Saturday, December 15, 2012

Two Newtown Educators Went the Extra Mile for Students - NYTimes.com

Two Newtown Educators Went the Extra Mile for Students - NYTimes.com

This is not a moment of joy. This is not a time of happiness. Twenty-eight families went home yesterday missing someone so dear to them that it's difficult to comprehend. I found it terribly ironic that my virtual advent calendar opened today on "fears"... because the writing for it was done weeks ago. But yes... there are fears in the world.

Later, when the initial pain has died down a bit, I'll have more to say on this horrible thing. Right now, I need to show that there ARE heroes and they are in our schools and our neighborhoods. I wish sometimes that we lived in a world where we never needed to KNOW about heroes, but I'm glad that they're there.

At the Sandy Hook school, two heroes were defined. Do you know what a hero is? It's someone who runs toward the gunfire, not away from it. (And please, know that I am not putting down any of the people who hid or ran... because it's probably what I would do in that situation. I'm not a hero.)

Principal Dawn Hochsprung was a hero. She was at a meeting, heard the gunfire, and the person she stuffed under the desk for safety said she sprang out the door running toward the gunfire. Let me say it again: she was a hero. She cared that much about our children.

Ms. Sherlach was the school psychologist. She was apparently in the same meeting, and followed the principal without the least hesitation. She was a hero.

Last night, I lit a candle for these two heroes. They ran into battle without a backward glance. They did their best to save their charges, and unfortunately they died in the process.

Friday, December 14, 2012

My Christmas Tree

My Christmas Tree 2012
Okay, I'm unhappy with how this one turned out. The theme for the day was "Christmas Tree" and I thought it'd be easy, but man I HATE photographing them. No matter what you do, every photo comes out looking like a bad 1970s Polaroid!

However, I think I managed to capture at least some of the spirit of my tree. It's full of many ornaments, some new and some old. There are more lights and ornaments in the bottom two thirds because we have twin 7 year olds and that's as far as they can reach.

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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Keeping up... barely!
Pretty Paper all Around Me
My Nativity
Shopping and Bright Things
Red, Joyous and Warm

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Keeping up... barely!

Dec. 11 - Greens
The challenge for Dec. 11th was "greens" and the only greens around here right now are Evergreens. There's no snow yet, but there's not a lot of green growing stuff around either. It's kind of a depressing grey color. I love the fact that our town decorates for so many holidays. These beautiful swags of fir grace the fencing around the top of our town dam, and it just makes the whole place look terrific.

Dec. 12 - A beautiful sight
All around me are beautiful sights, ranging from our children on their best behavior, to our decorated tree, to the neighbors homes all around us. Nothing seems quite as beautiful as these swags, though, and this one was touched with a heavy frost which just begged to be photographed!

Dec. 13 - Family
In lieu of a family photograph (something we don't have time for today due to swimming and getting ready for the holidays), I've taken a photograph of our Wall of Fame. There are pictures of the older kids when they were little, of hubby's brother and his kids, of hubby himself (top center, the one in the bib), our twins, and sis. I love this wall.

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Pretty Paper all Around Me
My Nativity
Shopping and Bright Things
Red, Joyous and Warm
Following the Star

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pretty paper all around me!

Something you're reading - Goblet of Fire
December 9th's challenge was to photograph "something you're reading." Hardly a challenge, although most of what I'm reading nowadays is on the Kindle app of my phone. However...

The girl-twin and I are slowly making our way through the Harry Potter series. She's a total Potterhead, it's true, and so am I. She loves listening to me do all the voices of the characters, and giggles when I try to get my voice low enough to speak for Hagrid. We're currently on Goblet of Fire, which is incredibly good. It's also vastly different from the movie, which is nice, because she never knows what's going to come next.

December 10th - wrapping paper
I've mentioned in other places that I love to wrap presents. It makes me smile! I take great joy in making each gift a delight to the eyes. I loved the contrast above, between the light blue paper and the bright red of the ribbon. I like things that POP when you look at them.

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

My Nativity
Shopping and Bright Things
Red, Joyous and Warm
Following the Star
My favorite holiday movie

Saturday, December 8, 2012

My Nativity

Nativity
The photo topic for today was "ornament(s)"... which left me confused as to what to take a picture of. We have literally hundreds of ornaments. I think there's only about a quarter of our ornaments on the tree itself... there isn't room for all of them! Then I remembered...

Our Nativity scene.

I hadn't put it up yet, but I decided to do that this afternoon after I finished cleaning the living room. This is a gift from friends of ours. The glass figurines are antiques, absolutely beautiful. The tree-shaped "stable" and star on top were made by them, adding a touch of pagan flare to it. It speaks to me, and it is just right.

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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Shopping and Bright Things
Red, Joyous and Warm
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My favorite holiday movie
Capturing December

Friday, December 7, 2012

Shopping and Bright Things

Dec. 6 - Shopping
I will admit I had a hellish time with yesterday's assignment. I just don't DO Christmas shopping, for the most part. I mean, I guess I could have taken a picture of myself sitting on the computer, but that didn't seem to capture the spirit. I decided that what we were looking for, in essence, was the SPIRIT of shopping, or that love of picking out the perfect gift. That led me straight to my sewing corner!

Above, you can see a skirt I'm working on, and underneath it are several other presents for various people. My cross stitch projects are behind the glass jar of cut threads. That's my shopping, really. I get the joy of picking out something each day as I sit down to work on things.

Dec. 7 - Bright
Today's picture was trivial to figure out. I went straight down to the wood stove and opened it up. That warmth, that brightness, is what this season is all about to me. Things haven't faded into January's dullness yet, and the heat coming out of my lovely fire was just right.

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Red, Joyous and Warm
Following the Star
My favorite holiday movie
Capturing December
The waning light

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Red, joyous and warm!

Dec. 3 - Red
It's been a busy few days! I'm learning how to use Drupal, rushing to get boxes ready for out of country and out of state friends and family, and of course we put up the tree and started baking holiday goodies. However, I did get my photos taken!

December 3rd's challenge was 'red'. I thought long and hard about it. I took some experimental shots of some red stuff on the tree, but when I looked at them, they didn't really make me jump for joy. I ended up taking images of some of the red bows I use for decorating packages and ornaments, and I think it turned out rather well!

Dec. 4 - Joyous
The December 4th challenge was 'joyous,' something that I thought would be easy and turned out to be really difficult. Yesterday was kind of a tough day, because I'm suffering from a cold and it's dragging me down. Finding the joy was escaping me, even though I was making delicious soup. In the end, I kept looking back at this little fuzz ball of red and green tinsel. It's too small for the tree, but I kept it thinking it could be used to spruce up a present. In a close-up shot, it looks very joyous to me, very colorful and bright.

Dec. 5 - Today's temperature
That brings us up to today's challenge: today's temperature. That was definitely not a joyous thing. It's quite warm here, in the mid- to high-40s. There's no hope of snow in the near future, and they're predicting more rain. It's wet and blowing and yucky outside. I wanted a picture that evoked that feeling of stark chilly-but-not-cold. Our thermometer, which reads inside and outside temps, is right by the kitchen window, against a badly painted window frame. That seemed to speak of the blah of the moment.

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Following the Star
My favorite holiday movie
Capturing December
The waning light
How do you give thanks?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Following the Star

One of the angels on our tree
The season of Advent always seems to pull at me, for some reason. Though I am not Christian in the strictest sense, I do believe in Yeshua and I do worship him. During this season, I celebrate the birth of the Son as well as the re-birth of the Sun.

Part of my Advent devotions includes Following the Star, a wonderful site that I found three or four years ago. While D365 does devotions every day of the year, their Advent ones are very poignant. Right now, they are focused on the theme of bringing about peace. How do we do that? Does it have to start global and work local, or the other way around? They touch on some interesting points.

Please feel free to join in Following the Star with me, and many others!

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

My favorite holiday movie
Capturing December
The waning light
How do you give thanks?
Crafts as a spiritual practice

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My favorite holiday movie

Quilt pieces
My favorite movie for the holidays is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, starring Howard Keel and Jane Powell. Admittedly, it isn't a standard "holiday movie" in that it isn't about Christmas or any of the other winter holidays. However, it has special significance for me. My Hungarian grandfather didn't speak a lot of English, but he did understand farming. He and I didn't talk a lot, but every New Year's Eve for about 18 years, we sat down and watched the movie together. My grandmother usually worked that night, being the head cook at the Hungarian Hall down the road. I would stay home with him and watch the movie, and we'd laugh uproariously and just enjoy being together.

In the movie, Jane Powell's character Milly wears dresses that are obviously quilted (sometimes too much so, in fact!), and so for my image today I snapped some quilt squares I'm working on with the kids. The homespun feel of the fabric and the simple patterns make me feel all happy and loved.

What brings back happy memories for you at this time of year?

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Capturing December
The waning light
How do you give thanks?
Crafts as a spiritual practice
The power of helping

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Capturing December

My view today
I was bouncing around Pinterest the other day and ran across something called "Capturing December" over at A Content Housewife. I don't do a lot of photography, but this just seems so creative and happy-making that I decided to do it. So... each day I will be posting up a picture, sometimes with a comment and sometimes not. They'll be taken that day, not in advance, and I'll be using my DroidX. The camera isn't professional, but it's the best non-manual camera I've had.

Today's picture title is "Your view today." I decided to take a picture out my kitchen window, which faces out into the woods behind our house. This is the view I see each morning while drinking coffee and making breakfast. It's the view I gaze at in the afternoon while having a tea. I love looking out this window. In the summer, the spot in front of the cut snowy log (center) is filled with the most delicate white flowers that almost glow in the late morning sun. It looks like a spot where fairies might come to dine. Now that it's winter, I suppose the fairies are all in warm places. Mr. Squirrel and his wife come by to pick up the bits of bread and vegetables we occasional toss out for them, and often hop up on a log to wave to us.

I hope you enjoy my view today as much as I do!

Follow the rest of "Capturing December" (list updated several times a week): Favorite Holiday MovieRed, Joyous and Warm, Shopping and Bright Things, My Nativity, Pretty paper all around me! ...

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

The waning light
How do you give thanks?
Crafts as a spiritual practice
The power of helping
And you've got a job...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The waning light

Candles light up the dark (1)

The year is winding down. The morning light doesn't come until almost 7am, and it's dark by dinner time. Each night is a bit longer, each day that much shorter. Soon it'll be the longest night... but not yet.

