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.

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.

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.

Halloween/Samhain

Today is Halloween. Obviously.

Halloween and Samhain are two of my favorite holidays of the year. But this year…not so much. This October I haven’t had time to think about Halloween or Samhain (more important, in my perspective) at all. I went from working one weekend this month to four, both days (that’s 14-20 hours added to each week, no break), add-on to that your usual life stuff, plus renovating the dining room, planning a party, and making Claire a costume…I mean, right now, as I’m writing this, I’m exhausted. I’m pissed/hurt because C didn’t want to wear the costume I spent precious time and money making. I’m on a bit of a sugar crash….and…well, the thought of a ritual, anything beyond…I don’t know, sitting outside in the dark, seems overwhelming. These aren’t ‘excuses’, yes, this stuff is in my control, but what I’m saying is…I let this month get completely out of control. Seriously. I’m sitting here kind of wondering what the fuck happened.

So I was trying to get in the right headspace to do something when I came across the first few lines in *this* blogpost: I would like to start off by saying that Halloween is NOT the “Witches Holiday”. Halloween is a holiday for little children to get candy, and for Adults to decorate their houses with scary witch and ghost figures. —Steven Day

And then I thought, Duh, Meagan. Just…just, duh. Calm your silly, stressed out, tired ass down. Tomorrow is Samhain. Tomorrow is the Day of the Dead. Tomorrow, not tonight, not when I have to crowbar justonemorething in. It’s not that profound a sentiment, it’s one that I’ve always operated on. Halloween is for kids, Samhain is for spiritual/religious purposes. It’s not either or. It’s not black and white. And your practice, which you love, shouldn’t feel like another weight on your shoulders. Another have-to, another gotta-get-it-done, another check on the to-do list. Blech! Yuck! I’d rather not practice anything than for it to become so rote, so tedious. And really, it’s not. One of my greatest joys, deepest pleasures, is my spiritual practice. To say that one reason October became so out of control is because I largely abandoned it, abandoned the bigger picture, probably isn’t far off the mark.

Tomorrow will be my ritual, tomorrow will be the day that I honor the ancestors and say goodbye to summer (though you wouldn’t know it here…it went from chilly to hot). Tomorrow night will be the night that I sit in stillness and contemplate the Great Silence that is death.

Tonight? Tonight is for looking at the moon in the after trick-or-treat stillness. Tonight is for catching up on Supernatural, washing the hairspray out of my hair, thanking the household spirits for their good work this past month, reading a book…

And drinking a big, Tami Taylor-sized glass of wine.

Blessings on your Halloween night. Dark blessings as your honor your dead tonight and throughout this week.

 

Observing the Signs

 

I talked about the decline of summer/onset of fall in my last, dementedly joyful post. The cold front did indeed blow through.  Temperatures have dropped to highs in the mid-nineties.  The morning and evening shade are really where you can feel the change, though. Sun warmed air cools just enough to give you goose-flesh as it passes over your skin.

This morning C and I were outside observing some new neighborhood cats. She wandered around the driveway, alternately pointing and yelling, “Kitty!” and picking up random stuff to chuck in the yard. I saw her squat to observe something. I walked over and saw that she was looking at an acorn. I looked up, and sure enough, the oak trees in our yard were chock full of them.

Other signs:

Obviously, night is coming earlier. A few weeks ago there was still an hour of twilight after we put C to bed. Now it’s dark.

The light is beginning to take on a different quality. It’s hard to explain, at once more golden and also…lighter? In the morning the light has a more over-exposed quality that I associate with late fall and winter.

People! Hah, this might be one of the biggest season signs. People are ready for autumn. On the internet and in my friend circle no one can stop talking about how autumn is almost here.

I feel it. I want to clean, can, organize, garden and prepare. I have a lot of energy for doing house work, getting things done before the eventual rush of the holidays. I also feel the turning inward, the harvesting, the beginning of self-reflection and…rootedness?…that begins in the fall.

And something even harder to explain, something that I also feel around Beltane, is some sort of…thinning. The atmosphere feels a little more open, but also a little…closer. Like something is pressing on you a bit.

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?

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: