I had a quiet day because I’m off work for the holidays, and it was especially quiet because my husband was at the office; he just started a new job. So I had nothing to do, except for grocery shopping. It felt very peaceful, almost meditative, because I didn’t feel obligated to keep busy.

An occasional to-do thought floated by, such as “That dusty hardwood floor needs mopping,” or “It’s Thursday, better get going on a blog post.” But I let them pass, telling myself that I had plenty of time for everything. This was a day to just relax, unwind, take good care of myself, and be jolly.

At the end of the day, the groceries are in the refrigerator, the blog post got written, and the floor still needs mopping. All things considered, I believe it’s fair to say that I had a productive day mending those frayed strands of workday time.

Word-art that says "Tis the season to be jolly."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

Picking my steps carefully, I made my way through the woods on a foggy Christmas Eve, traversing the chilly landscape of the collective unconscious. There in the land of imagination (just as in real life this year) a thaw had left the ground damp and squelchy. A thin film of half-melted snow blanketed the fallen leaves along the muddy path. Every now and again, something crunched underfoot when I stepped on a rotten branch or an icy puddle, concealed by the leaves and snow.

In the soft midwinter light, the cabin in the clearing looked tiny and far from civilization. It wasn’t really; the archetypal Crone kept her dwelling within a day’s walk of the village and was part of its communal life, although she often spent time in the solitude of the woods to gather herbs and meditate on nature’s wisdom. I had come here on this wet, dark day hoping that she could help me find clarity in a confusing world.

Cabin in a snowy, foggy woods.

(Image by Millie Walker)

As I approached the threshold, a flock of small birds took wing, dimly silhouetted against the snowy forest until they disappeared into the fog.

The Crone opened the door and welcomed me inside, taking my coat while I put my muddy boots on a thick horsehair mat. A crackling fire, complete with roasting chestnuts, made the cabin warm and cheery. A mostly empty teacup on an end table beside the sofa, along with a plate of gingerbread cookies and a half-knitted scarf, made plain what she had been doing before I arrived.

“I’ve been having some trouble finding my way through the fog—of life, that is,” I told the Crone, as she bustled around setting out another cup for me and pouring hot tea for both of us. “This has been a good year for me, overall; but sometimes I feel that I’m wandering aimlessly, without clear landmarks. Perhaps you could tell me a story about finding direction, if that wouldn’t be too much of a bother?”

“No bother at all,” the Crone replied cheerfully, pushing back a strand of silver hair that had fallen across her face. “I can easily talk and knit at the same time.”

I sat down in the old-fashioned parlor chair on the other side of the table, waiting while the Crone settled herself comfortably with her knitting in her lap. She finished the last bite of the gingerbread cookie she’d been eating, and then she began the story.

“Long ago, in a cabin deep in the forest, much like this one, there lived a woodcutter’s wife who imagined on Christmas Eve that she saw an angel through the fog outside her window…”

(continued here)

As the year winds down, I’ve been considering what intentions to set for the New Year. At this point, I haven’t yet formed a clear image in my mind. I feel that my energy has gotten a bit scattered from distractions. Everything seems to be working out well, in general, and I have no reason to complain. All I need right now is time to rest and reflect. Giving more thought to intentions is probably a good place to start.

Word-art with long inspirational quote that begins with "Intentions are causes that create effects."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

I’ve had a good week so far, with cheerful conversations in the workplace and plenty of positive energy. One of my coworkers sent this word-art in an email recently; and this week, it felt like the time was just right to pass along the good wishes.

Word-art that says "May your week be filled with good thoughts, kind people and happy moments."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

This is the second story in a series. Click here to read the first.

At first glance, the tiny speck circling high above the white stone walls of the Romanian castle might easily have been taken for a hawk or an eagle. I had come here in search of something else, though; and I wasn’t at all surprised when the long, scaly wings of a dragon became visible.

Dragon next to a white stone castle, with water pouring down.

(Image by Philip A. Benyola, Jr.)

The castle, built on high ground above what once was a medieval town in the Transylvanian hills, had been converted during the communist era into the municipal utility building. It now served as both the waterworks and the control facility for a hydroelectric power station. Or, to be more precise, those had been its functions until the sudden appearance of dragons had sent its workers scurrying away in a panic.

“Well, Chris, at least it’s not a nuclear power plant,” my companion Shay observed, as we stood beside the flooded main road into town. The wide-open sluice gates must have been letting massive amounts of water flow past the castle for days. A truck engine started up and then roared away—again, not much to my surprise—as the town official who had given us a ride from the Bucharest airport evidently had second thoughts about sticking around.

“Small mercies,” I agreed, glancing down at our dusty suitcases, which held our fire suits and other dragon-wrangling gear. Shay and I had gone into business three years ago in Tennessee as Dragon Control, Inc., after the skies above Knoxville mysteriously filled with dragons one evening. Nobody had ever discovered why. Until now, we’d thought Knoxville was the only area affected—and then we learned otherwise last week when we got frantic phone calls from Romanian officials pleading for our services.

They had wired us a generous amount for expenses, with the promise of much more if we succeeded in ridding their country of dragons. Shay and I hadn’t needed much convincing to take off for an international adventure. We had been training a few assistants in Knoxville who could handle things well enough—we hoped—in our absence.

The road curved steeply upward through a thick forest, which didn’t seem too creepy on this bright, sunny afternoon until I heard rustling leaves very close behind me. I spun around, alert for danger; but there was only a tiny old woman climbing slowly onto the road from a path.

She wore a long multicolored dress that looked like something out of a medieval fairytale, with thick stockings and heavy shoes. Curly gray hair, which seemed to have a mind of its own, tumbled over a colorful shawl. Her face was deeply lined, and the hands leaning on her walking stick were gnarled and spotted.

“Be welcome here, dragon slayers,” she said in accented but understandable English. “Your arrival was foretold in the ancient prophecies and has long been awaited.”

I figured this was a roundabout way of complaining that we’d taken forever to get here. If so, it seemed unfair, considering how far we had traveled. Deciding to ignore it, I answered what she’d said first.

“Ma’am, we appreciate the welcome, but we are not dragon slayers. We are modern animal-control specialists, licensed by the State of Tennessee, and we capture and relocate dragons humanely.”

She just kept on nodding, as if she’d been so certain of her description that nothing would change her mind. Then again, maybe what I’d said just didn’t translate well into her language, or she didn’t know enough English to make sense of it.

“You are the one chosen to travel through the sorcerers’ portal,” she declared, staring fixedly at me with wide hazel eyes as if she’d totally forgotten Shay was here. “You are the Hermaphrodite, the one who is neither female nor male, drawing upon all the powers of the earth and sky.”

My first thought was that she must have been reading too many fantasy novels. Even in a forest in Transylvania, who really believed that stuff? And hadn’t she ever seen a genderqueer person before?

Shay, bustling around by our suitcases, saved me the trouble of having to reply when he spoke. “Uh, Chris, you might want to put on your fire suit now. That dragon is heading straight for us.”

I grabbed my gear from Shay, who was already suited up. Sure enough, the dragon was very near the treetops and coming this way fast. It was much bigger than we had expected. Most of the dragons we’d captured in Knoxville had been about the size of the steers that Shay wrestled in the rodeos, but this one easily could have swooped down on an elephant and carried it off.

Tugging my visor into place, I looked through it, finding the view not at all improved. Daddy Dragon was bearing down on us like a tornado, and he didn’t look any smaller. He probably could’ve carried off two elephants, one in each front claw.

I stood there without moving, as did Shay. Out local visitor didn’t run away either, which did surprise me. Wearing our fire suits didn’t actually make it much safer for us to stand facing down this behemoth, given the fact that he could squash us flat no matter what we were wearing. But at least we looked like well-equipped professionals. Not soon-to-be-dead ones, I hoped.

Just as the dragon’s shadow fell over the road, he disappeared.

Literally. Disappeared. Meaning that I had been looking directly at him, and an instant later he wasn’t there.

I turned my head from side to side. Nothing. The Romanian woman was still standing right next to me, placidly nodding, like vanishing dragons weren’t anything new around here.

When I took off my headgear for a better view without the visor, that was when I saw the sorcerers’ portal. Or at least, that was what I assumed the woman had meant when she used that term. Just above the road, extending for a short distance above the trees on either side, a square of blue sky flickered like a poorly streamed video.

Shay, who was also bare-headed by now, stared at the portal for several seconds before he said what we both were thinking.

“No way either of us is going through that.”

When I came across this word-art image, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to repost it for Nurturing Thursday. I really liked the message, but someone had cut off part of the letters while cropping it.

Word-art that says "It's okay to make mistakes, to have bad days, to be less than perfect, to do what's best for you, to be yourself."

Then I decided, well, it’s okay that the letters are a bit messed up. After all, that totally fits the theme of being okay with small mistakes and things that are less than perfect. No worries!

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

Because this season is so full of busy indoor activities, while often neglecting the need to spend time in the natural world, I try to balance things a little by putting autumn landscapes on my digital art display. I found this one to be very refreshing today:

Photo of bare trees and fallen red leaves with a frozen river in the background.

I could easily imagine walking through those crackling, brightly colored fallen leaves and breathing the cool, crisp air of a peaceful day in late autumn. Although a virtual walk may not be as healthy as a real one, it is calming nonetheless; and when I looked at my heart rate on the Fitbit app, it was in fact lower. Wishing my readers a peaceful evening, as well.

Addendum: My husband got home just as I was finishing this post, and he asked me to come out and walk around the neighborhood with him. So I spent some time in the fresh air taking a real walk too!