Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Preparing for Winter: Tuesday's Reflection

NOTE: Beginning this week, I will only post on Tuesdays till after the New Year. 

This morning a neighbor walked by when I was sweeping off the light dusting of snow on our sidewalks, and we had a brief conversation.
    "I've decided to be optimistic and hope the snow will melt today," he laughed.
    "Let me know how that works for you," I responded.
    "Do you and Bruce get away during the winter?"
    "Not usually. We like winter. It doesn't generally bother us. How about you?" 
     Really? Well, I've got plans to be gone in January and March and maybe December, too," he chuckled and dashed down the block towards his house, tugging on the leash of his dog. 

Thus, begins the ongoing discussion about winter distress here in Minnesota. True, winter has arrived a bit earlier and a bit more definitely than normal this year. The temperature here is 6 this morning, but the sun is shining brightly and no more snow is predicted till later in the week.

I realize I have a life of privilege. I live in a cozy house with a good furnace. I have a supply of sweaters and shawls and wool socks and long underwear, when I need it. Plus, as a woman in her 70's, I can stay home when I want to and don't need to battle the ice and snow on the roads.  

Perhaps it is my Danish heritage, but I not only don't dread winter, I welcome it. Last year I learned about the Danish concept of hygge (hue ga), which is hard to define, but has to do with finding joy in the simple pleasures of everyday life. 
           Hygge illuminates the long, dark Scandinavian
           winters with candlelight and crackling hearths
           and good times shared with friends and family.

           Hygge is about instilling a feeling of contentment
           and happiness...Decorate your home with items that
           bring you joy, such as fresh flowers and pine cones
           collected on country walks. 

           Hygge is about sharing good times with the people
           you love, and one of the best ways of doing this is to 
           sit down together for a meal or tea and cake, and discuss
           the big (and little) things in life.

           Hygge isn't just about shutting out the cold and 
           snuggling by the fire.

           Hygge is about seeing beauty in the everyday and
           savoring each moment either in the form of well-
           deserved "me time" or spending time with loved ones.

                           from The Art of Hygge, How to Bring
                           Danish Cosiness into Your Life
                           Jonny Jackson and Elias Larson

The winter months feel spacious to me. I look at the bare trees and see open space; space in which I can spend more hours at my desk writing or in the snug under a blanket reading. I sleep longer, too, and we are learning how important good sleep is for our well-being. I love the hearty food of winter, the layers of comfy clothes, the song of the wind outside the door, and even the early arrival of darkness each day. 

That's how I feel, but I know that is not the case for everyone. However, I invite you to prepare for this coming season. What can you do to improve these winter days for yourself?

Gather some favorite recipes for soups. Become a baker--breads and scones and muffins. Buy a new boardgame or get out
ones you haven't played in years. Stack favorite books you have thought about re-reading. Set a pretty table--be sure to include candles--even when you are eating by yourself. Get out a craft project you set aside--a sweater you haven't finished knitting. 

Remember those boxes of photographs you keep telling yourself you want to organize. Now is the time. Rearrange your furniture. Move a favorite chair to the spot in the house that gets the best light--no matter what room it is. Cut paper snowflakes--they will remind you of the magic and wonder of childhood. 

Write letters. Not emails. Letters. Luxuriate in soothing body lotions. Watch feel-good movies. Get outside, even if it means only standing on your front steps and breathing. When it isn't icy, bundle up and go for a walk. Notice the beauties of the day. 

Check on a neighbor who may need help shoveling or getting to the grocery store or who may find winter to be even more distressing than you do. I bet she would love some of the muffins you made. And what can you do for others who don't have the privileged life you do? Are you really using all the coats and scarves taking up space in your closet? Contact a local agency who would love to have them. 

Rather than wait till you are snowed in or feeling the heaviness of one dark day after another, prepare now. Get ready. Make a list of appealing activities and gather what you may need. 

Our weariness with winter doesn't make the season go any faster, so why not decide to live into these months? Why not honor these days of your life?

                   Fear less, hope more; 
                   eat less, chew more;
                   whine less, breathe more;
                   talk less, say more;
                   hate less, love more; and 
                   all good things are yours.
                              Scandinavian proverb

An Invitation
What are your winter intentions? I would love to know. 

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Gingko Trees in the Fall: Thursday's Reflection

NOTE: I am going to take a short break--a fall break--from posting. I will return on Tuesday, November 12.

"Today is the day," announced my husband.

A few days before he had learned that gingko trees all drop their leaves at the same time--all their leaves--and as I drove through the neighborhood to meet a friend, I discovered that seemed to be true. 

The leaves on some of the gingko trees were yellow-gold and others were still summer green. That made no difference. The gingko trees were blithely letting go of all their leaves, and cars and streets were covered in piles of shed leaves. 

Now you know I love a metaphor, and this one is obvious, but too good to pass up. 

I wonder what leaves I need to shed. Why shouldn't today be the day?
What collection of past hurts and slights need to go?
What painful memories need to be transformed into a new season?
What illusions and denials need to float away?
What attachments need to disconnect?
What would happen if my branches were allowed to breathe and open to the sun? 
What would be possible if I graciously and gracefully created space in my life for new growth? 
What stories have been told over and over again without new understanding? How would it feel to write a new story? 

How odd it would be to see a gingko tree in the Minnesota winter still holding onto all its leaves. Wouldn't we wonder what was wrong with that tree? Well, I need to ask myself that same question. Here you are, Nancy, 70 plus years, in the autumn of your life, how are you preparing for your life's winter?

I would like these years to feel lighter. 
I would like more emotional and spiritual space in which my essence can thrive. 
I would like to be the tree I was created to be. 

I think that means letting go of the leaves that no longer serve me or those who love me; the leaves that weigh me down, instead of giving me life. 

So, why not let today be the day. 

To close, here is an unpublished poem by visual artist Janet Higgins, who is in my writing group. You can often see her work at Highpoint Center for Printmaking. Thanks,Janet, for allowing me to share this poem. 

      Time -- like a River --
      Freezes, Cracks and Falls
      Around my head....
      Scattering illusions and
      Whispering secrets from a
      Time almost forgotten --
      Re-member the path to
      The Garden...

An Invitation
Is today the day for you? I would love to know. 

Highpoint Center for Printmaking

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Creating Space: Tuesday's Reflection

Sometimes what I need is space. 

Some emptiness. 

The past week was a full one.

 Taking my Dad out for lunch and a "leaf tour," 
 Meeting with clients,
 Teaching T'ai Chi,
 Sitting with a dear friend at the hospital while her husband had open heart surgery,
 Having lunch at our house with one of my writing groups, 
 Enjoying lunch with friends who had just returned from the civil rights tour we went on a year ago, 
 Attending the middle school play to support our grandson who was the Sound Crew,
 AND, officiating at a wedding. The first time I have done that and what joy, what fun that was! 

Of course, there were all the normal bits and pieces of day-to-day life, too. Doing the laundry. Grocery shopping and meal fixing. Responding to emails. Writing my posts for this blog. Running errands. 

Now first let me say, there were so many gifts during the week, and how grateful I am for this rich life and for the privilege of being with friends and family in both the ordinary and the exceptional times of the their lives. But I admit I was a bit weary as we headed off to church Sunday morning. 

What I needed was some space. Some open space. 

So what did I do?

I cleaned the garret. I suppose I could have put my feet up and read the newspaper or a book or even napped, but that wasn't quite what I needed. I needed to see open space. Some emptiness. I needed to at least give myself the illusion that not everything is packed to the brim. 

Cleaning and reorganizing does that for me. 

The result? Four empty drawers in the garret, an empty shelf and two empty baskets. A very full garbage bag.

AND a heart and mind open to whatever fills the coming days. 

An Invitation
How do you clear the space? I would love to know. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Words Matter: Thursday's Reflection


Last fall ten of us from our congregation traveled in Alabama and Mississippi as part of a Civil Rights Tour led by our guide Mark Swiggum, whose mission is to promote anti-racism education. 

One of the most profound and powerful stops was at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/memorial, also known as the Lynching Memorial, in Montgomery, Alabama. Completed in 2018, this memorial was developed by Bryan Stephenson and the Equal Justice Initiative. 

Here's what we learned.

Lynching was used as an instrument of terror and intimidation 4082 times between 1877 and 1950, but many more lynchings were undocumented. 

This was white terrorism used to maintain white supremacy. 

Often a lynching drew crowds of thousands and was a time when people brought families, including children, to experience the event as a festive celebration. Walking into this open air exhibit, however, was like stepping onto the grounds of a concentration or extermination camp in Germany. One felt the need to whisper, to become very quiet, for this is a sacred place.

Casket shaped steel boxes standing on end were arranged in rows.  The names of people who were lynched and the county where they were lynched are engraved on the boxes. The metal, as its corrodes, drips rust-colored drops on the oak wood flooring, suggesting tears and blood. 

Moving along, the floor slanted downwards and gradually the boxes are suspended overhead. We became part of the twisted crowd taking in the spectacle of intimidation. And death. 

On plaques lining the memorial we read,

"Hundreds of black men, women, and children were lynched in the Elaine Massacre in Phillips County, Arkansas in 1919.

"Dozens of men, women, and children were lynched in a massacre in East St Louis, Illinois in 1917.

"Seven black men were lynched near Screamer, Alabama in 1888 for drinking from a white man's well.

"Jesse Thornton was lynched in Luverne, Alabama in 1940 for addressing a white police officer without the title 'mister.'

"Elias Clayton, Isaac McGhie, and Elmer Jackson were lynched by a mob of 10,000 people in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1920."

This is lynching. 

Words matter. 

An Invitation
If you feel outrage by the misuse of this word, what will you do? I would love to know. 

NOTE: I adapted the text for this post from the script several of us from the tour wrote and presented to church groups after our return from the trip. 

For more reflections on this Civil Rights Tour read my earlier posts: November 13, 15, and 20, 2018. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

An October Walk: Tuesday's Reflection

I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." 
                 Anne of Green Gables

                 L. M. Montgomery

Me too!

Most Sundays after church and then lunch at Turtle Bread Bakery where we read the New York Times, I head to the garret and make my lists for the week and then write my Tuesday post. This most recent Sunday afternoon, however, I abandoned the garret to enjoy the most beautiful of October days.

Come, walk with me!

Just as there may be an age when each of us comes into our own, I think there are seasons when homes and neighborhoods come into their own. As much as I love seeing everyone's gardens restored into new life in the spring and then grow into summer's fullness, this neighborhood seems born for fall. All it takes is a pumpkin or two to wrap a home in coziness. What may have even felt a bit drab and stuck in brown and beige becomes alive. 

I marvel at the color--and wonder if the person who dared to combine deep pink mums in a bright orange pot, has bright colored walls and upholstery inside the house as well, or does the awareness that winter white will soon dominate push a last gasp of deliberate and intense color?

Speaking of gasps--what about the presence of ghouls and ghosts and skeletons in the neighborhood? I delight in the creativity, the time and effort all in the name of holiday and seasonal celebration. No one is paid for the planning and work involved, and yet here they are--these generous gifts of the imagination. 

Many neighbors are busy raking leaves, preparing the gardens for sleep, and others are walking dogs, scrunching through leaf-covered sidewalks. I pass a couple, older than me. We smile and greet each other and the man tips his hat to me. Now when was the last time that happened? So civilized, so polite. 

In the backyard of a corner home, a woman hangs laundry on the clothesline, and I can smell the freshness, almost the healthiness in the air. I pass other homes dominated by For Sale signs in their front yards and wish them well. Been there, done that! I hope the transition to the next season of their lives goes well.

This is a time to consider my inner change of seasons as well. The leaves are a kind of insulation, leading me into quiet, and as the leaves fall gently, but deliberately, there is an invitation to let go. To slow down. 

Monday morning, a cold and rainy morning, I returned to the garret where my To Do list waited for me. Waited for me patiently without judgment or punishment. How glad I am I enjoyed the most beautiful of October days.

"Anyone who thinks fallen leaves are dead has never watched them dance on a windy day."  Shira Tamir.

An Invitation
How does October live in you? I would love to know. 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Library Love Affairs: Thursday's Reflection

This year I have rebonded with libraries. 

The first library I remember was in my elementary school where the library consisted of temporary shelves in a hallway. A sort of reading nook with a limited number of books, but so seductive for  this little girl who was on the path of becoming a voracious reader. 

When we moved to a town smaller than the suburb where we lived in my early elementary years, I was old enough to bike to the city library. I recall a librarian noticed how frequently I was there and what I was reading, and she directed me to books I might not have discovered otherwise. I wish I remembered the titles of those books. 

With each move after that, and there were many, a first item on the To Do list was to get a new library card. A real bonus was if I could get to the library on my own. When I was in college, I studied most of the time in the large reference room, comforted and encouraged by the books and the hushed silence around me. I felt studious and serious sitting at the heavy and masculine looking tables. 

