Heat Wave

It’s been hotter here in the Pacific Northwest than I can ever remember. The moss in the forest is crispy brown instead of its usual emerald green and a few of the largest deciduous trees surrounding my property have even dropped a few leaves. If the trees could talk, I think they’d whine, “it’s too hot.”

When I was a young woman, I had the great privilege of living in India for a few years and experienced some of the hottest temperatures of my life. My journal states on one of those days the temps climbed to 123 degrees with 100% humidity. At the time, I lived in a small concrete outbuilding with no air conditioning, of course, and adopted the local way to stay cool: dump buckets of water on the concrete floor, lay down on a straw mat in about 2” of the tepid stuff, directly under an overhead fan until the sun went down, and more important try not to move. It worked. Or at least I survived the heat. I lay under that fan counting my breaths or fantasizing about what I’d do once the heat wave passed –drink a cold soda from the market, laugh with my friends, put on a fresh dress, dance in the streets.

One time, I sat up in the water and tried to read but when I opened my book the pages had begun to disintegrate and a few maggots crawled out of the spine. It left me breathless.*

In my new home I have air conditioning and the books on my shelf are intact and I don’t have to lay in a pool of water for hours and hours before I can drink iced tea or call my friend or take a shower and put on clean clothes or dance all around the house in my bare feet. Solace in gratitude for what I have.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

*you can read more of my amazing journey in my new book, Wandering – a memoir, available 2022.

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Grammie

My mother-in-law, Grammie, will turn 105 this year and is the beloved cornerstone of her blossoming family of three children, two sons-in-laws, one daughter-in-law, eight grandchildren –six who are married, and fifteen great grandchildren. They all consider Grammie to be the Grand in their Canyon, the Fortune in their Cookie, the High in their Noon, the matriarch who provides them with a wealth of love and generosity no money could buy.

I did not grow up with that kind of care but it sure seems to me that having a woman like that in your life is a great thing.

Grammie at 103

I’ve known her to be a woman with a heart as big as tomorrow who always placed the welfare of everybody else above her own. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve even heard her complain, her eternal optimism a thing to marvel at. Is anybody like that anymore?

I don’t believe it ever occurred to her not to bake cookies for every single neighbor or host gatherings when no one else wanted to or be the first one to volunteer for a community event or support her favorite charities or send birthday and Christmas and Valentine’s Day and Spring and Thanksgiving and Anniversary cards and gifts to every single one of her progeny. Does anybody do that anymore?

Yesterday, my husband did a zoom call with her. Their conversation was limited due to her failed hearing and the inevitable decline in memory, but my heart did that little zing thing when I interrupted their call with a quick wave, “Hey there, how are things?”

Her eyes lit up. “Sharon, is that you honey?”

Honey –my husband doesn’t even call me that anymore. “Yep, it’s me,” as a warmth spread across my chest.

We chuckled and talked about nothing special: what she ate for lunch; repeating her recent visit with her daughter; and then I said goodbye, finding a little bit of solace in watching her endearing smile.

When she dies, it will be both a sad and a heartening time, because we will miss that Rock in our Roll but we’ll also rejoice in having known greatness.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Joy of Writing

When I made the decision to publish my books, I really did not have any idea what that would entail. I was one of those old-fashioned romantics who believed all I needed to do was write a good book and everything else would magically fall into place. Right?

I’ve spent years writing my books: rewriting, editing, sending manuscripts to professional editors, rewriting again, editing, sending to professional editors, rewriting again, editing, attending writer conferences, joining writer critique groups, participating in writer workshops and university classes…

Surely, the hard work was done. Surely, a traditional publishing house would want my unique story and then they could do all the rest: design the front cover, prepare a beautiful interior layout, print both a hard and paperback copy, guide and orchestrate the book marketing and public relation arena. I’d be famous in no time.

Wrong.

Publishing companies are businesses and they need to make money to thrive and survive; choosing wisely to stay in budget, cutting expenditures, exploring fees and rates and so on. They have no time for quixotic visions.

If I wanted to publish, I needed to create a website, learn how social media and authoring go hand in hand, think publicity and promotion, gather endorsements, understand the new rules of press releases, find and identify top influencers, blog, engage with writing communities, and so much more.

As my book consultant said, “it’s a marathon, no, it’s a series of marathons.”

Each day I wake up to tackle one of my many publishing tasks in front of me. Some days are better than others. However, I find the most joy when I can just sit down and write –letting the words flow out of me.

I read a beautiful quote the other day by Maya Angelou. It read: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Sigh… Isn’t that the truth?

Comfort in a few wise words.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Chocolate Cake

When my daughter was growing up, I’d make her favorite chocolate cake once a year – on her birthday. The recipe came from an old cookbook titled: The Best Chocolate Cake in the World. I still make that cake, albeit infrequently, even though my kids are all grown and live in a different state and a different country.

