spark joy
(and my go-to holiday recipes)

IMG_5882When our sons were young, there was no holding off Christmas. Henry, born December 18, absorbed holiday melodies in the womb, from “Jingle Bells” to the Messiah. His in-utero nickname was Bing, for Crosby, which morphed into Der Bingle after a visiting friend introduced us to the German diminutive. (Of course, we had no way of knowing then that music would turn out to be his “language” of choice but now, looking back, it seems almost pre-ordained; he arrived in a season of shimmer and twinkle, surrounded by love and borne into our arms on a wave of joyful noise.)

That year, in the final weeks of my first pregnancy and with a December due date looming, my husband Steve and I were organized in a way we’ve never been before or since: all our gifts bought and wrapped and shipped weeks in advance, a tree up and decorated the day after Thanksgiving; holiday cards mailed December first and a newly appointed nursery awaiting its tiny occupant. All was in readiness, every diaper and onesie neatly folded and stacked, every holiday ornament shining in its place.

Four days before Christmas we brought our precious newborn home from the hospital, dressed him up in the miniature velveteen Santa suit my brother had given him, and snapped our first family photo in front of the tree. [continue…]

Time in a bottle

photospent most of yesterday morning in the kitchen with my son Jack, windows open to the September air.  In ten days he will move to Atlanta to begin his new life there as a student.  But for now, the two of us find ourselves home alone together.  (Henry left last week to return to his alma mater, St. Olaf, where he’s helping out with the fall musical; Steve has been away for a few days on business. And so, it’s just two of us here, a rare mother-son combination that hasn’t happened for years and may not recur any time soon.)

All summer, I have mourned the end of summer.  Back in June, my family laughed at me for regretting the passing of time before the time I’d been anticipating had even arrived.  (Yes, I know, it’s crazy.) The days were still getting longer, they pointed out, and already I was imagining how I would feel when they began to grow shorter.  The lake water was perfect for swimming, and I was wondering how many more swims we would have. A piercing awareness of the preciousness, the transience, of everything is, I suppose, both the blessing and the burden of my temperament. It is also the price my family has to pay for living with me.  I am always reminding them (myself!) to notice, to appreciate, to be aware of all that is and of all we have.

The truth is, I write so much about inhabiting the moment largely to help myself remember that it’s where I want to be: simply present.  My tendency, always, is to live with a lump in my throat.  I experience the pain of endings even as I cherish the tenderness of beginnings.  I allow every joy to be shot through with a thread of sadness.  And I see in all that lives, all that has passed;  in all that is, all that one day will no longer be.

And so  I sit in my garden amidst the wildly blooming nasturtiums and feel the fleetingness of their splendor.  I adore our thirteen-year-old dog all the more for knowing her days are numbered.  (When she placed her head on the bed this morning at 6 am and pleaded for a walk, I swung right into action – because, of course, I can so easily imagine the future, when there will be no need to be out taking a hike at dawn.)  I fill our basement freezer with strawberries and blueberries and raspberries picked at the height of the season because I am always conscious of the season’s inexorable turning.

Hanging out with my soon to be 21-year-old son yesterday, I reminded myself to simply enjoy the moment, without layering on the fact that in a few weeks he’ll be in his own new kitchen a few thousand miles away and we’ll be texting instead of talking. [continue…]

A time for silence (and a tea recipe)

Before my son Henry flew back to Minnesota last week, I took him out shopping for vitamins.  Last winter, temperatures on his campus routinely dipped below zero; by the time he came home for Christmas break he’d had a nasty cold for two weeks.

Like every other parent of a child who’s living in a dormitory this flu season, I’m worried, and determined to do all the immune-system building that my sons will allow.  By the time I’d bought everything on my list of must-have supplements, vitamins, and homeopathic remedies, we’d spent over a hundred dollars on prevention and put together quite a good portable pharmacy for him to lug back to school.  Driving home from the health food store, I swallowed hard a couple of times and suddenly realized: I was the one feeling sick.

As soon as Henry left for the airport, I went back to the store and stocked up on vitamins and remedies for myself.  It’s been over five years since I’ve suffered so much as a sniffle, so I didn’t expect much to come of this, but the film crew was due on Sunday, and I knew I needed to be in good form.  I made it through the taping, the afternoon of socializing, the clean-up.  And on Monday I crashed, hard.

Now it’s Friday afternoon, and I still don’t have a voice.  The bug that’s got me seems to have stripped my vocal chords on its way to settling deep into my chest.  Fortunately, I didn’t have much scheduled for this week, and I cancelled the rest.  After two months of running around, visiting bookstores, talking on the phone, and checking things off my to-do list, I stopped.  I stopped moving and I stopped talking. I stopped calling people and stopped answering the phone.  Instead, I pulled on a pair of sweatpants, wool socks, and my fuzzy old gray fleece.  I brewed up a gallon of yogi tea on top of the stove.  Then I settled into the couch, picked up a friend’s manuscript I’d promised to read, and gave in to the quiet.

It occurs to me that the last two months have been like one long exhalation–of energy, intention, and fun. This week, my body quite effectively said, “enough is enough.”  It’s let me know that the time has come to be still, and to take a good, deep breath in.  We turned the clocks back last Sunday, and darkness comes now at five.  The leaves have fallen, the garden is cut back, done for this year. The turning of the season, from fall to winter, brings its own kind of quiet.  The full moon lingered this week in a clear, cold sky.  The nights feel long; the days, abbreviated.  Each morning, I step outside and fill the bird feeder with sunflower seeds, while the chickadees and woodpeckers and titmice flit back and forth from stonewall to tree, eagerly awaiting their turns at the breakfast buffet.  The birds can’t afford to slack off.  As for me, though, I am grateful for the stack of good books on the table, the empty space on the calendar, this time to regroup.  There is a time for silence.


Yogi Tea

I learned how to make this delicious tea from my Kundalini yoga teacher, who prepares it according to Yogi Bhajan’s instructions.  Here is the original recipe.  I brew mine strong, and let it steep for a long time for maximum intensity, then strain it into jars to store in the fridge, and heat up just one cup at a time, adding almond milk and raw honey to each individual cup as I go.


      1 Gallon Water


      30 cloves


      30 whole green cardamon pods


      30 whole black peppercorns


      1 lg finger of fresh ginger, thinly sliced


      5 sticks cinnamon


      1 teabag, Black Tea


    *Milk and Honey to taste (*optional)
  1. Bring water to boil.
  2. Add all spices except black tea bag. Boil 30 -45 min. Longer is stronger.
  3. Finally, add black tea bag and boil another 5 min. **The black tea is added last because it amalgamates the spices and sort of seals them. Also the tannins help assimilate the spices into the body.
  4. If adding milk & honey, do so after adding the tea bag and letting it steep– OR BETTER add milk and honey to individual cup or a small batch. That way you can store the raw tea in the fridge and prepare with milk and honey as you go.
  5. After adding milk and or honey, bring to a boil again, then shut immediately or keep on lowest flame to keep warm.

**Milk helps to ease the shock of the spiciness on the stomach and intestines so drink with milk if you’re sensitive.  Note: for a stronger tea you can let the spices sit and sink to the bottom. If the tea gets really strong you can cut it with more milk or reconstitute with a little water.

As the story has been told, when Yogi Bhajan was a military commander in India there was an epidemic among the troops. He ordered all of his men to fill their canteens with yogi tea and drink nothing else, not even water. His battalion was the only unit that didn’t get sick. It is said that yogi tea purifies the blood, lungs and circulatory system and has many more unseen benefits.  I do know that it lifts the spirits. I’ve gotten into the habit of drinking this tea every day.