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.

Follow the Breadcrumbs…

Bread (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

I have been thinking lately about bread. Really good bread.

I love a good crusty baguette, a fresh loaf of Italian, or even a good olive oil bread. Lately with the multitude of great breads out there, it’s hard to make a decision which one to choose. I do love a darker loaf with little bits of greek kalamata olives in it. Yum….

Bread, for me, is one of the sustainers of life. A good loaf of bread, some orange marmalade and a hunk of great cheese is all I really need.

I happened to think of bread one day in terms of The Path. My Life Path that is. I wish I could see ahead, wish I would know what’s in store for me, but of course I can’t. I have no idea what’s around the next bend because though God has a great plan for me, I (of course) am not on the planning committee.

So I am left to follow the breadcrumbs. Yes, those graceful breadcrumbs that are just outside my door, waiting to be picked up. I will devour them (because I love bread) and likely, I will keep following them, keep picking them up, and keep having faith. I know wherever I go, those breadcrumbs will be there, showing me the way.

That chance meeting with a friend (or stranger), a random phone call, a wrong turn that ends up being right are part of The Path. It’s about saying YES. Yes to change, to growth, to ME. A chance for me to step up and many times, to find a happier, less fretful way. If I am paying attention, those breadcrumbs will show me the way.

The best thing I can do is to keep picking them up, keep going forward. And, I’ll take the time to really enjoy those breadcrumbs…..

Join me on my graceful journey.

Beautifully Imperfect

Last weekend, a bunch of friends and I (and Jim of course) went up to Cook Forest, PA. and rented a cabin in the middle of the forest. We’ve been to “Cook” many times but it never fails….the forest can clear my head and lower my stress level just by its very existence.

When we drove up the driveway to our cabin, I noticed a large tree at the edge of the property. It was spectacular. Tall and gorgeous, just like the other trees around it, only slightly different. Near the bottom of it, close to the ground, was a huge round mass of extra tree, a nature-ish wort, out there, like an elbow of sorts, for everyone to see.

So I spent some of the weekend thinking about imperfection. I thought of the times, in my younger days, when I had focused on what I thought was wrong with me instead of right. How I would wish for long, blond hair instead of the curly black hair I was given. How I wished I was less busty, slightly taller, and had less of a grecian nose. Looking back on it, maybe it was a by product of youth, to want what I did not have, or maybe it was a teeny self esteem issue, something lots of young girls suffer from in a culture based too much on perfection.

As I age, I realize there is great beauty in imperfection. Just like that tree. It makes us who we are and what we are. We learn to either get over ourselves or suffer eventually, from slight forms of mental anguish or too much botox. Recently, I have been making an effort to love myself fully for who I really am, and too, the person I am growing into. It has taken me years to appreciate my own endowed gifts- the same curly hair I used to try and tame, my slightly larger nose, my graceful legs from all the Greek dancing I did growing up.

When I love myself for who I really am, a beautifully imperfect individual, my unrealistic expectations fall away and I am free to use the gifts I have been given. And, to go forth and make the most of them.

Join me on my graceful journey.

Anonymous Gifts

Big Heart of Art - 1000 Visual Mashups
Big Heart of Art – 1000 Visual Mashups (Photo credit: qthomasbower)

A few summers ago, Jim and I were driving to our summer vacation destination of Ocean City, Maryland.  We came upon the toll booth to the Bay Bridge in Maryland and as we inched our way up to pay the entry fee, Jim remarked (as he did almost every year) that if he’d have bought an EZ Pass, we wouldn’t have been waiting in a long, slow line.

When we got up to the toll booth, the booth employee said “The car in front of you has paid your toll…Have a nice day…”

I think we were momentarily speechless while we absorbed the fact that someone, who didn’t even know us, had been so generous as to pay for our toll…

Fast forward to a recent occurrence in which, as an event chairperson, I received a very generous check in the mail for an event I am helping to coordinate. When I called the donor to thank him, I asked him how he would like his sponsorship to read on the poster (that would be displayed on an easel as guests walked into the event). He said, “I wish to remain anonymous”.

I thanked him again and we hung up the phone. I felt amazed at the unselfish act I was just witness to.

