March Madness.

And now we are racing through March! Where here in South Carolina’s midlands we are blanketed in a layer of pollen so thick it is smothering. Even showering seems a gigantic waste of time.

Has it ever been this bad?

(Do we say that every year?)

But oh, Springtime. With her forsythia and spirea, and the eager green shoots that push through winter-hard ground as if to remind us rebirth is possible. And the green/gold promise of the million baby leaf buds–the billion baby buds–their translucent unfurling the stuff of poetry.

And the birds all a twitter! The possibilities of new love! Courting and preening and feeding, beak-to-beak. Romance all around. Prime spot claiming, be it light fixture, high beam, bird house. Even an old shoe will do.

The building of the nest. One blade, one twig, one feather at a time. One morning’s work, and then another. And more until DONE, there it is, a work of art, a new home, the magical weaving (instinctual as it is) of one little family’s future.

The cradling and nurturing therein.

The risks, the threats, the circle of life.

My, my, my, the drama. It is Spring!

XXOO

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Ten (of a thousand) Reasons I Love Winter

AND HERE WE ARE in February, halfway through, heading full speed into March, and spring, and the mayhem that will arrive as May. It will hit with the force of a thousand obligations: end-of-school examinations and sports banquets and graduation parties and business meetings, so many meetings, and all the cram-this-in-before-summer-gets-here appointments that fill up our calendars faster than you can say double-booked.

winter, on cat’s mountain

How did it pass so quickly, is my question, our glorious wintertime respite? Our splendid, whitewashed pause filled to its lazy brim with cold and cuddles and warm fires and mittens?

For I love nothing if not the radiant winter days–all 59–that are January and February.

There are reasons, many good reasons, for my immense devotion. Of which 10 I will share here. Also, if I may point out, there is absolutely no order to the order. (That would have taken entirely too much effort in this civilized, chill out, re-charge season.)

1. SOUP FOR DINNER. Soup for lunch. Soup for breakfast–hey, a pot of soup can last all week and requires nothing more than a box of stock and the random leftovers lounging in your fridge.

2. ANYTHING’S POSSIBLE. Oh, the clean slate that is winter! Make New whatever you choose! Break out that spanking white journal, or head to Target and spend 45 delightful minutes checking every new notebook like it’s YOUR JOB and don’t stop until to find the very most perfect one. It’s grown-up back-to-school time, that’s what winter is, so go on and while you’re at it get the cute pencil pouch, too!

3. ALL THE NEW THINGS. Give-it-a-go with yoga*. Or P90X (god bless you). Or Game of Thrones or Instagram stories or whatever it is that’s been tickling your fancy and got you considering it from afar. You may find something that brings greater joy than you expected (see * above) and if not, I swear there’s a pass inherent in this tiny annual window that allows as many stops and starts as you want. And absolutely no explanation is required.

4. TIDY UP. Of course you know this drill. The phenomenon worth mentioning is the energy we currently have for tasks entirely too daunting the entire rest of the year. So get to that linen closet! Purge those cosmetics! And take time to fold all your panties even the ones you don’t wear into neat little stackable packages that allow you to see every single one all at the same time. Or not, if that is your preference. (You can also just watch the Kondo show to get all the feels as if you have accomplished something great without hitting a tap or arguing with a household soul over how many years of Garden and Gun magazines a person has a right to hold onto.**)

{EDITOR’S NOTE: **The answer is three. Three years’ worth.}

5. BURN THE CANDLES. On a Tuesday. An ordinary, flat winter light Tuesday. Feel your heart glow.

6. HAVE A LONG, SLOW CONVERSATION with a dear friend. With blankets and hot tea and nary a cell phone in sight.

7. MAKE SOMETHING. Knit. Paint. Color. Hand-letter. Stamp. Embroider. Draw. Weave. Photograph. THINK YOU CAN’T? You can, of course you can, but if the mere thought stresses you out grab a stack of magazines*** and make a collage of all the pretty things you see just because it will make you happy.

{EDITOR’S NOTE: Just not the Garden and Gun magazines. Or, save four years’ worth and use the oldest for this very purpose. Now look at you, planning ahead.}

8. FEED THE BIRDS. They are hungry, and food is more scarce, and they will reward you by showing up day after day and entertaining you with the bird version of Days of Our Lives. I mean–the drama!

9. NAP. NO ONE WILL JUDGE. IT’S WINTER.

10. READ ALL THE BOOKS. Read, read, read! Not just the page and a half (you won’t remember) at bedtime, but in the morning, in the afternoon, in a comfy chair with a big cup of just-the-way-you-like-it coffee, or via a reading happy hour where that yummy book takes you right into dinner. Winter is the time for diving in, diving deep, finishing one book and (I AM NOT KIDDING HERE) picking up another without so much as a rise from your chair. If you do this–I promise–you will find it to be the season of your very most favorite books of the year, more so than in summer even, because you’ll choose volumes with a little more heft, a little more weight, a little more depth and challenge. Plus you won’t have the distraction of kids in the pool or the constant worry did I or did I not apply enough sunblock?

Oh, I do love this season! And how perilously close we are to its end! There’s a pretty day just outside my window, as a matter of fact, which has me thinking maybe I should pull on my sweats, head out the door, and pound out a quick little walk. Get my lungs full, my heart rate going.

Or not. Maybe not.

I mean, it is still winter, after all.

XXOO

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The Post That Is Really A Photograph

We have a nearly perfect east to west view at the top of our beloved mountain. Which means as the light moves–which it does every minute, of course–we can actually watch the world around us change.

It makes for some pretty spectacular photo ops. But I have to say I’ve never seen anything quite like the one that presented itself to us at sunset one afternoon our last visit there.

I was busy, busy, my attention elsewhere, just working away when I happened to look up and out.

And there it was: the most astounding alignment of earth / valley / mountain / sun / sky. A breathtaking landscape that offered a perspective I’d neither seen nor considered.

It’s something that comes along once a year, is what I’d guess, and lasts less than a minute.

How lucky we were to experience it. How open my heart feels just remembering through the images!

XXOO

ps: May I also mention it was about 7 degrees when I ran out with the camera but with no coat or hat or gloves? Which makes the fact the scene was rare and fleeting a double blessing 🙂

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When Brrrrr Does Not Describe It

Okay, so we weren’t really supposed to be here. I mean–not really. Winter at 5000 feet can be brutal and that’s why we closed up the mountain place and kissed it goodbye, for a while, at Thanksgiving.

But then January came, and an opening on the calendar. And we looked at each other with the very same thought and before you knew it here we were unloading groceries and bags of thick sweaters and stacks of new books and lickity-split the whole place was DE-winterized and we settled in.

We were delighted.

The views are spectacular any time of year but there is something really special about January. The air is brisk and clear and the weather is constantly changing. Not to mention there is overwhelming joy in providing for hungry winter birds.

Nights were cold, but days were reasonably mild, and we delighted in our wonderful decision.

Then Saturday came, and Sunday, and Monday.

It was not a surprise, I will say that, us monitoring the weather up here like it’s our JOB and also our RELIGION. We closed-off rooms and taped-off doors and hunkered down, ready for the epic freeze.

And it came. Oh, how it came.

First there was wind, then all-day snow, and we watched as the temps dropped to 30, to 20, to 10. It was somewhere around 4 degrees when we went to bed Sunday night, figuring overnight it hit 0 or below.

And that’s not accounting for wind chill which believe you me can get mighty significant up here.

Morning did come, along with eventual sun, and we sprinted from window to window. Is there still snow? Hey did you see this? Come look now! We were kids in a candy shop, kids with a warm roof and a giant fireplace and a backup generator, kids who got to enjoy the spectacle of The Great Weather Event from our warm, cozy inside.

looking toward Asheville
Grandfather Mountain, in the distance
not quite as excited as we are

We even got a quick, cold, magical look at the Super Blood Wolf Moon.

XXOO

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I see you.

WE SNUCK OFF to Nashville for a quick-turnaround trip, something I mentioned in my whirlwind-that-was-December post. A little thing happened there that’s hung in my head, tugged at my heart, that wants to get worked out and put away in a neat little reconciliation package. But try as I might I haven’t been able to make that happen. I’m wondering if writing about it here will help.

The morning was cold (it being December) and we’d gone for a brisk walk: Leslie, Jan, Bonnie and I. We were staying downtown so a couple of blocks and there we were on Broadway. We moved along, window shopping a little, stopping once to look at a dizzying array of boots. But mostly we just walked, getting our blood pumping, doing our best to keep our winter bodies warm.

There were a number of people on our route making their homes on the streets. Each was huddled, it being cold, it being early, still two or three spoke as we passed, asking low for money. There is nothing comfortable about this situation for the passersby and, I expect, for the asker. “Do not make eye contact,” is the thought that came to mind, “it’s better to not make eye contact.” And so I breezed past, as if he/she was not there. As if in my world, he/she did not exist.

(I will pause here briefly to state the point of this post is not a debate on the complicated plight of the homeless, nor on the protocol that is most helpful, or not. I hope you will forgive me that.)

Still I want to say I found it difficult to simply walk by. Not because of the ask or the money; personally I believe it is a better practice to financially support the organizations that are dedicated to providing meaningful help to people in such challenging situations. I’m talking about the practice of walking past without so much as a tiny bit of human-to-human acknowledgement. “Whatever circumstance has brought you to this,” I want my eyes to say, “you matter.”

I did not do it, though. I moved on by, my eyes looking another direction, feeling that type of contact was too much of a risk.

THREE BLOCKS LATER we came upon a couple of well healed young men who were clearly at work, taking a sidewalk survey or hawking a tour or promoting product or business. I watched them as they did their delightful best to get the attention of anyone within earshot, hoping for a stop, hoping for an audience that might result in a purchase. There was exactly zero chance any of us were interested in doing this, so as we got closer once again I turned my attention away meaning to sail past, meaning to Not Make Eye Contact. I did not want to extend an invitation, or–worse yet–agree to a closed deal before I even knew what I was buying.

Down went my head. Brisk moved my legs. Then I thought:

No.

Heck no.

I will not act impervious. I will not walk past and ignore.

I raised my head, looked right to the eyes of the young man (which were quite beautiful, as it turns out) and offered a quick good morning. And I kept walking, as we all did.

It was as if lights flashed all around him. Ding, ding, ding, you could hear the universe say, and he moved fast to catch up, relentless in tracking us–and me in particular–with his offering.

I turned to him, even more curious now.

“I’m not interested in buying,” I said. “I was just curious what would happen if I made eye contact. They tell you not to, you know.”

The young man picked right up on this, saying, yes, what I want is your eye contact because that gives me an opening. Then he moved right on into his spiel.

“Don’t you think it’s a shame?” I said, as soon as I could break into his pitch. “Us being conditioned that way, I mean? Believing that in the world today, to make eye contact with a stranger is to offer some sort of unwritten contract.”

Again he used this to further his pitch.

I, myself, was getting on a roll. “I think it’s part of what’s wrong with our culture,” I went on. “We walk down sidewalks believing the best thing we can do–the responsible thing, in fact–is to ignore each other, to remain as detached and distant from strangers as possible.”

(He was not giving up.)

“Anyway,” I said. “I hope you have a nice day.”

“Are you sure I can’t interest you…” he said, and our group moved on.

LIKE I SAID, I keep thinking about this dilemma. It has lines that are black and white. It has lines that are gray. And it extends to most everyone on the street, people (just like me, or you) who are simply moving from Point A to Point B, who pass each other by without so much as a glance because it feels too risky, too invasive, too…what, exactly? I keep thinking about that young man–enterprising and determined as he was (which I do respect). I wonder. Is there a way? Can we look at each other, and see?

I don’t know. But I hope it’s something I will have the courage to test even in tiny, tiny ways. We are human, after all, each and every one of us. And at our core we all, I believe, long to be seen, and heard, and known.

XXOO

taking stock

I AM A PERSON of resolution. I love nothing more than a full list of prioritized intentions and a clean, white January slate on which to write them. I mean: What can be better than a fresh start? A new beginning? An opportunity to do it all better?

It is a ridiculous practice, mostly. This I know. Yet every year I cannot help myself. And as the sun set yesterday, its last time in 2018, I pulled my journal from my backpack and sat down to make my 2019 resolution list.

so long 2018

A funny thing happened. A new thought came to me.

