As I mentioned last week, I recently went on a little “into the woods” get-away with my family. This has become a tradition of ours-- every spring when my daughter has a week off from school, we head out of town for some fresh air and R&R. We go someplace different each year, but it’s always someplace south of Chicago (following the warmth of the sun!), and usually within a few-hours’ drive of my parents’ house where we stop along the way.
This year we went to the Hoosier National Forest in Southern Indiana. We stayed at the peaceful and welcoming White Oaks Cabins near beautiful Patoka Lake. And we really lucked out with the weather this year. It felt like summer! The scenery was gorgeous, with flowers blooming everywhere—in the fields of gold, on budding dogwoods and redbuds, and in wildflowers of every color.
Even our drive was as pretty as a picture. As we passed verdant fields, meandered through small towns, and wound our way over hill and dale, we not only admired the view but also kept remarking about how familiar it was—at least in some spots. And this wasn’t because we had been there before. It was just that so many sights reminded us of places we’ve been before. If we didn’t know better, we could easily imagine we were in New York or Pennsylvania, Iowa or Missouri. Or nearby Illinois, of course. While there is obviously tons of geographical diversity across the U.S., there are still so many similarities.
One thing’s for sure: This is a beautiful country we live in.
As for activities, we don’t need much to keep us entertained. Hiking in the forest is our main priority on these trips. However, we usually try to fit in at least one new activity. One year it was canoeing and another it was archery. Last year, we went horseback riding. This year we toured Marengo Caves. It was pretty cool to see all those otherworldly formations hidden deep underground. Our enthusiastic tour guide asked us about other caves we had visited, and he knew them all. He also mentioned that one of his favorite parts about his job is meeting all the visitors. People come from all around the country and all corners of the world to marvel at this national landmark.
In fact, I got to thinking about this during our trip-- about the fact that natural wonders are appealing to just about everyone. The beauty of nature is universal. No matter what your political affiliation, religion, or ideology, everyone can agree that cliffs are majestic and waterfalls are stunning.
The birds that woke us up each morning didn’t know a whit about elections or protests or insane presidents. It was refreshing to get away from it all.
And it was reassuring to remember that most people are good and decent and caring. We encountered a lot of friendly people during our visit to Southern Indiana.
Yep. In spite of all our differences, this is still a beautiful country.
Have you seen Cosmos, the documentary series hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson? It aired in 2014, but I recently discovered it on Netflix. So far, I’ve watched only the first two episodes, but I was so impressed I watched each one twice. As I told my daughter, the show is like The Magic School Bus for adults. It’s educational and fact-based, but oh-so-fascinating.
In episode one, we learn that we humans are made of star stuff--literally. Stars gave us the carbon in our muscles, the calcium in our bones, and the iron in our blood. In episode two, we learn about how all life on earth is connected. ALL living species occupy different branches on one “Tree of Life.” In fact, we’re even related to the trees!
It’s so cool to ponder. Watching this show has been an experience that is at once humbling and awe-inspiring. There is so much we don’t know-- and yet a mind-boggling amount that we DO know, thanks to science.
One thing I know is that I agree with Neil deGrasse Tyson when he said: “Accepting our kinship with all life on Earth is not only solid science. In my view, it’s also a soaring spiritual experience.”
Amen. I’ve always felt that there’s something marvelously spiritual about trees. And I know I’m not alone in this feeling. A lot of people have a special affinity to trees. (I’m betting you’re even one of them!) Such folks include TreeSisters and other environmentalists who work towards the reforestation of the tropics, as well as Wiccans and other Pagans who know there is a magical energy in all things in Nature.
This group of tree devotees also includes daydreaming children who ascend trees like faithful friends, searching for solitude, comfort, and adventure. That was me, back when I was a fearless kid. It also describes my daughter, especially a couple years ago when she was just on the cusp of becoming a teenager...
