Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Zombie Apocalypse? What About the Lost Skills?

Today I finally decided to catch up on my budget spreadsheets. I've been horrible for the past couple of months about keeping it up to date, but because I'm on a fixed income I have to watch every penny and it stresses me out more to not remember exactly what has gone in or out, or how much I will have to survive to the end of the month. So, I cracked the mental whip and balanced it all out. That's after spending all afternoon trying to figure out where £50 went (I forgot to enter a bill that had been paid....oops).

This got me thinking about some of the recent things on the 'end of the world'. From tv series such as 'The Walking Dead' to the current news headlines of the guy who predicted the apocalypse, it's something that you get the range of people...from those who don't give a flying flip to those that are already hiding in their fallout shelters.

I personally don't think that it will be zombies or anything like that. No, I feel like it will be from people taking each other out and destroying the technology, utilities, and supply chains to try to punish each other. Those caught in the crossfire will have to relearn how to survive. A lot of the traditional skills have been lost to all but a very few people. Unless people group off with at least one person who knows how to live off the land, there would be a lot of people starving because they wouldn't be able to feed themselves.  Freezing because they don't know how to build a fire. I think that it has been forgotten how to even rely on other people, to share skills.

I actually think that I'd be happier with a simpler world. Ok, so lack of fancy communications systems would be a bit heartbreaking. I admit to my mobile being borderline surgically attached to my hand (especially the new one), and Skype, Facebook, and Twitter allow me to keep in contact with my family in Indiana and Missouri. But life would go back to being simpler. Eat, sleep, protect, and provide for you and your family. But it's not monetary providing. It's identifying your food sources and knowing how to obtain and prepare them safely. There are adults in this world that I doubt would survive without the local takeaway.  It's knowing how to sew clothing and necessities.  I don't do anything fancy, but I can hand sew and I know how to use my sewing machine without electricity (my first sewing machine when I moved to the UK was an 1868 hand-cranked Singer).

I'd like to think that my friends that live nearby would join up with us, so we could share skills, take care, and protect each other.  They are my non-blood family, and I rely so much on them even now.

Ok. so nothing like another of my random posts.  I probably shouldn't have fretted so much over my spreadsheets, knowing that it would have worked it's way out. I seriously am not frivolous with spending...not even close to it, because I can't be. There are things that I want, but that gets put aside for what we need. I've now fully admonished myself for not keeping up on my spreadsheet, because I stress less when I've got it up to date and easily accessed.


A bit of a hit...

Apologies for the sudden onslaught of transfers from my old blog tonight. I was just going to start transferring the recipes themselves,  but realised that the beginning couple of posts were a good opening to introduce what I was thinking 2 1/2 years ago.

Not a lot has been going on here. The sparkling (way too hot and humid for me) weather here in the UK this weekend finally allowed me to weed the garden for the first time in almost a fortnight. I love the energy that my few veg share when I'm helping them out. I am grateful, though, that the temperature came down quickly, because it was making the Imp poorly (hayfever sucks).

I may not like the hot weather...the thought of a beach holiday is my idea of a nightmare...but I do appreciate the need for it, and for the different cycles of weather. I think that is one thing that gets forgotten by most people: the need for the different weather. I'm personally on the fence about the issue surrounding global warming, because I do feel that it all works it's way around. But even though I don't like the hot weather, I am grateful for the energy and life that it gives, along with the rainy days.

I'm always thinking of a saying that I grew up hearing in Indiana, and they say the exact same thing here in the UK: "If you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes and it will change for you". To be honest, with the off day that the Imp and I had today, it works for toddlers, as well. :P


Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Recipe: Bolognaisse (Pasta Sauce) (originally posted 11/02/09 on Alternating Kitchen Witch)

  • one or two tins of chopped tomatoes (dependent on how much you need to tin is on par for me)
  • one chopped onion
  • beef mince (I think the packs I get from the butchers is about 500g, but, you can always do more or less, dependent on your needs).
  • vegetables...this depends on you and your tastes. Sliced mushrooms, sweetcorn, courgette (zucchini), carrots, the list is endless. I've been known for dumping in frozen mixed veg, just to get veg into those that don't normally eat it.
  • Worcestershire Sauce (if you are wheat free, do not buy shop brands. Lea and Perrins is ok, as it uses barley malt. If you are full gluten free, coeliac, there are gluten free makes in the Free From sections)
  • Herbs: I use what I have on hand. Mixed herbs, Italian Herbs, or, a bit of sage, oregano, and/or rosemary.
  • Garlic: I rarely use whole garlic, because I can't be asked. You can, if you want. I tend to use the puree in the tube, or, I get a jar of it from the Chinese shop.
  • Brown Sugar: This is optional, and, for me, mood-dependent.

Heat up your pan (I prefer to use a wok, but, a good-sized frying pan is good, too, or, a big saucepan). Drizzle in 2 or 3 tablespoons of sunflower or olive oil. One the oil heats up, lightly saute your onion (and, if you're using fresh garlic, that, too). Add in your mushrooms, saute for a couple of minutes, then, add in the rest of your veg (If you're using peppers, I would add them with the onion). After they saute for a little bit, add your beef mince, and brown. When the meat is brown, add in your herbs...this is one of my 'that looks about right' amounts, so, maybe, about the size of a 5 year old's handful. Give everything a good stir. Add your tinned tomatoes and garlic puree, and, give a good stir, again. If you're using the optional brown sugar, add this, too, again, about the size of a 5 year old's handful, or so. Worcestershire Sauce at this time, too...a few good shakes.

Turn the heat down, and let simmer for a minimum of 20 minutes. The longer it simmers, the better it is, as the flavours infuse.

Serve on pasta of choice (there is wheat and gluten free pastas in the Free From sections of good sized shops), or rice or jacket (baked) potato.

Other Modifications you can do:

This can easily be turned into a chili. Just add kidney beans, pepper, and chili powder, and/or other spices of choice. I tend to use mild chili powder. Either way, be careful with how much you put in. My friend, Illustratedmum, has made the suggestion that if you over do it, add another tin of tomatoes.

Brightest Blessings,

(Food) Shopping (originally posted 11/2/09 on Alternating Kitchen Witch, slightly modified today)

Ok, now, I'm skint a good portion of the time, so, if I want something, I have to be sensible. As do most of us. I have certain things that I keep as 'staples' in my cupboards, that can go with anything, and make up anything in a quick meal.

Tinned Tomatoes: Chopped or whole (the whole ones can be chopped up. Sometimes, it's a few pence cheaper to buy the whole ones. It depends on the shop). I don't get anything fancy...just the shop's own brand (Sainsbury Basics, Asda Smart Price, Tesco Value). I usually have at least one, if not two, tins on hand at all times.
Tinned or Frozen Sweetcorn: I personally prefer frozen, but tinned works just as well. Again, shop's own brand. Cheap and cheerful, I think I tend to pay around 22p for a good sized tin.
Onions: I have a preference for using red onions, but will use yellow, if that's what's on hand. I know that our local Coop has a bag of yellow onions at a cheap and cheerful 50p, and there's maybe 7 or 8 onions in there.
I use a lot of herbs and spices, and, unless I'm following a specific recipe, I have a tendency to estimate, and do a lot of 'that looks like a good amount'. So, since I use a lot, I prefer to buy all of my dried herbs from the market in the city centre. I know I've been able to obtain them in both Grimsby and Lincoln, at the health and whole foods stalls. They also carry some spices, but, for those, I prefer to go to our local Chinese food shop. They tend to come in a reasonable sized bag for dirt cheap. Doing this saves you quite a bit from what you would spend at your major shops...where you're paying extortionate prices for a tiny glass jar. Buying from the Chinese shop, I have some spices that are the most amazing quality...mmmm....cinnamon....

For storage, since I don't like the tiny jars, I tend to wash and recycle other jars, and label them. Mayonaisse jars, jam jars, coffee jars...these are all used in our house. Eventually, though, I have my heart set on some sealing jars from Lakeland.

I am a huge proponant of buying local. Using your local butchers ensures that you get a lot better quality. The ones I know do some really good deals...i.e. 3 for £5, 2 for £5, etc. I tend to pick up two or three of the deals, and freeze for later use. Minced beef and chicken pieces are a common thing, that are nice to keep on hand as staples, because you can do anything with them. If you decide what you're making at the last minute, you can always defrost in the microwave.

Most butchers also carry eggs. If they don't, your local market is likely to. We always use Free Range eggs, because, then you know they've not been fed wheat, or loads of chemicals. I'm not massively on the organic kick, but I'm very anti GM, and, if I can afford free range, I will get it.

For those of you that are wheat or gluten free, as we are, if you are really fancying sausages, check with your local butchers. I know of one here in Lincoln that carries lovely Lincolnshire gluten free sausages every day (Pepperdine's, on Sincil Bank). Some butchers, if they don't carry them on a regular basis, can sometimes order them in for you.

As often as you can, buy your fruit and veg from your local market or greengrocers. You'll get a lot better quality, and, normally, a lot better value.

We do keep flour on hand, at all times. But, as we are wheat free, we are rather limited. We generally keep in Wheat and Gluten Free Plain, Self Raising, and Strong White Bread flours in, all made by Dove's Farm. These are available at most of the major supermarkets, in their Free From sections. If they don't have a special section, check with the rest of the flour...they might have it on one of the higher shelves (to avoid cross contamination). There are other types of flour that can be used, i.e. Spelt, Rice, Potato, etc., but, personally, I can't be asked. It can be a bit more complex, with having to add stuff like xanthan gum, etc. The Dove's Farm, for the most part, is ready to use, and I just use it like normal. You may just need to add a little bit more liquid, if you're using a normal recipe. It's a little bit of experimentation.

Well, if I think of anything else, I'll add to other posts :)

Brightest Blessings

Gluten Free Post ("Where to Start", posted 11/02/09 on Alternating Kitchen Witch, Amended a little today

I reckon myself as being a fairly plain cook, that uses a few recipes (modified, sometimes heavily beyond recognition). One of the reasons behind a good portion of my modifications is because I am severely wheat intolerant, as are a few of my friends, and the Imp was reacting, but seems to have grown out of it (fingers crossed). And I'm going to be honest...a good portion of shop bought wheat free bread and pastry are horrible. They tend to be dry, stale, and flavourless. And stupidly expensive (who wants to pay almost £2 for a half loaf of stale bread?!?). There are a few bits that are ok, even downright tasty, but, the general house rule is if we want something, find some way of making it ourselves.

I'm also not a particular fan of ready meals and jar sauces. There are a couple that I do use, i.e. the sachets of oyster and spring onion sauce (Blue Dragon) that I used in my stirfry last night, but, bolognaisse sauce is not one of them...I make my own, and will put the recipe here in my blog.

If you have kids, let them help. As well as having loads of fun, they'll be spending quality time with you, and learning essential life skills that they can use as adults. If the kids are too little, hand them pots, pans, and bits that they can bang together. The Imp is a huge help, at 3 1/2, and can bring me things out of the veg cupboard and fridge, and help add things to the bowl (as well as 'cleaning the beaters). Just be sure to use common sense regarding safe handling of sharp implements, electric appliances, and hot stuff.

Most of the recipes here will be modified already to what I do for wheat free, but, they can always be modified for normal flour. Some of the sweet stuff can also be modified for diabetic friendly. If you ask, I am happy to look up and help out.

I use recipes of my own creation, as well as a lot of recipes from other online sources, whether I modify them or not. If a recipe I place on here is from another source, I will be posting the link directly to that recipe. If it is from another source, I will quote that source.

If there is something specific in a recipe, I'll name the shops where I get them, or the brands, so it makes it easier for you to find and track down. There are a couple of my recipes that use something from the States...don't panic. If you don't have friends or family that can ship it to you, there are import resources here in the UK. My favourite import company is Let's Eat, which is a cafe and shop at the Milton Keynes Centre. As I now live too far from Milton Keynes, they are on eBay, and, also have their shop online. Google is also a good resource.

My biggest rule...enjoy your cooking. It's not that hard, and it doesn't have to be a chore. Be are just guidelines. If you feel it needs more or less of an ingredient, play around with it, until it suits your taste. If you have a breather whilst something is baking or simmering, use that time to do up some of the dishes, so you don't have to do them later.

Now, off we go...

