25 October 2013

Seasonally in the moment.

I have been enjoying the last few weeks of feeling all the lovely things that I associate with fall. We have had nothing but gorgeous weather and the leaves have been accommodatingly beautiful. Fall in the northeast is probably one of the reasons I can't imagine living anywhere else in the world for any serious length of time. That and winter which happens to be my favorite season - I know, I'm weird.

Keeping life moving ahead though and still remaining in the moment is not easy to do or practice. Socially, we plan ahead - weeks and months ahead of time - to make sure we have room in the schedule. Planning ahead is one thing; going to the stores is nothing but irritating come Labor day when some (many) of the places around us start pulling their Halloween decor off to the side to make space for the winter holiday splashes is quite another.

It used to make me crazy. I was one of the people who muttered and swore when I saw it and might have vented about it public. Now... well I still scowl in September when the Christmas lights go up, but I generally care less about it. It's not the store's job to make sure I remain in the moment.

Years ago as a theatre major I had a professor who drilled into us the importance of fully experiencing each moment on the stage and off. All the things we take in as beings inform us as actors so living in fast forward doesn't make us capable on stage. While I no longer pursue stage dreams those lessons still have a lot of meaning for me daily as a thinking, magical creature.

One of the exercises was being in the moment washing dishes -- one of the hardest exercises and one I repeatedly come back to when I find myself drifting too far outside the day to day. Washing dishes is a simple exercise, one that makes it very easy for the mind to wander to the events of the day, or things still needing to be done, or the worries of what could have been. This is different from the mindful meditation of something like spinning - the rhythm helps with the trance state there and trancing is a different achievement from mindfulness.

While washing dishes, do everything mindfully. Fill the basins and let it be a sensory experience. Yes - it goes slowly when you're listening to the pitch of the water change as the basin fills, or feeling the change in temperature, or observing steam. Each plate, each fork tine, be aware of it while it is washed and rinsed and dried. I take in the smell of the soap and the gloves that I use, I feel my hands soften in the heat, and I am aware of my sliding and shifting into focus. My breath helps me fall into each layer of observation without my being overly analytical - the sensation happens and another takes its place. I am not there to document, just to exist as a vehicle of washing, drying, and being.

This isn't going to make me a zen master by any stretch, but by observing and being *there* without wandering to the to-do list of doom or having those thoughtless conversations in my head about who-knows-what, I find myself reinvesting in my edges. I don't do this every day (I should, I'm sure) but when I do, it is normally a 40 minute investment from start to finish. By the end, not only are the dishes cleaned but I am a bit more centered and observant.

Exercises like this help keep me invested in the season - each season - as the wheel spins on. Exercising this mindfulness helps keep me grounded when the to do list becomes a mile long and my patience runs a mile short. While I know that I have a holiday to-do list coming up on November 1st that I could get started on now, I prefer to wait and pace myself to enjoy the fullness of October right through Samhein night and a few days following. Lists are good because things can be written down and put away rather than tumbling through my mind constantly as a distraction.

Whatever you are doing this weekend, I hope you find moments to relish fully!

11 October 2013

The Heretics Heart

I come at my spirituality from the not entirely unique position of being someone raised marginally Catholic until my teens and then thrown into the church (always a bad plan - take one headstrong teen, add patriarchy and a huge helping of snark, and see what happens), considered becoming a nun in the 11th grade (oh so briefly but enough to startle myself), and then a few years after graduating found myself wandering the woods with some strangers and realized I was "home".

For all my wanderings and writings, I have never lost sight of the church. I was baptised and went through the adult religious orientation to be confirmed and receive the sacraments of communion and so I am - in so far as the church is concerned - an apostate and a heretic.

Even though the decision to become catholic was made as a teenager (and one can safely say that teenagers really have no idea what they're doing), I think it does a huge disservice to the idea of oath making so prevalent within heathen circles to say a vow made as a teenager has no weight. It does a disservice to my heathen spirituality to not own up to that oath, that promise, whatever has happened in the meantime.

At the same time heathens have rightly - if not indelicately - pointed out that coming from the monotheistic background is something that should be expunged from our beliefs and practices now. We carry a lot of baggage regardless of what side of the monotheistic branch we come. While I disagree that some of those applications are purely from my Catholic background (see the part where I mentioned having a personal relationship with deity), I can see the problem with its overall acceptance in heathen circles. Specifically looking at that example, a personal relationship with deity has been regularly abused to mean that someone knows more and has more authority than others because God/Gods told them so.

... because we haven't seen THAT abused historically, have we?

So what to do then? How does someone who believes very much in the legitimacy of all the Gods, and to a degree all the faiths, practice when her spiritual home is literally two factions who on the surface think the other faction is evil?

I have found that differentiating between ignorance and hate. Research helps. And in the end, there is a level of accepting that I am never going to fully be in one world or the other. It isn't an easy path and there is a lot of room for doubt, but there is also a better understanding of what makes me tick.

Anyway, this is something I would like to revisit and dig into more. In the meantime I am off to western Massachusetts for a long weekend spiritual retreat. I hope you are all enjoying this gorgeous fall!

27 September 2013

Heathen, YMMV

A big part of the reason I wanted to blog was to start to centralize and identify what it means to me to be heathen. I am straddling the world of home-decor and demolition with my spirituality, two things that don't necessarily go together in the blogosphere but two things that my life revolves around regardless.

It is super important to specify that this is what it means to me and other heathens, pagans, non-pagans, etc,will find that their mileage varies. I do not expect everyone who proclaims to follow Asatru to worship the same face of Odin that I see, nor would I be particularly pleased to find out that I was judged for how I view work and working with deity. The same follows for ritual structure, lore study, rune meanings, and the whole literal and figurative nine. 

So I am not a fundamentalist Heathen by any stretch. I will circle up with Wiccans, I will blot with those who worship Loki, and I will defend interfaith ministry and prison ministry passionately. I especially appreciated the sentiment in this blog The Witching Hour by Peg Aloi about faith:
 After all, we as neo-pagans have endured decades of attempts to paint us as any number of scary figures, from bloodthirsty baby killers to brainwashing ideologues, in tracts, in books, on websites, in horror films and in television documentaries. But we have not let such tactics diminish our determination to follow our spiritual leanings. Yet, increasingly, within our own wider community, we are “drawing lines in the sand” intended for each other.
That line-drawing has been bothering me both within the heathen circles I affiliate with, and the world on a whole. Daily we are reminded that we are all different in places very close to home as well as those further afield, those differences are at the root of stress, strife, and bloodshed. That's not the kind of world I want to live in.

The thing is that when I look at my heathen spirituality I see a lot of communion with deity, I see a lot of the faith I had as a child influencing *how* I commune, and I see a lot of seeking answers to otherwise unknowable questions -- much how many other spiritualists practice regardless of their professed path. I find a comfort in this similarity and do not struggle with the structure.

Certainly I am human and I have my own "judging panda" moments and like any work in progress, I'm doing what I can when I know better. It takes time and recognizing that I have and continue to make mistakes and others... well. They're on their own journey that will include mistakes and things that make no sense to me at all. It's a wonder discovering that one is NOT the center of the universe and not everything is going to make sense or seem relevant to themselves.

It is those differences culturally, spiritually, physically, and so on, that make us part of the world and the world a part of us. I can handle that. My faith is big enough, and flexible enough, to incorporate all of these things.

So then, to begin to self codify:

  • I believe that our gods are both old and renewed. They are the ones of old from the north lands and have many names and many characteristics. I believe that they have universal truths embedded in how we perceive them, but that they are limited to this earth and would not say, be part of a theological system on another planet or solar system. (however, not having access to other planets... hey, I could be wrong)
  • I believe that our gods are more than just the sagas and eddas we have recorded and that our individual experiences with them color our perception. 
  • I believe we can have individual experiences with our gods. 
  • I believe we can kid ourselves into having individual experiences with our gods and that can lead down a path of self righteousness and pain. 
  • I believe Ragnarok is something that has happened, that could happen again, that our gods are living and dying gods and in their cycles they are not diminished or exalted by dying and living again.
  • I believe in sacrifice to our gods, in taking seriously oaths, in being honorable to the best of ones abilities and honoring our falls from grace when they are buffeted by personal responsibility and awareness. I hold that we are not perfect creatures but work towards a more perfect self when we make mistakes and recognize them, own them, and move beyond fracture to wholeness. 
  • I believe our stories of the gods should grow as we grow, that they should not remain in a static place of Norse history but be as relevant to now as we are relevant to now. 
  • I do believe that gods will cast their gaze on non-heroes and the everyday man and woman and call us to be more just, more fair, more than our ordinary skins, bringing us closer to them and them closer to us. I believe that they are agents of change as much as we are agents of change and those moments of clarity are karmic, beautiful, and terrifying. 
  • I believe our ancestors are the shoulders we stand upon in this world and that we are the altar of what has come before and what will come after. We can call upon them for guidance, for help, for answers and clarity. 
  • I believe our ancestors were and are fallible creatures and as much as they grant us grace, they can grant headaches too. 
  • I believe that a host of troubles can be mitigated, if not outright solved, by breaking bread with one another.
  • I believe in the contradiction that when we die, it is pretty much lights out, but that spirits can and do guide us. (I didn't say I'd make sense, did I?)
  • I believe that I can and will be proven wrong. And right. And in the end, because this is for me, it doesn't matter to anyone really but me. I will vigorously object to the idea of personal truth being actual truth but I will listen sincerely when someone tells me why they believe it. 
I can't say that this has been an easy post for me but I am grateful for the discussion with others that I've had leading up to it. I am heartened every time there is interfaith dialogue that doesn't seek to change anyone's religious persuasion, but rather find the beauty in where we all connect and divide.

20 September 2013

Strands of Chaos

We are several weeks into meteorological fall when the celestial Autumn Equinox happens. Almost as if to challenge the very notion of the balance of light and day this has been an especially chaotic and unbalanced week. In an about face from Midas' golden touch, everything I've touched has become slightly putrid it seems.

Ah, the joyful life.

Chaos happens. Bad things happen. Unpleasant, even. I have been in such a sour state all week as the happenings piled on top of one another that it finally took something so heinously absurd (not putting the parking brake on after spilling coffee on myself when I got to work and my car just... merrily rolling itself into the trees with bang) to make me realize that I need to just stop and breathe for a moment or ten.

I don't know that I am willing to say this is all my fault; my view of Karma is both slightly more complicated and still somehow simpler than that. I will say that I have helped stir the pot with my frustration and unwillingness to yield to the currents around me. I have forgotten the simple rule of letting the world flow through me, rather than filter the world to the way I want it to be.

And so, balance.

These are hard lessons - letting it flow, letting it go, controlling what I can and just letting things be. I am not a patient person by definition, but I am continually in situations that require an almost superhuman level of patience. Or at least, that is how it seems to me.

So, this day requires a lot of breathing. Focusing on gratitude. For everything that I have cussed at under my breath or with some righteous flair, I am finding the reasons why it's okay. Acceptance without being a doormat -- another ridiculous lesson to learn -- and finding my way back to some sort of observational center where I can move through the world and not be in a constant state of reacting to it.

It's a good time of year to be reminded of these lessons. Celestially we come to the balance where the day will match the night and then fall in a headlong rush to the darker half of the year. The nights are longer, meant for feasting and soft lights, laughter, and the dark, nurturing quiet of the winter months. I relish the winter cold unlike a lot of people I know, though I gather as I get older I will ache more and perhaps look a bit more glaringly at the sidewalk needing to be cleared three or four times in a day.

But that is not today, and it is not this weekend. While the summer sheds her greens for autumn reds in the sumac, and the wild grapes ripen on their tree strangling vines, we drink of sweet wines and laughter and bank the memories as embers for winter, to tell tales with and sing songs of. This is our thanksgiving of full harvests and full hearts. We take them, we carry it all forward, and we rejoice.

Virginia Creeper and berries, just outside my office. Totally not edible :) 

13 September 2013


We live in an area where the Chenango and Susquehanna rivers merge. The latter carries onward, winding its way back and forth over the New York and Pennsylvania border before finding its way through PA and into Maryland where it becomes Chesapeake Bay.

Confluence Park in Binghamton where both Susquehanna and Chenango rivers meet. 

I have grown up around both rivers. My first grade school sat next to the Susquehanna. There was a nature trail off in the woods that led to the rocky banks of the river and, just downstream from there the old railroad trestle where the more daring high school kids would jump from. The water was murky and I, being less adventurous than most, never got into it. Ever. I did love to sit by it though and watch the faster current outpace the water closer to me, or see a fish quickly hit the surface and disappear again.

When we moved into town our house was quite literally on the Chenango River. The view was probably the main reason my parents bought the house. From the back deck we had a full array of wildlife and amusement: ducks, herons, blue cranes, the occasional bald eagle. The ducks would start their laughter-like calls in the very early hours of the morning and if we were particularly patient we could see the water-weasels doing their thing on the banks.

Rivers are a part of the background noise that makes up my life - even though I don't rely on them for transportation, or for inundating fields with nutrients (though honestly, no one relies on that anymore), or anything like that, they are a part of this natural landscape that I keep returning to.

It is the times that the rivers become the feature of the landscape, when they overflow and break the bounds of their banks and tidy little walls, that mark the beginning of September here. In the last decade our area has seen three major flooding events inadequately described as 100 year, 500 year, 1000 year floods - each progressively more catastrophic than before.

The streams making their way to the river caused a lot of damage as well.
The road becomes a river.

I am the kind of person who goes through her private journal on anniversaries of significant dates and tries to get a pulse for what happened then and what has changed since for me. In this case, I had written about another friends wedding just a couple days before the flooding and remarked that I was looking forward to the upcoming rains. I like to pretend that I have the heart of a poor poet and appreciate the wet, gray days (part of the reason I was so at home in West Cork, Ireland). It stood out and I could feel my breath catch in the way that one doesn't know what is right around the corner will change everything and challenge even the staunchest of hearts.

the bridge I cross daily to get to and from work, one of multiple bridges in town. 

Two years ago yesterday I was helping friends dig out from the mud, sludge, and slurry that invaded their apartment when the flooding crested. The water came, the water receded and in its wake left a mess that as a community we are still cleaning up from. From entire neighborhoods being wiped out to a school just down the road from us being closed and pending a completely new building, the flooding was disruptive and catastrophic.

In the time since the flooding the response by the community to any further flood mitigation or preparation has been disappointing to say the least. On the whole, we are not prepared. The flood walls just barely contained the last flood. Homes were abandoned and the ones that could sell have to the lowest denomination of out-of-town landlords, something that strikes fear into any homeowner.

Courtesy of Bill Walsh/NOAA

And now when steady rains come there is a tangible bracing: What if this is like that storm? What if we're cut off again? Even this week we've had 'normal' flooding in low lying areas. Pictures of parking lots under water, roads that dip under railroad passes unpassable (with the obligatory person who really thought they could make it and didn't).

Personally, the best thing I can do is make sure we're prepared. We've talked about getting a small generator - something to run the fridge and freezer (ok, and the coffee pot) if/when the power goes out. This is mainly learning from another friend's experience of losing everything in her freezer twice over. Anyone who has a spare freezer knows that you can fill it rather full and replacing everything in it is a costly endeavor. We are lucky enough to be out of the flood zone, even being closer to the river than we were at our old apartment so our home can be opened to others who need the space in an emergency. In some cases, friends who didn't flood at all ended up losing their water and just needed a place to do laundry and shower.

I am hoping, like everyone else who has been near tragedy or immersed in it, that we don't ever have to deal with this kind of destruction again. Hoping, but not convinced. The politics surrounding the flood maps is enough to make me furious and now that we're two years out, most people - the people who didn't lose everything of course - have moved on with their lives. Mitigation now means taxes and no one wants a raise in taxes. It's frustrating to say the least.

06 September 2013

Further Adventures

It has been a full on couple of weeks. I didn't post last week because we were in the middle of a really big push to get the kitchen functional again and my post would have been the verbal equivalent of drooling on myself from exhaustion.

But now here we are in September - seven weeks after the first hammer fall - and I have hot water, a fridge in its final home, and a stove back in place. Wonders never cease I tell you.

It's been a surreal adventure. I love learning how the guts of a home works. It is messy and complicated in learning, but not knowing how to do something like this really bothers me - not because it is costly to hire people but because it is something within my domain that will likely need to be fixed at some point in my life. I find it aggravating when I don't know how to fix things that are part of basic, everyday living. Waiting on other people? Not a fan. The real trick however is not just knowing how to do something, but how to do it right.

We are so incredibly blessed to have parents and friends who have very unique and awesome skills and more importantly are willing to patiently show us how to do these things. I am a better painter because of family, I am learning how to wire thanks to Jeff's dad and the willingness of a friend's dad (who happens to be a master electrician) come over and show us the ropes, I will be able to plumb a bathroom by the time we finish thanks to my boyfriend (who in turn learned from his family). The sharing of experience by others is a gift I and it means that I am able to learn to do more with less.

Our everyday life is technologically more complicated than our grandparents lives were, and their grandparents before them. Men and women historically could run a household, do the needed repairs, and be relatively self-sufficient without involving specialists. Today this is not the case, at all. And before anyone scoffs that this is going to be a waxing on about the old days post, I assure you I am the last person to do that. Old days meant poor personal hygiene, dysentery, and it being socially acceptable to tar and feather folks -- REALLY not a fan.

It is a fine line to walk between doing something oneself and paying a craftsman to do their job. Craftsmen deserve to be paid well for their time, experience, and an executed job. We pay them because we don't have the time it takes to figure things out and do it right. But - and this is the biggest problem I feel with involving other people in the workings of a home - when you hire someone else to do the job, they're there to be paid, not out of a labor of love or in duty to the home itself.

For Jeff and I, we've discovered that we do have limits and there are some things absolutely worth hiring out which in our case seems to be installing new windows. Tiling, electrical, plumbing... we either know how to do or are learning as we go and adjusting accordingly. Other folks might be old hands at installing windows and think tiling is a ridiculous waste of their time and have someone else do it. It's really a matter of what we are each personally able to handle.

All told, six weeks without a kitchen sink pushed what I was able to handle to the brink of crazytown. We have running water again and everything is slowly finding its way into the cabinets marked with painters tape to help ease the traffic of what goes where. First dinner looks to be homemade alfredo where I might get to use the magical over-the-stove-pot-filler. There's still time in the season, albeit belatedly, to get to the farmers market and pick up foodstuffs for canning.

And of course there are still a lot of little things left to do: Molding, spacers between the cabinet stacks, cabinet lighting... the end of phase two is still several weeks off, but being able to just function in the kitchen makes a huge world of difference. This also means I can start planning thank you dinners! Mmm dinners...

23 August 2013

We Call This Fun

It looks so peaceful and serene. 
Before we go any further, there's just a couple things you should know about me.

1. I have an unfathomable fear of zombies - a burst into tears, freeze up, have nightmares for a month because someone mentioned 'zombie' kind of fear.

2. The only shape I'm in is a rough equivalent to the Pillsbury Doughboy's Sister. I will occasionally go for a 3-4k jog/walk with the dogs, but it's more rare than it is common. The only weights I lift have to do with moving remodeling equipment around the kitchen and laundry.

Ok, so we're clear on those two points? Because those two points are very important to this story.

Saturday morning, Jeff and I got up at the wee hours and got ready to make the three hour trek up to Batavia, NY to do the Run For Your Lives Zombie 5k. It was my first 5k ever, Jeff's second and his second obstacle course race (first being the Tough Mudder, Philly 2013 this past June).

I am not in the best physical shape I could be. I am soft, squishy, and generally value my time sleeping rather than dragging myself out of bed for a much needed run/walk/jog. I have my own issues with how I look and feel. It's not just self image; I had a health scare earlier this summer that knocked my perceptions of myself around pretty hard. I decided to do better for myself. And honestly, after spectating for Jeff at the Tough Mudder, I realized that I would much rather be in the thick of it than standing on the sidelines.

But zombies? Jeff swears up, down, and sideways that a 5k running into zombie hordes was my idea and I swear that I have no recollection of this event and I had obviously taken leave of my senses. I am fairly certain I said something to that effect when we climbed the 4' wall and were met with the first zombie throng.

From the view of the spectators, it was like watching Mutual of Omaha Nature Programme, just with humans playing gazelles (some more gracefully than others I'll grant you) and zombies playing the lions.

Zombies were FAST. NOT FUN. 

To be completely truthful? I sucked. First two hills wiped me out. The dust was intense and thick in my mouth, I had the wrong sneakers for the course, and as soon as Jeff tried to be encouraging with getting me to hustle on with the group I turned into my own version of a half human snarl fest (bless him). I sent him and our other friend joining on the madness on ahead and told them not to worry about me.

This was the point that I realized there was actually someone who had fallen behind even myself and wasn't looking good. The woman - we'll call her M - looked like she was actually in decent shape. She told me she's run other 5k's and hadn't had a problem, but this time she didn't bring her inhaler with her. Road Dust + Run + Asthma = Bad. So rather than run on ahead when I got my wind back, I stuck with her to make sure she didn't die (literally in this case) in between aid points.

We renamed our team Stragglers, especially after we caught up with two other females who lagged behind and had some issues with the messiness of the obstacles (Did I mention the mud? 12"+ in some sections) and just took everything as it came: zombies who ran faster than we did, smoke houses, low crawls, poison ivy. All of it.
It really was *that* disgusting. 

The zombies were pretty awesome. Some were actually quite terrifying. At the point that they became terrifying I had already lost all my flags so there was no point in getting overly stressed. We danced to thriller in one of the sections as a distraction to the zombies, and everyone had a really good time. The obstacles were pretty awesome, although the voltage low crawl and electric shock to my tookus was ... ahem. Rude. (it did put pep in my step, I'll grant everyone that)
The FX team really did an awesome job.... creeeeeeeeeeepy! 

At the end of the race, Jeff and our friend Kory waited for me near one of the obstacles and we ended together -- all of us infected as we had no flags, exhausted, muddy beyond anything, and chomping at the bit for the next race.
Chivalry is not dead. We are of course. 

Despite the poison ivy, mud in places that ought to never have mud, and my lagging-butt time, I'm thrilled I did the event and really looking forward to the next one.

If you decide to take up the Obstacle Course Running as a hobby, here's a few things to keep in mind:

1. Registration is always cheaper further out from the event. These events can be pricy (but worth it, really!), so be sure to get on the email list for your event of choice so that you can pay when it's the cheapest. A lot of places will also discount your race if you volunteer at the race itself. If you're looking to meet people, this is a really awesome way to do it.

2. The Right Shoes Are VERY Important. I was an idiot and took my urban trainers which had NO tread on them. It's a miracle I didn't snap my already banged up ankle. Train in trail settings with trail shoes for these things.

3. Bring a change of clothing. And a towel. And be prepared to have mud in places later that night when you get home.

4. Bring spectators. They are awesomely helpful to have around with picture taking and watching stuff. A lot of sites will have a bag check, but most places charge for it. Bring friends who aren't entirely convinced of how awesome an idea these things are and they will - nine times out of ten - want to join in on the next one.

5. If you are not in the best shape of your life and are using this as an excuse to not do something like this, do it anyway. Have fun with it and use it as motivation. No kidding. I felt a hundred times better about myself at the end of the race despite being 'infected' and despite having to walk. I completed it. I want to get better. I can actually see it happening now.

And most importantly, really, have fun.
Tired, filthy, and ready to go again.