Our Dark Winter

     In the Sunday morning darkness, I drove to the grocery for the weekly shop, before an 8-a.m. dawn. Bright lights and stars stretched across main street and the colored lights on the Green’s Christmas tree still shone.

     Lights reflected in the wet parking lot around the store, and fresh green garlands and wreaths stretched out alongside pieces of tape that mark the pandemic-required six-foot intervals. Inside, nestled amongst the pots of poinsettia, I spotted bunches of red tulips. Instantly I was transported back many years, when in the snowy dark of an Alaska Christmas Eve, the florist delivered a totally unexpected bouquet of red tulips, sent by my father-in-law in Kansas. Red tulips are Christmas for me ever since, one of the small things calling forth thoughts of missing people and times.

So, we have memories and increasing light this week, as we pass the winter solstice, and prepare our distanced festivities in this bleak winter of a hard year.

     But no matter the year – maybe because of the year and the daily reminder of the fragility of life – I wish you good cheer, warmth, and light!


After I broke my kneecap, when I woke in the night, I replayed my unnecessary slip and fall – full of regret. My mom was a rusher (she broke her collar bone when rushing), so I’ve known the dangers of hurrying and inattention (maybe the latter the bigger offense). What was so important?

And even worse, when I tried to go back to sleep (after waking at 2 a.m. for half a peanut butter sandwich and Advil dose), the current regret attached to old regrets (deriving from the sub-category of stupid things I’ve done), resurfacing to swirl in my head. Not helpful.

Recently I read an article in the New York Times by the psychologist Jennifer Taitz, describing the silver lining to be found when one redirects regret. In an earlier time I might have rejected this article as impossibly Pollyannaish. For so many things, how could there possibly be a silver lining? But now, four weeks on – “I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two” (as the commercial says) – and I think there are silver linings, and to look for them is a positive thing.

But don’t ask me about upsides when I am on the physical therapist’s table, and he is holding my lower leg so that it dangles and the weight encourages the knee to bend – definitely against its will. Or when his colleague, a young and strong woman who is kind and apologetic while she pushes my knee to bend against the resistance caused by weeks of immobilization as the kneecap healed. (What women we are, she repeated “sorry, sorry,” and I said “sorry, sorry” apologizing for tears). Nothing silver there. Except there is – because they are going to make it so I can walk again.

A wise woman once told me that as we age, it is hugely important to be able to be dependent (gracefully, a friend said in a comment). When you go in an instant from fully functional and rushing to scared and hobbling, it would be good to have considered ways to quiet that interior monologue – even if you fail at first. I do better listing the many, many kindnesses I have received – the goodness of people, the patience of my family and friends, this little house that functions, the professionalism and talent of medical people. The many ways I am lucky.

I did love Valentine’s Day this year – all those heart emoji – making the cards to send to the little loves of my life. And my good-natured husband Valentine has been heroic with the household chores and the grocery shopping – including lovely tulips for me to share and try to paint.


Small, Simple Things

I regret my news consumption these days – responding to alerts on my phone with curiosity, dread, and some wild hope that things will change – a frustrating activity. What if I captured those moments?

Carl Richards, in a recent New York Times article, suggests how to “turn wishes into reality” instead of regrets. This sentence stuck out: “Small, simple things done consistently over a long time produce meaningful results.”

It seems to hold so much hope and possibility. A concept good for practical things – saving money, exercise, pulling popweed in the garden, and truly magic for creative work – the 15-minute freewrite, a drawing a day, a few rows knitted!

Having a self-assignment helps – an ongoing series like drawing teacups, flowers, house moments – assuring a place to start and asserting good pressure once begun. Lately I’ve realized that even the rabbit hole of Internet research on a personal project has far more benefit than incessant news viewing. (But still I struggle to resist.)

So I am writing this as a reminder, an encouragement – and to chastise myself. A short time consistently carved from the day might increase skill and will fill a drawer, a sketchbook, or a computer file. Whether those endeavors result in “meaningful results” or not, at least they don’t exacerbate anxiety – and do offer moments of absorption. Some of the best moments life offers.


Spring Changeover

Changeover in my old life in Anchorage meant changing the tires. Drive to the tire shop with studs grinding on roads gritty with leftover winter sand, air full of dust (also returning geese and hints of warmth), and drive home suddenly lighter, friskier with summer tires.

Here a winter-for-summer changeover trades pillow covers. Two sets of patterned fabric cover the nook bench pillows according to season. This year tulips broken off by a hard rain and brought inside prompt me to it – they need spring cover colors to be a pleasing scene.

Setting aside other chores, I sit down to sew. Spring sunshine pours in – the window beside me open for the first time in months. I squeeze each pillow out of its winter cover made from a Bali sarong – stylized tropical flowers and birds on warm-toned backgrounds of khaki and rust – and change to garden blossom colors in stripes, polka dots, and flowers.

When I used to make quilts, I treasured such quiet moments of stitching – the needle rhythmically piercing the cotton, in and out pushed by a thimble. I could listen for ideas about what was next.

Clearing thinking space can be tricky some weeks, and a good thing for my skittering mind is to read some part of Brenda Ueland’s 1938 book “If You Want to Write” – even just the introduction. In it, the writer Andrei Codrescu admits his own need to have “inspiration refreshed regularly” – and he always finds renewal in Ueland’s book.

Codrescu identifies Ueland as a teacher who is a believer whose faith is contagious. Codrescu says Ueland believed in “…the power that comes from paying complete attention to one’s circumstances. The joy that infuses attention pays off beyond one’s wildest dreams. It’s simple, but still secret, because it takes Courage.”

The fresh covers lift my spirits – like road tires instead of winter treads. They smell like the bar of lavender soap they’ve been stored with all winter.

In the midst of the task, I wonder what life will be like at the next changeover. You never know. But this is a chance for gratitude for life going on with comforting routines, a chance to recognize a change of the season – and a chance to pay attention.


In winter rains when last we saw those workers in straw – microorganisms, earthworms, shiny-black and iridescent-green beetles, many spiders, and a mouse or two looking for bedding – they were focused on transforming straw and compost berms into rich soil for garden beds.

You can plant a sheet-mulched bed right away, either by topping with a layer of compost or soil and sowing a cover crop, or by digging holes to fill with a little potting soil and a plant. I resisted, but on an autumn visit I planted species tulips in the northwest bed.

The earliest tulips to bloom, species tulips are hardy relatives of wild tulips found on rocky shores throughout the Mediterranean and Central Asia, arriving in Europe in the 16th century. I chose Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘Shakespeare’ and mixed bag of T. Greigii.

Species tulips are champs. Short and sturdy, brave and tireless, neither wind nor rain nor surrounding straw keeps them from beauty and color. About the time even my good-natured husband, who rarely asks about such things, inquired if we’d always have a yard full of straw, tulip leaves, pointed ends held wide, emerged.

Plump buds rose on thick stems, followed by dazzling flame-orange and red tulips. They close tight in rain and wind, but open wide to pollinators in sun, powered it seems by some strong stretching muscle.

That first spring Frances lounged on the straw, sun on her flank, in the midst of a blaze of colorful tulips. And five years on, in a spring rainstorm, descendants of the first tulips (true to their reputation for persistence and ruggedness) color the courtyard.