Brightest Blessings

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Recipe: Iced Vanilla Cupcakes

This recipe is from Issue 1 of "Baked and Delicious" magazine, that I've altered by changing the flour to a gluten and wheat free blend from Dove's Farm. For those needing sugar free, the sugar is quite easily changed to sweetener alternatives(not tried this yet myself), and the butter and milk can be easily changed for your normal alternatives if you're dairy free (I have used Flora margarine and goats milk, in the past).

Here's the recipe:
For the Cupcakes:
125g/4oz unsalted butter, softened
125g/4oz caster sugar (I just use granulated, because that's what's here)
2 large eggs, beaten
125g/4oz self-raising flour, sifted (I'm naughty and rarely sift anything but icing sugar)
2tbsp semi-skimmed or whole milk (I had just a small dash more, just in case, for gluten free)
1tsp vanilla extract
(for chocolate, replace a tbsp of the flour with a tbsp of cocoa powder and sift it into the mixture at the same time. Add a heaped tspt of sifted cocoa powder to the icing sugar, too)

For the Buttercream Icing
75g /3oz unsalted butter, softened
2tbsp semi-skimmed or whole milk
1tsp vanilla extract
225g/8oz icing sugar, sifted
food colouring, optional

In a large bowl, beat the softened butter and sugar together until they are light and fluffy. Whisk in the beaten eggs a little at a time, adding a spoonful of the measured flour to prevent the mixture curdling.  Use a metal spoon to gently fold in the remaining flour and then add the milk and vanilla extract.  Stand the cupcake cases (I use silicone, but you could also use paper cases in a muffin tin) on a large baking tray and divide the mixture equally between them.  Bake in a preheated oven at 190C/375F/gas mark 5 until well risen and golden, for about 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove and cool on a wire tray.

For the icing, in a large bowl beat the butter until completely soft.  Tim in the milk and vanilla extract, add half the sifted icing sugar and beat for several minutes (warning...for me, this coats my entire kitchen in icing sugar).  Add the remaining sugar and continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.  If you are adding food colouring, put it in a drop at a time until you get the shade that you want.  You can either spread it onto your cupcakes, or I have an icing gun-thing that I fill and just squirt it on (I actually double the icing recipe, because I'm rather generous with it, and that's my favourite part.

If you want to add decorations, i.e. sprinkles or fruit such as raspberries or strawberries, lemon zest (I've contemplated exchanging the vanilla out of the entire recipe and adding lemon extract. I haven't gotten around to it yet), etc., add it before the icing sets.

This, overall, is a rather quick recipe if I need a quick treat. I think it takes me about 10 or 15 minutes to put it all together, then the 15 to 20 minutes of baking, half hour or so of letting it cool, and 5 minutes to apply the icing (that I make during the cooling off time).


The Alternating Kitchen Witch - Gluten and Wheat Free cooking

A comment on my Summer Solstice post by Andrea of Dancing Barefoot blog really got me thinking. A few years ago I had started a cooking blog, posting some of my favourite recipes that I've modified for gluten and wheat free. It kind of got put to the side because I hit a busy point of life and forgot about it. I also wasn't happy with how I had it set out, and felt that it could be quite limited, at times. But after Andrea posted, and after other requests for my recipes from else where, I've decided that this, my main blog, is a perfect place for it. I know that I've been dreadful lately about keeping up on my posts, so it will help with that. I will be slowly transferring recipes already on the old blog, as well as adding new ones. If there's one that I've not put on but you've seen me mention it, feel free to ask and I'll be happy to post it :)


Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Summer Solstice

I know there's not been anything from me in over a week, but I've been on a complete one track mind with projects. Those are now complete, so now to crack on with the blog posts that have been floating in my head, including a guest post for The Pagan Mom Blog for next month, and my views on Winnie the Pooh (trust me, it's not as silly as it may sound).

So, how have you spent your summer solstice, or Litha? Did you see in the dawn? Or even more lucky to see it in at Stonehenge? Unfortunately in our house, dawn doesn't exist. The Imp likes her sleep, and I'm a late night person that struggles with not getting enough sleep as it is. I think I've only seen a couple of solstice dawns when I was childless and working nights. Instead, I tend to nurture my creative streak throughout the day. Today I completed a project that I started on the New Moon (the decorative part of it) of last week, that was given as a gift this evening. I also baked some gluten free vanilla cupcakes as a solstice gift.  Most of my solstices I spend baking at least one thing that I don't have on a regular basis, and a lot of the time it is either shared or gifted.  For me, this seems to be the most natural thing in the world, and a perfect way to celebrate.

Leading back to my previous post about unfinished projects, it was an excellent feeling to finish the project today. For those that don't know me well, I'm an avid fan of attachment parenting and babywearing, and try my best to encourage and help others where I can. My friend at The Witchy Kitty blog had a gorgeous boy last week, and I thought that the best way to welcome him into the world was with a hand made work of art that will give him all the perfect snuggles he could ever desire. The day that he was born last week, this unfinished ring sling finally shouted at me that it needed to be completed. Four days of intense cross stitching, with the assistance of both the cats, and supervised to the high standards of the Imp. My fingers were numb and tingling by the end of it, but the feeling of accomplishment was amazing. Today I sorted it onto the sling as a pocket, that can be removed when he's older to be added to a quilt.  I have found in the past that when baby gifts are given, most of the stuff tend towards perishables, clothing, or decorative that they grow too old for. There's nothing wrong with that, but I do adore giving gifts that will be of use for a REALLY long time. And being handmade, started on the new moon, completed on a solstice...well, I'm simply buzzing tonight.

I still have other projects, but I now don't have the pressing 'Finish me! Finish me! Finish me!' screaming in my head, so there is now space again for my thoughts for writing.

Brightest Solstice Blessings!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Motivation and Organisation

To my closest friends, they know that I have my moments. I seem to be super organised, with everything all prepared ahead of time. Unfortunately I'm not always like that. I constantly have plans and ideas for improvement going through my head, but it doesn't always happen, or takes forever for me to get it actioned. I fully admit that I have issues with motivation. I naturally sit on the borderline of depression, as most of us do, and when I'm having a low time I don't want to do anything. I'm just not in the mood, and I don't see the point.

Unfortunately, being disorganised on the outside, i.e. my house being a bombsite, doesn't help my mental organisation. It probably doesn't help yours, either. Not being able to find anything drives me crazy. Everything piled up on the dining table, and around it, makes me feel like everything is starting to close me in. When everything is tidy, I find myself more motivated for having people around to visit, for working on projects that have been in the pipeline, and for celebrating my deities with rituals and card readings. I've now hit the bottom of my low, and I'm ready to climb back up and get myself sorted out again. For me, a tidy home is a happy home. Or, at least it's a happier me...the Imp doesn't care as long as she can get to her cars, books, and drawing materials.

I have a plan, and I have help. I may not agree with a lot of her views or ideas, but I do have to admit that Time Warp Wife has an excellent housekeeping schedule that appeals to my levels of organisation. It breaks down everything into individual and bite-sized segments that make keeping on top of things easier. I'm getting ready to print it myself, but just to warn you, it's six to seven pages. I'm going to stick those pages on the back of the kitchen door, to keep myself motivated, and to double check what needs to be done daily. She also has printable monthly calendars, if that makes any difference to you. One of the things about housework that really puts me off is that it can seem like a huge and overwhelming task, and being a single mum, I'm the only one that can do it. Don't get me wrong, the Imp does have her tasks, but sometimes she can be a right little hindrance with creating a tornado behind what I've already completed. The last time that I hoovered, she had stuff all over the floor within ten minutes.  At the moment, until the end of the school term in July, I have three hours while she's in nursery. So, that's about 2 1/2 hours of time at home that I can focus on getting sorted or working on projects.

But TWW breaks it down so it's not overwhelming. Her schedule is just focusing on basic housekeeping, not meal planning and personal care. There are specific tasks to be done every day...make your bed (seriously...this hardly takes any time), do at least one load of laundry, wash the dishes and make sure they're put away before you go to bed, tidy, dejunk, and have a journal.

For me, to make both mine and the Imp's beds takes about five minutes. That's not a big deal. Laundry, well, my biggest problem is that I need to fold and put things away. Laundry is regularly caught up, I'm just really bad about dumping it either in the dining room or my room.  Dishes are another problem area for me, so I need to get that in hand. It maybe takes me twenty minutes, so when I view it that way I need to suck it up.

