Peaceful Kingdom

The first month of 2022 has already tested my new word for 2022. Last year’s “Growth” certainly proved profitable and prolific in my little household. I always stand in awe of the power held by a word in focus and intention, and the unpredictable ways that my word will play out in the year. The literal outcome for Growth was that I started and bought more garden plants than I knew what to do with, while the spiritual journey led me to appreciate all that I don’t know and can learn from.

Each day as I stepped outside into my gardens, there were many surprises, some wondrous, and quite a few . . . not so pleasant. As I’ve revealed in previous posts, our urban bungalow lot is home or close neighbor to squirrels, rabbits, skunks, groundhogs and local felines, all of whom can make their presence known in interestingly destructive ways. Last year various deterrents were employed, with physical barriers working best even though chicken wire and row covers aren’t the most attractive solutions. Stinky sprays smelling of garlic and rotten egg were also effective until the rains came, or the critters got used to the smells.

However, the biggest (physically and destructively) perpetrator of them all, remains undeterred for the most part. Even in these last few bleak wintery weeks they have polished off whatever isn’t inert or tied down. As much as I love their quiet demeanors and soft doe eyes, the deer and I have a love-hate relationship in regards to gardens. So much so that I’ve decided that a good wire deer fence is a necessity for these urban herbivores who think that everything I plant is especially for them. And I do mean everything — even strong-smelling herbs and bristly shrubs aren’t off limits. I guess the herd hasn’t read the deer-resistant plant lists yet.

I also plan to continue offering sacrificial plants that they can eat like last summer’s extra tomato plants I stuck in the very back of the yard, an offering to the antlered gods and occasional ground rodent. Various raised bed frames and screens are in the works, too, since we can’t fence in our entire yard at this time. Barricades can make good neighbors and keep the peace in edible turf wars. Therefore, my word for 2022 is “Peace,” both internally and externally. My hope is that we all can experience peaceful communion this year, not only in our backyards, but also in communities, towns, states, countries and the world.

So may it be.

Growing Up

Time once again for the annual unveiling of my word for the year, a theme that always becomes eerily accurate as the months flow by. Last year’s “Rebirth” certainly lived up to its potential by anticipating my eye surgeries as well as our recent relocation. Little did I know how life-changing 2020 would be in my little corner of the world and all over the planet as social, political and scientific transformation was brought to disruptive, often violent, life.

Since I began to stay home and avoid public spaces last January in preparation for my medical procedures, I have essentially been homebound for a year now. My new life became very limited in scope, forcing an internal perspective and examination which I had been avoiding for decades. For me, it was much easier to mold my motivations and actions around someone else’s agenda than to determine my own. For one, it’s easier to blame the other party when plans don’t work out, which is usually the case when you aren’t on the right path.

In retrospect, my forced isolation in childhood and subsequent expulsion when I no longer fit the family dynamic catapulted me into a series of careers and relationships that never seemed to work out. Like the prince in Cinderella, I searched tirelessly for someone or something that would fit my life’s slipper without really examining the shoe itself. What color and style was it, what was it made of, and where did it come from? I acted out the traditional roles of artist, writer, academic, teacher, librarian, proofreader, shopkeeper, caregiver, house cleaner, and office assistant to fulfill others’ wishes and unfulfilled dreams, and conform to the expectations of my generation. In many cases I didn’t feel I had much choice as a female raised by a woman who thought my role was to marry a farmer and stay at home while also insisting I go to college and become a famous writer or artist.

Needless to say I was confused. What I really wanted was to work in the family nursery and tend to the colorful seas of annuals, geraniums, poinsettias and tropical houseplants in magical kingdoms under glass. I come from a long line of growers and farmers who passed their green thumbs along to me. But due to misogynistic views and family dysfunction, that dream was not to be. So I created gardens for myself: an entire bedroom full of houseplants in high school, an assortment of zonal geraniums my father grew wholesale that I dragged around for all four years at college, an obsessive collection of herb plants at a duplex as a newlywed, a square-foot garden hand-dug while recuperating from a difficult pregnancy, backyard raised beds as first-time homeowner, an ambitious but doomed try at homesteading 5,000 square feet of mule pen out in the country, feeble attempts at container gardens in the suburbs and finally a stint at running a community garden at a retreat center with no help from the community.

