The Lady & the Bird

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The sun had just risen on a cold, crystal clear morning. My mates and I stopped for breakfast at one of our favorite spots serving a smorgasbord of thistle, suet, mealworms, peanut butter and, my personal favorite, black oil sunflower seeds.

After a posh breakfast, I was ready to warm up in the sunshine. I made a flourished circle around the feeders. Good day, chaps!

I spread my bright red wings and felt the wind at my back. What a brilliant morning! Not a cloud in the… WHAM! I hit the glass door hard. Lying on the ground, I saw my impeccably groomed feathers slowly flutter to the ground around me.

Bullocks. So this is how it ends. Bloody windows. Goodbye mates. Goodbye blue sky. Goodbye…wait a minute. I’m still alive! 

I tried to move but couldn’t. My heart was beating fast. I couldn’t catch my breath, and I was freezing. My thoughts turned to the red-shouldered hawk we’d seen hanging around lately. And just yesterday, there were two red foxes in this very yard. I was a sitting duck, so to speak.

The lady came out of the house wrapped in a blanket. “Oh no,” she said. “You poor thing.” She knelt down to get a good look at me. I slowly blinked my eyes to let her know I wasn’t completely snookered just yet. She hurried back inside and watched me through the blasted window.

Suddenly, I felt myself rising into the air. Blimey! What’s happening here? This is highly unusual. I’m going up to heaven. Yep, that’s what’s happening. Goodbye beautiful world!

The next thing I knew I was lying on a soft blanket in a box inside a warm house. I couldn’t have fought it if I wanted to. The lady sat next to me on the floor. “You’re going to be fine. Just warm up and rest,” she said.

I heard her on the phone with her husband, the nice bloke who keeps our feeders filled. “But it’s really cold out,” she said emphatically. “Yes, it would be very silly to bring him in the house,” she said in agreement.

For the next hour or so she stayed with me. It was an odd scene. Me, a wild cardinal, in the kitchen of a woman who chatted as if she’d invited me over for tea. After a proper nap, I was starting to feel like my old self. My breathing returned to normal, and I could wiggle my feet. Looking directly in the lady’s eyes, I cocked my head in my trademark adorable manner.

“Well, look at you!” she said. “You sure are handsome,” commenting on my impressive scarlet crest, ink black markings and mesmerizing eyes. I puffed out my formidable chest and moved my wings a bit.

She gently lifted me, box and all, and set me outside on the porch. “Well Sir, let’s see if you’re ready to fly,” she said. I gently tested my wings.

I was gobsmacked! They work! My wings work! I’m going to live! Well, this day wasn’t  complete rubbish after all. 

I settled back on the soft blanket for a few seconds and looked at the lady.

Cheers, my lady! I’ll be seeing you.

With a tear in her eye, she said goodbye. I flew out of the box and showed off a bit by doing a fancy loop. I perched on the porch railing and looked at her. If I’d had a hat, I would have tipped it.

With a wink and a nod, I asked a cheeky favor. Please don’t clean your windows quite so well. §

 

 

 

 

2020 Vision

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If ever a new year called for crystal clear vision, 2020 is it! Like many people, I adopt a special word for the new year in lieu of making resolutions. The idea is to choose a word that provides focus and clarity to help us live more intentionally. Allow me to share my word, and then I’ll help you come up with yours.

My word for 2020 is seasons. This word works well for me for a few reasons. First, I feel fortunate to live in a part of the country that experiences four distinct seasons. This year, I will more consciously delight in the natural beauty and seasonal gifts offered by winter, spring, summer and fall.

Additionally, I will embrace my current season of life. As empty-nesters who are newly retired, my husband and I are finding a simple rhythm here in our cabin in the woods. Our days unfold sweetly from sunrise to sunset. Rather than living in the past or worrying about the future, I want to appreciate and enjoy this wonderful season of our lives.

Finally, I will be considerate of those who are in more challenging seasons. Our children and younger friends are in the throes of establishing careers, raising families and finding their place in the world. Our parents and older friends are facing the uncertain mysteries of growing old. Keeping this in mind, I hope to extend more understanding, empathy and compassion.

So what is your word for 2020? There aren’t any rules, but here are some questions you could ask yourself to help you find your perfect word for the new year.

  1. How do I want to feel when I wake up in the morning?
  2. What do I care most about right now?
  3. How do I want to make other people feel when they’re around me?
  4. What does my heart crave?
  5. What is no longer serving my life?
  6. What is (and isn’t) my responsibility right now?
  7. How do I want to feel when I go to sleep at night?

Here are some juicy words to get you thinking ~ explore, presence, simplicity, create, gratitude, fun, courage, family, empower, relax, cheerful, learn, strong, joy, balance, focus, grow, kindness, acceptance, romance, brave, refine, passion, generosity, peace, change, elegance, happy, organized, grace, confidence, quiet, home, relationships, calm, faith, motivation, wellness, energy, mindful, wisdom, love. Do any of those words resonate with you and your hopes for the new year?

Once you’ve chosen a word, think about specific ways it might positively affect your daily life. How could a clear focus on your word influence these areas?

Your disposition and attitude

Your relationships

Your home and possessions

Your personal style

Your work

Your physical, mental and spiritual health

Your activities and interests

Your time and money

Your thoughts and words

Your actions and deeds

Your contribution to the world

With some soul-searching and foresight, 2020 holds 365 chances to live out our vision. I am inspired by Anne Frank, who wrote in her diary, “What a wonderful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven’t even happened yet!” §

 

 

 

The Sweet Smell of Christmas

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When my sisters and I were young, we loved a book called The Sweet Smell of Christmas. It told the story of a little bear who used his nose to experience the simple pleasures of the holidays.

The book was a scratch-and-sniff ~ a real novelty at the time. We nearly scratched holes in the pages to release the fragrance of Little Bear’s Christmas, including an orange, hot cocoa, a pine branch and other comforting holiday scents.

On my daughter’s first Christmas, my sister gave her a new copy of our beloved book. Over the years, I read it to her and her little brother hundreds of times, watching their tiny fingers scratch the pictures and hold the book to their button noses. Closing their eyes, they’d take a deep breath and say dreamily, “Mmm! It smells just like Christmas!”

As a mother, I admired the wisdom of Little Bear’s parents. Sensing their cub’s excitement, they went about holiday preparations in a calm, rhythmic manner keeping Little Bear focused on the sweet simplicity of Christmas.

With all of the anticipation and build-up, Christmas day can bring a sense of overwhelm, disappointment and anxiety in children and adults. Despite good intentions, we often turn a silent holy night into a month-long frenzy that can end in a holly jolly melt-down.

To keep the big day feeling merry, experts recommend we occasionally stop to take a few deep breaths and become fully aware of our natural senses.

What do you see…a twinkling star, a nativity scene, a candle’s glow?

What do you hear…cheerful music, a child’s laughter, a prayer?

What do you taste…a pinch of salt, a dash of cinnamon, a spoonful of sugar?

What do you feel…a sincere hug, a warm fire, a kiss under the mistletoe?

What do you smell…pine from the tree, paperwhite narcissus blossoms, a juicy orange?

Like childhood itself, the holiday season comes and goes in a blink of an eye. This week, let’s get real about our expectations, stay mindful, and cherish the little things. Let’s use the gift of our senses to fully embrace the simple joys of the holidays, like the sweet smell of Christmas.§

Robert Frost’s Christmas Trees

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December was always the most wonderful time of the year to share holiday classics with my literature students. The words and images in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi had magical calming effects on eighth graders whose visions of sugarplum fairies were sprinkled with raging adolescent hormones.

Though sometimes panned as boring by my students, one of my favorite holiday poems is Christmas Trees by Robert Frost. I’m partial to anything written by Frost who, like me, loved writing about the simplicity of nature. How I wish I’d written this lovely line. Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon. Sigh.

Frost wrote Christmas Trees in 1916 to address consumerism at Christmastime. (My, what he would think of it today!) The speaker in the poem is a country farmer who tells the story of being approached by a slick businessman who wants to buy the young trees in his woods to sell as Christmas trees back in the city.

The businessman offers to purchase a thousand trees for a total of thirty dollars. The farmer is wise enough to know that Christmas trees are sold in the city for a dollar, so the offer amounted to a mere three cents a tree. The reader understands the farmer loves his trees and would not likely sell them for any price. I doubt if I was tempted for a moment to sell them off their feet to go in cars and leave the slope behind the house all bare.

In the end, the farmer is writing Christmas letters to friends and thinks of giving them one of his trees. Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter. I can’t help wishing I could send you one, in wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas!

I hope you enjoy this free-verse poem as much as I do. It reminds me to focus on my relationships with nature and people above money and material things at Christmastime and always. §

Christmas Trees by Robert Frost

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”
“You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”
“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”
He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”
Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.
The third Sunday of the month will be devoted to poetry inspired by nature. As a retired literature teacher, I hope to do my little bit in keeping the classics alive. Maybe we’ll even write a little poetry together! Thank you for joining me!  

The Nativity Scene

IMG_2209A simple nativity scene is the only Christmas decoration I put out this year. It’s a drastic departure from the years I obsessively decorated every corner of our home. My dad once joked, “Don’t stand still, or she’ll tie a red bow on your butt.”

In the past, our nativity scene fought for space among all the snowmen, Santas, elves and reindeer I pulled from several plastic tubs of decorations. As I thoughtfully arranged the nativity scene on our fireplace mantle this week, my mind wandered back to a memory I had all but forgotten.

It was the day after Thanksgiving, and the Jaycees were putting up Christmas decorations in town as they did every year on this day. I looked out the passenger window of my dad’s car with a flutter of holiday anticipation as we drove down Main Street.

On every light post was a familiar friend I hadn’t seen for a whole year. Against the silver afternoon sky, their colorful lights twinkled, but for a few bulbs that hadn’t worked in years. I greeted each one as we drove past ~ Santa, candy cane, angel, tree, Santa, candy cane, angel, tree. The angel was my favorite. 

