Sunday, December 6, 2015

Snow! Snow! Snow!

I like to talk "big" about spending my winters in sunny, warmer climes, but the truth is I love the change of seasons and I love snow. I suppose it's easy to write about my love of snow in December when it's fresh and white and new and gives everything a delightful Christmas card feel. When it's still on the ground in March, however, and looking sooty and dirty and like big, hard clumps of gray gunk, I've already moved on to thoughts of spring and am just waiting for the first signs of green. But, it's December! At this time of year, I'm right with Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, dreaming of a white Christmas. I'm singing with a smile as they croon "Snow" and convince me to "go to sleep and dream of snow, snow, snow, snow." I'm one with Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, belting out jubilantly every word of "Let it Snow." And sing it I did the week before Thanksgiving when we experienced our first snowfall of the season. When I awoke that morning and threw open the curtains, everything outside was coated with a thick blanket of white. The stark, coal-colored bare tree limbs were frosted with inches of perfect, white snow. I grabbed my cell phone to capture a few pictures of the idyllic scene. I recognized that same excited feeling I've had since childhood in reaction to the first snow fall of the season, with visions of the adventures of making snowmen, snow angels and snow forts dancing in my head. That evening, our community held its annual Christmas light parade. Every glittering parade entry looked as if it was caught in a snow globe. It was magical. So this month, I'll sing along happily with Bing and Rosemary and Steve and Eydie. And I'll revel in the thrill of December snowfalls and the magic surrounding them. Let it snow!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Now Thank We All Our God

On this first day of November, my thoughts go to thanks and to the lovely hymn, "Now Thank We All Our God." I have been making it a practice for several years to list three things for which I'm grateful upon awakening and again before I go to sleep at night. Such daily and nightly exercises help me keep perspective in the face of the myriad stresses, both major and minor, that can clog up my day. It's easy to get bogged down with the "have-nots" when my life is actually so filled with "haves." By reminding myself of just three things for which to be grateful, I become more centered, positive and hopeful. Recently, I ran into a friend who I don't have the opportunity to see often. One of her first questions to me was to ask about my health. Then, she reminded me ever so wisely that if we have our health and happiness, we pretty much have everything that we need. Just a month earlier, I had suffered a health scare that, fortunately, turned out to be nothing worrisome. However, my friend's words about health and happiness reminded me of the worry I had experienced just a few weeks prior. Health and happiness are linked, but they don't necessarily have to be. I know of numerous people who have taught me the lesson that one's health doesn't have to have power over one's happiness. While one benefits from the other, it is possible to experience happiness even when our health isn't where we would like it to be. Being grateful for each day and saying it with our "hearts and hands and voices" is what Thanksgiving is all about, and Thanksgiving should really be every day.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Glorious and Boisterous

A good friend recently described autumn as "the most glorious, spectacular and boisterous of seasons with its bright colors." It is such an apt description for fall and particularly for October. If October was invited to a social gathering, she would be the much-anticipated guest, the one who lit up the room simply upon her arrival. She would be strikingly beautiful with big, expressive eyes and an exotic name like Scarlet or Goldie. October wouldn't simply slip in the front door; she would "arrive" with all of the flash and excitement one could possibly muster. Hers would be the bright orange ensemble (probably with a cape and a big hat with a feather), with lots of gold bangles and ruby red lipstick. October would be the extrovert in the room, talking loudly, laughing easily, gesturing expansively and hugging generously. The party would come to life, thanks to October's arrival. But, alas, October's gaiety isn't to last. Sooner than we can imagine and certainly sooner than we are ready, October will exit and November -- tall, thin November with his long limbs and beaky nose --will arrive. He will scarcely be noticeable in his nearly monochromatic attire of taupe and dove gray, with an accent or two of charcoal brown and winter white. He might have elbow patches on his tweed jacket, wire-rimmed glasses worn low on his nose and a pipe dangling from the corner of his mouth, blowing narrow streams of gray smoke upward. November will be the guest who will spend more time observing than talking, but when he does talk, everyone will agree that his soft-spoken words are important and worthy of listening. Don't get me wrong. November isn't shy, nor is he arrogant. He displays an air of confidence, quiet and inward strength. No one will jump up and down with excitement when November arrives as they did when October sailed in, but he will make his presence known with time. While October is here, however, I plan to celebrate and have my smart phone in hand everywhere I go so I can attempt to capture as much of her glorious, spectacular and boisterous beauty.  

