Place – Union of Dark and Light

It’s February. February is my tough month. I suspect everyone, alright, most people, have a tough month. For whatever reason, some months just seem to be more challenging than others. For me, it’s February. Memories. Deaths. Losses. February is filled with them for me.

Several years ago I began to befriend February. May be I finally listened to my dad, “That which does not kill you makes you stronger.” May be I was just super tired of holding on to the February angst. I no longer remember the catalyst, and that doesn’t seem important anymore. Now, I find appreciation in February. Lotus #2 Place is heightened in February and helps me remember the sweet spot where the human experience and the landscape are one. And, it reminds me to listen to this wonderful place. I simply need to step out side and be, and I can find all that I need to lift up February for me. 

I now understand that February is the month where the divine feminine and the divine masculine present their union so clearly. Fire and water. Shadow and light. Cold and warm. Dormancy and growth. Earth and sky. Sun and Moon. Boredom and inspiration. Fullness and emptiness. Being and doing. Receiving and creating. This divine union is everything.

February 2022

February is still a challenge but it’s different now. I feel things in my body more intensely during this month. Emotions. The flavor of food. Cold on my face. My bare feet on the Earth. The slow returning of the light. I have made peace with the challenge of February and have all sorts of rituals at my fingertips to help me manage my response to February. Here is how I look after myself in February…..

Our story for February is: The Candles by Hans Christian Andersen (1870) which we read surrounded by candlelight and a glowing fireplace as a sign of the returning sunlight.

Our ritual is: Candlemas and Imbolc. They fall on the cross quarter day between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox – the middle of winter in this place I live. A day where the the solstice and equinox are in balance, in union. Candlemas and Imbolc are linked together in their origins and we have built our own family rituals around them that ground us in time, place, and spirit. With Candlemas we thank and celebrate our candles for all they have done getting us through the dark days of deep winter, and Imbolc is a celebration of the awakening of the land from its winter sleep and the return of the sunlight. Both are about the transition from dark to light, from dormancy to growth.

Pancakes or Crepes and Chamomile Tea for dinner followed by Rice Pudding or Creme Brûlée afterwards. Blessing our hearth with a hearth oil made for the day. Clearing our path into the new sunlight by cleaning and purging of that which is no longer necessary throughout the house. Adventuring outside. Beginning to lay out our plan for this year’s garden. It’s a day that is both nurturing and comforting as well as filled with anticipation and excitement of what is to come.

What we make: Hearth Oil. 

  • 1 drop Cinnamon Bark Cinnamomum zeylanicum essential oil
  • 2 drops Sandalwood Santalum album essential oil
  • 4 drops Lavender Lavandula angustifolia essential oil
  • 1 drop Jasmine Jasminum grandiflorum essential oil
  • 1 drop Rose Rosa x damascena essential oil
  • 2 drops Frankincense Boswellia carterii essential oil
  • 1 drop Scotch Pine Pinus sylvestris essential oil
  • 1 tablespoon Solubol (because we use our hearth oil as a spray)

According to Aromahead Institute

  • Cinnamon – Supports lessening stress and increasing feelings of  optimism
  • Sandlawood – Supports meditation, inner unity, quiet mental activity
  • Lavender – Calms, soothes, nurtures, and encourages balance in all body systems
  • Jasmine – Supports comfort within oneself
  • Rose – Soothes and heals the heart, brings a feeling of love
  • Frankincense – Supports reflection, introspection, tranquility, and quiets the mind
  • Pine – Calming yet uplifting while helping to improve air quality

We use the hearth oil to anoint our hearth as we say a blessing/prayer of thanks. This is the perfect blend for how our family interacts with our hearth. Our hearth is the heart center of our home. It provides a warm space for us to gather, relax, recharge, even enjoy a meal. The essential oils in this spray support this quieting, relaxing, uplifting, harmonious environment. 

Hearth 2022

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Earth – Love Conquers All

– Waldorf meal blessing

Last year I focused each month on the broad strokes of each of my 12 American Lotus that are always available to integrate me and this land and universe I am part of. Throughout 2021 I shared how each lotus is part of my daily life, rituals, routines, comings and goings. This year, 2022, I am diving deeper into each lotus. My plan is to align each lotus to a month, and then to share one story our family focuses on that month, one daily ritual I practice that aligns to the story and the lotus, and something we make as a family that aligns to the story and the lotus.

