Friday, September 28, 2012

Clear sight and green rage monsters

So, it turns out I have gestational diabetes. This comes as no surprise at all, given not only my family history, but that offspring #1 was whatchacall a big baby. It's been a very frustrating several weeks because my relationship to food has had to change drastically and far more quickly than I'm really comfortable with. I don't have enough time to slowly develop good habits over months, not that I don't already have good habits, but rather that I don't have optimal habits for a diabetic. Even so, I'm making a concerted effort for good health and that means wrestling with dieticians and counting carbs and testing when I should.

I love food so much. There's so much sensory information in a meal and, if you're doing it right, the experience can be one of the most pleasurable things in life. But counting carbs is frustrating and leaves me feeling deprived. Giving up my morning marshmallow cereal wasn't that big of a deal and we're already getting past ice cream season, but my big hangups are fruit and pasta. That's my kryptonite.

Gratuitous shot of a butterfly from our garden
that has nothing to do with this post. It's just pretty.

My two best friends had a conversation with each other about which of us would be what Avenger and they both decided in my absence that I'd be Dr. Bruce Banner. Of course there's the science thing, but really it's because I have the tendency to turn into a giant green rage monster (figuratively speaking) and even though I really try as hard as I can not to, I don't always have a handle on it. They didn't put it that way or even think about it in quite that way, but the correlation is not inaccurate.

Getting your spiritual act together is all about awareness and that's one of the biggest lessons I had to learn as I became a priestess. But it's not the kind of lesson you can learn just the once and get on with your new, enlightened life. It's work to keep developing the skill of self-awareness and applying the knowledge you've gained from it. One of the blessings of Apollo is that of clear sight: the ability to see things as they actually are without your preconceived ideas and emotions clouding everything. The emotions and ideas are still there, you can just see them for what they are and how, exactly, they obscure what's actually going on.

I made the mistake of letting my frustration get in the way of working toward better health. I hulked out without realizing what I was doing until after it was over and good, calm, logical, mild-mannered Bruce came back, feeling a little ashamed at letting the other guy get the better of him. It wasn't like I leveled a city block or literally smashed anything; I just got a little frustrated and let it get in the way of seeing what was really going on. All you can do at that point, even if you have leveled a city block or something, is take a deep, cleansing breath, try to figure out what happened, learn from it, and move on. So that's what I've decided to do: learn and move on, do better next time. I hope for the blessings of Apollo, not only for good health, but also so that I can see clearly what I can do to get there. 

At this point, I've got things more or less under control and it was my reasoned self that was able to do that rather than my emotional, reactive self. Reactivity is hardly ever helpful or useful and I have something to say about that in regards to how one responds to something that's offensive to one's religious beliefs, but perhaps for another post, eh?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Next on, "As the Seasons Turn..."

Last Sunday was one of those lovely September days and I spent part of it planting some recently-acquired berry bushes out by the back fence. I'm tickled pink that I can plant things in the ground in a space that's my own. I have plans of acquiring my Mamaw's irises and some irises and day-lilies from my BFF. One of these days, I'll get some native cane to plant by the road, but Sunday was for berry bushes and weeding the front garden. I've added some mums and cleared out around the existing mums that came with the house. I'm also inordinately thrilled that I have roses and my zinnia have just exploded after having planted them in the middle of a drought. I wasn't sure they were going to survive and now they're busting out in gorgeous oranges and yellows and white. I'd love to get some hyacinth, too, and maybe some tulips. I have some catnip in pots and some marigolds that, much to my surprise, survived the move.

There will definitely be an herb/vegetable garden out back and I've already got a rosemary bush just starting out. Next year, there will be basil, parsley, and thyme if I'm feeling adventurous. I've not had great luck with thyme, but I'm willing to keep trying until I find the right spot for it. There will also be tomatoes and probably odd little squashes or melons volunteering from the compost pile. I've got plenty of pots for mints and might also plant some in places John can't reach with the mower so that it'll crowd out the grass.

DSC01814

Here are some mums that came with the house, but were so covered up by the holly bush, the juniper, weeds, and the ground cover plant to the right (phlox, I think) that it only put up a few feeble leaves. Now it looks like it's going to bloom!

I can't not plant things in the ground. This is probably as much a part of my religion as prayer or belief in the Theoi. I find that when I spend time outside in the sun watching, listening, and working in nature that my stress levels go so far down as to approach nil. It's this that led me both to a career in Biology and to Paganism. I'm happiest in the garden or running around in the woods or chasing butterflies on the side of a mountain.

My dear Hellenic friend, Sean, discusses the intersection between Hellenic Polytheism and both the natural cycles of his Floridian climate and the festivals of the Great American Polis on his blog. And he's got the right idea, if you ask me. Imposing an Athenian festival schedule on a Tennessean climate is artificial and doesn't work. The gods are a part of nature and in order to really get the full experience of them, it's important to understand what's going on outside your window.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Peach meditation

Once again, I had one topic in mind and another decided it was going to be written about instead. This morning, I saw a lady in a sensible pencil skirt hanging a sign for a church thing and I had some jealousy and anger because that would never be me because I'm Pagan. It was another reminder that I'm a second-class citizen because I don't get to devote my life to being a clergy person in the same way that the mainstream religions do. There aren't any accredited seminaries that would be appropriate for pagan clergy and there's not sufficient infrastructure to support full-time clergy. Maybe we'll see this in a hundred years, but not today and I hate that. I wanted to be a church lady and a preacher.

But, I have the life that I have. I wouldn't give up my career as a scientist for anything and I'll serve my gods as best as I can in the ways that are available to me.

I'm working right now on redescribing thirty someodd species of butterflies and one new one. After a long day of this where I actually started and finished a description (four to go!), I come home not terribly long before Husband takes Kiddo to dance. This means that I have the house entirely to myself. Considering that I also have two big baskets of peaches to freeze, I thought I'd work on them. Peel, cut, slice, sweeten, freeze. I'm not yet far along in the process, having taken a break to eat one of them.

The house is quiet, so I took this as an opportunity to meditate while slicing peaches. It's really hard to find time to meditate, so I do it while I'm doing other stuff. I meditate while driving, cooking, walking, gardening, and even when visiting the euphemism. Any few minutes I can grab on to my brain, I try to meditate. Now, before you freak out about me meditating and driving, the kind of meditation I do is neither the close your eyes and go "Om" kind nor the kind where I zone out in blissful peace. The kind of meditation I do is actually some hard work, but it helps me keep from turning into the She-Hulk and rage-smashing everything; it keeps my brain in good, healthy, working order.

Awareness meditation is pretty much just what it says on the box, so a driving meditation would include awareness of the sounds of the road, positions of the cars around you, and the interactions between your body and the car. If you were gripping the steering wheel too tightly, you might remember to relax your grip some or you might adjust a little in your seat so you can see your mirrors better. You might even be aware of the thoughts going through your head and letting them pass on by you instead of getting all caught up in your brain like a song on repeat. Put simply, awareness meditation is doing what you're doing while you're doing it.

So, back to my peaches.

And having finished freezing said peaches, back to the blog. There's quite a lot to be aware of while peeling and slicing peaches in a quiet house. There's the position of the knife and the curve of the fruit. This is very important to be aware of. There's also the smell of peaches, my sitting posture, the sound of the dryer going, the occasional movement of a baby still gestating, a few traffic sounds, and the little aches and places where muscles have tensed up. In addition to that, there are the thoughts passing through my head, most of which have nothing to do with peaches, so as those thoughts leave, I think of peaches.

I think of how this is a true labor of love. Simple awareness has turned toward metta practice. Metta means, more or less, "loving-kindness." It's the kind of no-strings-attached love you might feel for a big-eyed purring kitten or a tiny helpless baby because it's a living thing and living things are deserving of love. When you are a kitchen witch, feeding people becomes one of the most powerful acts of love and therefore one of the most powerful acts of magick you can do. By putting back peaches, I'll be feeding my family and helping them thrive and grow.

And here's where we ratchet up the woobie a bit. I'm a Pagan and I love the Earth, so I bought fruit from a local grower who chooses sustainable farming practices. I want the Earth to thrive and grow, too, so I practice metta toward the Earth as well. Good sun, clean rain, and rich earth all help the food to grow. These are the gifts of the gods and I feel so much love and gratitude toward them for that.

It was a good meditation for today. I'd had a bad case of the crankies and to end the day on a note of gratitude and metta is what they call a good thing.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

What are you going to do about it?

::sigh::

Awesome in Aviation!
Never married.
I had written most of a post about revising your idea of success, but it got eaten by the internet. I thought about throwing up my hands and giving up on posting something today, but I think I'm too stubborn for that.

This is still a post about success and what that means. Olympic athletes and great inventors have one kind of success, but that's not the kind of success I'm able to aim for. That's not my arete. I can't give up parts of my life to focus intensely on success at one thing. My kind of arete is to continually try to improve my skill at being a human being, to be the best kind of mom I can be, to be the best priestess I can be, and to do my best work when I'm doing science. My attention is divided, but I'm not sorry about it.

I wouldn't give this up for the world.

I've always wanted to be a scientist and a mom. Well done, me! Being a priestess was an unexpected surprise, but I'm not sorry about that, either. It helps me be a better mom, a better scientist, and a better human being.

