TL; DR.

For awhile I didn’t think I would come back to this space. It seems part of a different time of my life, so integrated with our old house, with the city and life that we left. 

But I keep thinking about this blog. The title: This Pagan House. I am still a Pagan, and I still have a house. More than ever, after this past couple of years, I am more confident in the identities that I have chosen. It seems like every day I desire to walk more publicly in who I am, what I believe. To begin the walk of becoming who I want to be. 

I keep thinking about how I want to take up writing again. 

—–

It’s been about a year. 10 months. Hello, again. 

I look through these old entries and some of them feel familiar. 

Oh, hello! I still do that. I’m still like that. I still think that.

And some of them feel very…young. And hopeful. And naive. 

I read those posts with a half-smlie, and maybe a prickle of tears. To make the choice: stay, or go? Stay, or become? 

——

Briefly: 

I see that the last set of posts I wrote informed this space that J had lost his job. That I had Eleanor, successfully, but returned to the hospital. October 2013 was a time of refocusing, reinvention. I remember that time; everything was going pretty well, considering. 

In the latter part of October I developed a severe case of pericoronitis, basically inflammation of the wisdom teeth, most likely due to a super-stressed immune system (read, the mystery illness after Eleanor) and crowding from my jaw. The surgery to remove all of my wisdom teeth had to be done immediately. This wiped out the last of our reserve money from selling the house. In December, we broke our lease and moved in with J’s parents. J also had the chance at a Supreme Career Maker Opportunity, the kind of job that only comes along once-in-a-blue-moon. He was told by the HR rep after the on-site interviews that he was a virtual lock. They loved him. They’d be in touch soon. 

We were so excited.

Two days after we moved in with his parents we learned that he did not get the job. It was devastating. 

We lived with his parents for almost six months. I weaned Eleanor and took a full-time retail job. Promising job prospects came and went, often with enough interviews to make him, us, feel hopeful. But they never actually resulted in anything. 

One job, an entry-level job in a town we didn’t even have on our radar, came up. It was in the right field, not quiet what he wanted to do, but still. Something. Enough to keep going to the interviews. They flew him out. They offered the job. At the time he tried to leverage it into another job, another promising prospect that was another Supreme Career Maker Opportunity. It looked for a few days that it might happen. 

And again, disappointment. The preferred plan again fell through. But he accepted the other job. We had to at that point. Everything in our life at that point was brittle: our relationship, our relationship to our children, and to his parents, the atmosphere at my job. We had to leave. 

Two months (due to security clearance) later we found ourselves moving from Texas to the Midwest. 

And here we are, in the suburbs of St. Louis. 

—-

To prepare for our move, I flew up to St. Louis to find a house to rent. We both agreed that if we could get it as settled as possible before we actually moved that would be best. I met with a rental agent, we toured the city, I settled on a house in the County, to the north-west of St. Louis. I signed the papers, reassured that we could pick up the keys as soon as we got in to town. Everything was ready. 

Well. In St. Louis County there’s something called an occupancy permit, that can only be obtained after an inspection of the property. It’s basically a (corrupt) moneymaker. I was told when I signed the papers that the inspection was done, and that the permit would be waiting for us when we got to town.

J went to the City Hall the first day in town. The leasing agency hadn’t done the inspection, thus, no permit.

I was livid. The leasing agent gave us the run around. J’s new company began legal proceedings. They had one inspection done later that week–and they failed it, meaning no permit. They greased some palms, got a date for another inspection less than a day later, and passed it. Yeah, not suspicious at all. 

When we finally moved into the house…it was a mess. Not at all like I had been shown. They had contractors come in during the week to fix some things so they could get the inspection passed, and they had left the house in shambles. Broken kitchen drawers. Three cups of sawdust in the carpets from cutting off the bottoms of the doors so that they would fit in the doorway–and then, the cuts were jagged and crooked. Nails sticking out of cabinetry. 

To top it all off, when we turned on the shower to clean the tub, water began pouring from the pipes into the basement. The leasing company hadn’t overwintered the property, and all of the water pipes in the basement had shattered. 

(So…how did it pass the second inspection? You tell me.)

Needless to say, we broke the lease and demanded all of our money back. 

When I did a move-out inspection a week later, the representative hopped out of his car and came up to me with a puzzled look on his face. 

“Are we doing a move-in inspection?”

I paused. “Um, no. We’re moving out.”

His frowned deepened and annoyance clearly showed on his face. “What do you mean, move out? I’m the agent who okays listings to be put on the market. I expressly did not approve this property.”

We went into the house, I showed him around, and asked him if he wanted to see the basement to make sure it was okay. 

He gave a half-laugh, the kind you give when something is not very funny. “I don’t need to go down there. I know it’s a mess.The pipes are shattered, and there’s a leak. We have those water-absorption buckets all around.  Now tell me. Who was your leasing agent?”

—-

We found a new house. We moved out a week after living in the Broken House. 

The new place is homey. The new leasing company is responsive, kind, and eccentric. The hardwoods shine. The kitchen is stuck in the ’90s, but that’s okay, because there’s a three-season porch, and a finished basement. It’s taken awhile, but we’re painting the walls and decorating and making it home. It’s only a rental, and we’ll probably be leaving soon-ish. But it’s our home, for now. Probably for the time that we stay in St. Louis. 

—-

Two weeks after we moved to St. Louis, J got a call from a company that had initially passed on his resume. They’re exciting, a lot of influence, research, and innovation. They were very keen to interview him, wanted to talk to him about a new position that had come up. 

It was in Texas, close to family. Close to friends. Good benefits. Awesome opportunity. 

We laughed and laughed and laughed. Then I rolled over and cried. 

—–

I go to therapy now. I like her. She’s earnest, beautiful, and I detect a bit of kookiness. I enjoy it. Some of our sessions involve talking, some involving trance-meditation. My kind of therapist. 

I’ve struggled to cope with this move. Hell, I’ve struggled to cope with the past two years. My first therapy session I finished a long tirade with: “How did I even get here?! This is not the life I wanted. This is not the life I want!”

She nodded, very calm, like a therapist should be, and told me that we’d figure it out. But it was going to take some time. 

—–

One thing I love about St.Louis is that it rains. Right now it’s thundering and lightening and just pouring down. Before the storm began, nature became a visual and sonic cacophony. Clouds purpled and multiplied. Lightning pierced the suburban sky in eerily straight lines. Thunder clapped and rumbled. The cicadas roared a deafening tune. 

So loud that C stood in the driveway, clapped her hands over her ears, and yelled at All of the Forces of Nature to cut it out. They didn’t listen, much to her consternation. Her four-year-old self is giggly and joyful, but also imperious. Of course Nature should obey her, and why not? All she wanted was a gentle, cool summer evening so she could play outside. 

But only the downpour ceased their racket. 

Now it’s the sound of softly falling rain, distant rolling thunder, and the gentle song of crickets. Green leaves, a bit on the tired side of summer, weighted down by heavy drops of rain. A cool breeze, finally, in the wake of the storm. 

—–

It’s taken me a few days to write this. I went back and forth on whether or not to post it, but if I keep up this space here—which I intend to—then this part of the story needs to be told. 

One last thing. 

Being a pagan in a strange land can be difficult. I intimately knew the gods and landspirits of Texas, especially Central Texas. I felt them in the cliffs and brush and oak and dry creeks. In the searing heat of summer, in the sharp stillness of those brief winter nights.  I celebrated Dionysus in the vineyard I worked; I touched Aphrodite in the silky softness of May evenings. I saw mischievous faces in the hedges of the park where I ran. 

Here, I feel displaced. I intellectually know that this is a place of rivers and waters and hills. Trees tower over the suburbs. It is so humid that the mornings shimmer in the sunlight sometimes. There is emotion here, so much of it, and so much hurt and displacement and regret. It is an area with a deep and complicated history.  You can feel it simmer over St. Louis, and indeed, it burst forth a few weeks ago in tragedy.

I find that in these places–there is deep, deep magic. Old magic. It’s palpable here. As I write this I feel a certainty that even though this land is unfamiliar, that there is a rightness of me being here at this time in my life. 

Even though this place is complicated, and I don’t always like it, I know that I am supposed to be here.

Pagan Kids: Book List #1

Ever since I could read I’ve devoured books. Some of my most poignant childhood memories are sitting in my room, lost to the world around me, absorbed in words and pictures.

We’ve read to our eldest daughter, C, ever since she was born. But now that she’s three board books are too simple, and much to my delight we’re moving on to more complicated stories. C is now way more involved in the process of reading. She is enthralled by innovative or beautiful artwork, likes to ‘read’ the stories with us, and asks questions about the subject matter.

So now I’m on the hunt for books. We have a large collection of board books, and some nice picture books (the current favorite is Dragons Love Tacos), but I’d like more that introduce…well, Pagan-y themes. I’ve cruised Amazon for a few hours and here are some I think fit the bill. If you have any recommendations, please add them to the comment section!

A picture book that explains what happens to the land and animals as they begin to prepare for winter.

A story of the same place during each full moon of the year. The artwork looks absolutely stunning.

A lyrical picture  book about a young girl anticipating a rain storm after a drought.

A classic. I read this book as a kid. A father and daughter go on a nighttime journey to find owls.

This is a fairly new book. A lonely girl discovers that her crayon can draw her imagination. She steps through the door she draws and into another land.

A young girl on vacation is encouraged by her parents to build fairy houses in the woods.

*Note: These aren’t sponsored links to Amazon. Just thought it’d make shopping easier :)

Spices: Clove Bud

Clove Bud, Franz Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen, 1897. Public Domain.

Clove Bud, Franz Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, 1897. Public Domain.

Every spice cabinet I’ve ever opened has the underlying aroma of clove. Clove is that spice that you buy maybe once every five years, except if you’re my mom, then it’s once every thirty.

True story, a few years ago McCormick published an ad that listed their different herbs and spice packaging throughout the years, accompanied by a tagline that urged people to clean out their spice cabinet. Well, some of my mom’s spices were from the early 80s. Thirty years!

Until I had a toothache last week, I never knew of much use for cloves outside of baking. I remembered reading in my favorite essential oil book*  that clove had antiseptic properties and was often used as a dental analgesic.

I put a few drops on some cotton gauze and stuck it in my mouth. After a few moments the gum was blessedly numb. Granted, my mouth tasted like I licked my mom’s old McCormick clove tin, but I was grateful for the relief.

Clove Bud

Latin Name: Syzygium aromaticum, of the family Myrtaceae. Also in the family Myrtaceae (Myrtle family) are myrtles, guava, allspice and eucalyptus.

Native to: The Maluku Island in Indonesia, historically known as the Spice Islands

Parts Used: The flower bud of the clove tree

Common Forms: Ground, dried whole bud, essential oil. The active compound of clove is eugenol, also contained in basil, bay leaf, cinnamon and nutmeg.

History:  Archaeologists have found evidence of cloves in Syrian pottery dating back to around 1720 BC (1). The first reported use of clove is from the Hang Dynasty (260 BC to 220 AD). According to written records, “officers of the court were made to hold clove in their mouth when talking to the king.” (2)

Clove is one of the four “major” spices in trade and history, along with nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper. Procuring it sparked expeditions and wars. For more information: History of Cloves.

Using Clove: Clove is used in a variety of ways. Most of us know clove from culinary applications–my favorite being Soft Ginger Cookies.  Historical Europeans preserved meat using cloves, as well as enjoying it for its added flavor (clove studded ham spiral, anyone?). Jamaican jerk spice blends and Indian curries also can contain cloves.

Medicinally, clove has been used for thousands of years. In Ayurveda, clove is indicated to aid slow digestion. Perhaps it’s best known application is as a dental analgesic and antiseptic, for which it is still used (rather,  its active compound, eugenol) in modern dentistry.

Magically: Because it belongs to the myrtle family, I associate clove with Aphrodite (3). Therefore, use in spells, charms, or ritual involving relationships, love, beauty and sexuality would be appropriate.

When I’m practicing in the kitchen, I use clove as a warming and comforting agent. Use sparingly, however, since it is very powerful because of the eugenol. Excess eugenol can have definite physical effects in the mouth.

Scott Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs lists Clove as masculine and associated with Jupiter and fire. It is also indicated to use for protection, money and exorcism.

Sources and Resources:

*The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy by Valerie Ann Woodward. I can’t recommend it enough.

1. 2. “Clove” from Wikipedia. Footnote 18. Spice: The History of Temptation by Jack Turner. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clove

2. “Cloves” by Cynthia Gladen. https://www.lib.umn.edu/bell/tradeproducts/cloves

3. “Aphrodite” http://www.theoi.com/Summary/Aphrodite.html

Considering October: Update

IMG_2148

The October Challenge has gone okay so far. The first week went well except for the writing and exercise portion. I hit a major hiccough last weekend when first Jonathan, then I, got a stomach bug. Then a wisdom tooth that had been emerging became infected, which has put us in a bit of a financial tailspin, again, as I don’t have dental coverage.

I’ll admit–I allowed myself about 36 hours of “feeling my feelings”—i.e. crying, journaling, and just being. I have a tendency to label that as a ‘pity party’ or ‘being a baby’ but I put a stop that language. It is what it is, and it’s healthy, as long as moving forward is the goal. So on Tuesday I picked up what wasn’t washed away and decided to start changing things.

That’s one aspect of witch-ing that I love. It has taught me practice, it has taught me action, and that while the winter ground seems dead, it most certainly is not.

I pray to Brid and to Aphrodite. I light a candle for Hestia, honor the ancestors, greet the local spirits, and ask for advice and occasionally favors—but I don’t rely on it. I know that I am the agent of change in this equation. All of the favor in the world, all of the prayers and supplications and spells and ritual mean very little without a desire to act.

I evaluated our needs: money. I considered our situation. I’m a breastfeeding mother of a newborn, so I can’t go anywhere. That leaves working at home. What skills do I have? I can write, and I can sit in front of a computer. That leaves freelance writing, content mills and product reviews.  As of yesterday I’ve signed up for a few more promising leads. We’ll see where it goes.

I’m sure that the next few weeks of October will be about learning to fit it all in.

Considering October

There are roughly five weeks until Hallowe’en, another six until astrological Samhain. Like I mentioned in my What I Did This Summer post, I felt like I ‘looked down’ in April and didn’t look up again until last week. And that was fine, for awhile. I basically was in a ‘fuck it all’ period of my life, with regards to everything save keeping my family alive (read: sort of fed).

But now, it’s time for that to change.

I used to love making big to-do lists and calenders, chock full of unreasonable goals and stupid expectations. I did this for school, dieting, cleaning the house, gardening, spirituality. For many years after I realized I had Failed Perfectionist syndrome (if I can’t do it perfect I’m just NOT GOING TO DO IT AT ALL WHY ARE YOU BOTHERING ME LEAVE ME ALONE) I just let those ‘disciplines’ in life happen organically. And that’s good, too. That’s where I land most of the time, and guess what? Being an adult of sound mind, most of the time, shit gets done like it needs to. I eat well, exercise moderately, clean my dishes, love my husband and kids, observe my religion.

After such a long period of ‘fuck-it-all’ I’d like to re-orient a bit. I feel like I’ve lost True North. Also–Nano starts in November. After taking last year off, I’m chomping at the bit for 30 days of literary abandon. To be successful in November, I need to dedicate some of October to preparation.

The trick is creating discipline that I’ll implement. For me, that it means it has to be intuitive, flexible and simple. But since I want this to be more intentional (groan, I hate that word, because this) it also needs to be a bit more….set apart.

So, I did come up with a calender to post on my fridge ( I need CONSTANT reminder about these type things). But it’s pretty simple. Daily devotionals, week-long health habits, easy exercise to follow, writing prompts and household chore that repeat weekly. Here’s a screenshot:

october screenshotI’m excited. I am not putting time expectations on anything except the at-least-10-minutes of activity the first few weeks. That keeps it flexible. With the chaotic nature of two young children, I’m hoping that the daily writing exercises help me make space for writing in November. A trial run, if you will.

I’ll keep you guys posted on how things go. Things are already behind—I had hoped for a morning devotional and I have 8 minutes left—but that’s the nature of these things, no?

Recipe: Creamy Sauteed Mushrooms, a la Meagan

True story: I used to hate mushrooms. Just looking at them gave me the shudders.

My hatred turned into a hesitant like, then love, a few years ago. J and I were at an Italian restaurant, and J, being a Mushroom Lover, ordered stuffed mushrooms baked in a pesto cream sauce. They arrived at the table, the steam redolent of basil, Parmesan and Italian sausage. My  mouth watered a little bit, and as I have a policy of trying foods I hate once a year, I decided this cheesy concoction was my best bet.

So I tried one. I hesitantly moved it onto my appetizer plate. Cut into it with my steak knife. Dipped the slice in the cream sauce, and haltingly (this sounds dramatic, but I kid you not—I really hated mushrooms!) moved the fork towards my mouth.

Then? Well. Earthy, herby, creamy bliss. I started to like them then—on a trial basis—but my affection has grown steadily ever since.

Now, mushrooms remind me of autumn.  They pair well with traditional autumn seasonings like sage and thyme. They’re even nicely symbolic of the dark season, since they grow without light. Since it actually feels like autumn here (I’m continually amazed!) I picked up a huge box of Baby Bellas at Costco and have been enjoying them for days.

Here’s my favorite easy mushroom recipe, which is less of a recipe and more of a…method? Enjoy.

Creamy Sauteed Mushrooms, a la Meagan

Ingredients:

(This is a very elastic recipe–do with the amounts what you like)

2 tbsp butter

8 oz. (ish) Baby Bellas, de-stemmed and sliced

1 clove garlic, smashed and minced

Generous sprinkle sea salt, thyme (fresh is best, but dried is fine). Fresh parsley is a nice finishing touch if you have it.

Splash of red wine, dry white wine, or cognac

~1 tbsp Whole grain or dijon mustard

2-4 tbsp Heavy cream

Directions:

1. Melt butter in pan.

2. Add sliced mushrooms, toss in butter. Add salt and herbs.

3. Add a couple of tablespoons of wine. Be aware that mushrooms expel water as they heat, so don’t add too much liquid or it’ll get soupy. Let it cook for a few minutes.

4. Finish it off. First, stir in the mustard.  Then add 2-4 tbsp. of cream to thicken the sauce. Cook for another minute or so before taking off the heat.

—–

Note: this recipe is AWESOME when made as a topping for steak. Simply pan-sear a steak then continue this recipe in the pan with the steak drippings.

Note 2: I tried taking pictures buuuuuut….the lighting in the apartment kitchen is terrible. Plus, the mushrooms were so good that I only got two horrible photos before they were gone. Rest assured, they’re delicious.)

Note 3: The Kitchn’s What Are Cremini Mushrooms blew my mind.

What I Did This Summer.

Quote from the last post, April 23:

And really, it is. If all we ever wanted to do was pay the bills. We were young and naive when we bought this place. It’s not more than we can afford—it is exactly what we can afford, with just enough to save a bit. And by a bit, enough to keep us afloat whenever we have an extra medical bill or car repair, but no more than that. And what with life teaching us some (harsh, valuable) lessons in the past year we’ve realized that if anything truly catastrophic happened we’d be shit-outta-luck.

Ah, words of divine-knowing.

The good news is that we sold our house, very quickly, in May. We closed in the beginning of June, moved into an apartment and planned to keep waiting for a lot that we wanted to build on to pop up in the listings. It was a stressful time, to sell the house, to sell half of our stuff, to move/downsize, to be pregnant and have a toddler. But as we settled in I knew, J and I knew, that we had made the right decision.

On July 2nd I was at a good friend’s house (who is a part-time coworker of J’s), watching our kids knock around the backyard, when she got a phone call from work. And I knew. I just…knew. She looked at me and whispered, “Call J.”

I called him. But I already knew. His workplace was shutting down on July 31st. I laughed, at the time, because it was one of those things that was such a long time coming that you think it’s never really going to happen. But it did. We drank watermelon margaritas with good friends, and our children ran amok in the sprinklers. If you have to take news of catastrophic job loss, that’s the way to do it.

Soon after, my mom began telling me that my uncle, the one that helped my Mom and Dad with taking care of my grandma (their -only- help taking care of my grandma), was having a lot of pain. Long story short, he went into the hospital on July 4th. He left for the Otherside on August 9th. It was fast, and it was painful, and it was hard.

During this time, I was 36, 37, 38, 39…40…41…and finally, 42 weeks pregnant (again—I apparently have a very comfy womb). I rolled into the hospital on September 4th with my orders of induction and demanded to get this baby out of me NOW!

Which they did. In the midst of a lot of shit, I had the exact labor I wanted. It was beautiful, peaceful and short (comparatively–only 13 hours!)

I went home with a beautiful newborn. With two nights at Hospital Hotel under my belt I felt pretty refreshed.

And started feeling…weird once I got home.  Sweats. Cold flashes. Weird dreams about Eric Northman (no joke–and I haven’t watched True Blood for a year!). I had been home for one day, behaving all sorts of weird, when I finally decided I should take my temperature. 101.4. No way this is not happening can’t one thing just go right goddammit! I took it again. I took the blankets off (I was having chills at the time), drank some water (yes, I know, cheating the test) and…100.8. I called the doc. They told me to go back to the hospital, two days after being released.

I admit. I cried. Ugly cried. And eventually we cobbled together the help we needed to watch C, and J, Eleanor and I headed off to the hospital, again.

—–

I have been struggling this summer with expectations. Expectations of how life was going to happen and how it spectacularly did not turn out the way I imagined. This lesson began with my first miscarriage in March 2012. And continued with the second in September 2012. And the lesson continued, and continued, and continued. We, I, would make plans and they’d just blow up in our faces.

I don’t feel like I lived this summer really as much as survived it. I looked down in mid-June and looked up and it was September 21, the night before Autumn. And when I looked up again I had another child, a three-year old I’m not sure how to parent, an apartment (with not-a-yard! this is hard with a toddler!), my Uncle is dead, and our future, as a family, is uncertain. Will we move to Seattle, San Antonio, Houston, California, Virginia? Will we move in with one of our parents? Shit, are we going to go broke?

During all of this…chaos?…I have reminded myself to be thankful. We had some DIVINE good timing in selling our house. We made a nice profit which we are now living on (though we had plans for it to be a down payment on property–whatever, thankful we have it). Thankful that we have parents that would welcome us if things got dicey. Thankful that we don’t have debt, that we have friends who love us, that our marriage is strong.

But I’m not going to lie and say that I just feel so thankful-zen. I’m not. Most days, I work through whatever emotions I’m having. There’s gratitude, contentedness and a lot of happiness. The bitterness I felt in July has subsided into determination, which is much more pleasant and proactive than hating the world. But I’d be lying if I said that there aren’t some dark places, and dark days, when it feels like we’re on the edge of a chasm with no rope.

—–

I’ve thought a lot about what Paganism/polytheism/whateverlabel has to offer in times like this. It’s something that I’m interested in exploring in the coming months. Way too complex of a topic for this already-too-long post. Suffice to say sometimes I’ve found an abundance of wisdom, sometimes I’ve felt disconnected and cold. Mostly that’s just being human. But it’s a topic worth exploring—what is Paganism/whateverlabel when times are hard? Is there comfort from the gods? Should I expect there to be?

—–

It’s been six months and two full seasons since my last post. Spring and summer disappeared in a blur.

But now it’s Autumn. It even feels like Autumn, which is crazy for Texas. Usually Mabon is hot and muggy. This year it’s crisp and cool.

Autumn, even with its associations of harvest and dying, is a happy time for me. It’s a spiritually potent time, a time to lay to rest the previous year, a time to rest and recoup. I’m planning on enjoying it.  Honestly, I’m trying not to have any expectations of what life is going to bring. I’m just going to try to let it go, for now, and see what comes.