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.