Tag Archives: wheel of the year

Writers Weekend 2017

Writers Weekend 2017

We’re back in the woods for another Writers Weekend (check out the tag for our previous WW adventures. Including turkeys).  We missed last year due to other commitments on everyone’s part, and all three of us really felt the loss of it.  So this year we all knew we had to do this, come hell or high water.  We did get a slightly later start than we like because Deb had a commitment Thursday night (darn that real life, anyway), so Friday morning we got all our kids out to school and then hit the road to the Poconos.  See below for how much stuff 3 writers need for 4 days away.  And that doesn’t include groceries.

Not as much as when we go camping, but it’s only for 3!

Day 1 is usually a wash.  We need to decompress from our day to day lives and get settled into the house.  Yesterday was no exception.  We got up here around 11, unloaded the car, made the beds, started warming up the house, and then went out for lunch and grocery shopping.  Lunch was at this run down looking diner that I’ve been past a million times going camping (our campground is about an hour past Deb’s mountain house).  The food was surprisingly good, although I think their meatloaf was actually their gyro meat.  And we bought a pie.  Because diner pie.  Then we went grocery shopping.  The nice thing about three grown women in a house together is we all take turns cooking, and we are mostly reasonable when we go shopping.  Yes, we always end up with too much snack food, but hey, at least it’s 75% healthy snack food! 7 bags and 4 dozen bottles of water later, we were off to Lowe’s and Walmart (shudder) to get new lamps for the house.  Deb always walks a fine line on these trips between being on vacation and being a rental owner.  We try to keep her on the more relaxing side of that line, but sometimes needs must.  This was at least easier than the year the gas fire wouldn’t turn on.  That wasn’t fun!

We got back home around 3:30, got unloaded and Nikki got the traditional WW Tikka Masala in the crockpot, then we all lounged around until dinner.  I got some software installed on my computer and played too much Minecraft while Deb did hockey research and Nikki actually did writing work (making the rest of us look bad.) But again, first day is a wash, so no stress.  I did spend some time that evening going through one of my seed catalogs, so that’s something off my list.

All my favorite places have fireplaces

I do have a goal list for the week

  1. Scripts for the podcast I’m planning – I need to write introduction and closing scripts, as well as actually coming up with a name.  I want to record the demo by the end of the month, so I need to get cracking
  2. Oestara ritual – I’m leading the Oestara ritual for Gaia’s Rainbow this month and need to actually get it written
  3. Sherlock shawl test knit – this is due back to the designer by the end of the month.  I’m on clue 3 of 9…
  4. Finish my mom’s shawl.  Before she hunts me down with knives.
  5. Write and bank a few blog posts – Theoretically March is a blog every day month.  Yeah, no.  Maybe April
  6. Garden plan – Spring’s coming almost faster than I’d like.  I need to get seeds started, so I need to get, you know, seeds.

I think I’m off to a good start.  Last night I got the recording software installed on my laptop so I can use it as my onsite podcasting studio. I also got my volunteer application in to the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in New Orleans in June.  If I can get that, it pays my attendance fee ($350.  Oof.) and I just have to figure out travel and accommodations. (Also oof.)  And I got through one of my seed catalogs, the one I’ll primarily be ordering from this year.  (Johnny’s Selected Seeds, for anyone who’s curious.)

Slept kind of rocky last night, either really hard or wide awake.  But I woke up with the basic ideas for the ritual, so this morning I worked on developing that.  The theme is eggs and seeds.  For our working, we’re going to make seed eggs (basically seed bombs shaped like eggs).  So I researched seed bomb how-to’s, ordered the matrix for it and the seeds, and got the rough outline written.  I still have to write the cast and calls and a quick charging meditation, but that’s pretty easy once the how to’s and why for’s are figured out.  I think there will then be a nap.  Then I want to finish Clue 3 on the shawl, and then I can go through another seed catalog.  And poke at my garden plot maps to make sure I have room for everything, or that I’ve filled everything.  I’m never sure which I’m going to end up at!

