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

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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.

Moving to the Country, Part One

[Disclaimer:

I know that finances aren't something that is easy for us---any community---to talk about. This story is not a judgment on how anyone else deals with their money. This is about me, my family, and our responsibilities to each other. And my responsibilities to the values I cherish, values that guide this process.]

———-

I have about a million things I should be doing right now, none of which involve writing a blog post. However, this is one of those days…one of those days where my mind is so messy that the only therapy is the written word.

It all sounds really dire, doesn’t it? It’s not. It’s just confusing. And since it deals directly with matters of the home and the spirit, well, it seems right to talk about it on the blog.

If you read the previous post (Transitions and Change) then you know that J and I are looking to move. We’ve  been looking for houses/property for five months now. We live in a comfortable home in a nice neighborhood, in a quality school district. J’s commute is reasonable, and we’re within easy access of downtown Austin. Perfect, right?

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.

Knowing that better now, without the shiny veneer of youth protecting us, we decided in January that we needed to downsize. Besides, there were (are) things that we want to do that we just can’t with this mortgage. We’ve canceled at least five trips because we just couldn’t save enough. We haven’t started college savings for Claire, mainly because what overages we had were wiped out by medical bills. This isn’t so you pity us–there’s nothing to pity. We’re lucky. We also don’t want our finances to be the bane of our life and control us. And slowly, slowly…it seems that is the case.

The house hunt has gone through several evolutions. The first was just to downsize in another neighborhood, where the commute for Jonathan would still be reasonable. Well, the market is such in Austin that a truly middle class family just can’t buy into the city anymore.  Also, the housing market is moving so extremely fast (we’re talking 48 hour turnovers–no joke–we already have 3 couples interested in our house and it’s not even on the market yet…really, really insane).

After looking at a few less-than-stellar options, that still didn’t reduce our mortgage that much, and also didn’t provide good value for the price we wondered if we were just stuck.

Then our realtor, our awesome awesome realtor (if you’re in the Austin area and looking to move…please, contact me so I can give you her info…she’s really incredible) floated the idea of building. Which we quickly nixed. No way, no how, not prepared for THAT kind of commitment.

But moving to the country…maybe. Maybe purchasing a property with a mobile home, then building in 5-10 years…That seemed ideal. And for a few months we looked (mainly waited) for properties to pop up. And a few did, mostly with mobile homes that should have been condemned—and you can’t get a loan on a property listed as a home if the home is in shambles.

We thought we found what was the perfect compromise. Two and a half acres, an older (and, we thought, liveable) mobile home, and cheap. A long commute for Jonathan, but the savings were substantial. So we offered on it and were eventually accepted. This was Saturday. On Sunday, when Jonathan came home from meeting with the inspector, the news was…well, not good.

So not good, that even with the wide latitude of problems we were willing to accept, it was just too much. We would have spent at least $20,000 to fix up an older (depreciating) mobile home. Even with the mortgage savings, it would be a bad investment.

Thank gods for option periods, right? But now we were back at step one. And coming up on a hard deadline for decision-making. This baby is due in August.

Then our realtor mentioned, again, building. And we thought: well, maybe. She sent us some links to some pre-fab, well-built cabins (called Kanga systems) and I found some cabin kits that seemed promising. It would require work, but it would be shelter, and this is what we want. We want to move out to a rural area. We want to begin homesteading. We want to simplify and downsize and be financially healthy.

So that’s where we are right now. I feel…frazzled, I’ll be honest. Also like I’m tired of talking and thinking and I want to do! The changes that are coming are, well, huge. We’ll most likely be selling this house then moving to an apartment for the summer. Then we’ll build (or have installed) an empty cabin shell. Then we’ll finish it out. Then we’ll have a baby (or move) (we don’t know which will happen first). And it will be crazy.

Our next step is looking at some properties (today). Calling the cabin companies (next on the to do list). Getting our house ready for some pre-market showings (tomorrow evening). Filling out builder’s loans applications (today). Packing. Finding an apartment.

Crazy.  But for some reason, none of this upheaval concerns me. I feel certain that this is a good move for us.  Whereas not moving, being stagnant in our current situation, would be akin to surrendering to eventual drowning.