Happily Ever After

dscf2581St. Paul teaches us that “in all things,” we must “give thanks.” In the last few weeks, I’ve totaled a car, killed a doe, found and lost a wonderful job, and, like many of my countrymen and women, perceived the world order has changed in ways that cannot possibly end well.dscf2644Tomorrow is our national day of Thanksgiving, and St. Paul’s words confound me more than ever.dscf2341But if I take him to mean that whatever desolation happens, there is something also happening (or present in the chaos) for which I can be grateful and feel consoled, well, then, it begins to make sense. My task is not to dwell on the seeming despair, but to locate the hope also present, and rejoice in it, give thanks for it, share it. It may be a moment of unexpected kindness; a gorgeous sunrise; a friend; a 4-legged companion; a moment to breathe; a sweet apple; a task accomplished; a recognized healing; an opportunity to witness love in others; a laugh, a life story shared in sacred space; a glass of wine…a husband unwavering in his support and love, when I feel most unlovable.dscf2347The mountain of excrement erupting smack dab in the middle of my life (and in others’ lives, I know) reminds me of the fairy tales I was told as a child. Fairy tales can come true; they can happen to you. Of course they can. They are always happening. The symbols and terrors and loss and despair of real lives lived led to the creation of our fairy tales and myths. They’re all true, but we forget that when birds are singing and the sun is shining. Happy endings are so lovely.dscf2574But the fairy tales exist, really, to help us navigate through the dark forests, complete impossible tasks, and summon the heroines and heroes within, despite mishaps and setbacks. Happy endings have to be earned. Losses will be suffered. But we’ll make it. Or those following us will. Nothing to stop us from beginning. Some heroes die. (But they really never do.) Nothing to fear, just immortality and eventual joy. Believe and begin. In all things give thanks. Ready?dscf2645This is the part when we’re deep in the forest and all seems lost. Up ahead is a clearing leading to a cliff and we’ll be pushed towards its edge; you betcha, boys and girls. Let’s hold hands and solve this. Let’s look for the dragon flying down to help us. Possibly better, let’s fashion wings of our own. But expect dragons when we need them.dscf2617It will end happily. I believe this. If it isn’t yet happy, it isn’t yet the end. All things work together for good for those who love. So let us feast on love and offer it to those hungry for it. Let us name our treasures and be grateful. Let us be the light for others finding their way. Let us take their hands and, together, create the happy ending.dscf2329
I’m looking at you. I’m grateful for you. If I needed anyone beside me in this terrible, very bad, no-good mess, it’s you. All of you. My friends, my family, the strangers who smile and encourage me, the artists, the brave, the funny, the creative, and the wonderful…Let us fill our wings with so much gratitude that we can soar on it all the way to our happy ending.dscf2576Here is a blessing
Tagging you on the back.
You’re it.
You’re the blessing.
Be the light for those in darkness.
Be the love that thaws a heart.
Cause a thank you to fill the world.
Heal the broken.
Charm the disenchanted.
Lead the dance.
Bless us with your gifts.
And tag us, to bless in return.
Give thanks; give thanks; give thanks.

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Happy Halloween From Full Moon Cottage

dscf2496May you be blessed with the lovely gifts the dark months bring: Stillness, centering, introspection, orientation, and gentle peace. And may all the spirits who gather round you bring their sweet memories and commune with your heart, reminding you that love never dies. May all things that go bump in the night be us, tripping over insights the season offers. May we walk merrily into our darkness, willing to embrace the mystery that always surrounds us.dscf2520dscf2461dscf2451Let’s grab our mugs of cocoa (or glasses of wine, or both); sit by the fire; tell stories; share wisdom; dream out loud; and locate good chocolate. Autumn is my favorite time for dancing. Shall we? Maybe I’m not a nasty woman, but I’m definitely one who cherishes her wild side and shakes hands with her shadow. Darkness is only scary until we enter it and listen for its invitations. Let’s welcome it. Let’s show it a good time.dscf2386dscf2518dscf2490Let’s release the anxiety the world is pushing so very intently these days and create what the world needs that only we can offer it. There is so much to notice and love in the world, and so much in a day to treasure. Let’s gather in the souvenirs the days offer us and build a gratitude altar, a tangible sign that blessing and hope are more plentiful in our lives than what many in power (or who are seeking it) would have us believe.dscf2567Here’s an idea: Let’s elect ourselves and put ourselves in power regarding the way the world will work: See what it can be? Look! In so many little ways (that can become the only way)…Joy is winning. Love is winning. Kindness is winning. Peace is winning. Take heart.dscf2539Happy Halloween from Full Moon Cottage!dscf1409dscf2380dscf2504

To Travel Hopefully

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To travel hopefully is better than to arrive.  ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

I have a treasure of a friend who is a gifted artist and lives in Albuquerque. Sometime this past winter, we were talking about her art studio (formerly the garage attached to her stucco home) and her wish to get it organized and remodeled. Then she began describing her dream bookcase to hold some hundreds of her books…

Somehow this evolved into Phillip agreeing to build the bookcase and drive it down to New Mexico in our faithful pick-up, with yours truly riding shotgun.

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The ride was about 19 hours, through bits of Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. These are not my favorite states. Been there; done that; unimpressed. But either we took a different route, or my perceptions are more generous than they were, or maybe, with age, I’m regressing to childlike wonder once more. Anyway, a lot of views struck me as gorgeous.

“Every perfect traveler always creates the country where he travels,” wrote Nikos Kazantzakis; maybe my anticipation of seeing my friend and helping her create a new space made the journey lovelier. Of course, getting away with Phillip has always been fun, but this seemed an especially happy vacation.

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We cleared space, moved books, and helped get the bookcase up the first day. Phillip had honored our friend’s love for steampunk design when he created the bookcase, and also made her some lights/bookends for a belated birthday gift.

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The next day, she and I dusted piles and stacks and other redundancies of books and filled the shelves while Phillip built a wall and dry-walled a new storage closet. We found a neat old door at the local ReStore and my friend and Phillip created the handle to her liking.

We also got walls painted, her flat file recovered and trimmed, and then tackled the fireplace: paint, tile, and a new mantle.

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You’ll note how I keep writing “we,” but you probably can guess that Phillip and my friend did most of the work. I swept, washed, had frequent conversations with Griffin (my friend’s amazing dog), made irritating lists of things to do, took photos, and rode (shotgun) to the local home store every day.

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Late every afternoon, we showered, dressed, and hit the town for great restaurants and lots of laughter.

We took time off to tour Albuquerque’s Old Town, the Rio Grande Nature Center, several antique stores, and lots of different neighborhoods.

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I’m a northern girl at heart and have not enjoyed the Southwest heat on previous trips, but this time the heat felt great on my sore muscles and joints, so no complaints. At all. The evenings grew cooler and the mornings held the chilled air just long enough for me to take long walks before we started the new day’s activities. It was a lot of fun to study the Southwest plants and landscaping as I explored the neighborhoods, and watch roadrunners skitter through yards.

On our last morning, our friend’s mother, children, and grandchild came to have a look before we all went out for brunch. (I have to say the best thing about this was getting to hold her grandson. What a love!) They praised the space and were as happy as we were with the results of the week’s work. Friends joined us that night and, since they had helped create the studio from a garage, were also pleased to see it reach the stage where the artist can now create.

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We traveled hopefully home in time to see the last of the wild roses on the trail and in the little garden where we trained one over the trellis.

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The irises had peaked and have been cut back for another year.

The gardens seem to be taking a breath before the next explosion of color, so we’ve been enjoying our walks, celebrating my birthday, welcoming visitors, and looking forward to the Full Strawberry Moon on the night of the Summer Solstice.

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It’s good to be gone; it’s good to be home at Full Moon Cottage. We’re always traveling, never really arriving. Traveling hopefully, though, is a choice, like traveling wisely, peacefully, and joyfully…  I’m grateful for a partner and friends who make such choices easy and challenge me to pay attention to the journey.

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Naming Blessings

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While I am not sad to see the backside of 2015 (“Too much loss; too many lessons,” as I told a dear friend), I am overfilled with gratitude heading into the new year, due to the way the old year and I parted company…Malarky’s arrival in October changed the energy in our hearts and home, and we’ve continued to be inundated with blessings, simple and surprising, the way we love them.

We spent a quiet, peaceful Christmas, enjoying old movies, good meals, hikes and—hooray!—a snowstorm.

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Friends visited, called, e-mailed, and texted, blessing us with their presence, their conversation, and their good wishes, reminding us that relationship is where our real wealth begins and ends.

We gave and received gifts, small tokens of love and gratitude for these precious connections in our lives. So many lovely surprises and thoughtful presents came our way and decorated our past few weeks with joy: a sister’s chocolate-filled Advent Calendar; a neighbor’s tray of elegant sweets; delicious, authentic Milwaukee-Polish pierogi; a magic wand for cooling wine; cozy quilted pet blankets (love these!); nostalgic, retro Chritsmas light covers (pine cones! my favorite!); unexpected gifts for the 4-leggeds; and surprising gifts from afar. We never knew what the day’s mail, or UPS, would be delighting us with next: books, artwork, flower seeds, many tokens of a generous friend’s dedication to this animal rescue. (I mention this, too, if you are seeking an organization worthy of your own donations, because they would be so welcome and your gift would help so many.)

There must have been quite a star shining over Full Moon Cottage, because so much love gathered here, offering joy and contentment.

 My own true love gave me a fused-glass plate with poppies (another favorite!) that I’d wanted for a long time, and he received paintings I made for him.

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 There are many things I’m looking forward to in the New Year:

*Making art in the new room Phillip is building for us:

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*Continued détente between the cats and Malarky, perhaps even deepening to true companionship. Here, he’s trying to mimic their relaxed poses on the back of the couch, and, despite Mulligan’s withering critique of these efforts, we live in hope:

 *Travels and visits; the changing seasons; new gardens; hiking; biking; paddling; dog-walking and cat-cuddling.

*Reading new and old-favorite books

*Baking and cooking with new recipes. (I’m going to try pierogis, for starters!)

*Full moons and quiet retreats

The list goes on and on, and—of course—remains open to wonder, mystery, and surprise, as always.

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I know the phrase commonly used is “counting our blessings,” and it’s meant to reinforce the notion that we’re far more blessed than we realize, but counting seems tinged with both ownership and a competitive stance that I loathe. (“I’m more blessed than s/he is!”)

I’d rather name my blessings, for the unique gifts they are and the gratitude they engender, and I hope to continue being mindful about sharing these with you in the blog posts ahead.

Our attitudes and the ways we use our gifts and our energy create our lives and contribute to the lives others are creating…I hope this year will be one of joy, for us, and for you. I wrote a friend that I want to look back on 2016 saying, “I laughed more than ever this year!”

May I make it so. And may I live so that others name me as a blessing in their lives. 🙂

Joy to you, and gentle peace.

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Christmas Presence

 

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It seems I fall more deeply in love with Malarky, as I do with each of my four-leggeds, every day. These tiny pulses of warm fur come into your life, and you feed them, and tend them, and hold them close, and then one day, mysteriously, you discover you are forever connected—rooms, or fields, or worlds apart.

Of course, love and laxity, tempting travel companions that they are, won’t help Malarky integrate peacefully into the family of people and cats he’s joined, so we continue (trying to) devote conscious time to his training, especially now that we’ve entered his, “No, I’m the boss” adolescence.  

He’s doing well-ish. 

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Yesterday, Malarky and I went on our first trip to the wonderful local dogpark complex. 60 acres have been subdivided and intentionally created for our 4-legged companions’ pleasure and learning, so I took him to one of the areas designated as a playspace for small dogs.

He tentatively explored this new world, looking to me for assurance that he truly could run free. We had the park to ourselves, cold and windy as the day was, and that seemed a good thing for his first adventure.

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Then, a very large woman entered the same playspace with her older schnauzer-terrier. The woman was bundled in a quilted down coat, gloves, scarf, and knit hat. All I could see of the person so thoroughly winter-wrapped were her smile and twinkling eyes behind shining glasses. She carried a book, so I greeted her and met “Dungee,” and then, sensing the woman’s desire for solitude, I turned my attention back to Mr. Malarky’s anxious attempts to befriend 12-year-old Dungee.

The older, bigger dog pursued his own interests, allowing Malarky to chase and sniff and run beside him. I watched and then relaxed as they played together.

My mistake.

A large-dog acreage runs adjacent to one side of the area where Malarky was playing, and it was beside this fence that Dungee’s Mom had chosen to sit at a picnic table, engrossed in her paperback. A huge hound walking with his person passed on the other side of the fence. He howled and bayed at Malarky and Dungee, who—of course—were between him and the reading woman. (I—of course—was a few acres away staring at a plant or who-knows what, pretending to be a photographer.)

The wailing dog and its proximity alarmed Malarky. I heard his little bark and turned to see him leap to the picnic table’s bench, then tabletop, then up the woman’s quilted down-swaddled shoulders, and, within seconds, to the crown of her wool-capped head, where he perched, clinging like a circus dog atop a rolling ball.

The woman was trying to reach him, wildly swinging her cushioned arms overhead, but Malarky dodged and clung, steadfast, as she flailed and twisted. I admit, I really wanted to take a picture, but propriety won out and I dashed across the field to retrieve my boy, apologizing profusely, and expecting outrage and a well-deserved dressing down for my negligence.

 But she just laughed and laughed.

Dogs’ companions are so often the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

After I’d detached Malarky from her skull and he’d run off with Dungee, we conversed for a while. She told me about her recent job loss, worries regarding employment, the apartment complex where she and Dungee live…her life sounded to be on the brink of imminent upheaval, but there she was, taking time to exercise her dog, sit and read, and laugh at the unexpected intrusions and circus acts life throws at us with regularity.

I drove home wiser and more chastened than any angry reprimand might have left me. Four-leggeds and their people have been some of my best teachers. What a blessing they have been to me, especially as I seem to need to relearn the most basic of life lessons over and over…

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I’ve been doing some spring winter housecleaning, I suppose because there are dandelions blooming, woolly caterpillars crawling, mosquitoes buzzing, and my lilacs are budding. We’ve had so much rain that the river’s overrun its banks, so it even looks like late April. My daily round is seasonally-confused.

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Anyway, sorting through china and glassware, family hand-me-downs, books, old craft tools, or works-in-progress that seem to be in eternal unfinished states…it’s hard to sever the memories and dreams with which these things are encrusted and infused, from the lifeless objects they actually are. Am I giving away my family and personal treasures, or can I keep the treasure in my heart and give away the things?

Letting go of things is easier, I find, if I take the time to hold each item or box that presents a struggle, and allow it to conjure the times and places it evokes. Just to sit with the images and the feelings, set the objects down, and realize the images and feelings are still “there,” within, is helpful. Then, I imagine a new family enjoying these things, creating their own happy memories. It’s a tiny ritual of farewell that tangibly and emotionally reorders my sense of ownership. The memories are always mine; the object needn’t be.

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I’ve also been baking, and cooking, and candy-making, as though I were expecting a family that could populate a small country for the holidays, when really, a few friends and family members are passing through. Examining what’s fueling this bustle, I discovered I’m again trying to conjure the people and feelings of 1950-or-60-something, because everything precious that Christmas has come to mean for me involves those people and those memories.

On our way to the dogpark, an old Christmas song and the gray, cold day so vividly brought my childhood winters to mind that I could feel my parents and brothers beside me and almost had to pull the car over to let the sweet yearning and memories settle.

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So, I was blessed to meet the down-coated woman and Dungee. (It’s interesting how we dogpark people know each other’s 4-leggeds’ names, but rarely each other’s.)

The encounter was pure gift, reminding me that attentive presence to the moment I’m in is where the magic and joy of life generate. If you consider the creation of your life an art and yourself its artist (as I do), then what is there but the present and what we make of it? Love only happens, only comes alive, in the present, which seems the elemental lesson of Christmas. Love this moment for the gift it is.

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And then set it down and create the best of the next. Now, now, and now. There’s the treasure of life, right there, right here.

I wish you Christmas presence and—if you’re lucky—the four-leggeds (and their people) to keep you in it, always.

