sunrise-from-downtown-san-anselmoNormally my yoga teacher, Robin, begins each class by asking us what aches and pains need attention. But New Year’s is different. The studio is suffused with candlelight, Indian music plays softly in the background, Robin lights sage and distributes soap to cleanse away the old year and welcome the new.

I went in particular need of this ritual today, feeling not hope but dread as we count down the days until Donald Trump assumes the presidency. I needed to find a way to be resolute for the hard work that lies ahead of protecting all that is under threat.

Robin helped me do so as she read the words, excerpted from The Wise Heart, of the Buddhist teacher and psychologist, Jack Kornfield:

It is the New Year. We all know about New Year’s resolutions and how short-lived they can be. Consider setting a long-term intention. A long-term intention is also called a vow or dedication. . . .

Setting a long-term intention is like setting the compass of our heart. No matter how rough the storms, how difficult the terrain, even if we have to backtrack around obstacles, our direction is clear. The fruits of dedication are visible in the best of human endeavors.

At times our dedications are practical: to learn to play the piano well, to build a thriving business, to plant and grow a beautiful garden. But there are overarching dedications as well. We might dedicate our life to prayer, commit ourselves to unwavering truthfulness or to work for world peace. These overarching dedications set the compass of our life, regardless of the outer conditions. They give us direction and meaning. . . .

As you begin the New Year, take some time to sit and quietly reflect. If today you were to set or reaffirm a long-term intention, a vow, your heart’s direction, what would it be? …. Once you have a sense of your long-term dedication, write it down. Then put it someplace where you keep special things. Now, as you go through the year, let it be your compass—your underlying direction—in spite of changing outer circumstances. Let it carry you.

Thomas Merton once advised a frustrated young activist, “Do not depend on the hope of results. . . . you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.” By aligning our dedication with our highest intention, we chart the course of our whole being. Then no matter how hard the voyage and how big the setbacks, we know where we are headed.

Happy New Year. May you be resolute in your intentions for the days and months ahead.


What intention would you like to set?


Buche de NO-el


Every year I have the intention of making a Buche de Noel for our Christmas Eve feast. And every year I revise my plans as the reality of unwrapped presents, unpolished silver, and undecked halls lays claim to my diminishing time and energy. My daughter tried a few years ago when she was organizing my recipes to curb my hoarding tendencies and delusions by saying, “Get real–when are you ever going to make Buche de Noel with Meringue Mushrooms?” But I stopped her from throwing away the yellowed clipping. A woman can dream, can’t she?

This year, I was determined that my dream would finally become reality. I had more time to prepare, and more help, what with my husband retired and both daughters back in the area. Plus I planned to outsource the meringue mushrooms to the fancy Italian bakery that churns out such delicacies in exchange for a small fortune.

Make that “churned.” Alas, Rulli’s no longer makes meringue mushrooms. No matter. Summoning my inner Martha Stewart, I rummaged through the cupboards for the pastry bags I knew I’d bought long ago, so I could concoct the confections myself.

Except that I had finally donated said pastry bags to the Salvation Army just weeks before (hoarders are correct in thinking that you will come to regret throwing away something you haven’t used in years). I also discovered that, reckless purging of unused household items notwithstanding, I was too late with my culinary dreams for meteorological reasons as well. After four years of drought, the weather forecast promised a week of rain. Too bad every meringue mushroom recipe began, “These should only be made on a dry day.”

But couldn’t I just put real mushrooms on the log? Or just extra “holly” fashioned from mint leaves and cranberries?” So I proceeded undaunted to the Buche proper. That’s when I discovered I would need a candy thermometer. Would a grocery store model suffice, or would I have to fight the crowds at the mall? Reading my ancient clipping and all the online recipes more carefully, I noted the several warnings about not tearing the sponge cake when getting it out of the pan, or rolling it up, or carefully spreading it with buttercream. “A lot of trouble,” wrote more than a few reviewers.

Meanwhile, visions of brownies with orange buttercream frosting and chocolate ganache, Russian teacakes, chocolate crumb bars, and almond filled shortbread danced in my head.

Who was I kidding? Ours was not a sponge cake family anyway, but one with a preference for mainlining dark chocolate and butter.

“We’re not having a Buche de Noel. Not now, not ever,” I announced. “I’m over it.”

Here’s what we had instead:

Liberated from a dream I now know will never be fulfilled, I’m looking ahead to the new year wondering what other fantasies I might jettison—and what other delicious possibilities will take their place.