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Stay a Little, Summer

I love the writings of the late Gladys Taber, particularly her Stillmeadow series, featuring chronological glimpses into her life on her Connecticut farm. For the past weeks, I've been reading Mrs. Taber's "The Book of Stillmeadow," (Harper & Row, Publishers, 1984; originally published by Macrae Smith Company in 1948), with special interest in the June, July and August chapters. I've been comparing Mrs. Taber's 1940s-era summer to mine some 70 years later. There are more similarities than one might imagine, even though we live during different eras in different parts of the country. Gladys Taber's writings are universal because of the gentle spirit she gives them. In "The Book of Stillmeadow," the last words in the July chapter especially struck me (page 206): "'Stay a little, summer, do not go,' I whisper,...." That's how I always feel at this time of year when the seasons and months shift. I'm never quite ready to loosen my grasp on summer. I want it to stay a little. Summer is like a dear guest whose arrival is anticipated, the days counted until it gets here, is savored and relished, and then, whose departure creates a void. I like the sunshine, the billowy clouds in a blue, blue sky, the green grass, the overflowing planters of flowers, the farmer's market finds that are just too good to pass up, the long days, the warm evenings. Stay a little, summer. I like the sound of the children laughing while splashing in the lake as we walk by. I like the smell of barbecue grills, the feel of the warm breeze on my face, the taste of fresh tomatoes and ears of corn, the music of the weekly summer concerts on our courthouse square. Stay a little, summer. But, alas, time marches on and summer is quickly slipping from my grasp as it steps away. It's time to cast my eyes forward to autumn.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Rain Lover

I learned a new word recently. Pluviophile. It means a lover of rain, someone who finds joy and peace of mind on rainy days. For the past couple of months, I've been busy preparing for a special event, cramming in hours of volunteer time each evening after work and on both days of each weekend in order to be ready for the big weekend. With the fine summer weather, I've also wanted to take walks every evening. I've had housework, shopping, church and other volunteer obligations to fulfill. I've slipped in precious time with my husband and stolen moments with friends. Just looking at my to-do list each day made me feel increasingly frazzled and exhausted. I love to be busy, but not at such a constant harried pace. And then it happened. One evening in the middle of all of the busyness it rained, a gentle, constant drizzle under gray skies and a bit of wind. The mounting weight of my to-do list instantly fell from my shoulders. I felt the sigh of relaxation, all because it was raining. I love rainy days and rainy nights. I especially love the sound of rain striking the windows as I'm falling asleep. Rain seems to give me permission to stop for a while, to reflect and to renew. Rain invites me to curl up in my favorite chair, put my nose in a good book and steal a nap. And so it was that evening. The pluviophile in me stopped all that she had been doing, ignored the to-do list and celebrated the rain with her feet up, a good book on her lap, a drowsy relaxation overcoming her. I shouldn't need a rainy evening to permit me to take such a much-needed break. I should be able to create those rainy-evening priorities without the precipitation. That is a work in progress. For now, I am grateful for the quiet, gentle rain that quieted my mind that evening, allowing me to be gentle with myself. I love the life-giving gift of rain.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Just the Crickets and Me

