What Is Saving My Life Right Now (January 2023)

Now that we are more than halfway through January, here’s a list of 5 things that are inspiring, delighting, and sustaining me so far this month. (The phrase “what is saving my life right now” originates from author Barbara Brown Taylor.)

Art by Molly Costello: Molly is a Chicago-based artist I discovered on Instagram. Their uplifting messages are what drew me in, so I purchased Molly’s “Fertile Futures: Practicing the World We Want” wall calendar. It came Thursday and it’s next to my desk. See Molly’s work on Instagram.

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante: I watched the film “The Lost Daughter” last year, which is based on Ferrante’s novel of the same name. I wanted to read her books after that. These books have a very different, VERY Italian feel. Lots of melodrama: violence, screaming, shouting, death, poverty and wealth, and a unique, raw, emotional and intelligent story of a woman’s experience of life in Naples and other parts of Italy. I’m on the third novel, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. These books are so captivating it’s really hard for me to put them down and go to sleep each night.

Vadham Saffron Premium Masala Chai: Although I am still a coffee lover, I’ve had to switch to tea and my “uncoffee” chicory/dandelion/cacao alternative because coffee seems to be affecting my dry eye condition. So unfair! Anyway, a friend gave me a sample of Vadham Saffron Chai last summer and I finally tried it before Christmas. It is heavenly and I am a Vadham devotee now. If you like chai, you will LOVE Saffron Chai. Get it here.

Music: Can I admit to still listening to the occasional Christmas choral piece, even in the middle of January? In the evenings, when the fairy lights twinkle and candles are flickering, and I’m beavering away at my desk, I love to hear these dearly loved songs rising and falling in the background. Spotify has this Christmas Market Playlist that I’ve played more than once

Lunica Planner from Woodspell Apothecary. When I saw this planner on Instagram in the fall, I asked Alan to get it for me for Christmas. And I’m so glad I did. There’s a phenology wheel, space for garden notes, a section for monthly plant study, rituals and recipes, and more. I hope the owner keeps these planners coming, because they’re just perfect for a lover of seasonal living/herbs/plants/lunar cycles and more.

If you’d like to read the full list, I invite you to become a patron in the “At the Well” Tier over on Patreon.

Evening Poetry, December 11, 2022

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you. This helps keep my blog ad-free.

Christmas Trees by Robert Frost

A Christmas circular letter
  
  
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.

You can find this poem in The Illustrated Robert Frost: 15 Winter Poems for Children.

Making Space for Beauty

While on a solo retreat this fall, I had leisurely days and evenings to reflect on what in my life needs to be adjusted and what I’d like to remain the same. This was my first solo retreat ever and it felt luxurious to wake, exercise, eat, and rest whenever I wanted. Being an Enneagram 4, an INFJ, and an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), I feel so relaxed with my own company and at ease in the simplicity of being on my own. I love all my people, my work, and my cats too much to live that way for long, so I’ll just savor the memories of that time and plan more for the future.

As I was eating my breakfast on the second morning, I listened to Krista Tippett’s podcast On Being for the first time in months. And I realized how much I missed these deep, quiet, thoughtful conversations that feed my thirst for beauty, wisdom, and inspiring words.

Then I began thinking about what else I had let go in the hustle and activity of this year. Poetry! I like to read some every day if I can, and listen to poetry podcasts like Poetry Unbound. Poetry speaks to my soul and feels like it touches a part of myself that nothing else does.

Another delight I had let go of is classical music! I used to listen to public radio all the time, take CDs out from the library (remember those?), and listen to albums on Spotify.

Lately I haven’t included Bach with my breakfasts, I haven’t made time for Mozart, I haven’t enjoyed string quartets or piano sonatas on quiet afternoons. And why not? I ask myself. It’s not complicated to turn music on. I’ve robbed myself of the opportunity for so much pleasure because I “needed to get this work done” and assumed I must take all the color out of life. Well, no more!

