Sunday, December 30, 2012

Molasses Crinkle Cookies

Molasses Crinkle Cookies  

3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup molasses
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups flour
white sugar

Mix the butter, oil, and brown sugar until creamy. Blend in the molasses, egg, and vanilla extract. Add the baking soda, spices, and salt, blending well. Then slowly mix in the flour.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for about a half an hour, to make it easier to handle. While the dough is chilling fill a shallow dish with some sugar. I used a chunky sugar for the cookies shown above, but regular baking sugar will work as well.

Preheat the over to 350F. Roll about a tablespoon of dough into a ball, and roll that in the sugar until coated. Place the cookies on a greased cookie sheet, giving about 2" or so between cookies. Bake for about 12 minutes - the centers of the cookies will still look slightly undercooked, but they'll set up when cooling. This will make for soft, chewy cookies.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Goals for 2013

To keep a small garden of herbs and vegetables. When I was growing up my Grandparents kept a pretty big garden. We grew all sorts of things over the years... peas, carrots, strawberries, rhubarb, mint, basil, radishes, scallions, daikon, pumpkins, a little corn, green beans, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, and more. Living on my own I've also grown a few things...mostly flowers, but simple things like garlic, too. This coming year I plan on using my Grandparents' garden space, since they only really grow tomatoes and scallions in a small section of it these days. Still not sure exactly what I'd like to grow, but I have a bit of time yet to decide.

To learn to identify more local plants. Did very well on this last year, hoping to continue with this.

To experiment more with natural dyes and inks. Been a mild interest of mine for a few years now. Looking to do more with this in the coming year - especially after discovering all the pokeweed, aka inkberry, growing around the apartment.

To be more diligent in my personal spiritual journaling. Once a week, minimum. Even if it's just to say I didn't do anything of interest that week. I really slipped on that this past year.

To do yoga more often. For some it's just exercise, and I do enjoy those benefits, but of course there are also the meditation aspects that traditionally surround it, and it's been interesting to include it as part of a devotional to Artemis.

Blogging goals...

  • Blog more often! Going to shoot for at least 9 updates a month.
  • Revamp the tag system, clean it up a bit, make the tags easier to use, make sure all past posts are tagged appropriately.
  • Finish up the herbal posts that have been on hold, get them posted.
  • Start making use of the pages that can be added to blogs to organize certain topics, especially herbalism/foraging posts.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Get Outside

I went out last night to hold a ritual for the full moon. As I mentioned earlier in the month, this full moon will rise higher into the sky than any other. Each full moon from here will stay closer and closer to the horizon, until around the summer solstice, when it will slowly start to climb higher again. It had snowed most of the day, and most of the night before, the sky was only starting to clear up a bit - but it was a bit windy, and the few clouds that were left were racing across the sky.

I can't describe how bright it was, everything covered in fresh snow, and the full moon lighting it all up. I've included some pictures, but I just don't think they do it justice. Still, these pictures were taken around midnight, but you can see so far back into the woods, and the shadows from the branches. Everything was so clear. I could easily read by the moon's light, and could have done the entire ritual with no candlelight - although a tea light pushed down into the snow (to protect it from the wind) was too pretty to pass up.

After I finished up the ritual I stood there sipping a bit of mead, and thought about what I wanted for the coming year. The answer was simple, just more of this. More little beautiful moments from nature. I will never be able to get enough of them. My thoughts wandered to what I've heard from many other pagans and witches... So often it seems like the same ones who claim their path is nature based just don't get out into nature. They can't go out, it's too cold. They can't go out into the rain. It's too hot. There are too many bugs. It's too dark. They do all their rituals indoors. They just don't make room for nature. It really pains me to talk to people who honor nature so much, base their spirituality on it... and have never once held a ritual or celebration outdoors.

And I know not everyone can get out, for health reasons or whatever else, and I understand that... but if you can? Do it. Maybe it will be hot, or sprinkling, windy, a little uncomfortable... but it's worth it. You don't have to go out in very extreme conditions, but don't sit around waiting for perfection, either. You'll miss so much that way.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Prompt: New Year

I celebrate the spiritual new year on the winter solstice. It just makes a lot more sense in my personal path than putting it on Samhain, or any other time. The idea of the new year falling on Yule isn't all that far-fetched, of course... plenty of modern pagans do the same, and the idea has historical roots. The commonly celebrated Wheel of the Year is a mix of both Germanic and Celtic holidays, ideas, and traditions. While the Celts placed their new year on Samhain, the Germanic calendar instead placed it on Yule. I have also met those who instead choose to place the New Year at Imbolc or Ostara - whatever works!

In my path, like many others, Yule is a time to celebrate the rebirth of the sun. So lining up the rebirth of the year here fits well. I associate Yule with midnight (opposite of Litha's high noon) and the new moon, both also new beginnings. Additionally, there's just something nice about putting a time of new beginnings at this cold, dark time. I also like that it lines up closely with the calendar new year, linking the 'mundane' calendar with the spiritual one. Yule is also when I first discovered paganism many years back, making it yet another way to link that passing of time, one year gone, another starting.

I wrote a little bit about celebrating the new year last week, but I didn't touch on a popular tradition - setting goals for the new year. I'm a firm believer that any minute of any day can be a new beginning if you need one. You don't have to wait for the new year, a new moon cycle, or anything else. Still, the new year is a handy time to look back on the past year, and to set long term goals for the next. So I've been spending the last few days looking back a bit, and working out goals for the year to come. Not ready to write more on that yet though, but there will probably be a post on that tomorrow or the day after... Until then, I wrote a bit about setting and actually achieving goals last year.  

(Slightly late) winter Wednesday.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Prompt: Yule 2012

Took a little break from blogging, but back now, and with a prompt post...

Yule is one of the bigger holidays for me. The celebration started yesterday, the evening before the solstice, and will run all the way through the calendar new year. This works well for me, as my family does celebrate (a secular) Christmas, and New Year's day is also a big holiday for us, so everything ends up coming together nicely.

Yule itself is many things to me. It is the start of the winter season, which has really been starting to show this last week. It is the midpoint of the dark half of the year. It's the shortest day, and so also the longest night. It's the rebirth of the sun, will start to grow stronger again after the solstice has passed. For me, Yule also marks the beginning of the new year. I associate Yule with midnight, the new moon, north, and earth. 

Today was the solstice, which again, was the shortest day of the year - which also makes tonight one of the longest nights of the year. When sun set, I lit an electric candle on my altar, which will stay lit until dawn, to keep a spark of light alive through the long night. (Electric, since I won't be awake all night this year, and don't want to leave a burning candle alone for so long.) Tomorrow the day will be just a little longer, even if just by seconds, so tomorrow morning I'll go out at dawn to welcome the reborn sun, to make offerings, and to meditate.

Then, the day after tomorrow, I go down to my Grandparents' house. It'll be time to start the Christmas baking - lots of different cookies, cakes, and a mincemeat pie for my Grandfather and I. On Christmas eve I'll probably bake and decorate cookies with my siblings. I have to admit, I still love leaving cookies and milk out for Santa. Christmas day is a big dinner with family. Locally, on Christmas day is also when the sun actually rises a bit higher in the sky.

As many pagans probably know (and even a lot of non-pagans), Christmas and Yule share a lot of overlap in symbolism. So, coming from a family that doesn't really celebrate it in a religious way, there's really no issue blending it all together.

On New Year's Eve my Grandmother and I start prepping the food for the next day. Lots of traditional Japanese foods. We all also eat lots of junk foods, play board games, and watch the NHK New Year special on my Grandmother's Japanese satellite channel. Of course we also watch the ball drop in Times Square, and have a bit of sparkling cider or champagne. It's also tradition to keep a real bayberry candlestick lit on New Year's eve, and to let it burn down totally for blessings on the home.

