Monday, December 22, 2014


The winter solstice bonfire warmed us all last night. About 25 friends and neighbors arrived for a convivial potluck in our candle-lit home. The food tasted delicious. Then we went outdoors to light the bonfire, whose flames rose up 20 feet.

I use a bundle of sage to smudge each person. Smudging is a purifying smoke bath used by Native Americans. It seems counter-intuitive to think of smoke as a bath, and a purifying one at that. Yet, think of smoky fires that drive away mosquitoes and other pesky insects or smudgepots in orchards that keep the frost off of blossoming trees. As the smoke rises, it carries our prayers to the Great Mystery.

Sacred herbs such as sage, sweetgrass, and cedar are used for smudging, for cleansing our energies.

Here are the instructions from one website:

Rub your hands in the smoke to cleanse them; 
scoop the smoke into your hands and bring it 
to your head, so you will think good thoughts - no anger, jealousy, hate; 
to the eyes so you will see the world around you in a good way; 
to the throat so you will speak always in kindness and in non-judgmental ways; 
to the ears, so that you will listen truly listen to each other instead of 'waiting to speak';
to the heart so you feel connected to all living beings in a loving way; 
to the solar plexus so your emotions connect with the Earth Mother; 
to the womb, so your life giving energies go out into the world in balance and harmony; 
under the feet, this way your dark side and the world will not follow in your footsteps.

No matter what our spiritual beliefs, our intentions are to act as harmlessly as possible, and smudging is just one outer manifestation to remind us, once more, of our inner and honorable intentions.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Recycled Christmas Cards

I'm sending out my Christmas cards. First, let me tell you about my cards. Every year, i recycle the Christmas cards i receive by cutting off the message half of the card and throwing it away. I keep the picturesque part of the card, which now looks like a postcard. The following Christmas i send these Christmas "postcards" to my friends. I really enjoy both the recycling of the cards and the saving of several dollars by not buying new cards. Recycling is another form of voluntary simplicity--simplifying my life by not buying more paper products, by not going shopping.

Sometimes, i even send the postcard back to the person who send it in the first place. If they liked it once, they might like to look at it again.

These Christmas postcards mean i have to write my own message. Here's the one that i'm using this year:

  Happy Holidays and a healthy New Year!

You recognize these wishes as loving-kindness in disguise. The essence of what i'm writing is May you feel happy. May you feel healthy. Two commonly-used loving-kindness phrases. Sometimes, i'm writing this on a card whose message is Peace. May you feel peaceful is another traditional loving-kindness phrase.

Christmas-card writing becomes another opportunity to practice loving-kindness.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Lost, but Found

Lost, but Found, my annual book of reflections, is available now on Amazon.
Paperback or Kindle.

From the Introduction:
The upside of losing things is having enough space in your life to find something else. I don’t know about you, but for myself, I’ve always had to close the door on the past good and tight before a new door opens, revealing a possibility I had never imagined. Lose the old, so that there’s enough breathing space for the new to make its appearance, to be “found.”.

Read about the adventures of Cheryl and Bill during this past year.
Browse through the Best of this Blog.

And relax into a few, brief Dharma talks.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Roasting Pumpkin Seeds

I steamed one of my little pie pumpkins, so i could make pumpkin-black bean tostadas. But first, i had to clean the seeds out of the pumpkin.

I put them in a colander and then rushed out the door. When i returned home, my sweetie had cleaned them up and put them on a plate to dry. Oh, sweet man!

I put them onto a little baking sheet, with a rim, doused them with soy sauce, and put them in the toaster oven for 40 minutes. I was in and out of the house, so i asked my sweetie to look at them when the timer rang. He turned them and then worried about them. How much longer? They were still sticky. What were they supposed to look like?

Dealing with the pumpkin seeds was causing him a lot of stress, mostly in the form of worry and anxiety, and also (i suspect) some irritation at me because i wasn't doing "my" job.

I don't like to see him suffering, so i went into problem-solving mode. "Just stop, honey." What i meant was just-stop-stressing-out over the pumpkin seeds, stop looking at them, stop caring about them. We can ease our suffering in any moment, simply by being mindful--of what we are doing, what we are feeling, what we are thinking, what we are saying.

My sweetie likes to make me happy. (Note: His stress was not making me happy.) So he tried to perform a job he didn't really want to do. He doesn't even like tamari pumpkin seeds because they're tough and hard to chew.

The end result is that the pumpkin seeds are roasted; they are delicious; and i am happy. And he is happy because i am happy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Little Spring Bulbs

They say animals return to places where they have previously found food. Bears will return to your compost pile. I can vouch that raccoons and squirrels return to the birdfeeder.

Myself? I return to the garden center to buy a few more winter bulbs to pot up. I'm done with Dutch tulips. I've found one nursery that still has a supply of small bulbs--scilla, puschkinia, and those dwarf Turkish tulips that i love.

This shopping for bulbs has all the hallmarks of craving: I plan where and when i'm going to the garden center days in advance; I make sure i have enough time to stop, that i'm not in a hurry; I buy just a few packages of bulbs, trying to fool myself into thinking i have control over the situation.

Oh, i have a wonderful rationale, which my mind just latched on to: If i plant these bulbs in pots, then i can put them exactly where i want them in the spring. You have to admit: that's a very good rationalization.

I am craving spring flowers.

Simply notice that.
Puschkinia and Scilla (Siberian squill)
Tulip violacea

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Repotting Brand-New Houseplants

While i had my potting soil within easy reach, i repotted some plants i recently bought.

  • Two  little cyclamen looked like they were crammed into their little plastic pot; they were difficult to water. 
  • A little poinsettia, as i suspected, had its roots constrained by a tiny 2" peat pot. I peeled the peat pot off to let the roots spread out. 
  • A little anthurium had thick roots and was very nearly root-bound.
These brand-new plants looked so beautiful at the garden center. They had been pruned and fertilized to maximum growth. They looked ideal. And therein lie the seeds of suffering.

Once these plants arrive at my house, they come face to face with the reality of dry air, sporadic watering, and no fertilizing.

We compare ourselves--or our plants--to some imaginary ideal. I should look like.... And my plants should look like they did when i bought them. If they start to look pale and wan and lose leaves, it must be my fault. I'm not as good a gardener as some imagined ideal gardener. Oh! If only i were perfect.

Reality is that plants live, wilt, peter out, and die. When we can accept things as they are and simply watch life as it unfolds, there we can find peace.

Acceptance doesn't mean that we just roll over. I rolled my plants into bigger pots and hope that more room to grow enables them to live a better life.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Right Potting Soil

I've been buying half-price tulip bulbs and planting them in pots. I'm embarrassed to tell you how many.

I've been having a good time making my own potting soil by starting with 1/2 bucket of manure mixed with 2 quarts of vermiculite. Then add an equal amount of potting soil. Then, depending on how it looks, i might add a quart of perlite for water retention.

I'm a bit skittish about potting soil, since last winter i used potting mix out of a bag, and everything i planted withered and died.

The 8-month old manure doesn't smell anymore and gives the potting soil moistness as well as fertility. I always add vermiculite to my potting soil. After last winter's fiasco, i bought perlite for my next round, to double my chances that the potting soil stays moist enough.

We have to be careful where we plant ourselves--in front of the TV, at the movies, or in the lunch room full of catty remarks. Even though the place, the situation, the event may be recommended by many people, we can sometimes find ourselves in situations that wither our good intentions.

The potted tulips are in my garage, right beside where i park my car. I almost trip over them when i get out of the car. This is to remind me to water them once a month this winter, by shoveling some snow on top of them.

May all our best intentions flower. Hopefully in the spring!