Winter Retreat by the Ocean

View from my room

This month I was able to spend the weekend at a private winter retreat at Mercy by the Sea  in Madison, Connecticut. I did this last winter and blogged about my wonderful experience here. Along with my suitcase of clothes, I brought journals, writing workbooks, my prayer shawl knitting project, and books to read, but I tried to clear myself of any expectations so that I would be open to what might present itself. Imagine my awe when I found my room and this beautiful view of the grounds and ocean just outside my window. It was breathtaking!

After briefly walking the grounds in the long, cold shadows of late afternoon light and trying to settle into my peaceful surroundings, I enjoyed a communal meal with new friends in the dining hall. Everyone was so gracious and looked forward to the renewal and hope that a winter retreat in a special place like this can bring.

Sunrise

Waking up early Saturday morning, I got a mug of hot coffee from the dining hall and quietly made my way to the Seaside Room in the silent meditation area. I watched the sky slowly change colors and then the sun crested the horizon. It was glorious! All of my problems seemed unimportant as I witnessed the beauty of God’s creation. The ocean gently rolling over the rocks and beach as the tide comes in and the shore birds flying above the water speak to the ever flowing nature of the serenity of this place. It is as if time stood still for just a moment, letting in hope, faith, and opportunity for renewal.

Ocean sparkles

After breakfast, I went outside and watched the tide come in as I let the feeling of the ocean envelope me. I have gone through a lot of changes since the retreat one year ago. At this point in time, I am trying to figure out my life… where I’ve been, where I’m at now, and where I am going. There has been a coming to terms with things and an acceptance that I have not felt before. There has been a lot of growth, as well as a lot of questioning and discernment. There has been a renewal of faith, of spirituality, and belief in God. There has been hope, even though at times I felt like giving up. There has been a whole lot of seeking and soul searching.

Beach high tide

Sometimes the ocean is loud and pounds the shore, as it did when I walked the beach that morning, and as I was falling asleep the night before. Other times the ocean is quiet and there are barely any waves. The ocean sounds so different at high tide than at low tide. There is a crescendo of sound that builds up as the water approaches high tide and the waves come crashing in. And there is a gentle rolling feeling as low tide comes near. The sounds the ocean makes are rhythmic and calming, leaving footprints in your heart and soul. Time seems suspended in air.

Beach seagrass

Like last year, I did a lot of writing this weekend. But I did not fill as many pages with writing this year, 22 pages instead of 30 pages. It was sunny out and not snowing this year, so I was able to spend more time outdoors. It was truly wonderful to spend so much time outside in February in New England. I felt immersed in the natural world and it was very restorative. At home I try to walk by the lake several times a week even in cold weather, as long as the sun is out, and that has such a calming effect on me.

Rocky shore

It was so moving to be a part of this community that came together here for a weekend of individual prayer, reflection, and contemplation. On Sunday morning, everyone said goodbye and went back home to their own lives, hopefully bringing with them a piece of what we all shared this weekend.

Cairns

Christmas Gratitude

Baby first Christmas

Christmas this year is a time for reflection and gratitude. This was my little grandson’s first Christmas and it is a joy to see Christmas through the eyes of a child. We don’t post photos of my grandson anywhere online for privacy reasons, due to the intrusive nature of advanced facial recognition technology. I am happy to post this lovely Christmas ornament made by my sweet daughter-in-law with my grandson’s precious little handprint. The gratitude I feel for the love in my family is overflowing. It’s not just Christmas gratitude, it’s year round gratitude.

Christmas tree and Advent calendar

My small artificial Christmas tree is perfect for my small condo. The tree is about four feet tall and very narrow, but it holds all of my special Christmas ornaments. I purchased the tree on a whim when I had to work all day Christmas Eve one year. Driving from New Haven to Newington after work, I got the tree on clearance at my happy place, JoAnn Fabrics. There are a lot of angel ornaments on my tree, collected over the years. I like angels very much and everyone should have an angel to watch over them and keep them safe from harm. Currently I am working on a small appliqué quilt that has angels, moons, and stars. It is all handwork and a joy to work on. When the blocks are finished I will design a setting and sew them together by machine.

Christmas cactus

My Christmas cactus bloomed in November and the blooms lasted almost until Christmas. My aunt in New Hampshire has a huge Christmas cactus that is over 50 years old. They can live a very long life and are such a beautiful plant. They need the shorter days of fall, indirect sunlight, and a cool spot in the house to bloom. They only need to be watered when the soil becomes very dry. My Christmas cactus is only a few years old and I repotted it this past summer after it had been pot bound for some time. I found it at Lagana Florists in Middletown when I was waiting for Pamela Roose Specialty Hand Knits & Yarn to open, as I had arrived at the yarn shop too early. It was an unexpected treat to be surrounded by such beautiful flowers and plants and the florist was so gracious. Lagana’s has recently moved to a new location and I need to go check it out.

Trail of hope ornaments

This is the Trail of Hope in East Hampton and it is on the east end of Lake Road, not far from Lake  Pocotopaug. Every year in December, the landowners decorate the trees in the woods with thousands of glass ornaments that shimmer in the light, even on overcast days such as this one. It is a special and magical sight to behold, and I often go out of my way and head in the opposite direction just to drive by the acres of Christmas ornaments in the woods. When the wind blows through the trees, the ornaments gently move and sway, bringing the scene to life. It takes my breath away and makes me so grateful to live in this small town where people do such special things that touch other people’s lives.

Prayer and Reflection Retreat

Mercy by the Sea stained glass

At the beginning of March, I attended a self guided prayer and reflection retreat weekend at Mercy by the Sea in Madison, Connecticut. I arrived at Mercy before a snowstorm that came late Friday night into Saturday, and I left Sunday morning before another snowstorm came Sunday night. The snow made the retreat setting extremely peaceful and invited introspection. I visited the chapel for prayer several times during the course of my stay there and was able to talk with God and feel a connection again. I lost my faith and spirituality a year and a half ago while dealing with serious illness. My faith and spirituality has slowly come back to me over time.

Mercy by the Sea

The weekend was transformational for me. The other retreat participants were each there for their own reasons, and that formed a common bond, a community. We shared meals in the dining hall and light conversation. I had a lovely room overlooking the courtyard and the sea beyond. I walked the grounds Friday before dinner, visiting the ocean and the labyrinth. It was cold outside and the air felt like snow.

Mercy by the Sea snow

In the morning I woke up to a blanket of snow outside. It was lovely watching the snow gently falling from vantage points inside the Seaside Room and the Grant Living Room. I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote. I had brought my journal along with my year end Unraveling Your Year 2019 workbook from  Susannah Conway. I had started the year end journaling in December but only made it partway through. So I set an intention  to complete the journaling in the workbook over the weekend. Between my journal and the year end workbook, I wrote 30 pages in all. I have never written so much in my entire life. It was very freeing and brought great focus and awareness – it was like getting to know myself all over again. I went home with a feeling of peace and serenity.

Crossroads quilt

This quilt hangs in my art/quilt studio and it is called Crossroads. I made it quite a while ago when I as at a crossroads in my life (one of many). I am facing some new challenges and decisions right now, actually quite a few challenges, some big and some small. My direction is clear on some of these challenges and not so clear on others. My health and self care is a huge priority and I need to consider that in everything  I do. Perhaps the biggest question for me is how do I want to spend my time and how do I balance things out? Not just creatively, but in my whole life. I want to art journal. I want to make quilts. I want to be in local groups. I want to be in online groups. I want to write. I want time for family and friends. I want to spend time at the lake (when it warms up). I can’t work a full time job forever and stay balanced and I need to face up to that. It takes time to adjust and to change your compass point.