On New Year's Day we have our big dinner. It'll be the last day of the Yule celebrations, but the first day of 2013 - a good time to honor the ancestors, and to make offerings to Westya in thanks, and to ask for blessings on the home for the coming year. 

Yule Rain

Last last night/very early this morning, say around 1am, it started snowing out. Around 4am there was a good bit of build up, so I was excited about waking up to a nice snowy Yule.

Nope. All been replaced by rain. Oh well.

(Actual post on Yule to come later tonight...)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The December Sky

There's a lot of interest going on in the sky this month. The sun's the obvious one, to most. The winter solstice is this month. Where I am, it'll be the shortest day of the year, with just under 9 hours from sunrise to sunset. At solar noon, when the sun is as high in the sky as it will get that day, it will be at the lowest peak point for the year. A few days after the solstice solar noon will slowly start to climb higher and higher in the sky.

The shortest days of the year also bring the longest nights. This month's full moon will be on the 28th. The sun and the moon do an interesting little dance - while the sun is staying close to the horizon during the day, this full moon will be higher in the sky than any other full moon in the year.

There is of course more of interest beyond the sun and moon, for those who are willing to look a little more carefully. In the early morning, a few hours before sunrise, Mercury and Venus can be seen in the east. Saturn can also be seen in the morning sky. In December Jupiter reaches it's yearly peak, and can be seen for a good portion of the night.

On the 13th and 14th of December the Geminid meteor shower will be at it's peak. Last year's show was obscured by the full moon's light, but this year the new moon is on the 13th, which will make for a clear view.

The Geminid meteor shower is named after the constellation Gemini, which will be easy to spot in the sky. Taurus will be nearby. Both constellations will be near Orion, which is a fairly clear and easy to spot/learn constellation.

For many it's a cold time of year, especially at night, so if you head out to look at the sky remember to bundle up (usually more than you'll think is necessary), and if you're going to be out there for a while - say, watching the meteor shower - bringing something like a thermos of hot cocoa, coffee, or tea can be a nice way to help keep warm.

(If you're interested in seeing some specifics for your local area, head on over to Time and Date - under "Sun & Moon" you can see sun and moon rise, sun and moon set, length of day, solar noon, exact moon phases and solstice timing, and so on.)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Reflecting on 2012

Walking the Path

Guess it's getting to be time I did my yearly reflections, because there's not a lot of time left in the year...

Well, that's my first reflection. Where did this year go?! Seriously. I feel like this time of year was only a few weeks ago, not a whole year ago now. Also, wasn't spring just showing up, and wasn't summer just here...? I don't know. I really don't. The year just flew by.

I think part of the problem is I spent the first chunk of the year in an unbelievable depression. It set in around February, and didn't let go until late April. I don't usually like to talk about it much, but depression and anxiety are things I've been dealing with for many years now. It does not get this bad very often, but this time... I don't know, I just dropped almost everything - not just spiritually, but in many places of my life. I just disconnected from almost everything. I worked through it, but it took me a good while to really get rolling again.

Interestingly, it was during this time that I had a fairly major spiritual experience - even though I was not at all practicing at that particular point. It just hit me in one night. Since those great big 'mysteries' are usually fairly personal, I won't go into it here, but it was a nice reminder of sorts during a very low point. 

So, when I was trying to get back into things, it was late spring already. I threw myself into herbalism. I worked hard and identified quite a few of the local plants I didn't know before, such as Crown Vetch. I wanted to do blog write-ups for all of them, but didn't get around to several of them. (In fact, I still have a half written article about Wild Carrot I need to finish and post.) That continued at a steady pace through the year, which has only recently slowed down as most things have died back.

Around late spring/early summer, I also found myself finally getting back into my regular pattern of devotionals, meditations, and so on (if slowly at first). I gained many small new understandings along the way. I also read many new books, which helped out in that area. Nothing major though, not like last year with it's huge shifts and changes - which is probably for the best.

All in all, this year really seemed to be less about my own spiritual growth, and more about helping others with theirs. While answering questions and helping out where I can is something I always try to do, that turned out to be a real focus this year. I guided several people to traditions that fit them, helped people put names to concepts they struggled with, gave people the boost they needed to get going - just as I was getting myself going again.

It was a year with a hard beginning, a slow year, but a year filled with many little accomplishments and new friends as well. I didn't achieve the few goals I'd set for myself last year, aside from the plant identification, but I strengthened my foundation considerably. Now, with 2013 rapidly approaching, I'm ready to tackle some of the spiritual goals that were put on hold. I have lots of hope for the coming year.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Prompt: The Onset of Winter

Usually winter preparations start sometime around the beginning of November - by this time, they've all been done. I've touched a bit on this topic before, but to re-cap... First, the heaters are cleaned a bit, and then allowed to run for a while to be sure there's no problems. I do this when it's still a bit warmer out, because if there are issues I want them sorted before the cold sets in! While it's still a bit warm, and windows can be opened to bring in fresh air, it's nice to do a good cleaning of the house.

Soon after, light summer blankets are switched out to warmer winter quilts. The hot water bottle is brought out of storage, which we use to warm the foot of the bed on cold nights. Summer clothes are put deeper into the closet, and long-sleeve shirts and sweaters move to the front. Winter jackets eventually make their way out of the closet (while lighter rain jackets and such are put away), along with heavy boots, gloves, scarves, and hats. The little emergency kit in the car has some additional winter items put into it - thicker gloves, blanket, extra snacks, and so on.

A while back, I wrote a little bit about general preparedness here. Before winter comes I like to double check that we have plenty of supplies on hand, and that they're still in good working condition. In New Hampshire, it's not uncommon to lose power for a day, or a few days, during winter storms - it's best to be ready for that sort of thing. That means flashlights and batteries, extra food and snacks, and some bottled water.

When visiting my grandparents, there's usually some things to help out with there, too. Putting up plastic around the screen porch, for example - keeps the porch warmer, and keeps the snow out.

Like I said, by now all this has been long done. With the work out of the way, there's plenty of time for the funner winter activities - decorating, gift shopping, winter crafts, and the like. Which I suppose answers the last question in the prompt! I'm a big fan of the winter holidays. I get to put up pretty lights and garlands, make fun decorations, buy or make gifts for family and friends, and cook tons of treats (alright, so maybe I'm always doing that last part). Yeah, it can get a bit stressful at times, but for the most part it's an enjoyable time of year. (Yes, I even like Christmas music.)

As for the holidays being nothing like the originals? Well, I mean, in what way? A ton of traditional Christmas decorations, foods, and traditions have very old roots. Likewise, it's not as if family gatherings, festive dinners, and small gift exchanges are new concepts. Or maybe it's more to do with the commercialization that surrounds this time? Either way, I suppose it's not exactly like the old days... Then again, what is? It's not something I worry about. My path is a mix of old and new, so I don't think my holiday celebrations should be any different. I'm able to blend in my personal celebration of the solstice with the bigger celebration of Christmas, and then the family traditions that surround the new year. Don't think I'd have it any other way, really.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Always be careful...

Earlier today I found a perfect example of the importance of using multiple sources when identifying plants. I stumbled across a small little article, nothing more than a picture and a paragraph or two of text. The picture was of some berries, and the text talked about how they were edible.

Pokeweed Berries
The problem? The berries in the picture were not whatever the article claimed they were, but instead were pokeweed berries, which are toxic. They're quite distinct looking berries - they grow in long clusters on a bright purple/pink stem. The unripe berries are green, and when ripe they are a deep dark blue. Some mistake them for blueberries or elder berries.

Now parts of the pokeweed plant are edible at certain times of the year, and/or with certain preparations (berries included), but the article made no note of this. The article itself kept referring to some other sort of berry, and gave no warnings.

Thankfully the article allowed comments, and many different people chimed in with the correct identification, warnings, and so on. It would seem at some later point an edit was added to the article, although it simply said that the picture might not be the berries named, and not much else...

While it seems the article wasn't meant to be a real guide to identification, this is why it's very important to seek out proper guides, and to use multiple sources and pictures.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Self Awareness

This is a bit of a rant, but...

I really love when a person often harps on others for not having enough self awareness, when they very clearly have none themselves. Look. If you constantly find yourself having the same problems with dozens of different people, different groups of people, over quite a bit of time... at some point you just have to realize, hey, maybe it's not everyone else, maybe the issue really is with me.

If you can't do that, if you can't actually take a look at the only common factor, and instead continue to push everything all back onto everyone else... well, you probably shouldn't get on others about having awareness and being responsible and all that.

It is one thing to look with a critical eye, to be blunt and clear with others - it is another thing to be hypercritical and needlessly hostile. These things should not be confused with each other.

Likewise, let's not sit around whining about how others are doing this or that, how they're ruining the community, or being selfish with their choices... but how when we do it, well, that's just different.

Of course, sitting down to write this gets me wondering about myself. Many of us can name some of our faults (even if we don't always work to correct them, we usually know them) - but then, we all have our blind spots as well, so what am I missing about myself?

Whatever those things may be, I hope it doesn't look like I'm purposely flaunting my hypocrisy around, because boy, is that ever an ugly look...

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday, November 9, 2012

Prompt: Who makes your tools?

Some of my tools I have made myself, some I bought (be it handmade by another, from a store, or bought second hand), some were found, while others have been gifts from family and friends. Where my tools come from doesn't matter too much to me, and really I find it interesting to have, and to work with tools from a variety of places.

Likewise, when it comes to bought tools, they're all over the price range. Some were cheap, others were more expensive. An expensive tool is not necessarily better than a cheap one - there are tons of inexpensive options out there that work absolutely fine! No one should be pressured into buying expensive tools. On the other hand, it's not wrong to invest a bit of money into a tool if you know you're going to use it often, and use it for many years. Working and saving up money to treat yourself to a tool you like can be rewarding in itself, much as creating something on your own is rewarding.

I don't think it matters much where a tool comes from, how much it costs, and so on... as long as the tool speaks to you, that's what truly matters. For many, hand making a tool is a great way to ensure that the tool is as you want it, that it is personal to you and speaks to you. Many also choose to customize their bought tools - carving or painting symbols into it, or decorating it in other ways - to add a more personal touch. Sometimes, though, you just find the perfect item in a shop, and know it's what you've been looking for just as it is. One of these is not better than the others.

Making a tool is also a great way to start getting your energy into an item, but for me much of the bond comes through actual use, through time spent with it. A handmade item may have more of a head-start, so to speak, but in the end any tool that's used a lot will end up having that bond.

A tool is what you make of it. Whether you hand made your tool, if you saved up and worked hard for it, if you found an awesome bargain, if you traded for it, if you just found it walking through the woods... be proud of it! Don't let someone shame you because they think you should have done something different.

And remember, in the end a tool is just an aid. It can help, but all you really need is you.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Animal Lore: Wooly Bear Caterpillars

The cold is really starting to set in here, which of course comes as no surprise given the date on the calendar. The late nights and early mornings are crisp and frosty. Yesterday it was snowing a bit, and today you can feel how the ground is frozen beneath your feet. It can be seen in the animals as well, as squirrels rush to stockpile as much as they can, and the once bright yellow goldfinches are now a dusty yellow-brown.

Still, there's one little animal you might miss if you're not paying attention - the Wooly Bear caterpillar, which is a pretty amazing creature.

A Wooly Bear caterpillar, with it's black end segments and brown band.
Wooly Bears are a fairly solitary in nature, and finding one walking about is quite common in the fall, and around now most of them are seeking out a good place to hunker down for the winter. Usually they'll find a nice spot under a large rock, in wood piles, under leaves or roots - that sort of place. Here's the thing, though... they're not seeking out a place to build a cocoon, and they don't hibernate. A Wooly Bear caterpillar will literally freeze solid for the winter, and thaw out in the spring. Because of this, the Wooly Bear has strong ties to the cycle of death and rebirth. Once thawed, they spend a bit of time eating greens, then build a cocoon. A Wooly Bear caterpillar will transform into an Isabella Tiger moth, and once a moth will only live for a few days - long enough for them to hopefully find a mate. So, like many other caterpillars, they have strong transformation symbolism.

Wooly Bears have a reputation for being able to forecast the severity of the coming winter. They're fuzzy black caterpillars with a brown band around their middle. If this band is small, it's said the coming winter will be harsh. If the brown band is long, it will be a mild winter. Another bit of folklore seems to contradict this a bit - each of the 13 segments of the caterpillar represents one of the 13 weeks of winter, with the brown segments showing colder weeks.

A Wooly Bear missing it's black end band?
While a fun bit of folklore, it's questionable how accurate this method of prediction is.  Some scientists who study the Wooly Bear believe the brown band to be more an indicator of age, so in a way it actually shows how harsh the winter of the previous year was - the later start they got in the spring, the worse the winter was. Another method of prediction just says that the fatter and fuzzier the Wooly Bears are, the worse the winter will be.

Wooly Bears are safe to handle. Some say their bristles may be irritating to sensitive skin, but as someone who has sensitive skin it's never been a problem for me. If you pick one up and it does bother your skin, washing your hands with soap and water will likely fix any issues. The bristles act as a deterrent to many predators, who find them unpleasant to eat. If you do pick up a Wooly Bear, or otherwise disturb it, chances are it will curl up into a tight little ball and attempt to play dead.

In the warmer months a Wooly Bear will eat a variety of greens, including clover, maple, oak, and birch leaves, dandelions, and other sorts of grasses and weeds.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Understanding Animal Symbolism

Often enough I find myself flipping through a book, or just browsing around websites, and I'll come across those simple lists that say something like 'birds are associated with this, cats with this, dogs with this' all without ever explaining why these animals hold such associations.

Now, sometimes such associations are fairly obvious. For example, a lot of people associate caterpillars/butterflies/moths with transformation, of course because of the physical transformation they all go through.

Other associations might not be so obvious at first glance. When you think of a vulture, what comes to mind? For many they hold associations of death and decay, as they are scavenger birds. However, for the ancient Egyptians, they also noticed that vultures made loving mothers - and so you often see their mother Goddesses, such as Mut and Aset (Isis), wearing beautiful vulture headdresses. For this reason, if you're trying to understand the specific symbolism of a particular culture, you'll have to try to view the animal from their position. How one culture views an animal might be very different from another.

Generally speaking though? If you want to learn the symbolism and associations of an animal, try going right to the source. While individual animals often have their own personalities and quirks, when we look at the whole common themes often stand out. Read up on the animal. Watch it in person if you can, and if not, look around online for videos. What does this animal look like, where does it live, what does it eat, how does it act, what are it's habits, is it social, what are the breeding habits, how does it raise it's young (if it does), what does it sound like? All those sorts of things.

Then consider other sources. Look at folk lore and mythology. After learning about the animal, you might pick up on symbolism that you would otherwise have missed. See how others view the animal, and consider why they have those views.

In many cases, symbolism is very personal. Especially when we look to symbolism in dreams, found in meditations, or symbolism that we may use in ritual. If you come across symbolism that doesn't speak to you, even after giving it a good bit of thought, then don't feel you have to use it. Figure out what makes sense to you, what works for you, and go with it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Swedish Meatballs

This is a recipe I usually prefer to make in the late winter months, but it's good any time the weather is cooler. Unfortunately I forgot to take any pictures when I made these yesterday, but I figured I'd share the recipe now, while it's on my mind.

Meatball Ingredients:
2 slices of white bread
1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cardamom

Remove the crust from the bread, break it into small chunks, and put it in a large bowl with the milk. Set it aside.

In a large frying pan, heat the butter until melted. On low heat saute the minced garlic just for a few minutes to cook it through a bit. Remove from heat, and set aside. (If you like onion, you can finely chop a small onion and saute that until soft and translucent, then add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes.)

By now the bread should have totally absorbed the milk. If not, toss it a bit and let it set for a few more minutes. Once all the milk is absorbed, mash it very well with a fork. Add the garlic, and all other ingredients to the bowl - the egg, egg yolk, beef and pork, and all the spices. Mix until everything is well combined.

Preheat your oven to 300F. Next, over medium heat, add 4 tablespoons butter, and 2 tablespoons oil in the large frying pan. When it's all melted and slightly bubbling, start dropping in meatballs. Use a tablespoon to scoop out some of the meat mixture, roll it into a ball, and place it into the pan. Roll another, place. Don't overcrowd the pan. By the time you've put the last meatball into the pan, the first ones will be ready to flip over. On your first batch keep an eye out to get a feel for the cooking time, you may need to flip sooner. You don't need to cook them all the way through at this point, only brown them.

When the meatballs are browned, place them onto a sheet pan lined with tin foil. Then, start the next batch of meatballs browning. (I had to do three batches.) Once all the meatballs are browned and on the sheet pan, put them into the oven.

You can start to make your gravy while the meatballs are in the oven, but keep an eye on them! You want them to just cook all the way through, which may take more or less time depending on how you browned them. Check them every so often.

For the gravy you'll need:
1/3 cup flour
2 cups of beef stock
2 cups of vegetable broth
1/2 cup sour cream
A couple tablespoons of Lingonberry jam. (Don't have that? Substitute raspberry, cranberry or currant jam.)

Heat the stock and broth in a pot, keep it hot over low heat.

Taste the butter in the pan you used to fry the meatballs. If it tastes burnt, discard it and melt 4 tablespoons of new butter. If it tastes fine, use that. Heat it over medium heat until hot. Slowly stir in the flour. Stirring often, let this mixture cook until it's browned a bit - the color will look a bit like coffee with cream, or a creamy hot chocolate.

Mix in the hot stock and broth mixture, a little at a time. The flour mixture will clump up a bit, but that's okay. Keep stirring in the liquid until you've added it all. When it's all mixed in well, it should be a smooth sauce. Let this come to a simmer, lower the heat, and allow the liquid to cook down. You want it to reduce by about half, and become a bit thicker.

When the gravy has reduced and thickened, add in the sour cream, and the jam. I did 4 or 5 tablespoons, but do it to your tastes. Now's the time to add in a bit of salt or pepper, if you feel the gravy needs it. I find that the stock/broth usually has enough salt, but it's up to you of course.

By now the meatballs should have finished cooking. Add those into the gravy, on low heat, and allow everything to heat together for 5 to 10 minutes. Just helps bring everything together. You can serve them as they are, and they make a great appetizer this way. Last night my family ate the meatballs and gravy over some toast, while I personally prefer them over mashed potatoes or even rice. They also make a nice dinner with a vegetable side, such as peas or broccoli. Fresh cranberry sauce, or chunky apples with cinnamon are also nice sides for this meal.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and Being Perpared

Hurricane Sandy is currently storming along the east coast of the US and Canada. I went out to the grocery store yesterday to pick up a few things (I really wanted to make some Swedish meatballs for some reason - recipe to come!), and was surprised at just how many people were there trying to get bottled water, canned foods, and so on.

So, let's have a little preparedness exercise. Imagine you're in your home, with whoever else is normally there (including pets). Power goes out. The power stays out for 72 hours (that's 3 days). For whatever reason, your mobility is limited, fallen branches on roads, uncleared snow, whatever - you can only go maybe a few blocks around your home. What do you do? Do you have enough water to stay well hydrated, enough food to be at least somewhat comfortable? Now imagine what weather might be like... is it raining, flooding, is it freezing cold, very hot? What's it like where you live?

Some people are probably ready for such an event. If you're not? It's really easy to be! I know some people think this sort of thing is silly, that you'll just never have any sort of problems (it could never happen to me!) - but come on, better safe than sorry, right? Better to have supplies on hand, and not need them, than to be caught off guard. You don't need to hoard months worth of food if you don't want, nothing like that, a little basic preparation can go a long way.

Water is easy. The recommended amount is a gallon per person, per day. That's for drinking, food prep, and hygiene. You can buy gallon bottles from the grocery store for quite cheap. Some people like to fill up their tubs if they know a storm is on the way, just to have extra on hand for washing up in, and such.

Food. Buy a little each week until you have a fair supply. Don't go crazy buying food you will never eat. Don't like spam? Don't buy it. Think about what sort of food you like to eat, and what can be eaten without cooking. Cereal, jerky, tuna or other canned meats, nuts, seeds, pop-tarts, dried fruits, granola bars, fruit snacks, canned fruit, canned veggies, some canned soups and such. (Room temp or cold soups might not always be delicious, but they're easy to eat.) Cookies, candy, chocolate. Canned beans, canned brown bread. Peanut butter, honey, crackers, little individual cups of apple sauce. Have some high calorie and high fat foods on hand, you might need the energy (especially if it is cold). Don't feel you need to set this food aside and never touch it - eat it! Just replace it if you do. This will keep your supply from going bad. Have pets? Make sure you always have a bit of extra food on hand. Don't wait until you're all out to go get more.

Some paper plates, plastic forks/spoons/knives, napkins, plastic cups, and extra trash bags are good to store away. A non-electric can opener is a must have item.

First aid is important, as well. Most people probably have these things on hand already, but it's good to know where they are, or have them all in the same box. Bandages of several sizes/styles, antibiotic ointment such as neosporin, gauze pads and tape, butterfly stitches, alcohol wipes, small scissors, tweezers, disposable gloves (non-latex if you can). Basic medicines you might need, such as some sort of pain relief, fever reducer, anti-diarrheal, allergy relief (pills and cream), itch cream, burn salve. A small book on first aid. Women should keep some extra pads and tampons around if they need them (even if you usually use something re-useable like a cup or cloth pads, a few disposables can be handy). Diapers for a baby. If you're on prescription medication that you can not live without, see about keeping an extra month on hand at all times. Less important meds? Just try to re-fill a week before you're out, if you can.

So what else might one need? Flashlights with extra batteries, of course. A radio that's battery powered. Sometimes you can find a good radio/flashlight combo that is powered by a crank, which is nice. Keep some cash on hand, in small bills. You might be able to get to a store, to a gas station, but maybe they can't take credit cards. (This happened two winters ago in NH.) A very loud whistle/storm whistle. Wet naps or baby wipes. Copies of important documents, in a waterproof container. Matches in a waterproof container. Fire extinguisher - you can buy little household spray bottle types at the hardware store. Dust masks. Duct tape! Everyone loves duct tape, right?

Don't forget entertainment! Books, cards, dice games, coloring books and crayons, a notebook and pens/pencils, board games. Most people have things like this on hand already.

