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: DailyPrompt: Happy, Happy

Daily Prompt:

What does “happiness” look like to you?

My family makes me happy. Without the love from my mother, sister and brother, their spouses and children, my husband and two sons and my two beautiful grandchildren, I could not be happy.

My friends make me happy – a day’s outing, vacationing together, exchanging letters and email, and sharing good times together – these are the moments in my life I associate with happiness.

But I have had two totally happy moments in my life. moments when what I was experiencing eclipsed everything else, and I stood immersed in the feelings of happiness and joy, oblivious to everything else.

Photo04_2 - Copy - Copy

The first occurred at the top of a lofty mountain peak in Jasper, Alberta. Canada. We had taken a lift up the side of the mountain, and my parents decided to sit and enjoy the view over a cup of coffee. My sister and I decided to climb to the peak of the mountain. We reached the top just as the sun was beginning to drop in the sky.  To the west, the sun set the sky on fire, rays of golden light reaching out toward us’ to the east, clouds diffused the radiance to a gentle glow. The scene just blew me away. I felt a part of something larger, something above and beyond my understanding, a feeling that touched my very soul.  I don’t know if you have ever experienced such a moment, but for me, that moment was pure happiness.IMG_0001_edited-1

Sunrise off the coast of Alaska

Sunrise off the coast of Alaska

a path of gold from the sun to me
a path of gold from the sun to me

a path of gold from the sun to me

The second occurred two summers ago on our first cruise to Alaska.  I woke up just as the sun was making its appearance in the Land of the Midnight Sun.  As I watched the sun grew brighter, rising in the sky and chasing away the shadows of night. I grabbed my camera and caught the sun as it painted a path of gold across the water. In that moment, it was just me and the sun and the ocean and once again that veil of pure contentment settled on my shoulders, and my spirit filled with happiness and joy. We would go on to enjoy the pristine beauty of Alaska, the waterfalls and icebergs,  and even  encounter humpback whales, but it was that moment of my first sunrise at sea  and that sunset  atop a mountain in Jasper, Alberta that I will that I will hold close forever, and remember  as my moments of pure happiness and joy.

My poems:


standing on the summit

of a mountain way up high,

where only rocks and boulders

rise to meet the mighty sky,

to the west the sun is sinking

and it sets the sky ablaze,

to the east the rolling clouds

diffuse the colors to a haze,

and all the myriad problems

that so often trouble me.

Are forgotten as I witness

nature’s awesome majesty.

Jasper, Canada


Sunrise , Sunset at Sea


I watch the sun rise

light vanquishes the darkness

and color returns


the calm sea reflects

ribbons of orange and pink

I stand mesmerized


as the sun rises

it paints a path of gold light

for me to follow


as the sun lowers

bands of dark purple and blue

bruise the evening sky


rays of pale sunlight

reach out across the water

the sun bids farewell


I watch the sun set

the shades of night seep in

the sky veiled in gray


the calm sea darkens

a weary sun now at rest

color fades to black

                              pc ‘2012





Staying in Focus: A Day For Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

On this day I am thankful :

For sweeping skies of crystal blue
And mighty mountains standing tall
For the new grown green of early spring
And the brightly colored leaves of fall
For butterflies and singing birds
Morning light and summer showers
Treasured books, filled with words
A special place to read for hours
For Christmas trees and twinkling lights
For gathering with those most dear
For silent snow that frosts the night
And dreams of peace to conquer fear
For delicate flowers and a star-spangled sky
For the marvel that is our universe
For the sense of wonder as we try
To unravel things mysterious
For the light and warmth of the golden sun
For ocean waves that rush to shore
For spending time just having fun
With my grandkids, whom I adore
For Bill, who loves and cares for me
For my family, how I love them so
For friends and good times most carefree
For all there is to learn and know
And all the things still left to do
I’m filled with heartfelt gratitude
– pc 2012

May we  take time on this special day to express thanks for the gifts we are given – our beautiful world and the people who surround us with love and support, and to celebrate our most precious gift that of life itself.  Let us not take it for granted or squander the time we are given for it is not infinite, which makes it all the more precious. Today is the perfect day to smooth over harsh words and soothe hurt feelings, to express your appreciation for  the people in your life and the world in all its beauty. Enjoy this day, relax, and  really take the time to notice each special moment – the smile on  a baby’s face, reading a book to your grandchild, telling your son or daughter how much you love them, taking a walk together in the bright sunshine, or playing in the snow. These are the moments you and they will remember. The shopping can wait until tomorrow.

