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Welcome it all

I love this poem by Jalal al-Din Rumi (Coleman Barks translation).

 

 The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival. 

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

Some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

Who violently sweep your house

Empty of its furniture,

Still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

For some new delight. 

The dark thought, the shame, the malice

Meet them at the door laughing,

And invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

Because each has been sent

As a guide from the beyond.

 

Rumi encourages us to see the important lessons and seeds of growth that lie in many of those situations we label as “bad”, “negative” or “unpleasant”. Easier said than done, right? Our tendency is to turn tail and run fast in the other direction. After all, this is messy business and we do not like messy. Messy can be painful. There is another way of looking at it, however.

The next time you are faced with a challenging situation that brings you to your knees, consider the possibility that Life is shaking things up for a reason. Maybe you lost that job because a new and more suitable one is becoming available. Perhaps your current relationship fell apart to create space for a new and more wonderful partner to enter your life.  Possibly the illness you are experiencing will change you into a more compassionate and loving person. Sometimes, just asking the question “What am I to learn from this?” shifts your outlook on the situation. When you stay open to new possibilities for growth, they have room by which to enter your life. When you shut down and retreat, nothing new can get in.

Following Rumi’s guidance requires trust and patience – a lot of trust and patience. The answers to our questions rarely come as quickly or as clearly as we would like. Sometimes we have to connect the dots backward for them to make sense. Only from a distance can we see how the “bad” thing was an agent for change.

I encourage you to heed Rumi’s advice when sorrow comes to your door. It could have been sent “as a guide from the beyond”.

 

The wisdom of Autumn trees

 “Listen to the trees as they sway in the wind. Their leaves are telling secrets. Their bark sings songs of olden days as it grows around the trunks. And their roots give names to all things. Their language has been lost. But not the gestures.” – Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

 

I have the good fortune to live near a wooded area. As I look out my family room windows, I am entranced by the beauty of of the October trees looking back at me. These majestic, silent spectators stand tall and strong dressed in their autumn finery. While it may seem as though they change over night, I have observed that leaves turn slowly. At first the color appears in small patches, then it gradually covers the whole leaf. Each leaf allows this transformation to occur in its own time. Before you know it, the entire tree has morphed from lush green to glorious crimson or golden yellow.  When the winds blow and the rains fall, the tree drops its leaves with ease, knowing new buds will take their places in the Spring.

We can learn much from trees as we witness their metamorphosis. They encourage us to welcome change into our lives, to be patient during the process, to drop what no longer serves us and to make space for something new to emerge.  

The next time you are crunching through a pile of leaves, give some thought to what no longer serves you and then let it fall away. Who knows what may come rushing in to fill the void. It could be something wonderful.

The human experience

“He who has not looked on sorrow will never see joy.” Kahlil Gibran

 

During the last two weeks, friends of mine have experienced a variety of life changing events –  the birth of a first grandchild, the wedding of a son, serious illness of a mother and death of a father.  The juxtaposition of these events got me thinking about the joys and sorrows that define our human experience.

We are blessed to feel the elation of a new baby joining our family as well as the joy of two people beginning a life together  These events fill our lives with excitement and meaning. At these times, we often look more closely at new possibilities in our own lives and our commitments to ourselves and those we love.  Our family story continues in the life of a new baby and in the lives of a new bride and groom. The world seems “right” and we are happy.

Illness is difficult because we don’t want to see those we love in pain. It is however, an opportunity for us to develop compassion and to demonstrate our love by caring for our loved one’s needs. This can be challenging, but can also add depth to our soul. Of course the death of a loved one, especially a father is difficult to bear. When we lose a parent, we lose a piece of our story. This loss forces us to redefine ourselves and our place in the world.

Each of these experiences brings with it a gift to be treasured. It is easy to see in the case of a baby or wedding, but in the illness or death of a loved one – not so much. We have to dig a little deeper to find it. The gift is hidden in the pain and sadness, just where it hurts the most. That gift is a more compassionate and loving heart. Without it, we could not truly appreciate the joy and beauty in our lives. Without it we could not have a real human experience.  

Visiting Joyce

“Two may talk together under the same roof for many years, yet never really meet; and two others at first speech are old friends.” – Mary Catherwood

Earlier this month, I went to visit my friend, Joyce at her new home in Kansas City, Missouri – or Missoura, as the locals might say. It was wonderful to spend time with my dear friend and her wonderful husband, Ed in their newly adopted city. Joyce graciously took me around the city to many of her favorite spots. One afternoon, we had lunch at a charming French Bistro. The watermelon sorbet, drizzled with blood orange liquor and garnished with a piece of dark chocolate and thin cookie wafer served beautifully in a martini glass was the highlight of meal.  Oh my, it was decadent! We then visited a small wine shop housed in the most adorable little cottage. The garden flag at the entrance had a clock face with a corkscrew as the hands of the clock. Under the picture it read “It’s wine o’clock. You’re right on time.” I don’t know about you, but that felt like an invitation to me. In we went. We enjoyed wandering through the various rooms filled with wine from Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Australia and California. The fact that is is a pain to transport wine via airplane is probably a good thing in this case. I could have gone a little crazy.

 We had the opportunity to relax, talk, enjoy the sights and sounds of Kansas City, laugh, eat delicious food (Did I mention the amazing wine?) and truly enjoy each other’s company for several days. It was effortless. I think that is the sign of a genuine friendship. There is no need to “warm up” to each other. You just immediately feel comfortable, at ease and at home. Such friendships feed your soul. They are rare and beautiful gifts to be treasured. If you have such a friend, I encourage you to make time in your life for them.

The following excerpt about our sons’ high school football season from my complete, but unpublished manuscript Comfort Food – Inspiring Stories of Loss, Friendship and Healing gives you an idea of why Joyce is such a special friend.

“Joyce and her wonderful husband, Ed, were so kind. They made sure I rode with them to all of the away games. I could have easily driven myself, as most of the games were close by. However, it was a special treat to meet at their house, enjoy a glass of wine and a snack (of course Joyce and Ed are red wine lovers!) and be on our way. The stadiums were electrified by the excitement of high school football, cheerleaders and marching bands. You could feel the energy pulsing in all directions.

To be honest, I was a little overwhelmed by the noise and activity at the first game. Everything seemed to be moving so much faster than me. It is strange that something you have easily done so many times can all of a sudden feel like the first time. I guess that is because you are in the process of becoming a new and different person. In that way, you are truly experiencing things for the first time. Walking into those stadiums flanked by Joyce and Ed was both comforting and empowering. I was so grateful to have them by my side. Once again, what seemed like a simple gesture had an enormous impact in my life…Touchdown!”

 

Dropping old patterns

“When patterns change, new worlds can emerge.”  – Author unknown

My friend, Jocelyn sent me an email last week. At the bottom of that email was the quotation shown above. Sitting quietly at the very bottom of the page, I almost missed it. As my mind absorbed the seven simple words, I was overcome by their power. Jocelyn said she came across the quote in the newspaper and now has it in a frame on her dresser as a daily reminder. She certainly has benefited from its wisdom. Jocelyn has transformed herself from a grieving widow into an amazing juggernaut – traveling to exotic places, going to a gym daily, driving a sporty convertible, starting a jewelry business and most importantly treating herself well. Her light is shining brightly for all to see. Jocelyn changed her old worn out patterns and new doors have swung open for her.

Thinking about Jocelyn brought an old Nutri-Grain bar commercial to my mind. Do you know the one where a woman chooses a Nutri-Grain bar over a donut with chocolate icing and jimmies for breakfast?  Inspired by this first choice, she then chooses a fruit cup over a brownie for a snack, climbs the stairs rather than taking the escalator, enjoys a salad rather than a gooey wrap for lunch and selects chicken with vegetables over a plate of cheesy pasta for dinner.  At the end of the day, she is glowing with satisfaction. The slogan was “One good decision can lead to another.” Indeed it can.

