A day in the life of a year

So dear readers, 2013 is down to its last few hours. I have spent the day on my least favorite task of the year: “packing up Christmas.”  Much to my surprise  I finished several hours before dinner, so I had time to sort photos to prepare for an upcoming workshop being offered through the Bedlam Farm Creative Group.  I came across my photos from the Open House event which reminded me of a blog post I was working on before the holiday season descended on my schedule and “free time” flew south with the migrating geese. Here is the completed entry.  Enjoy!

Asked recently to reflect on a defining moment in the past year I knew precisely what my moment was.

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Last September, after years of wishing, one unsuccessful attempt due to car troubles and  finally, a completed journey, I attended an Open House at Bedlam Farm II, home of author Jon Katz and his artistic wife Maria Wulf (http://www.fullmoonfiberart.com/)  The trip was a wonderful adventure, which I chronicled here as a series of entries in September.  At first thought I would have picked this event as my “defining moment” of 2013.  Then I realized there was another moment that truly signified 2013.

Earlier in the year, when Jon first mentioned the idea of the creative group I was intrigued but did not think of myself as “qualified” to apply. Over the years I have written articles, poems, even a column for a local newsletter. I have taken hundreds of photos and even done a few paintings. Still, I doubted I was artistic and creative enough to be in such a group.  The posts and comments I read encouraged people to consider becoming a member as a way of exploring creative expression in many forms.  I decided to take a chance and join. I figured if I didn’t belong, I would know soon enough.

My early participation was limited to comments containing silly puns, bad haikus and occasionally a decently composed photo. Fellow members responded to my humor and even found insights in my thoughts.  I began to write longer posts and eventually with much support started this blog. It seemed fitting that my first post would be a gratitude poem recognizing the influence the group had on giving me the courage to begin.  My serial posts about the trek to Cambridge are really the story of how I went from feeling like “her” to “me”  as a creative person. (https://dhrahalski86.com/2013/09/08/all-good-things-vol-1/) Photography workshops and mentoring have given me basic tools to capture the world I see.  The encouragement of my fellow members has given me faith in my vision of the world as something worth expressing.

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2013 was a challenging year for me in odd ways.  It was not a year in which I faced big issues or dealt with major events directly.  I was however surrounded by people who faced personal losses, sudden crisis and a work environment where moral was lower than I had ever seen ( I work at our local high school. Educational “reforms” have killed every last bit of enthusiasm in our staff.  Not one teacher enjoys their work anymore. )  I am conditioned to respond to suffering with compassion yet years of spiritual practice ( both traditional and non-traditional)  barely kept me afloat in this storm.  I kept thinking I would turn a corner, things would lighten up for my friends. If anything, life got darker.

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Then posts began to appear in the Bedlam Creative Group which spoke of amazing strength and courage in the face of similar struggles.  I would read these words, have my breath taken away by a spectacular image,  be moved to tears by a poem that spoke to my heart and smile with joy at the generosity of gifts flowing to and from the members. I found words of my own to add in these threads and the responses were uplifting.  I felt my simple words mattered, I could make a difference.  I knew even in other settings, where responses might not be so forthcoming, I could have an effect.  Like the poet Mary Kellogg said in the poem she read at the Open House, we have choices.  Some sit and wring their hands, or are paralyzed by fear, others do things that make small ripples which reach out into the world.

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For me I now know the defining moment of 2013 was when I took the chance to join with other creative souls. I expect the ripples from that moment to run well into 2014. So bring  on the New Year and may it be filled with passionate, spirited, joyous creativity to lift our spirits and heal our souls.

May your trails be blessed with adventure.

A Winter Solstice Reflection

So dear readers the winter solstice has arrived.

Here in Upstate New York it is a pretty dismal rainy day, very reminiscent of Scrooge’s visit to Christmas Future.  It is rare when I don’t appreciate temperatures in the 50’s in winter, but today they are not welcome.  You see  I need snow today because snow is magical during the four evenings of Candle Night. Candle Night was born out of my desire to meld several childhood traditions with the Spiritual path I found myself following during my daughters own childhood years.  Raised in the Lutheran Church,  the highlight of Christmas season for me was the lighting of the Advent wreath each Sunday leading up to Christmas Eve when our church sanctuary was transformed by the glow of a candlelight service.  My first solo Christmas,  I made sure to have an Advent wreath on my one room apartment which I faithfully lit every Sunday evening although I had long since stopped attending traditional church services. In fact I placed a small replica of the Daibutsu in the wreath’s center  since I was practicing Zen meditation at that time.

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In the years that I spent holidays alone, simple traditions like the Advent wreath kept my heart open when loneliness could have slammed it closed.  When I became a parent I knew I wanted to create traditions for my own daughters that could serve as anchors in the dark and stormy times which are an inevitable part of life’s journey.  At that time I was attending a drumming circle which held a special ceremony on the evening of the solstice. I mentioned to one of my friends how much we loved the Muppet version of  Dickens’ Christmas Carol, to which she commented “Well then, just four  more sleeps til Christmas!” The thought inspired a new tradition which my daughters eventually named “Candle Night.” Each year on the evening of the Winter Solstice, right before bed, we would gather around the table to light the first candle on our Advent Wreath.   Each of us gets one evening to be the candle lighter and to pick something to read from the stack of holiday books I have collected. “The Mouse’s Christmas Tree” and “Bialosky’s Christmas” were favorites when the girls were younger.  Lemony Snickett’s “The Lump of Coal” is a recent addition more reflective of  the tongue in cheek wisdom of young adults.  After the reading, we place various figures in the nativity under our tree.  Angels the first night, shepards and their livestock on the second evening, the three kings arrive on the third night.  The wooden stable is special because it was made by my husbands uncle.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover my husband had the same vintage nativity set my family used when I was a child.

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On Christmas Eve, we often read several books always ending with  the second chapter in the Gospel of Luke which tells of the night of Christ’s birth, the same reading Linus gives in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”  It is the only time my would be perfect husband tolerates biblical reading at home.  As an estranged Catholic he is distinctly uncomfortable in any setting that hints at religion. Myself, I lean more towards Taoist Zen practices with a hefty leaning towards the Nature worship of my mother’s Shinto ancestors. Good reason to create a Christmas tradition around the Winter Solstice. After all four candles have been lit and the readings completed,  Mary and Joseph are placed in the stable.  Baby Jesus waits patiently by the cookies and milk, knowing Santa will set him in the manger soon after midnight.

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As the years have passed and my daughters have grown into lives of their own, there have been times they missed a night or two of Candle Night.  Still, even when I am alone at the table, reading and lighting candles the tradition brings me comfort and peace. Gifts of the season I cherish.

Good Tidings

IMG_0549So dear readers, here in the Land of Lake Effect Snow  we are deep into the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.  It is all too easy to lose sight of the Spirit of the Season when dashing through the snow in a four horse powered all wheel drive.  There are presents to purchase, wrap and ship. Cards to be written and mailed in a timely manner, Don’t forget the run to the hardware store to grab those replacement bulbs for the light strings we’ve already hung up. I know I have spares tucked away somewhere but their location isn’t noted on my Christmas ta da! list so off I go again. Oh yes and we DO need some groceries from time to time.

Then, every so often a little reminder pops up that gives me a reason to stop and reconnect with the True Meaning of Christmas.  Yesterday this sweet little ornament came in the mail with a happy holiday card and a note from on of my friends from the Bedlam Farm Creative group.

IMG_0545This little hummingbird not only reminds me that Spring will come again, it also tells me we are so connected even across the miles. She’s a perfect addition to my collection of nature themed ornaments. She also reminds me of the wonderful hummingbird photos another of our group members often shares with us ( check some of them out here: http://www.susantaylorbrown.com/hummingbirds-in-flight/ )  Best yet this sweet little bird said someone is thinking of me! Don’t take this as a complaint, I am at my best and happiest when doing my “elf” work of the season (more to come on that in a future post) Still, in this season of doing so much for others, did my heart good to be remembered.  Such feelings are the fuel that keep kindness flowing.

Happy Trails good readers and remember ” If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Lawrence Peter Berra.

Red and White

So, dear readers, the blogs I follow are currently filled with stories and photos of Holiday decorating. I laugh and am inspired and will have much to work with this weekend when I kick into full decorating mode.

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This is a bit late for me.  Yes, my younger daughter and I are “those” people who program the car stereo to the 24/7 Christmas Music station as soon as it comes on. Oh come now, holiday music just makes the frequent bursts of Lake Effect snow (which can arrive as early as late October) much more festive and fun! I can in fact be found puttering around the yard on any warm October weekend putting up the outdoor lights.  Oh  stop shaking your heads.  Other than a test run, I do not turn them on until after Thanksgiving.  If I wait until November, chances are I will need an ice pick or roof rake to get anything hung.  I simply prefer to get the outdoor lighting done on a 50 degree day free from frozen precipitation, so October is when I start.  I repeat, once tested, the lights do not come on until after Thanksgiving. The start of the Macy’s Day parade is actually my reminder to go plug in the timer, so our guests will leave that evening in a blaze of holiday sparkle and color.

I do have the presence of mind to hold off decorating indoors until Thanksgiving Weekend. Usually I am close to done by now, however I spent last weekend shopping local to support Plaid Friday and Small Business Saturday. Thoughtful, unique gifts requiring more travel and time than a one-stop Black Friday Mall experience. Well worth the effort,  far more personable and fun, trust me.  So I am just getting started and feeling the vibe thanks to fellow Creative Group Blogger Lisa Dingle (read all about it right here: http://justponderin.com/2013/12/02/on-the-admission-of-colored-christmas-light-snobbery/ ).  Like Lisa, I am in the process of “bringing up the boxes”  although my elves are scarce these days so it is taking me a bit longer.  In between basement forays, I catch up on recent blogs and posts.  I came across one piece which evoked memories so powerful I had to stop and write an immediate response. In my response I promised a longer post.  Here it is:

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There was a year my Christmas tree was simply white lights with red balls of various sizes. Since I am given to a more colorful lighting style and have a large collection of vintage ornaments as well as many from various places I have lived or traveled to I actually had neither plain red balls nor white lights.  I had to go out and purchase all of these and since it was November, I paid close to full price for everything. This was absolutely unheard of for a post-holiday  bargain shopper like me ( my family assures me they all love receiving last year’s Hallmark ornaments in their stockings and gift bags. ) The truth is that year, I could not bear to open my big box of carefully stored ornaments.  The memories which would fly out like Pandora’s Box were a vortex of emotions I could not face, because that year I did not believe Hope would remain in the box.  The previous winter my husband and I had conceived our first child.  The baby came two months premature just before summer. He was still born. We named him Zachary.  We had some warning, as sonogram done a few days earlier indicated serious problems.  We were still grappling with how to tell our families when I went into “spontaneous labor.”  Given his condition ( Trisomy 18 )  Zachary’s prognosis for life was not hopeful.  I accepted still birth as a merciful miracle. Still, it shattered my heart into a thousand shards of sadness, shards so sharp I could feel them everywhere in my body for months on end. People told me how strong I was because I spoke so eloquently of my faith that everything happens for a reason and urged my family to believe all would be well. People believed me because they never heard the sobs that wracked my body every morning when I woke knowing what I had lost, sobs deep and powerful as if trying to loosen those shards lodged deep in my soul. In the midst of that pain lay the fear that I would never be granted the gift of motherhood. So it was that when the holidays came I knew I could not face the tsunami of memories contained in the ornament box.  There were  pieces of my childhood, or places visited during my adolescence when we traveled the world and lived in Southeast Asia. There were ornaments from friends scattered across the globe. It was more happiness than I could bear to feel in that season of a first loss lived too young. Yet I knew I needed do something to take a step towards moving forward or my fears would become my truth.  I needed to decorate a Christmas tree, as an act of faith as if I was still that child who believed in the magic of the season. So I chose only what I could bear to do.  Red ornaments and white lights; red for life and love, white for hope.  I did it to move towards life,  to reach for love and find hope. I needed to believe if not for myself, then for the new life I was knew I carrying once again.

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