Michaelmas Is Nigh

 (Art by Bernhard Hoetger, 1874–1949; photo by Jürgen Howaldt )

Michaelmas Song

Wind in the trees blows for summer’s last song,
Threshing the boughs, pelting the leaves along.
Sleepers awake, hark to the word of the wind!
Breaking old summer’s dull drowsy spell,
Show us the way,  go with thy spear before,
Forge us the future, thou Michael.

Frost of the ground at misty dawning shines bright,
Cracking the clod, lining the twigs with white.
Sleepers awake, hark to the word of the frost!
Breaking old summer’s dully drowsy spell,
Show us the way,  go with thy spear before,
Forge us the future, thou Michael.

Myriad stars shine in the frosty clear skies,
Outshining all, the meteor earthward flies,
Sleepers awake, hark to the word of the star!
Breaking old summer’s dully drowsy spell,
Show us the way,  go with thy spear before,
Forge us the future, thou Michael.

With hearts aglow men mark the changing fresh world,
When from the stars Michael’s spear is hurled.
Sleepers awake, hark to the word of the world!
Breaking old summer’s dully drowsy spell,
Show us the way,  go with thy spear before,
Forge us the future, thou Michael.

—A. C. Harwood

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(Drawing by Lucas, age 10)

It’s that time of year again. Michaelmas time. Time for me to reflect a little on courage, on challenges, and on how we face them as the days grow shorter and the nights cooler. This is an election year, so a fair amount of courage is required to keep our heads up, our hearts strong, and our minds clear while we try to sort truth from fiction, lies, and mendacity.

I’ve lived in this Michaelmas mindset for several months now because my friend Eileen and I were writing a book on the topic. I thought I might have said everything I have to say on the subject of Michaelmas. I’ve flirted with metaphorical dragons while finding ways to creatively express the mood of the season and how to explore it with children. In the back of my mind, my real dragons have waited. In the forefront of my mind, they have called me out on the carpet more times than I care to admit.

If they can call me out, then it’s only fair that I call them out. Naming them has always been therapeutic for me.

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Fear

“Who do you think you are?” Do you ever hear this in your mind late at night when the rest of your family is asleep? I do. Another thing I hear is “It will never work,” and “Everyone else does this better than you.” Honestly, I think we face our fears every single day, not just at Michaelmas time. We face fear of rejection, scorn, and exclusion whenever we live out loud and express ourselves, when we make art, when we love whom we love, when we parent in a way that is contrary to how we were raised, when we bravely head for a steady job we dislike, or when we sit down to figure out a problem. We face our fears when we say, “No, no farther,” or when we say, “Yes, you can count on me to help.” We stand up to fear especially when we speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. That’s when we experience the courage of the Archangel Michael.

Boredom

This dragon interests me a lot because I ask myself, “How can you possibly be bored?” The truth is I’m not bored, but I do crave newness. I crave novel experiences and new projects, new people and new adventures. One of the benefits of the life I’ve created with my family is that it is comfortable and safe, happy and healthy. We have a good rhythm for our family and our children thrive in it. The Boredom Dragon would sit there and tell me I should be doing something else, presumably something more exciting. I have no desire to trade my happy life for anything, so I beat back this pest with small personal and professional challenges whenever I can, like trying to learn something altogether new or adopting a new hobby or making a new friend.

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Ill Health

I’ve watched from various distances while several people I care about encountered some pretty serious ill health this year. Some are elders and their problems aren’t unexpected. Some are people in their prime of life, and I’m left thinking this is just not fair. There is a strange negotiation that goes into encountering illness and injury, a series of confrontations and compromises. I stand and witness without judgement. I admire the way they have faced their problems head-on, learning all the information they can, taking steps to mitigate symptoms and care for themselves and the people they love. I’ve watched as they reprioritize and embrace their new paradigms, while ditching those old patterns that no longer apply. It’s another kind of growing up.

Wanting and Lack

This dragon is a familiar companion and a master deceiver. It tells a tale that worms into the heart and I must ferret it out. We confront a significant challenge in our choice of private school education, and this dragon wakes up and rumbles at us at least once a month at bill-paying time. However, I have only to look around me and see abundant evidence that I am surrounded by love and beauty, friendship and plenty, opportunity and understanding. My life is blessed in a million ways and I know it, and so this dragon is ridiculous in its falsehood. The Lack Dragon is a seducer and a liar. There is enough. I am enough. I do not want for anything. And everything will be OK.

