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When we bought this house about two and a half years ago, we knew that improvements would have to be made along the way. For instance, the furnace was 32 years old at the time of purchase and, we discovered, quite cantankerous. We made it hobble through two winters however, and always counted our blessings that we never had to go more than two days without heat. Although living in Cleveland, OH on the shores of a really big lake (!), two days of no heat can be quite “icy”. Repairs were frequent. In fact we called in the professionals three times thus far this season alone to keep the old furnace working. And we are just now moving into the harsh winter weather common to this part of the world. By all appearances, that old furnace was nigh-on next to dead!

Without too much discussion (actually, we have discussed the old furnace and its impending demise since we purchased the house) we finally “bit the bullet” and bought a new one. Sal’s Heating and Cooling installed the new furnace yesterday! So on this first day of the year 2015, we now have a reliable, efficient furnace to keep our home warm as the temps plunge into the teens and below (fahrenheit for all my friends living outside the USA). It appears we purchased the furnace in the nick of time! I am grateful for our new furnace and the warmth it provides.

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Pets have been a part of my life most of my life. Whether cat or dog or hamster or lizard, each has a personality that becomes part of the family dynamics. Each animal we adopted exhibited traits we found to be annoying, adorable, aloof, contented, playful, grumpy, mischievous, and the list goes on. But as with any family member, we loved them and they were simply family.

Seven or s0 years ago I lost my beloved “Possum,” an 18-year-old Russian Blue. About four years later, Pele, a Norwegian Forrest mix, also left this world. For a while it seemed too difficult to welcome another pet into our home. I could not bear the thought of experiencing yet again the grief that the loss of a pet brings. But we were lonesome. One day my daughter who was trying to help a friend find a home for the pet she had to give up, posted a picture of this cat–the spitting image of our Possum. I commented that if we lived closer (we are in Cleveland, daughter and cat in Chicago), I would love to take the cat. It was just a passing comment on a Facebook photograph. That is all. Nothing more.

Soon afterwards, however, I received private messages from both my daughters in Chicago. They took me seriously and 1901220_10202469274505985_3860315167920632641_nwere hell-bent on getting the cat to Cleveland. And sure enough, a week or two later, my youngest daughter and her family show up at our door with cat in tow! Since then Willy has brought us nothing but joy. His name started out as Willard but was soon shortened to Willy and then quickly morphed into Willy-Nilly-Wonka. He has stolen our hearts. I did not think I could own another cat after losing Possum and Pele. But after two and a half years, we were ready to expand our family and welcome a cat once again into our lives. I am grateful for the love and joy that pets bring to our lives and especially grateful for our Willy-Nilly-Wonka!

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We take so many things in life for granted; a trite but true statement. Our refrigerator went on the blink this past week. It simply stopped working sometime during the night Tuesday/Wednesday. I noticed it when I went to get my morning yogurt and discovered it was room temperature and tasted. . .funny. So while I was at work my husband called an appliance company to come repair the thing. And as is often the case, no one could make it that day but we were put on the schedule for the next available appointment; Thursday afternoon. Thankfully we live in a cold climate, so we salvaged what we could by putting the frozen food in the trunk of the car that sits in the driveway most of the time. The rest of what could be saved was placed in a cooler on our back porch. We made do. Unfortunately when the repairman (yes, it was a “he”) took a look at the now empty refrigerator, he discovered the controls were broken. How? We do not know.  But thanks to modern technology, the nice repairman ordered the part that very moment via his handy dandy “notebook.” He told us the replacement part would arrive late Friday afternoon, but since he does not work on weekends, we would have to wait till Monday for the fridge to be repaired. But hey, we are campers–sorta. We are managing well despite the irritation of an occasional urge for something from our makeshift refrigeration setup late at night. To satisfy the urge, one of us has to bundle up, go outside and rummage through a car trunk to find the “necessary” food item. All of this has helped me recognize how much we take modern conveniences for granted. Today it is the refrigerator. Another day it may be electricity, or gas, or a bed to sleep in, or even food on the table. I have clients who have had to do without the things I have just listed, as well as no refrigerator. That is another whole story, though. For now, I am grateful for our refrigerator and the convenience it affords us.

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Chanukah has arrived! And with it comes latkes and jelly filled donuts and spinning the driedle and lighting the chanukia each night. It is a joyous albeit minor holiday filled with singing, good food and sharing our light with the world. We remember the miracle of the oil when during the time of the Maccabean uprising, when the holy temple was regained for the Jewish people, there was found only one day’s worth of oil to light the menorah. However, that one day’s amount of oil burned for eight days, long enough to press olives for a new supply of oil for the temple lamps. This is a holiday of light, of miracles, of remembering, and of sharing. I am filled with gratitude for Chanukah and its many layers of meaning and joy. 🙂

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Despite the fact that the day was dampish cold and dreary,  the urge to go to the woods was overpowering. So even though I was still wearing a knee immobilizer and using a crutch (the result of a slip on the ice a couple of weeks ago), I packed up my camera and persuaded my husband to drive me out to a nearby nature reservation; my favorite retreat. I had no illusions. This was not a photography outing even though my camera hung by my side. I simply needed to connect with the natural world after being sequestered inside for weeks as I healed. But for me, the most healing places to be are in the woods. Here I walked slowly and softly. Listening. Breathing. Noticing. Soaking the experience intIMGP5014o every part of me that I could. Despite the terrible lighting and photographic conditions, I shot a few frames “just because.” Mostly, however, I simply chose to “be.” Even though physically unable to wander from the beaten path deep into the woods (something I am wont to do, much to Richard’s chagrin), just being in these wonderful woods fed my soul and renewed my spirit. I am grateful for this walk in the dreary woods. I am renewed.

 

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Earlier this week I slipped on ice as I was leaving a client’s home. The result was damage to my knee and ankle and now I’m in a leg brace/knee immobilizer and on crutches. Besides feeling foolish (and in a lot of pain) I was aggravated that my work-week plans went down the tubes when I slid down those stairs. My immediate concern was how my clients would manage without my vigilance and presence. In fact I was convinced that some clients could not manage at all! Besides work, there were projects at home that needed my devoted attention and energies. As I was being driven to the ER, I “worried” about how this fall was going to affect our lives (husband, clients, myself). While nothing was broken, I did tear cartilage in the knee, sprained my ankle, and badly bruised the top of my foot as well as my elbow. This meant crutches, bed rest for the first four or five days, worker’s comp, doctor’s visits, physical therapy, et al ad nauseum. The first couple of days were torture: “NO calls to clients”, “no paperwork”, “stay off the leg”, “don’t come back to work till the doctor gives the orders” warned my supervisor. Yes, I was extremely frustrated despite being married to a man whose greatest pleasure these past couple of days has been to take care of me. And to top it all off, family, friends, AND clients began telling me that this was G-d telling me to slow down and rest. This was a hard pill to swallow. It was a rude awakening. I was dispensable, and even my clients were telling me to take it easy.

Once I got through the initial stages of being house bound and out of touch with work, I began to breathe. Really breathe. Deep, cleansing, calming breaths; the way I guide my clients to breath when they need to center themselves and release their anxieties and fears. I became increasingly aware of the space and sounds around me, the feel of the sheets on my skin, the gentleness of Willy’s purring as he curled up beside me on the bed, the fragrance of lavendar creams my daughter sent me, the sound of my husband humming in the kitchen as he prepared simple snacks for me, the rustling and chirping of birds roosting in the snow covered bushes outside the bedroom window. And after I began to notice, I began to reflect. Despite unwelcome accidents and unpredictable weather and major losses (and gains) and all the other life events that throw monkey wrenches into our lives, there is so much to be thankful for. I don’t mean to be “Pollyannish” about this, but even in the worst of times one can usually find something for which to be grateful.

I think of the story of Rebbitzin Eshter Jungries who when as a child during World War II was sent to the death camps in Poland along with her father. In that place of putrid death and unimaginable evil, her father, a revered rabbi, urged the young, future rebbitzin to smile whenever she could so other prisoners’ spirits would be uplifted to see a child that could still smile in the midst of such horror. Rebbitzin Jungries survived the camps, came to the States, and eventually became a world-renowned speaker and religious teacher in her own right. I had the privilege of hearing her speak just a few short years ago, and even in her old age she is vibrant and vivacious. Her energy and joy belie her age. What an inspiration.

As I sit here, banged up, bruised and sore, I find that this forced recess from the busyness I’ve created for myself has allowed me time to reflect on gratitude, priorities, blessings, family, choices we make, suffering, etc. Yes, it is difficult for many people to discover the gift of reflection when they are enveloped in poverty, disease, war, torture, oppression and suppression. But people like Rebbetzin Jungries and others remind me that when life is interrupted with something more painful, more pressing, more anything than our present preoccupations, we have the opportunity to reflect on life and death, meaning and purpose, freedom and choice. I choose to be grateful for this unexpected gift of time to reflect.

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I usually prefer to post photos of birds in their natural habitat, but this weekend marked the beginning of the annual Feeder Watch program that is run by the Cornel University Lab of Ornithology. That means every week from now til April, I and thousands more people like me throughout the US and Canada will be watching and documenting the numbers and types of birds that come to our back yard feeders each day. Each week we submit our data to the lab where they will interpret the results to use for a variety of purposes. For over twenty five years Cornel University has been following winter migration patterns of birds of every kind. The fun part of their research is that they use ordinary people like myself to gather and submit data on the birds that frequent our yards. Each year those of us who participate and contribute to the research receives a quarterly publication chock full of information on birds, how to identify them, what the research reveals about climate change and irruptions (when brids fly far out of their normal migratory patterns, which usually suggests a shortage in food supply forcing birds to search outside their normal range.) Besides feeling like I am doing a little something to contribute to scientific research, I have found bird watching to be a mindful practice that calms me and helps me focus on the present moment. When watching birds, especially when I’m concentrating on identifying and counting them during my scheduled “watch” sessions, I forget about the cares that weigh me down. Birds are beautiful warblers and hooters and screechers, and if one watches over a period of time–a season–one begins to recognize personalities of individual birds as well as characteristics of the diffierent species. If you are interested in bird watching, or if you have young children who may be interested in birding activities, google Cornel University Lab of Ornithology to find the many programs they offer. Also check out http://www.ebird.com to help identify birds. This is a fun hobby, one I have enjoyed for a few years now. I am grateful for the Cornel University Lab of Ornithology and how their feederwatch program has helped me develop a deeper enjoyment and understanding of birds.

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At times Autumn proves to be a difficult time for me. I love the spring and summer and want to make those seasons last for as long as possible. Autumn means we are heading into cold dreariness. Yuk. But since I’ve been practicing mindfulness on a daily basis, I’ve noticed a measurable change in my perceptions. One day this week when I got home from work, I was struck with the stunning beauty of trees that line the back of our property. As the sun was dropping lower in the west, it’s rays lit up the tree in all its brilliance. I was so taken that I ran inside, grabbed by camera, and shot a few photos. Even afterwards, I sat on our porch (bundled up due to the dropping temps) and gazed at the tree, the leaves as they decorated our lawn (yes, decorated!) and let my mind wander. Those few minutes–less than fifteen–from the time I got home to the time I finally went in for the night, were the most calming I’ve had all week. It occurred to me that if we stay present in the moment, we see things in a different light. It’s all about perception, and perception is what breaks or makes our days. Yes, the cold is coming (is here), and there will be snow. But today, now, the leaves are brilliantly painted in reds, oranges, and golds. And they are beautiful. And I am reminded that there is beauty and wonder in every season as there is in every age. Today I am greatful for Autumn leaves and the lesson they teach me.

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I have had this hammock for years. I picked it up back in the early ’90s when I was in Nicaragua. Sadly I kept it tucked away until such a time when I had the “perfect” place (meaning perfectly spaced trees in a yard) to hang it. The years dragged on and I never found the “perfect” yard for it. Finally, when we purchased our present home, it occurred to me that if I waited for “perfection” before I started enjoying life, I would have a pretty miserable life! So I perused the catalogues and garden nurseries and found a simple frame on which to attach my hammock and voila! Perfection! It took years, but I am finally enjoying the hammock. There is nothing so relaxing, and spiritually edifying, as resting in the hammock, gazing at the clouds–or stars–in the sky, listening to the cacophony of a multitude of birds of various species, and being mindful of the present moment. It is in moments such as this that the cares of the world recede and I connect with a larger, higher, more elevated presence. Of course, one does not need a hammock to do this. But, hammocks help. 😉 I am grateful that I finally hung the hammock and can enjoy the peace and contentment elicited by the mere sight of it!

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One of the many things I love about my husband is that he enjoys exploring new places in nature almost as much as I do. Hiking along narrow trails through verdant forests refreshes and rejuvinates body, mind, and soul like nothing else I know. And sometimes  along the trail, one is fortunate enough to come upon a beautiful glen or a luscious flower-filled meadow that makes the hike worth the while. On today’s hike we discovered Blue Hen Falls in the Cuyahoga National Forest. We lingered here because the scents of the forest, the sounds of water falling over precipices and tumbling over boulders further downstream, and the earthy, damp smell of vegetation filled us–me–with awe and wonder. At the top of these falls, we rested and took time to sit a while and experience this “gan eden” as fully as possible. I am truly grateful that I can share this new-found place with my husband.

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