There are those nights when my mind is in overdrive and I simply can't quiet it fully to enjoy my needed eight hours' rest. Such was the case about a month ago, when at 1:00 a.m., I glanced at the clock, groaned inwardly and realized that it was going to be one of those nights when sleep would evade me. After tossing and turning for about an hour and glancing every few minutes at the clock with mounting frustration, I finally decided to get up. I headed straight to the sun porch rocking chair where the open windows welcomed the summer nighttime breeze and the crickets in the backyard sang with abandon. Until 3:00 a.m., I rocked, the crickets sang, my breathing slowed and the warm breeze wafted in, swirling around me like a soft blanket. The restful, slow rhythm of my rocking restored the quiet in my mind. After a while, I was finally able to return to bed and fall into a deep, contented sleep. I awoke the next morning on time and remarkably refreshed. Our sun porch is a magnet for both my husband and me. We sit quietly there, alone or together, contemplating and taking in nature's beauty. The large, fluffy evergreen and row of tall arbor vitae are home to several species of birds, chipmunks and the occasional squirrel family or two. At dusk, the fireflies come out to dance and in the wee hours of the morning, the birds start singing to the new day. All seems right with the world from our sun porch, even in the middle of the night when sleep resists and the only sound in the inky sky is the jubilant chorus of the crickets.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Avian Window Watcher

For the past several weeks, my husband and I have noticed a male cardinal perched outside our kitchen window on the top of a shepherd's hook that holds a wind chime. He appears to be watching us move about inside the kitchen. Often, while we're studying the cardinal from inside our home, he seems to be studying us, as well. It's as if we're trying to stare each other down. The bird is quite handsome, with its bright red plumage, pointed crest and black mask. I have read that cardinals tend to mate for life and that the dutiful male can often be seen engaging in "mate feeding" by selecting a seed and placing it with his beak into the beak of his partner. The romantic in me enjoys this reported aspect of the male cardinal's ritual as what I would consider a sign of love and affection. Seeing as northern cardinals mate at this time of year, perhaps our visitor has been scouting about for any potential predators for the sake of his female partner as she builds the all-important nest. And seeing as Father's Day occurs this month, perhaps our window watcher is spying on us to ensure that we won't disturb that nearby nest with its precious contents. Friends have told me that when they see a cardinal (either male or female), they believe that a dear, departed loved one has come back as a cardinal, if only for that moment, to watch them and ensure that they are alright. I'd like to believe that, too. My late mom used to make cardinals out of red and black felt. One of them is always perched in my home office. As lovely as Mom's handmade cardinals are, right now, I'll continue to be fixated on our real-life cardinal guest, as he busily observes our comings and goings and we watch and enjoy his.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Unfashionably Comfortable

A dear friend pointed out to me on Easter Sunday last month that she was wearing a skirt that had been my mom's and a sweater that had belonged to a mutual friend. Both of these women are now deceased, so my friend's decision to wear articles of their clothing that day was a particularly special way to remember and honor them. At about the same time, the weather had finally warmed up enough that I could store my winter bathrobe in the back of the closet and bring out my lightweight version. My warmer-months robe is lightweight pink fleece, but it has seen better days. It's pilling a bit, has a little stain on it and features a hem that could use repair yet again, but I simply can't part with that robe, for it had been my late mother's. When I wear that robe, I can see Mom wearing it and I feel as if I'm closer to her. As with many facets of my personality, I must take after Mom when it comes to finding comfort in another loved one's clothing. I recall my mom keeping my dad's bathrobe after he passed away, for she, too, drew comfort from wearing it. It took her several years to part with that robe. While I am not one to surround myself with many mementos or articles of clothing, there are certain things I treasure. Anyone else would look at my rather tired, pilled, stained robe and wonder why I don't simply discard it and replace it with something bright and new. But, that faded pink, lightweight fleece robe, complete with stain, pills and saggy hem, has nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with finding comfort in something that my lovely mom had touched, had worn and in which she, too, had found comfort. Someday, I'll part with Mom's robe, but for now, pills, stain, loose hem and all, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Spring Cleaning

