Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Frosty Leeks

I walked out to the vegetable garden yesterday morning and dug up the leeks. The crusty snow insulated the ground in the last few hours above freezing. Now i have a handful of leeks safe and sound in the refrigerator instead of locked in the embrace of frozen Mother Earth as the temperature plummets into the single digits this morning.

Before our unskillful thoughts and actions "freeze" into bad habits, it's time to dig them out. Oh, it's not easy, trudging through our inner landscape, which can feel bleak.

The sassy comeback can feel so good. Practice biting your tongue, cooling your heels. Perhaps it will lead to less regret.
The quick defensive response to blame just hurls a hot potato back to the person who threw it at you. Practice holding the hot potato. (Ouch! That hurts.) Practice dropping it.

Keep digging around those unskillful thoughts and actions. Eventually, the ground won't be frozen. And neither will you.

Photo from oroedibles.com

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Icy Truth

Two inches of slush last night froze on tree branches overnight. So when the sun shone this morning, the icy trees shimmered like diamonds.

It's cold. It's wet. It's icy. It's beautiful. It's dangerous driving. It's heavenly.

Our attention freezes onto one of these qualities and calls it "the truth" to the exclusion of the others.

We freeze our attention into beliefs and cling to what our minds tell us.

Meanwhile, the ice on the trees is cold, wet, icy, and beautiful. Truth encompasses it all.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Eat Your Weeds

My friend, Trudy, age 88, recently self-published a book of her watercolor paintings of edible weeds. She offers wild weeds as a free source of organic vegetables. Her freezer is full of nettles, sorrel, and fiddlehead ferns. She digs up dandelion roots and keeps them in her refrigerator crisper drawer where they sprout green leaves all winter. Her kitchen is a veritable den of red clover blossoms, sumac staghorns, and who knows what else.

Nature can be our outdoor grocery store. Shall we eat healthy, natural food? Or shall we consume junk food?

What healthy "food" are your senses consuming these holiday days?

What "junk food" of TV, shopping, internet, etc. are your senses of sight, sounds, touches, smells, and tastes consuming?

Take a walk outdoors, perhaps a mindful walk. Look at the weeds alongside the road. Eat/see/feel your weeds.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Weeds? Or Wildflowers?

My sister gave me a cute garden sign for Christmas:
May all your weeds be wildflowers.

Well, uh, all weeds are wildflowers, already. That is, they are flowers in the wild, growing outside the garden. When they jump into the garden and settle in, then we call them "weeds." A weed is simply a plant or flower growing where we don't want it.

I consider violets to be weeds, but, if you don't live in New England, you might adore having some violets in your garden.

In fact, most of my "weeds" are wildflowers. I have some beautiful white mullein that pops up everywhere. You are familiar with the yellow variety that grows along roadsides.

This cute little sign is guiding us toward equanimity. When we can simply let the unpleasant (e.g., weeds) arise and pass, we don't get bent out of shape. And we don't bend over and pull a weed, er, wildflower, i mean.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Bath of Mindfulness

In order to make way for the Christmas tree, a few hanging plants had to find temporary homes elsewhere--the bathtub.

The bathtub on the first floor is seldom used anymore. It is extremely convenient for watering the plants. In fact, the Swedish ivy, the variegated ivy, and the arrow-leaf philodendron are looking better than they have since their summer vacation outdoors. Maybe they should just continue to live in the bathtub?

Bathing ourselves in mindfulness makes us calmer and less stressed.
Take a bath in mindfulness today.

P.S. (Yes, that plaid tile is from the 1970s.)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Worthy Reader

I have about a pint of poppy seeds, which i packaged into glassine envelopes to give away as Christmas gifts. If you would like a packet of annual poppy seeds (Papaver somniflorum), please message me with your snail-mail address.

My morning meditation group is reading a sutta about giving offerings to those who are worthy. In our society, we give tips to worthy waiters and waitresses.