Tidying won't be an issue once I take the time to get it to rights in the first place. That's tied in with my dejunking. Before my parents visiting, I managed to get rid of a lot of things. I had to be quite harsh with myself. When was the last time that I fit in those trousers? Five years ago? Ok, in the lifetime that I'm that size again, they will be extremely out of fashion, so I need to get rid of them. Do I really need that item that I haven't touched in a year or two? Is it something that I really need to keep around? Does a friend have one that I might be able to briefly borrow when I actually do need it?  I still have a lot that needs to be dejunked because I'm an admitted packrat. One item that I'm seriously contemplating about, at the moment, is my dining room table. I think I'm the only one of my friends that has one, and it hardly gets used. The only time that it is used is when everybody is around for a proper meal, and that doesn't happen often. I'm thinking about getting rid of the dining table because it takes up so much space and is a target for junk to pile up. The Imp and I use padded trays to eat off of in the living room, and I could feasibly get some more for when guests come around. The Imp has pretty good table manners, for a 3 1/2 year old, when we're out in public, and just the two of us sitting at a table that seats six just feels cold and impersonal. Getting rid of the table will give her more space to play, and maybe allow me to create an organised space for my craft supplies (which are currently stuffed and scattered all over the house, and I can never find what I want).

As for keeping a journal, that's why I've started this blog :P

I do try to encourage the Imp to help, but she sometimes has the attention span of a goldfish, as most three year olds do. But she has jobs that she's started on her own, and I encourage them strongly. She fills the cat food bowls when she gets home from nursery. When reminded, she puts her dirty washing in the basket in the bathroom. I have some of the clothes line strung at her height, so she pegs out all of our knickers, socks, and some of her clothes (I just don't look at it, because it's not like how I do it. She is trying, so I must keep my OCD to myself). When we've been shopping, she puts the fruit and veg away, and most of the items that go into the refrigerator. She helps me tidy her toys away. When it's time to make dinner, she helps by bringing onions, potatoes, and anything out of the fridge. It may be little things, but those little things can make a huge difference, and has helped with her communication and vocabulary skills. When she was going to speech therapy, they couldn't figure out why she wasn't using normal, kiddy basic words until they realised that she knew more cooking words than anything two, she could point out mushrooms, garlic, onions, and lots of other veg. And those words were all clear. One of the speech therapists' thoughts were 'what child knows what garlic is?!?'. Well, that would happen to be my child. Being gluten free, having to cook everything from scratch, and having to have her in the kitchen so I can keep an eye on her, well, she's going to learn by example.

One of my personal tips is to make the time to plan your shopping. Most of the time, I do my main shopping for a month. Because I don't drive, I try to plan it in time to have it delivered...for the main shop that I use, Tuesday and Wednesday are their cheap delivery days, and the cost of delivery is the same as me buying a Dayrider bus ticket. I start off by making a written list of what I'm going to need for the month. I then input it into a price comparison site. My site of choice is  Something that I've realised is that not all of the offers are on there, so, once it shows me which shop will be cheaper, I go to that shop's proper website to double check all of the offers and finalise my shop and delivery. It may seem convoluted and awkward, but I save anywhere from £10 to £30 by doing this. I try to do it so that over the remainder of the month I only really need to get fresh fruit and veg. Some people would say milk, but the Imp has goats milk, and we get it in the UHT boxes.

I know full well that I will feel much better once my house is back to rights, and now I've just about got the motivation to do it. Once my kitchen is back to rights, I'll be more motivated to get back to creative cooking, and making our own treats, which I haven't been in the mood for. Once I get everything else sorted, I won't feel so guilty when I stop to work on crafts or read my Kindle. I'll also be clearer to write the ritual that I desire to write for Lughnassahd, and maybe plan a feast for that and other upcoming celebrations.


Thursday, 9 June 2011

Circle of Moms Top 25 Faith Blogs Finish

Thank you so much to those that voted for me...I've amazingly finished 36 out of 321 parent and grandparent faith blogs.  Twelve Pagan blogs finished in the Top 25.  Congratulations to Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom for coming in 1st, followed by The Pagan Mom Blog in 4th, and for showing grace, courage, and strength when confronted with adversity.

I truly hope that lessons have been learned by everybody involved, and that it shows that just because we don't all have the same faith, we're all fabulous mums with a lot to share with each other, and with those around us. I've met some fantastic ladies in this that have become lovely friends, and I hope to continue to develop other lovely friends on my path.


Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Happy Vestalia!

Ok, so again seems rather random, but according to Pagan Calendar, today is the start of the Roman festival, Vestalia, which is for the entire week up to the ides of June, celebrating the virgin goddess, Vesta, of the hearth, home, and family. Worship of Vesta started off as a small cult, with worship mainly in private homes, until, as myth has it, the second Roman emperor, Numa Pompilius, nabbed a girl 'as if captured in a war' from her home, led her down the street, and declared her a 'Vestal Virgin', or, one of the Priestesses of Vesta. It eventually became one of the state religions of Rome.

Girls between the ages of six to ten were chosen for their physical perfection, both parents still living, and other criteria were eligible to take on the 30 year commitment that becoming a Vestal required...Ten years of training, Ten years of Service, Ten years of training others, and a vow of chastity.  They were recognisable by their dressing like a Roman bride, and their primary function was to maintain the flames of the Undying Fire in the temple of Vesta, and the making of the sacred mola salsa, or 'holy cakes' from special salt, water, and grain, for the festival. The last day of the festival was spent ritually cleansing the temple.

The purity of the Vestals was maintained as a form of ensuring the safety of Rome. The breaking of the vow of chastity meant death for the Vestal, by ritually burying her alive.  For other offences, such as letting the sacred fire die out, a Vestal would be whipped.

Vestals were treasured, though. In exchange for their 30 year commitment, they were emancipated, given honour, allowed to deal with their lives without the guidance of a man, and the State paid for their posh apartments to live in. At the end of their 30 years, they were allowed to retire and marry, though most remained single and chaste. (References: and

I rather like reading up on some of these random festivals, so I'm sure I'll come across and write about more :)


Guardians and Guides

Well, my intention was to not go three or four days without a post, but unfortunately this weekend caught up with me. Migraine, a day of shopping with the Imp's Grumps (and me on the warpath for a new mobile...I still have to have a bit of patience, but got loads of information), and a fantastic day out at the seaside. I ended up too wiped to think properly. That doesn't say that ideas haven't been floating around, including a bit of brainstorming for my guest post for Angela at The Pagan Mom Blog, which I am really looking forward to working on this week.

On Friday, the Imp actually truly inspired me. Not too bad for a 3 1/2 year old. We had to spend Friday afternoon at the hospital, for her (currently) 6 monthly chat with the paediatric allergist, who's trying to decide whether she's coeliac or wheat/gluten intolerant. When it came time for her to go down to the ward for her blood draw, it took them over ten minutes to get anything from her. And she didn't cry, flinch, or whine. She took it in her stride in a way that most adults couldn't, with only the occasional frustrated 'ouch' under her breath. All for the promise of a piece of cake when we met up with her Gran...she ended up with a huge piece of chocolate cake all to herself that she managed through all but a third of.

It makes me think of the spirits that are near her. Those that are guiding her, those that protect her, and those that she just chatters to in general. To be honest, it started whilst she was in the womb, with the spirit of my grandmother, her namesake. Occasionally I'd drift to memories of walking hand in hand with my grandmother through a shop, and the way that I would try to imitate her stride at the age of four. I'd slip back to my purpose of walking down the path to the car, to find that I'd be walking in the same manner again. Granted, I had a fair limp from carrying the Imp, but it wasn't just a random memory that struck me. It was a regular one.   After her birth, my friends and I have regularly caught something in the corner of our eye, looking over her. When she became mobile, she'd regularly go to a certain spot behind a curtain (no matter where she was. And she still does it.), and would spend at least 10 to 20 minutes intently conversing. On Friday, it was almost like there was somebody else there that she was listening to, to shut out her discomfort. On Sunday, she was in the back seat of the car, having a full-fledged conversation with somebody, that included the appropriate pauses, and hand actions. We couldn't hear or understand a word she was saying, but she was animated and it carried on for about 20 minutes.

