Monday, December 30, 2013

Out With the Old, In With the New

It is finally here!  I have been waiting quite some time for this.  The final hours of 2013 are ticking away.  Oh, thank the Goddess, I made it!  It has been quite the year, full of urgency, emergencies, sadness, grief, conflict, and disarray.  Yes, there were some real shining moments for me in there too, like the birth of my niece, the Sweet Pea, and getting my Master Gardener certification.  But, for a while there, I thought that there was no way I would survive the year with my spirit and sanity intact. Yet, here I am, a little worn around the edges, maybe a few more gray hairs and a few more lines etched into my face, but wiser and stronger than I was at the start.  This year, life was in session, with a huge blackboard, a thick textbook, a ton of homework and, occasionally, a huge ruler to crack over my head.  And so, I say, goodbye, good riddance, and don't let the door hit you in the ass, 2013!

Now it is time to turn my attention to the beginning of a new year.  Time to smudge the house, again, to sprinkle salt at the doorways and sweep out the nasties, to light the bayberry candles for good luck in the coming year, and to lift my glass of champagne to 2014 at midnight.  It is a time for new beginnings, to put the lessons of the past year to good use.  There is a garden to plan, plant and nurture.  There is a book to be written.  There is a hubby to love, to cherish, and to grow another year older with.  There is a son to love, encourage, and prepare to set off on his life journey.  There is a Sweet Pea to cheer through her every milestone.  There are friends and family to make memories with.  There is magic to be made.  There are so many wonderful things to come.  I can feel it, deep in my bones.

And with that, I wish you all a very Happy New Year.  May 2014 bring you much love, peace, joy, good health and prosperity.

Blessings!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Musings for a Late Autumn Day

Today I awoke wanting to write.  I have nothing specific in mind, no designated topic, no real point to convey but, perhaps by the end of this, it will reveal itself.

It's a very busy week here in the Village Wise Woman's household and gardens.  The leaves keep falling from the surrounding trees and I continue to rake them up into the garden beds, partly to keep the property looking tidy but also because I have a nagging feeling that this Winter will be harsh and the garden beds must be as insulated as possible.  The trees are nearly bare, a few leaves still hanging in there, refusing to give up yet.  The calendula and nasturtiums took their final bow last week and I have since removed them.  All the herbs are harvested and put up to dry.  It will soon be time to take them down for storage in jars and bags or to make my smudge sticks.  The resident birds have all settled into their different homes - a bush over here, a hedge over there, the brush beneath a shrub, or the hanging homes I set out for them.  The groundhog has not been spotted for a week or two so I think he or she has settled in for the Winter.  A quiet has settled over my gardens.

My Master Gardener classes are coming to an end and I find myself a bit sad about it.  It has been so much fun and I have learned so much over the past three months.  Although I will be seeing my fellow classmates at meetings or volunteer opportunities or in my project group, I will miss them all.  I will miss heading to class every Thursday and meeting up with all those wonderful unique personalities - students, instructors and long-time Master Gardeners.  I will miss the beautiful spread of food that the Master Gardeners prepare for the students each week for our break time.  There are always lovely healthy salads, fruit, and home-baked cookies.  Somehow gardening and good food go hand-in-hand.  I will even miss my trips on the trolley (something I thought I would never say).  As sad as I am to see my classes coming to an end, I am excited about my future as a certified Master Gardener and all the great things that will come of it.

Thanksgiving is in a week and I am quite busy preparing the house, and myself, for the holiday.  I am again hosting Thanksgiving for my family, as I have over the past 10 years, since my Mom passed away.  We all find ourselves faced with another rough and raw celebration again this year, with the loss of my Dad three months ago.  He loved coming to my house on Thanksgiving, reveled in the food, the company, my ever-growing gardens, and my witchy Martha Stewart holiday d├ęcor.  It will be so difficult to not hear him calling me out of the kitchen so he can praise my arrangement of gourds, pumpkins and candles.  I could always count on him to be impressed by my natural decorating skills.  He always said grace before the platters began their rotations around the table.  This task is now mine.  I am not the great orator that my Dad was so I am working on a written blessing.  I am not even sure I will be able to get through it but I can only try.  My middle sister told me last weekend that she can't even really think about the vegetables for Thanksgiving because they were one of his favorite parts of the meal.  It is strange what can make you fall apart when you lose someone.  But, even with all the sadness of the holiday, we will have joy too.  It radiates from the new addition to our family, my niece.  We will watch her sit at the table in her high chair, sneaking her little teeny bits of Thanksgiving dinner, making her giggle with delight, and sharing in her first ever Thanksgiving.

So, perhaps the point here is that, amid loss, sadness and endings, there is gain, joy and beginnings.  The wheel continues to turn.  Yes, I think that is the message I have been given today.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

So It Ends, So It Begins

I awoke this morning to very chilly weather, downright cold actually, and a light snow falling, looking much worse than it is by the gusty wintery wind.  I stood at the kitchen window, sipping coffee and gazing out.  Golden Autumn leaves held on to branches for dear life and the bright yellow and orange calendula and jewel-toned nasturtium flowers still blooming in my patio garden shivered under the icy blast.  So many emotions washed over me - relief because I prepared the garden for this, sadness because the growing season is over, hope and joy because another is to come, and a bit of a thrill at seeing snow.

Preparing the garden for Winter officially began Saturday afternoon.  I focused on the last of the tomatoes, mostly green, plucking them from the stems and placing them in a basket to bring indoors.  I pulled each plant carefully from the soil, cutting them into smaller bits and placing them in a paper bag to go to the county compost pile.  I hated doing this.  Each plant was still flowering, still sending out new fruit.  It felt wrong, like I was breaking a law.  It had to be done though.  I could not risk the last of the tomato harvest to the upcoming weather forecast.  I underestimated how long this process would take.  Daylight was waning. So I called it quits for the day, vowing to be out bright and early on Sunday morning and leaving a few smaller bruised tomatoes for my resident critters, and headed indoors with a heavy heart and a brimming basket of green tomatoes, spending the rest of the evening researching what to do with all of them.

I returned to the garden at 9 a.m. sharp the next day, turning my attention to my herbs.  I harvested what I could, cutting each plant carefully back.  Sage, thyme, oregano, marjoram, catmint - all could be left there with a bit of mulching to return in Spring.  The rosemary, lemon verbena and lavender needed heavy insulation against the elements.  I encircled each one in some small garden fencing, surrounded them in fallen leaves, and then wrapped them in burlap.  The basil, alas, would not survive the upcoming Winter.  I took a few cuttings indoors for growing and pulled the plants out, their fresh scent enveloping me, making me long for Spring.  While I did all of this, my hubby put away all the tomato cages and trellises and tidied up behind me as I moved along the herb garden.  Another rosemary plant, more like a small shrub and kept on my patio in a large pot through Spring, Summer and early Fall, was moved indoors to the sun porch.  I stowed away some of our Summer patio needs - the candles, the barbecue utensils, some unused empty pots.  As I finished up, I thanked the Goddess for all the joy, all the beauty, and all the gifts the garden gave to me and my family and friends over the past growing season.  I spent the rest of the day dividing fresh fragrant herbs to give to my sisters and a few neighbors and setting some aside to be dried.

Yesterday, I was out in the garden again.  I gathered up all the fallen Autumn leaves I could, from my property and, I must admit, from a neighbor or two, and covered all the beds with them, to protect and insulate perennials and to mulch down into the soil.  I do this every year and I have noticed, with each Spring, that the soil is even richer than the last, dark and moist, perfect for growing and nurturing.  As the last of the tree leaves fall over the next week or so, I will gather more and put them in the beds, until I have a thick layer over everything.  Then I will only have to prune a few shrubs and pull the annual flowers out of their beds and it will be done.

But it will also be beginning.  Deep below the surface of the soil, the roots of perennials, the seeds sown by Summer winds and the bulbs of early Spring flowers will be resting, waiting to burst forth with the first stirrings of warmer longer days.  I will be waiting too, gardening catalogs and notebooks piled around me wherever I rest in the house on the coming cold Winter days and nights, making new plans, sketching new visions, researching new additions to the garden.  Just as my garden will be preparing to grow anew, so will I.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Bad 'Isms


Today, a Facebook friend of mine, shared a blog post from two years ago in which she wrote about how retailers were bombarding us with Christmas just as Samhain/Halloween was winding up.  (You can read that here:  http://anthrobum.blogspot.com/2011/12/devolution-of-holidays.html )  This started me reminiscing about Christmases past, thinking about Christmas present, and wondering how bad things will be for Christmases future.
When I was a kid, there was not even a mention of Christmas in my house until Thanksgiving.  My sisters and I would awake Thanksgiving morning, waft downstairs on the aroma of roasting turkey, and find a little gift from Mom for each of us, our first hint that Christmas was on its way.  It was always the same gift.  A Night Before Christmas coloring book and a small box of crayons.  While we colored away at the kitchen table, Mom continued the dinner preparations.  In an annual tradition on a local radio station, at 10 a.m. sharp, a longtime Philadelphia DJ, Pierre Robert, would play Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant (he still does to this day).   Crayons down!  Time to sing and dance with Mom!  For 20 minutes!  Wait for it to come around again on the guitar!  Then, back to cooking and coloring until, at noon, right after Santa appeared miraculously in both the Macy’s parade and the Philadelphia parade (how did he do that?!?), there would be the annual Thanksgiving tradition of watching Miracle on 34th Street.  And none of these colorized or updated versions!  The good old 1947 black and white film with Edmund Gwenn was what we watched on an old little TV in the kitchen, one that you had to use pliers to change the channel.  And that’s when the first of the Christmas commercials, usually from Gimbels, Folgers, Coca Cola and Budweiser, would be aired.  Ahhh, remember those days?

Well, not anymore, Folks.  Not in 2013.  No.  Instead, picture this.  It was the Monday before Samhain.  I needed more pumpkins and Halloween candy.  The hubby and I headed to the local supermarket where there were a ton of pumpkins lined up outside on Sunday, just one day before.  The hubby let me out in front of the store and he took the car to gas up.  I looked around.  No pumpkins.  I headed inside, thinking that they must have moved them indoors.  Maybe they were afraid of the upcoming Mischief Night shenanigans and did not want their merchandise destroyed.  I get inside and walk around the store - the produce aisles, the front, the back, and the middle where the seasonal aisle was.  No pumpkins.  Ok.  Just get my candy and then hunt for a clerk to point me in the direction of the hidden pumpkin display.  Right?  NO!  Where did the Halloween candy go?!  Lucky for me, there was a clerk right there, STOCKING CHRISTMAS CANDY!  And here is the conversation that ensued:
“Excuse me, Miss.  Could you tell me where the Halloween candy is?”

“We have a couple of shelves left around the other side here.”
“Oh.  Okay.  Could you also tell me where the pumpkins are?”

“We don’t have any.”
“Will you be getting another shipment tomorrow?”

“Why would we?”
“Because it is three days before Halloween and 30 days before Thanksgiving.”

Blank stare.
“Oh, I get it.  You guys feel the need to push Christmas on us BEFORE HALLOWEEN EVEN GETS HERE!”

Yes.  I admit it.  I did yell at the poor girl there.  I didn’t mean to do it.  It just happened.  I was just so angry.  My hubby found me wandering aimlessly in the store and I proceeded to rant about commercialism, capitalism and the power of the almighty dollar.  He calmly got me back into the car, drove to another store where they had six – count ‘em! Six! – pumpkins, and picked out the best one.  Mission accomplished.
But that supermarket where I yelled at the poor clerk was not the only offender.  I saw Christmas displays up in all different stores from early September onward.  Really?  I mean, really?  While I was trying to get into the spirit of Mabon, department stores were already decking the halls.  There I am watching The Good Witch series marathon the weekend before Halloween and that channel was advertising that Christmas movies start airing as of November 2nd.  Where are the Thanksgiving movies?  (Are there any?)  I should have known this was where we were headed when I saw Christmas trees for sale a week before Thanksgiving last year.  And people were actually buying them!  I could not imagine a Thanksgiving dinner with a Christmas tree already up in a corner of the living room all aglow, browning as quickly as the turkey.  It’s just…unnatural.

So what will it be in another ten years?  Christmas displays rolling out just as the kids get out of the school for the Summer?  Christmas music and movies just as they go back after Labor Day?  People sipping hot cocoa around a blazing fire, the Christmas tree shining brightly with lights and ornaments, at Easter?  I hope not.
I will continue to follow the rhythm of nature.  My home will be filled with Autumn nearly to the end of the season.  Yule decorating begins in my home right around the second week of December.  My holiday gift shopping will not begin until the week after Thanksgiving.  I do not go out shopping Thanksgiving night or on Black Friday!  My Yule tree will be picked out and brought into my house only a day or two before the Winter Solstice.  I won’t listen to a holiday song until…well, right after Pierre plays Alice’s Restaurant.

It’s all so sad really.  People are missing out on the beauty of Autumn because they are being forced by retailers and corporations to think about the most costly holiday of the year.  There’s a scene in Miracle on 34th Street where Kris Kringle is talking with the young janitor, Alfred, about the commercialism of Christmas which I think sums it all up:  “Yeah, there’s a lot of bad ‘isms floatin’ around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism.  Make a buck, make a buck.”

Sunday, November 3, 2013

November in My Magical Garden


It is November in the Village Wise Woman Garden.  Samhain, the final harvest, has come and gone.  Yet, some inhabitants of the garden apparently did not receive the memo.  The tomato plants are still in flower and new fruit emerges every day.  The nasturtiums and calendulas continue to unfurl bright green leaves and to send out a flower here and there.  A lone coneflower plant has suddenly appeared with three buds of purple unfurling as we speak.  All of the herbs - catmint, thyme, sage, and basil among them – are still abundant and fragrant.  But it is time to set my mind to the tasks ahead to prepare the garden and my magical household for Winter.

November is my time to dry and store the herbs from my garden.  I cut all of my herbs back, most by two-thirds, and tote them indoors in large wicker baskets.  My kitchen then becomes a processing center.  The herbs are all trimmed, bundled, and placed upside down in labeled paper lunch bags.  The bags are then tied off at the top with a rubber band, have holes poked into them to allow for some air circulation and to prevent molding, and then hung from my kitchen ceiling.  The kitchen becomes a fragrant haven over the next few weeks.  A cool November breeze through an open window carries the various herbal scents through the house.

After about three weeks, the herbs are prepared for their assorted uses.  Smudge sticks of sage, lavender, and rosemary are made for use throughout the year.  The leaves and/or flowers of many herbs for use in teas, cooking and magical workings for the coming year are stored in jars or bags and placed on shelves in my kitchen in a colorful crowded display.  I will make candles and soaps with some of these herbs come February.  Some will be ground down and used in holiday meals while others will be used to help overcome Winter chills or colds.  Any seeds are stored in small jars in the refrigerator for blessing at Ostara and later plantings.

There are some herb plants that I just cannot live without through the Winter months.  Some basil from the garden is transplanted into a pot or two for indoors.  My rosemary plants, more like shrubs now, are dug up, potted up and put on my enclosed sun porch to protect them from Winter storms.  Both of these plants scent the air beautifully and uplift the spirits of all in the house.  My geraniums are also brought in and continue to blossom through the darkest coldest days of the year, reminding me that soon the days will grow longer again and the garden will once again burst with life.

And the last of the tomatoes?   Many are not ripe yet.  There are many recipes for green tomatoes so, most likely, that is where they are headed.  I am thinking a green tomato relish could work well and be used through the Winter.  So it looks like I will be branching out into the world of canning in the next week or so.  The ripened tomatoes will be used immediately for salads or tomato sauce, adding a little love magic to dinner.

The rest of the garden will be allowed to die back, the withered leaves and branches falling back to the soil to insulate what lies beneath to be reborn in Spring.  A layer of compost followed by a layer of mulched Autumn leaves will be placed over every garden bed for extra protection.  The coneflower seed heads will be left right where they are to reseed for Spring or for the birds to feast upon when the feeders are in need of replenishing.  Watching my feathered friends from the kitchen window will bring me joy when the Winter weather keeps me indoors.  The flowering shrubs and bushes will go dormant to await pruning right after Imbolc.

I have much to do out there in the garden and here, where I sit right now, in my kitchen in the coming days of November.  By the time Thanksgiving arrives, the Village Wise Woman Garden will be protected and ready for the Winter’s onslaught of elements and I will leave an offering of thanks to the garden spirits and to Mother Earth.  My garden has given me an entire year of gifts – delicious flavors, heady scents, breathtaking colorful sights, and bountiful magic.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Near The Thinning Veil

The veil is thinning.  Samhain is upon us and there are signs of it everywhere.  I see it in the changing color of the leaves, crimson, orange and gold against the blue sky as they float on the air in their final descent to the ground.  It is in the rich scent of decay in the soil and the heart-warming aroma of burning firewood that are carried on the Autumn breezes.  I hear it in the crunching of leaves beneath my feet and in the honking geese taking flight overhead.  In my garden, the purple coneflowers have withered and gone to seed, on which the goldfinches feast each day.  The bees and butterflies have all disappeared and, slowly, my plants are realizing this, their leaves and flowers drooping in sadness.

Yes, the veil is thinning.  I feel it in my very bones and can almost see it each night as I gaze at the darkening sky and find myself remembering what once was, thinking about what is, and imagining what may be.  Yet, I have been close to the opening of the veil for the past year, walking to the end of a life with someone dear to me, bringing me so close to the veil that my own body at times felt heavy and weary, that my spirit felt the tug of that other world, and that, when the journey was over, my mind and soul continues to wander back for a while.

It began last October 31st.  We were all still reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and I hastily threw together a Halloween celebration.  At the end of the night, I trudged up the stairs to soak my weary self in a hot bath, to just relax and reflect upon the events of the past few days, to meditate on Samhain and its meaning to me, to just be.  As I soaked in the scalding hot bath, scented with herbs from the garden, I closed my eyes, slowed my racing mind, and slipped into what I can only call a space between the worlds.  The sun was shining brightly over rolling green hills dotted with trees and, right in front of me, a large group of people had gathered.  I knew each and every one of them, all family who had passed away over the years, some I had not even known over the course of my life but only saw in pictures and heard about in stories.  And not just my own family but my husband's as well.

From beneath a tall tree, my mother walked forward, coming towards me.  She smiled but it was a smile steeped in sadness.  She told me that I had to listen to her, that she had something very important to tell me, that I must understand what she would tell me.  She told me that my father would not be here by the Summer, that he would pass very quickly and very peacefully.  "You need to understand this," she said, her eyes locking on mine.  I reached out for her but she backed away.  As she did, I saw my husband's uncle, who had passed away very suddenly a few years back.  He called out a message for me to give to his nephew, all with a beaming smile on his face.

My eyes snapped open and there I was in the tub.  I raced to get out of the tub and into the bedroom where the hubby was watching television. I relayed his uncle's message first and then launched into all I had seen, all I had been told.  Every few sentences, I blurted out, "It was not a dream."  In the days that followed, the doubt set in.  Maybe it was a dream.  Maybe I just dozed off and experienced a vivid dream.  Maybe this, maybe that.  I worked every angle that I could, trying to convince myself that it could not have been real.  Then, mid-November, my father was diagnosed with cancer.  I won't go into the long story of the months following the diagnosis but I will say that he faced it with such strength, such hope, such courage, that he truly surprised me.  He was not the type of man to go to doctors, to undergo medical procedures.  But there he was, going through rounds of tests, getting chemo and radiation, and even eventually undergoing brain surgery.  He threw everything he could at it and, even in July, when the doctors explained to him that his cancer was explosive at that point, he wanted to continue fighting.

