Friday, March 7, 2014

I'm doing just fine...

Remember the old saying, "I'm on the right side of the dirt; I'm doing just fine"? I've modified it to say "My intestine is on the right side of my belly; I'm doing just fine". Thank you, Jazzman.

I went to see him Wednesday after the Lent service at church. I had the smudge of ash on my forehead as a stark reminder of my own mortality. In the car, driving to the hospital afterward, I caught a glace of myself in the mirror. No doubt, there was a dark cross shaped smudge on my forehead. We're told to leave it for the day, but I struggled with that idea.

"What's the difference between me wearing a dark, obvious smudge on my forehead and walking into a public building than the man who stood on the street corner praying?" I asked Cameron as I drove. Seems to me that, like the man praying loudly on the street corner, I would be rewarded like that man by drawing attention to myself: "See how pious I am. I went to Lent service at church." That attention being a reward rather than a reminder of my own mortality.

Moreover, I was going to visit a possibly dying man. It's one thing to remind myself of my own mortality. It felt wildly inappropriate to remind Jazzman of his. He already knew.

Nowhere in the bible does it state we should paint ourselves with ash. We use it as a custom to remind ourselves of Jesus' sacrifice for us. We use to become mindful of our own eventual return to ash. Within a community of believers, the ash is shared and we are all sinners and saints together. However, I felt that venturing into a hospital wearing ash on my forehead would be like the man who prayers publicly on a street corner to draw attention to himself. So I wiped it off.

I was quite relieved to have done so, after gaining my first glimpse of Jazzman's intestine on the wrong side of his belly. Bear in mind, his cheer and kindness. The nurses are all fond of him and brag that he's the most gracious patient on the floor. He's a true gentleman.

There's nothing in my life that's all that bad today. I have my intestine on the right side of my belly.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

From Ashes to Ashes

Today is Ash Wednesday. The first ten years of my life, I grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University. We attended church at Fairview United Methodist Church. Being so close to the school, we benefited from many amazing musicians. I remember sitting with my grandparents, looking up at the pipes for the organ in awe and listening to the chorus.

Then my dad decided to take us to North Central Church of Christ. The loss of music, incense, candles, alienated me. I liked those symbols. The austere building, the loss of an actual altar and the loss of children's church confused me. People around me talked about those symbols as if they were bad. No wonder I love the ritual of Wicca. Or that I delight in my current Episcopalian home.

So today Cameron stayed home with contractors and I used my comp time to get off work early for services. Oddly enough, both religious experiences seemed to come together today. Of course, the priests still wore robes. But there was no chorus. A silence, a kind of peace, filled the church today. I found the service powerful.

As the priest smeared the ash on my forehead, he said, "From dust you were made and to dust you will return." Dust. Mortality. Death. My own death. It brings a solemn hush. Three clients were in my office at different times this morning speaking of death. A mother dying of cancer. A brother dead 21 years ago of Down's Syndrome. A cousin dead of a motorcycle accident a week shy of his 19th birthday. But always we spoke of someone else's death. Grief. Bereavement. Those things no one but a counselor will talk about. A place of sacredness only equaled by birth.

Of course, Christian faith centers on resurrection and judgement day. I tend to keep my rather heretical thoughts to myself, because I do believe in reincarnation. This very interesting site explores such thoughts: Christian Reincarnation: The Long Forgotten Doctrine. Nevertheless, death has walked with Cameron and me these last few weeks, as seen my previous blog. So the service touched me deeply as I reflected on Walt and our family dealing with suicide.

I called Cameron on the way to the service to talk about why we have Lent. Cameron pointed out a great many people see it as a time to recognize what Christ went through for us and to offer our own kind of solidarity by fasting or giving something up. Indeed, a co-worker had posted on her Facebook this morning, "What should I give up?" Cameron offered an interesting column entitled: Don't Get Caught In The Lent Trap. Father Mike talked about the things that distance us from God, and about how giving things up isn't always the answer. Some people choose to add something to their spiritual life. Now, this makes sense to me.

