Friday, November 16, 2012

Hecate's Night

Tonight is Hecate's Night, where celebrants gather at crossroads and feast, and leave offerings for Hecate. Hecate is an ancient goddess of Greece, associated not only with crossroads, but with magic, fire, the moon, and herbs. She was also considered the protectress of flocks and of sailors. She is often depicted in triple form, suggesting her various aspects. In Theogony, Hesiod tells us:

"Hecate whom Zeus the son of Cronos honored above all. He gave her splendid gifts, to have a share of the earth and the unfruitful sea. She received honor also in starry heaven, and is honored exceedingly by the deathless gods. For to this day, whenever any one of men on earth offers rich sacrifices and prays for favor according to custom, he calls upon Hecate."

She is sometimes depicted with dogs, and followers were known to leave meat at the crossroads as an offering to her dogs.

Her triform image was typically placed at three-way crossroads, and she became known as the goddess of Trivia (the three ways). She was associated with the Roman goddess, Trivia, as well. Shrines to Hecate were placed at doorways to both homes and cities with the belief that it would protect from restless dead and other spirits.

While both my calendar and my almanac list today as Hecate's Night, or Night of Hecate, she was worshipped by the Greeks on the 13th of August and on the 30th of November, while the Romans worshipped her on 29th of every month. There is some suggestion that these dates may have coincided with the full moon. A more modern festival is held each year to honor her on the full moon in May.

Ways to celebrate or honor Hecate this evening might include:

Feasting, of course! She is said to favor garlic, so find dishes heavy with garlic to make tonight. A number of garlicky dishes can be found here.

Because of her association with dogs, call your local animal shelters, ASPCA or Humane Society and ask them what items they might need, like dog food, blankets, towels, etc.

Although food was often left at three way crossroads, it was often assumed that this food was actually intended for the poor. Many grocery stores have boxes for donations, where you can buy extra while shopping and donate that food before leaving the store. You can also inquire at your local food bank what they might be running short on and help them out with a donation.

Considered the patron of many of today's modern witches, black pointy hats and capes are not out of the question for dining attire tonight.

Watch Jason and the Argonauts, where Medea is a priestess of Hecate and of whom it is said, "There is a maiden, nurtured in the halls of Aeetes, whom the goddess Hecate taught to handle magic herbs with exceeding skill all that the land and flowing waters produce."

Most of all, spend some learning more about this fascinating goddess. Break out your books on Greek and Roman mythology, pull out the dusty encyclopedias, take a trip to the library, or heck, just browse the internet.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Carl Sagan Day

I often stumble across new *days* to celebrate, but this one I knew nothing about until I saw a friend's post on Facebook today. Then I started doing some research into and got excited!

Carl Sagan was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist and Pulitzer prize winning author who is probably best known for his show Cosmos. He also wrote the book Cosmos as a companion to the show. If his show was before your time, you may be more familiar with the movie Contact, with Jodie Foster. That movie was based on Sagan's book by the same name. Sagan wrote several books, including Pale Blue Dot, which was a follow up to Cosmos, and my personal favorite, The Demon Haunted World, a book that explains scientific method to laypeople, like me.

Sagan earned his PhD in astronomy and astrophysics in 1960 from the University of Chicago, lectured and did research at Harvard and was a professor at Cornell. As an advisor to NASA, he conceived the idea of sending a recorded message into space on a gold anodized plaque, much like how we would think of a vinyl record. The Voyager Golden Records contain sounds that reflect the diversity of life on earth, and are intended to be heard by extraterrestrials that may encounter it. Sagan viewed these recordings as bottles launched into the cosmic ocean.

Sagan's scientific achievements were many, including the search for extraterrestrial life and monitoring space for objects that might impact the earth, and I won't go into detail about them here. His main contribution to me, however, was his advocacy and the sense of wonder he imparted about the universe. He was fervent in his desire and ability to educate laypeople about science and the cosmos. His quote, "A galaxy is composed of gas and dust and stars—billions upon billions of stars," especially his frequent use of the word billions, became a catchphrase used by comedians in their routines. Sagan was so amused by this he turned it to his advantage, and entitled a book, Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium.

Today, to honor his achievements and profound impact, organizations all over the world celebrate him through star parties, astronomy lectures, science fairs, teacher workshops and other events. Be sure to see if your city or community has any such offerings and take advantage of them! If not, plan your own!

Invite friends over and watch either Cosmos or Contact.

Gather as many telescopes and binoculars as you can for some star gazing.

Pick and read one of the many books he wrote.

Share your love of space and the beauty of the universe with your children, especially. There are some excellent books to use with children. Two of  my favorites are written by H. A. Rey, of Curious George fame. They are The Stars and Find the Constellations.

Be silly and watch UFO movies. Paul, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T, Independence Day, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Battleship or any of the many movies available that involve aliens. See how many possible references to Carl Sagan you can catch.

Whatever you decide to do, have fun doing it!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

"I am here to do Your bidding, Master. I am Your slave..."

So you thought Hallowe'en was over? That you could coast for a little while before the next big holiday was upon you? That you could safely pack up and put away your spooky decorations?


Today is the birthday of Bram Stoker, the Irish novelist best known for his novel, Dracula. Stoker was born on November 8, 1847 in Clontarf, Ireland. Bedridden until the age of seven, he made a complete recovery and grew up without any further major health issues. He even became an athlete.  He graduated with a B.A. in Mathematics from Trinity College in Dublin.