I resolved to include lovely music in my days, work or not; to listen to inspiring podcasts like On Being while I’m in the car or cleaning or folding clothes; to make time for at least one poem every day; to set the table with cloth napkins and a vase of flowers or herbs, to light candles even for weeknight dinners. There are many more weeknights than there are weekends!

By depriving ourselves, or even not actively noticing or making room for beauty, it’s almost like living in the dull, gray, unhappy part of Middle Earth that Sauron created in Lord of the Rings: devoid of warmth, color, meaning, and delight.

When I live this way for too many days, I find myself easily irritated or angry, depressed, anxious, and discouraged, thinking there’s nothing to look forward to.And how brief and precious each of our lives are. This year has brought several too-soon goodbyes.

We are made for beauty, delight, goodness, and meaning. Even if we’ve forgotten, even if we’ve fallen asleep or become buried under our to-do lists and the pressures that grown-ups have to deal with, each of us longs for beauty.

Perhaps it’s not possible for you to go away on a solo retreat just now. I remember all the years I craved alone time as a mother with two small children and a host of responsibilities connected to my church community. I would stay up late just so I could have a few hours of quiet after the kids went to bed.

It’s more realistic to look for an hour or two of quiet time alone to ask yourself what is missing from the current flow of your days. What brings you pleasure and joy that you could invite back in? A walk in the forest? A pot of flowers on the windowsill? Your grandmother’s tablecloth? Candlelight? A really good mystery novel? Soup simmering on the stove? Homemade bread? Composing music or listening to a favorite recording? Taking five minutes to appreciate the sunset each evening? Dancing in the kitchen?

You will know what you need, what will delight, inspire and bring a sense of beauty and meaning to your own life. Invite what feeds your soul back into your weekdays, your weeknights, and the so-called mundane will begin to sparkle and shine again as it did when you were a child.

These days of Advent, these ever darkening days and long nights before the Winter Solstice, are a natural time to turn inward, to ponder, and ask, and sit with questions. And to begin to intend and invite what we love and desire most of all into our lives, and into the New Year.

May you enjoy a peaceful Sunday!

Consistency Most of All (Vata Season, Part 2, Daily Habits + Rituals)

One of the main principles of Ayurveda is that like increases like and opposites balance. If you have an excess of Vata (air + space) in your body, mind, and emotions, then you’re likely moving from activity to activity, not finishing things, are all over the place with your thoughts, and your daily health & wellness routine is non-existent. You may experience sleeplessness, heightened anxiety, and irregular hunger, eating, and digestion. So what would be helpful is not more of the same.

To balance all that mobility and flighty thinking/eating/doing, we need to bring in some earth qualities, which can be found in Kapha dosha. Basically, we need to slow down, tether our mind, body, and emotions with regular practices (as well as the grounding, nourishing foods I mentioned in last week’s post). We need the heavy, dense, slow, constant qualities of earth to soothe and stabilize our overwrought nervous systems.

There’s actually quite a growing number of Ayurvedic teachers who feel our modern way of life has nearly everyone in Vata excess. In that case, most of us would benefit from these habits.

So what does Ayurveda recommend specifically? Here are three helpful habits to begin balancing Vata.

Set a routine: Wake with the sun, eat, and sleep at the same times every day. It might seem boring, especially if you’re a person with a Vata-dominant constitution or are experiencing high Vata. It might seem exciting and preferable to do whatever you want, whenever you want. That only contributes to the imbalance. As much as is possible, get yourself on a schedule and do your best to stick to it.

Morning practices: Meditate, pray, walk, or do gentle and nourishing physical practices like yoga or Qigong during early morning hours. Resist the urge to open up your email, jump on your phone and start scrolling. Set aside the first hour or two of waking up for you to receive and enjoy spiritual and/or mental nourishment, and warm your muscles and joints with a gentle physical practice. This will give you a sense of calm and ease that will stay with you the rest of the day.

