Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Review: Mightier Than The Sword

Rowan and I go to the library weekly, if not more. The Columbus Public Library is an award winner for many reasons. We take home 15-20 picture and chapter books a week and have only repeated well-loved favorites upon request. This week we chanced upon "Mightier Than The Sword: World Folktales for Strong Boys" by Jane Yolen. I am so glad that we did.

Anyone who has't read Jane Yolen really should. I love her Sister Light, Sister Dark series as well as her dark retelling of Briar Rose. She is also prolific in the kids' books department, although not all her offerings are this high caliber. She has two collections for non-kyriarchical, no stereotype child-rearing that I highly recommend- this book (which shows you do not have to use violence and force to solve problems and have a good life) and "Not One Damsel in Distress" (a book that shows enterprising young ladies how to get out of scrapes themselves). I plan on purchasing BOTH for my son. I believe that to counter all the propaganda out there about boys and girls, men and women in film, TV and culture in general- he will need both.

This afternoon, I read "Knee-High Man" to Rowan before his nap. It is an African-American folktale about a short person who wishes to become bigger. In the story, he asks for advice several times before he is questioned about WHY. In the end, he is happy "getting bigger in the mind". I also love "Language of the Birds" which has the byline "Not all enchantments are wicked". Indeed!

The collection Yolen assembled also includes Finnish, Afghani, English, Israeli, Russian, Burman, and Hungarian folktales (among others). It is a well-rounded collection across many cultures and times.

In the forward essay (entitled "An Open Letter to My Sons and Grandson" Yolen explains, "This book is for you. It is for you because this book did not exist when I was growing up." Yolen has given the world a gift in these two companion volumes.

I highly recommend this book to a parent of boys and girls.

Formal Rating:

Title: Mightier Than The Sword
Author: Jane Yolen and Raul Colon (Illustrator)
Publisher: Harcourt Inc.
Price: $19.00 USD (Hardcover)
ISBN: 978-0-15-2163914

Topics Covered: Gender, Sex, Identity, Challenging Violence and Force

Target Audience: children ages 2-10

Witch Mom Rating: Three Hats

This book is has a selection of great storiesthat counter the conditioning that boys need to become heroes through fighting, battles and use of violence and force. It is a powerful important message more children need to hear.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Teaching the Craft

Recently, I have had an opportunity to think about what a teacher of the Craft would need to pass on if they were to teach an apprentice. I thought that the list was interesting, so I thought that I would share it with you.

(These are my opinions of course and other traditions of Witchcraft (remember, I belong to a non-Wiccan, ecstatic, left hand path) may have different ideas- and that is OK. This path is not for everyone and that is OK too. There is room for everyone in all the myriad paths that exist.)

The Tools of Alchemy
My tradition has several specific tools that help transform a person into a Witch, ready to carry the current of my tradition. These tools include a daily sitting practice, working with life force, certain types of energy manipulation to transform the self, and what we call "demon work". These make a person ready to become a Witch. Not everyone can "run the amps" required to be what my tradition considers a Witch. I also differ with the idea that these tools benefit anyone and should be widely disseminated to people who aren't even being considered for initiation. This means that I disagree with some of the most visible Witches in the tradition that we split from*. I think these tools of alchemy are specifically to craft a Witch, not create a "better person". Some of these tools have become very commercialized lately- because they are easy to pass on in their simplest most shallow forms, one-at-a-time, via workshops, books, and intensives and sell them for a profit. That is unscrupulous to my mind. The Craft is not for sale.

The Gods and The Wheel of the Year Cycle
My tradition has specific Gods that it works with, both terrestrial and cosmic, and in order to be a part of this tradition you need to know them intimately and work with them deeply. Many are alien to neo-Wicca or non-initiatory groups of Witches, as they those folks tend to focus on gods in cultural clothing (the Greek or Roman pantheon, for example) or terrestrial gods only (Gaia, The Green Man, the Lord and Lady, for example).

My tradition is polytheistic and does not believe all gods are "the" god and all goddesses are "the" goddess (and we also believe that dualism is a human fiction). But we also simultaneously believe that we are all a part of one thing (did I ever mention that my trad enjoys a good paradox?)- God Herself- and hence all is divine and the divine is immanent. Hence WE (humans) are gods, too- and not just "a spark" or "a reflection" either.

We also teach a Wheel of the Year mythos that is tied to the seasons and the hero's journey- it tells the story not only of the earth's cycles (as most neo-Wicca trads adhere to) but also the life story of the initiate. To understand the Wheel and tie yourself to it is an act of Will**.

Ecstasy and Trance
My trad is not a fertility-based trad, but rather an ecstatic, shamanic one. This is a left hand path which means it can be scary for some and demonized by others. So be it.

Emphasis is placed on achieving brain states other than everyday mundane states (that we are in when driving, shopping, and going about our everyday lives). We do this because the job of the Witch (and yes, Witches have jobs to do!) is to go and be in-between. Between this world and the realm of gods, the fey, and the dead. We work with divine possession in this trad, sex magick, entheogens, divination, oracular work, and out of body travel as ways to achieve and as the tools used while in these ecstatic states. And because these are part of our work, we must be skilled at achieving these states and practice practice practice.

Working in a Group
While many Witches work solo, you also need to know how to work with a group, be it with a few others for a specific working, to celebrate the sabbats or esbats, or in a coven on an ongoing basis.

To that end, learning liturgy and its theological meanings are important. I have found that some teachers (in all kinds of religious traditions) learn liturgy and ritual forms but do not fully understand their theological significance. When ritual becomes empty of meaning, it is then that religion starts to die- because its practitioners do not understand, they merely do things because "this is how we do it" or "this is how I was taught" as the reason for doing things. I know there are several teachers that pass on information that they themselves did not write, experience first hand, or fully understand the significance of. And their tradition suffers for it.

Learning energetic hygiene is also key to working successfully in a group, too- as is learning to use non-violent communication and conflict resolution techniques. Far too often, when Powerful*** people join forces ego gets in the way of Will and starts power*** struggles. We need to recognize and deescalate these situations as they arise, for the sake of all.

