Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The New Normal




Image may contain: food





Yesterday I did something I've probably never done. I've taken naps before; sometimes on days when exhaustion sets in from overworking, and these virus laden days certainly. But when our alarm went off at five a.m., and Jim left a little before six, I went back to bed for four hours! I couldn't believe I'd slept that long.

Unfortunately that wrought havoc on my nighttime schedule. I tossed and turned for the longest time at bedtime. I had aches and pains that kept me up, thoughts that decided to sneak into my mind, and songs that played on their endless soundtrack of craziness.

I'd like to tell you I'm used to our new normal but there's a part of me that wants to fight it with everything within. I want to whip the old face mask off, shake some hands, hug some folks, and gather with large masses of people. It's the nonconformist in me. However good girl wins for now, and I obey being diligent, washing hands, wearing my gear, and sanitizing everything in sight.

I've been writing more than usual, and that is a good thing. I never would have had this much time otherwise. The writer's block that closed the creative center of my brain for the last three years is finally gone and I'm back in the saddle so to speak.

What other things do I do? I've been cooking better meals and baking more. I watch movies I wouldn't have had time for. I exercise a little each day, or try to get outdoors in the fresh air as much as possible. I crochet, clean closets, look through memorabilia and otherwise think deep thoughts. Some of this hasn't been too bad I guess.

Bird songs are clearer, flowering trees are prettier, the air is cleaner; appreciation for nature is sacred right now.

I hope that you are getting used to your new normal, but let's not love it, let's just like it a little. Because time will pass, jobs will return, business as usual, and we may lose a bit of the newfound joy and passion we discovered on this journey.

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Friday, April 3, 2020

Quarantine with Peace







I have to admit I had a little panic attack the other day when I heard we have to self-quarantine until April 30th now. I can't do that, I thought. I won't do it. But I will.

By no means am I taking this lightly. It is sad seeing the case numbers and the lives lost. It is equally sad seeing people being laid off or losing their jobs entirely. I am fortunate to be able to go into work one or two days a week (alone) at my dental office to call patients and open the mail, etc.

What's bothering me so much though is all the negativity. News, social media, friends, and armchair quarterbacks alike. I think we all need, more than ever, healthy does of what's good, positive, and uplifting.

Mr. Rogers had once said, "Look for the helpers, when things are scary." (Not in those exact words.) I find that if we do LOOK, they are all around. I see people stepping up for good in so many communities. Though they are practicing social distancing, they are thinking of creative ways to show how much they care, or offer hope, a daily scripture, or a smile. Isn't that the best way to get through a crisis?

At the time of my life that was the most difficult and saddest, my mother's dementia and subsequent loss of my father and then mother nine months later, I found a lot of good all around me. There were the helpers at that time: friends who brought food, stayed by my side, ran errands, wrote messages of cheer, or called to see what they could do.

There were moments of laughter between my brother and I. It became a time to remember some of the crazy antics our parents had done through the years. Mom always said to remember her and laugh. I never thought it could be possible, but it was.

When I was younger, I used to think that the death of my parents would push me over the brink of sanity. And though it was horrible to go through, there was peace that filled my heart. It filled it so much that it overflowed to others. I remember at the funeral home, as people approached me, I sensed a holy presence (the Spirit) all around me. I was able to talk with others and give them the comfort they sought so hard to give to me. I lived and breathed that peace.

Is it possible to keep peace around us like a shield when all of this is going on in the world? The answer is yes. Sure we can find pockets of peace in the day, when the sun is shining on our face, birds are singing sweetly, we are lost in a great book, or doing something we truly enjoy. But that real inner peace is something else entirely.

I remember where I was when complete brokenness enveloped me in its gloomy embrace. I sat in the window well of Heritage Valley Hospital. The doctors and nurses weren't holding out much hope any longer for Dad. My brother and I used to will him to live with everything inside us. I used to think if I could keep breathing for him, he will keep breathing for us. As I watched my father on life support, however, I realized those precious breaths were for naught this time.

