Friday, December 26, 2008

Things to Bear in Mind As We Round 2009

I’ll be on away the first week of the New Year, taking a mini-vacation from blogging. So, I’m writing ahead some thoughts to bear in mind as we enter 2009.

January 1: This is the first day of my inner journey.

It’s a new day, and a new year. The whole world is making resolutions, thinking about a new start—a new slate.

I’m going to suggest that you reconsider.

Gregorian calendar has led us to live off-cycle with nature for nearly 500 years. The natural New Year begins at the Spring Equinox, on or about March 20. A diet, a new project, or new beginnings are much more on cycle with the seasons and rising energy in spring. They’re more likely to work for you then.

We, too, are part of nature. Our figurative seeds need to be planted at the time of year when they are most likely to germinate, flower in summer, and be ready in autumn for harvest.

Then what is this winter change of calendar all about, like the changing of the guard?

It’s another way of counting things, often more worldly things. Happiness comes from taking time to connect with All That Is and your innermost being. Here is where your spirit meets the Great Spirit and your Higher Power. The right thing to do in winter is to take a cue from our friends the bears. Hibernate. Take quiet time. Be introspective.

This year, put the inner journey on your calendar from Day 1. Give yourself one precious moment—one minute—to make your day with a short meditation. Here’s one I love that works any day of the year:

Take three deep, healing breaths—deep inhale, deep
exhale—three times, slowly. Ask Spirit—what do you want me to know—and what do you want me to do—today?

January 6: Breakfast at Epiphanies

In addition to celebrating the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem and the conclusion of the Christmas Season, epiphany is a word that means an aha or a flash of insight. Visit last year’s post,
Epiphanies, to learn more about this wonderful day and why the everyday usage of the word makes Epiphany the official holiday of this blog.

While I’m called Hot Flashbacks as the short form of this blog’s title in my e-mail address and on most social networking sites, the real emphasis in both my book and on my blog are the cool insights. I write about my insights all the time, but today, I thought I'd put the insights in your court. Let's do some exercises together to get some new aha’s. This is something we can do, like a guided meditation, as you read this post. Just pause to get some writing materials—and open a notebook or computer file. (Don’t forget to name and save the file right away to avoid accidentally losing it.) Alternatively, you could print out this post and do it later in a quiet moment.

Meditation: Imagine you are at the manger scene, coming to visit the baby Jesus. You have been following an awesome star for weeks. It is brighter, more spectacular, and shaped unlike anything you have ever seen. You know it’s a sign! You are one of the wise astrologers, an expert at deciphering larger meanings in life. This is just like a time machine, and you can create it however it would happen because you’re you—and only you have your unique gifts to give.

* What are your most precious gifts that you bring to the baby—and why?
* What will Jesus do with your gifts?
* What gifts do you get back?
* What gifts will you bring into 2009 because of this magical experience?

This is the first week of the last year in the first decade of the Third Millennium. Think of all that has happened since we worried about the Y2K crashes and food stashes on the cusp of the Year 2000! May you find some new tools and perspectives in this post to shine the star of your own inner light. The key is to slow down, rest, and visit the “manger within,” the rebirth of Love accessible inside us every day of our lives. Spirit can only speak to us when we stop talking--and listen.

A sweet, soft New Year with many moments of replenishing silence …

Monday, December 15, 2008

Vanity Fair

My parents nuzzled me gently, “Wake up, honey. Santa’s come!”

It was the most magical morning of the year. I didn’t have the slightest idea what Santa might have brought me. I was only five. I was so excited. I felt like someone plugged Christmas tree lights into a socket in my belly. I felt lit up in rainbow colors.

Padding down the familiar steps in my jammies with feet, I smelled the pine tree. A log burned on the fire in my mind, even if we didn’t have a fireplace! Then I saw it--the most spectacular thing near the Christmas tree that I had ever seen in my whole life. It was a toy vanity, my own little dressing table, just my size, with a real mirror, brushes, combs, and pretend make-up.

Santa had somehow succeeded in bringing me something so perfect; I hadn’t even thought of it myself. A vanity wasn’t in my letter to Santa that I dictated to Mom, and in that moment, I didn’t really care what was. Somewhere there was this Benevolent Being who knew my needs better than I did myself. What’s more, I sensed that he was intimately connected to my mother and father—that maybe he could only do this because they told him all about me.

The ultimate meaning of this indelible, magic moment only became clear once I was as grown-up as Mom and Dad. Christmas is about new beginnings—the rebirth of self in the light of love—the message Jesus first brought to earth on his birthday. Thinking back on that snowy morning in the suburbs of Chicago and to the first Christmas in Bethlehem, I now see a big parallel. Some of the greatest gifts we ever receive are not the ones we ask for but rather those that pleasantly surprise or hide in right in front of us, to be discovered under the tree of everyday life.

A deep one growing up, I found myself easily led to the experiences I needed for my own development, as long as I was open-minded. I didn’t always see, right away, the bigger picture of what was right for me. I’d think back at those times of the vanity—a big and obvious gift with my name on it. I was a glamour girl at heart. I loved to primp and preen. Our cat Suzy was probably the only one in our house any better at it. How did Santa know?

From this simple experience of letting love surprise me, I have since been open to many other surprises stranger than fiction, especially when taken together. I was led to find my birth families--we were separated for 38 years by adoption--and the man who was the lost love of my life and my most unhealed relationship. Once I had a decade to digest these life-changing, lost-and-found experiences, the lesson of the vanity continued to sink in a layer deeper: Be willing to look at yourself.

One day, I was sitting at my computer doing just that by scanning my feelings. I got the nagging suspicion I had someone else to find. I had a rather animated conversation with God. “What now? Who else could I possibly have to find?”

In that moment, I remembered a dramatic dream I had six months earlier about my first boyfriend. Luckily, I am an avid dream journal keeper, and I reread my night movie recap with new eyes. There was a clear message that I needed to touch base with what happened in my very first boy-girl relationship. We were only 12 to 13 in our two years together, but I knew it was more than puppy love. We only broke up because his mom was worried we were too young to be “so serious.” While I wasn’t expecting a romance after 35 years, I still missed his friendship and hoped I’d discover what it all meant by following this surely divine direction.

With the Internet by then connecting phone books and people worldwide, I popped Tim and his unusual surname into a search engine and found him living in Texas. I wrote him a long letter. He wrote back. We were stunned to see how our lives had gone down similar paths over the years—same kind of work, same church, major life moves during the same years. Surprisingly, he had never married. Before I knew it, we were traveling between cities, and he moved to mine less than six months later. We married the following year. Now together eleven years, we are still amazed by the subconscious connection we retained, our grammar school pictures he kept, and how like the vanity, our relationship was there for both of us, under life’s perennial Christmas tree—the perfect gift when the timing was right.

Too bad we call it a vanity with all the egotistical connotations of that word. In my life, the mirror is about having the bravery to see myself and trust in the lesson of that surprise gift by simply making the journey to self-reflection. It is not always an easy trip as we relive pain and others’ imperfections, not to mention our own. Eventually we learn the truth—we are love.

We are the light of the world, a mirror of the love, which is born and reborn annually in this amazing season of peace and hope. Every year we have a new chance to celebrate light. No matter how many visits Jesus or other enlightened ones make to this planet to remind us, we still carry the guiding light within us wherever we go.

It’s the same message in the Chanukah lanterns that refused to burn out; in the sun god, whose return early worshippers sought to ensure at Winter Solstice. It’s in the Muslim Hajj, the annual trip to Mecca all adults must make around this time of year at least once in their lifetime. The ritual promotes the bonds of spiritual family by showing everyone is equal in the eyes of Allah—All One Light.

Regardless of faith, the message is the same: the inner light of love joins us all like twinkling stars in the night sky.

That’s why they call it the Christmas spirit. You can only see it with the inner “I.”


Note: The original “Vanity Fair” appeared in
Unity Magazine in December 1988. This updated version celebrates the 20th anniversary of its publication.

Need more Holiday Hot Flashbacks? Visit these previous posts:
Not So Silent Night, Where Are My Christmas Cards?, and Turn on the Lights!

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Winter Solstice

  • I have been doing celebrations at the change of seasons since 1988—twenty years of honoring the cycles of life. Since I’m Santa Claus at heart, it’s no surprise how much I love winter and all the wonderful celebrations from various spiritual traditions that merge into a time of blessings and good humor.

What’s a Solstice?
The word solstice is derived from two Latin words: sol, which means sun and sistere, to stand still. Winter Solstice is one of the two days a year when the Sun stands still. At Summer Solstice, the sun reaches its highest elevation, on or about June 21, our longest day. At Winter Solstice around December 21, the sun is at its lowest height and we experience the longest night of the year. (These dates refer to the solstices in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, the two solstices are exchanged—winter in June, summer in December.) Implied in the solstice standstill is a moment of pause before a significant shift.

Why Celebrate?
Various cultures the world over have celebrated the Winter Solstice for many thousands of years. Winter Solstice observes the beginning of the solar year and rebirth of the sun. Many assume that while the exact date of Jesus’ birth is unknown, there is no accident that the ancient Christian Church selected December 25 to celebrate Christmas. (Based on the astronomical data of the time and reports of the Star of David, believed to be the conjunction or coming together of several planets in the sky, Jesus was much more likely born closer to spring, probably in March.) Winter Solstice was already a day of celebration. As Ellen Jackson conjectures in the children’s book,
The Winter Solstice, “It might as well be Christmas, too.” Winter Solstice is much more ancient. It is also known as Yule, and it has many things in common with Christmas, starting with the parallels in the homonyms Sun/Son and the warmth and salvation the birth and rebirth of Light brings to the world.

