Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Though I am sick, I am still able to smell the faint hint of pies baking in the oven. Today we cook up the green bean cassarole, and the mashed potatoes. They'll heat up just fine tomorrow, which frees up the oven for more pressing items like roasting turkey. Midnight tonight will see the store-bought turkey go in the oven, overstuffed with my Hungarian grandmother's bread stuffing. Hopefully by morning, the turkey will be disjoined due to the overstuffing, thereby making my carving duties much easier. The wild turkey with wild rice and sausage stuffing will go in around 11:30am, to be ready for display and serving at about 5pm. The morning will see us making yam balls and squash soup. Afternoon will include heating up the carrots, peas and corn, and early evening is when the salad will be made, with lettuce fresh from the basement garden.

I have no idea who is coming tomorrow. It doesn't really matter. I'm happy to be here doing things. I'm happy to be with family. I'm thankful for so many things in my world, and even while sick, I'm finding little reasons to be joyful.

Tomorrow, instead of a prayer we will be singing a hymn entitled Sent Forth by God's Blessing by Omer Westendorf. It is sung to the tune of "Ash Grove" which is a Welsh folk melody from the 1800s. The lyrics we will be singing are posted below the YouTube video:

Sent Forth by God's Blessing
Omer Westendorf, 1964
With praise and thanksgiving, to God ever-living
The tasks of our everday life we will face.
Our faith ever sharing, in love every carying
Embracing god's children of each tribe and race.
With your grace you feed us
With your light now lead us
Unite us as one in this life that we share.
Then may all the living, with praise and thanksgiving,
Give honor to Christ and that name which we bear.
The only difference is we're switching "Christ" to "God" for the purposes of interfaith harmony in the home. Not everyone believes/worships Christ, but we all believe in God of some color or shape. :)

I hope that you and yours, wherever you may be and whatever you may believe, have a wonderful and holy time today (or on your chosen day). It doesn't matter if you believe in God, Goddess, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or a Universal Consciousness... or even nothing at all. There are reasons in your life to give thanks today. They might be hard to find, they might take some real digging, and you might even have to say them with gritted teeth... but persevere. It does matter.

Friday, November 20, 2009

House Rules

I watched a television show tonight, for the first time since starting seminary. It's Friday night, I'm home alone with the kids, and they're in bed after having a wonderful night watching 101 Dalmations (the original, I might add) and eating fish sticks in front of the tv. I found myself upstairs and in bed long before my normal bedtime, quite awake. Frankly, I didn't really want to be alone with my thoughts, so I flipped open my "free tv online" site and found the first episode of the 6th season of House.

Whew. Let me post this now: SPOILER ALERT. If you haven't seen it, please don't yell at me when I talk about plot points. I've given fair warning. There.

First, I didn't realize it was a long episode, so that took me by surprise. Second, I wasn't sure where they were going to go with it. The last season ended with House walking mostly voluntarily into a mental hospital, looking for help. This season started there, but I was afraid it was just going to be, "Oh, he stayed, and got off drugs, and now he's fine." It wasn't.

Is it sad that I can find so much of myself in what House is going through? I recognized so many of my own stages in his time in the mental ward. He went in to deal with the physical symptoms: hallucinations and drug addiction. He met up with a good doctor who refused to let him go until he dealt with the real problem.

House threatens to mess up the ward, "turn it upside down" as he says. The docs don't really seem to be impressed - they just point out that he isn't the first unruly patient they've dealt with, and invite him to spend some time thinking quietly in a padded room. I've been there, in the "mess it up" stage. I don't want your help, and I want to make everyone suffer because I am suffering. I hated it, inside, but it had its momentary satisfaction. After all, as the saying goes, misery loves company. If I'm going to feel crappy, I may as well take along as many others as I can.

His second ploy is to go around to each of the other patients and use his powers of observation and inventive insults to deeply hurt each of them. He freaks out the claustrophobic guy by crowding him. He tells the suicide chick that she's worthless. He tells the anorexic guy that yes indeed, his pants DO make him look fat. That kind of thing. I've done that, too. Watching it on television was almost too painful, even knowing that was what was coming. I've purposefully hurt people like that, like a knife wound through their soul. I've also realized that I spent so many years doing it purposefully that now, without meaning, I still do it sometimes. I watched House come to that realization, too.

Then he decides to play it straight, starts talking in group, is nice to everyone, and apparently is compliant with his meds. Of course, he's just doing it to get out, and isn't actually taking his meds at all. Turns out his doctors know it, and mess with him in a lot of ways to make sure they have it right. They let him travel along his path of lies for a long time before they finally call him on it, and then prove that they knew it all along. Here, too, I realized I've done it. "Look at me, even off meds I'm fine!"