After marrying Florence Balcombe (a former girlfriend of  Oscar Wilde) in 1878, the Stokers moved to London, where Bram became acting manager and then business manager of Lyceum Theatre, where he worked for 27 years. Sir Henry Irving was a stage actor and manager of Lyceum Theatre, and friend of Bram's. Working for Irving afforded Stoker to travel the world, including trips to the United States, where he met two American presidents, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. It was while working at the Lyceum Theatre that Stoker wrote his most famous novel. It is believed that meeting Ármin Vámbéry, a Hungarian writer and traveler and his dark stories of the Carpathian mountains that sparked the idea for Dracula. Stoker spent several years researching European folklore and mythological stories of vampires after meeting the Hungarian.

Stoker died in 1912 and was cremated. After the death of his son, Noel Broker, he, too, was cremated and his ashes added to those of his father's. The urn is on display in Golders Green Crematorium, in London.

Today, to celebrate, rent or buy one of the many movie versions of Dracula. The classic, of course, is the 1931 Bela Lugosi Dracula, but the one closer to the Stoker novel might be the more recent Gary Oldman's Dracula. Of course, the fact that Keanu Reeves is in this version also helps! ;)

Dress up in black cape, fake vampire teeth and slick back your hair.

Play creepy music. I actually got my friends in the mood for Day of the Dead crafts by playing Nox Arcana.

There are many Hallowe'en dishes that would do, especially anything that appears to bleed. Red wine or red grape juice is a MUST!

If you are too pooped to party, then tuck in with a copy of the book. Bram Stoker wrote many more stories than just Dracula, so be sure to look for a few while you're at it!

Whatever you do, prepared to have trouble sleeping later! <insert evil laughter here!>

Monday, November 5, 2012

National Men Make Dinner Day

Today is National Men Make Dinner Day. According to the website, the ideal participant in ‘National Men Make Dinner Day’ is the man who:
  • Helps with household chores
  • Has a sense of humour and is a great all-around guy
  • Loves his wife/girlfriend, kids and pets
I love the top ten reasons given for participating:

10. While cooking, you can still wear your tool belt, simply replace the hammer with a whisk.
9. Several recipes include beer as a legitimate ingredient.
8. The blender, the electric mixer and the food processor are loud enough to drown out anyone in the house who is learning a musical instrument.
7. Whoever is cooking always gets the most attention from the dog.
6. Whatever recipe you choose, you can name it after yourself. Example: tonight’s dinner is called ‘Doug’s Surprise’.
5. Discovering that ‘250 ml’ is the same as ‘8 ounces’ AND ‘1 cup’ is half the fun.
4. Since YOU choose the recipe, it can be a turnip-free night.
3. Some desserts, such as crème brulee, require the use of a propane torch. How much fun is that?!
2. Since other husbands in your neighbourhood are also cooking dinner, ironically this could be the ultimate male bonding experience
1. Participating in ‘National Men Make Dinner Day’ gives you optimum points with your wife. Use those points wisely!

The website does include some recipes, but if your husband is like mine, his talents tend toward the grill. Something yummy he could make would be burgers, potato salad and cole slaw, but with a twist. Try those recipes here.

So, maybe your man looks less like this:

...if he is anything like Chef Brian Patton, aka the Sexy Vegan,

then you may very well be in for a treat!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

St. Francis and the Blessing of Animals

Today is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, born circa 1181, founder of the Franciscans and patron saint of animals and the environment. Never officially ordained a priest by the Catholic Church, he is nonetheless one of the most beloved, well known and venerated saints of the church. You can watch the story of his early life in Brother Sun, Sister Moon. You can also listen to a song by the same name here, if you are so inclined.

Today is also known as World Animal Day, and coincidentally, Hug a Non-Meat Eater Day.

On this day around the world, many churches perform a blessing on animals. Not just cats and dogs and the usual household companions, but horses, turtles, tigers, etc. A wonderful slide show from around the world can be found here. However, you don’t have to be Catholic to honor and celebrate the life of St. Francis of Assisi or to participate in his Feast Day.

You can do your own blessing and hold it indoors or outdoors. The Blessing of Animals is conducted in remembrance of St. Francis of Assisi’s love for all creatures. You can use the prayer of St. Francis, or change the wording to suit your own spiritual path:

Prayer of Saint Francis for Animals

God Our Heavenly Father,
You created the world
to serve humanity's needs
and to lead them to You.
By our own fault
we have lost the beautiful relationship
which we once had with all your creation.
Help us to see
that by restoring our relationship with You
we will also restore it
with all Your creation.
Give us the grace
to see all animals as gifts from You
and to treat them with respect
for they are Your creation.
We pray for all animals
who are suffering as a result of our neglect.
May the order You originally established
be once again restored to the whole world
through the intercession of the Glorious Virgin Mary,
the prayers of Saint Francis
and the merits of Your Son,
Our Lord Jesus Christ
Who lives and reigns with You
now and forever. Amen.

Our three cats, and our two beautiful Rhodesian Ridgebacks, both of whom have crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. Our house no longer barks, but it still purrs. This just shows how animals can get along, sometimes far better than humans.
Collect items around the home or make purchases and donate them to animal shelters. Call and ask what their current needs are.

Design and create an outdoor shrine for animals, either in general or for a beloved animal companion that has passed.

Winter is coming. Make plans to set out food for wildlife. Consider creating a wildlife habitat.
The Feast Day provides many animal welfare advocates, animal rights activists, educators, caregivers and animal rescue organizations with the opportunity to educate the public about abused and endangered animals as well as the beauty, purposefulness and importance of animals in our world.
The bond between human and animal companion is unlike any other relationship. It is basic, loving, pure and without agenda or façade. The Feast of St. Francis and the Blessing of the Animals attest to the beauty and sacredness of this relationship. Why not share this blessed day dedicated to St. Francis and his love for all creatures with your special animal companion?

St. Francis Prayer of Peace

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

International Day of Non-Violence

Today is the International Day of Non-Violence. It is celebrated on October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement and pioneer of the philosophy and strategy of non-violence. It is a day "to secure a culture of peace, tolerance, understanding and non-violence" and a day to raise the collective consciousness about peace. This can be achieved through constructive dialogues, respecting one another, understanding and trusting each other, accepting new people in society, sharing love and natural resources, and building bridges with various faiths, communities and countries.

According to Gandhi, “Nonviolence needs more courage than violence.”

I find it interesting that the day falls during the same month as Vegetarian Awareness Month, with its focus on eating a diet that is cruelty-free and non-violent.

To that end, I marked the day by cooking up a spinach stew, which was a recipe I adapted from The Peaceful Cook cookbook.

I have in my home what I refer to as my *peace wall*. It is a collection of things I have that either use the word peace or the peace sign. Too young to have been a hippie, I have nonetheless embraced the peace sign as a reminder to me to not just live peacefully, but to BE peace, an idea I got years ago from an article in Mothering magazine.

Some visuals you can create in your home with your children can be found here.

Today make every effort you can to live in peace and harmony with friends and family. Avoid or disengage from conversations and situations that become heated. Smile at everyone you meet or pass by on the street or in the hall. Step out of your comfort zone, if you must, and invite a coworker or a neighbor to lunch or out for a cup of coffee or tea, especially if they are from a different religion, political party or ethnic group than you, and take a moment to get to know them. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised to discover they are just like you in ways you never knew.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Happy World Vegetarian Day!

World Vegetarian Day is a day of celebration established by the North American Vegetarian Society (NAVS) "to promote the joy, compassion and life-enhancing possibilities of vegetarianism." It is a day designed to "bring awareness to the ethical, environmental, health and humanitarian benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle."  It kicks off Vegetarian Awareness Month, and ends on World Vegan Day, November 1.

For vegans, like most of my family, every day is a day to celebrate! We practice ahimsa, or the concept of harm to none.

While veganism and feng shui are not new to me, it was the ideas set forth in Robin Robertson's book The Sacred Kitchen that got me to viewing meal preparation differently. In her book, Robertson says, "When you introduce your own chi to the mixing bowl, you unknowingly convey subtle, imperceptible influences into the food as a result of your attitude." She takes it further by explaining how you impart the energy of your own life force into the food as your touch it, imbuing it with what you are thinking and/or feeling at the time. Bad mood=bad energy, good mood=good energy. While this may sound strange to some, it makes a great deal of sense to me. If you have ever walked into someone's home and known instantly that something was amiss before you ever even spoke with the inhabitants there, you will know what I mean.

Robertson describes a ritual that I do to this day before cooking:

Ritually wash and bless your hands. Calm your mind with three deep breaths. Utter a simple prayer to align yourself with spirit. Ask for peace of mind and heart. Affirm your holiness as your prepare the meal. Play soothing music while you cook. Visualize white healing energy flowing from your head through your hands and into the food. Maintain a prayerful attitude while cooking.

Viewing cooking as a sacred act and the kitchen as a sacred place will greatly affect and change your perception of what you may have previously viewed as a chore. Instead it becomes a blessing you bestow upon your family and friends who will be dining in your home.

To get you started in your celebration of both World Vegetarian Day and Vegetarian Awareness Month, visit The Zen Vegan for a variety of delicious recipes!


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Happy Fall, Y'all!

We now leave behind the heat of summer and move into the cooling temps of autumn. I am ready for my ac to not have to run so much and the excitement of the coming months. This poem really sums it up well:

Greeting to the Autumn Equinox

Hail! Journeyer of the Heavens,
Queen of Brightness, King of Beauty!
Gifts of gladness richly bringing,
Autumn sheaves and red leaves' fall.
Generous be the heart within us,
Open be our hands to all,
Justice to be in equal measure,
Harvest thankfulness our call.

Caitlin Matthews - The Celtic Devotional

Many people hold feasts today to celebrate the new season. My family certainly did! Salad with pumpkin spiced cornbread croutons, fruit soup, cranberry/raspberry sorbet for dessert. You can find the recipes for it all here.

I bought and lit for the first time today an autumn scented candle. I put away all of my flower and fruit scented candles for next year. Now is the time to break out the baked good scented candles! Hubby and I went out shopping today and I bought a couple of autumn type teas that I can't wait to brew up!

Now that fall is here, there are different things you can do. Besides cook up autumn foods! LOL!

- this season of thankfulness is a good time to donate. Canned and non-perishablel foods to a food pantry. Clothes, books, toys to charities. Perhaps work at a soup kitchen - everyone wants to do it around Thanksgiving or Christmas, but they can use the help year round.
- consider taking a class at the local community college. It doesn't have to be toward a degree; many offer continuing education classes. Learn something new - ceramics, square dancing, welding - whatever sparks your fancy.
- summer is a time for being out in the open, fall is a time to draw inward. Bring out the cozy throws and stock up some wood. Temps might not be cool enough just yet, but they are coming!

Whatever you do, have fun doing it! You're never too old to jump into a leaf pile!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Don't Step On A Bee Day

Today is Don't Step on a Bee Day. It is pretty much a reminder about going barefoot during the summer and to protect your feet. But it is really so much more than this.

Colony Collapse Disorder is where bees are disappearing and dying at ever increasing rates. Wikipedia defines it as:

"...a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or European honey bee colony abruptly disappear. While such disappearances have occurred throughout the history of apiculture, the term colony collapse disorder was first applied to a drastic rise in the number of disappearances of Western honey bee colonies in North America in late 2006. Colony collapse is significant economically because many agricultural crops worldwide are pollinated by bees; and ecologically, because of the major role that bees play in the reproduction of plant communities in the wild."

