Best Day Ever! ( from the Grandma Diaries)

Those are the words my three year old granddaughter, Katie, told me the other day when we were out together, just the two of us. Her older sisters are in school fulltime so I watch my granddaughters part time now. I keep her busy with the weekly story time at the local library, or take her to the park when the weather is nice. I am a retired teacher and like to do art projects or I read to her. The one errand I let her help me is shopping.
This is my third “rodeo” as I have been the babysitter for the girls on and off the last few years since they were born. Now seeing Katie develop before my eyes is amazing!
When we walked into Walmart, she already knows she gets a “free” cookie if she “helps” me with the food shopping (courtesy of the bakery department). This time she picked out the shopping cart that has a large seat for toddlers that faces the front of the cart so it seems like she is driving. I found it difficult to maneuver but she was thrilled, saying, “This is like a ride!”
As I surveyed my list of items to buy, I pushed the cart down the aisle and let her put them in the cart. (“Throw” is the operative word here.) Thank fully none of the items are breakable: Toilet paper, canned soup, a bag of onions, a box of Cheerios, frozen corn, etc.) She had fun when I let her take some of the items off the shelf herself.
The clerk at the self- check aisle smiled as we pulled up to the register. Katie knew the drill about scanning the labels and started handing me the food. “Here! she said as she tossed me the toilet paper.
She had climbed into the cart and moved faster and faster so I could hardly keep up with her. “Here! Here!” she kept saying til I told her to slow down .I watched the screen to make sure every item got scanned while the clerk near smiled saying “What a good helper you have!”
After I bagged and paid for them, I zipped up our coats and started out the door. I thought of how many times I did this with her sisters when they were at that age. Appreciate the moment, I thought to myself, as she will only be three years old a short time. When we got to my car, I lifted Katie out of the cart. She yelled “Best day ever!” Yes, I thought to myself as I put the food in the car, it is the best day ever!

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Remember the Good times!

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I saw this cat photo from a friend of mine, Kay Clark, the author of the book Sebastian & Me, a Rite of Passage and Spiritual Journey. Kay wrote about losing her cat when he ran away but never gave up hope he would return. As a cat lover, I found the book fascinating, not only through the eyes of her cat Sebastian, but through Kay’s faith that he would someday come home.
The caption of the photo said “Remember the Good Times!” and that’s good advice for all of us. As a cat lover so I could instantly relate to the two cats lying next to one another in the photo as I have had several cats over the years. My cat Brownie, was a tan tabby like the one in the photo lived for 21 years before a kidney failure took him. His friend, Smokey, like the grey tabby in the picture was my daughter’s companion growing up. He let her put him in a doll stroller, take him for a walk; let her put a scarf around his neck and dress him up. A few times, he even sat in a cardboard box while she pulled him around the house. Over time I learned that each cat has a unique personality. Some are friendly, some are shy, some are bold but the ones who touch our hearts live with us forever.
We adopted Tiny, my only female cat, from the local animal shelter after losing Smokey and Brownie. She loved going outside and sometimes even followed us when we went for a walk. She was a “people” cat, who loved to socialize. When we had family parties, she sat next to my brother or sister, wherever she could find room. She was the cat I brought to visit my mother when she was in a nursing home and sat patiently on her bed. Whenever I was sad or my daughter was crying, she came and sat by us. Cats can sense our moods and are like guardian angels in that some of them truly comfort us when we need it most.
We all can relate to the above photo as it not only as remembering our pets but as people remembering the good times! As we lose our loved ones, we have still have the memories through old photos. I have different memories of my parents now that both are gone. Dad had Alzheimer’s disease, but even over time, he still enjoyed the cat who lived in the nursing home that came to visit him. I choose to remember the “good times” with my father when I reminisce. When we were notified Dad had a short time to live, we came to stay with him. As he lay dying in his room, a cat came in and jumped on the bed as if to keep watch and comfort us! Always remember the good times!

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It’s Never Too Late!

