Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Year in Review

It's the last day of 2011. Tomorrow will be a whole new year. I have decided to take a trip through this year and look at the changes that have come about. Sometimes, it's important to remember that stuff, you know?

In January, I was going through the turmoil of ending my relationship with my ex-love Tony, extricating myself from his house, his life (and his wife's life). It was not pleasant, and I spent much of the month being overwhelmed, emotionally bereft, and generally broken. I really think the best post to explain it all was the one I wrote on trust. Trust was a large factor in my life, broken trust especially. It's something I still struggle with, partially because I've had trust broken so many times over my life in big ways, and partially as the blow-out from the break-up we went through. Poly "divorce" (for lack of a better word) is a highly unpleasant thing at the best of times. This one was not at the best of times.

February was a month that I didn't blog here much. I suspect I was just too emotionally raw to really do much, but I was also in the home stretch at seminary. Most of the blog posts were "writing seeds" from the book we were working through. I touched on so many subjects, all of them deep and important, but none to do with how I was truly doing, if that makes any sense.

Lent was my focus through much of March, and I wrote a lot about my impressions of it. I especially like this post because it touches on my beliefs as a "hybrid" of Greek and Christian beliefs. There's also a labyrinth poem that I am somewhat proud of for its meter and rhyme. I find myself now looking ahead to Lent in the New Year, and what sort of revelations it will bring to me...

Spring started coming in April, and I spent more time out of doors. I went for a walk at a friend's brand new land, and ended up breaking my right ankle. Ouch. That's the first bone I've ever broken, and it was not something I enjoyed at all. I felt very trapped in the house in Hinsdale, unable to leave my room, dependent on people who were not only no longer lovers or family, but who were rapidly choosing to become enemies. April was the month that I broke all of my own rules, and did something so horrible that it almost destroyed me, my family, everything I've worked for through the years. I'm still recovering from it today, which is a part of that whole trust issue I mentioned before. It's hard... it's frightening! I haven't given up, though, and I persevered through all the nastiness and pain and anguish, and I'm not in April anymore.

May was about building foundations again. It was close to graduation and ordination time, and also approaching the time when we would be leaving the house that was now owned by Tony and wife, and going to a new place. We didn't know yet that our dream house would fall through, though we had (by this month) seen the new house which was destined to be our own. We had been razed to the ground, and now it was time to lay that new foundation. The big rocks (family, relationship) had to be firmly laid at the bottom, so that nothing else could topple whatever we built. I know at the time I didn't feel as if I was doing a very good job, but I can look back now with a bit of mercy on myself and see that I was doing the best I could.

I can explain June in two words: confirmation, and ordination. The whole month seemed to be eaten up by those two ceremonies. Confirmation was fairly quiet, but very heartfelt. Ordination was a huge production number, and I loved every moment of it despite shaking in my boots throughout. I went on retreat, took my first Communion as a confirmed Christian, re-dedicated myself to my Greek gods, and accepted the anointing of myself as an Interfaith Minister.

July had me living alone in the parsonage of our church. It was a peaceful time, although I was mourning not having a garden. I tried to grow tomatoes in pots, but it just didn't work out. I had lush leaves, but almost no fruit at all. Still, I tried. It was a way of laying in my dreams (and prayers) for this winter, I suppose. I still ache that I can't open a jar of our own tomatoes in January, when I want them most, but at least I have a few dilly tomatoes and one package of frozen home-grown beans left. I plan on using them around my birthday, I think.

I spent most of August in a time of introspection. I thought about our children, about our relationships, about our life. I thought about me, and how I'd forgotten to pray for myself for a very long time. A friend got badly hurt, and some things happened that got me very emotionally hurt. It was also the time that I started to realize that I could exist outside of my relationship. I'm still not sure I like that, to be honest. I realize it's a healthy realization, and I'm not trying to bury it or anything. There's a certain scariness to it, though; the idea that even if Gray or sis were to leave, even if the kids were suddenly no longer in my life, I could continue on. It might hurt, it might ache, it might burn like the fires of Hel, but I would go on, and I would live my life. It's not a comforting thought, really, because of the pain it involves. I don't fear death; Hecate cured me of that some years ago. I do fear pain, though... and most of my life has been spent running from one shelter to another, avoiding pain. For the first time in my life, at 40 years of age, I feel as if I can walk through pain and still be standing. I suppose that must mean I'm grown up now?

September was a month of food for me. I was at the parsonage, now joined by Gray and sis and kids. I was cooking a lot more, and I even tried some fun things like fudge. I made one of my favorite Hungarian recipes, chicken paprikash, and shared the recipe with the blogosphere. I dealt with a lot of emotional issues, some of which are still ongoing, but I dealt with a grace I didn't know I had.

We moved into our new home in October, and I learned that the land here is quite numinous. We spent hours lugging boxes, cleaning, scouring carpets, and settling in. We got children registered and going to their new school. It was a time of new beginnings, which might seem odd for October, but suited me just fine. I celebrated a number of holy days, some Jewish and some Christian, most Hellenic, and enjoyed the fact that the new house and land provided me with peace to do such things.

In November, I finally got my altars set up. For me, this was a way of saying, "This is HOME." I'd never gone so long without altars (the ones in the parsonage were fairly rudimentary, but at least they were present). It was with a sense of true relief that I pulled out all my sacred items and placed them reverently in their places. Since then I've moved a few things around, but the basic lay-out has continued to stay the same. I love it! My room is truly wonderful, a place of sanctuary for me. I look forward to spring, and the time when I can throw open both windows and let the clear, cleansing breeze blow through.