Which brings me to today’s little California bungalow on a very narrow urban lot in a neighborhood that encourages gardens rather than lawns. In fact “Gardens” is in the name of this century-old historic suburb built for limestone, railroad and factory workers in a town known for its creative quirkiness. Last year, despite some medical setbacks and supply difficulties, I managed to start some seeds, buy plants, build a cold frame and create garden beds with my husband’s help. This year I’ve ordered seeds early and made big plans to replace our barren lawn with vegetables, flowers and native plants while continuing my quest for year-round harvests. The photo shown above of my cold frame was taken two days ago, in January. I can’t wait to winter-over more vegetables and greens next year.

Which finally brings me to my word for 2021. After last year’s traumatic and frightening process of birth, there has to be “Growth.” Now that I’ve found my place in the world, I have the opportunity to grow, literally and spiritually on my own terms. Will I create art? Well, yes, gardening is an art form, and I plan on producing some garden-inspired art, too. Will I write? I certainly hope so. There’s much to be noted in tending a garden, particularly nature’s lessons in humility. Will I engage with others? That remains to be seen, but I fervently wish to contribute to my little neighborhood and provide a better habitat for wildlife, especially the insect world that is rapidly vanishing while we wait for vaccines and herd immunity.

I guess the glass slipper may have turned into a gardening clog, but it’s still beautiful to me.

2020 Vision


As the dust from moving house settles after the holidays amid whiffs of freshly painted walls and new furniture, I’ve been contemplating my word for 2020 while looking back at the significance of my choice for 2019. According to my rough calculations in scrolling back on this blog, I’ve been picking a special word since 2013 or so that began with One Little Word. That’s seven years of farsighted intention that has always been prophetic by New Year’s Eve.

Which brings me to my 2019 word, “Light.” It was a heavy year, judging from my few posts, highlighted by plenty of dark times. Ironically (or not), my physical sight began to noticeably dim last year, especially when I travelled to London and struggled to view Turner’s murky paintings in archival lighting. When I finally made an appointment with my eye doctor in August, I was stunned to find out that I had advanced cataracts and my vision had deteriorated dramatically over a year’s time. Because I have been extremely myopic all my life with a very high-powered prescription, the cataracts were causing blurriness that could no longer be corrected with glasses. Eye dryness has also prevented me from wearing contacts for decades so the only solution is to have cataract surgery at the ripe old age of 59 and corrective lenses implanted.

Obviously too young for Medicare, I still qualify for insurance coverage because my vision is so blurry that I haven’t been able to drive for the last six months. When I finally got in to see one of the best ophthalmologists in the state, my eyesight had deteriorated to the point that I was quickly fast-tracked to the “3-month” waiting list. Meanwhile, as a plein-air artist who was finishing a 4-year grant project by creating distant landscapes and holding a final art show, I struggled to see what I was painting and more than once had flashbacks to Monet’s foggy work in his later years due to cataracts. After touching up four years’ worth of art for the final show, I stared at the 25 paintings on display while wondering how shockingly bright these will look after my surgery.

Which brings me to 2020 wondering if I will be able to see 20/20 on the eye chart when I finish the surgeries in February. For my entire life I’ve never been able to see distance without glasses, and my blurred view of the world has both protected and isolated me from the harsh truths and prejudices buffered by my thick glasses and gullibility. And while my long distance vision may be restored, the near-sight that I have relied on for so long will be gone. The tiny veins that glisten on a dragonfly’s wings and the intricate maze of threads while detangling a knot will disappear into the lost lands of foreground without reading glasses or magnifying glass, so close yet so far.

No matter what the outcome, my focus and perspective have begun to turn inward in these grey days of perpetual twilight. The harsh artificial lamps glow with angelic halos and the sun has become gentler in what he reveals. The moon is welcome but ghostly now, and often tripled in a sky out of a science fiction movie. The senses of touch, smell and sound have become more amplified, and when night comes, the womblike absence of light surrounds me in a waiting period of gestation before the post-surgery grand re-entry and big reveal.

So it will come as no surprise (especially if you read the last post) that my word for 2020 is REBIRTH. I am prepared for a whole new world of light and color, sharp insight and fresh point of view. The little crossed-eyed infant from the past will get a second chance to take wondrous halting baby steps into my third life stage. And perhaps in life’s theatre I will prefer the balcony this time rather than a front-row seat to the world’s troubles. A little distance at my age may not be a bad thing while I cheer the young on in their noble causes and fortuitous frays without craving the spotlight myself.