It’s never too late to start over, no matter where you are in life. What does your future hold for you? Maybe you are ready to make a change in your life due to a new job, new home, new significant other or illness or unexpected job loss. How do you get through it and “start over”?
Getting rid of unwanted items (decluttering) helps you symbolically and physically move on in life. If you decide to move, due to a job change, divorce, or the need to downsize to a smaller home, you may have to let go of some furniture and accessories. Julie Morgenstern’s book, Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life, helps give you guidelines on how to :
1) Separate the treasures
2) Heave the trash
3) Embrace your Identity
4) Drive Yourself forward
Think of what items from your past you have saved and are not ready to let go. What can you give to family and friends that you cannot keep in your new apartment or home? Whatever brings you positive memories and holds meaning for you- that is your treasure. Hold on to the past only if you honor it and not out of obligation. Do not keep items out of guilt or because some relative or friend gave it you. You deserve to have a comfortable and beautiful living space. Your mother’s sofa may not fit your style and over time your tastes change.
“Heave the trash” means letting go of memories but if you don’t have the space in your new home, you can always take photos and make a scrapbook of those special items you inherited from your relatives. Sets of china no longer used can be a welcome donation to a women’s shelter or sold on ebay. You aren’t the same person you were twenty years ago when you first bought that set of dishes.
How do you “embrace your new identity” after a divorce or change in relationship? What skills or hobbies have you done in the past and have put off over the years? “Invest” in yourself, and pick up those activities again. I always liked to write during my college years and now in my middle age years, started that hobby again. I joined a local writers’ group, started a blog and published my first book! (Letters from Mom- a Daughter’s Journal of Healing)
“Drive yourself forward” means to try something new, at least one hobby or activity you have never done before. Try a book club or volunteer at a local library or hospital. Maybe an athletic activity like bicycling or hiking could work for you. It’s never too late to start your new life so go for it!

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Angels vs. Monsters

IMG_3510My three granddaughters, Julie, eight, Lauren, five and Katie three, ask a lot of questions about God. I don’t always know the answer so sometimes I give the general statement, “because God made it that way.” We say grace before meals, and now my five year old granddaughter, Lauren, even makes up her own prayer of thanksgiving. “I thank God for Mommy and Daddy and my sisters”. She asks questions that show me she is thinking about our Creator. Once, she asked, “Why is that girl’s hair a different color than mine? I told her,` “God made flowers and they aren’t the all the same; they are different colors. ” When I get impatient with all the questions, I remember Jesus made time for children. When they came by Him, and the apostles tried to send them away, He told them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”(Matthew 19:14)

 Julie is going to make her First Holy Communion soon. I like to tell her about her guardian angel. Often at night, I pray the Guardian angel prayer for them:

                (Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom His love commits thee here. Ever this day be at their  side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.)

Katie is often teased by her older sisters about monsters coming at night or chasing her. I try to discourage or distract her, but she still talks about them. I tell her there are no monsters in the house, or tell her to say “go away” if they come. The other night when she had a sleepover at Grandma’s, she talked about monsters in her dreams. I showed her my angel statue in my bedroom and the angel picture on the wall. “They are God’s friends”, I said.  “Look how they have wings to fly when they come by you.”  I sang her the guardian angel song before she went to sleep:

Katie exclaimed, “The angels keep the monsters away!” I thought about her comment and realized how true it was. Angels do keep the “monsters” away, the “monsters” we create in our mind of  negative thoughts and worries. Ask your angel to watch over you at night; they are not just for children.

 All night,all day, angels watching over me, my Lord. All night, all day, angels watching over me. When at night I go to sleep, angels watching over me, my Lord. I pray the Lord my soul to keep, angels watching over me.

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The Perfect Christmas Tree

I decided on an artificial Christmas tree this year after buying a freshly cut one every December for the past several years. Prior to that, I had bought artificial ones once or twice but they didn’t’ last after after a few years after being in storage. The pre-lit white tree with gold Italian lights looked beautiful that first year but somehow, the red and green ornaments I had saved over the years clashed with that color, so I bought new gold and silver ones. I hung them carefully around the branches and friends said “How beautiful your tree looks! but something was missing. Those new ornaments had no memories of the past.
My Christmas trees never looked like the ones at the stores with theme ornaments arranged in perfect order. I did a children’s theme tree for years when my daughter was young, with Santas, garland, red and gold balls, miniature rocking horse, tiny toy box, various angels at the top of the tree. She made the play dough stars, pipe cleaner candy canes, but when it came to decorating , I wanted to do it all myself. I wanted to be in charge of where each ornament went. I only let her put a few on the tree.
To save money, I went to the local Goodwill store to get an artificial tree. The few in the middle of the store were too tall, too thin, and some looked so unnatural with different shades of needles, that I gave up. As I started walking toward the exit, my eye caught a tree in the corner window behind some life size inflatable polar bear. Could that be the one? There was no price tag, so I asked the clerk, “How much is that tree?”
“$20.00,” she replied. The clerk moved the polar bear , found an outlet and plugged in the tree’s lights. “Voila!” Multi colored lights came on. Excited, I said, “I’ll take it.”
After it was loaded into my car, I drove home, and dragged it in the living room. It was the perfect height, with just enough room for the angel at the top. When I plugged in the cord, the red, green and gold lights came on. An extra surprise was the gold lights twinkled every few seconds.
My three granddaughters came over the next day and I did something I never did with my daughter. I decided to let them decorate my tree. Nervously, I handed them only the plastic and non -breakable ornaments and they had a ball! Julie, age six, Lauren, age four, and Katie, almost two, anxiously picked out ornaments to hang. I let them put up whatever they found in the box wherever they could reach. They got so excited as they placed the gold tassels, the wire deer, the little bells, the plastic balls, that I just stood back and watched, amazed. Six year old Julie stood on the piano bench next to the tree to hang the angels. “Angels go at the top of the tree, because they watch over us.” I said.
Now after years of having decorated Christmas trees myself, I found the solution for making the perfect tree. Let my grandchildren start a new tradition and help me decorate it. Although I may have moved a few ornaments after they left, the excitement and joy they had was a gift and lesson I will never forget.

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Life Lessons

Life has a way of moving on whether you like it or not. My dad had passed away three years ago from Alzheimer’s and I still found my mind going back to thoughts of him frequently. I missed him. How was Dad doing in heaven? Would I see him in my dreams? Is he able to see me and my family?
I still remember the day I found out about this disease that he had. That day, I saw a sign with the words, “Keep calm and stay strong” on a poster in a store. I kept this thought in my mind often when I went to visit him. Even then, I felt anxious and scared. My father who I looked up to all my life was declining in front of me. I decided to ask God for another sign. Soon after that, I was looking in my purse and I pulled out an aromatherapy bottle which was labeled, “Calm Strength.” I saw it and I felt comforted. I also learned to lean on family members and them on me for comfort during the next few years.
Toward the end of the progression of the disease, I couldn’t tell if he recognized me or not. Alzheimer’s had taken its’ toll. He went from recognizing people, walking and talking, to not being able to recognize his family or friends. Towards the very end, he no longer talked except for a few words, and sat in his wheelchair, waiting for time to pass. Sometimes when I visited him I helped spoon feed him at meal time. I still talked to him, showed him family photos, and played the piano for him. I was glad to visit and happy to see him! I could touch him, hold his hand, kiss him on the forehead. He was my father! He may have not remembered me but I still remembered and was able to be with him. I’ll never forget the time I walked into the room when he was still aware and walking. His friend said, “Your daughter, Joyce, is here!” When he saw me, he walked across the room and his eyes lit up. We hugged so hard that I didn’t’ want to let go.
After he passed, I decided to write a book about my Dad, recalling childhood memories and what he taught his children. My five brothers and sisters all have different stories about the chores we used to do around the house, the camping trips, and the Sunday visits to Busha’s house. (our grandmother). The walks we took with the conversations we had about life made an impression on me to this day. Thus the title of my next book; “Let’s Go for a Walk! Life Lessons from Dad”. This work in progress will show the readers what I learned from my father’s life, his views about work, education, and especially his faith. From his courage as a medic in World War II to his years on the police force in Chicago, Illinois, he made an impact on everyone he met.

Watch this blog for updates on the release of the book.

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Glimpses of Heaven

I love to work in the garden and now that spring is here, I spend every minute I can outside. I mow the lawn, trim bushes, weed flower beds and divide perennials. I have read stories of people who had a near death experience with glimpses of heaven, where they describe it as a beautiful garden. I can only imagine what wondrous trees and flowers grow there.
Sometimes I have to dig out a dead plant, cut down a dead bush or move around other plants. Occasionally, a rose bush doesn’t make it through the winter so I have to let it go. Last year, I moved a small ornamental plum tree to another area but it didn’t last. No matter what I did, the leaves shriveled so it became firewood. The theme song of the Disney movie “Frozen” echoes in my mind: Let it go. New flowers get planted. (if there is room but I make the room! ) Letting go is part of life. In the garden, it gives me the opportunity to redesign a new flower bed. Recently, my husband helped me dig out a small sapling that was growing next to a fence. I found room for it on the side of the house. Just two feet high, it is still alive in its new home.
A maple and elm tree stand guard on either side of the yard, planted from three foot saplings thirty five years ago. They came from my childhood backyard and are a testament to hope. I spend as many hours as I can in my garden. It feeds my soul. Also, it’s a good way to work out some frustrations by digging in the soil. Gardening teaches me patience as I have to learn to work with the space I have. Occasionally, I give away some perennials, hostas or phlox, and can see how much lighter the garden feels.
Yesterday, I read a passage in the book, “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young. She wrote about Jesus discussing “glimpses of heaven while you reside on earth… part of My original design for mankind. I want you to walk with Me in the garden of your heart, where I have taken up permanent residence.” The same day I come across the lyrics someone posted on Facebook to “In the Garden”, an old song based on scripture (John 20; 15-16) How many signs do I need to see before I realize Who is trying to communicate with me? Where do you find your glimpses of heaven?

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