Staying in Focus: Home From the Holidays

The holiday season was a full and busy one this year. In addition to the holiday festivities, we had a wedding to attend in Hamilton, NY, on January 2nd. We celebrated Christmas here at home with my side of the family, and then departed for the wedding on Dec 28th. We stopped by in Wayne, NJ, to visit and celebrate Christmas together with the Coyle side of the family, before we continued on to NY, where we stayed for three nights, celebrating New Year’s Eve and the wedding of our nephew and new niece, Matt and Whitney. We started our journey home on the 3rd and arrived here on the 4th. Unfortunately, our son, Kevin,

had a gallbladder attack at the hotel on our way home, suffering with severe pain through most of the night.  We were so ready by this time to just get home. It took me nearly a week to take down the Christmas decorations, but I can now say we have returned home from the holidays.

We had much to be thankful for this Christmas season. Both my mother and my brother had PET scans just before the holiday, and were found to be cancer free. My niece’s preemie baby is doing well, now reaching 6 lbs. Baby Ben began life at 1.6 lbs. on Sept. 25. We hope he will be able to leave the hospital soon, and join his parents and big sister, Juliana, in their new home in NJ. Kevin was checked out by the doctor, and thankfully he does not need surgery, but must follow a strict diet.

The wedding in NY was lovely, and mother nature cooperated by keeping the impact of bad weather to a minimum. We had snow showers every day, but little accumulation. One night was a bit icy, and it was cold, but that was about the worst of it.  It is so heartening to see two young people in love, looking forward to their lives together, the endless possibilities and so much to share. Their wedding ceremony was very personalized and everything came together for them as planned. We wish them all the best. (And anyone out there planning a wedding and needing a song for your first dance, Rose of my Heart by Johnny Cash will not leave a dry eye in the room.)

Despite the cold, we found the town of Hamilton quite charming. We stayed at the Colgate Inn – a historic hotel in the center of town. Across the street is a lovely village green, and we took a walk in the gently falling snow to Colgate University and enjoyed its rustic setting. With the Christmas decorations still in place, the town could have been the setting for It’s a Wonderful LIfe. From the window of the hotel, looking out over the village green, we almost expected to see the villagers heading to the park to celebrate Groundhog Day! Were Jimmy Stewart or Bill Murray and Andie McDowell to walk by us, we wouldn’t have been surprised.

I love the architecture of the houses in upstate New York.  There is something about them that harken back to a time of small town living, festivals in the village green, the kids bundled up in snowsuits, scarves and colorful red mittens. I’m sure that somewhere in this small village was the perfect hill for snow sledding and a pond for ice skating. Now if we could just find a town like that, in a little warmer climate, with low taxes and a big city nearby for medical care, we’d be there in a heartbeat. Any suggestions?


Rose of My Heart




Staying in Focus: Daily Prompt: Memories of Holidays Past

Daily Prompt: What is your very favorite holiday? Recount the specific memory or memories that have made that holiday special to you.

This prompt is quite timely, as  my Christmas card theme this year is “Remember When”. I wrote this poem as the verse on the card:

Remember When

Cherished memories come to mind,

every year at Christmas time

As the year draws to an end,

they invite me to ‘remember when’

Remember when Christmas

was covered with snow,

the flakes would fly

and the cold wind blow?

Remember when we trimmed the tree?

Dad hung the tinsel

as straight as could be

Remember when it didn’t snow,

and we feared Santa wouldn’t show?

Remember when family and friends

dropped by,

for conversation and pumpkin pie?

Remember when we’d go a caroling,

into the frosty night

with hearts full of cheer and spirits bright?

Hold moments like these close in your heart

and when you want to revisit them

sit back and simply ‘remember when’

Christmas is by far my favorite holiday. I love everything about it from the decorations to trimming the tree, finding the perfect gift for someone special, wrapping and hiding presents and baking cookies, and  watching our favorite Christmas movies on TV. We used to attend midnight mass, where candles would fill the church with light, but these days it is too hard to stay up that late, especially after attending my sister’s annual Christmas Eve celebration of food, fun and presents.  So we go to an earlier mass. I love the joyful sound of Christmas carols filling the church, and listening to the children play carols with the bells. Then we drive home through a city aglow with luminaries lining driveways and roads.  At home, mom and I get cozy and I usually buy her a special gift – new pajama, a robe or slippers. This year having been so tough on her, I bought us each a pair of elf slippers, for a little laugh. I will be sure to post some pictures on Christmas Eve. Before bed, Mom and I watch “White Christmas”.

Christmas memories are the best memories. I remember decorating the outside of the house with the snowflakes flying, buying our tree on the coldest  night of the year, making our own decorations, wrapping and hiding presents, teasing each other with hints of what may lie beneath the colorful paper. One of our family traditions was to draw a name and buy a small gift to exchange on Christmas Eve. I don’t know why this memory has stuck in my mind, but I remember my dad giving me  a novel  – a madcap mystery with the Monkees as the main characters, and I see myself sitting by the tree reading my book. An earlier memory is that of receiving a Shirley Temple Treasury – seems most of my favorite memories involve books. I still have that book, 53 Christmases later.