In that window of the hospital, I broke and said, "God, your will be done." The words were said with meaning and the knowledge that I'd just let my father go. However I was letting him go completely into God's care and loving arms right then. With my heart breaking, I was able to find courage and peace to say goodbye to my father. It was that courage and peace that stayed with me through his death, funeral, caring for Mom, and her death. It may have wavered a bit, but never left my side.

May you find that true inner peace and the courageous warrior you can be as we go through this pandemic together. Ask for it. God will answer.


Friday, March 20, 2020

Recurring Dream




I had the oddest take on an old recurring dream of mine last evening. I know they say that houses represent us in a dream, and I often dream of the first house I grew up in on Duss Avenue in my small hometown of Ambridge.

Occasionally I dream that my family and I are moving back to our old home. Or other times, I dream that I am taking a tour of my old home with the family that lives there now. More often than not, the house looks fairly similar with the exception of last night.

I dreamed that it was very late and very dark. I was walking with a group of girls that I knew. The street lights seemed to be out down the block, and we found it a little unnerving. The closer I got to my old house which was now where I was going to live, I saw that the lights were on and all seemed well. I brought the girls inside and noticed that everything was very very different.

In this dream, it was the first night I would be spending in my old/new house. The previous owners had left some of their things for us to go through, to toss or keep. There was a lot of reconstruction work done; extra staircases going into neat, different places as if the house had grown larger and could accommodate a huge family.

There was gorgeous new plush carpeting, and the staircases were covered with them and a beautiful polished wood. Though my friends were talking to me on the "first" floor of this home, I became curious to see what my old bedroom now looked like. 

I crept up the stairs, turning lights on, and saw the familiar hallway that led to my room. The oddest thing however, the ceiling was lowered and I had to crawl through a small opening to enter the room. Though the room itself was spacious, yet still filled with debris, some old aquariums where possible turtles and fish once resided, I noticed another room added on that was festive and childish with bunk beds and another staircase going there. 

I took the stairs to the new room and found it delightful and whimsical. I wondered if there was another way into the room, when I saw a door down below. Hmm, that's strange, I thought to myself. I realized that probably led to the old cellar.

For some reason in my dreams, I never am able to venture into the cellar. I know of no trauma that happened to me there in real life except for a dream I had once when I was little of seeing a devil face in an old mirror. But this time I boldly and bravely threw open the door. I gasped when I saw an ugly cellar, realizing that nobody had ever remodeled this place. There were cobwebs hanging and worst of all, a tunnel into complete darkness and fear off to the side. This is when I awoke and the dream has stayed with me all day.

In analyzing this dream, I feel that I have "remodeled" much about myself and my life. I think that staircases are just that: ways to connect other rooms and floors of our personality and innermost being. The rooms were very nice, though a little "junk" left over from the previous owners reminds me that I am still getting rid of unnecessary junk in my life from before. 

The cellar bothers me the most, however. For there must be a part of myself that is fearful and dark. There are things hidden away that I still haven't remodeled or "fixed." And the scary parts that I don't want to see, must be the psyche, the part of self that we all fear whatever that may be.

All in all, I feel it was a very good dream. Anytime we learn from them, and feel we can translate them a bit, helps us to grow a little more.

Perhaps someday that scary old cellar will become radiant and bright. I'm hoping.  

Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Pretending Game





   
     An old steel town has its stories. Has its characters and secrets too. . .