After all, the bright lights would only blind me from the inner path I now need to follow.

Stormy Weather


My word for the year “light” has already proven a constant quest and comfort in this first month of 2019. In the last 30 days I’ve experienced an eight-hour power outage during an ice storm with high winds, and the coldest day of my life so far, at minus 14 with wind chills of 42 below. And through it all I’ve relied on beacons of light and rays of warmth from my neighbors and my own stash full of flashlights and candles.

With weather like this, I’m grateful for a gas stove, small house and good windows. Back in the suburbs, everyone could easily become isolated inside their own personal igloos, garages shut tight and windows hidden in the back. This time, after about five hours in with no power, a welcome knock at my door from community members ready to hook up a generator to run my furnace in the pitch black with howling winds was a mission of love and sacrifice. I felt safe for one of the first times in my life because many cared enough to check on me since I was home alone for that particular storm.

I fear that weather and life will grow more extreme in the months and years to come, causing old systems to crumble as they become unsustainable. We can no longer afford to remain isolated in our private worlds with carefully segregated daily routines. Connection and community with our chosen families, neighborhoods, towns, cities, country and world is crucial to surviving the big shifts and fearful uncertainty that are looming in the shadows. We all have something to share, gifts and talents that will help us weather the storms together as we stoke the fires of caring and cooperation to warm our hearts and keep the lights on.

Holding the Light


This dark ending of the year is full of paradox. The mind naturally summons up a highlight reel of the last 365 days, and I don’t know about you, but the angry, humiliating, sad and frustrating episodes always run on a constant loop in my head. The lovely, serene and successful moments are apparently kept prisoner in aging 2018’s memory closet, waiting for rescue and release into the light of hope and future plans. A fresh start is always appealing, but why is the human spirit so drawn back into cinematic replays of the past year’s smoking wreckage in flops and failures?

I choose a new word every year. Whether self-fulfilling prophesy or wishful thinking, the theme is usually noticeable throughout the months. 2018’s word was “magic” and I think that was pretty accurate on the whole. What came out of a garden beset with heavy clay soil, limitless weeds, ravenous insects and extreme weather conditions certainly seemed like magic. I learned that despite all obstacles, life loves to grow given any kind of encouragement.

Perhaps that same support needs to be applied to myself and other fellow humans in 2019 including the nation and the world, even if and when we don’t deserve it. Choosing to focus on the light while acknowledging the shadow is not without merit in these chaotic times. I would love to switch my brain’s channel to the happy highlights reel or at least last year’s funniest home memories. Since when does watching those bad reruns over and over until you can act them out in your sleep ever teach you anything?

So my word for 2019 is “light,” the kind you can hold. How do you hold onto light you ask? You can when you hold a purring kitten or a thriving seedling. You embrace it with your eyes on a frosty morning at the edge of a fallen leaf lying in the frozen shadows. You cradle it in the truth of words that ring true to you and light a fire within your soul. It is there when you look for it.

It is my wish that at the end of 2019, we are all seated in the deep womb of the year’s theater, sharing popcorn and watching a victorious highlight reel of shining moments in what will be seen as historically dark times by future light beings.

May the light be with you, always.

Passing Through

A double row of hornbeams planted twenty years ago.

Here it is the end of May and I’ve barely been here. My focus is kept packed by the door and my psyche feels like it’s still moving after an interminable car ride. I stop by just long enough to check my email and pay the bills, wash a big pile of neglect that’s accumulated. There are cobwebs all over some best-laid plans left piled on last winter’s table.

My “word” for 2017 has been “awake,” and boy, have I. To the point where I rose early enough to see the dawn in all kinds of wind and weather for seven days in a row. There are no photos because I refused to carry any form of electronic distraction. Instead, I wanted to burn the sun’s first midas touch on the tips of trees into my eyeballs, let a heavy dew sink into my bones, be swallowed whole by the rising rush of bird song. How could I have missed these treasures for all those countless years spent lolling about in bed like an apathetic teenager?

Some mornings we danced intricate steps set to modern astral music inside a labyrinth’s ancient patterns. On others we were high above ancestral land and its tree-lined ribbon of river, at a circle made with stones that whispered power and prayers. And still others were spent in the gardens, tended by human hands but retouched by faery folk in those magic hours when mortal souls still wander through the grainy dreams from other worlds.