Focus On: Ann and Jack

It has been a challenging year for our family.  Thank goodness we have each other to rely on for support during difficult times.  I accompanied my mother to her appointment yesterday with her oncologist to find the results of her PET scan. Unfortunately, the news was not good. The 2.5cm lesion an earlier x-ray had picked up on her lung has proved to be malignant. They have chosen to continue the treatment of oral chemotherapy to address this. Due to the mouth sores she is experiencing after one week on the protocol, this will not prove to be an easy journey.  They have held the meds up until Friday to give her mouth a chance to recoup, and have scaled back the dosage 25%. She was just getting her appetite back when the sores made their sorry appearance. In 12 weeks she’ll have another CT or PET scan to determine if it’s shrinking or at least holding steady. If it has grown, then we revisit her choices.  The  doctor said at some point the drugs will stop working and she will have to balance quality of life versus the effects of a more aggressive treatment In the meantime the doctor told her to  enjoy her life and time with family. Go to her granddaughter’s wedding, do what she has always wanted to do.

We decided some parties were in order.. We are planning a Mother’s Day celebration, a bridal shower for granddaughter Jeanette, who will get married in June, and a  party for mom’s 90th birthday  (Shh! It’s a secret invitations forthcoming). Fatigue can be a problem so she may need to tailor down her activities somewhat

.But we intend to live in the moment, thankful for whatever length of time we are given to be together and enjoy each other’s company as much as we can. We welcome the chemo drugs, despite their side effects .as her soldiers of light, marching forward to conquer the enemy.

My mom has been so strong through all of this, but are any of us really ready to let go, give up the fight and our hold on life, however tenuous it is? I think at some point the body knows,and the mind agrees and one is at peace with their decision.

I think, through this whole process so far, this was the first time it really hit me, that we could lose her far sooner than we expected. She is handling it in her usual stoic manner.  She said she suspected all along there was something more than just the breast cancer.It’s amazing how our bodies seem to know, and communicate to us, when something is wrong inside. As with my Parkinson’s disease, my body knew months before my mind would accept what I. knew in my gut was happening.

While I was visiting we adjusted some things to make it easier for her to regain her independence. We moved everything she used regularly to lower shelves and cabinets; we moved canned goods, etc. to lower shelves in the pantry and her hutch. She can no longer reach high places as a result of the surgery. We cleaned out her closet so we could put in the new clothes I had bought her, as she has gone from a size 12 to a size 8 through this ordeal. I don’t know how long she will be able to stay in her house, but she knows she has a home with one of us when the time is right.

As we rearranged things, we were cleaning out extra stuff. I spied these two  mugs pictured here, which mom was going to discard.  IMG_0228I don’t know what is was about them, except that they reminded me of a time when there was an Ann and Jack (Jack and John have passed away) who had 4 children (John, Pat, Mary Lou and Steven) who lived together in a two-story house and had  a wonderful life together. A life they thought would last forever. But nothing lasts forever, and so we must enjoy every moment that we have…

For Ann And Jack

once we walked on sandy shores
and summer flowed through open doors
and childhood was all we knew
and you were all we needed

once we thought we’d never change
and life would always be the same
and we could not imagine
that one day you would be gone

lost in youthful innocence
we squandered precious time
and let slip by too many days,
which cannot be repeated

and now from shadows cast
we must  forge another path
and make the best of time
before clouds obscure the sun

we’ll celebrate each precious day
and we will remember fondly
when childhood was all we knew
and you were all we needed
                             -pc 2013  

Staying in Focus: Be Astonished

“Instructions for living a life.
 Pay attention.
 Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
            –Mary Oliver

I came across this quote quite by accident but as I read it, I knew it contained a tiny seed that would implant in my mind and slowly grow over the next few days into the subject for a post. How succinctly  Ms. Oliver lays out the simple recipe for a life well-lived. And although at first glance it seems simple enough, the follow-through can be quite difficult.

Pay attention.  These two words are often used in classrooms, meeting rooms, while working on homework, reading a book, learning to play a new piece of music on the piano, a new step in ballet or a clever new football play.  We must focus in order to learn. We must practice how to listen. not just hear; to perceive, not just see. To be totally present in the moment requires discipline as we struggle not to dwell on the past or anticipate tomorrow. Why? Because it is a  waste of time. We can’t  change the past, the future is beyond our reach, and so we need to remind ourselves to pay attention to where we are right now. Doing so makes us present in our lives. We become aware of the sunlight streaming through the window, the sensation of cold, sweet ice cream on the tongue, the delight on the face of a grandchild when she recognizes you, unexpectedly, in a store. Our lives are made up, not of years, but of moments, each one precious and each one can be experienced, if only we pay attention.

