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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

 

Good Grief!

20 Jun

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It’s been about seven weeks since my Dad passed away and my moments of grief have come unexpectedly.  For example, a few weeks ago I walked into a store and saw the men’s department and the first thing I thought was “what does Dad need” and immediately remembered, “he doesn’t need anything.”  I was both relieved and deeply saddened by the realization that I will not be caring for my Dad anymore

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Baking pies for friends has helped with my grief… it’s something I can do on autopilot.

Another day I ran into a friend who’d always asked how Dad was doing.  She looked at me and began her question, “How is he… ” and my eyes grew moist as I gently shook my head. We talked and cried and finally hugged.  Later, my friend said that she felt bad for asking but I was grateful to have had the chance to release the tears.

On several occasions I’ve found that when I mention the news about Dad’s passing that it seems like I’ve given permission for others to share their pain.  I’ve found myself in the aisle of a store with a friend laughing and crying as we listened to each other’s stories. Clearly we both needed to share, and in doing so, were given the opportunity to heal just a little bit.

Then just a week ago I was asked to take in a dog that is going through a loss of her own. Emile’s Mom had to move into a place where dogs are not permitted.  Now her dog, Lily, and I are both experiencing loss and somehow we have to figure out how to live in the new world we now find ourselves in.  I hope that I can help Lily as much as she is helping me.

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Perhaps what I am most grateful for at this time is that my Dad took care of legal matters years ago and that has made things much easier than they might otherwise have been. Truly, these last months I’ve felt like I was walking around in a fog and if I’d had to be making difficult decisions I don’t know how I’d have done so.  I encourage everyone to start thinking about taking care of those details for your loved ones.  This site is a great place to start:  www.gyst.com.  The initials stand for “get your shit together.” Think about it –  the death of a loved one is hard enough to handle without having to locate a will or figure out passwords.  Please take action soon – I know your family will thank you.

“Tears are the silent language of grief.”  Voltaire

A future without him

9 May
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The last photo I took with my father in April, 2016

One week ago today, my world changed forever. A nurse from the rehab where my Dad was staying called with news. The woman had an accent and at first I was confused… so I asked her to repeat what she’d said. “I’m so sorry but your father has passed away.” This time her words were clear and all at once it felt like the floor was falling away beneath me. Even though I’ve known that this day would come, those words were still so very hard to hear.

The last week has been filled with a “busyness” I’d never have chosen to go through. Thankfully, I’ve been able to weather it with the help of my husband, Emile. He has been the rock I needed and has held me as I sobbed, made me eat when I didn’t even know I was hungry, and helped me to be patient when all  I wanted to do was scream (think Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment). I’m so grateful that he was with me to help me navigate this life transition in as graceful a way as possible .

When I try to make sense of my sadness, I think it’s because for many years I’d wanted for my Dad to be happy and yet, try as I might, I always felt like I’d failed. I wonder how I thought I could have ever have made up for the life situations he faced? As a child he saw much hardship—and then before he was 25 he lost his Dad, two brothers, and a child. In later years, he lost my Mom to cancer and my sister, Nancy, to Cystic Fibrosis. His world wasn’t just half-full, at times it seemed damn near empty!

Throughout the years, Dad and I rarely found a way to talk about the pain in his life.  That wasn’t something we knew how to do.  The last time I was able to take him out to dinner, however, he sipped a glass of wine and told me a few stories that were new to me. As I listened to him, I wondered who he might have become under different circumstances.  When I took him back to his assisted living facility, he joked with his nurse and then they both laughed out loud.  That laugh brought a smile to my face, and Dad said, “You don’t even know why we’re laughing” and I replied, “It’s not important… I’m just so glad to see you happy.”

Dad was never one to offer words of praise… I guess because he’d never heard them himself.  That’s probably why I’ve been amazed to find so many pictures, emails, newspaper articles, and other mementos of my sisters and our families stuffed throughout his condo. Clearly, even though he didn’t know how to say it, his family meant the world to him.  That knowledge will help me face a future without him.

This journey of loss has just begun. I ask that you please be patient with me as I travel it.

“One should never be ashamed to cry.  Tears are rain on the dust of earth.” Charles Dickens

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A quiche I baked for my father’s neighbor in Florida

Happy Pi Day!

14 Mar

Early this morning I received a shout out from my friend, Karen, wishing me a “Happy Pi Day” and that set the stage for the day.  I am sure I would have remembered it sooner or later, but it was nice to get the word “pie” on my “to-do” list right away.

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It took a trip to the store to gather some ingredients before I could bet started… apples, mushrooms, eggs… and then the pie making began. It was far from an orderly process, but before long, I had made the pie dough made (two kinds – one “regular” and one that was gluten-free). Then it was time to cook the vegetables for the quiches – one with broccoli and mushrooms and one with asparagus.  When those two pies were in the oven, I got the apple pie going. Finally, after a few hours, I had three pies sitting on my counter.

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Looking at those three pies on my counter made me think back to high school geometry class (it is pi day after all!)  From what I recall, at the beginning of the year, my head felt like it was swimming, but my teacher, a very patient woman named Mrs. Simmons, explained it all.  Before long, I was able to recite theorems, solve for x and y, and I learned that math could be fun.

Mrs. Simmons

Unfortunately, I don’t think I ever properly thanked Mrs. Simmons for guiding me through geometry that year and it is too late to do so now.  Claire Anita Simmons passed away nearly six years ago (I just looked it up).  I would have so loved to gift Claire Simmons a pie with my deepest thanks for sharing her love of math through teaching.

Instead, the three pies found homes with my friends. One, a teacher, was thrilled to have the Apple Pie to share with her children. The Asparagus quiche went to a friend and her husband as they face health challenges… and the Mushroom Broccoli quiche went to a friend simply because she loves my quiche.

As Pi Day 2016 comes to a close, my hope is that you all had a lovely pi(e) day. And, while you still have the chance, I hope you’ll take the time to thank a teacher who made a difference in your life.  Or for that matter, take a moment to thank anyone else you owe some thanks to. I promise, you’ll both feel good about it!

“A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.”

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

 

 

 

 

 

Home again, home again…

3 Feb

With yesterday’s snow on the ground outside, it was hard to believe that we just came home from two weeks by the ocean in Mexico. We’ve been going to the same town – Barre de Navidad – for a number of years and this year we brought a couple of friends with us and introduced them to “our” small Mexican town. At first, I wondered if they would love it as much as we do… after all, it is not a resort town in any sense of the word. Fortunately, they did. We all enjoyed sitting on the beach, playing games, eating tacos (thank you Ritchie Ruiz!), and sipping the local beer. It was really a wonderful time.

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George and Joyce

Emile and me

Emile and me

Before going to Barre, I collected an assortment of gifts to bring along. Usually when you sit on the beach, vendors approach selling their wares.  Most of the time, we say, “No, gracias.” However, I would also ask, “Tienes ninos?” Most every vendor did have children, and then I would ask how many and their ages. Once this was determined, I would let them choose a gift for their kids. It didn’t cost me much, was fun for me to do, gave me a chance to practice my Spanish… and I made friends along the way!

gifts for Mexico

Beanie Babies, Crayola Crayons and Pencils, etc.

We had friends visit us in Barre as well. David and his wife, Rosalba, used to live in Ashland but now have returned to their home near Guadalajara. When they know we will be in town, they make the long drive to spend time at the seaside with us.  They are salt of the earth folks and we feel like a part of their family. Somehow we communicate quite easily because hearts will find a way to do that if you give them a chance!

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Leslie, Miriam, Rosalba, and David

Because I really need to make pies, I brought along ingredients to make a few. I hauled several pounds of cookie crumbs and a half dozen pie tins through TSA (I wonder if that even seemed strange to them?)  Of the five pies I made, three were coconut cream and two were chocolate cream and  I know at least two were delicious as we shared them with our friends.  One of the three pie “gifts” went to an old man recovering from a recent illness. He didn’t really know me but we had stayed at his inn about five years ago. I walked in and (all in Spanish) explained that we had once stayed there, that our friends stayed there the week before, and that we really loved Barra all while holding the pie.  I sensed his confusion and finally blurted out, “Esto es un regalo… gracias por todo. ” The smile that appeared on his face was absolutely glorious! Lesson: Next time, lead with the part about the gift and maybe those other details won’t even be necessary!

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Parts of the pie-making process

coconut cream pie in Barra

Coconut Cream Pie

marketplace bowls

A trip to Mexico wouldn’t be complete without a day at a local crafters market. The bright colors of the pottery and the array of shining silver jewelry are stunning!  I’d love to take it all home with me… but alas, that is not possible. Instead, I limit myself to a few items as gifts and a few more as colorful reminders of our time there.

Market Vendor

Jose Ruis Montoya and Artesanias Huichol

Beach items

Gifts from the Sea

Each time as we walked the beach, I took a bag to pick up debris because I really feel that Barra is my beach and I want to do my part to take care of it. Occasionally we would find evidence of the recent hurricane but, all in all, the playa was pretty clean. I found this spigot and couldn’t leave it behind though I don’t know what I’ll do with it yet. The beach glass is something my Mom used to collect and I think of her each time I find a piece.

At the end of two weeks, it was very hard to leave Mexico behind because I feel so comfortable and at home there. It was shortly after returning from Barra five years ago when I began my pie project because I realized just how much I have to be grateful for. For many reasons, I think that a part of me will always remain in Mexico even when I am home again… And, really, that is as it should be.

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”  Confucious

 

 

Thanks… and giving.

30 Nov

apple pie NovemberIt’s been over four years since I started this blog/gratitude project. It seems only fitting that during this season of Thanksgiving that I share a few of the things that I am grateful for. Of course, I am thankful for the basics… a warm home, plenty to eat, and good health.  A few other important things on the list include:

Friends. The people that have known me forever and when we speak after many months we pick up right where we left off. You know who you are. I hold you all in my heart and am so grateful for your love and acceptance.

pumpkin pie for george Continue reading