Of red birds and light

Cardinals on my treeMy girls and I put up the Christmas tree the other day, and I love to sit in its gentle glow.   Ever since I was a kid, I loved decorating the tree, finding favorite ornaments, telling the stories behind them.

Our tree has some ornaments that came from my childhood home—felt animals sewed in a childish hand, the delicate glass snowman and balloon a teacher gave me, a simple red ball with my name and the year of my birth.

Our tree has ornaments I’ve given to my husband or our family over the years—a geologic survey marker for Mount Washington, a wheelbarrow for all the gardening we do together, a green canoe and a toboggan from the years we bought those items to enjoy.

There are ornaments I’ve made for my girls, like the ladybugs from when they turned four and two with corresponding spots and the felt hearts with their names.

If you look, you will find a lot of cardinals. Glass balls with painted red birds, plump birds sewn from felt, a felt heart with a cardinal cut out of birch bark overlay. And the red birds from other babyloss mamas: the needle felted ball from Jenni, the paper circle from Amy, the cookie cutter tree with a reddish feather from a bird nicknamed “the desert cardinal.” It’s not surprising to find cardinals at Christmas, but mine are for Henry.Red bird from Amy

When Henry was in the hospital, somebody gave us a stuffed cardinal, the kind you squeeze to hear its call. My dad still talks about how it got Henry’s attention, whether the news or the bright color. The cardinal link started there, but it was seeing a cardinal, all red, streak across the bleak landscape that solidified it for me. That sudden brightness reminded me of Henry’s smile, the way it lit everything up, the way it made me smile.

People tell me about their cardinal sightings and let me know they’re thinking of Henry. That makes me smile too. Some days, just when I need it, I catch a glimpse of that flash of red. so bright on a dark day.


Last night, after stories, we turned off the light and sat in front of the fire looking at the tree. I sang my girls their songs, my chin resting on a blond head, my cheek against a nearly five-year-old cheek.

I thought the dark was going to rise up: the missing, the would-be eight year old not here. But instead what bubbled up was love, stretching me tight, expanding me. For a moment, it wasn’t dark and light, here and not, life and death, all those forces that pull me in two directions through this month. I thought it would be, but instead I expanded with just fullness, just love.

Rosemary for remembrance (and jealousy)

I’m tired of snow and ice and school delays. Rosemary makes me a little jealous. Write about your own jealousy.

I love reminders that spring is coming, but when they come in the form of pictures of rhubarb unfurling and peach blossoms and pretty much anything green, I get a little jealous too.

My friend Sarah posted a picture of the pool. Outside. Where she was going swimming. Her friend commented on the smell of freshly mowed grass.

And I remembered a March when I went to California to visit my friend Heather and meet her new baby. I went for a long walk, pushing the baby in a stroller, so that Heather could mow the lawn. What I remember isn’t the smell of cut grass, but rosemary, big hedges of it warm in the sun. I remember flowers and green and sun on my face, but mostly the rosemary.

For years, rosemary was the smell of jealousy for me. My rosemary plants are small. They fit easily in a pot, and they never last  the winter. Even if I get them through the cold months, they suddenly shrivel and wither right about this time of year. Come March, I remember those fragrant shrubs and want that—the green, the resiny smell, the warmth bringing it out.

I cut rosemary from my plant tonight (it’s still hanging in there for now). I chopped the rosemary and rolled a pork tenderloin dotted with garlic in it. I poured a mustard-apple juice glaze over it all and roasted it. The smell of rosemary filled the house.

I can still smell it on my hands, and I’m dreaming of sunshine and short sleeves.

We’re not there yet. It was warm enough to go out without a coat today, so there’s that, and while I don’t have anything in my garden, I’ve got these inside:

When spring is a long way off, bring some in.

It’ll get me through, but I’m still a little jealous.

What are you jealous of these days?


It’s the time of year when . . .

It’s the time of year when temps in the 30s feel gentle and you walk out in just a fleece
and smile at the sun and your neighbors.