I still draw energy from trees. Walking in a forest is nourishing for my soul. That’s why I’m so excited for the little family vacation I’m taking this week. For a few days, I’ll be “camping out” in a cabin in the woods, and hiking amidst the oaks, hickories, and sycamore trees--alongside the critters who live there, of course.
New pictures to follow next week....
Until next time, Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Spring. And be sure to enjoy the trees!
“Always mindful, every second.” That was my mantra when I was a brand new mother fourteen years ago this week. As I carried my tiny infant up and down the stairs of our rented house in New York, I was exceedingly cautious. I would mind every step and hold my baby with extreme care. I didn’t allow myself clumsiness or careless speed. I had precious cargo! Talk about responsibility.
I was thinking about this recently—about how accidents tend to happen when people aren’t paying attention. And when they’re hurrying and not thinking... Once, when I was a teenager riding my bicycle zippily down the sidewalk in my hometown, I made a careless mistake by glancing over at the upcoming stoplight, seeing that it was green, and then making a sharp turn to cross the street before the intersection. It turns out I had (stupidly) looked at the wrong stoplight. I didn’t realize my mistake until I was smack-dab in the middle of oncoming traffic. “Oh no,” I said, right before a mini-van clipped the front of my bicycle, knocking me to my hands and knees.
I still cringe at that horrible long-ago decision. It could have been way worse. I know I was very lucky. And I'm infinitely grateful for the driver who, thankfully, WAS paying attention enough to brake. I feel sad when I hear about people who weren't so lucky after they made quick, careless decisions (like crossing under a railroad barrier, venturing too close to the edge of a cliff, rushing to do this or that... You get the picture).
It is wise to slow down and watch what you’re doing.
But paying attention has other benefits besides safety. To put a brighter spin on things, I must remember this: We can get more enjoyment out of life if we don’t rush our way through it.
Coincidentally, in my email this week, I received a newsletter from the yoga studio I attend. Here’s what the director, Kerry, had to say:
Paying attention is hard and getting harder. What are you doing as you read this? Are you commuting, waiting in line, killing time on your phone while the kids play? (No judgement from me. I'm multi-tasking even as I type this, finishing lunch and listening to the baby monitor as my daughter sings herself to sleep.)
-Kerry Maiorca, Founder and Director Bloom Yoga Studio.
She goes on to point out how yoga is a great practice for slowing down and clearing your head. Yoga is great for bringing your attention to the present moment and helping you appreciate yourself exactly as you are.
I don’t make it to yoga as often as I'd like, but there are other ways to practice mindfulness. If I can just remember to slow down, take a breath, and open my eyes, I'm sure I could find a way.
for that matter,
It's important to slow down and pay attention to the beautiful things in your midst. After all, fourteen years goes by in a flash!
Not to show my age TOO much, but it’s been a couple of decades since I went to college. And, truth be told, I haven’t given my alma mater a whole lot of thought over the years. I’ve never attended any college reunions or participated in any alumni events. I never felt compelled to subscribe to the alumni magazine, donate money, or show any school spirit in all these years following graduation. I've never really given anything to the school.
Isn't that kind of terrible?
It’s not that I didn’t like the school. In fact, I enjoyed my college experience. I did well in my classes (for the most part) and received a good education. I learned a lot, not only about various liberal arts subjects, but also about myself. And I had fun times too. I even met my husband there! But when I graduated, I moved away and moved on. I was more concerned with trying to be a grown up and make my way in the world than with any thoughts about Eastern Illinois University.
Yet, now that I think about it, I should probably have more pride for EIU. I actually have a LOT of connections to the school, besides having graduated from there. My mother and father both went to EIU--and met each other there. All four of my siblings went there-- and my youngest sister met her husband there too! My grandfather even went to grad school at Eastern, and various aunts, uncles, and cousins have attended the school over the past many years. I have a nephew there now.
Not only that, but my husband is currently an adjunct guitar instructor in the music department at EIU. (This works out nicely because we can visit family when he makes his twice-monthly trips downstate to teach.) In addition, my brother-in-law is on staff at the university as a photographer and online specialist. And my father regularly audits art classes there.