Do oil self-massage, or abhyanga, every day either before or after showering. Here’s a short how-to video on abhyanga by Kate O’Donnell. If you have dry skin, you can use sesame oil ( I prefer refined sesame oil), or if you have sensitive skin, you can use almond, sunflower, or coconut oil, as long as you don’t have allergies. Coconut oil is a cooling oil, so it is preferred for hot weather or those with mostly Pitta constitutions. If you are in the US, you can purchase high quality massage oils, including ones with herbal blends, from Banyan Botanicals. Abhyanga nourishes your body and mind, increases circulation, moves stagnant lymph, improves vision, tones the body’s tissues, and more. Read in depth about it here.

Because Vata needs consistency, I encourage you to start slow and build your routine over time. Maybe this week you can establish a wake, sleep, and eat schedule. And after you become consistent with that, add a morning meditation. After that becomes regular, add abhyanga. If you attempt to do everything, you may become overwhelmed and do nothing. Better to begin small and make things as easy as possibly for yourself.

When The Wind Blows (Vata Season, Part 1: Food)

I sit at my desk in my library and watch the maple tree dance outside the window. It’s a mild October day, and the wind is blowing fast from the South. In Ayurveda, Vata (the combined elements of air+space) is increased when the weather is windy. This means I might experience heightened anxiety, feeling uncertain, unstable, and fearful, and I have a tendency to spend more time wrapped up in my thoughts.

My digestion is always aware of a windy, Vata day; if I haven’t eaten properly, I will most likely experience gas and bloating, especially in the afternoon (2-6pm) which is Vata time of day. I may also be awake sometime between 2-6am worrying about everything and anything.

How can one feel best during Vata season (which tends to be Autumn) or in Vata weather (cool or cold, moving/windy, dry, light)? Think about nurturing and nourishing yourself. Your digestion needs some TLC to counteract Vata’s effects. Food-wise, you need warm, soft, nutritious foods with plenty of liquid to keep your digestive system purring and prevent constipation, gas, or bloating.

I’ve included a short list below of suggested foods/prep methods as well as a skip it list. Also check out Dr. John Douillard’s LifeSpa Fall/Winter Grocery List to print out and stick on your fridge. I’ve had this list on my fridge for several years. It can help you figure out what kinds of ingredients to cook with.

Please remember that Ayurveda respects the individual. Everyone is different. For example, you may be able to eat plenty of beans or a raw salad with no problem, and your partner may need to give them a break for now. Pay attention to what you eat and how food makes you feel at different times of the year. You have sovereignty over your own health and by paying attention, you can experience a greater level of wellbeing.

The Eat It List

  • Eat warming, soft foods, root vegetables, and brothy soups and stews.
  • All the winter squashes and pumpkins–yum!
  • Meat, eggs, and fish are all good this time of year (if you eat them).
  • Cook your vegetables. Steam, roast, sauté your veggies or put them in soups or stews.
  • Make fruit compotes or crisps, bake your apples.
  • Hot cereals are encouraged for breakfast! Baked or stovetop oatmeal, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat. Try a new recipe, a different grain (if you tolerate grains).
  • Yes to dairy or non-dairy milks, yogurts, cheese, etc., depending on what you tolerate.
  • All nuts and seeds are good (only if you’re not allergic, of course).
  • Drink warm or room-temperature water. Cold water and food slows your digestion.
  • Teas and drinks with warming spices and moon milks, golden milk, raw hot cacao are comforting.

The Skip It List

  • You may need to skip legumes this time of year, especially larger beans & peas, as they may cause digestive distress.
  • Skip cold, raw salads and veggies (unless you have a strong digestion).
  • Same for cold smoothies, protein shakes, etc. If you can’t give up smoothies, bring the ingredients to room temperature before drinking.
  • Dry, cold snacks and treats like crackers, chips, hard cookies, etc. may promote constipation

My recommendations for Vata Season foods are suggestions based on my own experience as well as what I’ve learned studying Ayurveda in the last four years. Please only do what is right for you. You know your body, what you can or can’t tolerate, what you’re allergic to, etc. Please consult your healthcare provider with any concerns or questions about food choices.

