Things to Do Instead of Resolutions – Pragmatic Rituals of Renewal

img_3605I hate New Year’s resolutions. They set one up for failure and self-loathing before the words are even completely out of the mouth. So I stopped doing them – although now and again, I do actually resolve something; it is very rarely on January 1st!  But since it is the end of my ritual year at Samhain and I enter the contemplative, introspective “Fallows” between then and the Solstice celebration?  I do find myself making decisions.  But more often, simply self-notes and reminders.  Very often, the things I do instead of resolutions are simply resumptions of “normal time” activities put off by the holidays.  Some are necessary, but forgettable things that I attach, for memory purposes, to particular dates.  I don’t resolve.  I do.

For instance, although I use less make up than ever?  I clean my make up brushes at least once a month at full or new moon.  It is when several other repetitive tasks are done, so easy to recall.  But once a year, at least, in the week ‘twixt Xmas and New Year’s?  I not only soap and clean my brushes, but throw out scraggly ones and soak ALL of them in hydrogen peroxide to really sanitize them. 

Similarly, although I drink alcohol less and less; I clean out the booze cupboard and give away things I tried, but know I will never drink again.  This habit makes one welcome at New Year’s parties, let me assure you — showing up with bar-reinforcing bottles is never a bad thing.

I look at my bodily condition and resume regular exercise; something that from Samhain thru January barely exists.  Because I know what happens when I do not work my body: my body stops working.  It is not a new resolution, it is a normal resumption.

I make bookmarkers out of my favorite received holiday cards.  This helps me remember those friends all year and saves me money on silly boughten bookmarkers.

I clean out my spice cabinet.  No, this is not a 12″ long wooden rack of small glass jars.  It is a large mahogany hutch mounted on the wall with four shelves full of bottles and jars.  Also a pretty ceramic drawer’d thing full of customized blends.  So, getting rid of old unused spices and making note of what needs to be purchased or mixed is a nice culinary tune up for my year.

I play with my tarot cards – often doing a reading with every deck I own.  Is this divination?  Not so much, for me.  While I do believe people can be prescient, I also think most allegedly “modern” upbringing waxes that right out of us.  I also feel that is not entirely bad — I’ve seen willfully credulous people frighten themselves into paralysis by being terrified by every “sign”; some critical thinking and logic would serve them better.  That said, as a semi-contented little Jungian, I do feel that evocative images on the cards can trigger prescient moments for me. and link me to the collective unconsciousness of humanity.  Moreover, I know when I am too triggered-reactive to pay any attention to the cards; I use the cards mostly as a psychological barometer to find out the state-of-me.  Hitting six decks in six days will tell me where I am, where I might be irrationally going astray and what might better serve me.

I clean the house to within an inch of every dust-bunny’s life!  Why wait until spring?  My house gets a pretty thorough going over about four times per year.  One at the turn of the year is always excellent because it is cold enough the house is shut-up.  Making sure no cereal bowl is moldering ‘neath a bed, nor dog-dragged stolen “treasure” smelling under the desk is a very good thing.  For instance, whatever pale winter sun there is comes through clean windows better.  All those candles through the holidays smell nice, but do cloud windows unless you are burning pure beeswax with natural wicking and no metal cores.

I lovingly un-decorate.  What the hell does that mean, you ask?  Well, I don’t just toss things into bags and boxes.  I take every single thing down, I dust or polish it and put it back where it goes with care – as I do so, I remember when and where that ornament came into my life.  I call back the memories of that year.  I connect the dots of my life with the things I’ve chosen to carry with me by resurrecting the past at this time of Auld Lang Sang.  And yes, sometimes something does not go back in the many boxes and trunks stashed under the platform bed in the den.  Sometimes something pain-evoking goes away, I just let it go.

I plan my candle making for the coming year.  I inventory what I have left and what needs replacement.  Cold winter days are perfect for dipping tapers out in the Hexen Haus.  This year, for example, I plan to try making my own beeswax only tea-lights.  This is honesty, for me.  I use a lot of tea-lights and those convenient, but nasty little petroleum based bastions of window haze need to GO.  I am unlikely to get rid of many candle holders that really work only with the wee tins, so I need better tinned candles.

Who needs a resolution when I have a list of “things I always do”.  Occasionally, I have a smaller list of “things I DON’T do” to reinforce.

