There are four holidays celebrated during the month of December. They are all culturally important, and in the end, they represent the very same concepts, and give rise for celebration and unity.
Kwanzaa begins December 26th and is the newest holiday, created in 1966 to unite African Americans. Having a small amount of Sudan descent, I am intrigued by this holiday. Being fascinated by the world makes me interested in all celebrations. Kwanzaa focuses on seven principals, each being thought of each day as a candle is lit. Unity, Self Determination (self strength), Collective work and responsibility, Cooperative economics (supporting each other’s businesses), Purpose, Creativity, and Faith in each other. Candles, food, family, community, gift giving (generosity), and hope is the basis of Kwanzaa.
Beloved Christmas was created to overshadow the pagan holiday, Yule. Who doesn’t love the twinkly lights, the music, gift giving, family, candles, greenery, and the childlike wonder that comes with the season? It is my favorite time of year. Kindness, hope, and faith fill the moments of the season.
Hanukkah is a celebration of light and hope. When the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, the eternal light within only had enough oil for one day. People were sent out to retrieve more oil. It took them eight days to get back, but the light had stayed lit. For this miracle, Hanukkah is referred to as the Festival of Lights. It is actually a minor holiday but was given more focus because of Christmas. Gift giving and lighting the menorah are a part of this holiday. Family and togetherness are the focus.
Yule is the original celebration- the Solstice- and is celebrated from December 21st until January 1st. The festival came about because the holly king (who looks a lot like Santa) is defeated by the Oak King, and the sun is born. In times of old, the cold and darkest time of the year was one of concern, and it looked like the sun stayed the same for twelve days. The Yule log was burned for twelve days in hopes of pleasing the sun god so that it would return. The oak king is also known as the green man, the face of crops, greenery, and life.
All of the celebrations this month have some very important aspects to them, and that is what we can focus on this time of year. There is no need to “try to get in the spirit”, the spirit is within you.
Memories rise to the surface as I swirl my glass. Cascades of great times trickle forth. I can still hear their voices above the murmur of reality. I can hear Steve’s laughter above clinking glasses and conversation. Above the too-loud opera and our off-key singing in his living room or ours. In restaurants gathered with great food and wine. Skipping arm and arm to the wine bar we loved so. The one we took our sommelier classes together at. Discussions with the owners of the upscale place where we gathered weekly with other wine lovers over dinners with renowned wine makers from around the country. Tears accompanied by tapas and wine at a nearby wine bar where Steve and I whispered our deepest traumas and biggest dreams.
I remember his smile and sweet demeanor as he picked up my three rebelling teenagers and took them to see how coffee was roasted. To the park to run around and talk openly. Off to make pottery. How he tried to show them how important they were. Steve looked every server in the eye. “I appreciate you.” he would say in a low, meaningful tone. Everyone he encountered. He just wanted to speak life to them. To show them their sheer importance just being here.
Then came our sweet Lisa. Pixie blond and petite. A wine lover as well and off to elope and California they flew. They reveled in discovering their spirituality, and learning, adventuring, studying, being, loving each other fiercely. Driving Doug and I up the coast to eat great seafood and visit dozens of vineyards. Nights of discussions and joy.
The cancer caught up to Lisa. How she ran from it. Eight years of joyful and full life after diagnoses. And into the night she went. How Steve wept. He took his own life. A year ago this month. Two years ago she left. Four years since our last visit. Oh, how time flies without us knowing.
I swirl the garnet liquid and think of my friends as I turn up Andrea Bocelli and whisper to them through the veil. Beautiful memories. Beautiful people.
I often wonder why I am so fascinated by wine. I am not a particularly big drinker. I don’t stay out late enough to be an employed sommelier. But there is something about the chatter of leaves in autumn through the grapevines and rows of gold. Something about the fruit hanging voluptuously and sweet from vines. The hope in a sprouting vine in spring and the serenity of winter snows atop skeletal vines. Drinking the labor and gifts of the vineyard. Each decision of the vintner adds to the flavor of the wine. Every element of weather changes the taste. A wildfire will impart its smoke on a chardonnay nearby. The late frost will leave a year without. And some years will be so glorious that feasting and hard work will fill the days and nights.
I took my farm interns (now friends) with me to a local winery for crush. Our late freeze here in the valley left us all without fruit. Just beyond the mountain, near where the wildfires burn, is an oasis of Colorado wine country not known by many. The owners of Legatum purchased half a ton of gorgeous white grapes, La Crescent. We met them at the winery to help.
Five gallon buckets were filled with grapes from the container that filled Cindy and Rich’s truck bed. Into the destemmer they went as two others transferred the thick pulp and sugary sweet juice to the press. Everyone moving in tandem to keep the process moving. 200 liters of honeydew colored juice filled a tank and the process of PH and yeast began to create a luscious moscato-style wine.
I feel such joy and peace standing between rows. I feel life and giddiness. An unexplained spark. Thick red grapes pouring out of the destemmer. The aroma of malolactic fermentation. Wine is not just about preserving a fruit. It is not just about creating a drink. Wine amplifies life and family. Feasting and celebration. A combination of earth and spirit, the hope of spring, the pride of harvest. The seasons of the vineyard following the seasons of our life. Igniting my spirit. I raise my glass to Lisa and Steve. Sip for them. And pursue my dreams because I am alive.
There is no doubt that this has been a very stressful time for most of us for many different reasons. Now, we can only handle so much stress and attempts to control things out of our hands. It’s time we leave the craziness and get back to farming. I have lots of things to show you and farming and gardening techniques to teach you, and such, but on this lovely spring day, I thought I would show you some images of my farm. We have been busy around here the past few weeks.
I try not to write about it. I try not to speak about it. I try not to argue about it. I try to ignore it. Writing helps me process information and emotions and learning each other’s perspectives helps us to heal and become less divisive. So I write.
There is much speculation but the facts are pointing to deception, lies, and troubling security. A lab created virus gets out. Gets covered up. Gets widespread. Gets amplified to create exciting news and chaos. A worldwide vaccination is already ready. Big business usually doesn’t have a face to us. The pharmaceutical companies don’t usually have a face. But this time it does. And Bill Gates seems a little shifty right now, along with everyone invested. I am thankful for a president that isn’t in the pockets of big Pharma or big Ag. Who has enough money to think for himself and whose focus is on wellness and the attempt to keep us all from becoming homeless, jobless, and starving- much like the Great Depression- as a result of this virus and all the deceptions in its shadows.
People are fearful. In all animal populations throughout time, the weak are who pass on. We just don’t want it to be anyone we know. We think hiding will stop it. Statistically, this virus is far less dangerous than other viruses we’ve seen in the past dozen years and that is with the numbers being highly inaccurate. Here in Colorado, the virus is thought to have been here since November. My friends, family, and clients have all had a mysterious illness that effected them quickly and then moved on. Coronavirus has been here, most of us have been exposed, and the truth is, most people were fine and were thought to have had some type of flu. So, the death rate is much smaller than the news likes to announce. Hospitals did not start filling up until three months later when the news announced that the virus was here and killing people! We will be alright. Death is part of life. And those that are going to pass on will, no matter what virus comes their way.
I know of people that have died this week. None of them from coronavirus. A young person in an accident. Older people at the end of their given days. I am also watching someone close to me fall into a depression that is scarier than any virus.
What causes all of this fear and anger are things that we cannot control. We all feel so helpless. So we stay home and wear flimsy masks, and pretend that we have any control over it at all.
So, what do we have control over? We know that anything we focus on magnifies and grows in energy. Fear comes from love. Love for those around us and ourselves. If we could just change our focus to that original love. Every time we get fearful or angry, could we say a prayer instead? A prayer for the world. For those who have lost someone dear. For those that have recovered. For those who are scared. For those that are depressed. For those that lost their jobs. How can we send love out from us instead of anger? Can we sit quietly and breathe peace and calm into our spirits? Can we hold each person that we love in our minds and wrap them in love? Can we dwell on hope and courage? Can we speak of love and life and the power to overcome? Instead of fearing the unknown, let us bring faith back into our hearts and know that everything will be alright and that this too shall pass.
Let us remember that the politicians work for us. The news is designed to create panic and intense emotion. And LOVE conquers all fears.
Reach out to those that you love. Send a little text of encouragement or get on the phone. Forget facebook, reach out to people in person and really let them know that you love them, you are thinking of them, and that they are not alone.
