Hello on this Sacred Sunday

I like the idea of you being out there, me here, sharing in an intimate, yet quiet exchange on this Sacred Sunday. 

I breathe in and out, and savor these precious times, wondering if you might be doing the same?

I pick the last of our sunflowers and put it in a vase. It’s sunny face makes me smile and relax into the day. I have made a home here, among the grapes, the garden, the Redwood trees.

“Your True Home Is the Here and Now,” Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Master & Activist writes this in Lion’s Roar magazine. He talks about the 5 Practices to Nurture Happiness, and how to find one’s true home. 1. Letting go. 2. Inviting Positive Seeds. 3. Mindfulness-Based Joy. 4. Concentration and 5. Insight. He says, “We each have many kinds of ‘seeds’ lying deep in our consciousness. Those we water are the ones that sprout, come up into our awareness, and manifest outwardly. ”

As I think about his wise words, I water my seeds by connecting with each of you through my writing.

I wish you peace and joy on this Sacred Sunday. May you find what fills your soul tank. Thank you for being in my life.

 

 

Fireside Heaven

On this rainy Saturday, after taking a meditative walk with my dog, Ella, fall-2016-005I nestle into a comfy port wine chair inside my living room, what my friend calls “Fireside Heaven.” I like the sound of that, a name that aptly describes a quiet sanctuary to restore, be inspired, and dream a little dream. fall-2016-124

I am one of the fortunate few to still have a wood-burning fireplace to keep me warm and cozy, safe from the noisy and crazy world outside. Here, I look out my window at the serene side of nature, cherishing the simple things worth savoring, moment to moment.

I imagine Fireside Heaven in the same way Virginia Woolf does in, “A Room of One’s Own.” A place to center one self, gather your thoughts, to read and to write. A soulful place that no one can take away from me, from any of us.

Without leaving my chair, I read and have wings to travel to Africa in Circling the Sun by Paula McLain, afall-2016-041n inspiring story about the pioneering life of Beryl Markham, the first woman racehorse trainer and pilot to soar solo from the Atlantic, east to west, in pursuit of personal freedom. If you are a fan of Out of Africa, like I am, you’ll be intrigued with Beryl’s entanglement inside the love triangle between safari hunter, Denys Finch Hatton, and writer and Baroness, Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), only to discover that the spiritual freedom she longed for was inside herself.

For me, Fireside Heaven is a form of freedom, a state of being, a place to call your own. markham-inside-planeFor Beryl it was inside a plane flying into the horizon. Everyone has a room of their own if they just surrender to their place in this life, find the courage to soar and move willingly into it .

Living Juicy: Passion, Purpose, and the Perversity of Spirit

It’s not just peaceful and quiet in the wine country, it’s juicy and alive filled with wonder, color, change and possibility. It’s alchemy at its finest. Juicy, juicy, juicy. The grapes turn to wine with the help of Wine03human hands; the sun basks on our veggie gardens and produces food at the dinner table; the birds find food to feed their young in their twig-filled nests, and the peacock must do its mating dance and spread its blue-green feathers to show its magnificence.February 2012 043

All creatures have a passion and purpose. Every day they are busy at work to complete their mission. They simply must. This holds to true for people. Everyone has their own reason for being on this planet, if they just heed the call.

But the call does not come without its own perversity. The spirit must find its way through the obstacle course of life, and arrive if it will, dependent on its level of unbending commitment.

I learned about the perversity of spirit on Saturday when I took a writing class called, Writing as a Path to Awakening by Albert De Silva, author of the haunting memoir, Beamish Boy and Poet Laureate of Marin County, California. In the course, he shared an article by Rufi Thorpe, author of a novel, The Girls from Corona Del Mar. In the article published by The Literary Life, a young writer was asking the teacher, “Whether or not he should be a writer. Do I have what it takes?”

She answered, “that no one, no one can answer that question for you.”

On the verge of tears he went on, “But do you think I’m talented?”

She replied, “What I think is that talent is the least important thing about a writer. “What is important?” he asked.

She said dryly, maybe cruelly: “Perversity of spirit. Talent is the least important thing about a writer, compared to a love of books, which must be deep and abiding. The only thing a writer really needs is the emotional equivalent of a cartoon creature’s bouncy springiness, so that after being run over or blown up–or in the case of the writer, rejected and rejected some more–the writer is irrationally unfazed by even the most valid criticism and continues to work.”

We do what we must. Whether you’re a writer, photographer, leader, educator, curator, sculpturer, painter, etc.–it’s the perseverance and determination to see your goals and dreams come true–regardless of the Nay-sayers, the obstacles, the odds. Who cares about them and that? If you must create, you will.

I love this quote by Goethe.

Related image

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do. As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.  — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Whether is Goethe, the poet or Nature the creator, they show us their creations every day through sheer will. Sonoma MPK 05

The truth is, the world needs beauty in the form of story, art, photos, cooking recipes, etc. and of course always is made from two essential ingredients: perseverance and an absurd, fun and strange sense of humor.

It doesn’t matter our age, what matters is our passion to create and stay juicy. The perversity of the spirit.

 

Sacred Space: Inner Peace

There is no greater state of being, nor higher goal worth pursuing than Inner Peace. What I call, the Sacred Space that springs eternal from the soul. Despite our joys, fears, doubts, hurts, disappointments and suffering, when I go inward into my heart, Light-in-HeartI tap into a pure, true and untouchable place, a knowing that I, that all of us play a part in something much more magnificent than ourselves, a part in the profound beauty and grand design of this one precious life.

August 2016 005In the wine country, there is evidence of this wherever I look: in the bushels that attract butterflies, in the herb garden where basil, cilantro and parsley thrive, when the Sonoma moon shines its light on my darkest nights.

Inside my home, it’s in the books of poetry I read, and the novels I hold in my hands. It’s in the grand silence that inspired writers to spill their stories onto the page.

Joan Didion, who experienced the excruciating losses of both her husband and her daughter, one to a sudden death, and the other to a cruel disease, found her salvation, her way out through her writings, her sacred space.Gifts of Beauty 002

I suppose my greatest pull to wholeness and the life that was calling for me, came from May Sarton, a poet and journal writer who lived in New England. She wrote about the simple things inside a profound daily existence filled with language, animals, flowers, friendships, and poetic reflection. I was hooked with her first book called, Plant Dreaming Deep. 

In her books, she speaks about solitude and how it helped her find her way through a noisy world, to avoid collisions with others. I ask, “How can we fully be ourselves and yet not collide with other’s wills and ways?” I like the idea of riding alongside someone in their journey, instead of butting heads to reach higher ground, greater solutions.

Sarton’s books live on a shelf by my nightstand. She reminds me every day to keep life real and simple. And in 1995, when Sarton died, I took a trip East to visit her home and grave in Nelson, New Hampshire. I knew then, I would like to continue her life, someway, somehow. My blog is a humble attempt. In her honor, I share her poem with you that she actually wrote on a pane of glass in her Nelson home.

May Sarton

MAY SARTON

A Poem on a Pane of Glass

Happy the man who can long roam-ing reap,
Like old Ulysses when he shaped his course
Homeward at last toward the native source,
Seasoned and stretched to plant his dreaming deep.
When shall I see the chimney smoke once more
Of my own village; in a fervent hour
When maples blaze or lilac is in flower
Push open wide again my plain white door?

Here is a little province, poor and kind —
Warmer than marble is the weathered wood;
Dearer than holy Ganges, the wild brook;
And sweeter than old Greece to this one mind.
A ragged pasture, open green, white steeple,
And these whom I have come to call my people.
– May Sarton
1955-1972, Nelson

 

A Sense of Place

Clouds hover over our home as the leaves on the Maple trees start to turn. Soon, the sun will break and the sky will be painted in blue. There is a quivering in the air with the anticipation of fall. The day is just beginning and there will never be another one like it.

sky photo

Before the neighbors wake, I take a walk with my dog Ella. She came from the streets of Thailand, poor thing, only one years old. She lives with us now, where all is quiet, sure and still. Thankfully, she has fallen into the arms of safety, love and trust. She sleeps deeply every night in the knowledge of this truth.

Photo cred: Deborah Parrish

In return, she gifts me with time. The time to take meditative walks, to remember what’s important in this life. She nudges me, even begs me to join her and venture into the wonders of nature in the wine country. Mozart plays into my headphones as the violin serenades me through the lush green vineyards toward the back country roads of Sonoma. At this time of year, the grapes are alive with color and bulging with juice waiting to be plucked off the vines. 008

I pay attention to the living things connected to timelessness, to a mystical place I once came from many moons ago and where I will one day return; I look at the Sun, the Dahlias resting in a garden pot, the Mayacamas Mountains in the distance, and feel the aliveness of the human spirit, the dog spirit. They are one. We walk a good mile before we had back to our daily routine.

After an hour, I am back at my desk and spend most my hours writing about Sonoma, about the hidden music I hear rustling in the Redwood Trees, about hope and beauty. Somehow, the words mysteriously make their way onto the page.

sonoma-garden1.jpg

I write about place, my sense of place. The center of the Sun.

 

 

A Gentle Thing

It’s raining.  I stop to listen and watch it coming down. The rain feeds my soul, nourishes our planet. As the drops fall on my face, I bask in the quiet of this gentle and simple pleasure and think of a man I admired much. Alan Rickman.  I loved his work, his art.  He said, “If only life could be a little more tender and art a little more robust.

He is right.  The times cry for tender moments.  They crave, simpler, gentler times like a walk in the rain, the holding of hands, a smile, art.  All things one can not fight.

In honor of Alan Rickman, I wish for tenderness, creativity and art.  May it be so.

 

The Soul Whisperer

Living in the wine country, everything around me tells me to slow down and pay attention, to live simply and without want.  To quit grasping.  To become more fully human, deeply present through intention, discipline, practice and gratitude.

 My Mother's Dream 044

My pumpkins are masters at this.  They stand tall and stoic; Nature shows her wise ways–as the leaves turn a yellow and orange, and the sun slowly drapes over the vines showing their nakedness to the world.

I am content, feeling the Autumn breeze on my face.  I muse about the simple life most days, because it is my sanity.  It’s not easy, especially with children to raise, aging parents to worry about and care for, and the media bombarding us with bad news, left and right, it it just feels like there is no where to run, but there is…

Inward.  Happiness lives there.

I love the story that John Lennon once shared:

“When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life.  When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I wrote down ‘happy’.  They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

What a beautiful story.  I wish this for everyone, to learn early that the secret of life is happiness.

Today, I wrote down 3 ways to live simply, that I believe will also make you happier, heaven knows the list will grow, but it’s a good start:

1.  Shut out the things that don’t serve you in your life:  Be it the news, a high maintenance friend, emails, or the trappings of social media.  Shut it off.  You deserve the quiet and joyful thoughts that come with silence and solitude.

