Can I learn to like winter?

Ten inches of wet, heavy snow fell over the weekend, and the forecast predicts more on the way, along with strong winds and frigid temperatures. After being thoroughly spoiled by mild weather for a week or two, we’re back to January in central Illinois. Looks like we won’t sit on our deck grilling brats anytime soon.

I’m definitely a spring and fall person. Spring offers promise – those first green shoots poking up out of the ground, a backyard in bloom, and the vow that this year, I really will stay on top of the weeding. What’s not to love about fall – especially if I ignore the fact that winter follows. Few sights are more gorgeous than a sunset forming the backdrop for rioting brown-orange-yellow-crimson leaves. 

But winter? It gets dark in the afternoon. Utility bills go up. Add in cold and flu season. Last year, Pete and I were continuously sick from Thanksgiving to Easter except for a week of respite in late January when my family finally got together for Christmas. After Pete wound up in the hospital with pneumonia, we seriously considered becoming “snowbirds” and moving to Arizona this winter, but the mere thought of the hassle changed our minds.

Why is it that spring rushes by faster than a fire truck with its lights flashing, while the coldest days of January poke along like that driver ahead of us on a 2-lane highway who thinks the speed limit is 35 m.p.h.? Why can’t spring last as long as winter? I know. Technically, winter has 90 days this year, and spring has 92. But regardless of what the calendar says, winter came quite early – with record snowfall before November was half over. 

On the other hand, Psalm 118:24 reminds us, “Today is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” I’m pretty darned sure this includes winter days. And since I turned 60, life has begun feeling much too short to wish whole months away.  Therefore, I’ve decided I either need to move to a place with a more temperate climate or find some way to stop hating winter.

I haven’t always disliked winter.  When I was a small child, my reaction to snow was, “Oh boy! Let’s go sledding! Make snow angels! Build snow forts! Make a snowman! Have a snowball fight!” Making snow angels lost its luster once I reached junior high school age and got vain about how my hair looked, but I still appreciated the “no school” announcement. 

Could I possibly learn to like winter again? 

Snow is pretty – especially when seen through the picture window in our living room. In early November, snow covering the still-colorful fall leaves created an interesting – and gorgeous – effect.

Bare trees project a certain majesty. Photo of the magnificent tree below was taken at the North Carolina home of cousins Anne and John.

Of course I can better appreciate the beauty of ice-coated branches when the ice stays off sidewalks and doesn’t trigger a power outage. 

Snow even adds beauty to dead weeds. 

Our Christmas cactus in the sun room only blooms once a year, and that’s in the winter.

Christmas is the one time of year when I can usually count on seeing most of my family. Pete and I have also started a tradition of inviting friends to our house for greens and hoppin’ john (a dish made of black-eyed peas and rice) to help us ring in the New Year. The hoppin’ john and greens are pictured below, right.

I’ve come to think of cold weather as God’s gift to people who need to be inside getting some work done. With 10 inches of snow on the ground and wind chill temperatures below zero, I can clean closets or work on a deadline project without feeling deprived by spending the whole day inside.

Winter weather reminds me of several other things I should be grateful for as well. Not being homeless. Not having a job such as postal carrier that requires me to work outside in sub-zero temperatures. Having a house with a garage, so I don’t need to dig our cars out of a foot of snow. Sixty-degree days in January. Snowdrops and crocuses that start poking their heads up in late February, just as I’m beginning to crawl out of my skin with cabin fever. Bird (and squirrel) watching.

I’m especially grateful for cardinals this time of year. In the middle of all the black-and-white dreariness appear those tiny splashes of brilliant red.

I’ve found it helps to think of winter as hibernation season. Bears do it, so why not me? Time to bundle up under a half-dozen quilts and read an 800-page book. Work on a deadline project and not feel guilty about staying indoors all day. Experiment with soup recipes.

I’ve also started leaving my Christmas decor up long past the time when the holidays are over. The twinkling lights make the room feel warmer and brighter in the mornings, and the winter weather outside doesn’t seem so harsh. They add such cheer to the darkness. This year, I’m keeping the Christmas tree and lights up till Lent. 

