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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

 

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.