If Yule captivates you, give yourself a Google little Solstice and check out some of the amazing facts, prayers, meditations, and ceremonies connected with this ancient feast. I won’t focus on them here, because there is a true festival of information right at your fingertips.

I want to do three things in this post: introduce you to one of my favorite solstice myths and walk you through two things I do at every Winter Solstice ceremony that you can do to celebrate the Solstice at home.

Raven Festival
I say often how I find inspiration in many places, and one of my favorite winter myths is from the Alaskan
Inuit. I learned their winter solstice story in an episode of one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Northern Exposure. Picture Marilyn, Dr. Joel Fleischman’s secretary, telling this tale, then later in the episode, seeing the natives of Cicely, Alaska portray it as a play:

A long time ago, the raven looked down from the sky and saw that the people of the world were living in darkness. A ball of light was kept hidden by a selfish old chief. So the raven turned himself into a spruce needle and floated on the river where the chief's daughter came for water. She drank the spruce needle. She became pregnant and gave birth to a boy who was the raven in disguise. The baby cried and cried until the chief gave him the ball of light to play with. As soon as he had the light, the raven turned back into himself. The raven carried the light into the sky. From then on, we no longer lived in darkness.

What captivates me about spirituality is how every “flavor” of it repeats the same universal themes, especially a Light in the sky or from the sky that keeps us out of the dark and changes everything.

Burning the Old
I first did a burning bowl ceremony at my local
Unity Church. The idea is to write on slips of paper whatever you want to get rid of in your life, whether it’s twenty pounds, a bad attitude or your anger toward your ex-husband. The women in my Solsisters group write fast and furiously in this segment of our Winter Solstice get-together, often scribbling into overtime. I can’t help but be amused sometime at all the catharsis and wrists flying. They line up and burn the paper in the fire. Like confession is good for the soul, dumping old burdens works in this form, too.

Ceremony of Recognition
One year, I realized there was something missing—something we needed to do to complement Burning the Old. We needed to recognize the accomplishments we had each made in the past year. We burn what we want to let go … but how do we memorialize or make permanent what we want to keep?

In the Ceremony of Recognition, we take another few minutes to write down what we feel we accomplished, completed … anything we each feel we deserve to recognize or thank ourselves for. I think many of you will agree that women tend to do too little of this. So here’s a meditation you can use to do your own recognition ceremony. Have pen and paper ready when you’re set to go:


Take a three deep breaths and center yourself. Feel at one with Earth.

Now, look at yourself in the Year 2008.

-- What was your proudest accomplishment?
-- What baby steps did you take toward something new?
-- What giant leaps?
-- What did you do that you deserve credit for?
-- How did others recognize you?
-- How did others not recognize you in ways you wish they would have?
-- How were you disappointed? (It is important to recognize our disappointments.)
-- If 2008 had a name or a title phrase, what would it be?

Candlelighting Ceremony
Our Winter Solstice celebration always culminates with passing the light. We each light individual candles, igniting them from each other’s candle, passed down the line. Then we hold them up to show how our lights, merged, light up the entire room—just as the light of our spirits, when joined for good, light up the world.

I hope Winter Solstice is just the beginning of a blessed Yuletide season for you. This year’s theme at my house is the Magical Child Within. I like hosting Winter Solstice, so I can continue to soak up the warmth the Solsisters create that night through the New Year.

I want to end with two quotes, one that honors the eternal child within us and another that honors the sage stage of life represented by the baby boomers who read this blog:

“Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.” –Victor Hugo

“For the unlearned, old age is winter; for the learned it is the season of harvest.” --The Talmud


Notes: Visit these previous posts for more information on
Winter Solstice and celebrating the seasons. This Year’s Solstice Moment, when the Sun Enters Capricorn: Dec. 21, 4:04a PDT (adjust for your time zone in the US or World).

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Fairy Godmother

I have the gift for gifts. For the most part, I find unique and personal presents my friends and family love. I’m not sure if it’s a talent or just a combination of caring, listening and a dash of creativity. Whatever it is, it’s a skill I’m glad I to have developed. I think most anyone can learn to do it. It sure comes in handy this time of year!

While I wish I could be like the Fairy Godmother or genie in a bottle and grant my loved ones three wishes, the title of this post refers to a business I used to dream of—a boutique where I’d make this gift giving talent a paid gig as an owner/gift consultant. It didn’t take long for me to figure out; it wouldn’t be half as much fun without the personal connection to the recipient.

Some of these gifts I have given stand out in my memory.

