A January Affair

A January Affair

On January second, I’m fidgety and half-panicked; we had friends over for New Year’s Day dinner, and my house is still fully decorated.

It’s time for January’s long, cold, beautiful blank slate —
but I haven’t had time to erase December.

I carry box after box from the basement storage room, still in PJs and nursing coffee. There’s no time to waste.

I cradle cheap glass bulbs and German handblown ornaments alike in yellowed newspaper, soft as oilcloth, worn over years and years of use. I place nativity figures in their original styrofoam depressions and sandwich the two large pieces together; slide them into the box, shearing off bits of white foam.

I stuff unwieldy garlands into large plastic bins and tuck poinsettia linens and candy-striped tapers in amongst them. I bag up the huge pinecones from my sister’s old farm. {How I wish I had a few bowls more of those beauties now, but she’s long since moved.} I package knick-knicks and linens and glassware and more, until all that’s left are bare tables spread with dust and pine-needled floors.

Two days later, I have fully reclaimed my house. It looks larger, uncluttered, fresh. With the kids at school and the husband at work, the silence is so thick and luscious, I could scrape it up and spoon it on toast like jam.

I light candles. Put on classical. Smile.

You see, January is my month — my birth month and my respite month. Though bitterly cold and draped in ice, though filled with days short and dim, January provides a precious and necessary gift:
She provides us with fallow time.

A fallow field is one a farmer plows, yet purposely leaves uncultivated for one or more seasons so the land can become fertile once again. It’s a practice leading back to ancient times, a necessary rite in order to prevent the soil from becoming depleted of nutrients.

Consider January a season-ordained Sabbath:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens …

What if, this January, we allowed ourselves to tuck the furrowed ground of our distracted minds and burdened hearts under a blanket of soft, white snow?

What if we took time to replenish our ravaged reserves by the simple practice of rest?
What if we took time to savor stillness and be quiet?

Of course, we must still go to work. We must still cook meals and fold laundry and go forth into the world.

But, when we do have a patch of time, it seems only right, only fitting, to curl into the sofa with a hot cup of tea and a novel for an hour {or three} on a blustery January day.

It seems only reasonable to become overly attached to fleece throws and nubby sweaters.

It seems perfectly acceptable to spend an entire weekend by the fire, with a hearty stew simmering away, and a stack of board games to play.

In Denmark, they call this practice “hygge.” Danes are experts, weathering long, cold winters with exceptionally short, dark days, and, yet, somehow, they are known as some of the happiest people on the planet.

No doubt they’ve learned to savor what’s warm and cozy and bright and lovely in a harsh season, knowing that it is precisely winter’s bitterness that makes these soothing rituals so meaningful.

NPR writer Claire O’Neill explains hygge, tongue-in-cheek: “From what I gather, it means something like ‘fireplace warmth with candles and family and friends and food, tucked under blankets on a snowy day, cup-of-coffee conversation, scarf-snuggle, squiggly, warm baby love.’ Or something like that.”

But, in all seriousness, hygge is about lit fires and glowing candles, fragrant comfort foods and hot drinks, time spent with loved ones, cuddling in cozy fabrics, and an attitude of gratitude and joy in the simple things.

This January {and winter} more than ever, I’m giving myself permission to be intentional about slowing down and savoring. I might choose an afternoon with a novel over running errands. You may find me snuggling with my springer spaniel and having a second cup of tea instead of starting dinner. And, it is entirely possible I may be binge-watching a BBC Masterpiece series of some kind instead of scouring my countertops —

it might look like rest {and it is} but it’s much more too.

It’s honoring the process of fallow time.

A Poem: Summer Self

I wouldn’t recognize you today,
all blossomy and damp,
light as a gauzy sundress.
You casually crush green
beneath bare, stained toes,
snip herbs for dinner,
bouquet hosta or lilies.

You’ve forgotten me,
hoarding wan daylight,
wiping puddles of salted snow-melt,
brewing bones.
You wouldn’t remember how to use fleece and wool
to staunch the cold
that bleeds through everything.

You smell of sunscreen and clover
as you step into twilight,
your yard aglow,
dewy blades vibrating full
of summer night sound.

(It’s difficult to think of you
without judging your thoughtless naiveté,
scarcely believing autumn was gathering
and winter would fall down hard.)

But now that spring buds in fits and starts,
I find I am a helpless creature,
soft, white, shrunken,
covered still
with layer upon layer of winter armor.

So I recall you now gladly
for what you can teach —
how I might once again
receive warmth,
expand forth,
turn my face grateful to the sun.

 

A Season for Everything

A Season for Everything

I’m taking a blogging break this week, and posting some content from the archives. 

Blessings, Elizabeth

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

I’ve always been fascinated with the round of seasons. Growing up on a small farm in Southeastern Ohio, I spent as much time as possible outdoors, learning to love each season in its turn.

In Spring, I couldn’t wait to get outside to climb trees and wiggle my bare toes in the fresh, green grass. One of our favorite excursions was to the Big Cave (a large overhang really, not a true cavern). If we timed it right, we’d get to see the spring wildflowers–bluets, spring beauties, Dutchman’s breeches, jack-in-the-pulpits, solomon’s seal, trilliums, and white and yellow violets. I’d fling off my shoes and splash in the stream that ran from the mouth of the cave down to a little creek. I usually wouldn’t get too far, though, busy as I was with salamander and crayfish catching.

