Staying in Focus: Focus On: Grandparents Day

Recently, Bill and I were invited to attend Grandparents Day at Evelyn and Gavin’s elementary school.  Bill’s first question was: Will we have to sit in tiny chairs? The answer, we discovered, was no, not tiny chairs, just tiny stools. But tiny stools not withstanding, we had a great time!

We were scheduled to have lunch with Evelyn (fourth grader) at 12:00 and Gavin (first grader) at 1:00. It was so delightful to see the smiles on the children’s faces when they spied their grandparents waiting outside the cafeteria. It may be hard to explain that special bond that exists between grandparents and their grandchildren, but you can see it in their eyes and in their smiles. These are my special people, those smiles say. One dedicated grandmother I spoke to had driven down from Virginia to have lunch with her grandkids! The little ones know unconditional love when they see it.

We missed Evelyn going into the cafeteria, but she spied us as she filled her tray and joined us at the table. We ate half of our lunch with her, and saved half for lunch with Gavin. She chatted with us, telling us she had the role of Blackbeard in the school play, and pointed out her teacher to us. We admired the peridot earrings she was wearing, having had her ears pieced for her recent birthday.The half hour allotted for lunch passed by very quickly, and then we loitered outside the cafeteria until 1:00. when Gavin’s class arrived .

I spied him walking down the corridor, and walking toward him, called his name. That smile that touches my heart every time I see it, spread across his face. He slipped his little hand in mine, and led us into the cafeteria. We found 3 empty tiny stools to sit on and Gavin went to get his lunch on the most incredibly slow lunchline I have ever seen. He had to eat fast to finish in time, but he told us about the things he was building with his Legos, that he was going to be a Thundercat for Halloween and what his schedule was like for the rest of the day.

We told him we would set up another overnight visit with us soon. Bill has this Darth Vader Mr. Potato Head toy (apply named Darth Tater) that Gavin likes to visit when he comes to our house. Bill told him that Darth Vader (Tater) missed him. As he ran to get on line with his class he called back to Bill, “Tell Darth Vader I’m at school!”

There was a bit of a traffic jam as the teachers corralled their students and this gave our Gavin time for3 trips back to us for a quick 3 hugs. Believe me, you can never have too many Gavin hugs.

Gavin wanted us to go with him to see his classroom. We told him that was probably planned for another day, and besides, it was time for recess. With a wave of his hand he disappeared with his class down the corridor, back to his world as we made our way back to car and ours.

It’s a good thing, I think, to visit each other’s world once in a while, to know how they spend their day, see that they are happy and well looked after, and , of course, to get a few extra hugs for the road.

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Staying in Focus: Grandchildren, Cupcakes and Hugs

We had a birthday celebration for Evelyn on Saturday. The first part went off without a hitch. We ate at Red Robin and the staff gathered round to sing her a happy birthday song and give her an ice cream sundae. Unfortunately,the museum we planned to visit was inundated by both rain and people. We couldn’t find a place to park for miles around. So we gave her a rain check and headed home to open gifts. Evelyn especially liked the harmonica and book of Jack Prelutsky poems we gave her, as well as the hundred-dollar bill that was a part of the money for swimming lessons. We topped the day off with colorful cupcakes.

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Monday, our little buddy came by  to stay for a few hours. We had fun with Legos. Gavin created this Indiana Jones all by himself.IMG_3728IMG_3731



Pretty clever. Then he and Grandpa got a case of the sillies.



Finally, there is nothing like a Gavin hug!

Staying In Focus: Love is All We Need

Although 2014 has not started out as auspiciously as I had hoped, there is a certain balance to the universe that can bring us some measure of peace. One of the people I wrote about earlier, my friend’s husband, who fought a valiant fight against cancer, passed away on December 27th.  I now have four friends, who are widows far sooner than they ever expected, but their strength and courage in care giving and in facing the death of their partner in life, is a true testament to the power of love – to love them enough to let them go.

But hiding in the shadow of death and loss, is the promise of new life.  For even as my friend and her family were dealing with the loss of their beloved husband and father, their good friend received news of the birth of her new grandson.  One soul departs this world, and another soul enters it. Life goes on, renewing itself, generation after generation.  And what fuels it is love. As the Buddha said, “In the end these things matter most:  How well did you love? How fully did you love? How deeply did you learn to let go?”

Some of us reach a ripe old age and others are lost far too young.  We don’t know how much time we have and so we mustn’t waste it.  We must love with all our  heart for as long as we live and the universe will find its balance – a man who loved his family; a new baby surrounded by the love of family. As crazy and cruel as the world  is, I prefer to stay an optomist. Lorraine Hansberry sums it up nicely. “I wish to live because life has with it that which is good, that which is beautiful and that which is love. “  And, as those of us who grew up in the 60’s know, love is all we  need.

Staying in Focus: Autumn crafts/precious moments

The finished product

The finished product

One of the things I most enjoyed about teaching was exploring the changing seasons and celebrating the holidays through art. I enjoy crafts myself and loved sharing this with my students.  Now that I have retired, I enjoy sharing these  interests with my grandchildren. This weekend they came over for a visit. Their laughter and exuberance fill the house and bring a charge of energy to their Grams and Grandpa. We decorated a Halloween scene, made puppets and then they put on a puppet show . Here are some pictures of our day together.. IMG_2416IMG_2415                                                                          Adding the finishing touches. And now it is time for the puppet show:IMG_2441

The finished product!


                                                                                            After all that work , it’s time for some physical activity :                                                                                                                               IMG_2420

           Each day spent with them is a precious moment.                                                                                                           

IMG_2421 IMG_2423 IMG_2424 My friend, Denise, who recently moved here is also a craft enthusiast. Here are a couple of simple crafts we made together, We took a plain pumpkin and fancied it up with ribbon and fall flowers. You can use a real or a manufactured pumpkin. The leaf mat is a simple piece of white cardboard cut into a circle the size you need, with leaves (real or silk) ironed flat and glued  onto the circle. We used a hot  glue gun. A white sock and an empty 2 liter bottle of soda become a ghost. Simply fill the bottom with beans or sand for stability . Use a little wire  to make the peak atop his head and make the arms bendable. Use scraps to decorate. A spaghetti jar and some stretchy medical bandage become a mummy. Add googly eyes and some creepy spiders to decorate. Place a candle inside. I use the battry powered ones for safety. IMG_2428 IMG_2423 - Copy IMG_2426 - Copy Filling your home with holiday crafts brings back memories of special time spent together with family and friends. Our family has exchanged homemade gifts for many years. They have included clever crafts like those above, beautiful cross stitch pieces from my mom, and cross stitch ornaments from my cousin Phyllis, painted dishes, mosaic hot plates, candles, potpourri jars, decorated coffee cups from my sister. I’ve added annual  Christmas poems with watercolor backgrounds, family photo books I designed on Snapfish, framed photography and a myriad of homemade ornaments. My brother has made us each beautiful carved walking sticks, and very clever things made from found objects like large, rusty bolts from railroad tracks, my sister-in-law Elise gave us clever scarves  made of yarn, our niece Jeanette has painted feathers and shells and framed art pieces. These are the kind of gifts you remember year to year. And the making and giving of gifts are  some of the truly precious moments of our lives. This inspiration for the ribbon  pumpkin came from all you magazine,the September 20, 2013 issue.

Focus On: Smiles

    a smile is a special gift
   to share with one another
   to do so gives your day a lift
   and makes the world look kinder
   when you see your smile reflected
  on the faces of people passing by
  you’ll know they’ve been infected
  by the twinkle in their eye
  and the smiles swiftly spread
 to others through the day
 and all because you had one
 to kindly give away
          – pc 2012

The other day, while going through some photographs, I spied one of my grandson that I just adore.  And although I think he is  the cutest little boy in the world, it’s his smile that captivates me in this picture.

And I thought about how easily children share their smiles with others, and in doing so, brighten up our day.  Just because we are grown-ups now and busy doing serious things, doesn’t mean we can’t take the time to share a smile with someone we encounter as we dash about.  And smiling is infectious.  When a person passing  by flashes you a big smile, it’s difficult not to return in kind. I’m a lucky one.  Between Evelyn and Gavin, I’m surrounded by smiles that light up their faces whenever they see me.  Talk about the power of a smile.  Nothing finer!

My mother is a great example of this.  She has weathered her share of difficult times in her 89 years of life, but she is always has a smile on her face when she greets other people and everyone she meets  is immediately taken with her.  I think a big part of this is her friendly personality, and a big part of that is her smile.  It makes people feel good to be around people with a smile on their face.

This brings to mind my favorite scene in the movie City Slickers.  Billy Crystal plays the role of a man somewhat dissatisfied with his life.  His pals give him a birthday trip to herd cattle at a ranch out west.  His wife, aware of his state of mind, encourages him to go.  Needless to say, all three of the pals experience revelations about their lives as they face  many challenges.  But when Billy Crystal arrives home, and his wife greets him at the airport he says, pointing to his smile, “Look what I found.”  She asks, “Where was it?” And he replies,”In Colorado.  It’s always in the last place you look.” Funny, but so true.  Sometimes we simply don’t know where or when we lost our smile, but there are ways to find it.

If you come to a point in your life when you cannot muster a smile, you have work to do.  Meditation can help this, as Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist teacher and author, writes in his book, Peace is Every Step. Meditation can help, for the source of a true smile is an awakened mind. Meditation  can help us deal with matters that may be the cause of our unhappiness. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests  we practice smiling by doing so when we first wake up in the morning.  A smile, he writes, affirms our awareness and determination to live in peace and joy.  Let the singing of the birds or the slant of sunlight streaming through your window remind you to smile.

Marion Tripp,  a friend of Thich Nhat Hanh, wrote “The Dandelion Poem”, which he includes in his book, Peace is Every Step:

I have lost my smile,
but don’t worry.
The dandelion has it

As long as you can recognize that your smile is somewhere, all is not lost .Open yourself to the help and support of those around you and your smile will return.

Once you have it safely in place on your face, share it with others, and watch the happiness you spread grow and infect the rest of the world.  Who knows, maybe something as simple a s a smile can save us all. At the very least, it can save me and you!


Focus On: Twists and Turns

this path, this road that is one perfect straight line even if it goes around the world through the heat and fog and rain and snow and it’s my life I keep thinking.  It’s my life.  – Deborah Keenan from “Small History”

Lately I’ve been thinking about the strange twists and turns life takes. One minute we’re on one path planning to forge straight ahead and the next thing we know, we’re on an entirely different path and wondering how we got there. Years ago, when we bought our first computer, it came with a game called Adventure.  As this was the 1970s, the format of the game was  all words, no graphics in those days!  I remember one part where the adventurer had to navigate through a maze, the paths described as twisty passages all the same, or twisty passages all different.   That’s how I envision the paths we take as we navigate our way through life.

For instance, recently my granddaughter celebrated her sixth birthday, meaning I have been a grandmother for six years .  When did she change  from a small helpless baby into an articulate little girl who can read chapter books with wonderful inflection?  She loves to make up her own stories, she describes things with the most colorful adjectives she can think of, and her smile can pierce through the deepest cloud cover hanging over me. I’ve enjoyed each stage of her life so far, but I want her to slow down her pace on that path.  The years are just flying by.

And when did I reach the stage of life when I am considered a “senior citizen’? It’s tricky, these paths through life.  The twists and turns are often hard to see until we realize we’ve been on a new path for a while. One day, when I wasn’t looking, I started down this path of senior status, and there’s no going back  now. But, as there are few gifts in life as precious as my granddaughter, I will gladly walk the grandmother path with her and her precious little brother, Gavin, whose cherub face and electric smile light up my life and melt my heart..  My husband and I have been lucky to be living close to them during their early years.  Grandchildren and grandparents grow up together, each helping the other down those twisty paths.

Where does that unconditional love grandchildren have for their grandparents come from?They see me and their little faces light up and they come running in to hug me.  It’s a love that is pure and freely given, and one of the greatest gifts we can receive in this life. The sweet love of a child can be just the tonic I need on a difficult day and during difficult times. And times have been difficult lately with a separation pending between the grandchildren’s parents and my younger son being laid off from work..  Two paths my sons must walk, neither having chosen them, but there they are.

And what advice can one give them as they struggle along?  The best I can do is to say that one never knows where  a change in the path of life may lead us.  What may seem like an uphill climb right now may eventually lead to a new path filled with different opportunities, new relationships and better days ahead.  The important thing about the paths we travel  through life is that they are one way and that way is forward.  We can look back and learn from our mistakes, but the direction we take is into the future.

We consciously choose to take some paths in life, such as attending college, getting married, raising a family. And some paths sneak up on us when we are not looking. Winning the lottery would be a good path to find myself on,  getting Parkinson’s disease, not so good.  I travel with Parkinson’s everyday, and some days we cruise along and others we stumble a bit, but we keep on keeping on. Right now, I’m moving pretty well, and I am grateful for every day that this is so.  And I have hope that this path leads to a place where a cure is waiting.  The thing is, none of us know what’s waiting down the road.  But  as long as we are moving along it, there is the possibility of wonderful experiences and happiness ahead.  And that’s what matters most.  That as we move along we expect the best of times, not the worst.  That if we find ourselves on the wrong path, we seek a better one and if we find ourselves on a path we cannot change, we make the best of it. We can allow these twists and turns to confuse us completely, or we can accept the challenge and enjoy the journey.  As the saying goes,  a bend in the road is not the end of the road, unless you fail to make the turn.(Author Unknown)

The Rocky Road

I was cruising right along
when this rocky path appeared
and now I have been walking it
for many trying years
and thus it leads me onward
to a future tinged with fear
but despite the looming shadows
I have no time for tears
each day, despite the path we take
is a precious gift to be treasured
and I for one have vowed to make
it filled with joy and pleasure
so moment by moment, mindfully
I take a step most carefully
along this steep and rocky road
trying not to stumble
I strive to reach the end
I’ll shed my weary burden
it may just be round the bend
my heart is certain
I’ll find somewhere
to banish all the fear and care
and find my freedom waiting there
– pc 2012

I am sorry I have been remiss in getting out a new post, but I was busy getting ready for our annual visit with the Yankee branch of the family.  They arrived on the 17th, after that grueling ride down I – 95 from New Jersey to North Carolina.  We had three fun days of catching up with each other, shopping and conversation, and before we knew it, the last day had arrived and we were heading for our “last night of the visit ritual” – a treat at Goodberry’s to top off our family gathering.  This year we were missing two members of the clan – they were off visiting with the ancient Incas at Macchu Picchu in Peru, but we know they were there in spirit.

Then today most of the family left early to get the ride home started, but my nephew stayed a bit longer as he was flying to Chicago later in the day.  We were in the middle of a great conversation, when my son arrived to whisk him off to the airport.  Hated to see him go.

The house grew very quiet for a few moments.  Then my grandkids arrived, and after a lunch trip to Chili’s, stayed with me while their mom ran errands.  I know every grandparent believes their grandkids are the cutest in the world, and I’m no exception.  They are the most precious gift of reaching old age.  Check  them out in their new duds. (Note to Aunt Pat – they loved the clothes you bought them and  they had to try them on as well (see Evelyn). The dragon and the polka dots were big hits!)

On one of our shopping forays I found Sponge Bob Square Pants Pillow patterns and sewed them up this morning.  They loved them as you can see.

We try to make a few trips up north each year to visit my  husband’s side of the family.  Mine has migrated south so my mom, sister and brother are not too far away.  As we age the need to spend more time with each other grows more important as time continues to tick away,and we know it is not limitless.

My grandchildren are especially lucky to have my mom and my husband’s dad (their great grandparents) in their lives.  My mom can see them a bit more often, but my husband’s dad sees them only once a year, and It’s hard for the little ones to remember who they are.  But my father-in-law played it cool and didn’t come on too strong.   Before long my grandson began to warm up to him.

We went out to dinner with them, and afterwards my granddaughter, who is 5, gave everyone hugs, but my grandson buried his face in his mother’s arms.  However, right before they were to leave he told his mother he’d give someone a hug.  She asked him who he wanted to hug.  He turned his head, looked at my father-in-law, extended his hand and pointed at him and said, “That one!”  And so he gave his great-grandfather a hug.

That little boy will never know how much that simple hug meant to his great-grandfather.   And that really is, when you come down to it, what family is all about.  Strip away the occasional differences of opinion, the sibling rivalries of our youth and  forget the struggles of those teenage years, the difficulties faced as we had to pull away from our parents and come into our own, and what you have left is love, expressed in the arms of a small child giving his great-grandfather a hug.  It’s as simple and as complicated as that.