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.