          Growing up in a small town was magical at times. When we children rode our bikes around the neighborhood, we imagined all sorts of mysteries behind closed doors. There were neighbors to fear, cranky old spinsters who knew everyone’s business; Moody fathers of friends that you had to tiptoe around. There was the special needs man who spoke of nothing but tragedies that we children would hide from. There were also sweet people like my next door neighbors who had a creaky porch swing that they would allow me to sit on and swing every so often. And sometimes as the husband watered his flowers with a hose, he would squirt us children as we walked past and look away, feigning innocence as we giggled uncontrollably.
          There were little outdoor parties that my friend Patty and I would gather small feasts of junk food: mini donuts, crackers, cookies, and cakes. Sometimes we would hang a huge blanket over the railing of her back porch and eat in the cozy tent we’d created.
          We pretended our bikes were cars as we rode along the sidewalks. We would stop at the red lights and go on green. We played countless hide-and-seek games, board games, and swam in little inflatable pools in the summer. We tried to make outdoor carnivals, and pretended to sail away in grape crates to what my grandparents affectionately called The Old Country.
           Nothing was more exciting than Nonna’s attic. Old houses back in the day were famous for these extra rooms. There were cardboard boxes stuffed with yellowing newspapers which held layers of voluminous bridesmaid dresses and pretty clothes. There were steamer trunks with their slightly musty scent piled with assorted goodies—doilies, sewing boxes, hand-crocheted items and knick knacks.
          An attic that was big enough to have two double beds and assorted antique furniture was better than any clubhouse for me and my cousin. There was a small, mysterious room in one corner that had a small fire once and it still held the scent of old smoke. Yellowing, cracked linoleum lined the floor. Yet to me, it was as beautiful as a mansion.
          Nonna had a tin button container that my cousin Anna and I adored. There were lovely rhinestone buttons, plastic buttons that looked like flowers, metal ones and opaque colored ones. It was a favorite playtime of ours, to choose our favorites and pretend they were “people.” Nonna’s button was always the biggest one with a large sparkling stone in the center. Our mom’s buttons were more conservative—plain, white ones. Mine was light blue with a floral print and a tiny stone in the center. Buttons were just small enough to fit anywhere—to have incredible adventures, and always have a story that ended happily ever after.
            Many people at that time had borders that stayed with them—people who paid a small amount of rent for a room. Nonna had Phil. He worked in a local steel mill, and became like a member of the family. He was a true gentleman, kind and very funny.
      My grandmother made regular Sunday dinners with homemade spaghetti, the softest, tastiest meatballs, tender veal cutlets, Italian bread and salad. These dinners were wonderful times and nothing could break the bond of the feeling of family surrounding that table.
          Phil would make me and my cousin giggle during dinner. He also would get us to finish our whole plate of food by saying that whoever was the last one eating, was the “monkey.” Nobody wanted this title, so I blame Phil for my weight gain and love of food later in life. Then Anna and I would help Nonna clear the table and squabble over who got to wash the dishes, and who had to dry them. Anna was older than me by several months, so somehow she always seemed to win the best of our fights.
Sometimes Nonna and Nono had friends over for card-playing nights. Wine flowed freely, and chatter was mostly in Italian. I sometimes sat watching them play and they tried teaching me the rules to a game of Scopa, an Italian card game. My eyes became heavy as they played late into the night, and Nonna would walk me up to her room and tuck me into her bed. She closed the door, and as I drifted to sleep, I could still hear their hearty laughter and talk.
          Childhood was my own Narnia world. Though there were realistically bad events, nothing could steal my imagination. Pretending became balm to me; an escapism that I sometimes wish I could still find. If I was really someone else, nothing could harm me, right?
          Is it any wonder that every so often, I visit the childhood of my youth? Sometimes I drive along the streets where I used to play. And other times I travel only in my memory. For there it is safe, there it is only a shadow, one that I can embrace if I care to, or leave behind for a little while. 
          Take a moment to remember your journey of pretending. Stay a while, but not too long. It's a special place.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Prayer Partner



No photo description available.



Lately I've been beating myself up. It has been about three years since I've been able to sit and write a novel. I used to churn out one a year back in the day when I began fiction writing. But something has made me stop and wait. Call it writer's block, fear, laziness, or being tired, I have kept telling myself that I'm a failure for not plunging deeply into a memoir that I've been wanting to write.

One wonderful thing that has happened, however, is the ability to write short, true, heartfelt tales. It's been easy to think about Mom and Dad stories and share them with others. I've been fortunate to have a few of them chosen by Guidepost magazine for publication.

I joined a Facebook group called Guidepost Magazine Stories. There is a nice bunch of people that write daily inspirational blurbs or share inspiring messages of hope in that group. I am one of them. I enjoy posting lovely pictures and using what I feel are God-inspired words of encouragement.