In order to improve my skill at all of these things, it's important for me to remember that when I am feeling ennui or having some difficulty or another that sitting and bitching about it does nothing. Doing something, even if that something is "just" prayer, is the only way to get through that. Michael Phelps didn't get to be an Olympian athlete by crying in his beer when things were hard, he got up and swam and then he swam some more. Orville and Wilbur went, literally, back to the drawing board when things didn't work out.

Gratuitous picture of flowers in my garden
for no reason other than they're pretty.


I was having ennui and was worried about not having worked enough on all of the things, but remembered that I'm an Action!priestess. If I feel bad, I need to do something about it. Am I eating right, resting enough, have I had enough water, would a cuppa coffee or a couple Tylenol help, is there something I can do to fix the problem? And this is how I minister to others on the rare occasions I'm asked to put my priestess hat on. I'm not great at listening to other people talk about their feelings. I admit that it makes me a little uncomfortable because I don't know what to do with emotions. So, I'll ask the other person, "What can you do about it?" and "What have you done about it?"

"Nothing" is not a great answer. I rarely accept it from myself or others. If the problem is "I haven't been knitting," the answer is "Well, knit then, if you're able." If the problem is "I'm tired," the answer is "rest." There is always something you can do, even if you can't see it right away. To quote the David Wilcox song "Down Inside Myself"

Hey the cure is very simple
And it works in half an hour
Get some sleep, eat some broccoli
Run a mile, take a shower

For me, I tend to ask myself, "Would a nap, a couple Tylenol, a bite to eat, and/or a cup of coffee help?" Often, the answer is "yes." So, have you been down about something? Dismayed? Dejected? Other words that start with D? What are you going to do about it? Do you have a checklist of easy things to do that might help?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Faster, Higher, Stronger

I love the Olympics. Every couple years, athletes from around the world gather together for peaceful competition in order to show the best of what they can do. Yes, there are problems associated with how the IOC handles things and no, it's not always in the most moral or ethical way. Ideally, we could hold the games without hardship or difficulty, but I have no good solution and I'm not in charge of these things.

I love the Olympics because I firmly believe that striving for excellence in whatever you put your mind to is the ultimate praise to the Gods and because at no other time is a flame raised before the eyes of a billion people in honor of the King of Gods and in the name of peace. The IOC doesn't think of it that way. Most of the people watching and most of the athletes don't think of it that way, but for me, this is all for Zeus and it won't ever not be.

Her first knitting at four-years-old.

I won't be knitting this year but for a row or two a day on the baby blanket I've been working on. My wrists can't take more than that, but Iris has started a washcloth with a hummingbird on. It was a last-minute decision and I hope she decides to follow through if for no other reason than to see what she can do when she tries her very best. This year, I'm the coach.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

This is my body

One of the hot topics around the Pagan blogosphere right now is health in the Pagan community, obesity in particular. The Wild Hunt links these and a few more in last Saturday's link roundup, so feel free to sift through these if you like. I've read through some of these... okay, so I skimmed them and I've decided that I'm not going to talk about obesity at all. Well, maybe a little, but in neither an "OBESITY IS EPIDEMIC, AHMAHGAARRD!!" nor a "NOOOOO, STOP DA FAT SHAMING!" way. This is much more than a binary thing.

I'm a small person. I've always been a small person. When I was in utero, the doc thought I was going to be a late September baby, but no. I was and still am just smallish. Even with the expanding tummy and the chest jugs that have upgraded to more than their usual half-gallon size, I'm still pretty small. I've been slender my whole life and, for the most part, it's not from diet or exercise. I don't even try. I'm just that way.

Me at my 30th birthday. I always wanted a Logan's Run party.

But there is a thing that happens to some of the women in our family. As the decades pass, we get chunky and heart and blood pressure problems start making themselves more obviously known. I'm not saying there's any causality there, just that those things happen concurrently. My mom is very similar in body type to me and these days she's wearing larger pants and taking blood pressure medication. This is partly genetic. Having native blood ain't always pow-wows and great cheekbones. It's also extra wisdom teeth and a tendency toward diabetes and heart problems. (I didn't have the extra teeth, but my brother did.)

As my mother would say, I want to live long enough to be a burden on my children. A heart attack or other major health problems are not whatchacall gonna help me get to that goal. Additionally, I'm a priestess of Apollo. His descendants include Asklepios, Hygeia, Panacea and the entire medical profession. The Hippocratic Oath mentions each one of these deities in its original form and taking this oath has marked the beginning of a physicians career since the late 5th century BCE. The modern version doesn't include these gods and is not required by most medical schools, but I don't think they could remove the spirit of Apollo from it.

Here's a little bit of a tangent, but we'll come back around, I promise.
Hippocrates of Kos was probably trained at the asklepeion there, the asklepeion being a healing house and temple to Asklepios, son of Apollo and Koronis. He is credited with the idea that illness and disease are naturally caused rather than caused by the gods. I'd wager that the theory is a little more layered and nuanced than that, given that Hippocrates seems to have been a believing man. Prayers to the gods are prescribed in certain particular cases in the Hippocratic Corpus and even though it's an exception to a rule, it's a notable exception. I can't tell you much about what Hippocrates himself believed, but as a woman of science, I think I kind of understand this mode of thinking. Everything does have a natural cause, including disease. We understand that natural cause to be everything from bacteria and viruses to environmental factors, to genetics, and so on. So, when someone is sick or injured we can either trace the illness or injury to its source or assume that there is a physical source of some kind, even if we don't know what that is. That said, I also believe that the gods are connected to the natural world, often in ways we don't understand. If a flu epidemic comes through, I know that the source is a virus that came from somewhere, but I'm also not going to say that Apollo isn't involved.

Hakuna Fritatta... actually, I suppose that's a quiche, isn't it?
So, coming back around, this post is about excellence. Devotion to my god means getting the most out of this life that I can and doing my best to be skilled at having this body. I've seen members of my local and regional community make poor health choices and I've made poor health choices myself. As a priestess, I feel that it's my responsibility to help others make better choices either by example or by direct teaching. This idea is an integral part of our Midsummer celebration when we have backyard games to honor Apollo. Being a worthy vessel for my god is why I try to eat really really healthy and exercise as appropriate. We try to serve healthy foods at our gatherings and hootenannies. My skinny ass needs that as much as anybody.

It's not really enough to say "How very sad so many of us are fat" and to give statistics on obesity and health problems. In fact, don't. It's not helpful. We who are leaders in our communities need to both examine our own health choices, make positive changes where we can in our own lives, and make positive changes where we can in things like feast preparation and by offering classes on healthy choices. Not because some of our fellows are fat, but to help all those who want to be healthier whatever their size and medical history may be.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Oh, for Pete's sake, it's a goldurned hat.


The "debate" continues on the subject of what in the beans veiling "symbolizes" and I keep falling for the internet troll traps. This is a bridge and I am a goat. Shame on me. Someone is always wrong on the internet and I need to disengage.

Since this is my blog, I'm still going to talk about it here. It's pissing me off and this is a good place for me to talk about the things that make me want to turn green, grow to five times my normal size, and smash stuff. (I would be a smallish She-Hulk by Hulk standards, but still quite capable of smashing.)

I've heard all these arguments before, mostly from people like this:

These are photos from news coverage about the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro and I would bet you two shiny pennies that every single one of these ignorant rednecks would call themselves a Christian.

The ICM is just up the road apiece from me and I've been involved in helping them fight for religious freedom since this whole business started. As a Pagan, I know that when one minority group is bullied by the majority, we all become second-class citizens. If we'd decided to build a Pagan center, this could have very easily have been us.

One of the excellent things that's come out of this is that I have made friends that I never would have made before and learned so much about Muslims and Islam. I was even able to host the imam at one of our gatherings so that he could talk about his faith. Several people arrived skeptical and a little nervous, but left knowing a little more and feeling a little more at peace with our Muslim neighbors.

Like us, they're just folks who want to practice their religion. Like us, people get all kinds of ideas about what their religion is and what the associated symbols mean. So, it really pisses me off when Pagans, of all people, start sounding like the ignorant rednecks pictured above. We should know better than that. And yet there are those yahoos that do not, apparently, know better. I keep hearing about how the hijab is a symbol of oppression.

No. It's a goldurned hat. It's a piece of fabric some people put on their heads. Any meaning beyond that has been made up in your brain. Even those who wear it have applied their very own meaning to it. I could choose to wear a five-pointed star with a circle around it and there are some people who would make some pretty horrible assumptions about what that means. I know what it means to me, but when you get down to it, it's a star with a circle around it. Any meaning beyond that has been made up in your brain.

Now I know "symbols have power" blah, blah, blah "swastika." But the same principle applies. The swastika is a shape and the meaning applied to it comes out of the brain of whomever is looking at it. That meaning comes from a person's knowledge and experience, but has no more "rightness" to it than the other guy's meaning who has completely different knowledge and set of experiences. I'm not advocating swastika usage because the meaning I personally apply to it is a really scary one. And when these guys use it, they're pretty clear about what they mean by it:

Illinois Nazis

But this veers waaaay off topic. (Hello, straw man!) The fact remains that if a lady so chooses to wear some fabric on her head, she shouldn't have to be subject to verbal abuse, social stigma, or violence. Period. The end.

Where my tichel at?