Holiday Lights at the Garden 2016

I made my annual trip to Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden to see the holiday lights last night. The night of my visit last year was uncharacteristically balmy. This year it was just plain hot-67 degrees at 6p.m. No fumbling for the camera through coats and mitten-encased fingers required.

The new light exhibit this year is called Blue Arches. Come enjoy the garden with me!


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My Christmas Tree Is Full of Stories

I know many people who view decorating their Christmas tree as an art form. Their Christmas tree is the centerpiece of their home for the holidays. Perhaps all their tree lights are white, or only one color of ornaments hang from the branches. Or maybe there is a theme – Santas, or snowflakes, or even favorite sports teams.

That’s not for me. Anything that glitters and can be held by a hook might find a place on my tree. And so, my Christmas tree is full of stories. Every ornament has its own memory, its own story that it holds in safe-keeping year after year. These are a few of my favorites:


My first grade teacher, Sister Mary Cecelia, gave all the children in her classroom a music themed ornament for Christmas 1958. Sister Cecelia was my introduction to music. Because of her, we sang in school every day, and learned all manner of music via call-and-response and Kodaly. My first grade class sang Gregorian chant in Latin before most of us could read “Run, Spot, run.”

This little angel holds her bow with her palm facing upwards, which means she is playing a member of the viola de gamba family. Fifty years later, I begin playing early music in a recorder ensemble and hanging out with a vexation of viol players. If only Sister Cecelia could have known what seeds she planted.



My college roommate gave me this tiny crèche the first year we roomed together. It hung over my desk while I was in college. It has hung on my tree every year since, reminding me of that sweet friendship so long ago.





My first Christmas out of college, my housemates and I were much too poor to buy a tree or ornaments. We found a discarded Christmas tree at an elementary school that was closed for the holidays. (In the ancient days before fire codes, classrooms could have live Christmas trees.) With a couple of dollars worth of felt and embroidery floss, we stitched our own stars. The Grinch is right – Christmas doesn’t come from a store.




My niece and nephew, aged 6 and 4 in 1990, made applesauce and cinnamon ornaments and mailed them to us from Birmingham. The cinnamon scent of Christmas faded away long ago, but this one ornament remains intact, telling the tale of tiny hands wishing their Aunt a Merry Christmas from far away.





Christmas is different in the Southwest. Santa might wear a cowboy hat and bolo tie. Coyotes, not reindeer, roam the range. And Spirit Bears help Christmas wishes come true.



What stories can your Christmas tree tell? Please share your tree tales in the comments section! And on this Christmas eve, I wish you all a very Happy Christmas!




Holiday Lights (And Orchids!) in the Garden – 2015 Edition

After 18 straight evenings of rain, the forecast called for a dry night on December 27th, and I made my annual trek to Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden to see the holiday lights.

Usually I pick the coldest night in December to do my wandering in the garden. But this December temperatures were in the mid-70’s, and the evening was balmy. The garden’s flowering crabapple trees and ornamental cherry trees and witch hazel were all in bloom. Lenten roses decided to be advent roses. A cold craft-brewed beer was more welcome than hot chocolate.

I beat the lines of evening crowds by arriving about 5 p.m., and then waited for sunset in the orchid house. This year the orchids stole the show from the light displays. I’ve never seen so many in bloom at one time. These were my favorites:

The light displays are more beautiful every year.  I hope you enjoy this year’s slide show of Holiday Lights in the Garden.

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For a look at previous years’ holiday lights, check out this post.

I wish you all a most magical and joyful New Year!

Holiday Lights In The Garden – 2014 Edition

After Christmas I made my annual trip to see the holiday lights at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. This year the Garden really stepped up their holiday offerings. There were outdoor fires where you could make s’mores and enjoy adult beverages, carriage rides, live music, and model trains large and small. The  variety of orchids in bloom in the conservatory was amazing. But the lights were still the best part of the Garden. Come take a look!

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If you would like to see how the Garden lights have changed over the years, check out my Holiday Lights posts from 2011, 2012, and 2013.

By Way of Sorrow

I’ve avoided writing this post since four days into my trip to London, and for the last two months. I landed in London on Tuesday, February 18th. On Friday, just after visiting Hampton Court Palace, I read the e-mail my friend Jeanette said was the hardest she ever had to write, the one telling me that our friend and my soul-sister Ruth Ann died early Thursday morning.

Ruth Ann had lung surgery two weeks earlier. She told me not to come see her in the hospital – she didn’t want me picking up some nasty illness before my trip. She came through surgery like a champ, and was home recuperating and doing well. I thought the time for any potential problems was over, and that her only challenge was to slowly and steadily regain her strength and stamina. I thought that I would see her and tell her all about my trip once I was home. Some unseen, unknown, undiagnosed complication caused her to hemorrhage, and changed everything.

It was easy to do blog posts while I was in London. It was the last thing I wanted to do, but I made myself leave the house every day and go see at least one of the sites on my London list. Getting to and spending time in interesting places was a much-needed distraction. Picking out which photos to post and writing some breezy description of where I’d been that day helped fill up what had become long, grief-filled evenings and sleepless nights.

But once home, there was only one thing that I could possibly write about. And to write about Ruth Ann’s death would make it far too real, and more than I could bear. This grief has been so physical, so heavy to carry. Breathing takes such an expenditure of energy, energy that seems lost and gone forever, just like Ruth Ann. It’s taken every bit of this time to believe and accept that my soul-sister no longer lives on this Earth and that I will never again gaze into her eyes and heart. It’s taken every bit of this time to wrap my heart around this emptiness.

Since coming home I’ve tried to keep showing up for all the things that fill my life, if only because I know that Ruth Ann would not want me to lose one moment of life or connection or music in my grieving for her. And so, I walk. I knit. I practice. I show up for yoga class and the Hospice unit and harp lessons and ensemble rehearsals. I spend time with still-living friends who love me and care for my aching heart. But I’ve not written a word, in either my private journal or my blog.

In the two months since Ruth Ann died, the Earth turned towards the Sun. The hours of darkness shrink, and light beckons. The oaks and maples unfurl new green leaves against a china-blue sky. Shade returns to the world. White and pink clouds of dogwood blossoms arch over the neighborhood streets. The scent of confederate jasmine hangs in the air. White azalea blossoms mound like snowdrifts, and offer backdrop for the crimson, lavender and pink azaleas that compete for attention. A sudden burst of red on green bursts into song as the cardinal perches in the cedar tree beside my driveway.

It’s Easter Sunday, the day to celebrate resurrection and redemption. Easter does not erase the pain of Ruth Ann’s passing, but it reminds me that life emerges from darkness, and that we are all offered resurrection. I breathe out gratitude for beauty that still fills this world, and for the hope that is promised this day. And that’s a start.

Christmas Knitting

My knitting fever continues unabated, so it was a knitted Christmas this year. All recipients now have their presents, so I can post photos of what’s come off my needles.

This scarf is knit with Interlacements hand-dyed ribbon, and Crystal Palace Waikiki left over from my weaving days. The pattern is “Misti Chunky Ribs and Ruffles,” by Nancy Kleiber, without the ruffles.

Here’s “Misti Ribs and Ruffles” again, this time out of Misti Alpaca Hand Paint Chunky.

I read every easy mitten pattern I could download for free on Ravelry to understand basic mitten construction, and then made a pattern up out of the many I had read, while I was knitting these mittens. The yarn is hand-dyed super wash merino fingering from The Fibre Studio.

Another pair of made-up mittens, this time out of Berroco Borealis.

And here’s what I knit for me:

The pattern is “Sundry” and is available on Ravelry. It’s knit with two colors of hand-dyed Araucania Huasco.

There’s a new sweater on my knitting needles, and a shawl, a hat, and more socks waiting for a vacancy to open up in the knitting basket. The lace shawl I started in August remains a work-in-progress, but I finished the body of it today. Now there’s just two knitted-on borders to complete. All I have to do is learn what a “knitted on border” is, and how to do one!

Anchored By the Season

All autumn I’ve been adrift in time, tossed from past to future in equal measure, without feeling roots to the present month, the present day, or even the present moment. The strangeness of the weather – one day below freezing, the next day in the 70’s – hasn’t helped. The record-setting warmth could just as easily signal the beginning of spring, except for the walls of gathered leaves waiting for pickup on the neighbors’ curbs.

It’s the return of Christmas that has me anchored in time at last. Seeing Christmas tree lots on the usual corners and twinkling Christmas lights at the usual shopping centers, hearing old Christmas carols on my favorite radio station, I feel like I’ve come home. The holiday sights and sounds tell me where, and when, I am.

IMG_0766For the first time in too many years, I unloaded the Christmas boxes out of the attic, and decorated a Christmas tree. Charley Dog, who I adopted in 2007, never watched me drag a tree inside her house before. She is still not sure what to think about it. Yesterday she threw her nylabone under the tree, and returned from fetching it with a penguin ornament delicately held in her teeth. I’m sure she thought it was a fair trade.