I used to have real issues with depression in December and January. I would be horribly down and prone to crying throughout the entire time. Sometimes I would blame it on external issues (family fights, stress at work, missing a loved one) but that really wasn't the problem. The problem was that my body wasn't dealing well with the low levels of natural daylight and the resulting drop in vitamin D levels in my system.

I would be miserable, and I would drag everyone else along with me. I would snap, shout, burst into tears without warning, and generally make everyone walk on eggshells around me. I don't do that anymore, though.

Part of my getting better was admitting that I had an issue. I started taking an anti-depressant, which has helped me find my own humanity again. I still have ups and downs, but they're not spikes and extremes. For a long time, I felt shame over "failing" to improve my body's chemistry on my own. I think that was a part of the depression, too. Now, I take my pills and slowly work my daily magic to get myself to a place where the pills can go away. But not yet, and not without careful consideration.

The other part of my getting better was that I added things to my lifestyle designed to make me feel more human. Once the darkening days set in, I switch out my usual bedside lamp for a "daylight" lamp. It provides the right kind of light for my body to create its own seretonin and vitamin D. I use it each evening as I read in bed, or work on my cross stitch, or watch a bit of something on Netflix. It helps. I also eat better, exercise, and take a vitamin D supplement. Goodness knows that those three things have done as much for me as anything else!

No matter how good your intentions, though, it's hard to exercise and eat well when you're down in the dark doldrums. It's a cycle, an unfortunate and terrible one. The darkness makes you depressed, which makes you not want to eat right or exercise or do the things you ought to, which makes the depression worse. There has to be a break in the cycle in order to get out of it. For me, the ladder out of my depression pit was my anti-depressant. Armed with a bit of mental space, I was able to make the changes that would begin the slow repair of my body and psyche.

I still have dark days. I cry when I miss my daughter, and I sometimes regret old decisions. I get upset over things, or frustrated with family members. Those dark times are nothing, though, in comparison to what I used to experience.

December is the time when the most people commit suicide. The holidays, when there's such terrible pressure on everyone to look happy and buy buy buy!... well, it doesn't do good things for the depressed person. If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, don't hide it. Reach out. There are people at the National Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-8255) all the time.

I know it's scary. I know it hurts. I know it seems impossible. I've been there. I know that the idea of having to be strong for one more minute is a type of torture. Please... don't give up. There are people who care about you. *I* care about you. Hold on, and don't hesitate to ask for help if you need it.

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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How do you give thanks?
Crafts as a spiritual practice
The power of helping
And you've got a job...
Women of Faith



1) Image by Michael Henderson / Wikimedia Commons

Friday, November 16, 2012

How do you give thanks?

Thanksgiving prayer - 1942 (1)

Can you believe it's only a week until Thanksgiving Day? In the past 100 years or so, Thanksgiving has become much less of a time for giving thanks, and much more of a time to gear up for the crass commercialism of what is known as "the holiday season." So many have forgotten what Thanksgiving is supposed to be about.

Americans spend hundreds of dollars per family on Thanksgiving meals. The statistics are frightening. While it is still a time of getting family together, it's also a time of over-eating and excess. The 'thanks' is long gone for most, to our country's detriment.


Basting (2)
Instead of talking turkey this year, why not take the time to learn about the real history of our modern day Thanksgiving? Why not spend a bit of time in prayer, together, as a family? Why not take the time to think of others over this holiday?

There are several stories associated with Thanksgiving celebrations in American history. Most of them are not positive stories, not filled with joy and happiness, with peaceful Indians and joyful Pilgrims dining together. Most include massacres of some kind, stereotypes that range from silly to downright insulting, violent 'gratitude' by Pilgrims, and the death of thousands of Native Americans by plague and pox brought over by the Europeans.

These sad stories, horrible stories, need to be remembered. The Wampanoag tribe of Indians, the descendants of those met with the first Pilgrims in the 1600s, spend our Thanksgiving Day as a day of mourning over their lost people. For them, it is not a celebration but a funeral.

We don't live in the 1600s, though. We live here, today. It is important to remember the past, both horrors and gratitude, but we must also learn from it and move forward. There will always be those who celebrate football on Thanksgiving, and those who mourn the death of people 400 years ago. We can't (and shouldn't, in my opinion) attempt to change that. What we can do, and should do, is take back Thanksgiving as a time of interfaith prayer and gratitude, of true thanks.

Bush pardoning the turkey (3)
This time of year, as the weather gets colder, we spend more time indoors with one another. Stress levels go up, and being cooped up together sometimes means that colds and flus go through the family like wild-fire. This can add to the desire to spend Thanksgiving over-eating and ignoring one another, but it doesn't have to be so. There are many things we can do to alleviate the difficulties surrounding the Thanksgiving feast and its associated problems.

Remember, you don't have to roast a turkey. Not everyone does! If you want turkey but don't feel up to cooking a whole one, you can purchase a breast only, or even go out and buy a pre-cooked one. Alternatively, you can cook it a week or two ahead of the feast, and then thaw it and warm it in the oven for an hour or two before serving it (just don't stuff it if you're going to do this!). Perhaps you don't want anything to do with turkey, which is alright too. Pick up a ham, or even a pizza! Have a pot-luck meal instead of preparing it all yourself, and ask someone else to do the heavy cooking. Or go non-traditional and have turkey meatballs or turkey salad from the deli instead of a roasted turkey. There are so many options, so don't let your own sense of tradition or pride push you into something that isn't going to add to family harmony.

