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.

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….

(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.

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.

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.

That Which We Manifest

Day Five of our Captiva vacation and I am smitten by this beautiful town. Our condo is just perfect and the view from our balcony simply stunning. I can hardly believe I am here.

Boats of various sizes come and go in front of us all day. There is a beautiful pool here that overlooks, miraculously, the Gulf waters. My sisters and I are free to float along while my mom basks in a deck chair and listens, through earphones, to her favorite Greek singer. Sometimes it seems like we have the whole place to ourselves.

The boats going by are a study in contrast. Some are very large sailboats with gorgeous white sails. Others are large with a pointy front and I am guessing those are speedboats. Still others are smaller, powered by one or two people and I imagine a retiree, fishing to his or her content. There are lots of fish here and they are very happy, it seems, as I have never seen fish that jump out of the water, arch and flop back in.

On the horizon, the sky feels so close I want to reach out and touch the clouds. If you look up from your spot in the pool, you can watch them float by. Time, for us and the clouds, is plentiful this week.

The most interesting thing happened yesterday morning. A tall legged egret we noticed on day one has come every day to drink water from the pool. So far, he has only come when no one is around. Yesterday he appeared while Mary and I were floating along, just minding our own business. I dubbed him “Mr. Heron” because I initially assumed he was  a heron (we researched him later!). He was so graceful in his movements as he walked along- his long black legs at a slow, thoughtful pace. He was keeping an eye on us, but his desire for cool water must have been great. We were only a few feet away from him as he lowered his head to the pool, took a few sips, looked up and slowly walked away. My love for birds manifested itself yet again in the display of grace and serenity by this beautiful egret.

I left my family behind in Pennsylvania and there are moments this week when I wonder what they are doing. Does Jordan has enough water to drink? Is Gavin enjoying his last few days of school? If worry creeps in I remind myself of my goal this week- to relax and enjoy my mother and sisters. I’m sure everyone at home is just fine.

I keep thinking of a phrase today-”that which you manifest…..”. I had to look it up on the internet to find out the rest. I wanted to share it with you…

“That which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.”
― Garth Stein

I feel grateful today that I am in this beautiful place. May you manifest whatever it is that your heart desires…

Thank you to my sister Cally for these beautiful pictures!

Join me on my graceful journey.

Beach Wisdom

I’m taking off tomorrow morning, headed for a week in Captiva, Florida. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this, especially since I am going with my mom, Katherine, and my sisters, Mary and Cally. Yes, it’s definitely a Girls Week for us!

My mom is 83 now and I think it’s great that the four of us are banding together again for some rest, relaxation and fun. The last time we went away together was to Greece four years ago. We had a blast! In Greece, we ate the most amazing food, swam in beautiful waters, and saw some of the most beautiful sights in the world. It was an unforgettable experience.

These days, Life is so busy. If I don’t take the time to recharge my inner battery at least once or twice a year, I start to burn out. Getting away is how I reconnect with myself and reflect on all my blessings and gratitudes. Making this a priority, even with financial pressures, is important. And sometimes inexpensive getaways are to be found, with just a little asking and exploration.

Back to the BEACH. What is it about the beach that draws me in and comforts me? When I see the Gulf waters or the Atlantic Ocean, somehow I feel like I am with an old friend. She reminds me to slow down, take a moment, and rest. How can you help not relaxing when you’re sitting on a sandy beach? Growing up, my family went to Ocean City Maryland for a week in August just about every year. We knew the town like the palm of our hand. My sisters and I would battle waves, get a great tan, play boardwalk games and eat seafood galore. Maybe that’s why, to this day, I have a special fondness for the Atlantic Ocean.

Since then, I’ve explored other beach areas along the east coast and the Gulf of Mexico. I am looking forward to exploring yet another new beach town- Captiva. And I’m sure we’ll visit Sanibel Island- a place I have heard utterly enchanting things about. I am guessing the week will be beautiful, relaxing and hard to break away from!

I’ll be thinking of you. Are you taking a vacation this summer? Where is your favorite vacation spot? Where do you re-charge your inner batteries?

Join me on my graceful journey.

The Special Grace of Animals

I have to admit, I am a lover of animals.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved dogs, cats, horses, hamsters, birds- most any kind of domesticated animal. Being a nature girl, I am also drawn to wild creatures, especially deer and turkeys (yes, I especially love turkeys!), and beautiful birds like cardinals and hummingbirds.

Most of my friends have pets. If you want to get someone really talking, just ask them about their favorite Lucky or Lady. It’s the easiest icebreaker of all.

A Young Casper

I have a special pet cat. His name is Casper. He was a birthday present to my daughter from her girlfriend, probably sixteen or seventeen years ago. I’m guessing that “Casper, The Friendly Ghost” was probably the big movie hit at that time. We have had numerous other cats and dogs but Casper has survived them all.

What amazes me is Casper was diagnosed years ago with feline AIDS. How he has ever lived this long is a true mystery to us. He is free to roam our large yard, eats mostly dry food, gets plenty of fresh water and sunshine. He has rarely taken medicine. Perhaps this is the key to kitty longevity.

Lately, we have been especially mindful of Casper simply because of his age. He doesn’t see well anymore but he keeps eating and, he keeps performing all of his necessary bodily functions. To me, this means he is doing ok. He doesn’t cry and he still loves to be stroked and scratched lightly.

I have been watching Casper in the morning as he searches for the sun. He will find it and either he sits very still or lays down to soak it up. I watched him this morning and the one word that came to my mind was prayerful.

Prayerful Casper

I can take a lesson from Casper on being still. Sometimes when I am worried about something or a bit knotted up, he reminds me to take it easy, one day at a time. He clearly has the mantra down pat; he is the walking poster child for serenity. In his younger days, he climbed trees and was an excellent mouser. Now he is content to spend his remaining days in luxurious devotion to the sun.

No matter what animal we love, we are the lucky ones, aren’t we? My husband loves the saying, ” I want to be everything my dog thinks I am”. My son John, as a child, would lay down on the ground to be at face level with Casper. He would lightly stroke Casper’s head and look lovingly at him. I believe we can feel the soul of an animal if we are quiet and take the time to connect.

“With their qualities of cleanliness, discretion, affection, patience, dignity, and courage, how many of us, I ask you, would be capable of becoming cats?” –Fernand Mery Her Majesty the Cat

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.