Cultivating Happiness

Cherry Blossoms by my daughter, Michelene
Magnolia Blossoms by my daughter, Michelene

Our happiness depends on the habit of mind we cultivate. So practice happy thinking every day. Cultivate the merry heart, develop the happiness habit, and life will become a continual feast. Norman Vincent Peale

I love this optimistic quote. I’m into happiness these days because even though we still have some snow on the ground, I am thinking, dreaming of magnolia trees!

Their beautiful pink color, guarantee of spring and summer, and magnificent beauty bring a smile to my face. I think I first laid eyes upon a magnolia tree when I visited my godfather John in Charleston, South Carolina as a little girl. I remember their huge blossoms and heady fragrance. I probably fell in love with them on the spot.

Around here in SW Pennsylvania, the magnolia trees will bloom if it gets warm and stays warm. I am keeping my fingers crossed this year for no late frosts!

Magnolia 2

Magnolias seemed a fitting entry flower for this first post on my new self hosted website because they make a bold, beautiful statement. Yes, I am wearing my big girl bloomers and hoping, praying that my email subscribers and my blogger friends are viewing this post. Can you please let me know? A quick comment below or an email to me at will do much for positive reinforcement!

After this long and challenging winter, I am patiently cultivating happiness. Dreamy images of digging in soft soil with a warm sun bring me closer to nature and to God. I can’t wait to make my first backyard campfire and hear the crackle from all those random branches that have been laying around my yard for months. My New York cousin made her reservation this week to come with her daughter for some quality time during April’s spring break. This makes me very happy. Lent has begun with its great promise.

How are you cultivating happiness? My daughter Michelene is an avid gardener and she shared her seed wish list with me the other day. Squash, pumpkins, sunflowers, heirloom tomatoes were all there and more, and I could see the twinkle in her eye. She is ready for her own garden, at her own place and I bet she’ll share her seed extras with Jim and I. This is cultivating happiness.

If we are not defined by our problems but by our gifts and talents, life becomes a canvas on which we can paint the world we have always dreamed of. The challenges of the past will not matter. We can move forward, confident of our God given abilities, and with appreciation for our own beauty within.

As one of my favorite artists, Mary Engelbreit would say- “Bloom Where You Are Planted”.

What is your favorite way to cultivate happiness?

Join me on my graceful journey.

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.

A Tantalizing Tale

This tale begins with a toilet. A toilet that was giving us problems….

For the past year (I swear that’s how long it was going on!) we were having problems with our toilet. It would not flush well on occasion and as you can imagine, this was quite a frustrating situation.

We live in a small ranch style home, out in the country and we don’t have public sewage. We have a septic system and just one flushing toilet for the four of us.  It’s hard to believe this would be the case (only one toilet, you may ask?) but public sewage is coming our way so there’s no sense in taxing our already aging septic system with another toilet.

So one morning, I finally had it with the toilet that refused to flush decently. I sent my husband a text message and invited him to the local home supply store for an evening date. We’d have dinner somewhere then go pick out a new toilet (what an exciting date?! my one girlfriend noted). Jim text-ed back his confirmation- OK.

That evening, after a summer dinner of sandwiches and salad, we headed for toilet territory. While Jim was off in the garden center, I checked out the vast array of tantalizing toilet selections. There were rows of them, in all different shapes, sizes, heights and tank capacity sizes. My mind was boggled with toilet tank options, gallon capacities, and colonial white or regular white options.

Jim showed up to look over the toilets. Of course he was looking at the $200 toilets but frugal minded me was checking out the $98 ones. I couldn’t see what the heck you’d need an expensive toilet for anyway?

Enter Mark Lee. He was the home supply salesman who happened to walk down our aisle and ask if we needed help. He was young, tall and very handsome. He looked like he could be a magazine cover model in sexy jeans with no shirt on. (The young girls probably go crazy over him)  I took one look at him and decided, on the spot, that he likely knew nothing about toilets.

This is where I was wrong. Dead wrong. Mark Lee launched into a sales pitch worthy of an infomercial. The first thing he said was “You get what you pay for. This is an item you will use every day, many times” (he smiled when he said this and we did too).  Jim agreed of course and was probably relieved that thank goodness, here was an ally in his quest for a non-cheap toilet. Jim asked him which toilet he recommended and Mark Lee pointed to the gold standard of toilets- The American Standard.

Mark’s sales pitch lasted a couple of minutes. I remember the last thing he said, “And, this toilet will flush a bucket of golf balls…..” At this statement, Jim and I both raised our hands in the air and said “SOLD!” The next thing I knew we were wheeling a $239 toilet to the front desk.

Since then, I’ve realized a couple of things. The old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is still true. Clearly, I made a judgment decision about Mark Lee that was dead on wrong. He was a spectacular salesman. Second, nothing beats a great flushing toilet with a smaller water tank capacity. I can just imagine what we’re saving on the water bill!

