Category Archives: Musings of the Zen Master

Set In

IMG_4931It hit me today. Winter, I mean. Of course, I’ve known it’s winter for a month or so and there has been a little bit of snow and some ice and a lot of cold temperatures but I was fine. Really. I had words and good company and my new espresso maker. I had comfy sweats and hoodies and warm socks.

Yes, I was fine.

But today the skies are gray and my toes hurt from freezing and thawing and freezing again and it all feels like a bit too much.

When I was little and my mom and I were at the cabin, we would sometimes watch storms roll in from across the lake. They came through fast and moved on quickly, leaving sunshine and wet grass in their wake. But sometimes, I’d wake up to gray skies and slow and steady rain and find my mother staring out the window. She’d turn and say, “It’s set in for the day.” Set in. Temporarily permanent.

That’s how winter feels today. I know it’s not going anywhere for awhile – I’ve known all along – but today I feel it. My body aches a bit more and my worries feel a bit heavier.

I texted a friend earlier and said that I needed a cabin, a wood burning stove and a good book. Winter always feels more manageable in those circumstances. But I’m not at a cabin and there is no fire and I don’t like the book I’m reading. So, I need to make some adjustments.

IMG_4918I’m going to focus on my mug of hot tea and put on warmer socks. I’m going to look at pictures I took at the cabin on the first day of the new year and remember that winter carries its own kind of beauty. I’m going to stare at the snow on the branches of the tree outside my window and hope to catch a glimpse of the cardinals. I’m going to remind myself that I have survived 23 Minnesota winters so chances are good that I’ll survive this one.

I just have to be patient with winter and myself.


Welcome 2016

IMG_4918We welcomed the new year at a cabin with our friends – six adults, six kids, two dogs and enough food to last us twice as long as we were there.

We moved together and separately. We went for walks and skied. Some of us worked on a puzzle and others colored while a fire kept us all warm. The kids lay about talking and teasing each other. They made plans and played games and argued passionately and laughed loudly.  They walked to the store for junk food and movies and then went to the basement to indulge. Through it all, I realized once again that they need us less and less and find their way in things together.

IMG_4943At one point, I took a walk on the lake alone and listened carefully to the shuffle of my feet through the snow and the wind through the trees. I stopped and took pictures of ice crystals and footprints, red berries and towering trees. I thought about where my life began and the path leading to the here and now. I thought of growing up in heat and humidity and somehow landing in this place of cold wind and ice.

I’ve often worried about wrong choices and closing doors but I am beginning to understand that life doesn’t work that way. There is only this moment and the next and we make choices and often end up creating a life we couldn’t imagine.

I never imagined that I would move to Minnesota and most days, if you ask me, I’ll tell you how much I hate the cold. But, as I walked on the frozen lake and looked at the sun casting glitter on the snow, I kept thinking about how easily I breathe here.

IMG_4935I don’t have a word for the new year and I don’t make resolutions. I have a few goals that are less about change and more about maintenance. Mostly, I plan to live in small moments, to choose as wisely as I can when faced with decisions, to love with everything I have and to keep doing what I do, believing that everything will lead me towards the good stuff. It’s worked out that way so far.


IMG_1919It’s snowing, sticking to the branches of the trees and dusting the ground. This kids are asleep so it is quiet and still here. The house smells like the fresh herbs and shallots that Luisa used to season the turkey this morning but doesn’t smell like roasted turkey because she took it to our friends’ house to cook over there because we aren’t hosting this year.

This year feels different–inside our home but outside in the world as well. There is so much pain and suffering, so much anger and outrage, so much fighting on large and small scales and I am overwhelmed. I think we all are. Yet, I have so much for which I am grateful so today, I want to focus on that more than ever.

I am grateful…

…that we have shelter and food. That we have more than enough.

,,,that we are healthy.

…that I have the luxury of spending my days writing.

…for my family and friends and their love.

…for laughter.

From my desk, I can see one of my little neighbors–just five years old–standing in his backyard, hands held out to catch snowflakes and Zeca just woke up and looked outside and excitedly shouted, “It snowed! It snowed!” Sometimes, it’s these small moments of wonder that give me hope.

Happy Thanksgiving and may the day be filled with peace.

Playing Cards and Prayer

FullSizeRender-1I can still see her sitting across the table from me with cards fanned out in her left hand and a cigarette clenched between her teeth. My best memories of my mother are playing cards with her, game after game starting as soon as I was old enough to know the suits and hold the cards. She was predictable in those games. She’d draw a card and slide it into her hand but not push it all the way down. Then, she’d take the cigarette from her lips, flick the ash and speak. Sometimes, she’d say, “Up popped a fox!’ in a slow singing, drawl, which meant the card was unexpected but good. Other times, she’d say, “Holy Mary Mother of God, bless us sinners in this time of need…” drawing out the last word dramatically. That meant that whatever she’d drawn had wrecked what she was building.

My mother was raised as a Baptist and was not a religious woman. To this day, I don’t know where she learned those words and why they came so easily to her. That’s a question I would ask her if I could.

There was only one other prayer I ever heard her say. She learned it in church basements with strangers who became friends.

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

I remember sitting outside those rooms on uncomfortable chairs and old couches, watching sitcoms on television sets with broken antennas or reading a book I’d brought with me. I couldn’t hear the words clearly where I sat but I found comfort in the hum of the words intoned, in the swirl of cigarette smoke and the smell of stale coffee. I grew up in bars and grew up in different ways as I watched my mother try to get sober.

During the time of AA meetings and the Big Book, there was Holy Mary and smiles during card games but more moments when I’d peek into kitchen and see her holding onto the counter whispering and pleading with her eyes closed, “God grant me the serenity…”

It would take years and many health crises before she finally stopped drinking and I was never privy to her thoughts on the matter, just a witness to the struggle.

I am not a religious woman and I am not one to pray but, lately, the Serenity Prayer has come to mind more often as I grapple with all that is going on in the world. The words are about peace and change and wisdom and, sometimes, I close my eyes and hear them like a whisper.