Monday, December 30, 2013

A Lion Heart


No matter the culture, or what the actual date is, the days around New Year are always about reflecting on the past and our hopes for the future. Like most holidays, it marks time, a before-after-point, however artificial, in our lives. We remember years, as we learn about time, first school years, then calendar years. Even before time existed for us, our childhood memories were organized as our childhood pictures are: by summers and Christmases and birthdays.

Something about a set date inspires us to pin our hopes for change, our goals, our aspirations to it. I've never been one for big resolutions on the New Year, or my birthday, or before a certain age, but I have a feeling that this coming year is going to be big and amazing, fertile ground to set all kinds of wild and woolly dreams free.

Change is a funny thing. Before it happens, it seems intimidating, unsurmountable, sometimes unfathomable, yet the moment it arrives, good, or bad, it becomes our reality.

I don't know about you, but change is hard for me. I dread its arrival, worry about its consequences. Or at least that's what I've always thought. Yet, I've often sought it, made intuitive decisions at moment's notice, turned on my heels and gone the opposite way. I've changed countries, continents, careers, life plans, married someone after knowing them scarcely a year, embraced the utter unknown against all reason on the strength of my internal compass and looking back, it's never led me astray. The opposite, in fact. Whenever I've truly been lost in my life, I've chosen change and found myself again and again.

Well, sometimes I've found myself at rather strange places and circumstances, but found none the less. Beggars can't be and all that...

For me, 2013 has been the year in waiting, the seemingly everlasting moment when things just hang in the air right before gravity takes hold, a place of uncertainty and tension. That's not to say that nothing happened, there was plenty of life and movement, and our "new" lives have been in steady motion in the last quarter of the year, but it has decidedly been twelve months of the "what if?".

I guess what I'm trying to say, is that, I'm ready. Come what may. That you can't fear the inevitable. And while all this other stuff is changing, I'm actually resolved to make a few additional changes and take a couple of extra risks.

We're going forward with our bravest selves first, not the brash, bragging ones, asserting their own bravery, but just deciding to trust our instincts, ready to pick the good fight. More than anything, to me, being brave is the going towards the big, scary things and trusting that you'll somehow manage.

This spring I was getting a lot of readings that warned me about a coming change, emphasis on the word warned. They were making me rather apprehensive because they implied nothing about the quality of the change. That is until Amber let me borrow her Wild Unknown Tarot at the Herbal Symposium. I asked the same question that had been plaguing me all spring and this is the card I pulled. The very same one that appeared this morning.

"The Two of Pentacles signifies inevitable change. Since the pentacles suit relates to earthly possessions this usually means a new job, financial situation, or a move. Even if you fear this change it needs to happen & might even be fun. Face it with the grace of a newly formed butterfly...a world of possibilities balanced upon your delicate wings."

A change is coming for sure. It's already here. You know, because it's like, the only constant and stuff.

We don't really none of us have choice about this do we?


I do however, promise you that some things will never change. In the coming year, you will most certainly still be subjected to plenty of pictures of my cats, fowls, the natural world, this red polka-dot frock, my handsome husband, activist rants, book reviews, wild edibles, folk-remedies, thoughts on love, art, human-animal-relations, fairy-tales and mismatched floral patterns.

I'll finally reveal our new undertakings and shower you with gratitude for your patience with my elusive hinting.

In addition, you will hopefully be able to read about the following topics here in the coming year:
Radical Feminism, God, Religion, Spirituality and FaithFemale Friendships,  The Practice of The Tarot, The Death of Blogging,  Why Would You Not Have Children?!?!?Wild Women of The WoodsClothes and Consumerism. To start with...

What's changing for you and yours in the new year? Do you thrive on change, or like me, feel a little intimidated by it?

And hey, Happy New Year!




Wednesday, December 25, 2013

From The Bottom Of My Chocolate-Covered-Low-Lactose-Jelly Heart...

Well, I don't know about you, but I did not entirely succeed in not being a grinch about Christmas. By the time Solstice is over I'm usually ready to spend a couple of weeks in bed with my books and notes and pencils and ideas. I'm ready for long walks and the aimless wandering and organizing stones into stacks and twigs into spirals. I'm ready for camping trips and  I'm ready to sew and make small things. I'm ready for solitude.

What I'm not ready for is more socializing, hanging out, pressure to make amazing food, or give good gifts, or this year,even for the great, intense work that this new year will inevitably require.
                 
This morning though, the traditional day of Christmas celebrations, I suddenly felt my Grinch-y-ness lift. You could even say I got into the "spirit of Christmas" (but I would probably roll my eyes at you).
                 
It suddenly occurred to me that I was about to get to spend time with some of our nearest and dearest people. That right now, we were all making time for each other, gathering, not around gifts and pressure and expectations, but family. That any stress that occurs is caused, not by Yuletide itself, but our forgetting what the spirit of the season really is.

And like always, as soon as I let go of those expectations, ideas of how how things might be, or should be, they turned out just fine wonderful. I made four kinds of Finnish food, Christmas and otherwise and we had a long, leisurely breakfast with our dearest friends, neighbors and soon-to-be business partners.
               
We talked and goofed around and ate till we could no more, and no one was in a rush to get anywhere, because by now things that needed to be done are finished, for better or worse.


Later we each walked around the neighborhood, doing chores. There was the kind quiet about, that I associate with this time, a hush that falls on the neighborhoods back home, when all the stores are closed and all the rushing about is done and there's nothing more to do to settle into the dark and the quiet and the warm inside and the cold outside.


Later in the afternoon, Mali came over and hung out while I prepared some more Finnish Christmas foods. She's only here for a spell, so it was a real treat to see her. She going trough big, amazing changes in her life too and it's so good to see her in person and catch up.
                    


As the rest of our dinner crowd appeared, all a little late, all toting wonderful foods and bottles of bubbly drinks, it struck me again how blessed and lucky we are with this oddball "family" to add to our "real" families. How rich in good food and good cheer and warmth.
             
Some gifts were given, some were received, none expected. A few decorations put in place, like my grandmother's star ornament, the straw goat and the knitted tonttu. There were lots of hilarious stories and serious stories and jokes about German-Mexican fusion food.

Having this wonderful day, reminded me of what I love about this time of year: the sweetness and sincerity and generosity of it. The traditions that link these seasons together, that make us who we are, the new traditions we make with new friends and new families. The foods, the decorations, the songs that represent them.

For the most part I prefer the somber, melancholy Finnish Christmas songs and hymns to their jollier American counterparts. There is something very spiritual about them, beyond their apparent religious message even. So much so, that even though my own family was never Christian, we would often go to Church on Christmas morning.

Those early mornings, when the light, or rather the darkness, was still that inexplicable Northern blue, as we walked to church trough luminous snow, I would hope that the choir might sing my very favorite Finnish Christmas song.

It's called, loosely translated " I Seek Not Power Nor Glory". If there's one lessons I'm learning from this Yule season, it is to play that song often and early in December.

It goes something like this:

I seek not power, nor glory
I do not long for gold,
But ask only for the light of Heaven
and peace on Earth

This Christmas brings
that which makes us happy
and lifts our minds to God

Not power nor glory,
but peace on Earth

Grant me a quiet cabin
and a tree for the children,
the light of  the Holy word
and my soul will come to shine

Bring to each home
no matter how small
the sweetest celebration 
of Christmas

The light of  the Holy word
and a generous spirit

To rich and poor alike
comes Christmas time
bringing into the darkness of the world
the light of Heaven

I long for thee
I wait for thee
O Lord of Heaven and Earth

To the rich and poor alike 
bring Christmas time


I love that a song as old as this reminds us of the perils of materialism and how important to just be in the moment and be grateful for what you have. That this celebration, in this incarnation, or I imagine, the previous ones is about having a moment of quiet in the cacophony of the World. A moment of giving, a day of seize-fires. A short window in time when we focus on being together, feeding each other, having a grand time...

Every year for Christmas my mom sends us a box of Finnish chocolates. It's becoming a family tradition. We dole out the chocolates carefully, a few at a time. We spend a great deal of time selecting them and enjoy them slowly. My favorite is the chocolate-covered-jelly-heart, according to the packaging it is the only low-lactose candy in the bunch. Both jelly and lack of lactose make C. very suspicious of it, but to me, it's a part of the little tiny things that make Christmas: family, friends, melancholy songs about the holiness of the moment, the smell of cardamom bread, lovingly packed faraway candies. It really doesn't take much to have perfectly imperfectly decent Christmas time.

