Be the Light

4 Jul

It seems to me that this has been a hard year for many people.  I’m not talking politics… though there is that.  When the year began, I was facing a future I’d have never chosen willingly and was feeling pretty devastated.  Soon, however, I realized that I was not the only one going through a difficult time.

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Fritatta for Maureen

I’ve watched a dear friend lose her spouse of many years, saw another friend succumb to illness, and yet another friend go through chemo.  You don’t have to look hard to find trouble all around.  And yet…. During this time I have been buoyed by friends who have stopped by to write words of encouragement on the chalk board at my front door.  Other friends have sent cards or called to check in. What I am saying is that my journey through grief has not been a solitary one.

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And still, whenever I can, I bake a pie or make a dinner for someone who I think needs to be reminded that they also are not alone.  Though I rarely say the word, love is what I hope to bring to these folks.  And what I find amazing is that after seeing someone made happier by a gift of my food, I always find that I feel better.

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An Apple Blueberry Pie for the reunion

Along those same lines, my daughter, Alexandra, is visiting this week and yesterday she read me an article by Elizabeth Gilbert that had us both in tears. Here is an excerpt:

We live in a hard world, my friends. Sometimes it’s extra difficult to be a human being. Sometimes you have a bad day. Sometimes you have a bad day that lasts for several years. You struggle and fail. You lose jobs, money, friends, faith, and love. You witness events unfolding in the news, and you become fearful and withdrawn. There are times when everything seems cloaked in darkness. You long for the light but don’t know where to find it. 

But what if you are the light? What if you’re the very agent of illumination that a dark situation begs for? 

When you think about the many people that you come into contact with each day, it’s easy to imagine how you can have a positive impact on someone’s life simply by being a beacon of light.  No need for heroic measures here, just show up, smile, hold the door, maybe even share a hug.  Be willing to share a moment of your time with someone who might need it more than you’ll ever know.  Or you just might try baking someone a pie.  It seems to work for me!

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As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.  Audrey Hepburn

 

 

 

Breaking the Silence

2 Mar

Today I will break the longest silence that I’ve had on my blog. Honestly, I have not fallen off the planet, though it felt like I did for a while.  In the past few months I have made plenty of pies… and I’d like to share some of those photos with you now.

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Putting the finishing touches on a pie.

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Blanca at the tienda gets her Chocolate, Coconut and Banana Cream Pie

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A Coconut Cream Pie for Florina

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Coco and I delivered a Chocolate Cream Pie to Jose and Patty

As you can see, some of those pies were given away in Mexico. Yes, I was lucky to go to Barra de Navidad once again, this time with my kids, Alexandra and Coco. It was so good to see them enjoying the town that I have come to love and find that they are hoping to return. They were comfortable in this small fishing village and were embraced by the same people who have been kind to me.
Michaela, the pharmacist who lives a few doors down from our apartment sat and visited with us many times. She was thrilled to meet my kids and I was happy to see them enjoying her attention.  Then there was Ricardo, our friend who owns a taco stand. When he saw me a few weeks ago, his face brightened and he said, “It’s Karen Amarotico!” We are Facebook friends after all, but I haven’t seen him in a year, and I was touched that he remembered my name. Ricardo and his wife, Nacy, even invited us to their home for a private dinner. The chile rellenos filled with shrimp were delicious and I was so honored to be considered a part of their family!

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And of course, we saw Jose of the Malecon. He’s no longer working in Barra, but rather in the neighboring town of Melaque. Last year, he’d asked me if I could bring him a guitar on my next visit and thanks to my good friend, Tim, I was able to do just that. Jose seemed completely amazed but very happy. It was fun to watch Jose and Coco take turns playing and singing and bridging the language barrier with music.

IMG_1028.JPGMe with Alexandra and Coco
This trip, my kids joined me because my marriage is over. (The details of the dissolution are not important.)  It’s not that I don’t want to be open about the pain and challenges of this phase, but I’m simply learning that my life is not going to be what it was… it will be brand new. And isn’t that what happens?  We think we know what’s coming… but we really don’t.  Yes, John Lennon, life is what happens while we are busy making other plans.  Life also throws curve balls now and then, and sometimes, life sucker punches us in the gut. The pain lessens over time… but it never goes away forever.

Clearly I am not alone in dealing with the pain of loss. It happens to all of us… and if we are open to sharing the pain, then maybe we can show others that while the pain is terrible, it is survivable. If anyone would care to offer the tips, strategies, or words of encouragement that helped them through a time like this, I would love to hear them. Thank you in advance for being willing to share. It means so much to me.

What is most important right now is to say thank you to the many friends and family that have come to my side to help me move forward. You all know who you are, and I am deeply grateful for your support during this difficult time.

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I’d like to end with this quote from Sheryl Sandberg’s Facebook post (following the death of her husband):

“I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past thirty days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well.  But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning.”

And as for me, I would like to continue giving away pies.

New Year’s Musings

30 Dec

Many people that I know claim that 2016 has not been a good year… and I’ve heard many folks say that the are looking forward to 2017 thinking “things couldn’t get worse.” This is a terrible thing to say as things can ALWAYS get worse… as this  children’s book by Margot Zemach clearly illustrates.

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A pie in progress for Angelina and Josephine.

On a personal level, the year has been challenging for me in several respects. First, there was the loss of my Dad this spring.  He was such a fixture in my life and moving on after that loss has not been easy because, unfortunately, grief has a way of taking its’ own sweet time.

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Another event has also left a scar.  A few months ago, I was betrayed by a person that I loved and trusted.  This news came as quite a shock to me and realizing that someone that I cared about could hurt me in such a profound way has left me questioning everything.

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A pie for Charles on his birthday.

For most of my life, I have tried to believe that the world was a good place and that we should treat others as we would want to be treated.  Now that I have been faced with this situation, I find myself wondering if I’ll be able to do that anymore.   The short answer is, I truly hope so, however, I am sure that this incident will bring a transformation of some kind.

On a positive note, after a short time, I found myself baking pies once again.  That is a good sign for sure!  This pie baking “thing” really seems to help me be the person that I want to be…. kind, caring, and perhaps even a little bit vulnerable.

On Christmas Day, I watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” with my kids, Alex and Coco. At the end of the movie, my daughter asked, “Did Mr. Potter ever give the money back to George Bailey?”  I said, “I I don’t think so. But it really doesn’t matter because George didn’t need the money… the people that he had helped all his life came to help him in his hour of need.” George truly was “the richest man in town” because he had so many people that loved him.  My wish for you, is that when you are in need, that you are as lucky, and as loved, as George Bailey.

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My very best wishes to everyone for a very Happy New Year!

“Betray a friend and you will often find that you have ruined yourself.”  Aesop, Aesop’s Fables

 

 

Always Choose Kindness

30 Nov

For a few weeks I have been dealing with a very difficult situation… but I have been trying to put my best foot forward and show up as the person I really want to be.

This has not been an easy time… but I have been blessed to find myself supported by friends and family.  It’s probably silly to even say this, but I did not know that this support was available. I truly have been brought to tears by the kindness that I’ve been shown.

Perhaps that is why I am always eager to show kindness whenever I am able.  We all have troubles… and that is a part of life.  The hard part is that others around us are often unaware that we are struggling and therefore don’t show us the kindness we need… or deserve.  It’s not that they are uncaring… it’s just that we are all so caught up in our own “stuff” that we aren’t even paying attention.

A few years back, I took a class on Emotional Intelligence.  In that course we explored a number of areas where we could be “more present” in our daily lives.  Oftentimes, what was required was pretty simple: just notice what is going on around you.

Last week it was my birthday and my daughter, Alexandra, and I walked to Starbucks for my “free” cup of coffee.  As Alex sat outside with our dogs, I went in and waited my turn in line. I noticed the young man in front of me appeared to be homeless.  As we waited our turn, he took out three dollar bills and straightened them out in his hand.  When it was his turn, he ordered a large coffee.  The barista told him his total was $2.57 and at that moment, I stepped in and said, “I’ve got this.” The young man turned to me and gave me a huge smile and thanked me.  I told him, “It’s my birthday, and I want to treat you.”  The smile on his face… and his birthday wishes for me more than made up for the small price I paid.