How about an offering to the worthy reader?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Gifts

My Christmas cactus is actually blooming on Christmas day! And the amaryllis opened this morning. And i just found a bird-of-paradise!

Since my sweetie and i no longer exchange gifts, these blooming flowers feel like gifts to me.

Not giving gifts to my loved ones has greatly decreased my holiday stress. Imagine that! After all, a gift is really a way to say "I love you." And we can do that by sitting on the sofa together, looking at the Christmas tree, and all the blooms around it.

Try it now. Here's a guided meditation, called A Flower in Your Heart.
Practice the generosity of love right now.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Life and Loss

Susan's 92-year-old father died on Friday. He lived 3,000 miles away, and she had just seen him a few weeks ago. There are no plans for a funeral. I know, from experience, that this sort of private grief feels rather lonely.

I called the florist who was in a flurry with all her Christmas orders. Since i live in a small town, we know each other. "I can't promise delivery until the day after Christmas," she said.

"Maybe a plant," i said, thinking out loud. (I usually order cut flowers.)

"Oh, i have a white cyclamen," said Alva Jean, the florist. "Under the circumstances, i think it should go out today."

Susan emailed me 2 hours later, "These beautiful flowers will make my father's presence physical during the holiday festivities."

Loss and love and life happening at the same time, braiding through our holidays.

Photo from alpinegardensociety.net

Sunday, December 22, 2013



50 degree weather is evaporating 16 inches of snow.

Doing walking meditation this morning at Vermont Insight Meditation Center, it was so foggy i couldn't see anyone else. I knew there were a dozen people nearby, but where? I felt alone. Other people were invisible. Cars, trees, buildings--gone.

We walk around in the fog of delusion for most of our lives, unable to see clearly the truth of what is. We make up our own stories and call them opinions. Then we believe what our minds tell us and define ourselves by those same opinions.

Wouldn't we love to see clearly? Wouldn't we love to see what is?

Seeing things as they really are.
Every bit of our experience is defined by 3 characteristics:
  • impermanence
  • stress
  • not self
But we'd rather walk around in a fog, and pretend that things are stable, pleasant, and substantial. Just a figment of our active imaginations.

Photo from csm-art.blogspot.com

Friday, December 20, 2013

Hellebore Niger

Hellebore niger
I went grocery shopping at the food coop today and found a plant i've been looking for for 3 years! Hellebore niger. Also called Christmas Rose.

By this time, we all have lots of Hellebore in our shade gardens. Lots of Hellebore orientalis. Mine has even started to self-seed.

The thing i like about niger is that it looks straight at you. Orientalis hangs its head, and it's hard to really see it. But it does come in many shades of white through pinks all the way to burgundy.

Hellebore orientalis
Niger also blooms earlier, first thing in the spring, and is a welcome sight with its white flowers competing with the crocus (and winning!)

The next time you express gratitude to someone, try looking them straight in the eye. The neuroscientists tell us this eye contact releases oxytocin, a bonding hormone.

Yes, it's much easier to mumble "Thanks" and look down at the floor or anywhere else but directly into someone else's eyes. Eye-to-eye contact is so intimate. It's the direct route to our heart.

I'm going to go look my new Hellebore niger in the eye and express my deep appreciation to it.

Photo from freshbynorthwest.com

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Passé Popcorn

I just took down the 3 little ears of popcorn that were decorating my front door. The chipmunks ate most of one ear before i hung the 3 ears up out of the reach of their little paws.

In October, the popcorn looked so seasonal. In snowy December, it looks so passé. Our clothes that looked so sassy a few years ago, now look out-of-style. Our bodies.... Well, our bodies start to look a bit worse for the wear too.

Nevertheless, we keep decorating our bodies, trying to distract our attention, and the attention of other people, from the fact that we are becoming a bit passé ourselves. Our body has gone out of style. It has entered another season.