On August 26th, we moved my Dad to a hospice facility.  After a month at home on hospice care, he took a very sudden turn for the worst and we had no choice but to move him.  It was the last time that I would see my Dad awake and somewhat alert  That night, as my son - who, Goddess bless him, chose to stay at the hospice facility with me - slept on a sofa in one of the family rooms, I stood at the huge window there, staring out at the sprawling sparkling city of Philadelphia and, beyond the lights, out in the velvet darkness of the sky, I saw a shimmering purple.  The veil was parting to allow my father through to the other side.  I knew then it would not be long.

The next night, after a long-time family friend and former student of my father's rushed across town to serenade my Dad with a little Bob Dylan and The Band (something for which I am eternally grateful and moved beyond words), and my husband and middle sister headed reluctantly home for the night, my youngest sister and I sat there with Dad, a Van Morrison CD playing, one of us on either side of him, each holding a hand, each whispering comfort, peace and love to him.  Just as the clock round to midnight, after I dozed in my chair for a few minutes, there was a sudden change in my Dad and a palpable change in the room.  The atmosphere became thicker, heavier, yet the small room felt cavernous, like it was gaping open somewhere.  I became very cold, near shivering, and I felt like the words were coming out of my mouth faster, almost with desperation.  The slower my Dad's breathing got, the faster the words came, as they do when raising power.  I could feel him slipping away, feel his spirit pulling away from us, feel it pulling out of his body and towards the opening veil.  I remember hearing "go, go, go" in my head.  And then, silence.  Utter silence.  All went still.  Daddy was gone.

In the days since, there are times I must force myself to do normal things, like go to school, to work, to enjoy family and friends, even eat and sleep.  When I don't do these everyday things, I feel that tug, that pull, that heaviness, and I wander into a gaping blank space.  Sure, some of this is sadness, loss, grief, but it is also how very close I came to the opening of the veil, that place between, where the world ends and begins, where time stops and starts again, where life dies and is born anew.  I feel it again now, as Samhain approaches.  The veil is thinning.  Perhaps as I move between the worlds during my Samhain ritual this year, I will be able to see that beautiful place again, see all those people one more time...plus one.

Samhain Blessings to you all!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Last Days of Summer

Here we are in mid-August, not even done with Summer yet, and I find my mind wandering through the red, yellow and orange fallen leaves, through the rich scent of decay and heady aroma of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, through the crisp cool blue and gold days of Autumn.  My head flips through the Mabon recipe index and the decoration checklist in my head nightly.  I long to hear the chirp of crickets and rustling of leaf piles in the night instead of the constant hums of air conditioners and ceiling fans.  These man-made intrusions close in around me and set my nerves on edge.  I am very ready to bid Summer a fond farewell.

It has been a long, winding and rough road through the Summer so far.  I found myself many times in the past two months at a crossroads, holding my hands out to the Universe and asking, "What now?  What next?"  The Universe always answered with a new challenge.  There were times when I thought I could take no more, that I should just climb into my bed, pull the covers up over my head, and refuse to come out until everything went back to the way it was.  But, of course, I could not do that.  I kept moving to the next hurdle, and the next, and the next.

But the Universe has also given me some beautiful gifts through it all.

Summer began with the news that I had been accepted into the Penn State Extension's Master Gardeners Program in my county.  I completed the application in mid-Spring after a long talk with myself and a little research.  It only seemed like the right path to take!  After a scheduled interview and an unexpected test (Yikes!), I received an acceptance e-mail.  This good news has helped carry me through some of the darker days of this Summer.

During "The Vacation That Really Wasn't a Vacation" (don't ask!), my hubby and I took a midnight walk to the beach, to decompress and to be alone for just a few minutes, away from the other family members (15 in all) sharing the house.  Once there, we just stood huddled together, gazing upwards, mouths agape at the celestial wonders overhead.  Time stood still and our breath caught in our chests at the pure beauty.  Countless stars blinked in the vast night sky and some seemed to be suspended in a trail of stardust.  We made wishes on several shooting stars and I thanked the Goddess, thanked the Universe, for the one true wonderful and peaceful moment of that week.

Most recently, on a particularly crazy and hectic day, there was the discovery of hummingbirds in my garden.  For the past three years, I tried each Summer to bring these little beauties to drink from feeders, honeysuckle, and bee balm.  I called out silently to them at Beltane and Litha, sending them welcoming energy.  But nothing.  Until two showed up out of nowhere about two weeks ago.  We watched in awe each time one came to the feeder or chased away other birds.  My hubby scrambled to grab cameras to document their arrival.  One evening after dinner, as I sat on the patio, one of the hummingbirds came within 3 feet of my face to check me out.  He or she later did the same thing to my sister-in-law, but this time an even closer encounter, as she stood outside watching it.  We haven't seen them in about five days but I am now hopeful that they know they are welcome here and will return again in the days and Summers to come.

And then there are the everyday gifts from the Universe, those that warm my heart and soul, uplift my spirit, and keep me walking my Path.  The smile and laughter of my almost five-month old niece, the needed joy in my family's life right now.  The growing maturity of my son which has transformed our mother-son relationship and made life just a little bit easier.  The constant love of my hubby and the way he plays with my hair at night when I have trouble falling asleep.  The supportive shoulders and ever-willing to listen ears of family and friends.  And, as always, my garden, the place that brings me such peace, if it's only for a few minutes each day.

Dare I say that even the saddening and frustrating things that are happening hold gifts from the Universe?   I think I dare say.  Why?  Simply because, in each separate issue, hurdle or event that presents itself, there is a lesson, a bit of wisdom to be gained, a path to transformation, a moment to create magic for myself or another.

Coming to this realization, perhaps I should savor the last bits of Summer while remaining vigilant for Autumn's approach, dance with the turning of the wheel instead of trying to leap forward a few weeks.  Plant a late Summer batch of vegetables, herbs and flowers to harvest throughout the Autumn.  Take another trip to the beach, even if for one day, to get one more day of sunbathing, wave watching, and floating in the cleansing salty sea.  Have a little backyard party to swap Autumn recipes and ideas before the weather turns cold and bitter.  Be present in each conversation with my Dad rather than having my mind race through all the what-if's of his remaining days.

After all, isn't that what August is all about?  Beginning on August 1st, Lughnasadh, the first harvest, we begin reaping what we sow and preparing for the harvest to come at Mabon, while remaining here in the present to ensure a bountiful final harvest at Samhain.  That does not only apply to the garden or crops but to our very spirits.  So maybe I should not be so quick to bid a fond farewell to Summer and all of the wisdom and magic it holds but to be in it, be of it, until Autumn arrives.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Spiritual Speedbumps

It has been quite a while, hasn't it?  A little over 2 months actually.  It feels s bit foreign, like a stranger in a strange land, to be at the keyboard and punching away at the keys.  I am sitting here on my patio to write this, surrounded by my gardens, my feathered friends, and fresh chilly Spring air to help me through these first awkward and rusty keystrokes.  So bear with me if I seem to trail off the point.  I will get back to it...eventually.  (That is is I have a point.)

When last I was here in the blogosphere, I told of my dear great Oak tree and it's last days with us.  He was finally taken down on the morning of March 13th.  It was a sad day for both me and my husband.  I stayed with my Oak as long as I could before having to leave for the office.  When I returned, there was nothing left but a large stump.  I sat with it, right there on the sidewalk and felt his great spirit lingering there.  I got the oddest feeling that he wanted to wait until I returned to depart.  I talked to him for a few minutes, thanked him, praised him, and then...nothing.  He was gone.  I cried for hours, even cried myself to sleep that night, but in the back of my head, in the deepest part of my heart and spirit, I knew that it was the right decision to have him taken down.  It was his time.  He knew it.  I knew it.

In the midst of my sadness over the tree, in the wee hours of the next morning, I was awakened with a Miss Clavell moment.  The phone rang, jolting me from a very deep dreamless sleep.  It was my middle sister and she said two words.  "It's time."  Our little sis was in labor!  We rushed to New Jersey to be with her.  After 33 hours of labor, my sweet little niece came into the world.  I am honored to have been there with my little sis through every moment of it, good and bad.  It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

In the days since, many things have happened in my life, much of which I cannot begin to even put into words.  Let's just say that I have been on a family adventure.  It has been a time of true change and, much like a caterpillar, I have been wrapped in a cocoon until the time arrives that I am to emerge transformed.  In the meantime, I am going through many of the motions of life, sharing wisdom, gaining wisdom, rediscovering who and what I am, to myself and to others.  My spiritual path still lays at my feet but I am, again, at a crossroads, trying to decide which way to go next.  My garden keeps me grounded, keeps me connected with Mother Earth and Her rhythms.  Lighting a candle on my altar or smudging the house here and there helps me to remain mindful of the energies swirling around me every day.  I have found great support, many laughs and gentle guidance from my Pagan community, through Facebook and other social media and, of course, through friends and family.  I am hoping that today's full moon and next week's celebration of Beltane will jump start things a bit for me.

Writing has been difficult for me as of late too.  I took a leave of absence from my column at The Pagan Household and put my book on the backburner...again.  In the past two months, I have snippets of articles, notes for blogs, and a paragraph or two for the book.  I finally told myself that I had to just get in there and do it.  So today I decided to just sit down and let it flow.  Whatever I write, I write.  No pressure.  Just write.  Just let it come as naturally as it can.  With this, I think I am returning to the land of the written word.  It feels really good!

As I sit here and write, I am feeling a change in the energy, within myself, within the gardens.  In fact, I am seeing the change.  All of a sudden, the birds that don't normally come close to me, like the cardinals and the blue jays, are inching closer and closer.  And the female downy woodpecker has just revealed the site of her nest to me.  And I think we may have baby downy woodpeckers in there!  After many speedbumps in my spiritual path, I think things are beginning to get magickal again.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Passing of the Oak Tree

Last Thursday started as a really good day.  I managed to get all of my household chores out of the way early, brewed up some iced orange and mint green tea, and made a dark chocolate cake with buttercream icing.  I did a bit of writing and then called my mom-in-law to chat for a bit.  Then, a mini-disaster struck.

