It is Valentine’s Day and I wish everyone a day filled with love. One tends to usually think of romantic love on this day, but love comes in many forms. Think of all the moments which take our breath away, or cause us to pause -just for a second- and think how wonderful it is to be alive. Think of the times when one feels a deep connection with the earth itself, and all the beings which inhabit it, all sharing the energy of life. Today while stopped at a traffic light, I was charmed to witness a group of young schoolchildren playing outside at recess time. They were racing to and fro, which caused the hearts attached by pipe cleaners to their valentine headbands to sway wildly. It seemed to me like the hearts were dancing with joy. When I taught school, Valentine’s Day was my favorite holiday because it did not involve gift giving, but the giving of gaily decorated tokens of friendship and affection.

Two years ago today, my husband surprised me with a tiny tuxedo kitten. I named him Valentine, of course. He has grown into a gallant little gentleman, always mischievious and ever affectionately grateful that he was saved from certain death at the pound. We celebrate today as his birthday. We will treat him to a special can of cat food which he will share with his kitty sisters. My husband made Sadie, our golden retriever, her own heart shaped cake. Lucky girl!

Happy Birthday, Valentine!

My feathered ladies also get a special treat today. I made them a special kale salad with sliced strawberries for hearts and served it in a heart shaped pan. We also opened a box I had ordered from Henny and Roo I think my girls were very appreciative!

In these waning days of winter, it is always good to look for ways to celebrate life, no matter how small they are. It can be as simple as giving the people you pass at the grocery store a genuine smile. Little signs of appreciation and affection just may kindle a spark which keeps goodness alive in this world.

Mid-Winter Light

We have passed the mid-winter mark last week as Groundhog Day, Imbolc, the Feast of St. Brigid, and/or Candlemas are all celebrated on February 1-2 in different cultures and faith traditions.  Common to our area, the groundhog, celebrated on February second for his ability to predict the seasons, saw his shadow in some places and in other places did not, insuring that the debate about how many more weeks of winter we must endure will continue on.  The fact is Spring will return with the equinox.  Meanwhile these old bones feel a returning strength in the sunlight which pours forth from the blessing of pristine blue skies these past few days.

I for one am not a huge fan of groundhog traditions no matter how much a part of our Appalachian culture they may be.  I prefer to mark the mid-winter celebration with the Irish tradition of setting out a cloth for St. Brigid to bless as folk tradition says she treads lightly on the earth come January’s end to promise the return of warmth and light.  I also set new white candles in our holders on the kitchen and dining room tables, while I whisper a quiet blessing on hearth and home. 

Each year at Candlemas I recall a story I read once about prisoners in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II who craved and treasured candles, not as a source  of light, but as a source of food, to be nibbled one small bit at a time, thus numbing the ache of starvation.  Finally, on Christmas Eve, one tiny remaining candle was brought forth by one starving prisoner and lit.  Reminding everyone in that dark, cramped cell that Light had come into the world, and that hope can be rekindled. 

I light two candles as evening falls, and the sky turns that lovely color of pale blue before fading into deeper indigo, in hope that light will return both in this season and in our darkened, fear-filled world.  May I be light.  May YOU be light.  May WE ALL be light for each other and for the world.

(One can find the candle story in an online search as it appeared in an issue of Reader’s Digest, December 1990.)

The temperature was -13 this morning at the house. The snow crunched underfoot as I made my way out to check on the chickens. The clouds of smoke from the wood stove drifted to the ground under the high pressure of bright morning skies. So blue and clear, promising a lovely winter day. In the coop the chickens were staying up on their roost above the run. It was -2 in the run. They are smart to not want to come down just yet. I congratulated Miss Henrietta on her decision to roost with the others last night. I had gone out to check on them after dark, prepared to place her up on the roost, but she was already there. She has taken to wanting to sleep in the bedding below the roost. I gave them a handful of scratch and changed out their frozen water, promising to check on them later. Meanwhile, the plan for today is to warm up by the fire, a little meditation and yoga, and then to work on quilting!

Winter Thoughts

We are in the midst of another polar vortex rolling across the U.S. Two days ago the temperatures almost reached the sixties. The sky was deep blue, the river which flows around our little town was a deeper green, and the clouds at sunset were cotton candy puffs of pink. One could really sense the promise of Spring. My first snowdrops have bloomed and on the way home from town I spotted an entire yard full of red breasted robins. My daffodils have pushed their first green tips up along the path to the garden shed.

These are small signs of hope. The promise that the season WILL turn, the warmth of the sun will again call forth the greening of our world. Yet today we are sheathed in winter’s cold embrace as the temperatures plummet and snow again piles on the deck and lines the branches of the crabapple tree which hugs the deck corner. A kaleidoscope of birds swirl and dip in a gay dance around the feeders.

My chickens eagerly peck through a pan of chopped kale, sprouts and microgreens to find the treasure of a small handful of scratch hidden below by the more nutricious greens. Buttercup hops up on a stump to chatter away at me, hoping for a little extra treat, which I supply because she is at the bottom of the pecking order and is not apt to get her fair share.

My husband is delighting in baking a pan of doughnuts, which he places warm and fragrant, in a brown paper bag, to run out and give to the waste collection guys when they come by. He recalls small kindnesses like this on past winter days in town when a few citizens had warm baked goods ready to hand out to chilled city workers.

Signs of hope. Small kindnesses we can do for the critters around us, and the people who serve, often getting little notice. A smile, a hand up, a warm treat fresh from the oven, a gesture of our shared humanity and common spirit. A small thaw in the heart of winter.

Hope. Pass it on.