Happy Autumn Equinox!

Well, ladies and gents…it’s finally officially here! Autumn!

Unfortunately I have to go to work today, but I know the ride will be amazing. The vineyard I work at is down a winding country road, and on such a beautiful day I don’t think anything could be better.

How We’re Celebrating Mabon:

-Collecting acorns (special points if they still have their hats). Leaves haven’t started to fall yet; that’ll probably be on the agenda for Samhain.

-Decorating my altar.

-My family is in town so we’ve been enjoying their company.

-Continuing to plant the fall garden: lettuce, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, turnips, peas, broccoli, collards, beets, parsnips, carrots, cilantro, parsley, basil, chamomile, calendula, dill, chrysanthemums, etc…Yay!

-Taking walks and enjoying being outside.

-Later I’ll do my seasonal Tarot spread and place out some offerings.

-Thursday I started seasonal cleaning and have gotten pretty far. Completely cleaned and reorganized the office/library and utility room.

-As far as making my house a home (see post here), that’s going a bit slow, but there has been definite progress. We’ve sampled about 18 different paints for the dining room–though, we’re no where close to deciding. We bought a new dining room table, moved the old table to the kitchenette, started re-landscaping the front, and I’ve been working on re-organizing (see point above). I think in another six weeks, by Samhain, we’re going to have a substantially different home! Yay, progress!

I hope everyone is having a great beginning of autumn day!

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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?

Herbs: Calendula (Pot Marigold)

Open fresh your round of starry folds,

ye ardent marigolds!

Dry up the moisture from your golden lids,

For great Apollo bids

That in these days your praises should be sung!

—“I Stood Tiptoe” by John Keats

Latin name: Calendula officinalis from the Asteraceae family. The asteraceae family is huge! It includes sunflowers, daisies, lettuce, safflower, dahlia, Texas Tarragon, echinacea, chamomile….and the list goes on!

Native to: Probably Southern Europe, though it’s not certain.

Popular Cultivars: The cultivars are basically differences in colors and petal production. Some flowers have double-layered petals. Most calendula flowers range in color from pale yellow to bright orange-red.

Growing Calendula: Calendula is a relatively easy plant to grow, especially from seed. You do need to plan though. For this year’s crop, I sowed the seeds in late last September (I’m in Zone 8B, click here to find out your Zone) and kept them moist throughout the winter. Winter was mild, so I didn’t have to protect them much. The seeds sprouted in October.  Greenery grew slowly throughout the winter, and I saw the first buds in early February. I began harvesting in early March. I pulled up the plants in early April, because they were attracting too many caterpillars.

Next year, I’d plant calendula (and chamomile) in a completely separate bed from any vegetable seeds you might be starting. Calendula tends to attract the bugs with the munchies, and chamomile attracts aphids.

As with most flowers, cut the bloomed flowers as you see them. This will encourage more blossoms. Drying them is easy: lay them on a kitchen towel in a well-ventilated area, dry, room that doesn’t receive much (if any) sunlight. Rotate them around every couple of days to ensure even drying.

Using Calendula: After the flowers have dried thoroughly (2-3 weeks) pull the petals off and place into a clean glass jar. Keep the jar away from sunlight and too much heat (don’t store next to your oven, etc.).

Calendula is typically used to help with inflammation, eczema, and sunburn. It has antimicrobial, antifungal and antiviral as well as astringent properties. Truly, a very useful herb.

The easiest way to use dried calendula is to simply make a tea with it. Take a couple of tablespoons of dried leaves, pour near-boiling water over the, steep for 10. Strain and drink. The tea can be used for upset stomach or sore throat. You could use the tea topically either in a bath or by making a compress.

Since I haven’t worked much with my own batch yet as far as actual products go, here is a good link on how to get started with salves, creams, sprays and oils.

Magically: Calendula/Marigold is associated with the sun (as are many of the asteraceae family). Calendula’s element is fire, and its associated gender is masculine. According to Cunningham, marigold aids in protection, prophetic dreaming, legal matters and psychic powers.

To me, calendula has a gently masculine feel. It was the first hot-colored bloom of the spring, vigorous and so showy! But when working with the plant itself, the feel was comforting and…old. The petals gave off a calm, warm, healing energy as I processed them. As if to say, “Lady, I’ve been around a long time.”

Resources Used:

1. Complete Guide to Medicinal Herbs, DK Natural Health, Penelope Ody, 2000

2. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, Revised Edition, Llewellyn,  Scott Cunningham

3. A Druid’s Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year, Destiny Books, Ellen Evert Hopman, 1995

4. Growing and Using Healing Herbs, Rodale Printing, Gaea and Shandor Weiss, 1985

(On that note…I need a  more up-to-date herbal!)

(One more note…be careful when using Calendula/Marigold that you’re using the real deal: Calendula officinalis, not the other ornamental ‘marigold’, whose botanical name is Tagetes. Tagetes is *not* a medicinal herb.)

Disclaimer: Before using any herbal remedy, check with your doctor.

Foods of Imbolc

Imbolc is my favorite Sabbat. I adore it. I love the time of year–the harshest month of winter begins just as the season itself fades under the lengthening sunlight. Texas maybe gets its one day of snow a year. Then the air begins to warm, and it’s time to plant tomatoes again.

Incorporating food into my Sabbat work and ritual is important to me. It’s also important that the food be seasonal and fresh. If it’s straight from the garden, all the better. For those of us in Zone 8 that generally means no tomatoes at Yule and no green peas at Lughnasadh.

Now is the end of the citrus season. Grapefruit, oranges, tangerines, clementines can all be used to symbolize the returning sun or just enjoyed because of the fresh zip they add to food. It’s a good time to make marmalade, especially when all of the oranges and grapefruits go on sale.

My own UPG is that cultured foods are appropriate for Imbolc. In colder climates the winter stores would be nearing their end, and much of the wine, ale, fruits and vegetables that were either cultured or stored would be fermenting. Cheese, kefir, yogurt, curds and especially butter could/would be made of the milk arriving from the newly lactating sheep, goats and cows.

In my garden right now (Central Texas, Zone 8) there is an abundance of broccoli, cauliflower, collards, cabbage, green onions, snap and sweet peas, kale, turnips, lettuce and carrots. The herbs are doing well thanks to a very mild winter. I have bushes of cilantro, parsley, dill, spearmint, lemon balm, chives, oregano and rosemary. The calendula and chamomile look to be about ready to flower.  Pansies, stalwart sentinels of winter that they are, are still going strong.

For our Imbolc meal this year I’m making braised lamb, a garden salad and roasted carrots. We’ll drink wine, eat almond-honey cakes and toast to the coming spring.

Happy Imbolc/Candlemas, everyone!

The Land of the Living

I know.

I know!

Most of the time I bitch and moan about how dry it is. And it is. The third-most severe drought in Texas history. In fact, later this week I’m going to do a post on mercy-killing your plants and being a ruthless Darwinist in your garden.

However.

Plants live. Nature lives. We live. And there should be celebration that in a time when things are dry and hard that there are melons on the vine, corn unfurling to the sky and the hope of autumn as I plant my green-cover crop.

Mystery Melon on the Vine

Sweet Corn Forest

Basil + Heat = ❤

So, what to do to keep your hopes up during a drought or, likewise, during the winter? Well, keeping busy is the conclusion I’ve drawn. Nothing has helped so much as to take action.

1. It’s important to keep up your soil fertility. The drought, heat and mineralization effects of irrigation on your soil can be hard for plants and soil to handle. I’ve adopted a policy that as I take specific plants out I amend with compost, Ladybug TerraTonic and seed some clover. After the clover grows to about 4 inches, I’ll turn it into the soil, cover the ground with mulch and let it rest until late August/early September.

Clover Seeds and Ladybug Brand TerraTonic

2. Get a hobby. July and August will be long, quiet months around these parts. So I’m going to take up knitting again, as well as painting and, of course, spend more time writing. Also I’ll clean up the tools and in late July begin some seedling flats for broccoli, cauliflower and the longer growth autumn veggies.

3. Though planting takes a backseat now, especially for the home/hobbyist gardener, it’s still a time when eggplants, melons, winter squash and pumpkin can be planted from seed, until mid-July. Cosmos, a particularly drought/heat tolerant flower, can brighten up any patch of garden. Desert plants like agave and yucca will probably be fine.

4. Plan! Planning is the best part. Catalog your seeds and order new ones. Inventory your tools and see which ones need repair. Looking to take down some brush? Get price quotes. Building a chicken coop? Mobile, stationary? What about raccoons? What about city laws, HOA guidelines? Now’s the time to plan and budget.

5. I like rituals to mark transitions and will be doing one tonight at the new moon. It’ll be pretty simple, just a few words, but marking seasons is important.

So, there you have it. Those are the five things that are keeping me somewhat busy and hopeful as we ride out the summer. What are you doing for summer in your region?

Some Purple Survivor Flower--Verbena?

To Be Inspired…

Whether you’re mercy killing your tomatoes because of drought (what you’ll catch me doing in a few hours after it cools off!) or if you’re seedlings are just popping up, here’s a video I found inspirational this afternoon:

 

It’s from 2009, but I’ve never seen it. Hope you enjoy!

And Then It Rained

The humidity began Tuesday. One moment sunshine carpeted the parched grass; the next, a gloomy lavender-grey shaded the yard.

I’ve mentioned before that it’s been dry (understatement) in central Texas this year. It harkens back to 2009 when we went months and months without a single drop of moisture. Pictures showed piers jutting out over deserts with names like Lake Travis and Highland Lake.

I can still remember the first rain shower that autumn. That summer had seen a record string of over 70 100+ temperature days in a row. I was getting out of my car at a friend’s condo when a cool, almost cold, gust of wet air made me turn my gaze to the sky. Bulbous purple clouds loomed over, sunlight streaking through whatever crevices it could find. I stood outside until the clouds broke and gentle, wet sploshes began to coat the sizzling sidewalk.

It hasn’t been that bad yet this year. But it’s still been dry, and my garden has certainly suffered from the drought.

So, Tuesday, when weather reports began to announce that we had a 30% chance of showers (!) one couldn’t help but feel excited. Clouds seemed to loom over every highway fly over. Humidity creeped up to smothering levels. People seemed to buzz, just a little, with gathering electricity. Yesterday even the usually drooping plants got in on the action, tilting and cupping their leaves to the sky.

Earlier that day to give thanks for a stray rain shower I set down an offering at the base of ‘Thor tree’.

I don’t really know where the name Thor came from in reference to this tree. Well, I do, it just sounds so insignificant. One day, while walking amongst the overgrown area of our backyard I felt the urge to finally look at that tree. I had lived almost a year at this house and never really seen it. So I looked, and knew it was special. For awhile I just kind of addressed it as Tree. Sometimes as Special Tree. Then one afternoon it just popped in my head–Thor Tree–and it kind of stuck. It’s a massive, spreading oak so I figured it wasn’t too off base.

Yesterday I afternoon I prayed at the tree that they would nudge the rain our way, and thanked them for the shower they did send. I felt it accepted.

Later that night, the humidity rose in our home as J and I finished the last season of Friday Night Lights. Two hours of crying–sympathetic magic, perhaps? 😉

This morning dawned damp. Smothering. J left for work as the first rumbles of thunder rolled overhead.

Then…

I think the proper term is unleashed. Lightening flashed; thunder cracked. The sky turned a delicious purple-black. The rain smacked the pavement and pounded the grass. It wasn’t a gentle summer storm, no. It raged violent, torrential.

Eventually the intensity eased up into a more genial shower. A few hours later it tapered off. Now I sit listening to a cacophony of jaws, robins, blackbirds and squirrels nattering back and forth, reveling in the slip-n-side green playground. The air is cool; the atmosphere one of almost relief.

I’m not sure anyone who hasn’t lived through droughts could quiet understand the utter joy at seeing, feeling, hearing rain. It’s such a primal relief–the crops will grow! The livestock will have water!–that as it pounded the roof above our porch I danced with my daughter, thanking the atmosphere, the spirits of the land, garden, summer, rain, Thor, whoever. I’m not sure. All of them? Perhaps.