A Day in the Life

I see the light peeking around the edges of the curtains. I know I’ve slept late. It’s Tuesday. Monday nights mean choir rehearsal, and I don’t get home until 9.30 – well, past my bedtime! It was another night of me not being able to sing, thanks to my myriad colds. I can’t dwell on self-pity for too long: the children have heard Adam putzing in the kitchen and they come climbing into my side of the bed for morning snuggles. Just as we’ve attained fair and equal snuggles for all, Adam comes in to tell us it’s 7.30 and breakfast is on the table.

They scramble off the bed and race to the table. I make my way slowly: bathroom, find robe, open up the windows in the bedroom. When I get the table I see bowls of oatmeal in front of the kids and a spinach omelet waiting for me.

Olympia artist Niki McClure's calendar

Olympia artist Niki McClure’s calendar

Adam gets the kids dressed while I take the briefest of showers. Once dressed, I pack lunches and snacks, and off we go. We’re bundled in boots and thick coats. Last night’s downpour surely meant there would be puddles this morning, but no. As we walk up the hill to school, my son informs me that Papa was wrong; he didn’t need his boots after all.

I drop one kid off at kindergarten, another next door at a preschool. Happy kids are happily learning and playing. I descend home, down the hill, feeling wiped out. I’ve been awake an hour and fifteen minutes.

Once home I survey the mess of the kitchen. I feel overwhelmed by all the To-Do’s cluttering up my head. It’s Tuesday, so we have nothing to do tonight, except enjoy one another. It’s Tuesday, which also means it’s Kali puja day. First, though, I need to sit.

I make a cup of green tea and sit myself on the horrid burgundy corduroy couch. I enjoy the thin sunlight shining in through the windows. I sip my tea and do the barest of responding to comments, threads, and emails online. I watch a news clip on the Fukushima disaster. I begin berating myself for all the things I’ve left undone: a book review or two, blog posts I keep meaning to write, emails to be written, Christmas presents to sort out, and oh yeah, there’s a book on hold for me at the library.

I’m tired of feeling tired and sick of being sick. Self-pity threatens to eat me whole. I remind myself that I’m pregnant, it’s autumn, and I have two small kids that bring every sniffle home. What might fell them for two days will no doubt fell me for five. I’ve been sick every week for 5 weeks straight. But it will pass. I remind myself of that: this will pass.

I shut my lap top, drain my tea-cup, and peel myself off the couch. It’s nearly ten. Walking into the kitchen I realize I haven’t bought fresh flowers this week, so I grab a fat medjool date and head to my altar. I lay the date in my offering dish, light my candles and incense, and do the most basic of pujas. Still, puja feels good, like visiting an old friend. While sitting in meditation I think of my 2013 collage up on the fridge. I realize that this last part of the year was ‘set aside’ for rest. My collages are surprisingly prophetic. Sometimes I forget this. I drew the Moon and the Hanged Man for the last few months of this year. While the wheel of the days continue to turn and opportunities continue to knock, I need to realize that this time period for me is one of quiet, rest, and internal contemplation.

My altar this day

My altar this day

With that helpful reminder fresh in my head, I bow and make prayers. I pray for my Feri teachers, who are in need of healing right now. I pray for myself, also in need of some immune support. I ask that I might get the rest I need, learn what it is I need to at this time, and gather the strength I need for whatever is to come after this season passes.

It’s now 10.30. One hour until I pick up my daughter from preschool. I decide to throw in a load of laundry, then drive out to my friendly local farm and get eggs. I return in time to get lunch heating in the oven before walking up to get the girl.

Walking home in warm coats

Walking home in warm coats

Lunch is last night’s shepherd’s pie with a green salad. Adam and I talk about how his work is going, the realizations I had in meditation, the news I picked up on the farm; our daughter reminds us at least six times that her birthday is coming up (it’s not until February, but she is obsessed).

I tidy up the kitchen. Daughter asks for a bath, so I run the bath, brew a cup of tea and sit to write. Just as I get into the piece she’s through; I dry her off and dress her. She asks to watch Rastamouse while I write. I finish up and move on to general mental housekeeping: answering more emails and making lists of everything: Christmas lists, prepping for the various coming holidays, etc.