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How Thin the Veil

How Thin the Veil

I’m spending a quiet Samhain this year.  For our family, death is too close.

This past weekend, the kids went with their dad down to Delaware to visit their great aunt, who went into hospice care last week with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.  It was a mixed occasion, acknowledging the passing of a truly kind and loving person but also getting to celebrate the family that she leaves behind.  I didn’t go, just because they didn’t need to be dealing with weird vibes of a former family member while dealing with their own grief.  Instead I stayed home and knit, waiting for the kids to get home in case they needed their mom.  They were fine, of course, but still I worried.  I didn’t have to deal with my first family death in any kind of personal way until I was in grad school.  My grandmother passed when I was in high school, but she was a thousand miles away and I didn’t get to go to the funeral, so it wasn’t until my grandfather died that I had to truly face it.

I know there are more funerals coming, though.  For a family the size of my extended family, we have had relatively few passages.  But health and age are creeping up on all of us.  I try to be calm in the face of our mortality, but some days it’s harder than others.

Sal passed into the Summerland yesterday morning, surrounded by her family and knowing she was loved.  That’s about the kindest death can be.

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Spring is here! Spring is here!

Spring is here! Spring is here!

Like a good pagan, I spent the first weekend of spring fixated on my gardens.  I ordered my seeds weeks ago, but was determined not to plant them until they’d been blessed at Oestara.  This had the added benefit of keeping me from planting stuff too early. I did start my onions indoors in February, and miracle of miracles I haven’t killed them!  The bunching onions especially are looking good. I tried a couple of times to sit down and lay out planting plans, but nothing’s sticking.  So I’m just starting stuff, and we’ll see where it ends up.

I have four 4’x4′ raised beds on one side of my yard, but the best sun is on the other side of the yard, where I’ve had nothing but weeds.  So this year I decided to put a deep bed in there.  to that end, I put out a call on Freecycle for cinder blocks.  Before you say, I know there is a risk with cinder blocks.  But I have a black walnut tree in my yard, which prevents me from being able to plant directly in my soil. (For those who don’t know, black walnut has a compound in their roots and leaves that is deadly to most garden type fruits and veggies.)  My existing beds I build out of 6″ wide boards, but they really only lasted about 4 seasons well before decomposing, and they aren’t deep enough to grow anything like carrots or beets well. Plus it was boku bucks to buy the lumber.  So I balanced the risk of the cinder blocks versus the certain death of the walnut and came down on the side of carrots.  But, surprisingly, free cinderblocks are hard to come by.  I put a call out on Freecycle and kept an eye on Craigslist, but nothing.  Then on Wednesday someone else put up an offer post.  My fingers flew on the keyboard!  Turns out the community garden in Phoenixville is removing all their cinder block beds for the above reasons, so anyone who wanted any could come and take whatever we wanted!  Yay!  Saturday the boys and I took all the seats out of the van and headed over.  It’s a sweet little garden, and if you’re in Phoenixville and need a bit of dirt, I can recommend this.  I kind of felt guilty dismantling the beds, especially since we were lazy and just took the top ones, but we weren’t the only ones there.  There were another couple of guys there with the same plan and a trailer!  I envied that trailer…  We loaded up 24 before I started getting worried about the van’s suspension, but we set aside the remaining 8 I needed to pick up the next day.  I also scored a really healthy thyme plant that was growing out of one of the blocks.  Yay!  This year I’ll have an herb garden for SURE!

The finished bed will be about 9’x4′, and about 10″ deep.  That’s a LOT of dirt.  Fortunately, our compost overfloweth (quite literally).  We stopped on our way up at the Agway and got two big bags of vermiculite, which I’ll mix with the rabbit litter and some peat moss to make up a nice, light mix.  The other benefit of getting the blocks from existing gardens is the hope that if they were of questionable quality, the worst of it will already have leached out!  Between that and the yummy new soil, I have high hopes for this bed.  I’m planning to put my winter squash in there, as well as the root veg.

