#SpringIsComing

Ring out, bells of Norwich, and let the winter come and go
All shell be well again, I know.

Love, like the yellow daffodil, is coming through the snow.
Love, like the yellow daffodil, is Lord of all I know.

~ "Julian of Norwich," a song by Sydney Carter (based on the writings of Julian Norwich)

One of the benefits of working from home during the pandemic is that my husband and I now take walks every day, instead of scrambling to get on a crowded subway – and we get to engage with the natural world much more intimately. I’m grateful to have been able now to have witnessed all four seasons, up close.

And as we walked through Morningside Park earlier this week, my husband pointed out the green tips of the park’s army of daffodils starting to push through the surface of the earth – a signal that the world is waking up from its cold slumber.

And then, just as we left the park, I happened to glance through the iron fence, and saw this marvel:

Morningside Park, NYC – January 25, 2021

“It’s confused,” my husband said. We laughed, but still we were still in awe. After all, this was the very first Spring flower we had seen, appearing naturally in the cold earth. I’m sure its blossoms didn’t survive the winter mix we had the very next day, or would survive the snow we’re supposed to get later this weekend. But still… it was a sign!

If you’re not familiar with the pagan/Celtic calendar, next Monday, the 1st of February, is celebrated as Imbolc, one of the cross-quarter days that exist between the solstices and equinoxes (it’s also celebrated as Brigid’s Day, St. Brigit’s Day, and Candelmas).

Imbolc lies halfway between the Winter Solstice behind us and the Spring Equinox before us. Imbolc, from a word which could mean anything from “ewe’s milk,” to “in the belly” (referencing pregnancy in animals) to “ritual cleansing,” is when we celebrate our seeing the natural signs of Spring approaching. Ewes start to give milk, reassuring farmers with another supply of food after a long winter, and signaling the start of the reproductive cycle of nature. It’s the perfect time to get a jump on Spring Cleaning!

And, what else happens around this time? The very first Spring Flowers begin to appear.

This little daffodil, this brave, mighty symbol of the slow approach of warmer weather, reminded me of the sacred connection many have with another beautiful flower that blooms in what we’d argue are less-than-ideal circumstances.

For anyone who may frequent, or even occasionally visit, yoga studios, you might be familiar with the story of the lotus flower. Lotuses are everywhere in Yoga and Buddhist imagery, and feature in lots of meditations, mudras, and even chakra imagery.

What’s so special about the lotus? Check out this Zen proverb:

“May we exist like the lotus,
At home in muddy water.
Thus, we bow to life as it is.”

Zen Proverb – Source Unknown

You see, the lotus seed roots itself in the mud and scum of the river bottom, or the bottoms of ponds or flood-plains, rising up through the murky water to blossom above the water, in the open air. These beautiful, full, multi-petaled flowers are in contrast to the dark and unpleasant conditions that might exist beneath the surface. Thus, to be “like the lotus” is to allow ourselves to grow through the murkiness of our own lives and blossom in spite of the mud, in spite of the supposed darkness.

How is the daffodil like the lotus?

Like the lotus, the daffodil is struggling up through ground that symbolically appears almost inhospitable – the dark, murkiness of the pond, and the cold, hard Winter ground.

Like the lotus, the daffodil symbolizes the ongoing cycle of nature, regardless of the circumstances. Both the lotus and the daffodil “bow to life as it is,” and blossom, anyway. Even, like the daffodil, when there is the threat of weather that might destroy that blossom.

Like the lotus, the daffodil shows us what is to come. We don’t see the lotus growing in the muck until we see the flower appear above the water. We don’t see the work of the daffodil growing in the Winter ground until it starts to grow and bloom above the surface.

So, going into the next few weeks of winter, keep your eye out for those first flowers of Spring as they appear in the ground. I encourage you to take walks and keep looking for them, and celebrate when you find them. In the spirit of Imbolc, instead of seeing only the mud, the “final weeks of Winter,” know that the flowers are doing the work, and it’s only a matter of weeks before we see the hard work turn into the cornucopia of Spring!

St. Nicholas Park, Harlem, NYC – April 2015

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Walk the length of Manhattan… from home!

Every 4th of July, for the past 5 years, my husband and I would take ourselves (and any friends who wanted to join) on the 13 mile trek along the length of Manhattan.

Why?

Honestly, I’ve no idea. The first year we did it, we were a bit boozed up from some Bloody Marys at Harlem Tavern, decided to walk over to Riverside Park and down along the Hudson… and then just kept going!

This year, we had planned to be away for the 4th for the first time (though we doubt that’s even an option… thanks, Covid-19), and were sad that we weren’t going to be able to take anyone on the walk with us.

But then I realized… why not take everybody with us?

One of my favorite parts of the walk is taking in new sights, researching historic areas and buildings, and sharing my passion for the city with others. These are all things I can do from home – and you can join me!

Are you ready to get started and see parts of NYC you might have never seen, or get to see?

A museum built like a medieval monastery?
The oldest wooden homes still standing in Manhattan?
The 6th largest cathedral in the world?
The largest mausoleum in the United States?
(And that’s all still North of Central Park!)

I’ll be sure to add in places in each area that could provide you with one full day’s experience, should you get a chance to visit after the shutdown is lifted (or if you live nearby and have a face mask)!

So, yes, I expect this to be quite a long series – and I may sprinkle in some other “stuff” just to break it up… but we’ve got plenty of time right??? (… thanks, Covid-19!)

So, stay tuned!!

A Wilder London, Day 1

“What will this day be like?
I wonder…
What could that building be?”

Okay, so that’s not quite how the song goes in Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s Sound of Music, but walking along the Thames River (which isn’t far from our AirBnB stay), wrapped up in a quiet morning fog… and with so many beautiful buildings and fascinating architecture, the day held so much potential and wonder! And, of course, we had confidence!

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Lorenzo Quinn’s “Love” in the Riverside Walk Gardens near Vauxhall Bridge

Our morning of show tune references actually began with a chorus of “Dite Moi” from South Pacific (another R & H!), after seeing the all-too-familiar Pret a Manger chain restaurant as we crossed the Vauxhall bridge into Pimlico (and pestering my sister for the proper French pronunciation — it’s “pret-a-mahn-zhay”).

We walked along the Thames (“not Th-ames?” my sister asks, prompting a reflection on British pronunciation — it’s pronounced “Tems”), until we reached Westminster, stopping to admire the architecture of the Houses of Parliament and the Abbey. Lots of construction is going on around the clock tower, which houses Big Ben, and was almost completely shrouded in scaffolding. Apparently, this year began Big Ben’s 4 years of silence during renovation.

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Westminster in the Morning (Dec 17, 2017)

Sam and I took us on the walk we remembered from our trip here two years ago, passing the WWII memorials, the Whitehall Palace/Banqueting House, and Downing Street (no PM spottings, either visit), until wandering the streets around Trifalgar Square and St. Martin’s-on-the-green, settling for breakfast at Caffé Concerto, a chain where we’d eaten on our last visit, in a spot around the corner from Picadilly Circus. For those you fellow tourists, I just listed off a bunch of London highlights. We ate “full English breakfasts” (I’ve wondered if the Full English Breakfast was just a tourist-y thing, but it apparently has a longstanding tradition). We talked about our day and what we planned to do, and the only plans we had aside from eating, was to take an early tea at the Orangery at Kensington Palace.

We meandered through Picadilly Circus, and tried shopping at a mass souvenir shop – we didn’t stay long, as I think Sam and I have become extra self-conscious about appearing like tourists we see in NYC!

We wandered down to the Mall, in St. James’ Park, which leads to Buckingham Palace. Walking down the steps beneath the monument to the Duke of York, I was struck that this is the very spot Sam and I had discovered two years before, where I had actually sat while having my picture taken while on a field trip to London when I was in high school! It’s a shame I can’t find that original picture.

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The tragedy that struck London during WWII was great. Many memorials are set up around the city (Dec 17, 2017)

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The Monument to the Duke of York, off the Mall approaching Buckingham Palace (Dec 17, 2017)

Let it be known, that it is cold in London. It was hovering just a bit above freezing, and so we were stopping to get our hands on hot cups of tea every chance we got just to keep our hands warm while we walked. Walking through a park with a nice hot cuppa is also just a wonderful experience, in and of itself!

(Note to self: Always wear hat and gloves. Always wear hat and gloves. Hat and gloves. Hat and gloves)

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The London Eye from St. James Park (Dec 17, 2017)

After dodging kamikaze pigeons (honestly, we all noticed, they were the fattest pigeons we’d ever seen!), we made our way back to the Mall and approached Buckingham Palace, just in time for the changing of the guard – it was quite crowded!

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Making way for The Changing of the Guard (Dec 17, 2017)

My sister later informed us why the guards were now dressed in grey, as opposed to the more commonly seen red tunics.

We ended up walking up through the Wellington Arch, into Hyde Park, where London’s “Winter Wonderland” is taking place – but honestly, it looks more like a state fair, and less appealing than we had imagined, so I think we’ll end up skipping it on our stay, here (and the lines to get in were astronomical!).

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The Wellington Arch. Also known as a gathering place for tourists armed with cameras (Dec 17, 2017)

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A single rose holds on in the rose garden of Hyde Park (Dec 17, 2017)

But we did see the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, which we hadn’t seen before. A quiet spot, just off the water, the artist writes that the course of the water running in the circular fountain is supposed to be emblematic of Princess Diana’s life. Regardless of its symbolism, its quiet surroundings and serene beauty offered the perfect setting for quiet contemplation to the sound of bubbling brooks.

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A portion of the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain (Dec 17, 2017)

Passing under a bridge, we arrived in Kensington Gardens, and made our way up to the Palace – no, we didn’t run into any of the royal family! But, it was starting to rain, so we hurried up to the Palace and set out immediately for the nearby Orangery, for our early tea (an hour and a half earlier than we’d planned, but I suspect we were walking faster due to the cold!)

We chose a “Royal Afternoon Tea” for £38.50/person, which included a personal pot of tea (we each tried something different), two towers of food with three pieces of everything (4 or 5 finger sandwiches, 2 kinds of scone, w/ clotted cream and jam), and a smaller assortment of sweets. It was impossible to get to the sweets, as we got so full with everything else! To top it off, we each received a glass of merlot rosé spumante!

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I felt so hyped up already on the several cups of tea today, I felt positively jittery, and kept giggling.

It was just fun – Just to sit and take in the moment – just knowing where we were and what we were allowing ourselves to do, the way we all kept laughing at the slightest provocation, high on caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and the dizzying experience of sitting down and enjoying a piece of the city that we had planned to accomplish!

After tea, I kept saying, “but seriously… what do we do next?” as we hadn’t really planned out the rest of our day. We did spend some time in the shop in Kensington Palace (my sister bought a commemorative Princess Di plate), and then walked into the Kensington neighborhood and spent way too much time at a bookstore! Or, rather, we spent the perfect amount of time at a bookstore!

I bought two books, Dan Jones’ The Plantagenets, an absolutely riveting account of the Plantagenet line of Kings, from William the Conqueror to Richard II, and Trevor Royle’s Civil War: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms, that involves the events surrounding Oliver Cromwell… to whom I hate to admit that I am very distantly related. Yikes.

We stopped at a grocery on the way back to our AirBnB stay to get some light nibbles for the evening, so that we could retire early and dine “in,” and just relax after our first day. Getting used to jet lag is pretty intense, and they say it takes a day for every time zone you passed through, just to get on an even keel. So, we’ll all be okay by the end of the week?

For now, I’ll bring this entry – and this day – to a close. Sam is working on his needlepoint, and my sister is looking up information on the Palace and the changing of the guard (see her comment above on the grey dress of the guards). It’s nice to just be here, and relax.

Relaxing “at home” is, I feel, just as important as going out and experience some of the nightlife – and sometimes even more important. We often say “We need to spend ALL day and ALL night out and get the most out of this or that place,” forgetting that to get the most of our somewhere, we need to make sure we’re getting the most out of ourselves. How much to we enjoy whirlwind vacations, when we don’t give ourselves time to breathe and just be?

A wonderful, quiet end to the day, looking forward to the next.

Cheers!

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