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Loss and Death

This is almost too painful to write, but I and my friends and family have experienced all too much of this dragon this year. Our tribe lost two beloved souls this year, one elder and one tiny child. My mother lost her best friend. None of these stories are my stories and I don’t feel I have the right to tell them. I can only say I’ve cried many tears of heartbreak and loss. Many tears of helplessness and sympathy and wishing things were different. I’ve also watched our community gather to witness, to greet reality in the light of day, and to say farewell. We’ve sent our love into the ether and into each other’s hearts. We put one foot in front of the other, day after day, and we do not forget.

I have referred to this year as the Year of the Big and Scary—and for good reasons. Ultimately, all I can conclude from this year’s many lessons is that courage is born out of love. Darkness is best faced with our beloveds at our sides and at our backs. And, as I wrote in our book,

“Michaelmas is also a community celebration, in which we are reminded that we succeed when we work together to overcome hunger, want, and disease, and the less visible dangers of loneliness and fear. It is our chance to come together on the good, green earth and declare to one another: We are alive. We are together. Together we are strong. Together and with pure hearts, we can overcome.

 

Care

Morning Light at Grandma's House

I spent some time caring for my grandmother today. It’s a long story, but her usual caregivers were temporarily unavailable and my dad asked me to step in and help. At first I was annoyed. I’m very busy with work right now and I’m facing multiple deadlines. I agreed to do it because—obviously—it is the right thing to do; nevertheless I was feeling put out. Even though I am never asked to do this.

Now I am so glad I did.

Beloved Grandma

This is my beautiful grandmother. She is 93 years old. I love her very much.

It is hard to see people you love changing as they age, changing noticeably each time you see them. I don’t like it. I am inexperienced when it comes to being around and caring for elderly people. I was scared to be in charge of her well-being.

It was fine. It was easy, thanks to my dad and others who have this territory all mapped out already. I just had to follow some simple instructions and all the difficult stuff was done when I arrived. I am grateful that grandma took her medications so easily at my request—that was part of what I was worried about.

I wandered a little while I was there, trying hard to notice things about her—about her home, about her likes and loves, her collections, her style.

Treasures

There are careful touches in every nook, beloved items placed with intention.

Colorful Glass

The marks of her hand and her sister’s hand, Nana, with whom my grandmother lived for most of her life, are everywhere.

Just So

Photographs of family members cover walls, bookshelves, and tabletops. Paintings and prints, delicate wallpaper, rich drapes decorate the space. Beautiful light is everywhere. Everything is just so.

But that’s not all I noticed, while I was there. It’s not only my grandmother’s careful hand I see. I see my father’s, my uncle’s, and my aunt’s—they are part of her world every day, ensuring that she is OK, makes it to doctor appointments, and has company. They stay with her when her caregivers are away, do the shopping, and much more.

I see it in a hundred gifts given with love over the years.

Carnations at Grandma's House

The evidence of caring is all around, especially in the fact that my grandmother is still living in her home, despite her age and infirmities. It’s in the American flag that’s hanging on the house, just as it has done every July of my grandmother’s life. Someone put it there for her. It’s in the tiny china dish, fashioned in the shape of a teapot and painted with flowers, that holds her daily medications for after breakfast. It’s in the coffee, water, and orange juice that are served to her in the morning, and in the fact that they let her put syrup on her frosted danish. It’s in the special, mechanical chair that she sits in to watch her game shows. It’s in the living orchids and other houseplants that someone carefully waters. Fresh carnations sit in a vase on the dining table. Her pale yellow socks matched her pale yellow outfit, even though she cannot dress herself. I see it in her hairdo, which is set faithfully every week, and in her manicured nails.

None of this is easy, this maintenance that is done to keep her well and comfortable. I am full of wonder and gratitude, and not a little sadness.

Life is full of mighty lessons these days. I am trying hard to learn them.

Letting Go: A Life Skill

Butterfly Garden Habitat

“We need in love to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily–we do not need to learn it.” —Rainer Maria Rilke

Sometimes letting go isn’t easy, especially if what you need to let go of is something you treasure. In many ways, parenting is one long process of letting go; every day we parents and caregivers are challenged to give a little more space, a little more trust, and a little more independence to these growing beings in our care.

Letting go of hurts, mistakes, expectations, and even our loved ones is, at times, part of life, and finding healthy ways to do so without struggle or stubborn holding on is a valuable life skill. Letting go can make way for new ideas, new opportunities, and new knowledge. It‘s also an excellent reminder to live in the present moment, and not in the past.

It‘s a good idea to find opportunities for your children to practice this skill of letting go. Here are two simple ideas that are perfect for children in the summertime.

