in which we come bearing gifts

in which we come bearing gifts

It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags! Come on, you know it, perfectly said by the King of Christmas Grinchiness himself, Dr. Seuss.

I’m not much in the mood for cookie baking, gift wrapping or braving the crowds this year. I’m a Holiday Dropout I suppose, feeling more introspective than extroverted.  Nevertheless, whatever my whim, it’s always impossible for me to be untouched by the solemn wonder of the holiday season.

Most holidays, my enjoyment comes as much from my preparations as from the generosity I receive from others. While addressing Christmas cards, I am washed with fond thoughts of the person I am writing to. Preparing gifts of baked goods, wrapping holiday gifts and finishing them all with personalized tags makes me feel the same warm appreciation for the intended and gratitude for the people in my life.

This year, it’s a different sort of holiday due to my relatively homeless state; one that is broader in its scope of giving and receiving. Without a house of my own for the holiday, the usual activities are not so usual and feel odd and impossible.

But I’m far from homeless – while I have no actual house, I surely have a home.  And, since my home lives in the realm of imagination this year, so also do my thoughts of holiday giving.  The gifts I want to share this year are not ones found in shopping malls or grocery stores, but ones that have expanded the boundaries of my heart.

I find it often happens that serendipity plays its part in delivering the very message or salve you need in mundane, unexpected ways. This year I have been fortunate to have received many such synchronistic gifts just when I needed them most.

Here’s a few I’m happy to share with you; I hope they bring the same pleasure to you as they did to me. But I expect it’s possible that what’s magic to me may not say much to you. Or me either when I encounter it later at a different time and place in life.

That’s OK and as should be.  When the student is ready, the teacher appears, isn’t that how it goes?  You get the idea – if my gifts don’t speak to you, maybe they will remind you of synchronistic gifts of your own that meant much to you this year. And maybe you can pass those on too – someone you don’t know somewhere you’ve never been is waiting to hear from you.

I love this authentic and special holiday CD produced by Pat Humphrey with her daughters Lynn and Amy. These old carols are from around the world, and their angelic, ancient harmonies are so soothing to me I listen to them all year. Click the arrow below to begin listening or click on the title to visit The Rosa Minstrels site and listen to the whole CD.

[bandcamp track=2675635637 bgcol=FFFFFF linkcol=4285BB size=venti]

The internet is such a mixed blessing. It steals as much as it gives, but what it gives can be a delicate thread of human connection when your world rotates on a slightly different axis.  This heartwarming advent calendar from a complete stranger  Gloria Nicol at The Laundry Etc. in the UK made me feel much less Grinch-ey this  year. Click here to enjoy the calendar yourself – there’s still a few new surprises to come.  A photographer, writer, jam maker and shop keeper, you can visit Gloria here.

A Special Jewel of an Advent Calendar from Gloria Nicol of The Laundry Etc.

In sustainable farming circles, Wendell Berry is all that and more. Don’t take this the wrong way – I’m a huge Wendell Berry fan. But let’s not forget another old friend of the farmer, E.B. White. Not often mentioned in sustainable farming circles these days, E.B. White’s gifts rest in the realm of childlike (but far from child-ish) wonder and observation. His writing about his lovely and simple life in rural Maine in One Man’s Meat is a quiet joy that leaves you with tidbits you’ll be mulling over for a long time.

A gift that keeps on giving. Enjoy the reading first, plenty of rumination sure to follow...

I think it’s time to re-introduce real, old-fashioned mail. Written on paper, by hand, smudges and all.  This hand-made holiday card was just the balm I needed at a moment it meant the most.

The prayer-like and devotional quality of farm chores makes this card so true for me. Caring for the land and God's creatures is most certainly a way to kneel and kiss the ground...

The Digital Library of the Sketchbook Project is a bottomless source of fascination. Enter this rabbit hole at your own risk – you may be gone a while! I am so in love with this project and am blown away by the submissions. True gifts from the heart from not so ordinary people all over the world.  A live exhibit too: what a treat it would be to be able to spend a quiet afternoon with my nose tucked into the real pages – one of these days I’ll be there!  (Video of artist Lauren Nash and her very personal experience with the Sketchbook Project. Shows there’s a bit of magic for giver and receiver.)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4CAQFDEXMs?rel=0]

How do we find this stuff? Well, one way is by visiting our our friends at Sustainable Eats who host a wicked good blog hop called Simple Lives Thursday each week.

I hope the boundaries of your heart are expanded this holiday; after all isn’t that the true reason for the season?

The Merriest of Christmases from the Ladies of Auburn Meadow Farm

In which we are still under the spell

In which we are still under the spell

A door to another world....

I don’t read nearly as much as I used to. As a kid, our library trip was the highlight each and every week. I would take out as many books as I was allowed, I think 12, and couldn’t wait to get home to review, stack and prioritize. Which should I read first? Such abundance and possibilities….

Once I tore into the stack, I was relentless until I had finished them all. I was a re-reader too and some would be read again and again. Today, years and years later, I can still get lost in favorites like Charlotte’s Web, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and Harriet the Spy.

It’s sad that as grown-ups we have to leave behind that kid-on-summer-break abundance of time.  As kids, we struggled to fill that time up, staving off what was, after all, boredom really. But just on the other side of that boredom lies magic if we can just stick with it a bit longer. True creativity takes plenty of aimless meandering through tedium, boredom and solitude before it decides to kick in. I wish I could have a do-over so I can appreciate the lazy slowness of it more this time around.

Don’t you hate it when you’re wrapped up in a good book and see the pages coming to an end?  I know I’m about to be ejected back into my real world where the light is too bright, the noise is super loud and I have a clock to race. But it is nice to savor the feeling of being lost in the world of my book as I go about my day; a kind of country cousin to that delicious tweener place between being awake and asleep.

Anyway, I wander. This summer, I made it a point to read more. Not cookbooks or raising cows books or improving the pasture books but fiction. Or, if not fiction, at least books with a little enchantment and expanding vistas.

The Seasons on Henry's Farm by Terra Brockman

This week, I read a book that at first glance would seem to belong in the doesn’t-count category (it’s about organic farming) but in reality belongs in the counts-for-sure pile. I finished it day before yesterday and it’s with me still.

I learned plenty about the typical workday on an organic vegetable farm. Somehow, even without any farming experience, everyone knows it’s hard work; multiply that by ten and you’re getting warmer. Honestly, I don’t know if I could do it. Loading up that truck so many days each week with freshly picked and washed veggies of an impressive array feels overwhelming from the comfort of my living room. Could I manage to pull it off for real? Do I have the right stuff?

But that’s really just one element of the book. I never knew it before, but burdock roots are enthralling; I have a new crush on apples and a bruise on a peach is an incredible badge of honor. After reading this, who would want a whiny perfect one? Truly.

There’s magic in these pages – the kind of magic known by ancient Druids and fairies that’s only understood while lying on one’s back alone in the middle of a wintry field looking up at the nighttime sky. There’s also lots and lots of love. Love for the land, love of literature, the love of family, the love of good food and simple pleasures; it’s all there. A rich and rewarding read indeed. I recommend it highly.

As we find ourselves pinching pennies as individuals, families and a nation, it is so important to remember how important things like public libraries are. Many of us are a little spoiled by the ease of Amazon(dot)com – please take a moment to remember your local library. You may not be a user yourself, but the programs and access to hope, tools and possibility for those who can’t afford a bookstore habit is invaluable. Many people will never have the freedom to see places like Henry’s farm in person, but if they have a library, they too can know more about the choices and possibilities this great world has to offer.

Libraries are in need of your attention, time and donations; it’s one of the best ways we have to help others help themselves.

What are you reading these days?

Show some love for your local library!

In which we are enchanted

In which we are enchanted

How much more mysterious and magical the world looks in black & white!

We’re moving. Again. Packing up all our worldly junk and putting it in storage.

You see, while we now have a home for the Ladies, it doesn’t include a house for us, so we’re off to transitional housing to plan our next move. Hopefully the final one….

If you’ve ever packed up everything you own, you know the best part is that all sorts of forgotten treasures are found. Which is exactly how I re-discovered my enchantment with Thomas Moore.

Thomas Moore is a contemporary writer and lecturer whose life follows a route like my own; filled with seemingly random twists and turns. Beginning his journey as a monk in a Catholic religious order, then becoming a student obtaining degrees in theology, musicology and philosophy, working as a therapist and finally an author, Thomas Moore is a man who is willing to live the questions without needing to know the answers first.

