12/7/2011 Spiritual Literacy Month

We are now a week into December and it’s been nearly 50 degrees all day. I actually haven’t gotten out much, which isn’t good for me. I need my daily dose of outside, but while I had a bit of leftover cough, I skipped walking. I found some crocus bulbs I bought in October and was still able to plant them. I think I mostly did skate along on the right side of tipping into being actually sick. While I wasn’t feeling as strong, smart and healthy as I usually do, I didn’t get what I’d call “sick”, sick enough to stay in bed, although for several days I turned the brightness on the computer down, and even didn’t bother to get on the computer because it hurt my eyes. But that’s as bad as it got, so other missing getting out, I did pretty well.
I was able to get other stuff done. I’ve got the computer reminding me to write a few yule cards every day, so I should actually get them out this year. I found the address book that’s lived in my purse for 15 years or more, (I’d left it with the cards I meant to send last year- that was a relief.) I’ve probably spent as much time on the computer asking people for their addresses as I have actually writing notes in the cards. I also have a hard time tracking which ones I’ve done so far. I’d LIKE to brain that on being brainless because I was sick, but I wasn’t that sick, I’m blaming it on having friends with various names. I can address a card to an SCA name, or a modern name, by the husband or the wife’s name first on the card, by first or last name… and end up with multiple cards for the same people. I think Mother using a card file was a good idea, but I don’t want to bother setting one up. I only do cards about once every three to five years, which is odd because I like to stay in touch, but I’d rather bake than write.
I figured out how to make some holiday return address labels. That’s a new computer achievement for me, and I’m more proud of myself than in probably warrants. Now if I made an appropriate painting, scanned THAT and made it into return address stickers, that would be a reason to be proud.
We’ve been discussing which cookies to make this year- trying, as usual, to minimize the holiday over-doing. Having had that discussion, I collected the favorite recipes into a file last night, and printed it out. Today I took that and on the back of an incoming card envelope, and went through the recipes making tick marks for every stick of butter, egg, cup of sugar, or flour etc. and put together a shopping list. (I guess everyone knows that a half a cup is a stick of butter, and four sticks are a pound. There are three cups of flour in a pound and 2 cups of sugar. (Do you know what the volume of a pound of honey is? I need that when I make mead- which I started a small batch of the other day.) If we make all the cookies in the collection, we’ll need 15 pounds of butter and 5 dozen eggs, 15 pounds of sugar and 30 pounds of white flour. (wow) I like making cookies. Any wonder we invite people in?
This year since Christmas is on Sunday, that means in order to avoid that weekend, we’ll be having our open house the weekend before. Of course, so will the rest of the world. We’ve found that by having an open house, it means that people can come by Friday or Saturday morning before they go somewhere else, or Sunday on the way back from somewhere else, and we see more people. Also, as they come in a few at a time, we actually get a chance to talk to people- which is, I think, the point. I LIKE keeping in touch with old friends (hence this letter).
It’s too easy for me to get sucked into facebook- I have no idea how other people manage. People recommend articles which are fascinating, and video clips, and share funny cartoons and beautiful images. They share what they had for dinner, and ask for prayers for sick relatives. I like it- but they keep changing how it works, and I have no idea how they decide what goes at the top- and you have to scroll down to find everything.  I can’t just run through chronologically as I can with email, and look for what’s spam as opposed to what’s from my friends. It’s all my friends. It’s all interesting. And I haven’t got all day to look at it, but when I’m not keeping an eye on the time, I can spend all day.  Some people have many hundreds of friends. I have 370. How do you say no if someone wants to be your friend? Still, I’m trying to figure out how only the people I know pretty well come to the top. I can’t spend so much time on it.
I may add a computer reminder to make a batch of cookies a day.(December 4th is national Cookie Day, and the 8th is National Brownie Day. This is National Cookie Cutter Week, but I used that in the subject line a previous year, so that’s why I didn’t do it this year.) Meanwhile I’m trying to get the house cleaned up. One year I took a piece of scrap wood and drew a tree on it, then made “ornaments” with the names of rooms on them. I told the kids that as the rooms were clean, the ornament would go on the wooden tree- and when that showed that the house was clean, then we’d get the real tree. No gimmick this year, but we’ve been trying to get things cleared away. Obviously the kitchen has to be clean before we do any massive baking, and since we put the cookies in the (unheated) back hall, that’s got to be picked up. Goodness! the way areas you don’t go into often can collect stuff!
We brought out the Holly pattern plates and various Christmas mugs on the first, and started collecting all the fall pattern tablecloths, napkins, tableware, cornucopia etc. to put away. Sadly, we put the bin back in the attic the day before I took the last batch of tablecloths and aprons out of the dryer. We always keep finding bits from one set for a week or two after we think we’ve got everything put away for the year.
We picked up our wreath from the library. It’s a big one so it doesn’t look too small on the barn door. It would be less expensive to put two small wreaths at a 2/$12 sale on the barn, but I never seem to think of that. Willow picked us up little seasonal gifts for St. Nicholas- and we had to remember whether one put shoes out the 5th or the 6th. (I tell you, one gets spoiled just being able to look things up on the internet!) She found me a nice turtleneck with holly on it, and John a T shirt that is printed with the Santa fur trim and belt and asks “Does this outfit make me look fat?” Kat got some slippers that match her nightie, and Willow got some Santa type socks (infused with aloe for her calluses). We’ve always used St. Nicholas Day as the day to give any gifts that were specifically FOR the holiday season, and would be rather pointless if you didn’t get them until Christmas.
Saturday was the Baronial Yule feast up at Dartmouth and Honour, Kat and I were going to go, but I was pretty sure that if I did I’d get REALLY sick, so we didn’t, which was a disappointment. By Sunday I felt well enough to go back to work” and spent most of the day composing and editing letters to the Mi’kmaq elders, and other post con wrap up. A couple of my speakers apparently were unhappy about the con, and rather than bringing their concerns to me vented on facebook, sigh. That bummed me a lot (may have had a lot to do with why I felt poorly- translating my mood to my physical symptoms). I don’t think there’s much I can do about it, and I hate that.  I encouraged the other speakers to post about how much they liked it. Cathy did, bless her.
I still haven’t got the CDs from the recording company- I suppose they said 2-3 weeks. It seems like SO long since then. But then, during the crunch, there were days when I’d go to bed, grab my journal and think back and it had seemed like three or four days since I’d gotten up.
Now that all that’s “over”, Cathy Kane is helping me create a website for myself. Josh was going to do it for me, but he’s working three jobs and hasn’t gotten to it, so I’m going to start with a small one (it’s free) and if it can get bigger, or Josh can show me how to do a better one, I’ll go for it. I just need to have something up. “Getting a website up” was one of the goals I had for the first month after Ælfwine died. One thing every widow knows is that you have to learn to do stuff yourself. Ælfwine always did the computer stuff for me. Willow kind of took that over- but since she’s still doing PC and I’m on a mac, often she doesn’t know what to do with mine.
Cathy says that she’s been able to do everything for herself with her wordpress blog, and I guess that’s what I need. I spent hours yesterday looking at 160 different “themes”, which I think means templates into which you put your information (I’ve picked 7 and am now weeding them down). I’m trying to figure out which widgets and other features I want- which is hard because I don’t know what a lot of them are. Cathy explains to me things like since you’re more likely to update the content than the menu, it’s better to have the menu bar on the right than the left. To me that’s as arcane as saying that when someone looks to their right, they’re lying. It’s all information, and we all know our own stuff. I just need to learn new stuff.
What I already know is that I don’t want white (or red) letters on black background. That’s hard to read. I don’t want little animated things. That’s irritating. But do I want a fixed or flexible width? Do I want a one, two or three columns? What’s a “featured image”, one they give me or one I can put my own image in? When I’m done here, I back to looking at their descriptions and trying to figure it out. I would LIKE to have pages for all the many facets of what I do. I want to be able to showcase my art: my portraits in oil, charcoal and miniatures, my book covers, my sculpture, and maybe my hobbies like knitting. I’d like to be able to sell the sculpture, cookie stamps and cookbooks, and share and sell my writing, the cookbooks as well as any articles, and SCA booklets. If I give them money, will I be able to have a sales page? I want links between all by different activities, from the history to the metaphysical stuff. The only thing I’m not sure I want to include is this letter- the part that comes closest to being a “blog” as I understand them. Still, clearly, I’m going to need to do it myself. I’ve spent years trying to get someone else to do it for me, and that hasn’t worked. I can always improve it later, but getting it started now would be a great joy.
For the last month or so I’ve been reading the Marcus Didius Falco books. (I’m on the Jupiter Myth) It’s “mind candy”, pleasant, easy, and not challenging. Mind candy is especially wonderful when you’re dealing with things that are challenging the rest of the time. This week I’ve suddenly had a hankering for non-fiction again. I’m back to reading several books at a time (they combine in such an interesting way). I’ve begun Teen Psychic and The History of Old Age. Teen Psychic has exercises that look useful. First one is letting go of dreams that no longer serve you. Wow. What is the shelf life of a dream?
No surprise in the first chapters of Old Age, getting old stinks, and people have always seemed to know it. One interesting theme is how you can tell more about a culture’s resources than its aspirations by looking at how it treats its old people. In pre-literate societies, the knowledge the old have makes caring for and feeding them a worthwhile investment, but while the non-productive young are a future investment, the old often judge themselves to be not worth their keep, and not worth the discomfort. When I wanted to check on the date for St. Nicholas Day, I pulled out an old book on Christmas Traditions and have been wallowing in fascinating trivia about old celebrations. Much of what we do now is an amalgamation of many different early winter celebrations. When Gregory sent Augustine to convert the Saxons, he told him to build churches where they were used to worshipping, and have feasts- dedicated to Christ and the saints- at the times when they were used to celebrating. A couple generations later the feast of St. Martin was instituted for the first time.  Martinmas (is held on November 11th, which we think of as Veteran’s Day, but might better be considered as what All Hallows would have been before the Gregorian calendar shift, so it could be another version of Samhain celebrations). The feast of St. Clement on November 23, and St Andrew November 30 , St. Nicholas (12-6), St. Lucy (12-13), St. Thomas (12-21), St. Steven (12-26). So much of it seems to go back to the early Beginning of Winter celebrations. Fortune telling, bonfires, masking and hoydening, etc…. Hoydening is like mumming or masking or the krampus parades I talked about last year. There are lots of times during the year when the poor were allowed to go around usually offering either entertainment or prayers for the benefit of those who gave them food or drink. This is the clear predecessor to both trick or treating AND caroling. Other things we see at all the holidays not particularly surprising with St. Clement as he’s the patron of blacksmiths, but they all seem to share traditions of bonfires. I suppose, it IS both dark and cold, and a bonfire is the logical low tech answer to that. In Hoydening, they’d get a horse’s head, or lacking that a horse’s skull (not so easy for us these days- we’d need old car parts or something like that), put it on a stick and arrange a string or something to make the mouth open and shut with a clacking sound, then while the guy in front held that, there’d be others behind him, all covered with a white sheet or blanket or hide, and they’d run around charging at people with this scary thing (sometimes they had coals in it to make the eyes glow). Scary. Yes, this was a holiday tradition, along with ghost stories, eating too much and fortune telling. Fun.
  I’ve also gone back to the Anthropology of Religion, Magic, & Witchcraft textbook(I read a fascinating article today about Haitian Zombies), and finished  the mythology course and am listening to one called Epochs of European Civilization (Antiquity to the Renaissance). Right now they’re talking about the Jews and how their religion is supposed to be the beginning of a religion that cared about “good and evil” rather than “what the gods wanted”.  I’m not sure he’s making his point, he’s SO grounded in his monotheistic assumption that if Jehovah said it it’s good, but if Apollo or Zeus said it, it’s arbitrary. I’m probably also reacting to some of the articles I’ve been reading on facebook, like Mitt Romney and some of the candidates talking about how they want to “investigate” how people are having their religious rights infringed on when they try to define marriage for everyone else. Most Christians I know don’t say that they believe everything (like Noah living 950 years) in the bible as factual. Some of the Bible is pretty good stuff, and some of it is unmitigated BS. I know some people live in a constant state of fear and want someone to run their lives for them, they find it more comfortable to tell them what to do, but while ordinarily I don’t mind that, whenever we are talking about the democratic process, we ARE supposed to think for ourselves, and not just accept some arbitrary set of rules and not think about them.
At the same time Mark shared an essay pointing out that it’s impossible for our kids to make any kind of judgement about our culture when we don’t give a balanced view of it. No, it’s not right to give only the good parts version. That’s OK for playing games like the SCA, but with real life you look at the bad and the good. But you don’t just talk about the bad (and that’s what we’ve been doing lately- probably in an effort to show that we aren’t afraid of admitting our faults. But how are kids who know nothing except what we teach them, plus what they see in movies, or on TV to realize that while we’ve made mistakes, as a culture, we’ve worked hard to make the world better, and to do what’s right. If we don’t frame the mistakes in the context of the effort to do right, the kids can only feel that we are awful. We can’t expect them to somehow know things we haven’t taught them. Balance, we need to strive for balance.
Maybe with all my reading and relaxing I’ve been thinking too much.
Or not.
Another thing I’ve been considering is entitlement. I’m not talking about being entitled to be supported, but being entitled to have the world be what we expect it to be. I expect it to be good, and fair. Others expect it to be dangerous and mean. It’s the same world. We all really feel that things should follow the patterns we expect. For example- I like fur. As it gets cooler, my waterbed is quite a heat sink, so I put furs under me- comfy. But I don’t expect that the sheep feel quite as good about this solution as I do. I can justify it by saying the sheep is going to be eaten. It’s OK to kill something if its death is a benefit for me. Or likewise, I feel no compunction at all about killing the weasel running across our yard with one of my chickens in his mouth. Forget eating him, I just want him dead. AND his fur is nice. But really, when I have a bunch of chickens all together, a weasel or fox is just being a carnivore when he sees food and helps himself. I’m the one who feels that just because I’ve collected the poultry, built them shelter, fed them, that I am entitled to decide who eats them and their eggs. In a civilized world, you expect to benefit by the result of your labor. Even in a hunter gatherer society, if other hunters moved into an area where one group usually hunted, they’d want the other group to “hunt and gather” somewhere else. This is OUR area. I’m used to gathering here, so this is mine. We saw this when Charlotte made a special trip to harvest the berries from her yard, and the neighborhood kids who’d expected to be able to get them broke the windows in her house to express their frustration. We would rather come up with some imaginative explanation about why things should work the way we expect them to, than change our world-view to reflect what happens.
I’ve watched a bunch of “brain candy” movies as well. Saw an old pirate movie “The Black Swan” with Tyrone Power and Maureen O’Hara. She was SUCH a great star. It was very nice, not quite as good as Captain Blood, but still, fun. I saw the recent movie Beastly– a modern variant on the Beauty and the Beast from the point of view of the beast. As with a Christmas Carol, it’s difficult to show how someone can go from being a jerk to relating to other people. Given that he had a year, not just 3 nights, I suppose that helped, but it did need magick. I also rented Smurfs, with Neil Patrick Harris (who had a small role in Beastly too). It was fun, mostly to watch them make fun of themselves. As the smurfs sang “La, la la la la la” (again), Patrick asked them “honestly, don’t you find that song annoying?”. (who doesn’t?)  Hank Azaria who played Gargamel was incredible- he really got the body language- which is hard when what you are doing is a cartoon character, and the CGI guys managed to make the cat Azrael looked both like a real cat, and the cat in the cartoons. It was well done, and witty. Not that I expect to watch it over again (I have watched a couple of versions of a Christmas Carol including one with Nicholas Cage as Marley’s Ghost, and the Hogfather).
There has been a real spate of hearing about friends with sick relatives and friends. Avi and Trevor’s son had a febrile seizure and went to the hospital- he’s better now. I truly hope my magick works because I’m sending a LOT Of it out recently.
Honour went to get her car inspected, and got hit with a lot of repairs to keep it on the road. Oh, and I mentioned last month that Steve had to replace his car? he got a Prius. Nice. Mark is headed back down to Florida. We’ll continue checking his apartment and mail for him. It’s such a looong drive down there, I do not envy him the trip at all.
Oh, another technology first. The other day Dad called to make sure we were all set for coming down to Nancy’s for Christmas Eve. I know Dad plays games on his computer, and I asked Liz (my sister who lives with him) if Dad’s computer is video equipped. No, but hers is. She called up facebook and the video feed, and Dad and I had a video chat. Of course, he looked unimpressed. I wasn’t quite sure whether he could hear me- there was some delay (as those of us who watch science fiction expect from a link to space) but it was pretty cool. Not that either Dad or I are that great to look at. On the other hand, Liz carried her laptop around and showed me the small part of her Nutcracker collection she’d put out this year. Only about 30-40 of them, a fraction of the whole collection. I liked the ones that looked like the characters from OZ. Once you start collecting something, you’re doomed. Thank goodness cookie cutters are small and cheap.
Well, have a good week. Remember to do the things that make you happy, not just what you think everyone does at this time of year.
“Have  a Great Day,
unless  you’ve made other  plans”