Take some time for yourself, either the day before or the day of Thanksgiving. Even ten minutes of quiet time in meditation or reading a favorite book or stitching away at your favorite craft will help with the pressure. Don't be afraid to ask the rest of the family to pitch in, either. Even small children can help out with decorations, putting tablecloths on, or setting out the plates and cutlery (though with small ones, avoid the knives).

Thanksgiving 1870 (4)
When you sit down to eat, have everyone hold hands for a moment. Acknowledge that, whoever you have around your table, they are a part of your spiritual family in some way. While there's no need for a long, religious prayer (unless you want one!), pausing to say thank you to everyone for their help, their support, and their love is a great way to begin a meal.

Don't rush through your food. The football game (and dessert) can wait until later. Relax and enjoy the fruits of the season that grace your table. Taste everything you want to. Chew slowly, and savor the flavors and the way they enhance one another. Enjoy the talk around the table, and join in as you feel called. Ask people politely to avoid contentious subjects while at the table, and stick to things that promote happiness. Share your successes, tell funny stories about your children when they were little or what Aunt Jillian did three years ago. Revel in family.

The two great classes (5)
If you happen to be part of American society that isn't living as fat off the hog as others, turkey may not be something you can afford (although at $0.49/lb at the moment, it might be time to pick some up!). Certainly the wide variety of fresh organic produce in the grocery store isn't always affordable for some of us. Whatever the situation you live in, this can still be a time for the giving of thanks. Dig deep, and find within you something that brings you joy or a smile, something that has bettered your life.

Whether you sit down to a six course meal or home-made mac'n'cheese doesn't matter. What does matter is that you are where you are. Your family might be husband and wife with 2.3 kids, or a gay couple and friends, or a mom and her children alone on Base because hubby is out fighting a war somewhere.

Take the time to be thankful. Take the time to say thank you. Remember to thank yourself, as well, for all you've done!


Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Crafts as a spiritual practice
The power of helping
And you've got a job...
Women of Faith
The Power of We 

1) Photo by Marjory Collins. Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress) / Wikimedia Commons
2) Photo by Ethan Lofton / Wikimedia Commons
3) Photo by  Chris Greenberg (White House) / Wikimedia Commons
4) Photo by American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1 / Wikimedia Commons
5) Image by Winslow Homer Collection / Wikimedia Commons

Friday, November 9, 2012

Crafts as a spiritual practice

My current project

Despite the historical inaccuracies, I love Marrion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon. Every time I pick it up (and I do so every couple of years, inevitably), I find some new insight, some niggling thing that applies Right Now to my spirituality or my practices. Today, it's the using of crafts (knitting, spinning, weaving, cross stitch and embroidery, sewing, and more) as a method of finding the trance-like state that calms the mind and soul. Sometimes, that trance brings visions, and other times "just" healing and serenity, but it doesn't matter which, to me.

There's a bit near the end of the first third of the book where Morgaine is spinning wool into thread for sewing and such. She has an internal monologue talking about how she hates spinning because, ". . . twisting, turning the thread in her fingers, willing her body to stillness with only her fingers twisting as the reel turned and turned, sinking to the floor . . . down and then up, twist and twist between her hands . . . all too easy it was to sink into trance." (Bradley, Marion Zimmer. The Mists Of Avalon. New York: Del Rey, 1983. Print.)

For me, that ability to be still except for my fingers is what makes doing crafts (especially cross stitch or Zentangles) so enjoyable. During the summer, I find my quiet moments in the garden, among the growing plants and the dirt and weeds. In the autumn, there's canning and dehydrating and cooking and preserving to occupy my mind. Winter is my craft time, though, the time when I immerse myself in making gifts and taking the time to look at my inner lights.

Last night, I played music on my Android phone and picked up my latest cross stitch project. I've been working on it for a couple of weeks now, in between herding children, dealing with possible storm issues, cooking, cleaning, and editing the work over at Troglodite's blog. It was nice to sit for an hour, sip tea, and stitch.

As I slide the needle up and down through the Aida cloth, I find my mind wanders silently. There's less chatter and my "thinking brain" starts to shut down. My body stops needing to shift incessantly. I narrow down to the pattern and the needle and thread, up and down, all one direction, then back again in the other direction.

I'm not prone to visions, as Morgaine was in the book, but I can definitely see how certain types of crafts could bring about visions in someone who has talent in that sphere. As a meditative skill it's invaluable, in my opinion. Just sitting and concentrating on your navel works for some people, but never really has for me. I prefer things like tai chi and yoga, meditative walking, ecstatic dance, and crafts. They keep my body and "thinking brain" entertained while the rest of me gets on with the business of meditating and calming down.

I don't think it matters what your craft is, to be honest. If you like to sew, then sew. I get the same benefit out of hand-piecing a quilt top as I do out of cross stitch (though using the sewing machine is a completely different thing). You might get it from knitting or crocheting.

When you indulge in a craft, you are not only allowing your creative juices to flow, you are allowing your mind and body to become more serene and relaxed. The health benefits, both mental and physical, are wonderful. Never thing that you're only "wasting" some time doing "nothing productive" because you couldn't get any farther from the truth.

What's your favorite craft? What do you indulge in? What's the "chocolate" of crafts for you? Why do you like it, and what does it do for you on all the various levels?

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

The power of helping
And you've got a job...
Women of Faith
The Power of We
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The power of helping

Hurricane Sandy, 2012 (1)
New Hampshire was spared the worst of the damage from the recent hurricane. Most people didn't lose power, and of those who did, most had it restored within a few hours. The news this morning reported that the last of the power outages will be restored by tomorrow morning at the latest. There were no deaths that I'm aware of, and there was no rioting or looting. Thanks to All Divine for us getting the luck of the draw for this particular storm.

The people in New Jersey and NYC weren't so lucky. Not only was there massive flooding, there were fires in NYC that left 300 families without homes. There are states of emergency declared all over the place to the south of us, and power is still out to thousands of people. People in NYC have been told some of them might not get power back for another ten days.

I have many former seminary classmates and minister friends who are helping those who were left homeless from this storm. I agree wholeheartedly with helping out. It's terrible to think that might be us.

I have to admit, though, that I find myself wondering why some of (or perhaps most of) these people didn't help themselves to begin with. I know some of my readers may see that as a callous statement, but I need it to be said. I need to discuss this, and I invite comments.

The Battery tunnel (2)
Warnings about the hurricane began over a week before it actually reached our shores. FEMA and other agencies were asking people to stock up on food and water, to have an emergency bag packed, and to be ready to evacuate if you were in a flood prone area. In many places, evacuation orders came hours before Sandy's landfall, and shelters were set up well well in advance. Various pet agencies offered to provide free shelter for the pets of those who had to go to emergency stations, so that even the smallest and most innocent residents would have somewhere safe and relatively dry to be during the storm.

We're not in a flood plain. We're not in a place that's subject to storm surge, being well inland. We don't even get really bad Nor'easters, here. Still, we heeded all the warnings. We bought extra food that was easy to prepare, picked up an extra cylinder of propane for the camp stove and the barbecue grill, fueled up the cars, and made sure there was gas for the generator. We didn't have to pack emergency bags because we always have those ready to go, just in case, but we certainly double checked them to make sure everything needed was still there. We filled up some plastic jugs with water and left them in the bathtub, just in case drinking water was shut off or contaminated in some way.

None of this cost us very much. Food was stuff we would have gotten anyway. Much of it was cheap (eggs and bread, for instance). The propane and fuel were things we'd planned to get anyhow. The water jugs just happened to be on hand, though if they hadn't, I would have used milk jugs or whatever was around.

I find myself asking... why did people get wakened at 2am in NYC to find water on their second floors, and were totally unprepared? The entirety of NYC is a flood plain. Evacuation orders had been given. People were warned. There was ample time for preparation. How could they be in a position that they were required to be evacuated by emergency boats, with nothing more than their night clothing? How could this happen, when all that time and money had been spent to warn them?

I feel bad for those who lost their homes. It was not their fault that storm surges ripped apart the buildings they lived in. The storm was not something they could prevent from happening. Judging by the size of most of the storm surge, even very high breakwaters would not have prevented most of the flooding. Those who lost their homes to fire, too, could not have known that was going to happen.

Avenue C, NYC (3)
Yet every single one of those people should have had a grocery bag or suitcase or backpack with a couple of changes of clothes and a handful of granola bars by their bed. Every single one of them was within the path of the storm that was so clearly defined and illustrated on NOAA and Wunderground. There was no surprise at the storm itself, or the danger it posed. This was not an event that sprung up in the small hours of the night without warning or advanced notice.

I am finding myself wondering, how did we get to a place where we can (as a society) completely ignore warnings and emergency statements? How did we reach a mindset that allows us to blank out the dire, long-range forecasts and evacuation requests? How did we breed a group of people who simply sat there passively while their lives washed away in Sandy?

There's a quote that I feel we need to focus on, right now:
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." -- attributed to Confucius
People (and I mean this in a very general, country-wide way, rather than specifically any group of people) today seem to want the fish. They don't want to do the work to catch the fish. They don't want to get up early, pack up the gear, make sure the lines are not tangled, load the tackle box, dig worms, make their way out to the early morning waters, bait their hooks, wait patiently while the fish bite, then come home and clean those fish, prepare them, cook them, and serve them up. They want pre-cooked fish in plastic bags to put in the microwave.

It disturbs me. It interrupts my prayers. How can I pray for someone who didn't even help themselves in a well-marked dangerous situation? The answer is that I pray for them to be well and to learn from their mistakes.

However, I also find myself praying that our country, as a whole, can learn to fish together. The handouts were never meant to be for everyone. They were designed for a small group of people who were in dire straights not of their own design. They were intended to give people room to breathe while they got back on their feet after losing a job, sustaining a life-threatening injury, or a natural disaster like Sandy.

There are people in Cuba and Haiti, Jamaica and the Bahamas who were all affected by Sandy's wrath. I'm not sure how many people have seen images of the destruction there. Yet we don't see the same kind of response there. I realize they don't have our kind of infrastructure for helping their citizenry, but I also see that they expect the people to help themselves.

Yes, disasters happen, and it sucks. That's part of life, unfortunately. You get hurt, you get up, you dust yourself off, and you get on with the business of living. I've lived through things that left me homeless, with all of my "things" (photographs, most of my clothing, books, keepsakes, ID, etc.) destroyed or missing. I found ways to deal, pulled my head out of the sand, and moved on. It wasn't easy, and yes I pissed and moaned during part of it. I was scared, too. I was emotionally hurt, knowing that some of the "things" I loved were gone forever. All the baby pictures of my daughter. All my awards from school. My favorite books. My favorite cookware! Gone. I cried.

But then I picked up my emergency bag and I got moving. I helped others, and I helped myself. So now I find myself in the interesting position of wondering whether I'm somehow emotionally crippled because I am having less sympathy for the people in shelters than I ought to. I did it, and frankly I'm not great at it, so others ought to be able to do it, too.

I'm not asking people to be joyful about disasters, natural or otherwise. They're horrible things, and those affected deserve our help and our prayers. There's a great power in helping others, because it also helps us sustain ourselves. I suppose what I'm asking is that, when we help (because inevitably we will; it's in our nature), we do so in the manner of, "teaching someone to fish," rather than just handing out MREs (or even prayers).

Let's take the time to arm our citizenry with knowledge. I know that's contrary to the current political mess (on both sides of this damned campaign), but it's what NEEDS to be done. Let's make "common sense" common again! Let's work together to show people how to weather a storm, whether it's emotional, physical, or natural. I know that I, for  one, would be on board with that type of plan for our country. Let's stop holding out our hands for things, and start holding our hands out to others to help, help in a useful manner.


Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

And you've got a job...
Women of Faith
The Power of We
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Books for Halloween


1) Image by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / Wikimedia Commons
2) Image by MTA of NYC / Wikimedia Commons
3) Image by David Shankbone / Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

And you've got a job...

Cold Mountain (1)
A while ago, I read a book called Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier. You might be more familiar with the movie with Nicole Kidman and Jude Law, which was a fairly good rendition of the novel. It touches on the lives of a handful of people living through the era of the Civil War, and how it affects their lives. I re-watched the movie a few days ago, and there's a particular quote that struck me, as it has every time I've read or watched it.
"See, I think there's a plan. There's a design for each and every one of us. You look at nature. Bird flies somewhere, picks up a seed, shits the seed out, plant grows. Bird's got a job, shit's got a job, seed's got a job. And you've got a job."     -- Maddy (the goat lady)

In one crude sentence, Maddy manages to sum up LIFE.  Every single thing in life has a purpose, has its part in the plan. We might not like bugs or spiders, but they do a job. I know I don't particularly like maggots, but they also have a job. Some people dislike mice or rats, yet even they have a job. And you've got a job.

Birds flying in Sacramento (2)
Sometimes, our job is to be like the bird. We eat, we fly, we go about our day largely unaware of the world around us except where it affects us directly. We're free, happy, and yet sort of ignorant, too.

Other times, our job is to be like the shit. Our purpose is to fertilize, to keep warm, to provide the means of life to another thing in a very impersonal manner which we're not directly connected to. Our existence seems to reduce down to not much more than being there.

Then there are the moments when we're like the seed and resulting plant. Everything is going our way, and we're full of potential and glowing with life. Others have given us the means to get where we need to be and to put down the roots that will allow us to be big and strong and healthy.

Life and age of women (3)
During our lives, we go through all these stages and more. Often we don't want to be in whatever stage we happen to be in. We complain. We grouse. We rebel and try to be something we're not meant to be, at that moment. When we fight that, when we struggle against the inevitability of life, we hurt ourselves. In the process, we sometimes hurt others in our lives, too. This isn't to say we should lay down and die or accept things blindly, but that we should do our best to work patiently within the confines we're given.

Perhaps now is a time when we need to practice just ... being. Be a bird. Be a pile of shit. Be a seed. It's okay. Be yourself, knowing that "yourself" will change over time!

 

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Women of Faith
The Power of We
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Books for Halloween
Jewish Holy Days: Sukkot

1) Image by Ken Thomas / Wikimedia Commons
2) Image by Brocken Inaglory / Wikimedia Commons
3) Image by James Baillie / Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Women of Faith

Rachel Held Evans (1)
I've been reading Rachel Held Evans' blog since a month or so before she finished her actual year of Biblical womanhood. Some of it I sort of skim through (I don't have the books she's doing in her current book study series for instance) but the rest of it I just inhale. Like Rabbi Rachel Barenblat over at The Velveteen Rabbi, Rachel Held Evans is thoughtful, deeply spiritual, and hungry for knowledge. I love that these two women are both so strong and so completely different! They empower me to do what I need to do, as a spiritual person, as an interfaith minister, and as a woman.

In one of her entries today (her FAQ, actually), Rachel  wrote, "Christian women receive a lot of mixed messages about what it means to be a woman of faith." I read this and my mind just exploded. I actually had to walk away from the computer for a bit.

It isn't that her comment was all that strange. I've said it myself dozens of times. I think it's more that it's an epiphany that I've heard this same statement out of most of the strong women that I know. Sometimes it's "Christian women" and sometimes it's "pagan women" and sometimes it's "professional women" but it's always "descriptor women". We ladies get mixed messages from all over the place.


A bone of contention in some of the pagan circles right now is the covering of a woman's head as a life choice in conjunction with her spirituality. I've covered my hair during some rituals for several years now, having come to the conclusion that there are just times it's appropriate. I cover my hair during Easter if I go to a church, too. It just seems... right. You might ask yourself, why would this be such a big deal? Believe me, I ask myself the same question, a lot.

A modern Rachel (2)
There are some women (and men) who feel that it's dangerous in some way for a woman to cover her hair. Others feel that it's a way of telling the world you're not confident enough or that you feel you're ugly, or that you're just someone's doormat. I don't understand any of that. I cover my hair, the few times I do, because it has religious and spiritual significance to me. Why does it make a difference to someone else why I do it, other than that they wish to appease their curiosity (something I don't mind doing, at all)?

There are pagan women who have been spat on for covering their hair. There have been verbal threats, nasty e-mails, rude comments on posts on FaceBook, and even threats of violence that have had to be passed on to police. All this, because a woman (a group of women, in fact) chose to put a scarf on before they went out for the day.

The mixed message I've been struggling the most with is the idea that we (meaning women) are supposed to be free to be ourselves, and yet that has come to mean "free to be whatever you like except if you're doing something that displeases someone else." 

A rather vocal group of online women "talked trash" over a women's group I belonged to. Why? Because the ladies (and I) had decided to cover our hair because our gods had asked it of us.. I've been told that no "real god" would EVER demand something so demeaning of a woman. Speaking only for myself, I would have to say that the gods certainly did make such demands, until quite recently in fact. In the past hundred years or so it's relaxed, probably because we ladies have, but there's long history.

All that aside, why is it an issue? A piece of clothing has been found offensive to a certain group, and they're making waves over it. Why do they find it offensive? It's their opinion that if a woman veils herself, then she may as well just throw out all the freedoms won by the suffragettes and women over the past 75 years. I'm not sure why wearing a scarf (or hat, or anything else, frankly) should cause people to be worried, but they are.

Mixed messages. Do this; don't do that. Don't rock the boat. Don't upset the status quo. Rachel Held Evans talks about why "living Biblically" is so difficult. I don't think she's just talking about evangelical Christianity, though. I think it's bigger than that, and it's something that infects every religion and every belief system. It's too easy to fall into that "holier than thou" headspace, where you get to dismiss anything that doesn't fit your world view.

The worst part is, I'm sure most of the reactions (whether the ones Rachel Held Evans gets for "living a year of Biblical womanhood" or the ones Rabbi Rachel Barenblat gets for being a female Rabbi, or the ones I get for being a liberated feminist woman who does, indeed, sometimes cover her hair) are knee jerk ones. The truly offensive people, the rude, nasty ones, are easy to deal with. You dismiss them. It's not so easy when it's a friend or a local pastor, or worse yet, someone who's interviewing you for a magazine or newspaper. Those latter people probably don't realize the biases they're working under (hence the mixed messages!), and so it's difficult to point out to them that they ARE working under a bias.

I'm loving what little I've read of Evans' book so far. Her take is humorous but intelligent. Her writing is easy to read and imparts a lot of information. I think her book (and her blog, and her FaceBook page) would be great reading for any woman who's ever gotten mixed messages over the years (in other words, all of us, every single one).

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

The Power of We
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Books for Halloween
Jewish Holy Days: Sukkot
Living Life to the Fullest


1) Photo by Dan Evans
2) Photo by Maki Garcia Evans

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Power of We

Friends helping with wood
 Today is Blog Action Day, and the topic for this year is "Power of We." I've been thinking about this post for over a month, mulling what I could write. It comes down to the fact that I'm a homesteader, minister, stay (mostly) at home mom and writer. I could research a million topics and come up with something full of gravity and solemnity. But that isn't me. I write about kids and family, about personal religious and spiritual experiences, and about the things we grow and do on our little suburban homestead. So that's what I need to write about.

Girltwin helps plant seeds
I realized during my thinking time that almost everything we do around here is powered exclusively by the "power of we." Getting the children ready for school in the morning takes two. The chores around the house are a multi-person endeavor because we have a relatively large house and a lot of Stuff. Cooking is also personnel heavy, because we're most often feeding 5 adults, one teen and two first graders at a sitting. Because I don't drive, my ministry often involves someone carting me off to whatever event I'm working at. The garden takes several dedicated people working 3/4 time, all in itself. Our household is the "power of we" in action, daily.

Family working on a coop
 If one person were to attempt to do the household things required on even a modern homestead like ours, they'd drown. There are times when I have tons of help and I still feel like I'm drowning! We've made choices that increase my workload, and that of the rest of the family, such as grinding our own flour from wheat berries with a manual wheat mill and baking much of our own bread instead of purchasing it. We cook food from scratch more often than we use pre-packaged meals, and that takes time and effort, too. It's just not possible for anyone to run a homestead (no matter how small) by themselves. It is by its very nature a "we" project.

Gray watering fruit trees
When we planted our garden this year, the project was officially "my" baby. However, Gray helped with the creation of the raised beds, helped get my garden tires into place, and did much of the sawing of the rubber rims. Sis helped with preparing and planting, and the kids were definitely involved in the moving (and tossing!) of dirt. The girltwin planted her own garden, in fact,  with help from we adults. Gray had to haul all the compost from the dump to our home, then helped with shoveling it into the raised beds. One of our friends, Russet, helped with weeding and planting and watering. The garden would have been nothing but grass without every person lending a hand!

Sis splitting wood
Our home is largely heated with wood. Every one of us has helped with the splitting of the wood, because it's a part of living the life we've chosen and because it simply would not get done otherwise. Gray does the majority of splitting, but he needs someone to help move the wood onto and off of the stump for him, and the kids are responsible for stacking the wood neatly for winter use. They even came up with the idea of using some spare red bricks to make steps so they could pile as high as the adults do! Even though they're only six, they are required to do a good job and be neat and straight in their stacking. They are as much a part of this household as we are!

The power of OUR "we"!
Times are tough. We worry if we'll have enough money for fuel this winter. We worry that there will be enough food. Yet we can look at our larder and see months worth of produce that we've dehydrated, frozen or canned, and know that we'll be alright even if things are lean. That is OUR power of "we" after all. We work together. We learn together. We laugh and play together, too, because that's as important or more important than the working part.

Recently, I had made some laundry detergent for us, and sis came out of nowhere and said, "We can do anything!" She's right. As a team, when we're WE, we sure can do anything. When we fight, things fall apart for a little while, but then we make up and things move on better than before. We're passionate people, from oldest to youngest, and we truly live our lives to the fullest. I'm incredibly proud of our "power of we."

What sort of "power of we" does your family have?

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Books for Halloween
Jewish Holy Days: Sukkot
Living Life to the Fullest

Sunday, October 7, 2012

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast cancer ribbons (1)

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it's a time of year that I always pause. My favorite aunt, Agnes Cooper, died of complications from breast cancer when I was 16 years old. Until that point, no one I really knew had ever died. I had all my grandparents, and had never known my great-grandparents. Agnes was not a blood aunt, but she was closer to me than any other adult. She was the person I went to when I had to talk to a grown-up without getting in trouble. Throughout my life, she always treated me like a human being, never like an infant.

I remember spending time during punishments (there were a lot of them, mostly unearned) fantasizing that she was really my mother, and that she had given me up because she knew how much my actual mom needed a child. I was aware it was fantasy, but I clung to it.

When she first got cancer, none of us were truly surprised. She'd been a heavy smoker all her life. But when you're 13 years old, you know that your own family won't die from these things. It's other people who die. And after long and arduous surgeries and chemotherapy and losing all her hair (which she did with good grace), she was told she was in remission.

Life was good. All was as it should be. And then it came back. And she beat it again. And then it really came back. Now, with my own age and with the ministerial training I've had, I can look back and see how it had spread, and how she was sent home to die. She didn't want to die in hospice. She knew the end was very near, and determined not to leave a mess behind. All I saw was that the hospital sent her home, so that meant she was on the mend and would just have to go through more chemo. After all, that's what had happened before.

She didn't get better. She put all her affairs in order, long before the cancer reached her brain. Every piece of jewelry was bagged with a name on it. Every bill was paid, every possession accounted for. We didn't know that until after, of course, when my parents (her executors) went to begin cleaning things out and organizing. They were stunned.

I remember the last time I saw her. We had gone to visit. There was a hospital bed in her bedroom in her apartment. Her black cat, Flower, was refusing to leave her side. She was pretty out of it, and I had thought it was due to medications. I talked with her a bit, then my mother said we had to go.

As I was leaving, she took my hand and she whispered, "I need to say goodbye, hon." I smiled and said not to be so serious, because after all, we were going to be back tomorrow. She kept holding my hand until I kissed her and said okay, and we said a proper goodbye. She died in the early hours of the following morning.

What to look for (2)
Her cancer started in her breasts, and spread to her lymph nodes under her arms, and eventually to her spine and up into her brain. After her death, they did an autopsy to find out what happened, and basically her brain was mush. That's why she was so dopey when we were there. But she was still herself. And she knew she was going.

My aunt was incredibly brave. She was understanding, to a point I can't even imagine. I know that during her own cancer woes, she sat patiently and listened to me gripe about my mother and how awful my life was. She never teased me about anything. She always took what I said seriously, and never made me feel she was bored or thought I was stupid or "just a kid."

I honor my aunt a lot. I say prayers for her. I've written poems about her and for her. As I've become friends to teens, I have kept her lessons in mind. I've always tried to take them seriously, be honest and even blunt, and never lie. I've tried to carry on for them what she did for me. Sometimes I'm better at it than others, but I always keep trying. When I do it well, I feel as if I'm getting a ghostly hug from a woman that taught me more in the few years I knew her than anyone else.

So... it's Breast Cancer Awareness month. If you're high risk or over 40, have your boobs checked. Ask your doctor, or go to the American Cancer Society's website and find a place to get a low cost or free screening done. In Keene, NH, you can get low cost and free screening done at the hospital downtown. Just call for information or email them from their website. Early identification makes all the difference.

While you're waiting for that mammogram, why don't you pause, too. Remember those in your life who've been taken away by breast cancer, or who beat it and are doing well. Say a prayer of thanks. Talk to them on the phone if you can, or go visit.

If you'd like, please share your story in the comments below. Keep those happy and even the painful memories alive.

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Books for Halloween
Jewish Holy Days: Sukkot
Living Life to the Fullest

(1) Image from Federal Government / Wikimedia Commons
(2) Image from National Institute of Health / Wikimedia Commons