Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Honoring the Ancestors at Samhain

Samhain. It's a word that is often mispronounced and is associated with either fear or joy. Fear by those who don't know any better, and joy by those who do. Let me explain.

Samhain, pronounced sow-in in Irish Gaelic or sah-vin in Scots Gaelic, means, loosely, the end of summer. It is also the Irish Gaelic word for November. It is NOT pronounced sam-hane (shame on you, Supernatural!), nor is it the name of the Celtic God of Dead (shame on you evangelicals!) It marks the beginning of winter and is one of four seasonal festivals celebrated by the Celts, often associated with fire for its cleansing and protective qualities. Considered a liminal time when the boundary between the living and dead was thinner, it was not necessarily a time of fear, as some, unfortunately, believe. It was more a time of reconnection.

The ancestors were considered important in the health and wealth of a community. Currying their favor ensured success with crops and livestock. Samhain was of particular importance in this regard. Because the Celts believed those who had crossed over could step across the threshold to visit family, places were set at the table for them. In some areas the food set aside was not to be touched by the living; in other areas the food was given to the poor. Games were played for the enjoyment of the visiting ancestors, and gossip was heard for their pleasure and to catch them up on current events. Thus, the ancestors were both fed and entertained, and kept interested in the affairs of the living. It also served to remind the living to remember and honor the dead.

Hallowe'en, or All Hallows Eve, is normally a time for us modern folks to play. We dress up, and dress up our children, and take delight with all things scary. Normally, I would be doing this myself, because who doesn't enjoy cute kids in adorable costumes asking for candy? Especially the ones so young they just stare at you when you open the door - they are my favorite. But not this year. Last year I lost my father, and my long neglected Samhain practices have fallen to the wayside. This year feels especially important to celebrate properly.

My father had mostly German ancestry. The Germanic equivalent of Samhain is known as Winter Nights. This celebration also honors our dearly departed.

Because the Celts marked the beginning of each new day in darkness, that is, the night preceding, my celebration began at sundown on October 31. I made two dishes: a stew baked in a pumpkin, and stwmp naw rhyw (mash o' nine sorts). Because I am a vegan, the stew is beefless using vegan "beef". Samhain was a time when the Celts gathered in their herds for the winter, and slaughtered the excess to feed their families through the winter. Beef, then, was a common meal for the festival, so I honor that to the best of my ability by using an acceptable substitute. I served it in a pumpkin just because! The stwmp naw rhyw is a traditional dish served in many Celtic communities on this day, but I'm  not certain how ancient or modern it is. I just thought it was cool.

My Samhain meal of stew over mash:

For dessert, I served raw, washed apples. The symbolism behind apples is the Celts believed their dearly departed traveled to a place called Eamhain Abhlach (Paradise of Apples); some may be more familiar with its Welsh counterpart, Avalon. As I mentioned above, games were played for the benefit of the ancestors, and one of those games was bobbing for apples.

The Celts believed that when one died, they traveled to the west. So, another tradition still kept by many in Celtic countries today is the seomra thiar (west room).  It is more typically a shelf on a western wall in the home, where pictures and other mementos of loved ones that have passed are placed.  I have one in my own home, next to my fireplace, coincidentally on a western wall. I love doing jigsaw puzzles, and this year just so happened to pick one up by artist Nene Thomas, entitled Swan Song. The perfection of this didn't occur to me until later, after I got home. A swan song is a metaphorical phrase for a final gesture before death or retirement. I felt it very important to finish this puzzle and display it on my seomra thiar by Samhain, and I succeeded. It now takes pride of place behind my collection of photos and belongings of my family that are now gone, as a tribute to them and their accomplishments and impact on my life.

Traditionally, since Samhain is a fire festival, a bonfire would be lit. I was unable to have a bonfire, and normally would have lit a fire in our fire pit, however, it was raining pretty steadily, so didn't have a fire. :(

One way today we can honor our ancestors is through genealogy research. This is another area I have long neglected. I remedied that today by organizing my genealogy material in preparation for an overdue trip to my local genealogy library. I am happy that I was able to get stories from my dad while I had the chance.

I am pleased with how my celebration turned out. It was just what I'd hoped to accomplish. I'd like to think he would have enjoyed my food, even though he liked to tease me about being vegan. Nevertheless, he did always eat any dish I prepared. I miss him every day. I love you, Dad!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Seeing red at the park

Just outside of my neighborhood is this lovely little park. A small playground, scattered picnic tables, and a well maintained walking trail, it's lightly wooded with just enough trees to provide plenty of shade but not so many trees to make someone feel unsafe walking alone. I go there regularly and walk about 3 miles. I'm always delighted to see the variety of people that come there to use the trail - young, old, some walking, some jogging, some pushing baby strollers, the occasional dog walker. There's also plenty of wildlife there; I've seen squirrels, bunnies, a wake of vultures dining on road kill, a rat, a bat, and a copperhead snake. More on the bat below, and everyone gave the snake a wide berth as he lazily slithered across and off the trail into the woods.

Occasionally I see trash on the trail, mostly ignored :(, which I always pick up and toss in one of the randomly spaced trash cans. But that's not why I saw red.

Yesterday as I did my usual walk, I noticed four teenage girls. At one point they jogged past me in pairs. It was on the return when I heard the first pair commenting to hurry, the second pair was catching up. Ah! A competition of sorts! As the other pair approached me, one stopped, obviously tiring out. Her companion attempted to spur her on by asking, "Do you want to get heart disease? C'mon!"

According to statistics listed by the American Heart Association:

- Cardiovascular diseases were the most common cause of death in the world as of 2013, claiming about 17.3 million lives.

- In the U.S., more than 1 in 3 adults (92.1 million adults) have cardiovascular diseases, accounting for 807,775 deaths in 2014.

- About 790,000 people in the US have heart attacks each year. Of those, about 114,000 will die. In the U.S., about 795,000 adults experienced a new or recurrent stroke, accounting for nearly 133,000 deaths in 2014.

- There were more than 350,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in the U.S., nearly 90 percent of them fatal.

February is Go Red for Women Month. The Go Red for Women movement began because:

"In the past, heart disease and heart attack have been predominantly associated with men. Historically, men have been the subjects of the research done to understand heart disease and stroke, which has been the basis for treatment guidelines and programs. This led to an oversimplified, distorted view of heart disease and risk, which has worked to the detriment of women.

Because women have been largely ignored as a specific group, their awareness of their risk of this often-preventable disease has suffered. Only 55 percent of women realize heart disease is their No. 1 killer and less than half know what are considered healthy levels for cardiovascular risk factors like blood pressure and cholesterol. The Go Red For Women movement works to make sure women know they are at risk so they can take action to protect their health."

So, to the teenage girl encouraging her friend to keep running to avoid heart disease, I say to you, thank you! Thank you for being aware, thank you for bettering your own health, and thank you for trying to help your friend.

Getting healthy is not just for young people. I once heard a doctor say, "You're never too old, and it's never too late to improve your health." This is excellent advice.

Now, more on that bat.

Last year while out walking in the park with my hubby, another walker warned us there was a bat on the ground. As we came near it, I saw it on its back, making threatening sounds. We kept walking, unsure what to do, because in our area they often caution about the possibility of contracting rabies. It was gone when we walked back by, but I've always hoped no one came along and did something horrible to it.

Once I got home, I googled how to handle a situation like this one, in the event it possibly happens again. I learned that in the probable case of this bat, it was a female with her young. Apparently she can become weighed down with all of them clinging to her and fall out of the roost. She will make defensive sounds and motions to frighten predators away. The best way to handle this if you encounter it is too find a long, strong stick and touch it to her feet. She will grab on and you can lift her to a branch in a tree. Bats cannot take off from ground level, so need to be placed about five feet up. Now, I want to point out that I believe this was a mama bat because of the time of year it occurred. Advice still remains that you should never touch a bat you find on the ground with your bare hands. Assume it is injured. If you can get it to grasp the stick and set it back in the tree, all the better. Be gentle. Be safe.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

It's the small things

Yesterday when I posted a few things I'm grateful for, other things popped into my head. At random moments, which of course, isn't that always the way?

For instance, I can never get my husband to watch tv with me. Even things we've both enjoyed in the past, he's always noncommittal about it. With, lately, one rather fascinating exception: old movies. Like from the 30s and 40s black and white movies. I rented the entire collection of the movies The Thin Man, and we watched all of them together, often in our pajamas. Next he found - yes, he - I Married a Witch. Again, we watched in our pjs. It is kind of becoming our thing now. Watching movies at night in our pjs. He even bought popcorn for us.

The only other exception is, believe it or not, Godzilla movies. I'm not sure when that fascination for us began, but it's been years. Only recently, however, have we been buying the movies when we come across them. We've built a nice little collection so far.

I realize to many this may sound utterly boring. But for us, it's been a lot of fun. Our youngest even joined us for the Godzilla movie. That by itself was a rarity. He's often off doing his own thing, but that night he sat down with his old fogey parents and watched a monster flick.

Like I said, it's the small things. But they are cause to celebrate, just the same.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Sipping tea in a beer guzzling world

My original idea for this blog was to find things to make every day a celebration. It's just a weird fascination of mine to discover holidays from around the world, and how people celebrate them. But it has never had to be something official like that. That is just fun for me, personally. However, I have so sorely neglected this blog for well over a year.

Hey, I have an excuse. Last year was a dumpster fire of a year. I don't know who first coined that term to apply to 2016, but I think it's pretty brilliant. There's even an ornament someone designed for it. Seriously! But on a more personal level, my dad died last year. I learned way more than I wanted on elder care (severely lacking, honestly), health conditions in general, and what it means to be an executrix. Mostly, how much death brings out the best and worst of people. Testify.

But then a new year rolls around, and everyone makes noises about being better. I know I do. I'm kind of notorious about resolutions. And I keep them. Mostly. Okay, kinda. So this year is no different. I was recently reminded about listing five things I'm grateful for every day. I think it was Sarah ban Breathnach that made that a thing? When you think about it, being grateful is a way of celebrating, amirite?

So here's my five things from last year and into this year that give me reason to celebrate:

1. My son and I have reignited our passion for finding old and often neglected cemeteries. We should probably dress in black considering how much we enjoy this. It's probably the history buff in both of us that drives us to seek these usually hard to reach places, but we do love doing it.

2. The Vikings. I watched the first episode when it first aired and never quite managed to get back to it. It kept creeping into my life last year, and I am lucky to have a friend who just so happened to have three seasons on dvd loaned them to me. Once I started watching I was HOOKED. Thank you On Demand and kisses to my dvr that allowed me to then watch the fourth season. I also can't stop playing the theme song. I'm waiting for my family to rebel. I won't lie, I'm listening to it right now.

3. Thrift shopping obsession. This is very likely a tribute to my dad, because it was something he and I liked to do together. We understood one another about this in a way that baffled my mom and makes my husband shake his head. I typically go once a week and often come home with treasures. See, I call it treasure hunting, but my dad called it junk shopping. Potaytoe, potahtoe. Just today I found some very cool wine themed stuff. Which leads into my next item.

4. Normally if I drink wine, it's of the dessert variety. Last year I decided I wanted to become more discriminating. At a thrift store, natch, I found a kit on hosting a wine tasting party. I'm not so much interested in the party part, as the items contained in the kit. Basically, score sheets for wine tastings. I never realized there was so much to wine other than smashed and aged grapes. Go ahead, call me a philistine. I own it. So, when possible, I sample different wines, attempting to differentiate the tastes and smells one from another. I won't say I'm getting good at it, but I am getting a little better. Now when I drink dry wine I don't make faces.

5. But mostly, and hence the title of this entry, tea. Last year I finally took the challenge a friend of mine gave me to post all of my tea mugs on my tea blog. You can find it here, if you are so inclined. I was surprised, not surprised, at how many tea mugs I currently own. My dining room is dedicated to all things tea. I drink tea every single day. Nothing (okay, that's an exaggeration, but you get it) makes me happier than a nice cuppa.

And those five things, for starters, give me cause for celebration. History, more history, shopping, wine, and tea. And politics. But I won't say more on that. ;)
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