Dirt under my nails…

I have it – and I love it!
Starting my garden was delayed a bit because our basement flooded and with the hoard my husband has accumulated downstairs, the cleanup effort turned out to be a major deal. At first I was absolutely livid. The mess down there has kept us from enjoying the finished family room area for years. However, it turned out to be a blessing. John and I were moving things around to get to the puddles of water and discovered another area where water was seeping in, which made it necessary to not just move things aside but go through them. In the process we found that we had to throw away a lot of things. The basement is much cleaner and more organized now and if we ever have to clean up after another flood we’ll be able to get to the source of the leak with a lot less difficulty. We hauled away two truckloads of garbage. This made Momma all kinds of happy. I’m still ridiculously thrilled about it, actually.
The garden turned out to be a bigger operation than I had planned. Originally I was just going to plant four things and see how it goes. Ha! Along the way I kept adding things. Half were started in little pots in the front window, some were seeded directly into the soil. The seedlings were then planted outside. Now we have beautiful, healthy pumpkin plants, zucchini, three varieties of sweet peppers, tomatoes, habaneros and jalapenos all flourishing in rows. The speed with which they all took off amazes me. The seeds started both inside and outside took less than a week to sprout. Hopefully they will continue to thrive. If all goes well this summer, next year I intend to double the size of the garden and maybe even have some fresh blueberries out there. So excited!
I already have plans for some of the hot peppers: fire cider. All of the ingredients are great for immune-boosting, clearing mucus and preventing colds. The recipe can be found here. There’s plenty of room for experimentation so if any of you decide to make your own, I’d love to see what you come up with!
The tomatoes need to be staked (or caged) and I still haven’t quite figured out how to keep the abundant bunny population from nibbling at the plants, but I’m working on it. In an ideal world I’d have elevated plant boxes, but that would take more time and skill to build than I currently have, so I’m doing lots of reading and online research. Since the intent is to keep things organic, I’m looking for pesticide-free ways to keep the plants healthy and deter bugs as well as bunnies. I’ve learned so much in the last few weeks and am absolutely loving this! There is nothing like bringing healthy food from the earth with one’s own hands. Dirt, as it turns out, is a beautiful thing. :o)
The compost heap isn’t happening yet, primarily because I haven’t had the time to tend one. Like the garden, it would require breaking ground. Then there’s the separating of elements that can be composted from those that can’t, turning, watering…lots of work that needs to be done. I’m rapidly running out of time to do it because in less than two weeks Trent and Zoe will be out of school for the summer. They’re teens, but they’re a full-time job. Thankfully, all the plants are already in the ground and the tending will be minimal at this point.
Speaking of which, I’ve found an easier way to weed than the traditional on my knees pulling one weed at a time method. Wait until it rains, then rake. Raking between the rows provides better drainage and the weeds come out easily. For the stubborn ones, turn the rake slightly and pull with the tines at the edges and it scoops them out of the earth quickly, root and all.
I decided to make hills for all of my plants and thus far it’s working out very well. I’m really looking forward to harvest time. Once the last of it is done this fall, I’ll double the garden area, hit it hard with some compost (which I’ll have to buy, but that’s okay) and see how it rests over the winter months. Hopefully the process will be easier next spring. Rake away the weeds, prep the hills and plant.
Baby spinach leaves are almost ready to harvest. I think it’s gonna be a good season.

Skyler Irene Waite, where are you?

In April of 2013, Skyler Irene Waite was the victim of a vicious and illegal takedown in her home by Alaskan police officers while responding to a 911 call regarding a medical emergency. There was no one in need of medical assistance. The officers, however, subjected the home to a search in which a small amount of marijuana was found. They didn’t make an arrest due to the fact that possession of small amounts of weed is not illegal in the state of Alaska. Under federal law, Ms. Waite could have been charged/arrested but not by state police. One officer then proceeds to lecture Ms. Waite about her ‘drug use’, but having done nothing wrong and apparently in full awareness of her legal rights, she refuses to be intimidated.
One officer leaves shortly before the other starts his verbal harangue. Ms. Waite makes it clear that she has done nothing wrong, knows her rights, and is taking no shit. What she does not do, however, is become loud, aggressive or violent. When it becomes clear to the cop that he can neither shame nor intimidate Ms. Waite, he gives up and turns to leave. As he does so, Ms. Waite can clearly be seen reaching for the door with intent to close it. Thinking she is attacking, the officer violently pushes her back. She is shocked, but still makes no aggressive or sudden moves toward the officer, who knocks her down and cuffs her. By then the other cop has come back in and assists in the arrest.
It didn’t end there. The entire way to the cruiser Ms. Waite can be heard asking the officers why she is being arrested. After several attempts to get the police to answer her question (during which time it is obvious they know they have no justification for it and are struggling to think of one), she is finally told ‘Disorderly Conduct’. Video taken of the incident:

This was clearly an illegal search and arrest. I have been looking online for the last hour for updates but have found nothing about either Ms. Waite or any possible consequences for the officers. I just want to know: is Ms. Waite okay? Have the charges against her been dropped? Have the officers been reprimanded in any way?
I’d like to think justice was done here. Considering how many such incidents have been made public in the last few years, though, I can’t help being doubtful. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

Beltaine Blessings!