There has been art and music, poetry and dance, and some really good gin. Despite an early rise, I’ve stayed up way too late talking about crazy-beautiful ideas and inspiration, because I didn’t want to miss a minute of this precious time or interrupt the messy, foolish freedom that doesn’t fit into a shifty shared cloud calendar or antsy time-management app.

But perhaps the most precious gift I’ve been given by staying awake long enough, is to rediscover a forgotten little keepsake tin with the rusty lid I left hiding in my memory’s bank barn. Inside, once again I heard the quail’s call in tall grass, felt hard rain rumbling across a field, finally found those missing linch pins from an old Farmall tractor hitch, inhaled the sweaty scent off a low morning meadow, and watched with great joy some gritty, grinning kids stagger home covered in the satisfying filth from a mountain of freshly dumped sand.

You see, somewhere during those adult years of dysfunction, darkness and despair, I had lost my childhood’s best mementos. I’d fallen into a slumber of numbing responsibility and restriction. I could only recall the disappointments and failures harped on by my mind’s endless critiques, where the rules are always changing and your advisors never let you leave.

Nearly halfway into the year, I’m happy to report that I’ve been awake long enough to know now, that I’m finally free to go.

The Latest Word

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I could come up with a lot of excuses why I didn’t write much last year: surviving a polar vortex without power, the resulting major downsize and move, over 4000 miles of family-related travel, technology updating, complete lifestyle and dietary overhauls, not to mention my forays into choral singing, Instagram and meditative art projects. But I won’t go there. Okay, I just did, but it all added up to an open invitation, apparently, to forsake my pen, paper and laptop.

This is my fourth year of One Little Word, and I’ve learned by this time around that, like wishes, you have to be careful what word you choose. Case in point, my pick for last year sure turned out to be a doozy. And still going strong because I find the momentum unstoppable. In fact, just putting a single word down on the un-erasable paper of your psyche can have a profound impact. Saying it out loud is even better. And physically writing it out, well now, that can have the biggest punch of all.

Despite deceptively simple instructions, careful consideration must always be taken in making your choice. Forever looking for an easy way out, I’d hoped it would be a breeze to actually write my Word for 2015, because it is WRITE. But as you can see, I’ve taken half of January to get the guts to announce this here on the blog. And even longer to sit my derrière down and do the work. (Steven Pressfield is my writing guru at the moment.)

So, I’m starting the year with a fresh journal, a new blog template and much resistance. Plus knowledge that the simplest word can be the hardest.

Huh. Go figure.

And while you’re at it, go figure out what yours is. Trust me. Word.

The Year of Movement

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My garage door won’t close. When I lower it automatically, the bottom hits the concrete of our driveway raised by frost heave and sensing obstruction, heads back up. If I don’t pay attention closely enough, I might drive away with my house gaping to the world, my interior exposed for scrutiny.

Like some kind of door wrangler, I’ve become adept at hitting my opener at the precise moment to keep the door down and the seal as tight as possible. We’ve stuffed towels in gaps along the sides to prevent another polar vortex from bursting our pipes. And still, when I enter my garage, I feel a frigid breeze on the inside and realize how futile it is to deny the winds of change.

Not wanting to undo our elaborate barricades, the whole family’s been stuck for days. Our cars are imprisoned in the so-called protection of our attached garage, and it’s too dangerously cold to walk anywhere. We each have our own way of dealing with solitary confinement. I look out my dirty windows and judge what goes on outside through the customary glass and filters. Weather forecasts grow bleaker each time I obsessively check my smartphone and supposed friends on impersonal social networks thank lucky stars that their “reality” isn’t mine.

Even a large batch of silly robins who never left are stuck, hunkered down in windbreaks with their pale red breasts puffed out and deathly quiet, hoping for a whiff of spring. Their presence in January mocks my sense of timing. What am I waiting for? Vocation, health, dreams and dinner choices — all glued in frozen molasses to my fears of what might be.

Reflected in the grimy winter window, I recognize my parents’ and grandparents’ reluctance to leave their cold misery for unknown sunnier climes, and realize I am hovering perilously close to that ice age of stagnation.

