Friday, January 15, 2021

Bushel and a Peck: Hope, Healing, and Unconditional Love


My mother told me that she’d had a secret name for me. She called me her ‘Shining Star.’ Like a blazing trail of light, I was always the one thing Mom could come back to. When she knew nothing else, she still knew me. She said I’d been like a beacon of hope to guide her home. It was a title that rooted my love deeply for my mom. I could see the patterns of her life now. It became clear that she’d never been weak. My mother had only wanted to be loved . . .

 Mom’s mental illness stigma made my early life anything but ordinary. But my father’s quiet courage helped to guide us through. Later, from strong businesswoman to Alzheimer’s, my mother would leave a legacy of lasting love, and Dad, one of incredible strength.

It took me four years to write this novel, but a lifetime to live it. Though sometimes I look back now and feel there was never enough time with Mom and Dad, I know that my parent's lives and their love carry on in me, my brother, and son.

This memoir is deeply personal to share, and it isn't just another journey of Alzheimer's though there are many wonderful books on the subject from my fellow authors. This is a story of how one man loved one woman unconditionally enough to go through hell and back, and how a family's faith allowed them to glimpse times of miracles. It is my own story of insecurity, fear, anxiety, and tears. It is God's love poured into me so much that I pray it overflows into you as you read it.

Thank you for allowing me this little bit of self-promotion as I share my book with you. If you are blessed by it, I would truly love to hear from you. My email is

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Healing Hands


The phone rang at the small dental office where I worked. “We need you to come in for an x-ray. There appears to be a spot on your lungs.”

I clicked off the portable phone with shaking hands. The dentist looked at me across the patient we’d been working on. As the only employee- dental assistant and receptionist- my duties were numerous. I knew that my boss didn’t like me to get personal calls. But I think he could tell by the look on my face that it was something very serious.

Fear grabbed hold of me. I had no words. I had to finish the patient’s procedure while my stomach cramped and clenched with terror. I tried not to let my hands shake as we continued working.

I imagined the worst right away. I’d always been a glass-half-empty sort-of person. News always meant something bad. But this—a spot on my lung. It had to be cancer.

So many thoughts assaulted me at once. I’m only thirty-eight. My son is ten. I can’t leave him now. He needs me. What about my parents? We were such a close family. What would this do to them?

After we dismissed the patient, I told my boss about the phone call. I excused myself from the office for the rest of the day. I had to find answers.

I drove three blocks to my physician’s office. I barely noticed the brilliant hues of the red and gold fall leaves on the trees lining the streets. People walking along the sidewalks blurred as tears stung my eyes. Though Thanksgiving would soon be approaching, I had nothing to be thankful about.

I’d recently had minor outpatient surgery. Everything had gone well and I’d been on my way to complete recovery. It seemed odd that the doctor called me now after I’d had all the pre-testing and x-rays done over a month before. Nobody had informed me of any issues and I’d been cleared for the procedure.

When I walked into the doctor’s office and informed the receptionist I was there, she told me to wait a few minutes and they would call me back shortly. I tried picking up a magazine to browse through or tried smiling at the others seated nearby. Nothing worked. I could feel fear choking me.

New x-rays were taken and I waited for the doctor in an examination room. It didn’t take long for him to bring in the new films.

“Here it is,” he pointed out. “A spot on your left lung.” He compared it to the x-rays taken one month before.

The words hung in the air until I had the courage to ask, “What can it be, doctor?”

“Well,” he said, “it could be an old scar from pneumonia you may have had at one time, or it could be cancer.”

Cancer: a word that changes lives. It would certainly change mine.

I left his office that afternoon completely baffled and fearful. Further tests would have to be scheduled.

I called my mother that night. “First of all, I refuse to believe this,” she said. “Also your doctor was too harsh. I want you to have a second opinion, honey. I’d like you to see my doctor. She’s good and also very compassionate.”

Mom also told me about a pastor she had recently met in the little antique shop she owned. “He was a good man,” my mother said. “We got to talking about so many things the day he was in the store. He told me incredible stories of healing. He said he had been given the gift of healing hands. I’d like to call him for you if that’s okay.”

Though I’d been a bit skeptical as I waited for further tests, I knocked on the door of the pastor’s small home. He invited me in, and we sat and chatted for a while. Pictures of Jesus hung on the wood-paneled walls: Jesus comforting little children and the sick. Jesus, please comfort me too, I thought. Bibles and inspirational reference books lined bookshelves. A sense of peace enveloped me.

 I wanted to clear my conscience before he prayed. There were issues that recently bothered me and had given me great guilt. As I spoke, I felt cleansed and a sense of great relief.