It’s the time of year when the dripdripdrip of icicles in the sun is a joyful song
when the seeds and cups of dirt on the table at preschool look like hope.

It’s the time of year when my garden looks like this:








And I dream of this:

It's the time of year I dream of this. Write about this time of year.







and start saving milk jugs for this:

The time of year to dream of green.






It’s the time of year when I reread The Long Winter
and get grateful for piles of wood and deliveries of oil to keep us warm instead of twisted hay to keep us from freezing to death
and for a well stocked fridge and freezer instead of rationed potatoes and hand-ground wheat.

It’s the time of year when even my kids are sick of snow
but they’ll still shriek and whoop their way down the sledding hill.

It’s the time of year when I look forward to eating lots of pancakes
and hope the sap will be running so that moist, sweet steam will fill the air while we eat.

It’s the time of year when everything seems barren,
but you hear the birds singing, loud and clear through the cold air.

It’s the time of year when you are almost in despair,
but you look out the window just before supper and notice that it’s still light.

It’s the time of year when the light and melting
the maple syrup and the seeds
and the dreams of green
get you through
as you wait for more sunshine,
more warm
and mud.

Your Turn

Write with Me:writing prompt
I’ve used this prompt last summer. I’m not recycling because I’m lazy, but because I’ve been thinking about this time of year, because I’m ready for change and it looks so far off.

Whether you tried this one before or not, grab a pen and finish this sentence:
It’s the time of year when . . .

What are the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of this time of year? What’s happening in this season, in your life right now?

Share It:
In the comments, tell me about about this time of year where you are or add a link to your blog where you write about this time of year.

Right now I’m loving {5}

Right now I’m loving:

  • This gift from my neighbor and its reminder that spring will come eventually

Write What You Love: I love this hope for spring

  • Gaiters and long johns (since spring is no where near here yet)
  • My wonderful neighbors—and their snowblowers
  • These cookies (equally good made with coconut oil instead of butter)
  • Seed catalogs (more spring dreams)
  • Anne Lamott’s Small Victories
  • My moka pot
  • Our latest batch of chili (in a bowl with rice, as a dip for blue corn chips, or on homemade pizza)
  • Seeing people joining me for Write What You Love

There’s still time time to join us. We start tomorrow! Sign up here.
Write What You Love is a free, three-day writing practice

What are you loving right now?



Reconnect with what you love

What do you love? Write about it and reconnect with the things you love to do. The snow was soft, not crusted over despite the cold, as we trudge-tramped over the parking lot we couldn’t enter with the car, across the field, and up the hill. Trudge makes it sound like hard work, and snowshoeing is work, but enjoyable, rhythmic work.

When we reached the hill, the girls moved steadily up up up. At the crest we turned and looked out over the trail and fields, the late afternoon sun shedding that magical, golden light over the tree tops.

My big girl dropped her mittens; the little one flopped on the ground. I pulled out a narrow silver thermos and poured steaming cups of hot cocoa. The dog dashed and darted sending up snow spray. By the time I turned around, the golden tree tops had turned a dusky purple.

I took a deep, cold breath and smiled. I had almost forgotten that I love snowshoeing. My snowshoes have gotten dusty from little use. The secret to enjoying winter was getting out it in sometimes, but that’s been hard. We’d all manage to get dressed to be out only to have a wet diaper or somebody who needed to go potty NOW. We had little ones crying because they couldn’t walk in the snow that was up near their waist but too impatient and independent to go in the backpack.

But this year? My kids worked on their snow fort today waiting for the school bus. Some days I call them in at near dark. We all go sledding. And now we can all go snowshoeing.

We came back with rosy cheeks and chilly fingers, smelling of cold air. I was energized and yet ready for a good night sleep too. The fire felt especially cozy, that other side of enjoying winter.

Sometimes we need to dust off the things we like to do. If you want to do that, join me for Write What You Love next week. Over three days, we’ll explore in writing things we love and get inspired to get up an do something.

Write What You Love is a free, three-day writing practice

What’s something you love to do that you haven’t done in a while?

Tell me in the comments or use this a writing prompt: I used to love to . . .