If you like to eat, the last sentence should matter very much to you. Bees are responsible for much, if not most, of the foods you eat. Want to know just how many foods rely on bees? Just take a peek at this list. Pretty eye opening, isn't it?

There are things you can do as an individual to help the bees. Some suggestions are:

Plant things bees like. Clover, sage, salvia, oregano, lavender, yarrow, alfalfa, honeywort, dragonhead, echinacea, bee balm, just to name a few. Flowering trees, flowering plants, there are so many bee friendly plants available to you. Just plant some!

Create or provide a bee habitat. Like all creatures, they need a safe place to live. They also need a water source. Research how to make a bee house, one you can do easily.

Don't use or severely limit pesticides. It has been theorized that pesticides are what is contributing to the bee death. Go organic - for you, for the bees, for the planet.

As a vegan, I don't use honey. Bees are extremely intelligent and studies have demonstrated that they feel pain. BeeCulture magazine reports that beekeepers are notorious for contributing to the spread of disease: 'Beekeepers move infected combs from diseased colonies to healthy colonies, fail to recognize or treat disease, purchase old infected equipment, keep colonies too close together, [and] leave dead colonies in apiaries.' Artificial diets, provided because farmers take the honey that bees would normally eat, leave bees susceptible to sickness and attack from other insects. When diseases are detected, beekeepers are advised to 'destroy the colony and burn the equipment,' which can mean burning or gassing the bees to death.

Bees need their honey. I don't.

I'm thinking today should be renamed to Be Kind To Bees Day instead.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Stay Out of the Sun Day

Today is Stay Out of the Sun Day. Since tomorrow, July 4, is a day a lot of people spend outside and in the sun, I guess today is as good a day as any to remind people to take care.

You can find information everywhere about using sunscreen and sunblock, how to avoid the hottest parts of the day, what to do to treat sunburn if you don't pay attention to the aforementioned. The thing I want to remind you about today - and every day - is to drink plenty of water!

Something as simple as drinking water can have profound effects on your health. It can help with weight loss, give you more energy, stave off headaches, help with digestion, give you glowing skin and has even been shown to reduce your risk of heart attack. Yet, most people don't get nearly enough.

How much should you drink? A rule of thumb is to take your weight, divide it in half, and drink that many ounces. Okay, let me explain that better: if you weigh 160 lbs, half of 160 is 80, so 80 ounces of water.

So, how to drink that much if you are more used to sucking down a couple of sodas or chugging down several cups of coffee a day? It's really not so hard to do. When my husband was in basic training in the Air Force years ago, they made the new recruits drink two glasses of water with each meal before they could even consider drinking anything else. That's 48 ounces right there already. You're already over half way there if your goal is 80 ounces. You may need more or less than that based on weight and how much time you spend outside or exercising.

My son insists on filtered water, so we have two different style of pitchers with filters. My daughter likes to add sliced lemon or mint sprigs to her water. I'm a little different. I make a pitcher of this water every morning and drink it throughout the day until it is gone.

To the pitcher I add 1/2 t. turmeric, 1/8 t. black pepper, 1/8 t. cayenne pepper, 1 T. organic apple cider vinegar, 1 T. food grade diatomaceous earth and three garlic cloves cut into pieces. To this I add two quarts of water and stir.

When the water is gone, I add the garlic pieces to a dish I'm already eating and consume them raw.


The health benefits of the ingredients are many, and this is something I designed based on that research. The diatomaceous earth is a later addition based on a recommendation from my doctor.

Try it. You just might like it.

At the very least, please make sure you are drinking enough water. If you are thirsty, you are already mildly dehydrated.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Summer Hobby Day

Today is Summer Hobby Day. I don't know about you, but I have no hobbies I do in the summer that I don't do the rest of the year. The closest thing that is different is I avoid the outdoors during summer as much as possible! It's hot here!

I should amend that. I'm going outside today. Specifically, to the garage. Our garage door decided some weeks back that it wanted a change, and literally folded itself in half one day while we were lowering it with the automatic door opener/closer. Suffice it to say it was a strange experience, and I don't recommend anyone trying to duplicate it.

Weeks later, it is much improved. Hubby and sons got it unfolded that day, but once they got it closed, forget it. It was staying closed. My father, a master mechanic, has taken it as his personal mission now to get it working again. I love my dad! He's awesome! The door can be lifted now (with muscle, thank you, boys!) and I can return to what I was attempting to do when the door first cratered. Clearing out the clutter.

I thought, and certainly grew up believing, that garages were for cars. They had a workbench. Maybe holiday decorations were stored in there along the wall.

Not my garage.

(not my garage, but isn't it cool?!)

I want to say I am secretly pleased when I glimpse inside a neighbor's garage and notice they have no room for cars, just like my garage, but I can't. I'm actually very bothered by it. While my kids were growing up I could use the convenient excuse that they, and running a household, took all my time. My kids are all grown now. I can't justify that reasoning any longer.

My dad joked I could clear it out quickly by torching everything in there. My husband has suggested hiring a bulldozer.

Yeah, it's that bad.

I, however, like a challenge, and I'll be honest: opening up a box and reacquainting myself with the contents sometimes feels like Christmas. Hey! I haven't seen this in awhile! Oh, cool, I was wondering where this was! I am proud to say I am more discriminating than in years past. I dump out a box and sort through it. I have next to me a trash can, a bag for any recyclable paper, a large plastic trash bag for donations to the local Goodwill or assistance ministry, a bag for books to donate to the library's sale shelf. It is very satisfying to empty a large box and have only a small pile that actually comes into the house.

I still have a long way to go in clearing everything out. But it has become my summer hobby, at least for this year, and I am enjoying the heck out of it!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

World Environment Day

June 5 is World Environment Day. According to the United Nations Environment Program, World Environment Day celebration began in 1972 and has grown to become the one of the main vehicles through which the UN stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and encourages political attention and action.

The program is designed to help "personalize environmental issues and enable everyone to realize not only their responsibility, but also their power to become agents for change in support of sustainable and equitable development."

It is also a day for people "from all walks of life to come together to ensure a cleaner, greener and brighter outlook for themselves and future generations."

Whatever your beliefs regarding the health - or lack of - the environment, we can all agree that we should care for it. Each in their way can do something, anything, to make a difference. The UNEP offers several suggestions, and I have pulled from it those we can do today, with little to no planning:

Adopt a ‘green’ way of life
Art made of recycled materials
Bicycle parades/races
Calculate your carbon footprint
Dedicate your blog to World Environment Day on 5 June (done!)
Donate to an environmental cause
Excursions to nature sites
Exhibitions (drawings, posters, photos, paintings)
Give a gift membership of an environmental organization
Join an environmental group
Keep your neighborhood clean
Kick-start an environmental campaign
Kick the CO2 habit!
Know your rights
Lobby local authorities to adopt sound environmental policies
March for the environment
Never litter
Offset your emissions
Organic farming/cooking
Parades (even just a small one on your street with only you and your kids)
Performances (plays, songs, poetry)
Plant a tree
Plastic bags: avoid them!
Puppet shows for children with an environmental message
Rainwater harvesting
Reduce, re-use, recycle
Rehabilitate natural habitats
Replace your light-bulbs with energy saving ones
Save paper
Sort trash, separating recyclable materials into different containers
Switch off stand-by TV and computer
Use sustainable modes of transportation (walking, jogging, cycling, skating, carpool)
Visits to botanical gardens and national parks
Volunteer for organizations such as Clean Up the World
Waste less!
Write plays, poems, songs
Write letters to civic leaders, members of parliament, government and newspapers

These don't have to be big or elaborate activities. Doing them in your home, with your kids, will go a long way. Invite your friends and your kids friends over and make a day of appreciating and respecting nature.

Just do something. Like Margaret Mead said, "A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Happy Oak Apple Day!

It was on this day that a young royal climbed into an oak tree to avoid his pursuers. Young Charles (later King Charles II) was running from Cromwell and his followers after his defeat in a battle. His father, King Charles I had been executed earlier and Cromwell had become a dictator. Even though Scotland named the young Charles as successor to the crown, England had other thoughts and declared such proclamations as unlawful.

Living in France and other countries in exile, following the death of Cromwell in 1658, Charles returned to England in 1660 and took his rightful place on the throne. To celebrate his birthday and the restoration of the crown (and his initial escape from death), May 29 became known as Oak Apple Day.

Everyone knows oak trees don't produce apples. (Right?) However, they do produce what is known as a gall. Galls are actually an irregular type of growth caused by the reaction between plant hormones and  growth regulating chemicals produced by some insects, particularly wasps. The galls provide nourishment for the developing baby wasps, and they resemble, loosely, an apple.

The holiday was abolished, but that doesn't mean you can't find a way to celebrate. Okay, maybe you aren't subject to the British crown, but what does that matter? There is always a reason to celebrate, and this one is an example of that.

So, what can you do today?

Plant an oak tree. (Duh.)

Make crafts with acorns. If you have or live near an oak tree, there will be an abundance, always, and all you have to do is collect them. You can find ideas here, here and here.

Pick up all the fallen branches and collect them for firewood. They are perfect if you have a fire pit!

Play up the Green Man (wild man of the woods) motif by making leaf covered masks and headdresses. You can find directions for one here.

Eat an apple. No, not an oak apple. A regular, old fashioned, honest to goodness apple. Eat them all year long. They're good for you.

Hug an oak tree. Heck, hug any tree. The important thing to remember here is that trees are the lungs of the world, so take care of them.

You can probably come up with a whole host of things to do involving trees, so just get yourself outside and do it! Enjoy the weather before it gets too hot!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Sometimes I think my blog should be retitled to something gothy, what with all the posts that denote ways of celebrating days involving death or the macabre. Take, for example, recent posts on Charles Addams or Friday the 13th or Edgar Allan Poe, just to name a few. Today is no different.

Lemuralia was a Roman festival celebrated on May 9, 11 and 13. Well, celebrated probably isn't the best word for it. More like participated. They were days designed to rid the home of malevolent or otherwise unwelcome spirits (lemures). It involved the head of the household getting up at midnight and walking barefoot around the house nine times while throwing black beans over their shoulder. A prayer or recitation commanding the spirits to leave was said while other family members banged on pots. It was hoped the beans would please the spirits and they would leave; the pot banging insured they would.

Interestingly, I learned that Pope Boniface IV designated May 13 as the first All Saint's Day. Pope Gregory III moved it to November 1, which coincidentally is the same day as the Celtic feast of Samhain.

It is said that Romulus started Lemuralia as a way to appease the spirit of his murdered brother Remus. Romans honored the lares, their benevolent deceased ancestors, but feared the lemures. A similar feast which honored both lares and appeased malevolent spirits was Parentalia and Feralia.

May was deemed by the Romans to be bad luck for marriages. The Irish, as well, have a saying about that: Marry in May and rue the day. I find this curious due to the practice of *green marriages* that happened on Bealtaine.

You can spend today, of course, walking around the house barefoot and throwing beans over your shoulder, or you can choose instead to eat those beans. I suggest Cuban black beans and rice.

Bang on some pots to be on the safe side. You never know...

Friday, May 4, 2012

Happy Star Wars Day!