He anointed my forehead with spice- scented oil that reminded me of the incense our church used during special seasons. He placed his hands on my head as he prayed. I could feel the depth and power of the healing words as he spoke. There seemed to be a warm sensation going from his hands right through me. When he was done, I thanked him. He asked me to stay in touch.

During the time I had to wait for the scheduled tests, I kept busy with something I enjoyed: raking fall leaves into huge piles on a crisp afternoon. My mind felt free in the fresh air. I’d been reading my Bible daily like a warrior getting ready for battle. I prayed bolder prayers and began to think a bit more positive. The fear that had engulfed me was replaced by a sense of calmness. The touch of the pastor’s hands had given me hope.

My mother’s doctor met us at the local hospital the day of my tests. She was a tiny lady with a big personality. “I’m going to be around,” she said to me and Mom. “I want to see the results of the scan immediately.”

Afterward, when we sat in the waiting area, my mother’s doctor came into the room with a perplexed, but cheerful expression. “I don’t know what the other doctor saw,” she said. “There is absolutely nothing on your scans.”

Relief flooded me. Mom and I thanked her for the wonderful news as we hugged one another and cried happy tears.

Later that night as I was praying, I remembered something that a friend had said to me a few months earlier. She’d called me one day and said, “Karen, I don’t know why you are supposed to hear these particular words, but God said everything is going to be okay.”

They had been cryptic, but comforting words at the time, and as I thanked my heavenly father that evening, it came to me: I’d already been healed from that moment.

It was easier to think positively as time went on because I’d become a more powerful prayer warrior. When others had issues in their lives, I gave them Bible passages that had comforted me during my own fearful time. I shared my story to bless others. Scriptures were no longer words but living truth. No longer fearful and negative, my life was filled with true thanksgiving.  It was the best Thanksgiving ever.



Monday, December 14, 2020

The Tree That Could


Old friend, you've been a wonderful companion. You've given so much more than you take. Is it any wonder my heart is broken that I may have to lose you?

Oh, I know what you're thinking: It's just a tree . . . But what a tree! When I first moved to the neighborhood fifteen years ago in the spring, glorious pink flowers cascaded throughout the slender branches. Bees buzzed in the floral extravaganza, birds perched nearby awaiting nest building times. Squirrels sat sentinel observing the lookouts where many nuts and goodies would soon be stored.

When the pastel blossoms fell as my friend made ready for leafy growth, they spread like a flowering snowfall along the driveway and porch. They paved a lovely path toward summer and all that grows. I made another friend, a male cardinal, who waited in the lower branches of the tree's embrace. When I called out that the seeds were ready, he would fly down and land upon the sundial I use as birdfeeder. He would chirp his thanks, and then the next morning, he would return singing a heavenly song that felt it was meant for only me.

Near the fall, the crisp, hard crab apples formed and then fell from you. Deer snacked through the night, awaiting the cover of darkness, their private time for family. Then the season of the snowfall and that precious tree never looked more robed in splendor. I stood in awe many many moments, my thoughts swirling with the snowflakes and listened to the silence.

Knotholes adorned your trunk; so many creatures took warmth in the shelter of your arms. Nests were built again, critters scampered and scurried as you loved them well.

Little by little, I am losing you. Large parts of who you once were came crashing down. Though you never would harm any of us, I knew it was time--time for the tree surgeon. But did he offer a ray of hope? Perhaps might I not have to lose you? You've been the tree that could. The miracle tree. You bloomed in winter once when my spirits needed to believe. You are my friend. And I will take care of you until you whisper your final farewell.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Heart Choices (An election story)


I don't know your story and you don't really know mine. I don't know what's in the deepest recesses of your heart, nor do you know what is in mine. Yet I do know that we are children of the same Father God. We are His. We are blessed by Him, loved by Him, and cared for. We may know great sadness, even despair, but out of great pain, He can bring amazing joy.

What goes on behind closed doors we can only imagine in our neighborhoods and towns. We see with our eyes, but don't really open our hearts. We hear with our ears, but the truth is under the surface most of the time. I've judged others and so I have been judged. But it's time for a change of that hardened heart of mine. Is it time for yours too?

Not all of us will be voting for the same party at this election. Not all of us believe that Covid is as frightening as somebody else does. We make fun of what we don't understand and talk about what is different from us. I am as guilty as everyone else. I look, but I do not see sometimes. I do not see what is inside that person who is so very different from me; that person who makes different choices than I do, or holds different beliefs. 

I want to set my heart right. I want my soul to shine when I speak and in my actions. I want to be quick to ask for forgiveness when I've done wrong, and quick to forgive even if it is something from many years ago. I want to leave a legacy for my children of a life well-lived, even a life that has changed for the better with each passing year.

I want to view the world through the eyes of a child but not to live childishly. For there is a difference you see. My heart must be simple, moldable, the clay through which the Father can work. No matter who wins this election, or who comes out on top, or if I believe what is said on every single political commercial, I want to live right. I want to trust that our United States will go on and thrive. I want to believe that in God we trust and that He is always in control no matter who sits on any political throne.

Let's be the change. Let's stop the hate and the bitterness; the indifference and the anger. Be the change that you want your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews to see. Be the light and love. Do it with a simple heart of childlike wonder.

Friday, August 21, 2020

I Gained So Much More


In the early 1980's, I married very young. He was charming, handsome, and funny. Everything a girl could hope for. He loved my family, and they loved him right back. Some things began to happen three years into the marriage that began to concern me. The day he told me he was leaving me, I felt as if I ceased to live. I couldn't eat or sleep well, and my self-esteem plummeted. I knew there had to be something wrong with me. Maybe if I had been prettier, skinnier, more affluent. 

My family was hurting right along with me. My little brother had adored him, and my parents couldn't get over the shock. Time passed, as it does, and I lost touch with his family.

Several years later, I found my ex in-laws once again. My father-in-law cried when we saw one another. We spoke for a while, and then I began to get together with them and my sister-in-law occasionally. It was as if time hadn't passed. These people were still family to me, and I found out that they felt the same way about me.

I was invited to dinners over their homes. I visited with my mother-in-law when she was in the hospital. When my father-in-law passed away, I grieved. I stayed with them through their sad time and if possible, grew even closer.

It's been several years now. My life has changed drastically from that twenty-one-year-old girl. I have a son, a new marriage and have lost my own parents more recently. But one thing that has remained is the lovely friendship I've retained with my dear first sister-in-law and mother-in-law. At 93, Mum is an amazing woman. Beautiful, soft-spoken, gracious, and generous. Any time spent with these two is precious to me and I come away from our visits, a better person.

I wouldn't have known them if I hadn't been married to the man who left me so long ago. Though I never see him, I don't miss what I never had. But what I did have was so much more. I was blessed with people who loved me unconditionally. People I was able to love in return and show my true self. I was blessed with relationships that I would never have had otherwise and kind words, prayers, meals, gifts, conversation and laughter.

God can turn any situation around. He can make a masterpiece from disaster. He can give love back to someone who felt as if they would never matter to anyone again. He showed me more beauty with these family members through my life, than I may have had if I'd never known them.

I gained the kindest friends from something that was meant for harm. I gained so much more from the callousness of another. Never think that God won't give you beauty for ashes. His trade off is so much better than the original pain that we feel. 

Monday, June 1, 2020

Masterpiece from Messes

Sometimes that old devil tries to remind me that I'm not that good at anything. Cakes that I put effort into fall flat. Bread dough doesn't rise, and the new recipe I tried for dinner has hubby looking at me with less than joy on his face.

Same thing with craft projects. If I'm drawing, I erase enough times that a hole ends up in the paper. When gluing items together, I look at the finished product and then it tumbles like a house of cards. Crocheting is an area I'm especially sensitive. I've watched countless tutorials on how to get that perfect edge and still, I look back after a few rows and I've got a distorted rectangle. Is there nothing I'm one hundred percent perfect at?

When I write a blog, short story, or even get lost in putting a book together, I plunge forward, so happy that the words are flowing and everything I want to convey is smooth and mistake free. But let's face it: nothing is without flaws. That's where I got the inspiration for today's blog.

Can we possibly make a masterpiece of some of the messes we've made? Figuratively as well as literally? I've messed up in life enough times, fallen short as mother, daughter, sister, friend, and wife. Yet people seem to forgive me and still love me. I was short-tempered with my mom during her battle with dementia. I still remember times that my actions or words hurt a friend or my husband. I feel that my son had the worst parent in the world when I think of dumb things I did.

Can I take all that and offer it to the One who can make a better me? Sure I was short with Mom. It wasn't easy. I hurt so much inside missing the woman she once was. Yet there were other times that I forgave myself and found kindness and patience--more than I ever would have imagined. As a mother, I see the good young man my son has grown into, and despite any flaws in my parenting, he makes me proud and happy. Words that are said unkindly can't be taken back, but I have learned to be a person to ask for forgiveness quickly. Or to say I'm sorry; I want to do better. Then I work on those areas that are most difficult.

So, when a craft project, drawing, crocheting, or other creative things come out less than perfect, what if I step back and take a look at them? Can I see something else in the pattern perhaps? Something I hadn't even thought of? I turned a distorted lap blanket into a cozy pillow cover for my couch. I was ready to throw out a month's worth of work until I saw something different.

Satan, not today! Today I'll focus on what I've learned from my mistakes. I'll be a better woman, wife, mother, friend, sister, and worker. I'll crochet my little heart out and if something goes awry, it will become something even better! Just like me!

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The New Normal

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.

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.