Bon Hiver, We Greet the First Snow

dscf2860One of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite TV programs, Northern Exposure, unites all the episode’s sub-plots beautifully when the townsfolk of Cicely, Alaska, step outside on the night of the season’s first snow and greet it, and one another, with the cry, “Bon Hiver!” (“Good Winter!”)dscf2863The episode, like the others, deals with longing, loss, guilt, memory, wisdom, peace, and a deep appreciation for life and its co-creator, death…and always, with gentle humor and love for humans and our charming follies. Never preaching, the scripts always honor the characters’—and our—desire for sacred meaning to attach itself to our brief moments and so guide us toward making sense of our lives, and living peacefully with unresolved mystery. I’ve always found the program profound in its simplicity and deeply endearing.dscf2673dscf2747dscf2765dscf2755
Here at Full Moon, the past few weeks have been filled with long days featuring the meteorology beloved by the Brontë Girls. The pups and I expected to encounter Heathcliff on our daily walks, but only discovered a variety of interesting fungi, and an elusive blue jay (who would be offered in better focus had I not been entangled by the leashes of two leaping, pulling puppies).

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As a friend pointed out, the season’s absence of leaves very cleanly reveals the glacial land formations: eskers, kames, kettles, and drumlins abound in our neck of the woods. But the unrelenting dreariness of sunless days began to wear on my spirit.

The only way to counter it has been to get rather over-sparkly indoors.
Micky, after his initial surprise, seemed to enjoy the holiday music, decorations, and merriment; Malarky affected a subdued air, as if to show-off his worldliness. After all, it’s his second Christmas season. Sigh.

The cats, as always, have just enjoyed having their annual bit of fun with shiny globes and sartorial correctness. dscf2889dscf3216
Today, though, we received our first snow, and the magic inside now plays second fiddle to the glory of snow-gowned trees and grasses. The world looks so enchanting…a perfect setting to wander in wonder and bid others a most tender, “Bon Hiver!”
We admired the snowfall from inside, beside the fire, and then outside, walking, running, looking, and being amazed, an altogether perfect day.dscf2883dscf2870dscf2830dscf2874dscf2827Here is a blessing, perfectly pure and floating down softly, right into your hand: Let us decorate our hearts with gratitude and forgiveness, with sweet acceptance of the meanings we’ve made and been given, and those we’re reaching for, and those we’ll never have, for the stunning miracle of a snow-frosted world reminds us that mystery, too, is a treasured facet of all that shines in our most beautiful lives, in this most beautiful world.
Bon Hiver, my friends! May all the gifts of the season be yours, those lovely surprises that are both simple and profound, given and received in love, from heart to heart, in reverence for who we are and who we are becoming.dscf2886dscf2835

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

A Fondess For What Is

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Winter has arrived, with a cold snap or two, snowfalls, icy roads and the glorious sunrises and sunsets that ink the sky in indigo, purple, pink, and gold, making the world’s entire substance seem all and only mystery and magic. I do love winter. One morning, I watched the warm river kiss the cold air…normal evaporation made visible, and I was enchanted.

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I’ve come to welcome January and the ways it stitches together its days with silence, offering a lovely long pause between the high spirits of the holidays and the electric energy of spring. I’ve pulled out my four favorite books on meditation and am trying to deepen my practice by reviewing their suggestions and wisdom, and am whittling away at the pile of bedside books, something I don’t have time to do as much as I like during the bustle of activity between Halloween and New Year’s Day.

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I’ve realized I don’t have a favorite month, but harbor a fondness for the special gifts of each. January offers a lovely respite of stillness and silence, and the days are still short enough that we can enjoy evenings by firelight, making Full Moon Cottage cozy and bright. Malarky is able to settle a bit by nightfall, and the cats are gaining the confidence to join our circle once again.

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We’ve had a steady flow of guests this month, and that’s been a wonderful way to ease the post-holiday sea change. Last week was the second anniversary of Henry’s death, so we gathered at Full Moon for a meal and the chance to share memories, a gift of an evening altogether. Phillip’s older brother was a remarkable person, and it felt right to honor him and name the ways he blessed our lives. We all noticed how Fergus found contentment on the lap of Henry’s wife, and thought either he sensed her grief and offered special comfort to her, or that perhaps Henry’s spirit had nudged Fergus a bit. Some special energy was present, since Fergus is generally most reluctant to settle in anyone’s lap, let alone stay there.

Phillip and I have been planning adventures for the weekends we don’t have visitors, too. We recently toured a local coffee mill and enjoyed learning more about buying and brewing coffee, and sampling all the different varieties. Naturally, we came home with several blends to try, and they’ve made our morning coffee time a sweeter ritual before Phillip has to leave for school.

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And then it’s time to check the bird feeders, toss cornmeal in the yard, and keep the suet containers full, for my sweet guests have come to rely on Full Moon Cottage for their (several times a day) seeds and meals. I worry about them during storms; goodness they’re tenacious.

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The art room continues to benefit from Phillip’s gifts when he isn’t working on jobs for others. I’m excited for it to be finished. I was casting about for an art project when a friend encouraged me to create a piece around the themes of love and compassion, for a calendar contest. Now, she’s an actual artist, so I had originally sent her the notice calling for submissions, but she prodded me to try as well. I have no illusions about my talent, but it was fun to play, and so I thank her for the nudge, like Henry’s to Fergus: “Try it, and enjoy yourself!”

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There are darker days, of course, when I think about Riley and Clancy, and look at photographs from a year ago, when they were still both so integral to our daily round, but the sadness visits less often, and their spirits seem more a constant, loving presence in our home. Malarky’s happy energy and my dear cats bless the daily round for now, which is all we have, and I realize I feel a deepening fondness for what is: January, sunrises, firelight, friends, family and four-leggeds. It’s not just, “Be here, now,” but love being here now. I do.

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We are hallowed by our memories and our days are holy, and I am blessed.

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All is Bright

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It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is St. Nicholas Day. As kids, we’d make cookies for Santa and hang our Christmas stockings on the night of December 5th. We’d hear a story from Daddy and go to bed excited about the enchantment imminently expected to overtake our home: a visit from St. Nick! (Technically, Santa Claus, but we didn’t question magic. Why question anything that brings chocolate and gifts? Just be grateful!)

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The stockings held our precious letters for Santa that outlined our Christmas wishes and promises of continued good behavior. The next morning, we’d discover an empty cookie tray, small treats in our stockings, and an elegantly-scripted note from Santa. These memories always conflate with images of snowfalls, sledding, skating, snowmen, and icicles…

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This year, my poppies are leafing out in spring viridity and the lawn is ready for the Easter bunny to come hopping along. Chickadees are singing spring songs and, although our mornings can be frosty, our afternoon temperatures have been climbing to 50° F/10° C.

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We had a beautiful snowfall just before Thanksgiving, and Malarky’s excitement and wonder as he explored this new phenomena made it almost as magical for me.

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We even enjoyed our November full moon midnight-potty-excursions (his, not mine). Somehow, being roused from sleep isn’t so bad when the outside world is sparkling with snow and stars.

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So the current experience of climate change is odd, but not without its blessings. Although I’m not transplanting anything in the garden, I can remove the dandelions and other weeds that are taking advantage of the warmth. Getting my hands muddy in December is an adventure. I received this link from a friend last week, and better understand why mucking around in soil is good for the spirit. Much better than a bout of winter-induced seasonal affective disorder!

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Our home is decorated for the season, too, so indoors, it looks like Christmas, even if outside, it looks like we’ve moved to the South.

The 4-leggeds are blissfully content, another reminder that letting go of expectations for how things should be, or hanging the joy of now upon its conformity to memories, even happy ones, is pointless. I’m grateful for a happy childhood, but I’m happy for now, too.

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All is bright.

I hope it’s the same for you this lovely, wonderful holiday season. Happy St. Nick’s!

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Gardeners, All

DSCF4107Such a splendid week we’ve had at Full Moon Cottage! We’ve been breathing gratitude, along with the sweet scent of geosmin, the organic compound released by active little actinomycetes as the earth reheats in spring. Like earth’s signature sachet, it evokes a million memories of gardens I’ve tended and loved since I was a child. DSCF4112The comforting reliable signposts assuring us that spring has arrived and is busily establishing her known rhythms has caused our enthusiasm and energy levels to rise like sap and respond by honoring the rituals this time of year calls forth: opening windows, cleaning and winnowing through closets, washing rugs and curtains, and going outside as often as possible to notice homecomings and welcome back old friends. DSCF4233 DSCF4265The Canada Geese and Sandhill Cranes have been winging in on great southerly winds crying out, “Here we are! Here we are!” The male birds—cardinals, chickadees, flickers, jays–are establishing territories and will be seeking mates for nesting, so I’m scattering pet hair and dryer lint, and continuing to fill the feeders. Our owls make their presence known, as do the bossy crows, and this morning, Phillip heard a robin’s song. DSCF4171 DSCF4173The river’s coat of ice is melting away. A lack of winter snow has caused the water level to be quite low this year, so we’re hoping for rains, but just to see the water sparkle in sunlight touches and begins to thaw every frozen particle lodged in our winter hearts. The long months of chilled confinement have ended; winter’s dark and snarled mind knots loosen and dissolve, allowing our spirits to flow. We’ve been laughing more this week. DSCF4223It’s too soon to get into the gardens, but at least I can see them again, and am trying to locate the very detailed list I made last autumn of all the uprooting, dividing, and replanting I had planned for this spring. Of course, first, we have to wait and see who did, and who did not, survive the bitter cold and lack of adequate snow cover we experienced until late winter. Ever hopeful.

I remember my first garden, when I was about eight, and the deep joy I felt planting my bachelor buttons, moss roses, zinnias, and cosmos. Every morning, for weeks, I dashed from bed to garden, pajama-clothed and barefoot—a habit that endures—to examine the earth for signs of green life. I weeded and watered and spent most of that summer immersed in “my” garden, as I have ever since. Daddy had encouraged this, utterly, and supported my dreams of color and blossom; Mama didn’t garden, but supported everything that gave me joy. I took it for granted that everyone had parents who so lovingly tended their dreams. DSCF4082 DSCF4086 Until I can grab a rake and trowel and get going this spring, my garden jones is satisfied at school, where, led by our intrepid team of visiting Master Gardeners, we’ve spent a few weeks planning, and are now planting seeds for this year’s garden. The little pots will sit in long trays on counters in the school’s basement, warmed by grow lights and watered from the bottom. DSCF4088 DSCF4089It gladdens my heart to see how joyfully and naturally the children connect with these activities. They cannot always name the steps or tools involved in gardening, or even evidence familiarity with the resulting food, but they so merrily dig into buckets of soil and so tenderly plant seeds in tiny, plastic earth-filled homes. I think there’s nothing so healing, creative, or natural as gardening.  

The children’s spirits have been thawing, too, and warmer days have increased their energy, and the need for its release and creative expression. Their city skyline artwork turned out beautifully. DSCF4035 DSCF4037 DSCF4038 DSCF4044I was stopped in my tracks, though, when more than one child asked where in their skyline the jail should be represented, or a child showed me his city and identified a building as “the prison.” Once again, I was reminded that the familial, reliable, and seasonal rhythms in which I have always taken comfort and joy are very different from those circumscribing the lives of many of my students. Sometimes their behavior is angry and puzzling, and then comments like these reveal the missing pieces, and my heart breaks open, creating spaces for new seeds of understanding to be planted.

Phillip and I talk, often, of our students and the ways we might touch their spirits and hearts, and give them hope, or a bit of light to companion their journeys. It’s not likely they’ll remember us, but will they remember that a teacher once told them how special, and precious, and gifted they are? When they doubt their purpose, or lose their way, or struggle to make the right choice, will they feel rooted in courage and reach for a light-filled path? DSCF4229Breathing in the wonders and invitations of spring, I’m reminded that we are all stewards of each other as well as of the earth, and that how we prepare, nurture, and tend one another’s spirits is our calling as humans and, certainly, as teachers. Not everyone was gifted with present and loving parents who cultivated their gifts and wonder from the beginning, and we all have dark spaces that can be filled with self-doubt and self-loathing, or planted with promise and loved into bloom. DSCF4125 DSCF4126 DSCF4129We may never see the amazing blossoms and glorious results we have helped create, never be identified as one of the gardeners, but we must, over and over, plant the seeds of possibility, expectation, and affirmation, and shower them with love. DSCF4066Ever hopeful; gardeners, all.

Merry new spring and joyful planting! DSCF3682

‘Tis the Season

DSCF2361Full Moon Cottage has been dressed for Christmas over the past week. Objects encrusted with memories have been scattered around the rooms, and spirits we love have been fully welcomed back into our midst, not just those of our parents, who are always with us, but all those characters and places that populated our childhood stories: great-aunts and uncles, grandparents, friends, teachers, janitors, cafeteria ladies, bus drivers, piano teachers and the neighborhood personalities who bordered the edges of our days. DSCF2145 DSCF2212DSCF2201I can see the Park and Market grocery, and the ice skating rink, where tinny Christmas music blared as we glided round and round. I remember how Santa rode through town on a shiny red fire engine, so loaded with lights that I never stopped to wonder at the absence of his sleigh and reindeer. I never stopped to question any of the incongruities and obvious fallacies offered to us during the Christmas season. Every year, we were happily willing to be drenched in magic and readily surrendered our doubt to exist wholly in a world of fantastical impossibilities. Because they were true, at the heart level, where children seem to more easily live and breathe and have their being. DSCF2161I had a happy childhood, and at no time of year am I more grateful than during the Christmas season, when the flood of memories, visions, and smells mix with the magic of nostalgia, sparkle of winter, and the natural tendency to gather in towards light and warmth. For a month or two, I revisit those times and places that created me and allow me to treasure the present with greater depth. DSCF2465I’ve always loved Lent and its invitations to whittle away and purge in preparation for spring’s rebirth, but the rituals and traditions of Advent cheer my heart. They seem to counter and balance the season’s darkening and chilling environment so tenderly. The cinnamon, chocolate, orange, and anise smells of seasonal baking, the glitter of ornaments, the soothing and jubilant sounds of Christmas music, and the focus on the excitement of anticipation and joy: what could be better? DSCF2475So many spiritual traditions seem to center on light and gift in winter; it’s encouraging (“heart-centered”) that many humans get it all perfectly right once a year, anyway. DSCF2442 DSCF2193I wish we could resist the urge to allow corporate marketers to dictate the meaning of this season to us and their attempts to drive people into greater frenzy and stress and spending, instead of slowing down, gathering in, cherishing each holy moment. The heavy burdens of pragmatic doubt regarding the magic of the world, the pain of self-judgments, and the accepted need to replace our innate value with things, things, and more things we must endlessly buy, may be set down; we did not need these rampant desires as children and certainly do not benefit from them as adults. DSCF2178Christmas helps us retrieve the gifts of childhood, if we listen. A friend posted on a social site that she’d enjoyed a four-hour lunch with an old friend: Just to read it made me hopeful and happy for both of them, but for all of us as well. I know they pushed back against demanding jobs and demanding lives to make way for this time together and yet did so, valuing friendship above tasks. So, for now, I abstain from the entreaties to constantly shop, and from what is called “news,” and instead rest in the Good News always coming, always here: we are made of Love, embraced by Love, and asked only to Love in return, until to Love we return and with Love we merge. And that is enough. And that is everything. DSCF2096May the deep peace of the season gift you with a warm heart, clear vision, and a community of family and friends–and four-leggeds–to see, hear, hold, and enjoy. We are called to be merry; let us do so, drenched in magic and readily surrendering our doubt. Love reminds us we already exist wholly in a world of fantastical impossibilities. Joyeux Noel! DSCF2191 DSCF2183

Thanks Be to Love

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The daily round has been crammed with life, guests, listening, and activity of late. How lovely it is to have a day open before me without a list or template circumscribing and defining its hours…just a blank page to fill as I am called…I think I’ll take the pups and my camera out to the trail and return home to make that cup of hot cocoa I’m always promising myself.

Tomorrow will be filled with preparations for our Thanksgiving weekend, and that, too, cheers my heart. There are few better feelings, for me, than the anticipation of joyful community with people and 4-leggeds I love.

And so, I raise my cup of cocoa and toast us all: May we be blessed with a peaceful and joyful celebration of all that inspires deep gratitude in our lives. May our patience and humor abound.

May we forgive ourselves of all those errors and lapses in love that arise from our humanity and so more generously forgive others theirs.

May we ease expectations and judgments of ourselves and others so as to better perceive the blessings waiting for us right now, right here, and may we be present to the lessons they have come to teach us about the ways we are infinitely loved.

May our willingness to isolate and name these gifts allow us to cherish them more deeply and share them more profoundly.

Dona nobis pacem.

Gratitude is something of which none of us can give too much. For on the smiles, the thanks we give, our little gestures of appreciation, our neighbors build their philosophy of life.  ~ A.J. Cronin

Gratitude is so close to the bone of life, pure and true, that it instantly stops the rational mind, and all its planning and plotting. That kind of letting go is fiercely threatening. I mean, where might such gratitude end?  ~ Regina Sara Ryan

Gratitude is the most passionate transformative force in the cosmos. When we offer thanks to God or to another human being, gratitude gifts us with renewal, reflection, and reconnection.  ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach

Darkness deserves gratitude. It is the alleluia point at which we learn to understand that all growth does not take place in the sunlight. ~ Joan Chittister

Can you see the holiness in those things you take for granted–a paved road or a washing machine? If you concentrate on finding what is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.  ~ Rabbi Harold Kushner

If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you, that would suffice.  ~ Meister Eckhart

Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.  ~ Denis Waitley

You have been given a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say “thank you?”  ~ William A. Ward

Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty. ~ Doris Day

Gratitude is twofold – love coming to visit us and love running out to greet a welcome guest.  ~ Henry Van Dyke

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