Rescued Ladybugs

Buy a container of ladybugs at your local nursery. Watch them, hold them, admire them, perhaps compare their colors and count their spots. Wait until evening, when the beetles are less likely to fly away, and then release them in your garden. Gently sprinkle them onto your roses and other plants that attract aphids. The ladybugs will be your garden protectors, and your children will be doing the right thing by letting them go free.

Order a butterfly garden and live painted lady caterpillars from a company such as Insect Lore. When your caterpillars arrive, watch them eat, grow, and transform into chrysalides. Then carefully place them into your mesh butterfly garden. After approximately seven to ten days, your painted lady butterflies will emerge. You can keep them for a while; they will eat sugar water or fruit juice in captivity. After a few days or a week pass, release the butterflies into the wild. Keep your eyes open because they move surprisingly fast! Whenever you see butterflies fluttering among the summer flowers, you’ll fondly remember the ones you set free.

Fly away, butterfly! Fly up so high. Fly away, butterfly, fly up in the sky!

Still Burning

May Crown and Prayer Candle

Candle of love and hope for my friends.

Painting Is Wonderful

Magnolias Oil Painting

It’s been a little while since I posted about my experience of learning to paint with oils. I’m finishing my third set of studio classes now.

This is my biggest painting yet—a 16 by 20 canvas. I used my photograph of my neighbor’s magnolia blossoms as a reference. I am very pleased with how this came out. I tried to paint quickly and with emotion. I allowed the underpainting to show through for the first time in the hopes that it would lend a dreamy kind of atmosphere. I see a couple of things about this that I would like to fix, but I think it’s basically done. I think I’ll even sign this one.

Magnolia Painting in Studio

I’m really enjoying my teacher, Randy Blasquez, and my classmates. I’ve now been coming to class long enough that I’m getting to know other painters and see and learn from their processes, too. Everyone is different. Everyone struggles with different aspects of painting. Each subject we attempt has its own challenges. I love tackling new things, and I feel I’m learning with each painting I do.

Painting at Home

I’ve done a very little bit of work at home, which was very fun. My new easel, whom I named Anaïs, and my new “French Mistress,” whom I named Genevieve, are working out really well. Genevieve is a wood palette box that holds my glass palette and keeps paint from getting everywhere. These gizmos are beautiful and functional. I waited about six months before investing in these items. I think I had to prove to myself that this painting this wasn’t a fly-by-night whim.

Damaged Painting

This is a shot of my slightly damaged painting I did in class back in February. Some “helper” seems to have dragged a little finger from the dark center of the poppy down into the pot and the blue of the tablecloth. I’ve managed to take out most of the line with some very careful scrubbing, but I still have to repaint part of the poppy. I like this painting, too. I like the shadows especially. While working on this painting I was consciously trying to use more paint. That probably sounds funny, but I have a tendency to be conservative—oils are pricey. I wanted this painting to have more flow and texture.

Last Friday I got to go to a plein air workshop. It was my first experience painting landscapes outside. I’ll write about that another time. For now, I’ll say it was amazing and fun—and full of new challenges.

 

Michaelmas Time

Sixth Grade Dragon

Dragon and Archangel Michael from 2009

It’s Michaelmas time again, one of my favorite times of year. Over the years, as I’ve engaged in our Waldorf school’s Michaelmas Festival, I’ve come to see Michaelmas as a truly enlivening and uplifting event that reaffirms my faith in humanity’s goodness. Michaelmas happens each year at a time when I find myself noticing nature turning toward dryness and decay. I notice all the upheaval in the world, both personal and global. It’s not that such things don’t happen at other times of the year, but something about this season makes them more poignant for me. As the nights grow longer and the year begins to die, my own dragons surface and start making noise that cannot be ignored. And so, I pay them some attention.

We all have faced some dragons recently! Ian faced the Tough Mudder and emerged victorious, having worked so hard to prepare both physically and mentally. Asher has faced down his own fears about being in a new school. Lucas is wrestling with new expectations on him now that he is older, and finding that sometimes he wants to quit piano and sometimes he doesn’t—for playing requires discipline and fortitude and stick-to-itiveness. My own issues revolve around some beloved family members, and their ill health is weighing on my mind. (Oh, and fear of failure. And fear of success. Money woes. All those old standbys are still present, too.)

Michaelmas Nature Table

Our Michaelmas nature table display, with handmade figures

For me, the Michaelmas festival reminds us that we all have a part of us that lurks in the murk, with our dragons—fears, angers, resentments, jealousies, laziness, etc.—as bitter (and sometimes comfortable) companions. Our societal dragons are fear, hate, bigotry, greed, and isolationism. And yet despite our foibles and in the middle of our challenges, we keep striving, working for the good. We shine our lights into our days and nights and work to make the world brighter in small ways and in big.

