Loving (and Remembering) Larry

284298_506253336052658_1811515822_nIt was a day that started out like any other day.

I was happy it was a Saturday. My plans were to meet some friends for coffee at the local Barnes and Noble, then head to my mother’s for a visit. My mom had a cold all week and I wanted to stop and check on her.

By the time I got back home it was almost 4pm. I had missed two phone calls on my cell and was so distracted I didn’t even check the messages. Then my friend Cathy called.

Did you hear about Larry? she said. He is gone. He died this afternoon

All I could say was what? what?

I just saw Larry a couple of days ago. I was in a pizza parlor to pick up some pizza for my son’s birthday. He came up behind me and smiled his big smile and said, hey girl! I gave him a hug and we chatted for a few moments. He looked the picture of health. Except for his eye. He had dark glasses on and he told me it took him three days to get to a doctor. He got some wood in it by accident. We laughed because I said, what is it with guys and not going to the doctor? He said, (with a smile) we just don’t like going to the doctor….

We chatted a few more minutes then my pizza was done. I said bye to Larry….

When I hung up with Cathy, I took a knee moment. It was to honor Larry’s entrance into Heaven and to pray for those of us left behind. We will have a difficult time going on because we will miss him so much. His smile, his laughter, his constant optimism.

I am grateful I had that moment with Larry this week. He was his usual smiling self and that is what I will remember.

My prayers are for Jill now. It is what we all fear deep down- losing someone we love so much.

When my nephew passed away last year it was a difficult time. I talked to my son, who is 27 now, and I said, This is the sucky part of getting older. You lose people. It is not fun. But we can remember who they were and all the good stuff about them.

That is what I will remember about Larry. Nothing but good stuff…

Rest in Peace Larry….

Join me on my graceful journey.
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Faith and My Old Sweater

My favorite sweater
My favorite sweater!

I have a favorite sweater I bought a few years ago.  Hanging on the sale rack at the Gap at end of season, it caught my eye with it’s beautiful knit weave and obvious coziness. It is a shade of slate grey, has a V neck and plain buttons down the front. The collar is large enough to fold over and the sleeves are just a bit too long…perfect for rolling up.

This grey sweater is my go-to favorite for a cold winter’s night, a chilly morning or underneath my coat when taking my favorite pup, Ms. Jordan, out for a stroll.

Though my sweater has seen better days, it is still warm and cozy. It doesn’t have fancy things about it and that’s what I like about it. It is simple and easy to wear. Over time, it has developed a small hole along the shoulder seam. This doesn’t bother me one bit. One day I will probably sew it shut, but for now I leave it alone. When I am at home, my sweater symbolizes my ok-ness with imperfection. It doesn’t matter what I look like on the outside; it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Here’s the correlation. Just like my grey sweater, my faith plays a warm and secure role in my life. It wraps me in comfort and loves me the way I am. It is there for me when I need it. It fills my life with JOY. And going forward into 2013, I will continue to be best buds with Faith as we walk hand in hand through this amazing life.

(Thanks to the Daily Prompt and the ever- fascinating group of folks at WordPress.com for this inspiration!)

What’s your favorite object that brings you warmth and comfort? Share it with me!

Join me on my graceful journey.
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Welcome Christmas!

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Dear Friend,

Today is Christmas! No matter where you are, no matter what you are doing, have joy in your heart and warmth for your fellow man and woman.

I searched for a good Christmas poem (tried to write one myself but poet I am not!) and this beautiful winter poem is the one I finally settled upon to share with you.

Love, Joanne

Glorious Winter

by Theodora (Theo) Onken

Come, oh most glorious Winter
Be quick to lay your silence down
Blanket us with your white coverlet
And i will wear my Green Christmas gown…
We will revel in your snowflakes-
Delight in a skate upon your iced over pond
Build forts and ramparts with much glee
Form a White Winter Bond…;
Come, oh most glorious Winter
We welcome your haunting White Noise…
All your white lanes all aglitter
Trees branches weighted-with White Winter Poise;
All agleaming and crisp making…
Comes thru the Decembers quick air
Completely dressed up in your Winter White
Oh, most Glorious White Winter, so fair!

Merry Christmas my friend!

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Join me on my graceful journey.
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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!

Join me on my graceful journey.
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Become the Beacon

Photo by Joe Indovina

I have been reading faith based books lately and occasionally watching ministry programs on tv. In my quest for spiritual self-discovery, I like to explore faith via one of my favorite slogans- Take what you like and leave the rest.  I don’t have to try anything that doesn’t feel right and it’s good to just listen and learn.

So yesterday morning, before work, I was watching Joyce Meyer. She is I think, a mega star and boy, she preaches to some large audiences. Years ago I used to reject these types of ministries as ridiculous, so it’s a big step for me to sit and listen to her.

Joyce was talking about “complaining”. She basically said we will get no where if all we do is complain about our life. Prayer is the answer, says Joyce. Also, having gratitude for the life we do have and thanksgiving for all our blessings is what gives us greater happiness.

Well Joyce (I think of her as my friend now, I’m calling her by her first name) I know this is true. Gratitude is one of my favorite things to post on and I’m a big believer in it. And even though Joyce is a Christian bible teacher and author, I’m sure many other religious and non-religious doctrines believe in gratitude over complaining any day.

One of the things I heard Joyce say that morning was when we bring the light into our life, we can become the light for others. When she said that I immediately thought of a lighthouse, standing with its beacon to bring others into shore safely. I think Joyce is right; people who don’t complain and show daily gratitude become the beacon for others to navigate by.

Do you know someone who is a beacon? I know a couple of beacons. When I am feeling down or can’t get my grip, I want to be in their light. I call them and ask if we can meet for coffee. Or I just call them. Then I say How are you? When they start to talk I feel their light coming through, even over the phone.

Do you have a beacon or someone who brings light and joy into your life? Tell me about him or her! 

Join me on my graceful journey.
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Thank you!

Artwork by Rae 02-01-81 – 06-06-09

Every afternoon when I leave work, my boss says “Bye! Thank you!”

When I make dinner for my grandson Gavin, he says “Thank you Nana!”

My husband Jim loves to open his sock drawer and find it filled with clean socks. He says “Thank you!”

It sounds like such a little thing but really when you think about it, it’s not. How many times a day do you say “Thank you”? I try and say it all day. Honestly, I say it to strangers in the supermarket, customer service people on the phone, the receptionist at the dentist office. I bet those are people who don’t hear “Thank you” much.

Princess Willow

My favorite way to hear “Thank you!” is when Amy’s granddaughter, Willow, will say Grace before a meal. It was her third birthday last week and I was there to share in the special occasion.

When we sat down at the table, we all held hands. Amy asked Willow if she would say the prayer. Willow’s face lit up and she said “Thank you!” with a big smile. It was a joy filled moment!

Many of my dear friends say that gratitude is the way to live a more peaceful life. I agree. I try and be grateful every day and I want to share that feeling with others. By saying “Thank you”, I appreciate what others do for me and I keep gratitude front and center. It may be hard to believe, but saying it in a heartfelt way and with a smile can change someone’s bad day to good.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I’d like to start a world wide movement to say “Thank You” more. I’m going to start right now by saying “Thank You!” to all my blogger friends, email subscribers, Twitter and Facebook fans who read my stories on a regular basis. You have no idea how much your comments, “Likes”, private emails and personal comments (when I get to see you!) mean to me. I love writing stories and I appreciate all your heartfelt support.

I think “Thank you” can be a pathway to peace of mind and a happy heart. Give lots of “Thank you’s” away and just watch how it changes  your life!

Are you with me? Say “Thank you!” a whole bunch today!

Join me on my graceful journey.
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The Key to Happiness

Photo by Michelene Cain

I walked Jordan, my yellow lab, outside for her morning stroll. The sun was just coming up over the horizon. Soft gray streaks of cloud streamed between glimpses of sunlight, a promise of the day to come.