What if, the thought began. What if you first took a few minutes to consider the things you accomplished this year.

But that’s not…my little mind argued.

What if, the thought insisted. (It was clearly not listening to me.) What if before you write (1) LOSE TEN POUNDS (2) EXERCISE EVERY DAY (3) DRINK MORE WATER for the tenth year in a row, what if you made a list of the things you did this year that you are proud of?

I can’t do that, I thought, that’s not the exercise. I picked up the journal, 2019 bearing down.

I turned to a new page. I watched as my mechanical pencil wrote across the top:

It started writing, and writing and writing, and things came out like Loving Daddy well through Alzheimers (#1); Doubled down on writing (#2); Discovered I am Enneagram 9 (#9); Took Eliza’s advice (#13). On and on the listing went, coming easy and fast, filled with memories and reminders of the things that made up my days, of the things that, to me, mattered most.

Sweet Aunt Nancy
#14. Sharing this beautiful mountain with so many people we love.

THERE WILL BE a 2019 Resolutions list, you can be sure. And it will go on a clean white sheet right up front in my brand spanking new orange bullet journal. (Lose ten pounds will again hold Spot 1, I can promise.) But for now I am content, fully satisfied, soaking in the fullness of my 2018 review; considering, for the moment, the surround of the many things (great and small and very small) that make up a year, that make up a life, that are the work of life, itself.

XXOO

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the counting of days

It starts around…oh…October 25th, 26th, or thereabouts. A trio of birthdays, then Halloween and Eliza’s birthday, then Tim’s. Then Thanksgiving and the wild, wooly full-on race to Christmas.

Every year I swear I will SLOW IT DOWN and sit for a minute, quiet.

In reverence. Experiencing Advent, full and in bloom.

But there is so much to be done! The prep, the parties, the shopping wrapping giving. Endless cooking (and cleaning). All those sweets.

Hugs and giggles and good, good cheer.

(A quick little jaunt to Nashville, dropped into the mix.)
Amy Grant. Vince Gill. The Ryman, yes we did.

I am reminded, once again, of my mother’s year-after-year petition (at which I inevitably rolled my eyes, and at which–I am sure–my daughter does now): Hurry up and get here so Christmas can begin.

Finally she did, and Colleen, and Preston and Ellie the dog, and we lit candles at church, and we sang Silent Night, and we got home to a house filled with happy and love and joy. And there were cocktails and holiday snacks and a rousing game of Train Dominoes. We laughed, and laughed and laughed.

Then the stockings came down, and the lights went out, and there in the dark I thought of the many gracious blessings brought on by this holy night. I gave deep, heart-filled thanks.

And I thought of people everywhere who at the very same moment are hurting or afraid or alone, and I thought how, to so many, this season is overwhelming in a different way. How it must magnify pain, how it must bring sadness into clearer focus. I held them close, and I prayed.

I named those I know, and I prayed.

And I closed my eyes, and slept, and morning came, in light.

The promise fulfilled.

Once again, the promise fulfilled.

XXOO

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Darkness, and Light, and Advent

 

It is a practice that brings depth to the season and calm to my soul; a daily watching for the promise that when darkness surrounds, light is to come.

This is Advent, to me.

It’s what we all want, is it not? What we need? To hang on? When life is hard, when the world is overwhelming, when its demands, its sorrows, its hardship are too much for a person to bear: We are loved all the more. We are seen, treasured. Cared for.

 

 

Light is to come, that’s the promise.

Watch for it, hang on for the glimpses, in Advent.

XXOO

 

I’m looking for light each day, and sharing it via Instagram. I’d love for you to join me. Share, if you want, with the hashtag #lookingforlightTDG. I would love to find each other and share, with your blessings, some of those images on The Daily Grace. 

 

One. Two. Three.

 

I was in my studio one morning recently when I looked out to see this.

 

 

Three bluebirds fussing it out

 

 

over claim to one nest. (Nobody giving an inch.)

 

 

I think I’ll just cheer everyone on!*

 

XXOO

*I would like to amend my POV. I totally agree with my friend, Rosie, who commented below. I do hope the kindest bird wins.