Once that bed is built and filled, I’ll be able to fix the compost bins.  I have a two stall bin made out of salvaged pallets, which have worked really well for us so far.  However, last year I didn’t take much out, so instead of turning one into the other and starting new, it started overflowing both.  And the back on one fell in, so it’s hard to dig out.  So this year I’ll replace the ones in poor condition, wire them together better, and start anew.  The rabbits will keep filling them up, I’m sure!

The other thing that’s been tempting me has been fruit trees.  I’ve always wanted to have a micro-orchard, ever since I found out about dwarf fruit trees.  I did try blueberries, but they were a little to delicate for me to manage.  But Hero and I were at Depot the other week for something, and they had a bajillion dwarf trees in all different varieties!  Usually by the time I’m there, they’re down to 3-4 peach trees, which none of us like, so I don’t bother.  But these… and they were only $20 each.  With a 1 year guarantee.  So after thinking and planning and researching, on Sunday after I got the remaining cinder blocks (by myself, mind you!) I dragged Hero back after our bi-weekly Costco run.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), they had already sold out of a lot of the varieties.  I was able to get three different kinds of apple (you have to have at least two or you won’t get any fruit) and two cherries.

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I also got some other random things I need (a hose, a rake, some potting soil), but they didn’t have the peat moss I needed.  We had to pass Lowe’s on the way home, so we stopped there to see if they did.  They did, and guess what else they had?

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A dwarf nectarine tree!  Those we will eat, and they self-pollinate, so I only needed one!  Woot!  I had to put it straight in the ground, though, as it was already close to blooming.  You can’t prune them after they bloom.  The rest I’ll put in over the course of the week.  The cherries will go along the fence with the nectarines.  The apples will all go in one big hole together.  Before you squawk about the spacing, those 10′ recommendations are for commercial growers who have equipment to tend their orchards and who are usually growing full sized trees.  Well pruned dwarf trees actually do very well in close confines.  I have two spots I’m trying to decide on.  One is close to the house, which would be nice to look at, but might be a bit in the way.  The other is at the end of the new bed where I currently have a compost bin.  Once I empty it, it would be easy enough to move and put the apple trees in there.  I have to poke at that.

As though it had been waiting for me, I got my bi-weekly email from Mother Earth News with my planting schedule for the next two weeks on Saturday.  So Sunday afternoon, I sorted my seed packets out and figured out what I could direct seed now (lettuce, spinach, peas) and what I could start indoors (broccoli, cauliflower and white sage).  Planting out was going to require raking, but no turning as they’re going in the garlic bed.  But I didn’t feel up to that, so I concentrated on the starters instead.  The white sage went into a 12-cell “greenhouse” I got at the dollar store.  That will make them easier to transplant to gift out to my pagan circle friends at Beltane.  Two kinds of broccoli went into a disposable 9×13 pan with a dome lid, about 48 of each.  The cauliflower went into a disposable bread pan, about 16 starts there.  Yes, I’m going to have WAY too many starts.  I’d rather overdo than under, and I know several gardeners around I can pass the extras on to.  Now they’re all tucked up in plastic bags on top of the fridge, just waiting to pop their little heads up!

The rest of the week will be focused on taking bites out of the yard work.  It helps that it’s going to be in the 60s tomorrow and up to 70 on Thursday!  Gonna focus on the new bed first.  I have to move the blocks aside to lay down a cardboard base and then rebuild the bed and water down the cardboard.  Then tomorrow I can start filling it.  Which will be messy, but fun!  I also have some extra bricks, so I may build a separate herb bed on the front of the new bed.  That will give it some protection and extra warmth.

So many ideas.  I just need to start doing things and see what happens!

A Christmas Eve recipe

A Christmas Eve recipe

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As I tend to do every year, I made presents for everyone in the office.  This year, it was caramel corn with nuts.  I pulled bits from a couple of different recipes and put it all together, so I thought I would share it with you.