· Joyceisms for Tim - When I first reconnected with my childhood sweetheart, now husband, I was influenced by a dream for the first Valentine’s Day gift I gave him in 36 years. I got one of those beautiful wooden boxes from
Things Remembered, and I had engraved on the gold plate, Joyceisms for Tim. In the dream—the one that ultimately nudged me to look him up— he was a relationship book author. Tim was coming to a signing in my city where I’d see him for the first time in all those years. In his book, he wrote about me with great warmth as his foundational relationship. When he talked about someone doing things in his or her own inimitable style, he said it was to “Joyce it” after me. “Joyceisms” were things I had said or done that he found endearing. My Joyceisms in the wooden box were little typewritten slips of paper, rolled and banded into mini-scrolls. Each one is a reason why I love him. Under Joyceisms for Tim, I had engraved Valentine’s Day 1997. Not only does he enjoy them any day; he especially enjoys dipping into the box on days I’m crabby, when he’s wondering if I even like him!

· The Boundless Birthday Wish Box – This gift consists of a colorful, square box, the kind that can be found at stores like
Michael’s or Beverly’s. Inside are a small spiral notebook and a birthday candle. (Michaels sells them in tins for travel, with Happy Birthday literally written on the lid, and they’re only $1.) Lastly, I made a card in MS Publisher on my computer that explains what the Boundless Birthday Wish Box is all about. Why celebrate your birthday a measly once a year? Especially when it’s all about the candle and the wish?

This box contains all the materials to make magical wishes any day of the year. Directions on the inside of the card advise: (1) Use the spiral notebook to write down and date your wish, also creating a wish diary; (2) Prop the wish diary open with the candle in front of it. (3) Say the wish to yourself—light the candle; (4) Blow it out after the universe has time to absorb your desire; and (5) Check back now and then to see how many wishes have come true. Note them on the back of each wish sheet. This one-of-a-kind blessing box costs only $3-5 to make and is priceless to the recipient.

· The Duct Tape Basket – One year, I was at a loss about what to get my brother-in-law who works hard as a handyman. I stumbled across a wallet on Amazon made out of duct tape material. A spark went off in my brain, and soon I was searching for books on uses for duct tape. I found one that had all kinds of artsy and practical ideas of what you can do with this versatile material. I added the book, the wallet (with a $10 Home Depot gift card in it), and a roll of duct tape to the basket. He was thrilled.

· Chicago Hot Dog “Picnic in Winter” Basket – Tim and I come from Chicago, and there’s no dog like a Chicago dog. His sister and her husband met there long before we all moved to California. My sis-in-law had just talked recently about a hot dog stand she missed from the old days. This inspired me. I looked up the fixin’s and recipe for a Chicago dog. I found information online about the hot dog stand and its history, along with the general history of Chicago-style hot dogs. Along with the recipe card and the hot dog history in a presentation folder, I added everything but the dogs and buns—bottled green peppers, celery salt, relish, and an onion—and a grocery store gift card to buy the rest of the ingredients fresh. My special card suggested an indoor wienie roast in the dead of winter to remind them of the warmth of summer days when we usually eat hot dogs. How much fun would that quick dinner be in front of a roaring fire? I guess you could even roast the dogs over it.

I love gift baskets, as you can tell, and I’ve done a lot of different themes, including one called “Our Favorite Things,” spinning on
the tune from A Sound of Music. It contained all kinds of products and foods we particularly enjoy or find helpful like a jar opener and Goo Gone, that stuff that gets off those sticky price tags, or Downy Wrinkle Releaser, my favorite alternative to ironing. I always create a card that explains how it all fits together.

This year, I’m giving my sister- and brother-in-law a gift cluster I call Ménage à Tweet. (Nope, it has nothing to do with Twitter.) I found this wonderful bird feeder—a metal squirrel with bright orange leaves on the umbrella-style top. It caught my attention because my sister-in-law and I share a love for autumn. I’m including a package of gourmet birdseed. Finally, there’s a bottle of one of my favorite blend wines, Ménage à Trois by
Folie à Deux Winery. The card will explain that this is winter entertainment. You feed the birds that didn’t fly south for winter; then, you open up the wine, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show as their fine feathered visitors go nuts at this high-end bird diner. Husband, wife, and the birds—a Ménage à Tweet.

Since I have no real time to be your Fairy Godmother, feel free to use any and all of these ideas. However, I am going to offer a special holiday gift to my readers. If you’re stumped for a gift idea on your shopping list, Comment and tell me something about the person. I’ll give my wand a quick flick and offer you some suggestions! I’d also like to hear about unique gifts you have given or received.

In my next life, I’m coming back as Santa Claus. Ask me if I like Christmas …

Photo: I always knew that this Christmas ornament I have had for eons would be the model for the logo of The Fairy Godmother boutique. The motto: Your wish is my command. Here she is on a wand too big for her wings, britches—whatever!