Take Heart!

Have tears been falling a lot lately? Are you experiencing a tad of melancholy? Have aches and pains prevented you from enjoying the day or kept you awake at night? Has illness impacted your life so that each day seems more trial than treat? Is worry bearing down on you?

I’m here to tell you “Take heart!” Please know that I am not making light of your pain. I have been there. The pain is real! It can be debilitating! It can feel as if you are in a dark tunnel that has no end. You push yourself through each day, as if you were walking through ankle, knee, or even waist-deep mud. What I am telling you is that you are not alone, that you have everything you need to deal with this, and that the darkness will never overcome the light.img_2125

Whenever I find myself being dragged down by the trials of life, I look to the examples of the many people who have graced my life with their wisdom. It is then I realize each sorrow in my life has taught me something and has truly made me stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate toward those who are being challenged. The dark clouds have also taught me to be more appreciative of all the silver linings.

In my youth, my Mom taught me a great coping skill. Whenever I would wake up feeling less than energetic and mumble, “I’m too sick to go to school.” Mom would take my temperature. If it was a healthy 98.6 degrees this was her advice, “Get up. Brush your teeth. Wash your face. Comb your hair and get dressed. If you do all that and you still feel bad, we’ll reconsider you going back to bed and staying home.”

The lessons I took away from that experience are many. First, I learned that I am not a morning person. I do not normally pop out of bed delighted to face the day. I need to stretch, tap the snooze button a few times, yawn, and allow my body to awaken slowly. With that in mind, I set the alarm 1/2 hour earlier than necessary. So take heart, the adage “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” does not work for everyone!

I learned to be aware of my health. Sometimes, I really was sick, running a fever, and needed to stay in bed. When I was sick, the rule was rest in bed for at least 24-48 hours. In my childhood, we only had one TV and one telephone, both in the living room. So this rule meant the activity for the day would be light reading, coloring, eating a light meal, or sleeping.

It also meant that this protocol would not change after school was dismissed. In other words, I could not suddenly “get well” and go out to play with friends. What I learned from this is that one should not try to rush healing. Sometimes, 24 to 48 hours of REAL rest is the best medicine. A day or two away from TV, phones, and social media can be good for the mind. Eating simple foods like tea, toast, broth, crackers, and gelatin can be good for the body. Quiet restful contemplation and sound sleep can be good for the soul.

But most importantly, I learned that, when I’m physically well but feeling blue, it helps to just put one foot in front of the other, take care of minimal physical needs and, deal with only the immediate task in front of me. Take heart, know that occasionally it is enough to rise, you aren’t always obliged to shine as well.

In my teen years, when I was preparing for my senior prom, my hair would not cooperate and I was convinced the style was going to be an embarrassment. I was such a drama queen back then!! My mom said, “I think it looks fine, but if you think it is THAT bad, why don’t you just wear one of your wigs?” (I must say that my prom was in 1970 and hairpieces and wigs were as common as hair extensions today.) I told myself, “NO ONE else is going to wear a wig. I’ll be the only one!” When I arrived at the prom MANY girls were wearing hairpieces and wigs!

That experience taught me that, when things don’t turn out the way I planned, it is important what I say to myself, and there are always other options. It also taught me to be aware of my own tendency to blow things out of proportion. With each year that goes by, I get a little better at keeping things in perspective and reminding myself that most perceived trials in life will eventually prove to be insignificant.

So take heart! When you are feeling that life is not going the way you’d like, say to yourself, “calm down,” then look for other options. Smile, it changes your body chemistry. Call a friend. Go for a walk. Take a drive to someplace beautiful. Take a box of cookies to a nearby firehouse or police station and thank them for their service. Write a note to someone who might be lonely. I’m sure you will think of many other things that can help turn your focus outward. You may find that just thinking of someone else actually helps you feel better.

As I grow older, the thoughts that weigh me down are largely fueled by fears of the future. The “what ifs” can really raise my blood pressure. In those times, I’m training myself to concentrate on my breath. Ten long slow inhales and exhales, with all the concentration on the movement of my abdomen, signals my body to relax. I remind myself that tomorrow is never guaranteed and I have absolutely no control over what will happen. Since I am a Catholic and believe in the power of prayer, I do my best to give my concerns over to God by repeating the phrase, “Jesus, I trust in You.” For others, it might be helpful to imagine the challenge as a helium balloon, hug that balloon, and then release it to the power of the universe.

Again, I say, take heart! Keep your eyes, mind, and heart open. Experience has taught me that, in some unexplainable way, I am never alone, and in my deepest, darkest hours, when I have held my worries up in prayer, I felt supported and loved. I must add that after sixty-four years I understand that every experience, whether I labeled it as “good” or “bad,” has made me who I am today. I know anything that happens tomorrow will offer opportunities for growth or stagnation, depending upon the meaning I give it.

In this moment be gentle with yourself in thought, word and deed. Breathe deeply. Before bed it might help to write your concerns in a journal. When you physically put the book away, you can say to yourself, “If I need, I can reexamine this concern tomorrow, but for now, I relinquish it to God/heaven/the universe.” This practice may just give you a more restful night. Sleep well and take heart!