I got outside with my firstborn today and did a little yard work. Now I have a small patch set aside for my dandelions that will be free from the mower. I also tossed the basin I had sitting outside to give the squirrels and birds a drink. It had been out for a long time and was falling apart. At first I was a little concerned that they might stop coming since they’re used to drinking from the other basin but a Cardinal stopped by and then an hour or so later I saw a squirrel having a drink, so I’m guessing they don’t care what the water is in. They’re just happy to have clean water available. Now I’m waiting to see if our resident chipmunk and rabbits will be coming by for a drink. :o)
While removing weeds from the front yard I noticed that two of the plants Hubbins had asked me to take out were birch saplings. White birches, to be exact. In the Ogham, Birch is considered the Goddess Tree or The Lady Of the Woods, so of course I have no intention of yanking them up and tossing them out with the weeds. They’re going to be carefully relocated to the back yard, where they will hopefully thrive and be happy. Both are looking sturdy and in good health and already have leaves. I’m so looking forward to getting them moved and watching them grow.
John and I were outside for about an hour before I came in to tend my indoor plants and hang some mint to dry. The windows were open all day as well, allowing the cool spring air to circulate through the house. It feels absolutely awesome.
It occurred to me a little while ago that even with all of the exposure I’ve had to pollen and outdoor particulates today, I had nary a sniffle. My allergy meds have everything completely under control. Once again I spoke with my husband about doing some gardening, and to my surprise he is fine with it! He had objections before because he felt it would trigger my allergies and possibly make me sick. I don’t know if Beltaine gifts are an actual thing, but I just got the best one ever. I’m going to start small: tomato plants, strawberries, cucumbers and pumpkins. Two of each. If all goes well this season I will be going nuts out there next year. There will be veggies. Oh yes. Also fruits. And possibly herbs. It’s gonna be great!
Now I’m off to do some research on the best ways to keep the local wildlife out of my garden. The weed killer Larry and John sprayed in the front yard last summer seems to be completely gone. We had a lot of rain and snow last winter, which has apparently washed it away. The dandelions out there are flourishing. Fortunately, they didn’t spray any in the back except for on the patio, or I’d be reluctant to plant anything we intend to eat there. The plot I’ve chosen for the garden is clean and sunny, with no rocks or stones that I know of, and fairly level with a slight slope for drainage.
I literally can’t wait to get started!
Blessed Beltaine, everyone!

Natural help with seasonal allergies

We have one of these in our yard:

 photo forsythia_zpsfufhcyyl.jpg
(This isn’t ours. My current cellphone takes pix too cruddy to do this gorgeous plant justice.)

It’s beautiful, but egads – the amount of pollen it produces is enough to keep the entire county’s bees fed for a year. Every spring I see it sitting in the corner of my yard, mocking me. “That’s right, bitch. I’m back. I’m gonna blow my pretty yellow sinus destroyers all over you and everything you own – and there’s not a flippin’ thing you can do about it. MWAHAHAHAHAHA!!”

Not that the Forsythia is the only offender, it’s just the most aggressive until the blossoms drop and it gets it’s leaves. Most of what I’ve read about the plant says that it’s a low pollen producer because it’s pollen is insect-distributed. In most places, that’s probably true. However, I live in a valley. A wind tunnel, more accurately. Each spring the wind sprinkles Forsythia pollen far and wide. Go out to get the mail, the box is covered in yellow dust. Go to get in the car, gotta wash the windshield because it’s covered in yellow dust. Time to take out the trash, the cans are covered in yellow dust. It literally gets into everything. Most yards here have at least one because it’s considered an ornamental plant.

In spite of this I have been adamant about keeping it. It’s beautiful, it’s been here since long before we moved in and getting rid of it wouldn’t really help anything due to the overall number of plants in the area. Besides, if I were going to get rid of everything that produces pollen we’d be sitting in the middle of a smoking crater. Enjoying RPGs doesn’t mean I want to actually live in one.

Allergy medicines and nose sprays are excellent, but there are days when even they don’t keep the body’s natural histamine reactions at bay. Also, some people prefer to not take anything that might have some side effects, which I completely understand. Benadryl knocks you out and some meds dry out the sinuses to the point that it’s really painful. I’m not a doctor, but here’s what works for me:

Using a Neti pot. Not only does it dislodge sinus debris (that’s a nice way of putting it, don’t you think?) but it also rinses out any irritants you have breathed in. I use the premeasured packets of salt with eucalyptus. It’s soothing and has the added benefit of fighting bacteria that causes sinus infections. I used to get on average at least ten sinus infections a year. Now I get maybe two. My doctor advised me that it is still safe to use the Neti pot while on antibiotics, since the meds work in the intestines to kill the bacteria. The salt will not kill the antibiotics. I recommend not using the plastic bottles or pots that can be bought in drug or grocery stores. They need to be disposed of every few weeks, which means you end up spending a lot more money and wasting a lot more plastic than you would investing in a porcelain pot. Make sure it has a solid handle. A pot with a hollow handle holds moisture and allows bacteria and mold to build up unless you boil it after every use. DON’T use regular tap water unless you boil it first. If it’s chlorinated, it can cause irritation. Also, there is an ameoba present in some tap water that can kill. We have well water, which is hard enough on my skin and hair, I wouldn’t even consider using it in my pot. I use distilled water to rinse the pot before and after as well as for my sinuses and have had excellent results. Allergy season has been much easier to manage since I started using mine.

A teaspoon to a tablespoon of honey per day not only helps build up some resistance to pollen, it’s a wonderful decongestant and soothes the throat. Taken alone, with food or in tea with a little lemon, helps keep mucus moving and decreases cough and sore throat. It’s good for colds too.

Water. This seems like a common sense thing, but I was surprised how much better I felt after I stopped relying on sodas for hydration and switched over to water and tea. Staying hydrated helps every part of the body and flushes out toxins. Allergy sufferers who are prone to sinus infections will find drinking more water keeps their mucus membranes moist and helps keep swelling down. Inflamed sinuses are a happy place for infection-causing bacteria. I got bored with plain water after awhile but found that flavored water is an excellent alternative. Lemon Dasani and Lemon Nestle Pure Life Splash are my favorites. No sweeteners, no colors and they both taste wonderful. Drinking more water has also had a positive effect on my efforts to lose weight, which is a bonus.

Thankfully, pollen counts are part of daily weather reports so it’s easy to know when you may need a little help. On those days it’s worth it to wear a dust mask to work in the yard. Yes, it’s kind of hot and it does get overly moist inside the mask, but I’d rather do that than deal with the allergens.

We live right next to a farm. The planting, harvesting and fertilizing kick up a lot of dust. This also happens when he mows the grass around the crops to make and bale hay. We keep the windows closed on those days. It’s a small thing, but it really helps.

I haven’t tried this for myself yet, but this morning The Druid Herbalist posted the recipe for a hayfever tea that I’m going to try as soon as I can find the ingredients. She also inspired this post. :o)

I’ll post back once I’ve had the chance to try it for myself. She’s had some excellent results. She posted a blend for day and for night, both of which look pretty tasty.

There is no single thing that works for everyone. Combine, experiment and find the things that work for you. It’s impossible to avoid all allergens and it may not even be possible to 100% take the symptoms away if your allergies are severe, but the ‘right’ combination of things can certainly make them easier to live with. My history of allergies and sinus infections has made me ready to try just about anything, especially if the relief comes from nature.

Rockin’ the Suburbs: A HOA Primer

Larry bought our home in 1999, about two months before we got married. We chose it together and it turned out to be a great place to live. Thankfully, there is no mandatory HOA membership here so we can pretty much do any type of work on our home that we see fit. However…

HOAs (Home Owner’s Associations) have grown in popularity since the 1950s, when the general idea was to make sure the neighborhood was a safe place and no one’s property values went into decline because Bubba and Faylene decided to leave old trucks rotting on cinderblocks in their front yard and didn’t pick up after their dogs. A lot of communities now have HOAs and each association has it’s own charter with very specific rules and regulations by which residents must comply, along with annual fees that home owners must pay whether they decide to become members or not. In essence, you’re expected to pay for the privilege of having your neighbors decide what you can and can not do on your own property. Fees tend to be in the $400-$1000 per year range and make no mistake – the HOA will sue you for missing payments and in some places will boot you out and auction off your home, regardless of the circumstances that caused you to fall behind.

Remember Gladys, the horrible neighbor in the animated film Over the Hedge:

Yeah. That nosy bitch. The one who would measure her neighbors’ grass then call them to tell them it was taller than regulation and they needed to mow it. Most HOAs have regulations about lawns and landscaping in their charters and no issues whatsoever with harassing you about it. Leaves must be removed within a certain amount of time, the flowers you plant must be approved and if you intend to put up figures or other decorations you’d better talk to your neighbors first or you’ll be looking at some hefty fines.

Anything – anything you want to do is subject to approval. Putting a shed in the back. Painting your house a different color. Adding a ramp to your porch for a disabled family member (even if he or she lives in the home). Clotheslines (a big no-no). A vegetable garden. Swimming pool. Putting an addition onto your home as your family grows. All those things and more must be approved by your HOA. Things that are done without approval will probably be ordered taken down until approval is granted, regardless of the cost and effort it took to get them done in the first place.

My parents bought a home in West Virginia in a beautiful neighborhood with a HOA. What they do on their own property is regulated into oblivion. They’d love for us to move there, but one of the many reasons we won’t is because we have no interest in hopping through flaming hoops in order to please our neighbors. With two children on the Autism spectrum, we have too much else to concern ourselves with. So we get a little behind in mowing the grass? More food for the bunnies. So we get a little behind in raking our leaves? Autumn is beautiful. So we want to paint our house a weird color? Screw you guys, it’s our fucking house. We haven’t painted it. But we could. My folks can’t do so without getting permission first.

What can be done to avoid this litany of ridiculous and intrusive bullshit?

Glad you asked. When looking for a home, always, always check to see if there’s a HOA. With condos, it’s a given. Expect to attend meetings and adhere to the charter. Understand that this goes with the condo and is not open to negotiation. Familiarize yourself with the charter and don’t be willing to sacrifice too much for your freedom to do what you wish with your own home because the mortgage is affordable and the neighborhood is nice. Understand that there will be noise ordinances and even though places are listed as ‘family friendly’ buses may not be permitted to pick children up for school inside the property perimeter, particularly if the community is gated.

Before buying a single-family home the same applies: see if there is a HOA. There may not be. In which case, you’re good. If there is, get a copy of the charter and read it. Don’t just read the thing; study it. Know what the restrictions are. Be aware of what the charter says about what is allowable. In some cases, the type of vehicle you park in your own driveway will cost you in fines and litigation because the HOA is within their right to sue if you violate their terms. Which they probably will.

This part is important to those of us in the Pagan community: understand your rights in regard to the types of faith-oriented decorations and gatherings you want. If you want to place Pagan symbols anywhere on your home, in your yard or on your fence (provided the HOA permits you to have a fence, that is), know before buying your home what is acceptable. Make sure you can use your yard for Esbat/Sabbat services or even if you just want to have a drum circle once in awhile. Know what restrictions exist in regard to animal friends and the types of plants you want to cultivate. Can you have a pentacle wreath on your door? What colors are acceptable when it’s time to repaint your home? Color is very important to our beliefs and self expression, so how do we go about changing the rules (provided that can be done)? Most charters are immovable. Be prepared to either accept the regulations or look elsewhere.

Myself, I’d look elsewhere. While I do appreciate the importance of keeping a home and yard looking nice, I’ve found that the definition of ‘nice’ is as diverse as humanity itself. The last thing I want to deal with is Nazi-neighbors goose-stepping all over my personal business. People become ill. People become exhausted from the rigors of daily life. People sometimes lose their jobs. People suffer from depression and physical disabilities. Some things can’t be helped and if there is ever a time when you can’t tend your yard, keep your children (whether disabled or not) quiet or afford to touch up the paint on your home, you could find your ass yanked into court by your HOA and facing some heavy fines. Both legal and via your HOA. Being a member of the HOA in good standing or having a close friend or relative on the board is not sufficient to protect you. Know what you’re getting yourself into going in.

I’ve learned a lot in my sixteen years in the ‘burbs and my parents’ decade in theirs. When Hubbins bought this house I never would have even thought to investigate the HOA charter, or ask if one exists. Now I do know. In my view, it just isn’t worth the trouble to deal with all that.

Spirits of Spring

This morning was the warmest we’ve had thus far. It rained last night and the world smells amazing. Buds are just starting to burst forth on the trees and the dandelions are waking up, some of the first signs that the planting season is coming. A beautiful start to a beautiful day.

