Saturday, December 28, 2013

Emptying out

Suddenly, after the excitement of holiday guests and then Christmas Day, with little voices shrill,  fast pattering feet, laughter and tears, tinsel and crumbs, feasting and fullness, everything has changed.
And you gasp, like one who has descended too fast in an aircraft, or driving down from a high hill.
Because after so much fullness, you have tumbled headlong into the emptiness. 
And you find yourself reaching for something that is no longer there.
Until you realise that there is only one thing to do, and that is to be present to the absences. And as you do that, other absences come crowding in: such as your parents who died 20 years ago. You find yourself remembering their love, and the way they made presents for their five children, in the evenings when they were tired from hard work.
You remember how they secretly painted toys that your father had sawn and assembled in his tool shed, and how your mother sewed at her old Singer treadle sewing machine, and how even though there wasn't much money, they made magical gifts for Christmas Day: a dolls wardrobe, with tiny hangers and little dresses; bride's outfits for the dolls, a scooter, a peddle car, and always a carefully wrapped special book.
And as you remember, and let yourself weep over the absences, letting the past roll into the present and fold itself in, just as your mother folded egg whites into the bubbly whipped yolks when she made her angel food dessert, you find that the absences have turned into presences.
Because you are letting them in.
A tui sings into the evening dusk and a keruru arrives to feed on the kawakawa fruit. You smell the air, and fill your lungs with the scent of renewal.
And you find that the emptiness, which seemed so vast and unbearable, has now become a fullness. The world is charged with beauty, even though the sun has gone and rain clouds are rolling in from the north west.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ceremonies of gratitude and giving

 At Summer Solstice we celebrate with a ritual of gratitude. 'What is gratitude?' asked the little one, who was joining in for the first time.
 She had helped gather pohutukawa blossom for the ritual, and added bunny's tail grasses. They look good together, don't you think? She was also asked, along with her dad, to find symbols of gratitude.
 'Gratitude is when you have something that makes you so happy, you want to say a big thank you.'
 I was giving thanks for good health, abundant love in my life, a flourishing business and so much more. The cherry tomatoes and the flowers said it for me. The little one couldn't quite grasp what a symbol is, but responded by saying what each flower reminded her of. We lit a heart-shaped candle and gave thanks.
 And then today, we had the ceremony of our multi-cultural Christmas lunch, when our family is joined by a Chinese mother and her two children. Sun symbols swung on the Christmas tree, along with tinsel and hand-made decorations from years gone by.
 We ate Christmas fruits: cherries, blueberries, peaches, strawberries, rock melons, pineapple and water melons,
 followed by Chinese dumplings, salads,
 noodles (made fresh by the Chinese mother),
 sea vegetables,
 snow peas with capsicums and seaweed.
The Christmas bird, made by my older granddaughter when she was small, surveyed the scene as we exchanged gifts. She is now 19 and had finished work as a Christmas fairy the day before, so could be with us for our celebration.
A laughing Buddha now sits in the family's garden, Winnie the Pooh is hanging under a balloon while bees buzz about his face, and fragrant essential oils sit in a silver box waiting to release their fragrance at the bach.
Which is where I'm going now. But I couldn't resist taking advantage of broadband and putting up this post first. Because Ceremonies of gratitude and giving are the very heart of Solstice and Christmas.
Blessings and gratitude to you all for being part of my blogging circle; I am so glad to know you.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Happy Summer Solstice!

 Happy Summer Solstice from the wild west coast of New Zealand.
Yesterday the little one and I wandered up the stream, looking for lupins. We couldn't find any, but we found plenty of other fiery flowers and leaves. And so, on the black sand, on a little island in the middle of the stream, I made you this.
 The little one was thoughtful, learning about Summer Solstice. After some time spend splashing in the stream, and gathering more flowers, she asked, 'What if there was a Winter Solstice?'
'Ah, but there is,' I replied. On the other side of the world it is the shortest and darkest day. It's very cold there right now, and it's snowing. Here, it is the longest and brightest day.'

The little one was glad we were here, and not there. I drew suns in the evening, to send warmth wherever it is needed.
And I am thinking of the other aspect of solstice. On this day, the seed of darkness is planted into our summery light. And for you, in the dark of winter solstice, the seed of light is planted.
From this day, our light will diminish and yours will increase.
Across the world, the dynamic flow of warmth and cold, light and dark continues.
So, Happy Solstice, wherever you are. And may you carry the light of the sun within you, whatever the season.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The other side of the street

On Tuesday, for some reason, I decided to walk on the other side of the street on my way to the beach.
Maybe I was drawn by the gentle blue of the jacaranda trees,
or maybe it was because it was Tuesday, but the little one wasn't with me.
Our Tuesday afternoons have come to an end. Next year she will be at school full-time.
I felt a little pang, the kind you get from seeing an empty chair where a loved one has sat for many years. Or an empty swing.
But on the other side of the road, I discovered something. In the beautiful little garden on the verge that a creative neighbour has planted, I noticed something moving. Can you see them, right in the middle of the picture, just above the red flowers?
Now you can see one, I'm sure. Yes, the verge garden was flitting with monarchs,
because that thoughtful neighbour included swan plants amongst the brightly coloured flowers.
In times of loss, something new flies into the blue,
speaking of possibilities not yet discovered. And reminding me to be grateful, for all the unexpected gifts of life.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I was a Xmas songbird

Franklin Rd in Ponsonby is a long sloping through-route. In summer the trees arch over the whole road creating a spacious tunnel. I always love driving up this avenue.
 Over the last 19 years, Franklin Rd has gathered a special reputation. First a few people began lighting up their houses for Xmas. Then others joined in, and still others, until the whole street has become a spectacle, with nearly every house being decorated with coloured lights.
 Some of the displays have become more elaborate as the years have passed by,
 or naughtier. This Santa bares his bottom from time to time with a Xmas message.
The verandas, roofs, doorways, fences, and even the palm trees are festooned with lights.
 And as darkness approaches, family groups, couples, old people and young begin the night time promenade up and down both sides of the road. Cars drive by slowly and cameras click wildly. This Santa is lapping up all the attention.
 And The Voice Club gathers at one of the illumined houses, the house of the choir-master. For this is the annual wind-up of a year's singing in a community choir. Our big end of year concert takes place a week earlier. This year we sang to 250 people and raised between $2-3,000 to help low decile schools with their music.
 So often, because funding is tight, poorer schools have to choose between books and musical instruments. It's a hard choice, and the books usually win. This year, for two schools, books and music both won. The work of dedicated music teachers will now be supported by the right equipment. One school will have enough money to buy a set of African drums,
 and the other school can buy 25 ukeleles, enabling a whole class to play and sing together.
 Over the five years that I've been singing with the Voice Club, we have raised nearly $20,000 for good causes.
 Our music is superb, and people go away from our concerts with big smiles on their faces.
We finish the year by gathering out on the street and singing for the passersby. Our tunes are catchy, with quirky rhythms and fun harmonies. We throw in a few Christmas songs as well. Being a Xmas songbird is the best way to go into the festive season with sparkling eyes and a humming heart. We too were lit up, just like the houses on Franklin Rd.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


The trick at this time of the year is to stay cool. Everything is hotting up: the temperature, the pace of life, the energy of the sun rising to the solstice. The moon is swelling into fullness. Christmas is pumping out its demanding energy. The year is winding up and everyone suddenly wants closure. People are frantically racing here and there shopping for Christmas and organising the great exodus of the summer holidays; such stressful conjunctions!
 Staying cool means going out early on Sunday morning to shop. The farmer's market is an easy place to wander and select fresh produce. I return with all that I need for a stir fry meal. Staying cool means remaining inside during the heat of the day. I rest my hurt rib, make a cup of green tea and bite into a new season's apricot.
At the end of the afternoon I emerge once more, taking a punnet of blueberries down to the sea. They disappeared so fast that I didn't think to take a photo. But they were beautiful, with their dusky roundness.  One by one they popped into my mouth as I listened to the lapping waves.
 Then I did my tai chi by the sea, waving hands like clouds, scooping up the sea, flying like a grey goose and smiling at the pohutukawa blossom that has dipped down to greet me.
 Yes, summer is here. It all happened so fast, but here it is and a holiday is calling.
Staying cool means taking things slowly, like packing up the treasure trove of books that I bought last week. What fun it was to spend the book vouchers I won for being short-listed for a major book award.
 Down by the sea I take time to sip poems, one by one, from an exquisite little book called 'Gleam' by NZ poet Sarah Broom. Sarah understands the soothing effect of conscious breathing:

I am trying to breathe
like the slow, low purr of a drowsy cat
like the languid sway of an empty swing
like the shiver of a thistle in the wind
Summer is here and soon I will be settling in to the bach, ready to enter the rhythm of the tides, the wood pigeons and the floating stars. Aah. . . the very thought is soothing.