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.