It was a slate-gray, windy and rainy Sunday, and I was home in my pajamas and robe, snuggled in my chair, coughing, blowing my nose and suffering from aches and chills. The weather and my body seemed to be accurate reflections of each other. A spring cold was not on my to-do list. While I missed several scheduled events due to this unwelcome cold visiting me, including singing in a choir concert that afternoon, I decided to use my quiet time to spring clean. Unlike the physical exertions of washing windows, removing clutter from closets and scrubbing down cupboards, this spring cleaning involved ridding myself of the clutter in my mind. First of all, I searched for those things that were lurking around in the recesses that didn't contribute to my well-being. I found that I had a more than generous load of assumptions, expectations and sorrows that were only weighing me down. As I searched some more, I uncovered grudges, judgments and over-commitments. There were stresses, uncertainties, fears, worries, negative thoughts, sad memories and statements I wished I could take back. With eyes closed, I visualized unloading these burdens that were causing me so much harm and creating in me a sense of dis-ease. I evaluated each concern and worked to frame it more positively, turning fear into hope, sorrow into gratitude, stress into peace, uncertainty into clarity, worry into joy, crisis into opportunity, old hurts into new understandings. I was amazed at how hard it was to let go of those burdens (Why did I still want to own them?), but as I released them little by little, my mind, body and spirit felt healthier. Who would have guessed that a cold, in all of its untimeliness and unpleasantness, could actually end up being the gift of such necessary spring cleaning?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Spring Song

A few days ago, a friend shared a time-lapse video of various flowers unfurling from bud into blossom. The video was set to music performed by violins and other string instruments. The production was so colorful, so enchanting, so beautiful that I had to watch it again and then share it with others. Given that our section of the U.S. has been suffering from a weeks-long deep freeze, the opportunity to watch flowers unfold -- even if it was on video -- was a treat that this lover of spring needed very badly. Consequently, I am grateful that March is here! Although it can be a fickle month with a warm day here and a remnant of winter there, I find March to be a hopeful month. It is the month when Daylight Saving Time begins again (March 8 this year) and, less than two weeks later, spring officially arrives with the vernal equinox (March 20). Already, the sky has more of a "spring" look to it. The sun seems brighter. The lilacs and azaleas and magnolias are holding tight to growing buds in a state of impatient waiting. I awaken to birdsong out our bedroom window. All about me is a spring song. I carry that song inside me, as well. With winter's cold and darkness soon to leave us, I might want to hurry March along, but I know that by focusing on mindfulness and absorbing each moment of this transitional month, I will witness the unfolding gifts of spring. They may not be as dramatic as the time-lapse flower video or be accompanied by the swelling strains of violins, but the song of spring is a sweet one. It is all I need to feel the joy of this new month and season.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Loving Life

February is the month of love. Often I associate that love with romance, but this month, this year, I'm broadening my February view to a love of life. Mid-last month, a message on a daily calendar I had received as a gift, read: "Do more than, do more than touch...feel, do more than look...observe, do more than read...absorb, do more than hear...listen...." We are each given only so many days in our lives. How can I take my precious allotment of days and embrace all of the good that can come from them? How do I contribute to that goodness for myself and others? It's so easy in our day-to-day lives to simply exist, rather than to live; to be so preoccupied as to only touch, not feel; to be so impatient as to only look, rather than to observe; to be so distracted by the many simultaneously bombarding messages that enter our lives these days that we only read, not absorb; and to be so sure of our opinions that we only hear, instead of listen. This February, I will dedicate time each day to slowing down, being intentional and focused, reflecting on the blessings in my life and paying those blessings forward by showing kindness as much as possible to others (even in the smallest of ways). It's a gift to have this life. In appreciation, I will love every minute of it.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Beginnings

"This is a Day of New Beginnings" is one of my favorite songs in the United Methodist hymnal. It is a fitting song, I believe, for this time of year, when the calendar turns over to a new month and a new year, and we begin anew. As the hymn's lyrics state, it's a "time to remember and move on." I like to ponder in early January about the year that has been, what I've experienced, what I've learned, what I've given and what I've received. I also like to devote time to thinking about the year to come, anticipating all that will be new and interesting. In the end, however, all we have is this day, this moment. One can dwell on the past or plan or fear the future, but we really only have today. We really only have Now. Every day is a new beginning -- a new chance to love, learn, grow and give of ourselves with gratitude for our many blessings. If there is one thing I hope to do in this new year, it will be to live fully in the present, trusting in my intuition and in my faith as each day unfolds, bringing with it new opportunities to better understand and give of myself. May your new year be filled with great days of new beginnings.