Thursday, June 17, 2010

Intensive Retreat

There we are, the students and Deans of The New Seminary's Class of 2011. This was taken right after our initiation (relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, especially in light of the previous night's cleansing ritual). We are the largest class for TNS, I believe, and I'm very proud to be a part of it. The ceremony was very touching, and included our singing a couple of songs and participating in a ritual of initiation.

For the cleansing, we were required to wear white outfits, and so that's why everyone is dressed in their pretty whites. It was really amazing to see everyone in white. It isn't something  you really know how to look at, in a way. There were people from all over the United States, plus one lady from British Columbia, and four from Australia. We represented many religions: Islam, Wicca, general pagan, Hellenic polytheism, Nordic reconstructionism, several different flavors of Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and even agnosticism. I am still coming down off the high of last week's retreat and celebrations. I'm honored to have taken the steps of my journey with these people.

One of the close friends I made while in NYC for the retreat was Suren, pictured here with me. He went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a bunch of us, and he and I meandered off to the Indian and Vedic sections together. I learned more about Hindu, Islamic, and Buddhist beliefs in the two hours we were there, than I did in the two months we spent learning about those religions. He's a wealth of knowledge, and a handsome guy to boot. He's also an accomplished photographer. I enjoyed spending the time with him, with Sarah, with Judy, with Andria, DiAnna, and everyone else (there were 60 or so of us and I'm not going to name them all!).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Return to Home

I am home again, after being gone for 10 days from my beautiful farm in New England. Coming home was both joyous and stressful. There was a certain magical quality to being in New York City. There, I was responsible only for myself, for my own needs and wants. I didn't have to clean a house or cook for others; I had only to provide my own meals in one way or another, and make my bed each day. Coming home, I returned to laundry, children, meals, making coffee, cleaning house, weeding, mowing the lawn... Lots and lots of work. I don't resent that work, though. I knew that it would be waiting for me (and it was, in spades), and that I would have to step up to the plate again. At the same time, there's a sense of being completely overwhelmed by the work, because it is never-ending.

Above, I have posted an image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. It is a lar, a Roman household god or spirit. When I walked up to this, it just seemed to vibrate. What a lovely piece, and my grainy photo doesn't do justice to its beauty and grace. It looks for all the world like a tiny little person dancing wildly, holding up a horn of wine and an offering plate. I took many photos at the Met, and many touched me deeply. This one seemed appropriate today, though, as I return home after being away for so long.

So much is going on, and I have so much to tell about my time at retreat and in NYC in general. I will try and add a little bit at a time over the next few weeks.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Retreat Blogging

So I am at the Passionists Retreat House in NYC, in the Bronx, relaxing in my room and looking out the window at the lovely view. It's very beautiful here, and everything is being done for us (cooking, cleaning etc) so that we can focus on our spiritual journies. I feel a little spoiled, and very happy.

Right now we are observing two hours of silence. We're welcome to do whatever we like, provided we do so without talking. I am currently listening to Peter Gabriel's Passion, and processing through the things that have happened to me in the past few days.

We've been working through the exam questions, as a group rather than one on one, for which I am quite happy. I tried to make sure to answer questions I was uncomfortable with as well as ones I knew well. A few I simply felt I HAD to answer. I tried not to talk too much, but to say things I felt were important or different from my fellow seminarians. I think I did alright.

The culmination of the questioning process was held in a single large group, with all 60 or so students present. I did fine, and even answered one question. I felt comfortable. After we were done, though, a friend of a friend came up to me and thanked me for my contributions. For a variety of reasons, I just... started crying. I couldn't stop.

I eventually went outside to try and get myself under control. I had totally forgotten (despite being excited about it a few minutes earlier) that I needed to say the lunchtime prayer. Dean Deb found me wandering around outside, snuffling in a kleenex. I did manage to pull it together and hussle into the dining room, but I felt somewhat scattered. I think I did alright, in that several people commented on what a lovely prayer I'd said and how it resonated with them. I just wish I could remember what I said, because I have absolutely no recollection of it at all. I'm frustrated about that.

