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.

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?

Slow Down Tea

I just ordered a teapot, strainer, book on afternoon tea recipes, and a pack of loose leaf Irish breakfast tea.

No, I’m not suffering a fit of Anglophilia.

(Though watching Sherlock, Misfits, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, the upcoming London Olympics, and all of this rain we’ve been getting might do that to a person.)

(Well, okay, mild Anglophilia.)

I’m trying to explore ritual in my life. For a while I thought that I didn’t have rituals, and therefore, my thought-life was becoming increasingly chaotic. I felt like I was whirling a bit out of control, letting things fly off into the ether and not being able to control it.

Ritual! I thought, that’s the answer.

Then I realized that I do have rituals–for better and for worse.

For instance, on the destructive side, I’m a secret eater. When I get stressed, angry or mad, I go and eat. Secretly. I drive to fast food restaurants and eat. Not binge, not anymore, but I eat stuff that I normally wouldn’t touch. I had a friend tell me that she used to do this with cigarettes. Just a little secret, but the whole process is cloaked in ritual. And if it’s not a certain place, a certain meal, eaten in a certain way…it just doesn’t feel the same.

On the creative side, I have a fairly consistent ritual of a daily Tarot card draw. I center, visualize roots drawing up nutrients into my feet, strengthening my legs, activating my chakras, and extended through to the sky and space above. Then I draw a card. It’s very centering, calming, grounding. I round it off with prayer and words of gratitude. Days that I do this–and it only takes ten minutes–are by far more productive, calm and happy.

I’ve been reflecting on the summer the past few days and what I want to accomplish before autumn is upon us. It’s the middle of July, but Lughnasadh is two weeks away. Mabon six weeks after that. The summer tomatoes are producing their last, and I’m about to put in the fall vegetables. In a few days I’ll start the seed flats of cole crops (!). I can scarcely believe it!

I realized that I’m craving more structure in my life. Since the spring I’ve been pretty lax about…everything. Which is fine. But now I want structure and routine. More–I want it to be so integrated that it becomes rhythm.

Where to start, though? In an ideal world I’d love to be the type of person who wakes up at dawn, practices yoga and meditates, has a tea ritual in the afternoon, a writing ritual during nap time, evening meditation before bed…I mean, that all sounds awesome. Not to mention religious and spiritual rituals such as prayer, devotions and other seasonal activities. I mean, whew. That’s a lot of ritual.

And with everything else that must be done in life? It’s just…not feasible.

Of course, none of it has to be super involved. It can be as simple as lighting a candle, drawing a card, reciting a brief mantra.

But I wanted something to set apart. So I decided to go back to the beginning–back to when I was a little girl and had a fascination with tea, tea pots, and all things Irish, English and floral Victorian.

(I was a romantic child, obviously!)

My mom still has all of my porcelain tea pots–a very floral collection, largely featuring chintz–and I don’t really want those in a house with my toddler. So I traded in the violets and roses for a sturdy stoneware blue. I have my Celtic knot porcelain tea cups, a package of loose leaf tea on the way, and a loaf of good sourdough perfect for toast.

The funny thing is that though I want more ritual, I also want to slow down. When I said ‘whirling’ above, I meant it–it’s been a busy, chaotic season in our life. I want this ritual to help slow. it. down. To create space to think, to observe, to relax, to collect myself. The beverage version of yoga.

So, from now until Lughnasadh I’ll be having tea, between 3 and 4, every day. With milk and sugar. Maybe cheese, toast or an egg, maybe a book or my journal. But possibly just me and a warm, sweet cup of tea.

In Memorium.

It’s been a spectacularly mild summer in Austin this year. We’ve had only four or five days of a 100+ degree weather, and a couple of rain showers even after the Summer Solstice. Last year, we had absolutely no rain from the Summer Solstice till late September, and we had already hit dozens of 100+ degree days.

So, today, when it was…check this out…eighty degrees, overcast and misty with a cool breeze on JULY F-ING FIRST!…I went for a jog. At noon-thirty.

The mind boggles.

However, our excellent and bewildering weather is besides the point. As I jogged into the little watershed area that I love I passed by Niana, the water spirit, gave a silent salute and jogged on by. I hit the turnaround point and made my way to the bank of the creek to say some prayers.

As I prayed I noticed that my mind was trying to make sense of something outside of its grid. It was a weird sensation, to say the least, but finally the ‘something’s not right’ turned into ‘turn your head to the left, moron’.

At first my mind didn’t compute what I was seeing. It didn’t have a grid for the field full of tree-stump sized pits, oak mulch and razed earth. After several false starts my mind finally turned over, and I got it.

This…beautiful, sacred piece of land…had been completely razed. From the where the creek bent to the next stand of trees, about a hundred feet further east, only a few oak stumps stood.

I gaped. Tears came, completely unbidden, as I stared at what had once been several natural circles of oak trees, interspersed with the occasional elm and juniper.  My mind flashed through all the times that I had run or walked by those trees, the certain play of afternoon or morning sunlight catching the leaves and grass just so as to give them a golden aura. The motes and dragonflies and butterflies and moths that fluttered languidly in the spring and summer sunshine. The bare, skeletal shadows that lined the path from Samhain till Imbolc.

I walked closer, and tears dripped faster.  I tried to sniffle them back a bit, but I was alone on the trail. I just let them go. In one of those true moments of nature-human synchronicity I noticed that a butterfly perched on a branch beside me, on a tree to the left a squirrel sat, oriented towards what was once a great stand of oaks.

I wanted to be mad, but without knowing the reason that the management did it, how could I be? We had to cut down 4 oaks and 1 juniper this spring because of a fungal disease. One, a 30-foot century oak, my Thor tree, was a blow to my heart and the geography of our yard and neighborhood. I’ve found that cutting down trees, for most people, is a sad act. At least, I hope that whoever did it felt a tug of something.

Whether they did or not, I mourned for the trees. I mourned for any of the spirits that made their home there, for the beauty and magic that was lost, for what was released without ceremony or succor.

I finally collected myself enough to begin jogging back home, and I noticed how much beauty surrounded this little nucleus of devastation. There’s Niana and the creek bed, more circles of oaks, reeds, herons and the sounds of kids and adults playing. But that place had always been a connection to me, a tether to something other, something older.

I’ll never stop going there. In the fall  I’ll scatter wildflower seeds, and what is now a razed field will become a meadow. And so it goes.

Here are some pictures of and around the area:

I’m Here.

Hey! It’s been awhile.

Right after my last post life got…well, busy. As it does. Husband was in a fender-bender, I registered for college, we started searching for a day-care for Claire, we went out of town, in-laws came into town, we bought cars, I decided to start re-watching all (!) of Buffy, and I started orienting my career-path to something more solid (hence, going back to school). All of the previous has meant a shit-ton of errand running and go go go.

But, I think for the next few weeks we have some breathing space. Before I start classes, before I put C into daycare (sniff), before, before, before.

It’s been kind of a weird time. Making these decisions about life, leaving other decisions behind, for now. When we got pregnant earlier this spring we were so ready for a second child. Now? Now that’s been put on hold, for a while, anyway. Some days it feels right. Some days I stumble on one of C’s old size 1 diapers and it makes me terribly, terribly sad.

I’m not sure how we, how I, am supposed to make these decisions. How do I make one decision when it means, maybe irrevocably, giving up something else? How do I joyfully anticipate one thing, while grieving the loss that’s implied? I don’t know. I really don’t.

Despite the above paragraphs, I’m really not sad. I’m exploring the tension, being honest about it with my friends and my husband, and acting on something, goddammit. The tension is better than inaction, at least for now.

The Sun card has come up a few times in my daily card draw.  It’s a new card for me; one that I’ve only drawn a couple of times (if that) in the past. I take this as an auspicious sign. That action is the right course for now. That things that have been unclear for a couple of years now will begin to be worked out, like knotted muscles during a run.

So, really, that’s all. Normal, busy, life.

Grandmother Moon

I know that the traditional names for the August Moon are Barley Moon, Corn Moon, Red Moon and such. As of yesterday I titled this post ‘Corn Moon’ after a little protection charm I made. However, today, as J and I set off to buy a chest freezer and I had just finished a batch of jam I knew that I really celebrated my grandmother during this esbat.

Last night, I did a small ritual. I blended up some Solar Protection Oil (is that weird on a Full Moon…eh? Whatever) and had a sheaf of corn that I had dried and wanted to charm for the house/as a harvest decoration. I plan to find a place for it to hang, perhaps at the beginning of September.

Solar Protection Oil: Orange, Pine, Rosemary and Patchouli blended with Sweet Almond Oil

Dried Corn Sheaf Blessed with Protection Oil

The above isn’t the best picture–many apologies, my corn sheaf isn’t photogenic 😉 (That sentence made me laugh.)

Anyway…I woke up this morning and prepared to make my first jam, ever! I’ve never canned before and was extremely nervous. The whole idea of botulism kind of freaked me out. I didn’t want to shell out money for the equipment before I knew if I even liked it, so I took some pointers from this website about how to can without the equipment. I did buy jars, though (she recommends reusing jars). When I pulled them out of the package, much to my delight, they were the same quilted pattern my grandmother had used when she canned.  I hadn’t noticed when I put them in the shopping cart earlier that week.

Mixed Berry Jam with Allspice, Clove, Nutmeg and Ginger

Mmmm. Jam. Lots of finger swiping.

After I set the jam to seal and cool, J and I decided to make a purchase we’ve talked about for a long time: a chest freezer. We have visions of buying a side of grass-fed beef (anyone want to split one if I can find a provider this late in the season…anyone?) and preserving our garden harvest. So, today, we decided to do that.

Not to get sentimental about an appliance, but one of the things I remember most vividly about my grandmother’s house was her chest freezer in the garage. It held all sorts of yummy things, like a plethora of half gallons of Blue Bell ice cream (Tin Roof, Rocky Road, Pecan Praline and the best…Homemade Vanilla). Blue metal utility shelves lined the back wall of the garage, filled to the brim with preserved veggies from their garden, jam and, most importantly, apple butter.

Oh, gods, the apple butter. That will definitely be happening this year.

Anyway, as I set about doing all of these harvest-y, homey type tasks I felt so, so close to my grandmother. She hasn’t passed over yet, but she turned 90 this year and lives under the care of my parents. It’s hard to see her age as she was the matriarch of the family, the rope that bound our family together during some truly harrowing times. Honoring her this moon, remembering her, acting as she taught me to act: to preserve, to be frugal, to make a home, to tell stories, to laugh—is truly a blessing I won’t soon forget.

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?