Think about your own needs, and the needs of your family. Someone wears glasses? A little glasses repair kit is a nice thing to have handy. You might have no need for some of the things I've listed, if you live in a different area you might have different things you need to be ready for, different weather and temperatures to deal with. Really think about what you might need. Read up on what to do in different situations, and make sure your family knows what to do, where to meet, and so on. 

Whatever you do, do not light a charcoal grill inside your home. When I lived in Washington state, without fail every single winter there would be stories on the news of people who died doing this. Candles can also be a danger. Be safe if you use them for lighting - especially if you have pets or kids who could knock them over.

Want to do more? Consider a kit for the car. Same basic things, a little water, a little food, some first aid. Flashlight. Gloves and blankets in cold weather. Salt/sand, a small shovel. 72 hour bags are something else one can consider, basically a bag to grab if you need to leave your house, with enough supplies for 72 hours. Again, it's all about what you might end up needing. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cute Halloween Cookies

I baked up a bunch of cookies for a Halloween party today. First were some little cookies shaped like candy corn. Here's a link to that recipe. They were easy to make, and people really liked them. Rather than using candy melts, I just used white chocolate with a bit of yellow food coloring. Just a tip, if you want to use white chocolate, be sure to get a bar of chocolate, or white chocolate specifically for melting. Most white chocolate chips won't melt right, as they're meant to hold their shape when heated.

I also made Witches' Boom cookies. I decided on a smaller version, using mini pretzel rods and only about two teaspoons of dough per cookie.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fall Friday

(Well, I guess it's actually Saturday now, but still...)

We're coming up on the mid-point of the Autumn season. I've noticed that the nights have grown fairly silent, the singing insects and frogs of summer gone. The days are quieter, too. There are still a few trees that are just now starting to turn, but many of them have already shed their leaves. Most of the oak and beech trees are covered in brown, dry leaves, which they tend to hold on to through the winter. The sound of the wind whipping through the dry leaves and bare branches really signals that the dark half of the year is setting in.

The sun itself is another signal, of course. Not only is the sun setting earlier and earlier, it stays closer to the horizon each day. Many people notice this, know that the sun doesn't rise as high during the colder months - but not as many seem to notice that the opposite is true for the full moon. The full moons of the dark half of the year will rise higher into the sky than they do during the light half of the year.

The stars also seem to shine brighter in the winter months, and interestingly this is partly because we're actually seeing fewer stars in the sky. During the summer months we're facing more stars, seeing more starlight, which makes the sky seem less clear and focused. Another reason is of course summer weather, there's humidity, heat, summer haze which all helps to obscure the sky a bit. Crisp winter weather means crisper skies.

Bare branches and higher rising moons makes for very well lit nights, of course. It's cold here, but it will be a while before the snow sets in. It's a great time of year to get out and hold rituals in the moonlight, if one is able to do so.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fall Friday

Windy day at the apple orchard.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Fall Friday

This is a good time of year to look for areas where curly dock (rumex crispus) might be growing around you, as the seeds are very distinctive looking making it easy to spot. Curly dock is edible - the leaves can be gathered in the spring when they'll have the best flavor, the flower stalks can be eaten in the summer months, and in autumn the seeds can be gathered and ground to make a flower of sorts, should one wish to do so.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Falling Leaves

Watching the falling leaves around this time of year always reminds me of something my grandfather told me when I was younger. He would say to me, if I could catch a leaf as it was falling from a tree to the ground, then whatever wish I wished on that leaf would come true.

To other such a leaf becomes a good luck charm, but for how long? Some don't specify any length of time, while others say that each leaf only brings one lucky day. Yet another bit of folklore says that each leaf will bring a month of good luck with it. A more specific version claims that the leaves must all be caught in October, and you must catch twelve for a full year of good luck. If you don't catch all twelve, the charm will not work. 

Another tradition assures us that catching a leaf on the first day of autumn will keep any colds away until spring. Similarly, some say the leaf can be caught at any time in the season for good health through the winter, while others insist that it must be kept by the bed for the charm to work.

A final bit of folklore says that catching a falling leaf anytime before spring (or Valentine's day, to some) will bring a year of happiness in love and relationships.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fall Friday - Monday edition!

I'm a little late for Friday, I know, but here are some autumn pictures... There's still plenty of green on the trees, but many are also changing at this point, too. Some of the earlier turners are almost bare already, but that late autumn look is still a few weeks off for most.

Fairs have been coming and going the last few weeks. I've been to plenty in my life, but this last time around it really occurred to me that among all the fried foods and sweets, rides and glowing lights, there really are the roots of something much older.
Recently sheared sheep.
Prizes for the biggest and best vegetables. Local arts and crafts. Horse pulling events, horse racing, and other such competitions. Animal shows, cows being milked, sheep sheared, prize winning poultry. People selling and buying animals. Fresh dairy products for sale, maple syrup, hand dyed yarns, goat's milk soaps and lotions... Many of these things, or similar, could be found at older fairs, and the old get-togethers of clans and tribes. Not just a link to much older history, but the particular fair I went to this year has been running for over 130 years now.

My visit to the fair was a great lead-up to the full Harvest Moon on Saturday night. It was sprinkling a bit, and the moon itself wasn't visible, but it was still high up enough, and bright enough behind the clouds to light the sky up and allow me to see. While I currently do not have a garden, my Grandparents do. They don't grow much in it anymore, tomatoes mostly, and some herbs that continue to grow from years past. Since I ate quite a few of those tomatoes, and used some of the herbs, I used that night to leave some offerings of thanks at the corners of the garden. I also left offerings at the rhubarb and berry patches that I picked from over the summer. Our little harvest has all come in now, a nice end to the warmer months of planting and growing.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Summer Sunday

A spider spinning its web on some Queen Anne's Lace that's going to seed.

This coming Saturday is the autumn equinox, after this week summer will be over. Little decorative gourds and pumpkins are starting to appear in the stores, it's time to pick up a few to decorate the hearth shrine, along with bringing out the old dried corn and other decorations from the storage closet. Apples from local orchards are also showing up in the stores, along with fresh cider. Nothing beats hot spiced cider on a cold autumn night. Well, unless you've got some fresh pumpkin fritters to go along with that...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

First Signs of Autumn

Monday was the first day that I could really feel the coming autumn season. Well, there was a day about two weeks ago where there was just a little hint of something... but Monday was cool, windy, and I noticed that some of the trees are just starting to change.You could really feel the seasons starting to shift that day. Last night was the first night since summer started that I've actually been cold in bed with just a sheet, I had to get up to dig a blanket out of the closet. Very early this morning, 4am, my dog woke me up to go outside as he usually does around that time. There was a beautiful sliver of waning moon sitting in the east (along with Venus, and Jupiter higher up), and I noticed I could see my breath in the air.

I have no doubt that we'll see a few more warm days before summer is truly through - the weather predicts a few days in the 80s coming up. Still, it's clear that it's time to start getting ready for the colder months. Not time to break out the snow gear just yet, but time to put away some of the lighter summer clothes, and bring the long sleeves and sweaters from the back of the closet. Time to take out our little window air conditioner and put it away until next summer. Time to give the heaters a good cleaning, and make sure they're all in good working condition before the cold really sets in. Soon we'll be giving the house a deep clean, before it gets to cold to keep the windows open for long, putting away some things, getting rid of others that may no longer be needed... there's plenty to do between now and when November rolls around.

And it's not all physical cleaning and preparation. During fall and winter we tend to move inward a bit more, and not just into the home, but into ourselves as well. It's a good time to start deep cleaning our lives in a less literal sense, as well. Examining personal habits, relationships, our spirituality, looking at the harvest we've brought in, looking back and seeing what's been good for us, and what should be culled during this time. What should we keep, and what should we leave behind, before we move back into the seasons of growth again.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

Prompt: The Broom Closet

When I first started studying paganism I was pretty young, and the idea that this would be something I would have to hide from anyone just didn't occur to me. I told my family I was studying this, and it was never a big deal. I told my friends, and well, while they didn't seem to care much... someone eventually told someone else, who told someone else, and we know how that goes. Some people made fun of me - very few others were learning about paganism, or had family members that were pagan. Eventually people forgot, stopped caring, and when on to the next thing.

So because of that, I've never really hidden my faith - it's just been out there, like it or not, for a long time. My family knows. My friends know. It's caused a few issues over the years (some big, some small), but for the most part its been fine.

Even so, religion just isn't something I talk about much (offline, anyway). I'm a pretty private person in general, and the details of my practice just don't come out much - partly because most people just don't ask. I'll usually be direct if asked (unless it's at work!), although depending on who is asking I might not be very detailed... I usually won't say I'm a hedgewitch, or give details, unless it's someone I know very well. "I'm a pagan" is usually enough for most people, and thankfully I live in an area where I don't really have to fear being somewhat open about my beliefs.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Summer Sunday

The days are mostly still warm, there are still flowers in bloom, leaves are green on the trees, and evening insects are still singing... yet, the end of summer is in the air. Evenings and nights are cooler, even days are becoming cooler. The sun is setting noticeably sooner each night. The sun was down before 7:30 today - when did that happen? Wasn't the sun still in the sky at 8:00 not too long ago?

I love autumn and winter, but it's always a little sad to see summer leaving. Tonight I'm working on some desserts for tomorrow's Labor Day cookout, the last get-together of the summer (and the last big gathering of family and friends until Thanksgiving in November). Soon enough it will be time to start planning trips to the apple orchards...

Friday, August 31, 2012

Blue moon tonight... or is it?

I wrote a little bit about this before as part of a larger topic (which could stand a bit of touching up!), but figured it's an appropriate topic to re-visit tonight.

These days when one says blue moon, most people think of the second full moon in a month that contains two. This concept is actually based on a misunderstanding, however, which originated with the Sky and Telescope magazine. Originally a blue moon referred to the third full moon in a season which contained four full moons - most seasons only have three. That's the basic idea of it, and if you're interested in learning a bit more on the topic, and how the definition shifted in recent times, here's an article which explains it in more detail.

Now nothing against the monthly method - definitions change all the time, after all - but at this point in my practice I prefer to go with the seasonal method, so tonight is not a blue moon for me. (Tonight I'm celebrating the grain moon.) A blue moon isn't all that different from most other moons for me, anyway... they're neat because they don't come around often, but that's about the extent of it. I know some like to use it for long term goal planning, or other such things, but eh... works for some, but just doesn't work for me. Maybe someday it will take a more special place in the cycle, but for now...? Well, for now I have tonight's celebration to deal with, so off to prepare for that!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Summer Sunday

Two pictures this week, to make up for missing last Sunday. (As always, click for bigger views.) I wasn't feeling well last week/weekend, and have been playing a bit of catch up since.

It's been thundering a lot this week. Morning showers with afternoon storms almost every day. Wind from one of the storms knocked several oak branches down, which I took a bit of the wood from to use later.

I spent a good part of the past week reorganizing the apartment. I picked up a short shelf unit for the kitchen, which gives me at least a little space to make a permanent working area, something I haven't been able to have for several years now. I know some just work at their deity altar(s), but I don't like my shrines to get too cluttered with working items - and beside, they're much too small anyway. (It will also be nice to have the extra storage space below it.)

Saturday, August 4, 2012


BAST (Alt. Spellings: Bastet, Ubasti - Greek/Roman: Bubastis) "She who devours" or "Devouring Lady" Possibly also “She of the bas-jar” a bas-jar being a heavy perfume or ointment jar.

A frequent spelling of Bast is Bastet, however, the ending "ET" is silent, so Her name should always pronounced Bast. "T" is a feminine ending in the ancient Egyptian language. At a point in Egypt's history, the "T" ending was becoming silent on many words, so an additional ending was put onto Bast's name, making it Bastet, to show that the original T needed to be pronounced.

"Bast guards the Two Lands. He who worships Her is sheltered by Her strong arms."

Bast is a goddess of protection, especially so of Egypt and its ruling house. She was associated mostly with lower Egypt. Since She was a protector of the king on earth, so She also became a protector of the king of the Gods - Ra. As such, She was one of several solar Goddesses given the title "The Eye of Ra."

Bast did not become associated with the moon until Greek times, since the Greeks associated Her with their Artemis. It was also during this time that much of her association with sexuality occurred, as well as becoming a daughter of Wesir(Osiris) and Aset(Isis). None of this was part of Her Egyptian form.

In addition, the idea that She is a goddess of marijuana and lesbians is very modern, and as far as I have been able to tell was made up by a few folks who scam people for money online... Luckily, these misconceptions seem have faded recently.

Because of Her name Bast is also associated with perfume and ointment jars. Bas being a type of heavy jar, which often held expensive perfumes, oils, and ointments.

It was partly due to this gentle association that the image of Bast became that of a domestic cat, rather than the lion or wild cat of earlier times. In this form, She is regarded as a patron of cats. A large number of cats were mummified and buried at her central temple. Some say these cats were killed as offerings, but it is also likely that these were the pets of local people, or even of cats who lived and died in the temple, instead. Cats were very important in Egypt, due to their ability to kill mice, as well as dangerous animals such as snakes.

Bast is often shown with kittens around Her, and as such as thought of as a goddess of fertility and a protector of children.

Bast is the mother of Maahes, and wife to Ptah. She is the daughter of Ra. Bast is also sometimes said to be the wife of Yinepu (Anubis), and the mother of Nefertem.

Bast is often associated with many other Goddesses, such as Het-heret (Hathor), Sehkmet, Mut, and Tefnut.
There is often confusion about Bast's connection with Sekhmet, since they are similar protective goddesses, with lion heads. Bast is not the gentle side of Sekhmet - it is Het-heret who becomes Sekhmet in myth.

Bast is shown either as a female with a feline head, or as fully feline. She is sometimes shown wearing a sun-disk upon Her head in her partly human form.

In later times She is occasionally shown holding a sistrum, as well as a lion mask. The lion mask perhaps hinting at Her wilder beginnings. It is sometimes thought that it may also represent the fierce protection laying under a more docile exterior.

Classical offerings to Bast include sweet food and drink (such as honey), cold water, red wine, onions, mint, perfumes, ointments, copper, meats, and cat figurines. Modern worshipers also often add things like chocolate, limes and other citrus, cinnamon, plum wine, perfume bottles, knives/swords, and stained glass items.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Prompt: Offerings

For those who perform rituals, do you give offerings? If so, what kind?
What is the meaning/purpose of offerings?

The Proto-Indo-Europeans had a concept called ghos-ti. It is the origin for our modern words of stranger, guest and host. It essentially refers to a reciprocal, or mutual relationship of giving and receiving/taking, many such relationships can be found within the universe, and in fact in some cosmologies this concept explains the very nature of the universe as a whole.

This is the reason I give offerings to the Gods and spirits. A balanced relationship can't be had by only taking. It's disrespectful to the ones you're taking from, and it's doing a disservice to yourself - you won't grow if things are always just handed to you, and you won't form a complex, deep, and lasting relationship by always taking. Imagine having a friend who always takes and never gives... you might put up with it for a while, but would it really be lasting and healthy for both individuals? It's unlikely.

Do the Gods really need our offerings? Perhaps not, but it shows them we do more than take, that we respect them, value them, and that we want to share what we can with them. The same goes for the spirits, the ancestors, and the like. Different Deities/spirits enjoy different things. Different foods, drinks, scents, colors, materials, actions, and so on. Taking the time to figure out what is part of building a relationship. We can research traditional offerings, and experiment with new ones.

So what offerings do I give? There is, of course, the standard food and drink... flour, cornmeal, barley, oats, bread, honey, wine, mead, beer, milk, cream, clarified butter, spices and herbs, cookies and cakes, parts of family meals, fruits, vegetables, nuts... well, you get the idea. Even cool water makes an appropriate offering at times. Beyond food and drink, there's flowers and other fresh plants, little crafted items, beads and charms, coins, fabrics, tools, artwork, incense, candles, and more.

Time and actions can also be offerings. Dedicating the actual process of making an item, for example. A deity of weaving might enjoy the actual act of weaving as an offering, not just the finished product. A nature deity might appreciate an offering of going out and cleaning litter. Sometimes just spending some time researching the deity, or spending time at their shrine, can be an offering - making the effort to keep them in mind, and investing time into the relationship.  

One doesn't have to go broke making offerings... sometimes a cup of water, a few wildflowers, and the sincerity of the gift is all that is needed.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Summer Sunday

Summer rains are just as important as summer sun for the coming harvest...

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Just something to remember...

Every single one of us is always a teacher and a student. Every single one of us brings some unique bit of knowledge or perspective - and every single one of us can always learn more. It's true of people who've been practicing for fifty years, and it's true of people who've been practicing for five days.

Every time you sit down in conversation or debate with another person, remember that. They can teach you something. Every time you begin to doubt your own self-worth, remember the same is true of yourself, as well. I bring this up because I've seen an increase in some troubling trends lately...

The first is a habit that people who've been practicing can fall into after so many years. They've been at it so long, they think they know everything. They look down on those just starting out, or at least, don't really listen to them - they think 'oh, I know all this beginner crap' and may miss out on a perspective they've never heard before. This is a pretty fatal blow to their spiritual path. They've stopped walking, stopped going forward, and are just stagnating.

On the other end there are two similar groups. First is the beginner who feels they're useless because they 'don't know everything.' I've literally seen them wishing they could just wake up one morning and know everything. Here's the truth... No one knows everything, and those that are knowledgeable were once beginners as well, and certainly had to work hard for their knowledge. Every beginner must actually put in the work to learn and grow. Meanwhile, though, these beginners are the people bringing in fresh life, and brand new perspective to paganism. They're far from worthless.

The second is the beginner who wants to paint themselves as an adept. If you've been practicing for a year or two, guess what? You are very likely not an expert - and that's okay. Really, it is. As I said, a beginner can bring much to the table without having to pretend to be more advanced than they are. It's okay to be new. Everyone was at some point. This type of person puts themselves into perhaps the worst situation... they know little, but since they think they're experts, they shut down to actual new knowledge. They've fallen into the 'I know everything' trap before they've even started.

So don't just pay lip-service to this idea of always being both student and teacher, regardless of where you are on your path. Really know it, and really live it. Not just with listening to other pagans, but when it comes to interacting with anyone, because this is not just a pagan thing. Learn when you can, from whoever (or whatever) you can, and let others learn from you when they can.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sweet Cornbread

A simple cornbread recipe, nice for celebrating Lammas, the first harvest.

1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
2/3 cup sugar
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Preheat your oven to 400F. Grease a 9x9 baking pan, and set aside.

Mix the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add the egg, milk, and oil, and mix just until everything comes together. Don't over mix. Pour into the baking pan, and bake for about 20 minutes, until the cornbread is a nice golden brown. Instead of baking in a pan, you can also bake in a muffin tin.

This is a simple base recipe which can be played around with. You can try pouring half the batter into the pan, adding a layer of thinly sliced apples, then carefully pouring in the rest of the batter. Or for something more spicy, dice some jalapenos into the mix, or layer them on top of the bread before baking - a layer of cheese also goes nicely with that.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Friday, July 13, 2012

Review: the Wildwood Tarot

The Wildwood Tarot
Created by Mark Ryan and John Matthews
Illustrated by Will Worthington

The Wildwood Tarot is a reworking of a previous deck, called The Greenwood Tarot. It is structured in a similar manner to the standard Rider-Waite Tarot deck. There are twenty-two cards in the major arcana, and fifty-six cards in the minor arcana, which is broken up into four suits. However, the Wildwood tarot differs in the names of all the cards, and in the symbolism of a few of them.

For example, the first card is The Wanderer, rather than The Fool. The imagery and symbolism of the two cards are otherwise similar. However, in the Wildwood tarot The Ancestor takes the place of the Hierophant, and comes with a fairly different image and meaning.

Additionally, the four suits of the minor arcana are not the standard ones. Instead of cups, wands, pentacles and swords, we are greeted with vessels, arrows, stones and bows. The Kings, Queens, Knights and Pages are all shown as animals, rather than humans as typically seen.

The minor arcana cards depict detailed scenes, rather than just having a pattern of four wands, or seven swords, as some Tarot decks do. For example, The Wildwood's Eight of Stones, compared to Dean's Golden Tarot's Eight of Pentacles. Additionally, each minor arcana card also has a keyword written on it. Some enjoy the guidance of the keyword, others may find it limiting. If you like the deck, but dislike the keywords, you may want to consider cutting the frames away from the cards, so you're just left with the artwork.

The packaging, with book to the left.
The deck also comes with a fairly detailed guide book. The guide begins by explaining how the Wildwood tarot came to be, and what the creators were hoping to achieve with this deck. "We believe that the Tarot represents an accurate map of the human psyche that can be manipulated to absorb new cultural and ideological archetypes (it has indeed done so in the past). The Wildwood Tarot seeks to strip back these archetypes to their basic form, and remove some of the many attributes prompted by political and sexual principles through the ages. It also attempts to demystify some of the esoteric code of the Tarot by utilizing the Wheel of the Year."

To begin with their first point, they say that, when fitting they tried to make the human figures in the major arcana androgynous "so as not to deny anyone access to these archetypes." To this end, only four of the cards seem truly androgynous to me. Five show men, five show women. The Forest Lovers, where I was really hoping for a more open picture, pretty clearly shows a man and a woman. The rest of the major arcana cards do not show a human at all. While I wish they'd taken the concept a bit farther, it does better than the standard Tarot in this respect.

A fair portion of the book deals with the use the cards, explaining how to formulate proper questions or topics for the deck, mainly though learning to ask deeper questions. Questions that focus more on introspection, rather than fortune-telling. For example, questions like "will I get the job" are discouraged by the authors, as they feel the deck can not answer that type of question.

Another use is in meditating on the aspects of each card of the major arcana as they relate to the Wheel of the Year (which in this case does not focus on the Wiccan mythos). It encourages the person to look at the many layers within the Wheel, and within humanity, and within themselves. Much as the standard Tarot is the fool's journey through life, the Wildwood Tarot follows The Wanderer through the primal wood, within and without. The book gives a lengthy explanation of this cycle, and how the cards fit in to it.

The book also includes descriptions of each card, and suggested meanings. The major arcana is explained in two pages per card, the minor arcana one page per card (sometimes just a paragraph or two). It also gives some ideas for spreads fitting to the deck, including 'the bow', and 'the world tree.'

Physically the deck is 3 inches by 4.75 inches. The backs of the cards are a simple green background, with a thin white border. Some feel the cards are too thin, but they feel about the same as my other tarot decks to me. I don't expect them to wear down quicker than normal.