My favorite chocolate cake

Here is the recipe:

Prepare the following custard in a double boiler – melt 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, slowly add ½ cup milk, 1 cup brown sugar and I egg yolk. Remove from heat when thickened.

In a bowl, sift 2 cups unbleached white flour with 1 teaspoon baking soda.

In another bowl, beat until soft – ½ cup softened butter, 1 cup sugar, 2 egg yolks.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternating with ¼ cup water, ½ cup milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Stir in the chocolate custard.

Whip 2 egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold them into the cake batter.

Transfer the cake batter into 2 greased cake pans and bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.

The icing is even better:

Melt 3 oz. unsweetened chocolate in a double boiler. Melt in 3 tablespoons butter. Remove from heat. Add ¼ cup hot water and then gradually add 1 teaspoon vanilla and 2 cups confectioners’ sugar. For the middle of the cake, add some of the icing and ¼ cup raspberry jam.

I’m not sure if finding comfort in a piece of chocolate cake is a great thing or a small thing. Maybe it’s both. Either way, on the odd occasion, I delight in sinking my teeth into this cake, savoring every bite. In fact, I think this may be one of the only times I truly participate in Mindful Eating!

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Getting Along

There’s this tree on my property we call the Miracle Tree. Well, it’s actually four different trees growing out of one huge, very old cedar stump: a birch, a cedar, a hemlock, and a Douglas fir. They are all about the same height and I guess them to be about fifteen to twenty years old; evenly spaced, each of them finding nourishment and strength in the remains of what was at one time a four- to five-hundred-year-old ancient cedar. The base has recently begun to fall apart to allow the root systems of the four trees to grow. On one side, the crack has splintered enough to reveal that the root structure of the birch and the hemlock have intertwined, making it hard to distinguish which one is which. If I look closely, I see spider webs and a small burrow. In the crook of an upper branch on the birch tree, a black headed wren has made a nest.

The four trees growing out of the ancient cedar stump

The Miracle tree provides a certain comfort every time I walk past it. “Hey, there,” I say, as if the tree might surprise me and talk back someday. “See you guys are still getting along.”

Heat radiates through my chest and I feel a certain sense of weightlessness, thankful that these natural things exist in a world where getting along seems harder and harder these days. The trees don’t have views or opinions or judgments or allegiances to one endeavor or another. They just grow together, collecting sustenance from an ancient source, swaying in the wind, providing shelter for a bird or a mouse. And also a sense of well-being for an elderly lady walking in the forest.

Solace in remembering what I learned in first grade: how to play nicely in the sandbox with my classmates.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Surprise and Wonder

Last year I backpacked the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier. By myself. I carried a 40+ pound rucksack filled with a lightweight single person tent, a thin sleeping bag, a superlight blowup pad, an MSR stove with 2 canisters, a water bottle and a filter system, a down jacket, long underwear, a fleece hat, an extra pair of warm socks in a Ziploc baggie, my Tilly hat, and a small waterproof food bag about the size of a five-pound bag of flour. Each meal was carefully weighed and rationed for “just enough for one person.” No extras. No treats. Sufficient but small meals for nine days. I reasoned I could go hungry on the last day and lose a pound or two or three.

Mt. Rainier just after sunrise

On the morning of day eight I ate the last thing in my food bag, an energy bar, and made a cup of hot tea. Before taking down the tent, I sat on a log, sipped the hot liquid, and watched the sunrise. Fiery orange streaks highlighted the glaciers. Cloud wisps tinged with a lilac color drifted across the sky. Transfixed by the splendid view of Mt. Rainier, I breathed deep and long, having no desire to be anywhere else; living in the moment, not acknowledging the past or the future.

And then, a set of brownish-gray wings soared past my peripheral vision.

I turned my head and watched while a great horned owl landed on a Sitka spruce branch no more than 20 feet to my right. Her big yellow eyes stared into mine for what seemed like minutes but more likely only seconds before she once again took flight leaving me full of wonder. Who needs food?

Finding refuge in surprise and admiration.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Awake to Greater Things

Our spring is much warmer this year.  Even the moss which should be spongy and wet is dry and crisp. I want to enjoy the higher temperatures, lounge in my Adirondack chair, and read a good book but I can’t seem to shake an unease about what might be coming. Last year the western wildfires burned an estimated 10 million acres compared to almost 5 million acres in 2019.

There has been a lot of loss this past year– the Pandemic, burnt wildland, destroyed homes and property, my good friend lost everything in a California fire. My sister died too. She was diagnosed with bone cancer in the winter months of 2020 and died in December, spending her last months in isolation due to the Pandemic. I know I’m not alone in my loss. There is a much larger world bereavement unfolding in countries which have not yet implemented a full-scale vaccination program or are under political upheaval or worse. What will the rest of this year bring?

