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All homemade, local and/or organic. Also vegan! Potato, leek, and fennel soup, baked acorn squash, and steamed Brussels sprouts over couscous.

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Tea Kettles

A kettle can be looked at much like the cauldron, a goddess symbol with connections to both Earth and Water elements.

The above quote is from Juniper on one of the tools of hearth craft.  This idea really resonates with me and I’m amazed that I didn’t make that connection before.  Sure, I see my apartment’s electric stove as the modern hearth and the heat it produces as an extension of Brighid’s sacred flame – but why didn’t I ever see my kettle as a type of cauldron?  As a tea lover, it is such a central part of my life!  I think my world was just rocked.

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I love working in my kitchen.  When I’m there, I feel close to Brighid, my patroness and guardian of the hearth.  Over the years, I’ve turned into a real foodie.  I love making my own food.  If I can grow it, that’s even better!  The kitchen is a great place to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.  Although we’re not perfect, Weretoad and I have been making considerable efforts!

I was really, really pleased to get a food dehydrator as a holiday gift from my parents.  Drying is one of the oldest forms of food preservation.  I’ve been doing a bit myself the old fashioned way – mostly with herbs and chili peppers from my garden.  This new dehydrator will allow me to dry larger quantities of food quickly and using very little energy.  Last night we dried two bunches of mini bananas that were on their way out and dirt cheap at the grocery store.  Sure they’re not local.  They weren’t organic either.  But using old bananas that would have been thrown out anyway is very sustainable!  They are so delicious too.  They aren’t like the typical banana chips bought in stores, which are usually fried before drying.  These are chewy like a gummy candy!

 

 

 

As I write this, I’m making tonight’s dinner – stew and dumplings thanks to my father’s dumpling recipe.  A few years ago, I was more likely to make some sort of vegetarian hamburger helper type meal – something from a package.  To a busy gal more focused on literature than food, they seemed healthy.  As I’ve grown, I’ve become more interested in what is on my plate.  Where did it come from?  What’s in it?  Is it really good for me?  Again, we’re not perfect, but we’ve made huge strides in making a majority of our meals from scratch or from local/organic products.  Making food in the traditional way, I feel, brings me closer to the Kindreds.  Working in the kitchen, as I said, strengthens my relationship to Brighid of the hearth.  Using better ingredients brings me closer to the Nature Spirits.  Preparing meals from scratch rather than from a box and becoming more and more familiar with traditional methods brings me closer to my ancestors.

We don’t feel that we’re perfect (we have lazy moments) and our journey towards better sustainability continues.  It is a very Druidic journey, in my opinion.  Witches and Druids who strive for a closeness with the Earth should take such a journey.  Some of you may disagree with me, but it’s something I believe very strongly.

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I do consider Samhain to be the beginning of my spiritual year, but I also cannot deny the status quo in regards to modern society.  Generations have looked to the point between December and January as the threshold to a new year and the continual existence of all. I can’t deny the power associated with such a movement, even if I don’t always observe it with much excitement.  Last year I spent it quietly with my husband.  We relaxed.  This year, I’ll likely spend it helping my sister move and then celebrating with some of my tribe.

Another thing I want to do is clean my home as best as I can.  Many people believe that what you do at the end of the old year will follow you into the new year, and that we should strive to surround ourselves with the qualities we want to fill our lives with.  I want my apartment to be cleaner and I want to take more time making it thus.  I spent some time today cleaning and organizing the kitchen.  There is still work to be done but it’s slowly getting better and more user-friendly.

I also find myself looking forward to the green half of the year.  With the Winter Solstice pretty much over (I plan to take my decorations down on the 6th.  There’s an old Irish belief that it’s unlucky to do so before or after.), I find myself excited for Beltaine.  I feel a bit bad about that since I don’t feel as giddy over the next high day, Imbolc, which is sacred to my blessed Lady Brighid, but to me that’s more of a quiet holiday for counting one’s blessings.  The Spring Equinox has never been that festive to me either.  Beltaine, though, is another story completely.  The ground will finally be completely or in the process of thawing.  The leaves will be blossoming and the robins will assuredly be back by then.  It is when my grove erects a May Pole and we dance about it to provoke the Earth Mother into fecundity.  It is a flirtatious and celebratory time!  I find myself excitedly looking through seed catalogs and humming Jonathan Coulton’s “First of May”…

This time of year is also when I find myself a new calendar.  This year I am going to use  The Artisans Guild of Ár nDraíocht Féin 2011 Calendar.  It supports the guild I belong to and features the work of several amazing Pagan artists – including a couple of my dolls!

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It was always easy for me to connect with The Nature Spirits.  Upon reflection, I must confess that it was the Nature Spirits who originally helped me decide to turn to Paganism.  I’ve always been an environmentalist.  At a very early age, I started to learn about animals, ecosystems, and the huge amount of damage humans were inflicting upon the Earth Mother and her children.  At the age of five, I was making “Save the Rainforest” posters with crayons and construction paper.  I hung these at the local ice cream and candy shop.  At the age of eight, I became a “beady-eyed vegetarian” and only ate white meat.  At seventeen, I became a full-fledged vegetarian and am still one to this day for environmental reasons.