IMG_0755Unpacking Christmas decorations was like reconnecting with old friends.  Some of the ornaments hung on my childhood Christmas trees, and a couple of them hung on my dad’s childhood trees.  Most of the ornaments I got as an adult. They hold sweet memories of the places where I bought them, or of the people who gave them to me, and of many happy Christmases past.

IMG_0753My tree is also full of colored lights. Every night I walk out in my front yard to look at it through the living room window. I strung colored lights outside on my dogwood tree and holly bushes as well. Those lights reflect in the window glass, creating a whole rainbow of color I can see from the street. My neighbors don’t go for the “tasteful white” Christmas lights either. We have a riot of color on houses and shrubbery and suspended from trees everywhere I look. I am happy to be a part of creating the neighborhood Christmas sparkle.

Despite three days of open windows and wearing shorts and flip-flops, tonight will be cold enough for a fire. I’ll spend this Christmas eve bathed in the twin glows of the fire and the Christmas tree. After an autumn of feeling so adrift and out of phase with the time stream, I am grateful to feel connected to this celebration of the season, and to feel that I am home.

Whatever and however you celebrate, I hope that you enjoy peace, joy, and connection this Christmas, and in all the days to come.

50 Shades Of Gratitude

Every night I write at least three things from my day for which I am grateful, and say my favorite prayer: “Thank you.”

In honor of Thanksgiving, here are 50 things from this year’s gratitude journal.  I am grateful for:

  1. Being strong and healthy enough to enjoy my life.
  2. Being safe, warm and dry on a day with flooding rain.
  3. After days of rain and gray clouds, the surprise appearance of the sun.
  4. The continued presence of old friends in my life.
  5. The surprise and delight of new friendships.
  6. My acupuncturist/massage therapist who keeps the worst of the fibromyalgia at bay.
  7. My chiropractor who makes headaches go away.
  8. My yoga teacher and the community that is my yoga class.
  9. My harp teacher’s deep listening, patience and encouragement.
  10. My recorder teacher’s support and encouragement to play stuff that too hard for me to learn alone.
  11. Catherine’s ongoing presence in my life and support of all my creative adventures.
  12. Debbie’s patience and generosity in teaching me how to knit.
  13. My mechanic who figures out all my old car’s problems and keeps it running.
  14. Being welcomed by and sharing laughter with my knitting group every Wednesday.
  15. Being able to afford what I need.
  16. White beans and kale.
  17. My harp teacher saying I did good work.
  18. Time to practice.
  19. A sweet note from a music friend saying that she values my friendship.
  20. New warm mittens.
  21. Cherry trees flowering in billowing clouds of pink.
  22. Thunder snow.
  23. Such understanding and supportive blog comments about crashing and burning with sight-reading.
  24. Sharing music and life with my harp friends.
  25. The kindness and friendliness of the nurse giving me my allergy shot.
  26. Staying calm and centered during Consort rehearsal.
  27. Lima beans and rice.
  28. A chance to sing.
  29. New pants that fit.
  30. The gift of a place to stay at the beach.
  31. The sight, sound, and smell of the ocean.
  32. Seeing my friends in the audience at the harp concert.
  33. A sky blue pink sunset.
  34. A soft green world on my morning walk.
  35. Letting go of judging how I played today.
  36. Hyacinths, wisteria and tulips.
  37. A morning warm enough to sit on the patio and write.
  38. The joy of making music with the recorder ensemble and early music consort.
  39. The smell of jasmine.
  40. The feeling of air caressing the back of my neck when I am driving with the windows down.
  41. A clean house, and sweet Allison who makes that happen.
  42. Soft rain reminding me of Ireland.
  43. Playing at the Hospice Remembrance Service without fear.
  44. Hawk surveying the world sitting on the tree limb outside my back door.
  45. Being welcomed by the nurses and staff when I roll my harp into the hospice unit.
  46. The smell of magnolias.
  47. First blueberries and peaches.
  48. Being welcomed by my favorite farmers at the Saturday market.
  49. Two cardinals feeding each other.
  50. Crape myrtle flower petals drifting through the air like snow.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Holiday Lights In the Garden 2012

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all photos © Janet Hince

Daniel Stow Botanical Garden creates “Holiday Lights In the Garden” each Christmas season. Something new is added every year. This year it was the illuminated bottle trees. I hope you enjoy your walk through the garden with this slide show.