There was a huge series of crashing and banging noises and, as I approached the front window of my house, I realized what it was.  My neighbor's tree was down, leaning precariously against my oak tree and on the side of a white box truck.  I quickly hung up the phone and dashed outside, cell phone in hand.  The driver of the truck was fine but shook up.  He explained that he had maneuvered his truck towards the curb to allow another vehicle to pass by him and, somehow, the top edge of his truck caught a branch of the tree and it just came down.  "The whole tree came down," he kept saying in disbelief.  It was apparent from the remains of the tree that it had been diseased.  The trunk was hollow for about six feet up from the soil line.   I dialed 9-1-1 and explained the situation.  An officer was on the way.  Then chaos ensued.

Before I knew it, there were cops and township workers everywhere.  Information was taken, from me, my neighbor, her renter and the driver of the truck.  The township crew began clearing the parts of the tree in the street and cutting up what was leaning to leave in big hunks on the sidewalk.  (They only take what falls in the street, by the way.)  One of the police officers there told me that I would have to have my tree taken down, or at least trimmed, because it too was in bad shape.  Before I knew it, there was a tree "executioner" in front of me talking about stress fractures, fungus, township fines, the upcoming Nor'Easter, potential damage and pricey numbers.  I was given a tour of my own tree - the rotting taking place at the soil line, some of its brittle branches, and a shelf-like series of mushrooms at the trunk's base - and an estimate was stuck in my hand.  I felt like the helpless victim being circled by sharks.  A quick call to and yelling from my hubby helped me to gather my wits about me.  "There's nothing wrong with that tree!  No one is touching that tree!" he yelled to me through the receiver.  Just get them all out of here, I kept telling myself as I took the tree guy's number, made sure I got my ID back from the police officer, and high-tailed it back indoors.

Once there, I broke down.  Between the adrenaline and the nerves, I just turned into a shaking crying bunch of jello.  This was the second time I was alone in the house when a tree nearly fell on it.  The first had crushed my backyard and put a few holes in my kitchen roof.  The second one had nearly injured someone and had damaged my own dear oak tree.  With the noise of trees falling replaying in my head and with what was now known and not merely suspected about my own tree, I took action.  I placed a call or two, got a couple well-respected tree service companies lined up, and, with estimates in hand, waited anxiously for my hubby to get home.

It was hard enough on my nature-loving, gardening, tree-hugging village wise woman witchy self to digest the fact that my tree had to come down.  I had spent many a storm over the past year or so worrying, almost to the point of being sick, about nature doing the job itself based on my suspicion of a disease coursing its way through the oak's veins.  Now that concern was doubled by the facts being put in front of me by not one, not two, but three tree guys.  "It's about 50 percent gone.  Sure, a healthy tree can be toppled by a big storm.  Will yours go in the next one?  Maybe, maybe not."  This statement from the last of the three echoed in my head.  As hard as it was on me to take all this in, I now had to get my hubby to take it all in too.  My hubby, Goddess bless him, likes to hold onto things fiercely.  He's very territorial much like his Leo lion.  He marks what's his and won't let it go.  It can be an old tool, an overly-worn threadbare shirt, a beloved toy of our son's, or, yes, a tree.  There was a bit of yelling on both parts and some crying (a usual stress reaction for me) on my part but, alas, we came to terms with the fact that it must come down.

We are now, with the help of some really good almost-family friends, negotiating with a tree service or two.  Whoever offers the best price will have the job.  But, in the meantime, the hubby and I are in planning phase.  As I am working on a goodbye ritual for my dear friend, the oak, and researching small trees that are fast-growing and full of brilliant Autumn foliage, the hubby is contemplating a totem pole from the oak's trunk or a towering redwood tree.  Okay, so we are on different pages a bit over what will happen after the oak is gone but, at least, we have accepted that it must be taken down.  Progress.

And through all of this, there stands my poor white oak.  He is sad.  He knows the end is near.  I hear him sighing heavily (think Treebeard in The Lord of the Rings).  His wounds from where the other tree struck him are an angry red.  I actually wince when I look at them.  They remind me of the skinned knees and elbows I have seen on my son, nephews and nieces over the years.  He seems to be moved a fraction from where he stood before.  Perhaps the other tree gave him a nudge.  Or maybe, the sadness of losing his friend, the pain of his wounds and the nearness of the end are weighing on him a bit.  Who could blame him?  I wouldn't stand as tall either.  I talk to him from the window, soothing his worries and thanking him for his shade and his protection through the years.  I have promised him that I will be there when that first saw starts up and will remain there until the last one powers down, that I will take a piece of him to bury in my garden, and that I will never forget him.  He understands that I will plant another tree where he stands now and is happy about it.  "But," he says, "there will never be another tree like me."

And he is right.  There will never be another tree like my dear white oak.  He has been a constant friend, a skilled healer, a fierce protector, and a majestic guardian.  He is the last of his kind on my block.  All his friends have already moved on.  He knows that his time has come but he is holding on, entrusting me with a peaceful and blessed passing from this world.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Winter's Flow

I have been in a funk lately, unable to put the multitude of thoughts and ideas I have swirling in my head onto paper or screen in a coherent flowing piece of work.  I cannot call it writer's block but just life's happenings throwing down roadblocks between me and the notebook or the computer.  Each time I sit with the intent to write for a while, something else has come up to keep me from my task.  I think I may also have a mild case of Seasonal Affective Disorder.  After spending many long hours in my gardens from mid-March to mid-November, many an afternoon on the patio writing on my laptop, and many a morning just watching the birds from my chair in the yard, I think the lack of sunlight and fresh air has placed me in a state of semi-suspended animation.  My thoughts are scattered, I am very forgetful and, by midday, I am ready for a nap.   It is winter, after all, and a very good time to hibernate.  Just ask a bear.  But I need to get myself back on track, get back to feeling like my witchy village wise woman pagan writer self.  But how?

I have been asking this of myself every day for about the past three weeks.  I meditated on what has been going on in my life that would make writing feel so hard for me.  There have been many family issues cropping up since the Summer.  Yes, they have derailed me a bit but never made writing feel like a chore.  Then the holidays came barrelling through, with so much to do and so much time spent on shopping, decorating, cooking and entertaining.   I still managed to bang out a few articles and a blog post or two, through interruptions and all.  But then January arrived and it was time to plan, prepare for, clean for and host my sister's baby shower, which was an absolute hit by the way.  Throw into this mix being a parent of a teenage son, who is striving to be an independent individual adult (think 15 going on 30) but going about it the wrong way and - bang! - I crashed.  I felt physically, mentally and spiritually spent.  I was done, like stick a fork in me done.  I couldn't even muster up an article for my column at The Pagan Household last week.

I delved into the depths of "poor me".  No article.  No significant work done on my book.  No blog posts and so no growing number of blog followers.  No garden in which to retreat to ground and center myself through getting my hands good and dirty.  No abundant flowers and herbs to bring indoors with which to make teas, smudgesticks, and healing brews.  Just the life of a working housewife and mother, keeping the house and the lives of those in it moving from day to day.  Nothing spiritual about it.  Nothing witchy about it.  Nothing worth writing about.  Poor me.  And then it dawned on me.  I am my own worst enemy sometimes.  I was fighting against life happening, against change happening, and I was not going with the flow, the flow of winter.

Retreat, rest, and regenerate.  That is the flow of winter.  Like my plants in the garden, it was time to "die off" to be reborn again in the spring.  It was happening all around me, in nature, in the issues with my son, in the daily workings of home and office, in my spirituality, in my path, and in my writing.  It is the period right before a time of growth and rebirth, a death of sorts.  I was dying in a way to be reborn again.

And who will I be when this process is over and spring returns?  The jury is still out on that one as I have only begun to claw my way back from the depths of winter.  I do know that I am no longer the mother of a middle school-age boy but the mother of a high school-age young man, requiring a whole new set of parenting skills and the occasional "medicinal" shot of whiskey from time to time.  I also know that I am no longer just a mother but teetering on the phase of the crone.  My body knows it, my spirit knows it and my mind is catching up to it.  It's okay though.  My maiden still comes out to play!  After all, we cannot become one without the others.  I also know that I am no longer just a witch who likes gardening but a witch whose gardens are entwined with her practices, with her art, with her healing, with her life.

As far as being a writer, I know this.  I am no longer just a pagan writer.  I am a budding pagan author.  It's there, right there in front of me.  I can feel it, see it rippling in the air in front of me.  But I need to make some changes to a few things before it can really happen.  I need to change me, first and foremost.  I need to let go of fear, for that is what is truly holding me back.  Fear of rejection, fear of not pleasing those who read my work, fear of not being accepted for who and what I am, fear of not being able to write when I sit down to do so, fear that my writing just isn't good enough.  I have to let it all go.  I need to write more often, no matter how many words I put on the paper or on the screen, no matter what the content, no matter who reads it, no matter if anyone reads it at all.

And then are the changes in my writing that, on the outside, might seem mundane but, at their core, are crucial.  I need to change this blog.  I spent the better part of last Friday evening brainstorming ideas about where I should go with the Village Wise Woman blog.  I thought of changing the name but I feel that is who I am, a village wise woman, the Village Wise Woman.  Whatever name change occurs will incorporate that name.  I would like to grow the blog, get more followers, more readers.  I am thinking of ways to do that.  Perhaps guest bloggers, some giveaways of items from some crafty pagans, and having some links to other blogs and sites that I recommend and to the bloggers and writers that I respect and admire.  I am also toying with the idea of a daily post, something short and to the point, like a daily tarot card or a daily guide to pagan gardening to include moon phase, astrological influences, etc.  A blog overhaul is definitely in the works.

(This is where I need the help of my readers.  I would like to hear from you.  From the above ideas, what would you like to see on here?  Leave a comment on this post and let me know your thoughts.)

I am learning to go with the flow again, getting back on my path and moving onward.  I am changing again, becoming someone new while incorporating the old parts of me.  Winter is here only for another six weeks and, soon, I will be born again, as my new fearless witchy mother-crone village wise woman pagan author self.