spicy holiday granola

Be attentive lest you miss the grace that passes before you, whether as small as a single birdsong or as broad as the rising sun of your own life restored. Be grateful, lest these pearls have been thrown to swine. And be ready to speak of it in the grandest or simplest words or deeds. You have not invented your own hope; it has sprung, green and living, from the grace that has rained upon you, has welled up from deepest springs, has come to you in steadfast rivers.
~ Steve Garnaas-Holmes

The winter sun is pouring through the kitchen windows as I type these words. The temperature outside hovers around 20 degrees, as warm as it will get today. With six inches of powdery snow on the ground, the world looks frosted, ready for Christmas. I’m trying to ready my spirit, too.

All month I’ve been making lists, crossing things off lists, making new lists – grocery lists, to-do lists, gift lists. Somehow the act of writing things down and crossing them out calms me, as if each small accomplishment or task completed brings me closer to. . .what exactly? The finish line?

Of course, the idea of completion is an illusion. There will be to-dos until the day when there aren’t, and I’m certainly not in any hurry to get there. Nor do I want to look at December 25 as the end of some silly holiday race.

So my challenge today, and every day this season, is to simply relax into the day’s doings, whatever they may be. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the closer I stay to home and hearth during these short, dark days, the more peaceful I feel. [continue…]


It was unfamiliar, the strong, clear inner voice that spoke so sternly to me yesterday morning as I woke up from the first good night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks.

And the words surprised me.  “Stop.  Just stop.”

I lay quietly in bed for a while, letting the instruction sink in.

Grief is still new territory.  Well-meaning friends ask, daily, “How are you?” and I pause, tongue-tied, unsure how to respond.  How can I explain that, though life is apparently back to “normal,” no place quite looks like itself?  Everyday things feel strange, my own inner landscape foreign and fragile.  My thoughts veer between scattered and obsessive, so that I can’t trust my own heart — fine one moment, ambushed the next.  What am I to make of emotions that are so misplaced and unpredictable that each day feels like its own new roller coaster ride, twisting and turning through an unpredictable course of peaks and plummets.  I have no idea how I am.

What I do know is that there is a hole right at the center of everything.  And I’ve been been circling around its rim like a dervish, trying in vain to fill that terrible, empty place.  As if by reaching out to every single person in need, reconnecting with every old friend who’s fallen out of touch, answering every email in my in-box,  grabbing for dear life at every friendly hand extended in my direction, I might somehow manage to dispel the darkness and avert my attention from the void.

This is my brain on Concern Overdrive: If I’m busy and distracted enough, perhaps I can escape the sadness.  If I’m needed enough, and if I’m helpful enough, perhaps I can strike a bargain with pain:  give more and do more, in order to feel less.  And if I can throw enough stuff into that dark chasm, perhaps it won’t seem quite so deep anymore.  So, I’ve been keeping busy.  I’ve gone to yoga class and book group and out to lunch with friends.  I’ve hosted house guests and visited my mom and driven to see Jack on his birthday and baked bread and written sympathy notes and read friends’ kids’ college essays and put on dinner parties and taken walks and edited papers and written recommendations and read manuscripts and returned phone calls and donated money to good causes.  It’s all a bit of a blur. I wonder if I’ve babbled, or acted weird, or been inadvertently rude.  I honestly can’t remember.  Part of me has been visible, present, making an effort; but another part of me has been absent altogether, out to sea, riding the dark waves of sorrow and confusion.

I’m not sure where yesterday’s firm voice came from, or even who it was that spoke the word “stop” to me with such conviction.  But I was just awake enough to get the message. To struggle, to feel sad, to know loss — this is all part of life.  And so I paid attention to that knowing voice, and today I remind myself to be quiet and still instead of frantic and preoccupied. It’s a challenge, to give this time of death and transformation its own mood and space.  And yet, I don’t want to run from what is real.  Not when my soul is urging me to turn inward and to settle into some peace with what is — this human mystery that is, after all, as natural as day and night, sun and moon,  summer and winter.

A couple of weeks ago my son Jack wrote me a note. Somehow, at the time, I managed to read his words without absorbing the simple wisdom he was trying to offer.  “Feeling sad isn’t a waste of time,” my eighteen-year-old spiritual teacher suggested.  “You shouldn’t try to distract yourself from the sadness, it’s going to come out one way or another. And the longer it is before you start to feel it and process it the harder it will be.”

We learn, as Roethke observes, by going where we need to go.  And sometimes, we learn by staying where we need to be.  Right now, I sit at my kitchen table, watching the skies clear after a night and morning of driving rain.  The clouds lift from the mountains like luminous shrouds, dissolving into light.

As always, I find comfort in the view beyond my window, and in the pages of the books I love, the words of the poets, priests, and seekers who have journeyed through and survived their own dark nights of the soul.  “Sorrow will remain faithful to itself,” John O’Donohue reminds us.

“More than you, it knows its way

And will find the right time

To pull and pull the rope of grief

Until that coiled hill of tears

Has reduced to its last drop.”

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.