Lotus 1 is Earth/Nature and January is the perfect month to talk about this lotus.  We are putting away all of the decorations from Advent-Christmas-Christmastide. By Sunday night our home will be back in order from all of the festivities. Furniture back in its place. Pine needles swept from the floors. Elves and Tomte in their sleeping spots until next year. Just as that happens so too does a calling to connect with this deep, dark time of the Earth.

We are deep into Winter darkness where we live. But all is not still. While we are snuggling in with even more twinkly lights, candles, and fires, and warming beverages, cozy blankets, and fuzzy socks, the Earth is busy.  The Solstice has passed and the dark days are working their way towards increasing light. Our paper whites,  that were planted during Advent are beginning to bloom. This time of dark towards light is a time for noticing and listening to what is stirring within me (What new ideas are trying to get my attention right now) and within the Earth (What signs of increasing light and seeds for new growth are emerging?). My focus is: What do I hear and learn if I create space and pay attention to what the Earth is sharing? The story, ritual, and tea that follow support this process.

Our story for January is: The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen (1845). A version can be found online at surlalunefairytales.com and includes annotations, illustrations, and links to modern interpretations. There is so much imagery around the Earth that draws us into this story – roses, river, long winter’s night, ice, flowers that have stories to share, crows, pigeons, reindeer, the Otherworld. It is the ultimate message of the story that has always been most special to us – love conquers all.

My ritual: At least once a day, I walk barefoot outside in the grass or in the garden as a way of grounding and connecting to the Earth. It recharges my spirit as I absorb the energy the Earth and Sky offer. Even in the first few moments I feel the shift, my breathing eases, I feel calm, light. Sometimes it is early in the morning while still dark, and sometimes it is later in the day. Yesterday, it was in the freshly fallen snow. If you are interested in taking a deep dive into how connecting feet to the Earth impacts our autonomic and parasympathetic nervous systems, this is a good starting place: Journal of Environmental and Public Health.

January 2022

What we make: We integrate herbal knowledge into our daily wellness routines, and a favorite this time of the year is Heart Warming Tea. Each of the ingredients is selected for its warming and heart supporting properties. According to The Herbrarium:

  • Hawthorn – a general cardiac tonic that appears to improve the mechanics of the heart and its metabolic processes. Hawthorn is also calming and stress reducing, and is used to heal, open, and protect the heart.
  • Rose – to open and fortify the heart.
  • Cinnamon – Warming, carminative, anti-inflammatory.

1 teaspoon Hawthorn berry (Crataegus spp.)

1 teaspoon Hawthorn leaf (Crataegus spp.)

1 teaspoon Hibiscus calyces (Hibiscus spp.)

1 teaspoon Rose hips (Rosa spp.)

1/4 teaspoon ground Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum)

I like to use a quart size canning jar to prepare this tea so that it is easy to strain when it is ready. Combine all of the ingredients in the jar and pour 2 cups of boiling water over the mixture. Let steep covered for 20 minutes. Strain the tea into a favorite mug. Add honey, to taste, if desired.

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Lotus #12 – Divinity

“We are made out of the most common ingredients in the universe. Those elements are made in the cores of stars, that explode, scatter that enrichment across the galaxy, allowing the next generation of stars to have those elements that can make planets and life. So, it’s not simply that we are in this universe, the universe is in us. It’s not just poetically true, it’s literally true that we are stardust.” -Neil deGrasse Tyson on Danica Patrick’s podcast, Pretty Intense, 5 September 2019

My high school best friend and I spent a lot of time back then talking about God and religion. We read theologians like Henri Nouwen and naturalists like Sigurd Olsen whilst trying to find our way in the world. We discussed the role of theology and natural experiences in building one’s belief system. We proved, to our teenage satisfaction, that God is within each of us. This led us to the conclusion that divinity is not a public experience but rather an individual experience. And, as author John O’Donohue said in Anam Cara, we began to “sense the magic and mystery of [our]self.”

We were definitely onto something. It took me years to begin to understand the shift that was manifesting in our ideas.  It’s vast importance, however, is why this is the shortest blog post of all of the 12 lotus. Everything that I have written before comes together here. There is no path, practice, journey, or straight line to follow to discover the divine or the eternal, because it is within. Living my life simply and intentionally creates space and silence for the connections between the lotus to grow. All of the 11 lotus before this one are there to support me as I move in the space and silence that I need, just as they support each other when they move into the deeper water. In that space and silence, I am able to glimpse what is me and what is the universe, and our entwined relationship. 