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Pillows of Deliciousness

Christmas is past. The new year is upon us. Here in the Midwest we have begun the long trudge toward Spring. Midwesterners traditionally surround themselves with comfort foods. Stews topped with dumplings are bubbling, bowls of soup are steaming, casseroles topped with cheese and bread crumbs abound and crock pot recipes fill our social media pages. So you might be thinking that the days of tasty sweet treats have been tucked away with the last nativity scene, pine cone, and Santa ornament. Not for my family!

Today I have pulled out a kolaczki recipe given to me by my best friend. I think she received the recipe from her cousin, who received it from someone else. It is one of those wonderful treasures that will be passed from one energetic baker to another from generation to generation. It is very different from the cake-like kolaczki which were served as the dessert at any Polish celebration throughout our lives. These little delights are light and crisp pillows filled with just a bit of sweet filling! They require a bit of fussing, but are well worth the effort! Enjoy!img_2021

Kolaczki (makes 9 dozen)

1 1/2 c. (3 sticks) margarine at room temperature (I prefer butter)
3 (3 oz) packages of cream cheese at room temperature (I use Neufchâtel)
3 c. flour

Powdered sugar
1 1/2 cans of Solo filling (your favorite flavors)

Cream margarine and cream cheese thoroughly. Blend in flour and mix well. Roll into 12 balls. (Each ball will be approximately 2.8 oz) Wrap each ball in saran and refrigerate AT LEAST 6 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease shiny baking sheets.

Liberally sprinkle your working area with powdered sugar. Place one ball of dough at a time on the sugar and roll into a 9 inch circle. (Keep the remainder of the dough balls in the refrigerator.) Cut the circle into 8 wedges. Place about scant 1 tsp of filling at the wide end of each wedge. Fold the end of the dough over the filling and seal around it. Then roll the wedge in crescent fashion. Press the two ends to seal and then fold under to hold the point in place and create a little pillow shape.

Place about and inch apart on the greased baking sheet. These do not rise or spread very much, so you don’t need loads of space between.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until the bottom of the crescents are lightly golden. Don’t be too concerned if some of the filling oozes.

Remove from the baking sheet immediately and allow to cool. When COMPLETELY cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve, or store in an airtight container with wax paper or baking parchment between each layer of cookies.

Happy New Year

Today I have GREAT news! It is a new year, all our attention is focused upon a future of possibility. We have another opportunity for a fresh start! All the mistakes we have made in the past are passed…the proverbial “water under the bridge.” Turing the calendar allows us to celebrate the triumphs of the outgoing year and physically tear up a symbol of whatever was negative in the year gone by. The days ahead are a blank slate!

Yes, I know that the news coming from Chicago and around the world is not very positive. Gun violence, man’s inhumanity, and the petty actions of our government leaders are still very real. However, a very wise college professor once made this observation, “Commercial news by its very nature must be sensational. The things you read in the newspaper or watch on TV must always have a hook that makes the story stand out. If newspapers ever become full of stories of daily kindness, compassion, generosity, and understanding, the world will be in serious trouble. If violence and brutality ever become the norm, those happenings will no longer deserve commercial space. They will no longer be news!”

That observation has brought me much hope in the times when I begin to feel helpless against the tide of darkness. It is at those times that I look to my neighborhood and neighborhoods around the globe. I look for all the unsung acts of kindness and courage that happen each day without much fanfare. I look at those teachers who go to work daily, diligently studying the needs of their students and searching for ways to make difficult concepts more understandable. I think about the nurses and doctors balancing the concerns of their personal lives with the joys, sorrows, and concerns of patients and their families. I rejoice in the members of my faith family who are always willing to lend a hand when someone needs food, clothing, comfort, shelter, and a ride to the store or doctor. I marvel at those who are caring for loved ones suffering the hardships of declining health or facing the challenges of Alzheimer’s, dementia, or approaching death. I admire the men and women who work one, two, and even three jobs trying to provide for their families. I appreciate all the moms and dads doing their best to raise healthy, happy and responsible children while balancing work and family life. I respect the men and women who lay their lives on the line everyday in the military, fire and police services and their families who continually pray for a safe return at the end of every day. I remember the many people facing serious illness, who endure uncomfortable tests and painful treatments with little complaint. I respect those who honestly pursue ways to overcome addictions, mental illness, and homelessness.

This new year I am struck by the fact that the vast majority of life is just ordinary people, doing ordinary things with extraordinary courage and humility. The thousands of good people I have met in my lifetime, face each day with no media attention. Whenever I have said, “I really admire your courage, perseverance, patience or generosity,” my comment is usually met with a humble and selfless reply which reminds me of the old song, “we did it all for the glory of love.”

Oh, sure we all have our days of complaint when life’s challenges and changes weigh heavy on our shoulders! Those are the times we truly appreciate the ear of a friend, loved one, counselor or confessor who understands our frustration, and points us toward renewed hope.

This new year I stand in awe of the resilience of the human spirit and sing the praises of all those ordinary people who continually find a way to step back, take a deep breath, and face each new day with fresh determination and perseverance, especially those who do it all with a smile and real interior joy! You are my heroes!

I wish each and every one of you blessings, strength, joy, and love in 2017!!