The year was 1977. I remember my mom coming back from the theatre with  my younger brother and sister and telling me I really needed to go see this movie, Star Wars. It didn't really sound all that interesting at the time.

My boyfriend, now husband, concurred with my mom. I absolutely had to see it, he said. So I did.

And I was hooked.

Not only did I love the movie, but I remember late nights in Denny's after the Empire Strikes Back came out, discussing the implications of Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker's father. Was it true? Was Vader just messing with Luke's mind? Then came the long lines and repeated visits to see Return of the Jedi. Star Wars may have been a clever original, but Return of the Jedi still remains my favorite.

We won't discuss the three that came after. I'd rather pretend they never happened. Despite that, you absolutely must celebrate Star Wars Day!

A friend of mine posted this picture on Facebook, and I totally love it!

There is just no other way to celebrate today than sitting down for a movie watching marathon of the three original Star Wars movies. Not the later released original versions with added scenes, but the original theatrical releases.

I really wish I had a copy of these cookbooks:

The Star Wars Cookbook - Wookie Cookies and Other Galactic Recipes

The Star Wars Cookbook II - Darth Malt and More Galactic Recipes

and if you have younger kids, this one would be a fun addition to have:

The Star Wars Craft Book

Barring having any of these books, go pop some popcorn and set yourself up comfortably for a day (or evening) of pure sci-fi fun!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day

"April showers bring May flowers," or at least that is how the saying goes. And really, very appropriate, if you consider how many May Day celebrations involve flowers!

It starts with Floralia, the Roman celebration honoring the goddess Flora. Flora was a goddess of, wait for it, flowers and her celebration ran from about April 27/28 to about May 3. It was a celebration of new life and flowers. The typical seven day festival came to also be connected to fertility, which seems to be a running theme on most May Day celebrations worldwide.

Take Bealtaine, for example. Bealtaine (byal-tinn-uh or bel-tinn-uh) is the Celtic fire festival celebrated on or around May 1. Mara Freeman, in her book, Kindling the Celtic Spirit: Ancient Traditions to Illumine Your Life Through the Seasons, describes Bealtaine as a time that we celebrate "life, growth, love and sexuality." The custom of "greenwood marriages", where couples would disappear into the woods on the eve of May Day only to return the next morning with flowers they collected, so disturbed some religious communities that they tried to ban them. Apparently, they did not like what Rudyard Kipling poetically described:

Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
Or he would call it a sin;
But we have been out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!     

The flower theme is seen repeatedly. According to Alexei Kondratiev, in his book, Celtic Rituals: An Authentic Guide to Ancient Celtic Spirituality, Bealtaine marked the change of the year from the dark half, which began at Samhain, into the light half. Kondratiev writes that one of the themes associated with the day is that of the Flower Maiden. A common Catholic tradition on this day involved crowning statues of the Virgin Mary with wreaths made of flowers.

Other customs associated with May Day are:

- Collecting dew in the early morning. It is believed the dew collected on this day will make the skin younger and more beautiful.

- Building a bonfire. Many couples would jump over the dying flames to assure fertility during the year. Pasture animals were also driven between two bonfires for the same reason.

- Making May boughs and flower wreaths to adorn the home.

- Decorating the May bush. A shrub, either planted near the front door or one placed in a pot, is decorated with flowers, ribbons, even eggshells left over from spring celebrations. Kind of like the warmer season version of decorating a Christmas tree.

- Dancing around a maypole. I remember doing this as a child at school and had the pleasure of doing it once again as an adult while on a women's retreat.

But beware! This day is also associated with the active presence of fairies, and precautions must be taken! If you must go out alone, be sure to carry upon your person a piece of iron in your pocket. In parts of Ireland, according to Kevin Danaher in this book, The Year in Ireland, it is recommended that one not "dig, whitewash, bathe or sail on May Day," the reason given that these activities "might seem to have a magical purpose and on the other a feeling that danger was to be avoided at a time when ill-luck or evil influence might prevail." It is best, then, to appease the capricious fairies by leaving out offerings. Better safe than sorry!

Besides the suggestions listed above, other ways to celebrate are to have your own celebration with music and dancing and plenty of good food. Select a May King and Queen and let them wear a crown for the day. Most importantly, have fun! But don't forget to leave something for the fairies and make sure the kids are in bed and asleep before you indulge in your own private form of flower gathering.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Night of the Witches

The wind is hushed, the starlight pales,
The dismal moon her features veils;
As magic-mad the hosts whiz by,
A myriad sparks spurt forth and fly.

So sets the tone for Walpurgis Night in Goethe's Faust by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.

Think of Night on Bald Mountain from Disney's Fantasia and you'll get the feel for what Jacob Grimm described when he wrote, "There is a mountain very high and bare...whereon it is given out that witches hold their dance on Walpurgis Night!"

Walpurgis Night, or Walpurgisnacht, falls on April 30, the night before May Day. In many of the Scandinavian countries, it is akin to Hallowe'en in that kids dress up, pranks are played, and in many places, bonfires lit.

In the older, pagan version it was believed that on this night, witches mounted their brooms and flew to The Brocken, part of the chain of mountains known as the Harz in Germany.  They celebrated the beginning of summer (have you ever wondered why June 21 is called 'mid'summer?) with dancing and any variety of merrymaking.

The Vision of Faust by Luis Ricardo Falero, 1878

The night takes its name from Saint Walpurga/Walburga who was canonized by Pope Adrian II on May 1 (in 870 AD? The year is uncertain.) She is the daughter and sister to saints, St. Richard, her father, and Sts. Willibald and Winibald, her brothers. Her uncle was St. Boniface. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, on her way to Germany, despite starting the journey with clear skies, a terrible storm arose. Walburga kneeled on the deck and prayed, and "at once the sea became calm." She is considered to be the patron saint of mariners and sailors and often invoked during storms.

So what are some ways to celebrate Walpurgis Night? A bonfire. Always with a bonfire. Lacking that ability (darn suburban living!), light a fire in the grill and cook something.

- let the kids dress up in their Hallowe'en costumes. Get another use out of them!

- be noisy! To ward off the witches gathering on this night, the citizenry made as much noise as possible. Let the kids bring out their musical instruments, or make your own, and give them permission to bang and clang and toot away. Of course, do this only for as long as you can stand it, and preferably before the headache starts.

- dance. It is what the witches are doing, so why not join them? Put on some good dance music and move that body!

- sing! Are you getting the whole making noise theme here? Break out the karaoke machine. Don't have one? Put some tunes in the cd player and belt out the song right along with the cd. Sing campfire songs around the grill.

I haven't actually seen it myself, but stumbled upon this book, Night of the Witches: Folklore, Traditions and Recipes for Celebrating Walpurgis Night by Linda Raedisch, that might have more suggestions and ideas in it. I'm curious about the recipes!

Just have fun!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Recipes, Recipes, Recipes!

When I was 15 I decided that one of these days I would get married, and figured since I had no idea what my future husband would want to eat, I should collect every recipe imaginable.

Then I turned 16 and met my future husband and discovered he loved cheesecake, so I collected every cheesecake recipe I could find.

He told me later that he only liked cherry topped cheesecake, so that began a very long and slow process of eliminating, organizing and more eliminating and more organizing.

And then I became vegan.

You get the picture.

Anyway, long and agonizing story short, in recent years the clippings and copies turned into more than four boxes and several piles of recipes that needed to be, once again, sorted and organized into a usable system. My earlier filing systems had become unwieldy, and I found I wasn't utilizing what stood to be an amazing array of dining treasures. So I sat down and began the long and rather arduous task of plowing through those boxes and piles and files and turning what had become clutter into something infinitely more accessible.


I had accumulated various binders over the years as a result of my own college attendance and then homeschooling my kids. Then an acquaintance gave me two large boxes of binders when his company underwent a name change. Add to this several unopened packages of loose leaf paper and two boxes of page protectors, I was off and running. Or sitting, as the case may be. I read, clipped and sorted my way through my stacks until I had completed my task.

I won't even mention the numerous bags of recyclable paper that my husband toted to the local recycling bin.

When the dust cleared (not really) and the stacks were gone and the recipes sorted, I had reduced what was once unsightly into several labeled and tabbed binders that put all of these eagerly awaiting to be used recipes at my fingertips. And it has paid off! I now sit down each week and select recipes from the binders and am preparing delicious recipes, just the way I've always liked to.

No muss no fuss.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Tradition of the St. Joseph's Day Altar

The place was Sicily. The drought was killing the plants and the animals, and the people were suffering. They pleaded to St. Joseph ("San Giuseppe" in Italian), their patron, for relief from the famine that gripped the island. At last the skies opened, sending down the life-giving and life-saving water. The people rejoiced, and to show their gratitude, they prepared a table with a special assortment of foods they had harvested. After paying honor to St. Joseph, they distributed the food to the less fortunate.

And so began the tradition of the St. Joseph's Altar.

The ultimate purpose of the altar is generosity. The traditional St. Joseph Altar is constructed in the shape of the cross, with three levels honoring the Holy Trinity and the three members of the Holy Family; Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. This format has varied greatly over the years, but generally includes a statue or picture of Joseph, often seen holding the baby Jesus. This stands at the center of the highest tier with flowers surrounding him, typically lilies. Candles are another item often displayed. Often the colors of red, white and green (the colors of the Italian flag) are displayed. Most altars have a basket where visitors can place written petitions.

The main attraction on the altar is food of every kind, which flavors the celebration of the saint, with the exception of meat, because it was forbidden in observance of Lent. Each food on the altar has some traditional significance. Breads are baked in the shapes of ladders, saws and hammers, the carpenter tools, and so forth. Hard-boiled eggs are embedded in baked bread to symbolize the rebirth of spring and the coming of Easter. The breadcrumbs represent the sawdust of the carpenter. Wine recalls the wedding feast at Cana.

In front of the altar, tables were filled with traditional homemade Italian dishes, pastas, eggplant parmesan, cannoli, fig cookies, meatless lasagna and casseroles. There is no meat, because those who survived the famine had little meat to put on their altar of thanksgiving, according to tradition.

The fava bean, which was the only crop that survived the drought and saved many from starvation, is called the lucky bean. The legend goes if you carry a fava bean or lucky bean in your pocket or purse you will never be without money, and the pantry with a fava bean in it will never be bare. Bowls of dried fava beans are often set on the altar and visitors are encouraged to take one.

A palm branch outside the building or house of an altar is an invitation to come in.

Many families believe that having a St. Joseph Altar can bring good fortune. It is common to hear stories about favors received (a loved one’s recovery from an illness, for example) which are in turn attributed to the family’s dedication to St. Joseph. But whatever the reasons, people became involved in the St. Joseph Feast. One of the special customs calls for the selection of children to portray members of the Holy Family – Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Angels and favorite saints may also be introduced into the ritual which begins with the “saints” going door to door to seek aid until finally reaching the place where the altar is on display.

After the Holy Family has eaten, guests may partake of the meal. Most of the foods presented on the altar are acquired through begging, a symbolic gesture that represents what the poor of Sicily were forced to do. When the feast is over, the remaining food and whatever money has been collected are given to the poor.

Visitors to St. Joseph Altars are given small paper bags containing a few blessed items from the Altar. The bags usually contain a holy card and a small medal. Various cookies or small breads may also be in the bag. Every goodie bag will have a fava bean inside.

Although there are perishable foods on the altars, a large portion of the breads, cookies and cakes are wrapped so that they may be given to charities after the altar is broken. All of the items on the altar -- food, candles, medals, holy cards and fava beans -- are blessed by a priest in a special ceremony the afternoon before an altar is broken.

The altar is broken after a ceremony which reenacts the Holy Family seeking shelter. The ceremony is called Tupa Tupa which in Italian means Knock Knock. Children dressed in costume knock at three doors asking for food and shelter. At the first two they are refused. At the third door, the host of the altar greets them and welcomes them to refresh themselves.

In some communities it is traditional to wear red clothing and eat a Sicilian pastry known as a zeppola on St. Joseph's Day. Sweets are popular because St. Joseph is the patron saint of pastry chefs.

On the Sicilian island of Lipari, The St. Joseph legend is modified somewhat, and says that sailors returning from the mainland encountered a fierce storm that threatened to sink their boat. They prayed to St. Joseph for deliverance, and when they were saved, they swore to honor the saint each year on his feast day.

Some villages like Belmonte Mezzagno used to burn wood and logs in squares on the day before St.Joseph, as thanksgiving to the Saint. This is called "A Vampa di San Giuseppe" (the Saint Joseph's bonfire).

In Italy March 19 is also Father's Day.

St. Joseph's Day is also the day when the swallows are traditionally believed to return to Mission San Juan Capistrano after having flown south for the winter.

Even if you are not Catholic, or even Christian, this is a good day to think of and do something for the poor. Food pantries are often overwhelmed with donations around Christmas, but the rest of the year many struggle to keep their shelves stocked. Host a dinner for your friends and family and invite all participants to bring with them a canned good or other non-perishable item to donate to your local food pantry. Investigate how you can help Meals on Wheels or other similar local organizations. Volunteer to help out at a food kitchen.

This is a day of thanksgiving as well as generosity. Count your blessings today by sharing with those less fortunate.

And carry a fava bean.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Shamrocks and Snakes

Today people all over the world are celebrating St. Patrick's Day. It is the one holiday when everyone wants to be Irish. I'm pretty lucky - I am Irish. Well, okay, not full blooded born in Ireland Irish, but my Irish ancestors immigrated here in the early 1800s and stayed. Where I'm from, the annual parade claims nearly 500,000 spectators. So the day has been kind of a big deal for my family since I was a wee lass.

So who was this St. Patrick? For starters, the real St. Patrick wasn't even Irish. He was born in Britian around A.D. 390 to an aristocratic Christian family with a townhouse, a country villa, and plenty of slaves. He wasn't even really Christian. At 16 he was kidnapped and sent overseas to tend sheep as a slave in the chilly, mountainous countryside of Ireland for seven years. Somewhere during that time, he had a conversion experience.

As the story goes, a voice came to Patrick in his dreams, telling him to escape. He found passage on a pirate ship back to Britain, where he was reunited with his family. Then that same voice told him to go back to Ireland. He gets ordained as a priest and goes back and spends the rest of his life trying to convert the Irish to Christianity.

He died on March 17, 461, and was largely forgotten. Slowly, mythology grew around Patrick, and centuries later he was honored as the patron saint of Ireland.

And herein lies much debate.

One of the biggest stories about Patrick involves how he drove the snakes out of Ireland. The problem with this story is there aren't, and pretty much never were, snakes in Ireland. The waters around the island are too cold to allow a snake to migrate there. So, if there weren't any snakes, how did this story come about?

The snake is associated as a pagan symbol, and it is believed that the snakes referred to in the St. Patrick mythos are not meant in the literal sense, but refer to pagans, especially druids. Druids were said to carry staffs with snakes carved on them. So when they say St. Patrick drove out all the snakes, what they are really saying is he drove out paganism and replaced it with Christianity.

Another widely known tale is how Patrick explained the trinity using a shamrock. The shamrock had been seen as sacred in the pre-Christian days in Ireland. Due to its green color and overall shape, many viewed it as representing rebirth and eternal life. Three was a sacred number in the pagan religion. This is more indicative of his taking something already known and associated with a spiritual belief and incorporating it into his own. A common practice at the time.

Since around the ninth or 10th century, people in Ireland have been observing the Roman Catholic feast day of St. Patrick on March 17. Interestingly, however, the first parade held to honor St. Patrick's Day took place not in Ireland but in the United States. On March 17, 1762, Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City. Along with their music, the parade helped the soldiers reconnect with their Irish roots, as well as with fellow Irishmen serving in the English army. The parades became a way to honor the saint but also to confirm ethnic identity and to create bonds of solidarity.

In 1962 the show of solidarity took a spectacular turn in Chicago when the city decided to dye a portion of the Chicago River green.

In Savannah, Georgia, every fountain within the city limits is dyed green in a ceremony that dates back more than 100 years.

The day is associated not just with parades, but with lots and lots of beer. On any given day 5.5 million pints of Guinness, the famous Irish stout brand, are consumed around the world. But on St. Patrick's Day, that number more than doubles to 13 million pints.

While you are likely to see a lot of *wearin' o' the green* on this day, many modern pagans view the day not as a day of celebration, but of mourning. They choose instead to wear the traditional mourning color of black, or red for the blood that was shed. Many have renamed the day All Snakes Day instead, and wear snake symbols.

In my family, it is a day to play. We often try to catch the annual parade, even if it is largely just a means to advertise local businesses. And mostly, I always try to whip up something Irish-y to eat. Some suggestions include Tempeh with Cabbage and Potatoes or perhaps an Emerald Isle Pot Pie. Whatever you do, make it your own kind of celebration, and have fun with it!
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