 I have fond memories of other libraries that beckoned me over the years and, of course, memories of taking our children and grandchildren to libraries. The library habit dwindled over the years, however, as I built my own library. Independent bookstores became my passion, instead, especially the years that I worked at  Odegard Books, a fabulous bookstore that no longer exists. 

I continue to buy books and am a patron of independent bookstores like Arcadia Books in Spring Green, WI, and Next Chapter in St Paul, and Content in Northfield, MN, and on my bucket list is to go to Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN and owned by author Ann Patchett. However, I am more conscious of what I add to my personal stacks, for during this time of life I am more focused on downsizing and simplifying than acquiring. But this is also a time of heightened time of reading. I am devouring books. 

Back to the library! 

I now have a love relationship with the HOLD system--going online and requesting titles. Sometimes that means I have to wait for a long time for a title I want to read, but then when the email flashes in my inbox, saying a certain book is now ready for pickup, it is like receiving an unexpected gift. Books have always been my favorite present, and wow, I have received lots of presents in recent months. 

For example, I just read The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, and I love this book so much that I am reluctant to recommend it because I don't want to know if you don't love it. I don't want to hear any criticism of this book! Isn't that crazy! I actually may request this book again and be the 173rd hold on 36 copies. 

Right now I am waiting for The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman (#29 on17 copies) and Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout (#56 on 17 copies). Sometimes what I request is not a current bestseller on anyone's must read list, but is a book that needs to come from another library. Perhaps I heard about a book that appeals to me while listening to a podcast like "What Should I Read Next?" An example is a mystery set in Victorian England, A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn. 

During the last few months I have read library copies of The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger, The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott, Maybe You Should Talk to a Therapist by Lori Gottleib, and The Other Americans by Laila Lalami. I enjoyed each one. Sometimes, however, I request a book, which I discover I don't like and how good it feels to simply return it to the library unfinished, knowing I had not bought it. 

Writing this post has made me itchy to curl up with the next book on my list! Oh, how grateful I am to live where there are vibrant libraries and well-stocked independent bookstores owned by people who love books. I hope that is the case where you live. 

An Invitation
Do you have any favorite library memories? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Arrival of Cold Weather: Tuesday's Post

We experienced our first snowfall of the season on Saturday, and I sprang into action. 

I headed into the kitchen, turned on the oven and made the first batch of pumpkin bread. The smell of pumpkin and cloves, ginger, allspice, and cinnamon filled the house. Such a cozy aroma.

I've practiced the S's: Slippers, socks, shawls, and sweaters, making the switch from summer clothes to fall and winter ones. Coats and hats and gloves and boots are ready as needed, as well. 

Don't forget the other important S's: slow simmering soups and stews with a side of hearty bread.  

I've filled one of my green depression glass jars with a selection of tea and another one with chocolate for hot cocoa. Candles have been located in strategic places to add to a cozy atmosphere during reading times, and throws are folded over the backs of chairs for added warmth. How grateful I am for a reliable furnace and the ability to pay heating bills throughout the months of cold. 

I've noticed how the rituals of the day have shifted. 

Now, instead of plugging in the small fountain that all summer long rested on top of a trunk in the garret, its gurgling water sounds making me feel cooler on the hottest of days, I turn on the twinkle lights around the window overlooking the backyard. They warm and welcome me to the darkness of the garret each morning. I keep a lamp or two lit all day now, and when I move into the kitchen to fix dinner, I stop and turn on the hanging light in the entryway and the lamp in the bedroom.  

Bruce has been busy for days preparing the gardens for the long winter's sleep. He covered the patio furniture and dismantled my sanctuary space called "Paris," and rearranged his garage workshop area, creating room for the cars. 

We are ready. Perhaps there will still be some warm, more fall-like days when I can stroll the neighborhood wearing a sweater, rather that coat and gloves. Maybe there will still be a day when I can leave the front door open and let the sun pour in. I would love some days of autumn magic, shuffling through leaves and appreciating all the pumpkins of the doorsteps, but if that isn't to be, I will adjust. 

After all, there is always another book to read, another page to turn, another sentence to write, another hour to relish the silence. 

And I imagine, there will be another slice of pumpkin bread to eat. 

An Invitation
Are you ready to move into the next season? Of the year? Of your life? I would love to know.