After I was done, I had to go out in the hall again and finish up my cry. I had Deans asking after me, and fellow students. I struggled with feeling silly. I kept saying, truthfully enough, that I was just processing.

What had really started it was the reminder of my friend Suz. During the past several years, Suz has been a real inspiration to me. She's a wonderful Hellenic and pagan, very devout, full of the kind of love and compassion that I hope to hold within me some day. When things went odd at Neos Alexandria and Neokoroi last year, Suz was there. During that whole time, she listened, gave feedback, and held sacred space for a great number of hurting people. She was also hurting a lot herself because one of her precious horses was having medical problems, and it just ate at her heart and soul, yet she still found the fortitude to help others.

Still, all the above could have been done by anyone, or several someones. It might have been a stretch, but it was possible. What she did that no one else could have, what she did in such a compassionate and yet firm and barbed way, was to kick me in the ass and tell me to come up for air. She knew many details, knew very much about the situation, and still allowed me to make mistakes until she knew the time was right. And then she gave me the boot.

Looking back on that time, it was the single most valuable gift I've received in many years. She disrupted my wallow of pain, and my spiral of confusion, and set me on a (painful and difficult) path to healing. She forced me to think about something other than me. I owe her so much. I'm sending back numerous hugs and much love with our mutual friend.

So today I cried tears for that time. Perhaps it is the last of the pain of it leeching out, or maybe it's shame for my own actions. It doesn't really matter; the process continues, and I am handling it. Tonight is our class purification, and I do feel ready, prepared, and internally cleansed.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


That's the new chicken tractor for our broilers. They're happy little critters. They have space, fresh air, sunlight, cool water, shade, and they don't sit in their own poop. They also have food, which they aren't so happy about, because I'm refusing to give them enough of it for them to eat themselves to death.

Yes, our chickens have eaten themselves to death in the past.

I've been reading about disturbing food habits, and people who "attack the fat people" and other such things. I find I am wavering between two viewpoints. One point is that there are people around the country who are doing their best to eat well and are failing, largely because of economy and Big Farm/Big Government making it difficult to afford to buy the fresh foods they ought to be eating. The other point is that there are a boatload of people out there (myself included, btw) who are just plain fat because they eat too much and sit in front of the television or the computer and do nothing else.

So what are the options? Well, if you're lucky, like us, you can grow your own food. Now, you don't have to have the kind of space we have. A family of two adults and two kids can eat pretty well off a garden that's 20' by 20'. It won't make you self-sufficient, but it will provide you with fresh, healthy veggies through the spring, summer, and fall, and probably produce a bit extra for canning and drying, to use through the winter. You can grow beans, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, onions, and strawberries in a patch that size, and if you work hard, I bet you could fit in lettuce, spinach, radishes, bok choi, and probably a dozen other "small crops."

That might not seem like much, until you add it up. For several months over the summer, you won't have to purchase fresh vegetables. If you take that extra money and shuffle it downstream to your winter food budget, you will be able to afford to get a few things more. Your kids might discover they really like green beans, or they might find that there's this Cool Red Bean at the seed shop that provides something interesting for the table.

Not everyone has a plot even that small, though. Some people only have containers on a balcony. Now we have those Topsy Turvey Tomato things, and those grow rather well, according to some (though results do vary, and if you have ground space that's always better). Pole beans will grow in a container, as will a couple of cucumber plants. You can get strawberry pots for a delicious summer treat (yes they work, though they don't produce a LOT of fruit).

The biggest problem I see with this, is that it requires work. Our family has five adults, one adult kid, and two 4-year olds. That gives us an edge on smaller families.


Gray works 60+ hours a week but has the "luxury" of working from home. When he's off his desk job, he mounts the tractor or runs the welder or uses the wood working tools to do the myriad of metal and lumber projects that only he has both the skill and strength to do. The end result is that he starts his day at 7:30am, and often doesn't end it until dark, which is after 9pm right now. Then he comes in and helps with inside chores. Saturday and Sunday are the days he gets the most done, because he has many daylight hours to work. He'll spend most of it driving tractors, scrambling down dark, dank, mosquito-filled gulleys, hefting wood, fixing equipment, welding, and the zillion other things he does so well.

