What a Vacation is Really All About

My Sisters and I on the Beach at Siesta Key
My Sisters and I on the Beach at Siesta Key

I got my ‘joice back, as my pastor says, ie if you want to re-joice, go get your ‘joice back. -Anne Lamott

The above is one of my favorite lines from Anne Lamott. She talked about getting her ‘joice back in her book, Plan B- More Thoughts on Faith, and since then has mentioned it many times on her social media posts.

I know exactly what she means. As a recovering over-doer, I tend to….well, overdo. I love lots of challenges, my plate full to the brim, and service work that is meaningful. It’s a delicate balance. And when that balance gets over or too far under, I am one un-joyful person.

It had been three years since I experienced a vacation of more than a couple of days. A few days here and there at a friend’s house, sporatic park/forest weekends and that was about it. Call it a financial decision or whatever it was, that was the truth.

All I can say is, I had no idea how tightly wound my brain had become. Filled with too many responsibilities and stress, it had been a long time since I truly allowed time for myself. I couldn’t remember when I had last read a book cover to cover, one of my own indications that I was too overloaded.

So it was spiritually perfect that on the very first full day of my Florida vacation, I went to church in Bradenton Florida. It was St. Barbara’s, a beautiful Greek Orthodox church. My Aunt KC had invited me long before I left Pennsylvania and I packed a black skirt just for the occasion. On the ride there, we talked about many things (mostly related to my mom) and when we arrived at the church, I soaked it all in.

St. Barbara's
St. Barbara’s

It was a gorgeous church, full of mosaics, icons and a very eloquent priest who talked about lent and repeating behaviors that we know don’t serve us. I loved his sermon and the beauty of the liturgy.

Then, that night, Aunt KC and Joanie told us there would be drumming on the beach around 7pm. We all wanted to go. In reality, the drumming began much earlier and we could hear the beat all the way up in our condo. By the time we made it down, there were a couple of hundred people and lots of drums.

More Drumming on Siesta Key

It was amazing. I have attended only one drumming event before but this was on a much larger scale. There were lots of people. Lots of drums. The sun was going down. It was a magnificent sight.

Picture by my sister Cally Jamis Vennare
Photo by my sister Cally Jamis Vennare
Lots of Drums!
Lots of Drums!

By the end of the week, I felt like I had my ‘joice back. It was there and I could feel it again. Joy in life, joy in whatever lay ahead, joy in gratitude for a vacation much needed.

Picture by Cally Jamis Vennare
Photo by Cally Jamis Vennare

Moral of the story: we all need a good vacation every once in a while.

Join me on my graceful journey.
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Hallelujah Anyway!

How do you begin? The answer is simple: you decide to. Then you push back your sleeves and start writing–I.e., scribbling words down on paper, or typing at a computer. And it will be completely awful. It will be unreadable s*#t! You won’t have a clue how it account to anything, ever. And to that, I say, Welcome. That’s what it’s like to be a writer. But you just do it anyway. At my church, we sing a gospel song called, “Hallelujah anyway.” Everything’s a mess, and you’re going down the tubes financially, and gaining weight? Well, Hallelujah anyway.

-Anne Lamott, recently on her Facebook page

This endearing part of a recent Facebook post by Anne Lamott only cements me further to her. No one speaks to my inner author quite like Anne.

Despite the swear word and a few teensy typos, I decided to run this quote as is because it motivates me. I want and am seriously ready to venture beyond my weekly blog posts, book reviews and such and write something of quantitative value.

Anne Lamott and Me! On the occasion of my most recent birthday!
Anne Lamott and Me! On the occasion of my most recent birthday!

For the last couple of years, I have wanted to write a non fiction book about Grace and my coming into the Light. A fellow blogger friend of mine has a book release TODAY and I am so inspired by this! (Go Heather!). Can I say it? To write a book and get it published is a really big dream of mine.

Anne is right. The best thing to do is just get started. This can apply to any dream- a new job, new contacts, new life- you name it. Just get started. And as Anne said it may be awful but so what! At least we got started.

Is there something you have been procrastinating about? If you’re interested, we can tag each other in our dream project. Tell me about it in the comment section below and we’ll cement our commitment. I am going to write my book and you are going to _______________.  If you’re overwhelmed at the moment and can’t take on another thing, just offer a few words of encouragement or your favorite quote about energy, motivation or desire.

Seriously, let’s do this together….xo

Join me on my graceful journey.
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Letting Go…and the God Box

Winter in the Northeast
Winter in the Northeast

The holidays are over and boy, it’s chilly and cold here in the Northeast. I’m trying to get back in the game of Life by settling into a somewhat regular routine. Eating more normally (getting out of that holiday cookie habit is tough!), trying to sleep well, trying to take care of myself.

The holidays don’t take away problems but they do seem to temporarily disappear during that time, don’t they? Or maybe we’re just too busy to care much about them.

When I settled back into my routines, I don’t know if it was tiredness or a bit of winter depression, but a few issues loomed in the background. I began to focus on them, picking them apart, festering and making myself a bit miserable over them.

I tried reading inspirational books and that helped a bit, but it wasn’t really banishing my dark cloud. In a moment of radical desperation, I decided to try an idea I’ve heard from my friends in recovery and from my favorite author, Anne Lamott. I decided to try a God Box.

My God Box
My God Box

At first, I thought I’d try and make myself one. I envisioned finding a small box, making it pretty, then cutting a slot in the top. Then I remembered a heart shaped gift box that my friend, Jeannine had bought me with pretty earrings inside. I wrote a couple of problems, each on its own piece of paper, each summed up in just a few words. I said a prayer, folded up the problems and slipped them into the box.

One issue was solved within a week. I was greatly relieved and very grateful. The other issues are more challenging; God really has his work cut out for himself with those. I know he’s up to the task though and I’m striving to put them in his hands. Letting Go is really the hardest part.

Here’s a great reading I found inside of “Help Thanks Wow”, Anne Lamott’s new prayer book, that hit the nail on the head for me this week: “Even though I often remember my pastor saying that God always makes a way out of no way, periodically something awful happens, and I think that this time God has met Her match- a child dies, or a young father is paralyzed. Nothing can possibly make things okay again. People and grace surround the critically injured person or the family. Time passes. It’s beyond bad. It’s actually a nightmare. But people don’t bolt, and at some point the first shoot of grass breaks through the sidewalk”.

My friend Larry’s funeral was Thursday. I wrote about him in my last blog post. Since his passing, everything else feels insignificant. Life is short and we must remember how special and important each day is. Though we miss Larry and the situation is awful, I know one day we will be walking along and there will be a blade of grass coming up through a crack in the sidewalk. Thank you Anne, for reminding me of this.

There is no problem so big or so small that Faith cannot fix it. If we but get out of the way and Let Go, things will work out.

What are your tools for dealing with problems or issues? What works for you?

Join me on my graceful journey.
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On Heaven, Faith…and Love

DSC_0280

I’ve been reading a lot of books lately. Many books, mainly on Heaven and Faith. It has given me much food for thought.

In the last six months or so, I’ve read “Heaven is for Real“, “90 Minutes in Heaven“,  “In the Shadow of a Badge” and I just finished “Proof of Heaven“. Lest you think I am completely off my rocker, I’ve also read “Explosive Eighteen” (I love those Stephanie Plum novels!), just to give my brain a break. And…I’m in the process of finishing “Everything Matters, Nothing Matters” by Gina Mazza and “Help Thanks Wow” by Anne Lamott. Yep, I am steeped in Heaven and Faith lately.

Here’s the hodgepodge of thoughts running through my head about Heaven, Faith and Love.

DSC_00041. It’s all about Love- Unconditional Love. The Universe (God, your Higher Power) loves and cherishes you and me unconditionally. Literally, we can do no wrong. We are forgiven.

2. You and I can have a deep relationship spiritually with the Universe (again God, HP) if we but take some bits of time to connect and feel the spirit deep in our soul. Prayer and Meditation help with this.

3. At the very least, we can have a kitchen sink of faith; the kind that doesn’t answer to any real organized religion. It can be a belief system of our own creation. I think God isn’t really picky. S/He just wants you and I to be happy.

Now, this may not sit well with everyone reading this and that’s ok. I am not aiming to stir up controversy (well, maybe!) but I just want you to THINK a bit.

IMGThat’s what I’m trying to do. THINK a bit. And keep myself open to all that I can learn and feel about God and Faith. There was something I read recently, something that seems too well placed to be just a coincidence. Here it is:

“Once I knew that I wanted to be an artist, I had made myself into one. I did not understand that wanting doesn’t always lead to action. Many of the women had been raised without the sense that they could mold and shape their own lives, and so, wanting to be an artist (but without the ability to realize their wants) was for some of them, only an idle fantasy, like wanting to go to the moon”. Judy Chicago

What do you really want? Do you have the courage to ask for and then receive and accept your dream?

I am beginning to realize that I can truly dare to dream on a higher level and a wish can become reality. Or better yet, I can have no idea what would be right for me and dare I stand back and let God choose for me?

Yes, it is a huge leap of faith. And it is not about taking the bull by the horns. It is about stepping back, letting go and allowing Faith to step in and assist.