When I take solace in simple things, it’s not without consideration for the greater things at play in the world around me. They are important and I need to be awake to the unpleasant as well as finding refuge in things like the walk I did today; to a grove of large hemlock and cottonwood trees, nestled in a dark ravine, long ago missed by some loggers. The bark on the trees, rippled with goliath wrinkles made them appear like some wise beings from another world.

Looking up through the trees

I wonder if I hang out with them long enough, maybe I could be more like them. Strong. Silent. Still. Standing on my own two feet, I strive to accept loss and defeat with the same equanimity as I accept renewal, success, and joy.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Comfort in Simple Things

Being fairly new to social media I may not have the best judgment but it seems such a pressured environment; everyone vying for attention. Pick me! Follow me! Read my blog! Buy my book! Look at what amazing things I’ve done or said or hope to be. If you like what I have to say, retweet… Some even voice stupid or even hurtful things to get attention.

I have a nice picture in my home I’m fond of – birds flying together in a particular pattern. The birds are all the same color and about the same size. One bird does not stand out. They are simply flying together; no rush to get anywhere, merely doing what they do best.

That’s how I think of myself; just being in this journey of life, enjoying the moments – finding solace in the ways things move and change, appreciating the calypso orchids blooming in the forest.

Calypso Orchid next to my sunglasses

Not hurrying anywhere to get somewhere before someone else. Doing random acts of kindness: buying the person behind me coffee at my favorite coffee shop in town, picking up litter, slowing down to allow a car to get on the highway whenever I head south.

This I trust – my faith and confidence in being present – watching the sunset or the rain, smiling in the mirror at my aging face, taking long leisurely walks with my friends, writing for the joy of writing, letting go of restlessness and anxiety and heaviness and the need to be important, and taking refuge in simple things. Being nobody special. One earth. One people.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

The Teapot

When I retired, my colleagues threw me a party in a nice, rented room downtown; away from work to limit interruptions and where we could all relax. We stood around a table of mostly healthy treats, talking, everyone wishing me well. Then they gave me their gift: a lovely teapot with two mugs —so apropos. Born and raised in the north woods of Canada, my family and I drank tea every day; primarily steeped black tea with milk and sugar. Now, I drink herbal teas. In all my professional meetings over the years, I always came to them with a steaming cup of tea; a simple ritual that brought comfort even in the most challenging of times.

The Teapot

I loved the teapot but I loved what was inside even more —heartfelt wishes from my peers and friends, written on colored pieces of paper. Here are a few examples of what they wrote:

I wish peaceful silence for you. I hope you hear of the projects you started and how they have expanded over time…

I hope you enjoy your children and special family moments…

I wish you peaceful mornings and lazy afternoons…

I wish for you to feel fulfilled for having touched the lives of so many in need, for being a calming and loving presence in their toughest moments…

I wish for you to feel the gratitude I have for your influence on my life…

I wish for you to know that even in small moments that you may not even recall, you’ve made a huge impact on my career…

From the bottom of my heart, I will miss you my friend and hope you realize the joy you have given me…

There are so many  more notes. I haven’t yet used the teapot for tea because I still take out a note to read every now and again only to put it back; solace in heartfelt words from my friends.

How did you find solace this week?

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Gratitude

After a long career of intense emotional work – suicide prevention, threat assessment, listening to clients share their pain and suffering and hope for brighter tomorrows, I retired to this much quieter place. A place where I could breathe the rich air, hear the rustle of the wind through the trees, sit quietly and stare at the wide trackless sky, discovering shapes in the cloud wisps; a game I used to play as a child – two interconnected hearts, a musical note, a bunny. 

Secondary trauma is defined as indirect exposure to trauma through a firsthand account of traumatic events. Hearing tales of extreme suffering and observing the emotions of fear, helplessness, and yes horror on a consistent basis may result in a set of symptoms called compassion fatigue, a consequence of the helping profession.

It took me awhile to admit I suffered from compassion fatigue; turned down invites to hang out with friends, avoided the phone, shied away from social media, built a nice, safe invisible shell around myself. This shield had a purpose. I needed it at the time.

But now… this defense has slowly crumbled and I feel immense pleasure in connecting with friends and family and acquaintances. Sometimes my laugh catches me unaware and I wonder who is this light- hearted person?

I stand in the sun and bask in the warmth; leaving the carcass of my former need to protect lying in the growing spring grasses and take refuge in my joyful heart.

How did you find solace this week?

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Tweet

I have embarked on the social media journey and joined Twitter. I watched a YouTube tutorial on how to set up a Twitter account twice, and still made mistakes I didn’t know how to fix. How do I tweet? Who do I follow? If I tweet, should I add a comment? Are replies public?