Farnham works a regular job, teaching math at the local high school. He's at school early (7am) but usually gets home by 3:30pm. He's usually only in long enough to change out of dress clothes into jeans and a ratty tee-shirt, and then he's in the garden doing whatever needs done. He comes in for dinner at 6pm or so, then either goes back out or helps around the house. Weekends he generally spends most of the day doing garden stuff, combined liberally with helping in the house (with five or six adults here, things get messy pretty fast).

Sis works three jobs. She's currently a reading tutor at the local elementary school (though next year she is back to teaching special ed again, thank heavens), tutors after school for another company, and is the Director of Religious Education at our church. She's up and at school by 7:30 or 8am, and home around 4pm if she isn't tutoring, and 5:30pm if she is. If she has church duties, they usually start at  6pm or so, and sometimes she doesn't even make it home for dinner. She comes home, does laundry, puts kids to bed, and passes out. On weekends, her responsibilities lie in keeping up with dishes and laundry, helping with cooking, trying to fit in some time with her children, church duties, and helping with weeding and other outside chores.

Gran has a 3/4 time job working for a town hall. She leaves around the same time as sis, but often doesn't get back until 6pm or later. She works Tues/Wed/Thurs most weeks, although there was a stint there for a while when she worked Mondays as well. Because Gran is severely asthmatic, her chores are generally house-oriented. She does the vacuuming, dusting, getting after fuzzies that multiply under dressers, that sort of thing. She makes her way around the house doing things like scrubbing walls, dusting pictures, and making sure we're all healthy indoors. Weekends and her days off she helps take care of the kids, and also does errands like banking and kid chauffering.

Then there's me. I'm not working outside the home, though I do volunteer heavily at our church. I'm also attending seminary as a correspondence student, though that eats up only about 15 to 20 hours a week of my time, usually. When I'm not doing homework, I'm doing whatever isn't done by the others. I watch kids, wash dishes, cook most of the meals, do the shopping, transfer kids between schools, help out the others with their chores outside and in, take care of the chickens, mow the lawn, do any extra watering... I think I have the least formal responsibilities, but I also play "catch up" with a lot of everyone else's work.

Sure, our garden is large, but we have more people to feed. We also sell a bit of our produce at the farmer's market, and we store food for the winter, and we share our bounty with those who can't farm for themselves. It's not easy, though. There is a TON of work involved.

Therein is the problem, I think. The work is not easy, although it's simple. By that, I mean that there isn't a lot of brain work going into the basic farming duties. Most kids of age 10 or more could do it without a lot of supervision, and any adult could do it. But it requires dedication. It requires planning. It requires you to be out there just about every day to weed, water if necessary, harvest when the time comes. There's also planting, thinning, training vines on plants that need it (peas, cukes, etc), and special care if there are bugs or diseases you find. You can do it while wearing an iPod, but you can't do it while playing FarmVille on Facebook.

That leads me back to that point I made earlier. We have to get off our fat asses and DO something. I know why I'm fat. I sat in front of a computer all winter doing homework. When I was bored, when I was nibbly, when I was working... I ate. If I had used all my spare time for jogging or boxing or even walking the dog, I wouldn't be as heavy as I am.

It sucks knowing that no matter how exhausted you are the end of the day, if you want to lose weight you have to go move some more. I hate that. I hate that especially when I've already spent the day weeding and lifting heavy things. The problem is, those are daily chores, and you just don't lose reliable weight doing daily chores. It has to be DIFFERENT to be considered exercise.

So... I walk. The farthest I've gone is 2.4 miles from the school to home. I dropped the car off for Farnham and walked home. That was before the heat hit, though. Today, I think I'd probably pass out. It took me just under an hour to travel that distance, and I got home and passed out for an hour. Depressing. I plan on doing it again sometime. I also walk up the hill to my shrines, and to the river and to camp. I walk the dog.

Diet isn't enough. Exercise isn't enough. Diet pills are never enough. Sometimes it takes all those plus counselling. If that's what it takes, then I suggest doing it, but I'm one to talk considering I'm sitting here typing instead of walking.

Oh, and just so you know, guilting yourself doesn't work either. :)