Shining Light On Seasonal Swings
Happy New Year, right? Or, perhaps, not so much? As the holidays recede, I’m feeling flat, stale, and vaguely sorrowful, restless but lacking energy. Many friends and neighbors are sharing such feelings as well, despite reporting peaceful, mellow holidays that were more enjoyable than expected. All weekend, I’ve been pondering on the past, remembering celebrating as a child and with my own kids; as a young adult alone in a foreign country; with and without family; making merry for aging parents. This pandemic year saw many of us alone or with a very small people-pod during the holiday season and this new experience opened the way for reflection on what we are actually celebrating. For many of us, those peaceful, mellow holidays provided welcome contrasts with the hectic, frantic busyness of past celebrations. Others were left feeling bereft of the cheerful connectedness that made holidays shine.
While post-holiday blues are nothing new, they were certainly exacerbated by the accumulated stresses and distresses of 2020. If ecological destruction and political evils weren’t enough to tip us over the edge, many of us found our security bubble-wrap getting thinner as safety bubbles popped one by one. Here, several friends and neighbors are in hospital, ill or broken and struggling to stay alive. Covert racism is increasingly revealed on my progressive, wealthy island. Waterfront homes sell like hotcakes for multiple millions, while homelessness increases exponentially. A friend in Southern California writes that she’s living in a tiny studio because her daughter and grandkids all have Covid-19, as does her aging mother in Georgia. Another lost her home to wildfire and is struggling to find a safe place to land. Another sold her home and moved two thousand miles to care for her dying brother. With such stories multiplying every day, no wonder we are feeling off balance, discouraged, depleted.
New Year’s Noticing
I’ve been interested to notice that very few people talked about spiritual solace. I’ve always found the annual journey from warmth and light into chilly darkness and back to be healing and hopeful, a potent reminder that, as RBG often said, ‘the pendulum always swings’. Already, so soon after the Solstice, the light is slowly returning, yet we Northerners won’t see 9 hours of daylight until just before the inauguration of our new president. As the word implies, that augers well for our country but with so much restorative work to do, all positive changes will need a lot of energy behind them. Where we find that energy depends less on social and governmental changes than on our own practices, how well we nurture our bruised and weary spirits.
One way NOT to nurture our spirit is by creating daunting lists of Resolutions. There’s a ton of research that demonstrates how ineffectual our annual resolutions tend to be. For starters, most resolutions are a bit stern, reminders of our accumulating failures to be smarter, richer, thinner, more successful at whatever we decide will make us happier. I no longer bother with resolutions as, in my experience, noticing what I’ve learned, gained, discovered, and created is far more rewarding and effective at promoting positive life changes. Instead, I devote time at the beginning of each year to noticing how far I’ve come instead of focussing on my (many) shortcomings.
The Pause That Refreshes
Recently, I’ve listened to quite a few other people who have a similar approach. My darling daughter-in-love spoke tenderly about her renewed appreciation for The Pause; that beneficent moment of thought before we speak. Part of her practice is to ‘cultivate The Pause’; something that definitely resonated. The past year brought me numerous opportunities to practice The Pause fruitfully, and looking back, I’m pleased with my personal Pause progress. The Pause can take various forms; it may keep us silent when we’re tempted to blurt out something better left unsaid, but it’s also a way to make room for reflection rather than reflexive speech or thoughts. My friend Mary Ann is taking a little time to appreciate her increasing ability to acknowledge her own individuality. My friend Peggi is enjoying her deepening relationship with her artwork, finding pleasure in the practice rather than results.
Both my emotional blues and recent restlessness owe a lot to the weather, as Western Washington has been awash in rain for weeks. Since we have been in a state of drought for years, the rain is especially welcome for nurturing native trees and smaller plants as well as the critters that depend on them. Even so, grey skies and chilly winds are not conducive to strolling around, and many of us are sorely missing our daily walks. It’s also been challenging to find enough time between cloudbursts to do some therapeutic gardening, my usual panacea. Much as I enjoy reading and knitting and crafting, I grow weary of the endless sitting. When I put on my raincoat and venture out, I rarely see another human, but happy birds are everywhere, calling and chirping, flitting busily about, swooping in and out of bushes and diving into gardens to find bugs and worms. Unkempt gardens are definitely the favorites, providing seeds as well as insects, so mine, though small, is very busy indeed.
Soup On The Stoop
This damp, chilly weather brings out the soup maker in all of us. I love eating soup and I love making soup but I seem incapable of making less than a huge batch. One wonderful silver lining in the 2020 storm has been a neighborhood tradition of soup surprises. Membership in my soup circle means that every few days, we’ll find a jar of soup on the stoop, and every few days, we return the jar filled with a different kind of soup. It’s a wonderful way to enjoy new recipes and I’m always struck by the way food we didn’t cook tastes so deliciously different.
One soup sister is vegetarian and thanks to my brother, she attests that my vegetarian soups have been kicked up a notable notch. My vegetarian soups often lacked depth, but Eben’s potent Parmesan broth adds all the rich, deep, umami flavor anyone could wish for. My version is simpler than his (see his blog below) but definitely delicious and well work making. Eben freezes his in a dedicated ice cube tray and adds a dollop to soups, sauces and so on, as this broth is so stout that a little goes a long way.
Savory Vegetarian Parmesan Broth
2 cups chopped Parmesan cheese rinds
8 cups water
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
Combine in a soup pot, cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 hours, or until cheese rinds are almost entirely melted. Strain through a colander and freeze in small amounts for up to 3 months. Makes about 6 cups broth.
Here’s Eben’s more complex version: