Cold

Deep cold in winter reminds me of growing up in a small rural town in northern Canada. One winter we had an artic front descend into our area and the temperature plummeted to negative forty for several days and one morning, the temps fell to over negative fifty. Half the town lost electricity. Schools closed. The few businesses in town suspended their services. Outside, the only sound was the wind moving through the snow drifts. It had an eerie appeal as if the snow swirls were ghosts.

When the temperature climbed back to zero, it felt warm. Walking to school, I loosened the wool scarf around my mouth and watched as my breath made little vapor clouds every time I exhaled through my mouth. At recess, I made snow angels on the snowy playground, and then, after school, skipped all the way home, delighting in the thought of a mug of hot chocolate.

So, yesterday, when the temperatures dipped into the single digits, and I got a weather alert on my phone – “Dangerously cold weather. Unsafe wind chill factor. Frost bite and hypothermia will occur much faster” – I thought, that’s not cold! I can still go outside and not have to cover my whole face and I can hear a few chickadees twittering in a nearby tree. 

And besides, when it’s really cold, I mean my memory barometer of cold, something extraordinary happens. Animals burrow deep underground or take refuge under an old tree. Owls and winter birds conserve energy and will not hunt or forage for food. It’s as if the forest and everything in it hides and all that is left is silence. A deep all-pervasive silence. The quietness trickling into every living and non-living thing, muting noise and senseless chatter; uniting us all in a feeling of togetherness, a feeling of survival. One earth. One people.

“Listen to silence. It has so much to say.” Rumi

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2022. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Health is Wealth

A plastic cup with the words, “early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” written in bold black letters was my constant companion when I grew up. By the way, that quote was made famous by Benjamin Franklin, yet to be historically accurate, it came from the Greek philosopher Aristotle. I drank my morning milk from that cup, awful stuff in those days, dry skim milk powder mixed with water. Lucky days were when I could mix in some milk chocolate to at least make it so I didn’t have to hold my nose to drink it.  

I read those words every day and naively believed they were written just for me and often thought that I had to be healthy first in order for the other two, wealthy and wise, to work. So, the word “healthy” really stuck. Still does. And, as I’ve grown older, even more so. For without my good health, how can I enjoy all the things I want to do like snowshoeing on a beautiful winter morning or planting bulbs in the spring or going for a long hike on a warm summer day?

When I’m sick, which doesn’t happen that often, I don’t feel like doing much. Usually, food doesn’t taste too good and I tend to get grumpy. Okay, sometimes more than just grumpy. The mantra, “I can’t wait to feel myself again,” rolls around and around in my head.

Usually after a few days, when I feel better, I’ll once again take my good health for granted, until the next time I get sick or… worse… when a loved one gets ill enough to be hospitalized. Which happened recently. It threw me for a loop and for whatever reason it got me thinking about that plastic cup I drank from decades ago and wishing I could just give that cup to my loved one. He’d read the words, then go to bed early, and wake up young and full of all the get-up-and-go he’d ever need. He wouldn’t even need to drink milk. Health is wealth.

“A life without health is like a river without water.” M. Lagace´

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2022. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Wind Gusts

It’s a blustery day. The wind has blown all day long, the trees swaying with the gusts. I tend to like the sound the wind creates as it snakes its way through the cedar and spruce boughs. When the wind really picks up speed, I sometimes can hardly hear anything else at all. It can also cause a lot of havoc as I watch the grill cover and the plastic covering for the deck furniture blow off.

Last year, we had what we are all now referring it to as “the big blowdown.” Super strong blasts of wind howled down the mountain valleys tearing up century old trees, knocking out power lines, ripping through fields, plucking up roadside trees and depositing them across the highways. We were without power for a few days. Some friends lost their power for a week. Some for longer.

Still, I like the wind. It reminds me of the power of nature and of those things that are out of my control. I can only try to bend and shift and sway with the tides of change. Accept what I must. Do what I can. Love well. Appreciate what I have and do my best when the wind knocks me off my feet.

Wind blows through the trees

as twilight descends. The snowbanks

as high as my waist crunch

under my boots. The mountains

silhouetted in the distance seem

to lean in close, as if to whisper

a blessing as darkness descends. One

by one, the stars come out, bright

then brighter, like lupine

in spring, small lavender buds, then magnificent

violet blooms. I hear a lone

coyote, then the hoot of a distant owl. A moon sliver

peeps up behind the tallest spruce creating fingers

of light dancing on the snow. My nose

tingles in the cold and I smile. Then walk

home to warmth and all I love.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2022. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Happy New Year

The new year begins on Saturday. 2022!

It’s hard to believe a whole year has gone by. It feels like I lost a year because I keep saying things like, “remember that kayaking trip we took to Canada?” only to be corrected with, “That was two years ago, my dear, not last year.”

Last New Year’s Eve, I think I watched the ball drop in Times Square on television, and then went to bed. But I don’t know for sure.

Anyhow, this year I’m determined to truly let go of the past year (or two) and embrace the new year with a bright, fresh attitude. A clean break from the I-should-haves, the failed promises, those pounds I wanted to lose and for not reading all the books I bought; all the goals I somehow just didn’t have the time or the energy or the passion to achieve.

Actually, I might not write out any goals this year and just be more spontaneous, carefree. Let my tendency to be productive and creative and to finish things slide. Take out my skis when it snows and spend the morning moving silently through the forest. Not plan dinner and instead, go out somewhere in the middle of the week. Check our local listing for a live music event. Just today, when I went to get ground coffee, I noticed a sign for a Sunday brunch with a live cello player. Now wouldn’t that be nice?

With that in mind, I’d like to end 2021 full of hope for a new beginning without the hard edges of planning things and limiting possibility and clinging to the past. Appreciating the movement from old to new and wishing for all of us the absolute best for our new year.

“In the beginners mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Shunryu Suzuki

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Happy Holidays

Most of us know the Story of the Magi, a short story written by O. Henry and first published in 1905, about a poor couple’s struggle to buy Christmas gifts for each other. On Christmas Eve the wife, Della, visits a hairdresser who buys her long hair so Della can buy her husband a chain for his watch. When the husband, Jim, comes home that evening, Della tells him she sold her hair to buy him the chain. Jim then gives Della her present, a set of ornamental combs he bought by selling his watch, which she won’t be able to use until her hair grows back. While the gifts that Jim and Della give each other couldn’t be used, they knew how deep and true their love was for each other which, I think, is all that truly matters.

Last year, many of us did not or could not mark that holiday season in traditional ways with family, loved ones, and or friends. I can’t even remember now if I put out any decorations or if I prepared a special meal. The one thing I do remember –it just wasn’t the same.

I wrote in one of my blogs about how great it would be if everything just got back to normal; an average winter followed by a decent spring and a wildfire-free summer. A time to celebrate those annual observances like July fourth or New Year’s Eve or Kwanzaa or Diwali or Eid al-Fitr with joy and shared camaraderie. I’d give up receiving any gifts if it was possible for my family to be together this year because, for me, the greatest gifts are not wrapped in paper.

“Family is the life jacket in the stormy sea of life.” J.K. Rowling

Happy Holidays everyone and of course,

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Winter Wonderland

Several inches of new snow fell overnight covering the landscape in a blanket of white. Snowflakes as big as nickels continued to fall all day muffling the sound of a distant train. A deer family, that usually passes through our property, did not; and other familiar visitors such as a snowshoe hare, a grey squirrel, and a reddish chipmunk stayed inside their prospective burrows. Even the snowplow did not show.

Although it is not officially winter per se, by all natural indicators, winter is definitely upon us. A season of frost, ice, twilight, cold, snow, and the colors of blue, white, and grey. Some of the many things I like about this time of year.

Another thing I really like about winter is that when it does snow, I can see the animal tracks of any creature that may have visited the land. Like today.

Instead of shoveling, I decided to walk down past our burn pile and into the forest. There, I noticed a set of animal tracks and crouched down to gaze at them for a while, even walking alongside them deeper into the woods. The fore and hind prints were about two inches long, slightly longer than wide, with four toes, and no claw marks. The heel pad was lobed at the rear and concave at the front. The trail it had made was narrow as if it was a two-legged animal with overlapping fore prints. Bobcat? I pictured the animal roaming noiselessly over the land, hunting as it traveled. I took a photo of one of the more distinct prints and headed back to the house.

Beside the fireplace, with a steaming cup of tea, I read through my Field Guide to North American Mammals to be assured I was correct in my assumption. Sure enough, the photo I took and the one in the field guide matched perfectly.

There is a certain comfort knowing a bobcat can still wander free and wild here. For how long, I do not know. But for today, to see bobcat tracks in the snow, possibly hunting a snowshoe hare just as they have done for thousands of years, brightens my outlook on our fast-changing and often tenuous world.

Snow all day and then

yellow bands of light warm my

undemanding heart…

How did you find solace today?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Music

When I write, I usually listen to music; different genres to help create a scene, develop a character, a plot, or deepen the protagonist of my story. I tend to appreciate movie soundtracks that go on for long periods of time to keep pace with the way my brain works: Interstellar, The Hours, The Danish Girl, or The Theory of Everything for example. Right now, I’m listening to a melodic new age piece with the background sound of ocean waves.

I can write for hours when my writing space is filled with melody. My body relaxes. I breathe deep and long. Other important things in my life are suspended for a while.

Scientists state that music is “medicine for the brain” and if one listens to music regularly it can reduce anxiety, blood pressure and pain, improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory. There are even studies about the possibility that listening to music can lengthen one’s life. It seems like such an easy thing to do –undemanding, simple, trouble-free. A song to lighten my mood, encourage me to write, let my mind drift away on a sea of memories or to simply enjoy the moment.

I like songs with words too and I’ve enjoyed many over the years. Certain ones still evoke emotion such as when the song played at my wedding comes on the radio or ones that remind me of all the wonderful times with my children when they were growing up.

Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish author of the infamous Andersen fairy tales –Thumbelina, The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling to name a few, once wrote:

“When words fail, music speaks…”

Music. What a gift.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Getting Back to Normal

With the recent rains, the air smells of water-logged leaves, moist soil, and hints of wood smoke from neighbors’ fireplaces. Yesterday, it poured all day creating big puddles on the roads. Dry streams are now running full and the moss in the forest is a bright green. The crispy-dry parched earth and smoke-filled skies from this year’s intense summer replaced by what it should feel like here in the northwest.

Yesterday, when I got back from my daily walk, I saw a snowshoe hare hopping across our driveway. Its fur turning noticeably whiter. During winter, snowshoe hares are normally white, helping them camouflage in the snow from predators. Last year, I startled one of those hares holed up under our front porch. Its fur had completely changed to white. When the conspicuous snowy colored hare vaulted out from under the porch and dashed across the brown field void of snow, it was a rare sight indeed. So unusual, like what the whole of this last year has felt like.

My friends all think this will be a “good winter” with lots of snow and much, much colder. I think the forest, the wildlife, the lake, and the mountains all need that, as well as myself. I want to believe things can go back to normal. That we can have an average winter with an average snowfall. Cold enough to wear my down jacket and ski right off my deck. Just an average holiday season where I can meet with friends and celebrate with family. A time to find comfort around the fireplace after a day skiing or snowshoeing, my toes and face numb from the cold. Blowing ripples on my hot chocolate before sipping and relishing in that sweet solace.

You know, trusting in a more natural order where everything might feel a bit more relaxed again. A cold, snowy winter followed by a rainy spring and a warm summer. The extremes and extremism resting for a while to give way to just an ordinary, normal, balanced calm.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Giving Thanks

American Thanksgiving is Thursday and people from all around the country will come together to celebrate with an abundance of food and cheer. Others will volunteer their time to prepare and serve a  meal to those less fortunate. Some will choose not to observe the holiday, while still others may not be able to.

I was born and raised in northern Canada where we observed Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October. I remember it as a day off from school, a time to catch up on homework, followed by a nice meal and my mother’s delicious apple pie. Nothing fancy. No relatives. (However, I believe Canada has since adopted some of the more festive elements of the American Thanksgiving.)

My own family and my husband’s extended family have taught me how to enjoy this joyous occasion over the years and I’ve adopted several of the commemoration norms, even creating a new one. It is now part of how we mark Thanksgiving, or our term for the day, Giving Thanks.

Before we sit down to enjoy dinner, I fill one of my large pottery bowls half-way with cold water and  empty one or two bags of fresh cranberries; they float nicely on the water. Next, I place a tea candle for each person sitting at our dinner table on top of the cranberries and return the bowl to its place of honor –the centerpiece. Gathered around the table, sometimes sitting, sometimes standing, we pass around a long stemmed lighter as we each take a turn to light a candle and verbalize what we are grateful for. Usually, it’s about something specific for the year but sometimes we can’t help ourselves and voice many other things we are thankful for. Sometimes my vision blurs as my eyes threaten to leak a torrent of emotion.

Last year we did not get together because of the pandemic and this year we will not be together either. But I will still fill the greenish blue earthenware bowl with water and cranberries and float my candle of thanks.

Thank you to my wonderful family who have supported me without condition. Thank you for encouraging me to find the guts to publish and for always being so steadfast in your love. I am so much more because you are in my life.

Thank you to all my friends and colleagues, my pillars of strength.

Thank you to all the volunteers who supported others this past year.

Thank you to every single medical professional and caretaker and staff who helped more than I can even begin to write about.

Thank you to the service industry who provided meals and food and smiles and encouragement. It helped me get through some rough days.

Thank you to everyone who chooses kindness over malice. Your thoughtfulness makes a difference.

“What if today, we are just thankful for everything?” Charlie Brown.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

A Delicate Changing World

A few days ago, my husband and I took a hike to a place we had not visited in over thirty years. After a long, bumpy ride on a dirt forest service road we found the trailhead, parked, threw on an extra layer and began the climb to the top. Along the way we remarked on how beautiful the valleys looked, filled with the autumn yellow color of the western larch. When we got to the summit, the ribbons of gold stretched as far as we could see –into Montana and Canada. Truly spectacular.

We tried to take a selfie to replicate a photo taken of us there over thirty-seven years ago. However, our cold fingers fumbled in our attempt to do so, the arctic-like wind whipping our hair out of our caps as the cold crept into the tiny openings in our jackets, sending chills down our spines. After ten tries we gave up and later laughed when we peered into the phone photo gallery: half-faces, no heads, out of focus, too close.

We hiked down off the rocks and found a little crevice away from the gusts; a tiny spot with just enough room to sit on our haunches and drink sips of hot tea from our thermos along with a few mouthfuls of peanuts, chocolate, and dried apricots; not feeling too much different from the first time on that mountain top.

On the way back, we didn’t talk much, too engrossed in the beauty of the day. The saying “we only pass this way but once” kept popping into my head. I never thought it would have taken over thirty years to return to this incredible place. But it did. We agreed to come back next year and the year after and the year after that. But who knows what will happen between now and then? In the meantime, I quietly promised myself to absolutely enjoy the passage of time. Today. Now.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

The Joy of Cooking

Cool, rainy fall days have replaced the intense heat-filled days of summer. The sun rises later and later and sets earlier and earlier. My driveway is covered with fallen leaves and the forecast is for rain and more rain. I’m not complaining.