When the weather allows I love to stand outside for a few minutes in the morning and just be in the moment. The little animals, the plants, the scents and sounds are a sweet reminder that Goddess and God are wherever I am and always a prayer or ‘thank you’ away. That’s what I do most often; thank them for being a constant presence in my life and for the little pieces of wonderful that make themselves known even on the worst days. A project finished. A houseplant tended. Fresh mint for tea. A glimpse of a furry or winged animal resting or nibbling in the back yard. Deity is alive, well and present in all of those small things that keep me centered and make me feel connected to the earth – and to them. The simple things not only matter, they are an ultimate good and constant source of joy.

Soon the heat of summer will be here, but for now there is only cool comfort and the beauty of a world awakening from sleep. I live for days like this.

Book Review: Never On a Broomstick

My interest in locating a copy of Never On a Broomstick started years ago, while learning about the West Memphis 3 case. During the search of Damien Echols’ home, a copy of the book was found in his room and later entered into evidence, along with multiple books on Wicca, Witchcraft and Aleister Crowley. Recently I managed to find a copy via Amazon and I’m rather intrigued that Echols’ copy made it into evidence at all.

Never On a Broomstick isn’t a Wicca 101 or how-to manual on any form of Witchcraft. The book discusses the origins and history of various pre-christian beliefs and takes the reader through how those beliefs influenced cultures and traditions, then describes in detail how Witch hysteria influenced the hunts in Europe and the colonial US. History in general fascinates me, so it was delightful to read about the various charms, practices and beliefs that have influenced the way many of us express our spirituality now. A lot of it I was already familiar with, but there were some bits that were new. The spell that used Red(de) Arsenicum (AKA Red Lead) as part of a treatment to prevent being burned with a hot iron, for instance. The book suggests that this was probably used during the Witch trials to protect a victim from being burned during torture. I suspect an earlier use for it may have been to keep ferriers or smiths from being injured while handling hot metal, but this is really just a guess. There isn’t a great wealth of detail on magickal workings here, but the reader gets a good general idea of the importance of the connections our ancestors had with the natural world and how that connection influenced their spiritual lives.

The influence of pre-christian Pagan practices on early christianity is also covered briefly. Too briefly, in my opinion, but the book mentions how the two systems were connected in the beginning by a shared belief in magick. The only real differences between them were the Deity (or Deities, if any) and the perception. Not all Pagans held a religious tradition. Secular spellwork was common. Deity or none, the church condemned any working done without the involvement of the christian god or the church itself, referring to it’s own magickal practices as ‘miracles’ while non-christian spellwork was deemed heresy. The same view of Pagan religious practices persists in the christian community to this day.

“I remember going online when I was writing Saw II; so I typed in ‘Spanish Inquisition torture devices,’ and the stuff that comes up…you realize you haven’t even touched on what humans have done to each other in real life.”
~Leigh Whannell (Actor/Writer, Saw, Writer/Producer, Saw II)

This is where I got squirmy. The book goes into intense detail regarding the origins of the Witch hysteria in Europe and it’s overlap into colonial America. Names of accusers and victims are given (though not in every case) and torture is graphically described. I can tolerate artificial horrors easily, but the horrors that humans have actually put one another through breaks my heart. Hunts, tortures, burnings, hangings – this went on for centuries. No actual evidence was needed in most cases, just the word of a child or another victim gained through torture was all that was needed to make an arrest. The laws that banned Witchcraft stayed on the books in England until 1951. The hunts weren’t necessarily active, but Pagans faced possible legal repercussions until the mid-twentieth century. That is truly astounding, considering this happened long after the Victorian Spiritualism movement, during which time it was clear that Paganism was undergoing a bit of a revival. Much like the racist law that was discovered a few years ago and finally repealed here in the States, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that there are currently active anti-Witchcraft laws still on the books in some parts of the US. Neither enforced or even enforceable now, but still part of a state’s law charter somewhere. I don’t fear a return to loss of non-christian religious freedoms, but I think it would be interesting to see if any of those old laws are currently in place.

The final chapters of the book cover modern Paganism. Skyclad worship, modern beliefs, and secrecy are all mentioned. The author refers to covens, however, with no mention of solitary practice.

NOaB was written in 1971, before the discovery that Ergot poisoning may have contributed to the Salem Witch hysteria, so some of the information is a bit dated. I’m guessing this is also why there is no mention of solitary work and so much emphasis on secrecy in the book. I don’t know a single Witch who would hold back when asked about the Deity (or Deities) she or he honors, which the author apparently thought was standard practice.

It’s a decent book; fairly well researched and well written. It lacks a bibliography or index, so further information on a point of interest will require research via book or Google searches, but I don’t consider that a negative. It’s not chock-full of misinformation, but it has the feel of being ‘unfinished’ for lack of a better word due to the exclusion of solitary Paganism and emphasis on secret practices. Even so, it’s still an interesting and mostly enjoyable read.