Like I said, I have lots of connections to that school! And I don’t even think I listed them all. Still, in my busy life, I simply don’t give the college much thought. Until recently...
Last weekend I did a book signing in my old college town. Since I knew I would be there, I decided to reach out to the University English Department. I sent them a flyer and said I’d be happy to speak to any students who might want to stop by. As it turned out, not many students showed up. (I’m still trying to figure out the best way to draw folks to book-signing events! But that’s another story.)
However, I did receive a nice response from an English professor. She invited me to participate in an upcoming careers event to speak to students about what I’ve done with my English degree. With my dual career as a lawyer and a fiction writer, I have a perspective that many students are interested in hearing. And I’m more than happy to share.
I remember what it was like, all those years ago, when I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. When you’re that young and inexperienced (like I was), you don’t even know what all of your options are--or, at least, not more than a vague idea of what they are. It helps when professionals visit and talk about their jobs.
So, yeah. In looking back, I do have fond feelings about my college experience. It sharpened my reading, writing, and critical thinking skills; exposed me to new ideas; taught me a few things about the world and about myself; and gave me the opportunity to meet new people and have new experiences. It’s about time I showed my appreciation, right? Giving a bit of my own time and insight seems like a great way to start.
One of the most common questions writers get is: “Are you a pantser or a plotter”? I have no idea how or when the term “pantser” came into fashion, but I understand what it means. It comes from the phrase “flying by the seat of your pants.” If you’re a pantser, you just sit down and start writing without a clear idea of where your story will end up. You go with the flow. You wing it. A plotter, on the other hand, takes a more deliberate, organized approach. A plotter outlines the story ahead of time, from start to finish.
I usually answer the plotter/pantser question by saying I’m a combination of both, though I'm really a pantser at heart. To get my creative juices flowing, I have to just start writing already. It can be stream of consciousness or it can be halting--either way, it’s the act of writing that leads my mind to come up with plot ideas. There’s an almost mystical quality to this phenomenon, as I wrote in a blog post a while back called “The Magic of Writing a Book.”
However, I can’t write a whole book the pantser way. Before long, I must create an outline. At a minimum, I have to figure out very early on who the culprit is going to be. I have to have a general idea of where the story is headed.
Still, even with broad outline, I don’t always know HOW I’m going to get from Point A to Point B until I’m in the midst of writing it out. As I’ve joked before, sometimes I’m eager to get back to my work in progress so I can find out what happens next!
This combo approach has worked well for me in the past. It’s how I wrote the first three books in the Wiccan Wheel Mystery series. Book 4, however, is another story. (Pun intended, ha ha.)
See, my original publishing deal was for three books, with the publisher having the first option for a fourth work. The contract includes detailed instructions for presenting a proposal for that fourth work. Specifically, I agreed to submit “a reasonably detailed outline and the first three chapters of the manuscript” of my “next book-length Keli Milanni mystery before submitting the same to any other publisher.”
I’m happy to say that, as of earlier this week, I sent off those first three chapters and a detailed synopsis of Book 4. Writing the first three chapters wasn’t difficult—I actually finished that a while ago. But writing out that detailed synopsis…well, it wasn’t difficult, exactly. But it was different. Instead of waiting to see how the story would evolve organically, I had to decide up front how it would all work out. In other words, I had to become a plotter.
It will be interesting to write the book now that the major plot points are already lined up. In theory, it should be easier—all I have to do is connect the dots. I do wonder, though, if I’ll come to a point where a character wants to do something different than I planned. (Yes, characters do develop minds of their own!)
I guess I’ll cross that bridge when and if it appears.