Then the big talk with himself (though he actually talks to another character, the "talk" is really to himself) wondering if there's any difference between pretending to comply, and complying. Wilson helps him by not helping him, and he accidentally causes some major harm to one of the patients at the mental ward. It's a wake-up call for him. Been there, too. Coming to be with my poly family was that wake-up for me. Having to put the family first, instead of myself, was one of the most difficult lessons for me.

So much of the episode resonated. I was listening to my own words and inner monologue come out of House's mouth. He talks with his shrink, asking how you become happy. What does he have to do to get out? How can me make it happen? He pushes people away, thinking that's the right thing to do, not realizing that he should be learning from them instead of shoving at them.

Eventually, he opens himself up. He opens himself to a woman, and while there is a sexual encounter, it's really not the important part. She hurts him, and badly. Instead of running off, or doing something self-destructive, or lashing out to hurt someone else and drag them into his own miasma, he turns to his psyche, and talks. I remember several moments like that with my therapists over the past five years... moments when the feelings and emotions came pouring out of me, floods of self-recrimination, fear, loathing, anger, frustration, egomaniacal self-delusion... I remember how good it felt to admit I didn't understand any of those things, and that I knew I really needed help.

So I sat down to watch the show House, and ended up spending almost as much time thinking afterward as if I'd just started with the thinking. Maybe I needed that thinking time, and that pointed message. I have no idea what called to me to watch House tonight. I have a novel I'm writing for NaNoWriMo that is far behind in word count which I had intended to make my priority, but House won. Why? Does it matter? Not really.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

He Epistole - Winter Issue

I'd like to remind people that the Winter issue of He Epistole is due to come out in December 2009. Please consider submitting an article, image, or poem to our wonderful newsletter.

The submissions deadline for the next issue is November 25th, 2009, and the next issue will be available in December 2009. Any submissions for the next edition can be sent to the Editing Team at

You can find He Epistole online at !


The Thanksgiving Day Blues

The holidays are approaching, and that means blood pressure is often rising, too. I have many memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas meals that were awful, horrifying, disappointing and downright rude. I think everyone has at least one. The holidays seem to bring out the worst in people.

Is it the stress of trying to find the right gift? Perhaps it's the pressure of attempting to make a turkey that comes out as perfect as Aunt Joan's did 25 years ago. We're trying to visit every relative in 5 states in a 2 day period, and none of them will meet in a central location. Throw in the allergy factor and you get a lot of wheezy, nasty people who are fed up with one another before they even walk in the door.

There is an article in the NY Times today, and I want to share it. It really is a good one, and it covers a lot of fun and serious stories about holiday stress.

It's The Holidays - Prepare For Rudeness,
by Joyce Walder

THE weather grows cold, the holidays are bearing down upon us and soon we will find ourselves in that seething caldron of unmannerly behavior: the family holiday gathering.

It gets rude in there. Just how rude is exemplified by the story of a teacher from the Midwest who was pregnant with her first child when she attended a large Thanksgiving celebration at the home of her husband’s parents.

For months, the teacher’s mother-in-law had been saying that she wanted to be in the waiting room when the teacher went into labor, and the teacher, who recounted her story on the Mothers-in-Law Anonymous section of, had been politely rebuffing her.

So at Thanksgiving dinner, with the family gathered around the table, the mother-in-law (referred to on this site as “MIL”) took the matter into her own hands.

“MIL announced to me and the entire family the following,” the teacher wrote. “ ‘I WILL be in the waiting room while DIL is in labor, and all of you are welcome to come too. MY SON will come and give me updates every hour on the hour.’ ”

The teacher told this reporter, “I wanted to scream: ‘Are you serious? I’ve told you that I don’t want anyone there and you invite the entire family! Who do you think you are, taking over my first birthing experience?’ But what could I say and remain tactful?”

Read the rest of this WONDERFUL article here.

In light of all this holiday stress, I regret to inform people that it looks like Sis's dad is going to die this week. She and Gray left last night at about 7pm to drive to Chicago, hopefully in time to say goodbye. It's a sad moment, although not entirely unexpected. The saddest part is that he's only 67, I believe. We have him in our prayers and have asked family and friends to also keep him in their thoughts.

It is unlikely he will survive. What we are hoping most for right now is that Sis makes it there in time to hold his hand and say goodbye. Our wish is for a safe and gentle passing.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Work and Worship

A Sonnet for Hestia

Holy Hestia, Mother of Hearth and Fire,
Thou of softest smile and dimpled cheek,

Thine home is not in temple's burning pyre

But in the cherry flame of homefire meek.

At every kitchen stove and fireplace

The pious heart Thine presence permeates.

Thy flame doth warm the home with love and grace.

Yet ne'er forget the burns Thy flame creates.

Thou art our center, focus, and our love;
Thine prayers are said as every fire is lit.

O Hestia, Virgin One we now sing of,
To Thine gentle form this piece is writ.

Belov'd Daughter of Zeus, let all proclaim

The central place each has for Thine great flame!

I wrote this Sonnet in October of last year, and I felt like sharing it today. Since we're switching stoves out, our Hestia flame is gone for a short while. But my altar stays, as you can see, and it contains the items that remind me of her always. It is always a bit crowded on her altar, perhaps because I seem to want to squish all my tiny kitchen tools on there. It's nice, though, and cheery. I see it every time I am in the kitchen.

My pretty chicks have grown into handsome hens! Today we cleaned out the hen-house, and put down fresh straw and food and such. We're all set for the winter. I even managed to get a timer onto their coop light, so they'll have a good day/night cycle. We started getting eggs, about three a day so far, and I want to encourage them to continue that! I'm pleased with how nice the chickens look. They're plump, strong, well feathered, and have bright wattles. These ones are going to get names once we're through the winter, and I'll be banding their legs as well. They've become terribly tame, and will come when you call out, "Chick chick chick!" which is what I call when I have special treats or food for them. They even got to run around outside of the coop for an hour (in the rain, mind you) today, as we were cleaning it out. I think they had a good time. I suspect I'll do that more, now that everything is all neatened up in the coop!

Now that is a picture of preservation. Look at all the jars of tomatoes, pickles, dilly beans, jam, corn, etc. It's a great thing to have all that food stored away. If you peek over the edge of the top rack, you can just see the buckets of lettuce we have growing in the basement, as well. We plan on having fresh salad as part of our Thanksgiving meal. I'm especially pleased with those jars of little round things you can see (try clicking on the photo to make it larger): those are our pears. A close friend was over for a few days and spent almost all of her available time canning our pears for us. Bartlett pears are a favorite of mine, and the idea that I can pull a jar off the shelf anytime over the winter, and have that late autumn crispness, is a major thought of happiness for me.

As Hestia is usually given "first and last" in modern Hellenic traditions (and might have received that honor in ancient times as well), I leave you with an image of one of our many basement wood piles. All over the basement, in neat rows, there are cords and cords of cut wood ready for burning. It's a lovely, warming feeling to know that your house is heated by the fuel that fills your basement! We still have two large piles to bring into the house or stack nearby, but more than half of it is already in the basement, ready for use. We've had the stove on a few times in the past few weeks, but not every day. Soon, it will be every day and all night, kept burning to keep us warm and cozy as the snow falls and the silence of winter surrounds us. Hail Hestia!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The New Seminary - November's Class

This is the altar that our ritual group put together for Saturday's class. On it are many candles, small items of great spiritual meaning to the participants, and images of one of the ladies who had the great honor of going to see the Bodhi Tree. The small leaves you see, on paper, are leaves from the Bodhi Tree, and we were each allowed to hold one during the ritual. It was a very moving ceremony, to say the least. Very enlightening, so to speak.

So much went on over the weekend that it would be impossible to share it all. Highlights included Rev. Allan's talk on Buddhism, 2 hours of sheer educational and spiritual joy as he shared his personal experiences with Buddhism and his encounters with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. After the last chant was done, we moved on to lunch, then spent the afternoon in ritual and personal sharing. Sunday we listened to one of the best lecturers on paganism that I have ever encountered. Rev. Ken was charming, attractive, and better yet, well educated. He was clear about the difference between personal views and facts, covered many thousands of years of disparate faiths succinctly and with reverence, and kept us chuckling in our seats the whole time. I am honored to have been able to sit and listen to him.

I also had my own chance to speak, something I am very grateful for. I was asked to speak briefly about the Goddesses of Hellenismos. I did a very short introduction to Hellenic worship, and then spoke about the goddesses in my life: Hecate, Nyx, Hera, Persephone and Demeter, and then the Nymphs and my ancestors. Considering I had a fairly short time to talk about it, I think I did fairly well. I enjoyed presenting, and was quite humbled by the response from my fellow classmates.

I got to ride the Staten Island Ferry and the NYC subway on my own, which was a real treat, and I ate Pho with true gratitude. I shared two lunches with classmates, one Thai and one Indian, and both were so delicious. I have to admit, the food makes it worth going to NYC even if you aren't a city person.

I just don't have words to express how the weekend went. On one level it was "just" lectures and sharing, and yet it was much, much more. It was wonderful learning about the Hindu goddesses from someone who worships them and is so intimately a part of the class (thanks Suren!), and I was graced with watching the joy on people's faces as they learned that they had feminine energy or divine within their lives where they never realized it before. It was emotional, exciting, overwhelming and fantastic.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Religion and Medicine

Religion and medicine: Sometimes a healing prescription

New study reports that pediatric physicians are more likely to accept the salve of religion when medicine has failed the patient.

Do pediatric oncologists feel that religion is a bridge or a barrier to their work? Or do they feel it can be either, depending on whether their patients are recovering or deteriorating? A novel Brandeis University study examines these questions in the current issue of Social Problems.

Through in-depth interviews with 30 pediatricians and pediatric oncologists at elite medical centers, the authors discovered that physicians tend to view religion and spirituality pragmatically, considering them resources in family decision-making and in end of life situations, and barriers when they conflict with medical decisions, said lead author Brandeis sociologist Wendy Cadge.

Read the rest here.

For Hestia

Within the small confines of our wood cook stove, you can see the blazing glory of Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth. I feel very lucky to be a person who is able to have a true hearth fire. My small Hestia altar hangs on the wall beside this stove, and contains an ear of corn, a small sheaf of wheat, a miniature wooden spoon, an offering bowl and a candle. I don't spend a lot of time worshipping Hestia, but she is always present, and I can always feel her. It's as if the house itself is her temple, and we're pieces within it.

Today is a special day, being the first day I lit the fire in the wood cook stove this year. We've had the big heat stove in the living room going already, but I decided to make scalloped potatoes for dinner, and wanted to do it in the slow-cooking interior of the cook stove's oven. So I lit the fire and got it good and hot, and then made a small burnt offering to Hestia, who I thanked for the warmth for people and food. Now, the heady scent of toasted barley is wafting around my kitchen, and making me hungry!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Return, return, return...

This was the view outside the retreat house we stayed in this past weekend. It was so beautiful up at Sebago Lake in Maine. The weather was perfect, with temperatures around the 60s in the day, and 40s at night. There was light rain a couple of times, but it wasn't troublesome at all. The only time I felt it, rather than seeing its results, was when I walked the labyrinth, and it was a mere sprinkle that fell as I slowly trod the path. The company of the women who attended was just lovely, and I felt not the least bit uncomfortable. The whole weekend was just a perfect time to refresh, recharge, and be ready to move on.

We arrived almost (but not quite) late for dinner on Friday evening, and hurried in to gnosh on incomprehensibly delicious lasagna, fresh and crispy salad with all the fixings, and still-warm home made apple crisp. I ate reasonably the entire weekend, even though I was much more active than at home and didn't have to cook or clean. I had thought I would gorge myself, but everything was so yummy that I felt I should just savor it in moderate doses. I didn't feel a need to snack, either, which I am amazed at.

The view off the back porch of the retreat house was stunning. Early on Saturday morning (after breakfast but before the main meetings and such), I decided to go for a solitary walk along the lake. The clouds were low in the sky, and the water choppy, but it was warm enough, and dry, and light through the overcast conditions. I sat on a bench for a half hour or so, and worked on some poetry that's been stuck in my head for a while. It was peaceful there, and quiet, with no sound from the main house, no voices, no roads...

I found the words coming more easily than they have in ages. I had all my seminary homework completed, and knew I had a full week before the next class and the homework was due. As you can see in the picture, I came ready with notebook, coffee cup, and jacket. The coffee was well-enjoyed, but the coat just got sat on because the wood bench was a bit damp from early morning rain.

I will admit, I was a bit surprised at just how "pagan" the retreat was. I expected more of a mix, I suppose, but it seems that Unitarian Universalist has become almost synonymous with pagan, of late. I'm not sure if I'm happy, sad, or disturbed by that thought. Don't get me wrong - the rituals and singing and workshops were wonderful. I even had a chance to do a bit of a tarot lesson with a crowd of ladies who wanted to learn some basics. It's just that I am so much seeking balance now, moreso than ever before in my life. "Nothing but Goddess" just isn't enough anymore; there needs to be a masculine counterpart to balance her.

All of this was just flitting through my very busy mind, of course. We had a costume party, which was fun, and a bit of a talent show. I swallowed my nerves and read four of my favorite poems for the group. I was pleasantly surprised by the reception - several women came over to me later and discussed how much they liked my poetry, and how they would like to hear more. One of the poems I read was Winter Symphony, which is one that I spent a lot of time writing, but often doesn't receive very good reviews. It really piqued interest of many of the women, which made me feel quite happy inside. I was proud of myself just for getting through the reading - preaching at a pulpit is WAY easier than reading poetry at an informal gathering of peers. LOL!