Last weekend, my daughter visited. I asked, “How do I tweet?”

“Mom, it’s so simple,” she replied, as her fingers gracefully glided over her phone screen as she tweeted and retweeted and commented and replied. “Oh, hey, this is great,” sharing a poem from someone she follows. “You’ll figure it out.”

I try another tutorial and spend the morning reading tweets and wondering about hashtags; going down what seems to me like rabbit holes. By lunchtime, I have one follower –my daughter. I haven’t figured anything out yet. I grab my sweatshirt and head outside.

I walk around the many acres of land surrounding my home, stopping every now and again to admire the view or to feel the sun on my face, noticing little things. The green moss next to a stream.

The buds on the mountain alder, and green shoots under the tall grasses. A bluebird sitting atop of a tall mullein plant calling to his mate, then flying off, his wings the color of sapphires and an aquamarine glacial lake. To me, it’s the finest of blues.

The tension of trying to decipher the virtual world slowly drifts away, replaced with a feeling of nothingness. My heartbeat calms and steadies. Refuge.

How did you find solace this week?

© Sharon Kreider. 2021. All Rights Reserved

The Sound of Stones

One of my favorite books of all time is Driftwood Valley, written by Theodora Stanwell-Fletcher. Chapters from the author’s diary beautifully chronicle her tales of the vast solitude of northern British Columbia; much of which was inaccessible and not yet penetrated by mankind. Published in 1946 by Little, Brown, and Company, the book spans the years of 1937 – 1941, when the author and her husband lived primarily alone in the wilderness.

Theodora wrote detailed and accurate observations on the life in that region, collecting flora and fauna for the British Columbia Museum, as well as narrating their occasional and memorable interactions with native peoples. Living in that extensive uninhabited land for as long as they did and with as few interactions with modernized society, humbled and changed them forever.

I received an original copy of the book for my nineteenth birthday and read it at least a dozen times,  secretly hoping I too could do something like that. It didn’t happen of course and the world has changed dramatically since the 1930s, but I still read a passage or two every now and again – a simple refuge whenever the world feels a bit too crazy. The book, aged and yellowed now, sits on my living room shelf.

Still nestled between two pages, is the original gift bookmark I received on my birthday; a drawing of cherry blossoms on one side, and on the back, a quote from Lao Tze:

Who will prefer the jingle of jade pendants if he once has heard stone growing in a cliff

How did you find solace this week?

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Patience

Spring! Tiny grass shoots are sprouting in the meadows, along trails, under trees, and even in the front ditch near my house; lime green moss peeking through the melted snow. My muck boots have sunk in the mud and in the water-logged marsh every day this week. We built a birdhouse and placed it on a tree near an open meadow hoping to coax a mountain bluebird to nest there.

In the lower meadow, a small continuous stream flows over bent grasses from the winter’s snows and emerald-green patches of meadow grass emerge here and there. Yesterday, I found a rock to sit on, lifted my face to the sun, and closed my eyes, enjoying the noticeable warmth for several minutes before continuing on my walk. I startled three deer, bounding into the forest, huffing their disapproval; their molted fur evidence they have begun to shed their winter coats.

This morning, while brushing my teeth, a prism of light filtered through the glass shower door creating large bands of indigo blue, fiery orange, marigold yellow, and even a sliver of violet. I stopped brushing for a bit just to watch the colors move ever so slightly across the sink as the sun rose higher and higher in the sky. Not so long ago, the sun, too low on the horizon, did not even shine through my bathroom window. What a difference a month makes.

The return of longer days, with more light, fills my heart with gladness and I take refuge in that simple joy.

How did you find solace this week?

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved                                                                                                                       

Finding solace in the simplest of things

I have spent a rather embarrassingly amount of time trying to figure out my blog. I’ve not done anything like this before. I don’t yet have a Facebook account or use Twitter, Instagram, or Tik Tok, even though my colleagues and mentors advise me to “get going, already.” I have to start somewhere. Right?

What should I write about? My long career as a licensed mental health professional, guiding adolescents and their families through difficult emotional times? My retirement? My decision to leave Colorado and move to the Pacific Northwest—not just move, but literally pack up on my last day of work and head north following a moving van full of my husband’s and my belongings, to live in a tiny, I mean really tiny trailer, for four months on several acres of wild, natural land while building a new home?

Should I write about my decision to finish my first novel and somersault into the publishing world? Or about why Mental Health matters? Or about my love for quiet spaces, the outdoors, how I find so much peace and contentment away from the plugged-in world?

Or should I write about how I created a place of safety, comfort, and joy in this wilder place. Most times it is just the simplest of things.

How did you find solace this week?

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved