Tuesday, June 28, 2016

An Elemental Garden

I love gardening. I hate mowing. So, the fact that my fire pit area, aka, my family's outdoor ritual space is covered with lawn is a little annoying. Mowing around the firepit and the stumps I have setup to mark the paths into the area (we call them gates) is a pain in the butt. So I have decided to turn the area into a garden. It took me a minute to realize the obvious as I sat on a stump (gate) wondering what to plant there. Why of course: all the gates are set up to the four cardinal directions, each direction is associated with the element, each element with some planets and who knows what plants are associated with said planets? This girl. Let the elemental gardening begin!


I begin in the East as Eos begins there each new day...
The element of Air is associated with the East. To the East lies my neighbors' garden and pool. They spend quite a bit of time out there so privacy is a concern. My raised garden beds line the trail that way too, so I don't want to shade them out either. The area does get a lot of sun. It is the flattest spot in my rather curvaceous yard. Since my vegetables grow there and my compost bin is just a ways up the path and this area tends to be the spot I stand in when chatting over the fence to the neighbors, this area does get a lot of attention, but only by me. So I feel I can plant some crazy stuff there without worrying too much about who gets into it. There is no room for shrubs or trees here as there is a powerline running overhead. (Part of the reason I chose this spot for my vegetable beds.)
In addition to plants who resonate with the element of Air, I can choose plants that correspond to Mercury, Gemini, Aquarius and Libra.
The cool thing about air plants is that they tend to be fragrant and have composite flowers (carrot and daisy family). This means, that they are not only beautiful and smell nice, they attract beneficial insects too. This is quite the boon considering this garden will be right alongside the one that produces most of my food. In fact, I might just dig up the grass between the raised beds and plant some alyssum all over. I am a fan of alyssum. Unfortunately, it's an annual, so that'll only be a temporary fix, unless it is very cooperative about reseeding itself. But I digress.
I also have some lemon balm that has outgrown the kitchen herb garden and needs a new home. This will be a good spot for it.
Meadowsweet is a lovely, tall air plant that smells wonderful and makes you smile just to look at it. Mullein is a tall favorite of mine, though I admit I liked it better when I was a smoker. Anise hyssop is another tall flower with a contrasting look that will compliment both mullein and meadowsweet nicely. Add yarrow and dill to the mix and I think it's a winning combination of plants that will attract beneficial insects and provide me with all sorts of magical and healing energy. And lovely smells. Plus dill is good for cooking. I would also like to give sweet grass or lemon grass a try, but neither are likely to survive a winter.
We need something for the lower levels. Groundcover, if you like. Lavender is a good choice though I'm not sure it fits in with the look of the rest of the plants. It will be nice for edging the path. Parsley will add some nice texture.  Dianthus is a groundcover favorite of mine. The greenery forms a dense, plush mat and the fragrant flowers raise up above that. They smell like cloves! And of course, there's alyssum.
If there were more shade in this spot, something like Jacob's Ladder, or Lily of the Valley might suit.
I don't have room for trees or shrubs. If I did, Rowan or Mulberry would be nice and if I lived somewhere warmer, I'd love to try Damiana. It's just as well I can't since I don't smoke anymore.


Fire is the element generally associated with the Southerly direction, so I'm looking at plants that are spicy, thorny or protective for this part of the garden. Also, anything that corresponds to the Sun or Mars.

By default, this area is going to feature St. John's Wort because that is what nature has already provided there. Also, some Southernwood got moved there last year because it was becoming obnoxious in its previous home and crowding out my Sage.

The Southern gate leads to the orchard and so doesn't get as much sun as the other gates do and, because the orchard is such a magical place for children (as is the forest garden beyond) it gets a bit of foot traffic.

Nettles is the first thing that pops into my head to serve as a groundcover leading into the orchard, but this is so unsuitable for a place where children play that I am almost ashamed. It seems I will never find the right place to grow nettles on my property.

Angelica is a protective plant that can go here. I am not sure my soil will be moist and acidic enough for it. I may have to move it over by the blueberries, but it's worth a shot. Wood betony will tolerate the shade, but again, I'm not sure the area is moist enough. We shall see. Ornamental hot chili peppers would be excellent here, but they won't get enough sun. Dittany of Crete would be wonderful, if only I lived in zone 7. But false dittany (dictamnus).. now that's a possibility, even though it's likely to late night misbehavior on the part of the teenagers. It is a shrub, but it's a small one, so I may be able to find a place for it.
Of course, garlic and various alliums are a good fit here. Egyptian Walking Onions are a favorite of mine and I adore chive blossoms. Assuming there's enough sun.
Nicotiana (flowering tobacco, yes, you can smoke it, but it's harsh) would be lovely here but it will only grow as an annual here, and while I am fond of its romantic fragrance, I have little patience for annuals unless they're super easy. So, maybe. If the opportunity presents itself.
Wild ginger can go here, though it is not as useful as its non-wild counterpart. This may also be the ideal spot for blue cohosh, with all the requisite warnings to the children, though they'll get them for the nicotiana as well.
I can also try horseradish. It will grow anywhere, though it's hardly an attractive plant.
Rue will make an excellent ground cover here, provided it gets enough sun.
Who would have thought that the South gate would be so difficult? I'm going to need a lot of mulch.


West corresponds to the element of Water and the west gate looks out over my neighbor's yard toward the river on the other side. There are lots of cattails and rushes within view, but the area of the gate is not moist enough for plants of that sort. There is a willow tree just left of the gate, which casts quite a bit of shade.
In addition to water plants, I can plant those that resonate with the energy of the Moon or Neptune here.
I can plant quite a lovely flowerbed here including lobelia, turtlehead, violet, evening primrose and iris. I can even throw in some lettuce, cabbages and strawberries.
I want to stay away from the more traditional moon garden plants, like Moonflower and Angel's Trumpet, because they are very toxic and though they are pretty and fragrant, they really don't have many other redeeming qualities. I might plant a morning glory to climb on my stumps er gates though, they are useful for binding.


The North facing gate of my fire pit area also faces my back yard and can be seen from the neighbor's back deck so it would be nice to put in some plants with some height for privacy. This spot also gets quite a bit of sun as the firepit lies to the South and it doesn't throw off a lot of shade, being only about a foot high. Since the North from the fire pit leads directly to the gate leading to my backyard, it is also the path that gets the most traffic, so these plants can be some higher maintenance plants, but I'll want to stay away from anything that's going to be toxic, cause skin irritation or can't handle getting trampled occasionally. Of course, all of my plants must be useful in multiple ways, or I refuse to put effort into them.
The direction North corresponds to the element of Earth. Most grains correspond to this element. Most of these like some sun, have the height I am looking for and many have several uses. Corn is edible, decorative, makes a great offering, provides corn silk for medical uses and corn husks for crafts. Broom corn is not as flexible, but provides materials for making brooms. Other grains, like wheat and oats aren't likely to provide enough grain for eating purposes in such a small area, but they will certainly provide enough for offerings and their straw can be used to make brooms. Planted in small bunches, they might look pretty cool. Amaranth is another possibility. It has height (depending on variety) and some varieties are extremely decorative, plus, the entire plant is edible, including the seeds. (Have you tried amaranth cheesy grits and eggs? Yum.)
If I lived in zone 7 or above, I would definitely plant Vetiver grass. It is a tall, attractive clumping grass with many medical, magical and cosmetic uses.
For color, poppies resonate with the element of Earth and make a striking statement. They are also traditionally weeds in grain fields so they'd be happy living among the stalks. They aren't as useful as I like, so I am on the fence about them. Comfrey is another Earth plant that is nice and tall with lovely flowers and interesting textures. Comfrey is amazingly useful. It can be used as fodder for the animals, it stimulates the compost and it has amazing healing effects. Clary Sage also resonates with Earth and looks particularly lovely paired with comfrey. It is a good herb to have on hand if you're into aromatherapy as it acts as a fixative. it's also sedative. Vervaine and spikenard will complete the floral parts of this garden.
Mugwort resonates with the energy of Earth and is one of my favorites (I <3 The Artemesias in general), but it is also a very allergenic plant. While I'd like to include it in the yard at large, I am not sure I want it in such a high traffic area releasing its pollen all over my guests and kiddos. So I will tuck it in a garden that doesn't see so much action. If I wanted to put a shrub here, I would choose sage, but I probably won't.
Ivy is another Earth plant and one that I generally think twice about planting in my yard because it is highly invasive. However, as I mentioned, this is a spot that gets lots of action, so the ivy will likely get lots of looking after, not to mention trampled if it escapes its designated area. It's also not fond of direct sunlight, so it may try to stay in the shade of the taller plants. And it will look cool growing over the stumps. Er Gates. I do love ivy and have tried and failed to grow it indoors several times. It has protective qualities and symbolizes commitment. My husband and I wore crowns of ivy in our hair when we got married- ivy I stole from my mother's ivy-overgrown yard, which I am about to do again for the sake of my North Gate.
Horehound is a member of the mint family which automatically translates to invasive! But again, it might work here and horehound has wonderful healing properties, particularly for upper respiratory problems. It will be good to locally source my horehound lozenges and this will be a lovely ground cover that will crowd out the grass. It may even take over the path, as it can handle a great deal of abuse, and that's okay. In this spot.
Root vegetables are also generally associated with the element of Earth. I may experiment with sweet potatoes here. They are such a pretty plant. But they are not ideal for my climate and anyway, I think the ivy will kill them.
If I wanted to include trees, I have many options. Oak trees, most nuts and spruce all would work. There is a baby walnut tree along the path on one side and a cherry tree on the other. Those will have to do. I don't have room for more trees.
More information abut the elemental and planetary correspondences of plant can be found at

Monday, January 18, 2016

Promoting Diversity and Fostering Empathy in our Children

Diversity Clucks In light of recent events, I have been puzzling over the lack of empathy among my fellow Americans. I am confused because I have always been told that America is a melting pot, a unique culture made up of all the culture of the world come together. We are a country of immigrants. Yet, racism, religious discrimination and gender discrimination are not just endemic at this point in our history, it would seem, in some circles, that they are celebrated. People are just plain rude in the name of rejecting "political correctness", taking obscene joy at their freedom of speech at the expense of others.

This doesn't just concern me, it shocks me. I frankly, don't get it. This isn't what I learned in school. WTF, my generation? Did you forget what your parents fought for? Is this what you are teaching your children? Have you not cracked open a history book, like, ever?

The truth is, I can't change the mind of any adult and I can't control how other people are raising their kids. I can only raise my own and hope that their generation will do better than ours apparently has.  My greatest concern right now is that my offspring be better.

Is there a Cure?

The real problem isn't racism (or any other -ism).  It's not just about learning that there are people that are different and that's okay. It's about empathy. It's about understanding that every person, no matter how different, has feelings, needs, desires, hopes and fears. That we're all the same. That poor people work hard and rich people love their children and black people enjoy a good cup of coffee and Muslim people sometimes have trouble taking a compliment without blushing and gay people have no idea what the right questions to ask at a job interview are. And everybody poops.

I believe that it is natural to fear things that are different and that it is really easy for fear to become hatred and even the wish to destroy a thing. But I also believe that curiosity and empathy are also natural. As with all things natural, the muscles that are trained are the ones that develop. Railing against "-isms" just gets people worked up. We have to fight a destructive thing, with a constructive thing. Curiosity and empathy, I strongly believe, are the cures we need.

The Curiosity Cure

When confronted with a new thing, we have the opportunity to choose how we react to it- with fear or with curiosity. Unfortunately, many of us have been taught since early on that curiosity is rude. Examining someone is staring, asking questions is awkward. Curiosity itself becomes a social faux pas. (What a terrible message! It's a wonder our culture produces any inventors at all!)

Fear becomes a more socially acceptable response.

We as parents are entirely empowered to make a change here. When we catch a child staring, instead of saying "Don't stare, it's rude!" we can say "Is there something you want to ask about?". And if we come across a person who inspires our child's curiosity, we can gauge whether that person would be willing to have a conversation or whether we should try to answer his questions ourselves.

Sometimes we don't know and that's okay. Sometimes we will have to do a little research before we provide an answer and it's good to bring the kids along on the journey. Why is that person wearing that thing? What does that symbol mean? What is that strange medical device that was attached to that child we saw at the diner? All of these are curiosities and satisfying them is much more constructive than shushing them.

Encouraging a Diverse Environment

All of this has me thinking about my kids. My kids are awesome. Okay, so they have no ambition whatsoever, but they also do not seem to have any "-isms". They accept people for who they are. They don't love everybody, they aren't nice to everybody, but they give everyone a chance. Not only that, they are civil rights activists. You know, if they feel up to it. They will definitely sign a thing.

I have often attributed this to the fact that they grew up in a very diverse situation. My extended family is very multi-cultural. Many religions, colors, etc. all gathered around the Christmas table (Even though Christ has nothing to do with many of them.) My older children also grew up with a single mom on a University campus. They were exposed to people from all walks of life. They went to student performances of everything from Les Blanc to Les Miserables. The people who lived in our on-campus apartment complex ranged from low-income, single parent families to visiting scholars from all over the world. On the playground, pasty white was not the majority color. Even after I graduated and moved off campus, I still worked at the University for five more years, so though we didn't live there anymore, we visited often.

I cannot recreate this sort of environment for my younger son. We live in the boonies. All of our neighbors are white. His activities are all with middle class white kids. This is something I am going to have to go to great lengths to address. It means that those things my older kids got for free as part of everyday life, I may need to spend some money and plan into my younger son's life. This may mean going to culture specific museums, or purposely signing up for activities outside our immediate area.

Reading to Practice Empathy

Recently I was reading an article about studies that demonstrated what happens to your brain while reading. (http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/01/study-reading-a-novel-changes-your-brain/282952/) They say that when you read about doing a thing, the same parts of your brain light up as do when you actually do the thing and this can cause lasting changes in your brain. So your brain is almost practicing a thing, just by reading about it. Synaptic connections are being made. Neuropathways are being mapped. Just by reading.

I read this out loud to my husband and he scoffed that we actually needed a study to figure out something so basic and simple. But it was something we hadn't thought of before. It could mean that reading books about different people of different backgrounds in different situations could serve at least a little bit as a substitute for actual experiences in diversity.  And books don't just show us different people, they put us inside them. They allow us to experience what they are feeling, their hopes, their fears, their wishes and concerns. Books allow us to practice empathy.  We can do this now, as adults, to get our own empathy muscles going - go ahead, pick up that Christian Romance novel (yea, I know, I gagged a little on that too, but I think I'll give it a shot.) but also choose books for your children that are outside your normal experience.

Some books are purposely written to illustrate differences. Books written by white scholars about other cultures, for example. But I think the real value is in choosing books written by people who are actually a part of the cultures and communities, written from their own experiences. Choose children's books written by Hispanic and African American authors, by immigrants or by members of the LGTBQ community  (perhaps I make a leap in assuming my audience is primarily straight American white girls like myself, but if you're not, read some white girl stuff while you're at it. The point is, to go outside your norm.) and consider choosing some of these for yourself as well.

Avoiding Absolutes and Othering

Perhaps one of the most effective ways to train a child is through modeling, yet this is often the most difficult for us to remember. Everyday language can be very othering even though we may not mean it to be so. It's not about refraining from using racial slurs or even using politically correct language. It's not about avoiding stereotypes either. It's about "othering". When we place someone in the category of the "other" then he ceases to matter. We don't have to be empathetic toward the "other" because the "other" isn't like us. He is not 100% real and he's certainly not 100% human. You can be politically incorrect and not "other". Someone can be stereotyped and still not "othered".

Othering is a very useful tool if you are trying to build public opposition toward a group of people. The Romans used it judiciously on their campaigns, first against the Christians, then against the Pagans after they decided Christianity was more useful for Empire building. Hitler "othered" the Jews, immigrants, gays and gypsies. He made them less than human, so that their genocide wasn't genocide, but merely a "cleansing". We here in America "othered" the Native Americans to allow that genocide, we othered dark-skinned people so that we could treat them like livestock without the guilt, we othered Asians so that we could lock up Japanese people in concentration camps and we were thoroughly engrossed in "othering" homosexuals and trans-gendered folks before we got distracted by the Muslims.  Soldiers "other" their enemies because they must, because taking a human life hurts. But we everyday people not living on a battlefield, we shouldn't, because it's not conducive to growth.

Othering language lumps each individual into a larger group which may or may not actually exist. This is more than a stereotype. Othering strips each individual of the group of free will and ascribes traits, actions and opinions of the group to the single individual, reducing him to a creature following an instinct set forth by the evolution of its species. They are no longer people. They are a collective of non-entities. They are a problem.

For example - "They're all lazy." "They just breed like rabbits and collect welfare" "They are vicious killers" "They are all a bunch of child molesters and wife beaters."  "They hate everyone who won't live according to their religion." "They're just a bunch of drug addicts."

It is important when speaking of other groups of people in a child's presence to avoid absolute language like "all" and "always". Absolutes kill both curiosity and creativity. Using othering language, such as racial slurs or simply "them" or "those people" remove the people you are talking about from the human race and make them worth less. Worthless.

When I look around and see people rallying to the support of dogs and cats and farm animals, I am astounded that people can still "other" groups of humans into worthlessness. African Americans were "othered" to the level of livestock or, at best, pets before the civil war but now we have more concern for our pets than our ancestors' slaves would have ever received, but "othering" of humans continues. It confuses the hell out of me.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Hearthkeeping for the New Moon in Capricorn - Clean up your Money

As the moon wanes in the sign of Capricorn, I suggest to you that it is time to get organized, perform a deep cleansing on our finances, and take a close look at our budget. Capricorn loves an organized household and this new moon's energy will help you achieve your goals. Of course, the fact that tax time is coming up means that this is the perfect time to get your paperwork together while you wait for those W-2s to come in.

Get Organized

You should have a filing cabinet. If you don't, I suggest you get one immediately and set up a regular filing schedule. (On your weekly planning and organization day). If you feel a filing cabinet is excessive, then just get a small file box. Assuming you have something, it's time to tear it up. Take out anything more than three years old (With the exception of your kids' stuff) and put it in a cardboard box. Write the date on it and stick it in the attic or basement. (In five years, burn it if you haven't opened it.)

As for the kids things, they should each have their own box in the attic. Anything more than three years old - report cards, awards, notes from teachers and doctors, medical records, etc. can go in this box. Save it for the coming of age.

Your Housekeeping Journal

If you don't have a housekeeping journal, it's time to make one. Don't worry, I have some handy templates to get you started that I'm posting up at http://www.kitchenwitchcorner.com/article:the-hearthkeeper-s-journal

If you do have one, it's time to update it. Make sure you have the current phone numbers of all your important services; doctors, lawyers, teachers, plumber, babysitters, etc. and update your checklists, your goals for the year, your bills & etc. and don't forget to add any new recipes you've discovered.

Banish The Debt

Do you have bills to pay off? Make a list of them in order from highest interest rate to lowest. Now write the minimum required payment next to each. Do the math to figure out how long it will pay off the bill making just the minimum payment- if the interest is too hard, forget about it and just divide your payment by the total to see how many months you have left, knowing that it's more than that, but do it the same for all of them. If you pay more than the minimum payment, divide that by the total as well. If any of your calculations equals 11 or less, you can pay it off this year, assuming you stay on track and don't charge anymore to that account. You may want to see if you can squeeze just a few more dollars into your payment to pay it off quicker, but if you can't, don't worry. Plan to apply this payment to the remaining debt account with the highest interest rate.

If you don't have a bill that's going to get paid off this year by just doing what you're doing, divide each account total by 12 to see how much your payment would have to be to pay off the bill in one year (knowing that it will be a bit more, due to interest). Are there any you can afford to pay if you only pay the minimum on everything else? If there's more than one, choose the one highest on the list (the one with the highest interest rate) and begin paying the higher payment this month.

All Paid Off?

Did you pay off any bills last year? Gather then up. Save a single copy (the last bill) and write the date it was paid off and put all of them in a file marked Debts Paid Off (or similar) and stick it in a filing cabinet, in case they rear their ugly heads again. I'd even make a phone call to verify that the debt is paid off and write the date of the call and the name of the person you talked to and if there's a confirmation number, that too. And then scan it, and save it on the cloud somewhere. Any other paperwork you have related to the bill, gather it up and toss it on the fire under the light of the first sliver moon, or save them for February, the month of cleansing.

Don't Forget to Save

Saving is hard, but it's necessary. There is a tendency to want to wait till one's debts are paid off to start saving but if we do this, saving will never happen and debts will never go away. It's a vicious circle. Anything you don't have saved for that you can't live without, you will have to borrow for, which will only make your debts grow bigger. So start saving now so you'll have to borrow less later, and keep working on your debt and savings, little by little, side by side.

It is slightly less painful if you have the money automatically withdrawn from your paycheck or your bank at regular intervals so you have to budget around it, instead of budgeting it in. I recommend saving 10% from every paycheck. If you earn $500 per week, that's $50. In 10 weeks, you will have a week's pay stashed away. In a year, you'll have more than a month's. If you can't hack 10% right now, do 5% with a plan to increase as your circumstances improve. If you can't get your boss to direct deposit, set up a savings account that automatically withdraws it from you checking account yourself. Learn to use your bank's website if you haven't yet, it's your best financial friend.

But this is just your emergency fund. You should also make a habit of saving up for large purchases, rather than putting them on a credit card. My bank lets me give my savings account a nickname, so when I look on the website I can see instantly what I'm saving for - right now it says AC. So any time I think maybe I'd rather spend that extra $10 on junk food or maybe I need to take money out of savings to buy something now that I could wait till next Friday for, I have to look at that savings account name and think "Which do I want more, air conditioning next August, or a pair of shoes right this minute?" Sometimes the shoes win. Sometimes life happens and shoes fall apart and a girl's still got to walk. But having a name on the account makes me put more thought into it, like maybe I can make another pair work for a little longer and squeeze some shoes out of next month's grocery budget instead. I do leave a bit of wiggle room in the grocery budget for this sort of thing and if it doesn't happen, the AC account gets a bonus. When I've got my AC, I'll probably change the account name to something even more glamorous, like "Gutters".

As you get in the habit of saving for large purchases, rather than putting them on a credit card, and keeping an emergency fund (rather than relying on a credit card), you'll see your debts gradually dwindle and you'll find a new freedom. It gets really exciting when you realize you've got multiple months of income saved up and you can roll some of it into something long term with some serious interest potential and you can actually start thinking about retiring before you die or sending your kids to college or (gasp) both! Since I haven't gotten to that place yet, I am going to stop talking about it now.

Recommended Reading

I recommend Financial Sorcery: Magickal Strategies for Creating Real and Lasting Wealth by Jason Miller

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Adventures with Sourdough

So my dad gave me a sourdough starter a few weeks before Thanksgiving last year and gave me strict instructions for caring for it and extremely vague directions for actually making bread out of it. The instructions included feeding it daily and weighing water and flour to do so. I immediately went off the grid on that. An overflowing scoop of flour, a scoop and a half of water, mix, call it good. It worked out okay.

I kept my sourdough in the fridge in a half gallon mason jar at first, but then I transferred it to a crock on the counter. I wanted to use the mason jar for something else. The crock has a lid that just kind of sets on top, so I put a cotton napkin under it as added protection from fruit flies who seem to love sourdough. This proved a bad idea, especially when the weather was warm (we have no air conditioner), so it went back in the fridge after a few weeks. When it lives in the fridge, it's a good idea to take the sourdough out the night before you want to make bread so it can wake up a bit before it needs to perform.

Baking Sourdough Bread

As for the actual making of the bread, that worked out fine. Here's how I do it:

First, I scoop out nearly all of the sour dough starter and put it in a mixing bowl. I make bread once a week and feeding it about a half cup of flour a day seems to give me just the quantity I need for two loaves and a pizza.

I add a cup of flour and cup of water to the stuff in the bowl and mix it up, then I take a cup out and put it back in my crock and put it to bed. Then I add another cup of flour and water to my mixing bowl and mix that up an let it set for a few hours. When I see active bubbles again, I add as much flour as the dough can hold. When it becomes difficult to mix, I turn it out onto a floured surface and knead it, adding more flour, kneading until its sticky, then adding more and kneading till its sticky again until it stops becoming sticky.

My Great Grandmother, who was much better at making bread than I will ever be, used to say that the dough was ready when it felt like an ear. So pinch your ear lobe. Ignore the lump from your piercing. When you pinch your ear it gives, but it maintains a few millimeters distance between your fingers. You should be able to pinch the bread without your fingers meeting. It should be dry and and flexible. When you get it to this point, you are done kneading.

Now I simply gather the bread together in a ball and set it right on the counter where I kneaded it and cover it with a damp cotton napkin and leave it alone for a few hours or until it's grown quite big. Then I knead it again for about five minutes. (It won't feel as dry anymore.) and shape it into loaves or pizza crust and then let it be again. (You'll want to start preheating the oven at this point 350F should do.)

My grandmother always called this rising "the proof". And one thing I've noticed about sourdough bread is that it doesn't "proof" as high as other types, especially her favorite potato bread, but it does tend to do more rising in the oven. So let it proof a couple of hours and if it is making a disappointing show of it, give it a shot in the oven anyway.

You'll want to bake it about an hour, depending on the shape of your loaf. Loaf pans about an hour, dinner rolls 40 minutes, pizza about 30. If you flick it with your fingernail, it should make a kind of hollow sound to let you know its done.

If your bread is in a pan, remove it immediately from the pan because it will get soggy if you don't. Then let it cool before cutting.

Sourdough Pancakes

First, I dump almost all of my sourdough into a mixing dough and add equal parts flour and water, mix it well and dump half of it back into my crock and put it to bed. Then I let the batter sit for awhile till it gets bubbly, you should have about two cups of batter. Next, I add a tablespoon of baking powder, an egg, some melted butter or oil and a little sugar and some finely ground walnuts. Mix it all up and voila! Pancake batter. Just make it as you would pancakes.

Personally, I am not overly impressed with sourdough pancakes. They are good. Quite tasty indeed. But I prefer buttermilk buckwheat pancakes. It's just a personal preference.

The Sourdough Verdict

I am not good at taking care of sourdough. I have nearly killed it and wondered if it was safe way too many times. In the summer, I don't make bread as often because it is just. too. hot. Also, sourdough has a texture my family isn't overly fond of. So, after the final death of my starter, I declare the sourdough experiment at an end. I can buy yeast. However, having had this particular adventure, I can rest secure in the knowledge that should the Zombies rise and packaged yeast become a commodity worth shooting people over, I can always make a sourdough starter.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Imposing a Magickal Moral Code (and the Tyranny of "Harm None")

Fight Fire with Fire I hear it all the time "Harm none". It has nothing to do with me, but I hear it all the time. Because Wicca is the best marketed of non-traditional religion and witchcraft paths, its members like to quote rede at me whenever a moral dilemma comes up. Never mind that the rede does not say "Two words the rede fulfill", but pointing that out is like trying to argue a Christian about what Jesus said, even though it's all written out for anyone to see. This shouldn't be my problem or my business except that it has been made so because those two little words are thrown at me nearly daily. "harm none". So, although I don't want to, I'm going there.

The truth is, I do have a moral code, and it's not "harm none". I think it's better. Harm none and the baggage it carries, actually violates some of my moral codes. Harm none is a copout. It is a limp, lame excuse for morality and I'm sick of hearing it. Before you get mad at me, let me explain:

I am a witch and also a Hellenic Polytheist. These identities are distinct, though there is some overlap, after all, they co-exist in one person. They each have their own values and sense of morality inherent within them, and yet they are each colored somewhat by the other.

As a witch, I embrace my power. Yes, I have the power to heal, to draw good things, but also to bring illness and misfortune. That is the nature of a witch. That is what witch means. Not this happy rainbow frufru stuff. A witch uses what's at her disposal, a witch is practical, a witch does what needs to be done when others are afraid or incapable. As a witch I must follow certain moral codes, simply because I understand how the energy of the Universe works and I know that if I don't, I could find myself in an unhappy situation.

(By the way, karma has nothing to do with this. The word karma is so misused, it makes me feel sorry for it, even though the real per-appropriation concept of karma is somewhat abhorrent to me. )

As a witch, I understand that every action has a reaction. As a witch, I understand that the energy that I cultivate is the energy that will affect my own life. As a witch, I understand that there are finite resources (money, sex, housing, jobs, food, sparkly thing, etc.) in our environment and whenever one person gets some it means everyone else is not, so giving is almost always also taking away.  As a witch, I understand that everything is relative. An evil man is someone's beloved father or son. A good man may be someone's oppressor. These things color my moral code. They are truths that must be considered not just before I take magickal action, but before I take any action.

Far too often I see rules applied to magick that aren't applied to material action. This confuses me.

People often say that it is wrong to use magick to manipulate the Will of another. Yet these same people will use all sorts of physical, psychological and emotional means to manipulate another's will. Will manipulation is rampant in our culture. If you don't believe me, just watch your Facebook feed for awhile, or worse, watch television for a bit. People whine, beg, cajole, cry, threaten and present ultimatums to those we claim to love all the time. If you work in sales, politics or marketing, will manipulation is your job. We spend hours talking people out of one viewpoint into another, verbally or in writing(look, I'm doing it right now). We send our children to bed when they don't want to go to bed, we send them to school when they don't want to go to school, we talk them out of things we know they aren't good for them. (Very skilled parents will make their kids think this was their idea. My mother is a master at this.) This is all will manipulation. So is stopping a crime, imprisoning a criminal. All interfering with another's will.

Some of these things we may put in the "bad" category in our mind while others we might put in the "good" category.  For the "bad" things, I might ask "Why is it okay to do these things through emotional, mental and physical means, but not magickal means?" and for the "good" things I might ask "Why exactly is using magick to accomplish this a bad thing then?"

This often comes up with regard to love spells. Love, by the way, isn't Will. They are two different things, but I digress. The truth is, forcing someone to give you sex, by any means, is rape. Whether you use drugs or magick to cloud their mind, or tie them down, or threaten to take away their livelihood, it's all rape. There are many types of love spells, some more problematic than others. The knee jerk "harm none" reaction to a love spell does not help with the education of the new. More words are needed because for some reason there's this separation in people minds between magickal and mundane actions that make the same thing okay in one sphere but not in the other.

If I wouldn't, couldn't, shouldn't do it in material space, then I shouldn't do it in magickal space.

Another rule I keep hearing is that you shouldn't use magick to accomplish what you can accomplish without it. Well, frankly, there are few things I can't accomplish without magick that I can accomplish with magick, so I have no idea where the logic is here. It seems to come from some sort of fluffy Harry Potter mindset that implies that magick is some amazing force that can accomplish unnatural feats. It's not. And even if it was, you'd better believe if I could enchant a broom to clean my house while I sat on my butt, I'd be doing it. All day, every day. And I'd sell them too, which is a nice segue into my next point except that I'm not done with this one.

I use magick for just about everything. But I also use physical means. If I'm looking for a job, I meditate, I use divination, I enchant my resumes, I cast a spell to draw me to the perfect job, I look on online listing sites, I pound the pavement in town, I ask around, I fill out applications online. When I worked at the University I used my parking space spell daily. And I tried to time my leaving the house with when I knew the volume in the parking lot would be lower, even though it meant getting to work early. I lock my doors at night, and I set wards. I teach my kids to be safe, and keep a watchful eye on them, and cast protection spells over them. I mix herbal remedies, and cast healing spells on them. I mix my own cosmetics, and cast beauty spells on them. Seriously. Everything. All day. Every day. Explain to me why this is a bad thing?

In fact, reserving magick for special occasions only leads to a witch who doesn't know to do magick. That is, if you don't do magick, how the hell can you call yourself a witch at all? Witchcraft is a craft. It needs to be practiced. Daily, hopefully. If a carpenter can just as easily buy a shed, or hire someone else to build a shed, as build it himself, why should he build it himself? Because he's a carpenter! It is what he does. Assuming he's not building a ton of sheds for other people and simply doesn't have time, of course. Oh look, there's another segue.

Charging other people for magickal services. I just can't fathom why this is a bad thing. As a Hellenic Polytheist (and I should think any Polytheist who identifies with the Gods of an honor culture would probably agree) I find it morally abhorrent to accept anything without giving something in return. So, giving away services for free, and getting nothing in return, means that I have given something to someone who is, in my view, morally bankrupt. I think not. But besides all of that, these things take time, and time is valuable. The time I spend casting a spell for someone else, I could be at an office, earning money, or writing an article to earn money, or preparing food for my family, or spending time with my family. All of this is worth something to me. I tell my current boss that I won't leave the house for less than $100 and my musician husband won't come perform for you for less than $100 because we have other things we could be doing that are also valuable to us. I can certainly set a minimum for how much it's going to cost you for me to walk away from my child and spend my time and energy doing your thing. No matter what that thing is.

I also often hear that you shouldn't use magick for personal gain. Why not? How on earth do you expect to help someone else if you can't help yourself? Who else are you going to practice on? Going back to the carpenter we just talked about, don't you think he should practice building stuff for himself before he goes off building stuff for other people? You know, just to make sure he knows what he's doing?

As a Hellenic Polytheist I have a few moral obligations. The first, is Arete, Excellence. I must be the best I can be. Keep my body in the finest shape I can (okay, I suck at this) and hone my skills to my best ability.  The next is the Code of Hospitality, which is basically a do unto others type of thing. And the third is Reciprocity, what is given to me, I must give in return. And everything given to me, creates a debt that I must pay. Finally, Justice. It is my duty to expose and answer any wrong done to me or any wrong that I witness or am made aware of. If I do not do this, I share the guilt when the wrongdoer victimizes another.

These obligations have to come before any morality I place on my magick, as they must come before any morality associated with anything else I do, but because I place the same morality on my magick as I do on my mundane actions, there is no conflict here. But, I am sure you can see now that "harm none" and all its baggage can actually conflict with what is truly important to me. I have the right, the duty to protect myself and my family. I have the right, the duty, to set a value on my work. And I have the right, and duty to put my well being before that of others. Because my primary job is to take care of my family. Magick is a tool. And I will use it without guilt. And someone may be harmed.

Which brings us back to "harm none".

By the way: Harm none is freaking impossible. Everything you have, is something someone else doesn't have. Your spouse, your house, your job. When you got these things, someone missed out on them. Someone may, in fact, have felt harmed by this. Someone may have been manipulated into giving you what you want. Everytime you eat, you harm something or someone. (Quite often in America, we are harming ourselves when we eat.) Smoke? Harming all kinds of people, including yourself. Wear cheap clothes? Think about the people who made those clothes? What kind of lives they must lead? Cosmetics? Where'd those come from, how were they safety tested? Are you sure they aren't going to give you cancer? It is impossible, to harm none. So get down off your moral high horse, and quit that shit.

But "harm none" isn't just irrelevant, it's damaging. It renders you impotent. The entire quote says "An it harm none, do as ye Will". This implies action, while "harm none" implies inaction. Most often when I hear "harm none" it is a copout. A call to inaction. I would do something about it, but I "harm none" so I will just let "karma" sort it out. I can't claim to know, but seriously doubt that that is what the founders of Wicca intended. By ignoring the other five words in the rede you hold so dear, you are giving up your Will. You are ignoring the challenge to find a way to deal with a situation that will bring the least amount of harm while still bringing about your Will. You are saying that my Will is unimportant and that your Will is not important. And I say to you that my Will is important. And that I will do the least amount of harm that I can manage, but I will do what is best for me and my family. But I have to ask: if your Will is so unimportant to you, why are you studying witchcraft?

Image Credit - Fight Fire with Fire by Sam Levy on Flickr. Some Rights Reserved. No changes were made to the original.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Four Words that Can Save the World

We are mothers. We have the future of the world in our hands. Our children are the future and everything that we hate about the world will be carried into the future on their shoulders. Or not. It is our responsibility to teach them to build a community that is healthy and strong, but how do we do that? By teaching them to speak up when someone is doing or saying something that does not support a strong, healthy community. Teach them that instead of going along with the crowd when something is not right, for fear that they won't be accepted, to speak up. To say those three magical words "That is not cool".

When a man is sexually harassing a woman.
"Dude, that's not cool".

When someone on Facebook is spreading lies, hatred, statements of bigotry "That's not cool".
When someone raises a hand to another, be it a man, a woman or a child "That is not cool"
When someone talks shit about someone whose shoes they can't imagine "That is not cool"

How many times have we taught our children by example that the polite and proper thing to do is remain silent while someone makes the atmosphere completely awkward by ranting on about that n****r president and how all his kind does is collect welfare.

You know what sir: that is not cool. My father is a black man, Oh you couldn't tell because my skin is white? Odd that. My father never collected welfare, strange thing, but I have. So how about you take your bigotry elsewhere because that, sir, is not cool.

Because it is not US being rude by speaking up for what is right. It is the person who thinks it's okay to throw around racial slurs in mixed company who is being rude and he needs to be corrected.

Why "That's not cool", as opposed to something more, I don't know, articulate and maybe intelligent? Because everything in our society comes down to being cool. It's the truth. You thought you left that shit back in High School, but I have news for you: High School never ends. Every social interaction is an effort to be seen as interesting and fun or clever and enlightened, an effort to fit in, to be someone people want to hang out with or look up to, to be cool.

When people make comments that make us uncomfortable, what do we do? We LAUGH. Because the alternative is outside of our comfort zone, in a place where someone might not think you are interesting and fun. Where someone might thing you don't fit in. Where someone might think you aren't cool.

So we laugh, or just smile awkwardly. We give positive reinforcement. We reassure a person who is behaving in a way that perpetuates the worst our society has to offer that he or she is indeed cool. We need to quit that shit and we need to teach our kids not to do it in the first place.

How many times have you seen a picture of a woman posted on Facebook with comments about how she's asking to get raped, or how no one would rape her because she's so fat. Those comments are not cool. What do you do if this makes you uncomfortable? Silently un-friend the person who shared it? Not good enough. Silence is consent. Let them know it's not cool- and let your kids know while you are at it. Then you can un-friend them. (The poster, not the kids.)

It is time for decent people who know right from wrong, who value society, who teach their children to say Please and Thank you and Yes Sir and Ma'am to also teach their children to say "No, that is not cool"

It is not cool that you speak racial slurs in front of me.
It is not cool that you make misogynist remarks in front of me.
It is not cool that you make rape references in my hearing.
It is not cool that you say cruel things about the less fortunate.
It is not cool that you should wish death, pain or misfortune on anyone who has done you no harm.
And it is not cool that we should continue to model this pacifistic behavior to our children. All our polite silence is doing is putting the present social problems that we despise on their shoulders for them to carry into the future.

Complacency allows sexual violence to exist in our society. Complacency allows discrimination to exist. Complacency allows hate crimes to exist. Complacency is comfortable, it keeps friends, it doesn't make waves and it allows perpetrators to feel vindicated. Speaking up is uncomfortable, it loses friends, it makes waves, but more importantly, it lets perpetrators know that they are NOT vindicated. If people don't know that what they are doing is inappropriate, why would they stop?

It's time to speak up. It's time to say "That is not cool".

One small step to saving the world.

Here's some encouraging news from Kenya regarding teaching boys about sexual violence. Because if you don't teach them it's wrong, how are they to know? http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/23/us-kenya-sexual-violence-idUSKBN0MJ25V20150323

More information about this program at http://nomeansnoworldwide.org/

Monday, January 19, 2015

Taking Out the Garbage

Lots of people hate the holidays. For me hate isn't the right word. For me the holidays are a struggle. And they are toxic. From Thanksgiving to Christmas it's like one big anxiety attack. Not to mention every food trigger of my migraines and fibromyalgia being thrown at me at once. By the time I am blissfully ignoring the fact that New Year's Eve is supposed to be yet another anxiety-inducing situation that, thank all that is holy, my extended family doesn't care about. The winter holidays have always been unbearably stressful to me.

So, it is with great relief that I embrace the latter months of winter as a time of cleansing and rebirth and preparation for the new year. I am not ready at New Year's Eve to think about it. I am too busy clutching my knees and rocking. But now! Now is the time to take out the garbage.

This feeling, this celebration welling up in my belly corresponds well to Imbolc and when I have guests over to share it that's what I call it, because that's what they call it. I, however, cannot justify Imbolc from a religious standpoint. The Celtic Gods are not my Gods and the Wiccan cosmology has never rung true to me. The word Imbolc means nothing to me. On a practical hearth level, the celebration feels right.

Noumenia is my time for cleansing and blessing of the home. So I choose the first New Moon of the Year as my official date for this cleansing holiday of necessity. I could wait a month for Chinese New Year which is perhaps the perfect functionally parallel holiday, if completely removed culturally, but I don't think I can. This New Moon one, this January New Moon must then be The Big Noumenia. I guess I never tried so hard to define it without just nodding and agreeing that it must be Imbolc. But this year, it is the 20th, and this is what we do:

  • In the days leading up to the New Moon, I clean the whole house.
  • On the dark of the moon, we build a fire and we burn the things we want to leave behind in the old year. Any bills we have paid off (representative copies), and things written on paper.
  • I take apart my besom and burn the bristles
  • On the day of the new moon we have a cleansing feast. Cleansing foods, salad, soup.
  • And I re-bristle my broom.

These rituals really help me reground after the chaos of the holidays. Until I do this, I tend to feel all scattered and disorganized. This is a reboot. A new year, a new situation. Still me. But I am starting with a clean slate.

Also, I found this from Diane Sylvan that I think I might incorporate into the fun.