I hope the positive results from this will be us walking softer on the earth and being more ecologically friendly. All of us in our gardens. I hope that this makes us more economically smart, and that we will all get an emergency fund put up. I hope that this makes us turn to herbs as medicine and learn the basics so we feel empowered, rather than fearful. I hope that we see the value in small businesses and support them first and foremost. I hope we stop buying cheap items from overseas and start building up the people and businesses in our country. I hope we learn the value of social interaction and that we will put our phones down and really be present with those near us once we are all able to be together.
We will learn lessons from this monumental world event and we will move forward a better and more compassionate people. A more self sufficient and less reliant on government people. We will be more loving and more peaceful and will really appreciate our freedom and our loved ones. Let us send out peace and love every thought we can; this will create peace and love in our own minds as well. And may this be over soon. Blessings to you all.
In the wee hours of night, she fought on. She was very brave. All mothers are very brave, but she was weary to her very core. Little strength left in her tired eyes. She was then wheeled in for a Cesarean. I held her hand as the doctors violently freed the little boy from her womb. And in the early hours of a new day, a child’s cry filled the space between hope and fear.
In other rooms of the hospital, and in places all over the world, souls gave up their spot on this precious earth to give space for these new souls. It is their honor to do so. They do not complain, for we all honor our time here and we honor the next generations to take our place. And we send the world our blessings as we go back home.
We fight awfully hard not to die. We fear it. It is our natural instinct. But the natural order of things says that we will die. That we are here for an allotted time. I truly believe that we have an already determined amount of time here and nothing will stop death from coming once it is time. On the other hand, if it is not your time to die, nothing can take your breath from you. No one wants to die, and no one wants their friends and family to die either. Those things we cannot stop. One cannot determine the hours of another person’s life. We cannot trick death into not coming.
Fear makes humankind rather ugly. Fear is the very face of greed (fear of loss), hate (fear of the unknown), and anger (fear of powerlessness). The flip side of fear is love. The love in a mother’s eyes as she holds her new life to her breast.
People need each other. People need to be social. It is written in our genetics. Loneliness causes disease and depression. They need to feel love. Love is our medicine, you know. Not fear.
There is a ratio of consequence and natural order in everything that happens on the earth. There will always be population control through natural disasters and disease. We assist these things with our actions. We drill for oil and earthquakes follow in their wake. We pollute, cut down trees, and steal our own oxygen. We give up our own abilities to grow our own food and hand our very life to corporations to care for us, not seeing the folly in depending on foreign material items, lab food, and faulty pharmaceuticals. We assure ourselves that the lights will always be on if we pay our bills, water always there, grocery store shelves always stocked. The worst diseases in the last dozen years have come from places where animals are grown for meat. The swine flu, the bird flu, and Covid-19 would not have existed if the world had embraced love over animal flesh. (Just a note- autoimmune issues generally go away once someone goes vegan.)
In the end, we learn, like our grandparents did, to reuse foil. To bake our own bread. To plant seeds. To love our loved ones with all our hearts, as we never know their time of death. We prepare and have grocery stores in our root cellars (and maybe a stash of toilet paper for next time!) and we will all get through this. We will make better choices. Hopefully.
But do not fear for those who give up their places here. It is how it has always been and always will be. Trust and have faith. Do not let fear guide your heart. Appreciate your moments and breaths here. And next time you see a newborn baby, smile and welcome the little soul to our planet. Hope is in their message. We are all going to be alright.
Welcome Bode Jace Griffin, born 1:54 am on March 23, 2020. 7 lbs 14 oz, 20 inches long, adorable and a ray of hope. My friend/his mama, Savanna and her baby are doing wonderful.
Over 86,000 people have survived Coronavirus. Most of them had a mild cold. Over 80% of elders over 80 years old survived Coronavirus. 98% of people who get Coronavirus will be just fine. Focus on love of all creatures. It is our medicine.
One day when we were quite a young couple, snuggling and giggling, I said to my husband, “You cuddle well!” He said, “That will be our last name!” And so it was. Mama and Daddy Cuddlewell.
Our children were told that their actual, secret last name was Cuddlewell, as we would snuggle them. Andy, Shyanne, and Emily Cuddlewell. Even today, that is our name.
Our animals carried the same family name, Ichabod Cuddlewell, Clara Cuddlewell, and so on. I recently told my granddaughter about her secret last name too. She laughed and wondered if I was serious. Maryjane and Ayla Cuddlewell. And so it goes on. Our secret family name. We cuddle well.
Many years ago, when were trying to come up with a name for our own land, should we ever get it, Doug nonchalantly said, “Cuddlewell Mission, of course.”
In our hearts, everywhere we have lived has been Cuddlewell Mission. We tend to rescue the animals that need us. The cross-eyed cat with the spinal injury, who lived and played and cuddled for thirteen years, Clara. The retired racing hound, Bumble Bear. The tiny, Siamese kitten that we are still bringing back to health, Taos Mouse. The blind chicken, Heihei. This is a sanctuary. We have always had a sanctuary.
We got off track, somewhere along the way, with books and studies and farmer friends. We went from friends aren’t food, to maybe we were wrong and that is how it is supposed to be, then to regret and heartfelt wisdom. Just because it is how has always been, doesn’t mean that it is how it should be moving forward. We also used to keep slaves, beat our children, and ate cockroaches. We humans can move forward and do things better when we see the error of our ways! We can create a new normal. A new this-is-how-it-should-be. We would never allow an assembly line of shelter dogs, swinging from one leg, having their neck sliced, then being cut open before they were dead, cut up and packaged and put in the store….what are we thinking? Cows and pigs and even chickens are sentient beings. Look into the eyes of any creature and see the life there.
I’m not here to convince you one way or another, I just wanted to tell you about Cuddlewell Mission and how we have arrived here. With land and places for animals. A sanctuary for people and animals. A safe place to commune with nature and not fear for one’s life, and if you are human, maybe have a cup of tea. Yes, this is a mission. We are home.
The number one reason that folks feel depressed during the holidays is because they do not feel welcome, a part of a village, or loved as they are. There are habits that have been acceptable for a long time that we as parents and friends must change. If this is the season for kindness, than we must go beyond random acts of kindness to strangers and really be kind and absolutely loving to those around us.
Now, this is important- Number One- no nagging. For god’s sake, we don’t really think that nagging will endear our children to us, do we? Your grown children make decisions every day- hard ones- and are becoming the people they are meant to be (whether they are eighteen or fifty-five!) and they need support, not “advice.” Once they head out that front door as a young person setting out into the world, their business is no longer yours. They are more likely to come to you for advice and friendship if you are not already badgering them. The way they raise their children is not your business either. They can homeschool, travel the world, be strict, have no rules, or send them to private school. Our only job is to show by example unconditional love. Unconditional love. That is what this world needs more of, especially around the holiday table.
Perhaps your daughter brings home a young man with a mohawk or her new girlfriend. Or your son brings home a woman your age, or someone of a different religion. Maybe your child quit college to your dismay and your daughter moved in with her best friend who has less-than-admirable habits. (None of that is your business.) Our job now is to be undeniably loving, welcoming, supporting, hugging, happy and accepting examples of love. That is what people need. Unconditional love.
I adore all of my kids’ friends. Many of them call me mama. Everyone knows that we can squeeze in more chairs. I will have plenty of food. Everyone is welcome at my table- mohawk or not. They also know they can call me to talk or if they need advice.
My mother used to say (following the advice of many parenting gurus) that she is not our friend, she is our mother. That is too bad, because she is still not my friend, sadly. Be friends with your kids, their friends, the neighbors down the street, the woman who just lost her husband, the coworker without family here, the people that Creator sends into your life. They are not being sent to you to be saved, they are being sent to you to be loved.
Let’s make this holiday season a bright one for others by accepting them as they are, opening your home and table to them, offering respite from expectations, and offering unconditional love. See how that doesn’t just change your world and the world around you.
In four weeks from today we will be moving towards the mountains to our new homestead. Oh, it doesn’t look much like a homestead. It looks like a suburban style house from the 90’s on an unused acre of land with a workshop that is about to become a chicken coop. Our neighbors near, our mortgage double, but if I close my eyes and push away the anxiety of moving and inspections and packing, and “see” the new property for what it will be, I am filled with optimism and strength. A friendly small town. Baby goats. A thriving garden where there once was nothing. A view of the sunset. I haven’t seen the sunset in years, blocked in by trees and neighbors.
Google Earth has not updated the view of our present house since we moved here so one can see the tired house, the empty planting rings, the barren yard, a car backed up in what is now my potato patch. We have done miracles here in just two and a half years. Everything in life can be transformed by a little love, research, and hard work. Everything from a house and garden, a marriage, a friendship, to a new outlook and fresh perspective. Yes, this house and garden represent so much in life and has taught me some valuable lessons.
1. Have faith in the future.
Moving here fresh from heartbreak and a mere eighteen months after we lost everything, this house was a blessing. It represented new life, faith, a fresh start. A house of our own- not rented. Always have faith. Looking back, one can easily see all the “coincidences,” friendships made, sheer luck, and universal pulls to get us where we are. Even now, my house sold in one day, we found a house the same day, all is going smoothly thus far, the money showed up, the young military family in need of a nice home to raise their infant child precisely around the time of closing saw our house first….everything going on in the world around us is so much bigger and more controlled than we think.
2. Buy the best that you can afford.
I skimped this year. I usually buy a particular kind of soil to start my straw bale/permaculture/quick beds of my own design, but it wasn’t there this year. It seemed Miracle Grow (hello, Dow.) had taken over the shelves at the nearby stores. So, I opted for cheaper bags of soil. Lots of them. It’s just soil, right? Those beds look terrible. I wasted hundreds of dollars. If the seeds did germinate, they quickly died. In everything you do, just do it right the first time. Maybe I have always been a cheapskate, but that keeps biting me in my farmgirl derriere.
3. Expect surprises.
Being on this earth is such a blessing. My goodness, to wake up every day and see the great sky, the warm sun rising, the birds singing, the plants surrounding us, to see the people we love, and to learn and experience this day- such a gift. I love how Mother Nature gives sweet gifts, like wild sunflowers, and potatoes I didn’t plant, and hollyhocks. Elderberries that aren’t typical here in Colorado. Fresh rains in July, and cool breezes on a hot day, surprise trees, and places for wildlife to live. Surprise friendships that become incredibly valuable, great jobs, and moments to help others.
4. Leave a legacy.
In all you do, try to leave things better than they were. Whether that be cleaning up trash at the park, using less resources, offering a smile and compliment to a stranger or friend, or planting a tree, always try to serve. I hope this pear tree grows wild and fast. I hope the three month old baby moving in climbs its branches and loves it when he is older. I hope the tree feeds many and brings joy to the beholder. I may have paid for, planted, and tended to it, but it is not mine to benefit from. It is a gift to the future.
5. Don’t run from your true self and purpose.
In a blog post last year, when our shop was about to close, I questioned, “Am I nothing more than an herbalist?” Well, of course I’m not just an herbalist. I am a friend, a wife, and a mother, an animal lover, a nature admirer, and I have a few talents, but I am not just those things either. I am me. Individual. Specially created, me. What I was pondering when I uttered those words though, is if I could be something else, start a new career. My table is filled with dozens and dozens of single and compound extracts beginning their brewing process. I am at peace when I am gently clipping echinacea leaves and popping calendula heads into jars, and talking to the rose while I snip comfrey. I am an herbalist.
6. Learn to let go.
I am preparing so many new medicines because I am going to have to say goodbye. I could try to transplant everything I have planted but I have learned that if a plant is thriving where it is, it doesn’t necessarily want to grow somewhere else. I will take a few things but most will continue to live here, and I do hope thrive. I will not be able to harvest my sweet corn, or Aztec blue corn, or popcorn, or pumpkins, or all the tomatoes, or so many other things I have carefully tended this summer. It is hard to leave behind so much that we create, so much that we build, to start over. But we don’t really start over, we just start anew with more experience, more lessons, more faith.
I read the most beautiful book this week. It has helped me get my groove back.
I had decided last year as my business was failing that I would go back to school to be a chef (but it is hard to be a chef when you don’t use animal products and the busy catering description gave me anxiety). So then I thought teaching. I love teaching! “What would you teach?” everyone asked. Oh…anything. Then I got the bill for the first semester and promptly dropped all classes. I would be retired before I could pay off that degree. I look around and I love and am fascinated by so much. My friend is a surgical tech. That sounds cool! My friends are nurses. I was a candy striper in high school. I wanted to be a nurse. I could maybe work somewhere or do something. Anything. But, I know my pattern. I go get a job, become overwhelmed, am shocked at the measly paycheck, am behind on dishes for weeks, and then quit. I am better at being an entrepreneur. But that failed. Again. Last year. And that is when I went off kilter. I lost my purpose. I was no longer a full time herbalist. No longer a shop keeper. No longer healing baby calves around the county that were sick because they just got picked up from auction. Heck, I am not even in the country anymore.
And then my beloved aunt and grandma passed away, I became sick, I think my dear friend, Steve, in California killed himself, and I have been listless and depressed. Which is not like me. And something had to give.
It is amazing how a book can change your life. So many books, so much literature, has changed my life. And this week, this book, I am so grateful for. I realized that everything I feel is stemmed from my losing my purpose.
IKIGAI; the Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles is a beautifully written and researched tome. The authors delve into the science and stories behind longevity and happiness, primarily in Japan, where the most super centenarians reside (over 100 years old). What do they do? What do they eat? What are their days like? I adore research and am very interested in the longevity studies and other cultures. They touch on diet (tons of fresh vegetables, soy, and fish), social networks (lots of valued friends, social get-togethers, small amount of alcohol daily), spiritual health (honoring all of the spirits and their ancestors), and exercise (they move, not more strenuously, but all the time, biking and walking everywhere). But the main thing that keeps these folks so alive and well is purpose. Their IKIGAI. If they know what that is, they have reason to get up every morning.
What is it that makes you spring out of bed in the morning? What would you do even without pay? What is your passion? What could you talk about without hesitation? What do you do naturally? My aunt gave me this picture for Christmas. I guess she knew.
I am a writer. I never have to think about writing this blog. In fact, it bothers me to take days off but I want to make sure y’all can catch up! I love writing; books, poetry, articles, snippets of thoughts…I am a writer. It is my IKIGAI. I get a modest payment every month from Amazon and the local museum that carries my books. It won’t support us, but that doesn’t matter. I am also a gardener, a farmer, a lover of animals. I need a greenhouse. I need to be around plants, and I need to grow my own food, and I need to be around animals. Sanctuary.
After reading this lovely little book I realized that I do not need to have any new degrees, careers, or paths. I am on it. If I write every day. If I take care of my chickens. If I get into the garden. I will be okay. That is my IKIGAI. And with that knowledge, I am free. I have purpose. What is your IKIGAI?
My mantra this year, for 2018, was, “Never make a decision based on fear.” It was amazing how many times I caught myself making decisions (keep my struggling apothecary open, open another shop, apply to begin school) based on fear rather than faith. This simple mantra helped me understand my motives and make better decisions (no more shops, no school). And through that faith Doug got an amazing promotion and I am able to stay home and do what I do best, homestead and homemake. I am available to help my children, feed my husband nutritious meals, keep a house, take care of a mini-farm, and grow our food. That mantra led to a great outcome.
Autumn always feels like a new beginning to me. Like the pagans of old, I feel this is the New Year. My mantra for the next year is, “It is enough.” I have enough things. I have enough love. I have enough creativity. I have enough space on this mini-farm right here, right now. And most importantly, I am enough.
With so much time on my hands I have had way too much space to reminisce, regret, and be hard on myself. Over the past four years we have built our dream farm, lost it, went homeless, lost our animals, lived with friends, lived in the city, rebuilt, bought an urban home, made a farm, closed our businesses, Doug went back into the IT field, our children have found the loves of their lives, and our second granddaughter will arrive any day. A lot to take in. A lot of gratitude.
So I may have made some dreadful decisions over the years. But I have made a lot of good ones too. I am enough. I don’t look like I did when I was modeling in my twenties. I have faults. But I have more wisdom and I have more love. And everything around me echoes, It is Enough.
…maybe one day we will have goats or the animal sanctuary I so dream of….or maybe we will stay here in this space…or maybe it will become legal to have farm animals beyond chickens in the city here…but in the meantime, I must leave the future where it belongs and be present.
It is Enough. We are enough. You are enough. This beautiful life is enough. And when we realize that, gratitude comes rushing in with peace and great joy on its wings.