Yesterday, after yoga class, a friend stated, “Love this rainy weather. Makes me want to just curl up with a good book and make soup. A big pot of it to last the whole week.”

I agreed. I often find refuge in cooking something as ordinary as soup or hours making a special dish.

Once home I rummaged around a bottom cupboard for a couple of recipe books, thinking to make one of my favorite casseroles. Hidden underneath the ones I usually use was an ancient recipe book I hadn’t opened in a while, filled with handwritten notes and recipes that truly are from a different era. Reading a few made me laugh out loud:

“Yaghurt – The latest French food craze – 1905

Have you tasted any yaghurt yet? It is the latest food craze in France and has reached its popularity because it’s a sure remedy for the disease of growing old. Yaghurt, it is explained, is a curdled milk of a special kind, prepared after a Bulgarian recipe. It can be obtained in tins in Paris. It is supposed to be fatal to all sorts of hostile bacteria in the intestines, while friendly microbes thrive on it. It is said to look like ordinary cream cheese gone bad and tastes similarly. People who wish to live to a hundred eat nothing else for breakfast; but many who have sampled it prefer to die young …”

What a hoot! The recipe goes on to describe how to make it at home. Since, we can now all easily buy yaghurt, known today as yoghurt, in any grocery store I didn’t think anyone would want to know how to make it from scratch.

Instead of making the casserole, I ended up re-reading the cookbook containing many other things besides recipes: health tips, remedies, canning instructions, and how to dry herbs for instance, and found myself immersed in old timer tales and sayings: “3 meals a day makes your mind cloudy,” or “cook when you feel relaxed and unpressed for time,” or “cook only once every day or two…”

Or how about this one, written in 1954: “the little ways of cooking in our daily life remains the least subject to change while society rises, collapses and rises anew…”

Happy Autumn everyone. Here’s to the joy of cooking …

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Cat Nap

In the whirlwind of post book launch, I decided to take a day and do nothing; just be quiet for several hours. I didn’t turn on the television or listen to music and purposely turned off my computer and phone. My home seemed to breath a sigh of relief or maybe it was just the echo of my deep exhalations.

Several decades ago, when I lived in southeast Asia, I bought a small book called The Miracle of Being Awake by Thich Nhat Hanh. The book, a series of essays, is about basic mindful meditation practices; how to let go and truly relax.

I like many of the exercises the Venerable Hanh recommends but one in particular: letting go in a lying down position. So easy.

The instructions are something like this: Lying on my back on a flat surface without the support of a pillow and keeping my arms loosely by my side with my legs slightly apart, I just gently breathe in and out, allowing my mouth to open in a half-smile; letting go of every muscle as if I am sinking into the floor. Thich Nhat Hanh compares the relaxation exercise to a cat, completely relaxed before a warm fire, muscles yielding without resistance. Just breathing in and out.

Sometimes I fall asleep. Not a deep sleep, more like a nap. But when I wake up, I feel refreshed; restored somehow as if I went to a special place. I like to think it might be a secret or magical place just for me but it’s probably just my imagination.

The word nothing in the French language translates to la nullite´ meaning uselessness or nobody. It’s comforting to know the simple practice of doing nothing need not be productive or something I need to excel at.

Nowhere to go. Nothing to do. Nobody home.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Poetry

I tend to express myself best through my poetry –finding the fewest of words to convey my deepest feelings. Some people tell me that poetry is hard but I think it’s the easiest form of writing, especially contemporary poetry where I can freely create without worrying about syntax or structure.

Growing up I wrote poems on envelopes, receipts, paper bags; anything I could find really to jot down words popping into my head like describing the taste of the snow melting in my mouth or walking to school one very cold winter morning. All the bare trees were covered in a layer of ice. When the sun rose, low on the horizon that time of year, everything exploded in a sea of diamond light. It was so spectacular I spent the rest of the day trying to find the right words, even missing lunch with my friends, too engrossed in the flow of words stemming from somewhere inside me.

