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

 

 

 

 

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.

Inspired!

We used to buy Advent Calendars when the children were small — of course now, based on a 21 day schedule to our holiday, those have three extra! Our interest in wee chocolates waned, too.

smokinBut I got the most INSPIRED advent calendar from Germany! It has 24 different INCENSE cones!  I can catch up the days I am behind in the adorable little metal house with chimney that was sent with it…or as shown above, in my classic German “smoker!”  I am VERY appreciative of this gift!

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!

Star-Shucking: An Exercise in Soul Retrieval

threeMany branches of shamanistic paganism hold an idea of damage to the human psyche – they call it “soul loss” or words to that effect. I think it serves a purpose to consider what they mean; any metaphor that is adequate description of a broken human dimension might suggest a solution, don’t you think?

In traditional shamanic practice, the healer would drum and sing over the patient; and then go on an ecstatic flight/journey to that dark other-where where shorn souls and broken bits end up.  The goal was to find the busted, disassociated bits and thus restore equilibrium and health to the patient.  Well, I have no musical ability at all and so far as what is sometimes called “astral projection” goes?  Let’s say my control is imperfect and my desire  is meager!

I prefer to find more down to earth pragmatic ways of putting my own human puzzle back together!  And I am in dire need of putting things back in order since the election.  I also need to pick up the fallen spirits of my family members.  I think the little daily or seasonal rituals we create in our life are the tool kits of re-assembly to address the damage of normal life.  That is why the Yule holiday is my favorite – it is the time of re-light the blown-out candles of our hearts.  Hasn’t it been darker since November 8th?!

dead-starsSeveral years ago – a decade or more, I had a light “curtain” from IKEA – little golden stars so warm and bright.  Eventually, as holiday lights do, the lights died — first one or two, then a dozen and finally dark stars like little smoky quartz shards.  Even lightless, I couldn’t give up those stars, I tore them off the electric strand and saved them. For several years they went in a big glass bowl with whatever semi-defunct cheap lights would illuminate them from the bottom.  This year, back in January, at an IKEA after-Christmas bin, I found a long strand of tiny cool lights for a pittance price and bought them.  Imagine my surprise, this morning, putting away the debris of two days of decorating, to see that bag of darkened stars and the skinny lights in the same pile?

I sat down with a paring knife and pried apart one of those stars — “shucking” the little plastic pointy bits.  To my delight, they did fit over the tiny new lights!  It took a considerable time, and finally the repetition of ripping open the star and inserting a new light took on the necessary mindful, meditational quality.  Each dark star was a fear I’ve grappled with, each light the self-assurance of control.  

star-reviveLaws can be changed to something worse; but I can use passive resistance and civil disobedience.

People can hate and name-call; I can scrub off hateful graffiti.

We may see more war, more economic destruction; but I can hold friends and family and resist.

Fascism can raise a straight right arm over America; but I can raise a strong right fist.

There will be dark nights of the soul; I can light a candle or a star!

Certain groups might be cut adrift in public life; but I can throw a life-ring of love and support.

A red-hatted mob may howl; but I can hear my inner stars singing instead.

The minstrel-priest is gone; but I can make Leonard Cohen songs the sound-tract of my mind.

May it be so for you!