(Thanks again to my daughter Michelene and my sister Cally for these photos!)

What’s your brand of faith? Share it with me…I’d love to hear about it!

Join me on my graceful journey.
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Expect a Miracle

Photo by Joe Indovina
Photo by Joe Indovina

God is such a show off….Anne Lamott

In a recent development, a close friend of mine has lost her job. I saw Phyllis at a gathering recently and couldn’t help sharing my own experience with job loss. Is it humiliating? Yes. Do you wonder if you should have done something differently? Yes. Does this mean they didn’t like you? (well, we really didn’t say that but we thought it!)

My period following a job loss several years ago actually turned out to be one of the best times of my life. Some financial compensation provided me with enough income to get by and thankfully, I received a job offer that didn’t start for a few months. It was a blessing. I took advantage of the time by doing whatever it was that I had always wanted to do but never had the time for. I went to Florida with friends on a winter vacation (cheap, because one friend of a friend had a time share), cooked great dinners (Jim loved this part), and read lots of great books. I also hung out with my very favorite friends.

I tried to be encouraging to Phyllis but I know it is still tough. It’s so scary, job loss; it touches all your survivor emotions and then some. I’ve been praying ever since for Phyllis to get a brand new job she just loves.

Meanwhile a close friend sent me a text that she knew someone who had a Christmas tree to give away. Cathy said “Do you know anyone who could use a tree?”. I sent a text to Phyllis and she graciously accepted the gift. How’s that for something sweet?

Last night I said to another friend, “I love to stand back and see what God will do”. Because God is magnificent in her execution. I hold the football and she runs forward and kicks the crap out of it. All we have to do is believe. It will be more than just a Christmas tree for Phyllis, I’m sure of it.

Anne Lamott likes to say “God is such a show off”. It’s true. If we but ask then wait for the gifts, amazing things will come about. Miracles occur every day and I’m spoiled…I’ve just come to expect them.

Is there anyone special you know who needs a miracle? Mention their name here (just a first name is fine) and we’ll all send it up to the heavens…

Join me on my graceful journey.
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A Blessing on Your Head

A blessing on your head Mazel Tov, Mazel Tov…Fiddler on the Roof

Meeting my favorite author!

Yesterday was my 55th birthday and today is Thanksgiving. This same remarkable timing occurred five years ago when I turned 50. I consider it a beautiful juxtaposition of birthday to gratitude day.

Five years ago (on my FIVE OH birthday) I took my family to Fallingwater– the stunning Frank Lloyd Wright house which sits over a rushing creek full of water. The house was much smaller than I had imagined but it was still breathtaking beautiful. We had lunch in the cafe, took the tour and walked around a bit in the nearby woods. Then we all headed back to dinner at my sister Cally’s house where her husband Raymond had prepared a beautiful dinner of lemon shrimp and orzo. We even Greek danced a little after dinner, just to connect with our deep roots.

My birthday this year was another dreamy day of inspirational happenings. A couple of months ago I noticed via Facebook that my favorite author, Anne Lamott, not only had a new book coming out but was coming close to where I live. She was going to be less than two hours away in Akron, Ohio at a public library.

I asked my sisters if we could go hear her speak. Ironically (or not so) my North Carolina sister Mary was coming home for Thanksgiving to attend her class reunion. The timing was perfect.

The view from the hotel!

We left the day before my birthday and stayed at a hotel that overlooked the Cuyahoga Falls (and the Schwebel’s bread factory!). Dinner was at a lovely little place called “Crave” in Akron, a mere block away from where Anne was speaking.

I insisted we get to the library early and we did. An hour and a half early. My sister Mary thought I was crazy. But there was a small line forming already. We decided to buy a family library membership for $20 and that got us into the auditorium early. We sat in the front row, dead center.

Have you ever been in a situation that felt surreal? That’s how I felt in that auditorium, an hour before Anne came out. When she walked across the stage to the podium, with her dreadlocks and bandanna wrapped around her head, I instantly smiled.

She spoke for over an hour then answered questions. She said many awesome things but my favorite was “we are really here to help each other get home”. I loved that.

I stood in line to meet her and get my (her) new book signed. We chatted for a few seconds and as I was walking up the ramp to exit, a group of locals began singing Happy Birthday to me. They knew it was my birthday and wow, that just made my day!

When I got home yesterday, there was a song in my head. It was A Blessing on Your Head, Mazel Tov, Mazel Tov. I’m a Christian but I love that song and I love all of Fiddler on the Roof. The song seems fitting, doesn’t it?

Have a wonderful, gratitude filled Thanksgiving day! What are you doing today?

Join me on my graceful journey.
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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.
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