2. Take the time to be in nature:  Take a walk, a sit out on your deck, meditate in the park, light a fire at night in your fire pit and stare up at the moonlit stars.  Nature is your peaceful guide and serene friend.

3. Don’t overextend, over promise, overdo:  The only way we can stay present to ourselves and to others is to keep our calendars open to carve out a few hours first for ourselves.  The constant ‘to dos’ will never go away, especially pressing emergencies, but we will grow resentful, angry and even depressed if we do not value ourselves, our heart and our dreams.  

4.  Do something everyday that really makes you happy.  For me it’s writing, or being with a friend sharing a cup of tea or a good book, lighting a candle, cooking a homemade meal, saying a prayer, petting my kitties.

Monica

It’s when I live simply, my mind quiets down.  My body perks up.  I hear my soul whisper, “thank you,” for choosing me over some mindless activity or haunting piece of news.  And then asks, “Aren’t I your eternal compass and companion?”

Serenity

I haven’t written a wine country post on ‘the simple life’ for months, because life has been anything but simple.  My father has been in and out of the hospital for the past four months, battling Alzheimer’s for five years.  On May 30th, he was placed in a nursing home.

The caring for him at home became impossible.  Since he left, where he lived for over 50 years, it’s strange to carry on with life as if the days are normal.  There is a cloud hanging over my head, and a hole in my heart because my father is gone, but still here.  He remembers me on rare occasion, but lives in his own reality; and now, strangers care for him on a daily basis.  It’s killing my mother.  It’s killing all of us, slowly, because it is so hard to watch a loved one’s decline.

It is a tender time.  It is a poignant time.  And yet, it is what it is.  His fate is out of our hands, placed into God’s, Mother Nature’s, the divine spirit.

Buddha says, “Accept what is so,” but this has been hard.  This is my father, my hero, my first true love that I miss beyond words.  So, I grieve him while bottling over 21 cases of our 2010 Meritage wine; I grieve him cooking for my family, when tending the garden filled with sunflowers and birds.  Every day, by doing the simplest, most gentle acts, I mourn.

When one grieves, we go inward.  We become insightful, reflective, still. We harness our energy until we can give again, love and live again in the only way we know how.  I guess this is what I have been doing, and coming out of my well of sadness, finding solace and joy in writing, sharing my thoughts with you through the profound silence of the written word.

There is a simplicity emerging out of this experience, and that is to be with it: To not push or pull at it, but to let life unfold as designed by nature, no matter how cruel.  And it is cruel.  To accept and surrender.  This reminds me of the prayer my mother has posted above her kitchen sink, a prayer I read every day as a child and grown up woman.

May it carry all of us during impossible times:

 

 

 

 

Listening to My Inner Voice

Finch going....
Finch going…. (Photo credit: carfull…Cowboy State-r)

Last night, I picked up the book, The Journal Keeper, a memoir by Phyllis Theroux.  I was reminded of how much I love this genre: the personal memoir, journals, reflections on one person’s unique days on this earth.  These books are true stories that take me higher, provide new insights or simply remind me I am not alone.

In The Journal Keeper, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a kind word about the book: “The Journal Keeper reminds us that there is no such thing as an ordinary moment, and certainly no such thing as an ordinary life.”

So true.  And for me what matters most is to live honestly, gracefully, taking in the day and capturing in my mind’s eye every ordinary moment that I know falls nothing short of extraordinary: the vines lying dormant for the winter, the yellow, red, and blue finches resting their tiny little feet on the barren tree branches, my mother’s voice over the phone, my father saying I love you in the background of the call, the Citrus candle flickering on my desk.

Like Theroux, I love to read the journals and/or letters by May Sarton, Marcus Aurelius, C.S. Lewis, Rachel Carson, and Theroux.  When I journal through my Wine Country Diaries blog, I tap into a deeper wisdom that I spiritually know is guiding me, connecting my spirit to something larger than myself.

My inner voice whispers, “Trust, surrender to what is, and life will show you, allow life to unfold before you, even if it is painful, mysterious, or scary.  You are not in the driver’s seat.”

In listening deeply to my wiser self, that singular voice, I write with conviction, live simply and honor my soul.  I am home in my heart.  When reading journals, personal essays or memoirs, I am in connected to their unique beauty and life.  I am, for just a little while, welcomed into their homes, their souls.

My New Year’s wish for me and you is that we listen to our inner voice each and every day. And live from the heart.

Living with Purpose

Living in the wine country, I am keenly aware of the changing seasons.  6764_10151511040733376_699860311_n Bud

In spring, the buds on our vines are exploding pink with color, living with purpose, and slowly preparing to produce fruit.  With a little help from the wine makers, the grapes turn to wine.

The Jasmine is in bloom, offering a sweet fragrance into the spring air.

Jasmine flower
Jasmine flower (Photo credit: snopek)

The birds are singing, foraging for seed and making their nests for their babies.  Nature lives with purpose.

I know I am no different.  If I trust my place in this life, if I create and produce with the energy given me, then I too naturally serve a role on this earth.  I do this through my writing, parenting, and role as servant leader.  I do this through my gardening, cooking, and reading of good books.  I live fully by being a good friend, mother, daughter and sister.

Life gives life and so the story goes, until it is no more.  As Emily Dickinson once wrote, “That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.”  Living with a sense of purpose is the continuity we seek, need and desire until we can no longer bear the fruits of our labor and bloom into being.

Adversity comes when there is interruption.  We struggle to reroot when a friend dies at a young age of cancer, when a child dies before a parent, when one quits a job or gets fired, or when one gives up their passion for living too soon.

Nature doesn’t like interruptions and neither do humans, but we do like change.  We must grow and transform to be fully human.  And when they’re interruptions, we reroot, we reinvent, we inspire one another with our new blooms.

Weaving the Tapestry of Your Life through Words

tapestry sampler in progress
tapestry sampler in progress (Photo credit: lovefibre)

Recently, I read a book called, The Distance Between Us, a heart wrenching and inspiring memoir by Reyna Grande about her childhood in Mexico and her teen years in Los Angeles, California.  I couldn’t put her story down, and being a mother my heart broke for her and the children who were abandoned by their mothers and fathers, on and off throughout their lives, ping ponging back and forth from Mexico to the United States.

After reading her story, I understood another side of the immigrant experience, and the great suffering that took place when her parents left Reyna, her older sister and brother behind for ‘a better life’ in the United States.  After reading about her life, I was a better person for it.  I grew in wisdom and understanding while enduring her pain and sharing her hope.  I watched as she, word for word wove a beautiful, colorful tapestry of her life onto the page.

Her story is one of poverty, childhood hardships, abandonment, shame and longing, but it is also about perseverance, stamina, hope and how the human spirit endures and even thrives in the face of adversity and in the name of justice.

From this memoir, I planted a seed in my Mother’s heart who is 82 years old. I asked if she would write her life story, one of immigration and hardship, leaving her mother, sister and brothers behind for a better life.  Her parents were born in Italy, immigrated to Argentina and from there my parents moved to the United States in 1957.

Every day, she has been sending me e-mails about her life in which I am compiling together for her and the family.  When she writes, I am taken to the days of her youth playing in the streets of Buenos Aires, to the smells of fresh basil in her mother’s kitchen, to the somber cloud her father’s dark moods stormed up whenever he came home acting like an oppressive king.

I understand her dreams, her troubles, her struggles, her precious Argentine traditions and her thoughts as a child then and mature woman today.  From her writings, I can taste my mother’s Italian-Argentine recipes on my tongue that came from my abuela.

When I asked her to write her life down on paper, I knew the weaving of time, come and gone, would be cathartic for her, for me.  And in fact, the writings have taken her on an emotional roller coaster ride where she asked her children, “What is the point of this again?”

We write to continue ourselves.  We write to know we’re not alone.  We write to forgive and forget, to inspire and feel whole once more.

When we share our most vulnerable moments in detail, it’s like opening a fine bottle of wine that has been corked for years but deserves and needs air to be appreciated and understood.  Painful memories need to be released, losing their hold and power on us.  Memories we cherish and hold dear are finally free to be tasted and savored, relishing every single drop that makes up our ‘one and only’ unique life.

I look at each of my life experiences as if they were a thread of color, interwoven together over the years to make a beautiful tapestry.  The dark-colored threads, such as black, gray or brown symbolize moments of hardship, abandonment, pain, suffering, loss, death, betrayal, yet must exist in order for the bright-colored threads of our life, the gold, green, blue, yellow, red, purple and white to stand out, representing love, hope, wealth, warmth, healing, forgiveness and faith.

Our lives must include the full spectrum of color for us to weave a richly textured tapestry and offer a deep understanding of our lives.

I have been encouraging a number of my family and friends to write their life story.  Their words will appear for others to see, like the colors of a rainbow on any beautiful God-given day.

Primary rainbow with supernumeraries

The Gentler Side of Life

Winter Robin
Winter Robin (Photo credit: Mulletar)

Winter is here.  The fog rolls in on this early morning.  The air is chilly with temperatures hovering below 40 degrees.  Burr…

Like the birds and the vineyards, I go inward to restore my mind, body and soul, wanting only to engage in the kind, simple and gentle acts of life: taking a hot bath, making homemade soups, holding my child at night, listening to a friend, reading a book by the fire, writing about wine, writing about life, being there for family, reading up on birds and flowers, reminding myself to place my undivided attention on nature, beauty, the gentler things.

Have I not had enough of the violence on the news?  Have I not had enough of the noise coming from human opinion and angst?  I turn the t.v. off.  I turn the negativity off.  I turn to nature and her peaceful ways.

I look out the window on this cold, wintry day, and mother nature whispers, “slow down, take a breath, choose where you want to spend your time, your days, be with me.  Don’t look outside yourself for meaning and purpose, the seed of intention lies inside, like a flower.”

Life is a choice.  Each act is a choice.  I choose the simple, the gentle, the peaceful, the organic ways to grow.

My New Year’s resolutions are different this year.  I choose to create rather than strive/struggle. I choose to be still, rather than over-do and over-worry.  I choose to have faith and trust as I watch my children direct their own lives.  I choose to move deliberately, rather than run around rashly. I choose to be patient rather than hasty. I choose to live on the gentler side of life where there is room to breathe, listen to the hidden music of nature and smile, letting my life unfold and blossom naturally.

Spring Blossoms
Spring Blossoms (Photo credit: elycefeliz)

“Learn to become still.
And to take your attention away from what you don’t want,
and all the emotional charge around it,
and place your attention on what you wish to experience”
~Rev. Michael Beckwith

(From Elena’s Inspirations http://www.elenabrams.wordpress.com)

Taking a Good Look at Yourself

A vineyard's winter
A vineyard’s winter (Photo credit: JMaz Photo)

Winter is a natural time for reflection.  The time when I can take stock and inventory of my thoughts, my drives, my actions.

I ask what gifts of presence have I offered this year?  And what unconscious hurts have I caused?  My hope is that I have given more than I have hurt.