We all make choices everyday.  We can choose to be kind… or not.  I ask that you always choose kindness. It might not be easy… but it will be good for your soul.  And what could ever be wrong with that?

“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind. – Dr Wayne W. Dyer”

Angels among us

28 Oct

When feelings of sadness and loss take over, I find what helps me get out of that mindset is doing something nice for someone else. Last week when I spoke with my daughter and heard her stressing about her move from one part of Manhattan to another, I did the first thing that came to mind: I booked a flight to help her.

It was an easy decision because I had a $500 voucher which made the cost of my last minute flight very inexpensive. When I arrived at the airport early in the morning and checked in, I noticed that I didn’t have a seat assignment and asked the agent what to do. She handed me a ticket marked “8 C” and I boarded the plane.  Moments later, another passenger approached me and said that I was in her seat. Turns out, we were both assigned 8C.  That same gate agent (angel number one) came to me and bumped to first class!  What a nice surprise! .

On my second flight, I was seated at the window next to an older couple named Jack and Gloria (angels two and three) . They were absolutely delightful.  About an hour or two into our five hour flight, we began chatting, and continued talking until we landed. It was amazing how the time had flown!  As they walked off to await their plane to Lisbon, they each gave me a hug. As I looked back, they stood waving to me.  Truly, that was not your typical flight experience!

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The weekend move went very well with the help of our dear friend Josh, and two great movers (angles four, five and six). Once all of Alex’s belongings made it to the new apartment, we realized we needed to get a few pieces of furniture and so we scanned the Craigslist ads. Alex located a bookcase a few blocks away… and then a side table about 14 blocks away.  The owner of the table, Louise, (angel number seven) said it wasn’t too heavy so we marched off to get it.

When we arrived at Louise’s apartment, it was clear that she was also moving. She is from England, works for the UN, and is being moved back to the middle east and she was getting rid of a lot of stuff. It took some work to get the table out of her apartment and soon we were on the street trying to carry it home.  We’d only gone about a block before we were both panting and sweating and almost in tears about our insane plan.

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About then, a lady approached us and commented on Alex’s dog, Bennet. Yes, we were trying to move a table and walk the dog at the same time!  Totally crazy.  The lady, Sally, (angel number 8) looked at us and asked if we were okay.  I told her, “not really” and explained our predicament.  Sally mentioned a service that would help us move… and we thanked her and she walked away.  A moment later, she was back and offered to bring us a dolly that we could use to move the table.  Honestly, I wanted to hug her!  With Sally’s dolly we were able to wheel the table home in no time.  Crisis averted!

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Clearly, we have been blessed with angels on this journey.  To begin offering thanks for our good fortune,  I made Louise an apple pie.  We called ahead and when we met her at the door, I presented it. I explained my gratitude project and told her how grateful we were for her gifts.  Louise told us that this was her first “American” apple pie and I’m so very glad that I was able to make that happen.

We still have a little more work to be done before the nesting process is complete and there’s an apple pie in the oven to thank angel number nine right now.

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”  Hebrews 13:2

Finding… and Sharing Joy

26 Sep

A little more than a month ago I took a  trip with my sister to begin the process of emptying our Dad’s condo in Florida. We thought the process would go faster, yet each time we picked up an item it would bring back a flood of memories. At first we were chiding ourselves for taking so long to complete the task.  Soon, however, we came to the realization that we needed to take our time to honor the memories and feel the emotions that bubbled up.  We needed to find joy in our sadness.

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My Mom and Dad with me at 1 week old.

The day after I returned from that trip, I gave a pie making demo at the Ashland Emergency Food Bank. In the front row sat a very accomplished doctor.  While I was preparing the pie dough and rolling out the crust, he asked lots of questions and was even taking notes. When I lifted the crust to place it in the pie dish, he was clearly amazed at how easy I’d made it look.

At that moment I stopped and asked him, “Dr. John, please tell me how many x-rays do you think you’ve read in your career?”  He seemed perplexed but answered, “About 40,000.”  I then replied, ” I am going to guess that you can read an x-ray a lot better than I can.  And because I’ve made hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pie crusts, I can probably do it a little better than you.  It just takes practice.”

The kind doctor laughed knowingly and then I encouraged the rest of the folks there to enjoy the process of learning to make pies.  The cost of ingredients is nominal and if you screw up terribly, you’ve only lost a few dollars and maybe even learned a valuable lesson. More than likely though, you’ll end up with something tasty.  I’ve given away more than 500 pies, and not one person has ever called to complain that their pie wasn’t perfect!

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A Rustic Blueberry Peach Tart for our friends Russ and Sarah

In an article entitled “Seven Strange Questions to Help you Find your Life Purpose“, author, Mark Manson, asked this question: “WHAT IS TRUE ABOUT YOU TODAY THAT WOULD MAKE YOUR 8-YEAR-OLD SELF CRY?”

Manson goes on to explain that as kids we did things for the sheer joy of doing them and somewhere along the way to growing up we stopped doing them. I’ve been mulling about that question a lot and on our last camping I took along water colors and paper and painted a few pictures. I did not do this because I am hoping to become a famous artist but rather because it made me feel happy.

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A Quiche Lorraine for Ed 

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, it is pretty clear that the world could use more happy people.  While I don’t have the answers on how to fix all that is wrong, I do hope to encourage a few of you to remember your 8-year-old self and ask her what she misses doing now.  Maybe she wishes you were painting, or dancing, or singing.  Or maybe she wants you to spend some time in the kitchen baking someone a pie and spreading a little joy.

“Find where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss the joy, is to miss all.”  ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

P.S. A few weeks ago I met a woman named Sylvia at Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport (what are the odds?). Soon we were talking about pies and she told me she knew a woman who gave away a pie a day for a year.  I said… “But it was me who did that.” Afterwards, Sylvia sent me this link. In her Ted Talk, Vicki Hardin Woods says that I inspired her to give away a year of pies!  How sweet is that?

Am I just baking or ….?

12 Aug

The summer after I graduated high school, a boy that I really liked drowned. I was only seventeen, and somehow in my young heart I thought he was “the one.” For quite some time I did not know how I would continue to live. Truly, it was devastating.

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Prep for A Raspberry Peach Cobbler

I needed to find comfort from someone in authority, so I went to the Baptist church up the street (where my little sister was in Bible school) and asked to speak with the minister. When I told him what had happened, the first question he asked me was “Did he accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior?”  I just looked at him and stammered, “Well, he was Catholic” and then he said, “Unless he had accepted Jesus, he is in Hell.”  This was not helping… and so I left quickly and decided to call the minister from my own church.  When I reached him, I told him I needed to talk to someone and he told me to come right away.

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Gluten Free Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler

When I arrived, he invited me into the house where I’d babysat for his kids many times. After I told him what had happened, he shared some thoughts on the Presbyterian view of the afterlife (Hell was not emphasized) and after a while I felt better and got up to leave. If only he had not added these parting words: “Karen, you had me worried.  I thought you were going to say you were pregnant.” This was not what I needed to hear from the man who’d been my pastor for ten years.

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A Cobbler to Celebrate a Legal Marriage!

Two different men of faith, and with both I was left feeling completely lost and alone. No one suggested counseling – or even prayer – at that time, which is too bad because  I know I could have used it.  What did help me way back then was something that still sustains me to this day. Baking.  I began to bake every day. I brought cakes and cookies and all kinds of goodies to all of our friends, relatives, and neighbors.  Death was something out of my control, but baking—I could handle that.

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A Chocolate Cream Pie in honor of my friend’s Dad’s passing

Perhaps this is why in the last few months, I have baked many, many pies. Baking grounds me, makes me feel better, and when I am baking, I am putting all of my heart into the process.  It doesn’t hurt that it brings smiles to the folks that receive the fruits of my labor.  I think  perhaps I have found a delicious way for God to work through me… and that feels like the best comfort of all.

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A Four Berry Pie

“Where love is, there God is also.”  Mahatma Gandi