We all have the power to make good decisions. We just need the courage to make that first good decision.  That first good decision will lead to another and another. Before you know it, you have changed old patterns that no longer serve you.  When you look around, the world has changed because you have changed.

I encourage you to take a hard look at your patterns. Get rid of the ones you no longer want. If you want to eat a healthier diet, increase your physical exercise, find a new job, end a stale relationship, learn a new language or travel to a far away land, you must take the first step. It all begins there. Find the courage to make that first good decision. It may feel a little scary – change often is. Do it anyway. As you change your patterns, pay attention to what is going on around you.  An entirely new world may emerge.

A happy heart

I had lunch this afternoon with my dear friend, Dominick. Each time we are together, he leaves with me some words of wisdom. Today, through his broad smile, he said “Your heart is happiest when it beats for others.” It got me thinking about the times when I am happiest. Those are the times when I am being of service to others in some small way. The simple act of writing an encouraging note, dropping off hot soup to a friend recovering from an illness or delivering a simple bouquet of flowers to someone in need of a pick-me-up makes me feel good.

It’s funny how you may intend to do something kind for another, but you really end up doing something kind for yourself. The old adage “It is in giving that we receive” rings true. There are countless ways – large and small – by which we can help others. Pick one and do it. I’ll bet you discover a happier heart beating inside your chest.

I have written about Dominick and the ways in which he inspires me in my unpublished manuscript, Comfort Food – Inspiring Stories of Loss, Friendship and Healing. The following passage provides a glimpse into what makes Dominick so special.

“Dominick is the widower of my godmother and second cousin, Kathy. He is one of the most genuine, devoted, generous, wise, and loving people I know. Kathy died in January 2004 after succumbing to cancer. She was full of life and so much fun to be around. She had a thousand-watt smile. Kathy understood people well and gave of herself in service to others. Dominick would later tell me that Kathy was training him to take over her duties and he did not even know it. Yes, she was smooth.

When Jeff died, my friendship with Dominick deepened. He was then and continues to be a source of inspiration, comfort, generosity, and kindness. He is a mentor, motivator, and guide to me and my boys. This is another one of those priceless gifts hidden in the pile of rubble… There is no doubt Dominick is one of the angels sent to guide me through this world. I feel so blessed to have this amazing man in my life.

As long as I have known Dominick, he has been a man of deep faith and a devoted Catholic…Dominick not only believes his faith, he lives his faith. He “walks the walk,” so to speak. He volunteers at the state hospital, taking geriatric patients to Mass on Sunday. He also volunteers at the rummage sale fund-raiser in the spring and fall, repairing and refurbishing donated items. He volunteers at a Retreat House and is on the board of directors. He is chairing their fund-raising campaign.

He is one who is dedicated to serving others. I think this is why he has grown and expanded in so many ways. As he gives to others, he gives to himself. As he gives to himself, he grows and expands. His generous and loving spirit has inspired me to be a better person, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. I bet Kathy is grinning from ear to ear.”

 

The turning wheel

I took a long walk around campus last Sunday after dropping my son, Connor off to begin his junior year of college. It was beautiful day so the campus was buzzing with students, parents and all sorts of activities. Passing by an enormous white tent which sheltered long tables covered with brightly colored red and blue tablecloths, I saw many freshman and their families gathering for a barbecue lunch. You could feel the excitement, anticipation and perhaps more than a bit of anxiety in the air. Did Connor walk in these shoes just two short years ago? I remembered his “freshman jitters” as I watched the crowd from a distance. He is so comfortable and confident now, you would never guess he was once haunted by those jitters. I smiled knowing these children will soon shed their jitters as easily as trees shed their leaves. They will adapt and move forward in their new role. As I savored that thought, I was overcome by a sense of peace. The world felt “right”.