 

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Thanksgiving and Tradition (Redux)

This post first appeared on The Daily Grace on Thanksgiving Eve 2011. So much has changed in the time since. All of the grandparents have passed on. Eliza is 26 (and living in another state). The memories are still warm, however, and so I repost it every year in honor of my mother–my tradition, I guess you would have to say.

I pray your Thanksgiving is filled with all the things that bring you joy and comfort.  XXOO, Cathy

 

THE PAST THREE NIGHTS I have had dreams of my mother. In each, I was the age I am now, living my current life. But her age changed—early 40s, then 80s, then some age in-between.

I know these dreams came to me because it is Thanksgiving and I will not see her. She and Dad live in a retirement community in another state, and for health reasons, no longer travel. We are staying here because it is my daughter’s first holiday from college. She needs some “home” time, and she will spend Thanksgiving day with her Dad and his family. Those grandparents, who face debilitating health challenges of their own, will be filled with joy to have her there.

It is the right decision.

Nevertheless, my mother is heavy on my mind. My dreams mark that small, tight space in which I live, wedged between aging parents and maturing children. I want more time with both, and still the demands of our lives—mine, my mother’s, my daughter’s—pull us in three radically different directions.

Here is what the dreams were about. In some pretty obvious ways, and some veiled, the situations represented traditions my mother established when we were a family of six: Mom, Dad, my three brothers and me. While “tradition” infused all aspects of our family’s life, from sports superstitions to station wagon vacations, the most vivid to me are still the holidays.

Thanksgiving at our house in Virginia was exactly the same every year. My grandmother lived next door, and my brothers rolled her wheelchair down the tiny hill that connected our yards to bring her to dinner. La-La wore fur in the cold mountain air and brought with her a green cut glass bowl of homemade cranberry sauce. She also made pineapple fritters, a treat reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Mom roasted the turkey, always in a brown-n-bag (70s) which meant it could not be stuffed—a choice over which my father expressed disdain year after year after year. Still, he was the carver, and I can see him as clearly as if it were yesterday “testing” bite after juicy bite in our formica-countered kitchen while my mother instructed my oldest brother, Sutton, on the finer points of making giblet gravy.  (“Stir like hell!”) When we were seated, and Mom complained once again about not making the dining room big enough when they built the house in 1965, my brother Randy would ask of the table:

I wonder if next year we’ll remember asking, I wonder if we will remember next year?

 

IN MY FAMILY TODAY—the one in which I am the mother—we have no such traditions. Instead, Thanksgiving is a surprise every year. In the early days I made my way back to my mother’s house, first as a single girl, then married, then divorced with a small child in tow. Then the small child learned to dance and Thanksgiving week was filled with an endless schedule of Nutcracker performances that kept us bridled to South Carolina.

 

Eliza, in blue, Party Girl in The Nutcracker

 

I married again, bringing another branch to our beautiful, complicated family tree, and our celebrations diversified once more. I especially loved the years Tim’s mother, Dorothy, joined us for Thanksgiving. I can still see her in the kitchen, making the Monetti family’s traditional creamed onions—a novelty to me. One year, just after a break with the ballet company, we found ourselves with no Thanksgiving plans at all. Along with our dear friends, the Coles, we hopped a plane for New York City and the Macy’s parade. I ate pumpkin ravioli for Thanksgiving dinner; it was divine.

 

at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade

 

AND SO, you see, my daughter has grown up rather traditionless. Instead, her life has been filled with a cornucopia (forgive me) of holiday celebrations. And I ask myself why it is that I now regret this? Why has this thought invaded my dreams? I think it is that space that we find ourselves in, we Mothers Squeezed Between The Generations. Guilt lurks on either end. I regret that I haven’t established the traditions of my childhood in my own home, for my daughter; I feel guilty not abandoning all for the mere opportunity to be with my parents—a remarkable blessing in itself.

As it is tomorrow will come, and Eliza will head out the door toward her Ellis family. I’ll pull the big turkey from the fridge, overstuff it with dressing, and load it on my Williams Sonoma roasting pan. Then while I watch my husband carve the big bird, sneaking bites every chance he gets—I will smile and stir the giblet gravy.

I will remember, Mom, to stir like hell.