath in between. My sister Mary said to me once, “Jo, you’re making us all look bad.”

These days, it is life without much of an agenda. It is freeing really to have a minimal schedule and plenty of time to work on small projects. And, the bonus to all this is I am living on a lot less money than I used to. My needs have become very simple. I tried to figure it out the other day, what was it that was really different? First, I am just not buying stuff like I used to. Second, I am content with a lot less.

DSC_0162Part of this I can attribute to grace and age. As I truly work on embracing life from the standpoint of a spiritual journey, material things have become less and less important. As I get older I feel like I am truly embracing what my mother Katherine has always set an example of- that less is really better. Bigger, fancier and complicated just means more expensive, more maintenance, more potential aggravation. Make more money and we spend more money. Easy and simple I’m finding is really the way to go. Pare things down, decide what’s really important, ease back and enjoy it.

The bonus to all this less is more attitude is more time and energy, and a bit of extra money for what I feel most passionate about. The ability to decide what’s really important bestows a true attitude of generosity in so many other ways. Ways that can really make a difference.

Thanks again to my daughter Michelene for these beautiful photos!

What’s your simplest pleasure? I’d love to know!

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All Wrapped Up Pretty with a Bow

Beautiful Bows by Karen Appleton

So Thanksgiving is over (poof!) and now it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to Christmas. I didn’t participate in any Black Friday events (did you?) because frankly, I’m just not into the hoopla. And, my list is not all that long. Let me explain.

We pull names on my husband’s side of the family so Jim and I only have two presents to buy there. My kids are older now and frankly, we’re just not into lavish presents. Plus we are still helping our kids in other ways financially. How much is too much (or not enough) when it comes to your kids (or grand kids for that matter)?

As I work on my spirituality, I don’t want Christmas to be only about shopping and gifts. It just seems too superficial. In my early days as a new mom, the holidays were about lots of presents, cooking, decorating and getting exhausted. I usually got a terrible cold when New Year’s was over, likely from all the self induced stress I put myself through.

Last year, I tried something new. I took each of my kids to a music event. John and I went to see Handel’s Messiah, and Michelene and I went to see Jackie Evancho. This way, I gave a larger gift- my time– and both kids responded in a positive way. Also, this gives me a chance to support local non profits like the CLO or Pittsburgh Symphony. So that is what I think I might do this year. A music or artistic event, a teeny bit of money and some socks. Everyone can always use warm socks.

I want to remember, most of all, that the holiday is about spending quality time with family and whatever is the reason for the season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, I think the ritual of eating and spending time together with family and friends, when accompanied by the symbolic significance of your holiday, is the synergy that makes holidays meaningful.

So my gift list this year isn’t too long. I kind of like it that way. I’m into wrapping my time up pretty with a bow and being with the ones I love.

(Thank you to Karen Appleton for her beautiful painting of Bows! Click on her name below the bows picture and visit her website!)

How do you feel about gift giving? Is it all about the presents or do you do something different? Fill me in!

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Feeling a little marshmalloweeee…..

English: Marshmallows

Feeling alittle fluffy!

Lately I’ve been feeling like a marshmallow. You know, kinda soft and fluffy. Is this a good thing? Well, maybe it is ok if you’re a marshmallow but probably not if you’re a human.

With the holiday just around the corner, I decided that all I can really do is try and keep the marshmallow-ness of me at a regular softness and size. I am certainly not of the little tiny marshmallow genre at the moment. I thankfully would not call myself one of those giant marshmallows either and that’s good because they are so darn hard to toast. Getting those warm on the inside while toasting well on the outside is really a challenge.

I have a craving this morning for Rice Krispies Marshmallow Treats so I may just make myself a batch for Christmas! Have a sweet and soft kind of day!

 
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Christmas….Keeping it simple

English: Plateful of Christmas Cookies

Keep it simple!

I am a self-professed over doer. Like anyone these days, I want to keep my job, get everything done at home, be prepared for what may happen next, decorate my house beautifully for Christmas, make everyone a batch of delicious cookies; the list goes on and on.

What I realize of course is that I set myself up for my own impossible goals. Then, thankfully, my sense of reason kicks in and I have my AH HA! moment. My consciousness reminds me ya can’t do it all!

Gone are the days (hopefully!) when my plate was never full enough for me. I was always thinking how much more can I possibly pack into my day? Even when I think I’m taking it easy I can challenge myself to look closer and question my own schedule. Can I snip a few things here or there? Squeeze in an extra nap? Cut back my Christmas list just a bit?

This year, I am paying a single mom to make cookies for me. Baking is not high up on the priority list for me and Jillian loves to bake. This isn’t costing me a fortune (I am rich in many ways but not when it comes to my pocketbook!) and I love this young girl I am giving this task to. We will both be winners on this one.

I am having a large crowd on Christmas Day for dinner. Last year, I insisted on using real dinnerware, silverware, etc. for 25 people. It was very nice of course but my plumbing almost backed up from all the dishes we washed. This year, it’s going to be beautiful paper plates, holiday paper napkins wrapped around good plastic silverware and easy food offerings (some pre-done!) that are easily warmed up.

The perfect Christmas does not have to be perfect. It can be a last minute guest, a batch of botched cookies that you laugh over, a chance to reconnect with an old friend. This year, I want my holiday to be more about relationships- I want to spend time with my family and friends that mean the most to me.

So for me this year, I’m open to whatever may come my way. Hopefully it will be a less intense, more deeply satisfying connection to the true meaning of Christmas.

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