There was an autumn chill in the air. Fall colored leaves were on the grass, the trees, everywhere. Our chickens were already up, walking about as if they too were ready for the new day.

I had a sudden appreciation for where I live. My home is at the end of a closed lane, surrounded by a natural woods, but with an acre or so of real back yard.

There is much grass to mow in the summer here and many leaves to gather in the fall. The driveway is long and currently needs some patch work. The trees are large and sometimes, we have to figure out how to chop them down when they get too old.

But, I love where I live. There was a time, years ago, when I did not. I wanted a bigger house, more rooms, more opportunities for livable space, a showplace of sorts where I could entertain and decorate.

What I have is a small ranch. We added a dining room and mudroom a few years ago so it’s a bit bigger now. But as I get older, I realize this is a great house for Jim and I to grow old in. Everything we need is on the first floor. Bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living and dining rooms. Only the laundry room is downstairs and someday, we can bring the washer and dryer upstairs to the mudroom. And I certainly can decorate, and do, in the country style that has come naturally to me after all these  years.

What I really thank God for is my natural surroundings. As I get older, I more and more appreciate that I have a view of trees and great sky everyday. When I was a young girl, I loved nature, loved riding my bike, loved pretending I was a campfire girl. Maybe this yard is one of the things that drew me to my husband….the thought of marrying into this yard.

The Hill- A Great Place for Bonfires!

There is a pavilion on top of the hill from my house. Jim’s grandfather and uncles built it ages ago but it still stands. The brothers all got together a few years ago and fixed up the roof, made the poles alittle sturdier. When we once bought the property adjacent to ours (now belonging to my sister in law), the surveyors knocked on my door. They said, Is it possible that the pavilion straddles two separate pieces of property? I said, with a smile, Yes. No one in the family cared about divisions of property back then. It still doesn’t matter.

Because, we are all family around here. We live, surrounded by kin, and that is ok with us. If you want to be alone, you will be left alone. If you need help, the cavalry will show up at your door, probably bearing soup and whatever else you may need.

The point of this is to be happy where you are, with what you have. This doesn’t mean not to dream, not to create goals. But sometimes, in chasing the dream, you realize it is right in your own back yard.

The key to happiness is to appreciate what you have. What are you grateful for today?

Join me on my graceful journey.
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Take a Walk with Me

I know how busy you are…this will take just a minute.

After years of going to Cook Forest, I discovered a hidden treasure, a jewel of a place, within the Forest itself.

I want to share it with you. It’s called the Forest Cathedral.

Come….let’s walk.

Told you it would be quick! Now, aren’t you glad you joined me?

Blessings to you and especially to my Cook Forest friends!

(All photos taken by me, Katherine’s Daughter!)

Join me on my graceful journey.
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Life in the Fast Lane

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough. Mae West

Boy, it has been a hectic couple of months….

Superwoman
(Photo credit: Gallivanting Gai)

I don’t know how I get myself into it (well, yes I do!), but every now and then I have a schedule that is just a complete whirlwind. I run from one thing to another, changing clothes like a magician, grateful that I don’t have too stressful a job or I’d never be able to keep up with my own social life.

Why do I do this? I’ll tell you. I don’t want to miss one exciting moment. I want to say YES to it all; the action, the fun, and sometimes, yes, the responsibility.

A blogger friend of mine wrote a post last week and I swear she was reading my mind. Her post was called “ENOUGH”. It was perfect. I needed to read it; to remember to slow down, to savor the moments of joy and gratitude in my life. I was finding myself rushing, rushing, rushing. One day I thought, what the heck is the big hurry?

Lately, in addition to or in spite of my full schedule, I have been pondering some big questions. Asking myself, is my life ok, is it meaningful, am I killing myself softly with all this craziness, do I need a change from M&M’s to peppermint patties?

Just kidding…..(but I do love peppermint patties!)

What inspired the pondering is a book I’m reading.  Anna Quindlen’s latest bestseller “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake” is the first AQ book I’ve ever read. I love her already. She pulls out her gutsiest thoughts and plunks them down on paper, writes in amazing honesty, and makes some darn good observations.