Cup of tea drained, more cartoons than I care to admit, and one distracted descent into Facebook, I finally get to work on my lists before reading to my daughter and letting her play with marbles. Only half way through my lists, my husband and I decide to do an impromptu drive-by of a potential house (we’re still house hunting) before going to pick up our son from kindergarten at 3pm. The house’s location isn’t quite right.

Once home everyone gets snacks. I go back to my lists. The kids get two cartoons before spending the rest of the afternoon drawing, reading and making a mess of the living room. We work on reading homework and I field a meltdown. I’m still trying to organize my lists. I am interrupted every few minutes. I give up and decide to work on it after the kids are in bed.

4.30 rolls around and I realize I need to fold some laundry and start on dinner. After reading the kids two more stories. We do a quick tidy up, which is dismantled minutes later. The youngest comes asking to play with rice. I dye some rice orange and the kids make a fine mess in the kitchen while I cook. The boy asks for a bath, which he runs and then picks up his mess while the bath fills. This is a first.

Orange rice for the win

Orange rice for the win

Dinner cooks. Adam watches basketball. I sweep up the rice and start lighting some candles. I light the family altar candle, say the Holy Mother prayer and a few others for some family needs. I discuss the meltdown issues with Adam (stress at school).

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Dinner is lamb and pork meatballs, sweet and sour sauce, roasted cabbage, and chard – all homemade, all super tasty! Everyone asks for seconds. It’s been chaos for the last two hours, but I’m feeling peaceful and sated at the table.

After dinner I go to the super awesome neighbors across the street for a quick chat and to pick up some keys. I walk over in my slippers. When I return, the end of the basketball game is on and the kids are reading on the couch. I finally fold the laundry and put it away. I make a cup of throat coat tea for myself and the boy. It’s time for the kids to get ready for bed and, of course, they get squirrelly and riled up. Adam gets them in their pjs and brushes their teeth while I write a little.

Pjs, toothbrushing, focus, night-time pees, get out of the laundry basket, time for bed, which story do you want, please focus on you, get in bed. While Adam works on the dishes, a story is read by me, hugs and kisses doled out. Adam goes in to sing them to sleep. It’s not terribly successful tonight.

I finally finish making my lists and get organized. I sort out what I want to accomplish tomorrow (add pictures to this post, post it, write up a book review, vacuum the house, don’t forget to buy milk and eggs, and get that package from the post office). I finally open this week’s Economist. And now it’s time for me go to bed. It’s 8.30 and I can’t wait to crawl into bed and do it all again tomorrow.

The Power of Self Care

I recently wrote a two-part series on health (you can read them here and here). For those that bristle at the word ‘health,’ maybe because it’s a word that seems over-used to the point of meaninglessness and is often used to level judgment on people, perhaps thinking about it in terms of self-care will be a better entry point to the same idea.

In my previous posts I talked about eating well, getting enough water and sleep, finding ways to move that make your body happy, and finding professional and/or friendly support. All of those things are important, not just for our over all health, measured in terms of aches, pains, immune strength and fitness, but also in terms of happiness, peace of mind and personal stability. It’s much easier to be present with our lives and loved ones when we’re well rested and well fed and not hurting.

Self-care is something that I’ve learned only late in life. I’ve always been interested in health and fitness. I swam competitively growing up. I’ve never enjoyed staying up all night long. But the way I thought about health was much more along the lines of ‘don’t get fat;’ it was a form of superiority and virtue, so I thought. Over time I’ve let go of that thinking.

I remember two friends I had in high school and college. These guys were popular, smart, and high achieving. They attended prestigious colleges and when they came home for summer, they worked jobs with lots of responsibility and long hours. They worked hard and played hard. Their motto was “we can sleep when we’re dead.”

At 20 that seemed doable and even ideal. Now, as a mother of small children, in my late 30s, that just seems insane. However, that thinking seems to infect more areas of life than just the habits of ambitious 20-somethings. I remember working out with kids who would push so hard they’d vomit. I know loads of people who are getting through their days on coffee and sugar. It’s not that these things are just unhealthy – as if health is some sort of finite, definitive term that we can measure objectively; I find these ways of approaching life as acts of unkindness and even, in the extreme, acts of self-torture.