 

 

In Need Of…Lightness, Lost the Switch?

Have a draught of “Yes!”

herlander-walking

Yuletide. Christmas. Hanukah. Kwanzaa. Solstice.  All the reasons for the season, the season of “lights” when to many of us it has never felt more dark.  I admit, even while posting my “resist” posts since the election, my heart and will have faltered and felt swamped.  We can all admit that, right?  Because we are not alone in that sensation of darkness and lack of cheer.

This year, our family did a different thing for our Solstice celebration.  We wanted to save money for an upcoming transition to welcome home a returning veteran and his wife — my garage will become temporary living space.  We also wanted to send money to Standing Rock because we simply could not go to be there.  We would have been a burden there, and that would not have helped, but we so envied those who did go.

horn-of-enoughBut so we could send money…

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Daylight (Sort Of) Shots

I’ve been waiting for a sparkly cold clear day to take pictures of the re-decorated windows. I don’t think they are coming before New Year’s Day…if then.

2016-12-23_18691Today was SO dark that the windows didn’t even look like daylight at 0800!  Any hint of brightness was appreciated on this very dull rainy Northwestern day.  So the rams with red glowing bulbs overhead looked properly Yulish – even if the birch curtains mean the hummingbirds can’t see the red and attack the window!

2016-12-23_18704-1The larger living room window looked dull all day — until afternoon when the pale winter sun dropped below the heavy cloud cover and made the snowflakes look icy bright!  As you can see, it is clearly “light” outdoors still, it still is very dark and the icicle lights helped with the illumination.  They come on with a timer at around three o’clock….so even though the Solstice has come, we are not yet seeing much more bright daylight.

Solstice Switch-Out – The Nature of the Kitty-Beast

fullsizerenderI love my living room window.  It is presently decorated in silver, white and vibrant red.  A cozy chair and table with a hand-blown glass lampshade sits before the sparkly window and the winter sun floods in, throwing pretty shadows on my wall to say that, yes, this is the shortest day – but it gets brighter from here on out.  But yesterday saw some minor adjustments to my beloved “blood on the snow” theme to my window.  All the hummingbird attractant red globes were removed with haste.  

Why the sudden flurry of re-arrange, re-do, re-think?  Because this year I have a CAT.

glass-lampYesterday afternoon as I sat in the cozy chair in front of the glittering-betwixt-rain-showers window reading by the light of the glass lamp, I noticed a hummingbird again outside the window, practically beak to glass at one of the red ball’s glowing splendor.  I was not the only one who noticed.  The cat on the footstool at my feet made an abrupt chirp sound, bounced once on a small trunk near the window and was instantly suspended on netting that holds up all those glittering decorations!  Her tail lashed at the lamp.  All the decorations slipped down lines towards the suddenly weighted center.

I stood, dumping my book onto the floor, stabilized the glass lamp with my left hand and grabbed the slightly flailing cat by the scruff with my right hand!  I toss/dropped the cat onto the large footstool and missed catching a falling silver ball.  (One of the ones above reflecting my suddenly endangered lamp!) Oh, well.  I was grateful I had done so much of the window with plastic ornaments, and little glass!  Small loss and literal CATastrophe  averted.

First, I did think just moving the large red globes that glow like so many hummingbird feeders would be sufficient crisis management.  But the mental image of the cat hanging on the sinking garden net made me think it was time to do the slight re-build we had planned for the window post-decoration this year.  A set of vertical cloth blinds usually hangs in that large window; but since our 2008 install of newer better windows, they have not fit properly.  The window became more shallow and the blinds were hard to open.  So we had planned to remove the blind hardware and put in a kind of false top window ledge — a deeper one that would allow the re-attached blinds to again hang and move completely free.  A long, beautiful maple board was acquired with this in mind.

I decided we would do that today instead.  The net and ornaments will come down, the board, with wee hooks behind the blind’s hardware will go up.  The window decorations will be re-hung free hanging from the top only — nothing for an ambitious kitty cat to climb.  The cat is a sweet pet, it is her nature to chase birds. (And thus one reason she is an indoor cat.) When tossed onto the footstool yesterday, she looked at me like I’d lost my mind: “Mom, it was green AND red, clearly MY Solstice gift!”  But I’d simply prefer if the window was no longer an invitation to kitty stalking, ornament breaking, and lamp or kitty endangerment!  The lamp table is moved, the couch back in front of the window as in 2015 photos.  Smaller touches of red will prevail, but the larger scarlet glass globes are in windows more obscured from hummingbirds and less reachable by cat!  All is well that ends well, right?  And IF, next year, the world has not ended?  I have my window plan all ready to brighten my dark-0f-the-year, right?  I hope I find the heart to decorate next year!  It was dark by the time we finished — daytime shots tomorrow?

2016-12-21_18671

 

Hogswatch Night?

We are celebrating the season’s holiday early this year — not on the 21st or 22nd as usual.  We need to accommodate the work schedules of my two sons.  We decided this was the year to tell consumerism to take a leap off a steep cliff!  So this evening we will watch “The Hogfather” and “quaff” beer and/or mead and enjoy lights and holiday sweets.  Tomorrow, Monday morning, they will rise to fresh baked rolls and a platter of cold meats and cheese to nibble upon.  We will open presents — each of us will have one gift total.

In early afternoon, I will return to the kitchen and bake dinner’s main course — a proper pork pie that would do Sir Terry Pratchett’s Diskworld Hogswatch Night proud!

photo

Esme’s Hogswatch Pork Pie

Pastry:

*If you choose to make this in a springform pan to get more the British tall unsupported side crust appearance?  Increase amounts by 1/3 more to make sufficient pastry and add an egg yolk in lieu of part of the water to make a stronger, richer crust.

2 c. organic white wheat flour  and

2/3 c whole wheat flour

(If gluten is an issue, you may use gluten free flours, but most of those make SUCH a soft disintegrating pastry — I recommend trying spelt flour instead for ALL the flour)

1 T. sugar

1 tsp salt (use less if using salted butter)

1/4 – 1/3 icy water, 1 T of which is lemon juice

3/4 c butter (absolutely NO margarine!)

Mix the flours, salt, and sugar.  Now cut the slightly softened butter into the flour with a pastry blender until it resembles a mess of sandy crumbs.  Stir in the cold water and lemon juice, mixing very well with a sturdy fork.  When the dough is well mixed enough to form a firm ball, divide it in two —one side slightly larger.

I roll the larger piece out in a large round, I do it between layers of wax paper to save my sanity and make transfer to pie dish easy!    I use a large glass pie pan —about 10″ across; once the pie crust is nestled in and the edges curled in ready to meet the top crust, set it aside.  Roll out the top crust and leave it resting ‘twixt the wax paper until you need it.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Now, the Filling:

*for extra special pie – use wild boar (bribe a hunter or engage yourself?!)

1/3 pound of (pepper encrusted?) bacon, cut into tiny pieces

1 lb good ham, diced into 1/2″ cubes, with most fat removed

1 lb ground lean pork (I use pork loin or sirloin and grind my own)

1 lb good pork sausage, chopped

1 medium sweet onion, finely minced

(1/2 ounce dried mixed mushrooms, reduced to a powder in the blender or spice grinder – optional)

2 T mixed herbs: parsley, thyme, rosemary, and safe (equal amounts of each)

1 tsp of Scappi’s Sweet (a spice blend I duplicate from a medieval recipe) OR 1/4 tsp each cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger — not the same, but quite sufficient

1 1/4 – 2  c beef broth

1 egg white and 1/2 an egg yolk…slightly beaten (Or 2 -3 Tbsp flour)

1/2 egg yolk mixed with 1 T cold water

First of all, get a large, preferably iron, skillet and fry the bacon morsels till done, but not crispy.  Remove from pan and drain on paper towels.  Immediately put the onion to cook in the bacon fat.  (Guard the bacon against kitchen thieves, drawn by the already delectible smell!)  When the onion is tender and beginning to brown, put it into a blender with the broth and completely liquify the onion.

Brown the ground pork in the remnants of bacon fat in the pan after removing the cooked onion, stir in the ham cubes and put the bacon back in the skillet.  Stir in the herbs and the spices.  Turn off the heat of the stove.  Add the liquified onion in broth and stir well, stir in the powdered dried mushrooms.  Mix well to blend all flavors!  Now very rapidly stir in the egg white and half yolk mixture, fast enough that it does not cook atop the still warm meat!  This is to thicken the broth, if you prefer, stir in a couple tablespoons of flour into the ground pork and chopped sausage before you add the broth.  Then you have a more usual flour thickened gravy

Spoon the filling into the bottom pie crust, cover with the top crust sealing the edges together and crimping them decoratively together!  Cut slits in the top for steam escape.

Use a kitchen brush to cover the top with the yolk-water eggwash, this will make the pie attractively shiny and brown.

Place in 400 degree oven and bake for 15 minutes.   Lower the oven temperature to 375 and bake about 30- 40 minutes more until crust is done and pie is steaming hot! Serve warm (or just at room temp) with beer and a favorite vegetable!

*the picture is from last year.  This year I am doing the taller sided springform for a more “British” looking pie.

Nor Crystal Ball, Nor Navel Gazing Forward – She Rants, Raves, and Mourns

Dystopias await – choose your poison.

herlander-walking

fullsizerenderIf you look only at the surface things in my world today, I live in a holiday card. Snow is falling like a feather-bed unsewn.  Laundry is washing, and “all is calm, all is bright” as the song goes.  Music of the season is playing. Butter is softening for the baking of the Solstice cake.  (I admit, it was jarring to hear a Trans-Siberian Orchestra song about “battles raging” and jungles steaming with Medieval Babes singing “Salve Nos” on the heels of the “Night Castle” album song.)  It is as if even the most mundane and placid appearance of reality in my daily life would not hear of me ignoring yesterday.

Yesterday.  Ah, yesterday.  I sat like one paralyzed in the grip of my own mind flailing and thrashing in response to my morning’s reading of the news.  Yesterday made me wonder what the Delphic Oracle of ancient Greece inhaled…

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Seasonal Shadows (Edited)

… if only these were the only shadows!  And yes, I AM a child — my decorated window cast upon my wall by a spot of winter sunlight delights me all over again. (Also hating WP today, it is being utterly absolutely uncooperative about anything, since apparently some new hellish “do it this way” change has been kicked IN.  I refuse to go try the “new way” because every new way for the past two years has been WORSE and driven me more mad.)

img_3617Knickknacks in the shelf, and shadows from the window facing south.

Memories to be captured in any case?

shadow-jackJack Frost in the window, a crystalline snowflake in his hands — recaptured on the wall!

 

A lampshade has “shades of it’s own with the brief bright sunlight of a mid-winter’s day, and in the merry shade most popular at this season?

A plain pillow gets a sudden patterning, printed by the sun, too.

 

And shadows and reflections all at once, from window to picture frame and wall?  Perfection!

 

shadowed-shadepatterned-pillowreflection-shadows

 

 

 

 

Stories of the Season

treeI don’t totally deny the possible existence of gods and/or goddesses. I just don’t think they have anything much to do with human existence and believe that humanity’s attention needs to be on human activity to save each other and ourselves from the worst of our actions and inactions.  I think humans of any religious/spiritual persuasion would be better off forgetting about possible afterlives and thinking how to better the lifetime here and now.

So where does this leave me, a humanistic pagan with an inconveniently mystical series of life experiences at this “most wonderful time of the year”?  It leaves me with that tree there — the one with the tin “village” at its foot — nature towering over human dwellings and pursuits.  And every year, it leaves me missing Doris Lessing, now happily dead before she had to see America give into what has to be the worst idea of government ever — a fascist wrapped in the flag and claiming Christianity while living the life of a glutton.

I loved most of her books, but at this season, it is her one science fiction opus that comes to mind: Canopus in Argos: Archives.  In one of the five utterly masterfully incisive novels, she mentions “the feast of the Child” and her characters regretfully (and resentfully?) say of humans that “they have obviously forgotten the meaning of this.” She never explains this comment or what has been forgotten.  Lessing wrote with a sort of warm clarity, but there was always the sense, in these books in particular, that the reader needed to do some work themselves.

So, ever since I read the books, in the late ’70’s to mid ’80’s, every Christmas season when songs about the “babe in the manger” are so manifest in America, I have mused on what could have been forgotten.  In these novels, the earth is a petri-dish for powerful aliens trying to craft a perfect place for intelligent beings.  It is a petri-dish soiled and spoiled, and is called “Shikasta” – meaning “the broken one.”  Her “aliens” incarnate as humans to try to change our ways, our lives, our history.  Every one of them is born, a child, into human condition and risk.  A bit like Jesus, one might say.  Or Buddha.  Or Mithras.  Or … well, fill in the name of any “savior.”  Perhaps the point of a “feast of the child” was that every child should be a desired, chosen, planned for child that is welcomed into life with every intention of not letting it suffer cruelty or hunger, neglect or need?

If that was the forgotten bit, it certainly is utterly forgotten.  Almost every sect on the planet insists on every sexual act leading to procreation and every fertilization leading to the live birth of a child that may die of disease or hunger before it is old enough for school it may never get to attend!  In America, the government coming into power in January is all about not letting women decide if and when to bear a child; but they certainly dismiss the need to care for the children so forced upon those mothers.  They are happily disavowing any realistic need to examine how long the planet itself can endure our depredations to keep all of us alive.  So much for the sanctity of infantile life?

Today, our counselor asked us something about what our core value/being was made of – what gave the “why” to our lives.  My “why” has always been about creating the home I never had as a child:  secure from fleeing debt-collectors by night, free of hunger and meal-skipping, and open to friends in need.  No, I’ve not always succeeded, but I’ve not utterly failed either.  Almost everyone finds comfort here, but I often do not.  Because I can’t be in a comfort zone and still be secure in the knowledge that I am working for that “value” I espouse.  I will forever be stretching the personal envelope of contentment to worry about those I can’t quite reach.  In the process, especially now, I find myself wondering if I have forgotten how to be happy.

Is happiness possible in the world that seems to be beginning to die around us?  When children, those for whom a mythical feast was held, are bombed into bloody dust in Aleppo, is happiness possible?  Is happiness ethical?  I tell myself at this time of the year, to take a bit of relief in quite joys of a warm house and plentiful food with the purpose of nourishing myself for the fight ahead.  Every warrior must rest and recreate the will to fight?  Everyone needs to feed their souls, to fix their own “oxygen masks” before helping others.  But I admit, I feel overwhelmed.  There is so much need, and so little me.  And I have so little power.

trailIt is not cookies and candles and lights that make me feel the renewal of “fight”.  It is simplicity and innocence I see under increasing threat.  The line of snow on a dying cedar.  Feathers fallen around the feeder.  A hummingbird shivering under a warm light.  A set of footprints, not human, in the snow.  We humans may have finally irreversibly soiled out little experimental petri-dish.

We may really be in our final slow, agonizing, dragged out last chapters as a species?  I sometimes think, I may move into that realm of caring more what ELSE can survive instead of us.  We are animals, too, of course; although we certainly credit ourselves as rather more than that.  But I don’t see other species of beasts so intent on destruction.  And I see animals, everywhere, desperately protecting their young.  We throw ours away, calling them “men” at age 18 and sending them to the human sacrifice that is war.  Some “feast of the child” that is, eh?

Watch what stories you tell yourselves.  Where do those tales lead?  To some cream-cheese harp music pie in the sky?  Forget that.  Is the damage we do worth it?  All that we destroy for what we presume we inherit by dint of walking on two legs and proclaiming “Yay for our team!”  I’ll stay with another writer, thanks, Edna St. Vincent Millay – who skipped the line to “heaven” to pick a blue flag in a yet unburnt marsh.  But unlike her?  I will not turn back to that line to a promised elsewhere.  If my world is ashes, so will I be rather than be anywhere else.  So yes, I will kick your ass if you try screwing up my planet.

Happy Solstice.

Mr. Smith Gold Goes to Washington

I am boggled by people who think a “fairy tale existence” sounds glamorous. Or those who don’t see both science fiction and fairy tales as precautionary tales. Be careful what you believe…as well as what you worship, indeed! Also? This!

herlander-walking

img_3534We Democrats/Liberals keep getting told we lost the election because we don’t tell a good enough “story” to the idiots who need bedtime tales instead of reality. Well, then, fine, let me tell you a story.

After the election going to the Putin-Picked Pussy Grabber, I was incredibly depressed.  I had a difficult time sitting still enough to escape into a favorite book — needed doubled distraction: like watching television AND reading something non-political.  So I pulled up Netflix and looked for something nonsensical, with a book in my lap as well.

I thought I was in safe territory, picking ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” to watch binge-style at 3 episodes or more a day.  I had eschewed watching this show from its debut six seasons ago because I didn’t want to watch them mangle myths and whip in the Disney as I predicted would happen.

I was…

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