More Nature in the New Year

Rather than making New Year’s resolutions, some people dedicate the new year to a well-chosen word to be infused into each day of the next twelve months. The goal is to focus on a word that would improve all areas of life. My word for the upcoming year, perhaps not surprisingly, is nature.

Most of us could benefit from more nature in our lives. The term “nature deficit disorder” was coined by Richard Louv in his book, Last Child in the Woods. Although not a formal diagnosis, it describes the physiological, physical and cognitive costs of human alienation from nature. Research continues to support the positive impact nature has upon our mental and physical health.

Here are ten ways to start 2019 with a closer connection to nature ~

  1. Get outside. Drink your morning coffee on the porch.  Leave the closest parking space for someone who really needs it. Go for daily walks or take up an outdoor sport.
  2. Bring nature indoors. Keep fresh flowers on your desk. Set a pinecone or feather on the mantle. Open the curtains and crack a window for some fresh air and the sweet sounds of nature.
  3. Learn about nature. Do a little research about your natural environment. What kind of bird is that? Is the moon waxing or waning? What species of trees grow in your yard or neighborhood?
  4. Protect nature. Recycling is important, but reducing and reusing is even better. Be aware of little choices. Order ice cream in a cone, and you’ve eliminated one paper bowl and a plastic spoon.
  5. Feed the birds. Discover the fun of attracting birds by providing fresh water and feeding them. You and your feathered friends will be glad you did. Read my post The Joy of Feeding the Birds at
  6. Take an outdoor field trip. Especially during winter, a day trip to the zoo, botanical garden, or state park can feel like a rejuvenating mini-vacation for the mind, body and soul.
  7. Read a nature-themed book. A few old favorites include A Gift from the SeaA Sand County Almanac, The Secret Garden, Walden and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. On sunny winter days, I like to drive to a pretty spot and read in my car.
  8. Use natural products. Toxic ingredients lurk in most household cleaning and personal care products. Try cleaning with pure, inexpensive products like vinegar and baking soda. To learn about clean and safe skin care and makeup, visit my gorgeous friend’s website at
  9. Grow something. A beautiful orchid or paper white narcissus will fill your home with cheer. Tend a few potted herbs placed near a sun-filled window. Start planning your backyard garden and dream of spring blossoms and summer harvest.
  10. Eat plant-based foods. A sure way to feel more connected to nature is eating foods in their natural state, straight from the ground with no packaging or preservatives. If you stumble upon a doughnut tree, please let me know.

Winter Solstice Inspires Us to Shine

Growing weary of the dark days? Take heart. The Winter Solstice arrives this week and, for good measure, will coincide with the glow of a full moon. Nature remembers what we sometimes forget. Darkness is always ousted by the light.

This return to light isn’t just a positive affirmation, wishful thinking, or snappy campaign promise. It’s indisputable, mind-blowing scientific fact. In the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day of 2018 comes on December 21. That’s when the sun will be at its lowest point in the sky.

Solstice, in Latin, means to stand still. At the Winter Solstice, the sun reaches the latitude called the Tropic of Capricorn. The southward movement of the sun seems to stop before it reverses direction and begins its path northward bringing longer, lighter days.

The Winter Solstice also marks the beginning of our astronomical winter. (As opposed to the meteorological winter which began December 1.) Some may bemoan the upcoming season, but we can choose to find peace in the quiet beauty of winter knowing that spring is on its way.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, this year the Full Cold Moon will reach its peak during the Winter Solstice. That might mean more when you realize the next full moon to peak during the Winter Solstice isn’t until 2094! I don’t know about you, but I think we could all use that extra dose of beauty and light about right now.

Are the world’s troubles troubling you? Perhaps a loved one is going through a difficult time. Maybe you are experiencing a dark time in your own life. The Winter Solstice can signify a turning point, a time to release the darkness in favor of the light and positive energy.

Nature is urging us to see the light and be the light. So put another log on the fire, burn the candles, and string up those holiday lights. Bask in the promise of the stars shining in the night sky and the one atop the tree. Fill yourself with warm, twinkly light so you can go out and shine.

We already know how, but here are five things I’m working on ~ smile, say nice things, don’t complain, be grateful, and lighten up. In the words of John Lennon, “Yeah, we all shine on, like the moon, and the stars, and the sun.”





The Elegance of an Amaryllis

When my children were quite young, they became unexpectedly fascinated by the big red flowers that bloomed in pots in their grandparents’ home in Wisconsin at Christmastime.  Grandpa Bob, a crusty farmer and Marine, patiently explained how he forced the amaryllis bulbs to bloom for exquisite holiday decorations. 

The next year, and for many years after, my children and their grandfather participated in a holiday tradition known as the great amaryllis race. Shortly after Thanksgiving, they each opened a box containing a pre-planted amaryllis bulb, and the race was on!

I watched my children stare at their pots of dirt whispering magic words, wishes, and prayers urging the bulbs to sprout. Within a week or so, green pointy stems nudged out of the dirt, thrilling them to no end.

They carefully watered their plant, moved it to the perfect light, turned the pot to encourage the stalk to grow straight, and expertly used the thin stake to keep it from falling over. Day by day, centimeter by centimeter, they watched their plants grow.

Throughout December, my children regularly called their grandparents from Florida with the amaryllis report. “Grandpa,” my son excitedly said into the telephone, “mine is the tallest!” Holding a ruler, his older sister added, “Only by half an inch.”

Eventually the slender green stems reached more than a foot. By Christmas day, the buds at the top magically unfurled revealing two, three, or even more separate flowers that burst opened into the most elegant five-inch wide, scarlet blooms.

Whose amaryllis grew the fastest, biggest, or with the most flowers became secondary to the miracle of watching a pot of dirt transform into something so beautiful. The kids always felt so sorry for Grandpa Bob. For some reason, he never won the contest.

There’s no greater joy than seeing children excited about something so pure and wonderful. At a time of year when kids can become materialistic and self-centered, the great amaryllis race taught my children important values including patience, care, faith, and hope.

The metaphors are too plentiful to do them justice, but aren’t we all a little like that amaryllis bulb, so full of amazing potential? We must root ourselves in good soil, provide optimum growing conditions, prop ourselves up when we start to fall, and patiently wait until we fully bloom into the elegant creation we were all meant to be.

Nature’s Cure for the Holi-daze

The most wonderful time of the year can quickly turn into a frenzy of shopping, decorating, hosting, toasting, and to-do lists as long as the lines at the stores. Even though my tiny tots are grown and I’m no longer teaching excited middle-schoolers, I still have to be careful I don’t spin into holly jolly overdrive, turning the holidays into a holi-daze.

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order,” wrote John Burroughs, a late 19th century essayist. Our senses are the miraculous way we process the world, but too much merry-making can cause sensory-overload. A mindful walk outdoors provides a cleansing reset to help us experience the simple beauty and true meaning of the season. 

Bundle up and take a senses-soothing stroll with me where all is calm, all is bright. 

Look ~ With the abundance of twinkling lights and plastic decorations, it’s easy to lose sight of the winter wonderland around us. Notice the elongated shadows, the haloed clouds, the bare trees standing like sculptures. Do you see what I see?

Listen ~ Be still and pay attention to the sound of the wind rattling the last of the copper leaves, birds in the distance, a squirrel’s silly chatter. Listen very closely and you may even hear a song high above the trees with a voice as big as the sea.

Smell ~ Does the air smell earthy and fresh? Lean into an evergreen tree and inhale its aroma. Rub its foliage between your fingers to release the fragrance. It’s even better than a holiday-scented candle. 

Taste – Elves may like to stick to the four main food groups of candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup, but all those holiday treats can lead to a month-long food coma. Take a long walk and give your taste buds a break. Catch a few snowflakes on your tongue, but whatever you do, don’t lick a frozen flag pole!

Touch – The stagnant, indoor heat can make us sluggish and lethargic. Go outside to feel the chilly air on your cheeks and the ground below your feet. Pick up a pinecone, a spiky gumball, or an acorn and feel its shape and texture. Though the sense of touch refers to physical sensations, give some thought to how you’d really like to feel (and how you’d like to make others feel) this holiday season.

It’s ironic we often turn the anticipation of a silent, holy night into a time of stress and consumerism. A reflective walk in nature can calm our senses and help us more consciously celebrate this peaceful season when all of heaven and nature sing!