Divinity, the eternal, whatever name I give to it, is in all. It’s not a search to discover or find or become, its a journey to see.

Candle, December 2021

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Lotus #11 – Ritual/Ceremony

Ritual practice is the activity of cultivating extraordinary ordinariness. It is necessary, because human activity has a kind of entropy about it; life, like love, runs down. Things get tiresome and difficult. Body and soul cry out for something different, hence the impetus to ritualize.”-Ronald L. Grimes

When I was really young our family did not go to church. When my little sister was born it was like a switch flipped for my parents and church became what we did on Sunday mornings.

What captured my attention in church was the rituals. All those glorious candles. The beautiful flowers. Incantations. The first time I saw an acolyte I proclaimed to my mom, “I want to do that!” It all seemed like a gateway to a secret club. All of the rituals and ceremonies were fascinating to little me. And, by fifth grade, I was an acolyte.

Acolyte, November 2021

These rituals were comforting and grounding, in the moment.  They were formal, collective, traditional, and connected to eight (8) generations of my ancestors. I enjoyed the histories and meanings behind the rituals, too.  As I went through my own rites of passage – marriage, birth, deaths – I began to crave rituals that were comforting and grounding but also private, independent from hierarchical constraints, connected to my experiences and beliefs, to those I love, to those I’ve never known, and to the eternal.

I realized that I didn’t need someone to tell me how to infuse rituals and ceremonies into the every day. I realized I could invent and reimagine, create, rituals for myself. The ones I create for myself and with my family are the ones that sustain me. They slow me down, remind me return to the breath again and again and again, help me remain healthy and happy, connect me to Earth/Nature and Place/Community. They are the ties that link each lotus together. They make the ordinary extraordinary.

Some of my rituals are short in duration, some are based on the small moments in the day, some are longer in duration, some are for deeper practices, some are seasonal, and some are daily. Some examples are:

  • Drinking Tea
  • Making herbal preparations
  • Blessing the morning
  • Blessing the first candle that is lit in the morning
  • Meditation
  • Saturday Morning Potatoes with my husband
  • Personal Morning Ritual
  • Personal Evening Ritual
  • Family Rituals around the seasons such as at Solstice and around the change of the seasons
  • Walking barefoot outside, every day

Here is an example of my Meal Prep Ritual:

  • This begins when I enter the kitchen, before any food prep begins. The kitchen is a sacred space in our home as it is the location where one of the most intimate family events occur – the place where nourishing food is prepared, food that will enter into self and others. As a result, it is important to me that I prepare the space before any food prep begins, and then connect to the sacred on each phase of food prep.
  • Here’s what I do. I begin by lighting the candle on my kitchen altar. Then, three full inhalations and exhalations to leave behind the tension and anything troubling. These breaths help me shift my energy into the moment and the food prep to come. It also serves to create the best energy possible so that the energy transferring from me to the food is nourishing as well. My words come next, tailored for the morning or the evening.
  • The food prep then begins. I endeavor to make the food prep process sacred as well. Slowing down. Raising my awareness. Aware of the sounds/light/smells/etc within the kitchen environment. Aware of how my body is entering the space. Being mindful. Hand washing becomes a cleansing ritual. Wiping counters becomes about clearing away thoughts to bring calm and balance. The ingredients are whole foods, plant based. Each phase is an opportunity to raise my awareness and connection.
Meal Prep Ritual. November 2021

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Lotus #10 – Wisdom-holder

This is the first of three posts that begin to connect the lotus to each other.

This post connects directly back to my September 2021 post about teachers and teachings.  It also connects all of the previous posts, just like a field of American Lotus, linked together to support me in finding my way through the mess and imperfections of each day.

I have written previously (see post: Collecting Stories) about how I was not a kid who grew up hearing family stories passed down through the years or who had heirlooms throughout the house that connected to people from prior generations. I barely knew my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins and had no knowledge of anyone beyond them. I had no understanding of who came before or from where they actually came. Broad sweeping generalizations only.  (see post: Earth/Nature). I am not going to re-hash that here so check out the earlier posts if it calls to you. Suffice it to say, that lack of connection and ancestral knowledge was foundational to my journey.

The most amazing thing has happened over the past 30 or so years of research. My ancestors have found me. Yes, I do lots of research, and take courses to be an even more thorough researcher. And, yes, I do work hard in the process. But it still feels to me that my ancestors do not appear until they are ready to do so. Once I see them and begin to delve into their stories, I learn from them – their histories, their lives, their practices, their beliefs, their cosmology. Each reclaimed ancestor and story provides an opportunity for me to reclaim a part of myself, and in doing so to create practices that are relevant to where I find myself. The beauty is that I am continually rediscovering ancestors and their stories so my practices are always evolving. There is no ending, only new beginnings and integration.

I am here to grow and to learn. To be the fully integrated authentic person I am meant to be.  I am here to hold the wisdom and knowledge of my ancestors, to care for it, nurture it, to practice, and to continue to learn. I am an educator at my core. I love the 1560s usage of educator – “one who nourishes or rears.” This is how I see my role. I hold all of these practices and teachings that offer nourishment. I endeavor to live by example according to what I have learned – the principles, practices, and teachings. I hold it all, protect and nourish all, and am ready to share with those who come after me, in service to others.  I am here to share the knowledge, the teachings, to help those who yearn to learn, to listen and feel, to build compassion and love for the natural world and all living beings. Essentially, I am endeavoring to become the ancestor my descendants need me to be when their time comes. Our children are at an age where I am able to see these practices and teachings beginning to move in and through them. I find myself wondering if one of them will hold this wisdom for others after me.

The recipe that follows is born out of desire to hold the wisdom and knowledge through a connection to heritage, to heal the relationship with the Earth in the place where I live, and to provide an opportunity to engage in deep Earth practices. It is a recipe that is in our Death Book and will be nurtured and protected for those yet to arrive.

Saining is a Celtic folk practice of using smoke and herbs to purify and bless a home. Similar to smudging with white sage in Native American traditions, saining provides a practice for those with Celtic ancestry who want to develop their own practice based in their ancestry. In my herbal practices, it is important to me to heal the relationship with the place where my feet are planted by using the plants from within my ecoregion that have the energetics that align with my intention. And so, this recipe is crafted from flora sourced in my ecoregion. I use this recipe as a loose herbal smoke/incense blend and as a saining bundle, depending on the need and the intention of the deep Earth practice.

Recipe: Purify and Bless the Home

Ingredients:

• Cedarwood Juniperus virginianaas

• dried orange peels

• dried cedarwood, Juniperus virginianaas

• dried rosemary, Rosemarinus officinalis var arp

• dried calendula, Calendula officinalis varr esina

• 8 drops Sweet Orange, Citrus sinensis essential oil

• 5 drops Cinnamon Bark, Cinnamomum zeylanicum essential oil

• 3 drops Nutmeg, Myristica fragrans essential oil

Tie the ingredients above into bundles with a natural cotton string. The bundle can be used for a one room or whole house blessing. Alternatively, small bundles may be made and added to a winter fireplace fire.

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Lotus #9- Teachers & Teachings

I love the beginning of the school year. There’s an excitement and energy to it that is unique. It is a time filled with hope, anticipation, renewal. This lotus fits right into this time of the year for me. It s big and juicy as it covers all the teachings and teachers I turn to for insight.

I have had lots of teachers throughout my life. School teachers. Religious teachers. Flute teachers. Swimming teachers. College professors. Yoga teachers. Some formal teachers, some informal teachers. The ones that most deeply resonate with me right now are some I have never met – my ancestors.

I have an altar of sorts where I start each day. It contains items that represent the five directions (East, South, West, North, Center), the five elements (Earth, Water, Ether, Air, Fire) and the five devotions (ancestry, humanity, Mother Earth, divinity, teachings). There are also three ancestral photos: my Great Grandmother Holly Louise Parker (Mama Parker), my Great Grandmother Bertha Gramlich, and my Great Grandmother Mary Elizabeth Hinson. These three women connect me to different aspects of myself and different ancestral traditions from which I gain insight and guidance. They tether me to my ancestral past, to my roots, so that I may integrate ancestral knowing in to my life and in service to others.

I remember the first time I learned anything about my great grandmother, Mama Parker. It was 1977, I was 11 years old, and my parents, sister, and I drove from Baltimore to Lithonia, Georgia to visit my dad’s aunt and cousin. It took two days for us to get there because I got car sick along the way. That I would vomit in the car was pretty much guaranteed whenever we went on extended family trips. Needless to say, I was quite happy when we arrived in Lithonia and pulled into the driveway at my great aunt’s house. The house was right on a lake so I was enthralled as soon as I saw it. All I wanted to do was be outside and explore. My desire to explore was quickly thwarted, however,  when they saw me. 