Kindness, going easy on ourselves, self-care – these things are generally looked upon as lazy or wussy; at best a sign of indulgence, at worst a sign of weakness. There’s something in American culture that aims to reward the person who works 60+ hours a week, pulls all-nighters, does gruelling daily work outs for a six-pack, or starves themselves thin. Somehow that’s virtuous. But those who happily eat bacon, get 9 hours of sleep a night, goes gently walking for a few miles only a few times a week, or chooses a slow-track career option in order to avoid an expensive commute or gain more time with family is often considered unambitious.

I’d like to extend self-care into our spiritual practices and even into the very private area self-talk. While I think I’ve got a strong handle on all the things I’ve listed above (eating, sleeping, major life choices, etc), I still struggle with bringing self-care into these two very personal areas.

I am ambitious and I want results! So that must mean elaborate pujas, regular spell work, making sure I do all my exercises every day, and so on, right? Well, no. Sometimes it means not doing anything. Sometimes it means just sitting and breathing and checking in with my parts. Maybe the way to honor a particular holiday is to not celebrate it, rather than stress out and go through the motions.

Not Doing is not something I’m good at. Over the years my husband has helped me trust that I can Not Do and my world will not end. I am coming to trust that when he says ‘lean on me, let me carry your load today’ he really means it and I can actually let go. There is freedom in this space. Eventually I get over my cold (or my migraine, what I’m struggling with lately) and go back to my regularly scheduled activities with renewed vigor.

But it’s hard. It’s hard to accept that letting go of Doing is an act of love for myself. This leads me to self-talk. The voices I hear in my head are mostly me trying to guilt me into Doing. ‘The gods will forget about you if you don’t make your weekly puja.’ ‘How are you ever going to grow in your skills if you aren’t practicing them daily?’ ‘You haven’t read tarot/run the Iron Pentacle/made a house offering/etc in weeks, what kind of a witch are you?’ Yeah, those voices are kind of mean. Nipping those voices in their wilted little buds is a necessary form of self-care.

I’ve come to realize that negative self-talk is a form of self-sabotage. More damaging to my skills and relationships than taking a day off or a week off, or doing the easier of the pujas (or whatever) is this self-talk that aims to undermine my very desires. Those voices don’t make me rush to my altar any quicker or practice my vocal exercises any more often; instead, they make me run even farther away from what I love. I want to hide under the bed, out of sight of such a nasty bully.

Self-care is an act of power. It’s not an act of power over – over others or even over myself. It’s an act of power with – I bring myself into right alignment with my loved one and with all of my parts. And what is a witch if not a person unafraid to harness power? I aim to increase the power and efficacy of my witchery and all the areas of life into which I put my efforts!

Getting a handle on all aspects of my Self and my health is powerful stuff. Better physical and mental health is an act of love to myself and to those with whom I have commitments. Learning to accept self-care and the care of others is an act of surrender  and commitment to what is really important: my relationships – with family, friends and my gods, and to the desires I work towards regularly.

Serpent Songs, A Review

By now you probably know that I am an unrepentant fan of Scarlet Imprint, publishing house of fine occult books. For my birthday at the beginning of June, my husband gifted me with Serpent Songs, a collection of essays whose central theme is traditional witchcraft. I squeed with delight. The book is beautiful to behold, as I expected. The textures of the paper feel good in the hand; the color and printing are a delight to the eye.

Image taken from Scarlet Imprint's web page.

Image taken from Scarlet Imprint’s web page.

That said, I found this collection to be very hit and miss. Several of the essays I loved. Some I found entirely uninteresting. One essay in particular made me so upset that I wanted to hurl the book across the room. And not in ‘intellectually stimulated and challenged’ upset sort of way.