With Michaelmas, we have our metaphor of plucking up our courage and going out on the field to meet our dragons head-on. Though we are frightened, we call them by name and take a good hard look at them in the sunlight. And in doing so, we shrink them and corral them, tame them or banish them, or simply bring them under our better control. When we face reality with honesty and bravery, we are imbued with light and can use this strength daily in our interactions will all people.

But let me be clear, dragons are mighty teachers, too. Our dark sides can be a source of inspiration, power, and mystery. The fertile soil of our inner darkness must be balanced and harnessed by the light in us, that we may live healthy, happy lives and do soulful work.

Asher is experiencing in Kindergarten the story of a simple boy, George, who acts out of bravery and righteousness to help others and in doing so overcomes fear and darkness. He retold the story to me yesterday with great gusto. The older Kindergarten children are making their wooden swords of righteousness. They are dyeing silken capes with golden light. They are preparing themselves to be bold and good in the world.

Lucas's Sculpture of St. Michael Battling the Dragon within a Ring of Fire

Lucas’s 2010 modeling clay scene of Archangel Michael battling the dragon within a ring of fire

Lucas’s class, the fourth grade, are making shields. In the Michaelmas festival this Friday, they will protect the villagers when the dragon arrives. Their great courage will shield the innocent from harm.

So, if you’re curious about this festival, here are some other places you can look. I hope that it might inspire you as it has inspired me.

My post about Honoring Our Dragons.

A Michaelmas craft the boys and I enjoyed last year.

Last year’s 2010 School Michaelmas Festival. And here’s 2009’s festival post.

Last year’s family Michaelmas celebration at home. How might you make a dragon dinner?

Individual Dragons

Third graders making dragon breads at Sacramento Waldorf School

Here are some other wonderful Michaelmas links for you to explore:

Read this one. I promise you won’t be disappointed: Barbara Klocek’s article about Michaelmas in the Kindergarten. (Mrs. Klocek was one of Lucas’s Kindergarten teachers.)

Lots of info about Saint Michael and Michaelmas here.

Carrie’s 2009 post about Michaelmas on the Parenting Passageway is here.

A great post about building a dragon with a sixth grade Waldorf class is found on The Waldorf Way blog.

A new article about Michaelmas “The Festival of Human Becoming” by Danielle Epifani on The Wonder of Childhood online magazine.

Mamaroots has a tutorial for making stick dragons

The meaning of the Michaelmas festival by Rudolf Steiner is here.

Rocking Granola has a great list of more resources here.

Dragon Day

Asher, Kindergartner

Asher, Kindergartener (Orientation Day)

Asher has started Kindergarten! He’s been very excited about this all summer. We attended an end-of-summer work party one morning and an orientation morning a few days before the official start of school. Here he is on that September 2 morning.

Kindergarten Orientation Day

Pretty proud and hopeful, right?

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The first day for Asher to join the Red Rose Kindergarten at Sacramento Waldorf School was last Wednesday. He happily posed for pics and marched headlong into the yard to play with friends, many of whom were in preschool with him last year.

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He likes the swings and to run around in the circle bordered by the straw bales. He’s eating all his lunches up nicely.

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This first week has been a little hard, however. He’s still adjusting to all the newness—new place, new teachers, new classmates, new rhythms. My little guy who is normally so bold and jolly has been crawling into my bed before dawn, crying and saying he doesn’t want to go to school. Nothing has happened or gone wrong. It’s just a lot of change all at once. I think things are gradually improving as the days add up. I have picked him up a few days “early,” meaning after lunch at the end of the Kindergarten morning, instead of after nap group. His problem may be merely that he doesn’t want to nap.

I know in another week his anxiety will be gone and he’ll be making lots of friends. I know that he’s brave and will soon be a ringleader. But right at this moment, my sunshine boy is working through it. It is both hard and exhilarating to watch him tentatively taking these steps into the world.

Fitness and Me

I should be doing a bunch of other things right now. Instead I’m going to talk in this space about fitness, my own fitness, in particular.

I am having more success this year than possibly ever before. Which is why hurting my back last weekend has really thrown me off. See, I’m not not exercising this week because I don’t want to. Well, OK. I’ll turn that around: I’m not exercising this week not because I’m too lazy, or my kid is sick, or there’s no time, but because I can’t. Because I should heal from whatever the hell I did to myself. Because I don’t want to make this mild injury worse.

And, well, this not exercising is kind of driving me nuts. I can actually, honestly say it: I’m missing my exercise this week. I’m feeling really hampered by this mild back pain, this slight impediment to my normal, everyday movements. And I don’t like it. I don’t want to rest.