Still, we have deep gratitude for having a functioning body at all, regardless of how it looks. Even if it's eating popcorn.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pruning by Snowplow

5 more inches of powdery snow. The snowplow is back to his old tricks--he's doing my gardening for me. Or in this case, my pruning. I found a rhododendron branch 20 feet away from the shrub.

Sigh. Unpleasant.
On the other hand, the snowplow might wonder what that branch is doing in his way.

Space. Is it yours? Is it "mine"? Does the rhododendron own that space? Or does the snowplow?

We claim a space as ours--a seat at the theater or in the meditation hall. Then we find someone else sitting in "our" seat. Is it really "ours"?

The rhododendron is pruned, and what remains is lovely spacious space.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Shivering Rhododendron

Zero degrees this morning, rising to a high of 12 today. The rhododendron leaves are shivering. Each dark green leaf huddled into itself for protection against winter's cold.

Rhododendron leaves droop to vertical and curl into into cylinders, a sort of leaf icicle, as the temperature drops below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The shrub is stressed, but it has developed this tolerance in order to survive the winter.

How do we handle our stress? Do we curl into little balls? Droop around the mouth and eyes? Go ahead and feel the droop in the body. Feel the curling up.

When the temperature warms, the rhododendron leaves will spread their leaves to horizontal and bloom. And so will we.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Garden Statues in Winter

In this season of Christmas decorations, my sweetie and i have a difference of opinion about what should go at the front door.

He, a concert pianist, prefers the one he calls "young Beethoven" shivering by a little fire. I prefer my meditating frog, who looks like he's doing tumo--the heat-generating meditation done by Tibetan monks sitting naked in the snow.

Our compromise:
  • Beethoven at the front door
  • Froggie at guest cottage out the back door, where i can actually see him often :)

In this chilly season, what are your reminders of your best intentions?

This morning, i did a self-retreat and meditated for 5 hours in the guest cottage. Do you think Froggie had anything to do with it?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Same Old Thing, Made New

I've just cooked up the last of the beets from the garden into a delicious borscht. This week, i will finish off the carrots (that the chipmunks didn't eat). I have a few more potatoes, a few more onions, lots of garlic, and enough butternut squash for the winter.

Localvoring is actually hard work. The other morning, at meditation at my neighbor Connie's, i watched her chop fresh CSA vegetables into a miso soup. I'd like cabbage and collards for a change. I'm tired of carrots and beets. I'm almost tired of pesto too, but not yet.

Yeah, sometimes we get tired of our meditation practice. Same thing, day after day.

This is when we need to bring energy and interest to our practice.

I particularly like this quality in one of my teachers, Shinzen Young. Even when i go to monthly retreats with him, and he's teaching the same thing year after year, he always has a new angle on it. A new way to look at the same thing he's been saying for years.

Thich Nhat Hanh, who has authored more than 100 books, also always has a fresh way to teach meditation. He's in his late 80s, so he's been nourishing his students with the same thing now for decades.

Okay. Time to get back to those carrots. Do you have a new recipe for me?

Photo from pbs.org

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Cactus

Christmas cactus is blooming. Or not.

My neighbor, Connie's, Christmas cactus is beautiful.
Mine doesn't even have buds.
Another neighbor, Diana, says hers is wilting.

Shall we compare ourselves to the person next door? They or theirs is "better." There must be something wrong with me (or with mine). I want what they have.
Instead, we have what we have.
Can we find peace right here? At home. At home in our mind. At home in our own bodies, which are just as they are. Beautiful.

Photo from blog.chron.com

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Steamed Vegetables

In this season of steamed or boiled vegetables for dinner, we are left with a saucepan of water that we know is perfectly nutritious.

From past experience, i can predict that if i save it for soup stock, it will still be cluttering up the refrigerator a week from now. So, i let it cool, and after dinner, i water a houseplant with that green bean water, that potato water, that broccoli water.