This morning I had a cat curled up in my lap and a cup of coffee at my side while I did my morning meditation. (I can see why having a warm cuddly pet is good for reducing blood pressure.) Christmas lights blinked cheerfully while I sat in the recliner in front of the fireplace bundled up in a flannel nightgown, yoga pants, hoodie, two pairs of socks and bedroom slippers. (This get-up will not get me featured in a Victoria’s Secret catalog, but it sure is comfy.) 

The forecast for this coming weekend predicts a real MESS — a mixture of snow and ice, strong winds and plunging temperatures. But we’ve stocked up on groceries. I’m preparing a casserole dish and some soup to get us through the pair of storms headed our way. And the lights that frame my windows are battery-operated, which means I’ll have a well-lit living room even if the power goes off. 

Here’s to staying warm!

Gratitude, Part 2

Over Thanksgiving weekend, my husband Pete and I went to North Carolina for a long-anticipated visit with some favorite cousins who live near Asheville. Two previous attempts to visit had been foiled – the first time by wildfires burning in the area, and the second time by illness. Maybe, we hoped, the third attempt would be the proverbial charm.

The photo above was taken just as we entered Tennessee. Yes, the sign below points to the “Rocky Top” of bluegrass and country music fame. The town of Rocky Top is just down the road a piece from Pete’s hometown of Norris in the eastern part of the state.

We stopped at a bluff overlooking Norris Dam, one of Pete’s favorite places. From this location, one can observe breathtaking scenery. On the day after Thanksgiving, the mountains were covered with trees still hanging onto their blazing multicolor fall leaves. I got to shoot several photos of the beloved Smokies. So far, so good. We were only a couple hours from our destination.

Then we ate supper at one of our favorite restaurants in the area, and dropped in at a Walgreens pharmacy to check my blood pressure. I had experienced a brief A-fib episode earlier in the day and was still feeling a little bit “off.” Among other things, a blood pressure monitor can detect an irregular heartbeat and I wanted to make sure my heart rate had stabilized. Alas, my blood pressure had skyrocketed and I was promptly sent to the emergency room.

I expected the ER folks would give me some medication to bring my blood pressure under control quickly, then release me. This was the treatment usually offered by my regular doctor at home. Instead, they admitted me to the hospital for an overnight stay and more tests. Needless to say, being in a hospital 500 miles from home was not part of our vacation plans and I began to feel downright surly, especially when there seemed to be no guarantee I would be released the following day either.

We relayed the news of our “detour” to Pete’s cousins. They immediately offered to come visit us at the hospital in Knoxville. Since this visit involved a two-hour drive for them, I resisted the offer at first. But Pete pointed out that a visit from the cousins might possibly set Murphy’s Law in reverse.

So John and Anne, Lise and Nate made the two-hour drive. And sure enough, Murphy’s Law-in-Reverse was activated. No sooner had we posed for the photo below (that’s me in the hospital gown worn over a pair of jeans), the doctor came in and announced that the tests were normal and I was free to leave.

So on we went to North Carolina, where we stayed in a hotel room at the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center, a beautiful resort tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mission of the conference center, owned by the United Methodist Church, is “to be a place of Christian hospitality where lives are transformed through renewal of soul, mind and body.”

The folks at the conference center seemed to practice Christian charity as well as hospitality. Although we called after 7 p.m. to let them know we wouldn’t be coming the first night of our reservation (way past the deadline for a cancellation), when they heard my story, they didn’t charge us for that night. My husband and I have stayed at the conference center several times now, and love the place. Below is one breathtaking view, as seen from our hotel room.

In the end, we got to spend two days with our fabulous cousins after all. We enjoyed cousin Anne’s fine cooking on Saturday night. On Sunday, we all piled into their van to take Nate back to his college in Charlotte, where he is studying to be a chef (the school actually offers an entire course on chocolate). Along the way, we stopped at a restaurant and I enjoyed a meal of Cajun-style barbecued salmon. It was delicious and the company was delightful.

