Thank You, Divine Child, for Coming to Earth

Black background, rays og golden light

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I’ve been thinking of Jesus Christ, a true being of peace—regardless of our inability to understand His heart, or our non-acceptance of His message of Loving without judgment or conditions, or the contention among the one-God faiths, or our fault-finding with religious practices different from our own. Nothing separates us humans from each other like the death-grip we have on our religious and political ideologies!

Many of us are now celebrating the birth of a baby who was born 2000 years ago, to show us how much we are loved by our Creator and how to love Him in return. Christ taught that to make peace, we have to get off our high horses and love and respect each other because—no matter our country of birth, our culture or color, or gender or social status—we all come with divine souls on missions of Love: to honor the Divine first, then our world and each other, and even our enemies. Especially our enemies, for as long as we see others as ‘enemies,’ there will be no peace.

Care and connect, Jesus said. Make peace. Listen with your Higher Self. War begets war. Forgive. You are a light of God. Act like it. The divine map is within all of us, but we can and we do ignore it. We can’t arm-twist someone else into a loving, forgiving, peaceful state of being, but we can lead them there through our example. “You go first,” doesn’t work in this case.

Every year at this time, something magical ‘is in the air.’ The image of a divine child born in a barn, over whom angels hover and before whom kings bow, causes us to remember that there is something truly beautiful beyond this mundane, racing, world of angry madness we live in. We are so much more than a species of worker bees, goers, takers, warriors, hoarders, genders, or even bodies.

We are beings of light who drop into a material world to attend school. We are here to learn and grow, to love and share, to care and heal. We are here to forgive and show others how to do the same. We are meant to evolve together, to turn and make sure that every hand is held, that we’re moving together as one, into a remembered awareness of Who made us, of our heritage, of the Home we come from and will return to, should we so desire—and live like we mean it.

It’s not easy to remember we are divine children. Some among us would like us not to remember and are working really hard at suppressing this conversation. But we will remember. It’s like throwing off an old, wet, moldy, smelly wool blanket. We may not want to touch it and it may be kind of heavy, but not so heavy that we can’t throw it off—and throw it off we will. It is our destiny, no matter how long it takes.

The Beautiful Glowing Man

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! May the Spirit of Love bless you and yours in 2016.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

P.S. — This is how I think of the great and loving Being of Jesus, the Christ:

God, he was beautiful. His skin almost glowed; his features were perfectly symmetrical. It was impossible to look into his eyes without your heart skipping a beat. Was he a magician? Some thought so, because he looked into their souls and they felt it, a measuring of sorts. “Who are you?” his eyes asked. “What is important to you? How have you lived?”

He was a teacher of Life–of the things of permanence. Oh, he loved his family, even had a profession and friends, but only a small group really wanted to be with him. He was from another world and sometimes things got spooky, like when he read their minds. It took courage to stay with him, and a desire to see beyond what we humans experience in our bodies.

Life was hard, but he wouldn’t listen to rants. He talked about love and forgiveness, healing and wholeness. “Let me show you,” he’d say, and they’d sit together around a fire and listen to his stories. He seemed to be asking them to ignore their problems, to live and think in a whole new way, to express thanks to God for everything, even their suffering. That’s when people stomped off. “I will not!” they’d shout. “If God loved us, these things wouldn’t happen!”

“This world,” he would say with a sweep of his arm, “is not the real world. This is only a play, created by your desires and thoughts. Only those aligned with this world are born here, for we are what we think, what we believe. How could you be born elsewhere when this is what you believe?”

“Close your eyes for a moment.” He spoke and stories unfolded in their minds’ eyes. “Love and peace are gifts of your Father in Heaven. Once you open your minds and hearts to His gifts, you will go and share them with others and they will do the same. My great Love for all of you is now your Love to spread. My work to heal the warring within you and in the world is now your work. In this way, the world will one day be healed of war.”

“The world will be healed of war?” a man said, astonished. “That’s impossible!”

“Divine Love is irresistible, as is my Father’s invitation to come Home. Your hearts long for this more than any other desire and they are being made anew, changing the light in the world. Does this answer your question?” he asked.

“It is an answer, but I’m not sure I believe it.”

“Stay with me,” the beautiful, glowing man said, smiling, “and you will see it.”

What Does the Birth and Life of Christ Mean Today?

Mary and JesusThis time each year, we Christians celebrate the birth of a child whose divinely-seeded mother was forced out of her town just prior to her son’s birth, and when her time came, she found only a barn. Why? Men of power feared even the thought of a man who would become a king appointed by God. Even those who had been expecting a savior king rejected him, for they knew what they did not want. “We don’t want a king of peace. Give us a king who will fight against this injustice!”

We have always misunderstood ‘God,’ haven’t we? We’re here, caught up in a literal rat race, complaining every day about what is lacking in our lives and in others’ lack of character and their human foibles. Haven’t we all wondered, “How could our country have fallen so far? How could God allow all the evil in the world?” What is evil to you may be different than what is evil to me, but what is evil to God? (Or Goddess? as the case may be.) I suspect it is anything that keeps us separate from our true design—conscious oneness with our Loving Creator, our Loving Natures, our inner Peacemakers.

Spiritual masters have written that the evil within us, our dark sides, may have been a glitch in the free-will design. Others have taught that the evil in the world (domination and war, immeasurably destructive greed, rampant deviancy and cruelty) is necessary. Why? Because when everything ‘comes up roses,’ we don’t seek God—and finding God within ourselves is why we’re here.

Every so often, though, we humans go so far out of control, a divine being comes to Earth to redirect us onto ‘the path Home.’ God became man, Jesus Christ, for just that reason. Isn’t the story of the angels rejoicing above the manger, the three wise kings directed there by a star, the shepherds in the fields, even the nearby animals, all coming to be with him, truly beautiful? What a welcome he received!

But it didn’t last long. I recently read somewhere that when Jesus Christ realized he had failed miserably in his invitation to us for oneness with His Father, he had no choice but to sacrifice himself. And though some don’t believe that ‘he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven,’ I doubt the true spirit of the Christmas/Easter Love Story would still have so much effect on our hearts if he hadn’t.

But, what is the point now? When I think of post-Jesus Christ history, all the crazy dictators and all the warring over land, wealth, power—think of just Hitler and Stalin alone and your jaw drops—what does Jesus Christ mean in this context? How will the message, “My Father loves all of you. To know this, put Him first and then love your neighbor as you do yourself,” ever get through our thick, brick me-first walls? Maybe the answer is now in a tipping-point:

God created us and gave us free will, probably because children of God, made in His (and Her) image with souls, minds and hearts, cannot be God’s children without free will. Certainly, however, God has thought, “Dang it all!” many times since. Maybe when God became a man, for a truly personal experience for everyone, our Creator thought, “That ought to do it!” But more death has been caused in wars over religion than all other motives combined.

It seems now that peace is up to us. We must bring it forth from our God-souls. Something stirs across the Earth—and from within our dear Earth Mother, whose every particle of being reflects divine love. Something is, at last, touching our hearts and minds on a group level. When enough of us tire of the ego-tripping and the fierce competing that crushes our brothers and sisters, we will reach a tipping point and a planetary shift in consciousness will occur. Those who put Love first will turn, take the hand of another who will do the same, and together, we will leave anti-Love and our well-earned karma behind and make the blessed leap Home—together.

Merry Christmas and divine blessings for all in 2014.

Amen OM Aho


Place for Him the Gift of Your Heart, A Guest Post from Paramahansa Yogananda

Paramahansa Yogananda in 1924

Paramahansa Yogananda in 1924

“Make your heart an altar of Christ-love — which lives in all races and loves them equally — so that you may love all people, seeing in their body-temples the dwelling place of omnipresent Christ… Exchange gifts as offerings to the Christ in all; and on the Christmas tree of your calm consciousness, richly decorated and glistening with divine soul qualities, place for him the gift of your heart.”– From The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You by Paramahansa Yogananda (Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles, CA. All rights reserved).

Paramahansa Yogananda, author of the spiritual classic Autobiography of a Yogi and founder of Self-Realization Fellowship, encourages us through his writings and talks to look beyond the material celebration of the holidays, to focus also on the spiritual celebration: our connection with the Divine, which resides within each one of us.


home, Home and HOME

I went home recently and stayed with my dear mom, saw my brothers and their families and visited my very special friends (in order of visits): Toni, Julie, Anita, Marge and Annette. My ‘well’ was nearly empty and their love filled it up again. There were times in my life when I withdrew and curled into a ball, but Love would not let me stay there. Family and friends grabbed my legs and arms, unwrapped me, so to speak, and said, “YOU are SO loved!” The difference between traveling life’s roads with friends and family and without is stunning.

And, more Love blessings were ours, as my sons, daughter and I were together for a few days. It had been far too long. Last week my eldest son celebrated his twenty-seventh birthday and neither of us can believe it. (He doesn’t know where the time went, either!) He and his younger brother made a wonderful dinner; I made a peanut butter and chocolate birthday cake that was dry, dang it. But we had a good time sharing funny stories, together with their girlfriends and boyfriend, and more shared moments were made into heart-memories.

I think ‘filling the well’ is due to the season, too, for all of us. Now is a moment in time to let go of blaming ourselves and others, as the angels sing and the stars twinkle their loving message: ‘Reach out for healing.’ It is beyond time to share our blessings and make a difference for other people, however we can. We should never forget, especially in the times we live in, that heartfelt smiles, warm wishes and listening to others’ stories, just might help avert a tragedy. Love is that powerful. Every caring act blesses the receiver, but seems to double-bless the giver. That’s amazing if you think about it: Our gifts to others of love, of time, of service and of dollars bless us more than them! What a wonderful system the Higher Power has set into place. Giving is healing.

I pray you are home with family and friends during this month of celebrating the unimaginable Higher Love of the Great Being of Light who was born the same as we are: human, naked and vulnerable, to set upon His powerful peace-journey and show us the way ‘Home.’ In spite of all we have destroyed, we still have an extraordinarily loving home and Mother: Earth; and we have a home beyond this physical world. Let’s not forget this and let’s remember that Home and HOME belong to all of God’s children, however messed up many of us are.

If you find yourself alone this holiday season, now is a good time to open your heart, to risk, and make friends that just might turn into family. Give and receive, care and share, and you’ll soon be basking in the blessed moments with friends and family that make life so valuable. Our wells quickly run dry without them and we do have a choice. Living dried up and lonely? or sparkling, filled out with Love Inconceivable?

Honoring Christ from Our ‘Inner Temples’ A Guest Post from SRF

Paramahansa Yogananda, author of the spiritual classic Autobiography of a Yogi and founder of Self-Realization Fellowship, encourages us through his writings and talks to look beyond the material celebration of the holidays, to focus also on the spiritual celebration: our connection with the Divine, which resides within each one of us.

The following quote by one of Paramahansa Yogananda’s foremost disciples, Sri Daya Mata, president and sanghamata of SRF from 1955 until her passing in 2010, is shared here with permission from SRF.

“Doesn’t almost everyone feel aglow with happiness at Christmas time? There is a deep spiritual reason. It isn’t just the pleasure of exchanging gifts and loving messages, and doing for others. [Paramahansa Yogananda] said that on the birthdays of great ones such as Jesus, there is tremendous rejoicing in heaven. Vibrations of that celestial joy permeate the atmosphere. Those who have open and loving hearts are stirred by it, and those who strive for deeper attunement through devotion and meditation fully participate in that sublime celebration. The degree to which we are in tune with heaven’s joyous recognition of Jesus’ birth depends upon the effort we make to commune with Christ — not just in the outward spiritual festivities in his honor, but in the inner temple of deep meditation.”

– Sri Daya Mata (fromSelf-Realization Magazine, Winter 2006; Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles, CA. All rights reserved).

My Christmas-Spirit Gift

I dropped my daughter at the mall yesterday and had a hard time getting out of the parking lot. I didn’t handle it ‘in the Spirit of Christmas.’ I went grocery shopping at Walmart and my Christmas spirit shrank. (It didn’t seem like that many people could fit in the store at one time!) I was struggling with my Grinch-like, small, hard heart waiting in a record-setting long line when the cart behind me hit me.

I turned around and saw fear, fear, on the woman’s face. Compassion kicked in; I smiled and said, “No problem. It’s really crowded in here.” She was only slightly relieved (maybe she thought I had a weapon in my purse?) and we began to talk. She mentioned that her kids had wanted to stop and she was angry because she had let them talk her into it. (Boy, do I remember that feeling.) A few minutes later it dawned on me to let her check out before me—she had a few items and I had a cart full. Just as she thanked me and moved in front of me, two running little girls joined her, then two boys. Four kids. I smiled to myself; she did have her hands full and I was glad I managed an act of kindness in the mood I was in.

The truth is, I’m far away from home, with both sons now living in other cities and my daughter is leaving for a thousand-mile+ road trip all by herself on the 29th. It’s a nightmare to me, but I can remember thinking, “What is wrong with my mother? I’m an adult!” when I did the very same types of things. Yes–what goes around, comes around.

Being out yesterday, I went back to bed this morning after taking my new little buddy, Roxie, for her first walk. She is the sweetest dog and always snuggles as close as she can when I fall asleep, but I haven’t felt as affectionate as I normally do with her, either. She’s wondering what’s wrong and I don’t fully understand it myself.

I was dreaming when my 13-year-old old Akita-mix, Max, who crossed over in May, suddenly came through a wall, looking like he did at four and five: confident, healthy, strong and happy. He jumped on me and knocked me into a chair and wiggled and wagged and hugged and loved me. I was so happy! I put my arms around him and didn’t want to let go but I woke up then. He’s not here anymore.

My visit from Max was my Christmas-Spirit gift this year. “I know your every hurt and every joy and I am always with you. It’s Me in that little bird who calls to you every day, the maple leaves you pick up and marvel at, the pine trees outside the window who watch over you. And it is Me who brings Love to you in your dreams. You are Loved. Be at peace.”

“Okay, Lord, if you say so. Thank you. I love you, too.” Merry Christmas, fellow family of wo/men, Happy All Holidays, and may God/Goddess/Universe/Great Mystery bless you in the coming New Year.

Meditation For Christmas Morn

It is a blessing to publish here a Christmas meditation from the enlightened spiritual leader, Paramahansa Yogananda, who was sent from India to America by his guru to share stories about our Loving Creator and the oneness of all spiritual consciousness. 

By Paramahansa Yogananda

The following excerpt is from Metaphysical Meditations by Paramahansa Yogananda. Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles. Reprinted with permission.

Paramahansa Yogananda in 1924, Photo Courtesy of Self Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles

Celebrate the birth of Christ in the cradle of your consciousness during the Christmas season. Let His vast perception in Nature, in space, and in universal love be felt within your heart.

Break the limitations of caste, color, race, religious prejudice, and inharmony, that the cradle of your heart be big enough to hold within you the Christ-love for all creation.

On every Christmas morn of your inner perception, prepare precious packages of divine qualities and deliver them to the beloved souls who gather around the Christmas tree of inner awakening to commemorate His birth in understanding, truth, and bliss.

Celebrating the birth of omniscient, omnipresent Christ Consciousness on the joyous Christmas festivity of your inner awakening, you will find the unbroken happiness of your dreams.

Let the omniscient Christ Consciousness come to earth a second time and be born in you, even as it was manifested in the consciousness of Jesus.

We Are the Answer, a Guest Post from Sharie, Spirit Teacher

Today, tomorrow and Christmas Eve I hope to share Christmas messages full of Love. “Tis the season when the world opens the door once more to the Spirit of Holy Days. Sharie (whose Native Indian name, if she had one, would be Blessing Woman) gave her permission to share this message from her blog, Sending Joy. It will inspire you for weeks to come–I promise. (I’m tuned into these things.) May you be blessed in this holiday season and forever and ever while we’re at it. Amen.

By Sharie, Spirit Teacher
Sending Joy

We are the awe we feel at a glorious sunset or a star filled night.  We are the beauty of a lovely garden, or a snow filled woods. Not the garden or the woods, but the beauty which is a feeling that lives inside us. We are the heart of a lovely song, the picture in the frame, the pinnacle of every fear-filled mountain we’ve ever had to climb. We are the joy in an unguarded moment when something passes over us that surpasses understanding.

We are the deep happiness we feel when we get it, even for an instant, that God is alive and well and no matter how it looks, all is right with the world. We are a holy instant when time stands still and space is limitless and we can see through the fear, the pain, the doubts, the darkness to a place of light and delight, and then, with great relief, feel all our burdens lifted from us. We are weightless.  We are ageless.  We are the kindness in a moment when we connect with someone unexpectedly and feel compassion and empathy. We are a gift to the world and the world is a gift to us. We are a blessing who can bless.  We are a savior who can save.  We are a healed healer. We are the answer to every question. The question to every answer. We are every lesson learned.

Where Does Peace Come From?

When I was young, I believed if enough of us marched for world peace, peace would happen—ha ha, right? Now I know it takes something more than marching or even thinking about peace. Peace is the natural state of our souls and between lives, we know this. We may have something like a vague recollection once reborn on Earth, but it’s very hard to give up our positions and our desires; peace pretty much always takes a back seat.

Peace begins within, the old saying goes. That means peace is so important to us, we’re willing to understand what ‘within’ means. We’re ready to know, where does peace come from? How is it implemented? We’re also willing to hear others’ needs because theirs are as important to us as our own.

In every situation, at least one person must be able to see the path to peace, to rise above finger-pointing and a desire for revenge. That’s a big one. It’s natural on Earth to want control and payback, but it’s not the natural state of our souls. Our souls love, forgive and serve.

So, I dedicate my Christmas peace collage to the beautiful man, the Prince of Peace, who was conceived through a miracle over two-thousand years ago, born to reconcile us with our Creator. How are we doing?

Holidays, Families and Friends

An old family photo: My brother's wife, Sandra; me; my son, Joey, who will be 25 tomorrow (and why is he looking at me like I'm an alien?); my niece, Kristy (who had informed me on the way home that this was the worst day of her life because it snowed like crazy during the Easter egg hunt) and a close friend's two children, Michael and Christina, who grew to be two awesome people. Love makes the world go round.

As the years have passed, the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays have become more important to me, yet our family celebrations have changed, too. My sons are 22 and 25 (tomorrow), live in other cities and can’t always make it to family gatherings. I’m not the only one who misses them, either. Two of my brothers’ children live in other states and though they all just visited (yay!), it had been several years since. We always miss them. My youngest brother’s sons are 12 and eight now; I know how the years zoom and sooner than any of us would like, they may be living in other cities, too. When my mom, siblings and I leave this life, we’re taking a whole lot of love-memories with us.

There are many other American families who gather to mark the end of each year, to express gratitude and, for Christians, to acknowledge the birth of the Lord of Light. (I wish we remembered him as he was, a man of love and peace, not who some of us make him out to be, a man who separates people and inspires us to war.) There are many people of other faiths who also celebrate their spiritual heritage around this time of year and who wants to celebrate alone? Having family is truly a gift, even if we think a relative made a wrong career or partner choice, or they’re a little wacky, or their political views are too far to the right or the left. Being a member of a loving group of people makes life’s hardships tolerable. We could all use a dose or two of tolerance.

When I was a young adult, I grew close to a circle of friends and we often gathered to enjoy each other’s company. Friends can become like family; in fact, for some people, their friends are their family. These are soul-families and the connection can be as great as that of family bloodlines. I loved when Hillary Clinton said it takes a village to raise a child. The more our children are exposed to other people and philosophies, the more they will grow into well-rounded people, which is necessary for a good quality of life. Walking a narrow corridor as a life-philosophy, especially alone, can be disappointing or even bleak. With no one to talk with, we may start talking to ourselves—and not in the funny way. ‘Tis the season to welcome in, to join hands, to give love to one another. Whatever your faith, or if you’ve chosen none, you can spread kindness seeds wherever you are. Enjoy the Spirit of the holidays.

A Little Piece of a Christmas Miracle

Today as my daughter and I put up our little Christmas tree and lights, I found myself thinking about people whose lives have been hard, who never seem to catch a break, who were raised in poverty, perhaps abused by a parent or other relative, maybe abandoned altogether. What are they doing to prepare for Christmas Day? Is anyone missing them?

Christmastime seems to bring us together and make us more aware of others, but there are still people who have no where to be, no one who is able to care. When my father was dying in 1999, they called from the hospital and said he had asked for me. For me, out of all his children. Could I come in a hurry, because he wouldn’t last long? My car, as seems to be my standard way, couldn’t make it over the mountain pass that separated him and I, so I said, “No, I can’t come.” I did send a letter by fax, which now seems pathetic, but it was the best I could do at the time.

I can’t imagine what happened to make him so sexual and sexist—all females were his targets. I’m older and wiser and could probably go if he was dying now—by bus—and simply ask him not to say those things to me. I do wish I knew more about his childhood—my mom’s, too. She’s still with us, but doesn’t like to talk about her youth. Life was hard on the WWII generation, and the generation before them. Women and children were to be seen, not heard, and could be treated in any way the men in their lives saw fit. Of course, it’s still like that in many places in the world and even here in the U.S. to some degree.

But we are growing-people, opening our minds and hearts to greater possibilities, to healing, to sharing life in such a way that at some point, every person on this planet will know what it means to be loved and cared for and in this way, learn to love and care for others. We don’t need a bazillion things, but we all need the basics: a loving family in a good home with food and water, clothing, a good education and opportunity. We do need a bazillion little encouragements and loves and hugs, though. We need to know that we matter and are valued for who we are.

So, if you have someone it’s hard to love this year, it’s okay. We can only do what we can do. But, if you can stretch a little beyond your comfort zone, you will have given that someone a little piece of a Christmas miracle and, when you look back years later, you will be very happy that you did.

The Two Faces of Christmas

When my children were young, my brother always put together their ‘Santa’ gifts at his house and drove them over on Christmas Eve late, to be sure they were asleep. If we had snow on Christmas morning, my kids checked out front for Santa’s footsteps; and my brother always munched on the reindeer’s carrots, ate the cookies and drank the milk they had left out for Santa. This was such a gift to me and the kids, and it was a gift to him, also, because he had not been a part of his daughter’s life. These are precious memories for me.

My children attended Catholic school, where every year a Secret Santa gifting took place but, of course, the emphasis was on Christ’s birthday. Advent is the solemn (approximate) month-long period in the Catholic Church prior to the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth, when Catholics prepare themselves through inner reflection and confession to be worthy to commemorate the birth of God’s son. And, through my kids’ school, each year a large Christmas production took place, thanks to Mrs. Schweitzer, with every child in costume, from first graders as angels to the eighth graders as shepherds and wise men and other witnesses. Elizabeth and Zacharias (John the Baptist’s parents), and Joseph and Mary were the starring roles, and a hopefully-quiet newborn was chosen to be baby Jesus. I cried every year, the message brought home to my heart, “Truly, His birth was a miracle.” My mom a;ways came and these are also precious memories for me.

Thus, we have the two faces of Christmas: the must-have gifts and the shopping mania, which I have participated in, though I never grabbed anything from or elbowed another shopper; and the quiet birth of a God-and-human baby at which angels were present, singing hallelujah to God. I tried to make some sense of this by buying an ornament for our tree with Santa kneeling before Christ’s cradle and telling my children that St. Nicholas brought gifts to people to help us remember and celebrate God’s gift of baby Jesus to us. But once their belief in Santa fell away and they grew older, their requests for gifts became much more specific and determined. They still knew we were celebrating Jesus’ birth, but it became really hard not to want the same things the kids from wealthy families had. (My sons are in college now and have been figuring out on their own what is important in life. My daughter still attends Catholic school because other kind parents pay for her to go. She does pretty good at knowing what is necessary and/or important, though at times it is hard.)

The thing is, I loved being Santa (or at least Mrs. Claus), and participating in my children’s excitement built around the whole mystery of the unseen, ever-reliable, bearded gift-bringer who flew around the world in one night on a sleigh led by reindeer, carrying a bottomless bag of toys. How fun! Celebrating Christ’s birth is a whole other experience, one which is felt in the heart at certain moments, perhaps at the telling of the tender story of His birth, the hearing or singing of a Christmas hymn we all know the words to, or buying gifts or donating food for people who live in poverty. We are likely to feel His presence in prayer or meditation, or at church for those who attend.

I don’t know why Christmas became such a grand wanting and shopping experience, other than shopping seems the way America has gone. At least we finally seem to be realizing ‘stuff’ isn’t enough and that we all are longing for something real, something with a meaningful essence, which is where God, in all His or Her forms, comes in. Merry Christmas to my fellow Christians and Happy Holidays to all others who are remembering the goodness of God during this winter season.