It has long been  a  tradition in our family to exchange handmade gifts. These have ranged, over the years, from Mom’s beautiful cross stitch on pictures, pin cushions, bookmarks, pillows and ornaments, to my nature photography, paintings, poetry and jewelry. My sister has provided many of our treasured decorations –   painted lamps, needlepoint Santa candles,  angels, and  painted bottles, plates, and mugs. My brother is a genius at making things from found objects like driftwood, railroad spikes, odds and ends he turns into art and  treasured memories. My favorite is a carved walking stick. His family, my sister-in law, Elise, and children Sammy and Isaac have added ornaments for our tree. Last year Elise made very clever scarves made from yarn. My niece, Jeanette, also an artist, paints on found objects like a bird’s feather or a seashell. All of these add to the special holiday that is Christmas, because of the thought and time given in their creation.

The promise of Christmas is a message of peace and love, the hope that  one day we will  achieve them, the joy we find  in family and friends, This is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Staying in Focus: Family

I’m back!. Despite the challenges we faced, I enjoyed the time with my mom. The chemo hit her so hard they had to suspend treatment. Right now she is just trying to regain some strength, which is hard because she can’t eat due to the sores in her mouth  She has decided not to pursue any more chemo, and we support her decision. My sister will consult with the doctor today about how to proceed.

IMG_0521 - Copy - CopyIMG_0517 - Copy - CopyGary and RobinBut despite all this she soldiered on, and attended her granddaughter’s wedding shower on Saturday and a Mother’s Day brunch supplied by my sister. Mary and her husband , Chef John, who filled us up with handmade waffles, pancakes, fresh fruit, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy. I – Hop couldn’t have done a better job!

IMG_0519 - Copy (2)IMG_0527

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SIMG_0559 - Copyo we pushed all the worries to the back of our minds and centered ourselves in the moment, with family conversation, laughter and smiles. Although rain was forecast earlier, the day dawned sunny and a bit less humid, and it was a spectacular day!

I dedicate this poem to my family. I  depend on their kindness and support, far more than they  know.:


there’s nothing like having a family
to share  laughter and tears
and a shoulder to cry on
through all the years of our lives,
there’s nothing like knowing there’s someone
who’ll listen and comfort
and wisely advise
when we’re lost and unsure
and need to explore our options,
there’s nothing like having a family
to stand right beside us,
protect us and guide us
to whom we can turn
in the darkest of night
to lead us back to the joy
and the light and the laughter. – pc 2013



Focus On: Dr. Seuss, Smiles and the Moments of our Lives

        don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened — Dr. Seuss

I came across this quote by one of my favorite writers, Dr. Seuss, and I realized how nicely his words speak to the cultivation of mindfulness.   How often do we miss out on the joys in our lives by anticipating their conclusion?.  How many moments are lost to our attention by our fear of living them and letting them go? This can apply to everything from a long anticipated vacation to a simple weekend.

Let’s take today, for example.  I have a choice.  I can fill my day up with things I enjoy doing with mindful attention, or sit here and lament the fact that it’s already 10:00 AM on Saturday morning and the weekend is already slipping through my fingers.

A great example of this is Christmas.  We spend so long anticipating this celebration. We decorate, buy and wrap gifts, plan menus and are so wrapped up ourselves in the planning that we hardly take time to really enjoy the moments of the season itself.  When we suddenly find ourselves sitting amidst the torn wrappings or looking at the remains of the holiday dinner, we feel a big letdown.  Christmas Day itself becomes anticlimactic, and we get the blues as we  dwell on the fact that it’s over, when we should be happy to have had the opportunity to enjoy this holiday with our loved ones once again.

Last summer, when we  were on our cruise to Alaska, we noticed there were floor mats in the elevators with the day of the week printed on them. Now, we could look at those mats each morning and think , “Oh, no, it’s Wednesday already.  Our cruise is almost over”, or we could choose to smile and think, “another beautiful day on this cruise is waiting for me to discover and enjoy.” A simple change of perspective can change the way you live your life.

I must admit  I did let the blues slip in when this experience in Alaska was over. It’s hard to go from a life of pampered leisure on a cruise ship, or a week hiking in a national park, or returning from a part of the world we never thought we’d see, and go back to life as usual, with the harsh reality of work, bills to pay and doctor visits to endure.

But mindfulness teaches us the importance of being present in the moment because this moment is all we really have.  It is pointless to waste it lookinging back, or anticipating the future. In this moment, right now, the sun is shining on a beautiful Saturday morning,. I am writing which gives me great pleasure, I feel good, I’m not in pain, I have much to smile about and I don’t have to be in Alaska to do it. (Although it would be nice…)

So let’s embrace the moments of our lives with attention and joy, and not squander them with regret, but  rather celebrate them with a smile – – because they happened.


Nothing is worth more than today,
A simple thought — but true,
For the past is just a memory
and no one has promised tomorrow to you.
So embrace today as the moments unfold,
Each one more precious than silver or gold,
Love and be loved, live and forgive,
and show true compassion for all living things
Then you’ll find peace of mind and joy of the soul
And your spirit will soar on gossamer wings.
                                                               pc ‘08

Staying in Focus: Ground-Hogs, Holidays, and Colonoscopies?