I must have channeled Walt Monday when we went to visit Jazzman. It's not usual for me to drive to a hospital on the other side of two towns over to visit a stranger. That is, however, the person I want to be. And I kept thinking about the things Walt did that mattered. Moreover, a bible verse keeps playing over and over in my head:

'For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:35-36).

There were no flowers in Jazzman's room. There were no cards and no visitors when we were there. And in that moment of compassion we met a good man. With an intestine on the wrong side of his belly, Jazzman was able to laugh and cry with me as we talked of differences and similarities. Of dreams and wrongs. A man who, like me, was caught by the descending arc of the IT world and after the last job, ran through savings accounts, the 401k, and ran the unemployment out and lost, or has nearly lost, everything. Funny, intelligent, well-read, and able to keep me on my toes regarding politics and philosophy, and culturally completely different from this lily-white-assed northern transplant. I found a brother. Family of choice because we all need tribe.

Safely tucked into my warm bed with a job to go to tomorrow, I ask, "What is the point of the day?" The point is, I think, I am on to something. The next step of my own spiritual development and growth is this service to others. I carry with me a renewed awareness of my own mortality. I turned 50 in September. Even if I live to my great-grandma's age of 92, I'mg more than half done. As I watched the predominately gray-headed crowd move toward the altar for communion, I was reminded of the lack of kindness to the body that aging brings. The drooping shoulder, the walkers, the canes and the damage of the years wearing on each face. Mortality. So what do I want to do with this time I have, however much the Spinner of Destiny allows?

Hmmm...I've already answered that question, haven't I?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Random Acts of Kindness

About a month ago Cameron and I attended church and experienced an opportunity to visit briefly with our friend Walt. He told us a story of going to the post office and getting out of his car to see a man nearby, sitting in his car with the door open. The man appeared heavily burdened, so Walt being Walt walked up to see if he could help. The man told Walt his wife had died a few days before, and for a moment let Walt help him out of the car, and just leaned on him with tears streaming down his cheeks. I can imagine big, tall, graying 70-year-old Walt holding the old, grieving man in his bear hug. Walt told us how it touched his heart and what it meant to be a part of the man's life for those tender moments.

Put that on the back burner.

Last Saturday I attended Walt's funeral. He'd had a heart attack during the recent winter storm. His wife couldn't even make it the hospital the first day as he lay in intensive care.

Put that on the back burner.

Walt was the kind of man that when a young couple, obviously impoverished, showed up on Christmas eve to sit on the back row of the church, took up a donation for them. Right there, during the service, there's Walt walking around getting money...and people gave. They left with a wad of 20s in their pockets. Walt told the congregation they were angels visiting and it was our responsibility to care for them on Christmas. That was Walt.

Stirring it together.

Adding a side story.

21 years ago my Vietnam Vet husband David died alone of suicide. We had separated a year earlier because of my fear that he would commit homicide and suicide. It was a hard decision, but I later learned that his cancer had gone to his brain, bringing about dangerous mood shifts and behavior. In the months leading up to his death he began calling. I knew what he was saying couldn't be true, but I loved him and made plans to go see him. I never made it see him alive. David committed suicide on New Year's Eve. I borrowed money from everyone I knew to get to the funeral. I was so focused on getting there I didn't have time to begin the grieving process. He was Catholic, so the memorial service was in some random chapel. He'd been cremated by necessity. I was in shock, sobbing, and kept staring at the box holding his ashes trying to figure out how they got his long legs in that tiny box. It took days to realize it was simply ashes.

So there I stood in our church, 21 years later, staring at tiny box holding ashes. I couldn't look, couldn't imagine how those long legs fit. Later, a soldier played Taps and a flag was folded for the grieving widow. And I gave thanks to Walt one last time, for relieving me of a heavy burden of when the last time I stood in cemetery, listening to Taps and watching my husband's ashes being interred.

And the next story to stir in the mix.

Family violence touches the people we know in the shadows and in secret. Even when you know there's a problem, you never know how bad it was until the story ends. It ended last weekend in a memorial service in the backyard of a family we love dearly. Out of respect, I won't say too much about the details. But I was grateful, as I stepped into the role of a priestess, for David's spirit. He'd taught me to love my children. He'd taught me sobriety. He'd taught me a work ethic. And in his final gift, he taught me how to cope with a suicide. How to face the blood on a mattress and do what is needful. And how to be okay doing what was needful.

The next chapter.

I listen to Phoenix Rising Radio and read Going Global: East Meets West regularly. A gentleman by the name of Jazzman calls in regularly and I've always found him delightful. He stopped calling in last fall, and Phoenix put out the word for him to call. Phoenix reported back he eventually had made contact, but didn't reveal why Jazzman was out of touch when I was listening. Last night, I was listening when Phoenix announced that Jazzman was in the hospital. He wasn't doing so well last week, but was showing improvement. Jazzman had requested his hospital location and phone be made public. Looking on the website, I was surprised to see it was within 30 miles of where we live. So this morning we drove downtown to the hospital. There we met a good man.

Jazzman is about 10 years older and, in his words, a person of color. He was rather surprised and extremely happy to meet two lily white people from Phoenix Rising Radio. In that first moment, he later said, he couldn't figure out who would know him as "The Jazzman". Tears streamed down his cheeks unashamed as we hugged. He clung to both of us in turn. And we talked. About religion. About sexuality. About culture. About family. Even about Cameron's being transgender. And we were touched, deeply touched. If you are curious about Jazzman, this is a blog entry from several years ago: Who's Afraid of Cancer.

I asked him what brought him to the hospital. He said last Wed he was dying. Judging by what I heard and saw, yes he was. He's somewhat improved, but facing a difficult path. He has to heal enough to have surgery again as he has a blockage in the intestine and it doesn't look good. Nevertheless, the three of us visited and it became a powerful, frank, sacred space. I was blessed to be there.

On the way home, we stopped at the local Taco Bell for a quick supper. A crew member not yet on duty started chatting about the rain and her granddaughter who has asthma. We visited a bit, and a few minutes later when she heard me say I didn't get my chips, fetched them unasked. What a lovely random act of kindness.

A short while later, a middle aged man at the next table struck up a conversation, telling us about serving in Desert Storm and his struggle with PTSD. He hugged us, two total strangers, before leaving. I thanked him for serving our country.

So many stories. Stirred together, it becomes a montage of surprising encounters, unexpected blessings, and random acts of kindnesses both given and received. I'm still catching my breath, but I can't shake that feeling the Divine has noticed and blessed us.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Grief and Cats

Ten years ago I moved from Atlanta to South Carolina. I had lost virtually everything. My home, my children, my coven. The evil ex-boyfriend had spread lies that took years to live down. Some still affect my life in profound ways.

The only thing I didn't loose was my cats. 16 of them. I actually moved twice before getting my current home, living in a friend's basement and later in Cameron's studio. The cats were accommodated with the expected challenges.

In the early years of living in my mobile home, we occasionally had unfortunate great cat escapes. The backdoor didn't always latch, despite our best efforts. A few found other homes. Others just disappeared and never returned. One that was ill was eventually discovered to have died under the house. It was heart breaking to loose each one.

Eventually we did find a way to repair the back door. The cats grew older. Others joined our cat colony. Of the original, Dickens was my familiar and died about a year and a half ago. Several of Cameron's original colony have also died in the last year or two.

In no particular order, and with duplicates because I love the pictures, I share these with you.

Legba and Xian
Tannis when Thor came to live with us.
Dickens and Chole
Dickens and Lotus
Little John and Legba
Rascal and Tannis

Thor and Legba
Wee Bit
Lotus deceased 1/22/2014
Dickens and me 2010
Yesterday the last of my sixteen cats from Atlanta died of Cancer. Lotus was found in a parking lot in Atlanta by a dog person. She called me, saying "what do I do with it." She came home in shoe box. Lotus came to rule the house with well enforced personal boundaries. She didn't like kittens, believing they weren't really cats.

We still have 18 cats in the house. Two are older, most are middle aged, and about seven are under the age of three. Nevertheless, we mourn each loss and remember their stories with joy.

Lady Bastet, we are your humble servants. You bless us with your children for the short time they walk this work and you call them home to you. One day my own body will return to the earth and I will cross the Rainbow Bridge where I will be blessed beyond measure.