My parents raised me to care about nature to some degree or another.  My mother taught me compassion for all living things.  I was warned to never to step on an ant because, one day, I might be that ant.  I learned very quickly that animals do have a soul and emotions.
Even now I can’t help but put myself in their place and imagine how they feel.  My father taught me how to grow gardens full of vegetables. Out of his interest in camping, he taught me simple survival techniques such as fishing, boating, and how to make fires.  He always did so with reverence.  He was a volunteer fireman and taught me that nature, like fire, was to be honored and respected because, just as it could give life, it could also take it away.

I took the teachings of my parents to the next level and came to the conclusion that nature was worthy of worship.  I discovered Paganism around the same time I was becoming a full-fledged vegetarian.  I was amazed that there were contemporary religions in existence that not only honored but worshiped the Earth Mother and her creatures.  I felt like I had come home. This went along well with my maturing environmentalism and vegetarianism.  While I will be the first to say that Pagans aren’t required to be vegetarians (nor should all vegetarians be Pagan!), I do think that environmentalism and, therefore, conscious eating, should be a requirement.  This also isn’t to say that all environmentalists must give up eating meat – simply that it’s important for us to consider where our food comes from.  This train of thinking carried me to vegetarianism, but if it carries others to hunt for or raise their own meat, I believe that those are also conscious, eco-friendly approaches to eating.

Eating local vegetables and fruits has also become important to me.  While it’s harder to do so in the winter, I do my best to purchase organic food to avoid chemicals. My goal is to one day eat locally and within season.  Some environmentally-minded friends and I are going to learn how to can and preserve food this autumn so that we can eat local food in the winter.  In the meantime, I’m working on a small vegetable garden.  Working with the soil, water, and sun to bring life out of little seeds has helped me to connect to the life cycles of nature.  Politically, I’ve started to write letters concerning agriculture and the environment to my representatives, and I am currently working on a letter to send to a local Pagan Pride event in regards to the food offered.

I feel lucky to have grown up in a largely rural area.  While I’m certainly not a scholar on the local flora and fauna, I’m always surprised when Pagan authors suggest that a good way to start forming a relationship with the Earth is to learn about such things as what type of birds live in one’s area, what the first flowers to appear in the spring are, and what plants you can eat.  I sometimes take it for granted that I was able to observe these things first hand or learn about them from knowledgeable adults.  I’ve always been a student of nature but I still have much to learn.  I have an interest in sustainable living and thus I would like to learn about the many edible plants in my own yard.  I’ve purchased some books and have gone to some workshops, resulting in some interesting experimental salads!

In addition to healthy, conscious eating habits, my fiancé and I are also trying to be conscious consumers.  We do our best to recycle, research products, and find eco-friendly merchandise.  I’ve switched to eco-friendly deodorants, shampoos, makeup, and toothpaste.  We are also trying to switch to eco-friendly cleaning products.  At the same time, we know it’s important not to waste and so we continue to use those products that we already own.  We have also made an effort to reduce the number of plastic bags we use by limiting how much we purchase, carrying products without a bag, or using reusable canvas bags.  As far as cars are concerned, we share my little Saturn and get 30-35 mpg. We try to carpool or walk to as many places as possible.  It’s difficult where work is concerned, but I believe that every little bit helps and that even baby steps are a step in the right direction.

I said that I still have much to learn.  Some of my latest lessons in nature have come from the city.  My fiancé lives in the city of Utica and I spend a lot of time at his apartment.  These past few years have presented new lessons – lessons about the flora and fauna of the city. I’m now learning that people in the city aren’t as cut off from nature as I once believed.  In fact I think that urban Pagans who are able to find a connection in a city are probably more appreciative than those of us who live in the country.  The more time I spend in the city, the more I’ve come to appreciate the value of my parents’ forested backyard.  I’ve started to consciously look for examples of nature within the city so that I can maintain my connection.  I pay attention to what the trees are doing, I notice and praise the dandelions poking through the sidewalk, and I smile when I see a skunk ambling across the street at night.  Nature spirits are everywhere and one need only look.

My practical experiences are very spiritual.  When I first started to read about ancient Pagans, I remember reading about how they didn’t categorize activities as either spiritual or mundane – they were all spiritual in some way.  I feel myself entering that frame of mind.  When I am in my garden watering the seedlings, I am engaging in an age-old ritual and connecting to the spirits of the land.  When it rains, I thank the rain because it is helping everything to grow.  When it snows, I pray that the snow spirits will be kind to me.  I think that, while I’ve always had animistic tendencies, Druidry has helped me to develop them to the point where I really do feel that everything has some sort of soul or energy.  I feel intertwined with it all and it makes me even more aware of the delicate balance that exists on Earth.  My conscious efforts to be an eco-minded consumer are ways of affirming my connection and devotion to the Earth Mother and her children.