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 Many of us, at least internally, do not live in the here-and-now. We are consumed with what was or with what might be. A great deal of the spiritual anguish we experience is because we are not content to be, to live in the present. We are of the present, but not in it. It is by attentiveness in the present moment that we encounter God. ~ Bonnie Thurston, To Everything a Season: A Spirituality of Time

I can feel guilty about the past, apprehensive about the future, but only in the present can I act. The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.   ~ Abraham Maslow

Not the attendance of stones, nor the applauding wind, shall let you know you have arrived. Nor the sea that celebrates only departures, nor the mountains, nor the dying cities. Nothing will tell you where you are. Each moment is a place you’ve never been. You can walk believing you cast a light around you. But how will you know? The present is always dark. Its maps are black, rising from nothing, describing, in their slow ascent into themselves, their own voyage, its emptiness, the bleak temperate necessity of its completion. As they rise into being they are like breath. And if they are studied at all it is only to find, too late, what you thought were concerns of yours do not exist. Your house is not marked on any of them, nor are your friends, waiting for you to appear, nor are your enemies, listing your faults. Only you are there, saying hello to what you will be, and the black grass is holding up the black stars. ~  Mark Strand, Black Maps (adapted from the blank-verse original)

Live in the present. Do the things that need to be done. Do all the good you can each day. The future will unfold.  ~Peace Pilgrim

Welcome the present moment as if you had invited it. Why? Because it is all we ever have.  ~ Pema Chödrön

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.  ~Thomas Merton

The slow life allows for the release of anxiety, to better focus on the gifts this fantastical moment offers. Choosing to go with mystery’s flow makes the present our continual destination. ETA: Now. No point in resisting what is. Gardening—and life—are always co-created with the surprises Spirit and nature offer; the best we can do is bring attitudes of joy and gratitude to the journey. Hospitality isn’t just something we offer guests; we can offer it to every moment of our lives. Hello! What have you come to teach me?  ~ Catherine O’Meara

Giving Up the Ghost

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Autumn has shaken out her flaming hair, lowered herself upon the hills, and settled in for her season’s reign. Yesterday presented one of those moody gray, metallic days that oversaturate the colors along the trail. The air was damp enough to deepen the perfume of a fallen tree smoking down to ashes. The scent flowed along the trail like incense, consecrating my walk. A strong wind clattered through the aspen and ash trees, and farmers’ combines rolled through the cornfields, harvesting food for livestock.

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Abandoned nests reminded me of spring’s bright eggs, hatching to chicks that grew to fledglings who have now flown away to warmer homes. The blue herons have migrated and the ghostly white egrets are passing through, another sure sign of autumn.

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My gardens will be dying back in the coming weekend’s frost; all the lovely blooms and vegetables have been harvested. This year’s turkey flock has matured and travels daily through the yard, feasting on seeds.

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All around me, it felt as though the spirits of the woods, gardens, and fields were rising, their annual works of art complete and their fruits ready to harvest.

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The expression, “Give up the ghost” passed through my mind, and, while I imagine it’s a euphemism for death, I thought about the ways the spiritual journey calls us to continually surrender our self-image, casting away what we’ve learned is false regarding who we thought we were, and trying to become more authentically true to the self our experience and seeking has revealed. This is a journey of compassion, delight, and gift, as we try to open to our eternal essence and live consciously from its light.

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It seems right that the bounty of autumn leads to celebrations of gratitude, feeding our bodies and preparing them for winter, just as our authentic life’s work is meant to nourish our spirits and those around us, to propel the circle of creation towards another cycle of excavating the truth of who we are meant to be: uniquely blessed and blessing.

I’ve been reading a reflection on Jung’s understanding regarding the “second half” of life, when we’re called to turn over the garden of our souls, weeding through the labels we’ve assigned to ourselves and digging deeply, sifting for the authentic meanings hidden in our choices and their outcomes. We can uncover the wisdom our lives have yielded and shine it back to the world, recognizing and living from the in-dwelling Presence that is unique, universal, and eternal.

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For Jung, and for me, this is deeply spiritual work, the most challenging, creative, and courageous of our lives, requiring us to encounter our shadows and all the unconscious ways we’ve eluded naming and becoming our true self, so that we may accept and make whole (as fully as possible) who we are, while we are.

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Although Jung speaks of life’s “halves,” I’ve always imagined this creative healing and whole-making to be accessible from birth, traveling in a spiral through all our years. Some hear the music and engage at a very young age, and some never perceive the song, or see the colors, or imagine the possibilities of becoming Who I Am…or they fear and avoid the invitations to explore around the corners and below the surface of the identity they’ve constructed. Self-generated masks protect us, after all, until we’re ready to set them down and become more authentically who we are, in essence.

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I believe that part of our human responsibility to each other is to take the time to lovingly extend the invitations to know ourselves better, through a companionship of presence, listening, and encouraging one another’s gifts.

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Autumn teaches me that giving up the ghost—the self-image I’ve fashioned and that no longer serves my growth or my gifts—is a way to become more fully who I am, as a rounded, evolving flash of creation. It’s a lovely season to search through my past year and name the times I’ve felt most and least like “myself,” and figure out why.

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Such lessons are the true bounty of life; the fruits and soul-food they yield help us to isolate the seeds our spirits need to plant and tend for the next part of the wisdom journey.

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Perfectly Content

DSCF7761 It’s hard to believe May is already flowing into June. It’s been a lovely month for gardening, one with that rare balance between rainfalls and sunshine, hot and cool temperatures, time to relax and time to keep up with the weeding and mulching. DSCF7188 DSCF7224 DSCF7247 DSCF7272 DSCF7536 DSCF7558 DSCF7596  This weekend, we’re celebrating our 18th year at Full Moon Cottage. 001 002 003 There were over 4 acres and not a garden to be seen when we took over as caretakers of this piece of earth. The house was in dire need of “renewal.” As every homeowner knows, this is an ongoing-forever process. But Full Moon needed a down-to-the studs-and-back-again facelift. It was hard to know where to start, so we kind of started everywhere at once, tearing up blazing red carpeting, and tearing down walls, and tearing out creepy cabinetry, and tearing off hideous wallpaper. Then, slowly, but steadily, adding wood floors, wainscoting, bead board to the ceiling, new windows, doors, a roof, geo-thermal heating and cooling, an addition and a new garage. Phillip has done almost all of the construction, and I have been his loyal assistant. 001 002 That first summer, we painted the exterior, and I threw a couple packs of annual and “wildflower” seeds into a patch of earth, just to have some color and beauty outside while we deconstructed the inside of the house. 005007 The next year, we added our first big garden, which is still being redesigned, decades later. That’s how it goes. 006 DSCF7769 Then we added a vegetable garden, fruit trees, and gardens in the back yard, by the river. DSCF7771 DSCF7674 DSCF7676 DSCF7703 DSCF7527 DSCF7404  Every time we had to cut down a tree, we built a garden around what remained of her trunk. DSCF7547 DSCF7548 When he edged the gardens every spring, Phillip took the earth he removed and set it in a new space, then covered and mulched it to create a new garden we’d tackle the following year, a practice we continue. DSCF7471 DSCF7488 DSCF7732 DSCF7562 DSCF7645 All those years ago, when first they saw photographs of the house we bought, friends and family thought we’d lost our minds. Until they visited. Then, the magic of this thin place affected them as it had us. Holy ground and sacred space; we made a commitment to Full Moon that we would bless her with our gifts, and she would bless us in return, and that has held true all these years. It has been a relationship and labor of love. DSCF7677 There are so very many things I wish I could change about the world and the state where I live. There are so many things I wish I could change about my health, or my income, or the pie crust I continue to try to perfect (getting closer on that one). DSCF7630 DSCF7700 DSCF6625 But there is nothing at all I’d change about our decision to take over the care of Full Moon and call her our home for these past 18 years. She has been our sanctuary and an altogether grand place of hospitality. She has welcomed and fed our spirits and harbored our families, friends, and beloved 4-leggeds.  DSCF5523 When we feel beaten by the things we cannot change, Full Moon Cottage has renewed us, and reminded us that, over time, dreams come true. DSCF6798 A kind friend asked after my spirit this week, and I searched my heart and answered that I was content. Phillip generally concurs. Our life together is not perfect in a fantastical sense, but we are perfectly content. We owe that to many people, the 4-leggeds, our own work, and our chosen, as well as gifted, experiences, but we also owe our contentment, in large part, to the spirit of Full Moon. So, we are grateful, and celebrating. Perfectly content. DSCF7302