By following a seasonal diet, based on the part of our planet that you live in, you will become more aware of and connected to the natural world, which we are all part of. And you may experience greater balance and wellbeing for yourself. If you’d like to read more, check out Banyan Botanical’s Seasonal Guide for Vata Season. Next week, I’ll talk about daily habits for Vata Season.

Four New Books for September

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I’ve been catching up on reading the past few weeks while getting over Covid. If you are a friend on Goodreads, you can see that I’m on target to complete my reading goal for the year, which brings this bookworm a whole lot of joy. I’m also reading way too many books at a time, but that is my style. A few years ago, I took a quiz on reading styles and my results were that I was a promiscuous reader. I’d rather say I’m an unrestricted reader. I can do whatever I want in my reading life, so I do!

Since I had several e-galleys that were waiting to be read and reviewed on NetGalley, Goodreads, and Amazon, I got comfortable with my Kindle, cups of tea, piles of blankets, and read through a virtual stack of books. And these are four that are worth telling you about, so here they are:

Daily Creative: A Practical Guide for Staying Prolific, Brilliant, and Healthy is a reader with an entry for every day of the year. Each entry begins with a short passage sure to inspire and encourage, and ends with a question for clarity, focus, reflection, and as a source of intention setting and challenge. Stephen Covey wrote about “sharpening the saw” as one of his highly effective habits, and starting each day with this book would be an easy way to practice this habit. Daily Creative would make a wonderful gift for entrepreneurs, artists of all kinds, and small business owners.

At the Breakfast Table by Defne Suman evokes the sparkling, bright Turkish sunshine, the fragrance of coffee, fruit, and fresh bread, and mesmerizes with the fascinating and complicated characters who make up this story.
Nur, Fikret, and Celine come to Shirin’s house to celebrate her 100th birthday. She is Nur and Fikret’s grandmother, and Celine’s great-grandmother, as well as a famous artist. There is also Burak, Nur’s on-again off-again lover and friend, and Shirin’s faithful servant, Sadik.

This begins an unboxing of personal and family secrets Shirin has kept close for years, told mostly through painting on her dining room wall.
A beautiful novel; one that will be lovely to read during cold winter months. Highly recommended!

Mark Nepo’s books are sensitive, poetic, deeply thought-provoking, gentle, and spiritually-accessible. Surviving Storms: Finding the Strength the Face Adversity was written for us who are weary and wary in the chaotic twenty-first century world we find ourselves in.

Meant to give us hope, direction, and a place to put our grief and sense of unease, this book provides us with tools for “heartwork” as Nepo calls it. “We need to deepen our roots and solidify our connection to Spirit and all life” he says, so that we can be strong and resilient enough to survive whatever comes our way.

He ends each chapter with a journaling exercise or question and a suggestion for a conversation to have with a friend or family member. I highly recommend this book to those who are spiritual seekers, those in need of comfort and solace, and those who enjoy reflective, self-help books.

The Rising Tide, the tenth Vera Stanhope mystery is just as satisfying as all the previous ones. The murder takes place on Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, off the coast of Northumberland. A group of friends, who have been gathering every five years for 50 years, meet in a house on the island and one of them is dead before morning.
The theme is very much connected to the tides, which cut off the causeway to the island when they come in and allow access to the island as they go out. The timing of the murder is connected to the tide, of course, as well as to a murder that occurred there 50 years ago.
Vera and her team do the thorough police questioning and investigation and close in on the killer who is not above killing again to save themself from being found out. Can Vera get to the murderer in time before they strike again?
The ending is very abrupt and a bit of a shock. Which means there must be an eleventh novel in the works. The Rising Tide is highly recommended for all mystery, British mystery, and Vera fans (of the books or tv series).

If you read any of these, be sure to let me know what you thought in comments!

*Thanks to NetGalley for the free e-galleys in exchange for honest reviews.

What I’m Reading in July

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you. This helps keep my blog ad-free.

It’s good to be back in this space. I’ve missed it. My soul missed it–this safe little corner where I share what I feel is good and lovely and worthwhile in my life, and particularly, the poetry and prose I’m reading.

So why the long hiatus? Well, sadly, we’ve had a death in our family. My kids’ father passed away in June, following a motorcycle accident and an extended stay in ICU. Even though we were no longer “together”, we were still co-parents and friends, and this feels very hard. The kids miss him terribly. His family and friends miss him. And I miss him. We each experience grief uniquely, while sharing in the sorrow together. Our friends’ love and support refreshes and strengthens us when we are weary.

And as unbelievable as it all feels right now, the sun continues to rise and set each day. We still need to eat, rest, work, and take care of our responsibilities. We still have our gardens, our daily joys and challenges, and yes, we have our books. In the past poetry has been a source of healing, speaking light to the darkness and peace to the parts of myself and my story I have yet to understand.

Two books of poetry I am drinking in this month:

Inward by Yung Pueblo. Each page is a poem in the form of a self-help message, note of encouragement, or a wise saying. Here’s an excerpt:

don't run away
from heavy emotions

honor the anger;
give pain the space
it needs to breathe

this is how we let go

Rhythms and Roads by Victoria Erickson is an introspective collection of thoughtful, sensitive verses that soothes, gently prods towards healing, and encourages each of us to be ourselves. Here is an example:

There will come a time
when you'll meet acceptance.
Your shoulders will soften,
the sky will stretch on,
and the night will hold a pulse
both electric and warm.
And the moon will feel familiar.

So check out these two collections of poetry if you haven’t already. The words and messages within feel loving, comforting and kind, and our world needs more of these right now.

As always, I would love to know what you’re reading this July. Please share in the comments below.

Evening Poetry, July 14

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you. This helps keep my blog ad-free.

From Rhythms and Roads by Victoria Erickson

You'll know when it's time to heal.
And you will always travel inwardly,
among your deep grooves and rivers,
returning with full hands,
ready to release light
into your external aching world.

Evening Poetry, April 5

Guest List
by Annie Lighthart

Only once, one afternoon, almost asleep on the couch,
could I come up with the perfect guests for an
imaginary dinner party--a mix of the living and dead,
the deep and the shy artfully combined with the
swashbuckling talkers. It was such a list: everyone
would say yes, and we'd sit in pairs maybe, or close
little bunches, or maybe all together at the table
while the candles burned low. Later, with a few
out on the front step, what with our immediate kinship,
the wine and warm night, I could ask them anything,
anything--historical, personal--and thus find out about life
and time. Our goodbyes would be fond and long.

But just now: no one. I can't think of a soul I'd like over,
not one for whom I'd vacuum or shove laundry
in the shower, not one for whom I'd balance fine cheese
on ridiculously small morsels of bread.

Except you, person I just saw crossing the street,
you who stopped to move a slug off the sidewalk
with a little piece of paper you took from your coat.
You, I would clean for. You, I would like to meet.

You can find this poem in Pax.

Evening Poetry, April 1

Sutra 26 from The Radiance Sutras: 112 Gateways to the Yoga of Wonder & Delight
by Lorin Roche

The One Who Is at Play Everywhere says,

There is a space in the heart where everything meets.
Come here if you want to find me.
Mind, senses, soul, eternity – all are here.
Are you here?

Enter the bowl of vastness that is the heart.
Listen to the song that is always resonating.
Give yourself to it with total abandon.
Quiet ecstasy is here,
And a steady, regal sense
Of resting in a perfect spot.
You who are the embodiment of blessing,
Once you know the way,
The nature of attention will call you to return.
Again and Again, answer that call,
And be saturated with knowing,
“I belong here, I am at home.”