So, my word for 2014 is MOVEMENT. It starts right now. First, I clean the windows. Then, I develop an exit strategy from all the mental impediments I have carefully crafted over past decades. Road map in hand (my mind doesn’t hear the voices of GPS), I can finally pull away the insulating tape and draft guards against an overactive imagination, freeing my way out to a different future with no guarantees.

And I will not look back to see if the door has reopened or the latch didn’t quite catch, revealing shameful tales of entrapment inside my old interiors. Perhaps someone else can learn from the fearful furniture and ruined reservations I’ve left behind.

A Creative Carol

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For me, true life change is always a cold dive from radical heights, never any soft slides into the lukewarm wading pool of transition. Struck over the head with absolute misery, I am forced to concede inside a prison of my own making, while angels of opportunity do their best to get my attention by waving the keys to my freedom.

What was it this time? Well, I was felled for a month by the worst illness of my life, a stunning combination of hideous head cold, a clutch of bronchitis and then the wicked flu. I never get the flu.

For weeks I wallowed on a rumpled sick bed, watching lives flash before my eyes in between horrendous bouts of coughing, fever and nose blowing. Family came and went, an entire season of holiday celebrations carried on without me, and then the world went back to work in 2013 while I still lingered on the fringes, transparent as Marley’s ghost.

During convalescence, I had plenty of time to review my sins. This kind of plague was clearly a message sent to knock some sense into me. And while 2012 would be considered a productive year, I had somehow run off course in a big way. Over the months, I took an easy path back to old roles, enjoying the quick hit of rescuer, and the heady attention of being needed.

Somehow, I always forget what this costs me.

I looked to others for fresh paths, and found only shoes that didn’t fit. I took a ride back to the past and saw the future. And I didn’t like it much.

If I’d been paying attention along the way, the spirits of tense would have shown me where my first salvation lies. It has been there all along, but I only reach for this life preserver when all other help is refused.

On my knees, with the specter of a life un-lived roughly sketched out in front of me, I’ve finally grasped that first key of opportunity. I admit to being stingy with creativity and a scrooge to my dreams. I confess to throwing myself at the status quo and camouflaging in a cloak of conformity. I let the fear of freedom win.

So, my word for 2013 is CREATE. My fevered walks with what could be have opened many doors to studio, desk, easel, lens, blank page, and the world.  And as I renew my vows to this life, I will practice it all without a mind to results, recognition or an ending.

Only the beginning.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

The vortex of Bowie. Or the end of my neighbor's PVC pipe. Take your pick, I'm flexible.

One of the worst parts about getting older, I have discovered, is not the gradual deterioration of body parts, the slow numbing of libido, or the downward slide of mental calisthenics, as distressing as all of that is to be sure.

It is the fear of impermanence, instability and nasty surprises. I, who have never blinked an eye over uprooting my household or completely renovating my persona, have been caught unawares.

It has crept up on me like Geritol in the night, smelling of aspercreme and denture adhesive, muffling my adventurous mojo in flannel and lap rugs. I have become stodgy in my habits and constipated about my future.

I am stuck.

So, in the spirit of the One Little Word project seen popping up around the blogosphere, I have chosen a theme for this year. As a caveat, I am well aware that the Universe can and will give you what you ask for. That is the point, after all.

The word? You guessed it.

But the Universe can be a fickle and mischievous mistress, and she favors tricks over plans at life’s cocktail soiree. In other words, I am asking for it.

That is, however timidly, the kind of party game I want to relearn at this point in my journey (notice my reluctance to actually say the word yet?)

Since I’ve already had my emotions pulled out from under me in December, it’s not like the energies need to be put into action. My sense of control light has been blinking uncontrollably for weeks now and I can’t find the manual.

Because there is none.

I like to think I’ve just misplaced it, a mere oversight due to the ever-shrinking menopausal memory, and that I’ll find it stuffed behind the fountain of youth any day now.

However, the one thing I can control is my reception of the one little word for this year. I can either fight it with an arsenal of glam rock wrinkle reducers and Ziggy Stardust age reversals, or I can invite it in for a cup of tea. Have a chat and see which way the wind’s blowing.

Okay, you can’t blame a gal for a little heads up, now can you?

Meanwhile, I’m renovating the attitude and putting my spiritual house in order. A little preparation won’t hurt.

And, you might notice that this blog looks a little different. It’s small change, but a step toward nonetheless.