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In her blog ‘Old Monk’s Journal’ Sr. Mary Lou Kownacki talks about Autumn being a time for sadness. She included this quote by Thoreau. “There is a certain fertile sadness which I would not avoid, but rather earnestly seek. It’s a kind of contentment with the poignant and passing parts of life, rather than the surface of all sunshine.”

Fertile Sadness. What a perfect description of this season for me. Autumn is my favorite season. I do enjoy Summer and all that comes with it. But, our short summers here means most of the garden work is done then. And there are the summer festivals, vacations, and more so that sometimes you feel like it just rushes by too fast.

In early autumn, the days are still warm but not as long. It feels balanced somehow. The neighborhood boys are back in school and with colder rainy weather their sometimes too loud voices are rarely heard. The trees display their colors in a dazzling display. The last of the produce in the garden is harvested.

Now, what is left in the garden has been hit with frost and decomposing, adding fertility to the ground. There seems to be a grey mist rising from the river daily and unless the sun breaks through it, it looks and feels like a blanket you can cover yourself with.

The grey days, rainy, windy or chilly days seem to require less of me. They encourage me to be still, rest and sit with what has passed. I think of memories made, seeds planted in the garden, in relationships, in community, what has been harvested and what has been left behind to add to fertile ground.

I walk outside and feel the fallen leaves crunch under my feet, dried and brittle now. Just as I did as a child I enjoy the sound of them, aware that this dying is necessary to give life to something else. In amongst the dried leaves I find a few freshly fallen ones, still brightly colored. They are reminders of the bright days past and I bring them indoors for when I need them.

But for just a little longer I need this season of falling. It allows me to remember, to grieve in a gentle way.

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I’ve been seeing and hearing many comments about people being exhausted and stressed along with discussions about goals and resolutions for the New Year.

Reading yet another comment this morning on all that needs to be done before Christmas … here is my personal refection.

I am a gardener and so I tend to think in gardening terms and I have learned ….
for everything there is a season …. does this sound familiar?

Every year I put my garden to bed for winter. As I do I reflect on what flourished and what withered away or simply didn’t take hold. What did I learn from it? What can I do differently to get a different outcome? What do I need to be patient with? What do I need to let go? I make notes of these things so I can come back and review them when I need direction. Then I let it go, enjoy the snow on the bare branches and in January sit down again and set some intentions for the garden, knowing that my plan is only a temporary guideline that may change throughout the coming year.

Many other gardeners do the same. We know there is a time for everything. That no matter how much we plan and do, we can’t control the outcome of some things or what sometimes blows our way and we learn the rhythm of the seaons.

Moving into the New Year works the same way. We can’t move on till we have put the ‘old’ year to bed. Before we make resolutions, set our intentions, pick a word to walk with, set goals or whatever it is that we do each year, we need to sit with the old year a bit. What were the joys and sorrows? What did we learn from them? Where did we grow, where did we plant seeds and help others thrive?

But for right now …. stop for a moment… BREATHE! … and think about the season we are in. What does it mean to you? What would you like it to be? Don’t do what everyone else is doing just because it is expected of you. If you don’t enjoy shopping, crowds or long lines.. like me… don’t do it! If you are exhausted from going to concerts, celebrations, too much preparation, don’t do it! Give yourself the gift of rest, time for walking, eating well, time with those you care about. And remember the best gift you can give someone is the give of yourself, your time, your attention.

The New Year will come soon enough …

While going over material for what I refer to as the ‘Wednesdays at the monastery’ group or Moth (monastery of the heart) group, I got to thinking about the difference between what is urgent and what is important.

Preparing a meal is important. The phone that rings while I’m preparing that meal is urgent, but not necessarily important.

Reading a book, or studying, being creative, playing, praying, is important. Constantly checking email or texting, rushing around to do more, acquire more, be more … all urgent.

There are times when things are both important and urgent. Stopping whatever you are doing to provide loving care, for the crying infant, the neighbor who comes knocking at your door with a need, the old blind dog confused because someone moved the furniture…

So how do I measure what is important and not just urgent? Beauty…

I’m reminded of a conversation with my 11 year old granddaughter regarding criteria for things we bring into our new home which is about 1/4 the size of our last home. We decided that something had to be beautiful. As a gardener and artist I often see beauty in a different way than others might, so something also has to serve some purpose to come into our small home and not just be another thing that we continue to pay for over and over again in terms of time and space. That purpose is sometimes just to remind us to smile and play.

It is easy for me to use beauty as a measure for what is important because it is something my Mom taught me early in life. We understood that she meant beauty to describe what we did, how something made us feel, would it be pleasing to God. She’d often remind us that… God doesn’t like ugly. And so I passed what Mom taught me on to my granddaughter so she would learn to see beauty in a different way. And have some way of measuring what is Important and what is Urgent.

Photo is of the Guava pastries and Tres Leches cakes served at the Sunday dinner during retreat weekend at Mt Saviour Monastery. Traditionally the monks and monastery guests join us for this meal. The theme for this year.. Cuban fiesta. Breaking bread with others… Important…

Last year about this time I was thinking about a ‘Word’ for the New Year 2011. I considered Peace and also Growth.

Peace– because it was something I’d been seeking for some time. I’d been feeling too busy, pulled in too many directions, crowded and owned by too many things and people. And while I missed the old large house we’d recently moved from and the large gardens, I was looking forward to having less to care for and a simpler life in our cottage sized home. I wanted time to slow down, be still and time to write again.

Growth– because in my busy-ness, I was neglecting reading, studying, meditating. The only real growing was what was happening in the garden. Again I wanted to slow down, have time to listen, explore and be creative again.

The New Year started with me not having decided between the two. I knew it would come to me and forgot about it till much later. As it turned out both words ended up having great meaning for me.

What I learned about Peace:

When you pray for Peace, be prepared to be the one to fight for it and to be the one who provides Peace for others. You know how that is.. you pray for patience and then have plenty of opportunity to practice it.

That Peace is a blessing, a hope and a promise, our legacy, our mission, a lifestyle. It is not just something to practice on Sundays in chapel or in good times.

Peace requires humility and willingness to share with others.

That even in the most difficult situation, I can find inner Peace and Joy.

– I wrote a special poem titled Waging Peace, as part of a writing prompt for the MOH group. Something I enjoyed very much, a posting for another day.

What I learned about Growth

That a good way to grow is to help others grow.

That I can learn from anyone and every situation if I pay attention. Sometimes I learn something that I can use to live a more meaningful life, but just as important I sometimes learn how not to be or what not to do.

That in order to see things clearly I sometimes need to see things with new eyes.

That in order to grow, some pruning needed to be done.

2011 brought with it many stressful situations. I’d like to say that I faced them all with grace and patience but I did not. I can say however that I did find ways to bring peace to others and that many times I was pushed way out of my comfort zone, forcing me to grow in many ways … and … that while it was painful, it didn’t kill me.

I found that it can very hard to accept some situations, but that sometimes we must even if it means doing so mentally kicking and screaming. Then I learned that the kicking and screaming really do not help much and it is so much easier if we try to accept things with grace and with the faith that all will be well.

I was reminded of how hard it was to raise a child and wondered how I raised four.  But I was much younger then. I applaud all the parents trying their best to be good parents.

Instead of getting my studio in order after our move, or working on the new garden, I spent most of the year, particularly the summer, keeping kids busy … it was work but it was also fun!

Special Blessings this year:
8 months with a granddaughter here.
Frequent visits by a 16 year old grandson.
Successful cancer treatment for a young grandson.
Family support.
Starting of the Monasteries of the Heart group at Mt Saviour Monastery. So thankful that I was granted permission to use that space for my Stepping Stones Community. It has allowed us to grow while exploring the Rule of Benedict away from distractions.

So much more… I am grateful

Lastly I am loving the sweet gifts shared the last few days …. and I don’t mean cookies. Time with family and friends, singing in the chapel by candlelight. The hospitality of the community of Mt Saviour Monastery. Thoughtful gifts that allow us to do the things we like to do and enjoy life, fun stuff such as a ukulele for Ruben from our daughter. But also practical things.. The best gift of all from Ruben who took me on a trip down memory lane.. started with ” Do you remember when you were 13 and I was 14?”. One memory after another…

For the last few weeks I’ve been checking on the progress of new lambs whenever I go to the monastery.  Sometimes there were only a few ewes and lambs in the pens, other times there were many.  Last I heard there were close to 200 new lambs and lambing season was just over.  Granddaughter Jessica went with me one day and took most of these photos.

Ewe with twins
Ewe with triplets
Jess says this is her favorite photo. Br Pierre carrying a lamb.
A ewe not sure where she wants to go and looking for her baby
How to coax a ewe to go where you want her… carry her lamb so she’ll follow.
Ewes trying to sort out which lamb is which. Somehow they manage.
Lamb peeking through the pen
Took this photo of a very sleepy lamb with my phone.  It kept trying to look at us but couldn’t keep his eyes open.

While Easter is not about new clothes, candy, nor colored eggs, it is usually around this time that the weather is warmer, allowing us to celebrate and play outdoor and wear new spring clothing.   We’ve had much rain the last couple of months.. more than twice what we normally do for the month of April, but it was just warm enough to spend some time outdoors.

Saturday afternoon we dyed eggs.  The kids did theirs by dipping their eggs in food coloring which resulted in very bright and colorful eggs.

I experimented dyeing eggs using patterned silk fabric. One of the  photos show the eggs wrapped in the colorful fabric and then another layer of fabric to prevent the colors from touching the other eggs. I forgot that blown eggs want to float in water and so I put a trivet on top of the eggs to keep them submerged while dyeing.  The next photo shows the finished eggs. The colors and patterns didn’t end up as clear as I liked but I think not too bad.

While the eggs dried we went to Mt Saviour Monastery which is a few minutes away to see the lambs.  Jess took quite a few photos and so I’ll show them in the next post.

Saturday evening we went to Easter Vigils and Rosie’s Confirmation at a nearby church.

Sunday  up at 3am for Easter Vigil service at 4 am and then breakfast at Mt Saviour Monastery.  Then home in time for an Easter egg hunt before the kids went off to church with my daughter.   Jess, being taller had an easier time finding her eggs.

I had to smile when I saw what Connor was wearing for Easter.  Don’t know where he got the shirt, but is it called a Guayabera in Spanish.  It is often worn in place of a shirt and tie in Latin American countries and tropical islands.  My Dad, Enrique used to wear one and my sons wore them when they were little.

At Easter dinner Connor asked if  he could say Grace.  At 5 years old his prayers wander a little and can get long but we don’t mind at all.

I’d hoped to spend New Years Eve enjoying food and music with friends.  Feeling unwell and needing a bit of quiet after having grandchildren here while they were off from school, I decided instead to break in a new pair of walking/hiking shoes and enjoy the unseasonably warm weather. A friend and I went for a long walk/hike around Mt Saviour Monastery, something we like to do as often as possible. The fresh air was invigorating and we enjoyed being able to walk where it is usually too snowy and icy to do so this time of year.  That evening, still bothered by an earache and queasy stomach, I went to be early.

New Years Day, ear was better, stomach better.  Normally I would be preparing for a brunch or early dinner with family, but this year the guild’s usual 1st Saturday of each month meeting fell on New Years Day and surprisingly members chose to meet anyway.  I was so busy talking to everyone that I forgot to get a head count, but members came and brought friends.  We were all surprised and delighted at the turn out and enjoyed the food and companionship very much.   Back when I was thinking of starting a guild, I didn’t imagine we’d spend a New Year Day together, but we have become a close knit group and I am grateful.  Our traditional surf and turf family dinner happened later in the evening and while not still 100%, I felt much better than I did the day before.  I very much enjoyed our steak and lobster dinner along with a craisin, current & walnut topped Brie En Croute and a little champagne. It was a good day.

Jan 2 …  Up at 4am.. for some reason waking up between 4 and 5 has become the norm for me this past year. I try to use the time to catch up on reading and writing. Today it was 4am. I cleared out my mailbox, starting my yearly tradition of decluttering.  The move this year forced me to get an early start on the physical part of clearing out what I no longer use or need, making for a more comfortable home and studio, but I still have more to do and tidying up computer files, mailboxes is part of that process. As I do this, I am looking back at 2010… the good and the not so good.