In Summer, I lived for firefly-catching in the back yard, wild blackberry picking, and honeysuckle tasting. There’d be playing outside all day, then evenings sitting on the back patio, snapping beans and telling stories to pass the time. Sometimes, we had homemade ice cream, my dad cranking the old-timey maker with the rock salt–if we were lucky. Since it was the time of year our large contingent of farm cats had their kittens, I’d spend hours searching the hay loft. Every time I reached my arm between scratchy bales of straw, I’d hold my breath until I finally came up with a little ball of fluff.

Fall meant lots of leaves. We had two hundred-plus-year-old maples in our front yard, with a large wood-and-rope swing hanging from one. We’d rake and rake piles, just for play. A pile to make into a huge bird’s nest. A pile to place strategically where the swing went up the highest … and where we could sail off, land, and emerge wild, hair full of twigs and leaf bits.  I also loved collecting leaves, pressing them in books, where they’d greet me months, or even years later, long after I’d forgotten them. Bonfires, cider-making, hay rides, and Halloween parties were a big part of autumn on the farm as well, especially as my sister and I got older. We were always inviting some club or group over for a fall soiree.

Winter was always a quieter time on the farm, waking up to Dad shoveling the ashes out of the wood stove from the previous night’s fire, shivering out in the dark to break ice in the animals’ water dishes, hanging wet and muddy mittens to dry near the stove.  (For a number of years, we had no central heating, just the Vermont Castings stove near the kitchen and a big old propane heater in the family room.) The highlight of winter depended on the weather. We just couldn’t wait until the snow was deep enough to weigh down the tall, heavy pasture grass behind the barn. Then, off we’d head, my sister and I, bundled from head to toe, ready for an afternoon of sledding. We’d whiz down hills, narrowly missing the veritable minefield of sinkholes nestled at the bottom of the best hills (due to underground springs), and then head home, numb and wet, frantic for hot cocoa.

Though I haven’t called my parents’ farm home for more than 15 years, I still visit frequently, now with my three young kids and husband.

And we still savor the seasons in our own way in the suburban neighborhood we live in. We’re lucky to have a secluded backyard, with a creek behind it and woods. We can pretend we’re a bit farther from civilization than we actually are. We spend as much time as possible outside, gardening, taking photos, playing, and enjoying nature. It’s our intention to enjoy the little things fully, celebrating the beauty of the seasons and the bounty of God’s creation.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens.

Ecclesiastes 3:1, NIV

 

 

 

For Everything, There is a Season

For Everything, There is a Season

I’ve always been fascinated with the round of seasons. Growing up on a small farm in Southeastern Ohio, I spent as much time as possible outdoors, learning to love each season in its turn.

In Spring, I couldn’t wait to get outside to climb trees and wiggle my bare toes in the fresh, green grass. One of our favorite excursions was to the Big Cave (a large overhang really, not a true cavern). If we timed it right, we’d get to see the spring wildflowers–bluets, spring beauties, Dutchman’s breeches, jack-in-the-pulpits, solomon’s seal, trilliums, and white and yellow violets. I’d fling off my shoes and splash in the stream that ran from the mouth of the cave down to a little creek. I usually wouldn’t get too far, though, busy as I was with salamander and crayfish catching.

In Summer, I lived for firefly-catching in the back yard, wild blackberry picking, and honeysuckle tasting. There’d be playing outside all day, then evenings sitting on the back patio, snapping beans and telling stories to pass the time. Sometimes, we had homemade ice cream, my dad cranking the old-timey maker with the rock salt–if we were lucky. Since it was the time of year our large contingent of farm cats had their kittens, I’d spend hours searching the hay loft. Every time I reached my arm between scratchy bales of straw, I’d hold my breath until I finally came up with a little ball of fluff.

Fall meant lots of leaves. We had two hundred-plus-year-old maples in our front yard, with a large wood-and-rope swing hanging from one. We’d rake and rake piles, just for play. A pile to make into a huge bird’s nest. A pile to place strategically where the swing went up the highest … and where we could sail off, land, and emerge wild, hair full of twigs and leaf bits.  I also loved collecting leaves, pressing them in books, where they’d greet me months, or even years later, long after I’d forgotten them. Bonfires, cider-making, hay rides, and Halloween parties were a big part of autumn on the farm as well, especially as my sister and I got older. We were always inviting some club or group over for a fall soiree.

Winter was always a quieter time on the farm, waking up to Dad shoveling the ashes out of the wood stove from the previous night’s fire, shivering out in the dark to break ice in the animals’ water dishes, hanging wet and muddy mittens to dry near the stove.  (For a number of years, we had no central heating, just the Vermont Castings stove near the kitchen and a big old propane heater in the family room.) The highlight of winter depended on the weather. We just couldn’t wait until the snow was deep enough to weigh down the tall, heavy pasture grass behind the barn. Then, off we’d head, my sister and I, bundled from head to toe, ready for an afternoon of sledding. We’d whiz down hills, narrowly missing the veritable minefield of sinkholes nestled at the bottom of the best hills (due to underground springs), and then head home, numb and wet, frantic for hot cocoa.

Though I haven’t called my parents’ farm home for more than 15 years, I still visit frequently, now with my three young kids and husband.

And we still savor the seasons in our own way in the suburban neighborhood we live in. We’re lucky to have a secluded backyard, with a creek behind it and woods. We can pretend we’re a bit farther from civilization than we actually are. We spend as much time as possible outside, gardening, taking photos, playing, and enjoying nature. It’s our intention to enjoy the little things fully, celebrating the beauty of the seasons and the bounty of God’s creation.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens.

Ecclesiastes 3:1, NIV