As far as the artwork is concerned, I find it stunning to look at, as well as being well thought out and detailed. I enjoy many of the little touches, such as seeing The Wanderer again later in the deck, being guided by The Pole Star. Since opinions on artwork are, of course, quite personal, and the artwork can make or break the ability for one to connect with a deck, I've included several samples at the end of the review.

If you like the idea of the Tarot, but have found yourself wishing for something a little more primal, something that seeks to go back further into our own history, something that taps more into the wild of the deep woods, then this deck is definitely worth a look.

The major arcana of the Wildwood Tarot, vs. the major arcana of the Rider-Waite Tarot.
The Wanderer -- The Fool
The Shaman -- The Magician
The Seer -- The High Priestess
The Green Woman -- The Empress
The Green Man -- The Emperor
The Ancestor -- The Hierophant
The Forest Lovers -- The Lovers
The Archer -- The Chariot
The Stag --Justice
The Hooded Man -- The Hermit
The Wheel -- Wheel of Fortune
The Woodward -- Strength
The Mirror -- The Hanged Man
The Journey -- Death
Balance -- Temperance
The Guardian -- The Devil
The Blasted Oak -- The Tower
The Pole Star -- The Star
The Moon on Water -- The Moon
The Sun of Life -- The Sun
The Great Bear -- Judgment
The World Tree -- The World

Queen of Stones * Bear
Eight of Stones * Skill
Six of Arrows * Transition
Nine of Arrows * Dedication
Three of Bows * Fulfillment
Eight of Bows * Hearthfire
Two of Vessels * Attraction
Seven of Vessels * Mourning

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Summer Sunday

Although I've gone a good bit of searching, I'm still not entirely sure what these berries are. Still, they're pretty to look at.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Summer Sunday

Storm clouds rolling in over a field of growing corn...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Crown Vetch (Toxic)

Crown Vetch (Securigera Varia) is a plant that is native to parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe, and has been brought to North America. It's often planted along road ways, and used for erosion control, as well as in soil rehabilitation due to it's ability to add nitrogen into the soil.

The plant doesn't usually get much taller than two feet in a flat area, but will 'crawl' up posts, fences, etc. to some extent. It's flowers range from white to light pink, to a somewhat lavender shade. In southern NH, it's usually in bloom from June through September.

Crown Vetch Flower
Since Crown Vetch is an aggressive spreader, it's not a very good plant for gardens. It will do well left alone in fields or on roadsides, but it does spread very quickly, and can take over and kill off other plants in the area. In fact, it is considered an invasive species in many areas, and should not be planted without proper control.

Crown Vetch is a toxic plant. It's safe to touch, and has a pleasant smell, but the plant and seeds are poisonous if eaten. Crown Vetch can cause vomiting and diarrhea, as well as cause the pulse to drop, and may even cause death if enough is ingested. Despite being toxic, it is being researched for use in the treatment of some heart disorders (much like Foxglove). In addition to being toxic to humans, it is also toxic to horses. Some animals, like deer, can and do eat Crown Vetch.

Beginner foragers sometimes mistake Crown Vetch for Red Clover. Since Clover is edible (and is actually quite tasty), this can be a very bad mix up. Always check and double check when out foraging, and pay attention to the details of the plant. A mix up between these two plants should be easy to avoid with a little care.

Crown Vetch plants often grow in dense clusters, with tangled root systems. As such, it's ritual uses include binding, or slowing something down. It can also be used in matters of protection for the same reasons. Since Crown Vetch is an aggressive climber and spreader, it can also be used in matters of overcoming obstacles and troubles.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Summer Sunday

There are more fireflies out this year than I've ever seen before. The mild winter was good for them (and many other insects, it seems).

It's okay to think someone's beliefs are wrong.

This may seem like an odd choice in topic, but lately I've noticed a number of people who seem to feel that if you do not agree with a particular belief, that you think it is wrong, well then you're a bad bad mean person. Alternatively, if you do believe in something, and act sure of it... same result. Either way, you're "acting like a Christian!" Really? Is this our worst insult?

Here's a pro-tip - if you disagree with Christianity on something like hell, or if you believe in a Deity that others (such as some Christians) may reject? Congratulations. You have beliefs that you're sure of, and there are beliefs that you disagree with. And you know what? That's okay. Really. Honestly. You're just like the vast majority of humans.

You know what else is okay (and truly, where the real issue seems to lie)? It's okay to debate beliefs. Yep. Debate is not inherently bad. Debate can bring about better understanding of your own beliefs, and why you hold them - and debate can bring about a better understanding of beliefs that others may have, and why they have them. Certainly we can deeply examine beliefs on our own, without debate, but debate and discussion with others can bring about aspects and ideas we would not come up with on our own. Debate can help us find the holes in our ideas. It's good to have some beliefs that can stand up to a bit of fire, because those beliefs won't crumble away at the slightest shake, they can support us, and grow with us as we learn more.

Now, there's a limit here, sure. Sometimes debating with particular people becomes more energy than it's worth. Maybe they don't really listen to what you say. Maybe they're downright insulting while you feel you're being respectful. Or maybe you find yourself going in circles with a person. Sometimes you have to know when to step away. When the benefits become minimal. It's also nice to keep in mind that there doesn't necessarily have to be a 'winner' and a 'loser.' Both sides are examined, and you may just agree to disagree, no harm done. However, there's no reason to shun debate and avoid it at all costs. Debating something doesn't make someone rude. The people involved aren't necessarily arguing just because they're mean or close-minded. Some debate can be quite healthy for you and your path. It's not a bad thing.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Foxglove (Toxic)

The lower half of Grandparents' back yard is absolutely covered in Foxgloves right now. At some point a few were planted around an old stump, and left unattended for a few years they've spread. It's a nice place for them, as it's only in full sun for a small part of the day, while spending the rest of the day in the shade, which Foxgloves prefer.

Foxglove (digitalis purpurea) is a poisonous plant. The leaves, flowers, seeds, and roots are all toxic to humans - as well as dogs, cats, and some other domestic animals like horses and cows. Despite being toxic, an extract from the plant is sometimes used in modern medicine for some heart conditions. Herbalists of the past also used this plant to treat various conditions, such as treatment for an irregular pulse, muscle issues, headaches, and even boils. I'll say it again though, this plant is toxic. It can kill you. There is a very narrow range when it comes to using this plant safely, and it is very hard to accurately gauge just how much to administer.

Foxglove has a host of other folk names. Names involving Fae are quite common - Fairy Bells, Fairy Skirts, Fairy Thimbles, and Fairy Caps. It is also known as Deadman's Bells. Foxglove is a favorite hiding place for the Fae and spirits alike. It is said that when the stalks of the Foxglove bend over, there are spirits present. Planting Foxglove around the home, or on the edges of your property, and leaving them undisturbed will bring the protection of the spirits. However, it is also said Foxglove juice will ward of Fae and other mischievous spirits.

The Fae were also said to have told the foxes how to wear the flowers on their feet, so they would be silent when sneaking up to chickens to steal them - and so, Foxglove. The Fae also taught the foxes how to ring the bells of the flowers, so they could warn fellow foxes when hunters were about.

Several other folk names focus on witches - Witches' Gloves, Witches' Thimbles, Witches' Bells, and so on. Foxglove was among one of the plants used by witches in making flying ointments and potions. In some areas, a dye was extracted from the leaves of the Foxglove, and used to paint lines on cottage floors - likely to ward off witches.

Foxgloves come in a variety of colors, ranging from white to dark purple. The flowers have a little spotted pattern on the inside of the bell, and they too can vary from very light to very dark. Folklore says the spots are where Fae or spirits have rested on the blooms.