Dickens, my familiar

Saturday, January 18, 2014


It's a three day weekend and I intend to enjoy it! Today I've been cooking. I just finished making banana bread which has Godiva chocolate and a few walnuts. It's utterly decadent...mmm....

Banana Bread 
And for lunch...

Broiled potatoes and olive oil
Also made my version of potatoes for lunch. Made large fry shapes with potato skins on, with olive oil and seasoning...served with sour cream. It's a lovely lunch on a cold winter day.

Chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate chip cookies for desert.  I love Saturday because it's a day to eat just what we want.

Between and around the cooking, I am working on a MacDubh, or Doodle as I have nicknamed him, doggy sweater. Pattern can be found here: A Dog and a Sweater. Given that we have a rottweiler/dachshund cross, the measurements are interesting. Given that I only have been crocheting for a year, can barely follow a pattern and have never measured anything for fit before, the results are simply amazing. Here it is so far:

Even managed to use the stitch markers correctly for the leg holes.
And an update on our house renovations. We now have a stone hearth and walls for the wood stove expected to be installed on Monday:

I love this stone wall!
I love long weekends!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Sleep and Work

I am a substance abuse counselor in a medically assisted program. In order to treat clients before they go to work, we open at 5 a.m. This means I get up at 3:30 in the middle of the night. I'm a morning person, but that isn't morning.

My cats usually finish ripping and roaring by 2 a.m. and I find them sleeping innocently when I get up. Mostly I think about having to get up to be able to buy cat food, the lazy brats. These are from this morning:

Photo: 3:30 comes much too early. I should be sleeping!
Lugh and Ibn. Not sure how Ibn is breathing.
Thor and Bear. Size Large and Extra Large.

Monday, January 6, 2014

It's a Candle Making Day

I started experimenting with candle making a couple of months ago. We actually started with a youtube on using crayons. Two words for anyone with a similar thought. Don't bother. Turns out the pigment in crayons blocks the wick. So it burns low for about half an hour then gutters. I have a couple of gorgeous crayon candles on my alter that look really good but will work on for a short emergency! LOL

So then I did further research, giving up the idea of making candles in my microwave. I'm still keeping it very simple. I get a lot of glass jars in the side walk sale we attend twice a month. It's more like a attending a scavenger hunt with a whistle being blown and everyone diving for slightly out of date dried food items and filling banana boxes. $8 a box. We get the wildest things from Ghiradelli chocolate and Dickenson's curd to mac and cheese. We subsequently have a full pantry and surplus of very cool jars. Given we once set the bathtub on fire with candles, I have a fondness of candles in glass jars.

Work in progress. Yellow was poured a couple of days ago and tipped to dry. Red was poured today. I'll top it off tomorrow.
The above candles were poured in Dickenson's curd jars, a favorite jar found at the sale. I can't say I've used all the curd in all the jars, but I have found the vanilla curd very good in brownies and banana curd makes great banana bread.

Photo: These will be quarter candles. Made with first intent!
Quarter candles for circle.
I've been working quarter candles for circle. Have finished the red, green and yellow. Tomorrow, if I have the energy, I need to do the blue. 

Since we are attending GaFilk this coming weekend, I need to get my projects finished up. Don't want to leave a bunch of stuff sitting around for the cats to use for entertainment!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sunday Musings

Sundays are for doing nothing except what I like to do because I want to do them. We've had a disrupted week with Cameron caring for Warrior Priestess the last three days. It's been very strange to sleep alone, have control of the thermostat, and watch Doodle mourn his poppa. The thermostat was okay, but not so much for the other two.

So I've started a new cross stitch project. Current estimate is 4 years to completion. Here's the picture:
Goblins Fae Guide - Click Image to Close
Goblin's Guide

The pattern calls for 25 count fabric, but I'm using 18. I am 50 years old and see it better! LOL 

Approx 2,000 of 98,800 stitches
I estimate the project will take about four years. But I'm going to be 54 anyway, so why not have this picture to hang on the wall!

My mindfulness exercise of the day was walk beside our lake. Seeing the lake was another matter.
Lake in January fog

No mountains today

Slight suggestion of water here.
So that is my Sunday. Many things I should've done. Only a few that I did. What a lovely day.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Musings and Prayer Request

My heart is breaking today for our beloved friend, Warrior Priestess. Many years ago she was misdiagnosed with lupus, and underwent oral chemo every Monday for ten years. Friends became accustomed to her schedule, knowing when she would be at her best and when she wouldn't. Over time, the meds messed with her memory and she also developed some balance problems.

Warrior Priestess is a remarkable woman. Her daughter and only child Sarah died at the age of 19 from leukemia. Her husband died about five years ago from diabetes. Despite these sorrows, she has led a coven, was the Priestess in attendance at my first initiation, and performed my second and third. She has served her community and been ever available as her health allowed.

The misdiagnosis was corrected a couple of years ago, the meds reduced we all rejoiced to welcome her back to some version of normalcy. Over the last few months the aphasia has worsened as has her balance. Last week Cameron learned from True Heart, Warrior Preistess' roommate, of her condition. He had found a job after many years of unemployment, but had to be gone for 12 hour shifts and it was worrying him to death to leave Warrior Priestess alone. So for the last two nights, my beloved Cameron as stayed with her, making sure she is safe and oriented. Warrior Priestess has an appointment with her neurologist Tuesday so we hope for information and direction that will help in her care.

In the meantime, I've slept alone the last two nights and anticipate anther night alone tonight. Cameron and I live very well together and it's very strange to have him gone. I had to gauge my wake up time around walking the dog as well. Doodle is used to late night ramblings with Cameron, and just couldn't understand my bed time last night. Poor thing laid on the couch all day yesterday just watching the door waiting for "daddy" to come home. Cameron came home for a few hours, and when he left Doodle moved to the dining room chair. Guess he thinks since its closer to the door, it'll bring daddy home faster.

Today I pick Cameron up in an hour and we're off to see his parental units for a much delayed Christmas gift exchange. We're out to his mom. His dad, on the other hand, revolves from seeing to understand we are a couple to rants against the evil of gays. He's in his 80's and I firmly believe there are some conversations that just cannot be had.

Lovely aside. As I write this, a plump male cardinal made his way across the deck. The two cats on the table, Starshine and Thor, were quivering with excitement. The deck is proving to be a wonder for all of us!

Anyway, send love and light, or prayers, to Warrior Priestess. She's often walked a dark path, but this one is really challenging her.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Sunset Tonight

I love living across the street from the lake. My property taxes this year are $2.50 for the trailer, and $50 for the use of the recycling center. I can afford that! But I get so busy that I forget to go look at the water. I neglect my spirit to get to bed on a time. Bed time is 7:30, so the daylight often keeps me up in the summer. And I spend all evening just getting my stuff together to get up for work at 3:30 in the morning.

So tonight I went for a quick walk. The sky was glowing with fierce orange winter clarity through the trees. I slipped across the street to snap this photo from the neighbor's carport:

Water and Mountains
I used to dream of living right on the water. Then one day I realized I don't need to live right on the lake as that invites a culture that I don't want to participate in. I don't intend to buy a boat and kick an engine every time it doesn't start. People would point from the boats and whisper about the strange woman who has a boat dock without a boat. And it also might be a bit like living in a fish bowl. My backyard would be water with the entire neighborhood entitled to its use.

So I've concluded what I need even more than water is those mountains in the background. Cameron and I can build a water feature. I might have a lot more trouble replicating mountains. LOL

In the meantime, I actually managed to take a moment to get out of the chair, to walk down the road, and to breath the crisp air, and smell the freshness of it all, and to be aware that I actually live across the street from this beautiful lake.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Study in Patience

This Lucy. She's a 12-year-old Calico whose callie spots have tabby stripes. She's a beautiful girl, with vivid coloring that my camera phone does not do justice. She was a healthy, sensitive kitten. With an impending break up in the two footed people of her household, she preferred the company of other cats. When Cameron moved in with me, he searched the previous house, bringing each cat to my home. But he couldn't find Lucy.
Lucy, named for Lucille Ball, as she is a red head.
Out of desperation, Cameron returned to his house one final time. In the kitchen, The frig sat next to the washer and dryer. Thinking Lucy was behind the appliances, he looked, and glancing up, saw a familiar striped tail. Despite leaving her food and water, Lucy was badly dehydrated. She had huddled so long beneath that cabinet on top of the frig, that she had stiffened. So she couldn't run when Cameron reached for her.

On the bed with Tannis.
She settled in with my brats her and her former cats well, but distrusted humans. The first eight years in my house, I never touched her, except when she got pregnant. She'd let me comfort her when in delivery and the first few days after birthing kittens, and then she'd start hissing. I remained patient, talking to her as I do all the four footed children.

Tannis grooming Lucy.
Finally MacDubh, whom I call Doodle, a rottweiler/dachshund cross, came to live with us. She would rub on Doodle while I petted him, and I eventually was able to touch, then scratch, then pet her over a period of months. 
Lucy Bit nursing Firedancer
Lucy Bit: Audrey

Lucy is still touchy. If she is laying with one of her grown kittens, or with Doodle, she's usually fine. Sometimes she even seeks attention. But she taught me the value of patience. Of being mindful, staying in the moment with her, reading when to proceed and when to back off. 

Lucy Bit Dante with Tannis

I used to long to stroke her fur, wondering if she's as soft as she looks. She is.

There's Going to Be a Lot of Cat Pictures this Year

In the spirit of mindfulness, I want to focus this year on things that give me joy. Lugh is definitely one of the things in my life that gives me joy.

Lugh at bedtime last night
Lugh is a kitten that never catted. He can simply curl one paw and slay me with cuteness. I'm not quite sure how he does it.

In the spirit of bringing joy to others, I made Mississippi Mud brownies yesterday. Actually, I made two double batches. One went to a friend who is in the process of moving. The other I brought to work today. Counselors and staff need a reward for showing up to work the day after New Year's on a Thursday!

I've also been making candles. I had thought to make quarter candles for family-of-the-heart, but I'm still learning how to handle color, and am not satisfied with the results. The candles are fine, but not quite the colors I had intended. So now I have lovely new candles either to share or use. No loss either way!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

Thor, Lugh, Starshine

My cats always live in the moment. At least my house, they have no concerns as to having their needs met. If they are tired, they sleep. If they are bored, they have toys, humans, and each other. Sometimes that doesn't work out so well, but the consequences don't seem to slow them down much. I keep coming back to the bible's quote (yes, this witch knows her bible), about "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin". I'm taking the verse out of context, nevertheless, it still suggests mindfulness. Something I need a good deal more of.

Cameron and I often speak of the need to meet basic needs in order to be free to seek higher growth. When you are hungry, can't pay the electric bill, don't have gas for the car, and can't afford necessary repairs to your home, personal growth can easily go out the window. I don't buy new clothes, usually, I find them at garage sales, second hand stores, etc. My dad is repairing out house (what an amazing blessing!). We found a sale for food that lets us buy out of date items for $8 per per banana box. I suspect I've painted a fairly clear picture here. When my boss remarked I need to buy a new car (and the new car payments) rather than fixing my 14 year old Honda, I couldn't make her understand the impossibility of car payments. Always stuns me when someone doesn't understand working class poverty.

Despite the above challenges, I do work on personal growth. I combine both the Pagan and Christian path in an effort to develop as a human being. There's a line in Star Trek, spoken by Pricard, who states that as hunger, poverty, etc have been eliminated, people work to become better people. Well, that's what I want. First and foremost in this new year, I want to focus on my spirituality, on the people who's lives I touch, to become a better person. I want to be mindful, and stop throwing my life away on worrying about what others say or think, worrying about stuff I can't control, etc. I want to live in the moment as much as is reasonably possible. But I also want to keep my life balanced this year. Planning and enjoying my garden. Making candles. Learning to crochet. Treasuring the amazing relationship I share with my partner, and doing things together. Enjoying the growth of my client's who privilege me to be a witness.

And I hope the same things for each of you. Happy New Year! Blessed be.