And sometimes I find the best way to express my love is to, well … you know, write.

My Faith in You

with honor and loyalty

embellished

in your heart

like the old television series

Lassie,

I believe everything

you tell me

and though sometimes I should

know better

and not take you so seriously

maybe even laugh

let my fingers ruffle through

your hair

I can’t help myself

for always believing

in you  

the way your eyes mist

over when I read

a recent poem

the kindness you show

to strangers

the love you shower

me with day after day

as we grow old and older

and older

and if you were to tell me

that there is indeed a place

where we will meet after death

I would believe you.

I would believe you

as I’ve always done before.

Sharon

How did you find solace this week?

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Letting Go

The book launch has come and gone. It went well or as good as can be expected during these times. I scheduled the book launch before this recent covid surge and spent the last weeks before the event vacillating between canceling or following through. I didn’t know which one was the best option and I still don’t. Several people did not show due to their concerns of gathering with people who may or may not have chosen to vaccinate. Some came for a few minutes, just enough time to wish me well and buy a book. Others stayed for a while to enjoy the appetizers and visit with friends. A few strangers stopped by as well.

One woman walking by the venue noticed the crowd and decided to come in and see what all the hubbub was about. She bought a book, found a small corner table, ordered something to drink and started to read. Later, she found me.

“I’m just visiting and will be flying back to my home in Florida,” she said. “I picked up your book and have read the first four chapters. I can’t put it down and will be reading this on the plane.” She held up my book and asked if I could sign it. “Oh, and I just recommended the book to my book club.”

Wow. You mean someone actually liked my book? “Thank you,” was all I could think of to say.

My family, friends, and publishing team all tell me I should be proud and bask in the glow of a “job well done.” But I still feel vulnerable showing my work to the world. For years Sylvie was all mine. A story I created and lovingly nurtured; developing the characters that at times felt like they lived in my home.

The tagline for my book is sometimes, holding on means letting go. I thought it a catchy phrase when I first wrote those words but they’ve come to mean so much more to me. The truth is sometimes I do need to let go and hold on to the truth of what Sylvie really is –the accomplishment of a lifelong dream.

How did you find solace this week?

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” Maya Angelou

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Clean Freak

My maternal grandparents had twenty-one children, which was always difficult for me to admit to anyone because usually when I told people this fact they’d guffaw or make a sarcastic remark or raise their eyebrows as if in disbelief.

“Twenty-one? You gotta’ be frigging kidding me?”

More often than not I changed the subject and omitted the other detail that my grandparents lived on a farm in a secluded area of northeastern Canada, logged their land, planted potatoes and blueberries, built everything by hand and rarely got sick due to my grandmother’s strict adherence to the saying, “cleanliness is Godliness.” I only visited my maternal grandparents’ home once and was completely blown away by the polished floors, the gigantic hand-hewn wooden table and benches gleaming in the morning light, and the sparkling glass so spotless I wondered if it was truly glass.

My mother inherited this trait of keeping a hygienic and dirt-free home and maintained that every weekend should be spent in the pursuit of “neat and tidy.” And even though there was disorder in other areas of our lives, our physical home was by most standards immaculate.

I too am like this. My husband and kids have teased me, sometimes relentlessly over the years, for my need for clean. As I age I’m trying to not care so much if things are out of place, left to gather dust or not quite right.

However, when I take the time to vacuum the inside of my car layered with a six-month coating of dust,  hose down the car mats, wash the windows and wipe the steering wheel, a certain calm seeps in as I hum or even sing a popular tune out loud.

I’m not sure if it’s the satisfaction of working hard or that things look better or the connection to grandparents and parents who have died many years ago now or maybe it’s just that when I clean house, I just clean house. I’m completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my thoughts. Not planning what I need to do next. Not sucked away reliving the past. Just very present. I wonder if my grandmother did this too or if it was just a way to keep twenty-one children busy and occupied.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved