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.]

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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.

Transitions and Change

So, it’s a bit dusty around these parts! That’s okay though. Life has been busy. I thought before I got back into posting regularly I’d do a little life update, so the next posts have some context.

There have been different life…erm, things…(sorry, My Little Pony is on in the background—brain not totally functioning!)…stewing for awhile and it seems like, all of a sudden, many of them might be on the high-boil.

First, I found out I was pregnant (again) in early December. I didn’t let it affect me for months and months. I went through the motions, but I haven’t really connected to the pregnancy yet. I’m 20 weeks, and on Friday we’ll have the anatomy scan where we’ll find out the sex and see if there are any complications. I think if the scan goes well the pregnancy will finally feel real. The baby will be due in late August/early September.

Second, we’ve been looking to downsize for a couple of months. J and I have some pretty specific parameters—a couple of acres, a liveable mobile home that we can (maybe) rent out after we build a custom home, cheap, and near my work at the vineyard. We started considering this move before I found out about the pregnancy, but when we did we felt more uncertain about actually moving that far south and 45 minutes away from our support network until…

We happened upon a property 15 minutes from my work, nice land, okay mobile home, and below our price point. It was very tempting, but with the nature of my job + pregnancy and the newborn stage was moving down to Dripping Springs really feasible? Would I still even have a job?  Then…

My bosses told me yesterday that after the baby is born they want to work me into a full-time salaried position! There is a lot of factors that go into this—it’s very tentative due to profits, etc.—but exciting nonetheless.

So now, baby + new home + job. Which means a move, putting our house on the market, weighing J’s career ambitions and my own. Deciding about still being accessible to town but 30-45 minutes away from most of our friends, not to mention my new Pagan buddies. And that decision will be made tonight, probably.

Whew.

To throw more into the mix, I’ve joined ADF and am starting the Dedicant Path. I’m excited to participate in a formal learning program, and even more excited that our proto-Grove is hosting a Druid Sunday School so a group can do it together over the course of a year. I’m not really sure that I’m a Druid, but I’ve only heard highest compliments of the program.

That’s all I can remember in my addled state. Hope that this spring season is off to a good start to you and those you love. I’ll be back soon 🙂

PBP 2013: Burial and Burial Customs

I had several ideas for the ‘B’ category. Bones, blood, boar, basil, bay laurel, Beltane. Then, on Saturday, I was talking with a lady about the subdivision where I lived and she mentioned that it used to be an old Native American reservation…or burial ground…or spiritual place.

Well, I have no idea if that’s true. The correlation that’s a little weird is that I live in a subdivision named after Native American tribes, but let’s be honest. The likelihood of that being true, and not just hearsay, is small.  I researched as much as I could online and came up empty.

Still, the conversation got me thinking about the concept of burial, burial customs, funerals and graveyards. Ripe topics for Witches, Pagans and assorted ancestor-honorers, huh?

(Also: I meant to do many more cultures and societies, however, both those here took a couple of hours of reading + writing. It’s definitely a subject I hope to continually return to—talk about fascinating stuff!)

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Ancient Egyptian

The Why: The Ancient Egyptians believed that people had a ka, or life force, and the ba, a set of spiritual characteristics unique to the individual. The ka was attached to the body, and needed it as a home–thus the offerings of food, drink and the process of mummification. Priests performed funeral rites to release the ba from the body. When combined, the ba and the ka formed the akh. (Note: I’ll be honest…I read on this subject for quiet a while and didn’t understand it all…so, any well-researched Kemetics are welcome to explicate in the comments.)

At first, Egyptians were buried in the desert sands. The arid conditions dried out the bodies and naturally mummified them. Soon, people began building mud structures on top of the graves (called mastabas).  Eventually these lead to step pyramids and the iconic Great Pyramids of Giza. The pyramid building era lasted about a thousand years, from 2700 BCE to 1700 BCE.  Afterwards, kings and nobility began to cut their tombs into rock faces (like The Valley of the Kings in Luxor). The hope was to prevent grave-robbers from thieving all the goods, alas…we all know how that turned out.

Besides the structures, the (wealthy) Egyptians had burial rituals  that involved mummification, spells and magic. After elaborate rituals, the priests placed the body in decorated coffins, surrounded by offerings and goods for the person to take into the afterlife.

Sources:

Wikipedia–Ancient Egyptian burial customs

Wikipedia–Egyptian Pyramids

Egyptian Museum’s Burial Practices Gallery

Encyclopedia Mythica–The Akh

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Celtic

The Why:  The Celts believed that there was a life beyond death. Souls moved beyond the body and into an afterlife, though historical details of this afterlife aren’t clear.  It should be remembered that the Celtic people are a very large, very expansive grouping of tribes that at one point reached across the European continent. Beliefs and customs varied.

There is evidence for a variety of burial practices and customs across the Celtic world. Burial (inhumation) was common, as was cremation and even excarnation (where the bodies were left out in the elements).  There is evidence that during some historical periods Celts expected the next life to be similar to this one, as they were buried with jewelry, food, beloved animals, chariots and martial gear.

How elaborate a funeral and tomb was largely depended on the social status of the dead. A person of high social standing might be celebrated with feasts, bards, elegies and even games–though it might not be an exact correspondence.

Sources:

Burial practices reveal secret Celtic worship in Britain despite Roman occupation (1998)

Celtic Culture Encyclopedia Volume One (Accessed through Google Book preview), page 1420-1421

Tairis: Death and Burial (EXCELLENT article about Irish and Scottish burial customs…really, much  better than any summaries I could put up here.)

Tairis: Afterlife and Ancestors

ADF: The Afterlife, the Heroes and the Dead (Ian Corrigan)

Bountiful Celtic Burials (Archaelogy, 2003)

The Iron Age Celts (University of Texas at Austin)

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Conclusion

Whew. Well. That was a lot of research and reading for, I’ll admit, still (very) limited understanding. However, I hope the resources linked will provide those interested with more avenues for information.

Honey Bun Cake

On Saturday I attended the Biannual Austin Area Pagan Meetup Workshop (whew!) and Potluck. It was great! So informative and fun. The presentations were well-researched and relevant. I have to say—for all the bickering that can go on online, for all the naysaying about the Pagan community within the Pagan community…I don’t see that in the Pagans I’ve become involved with. They’re all different religions or philosophies, from eclectic to Druid to Wiccan (traditional, solitary, derivative covens) to reconstructionist to Asatru and guess what…? Everyone manages to go to the same meetup and have a damn good time.

That aside, for the potluck I made a recipe called Honey Bun Cake. I made a gluten-free version that turned out great, and as I was making it I realized it would be a perfect Imbolc dessert or to be served in the cakes and ale portion of any ritual. The cake itself is very dense, chewy and moist, while the topping is nice and crunchy. It really does remind me of those old honey bun snack-cakes.

Honey Bun Cake, Gluten Free

A lot of the proportions depend on how dry your cake mix is—gluten free mixes can vary considerably. I used King Arthur’s Yellow Cake Mix and these are the proportions I use. By the way…King Arthur gluten-free mixes are amazing. All of them.

Cake:

1 gluten-free yellow box cake mix

1 cup sour cream (maybe a little more if your box cake is very sweet)

4 eggs

1/2 c. oil

Milk to thin the batter. I think I ended up using around 2 cups.

Topping:

Up to 1/3 c. brown sugar

Up to 1/3 c. honey

1 tbsp. cinnamon

Icing:

2 c. powdered sugar

1/4 c. milk

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325.

Mix the cake mix, eggs, oil, sour cream and milk until smooth. Some lumps are fine, just not big lumps. Pour into a greased 9 X 13 pan.

Sprinkle the brown sugar, cinnamon and honey on top of the batter. Swirl with a dinner knife. Bake at 325 for 35-45 minutes.

For the icing, whisk together the powdered sugar and milk until desired consistency. Pour onto the hot cake and let set for about 10 minutes.

Here’s a link to the original recipe.

Here’s a link to a non gluten-free version.

PBP 2013: Animism, Considered

Today I took a walk. Not really an extraordinary thing, walking, except that it was the first time I’ve been outside the house in three days. The whole family is rotating through a bad cold, and I had a stomach bug besides, so…all in all…it’s been a pretty claustrophobic existence for most of the week.

But today I felt well enough to walk. My body needed to stretch, blood needed to flow. The humid-cool air chilled my skin and reminded me of late winter softball practice. Families and teenagers crowded the park/watershed where I walk, all enjoying the break in rainy weather before we get another cold front tomorrow. Already the clouds had begun rolling in, big lavender thunderheads squatting on the horizon.

As I walked I thought about a blog post I read yesterday. It was by Wendy Froud and detailed a walk she took to receive inspiration from the fae. Dver, at A Forest Door, noted that this was “animism in action“. And as I stopped to say hello to Niana, the water spirit, this got me thinking. Am I an animist?

Perhaps it was the atmosphere of the evening. Even with all the noise going on—toddlers screeching, basketballs bouncing, a group playing football—there was a…bite, shall we say…to the breeze. An ominous quality. The clouds had eaten the golden rays of the sun, so the twilight was instead a mix of gray, blue and purple.

As I turned the bend to the quieter part of the park I began to note that the trees seemed…how do I say?…more….alive. More tree-like, perhaps. I saw how the curved, bent, swooped, twisted and intertwined. I reached out to touch the bark of one, and then couldn’t stop. I wanted to touch all of them! Sit with them. Listen. I was sure, so sure, that they were talking this evening.

Further along the path I came upon a rock I don’t remember seeing before. Really, a boulder. Pockmarked limestone with streaks of red clay. About four feet tall, four feet wide. I walked over to it and leaning against it…felt it. I couldn’t say in that moment that I believed that rock to be without spirit. In fact, I believed that rock had a very distinct spirit.

And on the walk went. I’d observe, listen, and just kind of…bask…in what seemed like a very noisy conversation that many elements, spirits, trees, rocks, mushrooms, grasses were having. Maybe that’s it. Maybe today everything just seemed so loud, so close, that I couldn’t help but notice that the everything had a spirit. Everything had something to say.

Is this crazy? Maybe. The funny thing is for all I’ve considered myself a polytheist, for all I’ve been a Pagan and a novice spell worker, for some reason I’ve never considered animism fully. I don’t know why, maybe I haven’t been ready. Which is strange that I haven’t put it together, since I definitely talk to Niana, converse with the land spirits in the yard, in the hedges. Together, we converse. Is that animism? I guess that has always seemed too macro to be animism to me. And I’ve had experiences kind of like this one before, but never so…so that every tree, every stone, every mushroom I came upon seemed so discrete.

I fear I’m not expressing myself well here, pardon. Suffice to say that while I’ve never considered animism before—I’m not sure why not—it’s a conversation, a consideration, that I think I’m ready to begin.

Pagan Blog Project 2013: A is for Action

[Written on Friday, January 4, 2013]

Action. It’s a weird word to be writing about when I’m sitting in my pajamas on my couch at 9:50 a.m. My stomach is growling, and I’m too lazy to get up and fix breakfast. My tot is off at daycare/preschool, so I’m alone in the house.  The wind is bitter, the driveway slick with sleet, my A/C is pumping out hot air with abandon.

Even though my physical body is in hibernation mode, my…I don’t know, what do you call that part of you that moves independently of your mind, your body? The Other Self is a term I like (today, who knows tomorrow), that part that is you, but also apart from you. For me it’s most active in the dark months. When the cold settles in, when icy tree branches rustle and creak, when our words turn to fog in the chill, when the bustle of the holidays has given way to the long stretch of Winter…that’s when Other Self wakens. When Other Self wants some exercise, some action.

I know that according to typical Pagan structures (Wheel of the Year, I guess) the times for divination, for magic, are strongest around Samhain and Beltane. While I do feel an atmosphere of…change, activity, presence…during those times, I don’t feel focused enough to do the deeper actions that I feel divination and work call for. Samhain is the start of the frenetic holiday season; Beltane the beginning of summer activities and mirth. Both of which are lovely. But winter, the cold, the bare earth, focuses me in a way that nothing else can. Life is quiet on top of the earth. But below there is undeniable activity, and in Texas there is only a few weeks that we can take advantage before spring begins—usually neatly coinciding with Imbolc.

So Other Self and I go on some adventures. We talk using the Shadowscapes Tarot (sometimes Wildwood, but then the conversation is usually obscured). We play with spells and ritual and dancing. We dream together, write to each other, spend some precious time readying ourselves for the inevitable outside activity that begins to creep back in around Valentine’s Day.

This year, I’m hoping that Other Self and I will not lose touch as frequently as we did in 2012. By participating in PBP 13 and  possibly starting the ADF Dedicant Path, I’m looking forward to a full year of play, conversation, learning and action.

The Wind, The Wind.

The wind is blowing. I’m home alone, drinking a nice glass of wine from the winery I work at. The TV is off. The husband is gone. The babe is asleep. I think if we had our Yule tree up the twinkle lights and resinous aroma would make me feel cozy. But being alone, in the quiet, with the restless wind and the fat red waning gibbous (the fourth night in a row the moon has hung low, fat, and red) makes me feel…un-quiet.

When I listen these days I feel that there is a sense of unease in the land. I’m always hesitant to do anything about it, because what do I know of the bigger picture? I’m a peon, at best. But still, we had a mild, wet summer and now we’re having a hot, dry winter. The winds blow at night. There is dense fog and mist in the morning. The afternoon sun is bright and intense, even as we wane into Winter Solstice. This is unusual, even in a land of variable weather. It’s not winter here. We’ve been in a liminal state since July.

The restlessness of the land, of the spirits, dawned on me a few nights ago. Maybe it was the fool moon, or the high clouds racing across the sky, but as I looked up into the night I had the distinct thought that…the ancestors would be easy to hear tonight. The veil is still very thin.

And maybe that is one blessing of such a topsy-turvy year, is that through this whole season, even when I haven’t been seeking them out, everything—the very atmosphere—has felt thin, permeable, evanescent. Like the seasons are having a hard time transitioning, something is having a hard time letting go, giving up, surrendering.