Today I had the honor of hearing from one of the members. Oddly enough, she reached out to me to become a prayer partner, or prayer sister with her. I hesitated briefly because I wondered what that entailed. Would I have to talk with her daily and try to encourage her? Would I have to give up precious time to another human being?

Then it hit me. Karen, you pray daily for God to give you the words to bless others. You ask Him to show you people that need hope and help. To say the right words, write the best words or pray for others. I decided to accept the role of prayer partner for this lady. I could tell it meant the world to her. She had found me on the Guidepost page. There are no coincidences. God has me where He wants me. I just have to keep answering the call. If a memoir is in my near future, He will bless it to fruition. If the short writings are to continue to hold others in prayer and give them hope, then I step into that gladly as well.

Prayer partner. . . It has a lovely sound to it. Do you need one today? Are you one? Will you take the call, and lift others up even when you are tired or not in the mood? Let's do it together. No telling how much we can change a life one prayer at a time.


Monday, January 13, 2020

Home

 
Image may contain: night, indoor and outdoor

This photo evokes so many memories. I can picture Mom sitting on the couch, trying to hear the television while we all gabbed sitting around the old living room. I can picture Dad in his favorite chair telling a story about some infraction that happened on one of his bills, or a high-priced grocery item he found for less elsewhere. Many laughs were shared in this room, and a few tears were shed. Lessons were learned, and love surrounded those who entered.

This is the home of part of my youth where we moved when I was about twelve. We left old memories--ghosts if you will--and began a new life in the home on Highland.

Mom became well and strong in this place putting behind the sadness she had carried for so long. There were woods behind the house and all sorts of new creatures: raccoons, chipmunks, rabbits, squirrels and deer. For my mother, someone who adored animals, it was a Disney dream-come-true.

I can see countless beloved cats and dogs lined before my mother; each with adoration in their eyes vying for her attention. And I can see Mom stroking each one, talking to them in that special way she reserved for her dear animals as if they understood every word.

This home holds a place of peace and solitude in my heart. It carries memories of holidays, birthdays, and wonderful meals cooked. It welcomed friends and relatives old and new. It became a steadfast rock of Gibraltar to us all. It welcomed the birth of my dear brother.

In later years, my son would come to know and love this house. He would learn that his grandparent's stories were special and to be treasured. That their legacy was something to keep alive long after they were gone.

There's a golden glow to this photo, as if the Lord placed a blessing over this precious room, this house so dear to me. I would come to know God as true Love while living there. My parents had a simple faith, a quiet faith. But their lessons came from how they treated each other and everyone they knew. My mother said that everyone has a story and I learned that they did.

Home in a small town. A place where simplicity thrived. A time when goodness was in the very fiber of lives well-lived. Let me visit there for a moment, but let me not tarry too long. For sadness may begin to creep in as I walk the path of memory lane. And at least for today, I'd like the memories to be ones filled with nothing but happiness.



Friday, October 25, 2019

Get Busy Living






The other night I watched Tyler Perry's "The Family That Preys Together." Kathy Bates was incredible in it, as she is in most everything she does. She was a middle-aged woman who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's and decided to live life to the fullest by taking a trip across country with her best friend.

One night into the trip, she wakes up crying unable to be consoled. It is then she tells her friend about the diagnosis. That powerful scene hit me very hard, not only because of my mom and what we went through, but also because I am heading into higher birthday numbers.

I sat and cried after the movie ended. I began thinking about my life, what I may have accomplished, and what good I can do with the time I have left. I'd been journaling a lot and writing things I want our children to see when I'm gone. Writing, to me, is a powerful way to share what I can't say sometimes or what I want to impart upon people who I may not have reached in other ways.

I did get caught in a self-pity party though. My bones are aching, my hair is thinning, my body is spreading into a different version of itself. I see lines on my face that weren't there before, and I tire much more easily. Fear crept in and made me realize that I've lived most of my life already, and that the remaining years won't be as long as the former. Wow, talk about a downer!

I spoke to someone who helped me to look at life right now in the way it should be viewed. With eyes wide open, heart full of love, ready to embrace whatever the coming years offer. In the movie "The Shawshank Redemption," Morgan Freeman's famous line is "Get busy living, or get busy dying." Yes, that is a wonderful way to view the years. I can choose to ponder the aging process, worrying over every small change that is occurring, or I can beat it at its own game by a renewed sense of passion and purpose every single day.

My father got busy living no matter what curve ball was thrown his way. When he couldn't refinish large furniture projects any longer due to health issues, he began to make small crafts instead. He told me he didn't want to die in a rocking chair, doing nothing. And he didn't.

Age is just a number. And when that number gives you the willies, or makes you pause for a moment and say, "Wow, I can't believe I'm almost _________ years old," we can console ourselves by thinking about our blessings. We can give ourselves powerful self-love with positive self-talk. I still have hair, my body works great, I am able to walk and enjoy the outdoors, I get a great night's sleep and enjoy naps. I work with my hands, I can hear great music, read excellent books. I can talk with loved ones and good friends. Our lists can go on and on.

Today I'm choosing to stick out my tongue at a birthday number. Maybe even thumb my nose at it. After all, the most fun part of getting older is getting away with a few things we weren't able to do a few years ago. We are now the outspoken ones. So let's get busy living!!


Monday, October 21, 2019

A Day With My Son




If there's one person I love spending time with, it's my son, Matt. He is the type of guy that has patience, understanding, a sweet disposition, and usually a lot of positivity. Yesterday we took a small trip to Living Treasures animal park, and then a state park in our area, Kooser.

Since we are both animal lovers, we took a lot of time at the animal park. We bought carrots and bagged, crunchy animal food. We had cameras ready and a beautiful day ahead of us. We stopped for lengthy visits with animals all over the park. And it was a good time of day because we were greeted by some very furry, very hungry creatures.

Our next stop at the state park was for picture-taking. It was then I noticed my son as if seeing him for the first time. How he lined up his camera shots perfectly. How he was never in a hurry to see the next thing, but was content to be in the moment, enjoying what visions awaited him through his camera lens.

 In the hustle bustle of life, I am used to seeing people hurrying to the next thing and the next, eager to get their fix on the prize of the moment. Matt seems to want to live in the moment. I have seen his photographs in the past, some of which are almost prize-winning in my opinion. I'm grateful that he has an eye for beauty in nature. I'm thrilled that he has a heart for God's creatures.

Sometimes when we are together, we have long talks about this and that. And some days we are content to be quiet in the moment. Every mother has a sixth sense about their child though, and I realized something was bugging him after our day was over.

I wanted to fix everything he talked about. I wanted to say life is fair and everything turns out perfectly each day. But life isn't fair, and at times, it's less than perfect. But if there is one thing I can say to him, it would be: Don't change who you are through the bad times.

It's easy to get caught in a web of anger when we are in a bad spot. It's easy to almost have a personality change and become something or someone we aren't usually. But if we continue to smile through the rough patches, believe in the best, don't compromise our beliefs in bad moments, and keep a positive outlook when times are less than perfect, I believe we can chase away the old devil.

He runs from the good and just dances with glee when we are morose and bitter. Let's show him who's boss and Who we believe in--God and the good in humanity. Let's, as parents, pray for our children, calling favor, faith, and blessing over their lives. Let's not give in to fear and doubt, but let the moments that define us be ones of light, life, and the knowledge that we are in the Best hands!


Awesome multi-colored peacock at the park!


My favorite animal yesterday. An albino wallaby! I wanted to take him home...


Great shot before a small bridge at Kooser.



I just love a babbling brook.


The eye of the photographer.

My son's family friendly YouTube channel:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMe8Y3zO7_la3uHaWR3OVrg





Monday, September 16, 2019

Pick Yourself Up






I remember thinking there were things I would never get over; things I would never forgive myself for doing--for the mistakes I made, for hurting another person. Times I may have passed up a golden opportunity, or not done the right thing in a given situation.

I used to get lost in this trap--the trap of "I'm the worst person there is." Or, "I will never get another chance or a good break, or be able to change, grow, or learn from my mistakes."