What are some of the things I learned in the past year?
– All that I have is enough. Moving from a large house to a house that is more of a cottage was a monumental task. Sorting, selling, gifting, packing and moving so many things was overwhelming. I found a great sense of freedom in letting material things go.  And even though everything I kept fits into this home, I continue to let go of things that someone else can use more than I can.
– To be open to change.  There have been so many changes, too many to mention. I learned to go with the changes and not hang on to old ways simply because they are familiar.
– Cherish old relationships…  friends and family..  they won’t be here forever.
– Embrace new ones.  I like the saying by Wavy Gravy.  “ We are all bozos on the same bus” It reminds me that someone who may appear to be very different from me, often is not that different at all.  And that the most unlikely person will sometimes become a good friend.
– Pet the pets.  We are everything to them especially in their old age. No matter how time consuming their care is, they need our attention. We lost our 10 year old dog Tara to cancer.  I am grateful she got to explore the new house, new garden and had a easier time of getting around without stairs.
– Sometimes the best thing to do when overwhelmed, overworked or in a stressful situation is to retreat, and then come back with a clear head.
– Singing is good, so is dancing.  Do it often, don’t worry about who is listening or watching. This I am teaching the grandkids.  We often sing and dance when they visit.
– I like to write.  I don’t consider myself a good writer but I have enjoyed writing the Hand of the Palm memoirs and sharing them with family and friends.
– “Everything that has a beginning has an ending.  Make your peace with that and all will be well”- Buddha

A post by a friend inspired me to think about 11 things for 2011 that I want/need to work on.  Not really New Years resolutions as some of the things I work on daily and will continue to do so long after 2011 is over.  These are in no particular order, just as they come to mind

11 for 11

Be still, listen
Eliminate  “if only I had”  from my thoughts
Get my house in order
Not to be the thing that holds me back
Love more
Be patient with old ones
Deal with it now
Get back to work
Find the message in the book of Numbers.
Embrace family & friends, new community
Start a new garden

May Peace be with you all Now and throughout the New Year

Christmas Day photo.

Village houses displayed downstairs fireplace

Grandson attaching the advent tags unto the 24 tiny mittens strung on the upstairs fireplace.

I’m getting closer to being done with organizing my new studio space. Today we brought over the last of the supplies from the old studio. I would take a photo but… it is a mess.

While my space may not be done, the kids corner is looking pretty good.

We bought over my father-in-law’s old steamer trunk which he first used for moving and later to keep records for the church he founded and pastored. I’m filling it with old ballet costumes and any type of dress up clothing, jewelry, shoes or other items we find to add to what we found in our attic as we cleaned it out. For now it sits near the bookcase where the grands can play dress up. So far it appears the kids like this space… they immediately go to it when they come over.

Most of the items fit into the bookcase and cupboard on one side of the windows, but we are also using some other things to store toys.. such as the vintage pet carrier which we use as an easily portable toy box, great for blocks and such.

On the shelves we have books (some new, some vintage), toys (some new. some old, some classic) … spinning top, abc blocks, puppets (a gift from an exchange student) teddies, tea set and more.. and board games for everyone… Before nap time today Connor chose ‘The Giving Tree’ out of the collection of books..

I like that they are sharing some of my space with me so I can keep an eye on them when I’m working on projects.

Now on to finish getting my space organized so I can get back to work/play….

A week ago Sunday, my Sister, Daughter, and I went to the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, having enrolled in Bootcamp For Goddessess. We arrived with hiking boots, weights and other gear and were pretty wet from unloading bags in the rain, even before we checked in. While we were looking forward to the week long workshop, we weren’t looking forward to the predicted rain all week. Our dorm rooms were small, 6 x 8 I think, very clean, all we needed. All the food in the dining hall was vegetarian or vegan.. tasty. For those who wanted some meat in their meals, they could visit the cafe where food and sweets were available.

As the name of the workshop implies, the bootcamp was for women only. There were 63 women enrolled and while most started out the week as strangers, that quickly changed. By the end of the week we were all Sisters. In the group were lawyers, doctors, social workers and those from many other professions, a variety of lifestyles, races, histories. In the end none of it mattered at all, shed of our labels, our true personalities and spirits were able to shine.

We learned how to embrace each other, support each other, how to be strong & caring, love & take care ourselves. We started each day with a morning hike, learned how to breathe, did Yoga, danced in the rain, worked very hard, cried, laughed, sang, learned a lot.