Let’s start with the awful and get it out of the way. Shani Oates, Maid of the Clan of Tubal Cain, has written a bloated essay in the purplest of prose. I read it three times, hoping that it was me and not her. Alas. Ms Oates writes as though she has mined a thesaurus for the most beautiful words she can find. There are lovely phrases, yet nothing seems to have any meaning. I suspect that she may have been writing in code. Many Craft practitioners do this, so as not to reveal secrets or break oaths. But some authors, like Serpent Song‘s editor, Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, are gifted at both writing in code, yet giving non-members plenty to chew on without condescension. Ms Oates essay reeked of outsider exclusion. Given that Scarlet Imprint writes for the smart occultist, without an emphasis on a particular tradition, I am stumped as to how this essay was included.

There are also some rather dull essays, ones I thought only marginally interesting. They reminded me of things I read in graduate school. I thought they might have been more at home in a decidedly academic collection.

But then there were several essays that more than made up for the others. I enjoyed Johannes Gårdbäck’s essay, ‘Trolldom.’ It’s a subject I don’t know much about. Gårdbäck, a Swede, used the tale of assisting a couple to inform the reader of many aspects of Trolldom, Swedish folk magic. It was interesting story telling and informative, too.

Several of the essays are ones I will come back to again. I was particularly impressed with the two contributions from Basque sorcerers, Arkaitz Urbeltz and Xabier Bakaikoa Urbeltz. This is a tradition I knew nothing about until reading these two essays. The way the home and hearth are central to their tradition, way of life and understanding of their world spoke to me in a deep way; I related and felt challenged to think more deeply about connection to home and place. One essay discusses Mari, a goddess I had heard stems from the Basque tradition, and is only found outside of it in the Feri/Faery tradition I practice. I felt these two authors did a beautiful job communicating their beliefs and practices in poetic, yet clear ways.

Sarah Lawless contributed a beautiful article on the ‘Mysteries of Beast, Blood and Bone’ which ends the volume. It is animistic in tone and practical in focus. It was a delightful ending to a mixed bag of essays, ranging from incredibly annoying to boring to possibly practice altering to profound.

Overall this book is, as are all Scarlet Imprint’s tomes, for the serious collector or practitioner. This book contains some of the worst writing I’ve yet to see them publish and some of the most beautiful and interesting. As always, there are several versions of this text, finely bound and digital.

Surrender

I suck at surrender. I’m a dominant, organized, go-getter who has a very hard time not doing. A lot of the time this works in my favor, especially as I run a household and raise my kids. I enjoy nurturing others and being pro-active in all of my varied practices. But surrender is an important act of (not)doing, critical to the spiritual life and for healthy relationships.

I’m starting to see that my limited capacity for ecstasy might be linked to my limited ability to surrender. Letting go to an experience that I have no control over is an essential component in experiencing ecstasy, but I have a hard time feeling safe in that position. Much of that is because for my entire life I’ve privileged what I call Big Fat Brain over other forms of knowing. I am very smart, and I’ve clung to that as a shipwrecked person would to a life-raft. Big Fat Brain serves me very well. To it I say, Thank you. But it’s not the entirety of me. I’m trying to make more space for other ways of knowing and experiencing.

Wrapped up with Big Fat Brain is the training I’ve received in Doing, rather than Being. I witnessed adults deriving their worth from doing. My parents, my mother particularly, is never sick. Never. She dotes on others, others do not dote on her. The examples my parents taught me was that getting help was a form of indulgence. None of that is true, which I know in my head, but letting go of those attitudes is hard work. I’m still disentangling those myths from my life.

And there’s no experience like being sick to drive this home to me, again. This week I’ve caught the cold my husband had last week. It’s just a regular ol’ cold, nothing too serious. Except I’m in the late stages of my first trimester of pregnancy. What does that mean? It means that I was already experiencing headaches and mild congested due to swollen membranes brought on by the expanding of my vascular system as the body ramps up blood production for the growing fetus. Add a cold on top of that I’m pretty miserable. Being pregnant also means I can’t take anything for any of the symptoms. I have no choice but to hunker down, rest, and drink ungodly amounts of fluids.

It means that I need extra help. It means that I have to let my husband take care of the cooking, dropping off and picking up the kids at school, and doing all the things that I might normally do. I have to surrender: to the cold, my duties, to accepting help. Better to learn this now, better to improve my surrendering through relatively small colds, than to be felled by chronic injury or illness and forced to learn the hard way.

Equinox Thoughts

Equinox is the time when light and dark is balanced. From here we tip discernibly into the Dark Season. While technically the Dark Season begins at Midsummer, when the nights begin to get longer, I don’t really feel the longer nights until around this Equinox time. The same goes for the growing days. I don’t feel their lengthening until spring Equinox.

Once upon a time, the Equinox meant for me giving the house a deep clean and fasting. The fasting has fallen by the wayside since I’ve mostly been either pregnant or nursing for nearly every Equinox in the last 6 years. Some day I’ll get back to fasting. Besides being an excellent spiritual discipline, it’s also really good for our bodies. (Intermittent fasting being very different from starving or chronic hunger, of course.)

Once again I’m pregnant and thus not fasting. I’m also not deep cleaning my house today. I like the idea of a twice yearly deep clean, but this week my spouse’s grandparents from Kansas are in town and I have my monthly training in Seattle tonight. So I’ll space out my cleaning slowly over the next week.

We are entering my favorite time of year. I love the chilly days and nights, the fall colors, the dark times, and all the holidays approaching: Navratri, Samhain, Diwali, Thanksgiving, Pancha Ganapati, Yule and Christmas.

May you find balance today. May you, in whatever ways you choose, prepare yourself for the long nights (or days) to come!

Ganesh Chaturthi

Yesterday was Ganesh Chaturthi – the first day of a ten (or so) day festival celebrating the birthday of Ganesh. In India this is a huge festival! Many people make murtis (statues) of Ganesh out of clay and then submerge and dissolve them in local rivers.

There is no Hindu community in my town with which to celebrate, and I have no interest in crafting a statue (maybe next year?), so my household celebrated by basically having a bit of a birthday party for Ganesh.

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I set up the altar on the dining table. We placed all of our Ganesha murtis (all four) on the cloth. There is a candle, lots of flowers, a singing bowl, sandalwood incense, a plate with chocolates (one for each of the family members), and a big bowl of sweet rice ‘pudding.’ I performed a puja for the whole family, and then we sat down to dinner. After we had eaten dinner at the table, we cleared away the dishes, sang happy birthday to Ganesh, and dished up the rice.

I left the altar up during the night. It was so pretty.

May the blessings of Ganesh – wisdom, truth, the removal of all obstacles, and the abundance of all good things – be with you and yours!

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Maxim Monday: Choose What is Divine

With this Maxim I immediately want to know what the ancient Greeks considered divine! From what little I understand, ancient Greeks did not consider their gods omnipotent or omniscient. There is a very different understanding of divinity between ancient polytheistic beliefs and current monotheistic (particularly mainstream Christian) beliefs. But I’m going to leave the ancient Greek parsing of this Maxim to people who actually know something about ancient Greece.

I’ve been sitting here in front of my screen for the last 20 minutes asking myself, “What do I consider divine? What does it mean to me to ‘choose what is divine’?”

For me, tonight, choosing what is divine is choosing what is filled with or furthers Life Force and my triple Soul. What fosters connection among all my parts, the people around me, and the non-human entities with whom I interact? What promotes health and vibrancy and joy in me right now?

Right now, that means connecting with you, the reader. It means eating more of the celery sticks in front of me, because they taste good and I’m craving them (no, really). It means getting another big glass of water and kissing my kids on the way to the kitchen. (Hold on, I’ll be right back.) It means getting off my laptop once this post is written and snuggling with the kids, connecting with my family over dinner, and resting this evening. It’s been a busy weekend and I’m grateful my mother-in-law is cooking dinner tonight.

Other times choosing the divine means delaying breakfast to sit in front of my altar, to align myself, light some incense, and offer thanks and devotion. Choosing the divine means making sure I’m checking in with my parts, practicing excellent self-care, and reaching out to my gods and allies (both human and non-human allies). Sometimes choosing the divine is simple: just go outside and breathe deeply, raising my arms to the bright sun. Other times it’s challenging: setting aside time for ritual, or skills practice, or designing workings.

What does divine mean to you? Are you choosing what is divine?