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 a – z: A Big Clumsy Dog

Daily prompt; Write a poem or story in which each line begins with a letter of the aphabet a to z



A Big Clumsy Dog

”Aargh!”  I said

but where could she be

creating a ruckus

dousing paint on me?

“expect  she’s hiding

from  your angry tone

gals like my Sally

have always come home;

if you want to find her

just quiet down

keep  still as you can

lose the loud sound

making a fuss

never is the right way

old Sally’ll stay hiding

perhaps through the day;

quietly listen

remember, don’t shout

Say, “Sally, where are you?

time to come out!”

under the bed

vacant of sound

without whining apology

*xanthous hound

yawns and stretches

zips  by with a bound!


Staying in Focus: What Matters When You’re Ninety

IMG_0787Today we are celebrating Mom’s 90th birthday with an afternoon barbecue in Sanford at my sister’s house.  She has been through a lot the past month or so, barely surviving two failed chemo attempts which left her weak, sick and miserable. Both she and her doctor have agreed to suspend treatment.  He will give her a month or so to recover, and hopefully put on a few pounds before starting monthly shots to suppress the tumor in her lung.  She has chosen quality of life at this point, as many days as she can enjoy without being sick so much of the time.

As I prepare for her birthday, I ask myself, what matters most when you’re ninety? For my Mom, no question about it, it is her family and friends. There comes a time in our life when material goods no longer matter. It’s all just stuff in the end, stuff you leave behind, unless you are planning  a King Tut kind of send-off. complete with a tomb filled with your stuff arrayed around you for thousands of years. But it is still just stuff.It doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.

Time spent with family and friends is worth much more than stuff, and it becomes  more precious, more of a priority, as we grow older. Our lives are short and as we age, we become more aware that at some point we will simply run out of time. That is why we need to make  a special effort to spend this time wisely, getting together and sharing laughter and memories, celebrations and milestones, playing with the young ones and listening to the stories our elders tell of their lives and all they have seen or done during them. My mother has experienced so much in her ninety years, and has accumulated a great deal of wisdom along the way.

So with that in mind, I created a time line of her life so far (see post 5/02//2013). Then I had the idea to make a collage of all her children, from my brother John to her latest great, great-grandchild. I placed her picture in the middle of the collage, cutting it in  a heart shape, as  she is the heart of our family. As I worked , the words of the governor in the movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus, came to mind, so I added this quote at the bottom:

We are your symphony. We are the melodies and notes in your opus. We are the music of your life.

Family has always come first with Mom. The warm, loving home she created for us, the support and encouragement she has always given us, her pride in our accomplishments, these gifts she has freely given and the children she has nurtured, are her opus. They are a legacy far more worthwhile than an accumulation of stuff. Perhaps we should all realize this sooner rather than later and make the most of the time we have, just being together.

So today, my mother’s family and friends will gather round her to celebrate 90 years of  a life well lived.She’ll glow in the warmth of their love and delight in their laughter. The sounds of their voices will surround her like a symphony, and the music will fill her heart with joy for this is what she lives for. This is what matters when you’re ninety. It’s what  matters most of all.IMG_0789_1IMG_0792_1

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!

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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



Staying in Focus: On Home, Courage, Chance and Change

May the light always find you on  a dreary day.
when you need to be home may you find a way.
May you always have courage to take a chance.
And never find frogs in your underpants.
–  an anonymous Scandinavian

I love this little poem,  The last line always makes me smile , because it is unexpected.  You begin reading and the poem sounds inspirational and encouraging.  “May you find light on a dreary day, when you need a home may you find a way”  brings to mind  arriving at home at the end of a hard day at school, soaking wet, cold and miserable from the walk between bus stop and the warm, welcoming, cheery brightness of our kitchen.   We change clothes, dry and warm now and sit at the table with a cup of hot chocolate or tea to warm the insides.  Equally warming is the sense of being surrounded by family, eager to discuss the days events.  And later, there is nothing finer than curling up with a good book warm and cozy inside, while the sound of rain provides a soothing backdrop.

As Dorothy says in The  Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”  Who among us hasn’t experienced a day so challenging that all we wanted to do was go home. .Anyone who has been hospitalized wants one thing (other than recovery) and that is to go home. We can’t wait to buy that first home, bring a new baby home to it, fill  it with love and laughter through the years. Older people  fear the day when they can no longer  maintain their own home – it is one of the last things in the world we want to let go . The house itself, the physical structure may change (we have had 5 houses),but the  essence of home you carry with you in your heart. .And no matter how humble, it is our refuge, our shelter from the storms of life, and we should always be grateful for our home.

“May you always have courage to take a chance.”  This can be tough, but life is change and change often requires taking a chance.  This is a little easier when we are young and unencumbered by family responsibilities, but we but when the right opportunity comes a long, we hope to have the courage to step up to the plate and take a good swing.

One of my son’s recently lost his job, but being single and a frugal sort of guy, he has enough put away to give himself  a few months to finish a project he has been developing for quite some time, and I admire his courage in  taking  a chance to bring his project to completion,  especially since taking chances is not my strong suit,. But I am taking steps to become more comfortable with chance.  We took a chance recently when we decided to join our friends on a cruise to Alaska.  I’m not real comfortable with flying, but we didn’t have time to drive to Seattle, so we took a chance that the airplanes would all complete their journeys and they did.  We weren’t sure if we’d like the cruise, never having taken one before, but we took a chance, and we ended up having the grandest time of our lives. Taking chances, growing and changing , that’s living. We should be grateful for all living entails.

And now to my favorite part, “May you never find frogs in your underpants.”  Now this begs the question, do Scandinavians  in general have a problem with this?  I’d like to know because Scandinavia is one of the places we’d like to see on a future cruise.  So I’d just like to be prepared (for the CHANCE  I might find frogs in my lingerie).

But what I really enjoy about this line is that it is unexpected, and the unexpected events in our lives can be  the best kind.  An unexpected visit from old friends, an unexpected letter or package in the mail from your Grams, an unexpected phone call from a grandson thanking you for a birthday gift, an unexpected day free of heat and humidity in the middle of July in North Carolina, or an unexpected snowfall on Christmas Eve in Cary, NC (this one I’m still waiting for).  These events do not have to be on the grand scale of life events.  The mere fact that they;re unexpected make them precious.

Of course, not all events that are unexpected are positive ones – the job layoff, the diagnosis of illness,or the loss of a loved one, but each of these events builds our courage and challenge us to grow and change and yes, maybe take a chance – with a new career, participating in clinical trials to help in the development of treatments for our illness, starting a charity or fund in the name of our loved one to help others fight their disease – the unexpected can affect and change us in a myriad of ways.

And no matter what the unexpected has in store for us, there’s always that light, shining through the window, welcoming us home.