The hardest part for me was the Sweat Lodge Ceremony on Wednesday night. At times it felt like I was breathing fire, but I stayed in for the entire time without leaving between the 4 different parts of the ceremony as many did to get some fresh air or drink some water. In truth, it wasn’t that I was tougher than others, it was that I feared that if I went out into the cool air, I might not go back in! It was an awesome thing, 70 women or so in a dark sweat lodge that appeared to measure little more than 12 feet across.

Because the ceremony was done in Native American fashion, before we entered the sweat lodge we were asked to meditate and call on an animal to guide us. I envisioned a bright green Dragonfly. It didn’t surprise me at all, for me the dragonfly represents my mother. But, I was very surprised when I then went over to a table where cards were spread and with my eyes closed chose the card with the dragonfly on it. When I sat down an emerald green dragonfly landed on my knee and I smiled, felt like saying… alright already mom!… I’m paying attention!

During the previous days I’d learned that I don’t pray enough, don’t give thanks enough and one of the things we were meant to do in the sweat lodge was to pray. Pray I did, in the dark, sweating like crazy.

Along with the Boot Camp workshop I attended a watercolor sample workshop, one I want to try next year. I also got a massage. Each morning on the way to the Yoga building we’d pass the movement studio where you could hear music and some kind of dancing going on. Every evening we went to bed to the sound of drumming and music from the music hall in the distance and closer to our windows, the sounds of a cricket serenade.

I plan to go back to Omega for some of the watercolor workshops, R&R and who knows what else? And I plan to do Bootcamp 2 in the future.

I was so busy all week that I forgot to take photos till the late in the week. You can see more by following the links to Omega and to Sierra Benders website where you can see a bootcamp video..

While sitting at the table in the new garden shop/shed/whatever,  I looked up to see what at first appeared to be a blizzard.  With unusually warm temps, in the 80’s, snow wasn’t possible.

Knowing  what it was, I went out to be closer to the cherry trees so I could experience the showers of blossoms with every gust of wind.  Some friends and family will sometimes comment that I see things as a child would see them.  When the cherry trees are in bloom, is one of those times when I feel like a child who is seeing this for the first time.  I am in awe of the beauty, will sit or stand under them to gaze up at the blossoms and love to experience the blossom showers. I noticed neighbors will also stop to enjoy the trees.  In fact some have told me that they look for to the trees blooming each spring and if they happen to be walking or driving by when they are raining blossoms, they will stop and experience the showers.

Photos taken yesterday…

The first is of the small Weeping Cherry tree.  It is still relatively young and so not yet very big nor dense, but it has the most beautiful pink blossoms.  I’ll be picking, pressing, and drying some of the blooms today.

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Under the Yoshino Cherry trees. These are the types of trees you see in D.C.  The blossoms are a little paler than those of the weeping cherry, but just as pretty and the trees themselves are beautiful with that layered branch way of growing.   I’ll be cutting some small branches and taking them to a friend in the infirmary.  Last year she came over often to sit on the bench near the trees to enjoy them.  If she can’t come to enjoy the blossoms, I can take the blossoms to her and maybe make her day a little brighter.

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And speaking of children…  last week granddaughter Jess was trying on hats from our collection of vintage hats, to see which one she wanted to wear to Hat Day at school.  Grandson Connor had been dropped off very early as his daddy was having hip replacement surgery.   Connor was upset at not being able to find a boy hat to wear, something other than everyday hats.  I remembered I’d pulled out a chullo hat from a trip to Bolivia so that I could copy some of the stitch designs and use them in a chullo hat I’ll be starting soon.  Connor tried it, and it was perfect!

 

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Looking at that smile you can easilly see why it is that children can smile that way. There is a lot of passion in everything they do… they way they experience a shower of blossoms, they way they smile. We can learn a lot from children. 

I mentioned Connor’s daddy having surgery.   Our son-in-law could use prayers and healing thoughts as he recovers from this surgery and faces the next one.  Hip replacements at his age are not common, but we are hoping that once healed he will be able to do all the things he has not been able to do for quite some time, important things like teaching a son about camping and the great outdoors. 

I also mentioned the garden house…  if you’d like to see photos of it so far visit my studio blog, link in the sidebar.

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