The Universe
A Witch's point of view of how the universe is set up and how it "works" is different from that of other religions and people who do not believe in the divine or physics. We study the elements, our creation story, and learn about this animistic viewpoint. Knowing how it is set up allows us to understand that "you" and "me" are fictions that we reinforce to make life a little easier for us in the everyday and also allows us to make changes in the worlds- which is what many of us call "making magick".

What use would being a Witch be if s/he didn't use the Power that s/he has built for hirself? So we teach of how to work breath and energy as well and tangible objects and living things to make changes in the worlds. We have a shamanic, animistic outlook on the world, and therefore we must learn the properties of different plants, stones, foods, actions, animals to work our magick to its maximum effect. We learn to use sex, dreams and ingested substances to alter ourselves, others, and therefore the universe.

We also learn and use shapeshifting, out-of-body travel, necromancy and communicating with other non-corporeal beings.

Ethics and Philosophy
Being a Witch makes many people uneasy around you. This is because we are weird and energetically "off" to many, but also because there are no moral codes that to which we must ascribe- like the ten commandments, for example. And while some neo-Wiccans talk of "the threefold law" and "the rede" as their moral compass- my tradition does not ascribe to any moral code that is outside of ourselves. We do not follow the rede and call shenanigans on those Witches who would ascribe any moral code to our workings. Instead, we do the even harder work of cultivating ethics.

These ethics are based on aligning yourself, the Witch, with the Flow of All-There-Is. It means a Witch like me has to constantly do my Work**** to ensure I am not mistaking ego with Will. It means we make decisions that may seem immoral or amoral to outsiders. It means that with this Power comes great Responsibility.

I belong to a peculiar shamanic warrior tradition. We cultivate ethics much like what is outlined in the book Shambhala (which is a Buddhist lineage). Our warrior tradition is based on the interconnectedness of all beings and the reverence and love we have in defending them. We do not shy away from difficult situations. Often we seek them out and meet them head on- in order to not let fear rule us. We are Witches, not ostriches.

We also believe that this tradition is not for everyone. It is not a religion of the masses because not everyone needs to be a Witch (which is a function of society, not just a religious viewpoint). To say that "everyone can be a Witch" is like saying everyone can be an opera singer. Hogwash. Not only is this untrue, but society would suffer if everyone had the same role. We thrive as a culture when people specialize and have specific roles that serve others. We need Witches, teachers, doctors, shopkeepers, midwives, and yes- opera singers. We need mechanics and house builders and farmers. Sometimes a few roles overlap, but mostly they do not. And that is all to the good.

In this path, there are oaths that we take to the gods, to ourselves, to the tradition, and to each other. Breaking them means serious and dire consequences. For example, there are four Witches that I know in the tradition mine used to be a part of* that have broken oaths and/or sacred trusts and I actively shun them and warn people away from them.

They are currently facing serious consequences that only the gods can provide, but I know that it is my duty, as a sacred protector of this tradition, to shun and keep people away from them. They are not to be allowed to play with people's trust or sacred information or the Mysteries any longer. Oathbreakers are up there with murderers, child abusers, and rapists in my book- and no, that is not hyperbole. All four of these types of people have broken sacred trusts and created disconnection through their actions and/or words. It is up to a prospective student to agree to uphold this serious of an oath if they want to learn from me.

I will not charge for teaching the Craft and passing it on. Teaching is a sacred duty that exists out of time and space and certainly capitalism. However, I do demand loyalty and for a prospective student to do their work. I expect that they will be honest with me, themselves, and others. I expect them to work hard and show their work! And I expect that any student of mine, if they become an initiate- will follow these rules as well.

Faery is a mystery tradition, with an unbroken initiatory line extending back through Victor and Cora Anderson, whom we honor as its Grandmasters. Further, Faery is much older than the Andersons. It has its roots in a pre-Gardnerian era coven that had influences from Applachian, Celtic folk magick, and non-Wiccan British Traditional Craft. It was further influenced in the states by Voudou, Bruja, Ho'omana, and other American traditions as it took root here. To paraphrase Victor, this tradition is an amalgam of "the religions of the small dark people of the world."

How I hope to spend my pension years.
The principles that I personally agreed to when I was initiated are here:

Ours is a mystery tradition, which is entered only by means of initiatory rite performed by someone who is already a Faery initiate.

We recognize the value of individual autonomy, but we also recognize and honor the fact that our choices affect the choices of others.

We will not share, divulge or out the names of our initiates or their students.

We honor our oaths to aid and defend our brothers and sisters. We also do not rub elbows with oathbreakers, who are anathema to Witch kin.

Faery is not information; it is the mystery and experience.

Faery curriculum and liturgy, and lore specific to curriculum and liturgy, are not for widespread dissemination. (Which is why I have not posted specific lesson plans here in talking about what I would teach- only ideas and areas of study.)

Only initiates can teach the tradition.

We prefer to teach individually or in small groups. In all our teaching, direct personal contact between teacher and student is essential. This is key to truly KNOW our students, their lives, their decisions, and what they are capable of. In order to add to your family, we must only let the best of the best in.

When we teach Faery, we do so always with a view toward initiation, although there is no guarantee that every student will be initiated.

We recognize that Faery is highly transformative and extremely experiential, requiring closer attention and responsibility than workshops, seminars, or intensives provide.

We do not charge for teaching the core of the Faery tradition.

*Faery had a public split with Feri a while back over many issues. Oathbreaking was one of them. My tradition split from a faction of the tradition who are very public teachers and authors because the Gods called for us to preserve the Mystery. We no longer share lore or gnosis with the public ("Feri") face of the trad, and their theology and lore will suffer for it. Looking up the road, I see very different outcomes for both traditions.

**There is a difference between will- with a small w- which is individualistic and often is tied to ego and Will- with a capital W- which is aligning yourself to the Flow and following it.

***I make a difference also between Power with a capital P, which in my tradition is one of the five human birthrights and comes from within (not by exploiting and subjugating others) and power with a small p- which has often been corrupted in our culture to mean oppression and subjugation of others for personal gain.

****Work, when used with a capital W, refers to The Great Work- of personal alchemy.

Tangible Witchcraft: Dreaming Bag

My student and I are working on myriad projects: as he learns necromancy, we compliment the ritual work with cunning. Here, we make dreaming bags. Bags designed to welcome them into our dreams, open ourselves up to them, and remember their messages of import.

I open myself up, go into a trance state, and do automatic writing.
Afterwards, I circle words of importance to help me design a sigil.

The sigil, also done in light trance.

I will be teaching my student green Craft (logically!)
and here s a trio of herbs for our dream bags, carefully selected for their properties.

My bag, mid-process. We embroidered the sigils onto a bag and then stuffed them with herbs and other curios.

The finished bag.
My students sigil was very different from mine (naturally!), as these are custom works designed for our own needs. At one point during the crafting, he asked, "Ever don this in fabric paint?". I wrinkled my nose. "There is something very magickal about needlework." I replied. "You are deliberately changing the fabric as you add floss and create not only a design, but a new thing altogether. The bag will never look the smae, even if you remove the embroidery. Far more old school than puffy paint." I snorted.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Teaching young children to plan a worship service and participate in it sounds like a simple thing. I assure you, it's like herding cats.

When I took the position as Director of Religious Education (DRE) at my small UU church, one of the goals I immediately had was for children to gain and explore a Unitarian Universalist (UU) identity. To do that, we have thus far created class covenants*, explored the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism**- one by one, and this Sunday we are putting on our first child-led worship service for Chalica (a UU holiday that explores the seven principles, one day at a time).

I currently have three age levels of kids in my programs: preschoolers, elementary schoolers, and middle-to high schoolers. Most of the kids enrolled in Religious Education (RE) at my church are in elementary school. So even though our Chalica service happened on the first Sunday in December, we started learning songs in September.

That was a wise move. The kids now now their song so well, they can teach it to the adult congregants in the "I'll sing a line, you sing it back" method without any adults chiming in with them to strengthen their voices. Huzzah!

I also had them create some crafts: the preschoolers created an altar cloth to place our chalices upon for the service. I also created seven small chalices for our electric candles (that seven children will light, one-by-one, as they read the principles.

The goal of the service was to introduce the holiday to the congregation and inspire parents to celebrate Chalica at home. To that end, I created a take-home sheet with background and tips that was given to everyone in their church bulletin for the day. I pasted it below, for those of you who are UU minded.

Seven days for our Seven UU principles
Overview: Chalica is seven days long and runs from the first Monday in December through to Sunday. Each day represents a different Unitarian Principle, and a chalice is lit each day and gift(s) are given and received. Gifts can be made, bought, verbal, written, acts, shared/personal celebrations. One can have seven different chalices or one common chalice.
This holiday is an invitation to spend a day with each of the Principles, reflecting on their meaning and doing a good deed focused on each one. It is a great way to extend our UU identities beyond Sundays at church, into our homes. 
A word of advice for families who might stress out about adding Chalica to the other December observances they may have (of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the Solstice). Don’t make Chalica into another holiday obligation. This holiday is about living the principles and weaving them into our everyday lives. You can send a card to someone, stand up for someone on the playground, discuss current events with a UU frame of reference. Often, we try so hard to fit our UU beliefs into other religion’s holidays. Now, we have have one organized around our own values.  All it takes is meaningful conversations for seven days, perhaps at dinner.

For video inspiration, check out this link! 

Details: The days are as follows:

Monday: We light our chalice for the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
Possible activities:
Give gift(s) to honor those you do not understand/agree with/like. Small children may benefit from reading the book
Enemy Pie.
Examples of this work:
a thank-you card celebrating differences, words of forgiveness/apology, a peace offering such as inviting someone to diner, help someone in need

Tuesday: We light our chalice for justice, equity and compassion in human relations.
Possible activities:
Give gift(s) to honor those in your local community that are less fortunate.
Examples of this work:
spend time in a soup kitchen, donate clothes to a worthy organization, display kindness and care to those around you, take part in a political demonstration at city hall

Wednesday: We light our chalice for acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.
Give gift(s) to honor fellow Unitarians and their spiritual journey.
a chalice / book / hymnal, extend words of peace or forgiveness to a fellow Unitarian with whom you may have hurt / not understood in the past, offer/take part in an event at your church / with your congregation, church potluck

Thursday: We light our chalice for a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
Give gift(s) to honor another tradition, to honor education
offer / take part in an event that celebrates another religion/tradition, teach someone something you know and love, learn something new from someone else, give a book / read a book

Friday: We light our chalice for the right of conscious and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.
Give gift(s) to honor democracy
help a political party, write your government, help or join a committee at church, host a dinner / party to celebrate democracy

Saturday: We light our chalice for the goal of world peace, liberty and justice for all.
Give gift(s) to honor our global community
volunteer with an organization that has global influence, write a letter for amnesty international, help your social justice committee hold a fundraiser, donate to a cause such as UNICEF, Doctors without Borders, etc.

Sunday: We light our chalice for respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
Give gift(s) to our earth and/or its creatures
start a compost, recycle bottles and cans and donate the money to an environmental / animal aid society, rescue an animal from a shelter, hold an outdoor worship service (dress warm/bonfire)

*Covenants are critical to forming a UU identity, as UUism is a covenant-based, not a creed-based faith. That means we can encompass so many personal beliefs within any group or congregation, because we all covenant to act a certain way with one another. This is how I, as Witch and polytheist, can share space with monotheists who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and general pagans in the same congregation.

** The seven principles of Unitarian Universalism are here.

Monday, December 3, 2012


Beloved Dead (Humans)
My heart is glad today because as of this morning, we have shelves in our dining room for both our Craft/occult library and our beloved dead altars.