Footnote: Guess what was stuck in our old toilet? A PENCIL!

Join me on my graceful journey.

Abundance…In True Anne Lamott Style

One of my favorite writers is Anne Lamott. You’ve probably heard of her or might be a fan of hers already. She has written a number of faith based books (Traveling Mercies) and some fiction novels as well. Her latest book is entitled “Some Assembly Required” and it is a beautiful journal of her grandson’s first year of life.

The first thing I loved about this book was Anne’s decision to be called “Nana” by her grandson. (My grandson calls me Nana too!) She “journals” her way through her fears about everything from her son and his girlfriend’s relationship, to the baby’s birth and early development. She calls close friends when she is losing it and always comes back to faith and humility by letting everyone live their own life. She is such an inspiration.

Here’s one of my favorite stories from the book:

(Anne says) “I have a new perspective on spiritual abundance, thanks to my friend Michelle, who told me about going to Starbucks the other day for a pecan sticky bun. She normally doesn’t order pastry at Starbucks, because it’s fattening, but the other day she decided to treat herself to a pecan sticky bun. She spent quite a lot of time picking out the exact one she wanted, which meant the one with the most pecans. She pointed it out to the counter person. He had to move a few others that were in the way, so she took her coffee and sat down.

He brought the sticky bun over, all wrapped up and on a plate. She started taking it out of the paper, and instantly saw that it was the wrong bun, not the one she had chosen. This one had only three pecans on top. She wrapped it back up and walked to the counter, where she pointed this out to the young man, with crisp annoyance. He looked at her incredulously. “Lady,” he said, “turn it over”.

And on the other side, the bun was tiled with candied pecans.”

I just loved this story. How many times have I had an attitude about something which turns out to be abundance in disguise? If we’d all remember to count our blessings, what a pecan studded world this would be!

So, if you’re looking to read with abundance this weekend, pick up a copy of  Some Assembly Required!

Join me on my graceful journey.

The Graces of Sisterhood


1.Greek & Roman Mythology Three sister goddesses, known in Greek mythology as Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia, who dispense charm and beauty.

2. Divine love and protection bestowed freely on people.

3.The state of being protected or sanctified by the favor of God.

4. An excellence or power granted by God.

 I have been wanting to write about my two sisters for some time now. There are those ideas, as I’m sure other writers will attest to, that are just challenging to put into words. But here and now I’m going to try and describe the feelings I have for my two sisters.

L to R, Joanne, Mary, Cally

First, just bit of background. Mary is two years younger than me. When we were growing up, she and I played Batman together, rode Schwinn bikes together, fought and protected each other. Today she is an entrepreneurial, forward thinking, loving woman who makes time for anyone and any good mission or project. Cally is four years younger than me. I remember her as a child, but just barely. I am sure I protected her, watched over her, as my father often reminded me of my caretaker and role model responsibilities. Cally is soft and quiet but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t step up to the plate. She is quite the leader, eloquent writer and artistic creator.

I think the three of us are a blend of my father’s outstanding leadership qualities and our mother’s (Katherine) wisdom, strength and great Grecian- inherited event planning skills. How very lucky we are to have been so blessed!

It was not until the three of us left for college that I felt how really close we were. Though separated by distance, we would come together at holidays and on special occasions. As we got older, we shared our life experiences, our trials and tribulations of growing up. We have not agreed upon everything but we respect and support each other. I think we make a great team, bouncing ideas off each other and managing some good retail therapy when we have a chance to be together.

There is no denying that now, the relationship between us is very strong. I found a quote by Susan Ripps in which she says “There is no outsider anywhere who wouldn’t appreciate and even envy the tremendous advantage that sisters have, if properly utilized, against all odds”. How true!

At the Base of the Acropolis!

God must certainly have Grace in mind when he creates sisters.  Divine love, the state of being protected, and power to support, love and care for each other. When I found the definition of Graces in Wikipedia (in my opening), somehow it was just perfect for describing my relationship to my sisters.

Do you have a sister? Whether she is blood related or not, sisterly bonds can last forever. I can think of several people who I feel special enough about to call them sisters. Tell me in comments below what your sister(s) mean to you. I’d love to hear about it!

Join me on my graceful journey.

A Spiritual Connectedness

Creation of Adam, hands in detail
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I lost my dear nephew a few weeks ago, I had a dream the following week. My father, who passed away 14 or so years ago, was in my dream. He was so close to me, close enough for me to see his face. He reached his hand out and touched me. I woke up, startled. Then a calmness came over me. I felt reassurance. This to me was a sign, a sign to let me know that everything was all right. My nephew was in a peaceful place.

Once, I was sitting next to a co worker at lunch. We were discussing the latest event we had planned together and I said to her, Have those table linens been picked up yet? Just then, the delivery guy came to the door and announced he was there to pick up the linens.

I am a spiritual being living a human life. When I can be quiet and listen to my inner voice, chances are I will hear something really interesting. If a situation begins to unfold in which I feel like I might be in the right place at the right time, I try and ride with it. Sometimes, it’s a little unbelievable.

