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.

 

 

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.

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

 

 

 

 

Traditions? And Manners, Thanks!

axial-tiltI don’t believe in meaningless traditions.  Traditions are those things for holiday times — or normal times — that give comfort and healing peace.  So, like the bedtime rituals of toddlers, designed to make sleep a pleasant thing for all; I feel traditions should serve those who enact them.  I bake cookies, too; but not those I don’t want to eat!

We have a lot of traditions here!  Decorating the house is a big one for the winter holiday — the winter’s solstice here.  It was difficult this year, but now, each evening we sit in the glow of holiday lights and I time my breathing to the ticking of the cuckoo clock till I feel myself back in control.  Some people find a bedtime story a comfort even in adulthood.  This is a worried season, this might be an answer for you, too?

I am out and about little at this season.  I shop well in advance for the small bit of shopping we do.  I bake my own treats with a few notable exceptions (German lebkuchen) so I don’t need to haunt the grocery store, either.  And yet, there is always the question of manners, isn’t there?

Since the election,there has been a lot of shouting that “Now we can say Merry Christmas again, damn it!”  Ah, well, I don’t recall seeing anyone drawn and quartered for saying that ever.  Did I miss something?  Am I actually now allowed (until the Inauguration?) to simply pull out my battle axe and behead anyone who says “Merry Christmas” to me instead of “Blessed Solstice”?  Cause damn, I could use a bit of murder, death, kill to relieve tension right about now.

Ah, but we have a tradition of manners, too.  (Alas?)  If someone says to me, smiling, “Merry Christmas!” I smile back and say “The same to you.” or “And Happy New Year.”  If, however, as happened once or thrice last year?  Someone narrows their eyes in a parking lot and snarls, aggressively with no smile, “Merry CHRISTMAS!?”  Well, then I am going to try to make their head spin ala Linda Blair.  I smile and say something back like “God Yul!” or “Blessed Solstice!” and of course, they are totally bent out of shape.

I will respond to strangers in exactly the way they respond to me.  Nice people, mannered people will be treated with manners.  Assholes will be offered a perfectly mannered response tailored to MY beliefs.  I even send a few cards each year that say “Merry Christmas” when I know that is what the recipient is celebrating.  My fellow pagans, theistic or non, get “Blessed Solstice” cards.  The occasional Jewish friend gets greetings for their winter holiday, and even Kwanzaa is in some of my cards.

I consider it an obnoxious assumption to say anything more precise than “Happy Holidays” to strangers — it at best neglects the specific winter holiday special to them and at worst insists that they should follow MY holiday beliefs.  Like people insisting a secular business like Starbucks MUST mention Christmas, well, gee, write your own little Merry-What-the-Fuck-EVER on your cup and quit acting like spoilt toddlers having tantrums.

Because yes, I’ve a bucket of coal for your un-mannered stockings.  Also, what?  Were you raised by rabid fascist hyenas?

 

A Star, A Star…Dancing in the Night

gold-star…or words to that effect!  It is dark by barely after 1600.  I need all the light I can get, so I did drive myself to decorate for Yule even in my election-night-shocked state this year.  The lights come on before the full outdoor light fails; and we settle into the home comforts of winter cozy.

Tomorrow, I will begin baking — shortbreads and sugar cookies, and something extravagant and as-yet-un-planned involving peanut butter.  A stout cake will be tinned away for the Yule Eve celebration.   We will muse over holidays past and our hopes for the future over golden glasses of home made mead.  We will welcome friends and nurture others shocked and worried over the effect of electing a racist, misogynist not-so-great-pumpkin as POTUS.

The pale cold winter sun will light up my window, done in what I call my “blood on the snow” decoration theme.

prism-window

Of course, I had to play with the Prism application for fun!  We have filled this window with ornaments ever since we first moved to this house in 1987 — but only the last two years have featured only silver, white, and red ornaments that sparkle even without electric lights during the day.  Some cold, wet afternoon soon, we will watch our holiday standard: The Hogfather by Sir Terry Pratchett!  I’ve not decided if I will make a pork pie to have for supper that night, but it is a possibility!

Ignore 75% of the news for a while.  Yes, the world is going to change and likely not for the better after January 20th.  But until then?  Find family and friends, embrace and comfort them.  Eat too many cookies.  Dance to holiday music.  Hide a present or two.  Feed the birds, walk in the snow!  Make everything your eye falls upon as beautiful and life-affirming as you can.

Be the light in the winter darkness!

Ullr’s Tag

We don’t really celebrate Thanksgiving in this household. Being pagan, we do have other days to do that and we’ve done it. For me, Thanksgiving is forever soured because of the school day gloss of the the “happy Indians and Pilgrims” stories that were such lies for the most part.

This year in particular, as police use water canon to douse protestors at Standing Rock with icy water in sub-freezing temperatures while the White House sits silent in spite of many petitions begging Obama to act, I cannot bear the idea of feathers and pilgrim hats.

img_3581We celebrate “Wayland’s Day” on Thursday — or whenever in this week everyone is home at once. This year, it is Thursday. We bless the ironware of the house in memory of the legendary smith. But today? Today is, in the Nordic Tradition, called Ydalir — and celebrates the winter god, Ullr — master of skiing and archery. Some tales say that Ullr rules the world through winter, while Odin presumably spends the winter toasting and drinking in his Hall!

It is the day we begin decorating for the Winter Solstice — my favorite holiday of our year and the first since the formal end of the year at Samhain. So I began the decorating that will be completed by the weekend. I’ve been a bit under the weather of late, so my entire day was dedicated to planting daffodil bulbs and getting “Ullr’s Tree” up.

Let the snows begin!