His most famous books are Care of the Soul and Soul Mates, but the two that most feed my soul are the The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life and The Education of the Heart. I found The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life first and of course had to plop down in the middle of the action for a quick skim. Here I found interesting observations about that uneasy tension between dreams and practicality so especially polarized in our American culture.

Most of us struggle to balance these equally important needs. For some, the standoff is more difficult than for others. A rare few are so blessed they are completely certain of which road they must travel and set right off on their journey. Along the way, they find doors that open just when they are needed, but even for these lucky ones, the door opens not one second before the darkest hour has been endured. Give up too soon and live with regret forevermore.

Including enchantment in our lives requires a willingness to embrace solitude and quiet and forces us to relinquish the need to know everything that’s going to happen next and why. Enchantment is a place where everything is gray and to appreciate it you must have faith that you will understand when it’s time.

People must have excursions into enchantment to survive:

“The soul has an absolute, unforgiving need for regular excursions into enchantment. It requires them like the body needs food and the mind needs thought. Yet our culture often takes pride in disproving and exploding the sources of enchantment, explaining away one mystery after another and overturning precious shrines, dissolving the family farm that has housed spirits of civility for eons, or desecrating for material profit a mountain or stream sacred to native residents. We have yet to learn that we can’t survive without enchantment and that the loss of it is killing us.”

Most people dismiss the need for enchantment as irresponsible, childish or silly; yet why?  Practicality and Enchantment are not opposing forces; in fact they serve one another:

“It isn’t easy to discuss enchantment in a disenchanted society, one that suffers the lack of a deep, solid, communal fantasy life, because enchantment stands our usual values on their head. What is central in the hardcore, hardware, hardworking world of the disenchanted has little or no place in a soft life of enchantment, and what is important to the charm of daily life may appear as a distraction to those who are dedicated to the kind of seriousness that excludes enchantment. Yet there is no essential conflict between enchanted living and practical, productive activity; they can serve each other: one delighting the spirit of ambition, the other comforting the heart.”

Food is a source of enchantment. For example:

“As a therapist, I’ve worked with people who feel their lives are meaningless, aimless, and generally depressed. In a number of instances, after discussions of family and tradition, these people have brought soul into their lives simply by phoning a mother, father, or grandparent and asking for some old family recipes. The familiar but forgotten smells and tastes restore (the meaning of the word ‘restaurant’) a long-dormant element in the soul – a comforted childhood, a feeling of belonging, the support of religious and cultural traditions, and family stories and personalities.

Is superficial and simple less important than complicated and academic? What feeds the soul is always simple; it’s buzzing human minds that love complexity.

 “Over the years, when I’ve lectured on food, cynical listeners have complained that I’m reducing psychology to the themes of modern living and gourmet magazines. When I first heard such objections I felt defensive and concerned. Was I not being clear about the depth of these issues? Then I realized that magazines about food and home may be more important, even if they are intellectually light, than thick tomes of research and philosophy. Now I don’t mind being associated with books of recipes and advice about furnishings and entertainment. Of course, they can be superficial and middle-class, but their simplicity is not a sign of their insignificance.”

And, how true is this?  The extra time real food demands of us is not wasted but serves the soul.

“It’s no accident that in our disenchanted times we have found hundreds of ways to short-circuit the production, preparation and eating of food, and so it makes sense that to re-enchant our ordinary lives we could approach the supermarket, the kitchen, and the dining room differently, realizing that the extra time real food demands of us is not wasted but serves the soul.”

Evening is a social time for the cows. The little ones scamper and play, tails flagging, wild eyed and silly or sometimes they are lazy and nap flopped together in a big, congenial heap. The Ladies are busy munching, grabbing their evening meal, especially when the weather is as stiflingly hot as it has been recently. To avoid the heat, they do most of their work in the cooler air of early morning and twilight, spending their afternoons napping in the  groves of shady trees.

And so this evening, we ponder the importance of two words rarely used anymore – enchantment and delight. Yet that’s exactly what I feel every day as I stand in the special glow unique to summer evenings, pumping water into the trough and watching the cows graze their favorite evening pasture. My chattering mind cannot overcome the magic and finally gives up. We are completely content, the dueling parts of my brain and I, if just for a little while. And, that enchanted moment is what gives me the desire to get up early and do all the scary, mundane, dirty, repetitive and/or unpleasant things I have to do.

Delighted.

The little ones scamper and play, tails flagging, wild eyed and silly