Come to think of it, it’s kind of ironic that I lean towards the pantsing approach in the first place. In other areas of my life, I’m all about planning and plotting. I believe in taking purposeful action. I like to take control of, well, just about anything I CAN control! To be honest, this probably comes from some deep-seated fear of life passing me by. I can’t just sit back and let that happen! After all, as Sean Covey so bluntly put it: “If you decide to just go with the flow, you’ll end up where the flow goes, which is usually downhill, often leading to a big pile of sludge and a life of unhappiness. You’ll end up doing what everyone else is doing.”
Okay, taking a step back (and a deep breath), I realize this, like everything else, is a matter of finding the right balance. It's okay to both make a plan AND surrender to the universe. You can start out with a map AND be open to unexpected detours.
Previously, I was a pantser who did some plotting along the way. This time, as it happens, I'm a plotter who will do some pantsing along the way.
I'm sure there's a happy medium in there somewhere.
How 'bout you? Do you lean towards planning things out, or do you to let it go and see what happens?
P.S. All the photos in this post are from past spring break family vacations. Speaking of balance, I'm ready for some nature time to balance out my highly urban life. Looking forward to getting out into the woods again for a few days this spring!
Here we are nearing the first day of spring, but I’m not feeling very spring-like. Jumping ahead on the clock left me feeling slightly off-kilter, throwing off my sleep schedule and messing with my internal sense of time. (Why do we need to “save” the daylight, anyway? I’m pretty sure it would have been okay without our intervention.)
THEN we had to go and get hit by the biggest snowfall of the season. The sky just opened right up, for two nights and two days, and poured down heaps of the cold white stuff all over our streets, sidewalks, and newly-bloomed crocuses.
I mean, I get it. I know it's technically still winter, and this IS Chicago after all. Back in February, I knew it was wrong to bask in the tingly warm embrace of faux-spring. Still, the abrupt return of old man winter felt like a kick in the tuffet. Now all I want to do is find a nice cozy cave and hibernate until tricky little spring comes back for real.
On the other hand...
I know very well that the wheel of the year never stops turning. These piles of snow will be but a fading memory by this time next week. And when the vernal equinox arrives on March 20th, I will once again relish that lovely, hopeful springtime feeling.
In fact, I'll probably appreciate it all the more because of this chilly wintery interlude! Like Wiccans celebrating Ostara, I'll revel in all the newness of life blooming, blossoming, and bursting forth all around. At the true start of spring, a time of new growth and new beginnings, I'll feel like a whole new woman. (How's that for optimism!?)
Speaking of new things, I actually DID do something new over the weekend before the big snowfall. I attended my first ever writing conference! Here I've been an "official author" with a publishing contract for more than two years--and I was an aspiring writer long before that--yet I had never before attended a writing conference. Well, this time I had no excuses-- the conference was in downtown Chicago only a couple blocks from where I commute everyday for work. Easy peasy.
Not only was this the first writing conference for me, but it was also the first writing conference for the writing conference. That it, it was the inaugural meeting of this particular conference: "Murder and Mayhem in Chicago." Because of that, the emcee joked that we were all “first-timers.”
I had a nice time at the conference and enjoyed listening to all of the speakers. The panels covered various aspects of writing crime fiction, from the use of violence in fiction and the breaking of genre conventions to the publishing process itself. It was fascinating to hear from authors who are much more experienced than I am. I came away from the conference with lots to think about.
Besides being a first-timer at this (or any other) writing conference, I also had a few other firsts that day: I met some nice new people in the Chicago writing scene; I learned about some new books to check out and author resources to consider; I saw/heard a famous mystery author in person for the first time (the keynote conversation featured Sara Paretsky and William Kent Krueger); and I made my first author business cards prior to the event. I even gave out a few!
It's always good to get out and try new things. I hope you're able to embrace the spirit of the season in all its fresh, new hopefulness... regardless of the weather.
* Did you find me in the photo above? I'm on the right side, about seven rows back, looking toward the speaker in the audience. I'm behind the woman in the pinkish-red top.
So much to do, so little time...
This is such a common feeling among contemporary American adults, isn’t it? I have so much I want to do, so much I want to write. Some ideas have been simmering on my back burner for years (mainly book ideas and other creative projects), while other goals keep cropping up like perennial flowers.... they’re always there, sometimes just under the surface and sometimes in full bloom. (I'm looking at you, exercise, yoga, and meditation.)
All this undone stuff can cause stress by its very “undoneness.” It’s probably better if we don't dwell on it too much. Instead, let’s acknowledge the stuff we HAVE done (and are doing).
On that note, here are a few random things that have occupied my time/energy/life in recent days:
1. Being a mom. My 13-year-old daughter is a fantastic kid, if I do say so myself. At this stage, I’m sure I like spending time with her more than she likes spending it with me… but I still try! This week we were thrilled to learn she was accepted at her top choice for high school next year--a “selective enrollment” public school with a really great reputation. Of course, she still has to get through 8th grade and all the unyielding homework that entails.
2. Being a wife. Today (yes, today!) marks the 25th anniversary of my first date with the guy who is now my husband. How is that even possible? …said the woman who doesn’t feel as old as she really is. Those long-gone college days weren’t THAT long ago, were they?
3. Commuting downtown everyday (via the “L”) to work at my day job.
4. Taking care of household business: paying the bills, gathering tax documents (tick-tock), trying to keep up with the laundry (with varying degrees of success)....
5. Reconnecting with old friends. Recently I paid a surprise visit to an old college professor who was one of the first people to encourage my writing. (Come to think of it, seeing her is probably what makes me feel college wasn’t so long ago.) And a few days ago, we had a nice visit from some New York friends. Both fun experiences.
6. Writing every chance I get. At the moment, I'm working on creating the next book in the Wiccan Wheel Mystery series. This is the early brainstorming, daydreaming, jotting-down-scribbly-notes part of the process. It's fun and I’m making good progress.
7. “And the rest….” Like the old Gilligan’s Island theme song, there’s more I could say, but it’s time to get on with the show. Right!
Besides all that, I’ve been planning a few things to help advance #6 on the list. For one thing, this coming Saturday I’ll be attending my first-ever writers conference (Murder and Mayhem in Chicago). And in a couple weeks, on March 21st, I’ll be signing books at Bob’s Bookstore in Charleston, Illinois. (More on that later.) I’ve also been cleaning out my office in preparation of having it painted and finally getting the new desk I've been wanting for so long. Can't wait!
Oh, and I do try to fit in a bit of exercise here and there. :-)
Until next time, be sure to enjoy all your own random life-things!
P.S. All photos by Scott Hesse.
Lately I've been thinking about the Big E. And, no, I don’t mean a rapper named “Biggie,” a state fair in New England, or a Seinfeld joke. I mean THE Big E:
The Everything that supports and sustains life as we know it.
In my fictional mystery series, I created a character who cares a lot about the environment. She cares so much she decided to become Wiccan and practice an earth-centered, nature-based religion.
In real life, I care about the environment too. I care so much I made a career out of environmental protection. I don’t talk much about my day job here—I prefer to keep that part of my life separate from my writing career. But the environment is important to me, not only as a professional, but also as a mother, a citizen, and a human.
I mean, doesn’t everyone care about the environment? Everyone wants clean air and clean water. No one wants to live on a dirty, polluted planet. It’s a matter of our own health and well-being. If we think about it, we understand it’s even a matter of our own long-term survival (considering finite resources, threats to vital ecosystems such as rain forests and oceans, disappearing honeybees, the rapidly changing climate, etc, etc).
But do we REALLY care?
I happened to watch John Oliver’s show about lead contamination on YouTube the other day. As always, he managed to explain a serious topic with humor and levity. But in the end, it was really a sad story. Oliver called out the hypocrites in Congress who expressed outrage over the crisis in Flint, Michigan, and then later voted to reduce lead abatement funding. As Oliver sang in the end (with muppets no less, you gotta watch the show), we can tackle any problem: “But, first, we all have to care.”