This month, December, I've found myself strangely removed from everything. I didn't get into my usual funk around Yule and Christmas. I had emotional moments, yes, but nothing like the past 9 years. I talked to my daughter, enjoyed listening to her open her gifts, had a little party with friends, and baked cookies successfully for the first time, really. It's been a good month, and a quiet one. Most of the boxes have been sorted through. Most of our things have been found (or replaced if lost). There's wood in the house, and the fireplace has been cranking out most of the house's heat for the past month.

The angst and anger of January has faded. I can't say that I've completely recovered from the blow of my relationship ending and the resulting "divorce" situation, but I have come to terms with it and moved on. I try not to think about the bad times, even when that means doing things like deleting a few pictures off my hard drive. I don't even spend much time thinking on the good times, to be honest, other than to take the lessons I learned (how to grow food in a garden, how to raise and butcher chickens, etc.) and apply them to the new life we've started here. Though we intended to stay close to where we were previously, fate has moved us an hour away, and that seems to have been a wonderful thing. Life is good. Life is good. Life is good.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Can a little baby change the world?

The question asked on my daily devotion was whether it was reasonable to expect a small baby to change the whole world. I ask in return, is it reasonable to expect a small baby to NOT change the world? Anyone who has ever interacted with a small baby will tell you that the world has changed, from the very moment that child was held in your arms. Any new parent will explain the incredible changes that they go through in order to have their child there with them in their home. Look at a new parent's eyes, at the dark circles and slightly hysterically happy smile, and you will see that the world has changed. Drastically.

There's a lot out there about The Baby Jesus. Google it and you'll find thousands upon thousands of entries, some Biblical in nature, others opinion or critique. The very fact that you have found those entries tells you that "the baby Jesus" certainly changed our world. Whether you see him as a metaphor, a borrowed god from another culture, a god in his own right, or the bastard son of a woman who didn't know what else to do doesn't really matter at this late date. Our world has been changed, some would say for the better, some for the worse. After all, the world's most horrible wars have been fought in the name of God. We must never let go of the knowledge that the world's most beautiful actions are done in the name of God, too.

There are people all around the world who celebrate something amazing in the next few days. Some celebrate Christmas. Some celebrate Hannukah. There's Kwanzaa, Solstice, Mithrasmass, Yuletide, and even New Year. Almost all of these touch on the idea of bringing something new and exciting into the world, bringing in light and joy and hope. The themes are similar, even downright suspiciously so in some cases. And it really doesn't matter at all what you celebrate.

Whether we celebrate the birth of Christ, the rebirth of light, the birth of the new year, or some other type of birth, may your winter holy days be TRULY holy.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

All I want for Christmas...

Dear Santa, Jesus, Holly King, Dionysos, Strega Nona, and whoever else might be listening...

I like this time of year. Even though there are a few blowhards who are so "bah humbug" that they ruin it for themselves, the majority of people of ALL religions and none are happy and humming around this time. I like that people tend to actually remember their pleases and thank yous. I like that politeness sneaks back into a lot of people's daily lives. It might be fleeting, but it's nice that this time of year encourages everyone to think of others rather than of themselves.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about others the past few months, and a bit of time thinking of myself, too. I've tried to make sure that my thoughts on myself have been of the more altruistic variety, though I know I've had a few "me me me!" moments that I'm less than proud of. Still, I don't think I've done too badly this year.

I do have some things to ask for, though.

Peace in our country. That one tops the list. I get scared when I read about our politicians changing the Constitution, sidestepping it, or just plain ignoring it. I get scared when I hear about possible loss of rights, like the right to a swift trial and to a lawyer, and the loss of the right to freedom of personhood. I'm terrified when I get told that having more than a week's worth of food is now considered a terrorist activity by some. I'm worried about myself, my children, my family... my country. It's a scary time. I'm not asking for instant peace, mind you. A gentle up-swing in sanity would be awful nice, though.

Self-esteem. Yeah, I know this one's mostly just for me, but it does affect my family a lot. I'd like to know that I'm worth what I use up around here. I'd like to know that my contributions make a big difference. I'd like to be comfortable in my own skin.

Food. We always have food, even if it isn't necessarily what everyone wants to eat. But I have friends who have real problems with finding enough to eat, who live on food stamps or hand outs, who struggle to make every single penny count. I'd like to know that the people around me aren't starving. I'd like to know that my friends and neighbors, and their friends and neighbors, can grow and raise enough food to feed themselves healthily. I'd like to live long enough to see the world NOT be starving over vast acres of its surface.

Inner silence. Another one for me, Santa. I'd like to close my eyes and not hear bickering or crying or upset or heartbreak or grief or worry or concern. I'd like to close my eyes and know that everything is right around me. I'd like to sleep each night aware that at least in my corner, the parts I have the ability to touch, are just a little bit better today than yesterday. I'd like to go to bed with silence and joy in my mind.

Enough. I want enough. I can't quantify "enough" for you, but it means not being concerned that we can afford to pay the water bill. It means not having an emotional melt down because one of the kids left a heater running all day. It means looking outside to see enough wood to make it through the winter. It means looking in the fridge and finding food that is healthy, plentiful, and that tastes good. That kind of stuff.

I know those are tall orders, Santa. But they're my wishes. I want my family to be truly, deeply happy. When they are happy and relaxed, I tend to be, too. I truly love seeing the smiles on the faces of those I love, excited for the holy days just over the horizon.

Blessings, Santa... Blessings!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hermes Devotional

Guardian of the Road: A Devotional Anthology in Honor of Hermes

Call for submissions!
We are interested in a wide variety of pieces, including (but not limited to) scholarly articles, short fiction, poetry, original translations of ancient texts, hymns, rituals and artwork.
Submitters are strongly encouraged to explore the many facets of this complex god in their work. Syncretisms between Hermes and other gods, such as Mercurius, are acceptable. A good starting point for ideas can be found here.
All works must be original, not public domain. No plagiarism. Previously published submissions are acceptable, provided the author retains all rights to the work. Authors retain all rights to the submission. Upon acceptance, the author will be sent a permission to publish form along with a request for a short biography to include in the anthology.
The editor reserves the right to make any minor changes in the case of grammar, spelling and formatting concerns. The editor also reserves the right to request modification of submissions and to reject submissions as necessary.
No monetary compensation will be provided. Proceeds from all sales will be divided between charitable donations in the name of the God, and production costs for future publications from Bibliotheca Alexandrina. All contributors will receive a coupon code which will allow them to purchase three copies of the anthology at cost.
Acceptable length is anywhere from 100-10,000 words, and the submissions period will run from 1 August 2011 – 31 January 2012, with the projected release date of March 2012. Please send your submission either in the body of the email or as a .doc/.docx or plain text/RTF attachment (for Mac users) with “Hermes Devotional” in the subject line to Any artwork submitted should be scanned in or created at 300 dpi and sent as a .jpg or .tif file. Please remember to include a by-line in your email: your name as you would like it to appear in the book!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chicken Parmesan

I'm not sure what possessed me to make chicken parmesan tonight, but I'm certainly glad I did! I had three chicken breasts defrosted, and it just sounded like the right thing to try. This is my own recipe, created after reading a variety of recipes online and deciding that I didn't really like any of them. Feel free to try it out, and add your own touches to make it yours!

Ingredients, sauce:
* 2 large cloves garlic, minced
* 1 medium onion, chopped
* 2 cans crushed or diced tomatoes
* 1/4 cup red wine
* 2 bay leaves
* spices to taste

Ingredients, chicken parm:
* 3 large chicken breasts, boneless and skinless

* approximately 1 cup bread crumbs
* 2 eggs, scrambled with a touch of milk or cream
* olive oil for cooking in
* salt and pepper to taste
* one slice mozzarella (or other) cheese per piece of chicken
* 2 cups shredded parmesan

Make your sauce first, as it will need time to reduce. In a large sauce pan, pour about a tablespoon of olive oil and your chopped onion. Saute on medium high heat until the onions are just starting to clarify, but before they become mushy. Add the wine and garlic, stir well, and saute another few moments. Reduce the heat to medium and add the tomatoes and bay leaves. Spice to taste; I use a sprinkle of salt and pepper and nothing else.  Lower the heat to allow the sauce to simmer but not boil. Stir occasionally as you allow the sauce to reduce.

Take your chicken breasts and slide them into a plastic baggie, or wrap in saran wrap, or put between two pieces of wax paper. Using a meat hammer or rolling pin (or even an empty wine bottle), pound each chicken breast until it is about a half inch thick. Try to stop before the breasts fall apart, but for flavor's sake it's better to go a bit long than a bit short. Set the breasts aside on a plate while you prepare the breading. While you are doing all that, heat another tablespoon or two of olive oil in a cast iron or other good quality fry pan.

Pour the breadcrumbs into a large flat container (I usually use a straight edged pie plate) and add salt and pepper to taste. Some people also like to add oregano, but I didn't this time. Mix well with a fork. Cut the chicken into serving size pieces (about the size of your palm) and dip each piece into the egg mixture. Lift it and allow it to drip and then dip it into the bread crumbs, flipping to coat well on both (all) sides. Place the chicken into the fry pan and allow to cook about two to three minutes per side (you want your chicken mostly cooked, but NOT completely!). Preheat your oven to 375F.

As you're browning the first batch of breaded chicken, check your sauce. It is probably still very liquid, which is fine. Into the bottom of a casserole dish or high sided baking pan, pour some of the liquid. You don't want to drown your chicken, but it should cover the bottom of the pan just barely.

As the chicken pieces are cooked, place them into a single layer in the casserole dish. Once all the chicken is in the dish, pour the rest of the sauce over the top of the chicken, being sure to cover all of it. On top of the sauce, add a slice of mozzarella (I didn't have mozza so I used provolone, and it was DELISH). On top of the entire thing, sprinkle your parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is just beginning to brown and bubble.

I served this dish with a mix of jasmine rice and orzo, which I cooked separately and then mixed together with a tiny bit of olive oil and salt, and a side salad. I must say, I'm very pleased with the results. The chicken was tender enough to cut with a fork (easily), the sauce was very tomato-ey and flavorful without being too tart or watery. My family gave me feedback that included the phrases, "restaurant quality" and "gourmet." Yay for me!

Independent Goddesses Devotional

Unto Herself: A Devotional Anthology for Independent Goddesses

Call for submissions!
We are seeking submissions for a devotional anthology for a cross-pantheon look at virgin Goddesses. This includes Goddesses such as Artemis, Athena, and Hestia, but also those from other pantheons. Pieces in honor of any Goddess from any pantheon who operates without a male consort are welcome, such as Anahita, Anat, Gefjon, Kumari, The Morrigan, Skadhi, Vesta, The Zorya, and others. We are interested in a wide variety of works, including (but not limited to) short fiction, poetry, original translations of ancient texts, hymns, rituals, artwork, personal stories, and scholarly articles — particularly those that compare or contrast the idea of virginity across cultural lines. We are especially looking for submissions that focus upon the Goddesses’ self-reliance and independence in some way, regardless of Their physical virginity.
All works must be original, not public domain. No plagiarism. Previously published submissions are acceptable, provided the author retains all rights to the work. Authors retain all rights to the submission. Upon acceptance, the author will be sent a permission to publish form along with a request for a short biography to include in the anthology.
The editor reserves the right to make any minor changes in the case of grammar, spelling and formatting concerns. The editor also reserves the right to request modification of submissions and to reject submissions as necessary.
As this is a devotional work, no monetary compensation will be provided. Proceeds from all sales will be divided between charitable donations in the names of the Goddesses and production costs for future publications from Bibliotheca Alexandrina. All contributors will receive a coupon code which will allow them to purchase three copies of this anthology at cost.
Acceptable length is anywhere from 100-10,000 words (with the exception of poetry). The submissions period will open November 1, 2011 and close March 31, 2012 with a projected release date of May 2012. Please send your submission either in the body of the email or as a .doc or plain text/RTF attachment with “Parthenos Devotional” in the subject line to Any artwork submitted should be scanned in or created at 300 dpi and sent as a .jpg or .tif file.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Athena Devotional from Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Shield of Wisdom: A Devotional Anthology in Honor of Athena

Call for Submissions!
We are interested in a wide variety of pieces, including (but not limited to) scholarly articles, short fiction, personal experiences, artwork, poetry, rituals, hymns, and original translations of ancient texts.
Contributors are strongly encouraged to consider the Goddess Athena’s many aspects and epithets while creating their submissions. Athena is a Virgin Goddess of Wisdom and War, as well as a Friend and Champion to Heroes. Bearing aegis and spear against her enemies, Athena is a Protector and a Guide, of both cities and individuals. She is a Goddess of Justice and Transformation, as well as Arts such as weaving and pottery. These are but a few of the many aspects of this Goddess, and contributors are encouraged to explore these and other aspects. While this rich mythology involving Athena is an excellent resource, contributors are also encouraged to make use of archaeological, linguistic, philosophical and other resources. Entries focusing on other deities shall not be accepted, unless said entries specifically focus on the deity’s relationship to Athena (ie: Athena as the Daughter of Zeus, Athena in her contest with Poseidon for rulership of Athens, Athena in comparison to the Roman Minerva, Athena and Hephaestus as patrons of handicrafts, Athena and Ares as Deities of War, Athena in comparison to the Egyptian Neith, etc.).
All works must be original, not public domain. No plagiarism. Scholarly articles must properly cite sources where applicable. Previously published submissions are acceptable, provided the author retains all rights to the work. Authors retain all rights to the submission. Upon acceptance, the author will be sent a permission to publish form along with a request for a short biography to include in the anthology.
The editor reserves the right to make any minor changes in the case of grammar, spelling and formatting concerns. The editor also reserves the right to request modification of submissions and to reject submissions as necessary.
No monetary compensation will be provided. Proceeds from all sales will be divided between charitable donations in the name of the Goddess, and production costs for future publications from Bibliotheca Alexandrina. All contributors will receive a coupon code which will allow them to purchase three copies of the anthology at cost.
Acceptable length is anywhere from 100-10,000 words (with the exception of poetry). All artwork must be at least 300dpi. The submissions period will run from October 1, 2011 – March 31, 2012, with the projected release date of May 2012. Please send your submission either in the body of the email or as a .doc/.docx attachment with “Athena Devotional” in the subject line to .

Monday, November 28, 2011

What Season?

You hear it everywhere: 'Tis the season! But what season? As a friend of mine on FaceBook commented, there are literally dozens, perhaps hundreds of winter holy days that happen between now and the secular New Year. While I don't celebrate them all, I do honor many traditions.  In our home, we celebrate Advent in the Christian tradition, Yule in the generic pagan tradition, Solstice in my Hellenic tradition, Hannukah in the Jewish tradition, and sometimes Bodhi Day in the Buddhist tradition. Each has its own tenor, its own feel to it, and each is holy and true and wise and full of lessons for us. Perhaps the goal is not so much to celebrate all the time, but to see the celebration in every day.

It's hard to believe that it's Advent already. We lit the first of the four Advent candles at church yesterday, and focused on the theme of peace. Our pastor suggested that Advent as a whole is a time to become more aware, to be awake, to focus on what we have while being open and ready for new opportunities. After all, we get what we expect, and if our minds are dragging and our spirits are low, that's the best we'll be able to do. He used the image of Tigger and Eeyore from the Winnie the Pooh series. Tigger is almost always happy, bouncing from place to place, finding the bright side of life no matter what's thrown at him. The result is that he sees the world as a happy, peaceful place and so, to a certain extent, it is. Eeyore, on the other hand, sees a rain cloud on every horizon and an earthquake on every nice day. Hence, he is always depressed, expecting the worst. Even if a good day happens, it's only a precursor to what will likely be a horrid day tomorrow. These become self fulfilling prophecies.

The other thing our pastor brought up was a lecture by Randy Pausch, done at Carnegie Mellon University just after his diagnosis with terminal liver cancer. It's called The Last Lecture but not because of his impending passing. The lecture series he was presenting for had held that name for many years, the idea being to present something that would be your legacy, as if you had only one last lecture that you could give to the students. As he puts it in the video, "I finally nailed the venue, and they changed the name!" I haven't watched the whole lecture yet (it's an hour and a half long, and it demands your full attention) but what I have seen is incredibly inspiring. Live in the day is the basic message. You can't change tomorrow, you can't change yesterday, so make today count. Enjoy it for what it is. How many of us can say we do that? And we're not dying.

So what IS Advent, anyhow? The word 'advent' means 'coming' or 'long awaited' or even 'just arrived.' We talk about the advent of the computer age, and the advent of the automobile without blinking. The Christian Advent is simply the beginning, or coming, of the Christ Child. It's more a symbolic (in the version I practice) than literal - most Biblical (and other) scholars now agree that it is almost impossible that Christ was born during the winter, and moreso that there likely wasn't a lot of snow in his area of birth anyhow. The story of the birth of Yeshua is a long one, convoluted, often mixed up. The four Gospels and associated extra-biblical texts give very different versions of the whole ordeal. The story that has become so popular (census, trip to Bethlehem, birth in the stable, Wise Men showing up, gifts of priceless things, Herod, flight to Egypt, in that order) is almost completely fictionalized. Whether you believe in Yeshua as a human figure or a myth doesn't really matter. The story really doesn't bear much resemblance to what's in the Gospels. At best, it's a mashup of the assorted texts, jammed together to make a crazy quilt of a story that sounds good in children's books.

Just as your average Hellenic polytheist doesn't believe that Zeus literally slept with and bred with everything that moved, and that Hera was a total shrew all the time, the average Christian doesn't believe that Yeshua lived the story as told. It is a mythology that is steeped in history almost as old as the story itself. It's been manipulated and changed by kings and popes and printing press letter setters until it's become a comfortable old favorite.

For me, this is a time of incubation. The colder weather keeps me indoors more often, and I'm cleaning the house for (and from) the holidays. I'm preparing prayers and services for my various gods. I'm counting the days until winter solstice. I'm creating presents for my loved ones, cooking and baking and otherwise nestling happily in my home. I see it as a time of "pregnant pause," time to think about my life and what I've done in the past year, and what changes I'd like to make in the coming one.

What is this the advent of, for you? What begins for you when the snow falls? What starts when mid-winter draws near? Where were you last year at this time? Where have you come to? Where are you going? Are you happy? If not, why not? Find your inner peace, the peace of faith, regardless of your religion (or lack thereof). Embrace it, sit with it. Take the time to breathe. After all, sometimes all you can do is keep breathing...

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Finally... home.

When we left our old house in Hinsdale, NH, we were in a bit of a rush. Our new house wasn't ready, and we had to be out of the old one by a specific date, so we were forced to store much of our stuff up on a friend's land. We covered it well with tarps and stored only in good quality hard rubber bins, but we couldn't have expected a hurricane to blow through. Our tarps were still mostly in place, but had allowed water to get in and pool at one end which was a bit downhill. This resulted in several of our boxes being submerged completely. The ones that were uphill did fine (except for a couple that collapsed under the weight of the water on the tarp above them), but those lower ones were simply under water. The tubs did great at keeping things dry and clean during a rain storm, but not so much when completely under water. One of the boxes that got filled with water was filled with much of my important ritual gear.


It wasn't a total loss. Some of my papers went to the gods, but most of what was there turned out to be brass and silver, and a few fabric things that had to be thrown away because of the mold on them. My stole, thank heavens, was able to be saved (thank you @CT!!). As you can see in the above picture, though, the brass was in pretty sad condition. The silver and pewter wasn't much better. So yesterday, I sat down with both silver and brass polish, rubber gloves, a toothbrush, lots of paper towels and linen rags, and set to cleaning.

And clean!
The end result was exceptionally pleasing. Most of my brass is now clean, and all of the silver has been restored. There are 3 brass candlesticks and a couple of pewter offering bowls left to clean, but I ran out of steam (and my sinuses couldn't handle the stink of the polish anymore). I decided to dedicate the day to fixing up my altars, since I've now been in the new house for well over a month and had only put together temporary mini-altars to my gods. It was time to do it, and do it right, and so I proceeded to empty boxes, clean things, mount shelves, launder head coverings, and set up the altars the way they ought to be set up.

My altars in their alcove.
My room is a bit oddly shaped, but I do love it. With its natural wood walls and ceiling, I feel as if I'm inside a log cabin, a sensation which is heightened exponentially when it is raining or snowing hard outside. It's a bit chilly, since there's no other house walls around me, but I just don't care. I can pull on extra blankets, after all. This picture was taken from my doorway into my room. The end of the bed (a built in platform bed!) segues into the alcove which has become my altar area. In place of the stacks of big rubber tubs that were there earlier in the day, I now have my old bedside table (refurbished into a small altar for the ancestors) and a large but low bookcase (the top of which is dedicated to my lady, Hecate). On the wall are some pictures and candle sconces, my drum, and the built-in shelves which have been cleaned and turned into proper small shrines for various gods.

For my ancestors.
My ancestors altar has been completely revamped. In the new digs, I just don't have the room (mentally or physically) for all the pictures that were around my old ancestor shrine. Instead, I have a red table runner (which has always been used for ritual) on top of which is a picture I took at Arlington Cemetery, a chunky red candle on a large holder, and two offering bowls (one for liquid and one for solids). It's simple... but once I set it up and said my prayers over it, it felt RIGHT. To the right of the altar is a small cupboard, recessed into the wall, with a door. At the moment it's not clean, but once it is, it will become a storage area for extra ritual tools and such. Likely it will contain the large amount of brass candlesticks that I have, as they're difficult to store elsewhere and I like to be able to access them easily.

Zeus and Hera
The top shelf of the small altars is for Zeus and Hera, who I honor as the ones who watch over marriage and relationships. For me, they are the essence of strong marriage, which has to overcome the trials and tribulations of miscommunication, unintentional misdirection, and the occasional white lie. The myths have Zeus and Hera at odds constantly, and while I see those as moral tales not necessarily representative of the gods themselves, for me it's a strong indication that marriage is not meant to be "made in heaven" but lived here on earth, with all the tribulations that come with it. And so they sit at the top of the heap, so to speak, King and Queen of the gods.

Slightly below Zeus and Hera is the only other Olympian that I really give much honor to (except Hestia, but she's in the kitchen, as befits) on a regular basis. The small stuffed snake coils around an obelisk, happily watching all that goes on, looking for all the world like a serpent on a staff, a caduceus. There is a large amethyst rock there, and healing prayer beads that were made for me by a dear friend of mine. And beside that, a delicate clay rattle that sounds reminiscent of rain falling when shaken, and which was explained to me as being a healing rattle. When I or a family member is ill I will ask Aesclepius to bring us healing.

For Yeshua
Then comes the altar/shrine that will make my pagan peeps cringe: the one for Yeshua, aka Jesus. I am still working on that myself, because I spent so many years being "decidedly not Christian" even though I was never dealt any emotional blows as a young person by any incarnation of the church. Yet Yeshua tapped me, and I cannot deny that call anymore than I could deny the call from Hecate or the others. So for the first time he now has his own small altar. It's a bit sparse at the moment, as I slowly figure out the things he likes, but again, it feels RIGHT.

At the bottom of the shelves there is Dionysos, also a bit sparse because I haven't yet found all the items that usually go on his altar. He has taken a backseat to others, of late, and yet I still owe so much to his presence in my life. I remember being told that Dionysos was a "gateway god" and that he might disappear or fade a bit after a while, and how much that bothered me. Now that it's slowly happening, it isn't painful, though there's a bit of an ache. I doubt he'll ever entirely disappear from my life; we have too much history now for that to happen. Still, his altar is at the bottom both because he is more outside the rules of purity as I worship him, and because that bottom shelf is so close to the big altar for Hecate, which is where he's always been. Eventually there will be more things, too.

Long shot of altars.
Above the shelves is a copper pressing of the Parthenon, something I picked up in a box of art books many years ago at an auction. It's one of my most prized altar images. I'm sure it's just a cheap reproduction of something more expensive, but it has real energy to it, a real feeling of connectedness. I apologize for the slightly blurry quality of the photos, but I'm reduced to using the camera on my Android phone since I dropped a rock on my good camera and killed it (sob). Still, at least there are photos, right?

I'm very pleased with how my little altar area turned out. I wasn't sure what I was doing until the very last minute, when I asked @CT to help me drag that heavy bookshelf upstairs. It sits well there, though, and really completes the whole thing. I toyed a bit with putting it under the shelf altars, but realized that Hecate doesn't mind being next to the ancestors, and at least in my own mind there's a certain reason for her altar to be between the ancestors and the Olympians.

Capable of shrouding.
It isn't often that I shroud my altars. I generally spend my time worshipping Hecate, who doesn't care if I have contact with ancestors or dead things or have my hands on things considered ritually impure. I have no need to shroud her space. However, I like to be able to shroud my shrines to the Olympians, out of respect for them, and so I built in a shroud this time. The green cloth you see there can be tacked up to cover all the small altars, shielding them completely from view. And yet again, I knew it was RIGHT when I did it.

Head coverings
Across from my altar alcove I have several small pegs that I used to hang up my head coverings. I use these in many of my rituals and prayers, almost as a Jewish person would use a talit. In a way, they almost replace my old Wiccan robes (which I still have). Those I would put on to remind myself that I was "between the worlds" during ritual, and these I wear to remind myself that I am in holy space. They are not so different... in a way, they are a symbol that I carry that holy space inside me, always.

There, now it is done. I have enjoyed sharing these pictures with you, and I hope you enjoyed seeing them as much as I enjoyed sharing! Blessings to all!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Hungarian Pork Goulash

Slice your onion.

One of my all-time favorite Hungarian recipes (yes, I know, I say that of all the ones I post up LOL) is Hungarian Goulash (also known as gulyas leves). Goulash is named after the herdsman (or gulyas, in Hungarian) who made it out of whatever meat they had at hand. My family comes from the north eastern section of Hungary, and pork is the traditional meat of choice for this recipe. There are quick ways of making goulash, but honestly, the longer ways are much better. This is NOT a good crock-pot soup, however you can make it a day ahead, and then let the finished product stay heated in a crock pot almost indefinitely without losing anything. Usually, I serve this with a nice crusty bread, hopefully hot from the oven. It's topped with a thick dollop of sour cream, and salt and pepper to taste.

Onions and garlic and paprika!
Ingredients (goulash):

  • pork (tenderloin or steaks, cubed)
  • onions
  • garlic
  • carrots
  • potatoes
  • peas
  • paprika
  • butter and/or olive oil
  • broth (make your own from pork bone, or beef)
Ingredients (noodles):
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 pinch salt
  • enough flour to make a very stiff dough

Diced pork tenderloin.
Heat a cast iron or other large pan on the stove and melt a little butter or olive oil into it. While waiting for that to be ready, cut up your onion(s). I use one large onion per pound of meat usually. Take off the ends and peel the onion, then cut it in half, and put the cut side down on your cutting board. Cut the half in half (ie two quarters), and then slice thinly to make small curves of onion. Repeat with the other half, and slide the slices into your oil. Cover with one or two tablespoons of paprika and saute for a few minutes until the onions are soft.

LOTS of paprika...
While the onions are cooking, chop up two cloves of garlic and then add them to the onions. When the onions begin to brown a bit, or are very soft, slide into a soup pot. Dice up your pork into one inch or smaller cubes.

In the pan, drizzle a bit more olive oil or butter and add your diced pork, and coat it liberally with paprika (3 or more tablespoons!). Cook just long enough to brown all sides of the meat thoroughly, but not enough to cook it all the way through. You are sealing in the juices before making the soup, so that the pork will be tender and delicious when it is served. Add the seared pork to the pot with the onions and garlic. 

Carrots and spuds.
Peel and coin your carrots, and add to the pot. I use about 3 large carrots per pound of meat, but you can adjust to taste. I also added two large potatoes, diced (skin on, but again, you may want to peel them). Now add in enough broth to just barely cover everything in the pot, and bring it to a full boil. When it is boiling, reduce the heat to a bare simmer, and then cover and cook for 3+ hours.

Usually, we also put little hand made noodles into this soup. In America they'd probably be referred to more as dumplings, but in Hungary they are called csipetke, which means "pinched noodles." They are pretty close to Polish spetzle, and are cooked right in the soup (although if you like them they can also be sauteed up with butter and onions and served as a side dish!). 

Everything in the pot.
To make the noodles, crack one egg into a mixing bowl and beat it well. Add a pinch of salt, and then add a few tablespoons of flour. Mix well, and continue adding flour until you have a very stiff dough that can be turned out and kneaded gently on a table. Using both hands, flatten the dough until it is about a quarter to a half inch thick. 

Bring your soup back to a boil, and then begin pinching off bits of the dough and dropping them into the soup. The "noodles" should be about the size of a lima bean, and it's just fine if they're irregular in size and shape. Once they are all in the soup (one egg worth of this dough is enough for a large pot of soup), lower the heat a bit and keep it at a heavy simmer for about five minutes to let the noodles thoroughly cook. 

The finished goulash.
This soup should be ladled into wide bowls and have a large spoonful of sour cream added to the top. For visual purposes, you can add a sprinkle of paprika to the sour cream if you like, though it isn't necessary. Serve with hot bread and butter, and fresh dill pickles. The flavors blend well, and will keep people coming back for thirds and even fourths, long after they ought to stop. 

A short note for those who may not have real paprika in their cupboard. Please consider purchasing some real paprika. Hungarian paprika has a distinct, smokey flavor that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the red powder that is American paprika. Hungarian paprika also comes in two kinds: sweet and hot. This recipe is made with the sweet paprika (though it has a tiny bite to it when used in the quantities called for here), but if you want more heat to your flavor, you can add a pinch or two of the hot paprika, too. 

The finished product, with sour cream.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Witch of Stitches

The Witch of Stitches is a blog I've been reading for a while. She's got quite the sense of humor, shares her beliefs freely, and is currently doing a give-away! :) Since I happen to be a priestess of Hecate, I decided I ought to enter this one. ;) Have a peek - I think you'll like what you see!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Snowy Spirituality

On Friday night, poor sis was exhausted from a long and arduous week at work. Still, she found time to make jack'o'lanterns with the children. The kids used dry erase markers to create their designs and then she did the actual cutting part (good thing, too... those were the hugest pumpkins I've seen in ages and there's no way the kids could have carved through them!). The results were beautiful, as you can see in this picture of the boy twin gazing at the candle inside his.

For those who see this as a purely secular holiday, I guess I almost feel sorry for you. Don't get me wrong - I love the dressing up, the tromping around, the candy and the decorations. All that is a wonderful and amazing and magical thing all on its own. Yet there's a deeper sense to this time of year. It's a time of sudden changes, of death, of endings (and new beginnings!). The themes are serious ones. Even though  our children aren't burdened with the horrors of concerns of starving over the winter, they feel the sanctity and holiness of the end of October, too.

And right around the corner, a sudden change arose - an unseasonably early snow storm, one which has apparently knocked out power to thousands of people throughout our area. We're lucky. Not only were we prepared (generator, plenty of easy to prepare meals, extra blankets, sub-zero rated sleeping bags, etc.), we also didn't lose power at all. It's warm (if you can call 62F 'warm') and cozy in our house, and it smells of bacon and baking. There are cookies ready to eat, tons of hot chocolate in the cupboard, and cornmeal muffins waiting to be baked later today.

I see these simple preparations as being religious duties, in a sense. Hellenes often talk about the Delphic Maxims, and the way in which they guide our lives. Preparing for winter storms (even this early in the season) is a part of that. When we set aside food from the summer and autumn, we are showing we are responsible stewards of ourselves, our children, our livestock, and our homes.

Honor the hearth/Hestia is one of the Maxims, and by setting food by, whether by freezing, canning, drying, salting, or some other method is an application of honoring the hearth which warms us and the goddess who oversees our daily lives.

Exercise prudence tells us to be careful of our food stores. After all, a bad storm or flood can either clear out grocery stores or make it impossible to get to them. When we take out a jar of our own honey or home-made jam, we are able to reap the rewards of that prudence and spread it on toast.

Then there is use what you have, a sensible piece of advice at any time, but especially so in our current economic climate. Learn ways to save what you have (black walnuts? acorns? free apples from a neighbor's tree?) and then learn how to use them when your other food items are low. We have a dearth of apples at the moment and I am busily making apple muffins, apple spice cake, apple crisp (well, okay sis made that one lol) and lots of other things. Soon, though, I'll have to wrap each apple carefully in newspaper and set them in a dark place to keep. With luck they'll still be good in a month or two, and we'll be able to keep eating the crisp tastiness of them when all that's in the stores are mealy ones from far away.

Blessings on all, and may the snow that falls into your life be beautiful!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Woo Hoo!

I'm a guest blogger over at Charmed I'm Sure, and if you want to read my post, you can [do so here]. Yay! She writes about witchy, housewifery type things in a humorous, down to earth fashion. I've been reading her blog for about 4 months now, and find myself alternating between nodding knowingly and chuckling over my morning coffee. Enjoy!

Monday, October 24, 2011

The view from my window.

We don't always think about how the view from our windows affects our lives. After all, they're generally just seen as vehicles for letting in sunlight, and for those who are green in their daily habits, also a source of passive solar heat. Yet that view, what we see when we walk over to the window (a habit many of us are not engaging in!) can really affect our day.

The above is the view from my bedroom window. Every morning when I open the curtain beside my bed (on the back side of the house), this is what I see. Since arriving here I have been taking time almost every morning to look out that window (and the front one) to actually SEE where I am. It's been quite the revelation.