It began right away. Moving the part in my hair to the other side, they proudly proclaimed, “You look just like Mama Parker.” I had no idea what this meant because I knew nothing about Mama Parker, not even her relationship to any of us. We went inside and the analysis continued as a portrait of Mama Parker was brought down from where it was installed on the wall. My great aunt passed on to me a broach that had been Mama Parker’s and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was sparkly and had its own little satchel to rest in. I knew it was special and contained its own kind of magic because it had been hers. All of the excitement around my physical appearance eventually settled down as we adjusted into our time together. By the end of the day we had gone fishing on the lake and I had caught my first fish. 

Mama Parker, September 2021

It would be 10 years before I caught another fish and even longer before I learned more about Mama Parker. As I think back, I’m surprised I didn’t try to learn more at the time but it planted a seed that patiently waited I until the time was right. 

After my dad passed away, we went to Georgia again to visit my dad’s cousin. This time I asked about stories and memories, and she excitedly shared stories about Christmas, birthing babies at home, building a tiny incubator for my aunt who was born premature, mementos, handkerchiefs, knitting, pictures were all shared.

I learned so much about Mama Parker that day. I have seen pictures of her feeding strangers on the front lawn of their home during the depression. Strangers who often promised to come back and pay but never did, and that was okay by her. I have touched things she made by hand – shawls, embroidery, autograph books. After my grandfather died, she was the one who supported my grandmother in raising her two teenage children.  Mama Parker teaches me about care for community, compassion, family, marriage/partnership, the importance of making things for self and others, and she encourages me to remember.

Great Grandma Hinson was described to me as full of spirit – “when she said frog they all hopped; no question about it. That little tiny thing, she ruled the roost.” It is said that she bore her struggles with a smile. She gave birth to 14 children, two of whom did not survive to be teenagers, and had a husband who ran off for extended periods of time. I am certain her struggles were many. Great Grandma Hinson is my gateway to my Celtic ancestry. Her father was born in Ireland and her mother was the child of Irish immigrants from Drumbeg in County Down. I could share facts from her life that are gleaned only from historical documents – birth, marriage, death, census but I am partial to the story that makes the person. In this instance, I have just shared everything I know about her as a woman. And yet, when I look at her picture there is a familiarity that is pronounced. She is the one into whose eyes I look and wonder what she can teach me. Something in me recognizes something in her. It is something that runs deep and connects to family and to land. Great Grandma Hinson teaches me about strength, courage, perseverance, the importance of family and land.

Great Grandma Hinson, September 2021

Great Grandmom Gramlich was born in 1884 in Mramorak, a Danube-Swabian village community in the Banat. In 1901 at the age of 17 she set sail from Bremen to the United States with her 23 year old brother, Frederich.  No other family members were with them on this arduous journey. With in one year Frederich had moved to Ohio and Bertha had married my great grandfather. I do not have anecdotes to share from those who remember her. Great Grandmom Gramlich died in 1917 in childbirth, as did the child, so there are no family members that I know who also knew her. I have come to learn that rosemary’s calling to me came from a deep ancestral place. Rosemary was my entry herb into herbalism, I carried it in my wedding bouquet, I had some with me at both of our daughter’s baptisms and both of my parent’s memorial services, and I grow it in my gardens. Years after my love of rosemary was fully realized, I learned that in my Great Grandmom Gramlich’s tradition, “The little sprig of rosemary, as a symbolic mark, epitomizes fertility, health and life-creating power on special occasions such as christening, wedding and burial, Kirchweih, Swabian ball, and rendering of the pigs, throughout the events that make up a human life.” (Hans Gehl as translated by Nick Tullius, 2006). The red geraniums that I just knew had to be placed in our window boxes when we moved into our home 15 years ago were also important in Mramorak and it was customary to overwinter them for the next season. Great Grandmom Gramlich teaches me about bravery, perseverance, herbalism, farming/planting, ceremony, connection to land, and hope.

Great Grandmom Gramlich, September 2021

Even though I have never met any of these great grandmothers they are my greatest teachers. Their essence runs through my blood and being. Their ancestral wisdom is there in the shadows, just waiting to be rediscovered by me, so that I may bring it back into the light of day for my family and in service to others.

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