 The wheels of life keep turning in a beautiful rhythm. You can see that clearly in the relatively small space of one college campus. Seniors graduate and move on to more education or join the working world, juniors become seniors, sophomores become juniors and freshman become sophomores, making space for new freshman to arrive. Space opens. The wheel turns. Cycles continue. Life moves forward.

This is wisdom for us all. We encounter many situations in life when we feel the pain of “freshman jitters”. This can happen when we start a new job or are let go from another. It can happen when we welcome a new baby into our families, when a loved one passes on, when we move into a new neighborhood, or become ill. It is human nature to cling to that which is familiar. However, we must let go of old ideas, fears and habits so that we may welcome new experiences into our lives and grow.  When we get through the transitions – painful though they may have been – we look back and see that they were necessary. We are strengthened by the experience and fortified for whatever the next turn of the wheel brings our way.

 Although I did not attended a single class last Sunday, I learned a very valuable lesson.

 

 

A day away

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us. We need hours of aimless wandering or spates of time sitting on park benches, observing the mysterious world of ants and the canopy of treetops…A day away acts as a spring tonic. It can dispel rancor, transform indecision, and renew the spirit .” – Maya Angelou

I love this statement by Maya Angelou. It is both simple and profound. The idea of withdrawing from the cares which will not withdraw from me sounds just plain enticing. Dare I say delicious? We have the power to withdraw from our worries, responsibilities, self doubt, random negative thoughts and fears – “the cares which won’t withdraw from us”. Sadly, we forget we possess this power and thus become slaves to the unhealthy bondage of our daily routines and responsibilities. The merry-go-round never seems to stop. This can leave us feeling flat and disenchanted with our lives, wondering “Is this it?”

 Imagine a day all to yourself. What would you do on that day to feed your soul? What would make your heart begin to flutter? Most of us think we can only be restored by a BIG  vacation to an island somewhere, a cruise or a wild weekend in Vegas. It can be any of those, but we can also be restored by small, inexpensive and more intimate experiences. The list could be a mile long, but here are a few ideas I came up with:

take a long bubble bath

get a massage

get a pedicure

make pancakes

go to a movie in the middle of the day ( Get the LARGE popcorn with extra butter, of course!)

ride a bike

cook an elegant meal

hike in the woods

go shopping

bake cookies

paint a picture

paint a room

sit on your porch and sip on whatever you love to drink  (Red wine, anyone?)

go to lunch with your friends

volunteer at a shelter

play tennis

play scrabble or monopoly

go to a museum

read a book

 

You get the idea. Take a day off. Break free from the bondage of your blunted routines. Think of something you enjoy and do it.

Judge its efficacy by how you feel afterward. My guess is you will experience a lightening of the spirit and you will begin to look at life through brighter eyes.

 

 

Cindy’s Red Beans and Rice

“I cannot even imagine where I would be today were it not for that handful of friends who have given me a heart full of joy. Let’s face it, friends make life a lot more enjoyable.” – Charles Swindoll

 

Cindy is a dear friend of mine. In addition to her numerous talents, she is an amazing cook. This red beans and rice recipe is one of the many dishes the boys and I had the pleasure of enjoying –  compliments of Cindy. The following passage from my unpublished memoir, Comfort Food, provides a glimpse of what makes Cindy so special.

“Cindy is originally from Louisiana. She is a die-hard LSU fan, a wonderful hostess, and our authority on all things southern. Cindy lived in New Orleans, Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Australia, London and returned to Pittsburgh. Everywhere she goes, she embraces the culture and community. I am certain Cindy has been to more places in Pittsburgh than I, and I have lived here all my life. She is a master at assimilating into new places. Cindy will find a book club, take a watercolor class, enroll in multiple cooking classes, find the best restaurants, get involved in her children’s school and volunteer at church. Before you know it, she has a wide circle of friends and a full social calendar…Cindy is a generous, warm and caring friend. How lucky I am to be one of her ‘Yankee’ friends.”

Cindy’s red beans and rice is a special treat. Tap into your “inner Cajun” and give it a try.

“Typically served on Mondays in South Louisiana – this was wash day – and the red beans took a long time to cook, so it was a perfect dish for Mondays. The vegetables in this recipe: celery, bell pepper and onions are considered the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Cajun cooking and are used in many dishes in South Louisiana.”      – Cindy

 

1 pound dry red kidney beans

1 large ham shank (or substitute smoked ham hocks)

2 cups each chopped celery, onions, and green bell peppers

Seasonings:

2 bay leaves                                                                       2 tsp white pepper

2 tsp thyme leaves                                                          1 ½ tsp garlic powder

1½ tsp oregano                                                                 ½ tsp black pepper

½ to 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper

1 pound skinless smoked sausage or kielbasa, sliced diagonally – about ½ to ¾ inch diagonal pieces

3 – 4 cups cooked rice to accompany

Cover the beans with water and let soak overnight. Drain before using. Cover ham shank with water to 2 inches below top of 6 qt. pan.  Add celery, onions, bell peppers and seasonings. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. 

Reduce heat; simmer until meat is fork tender, about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Remove ham from pan and set aside.

Add beans to water (have water about two inches from the top) and simmer for 2 hours. Stir beans occasionally. You want the beans to cook down, to become thick, tender, but not burn at the bottom of the pan. During this time, you can pull apart the ham shank and add to pan. Continue to stir occasionally; the cooking time depends on how high you cook the beans. If you do scorch the beans on the bottom (I have many times), just transfer them to another pan and don’t ‘dig too deep’ when transferring.

Add sliced sausage to red beans and cook over a low heat for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves and serve over steamed rice. Increase cayenne pepper or add Tabasco sauce if desired.  Adding liquid smoke in the last 30 minutes may also bring a nice flavor.

 

Honoring Jeff

The Sixth Annual Jeffrey J. Mabon Memorial Event was held on July 21, 2012 . At left you see Jeff loading his bicycle onto the car rack in July, 2006. A quiet and unassuming man, he would have squirmed under this spotlight. Nevertheless, he would have been honored and humbled by the outpouring of love and support. While it began as a bicycle ride, it evolved into a hike along the trails Jeff once cycled in North Park. 

It is always a wonderful and uplifting day. This year we collected donations for the Friends of the Riverfront organization. I am truly grateful to everyone who participated and donated in Jeff’s memory. Did I mention how much we all enjoyed Bruster’s “Peanut Butter Puddles” ice cream after walking the trail? YUM! 

This event was the brain child of Jeff’s friend and colleague, Russ. Russ is the person who introduced Jeff to cycling. They would ride along the riverfront, Hartwood Acres trails and North Park trails of Pittsburgh. Initially the reluctant cyclist, Jeff grew to love it. He later said it became an addiction. If only his heart could have kept pace with his enthusiasm.

The following passage from my unpublished memoir, Comfort Food discusses the impact of the event on the boys and me.

“I was surprised by how much the boys enjoyed the event. Many of their teammates and friends came, which was quite uplifting to both Andrew and Connor. Being 14 and 16, they typically would avoid the spotlight like the plague. Not this day. They actually told me later how much they liked it. I think this was because when you are grieving, you need to put that energy somewhere. You need to do something to stay sane. Because you feel helpless to change the situation, it feels good to take action of any kind. The memorial event was the perfect outlet for our grief. We were surrounded by people who loved and cared for us and we had the opportunity to donate to a worthy cause…Russ graciously allows us the privilege of choosing the beneficiary each year. This was another important step in our healing process. It may be cliche, but so true – when you help others, you actually help yourself. Thank you, Russ for this brilliant idea.”

 Healing comes to us from many different directions. Keep your heart open to all the opportunities that come your way.