Winter Solstice Caramel and Nut Popcorn

Tools:

Large sauce pan
Silicone spatula
paper bags
2 large disposable pasta trays

Ingredients:

popcorn
1 cup or more each of pecans, almonds and cashews (use other nuts as you will.  You want about 4 cups total)
2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla

Start by popping the popcorn.  I did this in the microwave, but you can use whatever method you prefer.  For the microwave, add 1/3 cup of kernels to a paper lunch bag.  Spray well with cooking spray, then fold the top over twice and place on its side in the microwave.  Run the microwave on full power for 2 minutes and 30 seconds, depending on your microwave.  When it’s done, measure the amount of popcorn you have.  For me, this was consistently making 8 cups.  Then dump this into one of the pasta trays.  Repeat as needed until you have 12 cups in each of the two trays.  Then scatter the nuts over the top of the popcorn.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, but this helps even out the distribution through the caramel corn.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.  On the stovetop, add the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, cream of tartar and salt to the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.  When it boils, turn it to medium low and let boil for 5 minutes.  Take the pan off the heat and add the baking soda and vanilla, stirring quickly for one minute.  Then pour half the mix over each tray and stir it through the popcorn and nuts until everything is coated.

Put both pans in the oven for one hour, stirring and rotating them every 15 minutes.  You’re trying to break up the big clumps and even out the caramel a little more.  After an hour, remove to cool (if you can resist it that long!)

I packaged this up in cellophane gift bags in about 2 cup portions.  You could also add toffee pieces, dried fruit or bits of peppermint to the cooling popcorn, or drizzle chocolate over the whole mess.  Go nuts!

Little Cabin in the Woods

Little Cabin in the Woods

Our home away from home, seen during the summer

Remember how I said we stopped celebrating Solstice a while ago?  That’s because we started doing something else.  About 8 years ago, my mom said she was too old to keep hosting the family Christmas at her place, so we should just do something with our family at home.  But the thought of being home for Christmas was just too overwhelming to me.  I needed to escape the clutter and the obligations and just be at piece for a few days.  That’s when I remembered a trip Eric and I had taken just before Xander was born.  We had found a state park in the north central part of PA that had primitive cabins for rent all year round, so we went as kind of a pre-here’s your baby, there goes your life trip.  It was beautiful and snowy and we almost slid the car down the side of a cliff, but it was peaceful.  As that was what I was looking for for Christmas, I suggested it to him, and we decided to give it a try.  Despite a few hiccups (no snow but lots of ice, and a space that was a little too cozy with the woodstove), we had a great time, and decided to make it a tradition.  Oh, and my mom?  She decided it was a good idea too and came with us!  So every year with the exception of last year, we pack up presents and sleeping bags and fairy lights and head off to World’s End for 5 days.  It’s been a great tradition, especially as the kids have gotten older.  You see, the cabins have no wifi, no TV and because of where ithey are, there’s not even any cell phone signal.  So they (and I) have a week of being unplugged.  I don’t have a problem with the wired world, but sometimes you just need a reminder of how to interact with other humans.  Honestly, I usually have the bigger problem giving it up for the week than they do!

We started going for the snow, but for me, I keep going for the peace.  We only had good snow one year, two years ago, which was the first time Nikki went with us.  And it doesn’t look like we’ll get any this year, either.  At the moment, the forecast calls for mild temperatures and rain.  Some of us are crossing our fingers for a Christmas miracle!  But a few clear nights would make me happy, too.  World’s End is up out of the light pollution, and the night sky is simply amazing there.  One of the perks of having to go across the street to go to the bathroom is that sometimes you have to go in the middle of the night, and Mother Nature rewards you for it.  The cabin colony is at the bottom of a mountain valley, so the mountains around you frame off the sky, but above you is just millions of stars everywhere.  During the day, sometimes we go out to walk along the river or up one of the trails, but mostly we just hang out in the cabin, playing boards games or working on puzzles or crafts.  And eating.  Lovely, lovely eating.  Which, yes I will still be doing, but in moderation and with a lot of extra activity (the joys of a woodstove for heat is all the firewood chopping!)

Part of this process is that we’ve moderated the kids’ expectations of presents.  They know they will get a book (or two.  Or three.  I’m weak.), a game, and a special present of some kind.  That’s it.  No ridiculous piles of loot, and they’re just as happy that way.  Well, mostly.  Although Hero said to me that she feels bad for her friends who already all know what they’re getting, usually big ticket stuff.  I just can’t afford that, and I like that they don’t expect it.  The new thing we’ve added this year is stockings.  This is a tradition from my childhood that we stopped doing when there were only a few grownups.  What we would do is at Thanksgiving, all the adults and non-Santa believers would put their names in a hat and then draw, and that was the person you would fill a stocking for.  This is the first year that all the kids have acknowledged an end to the Santa tradition, so I have reinstated the stocking swap.  With me, the three kids, Nikki and Mom, we have an interesting mix.  The kids seemed a little hesitant at first, but we all went stocking shopping on Saturday and they started to get into it.  Now they’re getting excited to find out who has them and how the person they have reacts to what they bought.  It’s fun, and I’m glad to bring this tradition back.

As I said, Nikki and Mom are joining us, which I’m grateful for.  I love my kids, but I like having other grownups to talk to, too.  After Mom’s successful trip up to go camping with us in September, she decided to make the attempt at the cabin.  It looks like the weather will cooperate, so she should get there about when we do.  And Nikki, well, Nikki’s funny.  I’ve invited her every year, and every year she refused for the sole reason that the bathroom was not in the cabin and she’d have to go outside.  I’m not sure what finally broke her, but the last time we went, which was two years ago, she agreed to come with us.  And apparently had a great time.  Good enough that when I started talking about going this year, she mumbled something about missing it.  So YAY!  I may not ever get her to go camping with us, but at least I can get her out in the woods once in a while!

By the time you read this, we’ll be on our way.  We’re hitting the road between 10 and 11 Tuesday morning, and won’t be back until Sunday afternoon.  So have a great week, and Merry Christmas if you celebrate it, and I’ll see you in the new year!

Through Darkest Night

Through Darkest Night

We haven’t celebrated Solstice beyond acknowledging it in many years.  There just hasn’t been the time, and too many other things to do.  But again, clearing away other things has allowed me to start doing more important things.  This year, that was Solstice.

We didn’t do anything fancy.  But from sundown on, we used (almost) no electric lights.  Everything was candles.  (Note to self for next year: get more candles and candle holders!)  We kept the Christmas decorations plugged in, but that was it.  I had candles lit everywhere.  We even put out luminary jars on the front porch and along the walk.  And I made a nice dinner, with a perfect cranberry-glazed pork roast, garlic parmesan cauliflower, potato puffs and cinnamon rolls.  We didn’t use the good china, but I did put a green and red tablecloth down. Okay, maybe a little fancy!

We finished dinner early enough to go to the movies, which I count as appropriately Solstice-y, as we were sitting in the dark!  We saw The Hobbit, and the kids liked it.  Xander thought it was epic, Hero cried a lot, and Morgan had the same logistical questions that I did.  Having seen it twice now, I can say I liked it but I didn’t love it.  I think Jackson cut out too much interpersonal stuff and left in too much battle.  I have read that he’ll be adding in about 30 minutes to the extended edition release, and I’m hoping it’s all character stuff and not more fighting.  If it is, I think that will make it a much stronger movie.

After that, we came home and ate my first ever lemon meringue pie!  This is a big deal, as this is one of the two key family recipes.  It wasn’t as hard as I feared, just a little time consuming.  But totally worth it!  And I think it’s a perfect Solstice dessert.  The white of the meringue is winter snow and the full moon, but underneath is the brightness and warmth of the sun in the citrus flavor.  It was a good ending to a perfect, low key holiday.

Now we charge on to Christmas!