Recently, I adopted a six month old, female German Shepherd puppy, that in the end, I could not keep.  I rescued her from a home that could not care for her, and brought her to mine only to quickly discover, that I was in way over my head caring for a puppy.  I also realized that practically speaking, I had no way to keep her safe on my property.  The only gated area I had, had been our pool area  in which she could easily dig her way out, or jump over.  My past dog didn’t need a fenced in area, but this puppy did!

I knew I had to find her a new home.  I had made a mistake.

The guilt I felt for bringing this puppy home and then giving her up so quickly, thereafter was more than my conscience could handle.  To make things worse, it looked awful to my family, friends and community to take in a loving dog, only to abandon her myself shortly afterwards.  I looked bad and it was bad.  But the truth is, I wanted this puppy.  I had already fallen in love with this puppy.  I wanted her with us in our home.

Despite the truth, I did everything I could to find my dog a loving, ‘fenced in yard’ home.  And I did, with the help of Pets Lifeline, a local animal shelter.  She is in a beautiful home.  However, with this event, I had to look at the temporary damage I had caused.  At what I did to her, to myself, to my children.  The forgiveness is embedded in the word temporary.

What are the life lessons?

1. Do your research.  Ask others who have had puppies what it requires.  Be realistic.

2. Make sure you have everything you need to keep the puppy safe and happy.

3. Don’t be over 50 when you get a puppy!

4. If you wrong someone/something, make right.  Restore the relationship if you can with self corrected actions.

5. Forgive yourself.

I also realized that when I have the time, and the space, I think well, I act well.  I have an incredible energy, a natural power from within to offer more of myself.  When I am impulsive or reactionary, I retract in my thinking and decisions, ping pong back and forth and come to change my course of action.  When my heart is bigger than the reality of the situation, I make poor decisions and bad judgements (sometimes, not all the time), but I set myself up for failure.  I fall.

But can I just say that I love with all my heart?  I love with all my heart.

New experiences and chosen risks may give me the hard knocks sometimes, but more importantly, they help me grow.  They take me out of my comfort zone, they make me stretch, I become more honest.

The power of truth cuts to the core of our being.  When we live in truth, we feel the universal qualities of humility, humanity, and love.  We feel peace in our soul.  It is Walt Whitman who wrote, Whatever satisfies the soul is truth.

How we express our honesty–with practice, eloquence and kindness is when we can change ourselves for the better, and perhaps even change the world.

I am taking in the beauty of this wintry day.  The vineyards are dropping their leaves, baring themselves naked to the world.  I do the same metaphorically by living more honestly with myself and others, continuing to learn from the mistakes I make along the way.  I take a good look at myself and remain forever human.

A Kiss of Bliss

Autumn Trees
Autumn Trees (Photo credit: Andrew Griffith)

This time of year has me head over heels in love with life.  The leaves are turning a bright red and orange, ultimately surrendering to the ground with grace.  The grapes are plump and purple, bursting with flavor, wanting to be touched and plucked off the vine.  The day starts to cloud over, the rain starts to fall softly. With humility, the word that comes to me is awe.

The definition of awe is: a mixed feeling of reverence, fear and wonder.  For me, to stand in awe before the heavens is to embrace life with a presence, a stilled concentration that is grounded in an appreciation for what we have, who we are, and what we offer this world.

Every morning when I wake up, I feel I have been given a second chance at life.  Another chance to soak in the moments, if by chance I had missed anything the day before.  Second chances, they are abundant, full of forgiveness and newness whether we are 1 or 90 years of age.  We begin again.  We are forever young.  We go full circle.

No matter the season, winter, spring, summer or fall, I ask in meditation, what does it mean for us to fall in love with life regardless of the challenges?

What is it that makes us feel a sense of awe at the dawning of a new day, or peace at the falling of night.  What gives us that sense of wonder? Is it a glimpse at the ocean, a walk down a narrow path filled with maples and old stone, is it a kiss of bliss that comes with a hug, an embrace, a prayer, a delicious breeze?

I know falling in love with life looks different for each and every one of us, but when we tap into this awe-inspiring, simple truth every day, it sure feels right and eternal.

What is Your Happy Place?

English: the forests in new hampshire in autumn
English: the forests in new hampshire in autumn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was walking to the mailbox, hoping to find a letter from a long distance friend of mine and noticed how the Maple tree leaves were turning a bright orange.  Fall is just around the corner and the thought of that made me happy.

This happy thought led to another, of New England, a region I love to visit during the Autumn months.  It’s so peaceful, colorful and beautiful this time of year.

New England made me think of the late May Sarton, one of my favorite writers of Nelson, New Hampshire and later, York Maine who loved to live the simple life in nature–and lived to tell about it in her journals.  The thought of her daily life then, comforts me now, and makes me happy. She wrote every morning, read poetry, took a walk in the woods with her dog, put fresh flowers in her vases, fed the Eastern Cardinals, and lived amongst the things she loved the most: nature, solitude, books, her writings.  She lived in a small town, as shown here and taught me the meaning of true happiness.

Nelson, New Hampshire
Nelson, New Hampshire (Photo credit: Dougtone)

When I am out in nature and bask in the quiet of the morning, I am aware of how much noise, agitation and pain I can create within, worrying and trying to control the outcome of things and people I love most–the direction of my children’s lives, the health and safety, and quality of life of my aging parents, the future of our world.

I need and love the quiet found in the simple life.  Solitude nourishes me.  Peace is my happy place, deeply rooted inside the core of my being, where I can walk by the sea or the back country woods of Sonoma, tend to my flower garden, sit next to my animals, laugh with my family, have a hot cup of tea by the fire over a good book, or sit and write what inspires me, like today, with my blog.  All of this makes me serenely happy.

I am in my happy place when I am in nature because I am hardly noticed by her.

English: a beach in maine on a clear day with ...
English: a beach in maine on a clear day with a sailboat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nature is indifferent to my needs and my wants, and yet she feeds my soul profoundly if I just listen, look and take heed to the beauty of my surroundings every day.

What is it that makes you happy?  You must have a mental list of the things that bring you joy, and sustain you each and every day?

Why don’t we ask this question to ourselves more often, I wonder and practice the happy dance?  It feels better to be happy, to move about, to laugh, to dance, me thinks!

I found a letter waiting for me in the mailbox from my dear friend.  It’s a long one.  I smile.  I am grateful.

What’s on your Bucket List?

Are there things you want to do before you die?  Are you feeling time is running out?  Well, I do, but…I procrastinate.  I delay the things in life that are important to me.  Don’t you?

I have a long list, my Bucket List if you will, of things I would like to do, but don’t.  Things I need to do, but won’t.  Things I dream of doing, but don’t dare.  I have much I want to do, do, do!  Don’t you?

But I get migraines, (probably over this procrastination busines), migraines that are more likely due to the fun, middle-aged, hormonal fluctuations in the body.  I am 50 sista!

I get frustrated, agitated, restless over this.  I find myself working at 40% capacity instead of what I am truly capable of.  I know I am not alone in this.

What else?  I want to get in perfect shape!  The emphasis is on perfect!  I want desperately to change what’s wrong with the world, and there’s plenty! I want to give more than I can possibly give.  I basically want to ride hard, like a fly on steroids, until I hit the wall.

My bucket list is long.  Did I mention Greece?  I want to go to Greece.  Take my boys to Argentina. Read the wikipedia from A-Z.  But the procrastination hits again, even the migraines and I feel tired, depleted, resigned.  (Did I mention I do have two young boys? So, maybe I’m busy doing that–oh, yeah!) Still…

The Barn Owl (Tyto Alba) - You Talkin' to me? ...
The Barn Owl (Tyto Alba) – You Talkin’ to me? – (Photo credit: Axel.Foley)

I call a friend.  We talk about each other’s lives and we laugh over it all.  I start to relax and feel human again.  I take a drive through the back roads of Sonoma to cool my jets and what do I see? I see a Barnyard owl looking at me! Wise and still, as if asking, “Are you talking to me?”

“Yes, yes I am!” But before I can ask the questions that lie in my heart, he just stands still for me.  He stands still.

I felt a deep and tremendous peace, at one with something larger than myself, aware of my natural surroundings.  The owl said with its eyes, “Listen to the quiet, the stillness.  Now.”

I have only now and to waste any moment of this life on tomorrow, is fiction at its finest.  It’s okay to slow down, it’s ok to rest, it’s okay to be still.  Right?

Nature reminds me to plant my pumpkins and watch them grow, stare at the barnyard owl and be in awe, marvel at the diamond lit skies and wake to the warming sun, and wait for the opening of a flower.

The soul reminds me to write what matters to me, read poetry that stills my heart, taste a juicy strawberry from the garden, walk a long walk until I’m a good kind of tired, hug my boys tight, say good night to my mother and father.

There is no nirvana around the corner.  There is only here and only now.  How cliche’ right?  But with all this texting, tweeting, ping-ponging, jabbing and poking, e-mailing, calling, crying and suffering, are we really living in the now?

In honor of now, and in honor of nature, I share a poem from Mary Oliver:

In Blackwater Woods

by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees are turning their own bodies into pillars

of light, are giving off the rich fragrance of cinnamon and fulfillment,

the long tapers of cattails are bursting and floating away over the blue shoulders

of the ponds, and every pond, no matter what its name is, is

nameless now. Every year everything I have ever learned

in my lifetime leads back to this: the fires and the black river of loss whose other side

is salvation, whose meaning none of us will ever know. To live in this world

you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it

against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to

let it go, to let it go.

Drinking from my Father’s Well

When I became a parent, I wondered which memories, peak experiences, and profound life lessons I would bestow on my boys and which would actually stick in their psyches.  Given that joy and peace are my favorite states of being, I can only hope that my boys remember the times when we laughed over a good film, took a quiet walk under the Sonoma moon, cooked a homemade meal together, saved a hummingbird from a cat’s jowls or snuggled ourselves to sleep after a long day of intense little league baseball games.  I can only hope because Lord knows a great deal goes into a day besides peace and joy when nagging over homework, fighting over the remote and other such silly things. 

Today, I naturally think of the good times I shared with my father–times, when I would watch my hero body surf the big waves of Huntington Beach, while I ate my favorite Winchells donut; times, when we would sit and read a book together in our music room while listening to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on the stereo; days, when we would walk miles and talk for hours through the back country roads of my childhood.  At the dinner table, my father would help me through every problem I was having at the time.

But those memories and times mean something only, to me.  Given that truth, I want to share a few of the lessons, (there are so many) I learned from my father about life that would mean something to everyone today.

1. Don’t hold onto anything.  Learn from the experience, then let it go. 

2. Step on a nail and it hurts.  This holds true for most of life’s experiences.  They hurt.  You heal.

3.  Stay curious, wonder, question.  You’ll never grow bored or old.

4.  Park your car in the shade.  You and your car will be grateful for it.

5.  Walk, walk, walk or your wife will be all over you.

6.  Debate your ideas, learn from different points of view.

7.  Go slow when you’re in a hurry.

8.  Question everything.  Don’t trust everyone.  Don’t settle for mediocrity.

9.  Go to the best.  Learn from the best.  They’ve worked hard to get there and they’ll help you get there too.

10.  Waste not.  Live simply and frugally.  Life is hard enough with shelter, food, and heat.  Imagine being without them.

11. Luck plays a big part in life.

12. Nature calls the shots and we are very much a part of the animal kingdom (low on the food chain).

13.  Fight for your rights. 

14.  There isn’t anything you can’t do.  Just do it.

15.  In leadership, surround yourself with the best, and delegate, delegate, delegate.

16. Respect your parents.  Respect yourself.

There are so many more words of wisdom I could share, but perhaps the words that stay with me is embedded in an expression my father would say to me in Spanish.  He would often say,  “No Somos Nada,” after a country has been hit by a tsunami or an earthquake, killing hundreds of thousands of people in a moment’s notice.  “No Somos Nada,” which  in English means, “We Are Nothing.”  

I took this to mean, we are insignificant in the larger scheme of things. “Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Yes, everything matters, everything; and nothing matters, nothing; so enjoy every drop while you can, drink with great thirst from the well of life.”

I love you, Dudes. (I call him Dudes).

And to all of you, May You Drink!

Happy Father’s Day!

Finding Joy

I think of the many things that bring me joy, (and there are many) such as the raising of my two boys, spending time with family and friends, working in the vineyards, planting vegetables in the garden, biking the back country roads, writing my blog, seeing the first rose, and making our Nicolas Alexander Meritage wine.  This helps me through the harder times in life.

I also love, equally as much, fine literature–a poignant poem or an excellent story to help me live a more grounded, purposeful and meaningful life.

Righlty used, words become a lyrical language, like a hummingbird resting on a branch, a cat napping on the porch, a soft rain falling on the grass, the moon rising over the evening.  Words are music to my ears, salve to my wounds, comfort to my soul, joy to my heart.  There is nothing like an excellent story to make me think, make me feel and fall hard.  Hemingway‘s shortest story, comes to mind. 

“For sale: Baby’s shoes.  Never worn.” 

Here, he communicates so much pain in very few words. 

As for poetry, I love the poems that make me want to dance, laugh, and tread lightly upon this earth.  As we approach the summer months, The Summer of Love, by Antonio Machado comes to mind.

The Summer of Love

I declare this the Summer of Love,                                                                                                        I declare this the Summer of Dreams,                                                                                                 I declare this the Summer when no one                                                                                            will stop laughing, except to smile.                                                                                                 When no one will stop dreaming, except to sleep.                                                                            The Summer of no watches because there is nothing but now.                                  The Summer of no wallets because everything of value is free.                                                  The summer when men become women and women become men.                                        The Summer during which no one wears underwear.                                                                 The Summer of pure feeling.                                                                                                           And the Summer in which everything…                                                                                          Everything has meaning.                                                                                                                        I declare this the Summer of Love.  The Summer of Now.                                                         The eternal Summer.   The mythical Summer.  The Summer we will always              remember on behalf of us all.  I declare this the Summer of Love.                                          The Summer that starts now and lasts forever.  

Dicentra spectabilis
 

Now, that’s a poem that makes me feel like these dangling hearts, where their very essence is joy.                                                            

What’s the Secret of Life? It’s One Thing…

Cover of "City Slickers"
Cover of City Slickers

When I was flying back home from Italy, I had a number of films to choose from to kill time.  I was in the mood for a comedy, so I picked City Slickers.  I don’t know if you remember this film, or know this film, but it’s a beauty made in 1991, where three middle-age buddies (Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Bruno Kirby) facing personal crises decide to sign up for a two-week  cattle run for a change of pace.  By the end of the film, their lives are forever changed when they each discover the secret of life.  Their one thing.  I remember how much this movie made me laugh, made me think and it still does. 

So, in the film, there is a scene between Curly (Jack Palance) and Mitch (Billy Crystal) where they are riding their horses together, and Curly the cowboy turns to Mitch and asks this one universal question:

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? [holds up one finger]                               Curly: This.                                                                                                                                   Mitch: Your finger?                                                                                                                     Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean sh*t!            Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”                                                                                      Curly: [smiles] That’s what *you* have to find out.

For James Taylor, the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.   I know the secret of life is different for everyone, that we each have our one thing.  What’s your one thing? 

For me, Johnny Depp summed it up perfectly:  (In fact, for me, Johnny Depp just might be the secret of life! HA!)

As I get older and I watch my parents struggle with aging and isolation, love seems to be the only answer to help them during this difficult stage.  As I watch my family and friends battle with cancer, or look for work, or struggle with divorce, or an ailing child, I can only offer love.  When I worked hospice–love.  When I was a foster parent to three black, frail, dying kitties–love.  When I felt a bit lost or hard on myself, love.  When I’m teaching my own children from right and wrong–love.

Love encompasses it all: Compassion, empathy, honesty, authenticity, giving, presence, encouragement, understanding, appreciation, gratitude, wisdom, stillness, grace and hope.  These qualities were each born from the family of love.

Then, there’s my love for the wine country, writing, for gardening, cooking, animals, art, wine, film, literature, for sharing time with friends and family. 

 

And then there’s humor…

This scene made me chuckle in City Slickers when Billy Crystal addresses his son’s class on career day.

Mitch Robbins:  “Value this time in your life kids, because this is the time in your life when you still have your choices, and it goes by so quickly. When you’re a teenager you think you can do anything, and you do. Your twenties are a blur. Your thirties, you raise your family, you make a little money and you think to yourself, What happened to my twenties? Your forties, you grow a little pot belly you grow another chin. The music starts to get too loud and one of your old girlfriends from high school becomes a grandmother. Your fifties you have a minor surgery. You’ll call it a procedure, but it’s a surgery. Your sixties you have a major surgery, the music is still loud but it doesn’t matter because you can’t hear it anyway. Seventies, you and the wife retire to Fort Lauderdale, you start eating dinner at two, lunch around ten, breakfast the night before. And you spend most of your time wandering around malls looking for the ultimate in soft yogurt and muttering how come the kids don’t call? By your eighties, you’ve had a major stroke, and you end up babbling to some Jamaican nurse who your wife can’t stand but who you call mama. Any questions? “

I don’t know about you, but I love to laugh, make others laugh.  I love to hear my sister laugh.  My brother always makes me laugh.  My mother and father, I love when they just laugh their heads off.  And in the wine country, on certain nights, I can hear my neighbor’s laugh being carried into the vineyards.  It makes me smile. 

Humor makes its way into my heart and allows me to love, live larger than before.  After love, laughter runs a close second to the secret of life.  Perhaps they are one in the same? A truthful tie.

  

A Feast for the Senses

Lucca, Tuscany, Italy. Français : Lucques, Tos...
Lucca, Tuscany, Italy. Français : Lucques, Toscane, Italie.

After spending ten days immersed in the wine country of Tuscany, Italy, I have etched every moment, vivid and alive, in my memory, and stored every sensory experience, acute and vital, in my heart.

My senses were sharpened, like a chef’s knife, once my worries and obligations of home in Sonoma receded into the background.  Every sound, smell, touch I experienced in Italy, only made my appetite for life greater.

In San Gennaro, Lucca, in the tiny, little village in which we stayed, I could hear the soft church bells in the distance, smell the freshly brewed espresso coming from the only ristorante down the street, and feel the cobblestones under my feet as we walked the narrow alley ways with fresh flowers in the window baskets.  Come evening, I would breathe in the aroma of a fine Fabiano red wine and fall into the flavors of their famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina.

My husband and I walked the cobble stone streets for miles and miles, and visited the medieval Roman towns of Lucca, Siena, Portovenere, Greve in Chianti, Florence and Pisa and watched the hustle and bustle of not only the tourists, but of the Italian locals shopping for fresh ingredients for their dinner each night.

When it comes to beauty, the Italian people embody it.  Everywhere you look, feel, taste, touch and see, there are fine fashions, beautiful people, delicious wines, exquisite food, historical treasures, architectural delights and art masterpieces to behold.

Italy is, in a few words, a feast for the senses.  I could not stop eating their fine foods, drinking their exquisite wines, walking the Roman streets, or marveling at their art.  In Florence, I stood in the presence of mystical magnificence at the Accademia and Uffizi Gallery.   I simply, could not take my eyes off Caravaggio‘s Bacchus God of Wine, Michelangelo’s David, nor Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli
The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I came home with a deepened appreciation for my husband, my family, for beauty found right here in the wine country.  My life here in Sonoma–it is a lot like Tuscany, where I grow fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables in my own garden.  I too, can stroll down long country roads with vineyard rows everywhere, and have picnics with fresh bread, a delicious Chianti and imported salami and cheeses.

vineyard light
vineyard light (Photo credit: torbakhopper)

Tuscany is a slice of heaven and so is home, here in Sonoma, where I can practice the simple life in a more meaningful way.

Just outside my window, the vineyard buds are about to open right before my very eyes.

Gifts of Excellence

This past weekend, I was graced with gifts of excellence for a full 48 hours.  I left Sonoma on Saturday to go to L.A. to see my family for my 50th birthday and to attend the Academy Awards the following day with my husband. 

Gnocchi
Gnocchi (Photo credit: Enrico Matteucci ☸)

Moment by moment, I was lost in perfection.  I was surprised by unexpected family members who came from far and away to celebrate my big 50 at my parent’s home.  In preparation of this event, my mother made and rolled one potato Gnocchi at a time, enough for 9 hungry mouths.  As we all sat at the long dining room table, with pride, my mother presented our favorite Italian delicacy on a big platter, which took her years to perfect.  She demonstrated her excellence in her cooking and in being a mother. 

Next, came the gifts from family.  I was given a gift of beauty, a sea green glass pendant that looks as if it was designed by Gustav Klimt, my favorite Art Nouveau artist.  There is a shimmer and sheen to the glass, with gold and green swirls, the black tree looks like a cactus from the desert. 

I was also given a first edition book of Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen from my sister and her husband.  I am a lover of literature and to have this rare find on my book shelf makes my life rich beyond compare. 

Lastly, my parents gave me a gold pendant bracelet that my mother wore when she was young.  It is engraved with her initials, MD, which just happen to be mine.  I will cherish this heirloom forever.

As for the academy awards, it was thrilling to be in the midst of excellence seen in the long designer gowns of stars, or experienced in the entertaining performances by Billy Crystal, Cirque du Soleil and Chris Rock or found in the refreshing acceptance speeches by actor/actress, editors, cinematographers, writer/composer/directors.

What these experiences, whether it be emotional, spiritual and/or physical have in common are their unique gifts of beauty, excellence and perfection.  We each have these gifts and they can be tasted in a homemade Gnocchi recipe, seen in an original sea glass pendant, read in a book of Africa, remembered in a young woman’s memory, engraved on a gold pendant.

In the past, I looked at excellence or perfection as a quality I could never live up to, a high bar I could never reach.  But as I let my heart flow and live honestly in my own skin, openly in my mind, I see my natural abilities take hold and surface with ease.  

Each of us holds gifts of excellence if we just let them be seen, felt and heard.  With love being the greatest gift of excellence there is.

Look to Beauty

English: Buddhist statue inside a Temple in Xi'an
 

Buddhists say, “Life is suffering.” They advise us, to accept what is so. 

Knowing life is suffering and that life is also more, than suffering, (after all, I am a glass is half full, kinda gal), I accept what is.  However, it seems lately, that not a week goes by, that I don’t hear from a friend who’s been diagnosed with cancer, or a friend who struggles with an aging parent, or a friend, in tears, whos teenager is on drugs, on the road to ruin.  When tragedy hits, when sorrow comes and there are no words, I look to beauty.  I look to beauty to counter the underbelly currents of life, that are overwhelming at times, ever-present in the every day.  I look to beauty to make sense of it all, the good, the bad, the ugly.

I sigh. I breathe.  I move.  I move into the day, only to see a Cooper’s hawk driving home from school.  My son and I stop the car, and marvel quietly, at this beautiful, wild, wild bird in perfect pose.  Here he is in living color, up-close and personal.

Cooper's Hawk on feeder

There simply are no words to describe this bird wonder, only silence, awe, stillness.

Knowing, in this life, there is little we control, I find comfort, solace and natural happiness, watching this free bird dangle on the feeder and then, take flight. 

I get ‘giddy happy’ when the garlic cloves we planted in the garden, start to poke their little green heads out of the ground.  

I smile when the paper whites, yellow daffodils, and Amaryllis start to open when they were once mere bulbs, then poof, like magic, they appear in full bloom.

English: Amaryllis

At every stage of life, I must remember my beauty, nature’s beauty.  At every stage of our lives, we must remember our beauty.  And the eternal beauty we seed in the hearts of our loved ones.

Coming to Life

Sunflowers
 

Nature inspires me, grounds me, keeps me sane, alive with wonder.  Now that restful winter is turning to lively spring, I feel myself coming to life in a newly bloomed, juicy, creative and fertile way.

As I write about life in the wine country,   nature is my greatest source for inspiration.  I find this is true not only in my work, but by writers and artists that I admire, Willa Cather, Georgia O’Keeffe, Antonio Machado, Vincent van Gogh.

Just this week, I was riveted by Van Gogh Up Close, an art exhibit taking place at the Philadelphia museum.  I read about it and saw stunning photos of the exhibit on-line by the New York times.  There, his works come to life, through 45 small, looked over, paintings which examines the artist’s relationship to nature at its most intimate.  As I went through each slide, I was drawn by the fire yellow in his shrinking ‘Sunflowers’, the blue and white liquid brilliance in ‘Almond Blossom,’ the shaded green in ‘Rain.’ 

English: Red Vineyards near Arles (1888), the ...

In this painting, van Gogh paints workers in the vineyards, with his yellow sky, burnt orange vines, and blue trees; It takes my breath away.  Nature inspired him to paint in colorful, vivid detail.

When I admire his works, up close, I am reminded how much nature inspires me when I’m taking walks in the valley of the moon, pruning vines in our vineyard, planting onion bulbs and garlic in our garden, taking a picture of a white snowy egrit, or simply gathering wood.  I am inspired by nature and because of her I come to life, over and over again.

When I look around at the cherry blossoms, the deep blue ocean, the red rosebud, the yellow finch, the orange maple trees, the silvery drops of dew on a spider web, the stoic green mountains, I understand my rightful place in this world.   When I am one with nature and fully in it, I know my true purpose on this planet, to live the day, drink in the wisdom that comes from the well of silence, to be fully aware, taking it all in and looking at life in vivid detail like van Gogh did with his nature landscapes, his golden sunflowers, his purple irises, his starry, starry nights.

     
 

Looking for the Ultimate Truth

I placed a purple orchid, a Phalaenopsis, on my coffee table a few days ago.  As the rain falls, and a fire burns on this cold and dreary Sunday,  I marvel at this flower, its origins dating back to the time of the dinosaurs!  I feel as if I intuitively understand the deeper truths of life, the workings of the universe, with just one look at this flower. 

The orchid, a stunning, delicate yet tenacious flower, takes my breath away and commands my full attention, to pay close attention to its long list of special needs or it will surely perish. 

For those who know me, I can kill a cactus, so to dedicate my life to the care of an orchid is no easy feat.  My husband, who has the green thumb in our family, promised to care for the orchid alongside me as I learn in detail every thing it needs. 

Together, we read in earnest how the orchid performs best when given medium to bright indirect light; when the temperatures hovers between 65 to 75 degrees.  It gets thirsty for water every 20-25 days, but its important for its roots to almost dry before giving it a drink; and it needs nutrients, a liquid fertilizer every 2-3 weeks; the list of needs goes on and on.  I won’t go into what it needs to re-bloom, or you’ll end up buying fake orchids for your home from now on.  But I am up for the challenge to hold fine company with these finicky flowers at every turn.

The orchid also reminds me to pay close attention to the needs and surroundings which allow me to grow and thrive: solitude, nature, writing, readings and reflections, human connection, new experiences, the four seasons that come with the rain, the sun.  I take pause and wonder what my loved ones need to grow and blossom each and every year.  They too, have their uniqueness and special needs.  How easily we can gloss over this fact of nature.  How quickly we want our loved ones to be different out of our own need to relate or connect, rather than stand in awe of their uniqueness and come to love our colorful differences. 

Speaking of differences, I see red.  I hear chirping.  I look out the window to see a red breasted Robin bopping around outside in the cold.  I wonder what it needs to survive.  It shivers to generate heat when its cold.  It grows more feathers for winter and fluffs them up to trap warm air around its body.  Nature gives her what she needs, and they can survive just fine without us during winter,  but she and her feathered friends still look for backyard feeders to help stay fueled.  They need us and we need them.  This is true and we are all mystical miracles. 

I think about my favorite nature writers,  May Sarton, Rachel Carson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau who found the answers to life’s profound questions in nature.  These writers, especially Thoreau were famous for combining human life and the nature of the world in their journals/works.  He was always rethinking his life, creatively.  He was always asking questions, looking to nature for greater intensity, and meaning in his life, for the Ultimate Truth. 

“Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand.– Henry David Thoreau

English: Portrait by Benjamin D. Maxham (dague...
Image via Wikipedia
I believe the Ultimate Truth (Spirit, Mother Nature, Creator) can be found in the nature of things.  We  can find this in our daily lives, outside ourselves, and in ourselves if we just look closely.

Starting from Scratch

Recently, I met a good friend at the Sebastiani Winery in Sonoma for a picnic lunch.  As we sat down to eat, with the sun warming our skin, he handed me gifts from his garden: a bag of Meyer lemons and tasty citrus tangerines.  The lemons had their natural zest; the tangerines their pungent smell.  This  fresh fruit came from the fertile grounds he and his wife cultivated and grew from scratch. 

My friend shared aspects of his life, about his first home (a tear down) here in Sonoma in which he had to rebuild  from the ground up–from scratch, if you will.  I marveled at this undertaking, the blood, sweat and tears of years of hard work, but even more, at the finished product–a cozy Sonoma bungalow with a wrap around porch, garden, pool and Bocci court. 

One way or another, each and every day, whether it be the writing of a new blog or development of a story,  the making of a fine wine, the teachings of a child, the being there for a friend, the planting of seeds for the garden come spring, the trying of a new recipe, or the watching of the rising sun, falling moon, I look at each day as a life-start from scratch.  It’s a simple approach I know, and found it allows room for forgiveness for daily goofs, god-awful mistakes, unexpected regressions, but ensures new growth and new beginnings.  In this way, I live in the simple present, having less.

It was Jamie Lee Curtis who said in The Huffington Post Guide to Blogging, “I think we as a species are on a suicidal course, wanting more, having more, feeding ourselves and our children on ephemeral pleasures and poisons.”  

I’m far from being out of the woods in terms of simplifying life, my things, my obligations and interests.  It’s taking years to want less, own less, have less, but slowly, I am ridding myself of possessions I don’t need and letting go of what holds me back.  It’s a work in progress. 

I joke with my friends, that one day, all I’ll want is a cotton spool and a bare room to spool in like Gandhi, but in reality, my home in Sonoma surrounded by the simple things: child-like laughter, wine, silence, food and water, tree and flower blooms, birds and books, walks and talks, love, poetry and prayer will do just fine on my porch where I have two seats waiting for you and me. 

After I said good-bye to my lunch pal, he texted me later, offering up a carton of fresh eggs from chickens who feed off his  grounds from scratch.  Ain’t that a lot like life!

The Beauty of this Life

On this wintry day, from my kitchen island, I stir my mother’s homemade lentil soup and look out at the Redwood trees, dripping wet with rain.  The time to go inward is here, a simple but sure season of good things yet to come.  I think of all that is taking place outside and all that is going on inwardly.

Edna O’Brien, the Irish novelist said, “In a way, winter is the real spring–the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature.” 

This is the case in the Sonoma wine country where the naked, golden brown branches after months of dormancy, resurge into pink buds and lush green vines, but not yet, not yet.

This is nature’s low-key time, perfect in every way with not much to do.  Winter makes me want less, need less, feeding myself and my family with only the basics: food, shelter, love, connection, and energy to create a new.  To be reborn like every living thing in the garden.

I am reminded of nature’s patience and the need to cultivate more of my own.  My German Shepherd Jeb waits for our daily walk near the veggie garden, still needing clearing for seeds this spring.  In good time, we will plant basil, cilantro, chili peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, parsley, cucumbers, and artichokes. 

But for now, my desire to go inward, observe and write is heightened.  The quiet allows for new songs of Sonoma to surface and make their way onto the page–of the orange breasted Robin hunting for seed on the grassy knoll of our vineyard, of the Camellias waiting to burst into red color from my kitchen window, of the night sky diamonds shining their brilliance under the valley of the moon.

I watch life with all its intensity, active stirrings and true offerings.  I accept the cycles of nature–of death and rebirth.  I see reality clearly and understand intuitively, the beauty of this life found in the silence, creativity, and simplicity of nature’s surroundings.  I think of Aristotle’s words…

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”

 

A Second Chance

christmas 2007

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.  I really, really am.  I wish, just once that it would snow in Sonoma on Christmas day, but alas, it would take a miracle for white blankets of snow to cover our homestead and nestle us in for the long winter’s night.  

But no matter–the cool crisp night air, delicious kitchen smells and white lights shining off our 6 foot wreath outside our home, puts me in a glowing, festive mood. 

I adore the warm colors of gold, red and green seen sparkling from our tree; I cherish the heartfelt moments by the fire, shared with family and friends; I immerse myself in the deep feelings of gratitude and joy, similar to Ebenezer Scrooge born with a second chance to live with heaven in his heart and ecstasy in his acts of kindness. 

I know the holidays can be a blue time, a sad and true time for those we love and for those we have lost, but we still have each other.  And for those we have lost, we carry them in our hearts.  They are with us still. 

As I approach 2012, I want to look at this year as a ‘second chance’ to really make the most of this life, this simple life I have created in the heart of the wine country. 

As Confucious once said, “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”

The Art of Slowness

There is something about winter that makes me slow way down: the cold night air, the naked tree branches, the dried flower buds holding on for dear life–all are living proof that winter has arrived and the time to go inward is here.   

There is an art to slowness, although it takes time to master.  My mind still runs a mile a minute with things that need to be done; my body whispers, “What’s the big hurry? Enjoy the slowness, the dormancy of nature, this organic tapestry weaving time and energy together to restore and bloom come spring.”   

And so, there is not much of the garden left.  The cold night air and brisk winds have taken the last of the vineyard leaves down. 

A few flowers remain–red and white Cyclamens decorate my outdoor pots, and red Camellia buds are holding tight to open come February. 

This time of year makes me want to curl up by a warm fire and read a juicy book. 

Or take a little nap under a thick blanket with Amber who waits for me to take her inside.  These little moments say, relax into the day, it is ok. 

One of my favorite past times during the holidays, after I have made breakfast, dropped the kids off at school and spent my morning writing, is to sit in my living room with our Christmas tree all a glow, my candles lit in vigil, to relish the moment of this warm scene.  My home is my church, my sanctuary, my place of refuge. The art of slowness is mastered here.

Peaceful Essence: It’s the Little Things

As I run here and there, knowing that the next five weeks are going to be busy with the  Christmas and New Years’ holidays, I pause to take notice of the things that make life in Sonoma, beautiful and this time of year, joyful. 

It’s the little things: the hot cup of coffee (freshly dripped) that I bought this morning from Sonoma’s Best, a local market around the corner from my home.    

It’s my two cats, Martha and Sosa, sleeping together in the cold night air in their bed; 

It’s the Mum flowers on my coffee table, the angel on the mantlepiece, the pumpkin spice candles all in a row, with every little thing in its loving place. 

I immerse myself in the little things these days, to hear, smell, touch, feel it all.  I am alive and grounded in what my close friend calls, ‘Peaceful Essence,’ the place where I appreciate all that I have. 

I rest on Mother Teresa‘s wings and words today,“There are no great things, only small things with great love.”  

The Hidden Music

 
Nature
 

It’s pitch dark, 4 a.m. and I can not sleep.  The silence is rich, rare, treasured.  I love its sound, slowly awakening my heart.  I call silence, The Hidden Music, a song I have loved from the time I was a child, marveling at Mother Nature’s wonders around and about me. 

I listen to the sound of silence.  These words come as an inner cry to the world outside.

                                                                            STOP

searching, wanting, controlling, needing, doubting, praying, dreaming, desiring, manipulating, forcing, grasping, fearing, using, wasting, lying, seeking, moving, believing, holding, imagining, and thinking.  Whatever is left, when you stop, is who you are.  It is silence, pure, real, unnamed, gentle, loving, and filled with serenity.  In this and from this is joy and freedom.*                                         

                                                                          LISTEN

In silence, I hear the truth, the workings of the heart, the beating of this mysterious world we live.  I fall in love once more with life, its joys, and hold in a silent container, its sufferings. 

 Let us fall in love again
and scatter gold dust all over the world
Let us become a new spring
and feel the breeze drift in the heavens’ scent.
Let us dress the earth in green,
and like the sap of a young tree
let the grace from within sustain us.
Let us carve gems out of our stony hearts
and let them light our path to Love.
The glance of Love is crystal clear
and we are blessed by its light.

 Why are you so afraid of silence,
silence is the root of everything.
If you spiral into its void
a hundred voices will thunder messages
you long to hear
Rumi “Hidden Music”

Nature

Hidden Music plays when one’s presence is honored, when nature is cherished and suffering is held with love and understanding.  Where each one of us has their song to sing.

*puresilence.org

Love What You Have

 
Picture of a red rose

“There are no ordinary moments.”  I read these words on Elena Abrams’ blog, a photographer, mother and artist who captures the moments of this one precious life through digital images

I was inspired by this quote and never before have these words rung more true for me.  I spent the first 35 years of my life rushing through most of life’s moments, days, years running away from the here and now (Pisces have escape tendencies!) until I became a stay at home mom.  Time stood still and shifted into a natural rhythm of purpose and presence.  Motherhood stilled my heart.  Nothing was the same for me, nor felt more right.  Nothing held the same level of importance than the raising of two promising and beautiful human beings.  I was home in mind, body and spirit.

I entered a nurturing world, grounded in the day-to-day, where there are no ordinary moments.  And whenever I lose sight of this fact and I know my life continues after my children, I cut basil from my garden (that reminds me of my mother and my grandmother), I take a picture of the white egret standing stoic in the wild grass, I listen intently to the barn owl hooting outside my window, I rest easy to the sound of my son’s breathing moving easily through the November night air.  I read a favorite poem.  I call my girlfriend.  I look outside and take in the rising sun, the midnight moon, the redwood trees, the red rose.  I take in the here and now and love what I have.

“Never bear more than one trouble at a time.  Some people bear three kinds: All the trouble they had, all they have now, and all they expect to have.” — Edward Everett Hale

Rewards of the Harvest

We are what we create and I have proof of this on my 2011 desk calendar–an oil painting called Rewards of the Harvest, symbolizing gratitude, abundance and Thanksgiving. 

Rewards of the Harvest was originally mouthpainted by Mark Sotak, an artist, who paints only with his mouth.  It is clear to me, that Sotak is not his disability, he is, however the beauty he created on the white canvas and the perseverance, hope, productivity and love he manifested in his work. 

Mark Sotak painting in his studio below.

The painting (which I wish I could show you) is of a table centerpiece with bright orange pumpkins and persimmons, deep green gourds and clusters of purple grapes, a candle lit lamp glowing over the fruit, a brown basket with red apples in it and lavender flowers placed in a painted sunflower pot.  It represents the abundance of a good harvest. 

We are not painters, but we are small time wine makers of Nicolas Alexander wine and we had our own harvest yesterday.  We not only gathered over a ton of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes which will produce over 46 cases of Nicolas Alexander 2011 Meritage wine, but we did so with the help of close family and good friends gathering together to celebrate in the organic ritual of grape turning to wine, under the warm Sonoma sun

The day was made up of four hours of hard labor (picking grapes), two hours of separating the stems from the grapes, and just minutes to pour the pulp, juice and peel into big white sanitized bins for a few weeks of fermentation.  By midday, we indulged in delicious homemade delicacies ala Dano (my husband) and tasty varietal wines from the Sonoma wine country region.  

In Italy, the Italians describe a day such as yesterday, with one word, Abbondanza!  It was a full, beautiful, and fruitful day made up of long talks with friends I hadn’t seen in years, with family I hadn’t seen in months but always with abundant laughter and kindness pouring from their hearts. 

Robert Louis Stevenson said, Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.” 

This weekend, we celebrated not only an abundant harvest, but reaped from the seeds we planted over the many years of our lives. 

We are what we create and I have to remind myself of this truth each and every day.

 

Country Roads Take Me Home

Vineyards in Napa Valley

I ride through the back country roads of the Sonoma wine country, rich in history, song and nature to admire the homes (a restored Victorian especially), living amongst the old Oaks. 

Along the way, I marvel at the rural rustic barns holding up against the hot sun and the deep blue sky with all their might.   

This bike path, in particular remains a favorite of mine on Burndale Road.  A favorite, not only for the scenic sites, but for the strong emotions these historical and natural views conjure up inside my being.  My father once said to me, “How fortunate you are to live in thick of Nature.” How true are his words.

These back country roads take me home, literally, figuratively and spiritually.  I ride for meditative purposes, where the stilled rhythmic movement, riding cyclically into the quiet workings of nature, brings me front and center to what really matters in life: simple joys, which the world at large seems to easily look over.  And these simple joys couldn’t be better conveyed in the song my sister shared with me recently from the play, Pippin.

“Simple Joys”

Sweet summer evenings, hot wine and bread
Sharing your supper, sharing your bed
Simple joys have a simple voice
It says, “Why not go ahead?”
And wouldn’t you rather be a left-handed flea
Or a crab on a slab at the bottom of the sea
Than a man who never learns how to be free
Not ’til he’s cold and dead

Well, I’ll sing you a story of a sorrowful lad
Had everything he wanted, didn’t want what he had
He had wealth and pelf and fame and name and all of that noise
But he didn’t have none of those simple joys
His life seemed purposeless and flat
Aren’t you glad you don’t feel like that?

So he ran from all the deeds he’d done, he ran from things he’d just begun
He ran from himself, which was mighty far to run
Out into the country where he’d played as a boy
‘Cause he knew he had to find him some simple joy
He wanted someplace warm and green
We all could use a change of scene

Sweet summer evenings, so full of sound
Gaining a lover, gaining a pound
Simple joys have a simple voice
It says, “Take a look around”
And wouldn’t you rather be a left-handed flea
Or a crab on a slab at the bottom of the sea
Or a newt on the root of a banyan tree
Than a man who never learns how to be free
Not ’til he’s underground

Sweet summer evenings, sapphire skies
Feasting your belly, feasting your eyes
Simple joys have a simple voice
It says, “Time is living’s prize”
And wouldn’t you rather be a left-handed flea
Or a crab on a slab at the bottom of the sea
Or a newt on the root of a banyan tree
Or a fig on a twig in Galilee
Than a man who never learns how to be free
Not ’til the day he, not ’til the day he
Not ’til the day, not ’til the day he
Dies!

So, with that song in my head, and knowing time is life’s living prize, I ride from my home on Lovall Valley Road, down 7th Street East, towards Denmark Street.  There, I look out over the rows of vineyard and soak in the region’s unique beauty; Turning left and towards Gundlach Bundschuh winery, I think of its rich history and vast production of full bodied wines; knowing this. 

In 1858, Jacob Bundschu purchased 400 acres in Sonoma and christened it Rhinefarm.  He went back to Bavaria, married his childhood sweetheart and spent their honeymoon traveling through France and Germany purchasing the rootstock he would be planting here in Sonoma.  The wines, made to perfection over those many years, are a delight to the palate.   I especially love their 2009 Tempranillo.  Anyway, I digress, but what a love story of finding Gundlach’s woman and wine.

As I carry with me, the song of simple joys, Gundlach’s history, with its blood, sweat and tears labored in those wine country hills, I ride further across Napa Road to Burndale, taking a quick right on Hyde Burndale Road for a mile or so, where scattered homes hide alongside the bumpy, rocky road. 

I take a deep breath to muster the stamina to ride up Burndale, a killer hill (there’s a reason they call it BURNdale), panting and praying for the burn to end.  I make my way, very slowly back to Denmark and then, home when another song comes to mind. 

Country Roads by John Denver.  He once sang, (and my mother would sing in her own lyrical, funny sort of way) to my brother, sister and I, Country roads take me home, to the place I belong.”  These country roads in the wine country take me home, back to simple joys, simple living, where I can hear my simple voice, loud and clear, amongst the noise and confusion.

Finding the Strength

Life has its hard knocks and when it knocks we feel the pain deeply, whether it be the death of a family member or friend, the loss of a job, the loss of self, it hurts.  

But life has a softer touch, a gentle rhythmic tapping sound on the shoulder, in the ear, the heart–a tap, tap, tapping reminder of time going by. 

As I approach 50, I feel the tick-tocking of time more acutely.  I watch my friends grow older, my favorite icons or mentors die, my parents ripen to a rich old age (for which I am grateful), and my own children move into adulthood!  This life, with its starts and finishes, hellos and goodbyes, joys and sorrows, ups and downs, the good and uglies all move to the dance of time.  And what a dance it is. 

I am thrilled to be alive, and soak in each day like a sponge–the sun as it rises, the grapes as they turn, my family as it grows and contributes to life itself.  Still, there are times, when bad news comes in for me or a loved one, when we need strength, courage, or a great sense of humor to make sense of it all. 

As an adult, I derive strength from my well of family, friends, country surroundings, pets, stories, poetry, exercise, past experiences and of course, from our Nicolas Alexander 2007 vintage. (One must have wine!)

Growing up, I found strength in my childhood home, where my parents provided security, and stability, a roof over my head, food on the table, land to run free and love to dive into each and every day. 

I grew strong in mind, body and spirit on my mother‘s muscle soup.  I don’t remember a pain, a trouble, a care in the world that wasn’t cured by my mother’s muscle soup.  It was the end all, be all, for life’s trials and tribulations. 

With my father, it was curiosity and lively debate at the dinner table that fed our souls. 

With my mother, what mattered most to her (besides her independence) was food, cooking and attending to our basic needs: food, security and love. 

Here in the wine country, M.F.K. Fisher, who lived her life in Glen Ellen, CA. wrote this in The Art of Eating.

“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”

I know what my mother and Fisher meant when they talked and lived by these words.   It was just last week, the rain was coming down and all I wanted to do was make a pot of my mother’s muscle soup.  As I put the ingredients into the pot, stirred the olive oil, minced garlic, fresh basil leaves, soaked lentils, chopped green peppers, and a little tomato sauce, these delicious smells filled my kitchen.  I felt whole, happy, alive.

I was one with the world.

Nature’s Song

Acorn Woodpecker
Image via Wikipedia

The day is beautiful.  The sun warms on high.  The sky is blue, the air cool and crisp, and the birds are out in large number frolicking and finding food for the day. 

Here in this region, I am greeted by the American Red Robin and Goldfinch, the Western Scrub-Jay, the Chipping Sparrow, the Acorn Woodpecker (who seems to love pecking on our metal chimney top), the Cedar Waxwing, and Anna’s Hummingbird

These birds are poetry in motion.  And I love watching my backyard birds jump from limb to limb, hop from place to place, singing nature’s lullaby as I lie in our Panamanian blue hammock.  I marvel at the hummingbird who feed so close to my redwood deck, I can see his wings flutter a million times over.  It’s truly a backyard vacation for me.  As I watch, wide-eyed at Nature‘s feathered friends, I look for poems to express the childlike wonder I carry inside through my maturing years. 

Backyard Vacation by Wendy G. Black

I sit here and gaze at God‘s blue sky
With white puffy clouds drifting by
And the vibrant green of grass and trees
And the flowers all bowing in the breeze

Then I look out across the peaceful pond
At the woods and the pasture just beyond.
And closer in, flying into view
The finch, the cardinal, and the bluebird, too.

In the redwood swing, I lean back and then
Enjoy the melody of the wren.

The whir of the hummingbird darting by
The sight of the buzzard, floating high.
The robin defending its hidden nest
By chasing away the cowbird pest.

I sit out here and swing along
As I listen with joy to God’s nature song.

And as I listen to each trill and peep,
I close my eyes and fall asleep.

 Do you know a song more rapturous and intoxicating than Nature’s Song?

Autumn Deepens My Acceptance

Vineyard in Napa Valley
Image via Wikipedia

As the Autumn leaves turn color and fall gracefully to the ground, I surrender to nature’s call to let go of what no longer serves me and allow new moments to take shape, deepening my acceptance of life and soaking in the beauty of the here and now. 

With the rain, I feel Fall’s rhythm take hold.  She moves in, moves out, moves through me, emptying my soul and mind of attachments and illusions–what life should be rather than deeply understanding life’s perfection as she is. 

Like Fall, I am dropping my leaves, becoming barren as I clear each room of possessions I no longer need.  Slowly, I am moving back in with precious things–just a number of books, plants, photos, candles, my dog Jeb, my cats, Sosa, Amber and Max. 

I think of Judith A. Lawrence’s poem, and like her, I resonate with Fall.

I shall be Autumn
this Halloween,
with leaf draped skirt,
and folds of
boysenberry velvet wine
flowing to the ground.

Brown stained face,
eyes rimmed in gold,
nails dripping sunset,
a crown of twigs
to cover my head.

You may gather from me
the spring of my youth,
my summer of maturity,
and hold onto with me,
the solace of these days
of remembering
before the frost.

What is it about Autumn that makes you accept life on her terms?

Romancing the Vine

Cover of "Chocolat (Miramax Collector's S...
Cover of Chocolat (Miramax Collector's Series)

I am a romantic at heart and hold an ardent attachment and involvement between people and living things.  My heart beats for the ideal, the impossible, the power of imagination. 

When I think of my favorite novels, Gone With the Wind, Out of Africa, Chocolat, romance and hope are at the root of these love stories: the love for land, for growth, for money, for people, for acceptance, for chocolate, for one another. 

Ambrose Bierce, an American writer, wroteRomance is the fiction that owes no allegiance to the God of things as they are.  In the novel the writer’s thought is tethered to probability, but in romance it ranges at will over the entire region of the imagination.”

‘Romance’ in the dictionary means: A mysterious or fascinating quality or appeal, as of something adventurous, heroic, or strangely beautiful. 

Here, in the wine country, adventure and strangely beautiful happenings take place every day.  The unruly vines in our lush vineyards and garden take a life of their own; the grapes and the pumpkins make for a breathtaking display of purple and orange, clustered in traditions of pleasure and promise. 

With the turning of the grapes, romantic notions of winemaking, tasting, toasting and smiles come to mind; My pumpkins conjure up images of natural happiness, Willa Cather, the falling of Autumn leaves, the time for thanksgiving.  They remind me of my mother in the garden and her love for earthly things, of my mother’s dream to visit here with me for three weeks.  She fulfilled that dream through love and perseverance. 

 

I would rather die the hopeless romantic with childlike awe, than the serious fool who doesn’t dare to dream.

Tending to Your Vital Heart

Scan of 85 AFS stamp from Afghanistan honoring...
Image via Wikipedia

It was Rumi, the Sufi poet of the heart who said, “Let the beauty of what you love, be what you do.”  Given that I am blazing a new pathway for myself as writer, gardener, and winemaker, Rumi’s words serve as my compass.  “Tend to your vital heart, and all your worry will be dissolved.” 

Rumi’s words have a moving, musical quality that lull me into the sweetest songs of love, truth, and knowing–where the heart is to be confided in first, and the head is heard, a far second.

Rumi says, “You are a song, a wish-filled song.  Move to the center, towards the sky and wind, towards silent knowing.” 

Silent knowing is love.  When I tend to my writings, non-profit service, family and friends, wines, and garden with true intention, presence of mind and time, I let the beauty of what I love, be what I do.  What I wouldn’t do to put that on my resume!  

I wish Rumi’s wisdom and poetry were taught in school.  Would we not be a more peaceful and loving society?  Who is teaching us, young and old to tend to the heart, the vital heart, the language of love. 

My heart, this vital organ and soul container beats for me until it doesn’t any more.  It deserves honesty.

Thinking the Hard Things Out

I can’t seem to get out of the garden.  It’s the only meditative, quiet, fertile place I care to be in at the moment.  I don’t really understand what is happening to me.  This is not like me.  I am changing, perhaps returning to my true Self, wanting very different things in life than before. 

I live in the question of “what is happening to me?” and don’t rush the answer.  The soul doesn’t work that way.  It works slowly but surely, not to be rushed, but heard. 

I remember my mother’s wise words, “Life will tell you.” 

Hence, life is speaking to me through the garden, through the blooms, and blossoms, color and decay.  I water, plant, prune away at the live and dead flowers, realizing I need to water, nurture, and tend once more to my inner life.  A voice inside whispers, stop, take heed.  Stop doing, stop, even if there is much to get done.  Stop and listen to the music playing inside your heart.  Write.

Writers, they listen, observe, play, record what is around them and what is inside them.  They stop to ponder what lies beneath.  They take in the moments, and hear grace in the silence.  They block out the world that drives madly to break in.

I sit at my desk and listen.  I open a book by the late May Sarton, a New England poet and novelist, called May Sarton’s Well.  I open it gladly and read her writings.  She says, “It is worth everything to me to feel the morning opening gently, not to be hurried, not to push myself from one kind of response to another at top speed.” 

I am called back to the garden, the grapes, the need to slow down and transform.  I need to work within the rythyms of nature, not man, or I should say, my own doing.

I get caught up in the appointments, endless errands, and to-dos, the emergent e-mails, the text messages, the noise, what I call the time fillers, wasters, killers.  I made a decision to stop.  I put an end to e-mails going to my phone and I have blocked out the mornings to write, walk and garden.  Instead of the loud distractions, I hear the vibrational waves to go inward, sit in solitude and create.  The garden gives me this.  So too, the blank page.  Only I can create this space, no one else.

I continue reading May Sarton’s words, “My hope that I would have a whole series of empty days, days without interruption, days in which to think and laze, (for creation depends much on laziness as hard work) was, of course impossible.”  I suppose this too is my impossible hope.  A hope to write for a few hours every day without interruption, with vigor, discipline and inspiration as key ingredients to creating a body of work. 

I liked spending time with May Sarton today.  I miss her when she would write about her life in New England, her garden, her long walks in the woods, her times with her cat and dog, her bouts of depression during the harsh winters and aliveness thru the promising spring.  I miss her.   I miss the women in my life who introduced me to Sarton, my sister, and who shared in Sarton’s journals, my mother.  I miss them.

Sarton writes, “What kept me going was, I think, that writing for me is a way of understanding what is happening to me, of thinking hard things out.  I have never written a book that was not born out of a question I needed to answer for myself.  Perhaps it is the need to remake order out of chaos over and over again.  For art is order, but it is made out of the chaos of life.”

I don’t know what is happening to me, perhaps I am thinking the hard things out, but it feels good, right, on center.  I am letting go of what no longer serves me and plant dreaming deep something larger in its place.

The Time to Heal

I spent the weekend planting Dahlias, Celosias, and Heather in my garden boxes and baskets.  I devoted hours tending to the vineyards, craving nature’s quiet touch and wise ways more than ever before. 

After spending four days in the Oakland Children’s hospital, putting a close end to my son’s esophageal disorder, and witnessing (and hearing at night) the howling and suffering of ill children, I needed the sun and soil for solitary nourishment. 

As I walked the rows of vineyards, I could see the grapes were late in turning a plump purple.  The cool summer weather delayed their natural inclination to ripen, to turn to wine.  They needed space.  They needed more sun.  They needed time.  I cleared the crowded leaves, sheltering the grapes from the sun, and admired the robust clusters of green with hints of shaded purple.  I remember Galileo’s quote:  “The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.” 

After watching my son struggle to eat for the past four months, I needed what the grapes needed. Sun. Time. Health.  Healing.  If there is one thing the hospital environment openly teaches and the doctors and nurses tirelessly demonstrate is that health is king.  Wholeness demands an imperative return to the basics:  Proper treatment, balance and order, adequate sleep, good nutrition, substantial rest, moderate exercise, and time to heal.  Time.

With the financial turmoil taking place throughout the world and this persistent political in-fighting disease growing in our very own  country, perhaps this is what America needs–a return to the basics, a call for the simple, healthy living, and time, the time to heal. 

Words Fall Short

I wake to the Morning Glories, blue in mood, heads down, slowly opening to honor those who suffer in Norway.  

I wake to the Roses lamenting, their soft velvety pedals falling to the garden floor, paying homage to those who have died there.  

I take to the Redwood trees standing stoic in silence, their branches praying in the breeze.  

Flowers remind me of a gentle thing, man can not fight.

Nature’s gentle ways ground me, as words fall short today on this easeful Sunday in Sonoma, knowing that is not the case for many in Norway, for many in this world. 

Words fall short.

The Making of a Home

My mother and father were masters at making a house a home.  No green grass grew under their fast and furious feet to ensure a full, fun, free existence for my brother, sister and I.  Childhood memories flood my mind, fill my heart as I place greater attention and care on the making of our house, a home here in the wine country.  

After living in our homestead for 13 years, a makeover was clearly in order.  There was something in particular, in character that I wanted to create for our home, but I didn’t know exactly what it was at the time: warm, yes; inviting–of course, but I wanted something more.  Slow but sure, we were bringing, this well-worn, good and tired home back to life, back to its core purpose. 

The paint looked old, chipped, faint to the eye.  For a year, Dan and I have been painting each room of the house (not without the muttering of profane words under our breath) to bring rich color and newness to our walls.  For the kitchen and downstairs bathroom, we chose a sage green color.  The t.v. room displays a delicious brown bag color.  For our foyer, we went with a deep port red and brown bag accent.  For our dinning room, a whimsy beige. 

Upstairs, I converted our loft into a Santa Fe styled setting with adobe clay textured paint.  We painted our master bedroom a soft yellow to go with our cherry wood furniture.  My son’s room is a Labrador Blue and brown.  Would you believe, I painted the white gutters above our garage as they showed rust and dirt for everyone to see?  I had to get rid of that!  What would people say?  And I couldn’t look at the brown on white stains one more day.

The long project list continues: staining the deck a redwood tint; going through belongings we have grown out of, whether it be physically, mentally, or spiritually: clothes, toys, books, etc . I know these possessions would best serve another family, another household than ours now. 

I realized, after all this painting and discarding that what makes a house a home for me is the peace and understanding that dwells inside it.  I always dreamed of living in a home, like I have now–sunny and soulful, but my real dream house had to breathe peacefully inside these four walls to be called home. 

I smile, facing the good, bad and ugly of this life and know that I can find solace and serenity in this corner spot of Sonoma we created with family, friends, pets, the garden all here to bring peace and life to each day.

“He is the happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.” –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (German Playwright, Poet and Novelist)

 

Bloom Where You’re Planted

I drove up and down Highway 12 yesterday from Sonoma to Santa Rosa in the early morning of the day.  As the hot sun blazed over miles and miles of green lush vineyard, I set my eyes on this exquisite region that is the wine country. 

I traveled by a number of architectural beauties, historic wineries, ones I have visited in the past, yet marveled once more at their stunning settings.  There was the mission styled St. Francis Winery with its majestic mountain backdrop and breathtaking views of vineyards; The windswept Kunde Estate combining a sense of elegance with a real sense of place inside 1850 acres of rich farm land; and Ledson’s must-see French Normandy Castle with its cathedral windows, sweeping staircases, marbled fireplaces, and coffered ceilings.

I thought to myself, I live in the wine country that is visited by millions of people from around the world each year.  Sonoma becomes their premier choice to vacation, to indulge their senses in varietal wine and culinary delights, to feed and restore their souls in nature.  This is my country, but do I really appreciate its rich offerings? 

I came across a relevant quote by French novelist, Marcel Proust, who wrote, “When I went to Venice, I found that my dream had become incredibly, but quite simply — my address.”

I, like Proust could easily call Venice, my home, my address (I love that city!), but I can also, quite simply call Sonoma, my dream, my home, my address. 

It is here, that I walk through the back country roads, cook up homemade Italian– Argentine recipes, garden long amongst the flowers, drink the nectar of the Gods–our own wine, write dutifully onto the page the details of my daily existence, to savor and taste the finer things that this lush life has to offer.

 

The Sacred Gateway

Yesterday I walked the wild, wild world of Jack London with my two young boys.  We entered the sacred gateway of adventure where nature calls, story speaks and London inspires. 

Warnings of rattlesnakes and mountain lions kept us on wide-eyed alert while the Woodpeckers knocked and the Blue Jays squawked above our heads. 

We hiked the trail to the Wolf House ruins and stood in front of London’s moss-covered grave and paid homage.  Why were we there?  What was I searching for as I traversed London’s path where he lived, worked and wrote over 100 years ago?  In being still, silent, alert, alive, I felt his presence.  I understood deeply his turbulent spirit and real need, with his great physical stamina and intense intellect to create each and every day.

London wasted no time, not a drop of it and accomplished in his short life span more than most men could do in several lifetimes.  He slept no more than 4-5 hours a night and wrote 1000 words a day to become one of the most prolific American writers to this day. 

I sat in the silence amongst the old Oaks and wispy Eucalyptus trees and recalled Jack London’s credo:  “I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not exist.  I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them, I shall use my time.”

This is the sacred gateway, where I wake each day and go inward to a sacred place inside myself, where I can create again, and again and again. 

A Day of Rest

My writer’s pilgrimage to Jack London’s home has been postponed due to heavy rains this weekend.  I am confident, however, I will visit his writing sanctuary mid-week, hike the trails, rest at the ruins of Wolf House and write about my personal experiences and insights there. 

I had to let go of my plans today, which made me think of Woody Allen’s quote: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”  How true. 

So, today has turned into a day of needed rest after participating fully in my son’s 8th grade graduation activities and ceremonies.  As Nicolas walked gracefully down the auditorium aisle, to the podium to receive his hard-earned diploma, acute memories flooded my mind of our 14 years together.  Tears fell gingerly, honoring this life.

Then…the realization hit–knowing too well, how fleeting the next and last four years of our lives together will be.  Up surfaces this Buddhist teaching, “Accept what is so.”  And so I do with a happy and heavy heart. 

Feeling reflective, I look to the cloudy, dreary sky, and wonder what to do next.  I think of what Jack London once said about writing, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” 

I will spend the rest of my afternoon, writing with a mighty club in hand. 

Just a Soul in Sonoma

2016 was a year of unpredictability and crushing loss. My father lost his battle to Alzheimer’s on September 30th at 1:10 p.m. And America lost its civility as I witnessed one of the most contentious elections in our country’s history.

I looked for stability and sanity at the wake of my father’s death. For nearly five years, I watched him decline, his brilliant mind fade-out, his body cave-in until he died. I was relieved. I was sorrow-stricken. My life was up-ended.

Exhaustion won over. For too long, we were managing his care–daily roller coaster rides filled with pain and suffering, zombie meds to manage, and bed sores to look out for. Was he losing weight? Is he alert? Does he have any quality of life left?

Our inability to help him speak rendered us speechless when perhaps all he wanted to say was “I love you,” one more time. Soon the swallowing of food proved difficult. He was confined to a wheel chair. He was trapped. So were we.

No one should endure this cruel end of life phase, no one. For me, the burden of guilt was too much to bear. Why couldn’t I have ended his pain sooner? Why did I let him rot in a nursing home? Why wasn’t he back at home with his family when he died? What happened to his right to die with dignity? What happened?

On that fateful morning, I was driving from Sonoma to L.A. to visit my father when I got the call from hospice that he was a few hours away from taking his last breath. “Would I make it in time?” They asked. I was 100 miles from the nursing home, stuck in terrible traffic, sitting with a paralyzing fear that I would miss saying good-bye to my father. My greatest fear was realized.

I wasn’t there for him when he took his last breath. I wasn’t there. I failed him, like I had failed him so many times before. This is how I saw it anyway. I wasn’t there.

When I arrived, I lowered my head in shame and sadness as I walked in to the small, sterile room. All I could do was hold his already cold lifeless hand. At least my mother made it in time. She showed up. Not me. I fell short once again. I wasn’t there.

I now understand what it means to be invisible. My father was my constant tried-and -true validater. He saw me. Never gave up on me. He was a beautiful, giving, and kind man who strived to be perfect and liked everything perfect. He had high expectations for his children. Expectations that were hard to live up to. Yet, he loved us unconditionally. He was my inspiration who never stopped believing in me. So now what? Where do I go from here?

This will be my first Christmas without him. His passing left me groundless, breathless, confused, and scared. But very few know this. I just kept going. Pretending. Moving. Go. go. go. Keep talking up a good game. Work. Write. Create. Pretend.

I am now learning how “to be” for the first time in my life. I am just an ordinary soul in Sonoma after all. One soul out of 7 billion. I don’t need to stand out. Be something I’m not. Be Somebody as they say. This thought is comforting. A little voice whispers: just be, begin again, breathe, take little baby steps to slowly transform your life.

So, I take a walk. There’s a heron standing stoic at the creek as the rain falls gently on my face, God’s hints that I have everything I need today. I have nature to comfort me. Being is enough. I am enough. It’s time to let him go, show up for myself and be free.

Twenty Fourteen

A beautiful magazine theme

wine country diaries

writings on the simple life

Katrina Kenison

celebrating the gift of an ordinary day

Hoarded Ordinaries

Mundane musings from a collector of the quotidian