As an added treat, I got to visit the horses who live next door to our cousins. When I held out some apple cores, they walked right up to me. If anyone thinks cats and dogs are the only pets who beg for food, they haven’t interacted with horses. These two have begging down to a science.

So I ended up with plenty to be thankful for, after all. I’m especially grateful for our cousins’ visit while I was stuck in a hospital 500 miles from home. They certainly didn’t have to go out of their way like that, especially when they had another all-day trip to make the following day. But they did – and revived my faith that there are plenty of kind and generous people left on the planet.

My Gratitude List for 2018

    Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.            1 Chronicles 16:34

In what has become an annual tradition, I like to celebrate Thanksgiving by making a Gratitude List. And I have plenty to be grateful for this year:

My husband. As usual, my sweetie tops the list. After 33 years of marriage, I still consider him a gift from a loving God. He’s kind, generous, decent and caring, my best friend, the wind beneath my wings, proof positive that there ARE good men, and the best thing that ever happened to me. I love that man to the moon and back!

My family. I have sisters and cousins who double as friends, along with wonderful nieces and nephews. And I’m fortunate to be blessed with amazing parents. During Dad’s final illness a few years ago, I was awestruck to realize how many people love my parents and to hear story after story about their generosity in the community.

Good friends, past and present. These irreplaceable people – including one special angel now in heaven – know my quirks and flaws and love me anyway.

Our kitties. My life has been graced with some fine cats, dating back to earliest childhood. These sweet fur babies curl up next to me while I sleep, sit in my lap while I work at my desk, comfort me when I’m distressed, and love me unconditionally. 

Our church community. We belong to a congregation where people actually try to live out the values they profess. They agree to disagree about volatile political issues. (I’ve been in churches with an unofficial litmus test, where people could and did get ostracized for not taking the “right” stance on an issue.) They even still speak to each other after surviving the merger of three congregations. And … after a two-year search, we finally have a new pastor!!

Other supportive people. Those who mentored me over the years – from my grandparents to my favorite teachers to supervisors at work – helped me become the successful person I am. Now I have a patient and nonjudgmental spiritual director mentoring me as I approach Senior Citizenhood – the next phase of life.

My health. My relatively good health lets me stay active, a minor miracle considering the not-so-good things I did to my body earlier in life – the cigarettes, the junk food, the lack of proper exercise and my talent for burning the proverbial candle at both ends. After repeated bouts with flu and other viruses last winter that landed both my husband and my mother in the hospital, we’re all healthy for the holidays. Thanks be to God!!!!! 

Our home. Our beautiful dream house has a cozy fireplace I sit next to during my morning meditation, a sunroom, eat-in kitchen, piano, office space for each of us and plentiful storage and closet space. Our yard is filled with flower beds. We live in a lovely neighborhood with a bike path leading to a nearby park and botanical garden.

My writing ability. I’ve known since third grade that writing would play some role in my life’s purpose. From young adulthood on, this gift from God has assured me I’ll never starve, or get bored even after retiring.

Financial security. We have not had to worry (at least not too much) how we’re going to survive our retirement years. We can travel to places like Ireland, Germany, the Scandinavian countries, Israel and Palestine. And being able to hire someone to clean our house and mow our grass has certainly made my life easier.

Mother Nature in all her majesty. This year I enjoyed one of the most gorgeous falls in recent memory – I swear the leaves were rioting! No matter which season we’re in, I love the wildlife that populates our backyard – the birds and squirrels that visit our feeders, the foxes that live under our deck, the butterflies and rabbits.

Little things. The first ripe tomato of the summer. Gentle rains at the right time. “Ordinary” days when broken appliances are all I need to fret about. Not to mention low-calorie food that actually tastes good.

Being alive. God has granted me another year. While many folks complain about aging (and I must admit I do this myself from time to time), today I choose to be grateful I’ve been able to grow old.

And last but not least  …  SPRING IS COMING in 120 days!!!

For all of this, God, I thank you.

Here’s hoping everyone has a happy Thanksgiving!