Happy Groundhog Day!!!

Now don’t worry – it’s not Ground Hog day again, it’s just that I am late in getting to this post. But at least the ground-hog had some good news for us. He did not see his shadow, so that means an early spring.  Although the way the weather has been, it’s hard enough for the weatherman to predict the weather, let alone a ground-hog.

As is our tradition, Bill and I watched Ground Hog Day last night. I attribute this movie with helping the ground-hog break into the line up of holiday icons, like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. But unfortunately for the ground-hog,  predicting the weather doesn’t create the same excitement as a sleigh full of toys, or even a basket full of Easter joy, so he has a long way to go to reach A – list status. Right now, Ground Hog day is listed under Observances, so his first job is to get his day leveled up to Holiday status

He will have to work really hard if he wants to unseat Santa.. After all, that rotund fellow in the red suit has been in the catbird seat a long time.  And it hasn’t all been a bed of roses for the jolly elf either, at least according  to Hollywood,. After all, he has had his reputation besmirched by evil capitalists in big box stores, finding himself in a mental hospital and then on trial, not to mention having his own son turn up on the naughty list, his workshop nearly destroyed by a toy clone and lost to another group of evil toy makers who almost absorb Santa’s enterprise with the unwitting help of is brother, Fred Claus. And let’s not forget how he almost used up all of his special magic in searching  for a wife to turn to for advice and give the brownies all their spice.  But in the eleventh hour, he succeeded, and Christmas was saved, at least for this year. It’s not easy being number one.

Halloween, although  listed as an Observance Day, has achieved holiday status. and while lacking a central icon, has chosen instead to rule by committee – ghosts, vampires, witches, zombies all rule the night, wandering in search of treats with the threat of tricks if not satisfied.  Halloween is the edgiest of the holidays, it’s allure lying in things not of this world, in the slightly scary act of wandering in the dark, under the light of a full moon, begging for handouts. And it appeals as well to grown-ups, giving them the chance to recapture lost youth as they dress up in costume and play pretend once again.

Thanksgiving, purportedly about giving thanks for all we have, is mostly about parades, food, and football and anyway, what can one say about a holiday whose icon is a turkey?

New Year’s Day is mostly a non event, as people are busy recovering from too much alcohol consumption and resolving not to do it next year. Good luck with that!

The Easter Bunny also has one up on the ground-hog. Baskets full of joy, not to mention Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs,  has far more universal appeal than the weather predicting of the prognosticator of prognosticators. But Ground-hog Day does give people, at least in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, a reason to party the day away singing and dancing, sculpting in ice and auctioning off single men for charity

.I find it interesting how we pepper the year with celebrations, large and small, to mark the passing of time. In addition to the big holidays, we have others like the Fourth of July, when we celebrate our nation’s birthday with picnics and loud explosions..

And, let us not forget the more simple Observances like Valentines day, a celebration of love and Hallmark cards and, St. Patrick’s Day, a celebration of parades, shamrocks and the wearing of the green.

And we like to celebrate the lives of people who dedicated theirs to the betterment of all. People like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who actually once had their own day, but now must share it generically with other presidents, in the interest of economy and  three-day weekends, Martin Luther King, Jr., a man of peace and whose vision led our nation toward equality and justice for all, Veteran’s Day, to honor our brave men and women who have served their country with honor and selflessness, Memorial Day, to honor those who have given their lives in service to our country and Labor Day, to honor those who work on all days except Labor Day, when everyone takes off and has a picnic.

And let us not forget the days we honor mothers and fathers and all the spin-off days for which Hallmark has a card:  Grandparents Day (9/8) Administrative Professional’s Day (4/24) National Nurses Day (5/6) and Boss’s Day (10/16).

Now, I have often wondered what was wrong with August.  Every other month has a holiday or at least a major Observance Day.  But August, nada.  Aside from some family and friend’s birthdays,  I personally fail to see a reason for the month of August, except that without it, our year would be lacking,( let’s see, 30 days has September..,)  31 days.  August is just another hot month, following the hot months of June  and July.  It was superfluous in my opinion, until I looked up holidays and observances for this post, and guess what?  I found  a reason for August, after all. I found out that August 21st  is , wait for it, Senior CItizen’s Day!  Now that’s a day with holiday written all over it.  How to celebrate?  Toasting one another with glasses of Ensure?  A competition to see who can insert their hearing aid the fastest?  Or trying to guess who has had the most colonoscopies?

Honestly,I tried to get through his post without that referent, but it’s on my mind  because I’ll be having my seventh colonoscopy tomorrow, and I do think I have the chance to win that contest, but I’m also leaning toward establishing a National Colonoscopy Day, so look out ground-hog, you’ve got some competition coming your way!

I may actually have one up (or maybe even 7) on Santa in this area.. I’m sure I have that ground-hog beat! Oh, well, time for some chicken broth, and  jello!

Be back when this colonoscopy is behind me:)