Let me tell you something: That is a lie! A total untruth! It is a trick from the enemy to keep us down, keep us riddled with anxiety and guilt. The real truth is there is not ONE of us who is perfect; not one of us who don't make daily mistakes whether on the job, perhaps in raising our kids, in something we said to another person during the day that just flew out of our mouth that we wish we could take back.

Perhaps we have made poor financial decisions. I think there are many of us who got ourselves into a pit of bad money mistakes. Is it the end? Doom and gloom? Nope, and I'm here to tell you. Many years ago, financial burden put me and some others into bankruptcy. I felt like an idiot, not worthy, very down on myself. But one day at a time, I worked my way out of it. I kept at a good job. I didn't spend anything unnecessarily for a very long time. Oh, I would treat myself to an occasional goodie, but there were things I had to miss for a few years knowing I wanted to be on the other side of this issue.

I began tithing. I read about giving ten percent of my wages to my church and I did this in earnest. Even at my lowest, things began to work out. When I tithed, God took care of ALL of my needs. Not just a few, but every one of them. Maybe I wasn't rich, but I was able to pay my bills, and have a little left over to enjoy some of the small things in life.

How much easier it is to say poor me. But you are not poor, you are rich in the love of God, rich in the blessings surrounding you. What do you have? Maybe you have your health which is truly everything. Perhaps you have children who adore you. Or you have friends that you can share a healthy laugh with every once in a while. You have a home, small luxuries that to others would make you seem wealthy. You have breath in your lungs, the ability to walk, work, and play.

Maybe you haven't met the love of your life yet. Or maybe you feel time has treated you unfairly and others get all the breaks. I learned a lesson with this as well. Instead of jealousy, I began to choose to be a person of compliments and encouragement. I knew that some of the very things I was envious of, could be mine too if I worked hard enough at it. Maybe with baby steps, or in very small ways, but as long as I was doing something toward my goals, perhaps writing, then I could reach small successes too.

If I wasn't willing to put out the work, how could I expect any glory? If I wanted what others had but wasn't willing to put the time into the very things I desired?  I never knew what sacrifices those people might have had to overcome to be who they are.

Even if we make one small change when we wake up tomorrow. We decide this will be the day we ____________.  This is the day we take a step toward a good goal and a new outcome. This is a day where anything, even a miracle however small or large is possible. Because it is. Believe in yourself, but believe in a God Who can direct you to the life you've always dreamed of.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the person reading this. I'm hoping you direct them to the words they need to hear; Words that are not mine, but Yours. Give them courage to take a step in the direction they are meant to go. Give them Your favor, peace, unconditional love, and blessing. In Jesus name.






Sunday, September 8, 2019

I'm Still a Glitter Princess





Have you spent an afternoon lately with small children, perhaps your grandkids or nieces and nephews? Don't you come away from that time exhausted, yet feeling younger and remembering what it was like to pretend, to wish, to dream, to believe in the unbelievable?

Yesterday my niece Elena wanted an inexpensive pair of fairy wings in a dollar store. On the ride back home she said, "Auntie Kar, there's a little glitter on your seat." When we got out, not only did she have glitter on her face and hair, but the back seat of my car sparkled and glittered as well. And my heart sparkled too.

I, too, remember what it was like when I was young being a glitter princess; loving all things sparkly and pretty. For I was a girly girl type; a child who loved make believe, pretend, and lands faraway. My mom used to call me a pack rat stating that she always found glittery items in my drawers and in my room. I hoarded these pieces as if they were magical. And they were.

Our beautiful, innocent children hold the key to simplicity and joy. After a few hours playing "school" with my other niece, Elizabeth, I feel smarter and ready for a college degree. It doesn't matter that it has been years since I've been to school. Elizabeth is a tough teacher and she won't tolerate any misbehavior in her "class." So I sit as a model student and learn all that I can from her. What she doesn't realize is that I am learning. The lesson is one of sweetness, simpleness, and patience. The lesson isn't something I can glean from a book, and I can only get from truly being in the moment with her.

Our world is full of cynicism, intolerance, and anger. News media and social media blast so much anti-everything campaigns that I want to run away for a while.  Isn't it refreshing that once a week or so, I can run away with two little girls who hold my heart with their simple innocence? I can come away from that time a much "better me."