Of course I also feel happiness simply existing in nature.  I love to go for walks in the forest behind my home.  I have a little shrine set up by a tree – a boundary marker, really.  I feel that it is the true entrance into the forest.  I make offerings there from time to time and visit often to feel the presence of the unseen world around me.  I love to meditate outside, to feel the wind through my hair, to make offerings to the fairies. I feel more alive in the forests, mountains, and lakes. In many ways, the Nature Spirits are my first love and it only makes sense for me to dedicate my life to them as a priestess.  However, without the acts of conscious eating and consuming, the offerings and nature walks would be little more than empty gestures.  ADF has helped me to see that my life’s work is, above all else, to honor, worship, and serve the spirits of Earth.

 

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Weretoad and I had a lovely Winter Solstice!  I was so excited and in a festive mood.  While he was away at work, I finished wrapping gifts, put on some Solstice music, and lit the tree.  It’s the only night we leave it on and it’s a great reminder of what we’re celebrating.

I also busied myself preparing the feast you see at left.  I made a vegetarian roast with baked scallions, carrots, and potatoes.  I also made fresh bread, steamed brussels sprouts, and bread pudding.  Mmmm…carbs… Magical, wonderful carbs!

In addition, I brought home cranberries and made popcorn to turn into garlands.  We did that after our ritual.  After discussing what we should do, Weretoad and I decided to honor the Nature Spirits who have to struggle through the bitter cold.  It is a hard time to be wild.  Many creatures die.  Food is scarce.  We forget that in our warm homes with our stocked larders.  Our main offering was the garland which we put on the little spruce we keep on our patio.  Next year I would like to do more for deities as well but I’m still uncertain as to who I should honor.  Should I visit the Norse deities of my Germanic ancestors and honor Odin as he rides through the sky?  Should I honor the Cailleach as the crone of winter?  Should I give praise to Angus as he is associated with New Grange and thus the Winter Solstice?  I lean more towards the latter two…  I guess we’ll see what next year brings.

We went a bit overboard on gifts this year.  In years past we kept a tradition – three large gifts and three stocking stuffers.  This year…  we kind of forgot and got lost in the joy of giving to each other.  We really need to restrain ourselves next year.  That said – I got some lovely gifts from my husband!  In addition to some shiny and practical items, he also contributed to my growing Pagan library. I got a recycled three ring cardboard binder – something I want to use to make my new Druidic grimoire.  I also received The Black Pullet (an old grimoire) and Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants by Claudia Muller-Ebeling, Christian Ratsch, and Wolf-Dieter Storl Ph.D.  (For my birthday a week ago, he gave me Toads and Toadstools: The Natural History, Mythology and Cultural Oddities of this Strange Association by Adrian Morgan.)  Needless to say, I have a ton of new books to enjoy and learn from!  Squee!

Today I am busying myself with last minute gift sewing and wrapping.  Yes, I still “celebrate” Christmas with my vaguely Christian family.  I love the excuse to see them. They know I consider the gifts I give them to be Solstice gifts just as the ones they give me are for their own holiday of giving and love.  We somehow meet on common ground.  At the same time, I look forward to having my own large home and throwing wonderful Winter Solstice parties for the whole family…  Some day…  This year, I enjoyed my quiet Solstice with Weretoad. 🙂

( For My LJ and FB Friends: http://adfcatprints.blogspot.com/ )

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Yesterday I talked about what the Autumn Equinox means to me.  Now I’m going to share with you some of what I’ve been doing to celebrate it!

I’ve started to collect twigs from specific trees to create small ogham staves.  So far I’ve started luis/rowan and dair/oak.  I’m proud of them so far!  Here they are with some festive mini pumpkin gourds.
Some of the last summer flowers cut, bound, and ready to offer at a gathering I attended last night.  They turned into the table centerpiece!  
My personal altar with an autumn-colored altar cloth and harvest offerings.
Here’s a closeup of the cornhusk doll I made.  She’s probably the third one I’ve ever finished so…  she’s not as impressive as some others out there!  I’m proud of her all the same.  I actually grew the corn that she’s made out of!  Granted, because only two spouted and were grown in containers, they didn’t produce large ears.  Still, I was able to grow my own offering and autumn decor (the stalks have been cut and tied to an iron post outside).  This dolly is going to be part of the main offering at Muin Mound Grove tomorrow.  Everyone was encouraged to make a corn dolly to place in the fire.
More harvest offerings!  Everything except the gourds were from my own garden.  I included the tiny ears of corn.  Behind all the flowers, fruit, and vegetables is a harvest Earth Mother doll I crocheted.  She’s my planned personal offering for the big ritual tomorrow.
I’m looking forward to seeing my grovies tomorrow and celebrating the harvest.  On the actual Equinox I  went to Better Farm for a potluck dinner, casual “ritual,” and bonfire!  What an amazing place!  I met so many wonderful people.  Everyone was so hospitable.  Sharing a meal with local gardeners, artisans, and free-thinkers; listening to a fiddler and guitarist tweak out an acoustic “Knocking on Heaven’s Door;” standing in a candlelit barn; and sitting around a smokey fire while crying “I hate rabbits!” every time the smoke hit my eyes – now that was a great way to spend the Equinox!  

( For My LJ Friends: http://adfcatprints.blogspot.com/ )

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