It has taken 10 months of saving and planning to get shelving for our dining room for these purposes, and in the meantime, a hole has been keenly felt in our lives, to be sure.

Beloved dead (Other species)
Often, we have been looking for "that one book", only to find it is buried in the basement, waiting to be unearthed. Especially now, we are starting to make connections with magick folks here in our new home- and want to share that one tidbit of insight. It has been frustrating, to say the least. But huzzah and hooray, we only have to unpack now. We now have several rooms mostly complete in our new home.

The shelf where both
dead altars are kept.
Now, in addition to our mealtime ritual of gratitude practice ("What was your favorite part of the day?" is a question that we ask of each person every night, and we usually let Rowan ask all of us.) and lingering over food and conversation in the dining as a social act, we will be resuming the offerings to our dead.

The ritual we have of making offerings at mealtimes to our ancestors and friends has been put on hold all this time, as I did not want fragile things broken with a make-do altar space. I am so glad that we can start showing Rowan how to make offerings and why we do it- and incorporate it into Rowan's everyday life. Living the magick, being the Witchcraft- that is what our lives were and now will be about.

And now that my partner and I are meeting with people that may become students, having access to our libraries is critical. Now when I recommend a book I can read along with the other person and have better discussions.

The start of the library.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Advent Calendar and other Holiday Traditions

Our advent calendar!
As Witches, my family celebrates Yule this time of year- a time when the Sun King is once again reformed as well as the solstice the darkest, longest night of the year.

As religious minorities in America, we are surrounded by Christmas (both the religious and the secular, commercial versions)- and frequent mentions are made of other holidays like Hannukah, Kwanzaa (and sometimes even Chalica).

We note those observances and teach our son about them- he is growing up knowing all about the world's religions and having friends in different religions, too. It makes sense as a an educated world citizen and after all, when we spend the winter holidays partly with extended family and /or friends- and they are Christmas and Chanukah people, mostly.

So what do I teach my son about Yule? It expands each year, as his understanding grows and he can get abstract concepts. Right now, we let him know that Yuletide is a holiday that started before Christmas and many things people think of as "Christmas things" are actually practices from pagans in Germany, the British Isles, Rome, and elsewhere. We do all the fun things Witches do during a fun winter holiday!

We use an advent calendar to count down to the solstice. We were lucky enough to find a wood adent calendar with little wood drawers and the last three dates (22-24) were easily turned around to make a solstice advent calendar. Ha! Each drawer is filled with a slip of paper that names something fun we are going to do that day and a sweet. What kinds of fun things? Here's one from California that we did:

 1. cookie baking day(s)
2. special stories/books
3. making ornaments
4. trip to get meaningful ornaments
5. tree trimming
6. Sing Along Sound of Music at The Castro Theater
7. special holiday craft
8. shopping for people we love
9. special stories/books
10. gingerbread house
11. coloring pictures
12. make a treat and take it to a friend
13. make plates or serving bowls at paint your own pottery place
14. make hand and foot prints
15. pick your own special thing!!!
16. make hot chocolate and stir with candy canes
17. potluck dinner
18. gingerbread house
20. watch a christmas movie and eat popcorn
21. drive around and look for fairy lights

The 21st is when we exchange gifts as a family (meaning Rowan has at least three days that include gifts- the solstice, Christmas with extended family and Chanukah with our friends). We decorate a tree a couple of weeks beforehand and I continue a tradition that my mom started. We get a few ornaments each year that celebrate big happenings in that year and writing names and dates on the ornaments. That way, each year, we can reminisce as we decorate the tree.

In addition to a tree and gifts, we often make or get a wreath or other greenery- an old pagan tradition of remebering even on the darkest night, life is present. We kiss under mistletoe. We sing carols and songs (and even more carols and songs and songs) like "The Holly and the Ivy". We decorate gingerbread houses and people, bake other cookies, drink hot cocoa, light the lights on the tree and our Yule log (We do have a permanent Yule Log with room from three candles.) and on Yule, we stay up until sunrise.

We do not do some other pagan traditions, however, such as La Befana or "Santa Claus" (yes, Santa was a mushroom eating shaman). While I enjoyed Santa as a girl, I don't like the idea of perpetuating lies to children for their own sake. We aren't doing the tooth fairy, either. We also don't do Krampusnacht or talk about the Krampus.

What does your family do this time of year?

Friday, November 23, 2012

House Update

Tengu and Tallulah, on our borrowed dining room table.
 Life here in Columbus is chugging along. We have lived here 7 months and are still working on making our home (both inside and out) ideal. As you may know, we left furniture behind and pared down many of our possessions when we left California. We have been blessed with caring family and new friends that have made the transition easier.

When we moved into our place, we had a lot more furniture than I expected, thanks for my partner's family and our new friends. Our friends let us borrow (indefinitely!) a dining room table and some (uncomfortable) chairs. So we have a place to eat as a family. Thank you thank you thank you!

My partner's family saved for us an old living room set as well as bedroom furniture from his grandmother (she moved into a nursing home last year) and my partner's old things that were never moved out of his parents home when he moved to California (including his piano!).

So from day one, Rowan had a brand new twin bed, we had dressers for all three of us, we had a bed frame for our bedroom, and our living room was instantly furnished. We are so blessed.

We are finally in a better position financially to start trying to make up the rest of the deficits. Yesterday, we took a two hour trip with my mother-and -father-out-laws to the closest Ikea. They have larger vehicles than our tiny Honda Civic. On our agenda was cheap book shelves, a kitchen cart, and maybe a few small items.

Road trip to look for furniture!
Right now, our home isn't quite finished. We don't have all our temple furniture, we don't have enough bookshelves, and we don't have a few niceties (rugs, curtains, a TV) yet. But I am amazed at the help we have received since coming to Ohio in getting started. After all, we did not move most of our furniture from California. And I am not sitting on the floor right now as I type this.

Last month, we went to Ikea with my out-laws (I am not married to my partner). We were planning on getting a kitchen cart and some bookshelves with some money that we saved up. After looking at the cheap bookshelves that were were going to buy, my father-out-law was annoyed. He is a proud woodworker with his own workshop. "I could make better shelves than these, you know! This is sawdust and glue!" I told him that I knew that, and that his work is great. (We have several examples of his handicraft in our home.) But he doesn't have the time and we want to get this project started ASAP. We want our home to be complete soon. No more boxes, dammit!

He promised that if we did not buy the crappy shelves, that he would make the shelves, to the dimensions that we want on his next long break. (He has a job where is off for over a week at a time every few weeks.) How cool is that? So we are waiting another month, but will have better shelves, for free. For the cost of one of the shelves, he can make all three. And he won't let us pay for them. Family! What a blessing!

We bought our kitchen cart and made the requisite jokes about its Swedish name and Rowan was also gifted a tall, kid-sized, dining room chair. It's really nice and that means we can chuck the crappy plastic outdoor chair he was in (with the phone books under him). Onward and upward!

The day after out Ikea adventure, we put our kitchen cart together. It is awesome to start finally maximizing the space we have and get rid of the boxes and clutter that comes from not having enough storage or counter space.

After the bookshelves, the next upgrades are a dining room table and chairs, furniture and shelves for our temple, a few shelves for our altars, curtains (I hate mini blinds!!!) and picture framing. Then we will finally be complete. Probably just in time to start working on the yard in the spring- when we start building boxed beds and such.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bullying and Empathy

Don't touch my cookie. I am not sharing.
 One of the life lessons that we are teaching Rowan these days is about how to treat others. As a toddler with lots of energy, he often uses this energy in a way that is undesirable. Taking toys from others, hitting to get his way- all are natural stages of development. But they are not acceptable, and we are working with him to get him to understand how to treat others.

We talk a bunch about bullies and the different ways they act and talk. Some bullies are obvious- a kid too eager to take things away from others, call people names, or make other kids afraid of them for personal gain.

We talk to him about sharing and saying nice things to people, and loving others and letting them love you. "Don't be a bully," we say. "Bullies don't have friends." This helps him navigate typical toddler scenarios in concepts familiar and understandable to a kid his age. But some things are just over his head. And we struggle to explain them.

Recently, he saw pictures I was looking at on the internet of police brutality. Mama reads stories like that and he saw the picture of a police officer choking an unarmed person. It was a scary picture. I am sure that his grandparents have told him that policemen are nice and that they help people. So this picture confused him. "Is that police man a bully?" he asked. I think how to respond: "Yes, Rowan. He is." Sometimes people take a job with authority not to help others but because they are handed power with that job. And they abuse that power." Hmmm, time to scale back the language to toddler level. "Yes- Rowan. he is a bully. Not all cops are nice. Some are, some aren't."

Learning empathy and helping from a friend.
Peer relations are touch and go for Rowan right now. He loves playing with other kids. But he also hits or pushes, takes toys from others, and screams at mama and daddy while trying to get his way. When he doesn't he sometimes calls people names. I know that all of this is a natural phase of development. But I personally find it horrifying. As a child, I was the anti-bully. I protected others and animals from abuse. So this kind of boisterous toddler behavior is hard to deal with sometimes.

We here at Kunning Hallow talk a lot to Rowan and play games getting him to guess the motivations or thoughts of others. As we read a story, we extrapolate for him: "I bet that duck is sad right now, thinking he won't see his mommy again. What do you think he is feeling?" I also have a chart that shows cartoon faces for different emotions and I ask Rowan to point to the one he is feeling at times. He is developing the language around feelings and I hope that we are imparting to him that others have feelings, too- and he can influence feelings for good or ill.

What are some things that you parents of toddlers (or former toddlers) have done to curb bullying? To cultivate empathy?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Living Frugally

Some of you may be surprised to know that my family is (financially) poor. For many Americans, discussing personal wealth (or a lack of it) is uncomfortable at best, shameful at worst. I do not agree that poor people should be ashamed of their situation.

I also do not believe in the "boot-strappin'-everyone-has-the-same-opportunities-if-you-just-work-hard" American myth. Class, race, gender, and other factors make folks start out in different places and earn different amounts. If you choose a career in a (what I call a "position of value"- meaning someone who provides direct goods or services to others in society (like a farmer, teacher, healer, builder, etc.) you will automatically make less than someone who has a parasitic position (think banking and investments or large businesses). I think if more people actually talked about their actual financial situation, we would be in a better position, as a people to make things better for all of us.

I also believe that (shock!) all people are entitled to housing, food, and medical care. It is a human right, regardless what Ayn Rand-ian capitalists say. So here we go- here is a Witch talking about being poor, living frugally, and making it work without sacrificing her principles.

We take government assistance. 1 in 6 American families get the food help that we do. The food money (SNAP) and vouchers (WIC) are never enough to last all month, but they certainly help. Especially now that my partner is a diagnosed diabetic and we have cut out most the "food stretchers" we relied upon previously like pasta, rice, and the like. But while I believe that eating meat is what is best for our family, eating ethical meat is expensive. I do not want to eat factory-farmed "meat of suffering". It is bad for the animal, bad for the planet, and I believe bad for me to consume suffering and other toxins. So... how do we do it? We start with "good meat" from a local meat CSA ($120 a month for 3 months up front gets us):

*2 whole chickens or one whole duck
*2 lbs ground beef (one pound packages) or 2 ham steaks
*one 3.5-4 lb beef roast or package of steaks
*2 packages of 2 pack pork chops-bone in
*2 lbs of thick sliced apple wood smoked bacon or bulk breakfast sausage
*1.5 lb package Italian sausage links (3 large links)
*1.5 lb package bratwurst sausage (3 large links)
*1 lb package smoked sausage
* A Surprise item (a bonus)
* 8 oz snow white lard or beef/pork soup bones or pork/beef liver or smoked hocks.

That is 9 to 11 dinners, plus some leftovers for lunches and a couple of breakfasts, too. It took us a while to find this farm/deal, but we are so glad that we did. For the rest of the month, we try and supplement this with meat that is organic and local. Our farmer's market helps with that, as does family. My mother-out-law often brings us pork up from her rural area. Earlier this year, they bought a whole pig from a local farmer and had it processed into sausages, ground pork, chops and roasts. So every so often, we get a local pig treat from their chest freezer.

I also often get veggie CSA leftovers. My church has its own CSA and often there is surplus for me to take home after everyone has their share. This week, butternut squash abounds!

We also get government medical care. The state of Ohio has decent insurance for people who qualify, and my whole family does (did I mention that we are poor?!). While there have been some annoying things (my partner getting only enough lancets for a month with no mistakes or losses and having to wait several days before being able to get any more -or- having to travel two hours to find a sleep study specialist who will take the insurance), we are so blessed to have coverage for Rowan, who is growing like a weed and my partner, who is not well. Through the state, we have better insurance than most do through their employers and we are so very grateful. My partner was recently hospitalized for 3 days, and we are not bankrupt or being hounded by collectors like so many in this country who had the ill fortune of getting sick.

We cut out other things that many people assume are "necessities" but just aren't. I do not use shampoo or conditioner. Baking soda, apple cider vinegar, and water are what I use. We buy an organic baby shampoo right now for Rowan that is tear-free, but once he is big enough to handle regular soap, he will use Dr. Bronner's like the rest of us, which we get in bulk at our local food coop (yes, we are members).

My partner gets his head shaved by me, I cut my own hair, and when Rowan finally decides to cut his hair, I will do that, too. I don't wear a lot of makeup- mainly eyeliner and lipstick, when I wear it, that is. I have worn the same clothes for a long time. While I need some new items, a wardrobe does not have to overflow a dresser and closet. I make clothing decisions very deliberately- each new item is planned to fit into what I already have and is purchased after I have thought about it for a while.

I make our other toiletries (like deodorant), too. While the initial cost upfront is higher (buying bulk ingredients), I can make much more for less doing it this way, and the toxins are nil, unlike commercial deodorants and antiperspirants.  I make my body scrub and moisturizer, our common medicines (often with things I grow myself), and many of our nicer home decorations. I like being Crafty- but this is no Martha Stewart hobby (monied enough to buy it myself but choosing to DIY because I am bored)- this is being deliberately frugal, believing in re-use as a lifestyle choice, and living well, amongst beauty.

We cook most of our own food. We eat out once a week, maximum. Often not even that. We make these times family times- a choice to eat together as a family: breakfasts on days where we don't have to drive my partner to work pre-dawn and dinners together nightly. We talk to one another and take moments to communicate with our son and teach him things. Our ritual of talking about our "favorite part of the day" is a gratitude practice that we have cultivated in Rowan this early. It is asked every night.

We have a priority of getting our own dining room table and chairs to emphasize staying around the table, talking. Our ideal party is a dinner party and we hope to get seating for 8. We often host a "family dinner" with our neighbors, where we each bring food and both families benefit. We host a potluck twice a month as well.

We know other creative people and we trade or gift each other our services. My recent Boline photo shoot was with a friend who I met through Art Party Columbus. He insists on making the photos free. I paid another artist to make my Boline logo- $100, in installments.

We scour freecycle and craigslist for deals. We shop at thrift stores. I often will take free books off of freecycle and after I have read them, I sell them on Amazon to make some extra cash. I download all the free books I can for my Nook- Google Books and Barnes and Noble often have things available for free, especially classics.

We don't have a TV- we watch DVDs and Netflix/Hulu on my laptop. We may be gifted a TV for Yule this year, and if we get one, we will get a Roku box- not cable. We go to the cheap movie theater ($1.75 a person) as a family. We take walks and see what we discover. We use the library every week to get new books and have a fun group storytime. We listen to Pandora and the radio for music, news, and stories. We host "game nights" where people come over with snacks and we play games and laugh.

We grow our own food and medicine. This year, even after getting started late in the season, we had cukes, tomatoes, peppers (sweet and hot), eggplant, string beans, squash, and tomatillos. I grew marshmallow, peppermint, calendula, motherwort, and thyme. Next year, we are getting a beehive.

We were gifted memberships to the zoo and to the kid's science museum and we use them a lot. I think if we don't get gifted renewals, we will use our tax return to buy them ourselves. It is totally worth the cost, as we use them almost weekly.

We help others when we can, because it is the right thing to do. I am also confident that the help we give will make its way back to us when we need it- it already has! We are blessed with everything we need, even if we do not have everything we want.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Friday Family Fun Night!

The Candle and Poem in question...
So we have started this weekly ritual at my house- we call it Friday Family Fun Night. We were inspired by our Jewish friends who are lucky enough to have Shabbat every Friday evening-Saturday day. After spending many Shabbats with them, we were encouraged to come up with a personalized, Witchy equivalent.

So... what is the ritual about? The ritual marks the end of the work week (which is harder to do than you might think). It is about making time for family relationships and connections and having fun.

And what do we do? The ritual has morphed since we started (and I further expect it to morph as we go), but as of now we light a special candle that mama made (which burns all night during our time together), read aloud a poem that daddy wrote for the occasion, and then stomp around the dining room table (often with flamboyant arm gestures or props) chanting, "Friday Family Fun Night!" until we giggle.

Rowan, waking daddy on Saturday.
Then we get into jammies and do things together as a family. Popping corn and watching a movie, playing games, making hot cocoa, snuggling, singing, or storytelling. As Rowan ages, there will be lots of things we can do together as a family. The plan is that FFF is a home activity, anchoring us to one another and home, creating a shape to our weeks that is reliable and predictable (kids thrive on routine), and bonding, bonding, bonding.

We then spend the next day doing family things as well- a family sabbath where we do not work and spend time together. We always make a nice breakfast together (Rowan helps!), and then check the available activities out there on the "Rowan's Potential Fun Stuff Calendar" (mama gets email updates and checks websites and adds them to a calendar so we do not miss cool things like story times, fairs and festivals, and the like.

Most of the stuff we do is free or low cost. Being poor it has to be. But spending money is not the point- being together in the best possible way, being present with one another is.

The poem:

Frigg's Eve, by Oberyn Kunning
All week long we toil, toil
Weaving, spinning, singing, growing
So we set the cauldron to boil
And pour it out, Love ever-flowing

When Frigg's Eve comes, one out of seven
Our work we set aside
And together, Kunnings Three, at home we do reside
Hand-in-hand and heart-to-heart
We set the lights to mark its start (light candle here)

Friday Family Fun Night! (x infinity)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Prep for Boline photo shoot

My wonderful friends are coming over this evening, one of whom is a photographer. He is shooting my products for the Boline website. I am busy staging shots and gathering props before he arrives!

My task is to try and find interesting objects for the photo staging that are not distracting, but also reflect the balance between my herbal medicine making and how it is inspired by my spiritual practice. After all, that is the essence of Boline- a coming together of the conjure and cunning that have marked my 23 years of Witchcraft and my near-decade of herbal medicine practice.

This is a Thai "spirit house" that is normally on my beloved dead altar. Today, it will show off Boline lip balms.

So many items here- an altar for a religious statue becomes a home for Elderberry elixir.
My oak bowl displays all my salves instead of offerings to Lilith.
My bee priestess drum forms the backdrop for tinctures.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Prepping for Samhain and Dia de los Muertos

This Witch has been thick in the middle of Samhain, Halloween, and Dia de los Muertos for some time, as I now plan Sunday School lessons. I have written lessons on all the holidays and am now executing them at church. I am also guding Rowan through these holidays.

He of course, loves Halloween and dressing up and trick or treating. But the religious holidays of ancestor veneration are important too and we are constructing an altar together, decorating calaveras, and talking about our ancestors at mealtimes and making offerings.

He is less than three, so this year is about remembering through photos and mementos, talking about our beloved and mighty dead at meals and having an extra plate for them, and making sugar skulls and the like.

These trays of drying sugar skulls are both for our personal altar and for Sunday School this weekend.
Next step: Lots of piping bags of royal icing in myriad colors!

Papier maché skull getting painted.

Life, death, rebirth, eternity.

This will ultimately end up on our beloved dead altar in the dining room (after church). 
What are you doing with your children about this time of year? How do you celebrate Samhain/Dia de los Muertos, All Hallows?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lesson Plan for Dia de Los Muertos
As promised, I am about to start posting lesson plans from my Sunday School curricula here. I hope you like them and share some of your own.

Today's lesson is on Mexico's Day of the Dead and is suitable for preschool and elementary school aged kids.

As this class is in a Unitarian Universalist context, the opening and closing may or may not be relevant to you, teaching about Day of the Dead out of a UU context.

If it is not, skip to the meat of the lesson further below. Enjoy!

Stay tuned for more lesson plans as I can get them posted!

Gathering: Where we get all the non-focused energy dispelled and we settle down.

Time to Sing! Sung to the tune Do Re Mi (from the Sound of Music)

One: Each Person is important
Two: Be Kind in all you do
Three: We help each other learn 
Four: And search for what is true
Five: All people need a say
Six: Work for a peaceful world
Seven The web of life’s the way
That will bring us back to me and UU!

 (repeat until all are singing and you feel you can stop and have their attention)

Where we create sacred space in which to learn and share.

Light Chalice
and say chalice lighting:
(Sung to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star)

Flaming Chalice burning bright

Now you share with us your light
May we always learn to share
With all people everywhere
Flaming Chalice burning bright
Now you share with us your light

Joys and Sorrows:
Where we talk about our previous week and share good and bad things that have happened to us.

Get Down to Business:
Where we explain today’s theme or tell today’s story and start activities.

Materials needed:
  1. Calavera stencil (easily printable from the internet)
  2. Black Sharpie (for adults to trace stencil in advance)
  3. Tracing paper
  4. Colorful Markers
  5. Tape (for hanging them)
  6. Salt Dough (recipes here)
  7. Readings (below) and books (Clatter Bash! or similar age-appropriate book about the holiday)
  8. Build an altar with calaveras, pictures of ancestors, ashes/urns, mementos of loved ones, statue/picture of Santisma Muerte.

(PREP: Adults should have traced stencils in advance for kids to color in while stories are being read).
Did you know that in many cultures around the world, they believe that this time of year is the best time to communicate with the dead (dead relatives, friends- also called ancestors)? While some people think of seeing dead people, or ghosts, is scary- many others do not and welcome the chance to speak with people that they loved who have passed on.
Today we are going to explore one of those cultures- Mexico’s Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos (pronounced DEE-uh Day Los MWER-tose)
(Show kids altar- look, don’t touch! While you read words below)

Don't be afraid of El Dia de los Muertos - the Day of the Dead. This is a happy holiday! 
This ancient holiday began as a day of thanks for the harvest. It became a time put aside to remember our ancestors and people we love who have died. This is called ancestor veneration.
On the first day, relatives put flowers on graveyards or in vases with cards. Then they create an alter somewhere in the house. These alters are not places of worship. They serve the same purpose as a scrapbook or a photo album. Pictures of the departed, along with favorite loved objects and other mementoes are placed on the altar. The rest of this day is spent making the favorite foods of this person (or persons.) 
On the second day, families have big celebrations at their homes. They serve the food they made the day before. They eat candies shaped like skeletons. Friends stop by and people dance and sing. This is a very happy holiday.
Today, we are going to make two kinds of Calaveras- decorated skulls – flat ones to hang in our windows like stained glass decorations and sculpted ones to decorate our tables and altars!

(Go back to table and pass out salt dough for skull making to kids- show them how to make a skull shape and let them know next week we will be decorating real sugar skulls!)
On the third day of the Day of the Dead celebration, the holiday expands to the whole town. There may be parades and floats and costumed characters. Coffins are carried that have real people in them dressed in skeleton outfits.
(Read Clatter Bash! while they work- especially the end where it explains what is seen on the pages. Perhaps go back and flip through the pages to see if they can spot cultural items mentioned on final pages.)
Pass out stenciled tracing paper and markers for final calavera coloring activity.
Summation: Breaking down message, wrapping it all up.
Let’s hang our Calaveras in the windows and let the light shine through them!
What is ancestor veneration? What’s one way you can venerate your ancestors in your life?
I am going to give you a sheet for you to ask questions of your parents and/or grandparents (see below), and I would like them to talk to you as they fill out the answers. Be sure to bring it back next week so we can share!
Chalice extinguishing and closing words circle:
We extinguish the chalices here

That they may glow gently in our hearts
May it light your path
As you leave this place
May it guide your way
Until we are together again.

Day of the Dead Take home questions

Who are my ancestors? What are their names?

Where are they from? How did our family come to this place? How long has our family lived here?

Tell one interesting story about an ancestor.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Rest in Peace, Matthew Shepherd. May Your Sacrifice Not Be In Vain.

Fourteen years ago today, Matthew Shepherd was found barely alive, strung up on a fence left for dead. All because he was different.

Queers of all stripes face discrimination, bullying, and worse. Still to this day. The fight is far from over, what with religious zealots stating that bigotry is protected by religious freedoms and politicians actively trying to take back what little equal rights have been won.

The bigotry is obvious when it is straight-on-gay, white-on-person-of-color, or against the differently-abled. But what is less obvious are the ways that people within their own communities tear one another down and rip community apart with petty differences and the kind of bullying that happens on a junior high schoolyard.

The other day my partner (Rowan's father) went to a party. Some of you may not know that my partner and I both identify as "queer"- my partner is primarily what most would call "gay" and I am primarily what most would call "bisexual". Well, he really desires to be in community in our new city of Columbus with other "gay men", and this party had many of them, so off he went (I stayed home to watch Rowan, even though I was invited as well).

When he got there, he found himself at the mercy of well-established cliques based on looks and societal desirability. One particularly cruel person joked that because he lived with a woman and had a child with her that he was an "unsuccessful homosexual". My partner is an introvert. He is new to this community. So he left early, sad. Had I been there, that bitchy queen would have gotten an earful:
"Excuse me, is this junior high? Because I hear a schoolyard bully. No one gave you permission to police the borders of identity, sir. And if (my partner) is "unsuccessful" by your standards, then he must be an amazing person. Because your standards dictate that you must ostracize good, loving people from your midst. That must mean that you and your friends here are cruel, small hearted, small minded, jerks. You, sir, are petty and mean. You are a small person who makes himself unworthy of my partner's love and care through his own words and deeds. While you seek to name others as undesireable, YOU are the one who is really ugly here."
I have a long history of fighting bullies, starting as a small child. The fact that I have had to fight them my whole life makes me weary. I simply cannot stand cruelty and must act. I defended helpless animals in my neighborhood from traps in gardens and from neighborhood boys. I was once caught pummeling a neighbor boy for smearing a lightning bug on his pants to make them glow. I kicked the crap out of people stomping on ants or pulling legs off of daddy-long-legs (spiders). When I got older, I got a bully to stop picking on some kids on the playground and people started paying me a nickel a day to protect them.

I have never been able to watch movies where people are deliberately cruel to one another- it makes me sick to my stomach. I started a queer anti-hate crim patrol in Boston and led the one in San Francisco. I have disarmed bullies with knives and guns who wanted to harm people for being different.

It sickens me that this kind of bullying happens in communities of which I am a part. It happens at church, it happens amongst queers, and it happens on my son's playground. But when I bear witness, it ends with me.

I will foster empathy in my son. I will call adults out on boorish behavior and talk gently to children who bully. I will think before I speak when I have judgments in my head. It ends with me.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Library and Literacy

Ever since Rowan learned to talk, he has been deliberately and literally surrounded by the alphabet. We got foam alphabet tiles for his play area, have sung the alphabet song to him, and he has read numerous books about the ABCs. He loves to play and asks for "the apple-ball game" which is a set of letter flashcards, complete with images (Can you guess? A is for apple and B is for ball.).

We have been taking weekly trips to the library and getting a dozen or so new books weekly for bedtime and other story times. This week, we started attending toddler story time at the library, and he was pretty good! He was "too shy" to sing along with everyone and wanted to be held when everyone stood and sang. But he paid attention to the stories and was very engaged in them. It helped that they were all about elephants (and other animals). He was delighted with the puppet storytelling, too.

Our goal is simple. As homeschooling parents, we know the veritable the keys to the kingdom are literacy and comprehension. And we spend a lot of time building on his knowledge to develop this skill. Luckily, Rowan is very motivated. He loves books and stories and cannot wait to read by himself. That makes this mama thrilled.

We are ready for the next step: phonics. Mama has gotten some phonics flashcard games and we started watching Sesame Street together (Rowan gets limited screen time- and we watch together, so as parents we can filter and help process information with him.). He knows that A is for apple, but he doesn't understand why yet. So we are working on the sounds the letters make.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Yard Update (A photo post)

So as many of you know, I am starting an urban homestead here in Columbus. Transforming the yard has been a big project this year, and we haven't gotten it all done yet. For pics of "before"see here.

Here is the lush oasis our front yard is becoming:

Rowan, descending our stairs into the yard. You can see the rim of the huge planter box we share with the neighbors here.

My front yard. Wildflowers (mainly zinnias and sunflowers) create a wall all along the edge that borders the driveway. We get lots of bees and butterflies. The herb spiral, still unfinished (we have been only using free reclaimed materials and that takes time) has been overrun with morning glories and Delicata squash!

What happens when a major storm destroys your backyard gazebo? Take two corners and sink them into the ground, making an archway with prayer flags and vining plants, of course!

After we got rid of those hideous shrubs, we tacked up trellises and I planted morning glories. They, um, like it here.

A look at the lush planter box from my steps.

Tiny details are hidden in the box like this.

And this.

My morning glories, the view from the porch rocker. It's like a lush green stained glass window.