I watched an excellent TED talk this morning by Caroline Myss that I encourage you to check out. Here’s one of the gems that she offers, “Every single choice we make is either going to enhance the spirit or drain it. Every day, we’re either giving ourselves power or taking it away.”  And here’s another, “Never blame another person for your personal choices – you are still the one who must live out the consequences of your choices.”

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

“Under a sky the color of pea soup
she is looking at her work growing away there
actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans
as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.
If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water,
if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food,
if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,
if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and the bees,
then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.
Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.
You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.
More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.
Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.
Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.
Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.
Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.
Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.
Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us
interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.
Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:
reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,
for every gardener knows that after the digging, after
the planting, after the long season of tending and growth,
the harvest comes.”

by Marge Piercy, From Circles on the Water, Selected Poems of Marge Piercy

For Kevin, my husband, and for all of those who’ve felt trapped in a world that was too small for them.

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What do I see when I peer into the mirror? I see change. I see experience. I see the Byram eyes. I see the wrinkles around my mouth. Age spots. I see a neck that is crinkling and lines in my forehead. I don’t see ‘me.’ At least the person in the mirror doesn’t feel like me. She’s not the woman that I saw for most of my adult life. She’s not the pretty, soft eyed woman that could turn heads. The one who seldom wore makeup and simply trusted her natural beauty. In all honesty, while not quite a stranger, this creature who looks back at me and whom I recognize as me still seems somehow unfamiliar. I most definitely haven’t caught up to this face yet.

This woman in the mirror doesn’t appear as approachable as the one that I had the luxury of taking for granted for so long. She doesn’t look as soft or as gentle as the one who lives inside of me. This one looks like she’d probably suffer no fools and would tolerate no back talk.

I direct her to smile, and she immediately obliges. Still, no matter how hard we try, she and I, that smile doesn’t convince me that she’s, well, truly me. Could this be what experience and life wisdom does to a face? The question surprises me. After all, it’s been my lifelong mission – the acquisition of wisdom. Am I offering up a psychic trade? Beauty for wisdom? Or maybe I’m merely acknowledging a simple truth. You don’t get to approach wisdom without traveling a significant distance, suffering lots of fools (including your own foolhardiness), and encountering (and even embracing) so many (often painful) opportunities for growth. And all of those take a toll on a face.

What kind words can I say about this face before me? If I’m truthful, I need to admit that no such words come to mind at the moment. Clearly, I haven’t made peace with this face. I miss the old one. I really miss the old one. And yet, I prefer this version of the woman who claims the face in my mirror. She’s so much happier and, yes, wiser than the younger, prettier one.

And now I gaze at the woman looking calmly back at me, smile at her warmly, and send her love.

I’ve decided to write a quick list of what makes me happy. Here goes:

What makes me happy?

Clean cotton underwear

Clean sheets

A freshly cleaned house

The smell of coffee in the morning

The smell of lilacs in May

The smell of apple crisp baking

The wind calling the waves onto the shore  

Trees gently dancing in the breeze

That same breeze caressing my face on a hot day

The astounding colors of Autumn

A bright and brilliant starry night

A field of wildflowers

Grapenut hot fudge Sundays with extra nuts

The cry of a loon on Pocasset lake

Floating in Mill pond

A stroll through Detweiller’s or Trader Joes

A meditative walk at Thorncraig

Perched on the rocks at Reid

A good book

A delicious meal

An uplifting lecture   

My daughter’s face

My grandchildren’s delight

My son-in-law’s laughter

My husband’s embrace

A heart to heart talk

A visit with a dear friend

A snuggle with a happy dog

Communing with a butterfly, a bird, a tree

A full refrigerator

A full bookcase

A full moon

A full heart

What makes you happy?

What Gives Me Hope

Photographer Rosie Kerr

In preparing for “Meeting 2021 with Gratitude, Hope, and Intention,” a brief workshop that I’ll be offering tomorrow, I came across a poem that I’d written in the early spring of last year when we’d lost 46,000 to COVID-19.

Today it’s official, 400,000 have now lost their lives to COVID, and it strikes me that while there are over 350,000 reasons more to despair then when I wrote the poem, we also have so very many reasons to hope.

What Gives Me Hope

“The old Maple outside of my window has started to bud,

And the loons have begun their lonely calling.

There have been muskrats spotted coming out of their dens,

and the red-winged blackbirds have returned from southern skies.

Spring keeps her promise once again this year,

that what appears dormant or even dead  

can rise again.

And yet not one of the more than 46,000 Americans

lost to COVID in these last days of winter

will be returning.   

Still, while the death toll rises,

from Florida to Thailand

endangered turtles have built more nests

on the beach than in the past 20 years

and dolphins swim  

in the canals of Venice.

Italians serenade one another from their balconies

and stuffed animals, candles and images of rainbows

are placed in windows for the world’s children.

Hundreds of Thousands in Europe

form a volunteer army sworn to

soothe, feed and comfort both neighbors and strangers.

And though COVID-19 makes it harder to breathe,

satellite images reveal that folks

in Italy and India can breathe easier.

A Spanish Doctor pleads for letters

to encourage and soothe the ill

and the dying,  

And to his amazement,

tens of thousands of them come pouring in.   

Young children in cities who have never seen the night stars

gaze up in wonder at them now.

Coyotes wander down a Chicago street.

And on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day

a young Indian boy who has never ventured beyond his village

encounters the Himalayas, long obscured by smog, for the first time.

And so, while I sit in the dark holding despair in one hand,

as the days lengthen and the warmth returns,   

I cradle hope in the other.   

                  Tammie Fowles

I don’t believe that I’d be exaggerating when I claim that 2020 has been the most challenging year in the lives of so many of us around the world.  In the United States, tomorrow marks the beginning of a new year, one that is predicted to lead us initially into even greater peril – a “dark winter.”   This ominous warning stirs up more than a little unease inside of me, as I have never been particularly comfortable in the dark.  And so I gently remind myself that there is a significant amount of growth taking place in the darkness and that beginnings and endings are always intermingled. 

I’m meeting this new year with more than a little bit of anxiety as well as a determination to step over this annual threshold with more appreciation and intention than I have in years past.  Appreciation for so many of the gifts that have accompanied the anxiety, heartache, and restrictions of 2020, and intentions that will hopefully enable me to move through 2021 more consciously and with deeper gratitude.   

There will be no new year celebrations with friends and family tonight, and that’s not only the result of  the sane and responsible decision to socially distance, it’s also in response to my need to journey deeper into my life than ever before.  With well over 300,000 American lives lost to COVID (and climbing at a horrific rate), it feels only fitting that I hold my own more closely and live it more deliberately. 

I began my preparations for New Year’s Eve with a long and meditative walk along the Androscoggin river, a walk that Gunilla Norris might call a ‘soul- walk’ where we “bring along a good question, one that cannot be answered immediately.” 

Upon returning to my warm house, I played Windham Hill music, lit a candle and incense, and settled in with my journal, being mindful of another of Gunilla Norris’s assertions that “tucking a good question into your heart is like having a faithful friend.  It will keep asking you to grow and to discover what you somehow already know at a deeper level.  It will open you to yourself.”  And so, I asked myself the following questions: 

What was the overall theme of the past year?

What risks did I take?

What did I give to others?

What was I given?

What do I want to release?

What lessons did I learn?

What did I learn about myself?

What lessons do I most want to take into the new year?

I also created a vision board to capture my intentions for 2021, a visual map to hang on my wall to remind me of what truly matters,  and what I most want to cultivate and embrace in the coming year. 

Tonight I’ll spend some time with my journal once again, committing my intentions to paper, asking myself even more questions.

What will be my ‘word’ for the coming year?  A word that Christine Valters Paintner suggests might “nourish me, challenge me, a word that I can wrestle with and grow into.”  A word that can serve as a companion and guide during the months ahead. 

What’s something that I really want to do this coming year?

What’s one thing that I would really like to learn?

What’s one small act of self-care that I am ready to add to my daily life?

Who are the people that I truly want to spend more time with during this next year?

Who do I want to support more this coming year?

Who do I want to make sure I thank?

What is one thing that I want to add more of during the coming year?

What message does my wise self most want me to carry forward during the coming year?

Tomorrow I’ll be joining a group of incredibly special women on Zoom, women who’ve met each and every New Year’s day for thirty years.   While for the first time, we won’t be spending time in one another’s physical presence, we’ll still connect to each other in a beautiful and meaningful way and will carry significant messages for the New Year away with us when we part.

And finally, I’ll re-read one of my favorite poems written for a New Year by reverend Jan Richardson.

The Year as a House: A Blessing

Think of the year
as a house:
door flung wide
in welcome,
threshold swept
and waiting,
a graced spaciousness
opening and offering itself
to you.

Let it be blessed in every room.
Let it be hallowed
in every corner.
Let every nook
be a refuge
and every object
set to holy use.

Let it be here
that safety will rest.
Let it be here
that health will make its home.
Let it be here
that peace will show its face.
Let it be here
that love will find its way.

let the weary come
let the aching come
let the lost come
let the sorrowing come.

let them find their rest
and let them find their soothing
and let them find their place
and let them find their delight.

And may it be
in this house of a year
that the seasons will spin in beauty,
and may it be
in these turning days
that time will spiral with joy.
And may it be
that its rooms will fill
with ordinary grace
and light spill from
every window
to welcome
the stranger home.

Rev. Jan Richardson

Wishing you so very many blessings…

Tammie Fowles    

Oh, by the way, you are warmly invited to join me on January 6, 2021 from 6:30 pm eastern standard time until 8:00 pm to explore how you might best fully inhabit 2021 with gratitude, hope, and intention.  You can join us on zoom by clicking on the following link:

Meeting 2021 with Gratitude, Hope, and Intention

Or, copy and paste the following into your web browser:


“All who need comfort are welcome here…”

I have a sister tree, for over twenty years she has peered in at me as I sit at the desk in my office. Today she is providing a resting place for what appears to be a rather well-fed crow. I play “Jack’s Crows” by John Gorka while I study the crow, a symbol of change and transformation, and a fellow moon and sun worshiper. It seems to be calmly gazing back at me.

On the longest night and shortest day of the year, the winter solstice marks the official beginning of winter, although here in the north country of Maine, winter settled in weeks ago. And while I’ve never welcomed winter, the solstice represents a sweet sense of possibility and connection to me. I am imagining my Celtic ancestors celebrating the festival of “Alban Arthuan” which translates as “light of winter.” Each year on this day they would gather around a central fire and light a log from the previous year’s solstice celebration in order to conquer the darkness and request blessings for the coming year.

Tonight, I’ll keep company with the darkness for a bit before I light my own small fire to banish the dark. I’ll acknowledge these cold winter days and even more frigid nights as reminders to slow down, turn inward, and allow what is currently a mystery to incubate. A bit later today I’ll create a winter solstice soul collage, a mini vision board for the coming year and then I’ll bundle up and take a winter walk along the river. But for the next few moments, I’m going to commune with the crow outside my window. I’ve loved crows since I was a little girl who begged her mother to tell her once again about the pet crow that her great, great grandmother shared her home with. The devoted bird would proudly present her with shiny objects on an almost daily basis that it had scavenged and sometimes stolen from neighbors. When she died, the family legend held that crows gathered around the house cawing mournfully. Remarkably, when her daughter died just a short distance away from where I was staying in Connecticut, it was the clamor of a murder of crows that woke me up just before I received the call that she’d passed. Strange, I know, but absolutely true, I promise you.

The crow outside my window flew off and then returned during the short time that I’ve been writing this post. It’s been sweet company. What simple gifts – this day, that crow, the warmth of my house, the scent of sandalwood, the music playing in the background, and the promise of one more minute of sunlight each and every day until the summer solstice.

Following are a few resources for if you choose to mark the occasion:

Celebrate the Winter Solstice 20/20 courtesy of Plenty.

Solstice Ideas For Kids

Winter Solstice Journaling Prompts

Meditation for Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice Yoga

May you bask in the inner light that is contained within you always…

Many blessings,

Tammie Fowles

Gratitude and Delight

“Most of our day
is gift after gift…
if we wake up to it.”
Brother David Steindl-Rast

Tomorrow will be the strangest Thanksgiving that many of us have ever experienced. Some of us will mark the date for the very first time without family and friends at their tables and some will be grieving loved ones. A very good friend of mine will spend it entirely alone. If Thanksgiving meant huge amounts of food and a spirit of celebration to her, she might have been feeling sad and deprived as she anticipated her empty house tomorrow. But that’s not what Thanksgiving has meant to her for years. Instead, for the past decade she’s immersed herself in experiencing gratitude for much of this day. She goes for a long meditative walk along the river, taking note of the beauty that graces her along the way. She returns to her warm house, where delicious smells are wafting from her crockpot. She makes a sweet and aromatic cup of tea while soothing music plays in the background and writes in her journal. She recounts the many and varied experiences and people that have graced her life throughout the past year. She asks herself a number of questions including:

  1. What have I learned this past year that I’m grateful for?
  2. What acts of kindness have I been the recipient of this past year?
  3. What are the ways that I’ve been kind this year?
  4. What moments this past year give me the most pleasure to remember?
  5. How have I shown compassion to myself this past year?
  6. How have I shown compassion for others?
  7. What new delights have come into my life this year?
  8. What challenges have I overcome this year?
  9. What have I created this year?
  10. What modest gifts have I given myself this year?

At some point before the day is through she takes a scented and luxurious bath, thanking each part of her body for its faithful service during the year. And smelling wonderful, wrapped in a soft robe, curled up in her recliner beside her electric fireplace, she reads from a small selection of books that she keeps specifically for this day. Books like “Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy” by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, “Everyday Gratitude: Inspiration for Living Life as a Gift” by Kristi Nelson, and “Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness” by David Steindl-Rast. While she no longer learns anything new from these books, she is reminded of something wonderful, “something that feels fresh and resonate” she tells me.

One afternoon, Ross Gay, poet, gardener and author of “Unabashed Gratitude,” decided that he was going to write a short essay on something that he found delightful every day for a year. His efforts to do so grew into the bestselling book, “The Book of Delights.” In it he wrote, “It didn’t take me long to learn that the discipline or practice of writing these essays occasioned a kind of delight radar. Or maybe it was more like the development of a delight muscle. Something that implies that the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study.” And so, I too, have begun studying delight, and am happy to report that I’m fostering a delight radar of my own. Ross also advised that “The more stuff you love the happier you will be.” He wasn’t referring to loving material objects like cars, houses, and designer clothes. He was writing about the delight of “casting about in bed, drifting in and out of dream, as the warm hand of the sun falls through the blinds, moving ever so slowly across your body.” In an interview with Krista Tippet he shared that when he first began writing “The Book of Delights” he thought it was going to be hard to find something that was delightful every single day to write about, and was surprised to learn that it wasn’t difficult at all. And because I want to provide you with a few examples of what delights he simply happened across, I’m going to share one last quote from his book.

“This morning I was walking through Manhattan, head down, checking directions, when I looked up to see a fruit truck selling lychee, two pounds for five bucks, and I had ten bucks in my pocket! Then while buying my bus ticket for later that evening, I witnessed the Transbridge teller’s face soften after she had endured a couple unusually rude interactions in front of me as I kept eye contact and thanked her. She called me honey (first delight), baby (second delight), and smiled before I turned away. On my way to the Flatiron building there was an aisle of kousa dogwood—looking parched, but still, the prickly knobs of fruit nestled beneath the leaves. A cup of coffee from a well-shaped cup… Or the peanut butter salty enough. Or the light blue bike the man pushed through the lobby. Or the topknot of the barista. Or the sweet glance of the man in his stylish short pants (well-lotioned ankles gleaming beneath) walking two little dogs. Or the woman stepping in and out of her shoe, her foot curling up and stretching out and curling up.”

I was raised to be a glass is half empty kind of person. My eighty-eight year old father regularly begins a sentence with “the trouble is…” While embracing a gratitude practice has required a significant amount of discipline and commitment choosing to be mindful of the countless small blessings and simple pleasures that come my way hasn’t only enhanced my life, it’s transformed it. Feeling grateful on a daily basis has led to my being happier, more resilient, less stressed, and much more open.

I encourage you to notice what small things come your way tomorrow that you can be truly and sincerely grateful for and make a list of them at the end of the day.

Just a Few Resources

Gratitude: The Short Film by Louie Schwartzberg   

An Experiment in Gratitude

Ross Gay Reading from The Book of Delights

55 Gratitude Questions

How to Teach Children Gratitude

The Benefits of Gratitude for Stress Relief

How to Practice Gratitude This Thanksgiving

Mindfulness Benefits of Gratitude

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