Have you ever made a Buche de Noel? What dreams have you relinquished for the better?

Out with the Old, In with the . . . ?

January 2015 calendarBefore the fresh start to the New Year started going a bit stale, I got a jump on things during the lull between Christmas and January 1. With no more presents to wrap, holiday feasts to prepare, and most of my clients out of town, I had plenty of time. Most of it I spent hiking in the glorious crisp weather we had following the deluges that brought green to the parched hills and a brief fantasy that our drought might be over. (It isn’t, but what’s the point of New Year’s if not hoping for things that will soon fail to materialize?)

When I wasn’t hiking, I was unsubscribing. Not quite ready to tackle the actual clutter in closets and drawers I’d resolved to conquer, I could at least take a stab at virtual clutter. How satisfying to hunt down the microscopic click here from all the defeated congressional candidates we’d supported who were now sending holiday greetings while asking for more money. And kudos to the Sierra Club, which uses a big font for Unsubscribe—not so worthy of praise that it kept me from clicking, but still, I appreciate their thoughtfulness. The ever-persistent requests for $3,$5, $10, ANYTHING, PLEASE, WE’RE SO DESPERATE!!! from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, like the mosquito that whines in the night, were harder to get rid of, but for the moment there’s no more buzz in my ear. Sorry, Nancy Pelosi. Bernie Sanders I kept on board, just in case.

Since I felt so good about purging emails, I moved on to purging my stacks of unread New York Reviews collecting dust on my night stand.  Vowing to be ruthless, I decided beforehand to stop only for articles about “The Serial.” Since the New York Review is too high-falutin to traffic in the most popular podcast ever, I was able to make short work of my tall pile, though I did pause for a few essays, including Michael Chabon’s  short paean to Oakland, before remembering why I had never made it through Kavalier and Clay or The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. More successful at drawing me in was an article on the theory of broken windows policing—perfect for the New Year, since it’s another hopeful idea that hasn’t panned out too well. I passed on “What Happened to the Arab Spring?,” “Is There an Answer to Syria?,” and “Did Patrick Modiano Deserve It?” I guess I will never know, nor will I ever know who Patrick Modiano even is.

“Oh no!” my husband cried in dismay when I told him with relish of my purge, of my disloyalty to intellect and knowledge. But disregarding the opinion of others is one resolution that has gained traction over the years. My NYR-free nightstand has meant I am almost caught up on New Yorkers. And I finally began Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, which I have been magically thinking about reading for years.

Then there’s my favorite ritual of honoring the change in the calendar: packing away all the holiday ornaments and tossing the Christmas tree over the balcony.

Of course, now that I’ve unsubscribed from 2014, the question remains: What do I want to subscribe to in 2015?


How about you? What do you want to unsubscribe from and subscribe to this year?

Dismantling Christmas

Christmas ornaments in boxes

The holidays are over. How do you feel about that?


When the doorbell rings for our tree-trimming party every year, we turn up the volume on Handel’s Messiah, ladle out hot mulled cider, and put our guests to work hanging the ornaments.

I’m the only one invited to the untrimming party. Soon Joni Mitchell’s Blue is blasting from the speakers as I bring up boxes from the garage and get to work dismantling Christmas.

But I’m not blue at all. I love taking apart the wooden train set and stowing away the brightly painted nutcrackers. I scrape melted wax from the mantel and toss withered cedar boughs into the fireplace. Scummy vases once overflowing with holly and white orchids get a good scrubbing.

Then I untrim the tree, from hand-blown glass balls to hand-crafted macaroni angels. It’s like unearthing a time capsule. Here is the rocking horse era, followed by the rise of the snowmen. Family pets are honored by an abundance of dog and cat angels. Crazily misshapen Santas record the preschool years, while “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments round out the collection.

My favorite part is tossing the denuded tree off the balcony. Such a satisfying crash! Pine needles blanket the asphalt below, but I don’t sweep them up; the wind and rain will take care of the mess. Discarded Christmas TreeThis act of purposeful sloth thrills me as much as tearing out spent petunias from the garden at the end of the summer. Annuals and Christmas trees are supposed to wither and die, then get tossed. Unlike the perpetual nurturing demanded by children, pets,and perennials, limited care for ephemeral glory is the only requirement.

After all, it’s the dismantling that brings about the restored order and hope of the new year.