I think it used to be just my grandmother, but I think she's now starting to gain other friends, and possibly starting to attract her first spirit teachers and guides. She has recently had a huge breakthrough in her language and vocabulary, and with that she seems to be more relaxed, independent, and attentive. She's now starting to say some rather insightful things, and I think that there were guides waiting for her to reach that maturity.

I have my spirit friends and guides, as well. My grandmother has been there when I've been at my loneliest and needed comforting. My gryphon is around a lot, representing when I need strength, intelligence, and cunning. There are others, as well. Some are a permanent presence, some are just there for a temporary message or just a visit. We all have them, it's just whether or not we chose to acknowledge them. It could be a child's imaginary friend, a guardian angel, an ancestor just checking that you're doing ok, or just a curious passing spirit. They can be a positive, neutral, or negative influence, though most of us are most likely to attract the positive or neutral. Dependent on your convictions and beliefs, the negative can be sent on their way.

In the past, parents have worried over their children having imaginary friends, thinking that they needed to get rid of that part of their childhood to interact more with the solid world. That's not something that I agree with. I feel that my daughter needs her spirit friends and guides. As she grows up, I can't always be there physically. But her great grandmother can be. Well, not physically, but her spirit can be there to comfort her, as well as those others that she can feel comfortable to talk to. It's an unfortunate thing that modern children are forced to grow up so quickly, that they're not allowed to keep the innocence of their childhood. "Forget and ignore your imaginary friend, it's time to be mature and grow up". I don't agree with that, because I believe that those spirits are there to help them grow up at the right pace, and to learn balance and peace.

Our far ancestors, the ones still living the tribal lives, honoured their deities and ancestral spirits on a daily basis. They actually encouraged them to be there to guide and protect them. Now, people are so wrapped up in themselves, they forget about those spirits to struggle on their own, when stopping for just a moment to 'ask for help' in your own way, and acknowledging your spirits could make the burden of your life easier.


Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Terpsichore, Goddess of Dance

OK, I can be rather pathetic. My guilty pleasure is watching television talent shows. Dancing On Ice, Strictly Come Dancing, American Idol, X-Factor...If it's remotely got music (even the worse gives me something to do by being a sofa critic), I'm likely to be watching it. This week, it's Britain's Got Talent every evening. Fantastic, but OMG! at some of the 'talent' on offer. Such a wide range of skills, skill levels, and bravery.  It made me think about who and what inspires people to develop their talents.

I figure that the best way to introduce today's goddess, Terpsichore, is with this video:

Ok, yes, I know, how retro cheesy. Nothing like the fantastic Olivia Newton-John and ELO to brighten your day. Oops, forgot to say that "Xanadu" is another guilty pleasure. When I was young, I was fascinated with Olivia, and I watched this a lot. I still watch it a lot.  The reason that I've chosen it is because of who her character, Kira, is supposed to be portraying. She is one of the nine Muses in Greek mythology, Terpsichore.

Terpsichore and her sisters were daughters of Zeus, who slept with Mnemosyne for nine consecutive nights to give birth to the nine Muses. They were then given to the God, Apollo, to raise and teach his arts. Each grew to show their individual talents. Terpsichore's talent was dance and choral music, and was known to enjoy dancing the most. She is mentioned by philosophers and poets, such as Plato, her name is given to dances and dancers, and also the name of a British Naval destroyer in WWII. It is believed that Terpsichore was the mother of the Sirens, Pisinoe, Aglaope, Thelxiope.

Ok, as kitsch as "Xanadu" may be, they did a fairly reasonable job of introducing and adding a current story of how the goddesses still influence mankind, and that the gods and goddesses are fallible, as well, with Kira falling in love with Sonny when she shouldn't have. And that she had inspired previous generations, like Gene Kelly's character, Danny.

We just have to excuse the mixed cultural references...Greek Goddesses mixed in with the name of Kublai Khan's city of pleasure in China, Xanadu. But, that can be a blog for another day.

No matter who your God or Goddess of choice is, there's always somebody or something that inspires people. And it's not just inspiration for dancing, music, or writing. If you enjoy your job, spending time with your family, or any other activity, be thankful that your inspiration is strong and eye-opening.