Archive | May, 2012

A Miracle in Guanajuato

28 May


First a story: A young girl was walking along the beach early one morning. The tide was receding, leaving numerous starfish stranded on the beach. The girl began picking them up and tossing them back into the water.

Engrossed in her task, she didn’t notice the crusty old fisherman sitting quietly watching her. He startled her with a gruff, “What are you doing?” to which she smiled and enthusiastically replied, “I’m saving the starfish.”

He laughed at her and launched into a scoffing ridicule. “Look ahead of you down the beach,” he said, pointing to the seemingly endless expanse of sand and surf. “There are thousands of starfish washed up on this beach. You can’t hope to save them all. You’re just wasting your time. What you’re doing doesn’t matter,” he exclaimed in a dismissive tone.

The girl stopped, momentarily pondering his words. Then she picked up a starfish and threw it far into the water. She stood straight and looked him in the eye. “It matters to that one,” she said, and continued down the beach.

Why do I tell you this story?  Well, this past week,  several members from the Ashland Rotary Club flew to Guanajuato, Mexico and I was incredibly fortunate to be a part of that group.  With the help of our very generous community,  and working with “Mi Casa Diferente”, aka “DIF”, (Mexico’s version of Habitat for Humanity), the Ashland Rotary Club has raised many thousands of dollars to build homes for some of the neediest people of Guanajuato.  And while these homes are very simple structures, the people who get them are thrilled to have them and are deeply grateful.

Back in the spring of 2007, during my first visit to Guanajuato with Rotary, we spent a day with a family in one of the communities that had recently built their home.  One of the children in that family was a young girl named “Francesca.”  She was about eight years old and easily charmed every member of our group with her insatiable curiosity, her lovely smile,  and her delight in showing us her new home.  When I spoke with Francesca and told her that I had a son named Francesco she seemed to think that this “coincidence” was funny and smiled.   She asked about my “other” children and I showed her the photo I’d brought of my daughter, Alexandra.  I think that Francesca must have thought it strange for me to have had only two children.

After a few hours, the house was painted, we’d all been fed fresh tortillas in gratitude, and our time with Francesca and her family came to an end.  It was very hard to think of leaving and never seeing this delightful, precocious child again  for she represented what we were there for: to make a difference in someone’s life.

As we drove away, the DIF representative said that it would be nearly impossible to keep in touch with, or send anything to,  Francesca and her family. After all, they lived in a remote area where there  was no mail service, and the DIF workers had too much to do and could not guarantee anything that we sent would reach them.

Until last Monday I had all but given up on ever seeing Francesca again.  On that day, our group of Rotarians was taken on a ride deep into the hills outside Guanajuato to paint a small schoolhouse.  As we unloaded all of our painting supplies we greeted the women and children of the community who had come to help us (most of the men were off at work making charcoal).

As I looked around, I noticed a girl peeking at me from behind the far wall of the schoolhouse.  Each time I looked over at her, she ducked back behind the building.  I thought she might have been afraid of our group and so I  waved and said “hello.”  When she looked out again, I noticed that she looked like Francesca and mentioned this to our group’s leader, Angelica.  She looked at me and said, “No mija, you want it to be Francesca, but it can’t possibly be her.”  Sadly I agreed that she was probably right and I went inside to begin painting the walls of the schoolhouse.

About fifteen minutes later, I heard Angelica screaming my name, “Karen, Karen… it is Francesca!”  I raced out of the building to where Angelica was standing with Francesca.  They were both smiling at me and my heart almost burst with joy.  I asked Francesca if I could hug her and told her how I had thought it was her but had been convinced that this was too much to hope for. I exclaimed, “Este es un milagro” (This is a miracle!) as tears streamed down my face.

As we talked she asked about my daughter, and of course, my son, Francesco.  Then she took me a few hundred yards down a steep path to see her mother and her family home – the same one we had painted five years before!  She even showed me a pillow we’d brought as a gift way back then… a remembrance of the people who had come to help.  And to think I’d thought that this day would never happen… but it seemed that Francesca was not at all surprised.  It was as if she’d been expecting this moment all along.   Talk about faith!

As we parted ways this time, I told Francesca that this would not be the last time she would see my face and I know that she believed me.  She simply waved goodbye and turned to walk back home with her sister.  I am certain that Francesca will go on expecting miracles, and it is just as certain that I will do all I can to make sure that they come true.

The very next day, I made an Apple Pie for our home hosts, Oscar and Marta.  It was a small gesture to thank them for offering the comfort of their home during our stay… and also a chance to offer my sincerest thanks to the universe for rediscovering a very special starfish.

“The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world, there will not be, another child like him.”  Pablo Casals

“There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle.”  Albert Einstein

Happy Mother’s Day

13 May

Today I celebrated my 23rd Mother’s Day as a mother… and my 23rd Mother’s Day without mine.  It still makes me sad that we never celebrated a Mother’s Day together as mothers.   That’s not to say that she didn’t do her best to instill in me the best of herself while she was here and while I have missed my Mom more than I can say, in so many ways, I feel my Mother’s presence all the time.

If I have been thoughtful, generous, or kind in my life, I would give my Mother the credit for showing me the way.   She molded me into the person I have become: A woman who would do almost anything for her children, her friends or strangers in need; a woman with a conscience, who does the right thing because it’s the right thing to do; a woman who gave away a pie every day for a year because she was grateful to have been so loved and so blessed in her own life. Each day, I live my life with as much grace and love as I can muster, because to do so honors my Mother.

Recently, my friend Ann Marie told me about a woman named Helen who has been like a Mother to her for more than twenty years.  Helen Smith was born in Peru, Nebraska and grew up in her family home that also served as a boarding house.  Since Peru is a college town there is some speculation that there were some pretty smart boarders in the house and that perhaps they inspired Helen’s lifelong love of learning.  In her later years, Helen became known as Grandma Helen, and spent many hours volunteering in the classroom of one of her other “adopted” daughters.

A week or so ago, Helen celebrated her 100th birthday.  This event was commemorated with a bench that was placed in Lithia Park in her honor.   This was a lovely tribute but I have a feeling that Helen is honored many times each day.  Every time one of the students she helped succeeds,  or reaches out to help someone else, or inspires someone to learn, Helen is honored.  And I think that is the very best tribute of all.

This morning I baked a Strawberry Rhubarb Pie (the first of the year!) for Helen.  I want to thank her for sharing her heart with so many.

And lastly, this, from Erma Bombeck:

When God Created Mothers

When the Good Lord was creating mothers, He was into His sixth day of “overtime” when the angel appeared and said. “You’re doing a lot of fiddling around on this one.”

And God said, “Have you read the specs on this order?” She has to be completely washable, but not plastic. Have 180 moveable parts…all replaceable. Run on black coffee and leftovers. Have a lap that disappears when she stands up. A kiss that can cure anything from a broken leg to a disappointed love affair. And six pairs of hands.”

The angel shook her head slowly and said. “Six pairs of hands…. no way.”

It’s not the hands that are causing me problems,” God remarked, “it’s the three pairs of eyes that mothers have to have.”

That’s on the standard model?” asked the angel. God nodded.

One pair that sees through closed doors when she asks, ‘What are you kids doing in there?’ when she already knows. Another here in the back of her head that sees what she shouldn’t but what she has to know, and of course the ones here in front that can look at a child when he goofs up and say. ‘I understand and I love you’ without so much as uttering a word.”

God,” said the angel touching his sleeve gently, “Get some rest tomorrow….”

I can’t,” said God, “I’m so close to creating something so close to myself. Already I have one who heals herself when she is sick…can feed a family of six on one pound of hamburger…and can get a nine-year old to stand under a shower.”

The angel circled the model of a mother very slowly. “It’s too soft,” she sighed.

But tough!” said God excitedly. “You can imagine what this mother can do or endure.”

Can it think?”

Not only can it think, but it can reason and compromise,” said the Creator.

Finally, the angel bent over and ran her finger across the cheek.

There’s a leak,” she pronounced. “I told You that You were trying to put too much into this model.”

It’s not a leak,” said the Lord, “It’s a tear.”

What’s it for?”

It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness, and pride.”

You are a genius, ” said the angel.

Somberly, God said, “I didn’t put it there.”
Erma Bombeck

Just Because

7 May

A few days ago my daughter mentioned that one of her professors had seen a recipe for Chocolate Tofu Pudding on her blog ( and he told her that if she ever needed someone to bring some chocolate pudding to, he was available.  Well, it’s been a while since I’ve made a Chocolate Cream Pie, and so today I thought it would be nice to surprise her professor with one… just because.

My year of pies was about gratitude; acknowledging the people in my life who have made a difference.  Many of the people that I gave pies to were dear friends… and the gift of a pie was a way of thanking them for their friendship.

But sometimes it’s nice to give a gift for no reason at all.  It catches people by surprise and hopefully leaves them with an urge to do something nice for someone else.  This good deed could be like the first domino in a chain of dominoes, once set in motion, it can’t be stopped.  How fun would it be to begin a chain of wonderful, caring moments… and to think, it could all begin with something as simple as a pie.

A friend sent me a gift of a magnet the other day with a quote that I fits this project perfectly… see what you think.

Go into the world and do well.  But more importantly, go into the world and do good.  Minor Myers Jr.

A Visit to Lithia Springs Rotary

1 May

A while ago I promised that I would continue to at least make a pie a week… and I am sad to say that that has not happened.  Honestly, I don’t know how I made a pie a day for a year.  When I thought about making a crust for just one pie this last week, it seemed overwhelming!  I guess making a batch of dough that would make crusts for eight pies was easier than going through the motions for just one pie.

However, what I have done over the past few weeks is shared food.  I brought lasagna and freshly baked bread to a woman who I recently met who is going through a very difficult time.  I also brought cheesecake and hors d’oeuvre to church for an impromptu coffee hour.  And later on a walk through town, I gave a sandwich to a stranger near the entrance to the park (and this does not take into consideration all of the catering I have been doing!)  So while I was not busy making pies, I was still invested in bringing comfort and love to others through food.

If it isn’t obvious already, let me say that I feel that creating pleasing food is a gift that I have been blessed with… and I believe that we all have been blessed with gifts such as this.  Some people have a gift for working with children and bringing out the best in them.  Others of us are talented artists; still others of us have dedicated our lives to science and the healing arts.  Each of our gifts are valuable and important in the grand scheme of things.  And I believe that if we are able to share our gifts with others, we will have achieved our lives true purpose.

This morning I spoke to the Lithia Springs Rotary Club about my pie project.  I didn’t know how this talk would be received… for to me it seemed like old news.  I’d make a pie a day for a year… so what?   I was surprised to find that some of the folks in the club had not yet heard of my project while many others were inspired by it.  It was really an enlightening experience.  Perhaps I’d been so consumed by my own journey that I just assumed that everyone else was as well?

I forgot to mention that I made a pie for the meeting this morning.   Many years ago I was the caterer for this Rotary club and  since I would be speaking about pies this morning, it seemed only natural to bring along a spinach and mushroom quiche.  It was the first real pie that I have made in a few weeks… and I really enjoyed the zen of it all.   I think it’s safe to say that I will be making pies for a long time to come…  or at least until I can find people to share them with.


This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.
Dalai Lama