South Carolina

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I’m always up for a good travel adventure and I’ve had quite a few these last few years. I love jetting off to some place exotic or exploring new territory but sometimes the body and soul just needs a rest. This last week I just needed a rest. I’ve had a hard year so far and I needed to get away and not have to think about logistics. This year is Caroline’s turn to backpack with friends in Europe so Alexandra and I headed down to South Carolina for a few days.

I’m a beachaholic and believe the beach is the best vacation destination with children. I make sure I breathe the ocean air and get my feet in the sand at least once a year—somehow, somewhere. Through the years my beach of choice has been in South Carolina. I love the gray starkness of just water, sand and sky, the flat sand for long walks and the gentle warm waves. The early years with children I would go to Charleston to minimize my time in the car, six hours door to door, interstate the whole way. The last nine years I have gone to Hilton Head Island near Savannah, Georgia, an hour farther but worth the extra time. It is easy to get to, no reservations required, just throw a few things in the car and go. I don’t even need directions for I know the way by heart.

So over the mountains of western North Carolina down the plateau to Columbia where we stop at the mall for a nice break and then on to a friend’s condo in a picture perfect neighborhood. The condo is small and sparsely furnished but just what is needed to relax. I get the furniture situated on the screened porch, start the coffee maker and commence reading. I always take a large stack of books and magazines to make sure any reading whim is covered, plus there is always a trip to the bookstore to fill in any missing gaps. Everyday I move my reading venue to the beach where the salty wind and the stark landscape of the ocean make me feel most myself. I’m like a crystal being cleansed in the salt water, removing all the old energy and being revitalizing to shine again.

This corner of our precious planet is like a fairyland of enchantment. Everywhere you look are Live Oaks dripping with Spanish moss, the sun shines through the moss to make soft filtered light. If I had flown round the world I wouldn’t find any place more exotic and unique. The beautiful architecture  of the Charleston and Savannah low-country houses adds to the old-world charm. The sailboats in the marina make their characteristic clang in the breeze, the perfect windchime of the beach.

Live Oaks

Instead of seeking out new experiences I look forward to the same routine, same restaurants, same stores, the same walks. It doesn’t change and it is exactly how I like it. I need the old familiar, like reading my most beloved book, or wearing my most comfortable clothes. I need the gentleness of knowing what is next so that I can deeply relax and heal.

This year’s trip is bittersweet, Alexandra and I had a last few days together before she begins her new life in California. She has graduated college now and has her dream job in Santa Monica. There won’t be time to vacation in South Carolina with her mother anymore and so we have said good-bye to our happy routine. I will still go to my little borrowed sanctuary in Hilton Head every year but next year I will learn a new beach and a new routine in California and enjoy the healing in that corner of the world.

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Wildflowers

This is a guest post by my friend Valarie Budayr at http://www.jumpintoabook.com and http://www.audreypress.com , author of A Year in the Secret Garden The Fox Diaries and The Ultimate Guide to Charlie and the Chocolate Factor.  Last week we took a hike together and I wanted to share with you our wildflower pilgrimage close to home.

We took a little adventure a couple of days ago and discovered a Secret Garden right in the middle of the forest. We were hiking in the Smoky Mountains, everyone around here knows that the wildflowers bloom over a few weeks and many of us get out to see the forest and mountain sides bloom out in color.

We took a side path and walked ourselves into an ancient moss covered forest. Surrounded completely by mountains we walked deep into the enclosed valley to discover the most enchanted vision I’ve ever seen in nature.

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The forest floor was completely covered in blooming phlox, may apples and another little tiny white flower I don’t know the name of. Moss one inch thick covered fallen trees and branches as well as the trunks of living trees.

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We were all alone here in this ancient wood. The only sounds were that of a water fall off in the distance, the cacophony of birds and the buzzing of bees.

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One of the most important things missing from these photos is the smell. I’ve never smelled anything as this blooming forest. It made us heady with delight. We spent over an hour in this forest soaking it all in. Soon other wildflower enthusiasts joined us and it was nice to meet people who shared in this moment of Secret Garden bliss.

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I learned a big lesson on this hike, that a Secret Garden doesn’t have to be behind a wall locked away with a key but can be found in our daily wanderings.

This week I challenge you to find a secret garden near you. It might be behind a wall, it might be under a big tree, it might be in the forest near your home, or behind a log that’s drifted in from the ocean. Wherever it is, go and find it! Cherish those hidden moments in nature’s Secret Gardens!

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Lagom

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It has been almost a year since I headed down the long path of the Camino with one change of clothes for five weeks. There was something very liberating about just that one extra pair of pants and one shirt, no choices to be made, always appropriate for the occasion. My life was simple, just what I needed to walk to the next town, not too much in my pack. Lagom.

Lagom is a Swedish word that means enough, just the right amount, not too much, not too little, moderation. We don’t have an English word that covers that concept so completely. My father used a Latin phrase that was similar “nihil nimus” or nothing too much.

Since then I have chosen a much more pared down life. Although I still live in the land of “way too much”, within that context I keep things lagom. I have more than one change of clothes but definitely less than I use to. Just what I need, not too much.

This week I was reading a book called Over Dressed The Shockingly High Cost Of Cheap Fashion. I had it on my list for a couple of years and finally found a used copy. In this book Elizabeth Cline tells us the story of where and how and why our clothing got so cheap and what that is doing to our environment, our society and our lives. Clothing is now so inexpensive that people buy new clothes constantly, always looking for the next new trend. There is nothing lagom about most people’s closets or teenager’s bedroom floors. Caroline calls it her “floorobe”, just pick up something semi-clean off the floor and your ready to go.

The path up the spiritual mountain is sometimes smooth, sometime rocky and often steep. If you try to carry everything physical, mental or emotional you won’t make it very far. Walking a spiritual path requires that we lay things down that we don’t need or don’t serve. So this spring see what physical burdens you can leave behind so that you can walk more lightly on the Earth. Remember if you accumulate more physical stuff than you will have to carry that with you. Embrace the new word lagom as part of your vocabulary and life and see if that doesn’t put more spring in your step.

***Hamilton says that lagom doesn’t apply to books and that you can never have enough.

Other books to help lighten your load:

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy by James A. Roberts

Living in the Land of Enough by Courtney Carver

New Slow City: Living Simply in the World’s Fastest City by William Powers

Laura

Laura

Looking back I can see that my desire to take pilgrimages started very young. Every year my family would take a big vacation, usually heading west or north from Tennessee. Of course it was the 1970’s which meant you drove, no matter what the distance was. My father would plan stops along the way to art museums, parks and historic sights. Two different summers we went to see the homes of my favorite childhood author Laura Ingalls Wilder. We went to DeSmitt, South Dakota to the little museum and house reproduction. We went to Mansfield, Missouri to the home where Laura wrote all her books. Neither of these places were impressive or popular but they meant everything to me, I LOVED the Little House books and read them constantly.

When I was very young my father would read out loud Little House in the Big Woods, then we progress through the whole series. When I could read them on my own I read all eight books every year for eight years. I also loved to read other books like Heidi, and Anne of Green Gables but my heart belonged to Laura. I loved these stories of gentle heroines living simple lives and their love of nature.

The Little House books were almost a way of life for my family. We knew all the stories and continued to read them aloud on Friday nights by a roaring fire. I would pretend I was living back in time like Laura. I wanted a rag doll, a tin cup and my hair in braids. I still desire a very simple life close to nature.

When I was 21 I badly broke an arm and had to have surgery. My parents drove through the night to be with me. Too sick to do anything my father sat by my bed and read me “Laura”, the words spoken by his voice were so comforting to me when I was in so much pain.

This winter my father was dying, he couldn’t go home so he stayed on with me and we enjoyed a constant flow of family and friends, bouquets of flowers and roaring fires. My sister came to visit bringing her well loved copy of Little Town on the Prairie, a gift from my parents in 1968. The copy was threadbare from love. So we sat by the fire doing the most cherished act of our childhood, reading Laura. These stories so beautifully written, brought comfort to all of us. My sister, mother and aunt read many an hour when my father was too sick to do anything else.

These books are my family’s sacred texts, the language and descriptions of a beautiful time in American history. But more than that they are stories of courage, love, gentleness, hard work, fortitude and cooperation, all the things my family holds dear. These are the sacred stories of our land and our people.

As my family walked beside my father to the edge of life, we cherished our moments together and our shared history of his 92 years. Early in the morning on March 15th we waved good by and wished him well on his next journey. He is greatly missed.

Laundry

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Ice Storm Octavia

I can’t say I live for housework but I like the results so I make sure my house stays tidy. Since the girls are on their own now my housework has gone way down – they never helped much anyway. One particular place my work load has lessened is the laundry. Alexandra loved changing clothes and her weekly wash equaled all the rest of ours combined.

The last few years I have found laundry to be my favorite chore. When life gets chaotic and there is a lot of stress, doing laundry becomes a mediation. I can only fold or hang one thing at a time and those warm clean piles of sorted clothes makes me feel that there is some order in my life.

Everyday this winter I have watched my father’s health decline and each day I’m not sure what I’m facing. So sometimes I take refuge in bringing order to one corner of my life that I can control. Those neatly hung shirts and pants are something that makes me feel ready for whatever life throws at me that day.

When I’ve been on a big pilgrimage, the first few days of reentry can be tough. I miss the excitement of the adventure and jet lag has set in. I usual find myself wandering the aisles of the grocery store in a stupor wondering how I could be on a different continent the day before and pushing a cart in such a familiar place the next. After each trip I come back to the laundry, the mundane activity that brings order back from chaos and makes everyday life grounded again.

This last week winter storm Octavia took me back in time a hundred and fifty years to when my home was young. For two days I kept warm by the fire and read by a kerosene lamp. Those few days without modern conveniences reminded me how grateful that I don’t have to wash clothes in a big pot over a fire in the yard or hang out each garment by hand. A few days later my washer and dryer were humming away making quick work of a formally arduous task.

Over the last few years I come back to one of the my favorite books, After the Ecstasy, Then the Laundry by Jack Kornfield. Each time I read this book I get a deeper understanding of what it means to lead a spiritual life. We love those times on the mountain top but we can’t stay there, we have to come down to the valley and take care of the laundry. We have to take our experiences and use them enhance our daily lives. We have to take the highs of the mystical, the sorrows of the world and mix them with ordinary life and make them all equal, all part of being human.

After the Ecstasy, The Laundry  by Jack Kornfield

Hand Wash Cold:  Care instructions for an Ordinary Life   by Karen Maezen Miller

January

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I knew there was a possibility that this January wouldn’t be the usual empty, quiet month that I’m use to. Most January’s are about taxes, and cleaning and just being quiet, I had three January’s that took me to Egypt. This year my parents have extended their Christmas visit, their health is too fragile to go back home to Colorado.

My house has officially become a bed and breakfast for the many wonderful relatives and friends coming to see my father and reminisce about happy days gone by. In the background the oxygen machine makes a rhythmic sound, classical music plays on the radio and we quietly settle in to a new normal.

Many of my projects have been put aside for the time being and I’m content to be at home enjoying the little pleasures of life. The joy of companionship with people I love has taken center stage to the hustle and bustle of usual life. We read and talk, I make lots of tea and coffee. We watch nature documentaries and “Great Courses”. Travel is taken vicariously, this week we went to Moscow to see Swan Lake with an HD broadcast from the Bolshoi Ballet. My brother calls us on Facetime from his job in the Indian Ocean half way around the world.

I’m enjoying my very slow life as I take the pace of my elderly parents. Life is in a suspended state as I take care of what is in front of me. I’m on one of the great pilgrimages of life to the place that is most important, the depths of the heart and being.

Advent

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Entrance to the labyrinth.

I have a very busy and fun Christmas this year, full of family and friends.  My parents are visiting for a least a month and Alexandra is home from college and preparing to move to Los Angeles in January.   I have my usual big Swedish Smorgasbord planned for Christmas Eve and a large family reunion the weekend after Christmas at my home.  Whew.  I’m looking forward to all the festivities but I do try to pace myself so that this time of the year is a joy and not just exhaustion.

So last week I took a morning off to celebrate Advent/Winter Solstice.   A friend and I met for coffee and then headed to the local college to a secret labyrinth hidden in a corner of the woods.

This labyrinth is made of brick set into the ground and is invisible until you are practically standing on it.    All bundled up to keep warm on an  overcast, crisp morning, I headed into the labyrinth.    The path was narrow and sometimes hard to see with the matted grass and leaves which matched the brick.   I slowly wound my way in, back out, back in, around, out, in and then I’m always surprised when I finally make it to the center, the heart.   I waited for my friend to get to the center and then I retraced my steps and carefully unwound my way to the beginning.   I then wandered the grounds a bit, looking at the empty trees with just a few berries hanging on.  It was so peaceful and I felt that I had my moment of contemplation for Advent, this gentle time of anticipation.    Nothing to prepare, nothing to gather, nothing to plan,  just the quiet grey day and me.

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I’ve always planned to put a labyrinth out on the farm and this spring is going to be the perfect time to build one.   My father-in-law left us his beloved old bulldozer which will be perfect to smooth the old lawn that has become rough with age.   So I’m scouting my own secret location to build my labyrinth while the ground is bare.   I have beautiful old bricks piled behind the barn that will be perfect for defining the path.   All is there just waiting for the day that the labyrinth will be ready for me to wind my way to the heart and bring back out the joy.

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Anticipation