I don't know how many times I walked past the windows in our Hinsdale home. Although I did look out my bedroom window often enough, I don't think I actually SAW out it very often. I looked to see if the cars were in the driveway, if the dogs had messed on the pavement, if the children were doing something I needed to stop, and other things. Windows were just things to look through, or sometimes stare aimlessly out of. 

Here in our new home, windows have become a joy. I look out and I see the autumn leaves piling up against the massive stone wall that marks the border of our small piece of land. I watch the chipmunks scurrying back and forth, hiding their nuts for the winter (and we do have the cutest Chip'n'Dale style 'munks, I must say!). I observe the lay of the land, the movement of the land wights, the wind in the tree branches, and the sun and moon in the sky above the forest. My window has become a portal to self-discovery as well as outer discovery.

Yesterday, with the help of the children, I removed the last of the (poorly installed) dog fencing that the previous owners had installed. We can now walk freely out the back of our home, among the crisp, crunchy leaves and the natural stone altars and fallen-tree shrines. Come spring, I'll be installing some actual shrines of a more formal type, but for this winter I will be using the natural ones provided to me by the land herself. I see these as gifts for me, and feel a real pull to use them and enjoy them. 

I admit, I am looking forward to seeing what the next season brings. Those woods are so ALIVE that seeing them covered in snow is going to be exciting. Will there be deer? I hope so! Perhaps bunnies? That'd be nice too. I think I shall put bird feeders back there, as well, so that we can truly enjoy the wildlife in our area. 

For the first time in months, I feel as if I can plan for the future. For the first time in perhaps years, I feel free and happy. Even the early days back in the Hinsdale house were filled with so many stressors, the joy was muted. I had gotten used to seeing everything in shades of grey, with only a few bright points here and there. Now, the freedom of the new house, the plans for the new garden and orchard, the wonderful room that I love so much (and that reminds me of sleeping in the loft of the Little House in the Big Woods!)... all of it equals nights of restful sleep and days of exhausting yet satisfying work. 

Today, I look out the front window and I see a mowed lawn (yesterday was a great day for mowing) and bushes that have been trimmed back. Today we'll move many of our long-term storage things into the basement in preparation for picking up more bins and boxes tomorrow to sort through and take care of. The house is no longer just a building or shelter, but has become a home. I am thrilled!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Spirit of Land

Out behind our house there is a forest. It isn't particularly large, being only 25 acres or so. It's owned by people up the street, who have a small entrance with their house, which then opens onto the forest behind them. As near as I can tell, that 25 acres is pretty much untouched, and has been for quite a number of years. It occasionally hosts kids running through it (as evidenced by the occasional candy wrapper I've seen), but I don't know of any buildings or structures beyond those created by the land itself.

When I look out my kitchen window, I look out onto this "backyard" we have. Our land goes a mere ten paces or so past the back of our house, being long rather than square or wide, and beyond an old stone wall lies the forest. In the mornings, I enjoy sitting and drinking my coffee, watching the several chipmunks playing there. They scamper up and down a few trees close by, and I can observe them quite closely without disturbing them. I find it very calming. Mornings are sunny back there, bright and warm and full.

By afternoon, the light has faded. It's not dark, per se, but it is somewhat shady. The forest is quieter, and there's less activity. It is as if everything takes a pause before the children return from school. The shadows are very long, and there are many darkened places when I look from my kitchen perch.

Evening comes fast to the forest. The afternoon's shade rapidly turns into darkness. By the time I have dinner on the table, it's pitch black out there. Nothing to see... except...

Tonight it was starting to rain, and I was in the process of curing some new cast iron cookware when it decided to smoke abominably. I had to open the windows in the kitchen, despite the autumn chill, to let the smoke out. I found myself sitting on my perch again, examining the forest from a completely different viewpoint. After a few moments of listening to the rain through reflecting windows, I got up and turned off all the lights in the room.

I carefully felt my way back to my spot, and curled up with my arms on the window sill. With all the interior lights off, I could finally SEE into the darkness, which wasn't really completely dark after all. The moon is full, and its light stained the sky. I could see the black outline of treetops against its glow. Before me, directly in front of me in fact, was the hollowed out stump of an old tree. It looked as if the tree had fallen rather than been cut, just judging by the look of it, but I hadn't gotten close enough to it to really examine it. Now, I found myself staring at this silhouette and noticing there were ... lights.

They weren't really lights, of course, but spots of numinous energy. They were like eyes, almost, and I felt as if I were being watched in return. I got the sense of an interested curiosity toward me, as if the forest inhabitants hadn't had anyone around before who could sense them. What a thrill, to be so close, separated only by a thin screen! I knew that if I went outside, the moment would be lost. Instead, I stayed sitting, perching, watching, feeling, sensing, drinking in the sensations of curiosity, interest, even love of a sort (although not the type of love we think of).

The children began moving around in the house about that time, and the sensations drifted off. Things were too noisy and full of youthful exuberance to allow that shy, quiet presence to stay. I felt invited, though, and welcomed. I felt joy, too, and an expansiveness that has eluded me for a long time.

Tomorrow, I will go out back and make a small altar or shrine in the hollow stump. I'll leave some barley, some fresh water, perhaps some milk or wine. I might leave some flowers, too, as there are still roses blooming in our front yard, tiny though they might be. I will say thank you to the spirits that graced me with their presence, and let them know that their attention was appreciated and desired. Sometime soon, I will introduce that spot to the children, too. I remember how excited they were to make offerings to the river nymphs at our last house, and this is a similar place, though not quite the same. These are earthy spirits rather than watery ones, I believe, and there is a whole different FEEL to them.