I was ten now, old enough to be part of the live outdoor nativity scene held each year at the Central Church of Christ. It was a staple of Christmastime for as long as I could remember. I was scheduled to play an angel for two nights in December. We passed our church where the make-shift barn was being built.

In just a couple of weeks, I would stand on Tenth Street dressed as an angel next to a real donkey and sheep. (Baby Jesus was a doll wrapped in blankets lying in the manger.) I shivered both with excitement and the thought of standing in the cold from five to eight o’clock. I wondered if I could wear long underwear with my costume and if I’d get to pet the barn animals. 

December flew by in a flurry, and it was suddenly the day of my participation in the live nativity scene. My mom took me to the church to pick up my angel costume after school. It was cold and raining as we ran inside. 

“We’re in for some very nasty weather,” the preacher’s wife said. Looking at me sympathetically she said, “We’ve decided to cancel the nativity tonight.” By morning, freezing rain coated every sidewalk, tree limb and phone line. As rarely happened, school was cancelled for two days. I never did get to be part of the nativity scene. 

I emerged from my childhood memory as if from a dream. My hand tightly held the little angel from our nativity scene. In the absence of all the distracting tinsel and trinkets, my heart and mind were free to conjure up the memories, magic and meaning of the season.

For a suspended moment I was, at last, dressed as an angel standing on Tenth Street next to Mary and Joseph, the wise men, a shepherd boy, a donkey and a sheep in celebration of the beauty and wonder of a baby born in a manger on Christmas day. § 

 

The Gift of Miracles

IMG_2002It’s a wonderful time of the year to believe in miracles! Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is a miracle.” 

Consider the ubiquitous trees strapped to car tops, beckoning from store windows or decorating your home. While all the earth lies brown and dormant, an evergreen tree remains fresh and verdant, unfazed by winter’s harsh cold and snow. Underneath all the tinsel, lights and ornaments is a miraculous symbol of eternal love and life.

Our fresh-cut Christmas tree stands outside on the deck off the living room. Through unadorned glass doors, it twinkles with simple white lights. We frequently see birds flutter around the tree and alight on branches like a scene from a greeting card.

In my mind, birds carry garland in their beaks and gracefully drape the tree with gossamer ribbon. Woodland animals gather around the tree and sing carols. They are dressed, of course, in winter coats and scarves. And why not? Birds, deer, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, foxes and raccoons are such magical creatures.

Just imagine seeing one for the first time! Sweet, cute, funny and majestic barely begin to describe them. The sight of one flying, hopping or scurrying through our yard thrills me and ignites my imagination.

The holiday season brings out the child in us. As we get older, it’s easy to become cynical, to take for granted the miracles and magic, and focus on the muck. Perhaps we get a little too big for our britches, too smart and sophisticated for visions of sugarplums and the like. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”

With the innocence of a child, take a closer look at nature this season. A brilliant star, a red poinsettia, a silent snow, a newborn baby all offer tangible proof of the marvelous miracles all around us.

Maybe then we will be inspired to do the very grown-up work of seeing and manifesting intangible miracles of grace, forgiveness, courage, hope, faith and love ~ all the beautiful things the holiday season is really about. §

 

 

A Romantic Walk in the Snow

 

IMG_1892An unusual November storm covered our world with a three-inch blanket of snow. The next morning, I was eager to bundle up for a walk in the woods where I knew a magical scene awaited. My husband pointed out the record-low temperature more than once, but I wasn’t dissuaded. Sensing my excitement, or perhaps fearful for my safety, he decided to come along.

Under a cloudless azure sky, our woods was a sparkling white tangle of trunks, branches and twigs. We navigated the slippery trail, ducking through crystal curtains that bowed to the ground heavy with snow and icy autumn leaves.

The deeper we walked into the woods, the more enchanted it became. The orange breast of a robin blazed against a snowy thicket, animal tracks lured us to follow, and bright red berries popped against a silvery white backdrop. Glittery snow gently blowing off trees sounded like far-away music. Sharp air filled our lungs, and the smell of pine was intoxicating.

We walked in silence, sometimes raising a gloved finger to point at the beauty around us. Since we’re both retired, we spend nearly all our time together. We know each other so well, we often avoid words and just read each other’s minds.

We could have filled the frosty air with talk about the past or the future, but all that mattered was enjoying the present. I know that’s what my husband was thinking. After all, it was he who taught me that important lesson.

He held my hand, and every sight and feeling seemed magnified. Watching our feet move together through the snow, I remembered our first walk in the woods. It was spring, and we were teenagers.

We’ve traveled down so many paths since then, both together and alone. Had he seen my watery eyes, he would have laughed and teased. He knows sweet, simple moments easily make me cry.

I love my solitary walks in nature, but I’m glad my husband joined me that magical morning. At the end of an hour-long hike in the snowy woods, every corner of my heart was full, and I wasn’t a bit cold. §