So here's me wishing you a Merry Christmas (or whatever holiday, or non-holiday you choose to celebrate) From The Bottom Of My Chocolate-Covered-Low-Lactose-Jelly Heart!



  

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Solstice Morning Miracle

I had a whole other post planned, about rites and magic and Wild Women Of The Woods, but when you, you know, manifest an abundance of snow, for Solstice morn, screw that!


Welcome to our Winter Wonderland.
                  
Bird tracks, curious animals, nervous chickens, scared-y cats...

Running errands in the soft-contoured landscape. Having snowball fights. Neighbors visiting, stopping by to bring gifts and drink tea.

                  
                  
Preparing for the Long Dance, in our cozy house, all sounds insulated by a white coating.


I could not have asked for a sweeter Solstice present. Even if it only lasts a day.
                  

Merry, joyful Solstice time everyone. May your night be dark and your dawn be glorious!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Neighborhood Watch


One of the many things I love about this house is our neighbors. There's nothing like being able to walk over for a quick visit, to borrow something, or give your favorite baby a snuggle.
           
The folks we're renting from have family on adjacent pieces of land, so there's lots of paths between the different houses. There's many dear friends living within walking distance, though our awesome former neighbors are really far away now, which makes me sad.

Still, while we haven't had much time to really explore, or take walks, each day we get a few little walks and visits in. Or, sometimes, many.
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Just today I've walked a few paces East to let out and feed, our next-door neighbor's chickens, bantams and turkeys, then a little ways South to babysit two of my favorite little dudes. Next, I hopped home to make C. lunch and a neighbor dropped by on her afternoon stroll. After lunch, C. walked back to work, I biked over to Lissa's  five minutes down the road.

On the way back, I stopped by the other neighbors where C. now spends his days. Then I went home and made a fire.

A little later I walked back to the neighbor's to lock in the chickens and to try to sneak some eggs into the cars of some friends who work for our neighbors. Those birds make so many eggs in so many sizes, tiny bantam ones and giant turkey ones, that after just a few days of caring for the birds we're kind of drowning in eggs.

Then back down the road to talk another neighbor about a project. Then home again in the dusk.
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The best part is that most all of these little journeys are made on foot, on little paths in the woods and fields between our dwellings. It's certainly more fun darting in and out of the trees than being on the paved road.

These days, we drive about a third of our driving just a few months ago. Sometimes four or five days pass without us setting foot in a car. It's the little things.
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Do you know your neighbors? Do you visit with each other often?

Okay, back to Santa's workshoppe.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Help yourself, but for the love of God, help someone else too!


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The title is borrowed from a Finnish lifestyle-blogger who had grown exasperated by a weekend of navel-gazing mindfulness meditation.

This supposed season of giving has got me thinking about how selfless I really can be, the though (and sometimes humbling) lessons one learns in trying to be a little more altruistic.

I'm going to try to keep it short and sweet, because frankly, when it comes to generosity and kindness, talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words.

If there's one thing that continuously puzzles me about the alternative strain of our Western culture, not to mention the culture as a whole, it is how self-absorbed it seems at times. If a developing nation amidst a crises, got a dollar for every time one of us took time to "work on myself", bought a "happiness"-inducing self-help book, or "manifested abundance for ourselves", they'd probably be manifesting an abundance of food, livelihoods, shelter, education and healthcare with those funds.
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While there is nothing inherently wrong with working towards becoming a happier, more balanced, more mindful individual, our impulses to better our own internal lives, are all too often accompanied by a focus solely on the self. Self-discovery, building self-esteem, self-love, self-help can all be good things, but often they're not means to an end, but an enforcement of the solipsistic impulses inherent in human nature. Also known as selfishness.
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This focus on "me", instead of "us", does not serve a society that already holds individualism and individual freedom as its core mores. In fact, there is a growing concern that on the whole we are growing less and less empathetic and attuned to the needs of others. And sure, it would seems that if everyone simply thought of others before themselves, it would solve a lot of our problems as a species.

It is interesting to watch people's reactions to situations that require magnanimity, empathy and generosity. Some people are fluidly and graciously giving, as though it's second nature to them, while others grudgingly do what they know is right. Still others calculate what benefit their "generosity" can yield them in the end and some seem to simply not see that another person might need something that's well within their power to give. Sometimes people are even willfully miserly, deriving pleasure from denying others their attention, help, or affection.

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It's often the people who demand the most of those things, that are the least likely to give them to others. Folks who take more than they give, never ask how anyone else is doing, who love talking about themselves without being able to make it relevant to a wider context, or see another's point of view, who rejoice not in exchange, but in being in the right, who demand attention, love and help, but feel disinclined to give these things to others.

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Actually, it's particularly illuminating to observe my own reactions to those situations. While it's easy to see the shortcomings of others, I find that personally, I can be impressively myopic about my own selfish impulses. In many ways they are second nature too, a learned behavior that's easy to slip into when "I'm tired, poor, over-worked, under-payed, unappreciated.".

Everyday we're all faced with situations where we're asked to give more than we'd like to, more than we feel like we comfortably could. To part with our time, our resources, our energy, our love and care.

One of the most important lessons I'm continuously learning is that our resources are not diminished by our being generous with them. More often than not they're multiplied, because generosity breeds generosity. Not necessarily in the direct exchange of "I'll scratch your back, if you scratch mine.", but in that  when everyone's generous with what they have, eventually everyone also ends up in the receiving end of that generosity.


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When I feel stretched to my limit, worn out, like I've given my all, it's sometimes hard to imagine giving any more, yet for the last few years I've tried to make sure that I push myself, step outside my comfort zone and "pretend" that I'm more naturally generous than I am. Often, acting like you wish you naturally would, eventually becomes part your innate behavior.

I've found that though often feels easier to hold "yours" close to your chest, to be stingy with your time, to feel like the wittiest person in the room at the expense of others, than act like your better self, this ease is like feasting on junk food; it leaves me totally empty in the end, whereas if I hold my tongue, offer help that others don't necessarily even ask for, give generously from what I have, I usually end up with more of all of those things and a happy fullness, a sense of completeness.

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Of course, one does not do nice things for others to gain more, or the feel righteous, those are just some of the nice fringe benefits of giving.


Nothing makes me feel more generous than the awe and gratitude for the generosity others have shown me. There's also nothing more humbling. Generosity and magnanimity have the power to speak louder than words about that which is truly important in life; they strengthen the common human bonds of family, friendship and community. In fact without them, those connections can become troubled and hollow.

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Generosity is intimately tied to gratitude, another new age-y standby, because acknowledging all that we got (And let's face it, as a reader pointed out on my Rich & Poor-post, most of us have a lot more than most people most everywhere.) can sometimes help us see what we can part with.

Anytime is a good time to practice generosity both material and spiritual, but Christmas seems like a particularly apt season for it. So here's how I'm personally trying to be a little more generous this December:

1. Charitable causes instead of gifts, but cards and letters too. Just because I gave your gift money away doesn't mean that you don't deserve to know how much I care about you.
2. Doing things I don't particularly enjoy for the sake of others. And not being a scrooge about it.
3. Offering to help friends and neighbors even when they don't ask for help. This has already created some fun assignments.
4. Giving someone something they want, that's within my power to grant, even if it's inconvenient for me.
5. Doing nice things for complete strangers. This is a good way to practice having zero expectations of reciprocity, even on a subconscious level.

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(Hi. Check out this picture of me while I write about self-absorption and stuff)

Feeling generous?


ps. Both these women have been very generous to me and now they're practicing the same for whomsoever would like a chance for a little extra magic in their Solstice. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Merry And Bright


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In the last few days HeatherMary and Julie have written sweet posts about what the Christmas/ Solstice/ Holiday season means to them. Heather talked about her admirably positive attitude in relation to family and tradition, Mary about how to make the holidays less stressful and more fun with planning and spreading out events and traditions all throughout the month and Julie wrote about creating a celebration out of thin air, love and resourcefulness.
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I hail from a country in which the celebrating of Christmas is universal and pervasive and practically mandatory, a true part of our cultural landscape. While I can grasp it intellectually, I still reflexively puzzle over people who don't celebrate Yuletide, Pagans, Jewish folks, Taoists...I get it, but I don't seem to quite get it.

There have been many times since my teens that I've not spent the holidays with my folks, but I've never not celebrated, whether it be with friends, or a few glorious times, all by my lonesome. _DSC6664
While most of my life my holiday stress has been low to nonexistent, there have definitely been times when I wish we could just skip Christmas for a year and hibernate for the month of December.

Since we started our life as a married couple, the last two weeks of December have been a kind of overwhelming tide of celebration for us. First it's Solstice, then Christmas Eve, which is when I like to celebrate the holiday, then Christmas Day, when everyone else likes to celebrate it, then C's birthday and New Year's Eve. Five celebrations, ten days.
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Considering that we start preparing for the Solstice Long Dance the Sunday after Thanksgiving, it can all sometimes feel like a little too much. As in the wider world, where Christmas time seems to be the premium consumerist holiday, a stress-inducing money-pit and even a play-like mock-up of the real event, everyone dutifully playing their part without much genuine emotion; every once in a while I wake up and notice that the preparations actually swallow up all the joy of the season.
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Feeling so removed from the traditions of my own country, living in this snowless expanse where, no matter how you try to avoid them, the idealized, sanitized, materialistic side of Christmas is ever-present these days, the holidays sometimes feel like a burden, something to trudge through.
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At those times it's important to me to remind myself of all the things I do enjoy about this season, all of which are ritualistic: the crafting, making cards and wreaths and wrapping up homemade teas and syrups, and condiments the baking and the traditional foods, the gingerbread and mulled wine and Christmas bread, the candles lit in the darkness of long, cold nights. I even enjoy the traditional Finnish songs and hymns of Yuletide.  This year I've decided to just try to make the most of December, but do it my own way.
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It's important to me to separate that which I love about Christmas traditions, from that which I feel like I should keep, but actually are just so much of learned behavior.

For instance, I would love to have a Christmas tree, but since we don't have little people and I've heard plenty of my hub's tales of Christmas tree farms and the fact that I don't know anyone with forest plot full of tiny firs in need of thinning, I'd rather just grab some windfalls and get that smell of fresh tree from them.
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I may have mentioned before that we're not big on "obligatory gifts", such as birthdays and anniversaries, but rather prefer giving and receiving gifts when the right one comes along. Therefor, I have some gifts for some folks and no gifts for others and am absolutely not going to stress out about it this year.


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As foor foods, I'm excited to bake a lot this season, but to spread it out so that I'll do gingerbread this week, bread next week and so forth, instead of cramming it all into a few days before the holidays. That way, as Mary pointed out, the "Holiday Season" actually feels like a season and not a month of preparation for one day, which often cannot possibly live up to your expectations.
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And if you're like me and find eggnog somewhat unpalatable and puzzling, fear not, I have invented a wintry drink with a little bit more bite and less sweetness: black tea, honey and whisky. Or maybe if you're adventurous, chai tea and whisky.
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During out recent cold spell, hot beverages have been a lifesaver.
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The best way to snap out holiday funk, is of course, a genuine winter experience, like a sudden freeze, or snowfall.
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There's something totally magical and childlike about cold weather here in these latitudes. While winter in Scandinavia lends itself to thousands of storybook landscapes and adventures, six months of ice and snow, frozen lakes and oceans take on a ho-hum quality, compared to two inches of snow, or two days of frozen ponds out here.
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I don't know if I've ever felt so over-joyed with cold weather, than I have here, in spite the poorly insulated houses, dull ice-skates and pitiful snows._DSC6620
During a cold spell our daily routines are suspended. We make time to play, to hang out with friends, to marvel at the world.
       

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We stand on the ponds watching leaves and vegetation, still-lives inside the ice, we look for fish, for bugs moving beneath it.
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There's a sense of real joy sitting by the fire under a new moon, watching the determined, but mostly hilariously inept skaters glide and fall and whoop with delight.
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It is the strange feeling that one is in a book, or a scene, a story, but at the same time there's a complete attentiveness to one's surroundings that often accompanies true happiness, the feeling of being fully embedded, present in a moment.
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It's then that this season really feels merry and bright the way the darkest time of year must have before electric lights and central heating. When we had gratitude and wonder for the light of the stars and the warmth of the pale winter sun. I never thought I'd say this in a million years, but I really, truly love cold weather and Christmas time really doesn't feel the same without it. How things change...
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How about you? Christmas: yay, nay, or WTF?

ps. Current favorite Scandinavian un-Christmas music to put you in a clear and wintry mood.