I am lucky to know people who, day after day, do things out of the goodness of their hearts to “pay it forward”. Some have been given ample financial means and wish to share the fruits of their success with others. Others have been through troublesome times and have emerged, strong and faithful, and mean to help (with a full heart) to pay forward the gifts they have received.

But what about those who do things anonymously? This is another thing entirely in my book. I sense there is something ego-less, unselfish, and spiritually mature about this type of behavior. To do acts of loving kindness and generosity without announcement or fanfare, is truly something special in my eyes.

Though I do not have the means lately to be financially generous, I try to do anonymous acts daily that benefit others in small ways. I believe this to be a crucial part of my spiritual growth and maintenance. And, I really don’t have to spend much (or anything at all!). I can leave extra change as a tip, put money in parking meters, do a kind act for a stranger. No one sees me and I try and resist the urge to puff myself up and go telling on myself.

If I give an anonymous gift, I know what I did….and so does God. And really, that’s everyone who needs to know.

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.

My 50th Post!

“By the time we hit fifty, we have learned our hardest lessons. We have found out that only a few things are really important. We have learned to take life seriously, but never ourselves.” Marie Dressler

Picture by Cally Jamis Vennare

Here I am, at my 50th post. It’s hard to believe it but yes, that’s 50 stories on Katherine’s Daughter.

First I want to thank you, my friend for reading this blog. I can’t believe the friends I’ve made (and found) through my writing and I know it’s only going to get better. I can’t wait to see who I’ll know in another 50 posts from now.

There has been much pleasure in writing this blog and very little pain. The pain has mostly come from learning the technology to use my host company, WordPress, to its fullest. I am still in the learning process but I am much braver than I used to be! If anything, I have more confidence with themes, appearances, settings and such, something I never really knew anything about.

The pleasure of writing my blog is equivalent to me holding both my arms wide open. It is limitless. If I try not to over think, over criticize or over edit myself, it is truly a wonderful experience. It does take a certain discipline to sit down and create stories. But I don’t try and force them; I just listen to my heart and soul. That’s all you really have to do.

If you’re reading this and have ever thought of having a blog, I want to encourage you to go for it! (What are you waiting for?) My only advice to you is to have your blog name picked out before you get started. After that, it’s all a delicious piece of cake.

So thank you again, for being one of my readers! I appreciate you more than you know. Onward, to the next fifty stories!

*Bloggers- if you’re reading this, what keeps you going, what keeps you writing?

Join me on my graceful journey.

Back Yard Beauty

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.  ~John Muir

What is it about Nature that is just so good? Even in all of our own beautiful woman (or man) made masterpieces, there is still something special about what the earth can create.

I’m lucky that I live in a place where I have lots of privacy. Sometimes in the early morning, I take my bowl of cereal outside and just sit. The sun is still coming up and the day is just getting started. If I am very still, I can hear birds singing and other quieting, natural sounds. It reminds me to take things slow and savor the moments.

I’ve been around for 54 years now and I still cannot seem to get enough of Mother Earth. If I’m feeling abit stressed, all I have to do is go outside and look around.  My own back yard is one of my favorite places on this earth.

Though the grass is a bit brown these days, there are plenty of other beautiful things to keep me happy right in my yard. Jim and Michelene planted a beautiful garden along with some flowers and through minimal watering, they are flourishing. There are butterflies galore and Jim’s honeybees are busy everywhere, just pollinating to their heart’s desire.

Bunnies are in on the act too. They can’t get enough of our sweet clover. My dog, Jordan, keeps a watchful eye on them and she loves to give them a good chase down the yard.

The summer is hot and it’s just moseying along. It won’t be long now till it’s the dog days of August. That’s when I really want things to slow down so I can enjoy the last moments of the season.

If I just take a moment, I can remember there is great beauty right outside my door. I don’t need to go very far. May you see the great beauty in your own back yard today.

Photo Credits: Michelene Cain

Join me on my graceful journey.

Grace is…a whole lot less worry

I was driving home from Amy’s house last night and while I was at a stop light, I happened to notice a beautiful old white house with blue trim on a corner lot. Blue is really my favorite color lately as I like how it goes with my silver hair, which is getting more and more silvery every day.