Those who know me will realize how big that is.

Ian deserves all the credit, except for the fact that those calories I’ve been burning regularly since January 17, 2011 were my calories and I burned them. But Ian helped an awful lot—by coaxing, encouraging, cajoling, rousting, pushing, and loving me into our shared exercise and my fitter, stronger body.

It’s worked. I’ve accomplished 121 workouts since we started seven months ago. I won’t go into all the gritty details. The truth is I hated many of them, especially those that began and ended before 7 a.m. But what I like is the accumulation of them. The collection of workouts. The notches on my bad-ass belt. The sparkly jewels on my custom rainbow-and-unicorn reinforcement star chart that Ian made for me.

My relationship to exercise in general has always been wobbly—often emergency-room wobbly. Exercise has always meant to me asthma, asthma, and more asthma, running around toxic school fields of allergic green death. There have been some small exceptions in my adult life, since asthma maintenance drugs have improved immeasurably over those I took as a child. The crux there is they were always brief exceptions, short forays into the realm of normal people. In high school I enjoyed dancing in musical theater productions quite a lot. In college I walked all over the hills of Santa Barbara, Berkeley, and Saint Andrews in Scotland. During one of my office jobs, Ian and I managed to drag ourselves to the gym with good regularity.

Something always came up, though. Asthma. A massive deadline, or a whole season of them. A nursing baby in arms. Then another. It just got more and more complicated.

K, never mind all that. The point is: I’ve been running. A little. Since about March. A little here, a little there. Almost 2 miles, then almost 2.5. Then 2.7 miles a bunch of times, then that distance without any walking breaks at all.

Last Saturday, I ran 3.8 miles in a row without stopping. And when I was done, I felt fantastic.

So, I’m a runner? Me? Asthma girl? Running is the freakin’ Holy Grail to me because it’s always been so unattainable.

And now I’m benched. Slightly injured. For now. For not much longer, I hope. Because now that I’m on a roll—succeeding at this difficult thing—I really don’t want to lose it all and go back to Square-One Failure. The Harpies are shouting in my ear, “See, you can’t actually be a runner. You’re no athlete. Who do you think you’re kidding?” And I fear I will have to start over. I have fears.

I also have two stars to go before my rainbow is complete.

Fireworks

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In a way, it was kind of his night. Independence Day celebration + 9-year-old boy + adults with fireworks money = Opportunity!

Ready for Poi?

Because you have to test,

Wild Lucas, Steady Daddy

have to experience things with all of your senses,

Fireworks of Awesome

as close as you dare.

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You need to observe others displaying both prudence

Boys with Fire

and risk—to figure out why and when and how.

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Sometimes you have to feel danger in your own hands

Casting Spells

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to learn exactly what makes it dangerous,

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learn to harness and create with it,

My Choleric Firebird

learn to celebrate it, and ultimately to transmute it into experience and beauty.

A Messy, Dangerous Process

New Adventure

Yep. Tonight I begin. I was delayed slightly in this, my most recent, foray into madness. But that was a temporary setback, a mere postponement. Tonight I step into my first oil painting class with a humble, fearful heart. Nevertheless I step because my friends believe in me—so much so, they’ve funded my class fee as a birthday gift.

Yesterday evening I went to the art store and bought $200 worth of oil paints and canvas, much of which was on clearance.

OMG. That’s a lot of money for a lark, a whim, a hobby!

Yep. The voices in my head are really loud about all this, and mostly they are unkind. The harpies are out in full flight, screeching about how ridiculous is it to start this. Who am I to think I might paint? They’re dive-bombing me with doubt and scornful comments. It’s too expensive. It’s impractical. I don’t have enough time to fold all the laundry or work to earn my living, so what in the world do I think I’m doing taking a painting class?

And yet, I’m going. I’m going to try this because I’ve always, always wanted to. And because if a girl cannot find a way to fulfill a dream once in a while, what’s the point?

Both art and living share this: they are a messy, dangerous process. Might as well get messy.

 

 

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  • About Sara

    Thanks for visiting! I’m Sara, editor and writer, wife to Ian, and mother of two precious boys. I am living each day to the fullest and with as much grace, creativity, and patience as I can muster. This is where I write about living, loving, and engaging fully in family life and the world around me. I let my hair down here. I learn new skills here. I strive to be a better human being here. And I tell the truth.

    Our children attend Waldorf school and we are enriching our home and family life with plenty of Waldorf-inspired festivals, crafts, and stories.

    © 2003–2018 Please do not use my photographs or text without my permission.

    “Love doesn’t just sit there like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.” —Ursula K. LeGuinn

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