When we get steamed, or even come to boiling, we can turn that unwholesome mind state into a wholesome mind state simply by noting out loud: "Steaming. Steaming. Steaming." or "Boiling. Boiling. Boiling." or "Worry. Worry. Worry." (or whatever your favorite unskillful mind state is :).

As we note or label out loud, our unskillful mind state cools down, and we water our daily mindfulness practice.

Photo from sarahbrownskitchengarden.wordpress.com

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Holiday Centerpiece

At Garden Club on Monday evening, i made a holiday centerpiece. I stationed myself right next to the floral designer so i could receive step-by-step instructions. What's the strategy for filling the oasis (that green floral foam) with greens?

Once the cedar, boxwood, and balsam fir looked lush, i was on my own as to design. I used 3 carnations, 3 glittery peacock feathers, 3 pine cones i spray painted with silver glitter, and a batch of baby's breath. Oh, and a candle.

When we're learning meditation, it's good to get step-by-step instructions from someone who knows how.

I tried not to look at what other women were doing in baskets and vases. Some people are really artistic, their creations looked really festive, and, well, i'm....

Let's not believe what the comparing mind is saying. The mind holds onto negative thoughts like Velcro. I could just enjoy my centerpiece, which actually looks pretty good standing alone on the dining table.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

White Roots Growing Underground

"Honey, it's cold outside."

Even so, white roots are growing underground. I can see this when i go to my freezer in the basement and glance at those 50 hyacinths in forcing vases on the floor. Their white roots are slowly growing in water. The growing tips of the bulbs show tiny green.

Since i can't see what's happening with my tulip bulbs in pots in the garage, i have to trust that their roots are growing too. So far, the temperature in the garage hasn't dropped below the mid-30s--perfect for the bulbs, as long as i keep them watered.

Even just a little mindfulness meditation changes our DNA by reducing our inflammatory response to stress.

Ease your mind as this stressful season gathers force, and grow your roots of mindfulness.

Photo from morestylethancash.com

Monday, December 9, 2013

Coldest 90 Days

It's snowing.

December 9 begins the coldest 90 days of the year. So here we go, on the downhill slide into winter. Whee!

The ground is locked up. The snowfall covers a multitude of sins--undone projects, unkempt flowerbeds. Out of sight and out of mind.

Now there's nothing to do but walk in the snow, snowshoe on the snow, ski on the snow, sled on the snow (even if you're 70), and skate on the ice. Our possibilities have narrowed down to this for the coming 90 days.

Goodbye, Gardening. Farewell, Flowers. Das Vidanya, Vegetables. There is a season to everything, and now the seasons have turned. Everything ends. Everything.

Photo from cntraveler.com

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sumac Tea

My friend Trudy served  sumac tea and stinging nettle soup for lunch the other day. She's a great forager, so her freezer is full of wild things. She sent me home with a staghorn of sumac so i can make my own lemon-y tasting tea.

To make the tart sumac tea hot, take the sumac "berries" off the stem. Otherwise the boiling water will leach tannin from the stem into your tea.

Sumac trees are often considered to be weed trees, but i have come to like their short height (8-12 feet) and lovely shape as a backdrop to the garden. And their fall color is spectacular crimson.

Birders also report seeing robins and bluebirds eating the sumac berries all winter long.

We all have "weedy" thoughts that we'd like to chop down and get rid of. Sometimes they form the on-going backdrop of our mind. "What you resist, persists."

Let's love those weedy thoughts.
Name one or two of yours right now.
Irritation. Impatience. Lust. Frustration. Procrastination.

Then say,
I love myself as i am, irritated.
I love myself as i am, impatient.
I love myself as i am, lustful.
I love myself as i am, _____________. (Fill in the blank with whatever unlovable qualities you think you have.)

Yes. I even love myself as i am, feeling unlovable.

This is one way to make lemonade out of lemons.