The windows seemed bare in the house and then I noticed there was a “for sale” sign in the front yard. I took in the house briefly, noticed the tiny front yard and the busy intersection. I thought “tough sale” as boy, you’d really have to like that house to accept the tiny yard and all the noise from the intersection.

Dairy Queen
Dairy Queen (Photo credit: Lee Cannon)

But wait. There was a Dairy Queen across the street from the house. I was familiar with this Dairy Queen because I have stopped there numerous times on my way home from work. I used to work in the city and when traffic was overwhelming on the parkway, I’d go the back way. And sometimes, I’d stop at that Dairy Queen on my way home.

The DQ would almost make living there worthwhile. Just think of the ease in trotting across the street for a quick cone after dinner. (My favorite DQ treat is a soft serve cone). I really like vanilla and chocolate ice cream swirled together but will sometimes get all chocolate. If you know me well, you know I have a big weakness for chocolate.

The truth of course is I really have no desire to leave my house. Sometimes I get a bit worried about the day I may have to leave. Maybe someday my house will become too much for me; too much mowing, too much shoveling, and too much upkeep. That leads me to worry about Jim and whether we will grow old together, blah, blah, blah and so on and so on.

Sometimes, my mind loves to run away with outlandish scary thoughts. The committee in my head calls an emergency meeting and starts planning all sorts of solutions to my ridiculous problems. That’s when I stand up, as chairman of the committee, and announce that the meeting is over.

Grace is so much less trouble. So much less worry. When I turn my scared stuff over to God, it just melts away. I am lucky I can do this now. It used to be much harder. Thankfully, a little bit of Grace goes a long way.

I’m ready for a cone. How about you?

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.

Keeper of the Secrets

There was a time, long ago when I was not so great at keeping confidences. Actually, I was terrible at it. I grew up (like all young women?) loving a good juicy secret, whether it was true or not. And sometimes the details were just too irresistible to check out thoroughly before I passed them along. Whether I could help myself or not, I managed to get a great deal of pleasure from talking about others’ problems and Good Lord, the mess these people made of their lives.

Meanwhile, I was the one later who had a mess of a life going on….

Enter my friends, the ones who I latched onto when I really set out to work on myself spiritually. These friends taught me to mind my own business and respect the privacy of others. It took some time but eventually I overcame the urge to talk about people behind their backs (or to their face!). This was nothing short of a miracle. And, I have to say, it’s hard work. I needed (and still need) to remember that talking about others devalues me, disrespects a confidence and if I think well enough of myself, I don’t need to talk down about others to build myself up.

While my friends were teaching me about privacy and respect of others, they taught me something about secrets. Through their own generous acts of respect, they listened to my secrets and kept them as confidences. This was another miracle. It was a great leap of faith to talk about things that I was keeping inside of me, things that threatened at times to seriously bring me down. But here they were, listening…..and loving me anyway….secrets and all.

The upside, the greatest reward to all of this is that people now trust me with their own secrets. They know when they tell me something intimate, it will not go any further than my own ears. This is God’s Great Grace, I believe, to have been given the gift of confidential and respectful listeners and then, to be able to pay it forward.  I gave my secrets to others and now, I have been chosen by a few close friends to be their Keeper of the Secrets.

So I listen to stories of troubled pasts from my comrades, bits and pieces that represent good (and not so good) portions of their lives. When I do this listening, I am silently loving and praying for them. They tell me their shortcomings and again, I love them anyway. Things they suffer from shame about, things they think no one could love them through… and yet I love them even more. I am not sure why this spiritual work has been given to me but perhaps I am not here to question it. My responsibility is to continue to love and accept unconditionally those who choose to confide in me.

This trust, this confidence speaks volumes to me. I will never, ever take it for granted. Again, it is an opportunity to pay back over and over the great gifts that have been given to me. The gifts my friends gave me so freely, way back when I knew not what their real value was.

“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
― C.G. Jung

Thank you again to Cally Jamis Vennare, for these beautiful pictures!

Join me on my graceful journey.