So good in fact that she is inspiring me to do some deep thinking. I am reflecting on lots of interesting stuff. My life, my quirky habits and what makes me tick. Here’s a few revelations I just have to share.

I am at my best when I am creating. Taking bits and pieces and pulling them together and making something wonderful out of it all. It doesn’t matter if it’s an amazing event, a new business, chicken soup or a craft project, I am best left without directions and no hot glue gun.

And, I like to teach and to lead. I like to inspire, motivate and cause a change. Positive change that is. Lead from the front after all.

My mother (Katherine) was a serious homemaker, the best really at cooking, cleaning, entertaining and organizing. My father (Mike) was pure salesman, through and through, and he loved to lead, direct, manage and inspire. Perhaps I am a combination of both of them, their (I hope) finest qualities, including the attraction to sweets my mother has evidently passed onto me.

What does this latest revelation tell me? Maybe I have my hand in the pot of each one of my parents. My mother handled her own schedule and commitments, and my dad handled his separately. I wonder if my life is pulled from both of theirs? Magic homemaker (wannabe) on the one hand, project manager on the other. I wonder how many of you reading this are combinations of your mom and dad (or primary caretakers), burning the candle at both ends?

No wonder we are a tired lot. This world is so fast, so busy, so full of stuff to DO. How do I keep it in perspective? First, I count my blessings. I have a full life; family, friends, children, grandchild, amazing partner in Mr. Cain. Second, I can’t stand to be bored. So, when too many activities start to fill my plate to the brim, I knock a few off and slow down just a bit.

Thank goodness it’s the perfect weather for kicking back. I made a big pot of chicken soup last night (no recipe!) and I can’t wait to have a big bowlful of it.

How do you slow down? (or speed up?) How full do you like your plate? Do you ever realize (and give yourself credit) for your strong points? I know…so many questions! Just pick one and tell me your deepest thoughts!

Join me on my graceful journey.
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Fall Into FOCUS

The Giving Tree

I had the privilege of chairing an event last week that surpassed all of my expectations. It was a beautiful event, one really worthy of mention.

It was a fundraiser for a mission center in one of Pittsburgh’s poorest neighborhoods, The Hill District. The FOCUS Pittsburgh center opened only fifteen short months ago and already it is transforming lives.

The guests who attended the evening were special, the doctors and directors who spoke held us spellbound. The donors who gave unselfishly were inspirational. My committee was amazing in their dedication to the planning and execution of the event.

Guests plucked leaves off The Giving Tree and donated activities for kids, snacks for backpacks, and medical supplies for the future clinic.  The silent auction tantalized us with jewelry, gift certificates and beautiful pictures. Everyone walked around with big smiles, happy to make new friends and greet old ones. And of course, there was some delicious food to munch on and enjoy too.

But the real show stealer that night were the people who have been positively impacted by the mission center. I don’t remember exactly how many came, maybe seven or eight. Plus a young child who stole my heart; I couldn’t resist hugging and kissing him, just for good measure.

When Paul, the director of the Pittsburgh FOCUS center, introduced the mission center friends, the little boy’s mother was the first to speak. He held his mother’s hand while she told of her life before she discovered the center. The young mother was clearly pregnant and said she had contemplated abortion. When she found the center the people there embraced her and offered assistance. She kept thanking the center over and over. It was a profound experience for us all to be there and hear her story, their stories. It was an evening I will never forget.

Before I close, I have to tell you my absolute favorite part of the evening. It actually occurred before the event started. Paul was sitting with the guests from the center and suddenly he announced to them that I was the main reason the event was even happening. Those incredible friends jumped up, starting yelling “Thank you!!” and engulfed me in a giant hug, the likes of which I have never experienced. I said then, and I still say now, that was worth every moment of planning.

I believe we are all on a Mission of Grace and Love. We are here to make a difference, help others, and….to love one another.

Join me on my graceful journey.
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