I think you know the kind of situations I’m talking about. You think of someone, the phone rings and it’s them. Maybe there’s a desperate situation of some sort and someone just happens to show up who takes care of things. Sometimes I’ve been the one to show up; sometimes it is someone else. I think the scary part is the powerlessness of it. We are not in charge of the universe. God has a plan for us but we are not on the planning committee. That can be disarming. But, it can also be an exhilarating experience to go through the day, waiting for the next miracle to unfold.

Each day is a gift. Let’s untie the ribbon…

Join me on my graceful journey.

God Between the Clouds

There was a time when I was afraid of storms. As a little girl, I remember hiding my head under the covers whenever lighting and thunder would strike. I remember telling my kids when they were little that, during storms, God was bowling, just so they wouldn’t be afraid.

Last night, after a whole day in the Pittsburgh suburbs of sun and clouds and clouds and sun, the clouds finally won out. Around 6:30pm, it started to storm. I was meeting some friends at 7:15 and took Route 30 just when the sun was going down and the clouds were letting up.

The sky was so stunning I couldn’t help but stop at a small church and take pictures from the parking lot. Hope you enjoy the shots as much as I did.

Join me on my graceful journey.

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 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?

Join me on my graceful journey.

The Power of a Journey

I love a good lump in your throat kind of movie. You know the kind I mean. When you begin to watch it, you just know something sweet is going to unfold. Maybe a good lesson on faith, love or forgiveness.

Cover of "Field of Dreams (Widescreen Two...
Cover via Amazon

There are a few movies that inspire and give me that lump in my throat. They are the movies I can watch over and over and never tire of. Field of Dreams is one of them. In it, Kevin Costner embarks upon a journey of self discovery. Through the building of his cornfield ball park, meeting and finding old baseball pros, he finally sees the purpose of it all when his young father turns around at home base. The golden nugget is the chance, the opportunity to heal his troubled relationship with his father.

Last night, I went to see Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Lest you are thinking about reading no further, hear me out. I absolutely loved it.

I remember seeing trailers for SFITY, twisting up my face and wondering what the heck is someone thinking? A movie on salmon fishing??? Then a few days ago, I read a positive review of the movie, intriguing me enough to make me want to go.

So go I did and wow, was I impressed. I also realized what a grown up I have become because even though this movie has gorgeous characters, a lusty love plot, unbelievable scenery (it’s the Yemen!), and lots of gutsy acting (Kristen Scott Thomas), I was so caught up in the MESSAGE.

The local Sheik wants to bring salmon fishing to the Yemen. Everyone, including the expert fishing pro they choose for the job, thinks he is nuts. The Sheik persists and says Do you have faith? to the expert. The expert is all about scientific research, dull boring stuff, but fishing is not about science, insists the Sheik . Fishing is about Faith, Fishing is about Patience, he says.

So the journey begins to bring water to the desert, bring the salmon to the Yemen. You wonder if they all begin to get alittle crazy with the idea but deep down, it’s faith. They start to believe in the dream. They overcome adversity several times and persist in their journey to a dream.

The lump in my throat started early in the movie. I know that happens when I can feel a spiritual experience coming on. I love the Sheik; he is full of wisdom, calm and grace. He shows us all the power of the journey, the walk towards enlightenment. I have a feeling that this movie will be one of those that I will want to watch over and over again.

Join me on my graceful journey.

Sky Watcher

Photo by Michelene Cain

It’s been a rough week.

Some things happened this past week that were so beyond my control. I badly wanted to take charge of the unmanageable situations, line them up like obedient soldiers, solve each issue one by one. When it was all over I could feed everyone chicken soup and chunky homemade chocolate chip cookies. I just wanted to make it all better.

Instead, I’ve eaten a few too many Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies and prayed for help. Please God, keep me from interfering where I shouldn’t. I can so justify my reasons for intruding, but at this stage of the game I know better.

Assisting others can be one of my star attributes. It can also be one of my biggest character flaws. When I do for others what they can do for themselves, I am robbing them of their own opportunities to grow or feel their own emotions.

For me, the fine line of distinction with regards to assisting others is my motive. Do I want to ride in on my white horse and save the day? Is my offer to help motivated by my own ego? Or is someone in genuine dire need or danger? Sometimes I need a good friend to help me figure things out.

When I am troubled by events beyond my control, I become a sky watcher. God speaks to me through the sky.  And so the past few days, I have taken every advantage to stare at the morning sunrise, the afternoon sun or clouds, and the deep dark sky filled with the stars and full moon of last week. I can be alone for a few minutes and ground myself again to my sense of purpose. That is, I am here to be of service, not to force my will on anyone. And I know deep inside that when I allow my loved ones the opportunity to solve their own problems, I give them (and myself) a great gift.

Photo by Michelene Cain
Join me on my graceful journey.