Photos from trustedearth.com and teaandfood.com

Friday, December 6, 2013

Poinsettia Re-Blooms

My 3-year-old poinsettia is beginning to bloom. It's scrawny. The "flowers" are small, but there's nothing like a dash of red on these dreary winter days to remind us of new life.

New life is growing underground. When i planted bulbs a couple of days ago, i pulled up the white roots of mint, which are creeping along, undetected, even in this cold weather.

Even on the dreariest of days, like today, mindfulness reminds us that we are alive! Let's be grateful for the simplest things--our 5 senses, our mind, a warm house, electricity, running water.

And i'm even grateful for this scrawny poinsettia.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Right Tool

The right tool for planting bulbs in the  semi-frozen ground is the Spear Head Spade. This narrow, pointy shovel is great for dividing root-y plants, like hostas, that you would otherwise want to take the hatchet to. At this time of year, it's narrow point is good for breaking through the 2-inch frozen crust of earth to get to the dirt underneath and dig a hole for bulbs.

I love having the right tool for the job, and my shed is full of tools so that when i'm ready to do a particular job, i can grab the right implement.

The right tool for our daily life is mindfulness. Yes, we also have many other tools available to us--loving-kindness, compassion, non-judgmentalness, sensory clarity. Choose the right tool for the job. Let's implement mindfulness today. Now.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Last Chance

Quick! The ground has thawed for a minute. That is, if the ground is in the sun. If it's in the shade, the earth is still frozen solid.

It's your last chance, YOUR LAST CHANCE to plant those spring bulbs that have been dilly-dallying by the back door.

We usually don't know when we're being presented with our last chance--our last chance to see a friend who drops dead a week later, our last chance to say "I love you" to an aging relative, our last chance to hug an acquaintance who then moves across the country.

Life is precious. This very life is very precious. Taking life for granted is a form of ingratitude. Taking it for granted that things will continue as they have been is short-sighted, and sometimes leads to regret. "If only i'd known. If only i'd...."

We can't know the future. We can't expect the future to be the same as the past. But we do expect things to continue just as they always have.

Life is full of surprises. Surprise yourself and appreciate this day, the next person you see, this last chance to plant daffodils.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Berry Bowls

My sweetie loves to buy things at the Holiday Bazaar at his church. This year he brought home an ornament called "Santa Claws." But the purchase we had agreed on before he went were the Berry Bowls--a little terrarium in a vase made with a bed of moss and red partridge berries.

These Berry Bowls are quite festive with red and green. They are very easy to maintain as long as you don't place them in direct sunlight. The make a nice gift during this wintry season. And they last until spring. By which time we've forgotten about them.

 Shopping locally keeps our money in the community. The Christmas Bazaar benefits the church. So these gifts are a double form of generosity.

And Santa Claws is going to be given to someone.  I bet you wish it was you.

Santa Claws made by someone who eats a lot of lobster
Photos from thelaurelofasheville.com and partridgeberrybowlkit.com

Monday, December 2, 2013

Simple Gifts

This is the time of year when i usually buy a bouquet every week or two for the kitchen table. But this year, i'm putting jars of cuttings on the table and finding them to be attractive little nosegays.

One jar of velvety coleus cuttings, one jar of magenta iresina, and another jar of pink begonias. Pretty soon the collection looks like a bouquet. A welcome sight these winter evenings whe
n the sun goes into hiding at 4:15 p.m.

You could say i'm localvoring my own bouquet. My "flowers" weren't flown thousands of miles. They came from 20 feet away, from the houseplants in my solarium.

Simple living. Simple gifts.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Parnsip Patience

The ground is frozen. And frozen into it are leeks, parsnips, and jerusalem artichokes. Even my neighbor Connie, who has been known to take a hatchet to the dirt so she can pry up some roots for roasting, couldn't extract her leeks from the ground.

And so we wait. Patience my dear. The vegetables in in the deep freeze embrace of Mother Earth. They will still be there when the earth thaws--in January or next spring.

We put our wanting on hold and call it patience.