Transitions and Lughnasadh

Believe it or not, Lughnasadh is almost here.

(I can’t believe it.)

August 1st is less than a week away. First harvest, harvest of the corn (grain). Which, appropriately enough, our only two ears of corn might be ready by then!

Of course, for those less agriculturally inclined, the reflections of the season usually center around what’s metaphorically/spiritually ready to harvest and what needs a bit longer, separating the what from the chaff and the transition from summer into autumn. It can seem a bit crazy, especially in Central Texas, that August 1st can celebrate the descent into autumn. But every year I think it’s crazy, and every year August 1st rolls around, and it feels right. The shadows begin stretching over the lawn just a little bit earlier; we take out the summer tomatoes and plant the fall crop; I can berry jam and apple butter.

Now that I work in a winery I know that August 1st is right in the middle of the grape harvest [for Central Texas, not so in other places]. The whites have already come in, and in quick succession the Petit Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat will be hand-picked, dumped into tubs, shoveled into the destemmer-crusher, piped into then the press, then pumped into tanks to begin fermentation.

No matter how hot it still is, how far away the cooler weather may be–it is harvest.

In my own life, it’s a time of transition. I’ve gone back to work. C had her first day of daycare today (yes, I cried, a lot.) Like I mentioned, the garden is in part dying off and in part being replanted.

And I’ve decided that, by Samhain, my house is going to be a home.

See, we’ve lived in our house for 2.5 years and it’s still..blank. The walls are empty. The front yard is a mess because of previous poor landscape design. Everything looks temporary, transitional. I suppose it’s because once we moved in we had a baby, and then we thought J was going to lose his job and we’d have to move, and then, and then, and then.

But I’m done with and then. Could life change on a dime and we find ourselves packing boxes to move to Place X? Sure. But I’m sick of walking into my house and feeling like it’s just a pit stop. I want the beige walls to be another color, there to be family pictures and artwork, grown-up furniture instead of college/newlywed furniture, and for the front yard to look decent. For people to walk in and feel the energy of a blessed home. You just can’t have that if there’s a little bit of chaos or emptiness wherever you look.

So I’ve given myself (and by extension J, haha!) the deadline of Samhain. The entire season of harvest to tuck into working on the lawn and the house. By October 31st I want our (largely non-existent) trick-or-treaters to walk up a clean path, surrounded by a seasonal front-yard and peer into a homey foyer. Where the energy of the house clearly says, we’re a family that loves each other, and we welcome you to our home.

Appropriate, I think, for a season I’ve always thought of as ‘Harvest Home’.

What are your thoughts about Lughnasadh? If it’s in your tradition, do you connect to it?

Late Autumn Morning

Central Texas had a wintry blast this past week. Temperatures dropped into the 20s at night and struggled to climb into the high-30s in the afternoon. On Wednesday morning Claire and I, sick of being cooped up, braved the chill to go a-walkin’.

Frozen over bird bath.

Frost on the cabbage leaves

Can zombie basil survive the winter? My guess is yes. We'll see in the spring!

Creek bed (Niana), October 2011

Niana, December 2011

The branches have been empty since October. Now, due to the rain, some are budding out again like it's spring.

White winter sun.

Long shadows, even near noon.

The Darkening Time of Year

I love, love, love this time of year. I love the early setting sun. The persistent shadows that stretch across my backyard and throughout the house. The sun is bright and white; everything but the deepest shade is overexposed.

J, C and I just got back on Sunday night from six days at the in-laws for Thanksgiving (…) and I couldn’t be happier to be home. November was packed to the brim: NaNoWriMo (finished!), Jamie Eason’s Live Fit Trainer (quit!*), Thanksgiving visits and at the very beginning of the month, Samhain. Whew. Add in the usual household chores and a burgeoning garden (yay!!) and we had a busy, albeit fulfilling, month. But, like I said, I’m happy to be home, and I’m happy to be blogging again.

Sunday night I pulled out the garland and started decorating for the upcoming Solstice season:

Last year because of being the sleepless mother of a four-month old, we didn’t do much besides hang a swag of lighted garland. This year, I have grand plans that include making these hurricane candle holders and sewing up PJs for some friends’ kids and the fam.

I’ll admit it: I love the Christmas/Solstice season. I celebrate both. Culturally and traditionally, I celebrate Christmas. Personally, I celebrate the Winter Solstice. Last year my parents, Claire and I went to the beach. The cold wind buffeted our faces, waves crashed against packed sand and when I went home I watched online as the solstice passed along the globe.

This time of year always seems to bring about discussions of whether or not P/pagans should celebrate Christmas. In an interesting turn of events in our family, one of my über-fundamentalist Christian relatives has decided to not celebrate Christmas (or Easter) since the Torah apparently (I don’t know and I’m not invested enough in the argument to find out) says to not have anything to do with pagan practices, ever. Apparently this means trees, garland, mistletoe (did you know, this person told me, very bug-eyed, that pagans had sex in front of everyone under the mistletoe?!–it sounded like information from a bad 101 book…and about Beltane, not the Solstice), Christmas music and gift giving.

I tried a little to explain and give them historical context, etc. but it didn’t really take.

On the spiritual side of things I’m about to start working through a book called Tarot Shadow Work. A lot of thinking about regeneration and survival. I feel like, even though I’m not a Christian, that this is a time of advent for me.

So, that’s enough of catching-up. Anyone reading this, how was your T-day? What are your plans for the holidays? What are your thoughts on the whole Solstice or Christmas discussion?

*I started Jamie Eason’s Live Fit Trainer, which you can find at bodybuilding.com, about 10 weeks ago. I progressed through the first six weeks easily, but on top of 6 days of weights they add 4 days of 30 minute cardio. Then, in the third phase, plyometrics. It is way, way too much. Even scaling down the frequency of workouts and cardio, I ended up hurting my back. I’ve never had a hurt back in my life. I know how to lift weights: I took a course in college, and I’m a trained yoga teacher which provides me with some knowledge of anatomy and form. In my opinion, informed by additional research and my experience, this is not a well-designed or safe workout program.

Halloween/Samhain 2011

Halloween and Samhain 2011:

-Baby C as a cow (running around mooing) and Mama M as a thrown together gypsy to great our…one group of trick or treaters. How does that happen? Last year there were 75. This year our whole street decked out for the occasion and we had one group! I blame the church ‘fall festivals’ and ‘trunk or treats’. Spoil sports.

-We had Colcannon, as always. Simple, adjustable recipe as follows: melt butter in a skillet. Add chopped ham. Let the fat render a bit. Add leeks, sauté till soft. Add cabbage. Turn off heat. Make mashed potatoes. Add cabbage/ham/leeks to your mashed potatoes and stir together. Top with cheese, if you wish, and bake until bubbly. Delicious.

-I set a dumb supper for the first time. Very calm and reflective.

-Divination with Tarot cards, the Wildwood Tarot Deck. I want to jive with that deck so badly, but I just…don’t. I can’t seem to get a clear reading, and I feel like the card meanings are too positive. Sometimes that can be encouraging, sometimes it just makes the message hard to decipher. It’s so silly though, because I feel like if I go back to reading with the Shadowscapes deck then I’ll be ‘abandoning’ the Wildwood. So silly.

-Performed some magic/ritual/whatever. It was a nice ceremony, a general banishing-bad-habits type of thing. I always seem to forget that when one does that, one should expect those bad habits to rear their ugly head in full force. And they definitely, definitely have. The past three days have been…kind of ugly…in many ways. Today I feel more grace though, and I thank the Great Whoever for it.

-I love the Samhain season. For the past few years I always hated waking up on November 1st. Kind of like the let down of December 26. But when I read the term “Samhain season” on an email I received this week I thought: “Yeah! A season of Samhain!” and…its true. It’s a season, a period of time, the process of drawing inward and dying. It takes time for the earth to do that just like it takes time to truly banish bad habits. To mark that continued remembrance I plan to get a professional Tarot reading done on Saturday. I’m excited. I haven’t had one since Imbolc 2010.

And that was our Samhain! Because our camera died there are sadly no pictures, but hopefully once it gets juiced up again I’ll be back with photos of our winter vegetable garden.

Samhain is Coming.

It’s two weeks, precisely, until Samhain.

I just got chills writing that.

I’m not sure what my plans are, yet. Part of me desires to have companionship this year, but, I’m about as solitary in practice as they come. The longing for companionship on this path has become more and more ardent in the past few months. I think that desire might start to shake some things up around here.

But anyway. This post is to scare up (hah. hah. hah.) some ideas about what to do and see what general direction I’m headed into this year.

Samhain. All Hallows’ Eve. All Souls’. Halloween. Summer’s end, summer’s sunset. End of harvest. End of the “lighter” half of the  year. Beginning of the dark half. The ‘veil’ is thin, as they say. Direct counter part to Beltane.

The ideas I had for this year, as follows:

-Colcannon. I make it every year at Samhain/Halloween.

-Setting a dumb supper/dumb plate. Setting the table with pictures of our beloved dead and telling stories about them.

-Making kornigou cakes

-Divination.

I’d like to do a proper ritual of some sort, but I’m not sure what. I have a few ideas of things that I want to “die” from this past year, so possibly something with that. Maybe a burning ritual, since fire is inherent in celebration of the cross-quarter holidays.

So, lovely readers–what do you do for Halloween/Samhain or the festival in which you celebrate your dead?

Texas is Burning

Historic drought and heat combined with high winds has caused fires to erupt all over Texas. It sounds dramatic, but really, there are fires burning across the state, including some relatively close to where we live. [Edited 9/6/11: And now I mean right where we live. Brush fires have broken out within a two miles of our home. This is very surreal.]

Texas Wildfires, courtesy of Reuters

Image courtesy of CNN.com

Thankfully, the winds are finally calming down. Though it has begun to cool off there has been no rain and none in the forecast. No humidity, nothing to help out the parched earth.

So, please, send your prayers/energy/spells/whatever. We need relief.

Maple Roasted Acorn Squash

[First, I have to say, my kitchen is a terrible place to take pictures. The people who redesigned it installed lighting that throws shadows everywhere. Obviously not food bloggers. 🙂 When I went to preview this post the pictures just looked terrible, so I decided to leave them out.]

Moving on!

Saturday morning we made our way to the mall for mine and J’s optometrist appointments. As we pulled into the parking lot we happened upon a happy surprise–a farmer’s market! I thought I knew about all of the markets in town, but apparently not. It was nice sized, not very large, but big enough to have some meat, crafts and a few veggie vendors. When we entered the market a lady shoved a $3 coupon in my hand. Sweet.

The market stalls were picked over by the time we got there, but my roving eye spotted a display of winter squash.

Winter squash = winter is coming…hahah. No. Sorry. I mean, yes, winter is coming, but we don’t live in Westeros…okay, forget it.

It does mean that autumn is on its way, and to celebrate these happy little finds I fixed up the squash in my favorite way.

Maple Roasted Acorn Squash

1 acorn squash, quartered and seeded

1 tbsp. olive oil

1-2 tbsp. butter (depending on the size of the squash)

2 tbsp. maple syrup (the real deal, please)

sea salt, to taste

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 400*

2. Rub/sprinkle/spray the acorn quarters with olive oil. Then, chunk up the butter and put it in the little cavities of the squash. Drizzle with maple syrup and sprinkle with salt.

3. Bake at 400*, from 25-35 minutes

4. Eat with gusto.

Notes

I prefer Grade B maple syrup for all syrupy applications. It has a much stronger flavor that really holds up to high heat cooking.

Lughnasadh/Lammas 2011

I have no pictures or a jaunty little recap of Lughnasadh, the actual day, this year. On August 1st and 2nd I thought all day: Hey! Today’s Lughnasadh! I should do something!

I didn’t.

Well, I did. I stepped out in my garden and instead of harvesting my promising corn, huge globes of melons and shiny purple eggplants I…tore them up. The heat, the drought and perhaps some inexplicable bad luck had stunted their growth. I had one melon, a ripe sphere of promise, gestating on a vine. When I went outside Lughnasadh morning it had fallen to the ground and was being devoured by thirsty ants. I felt an irrational surge of anger that was quickly replaced by pity. At least I could go inside and grab a glass of water. These guys don’t have that luxury.

Mostly I hurt for the earth in my region. I go outside and the heat is relentless. The leaves of Thor tree are yellowing and thirsty branches dangle down, unable to hold themselves up. Grass–straw, really–crunches beneath my feet.  The only plant that seems to thrive is the one I’m trying to kill: poison ivy, cropping up all over my front yard.

I’ve told this tale many times since April. It’s still the truth around my region, but I don’t want to become mired in hopelessness. I want to move forward.

I can tell that fall is coming by one certain sign: the stirring my soul. Sounds cheesy, no? It probably is. Every year, around August, I just get this…feeling. It’s hard to describe, but it’s an assurance that the summer is ending. Before I admitted to myself I was Pagan, autumn was the time of the year that I would secretly dart in and out of the Metaphysics/New Age section of bookstores, trying to discover what that feeling meant.

As I watered my fall tomatoes on Lughnasadh morning I happened to look east. The rising sun gilded the fence posts and golden-yellow shafts of sun dappled the straw-brown grass. And I thought: That’s autumn light.

Since then the funk I was in slowly began to recede. Though it’s still hot as hell, I began collecting egg cartons to start my autumn veggies. I plan to do that over the next week. Thoughts of maple syrup, sweet potatoes, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, sandalwood, chrysanthemums, ghosts, spirits, Tarot, Mabon, Samhain, rain, colcannon, Pumpkin Spice Lattés, etc., began to fill my head. I can almost begin to feel the first morning that I will go outside to water and my skin will prickle with the chill.

I guess the feeling is…well, witchiness. I’ve heard, time and time again, that autumn is the season of the witch. For me, this is true. It’s the season that something deep within me unfurls and flourishes. My spirit wants to grow, to do, to reach, to learn. So I follow its lead.

To me, Lughnasadh marks the beginning of the end of the fallow season. The season of rest and hibernation will soon be replaced by a flurry of work, spiritual and mundane, and I will look back on this time and think: Man…whatever happened to summer?