Be astonished. Oh, what we take for granted in our lives! We should be astonished that we are here to begin with. We have been given this gift of a life to be lived. Isn’t it astonishing how day in and day out our hearts keep pumping, hardy little machines that work tirelessly for us, for as long as they can? Isn’t it astonishing that we go to bed every night, and every morning we awake to the sun rising in the morning sky, like clockwork, painting it colors even an artist would find hard to match?  Isn’t it astonishing that a tiny seed carries within it the blueprint for a tall and mighty tree, or the exquisite beauty of a rose?  It is astonishing to be able to give birth to new life, to create music and song, to dance, to dream, to love and be loved. How can we look up at the night sky, beneath the stars and planets and galaxies of a universe we still struggle to comprehend, and not be astonished?  And finally, isn’t it astonishing that most of the time we fail to be astonished? Something to think about, isn’t it?

Tell about it.  We all have a story to tell, an experience to share, a dream remembered. Before the invention of writing people told stories by word of mouth, around campfires, or by painting pictures on cave walls. There were tales of great adventures, of wars between mighty gods, fanciful tales of fairy folk and forest sprites.  With the invention of writing, people were able to tell about it with papyrus and reed, then with paper and pen, in books of scrolls or bound in leather; with technology came the typewriter, the word processors, and computers. We can tell about it in music and song, in poetry and dance, movies and plays. And of course, astonishing as it is, through blogs.  To writers there is nothing more gratifying than knowing that their words can now reach across the globe, and  that long after they are gone, their words and thoughts will be swimming through the endless pathways of the internet, or the cloud or whatever replaces that. And why do we want to tell  about it.?  Well, because as astonishing as life is, our time with it is limited. We want to leave something behind, something to note that we were here, something to tell future generations about who we were and how we lived our lives.

Perhaps someday, long in the future, someone will read these words, and be reminded of the gift they are given.

So they can pay attention.
And be astonished.

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

In The Moment

One of the best ways to stay in focus is to be in the moment.  By paying attention to what’s happening now, we can diminish the cacophony of thoughts running through our minds.   We can reduce stress and fatigue.  People make a big deal out of multitasking, but all that usually results in is many things being done poorly rather than one thing completed well with full attention.

Take driving, for example.  That is one place where our full attention should be focused.  We have seen what happens when people are distracted while driving, and the stakes, as we know, can be pretty high.  But we are so used to  the constant chatter in our minds, thoughts about the past, the future, what we have to do today, that we aren’t even aware of how distracted we really are.

When our minds are full of chatter, communication with others can break down because we can’t hear then over our own incessant noise.  No wonder the statistics for failed marriages is so high.  We have lost the ability to tune in to each other.

We can practice being in the moment, however.  Take time to really look at what is around you, who you are with and what they are saying. Rather than walk along the beach with your cell phone plastered to your ear, stop and gaze at that beautiful sun setting over the curling white froth of the breaking waves.  While at your son’s ballgame, turn off the I-pad and call out encouraging words to him.  Rest assured, children know the difference between being there and being there with them.

As a former preschool director, I have seen this scenario play out far too often. Near the end of the school year we would have father/child day.  A special time for father and child to be together.  But so many times I would see a  child, ambling alone on a nature walk, her dad trailing behind the group, talking intently to someone, somewhere else.  The message sent and received: The someone, somewhere else matters more to me than you.

The handy devices of our digital age are wonderful tools, but  sometimes they can interfere with their own purpose. Take for example an experience I had last Christmas while visiting our family., As we were waiting for a table at a busy restaurant,  I looked around at the crowd, adults and children alike, families out to dinner, couples on a date, and more than half of them with an electronic device in their hands, minds far away from where they were and who they were with..  Most of the devices were phones, most likely Christmas gifts, but a device designed for communication was clearly interfering with their interaction..

So, try to still your thoughts once in a while, to be aware of your surroundings, to use your senses to the fullest, and yes, to stop and  smell the roses.   See nature through the eyes of your child on a walk in early spring .  By being in the moment,  you’ll keep the precious moments from slipping away. .