Considering how politicized environmental issues have become, it sometimes seems as if huge swaths of people really don’t care. Sometimes (perhaps often) it seems like corporations care more about the bottom line, politicians care more about pleasing their donors, and folks with opposing political views care more about arguing for the sake of arguing.
Oh, I know it’s not that simple. I know for a fact there are responsible businesses, sincere government officials, and caring individuals on both sides of the aisle. I really do think that MOST people care about protecting the environment. But I also think a lot of people are uninformed, busy, distracted, and overloaded with other concerns. After all, there are a lot of things to worry about. And it IS possible to worry too much. (Eco-guilt is a real thing! A real, unhelpful, paralyzing thing.)
So, where does that leave us? The current administration wants to cut back regulations and weaken the EPA. Climate scientists are probably hoarse from repeating their warnings so many times to no avail. And we all have 99 problems vying for our attention.
Well, maybe I’m looking at it all wrong. Maybe, instead of thinking of it as “THE Big E,” an idea that’s almost too big and too outside of myself, I should focus more on the little ol’ number one—as in one day at a time, one choice at a time, one person at a time. As I like to say, stuff gets done a little at a time.
On that note, I decided to list a few easy actions we can take as individuals to be a little kinder to the earth. Doing just one small thing a day will actually make a huge difference.
Some Simple Steps to Help the Environment
1. Support the Sierra Club, the NRDC, and similar groups. These are some smart people (I know a few of ’em), and they’re fighting the good fight.
2. Let people know you care about the environment, especially your representatives. (Also your family, friends, employer, stores, utilities, etc.) Vote with your ballot and your wallet.
3. Reduce your use of plastic. We should already know this, but here's a blog post that reminds us why this is important. And here are a few things I use in place of plastic:
- Glass straws with my smoothies
- Stainless steel bottles for my water on the go
- Cloth and nylon shopping bags
4. Don’t idle your vehicle. And save gas/reduce emissions any other way you can (walk, bike, take public transportation, carpool, use an electric or push lawnmower).
5. Turn stuff off when you’re not using them: the lights, electronics, the water faucet.
6. Save paper and reduce waste. Here are a few things I do:
- Decline receipts for small purchases
- Use cloth napkins (They’re not the least bit fancy.)
- Bring your own coffee travel mug. (I like Contigo.)
7. Eat less meat (or none at all).
To be honest, even though I know better, I don't always remember to do all of these things (except for #7). Creating this list has served as a reminder for me as much as for anyone else. ("Earth day every day!")
Now it's your turn. Are these ideas second nature to you, or do they seem like too much trouble? Are there other easy actions I forgot to add?
Today I'm pleased to share another interview in my series "Interview with a Wiccan" (or a Witch and/or a Pagan as the case may be).
I first learned about The Domestic Witch when I came across one of her Witchy Reading Challenges. Since books and witches are two of my special interests, this definitely caught my eye! Then I found that, besides being a book lover, this witch also writes some very insightful and thought-provoking blog posts. I've been a fan ever since.
So, what is a Domestic Witch? Here's what it means for DW, as explained on her blog:
Domestic means dealing with the matters of the home. This covers a wide variety of daily activities including but not limited to cooking, cleaning, running a household, being a homemaker, and raising children. It's pretty easy to explain. Just think of what Martha Stewart or Rachel Ray does.
Read on to learn more!
Introducing DW from Indiana, in her own words...
My name is The Domestic Witch, or DW for short. I'm an aspiring writer in Indiana, 41 years old, widowed, and the single mother of five kids ages 4, 12, 15, 21, and 23. I've been a solitary eclectic pagan for over 20 years, write the blog The Domestic Witch, and am working on my first novel.
Welcome, DW! Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me!
How do you describe the spiritual path you follow? Do you self-identify as a Witch, Wiccan, Pagan, or something else?
I'm an eclectic pagan who also identifies as a witch. My spiritual path is inspired by Wicca, witchcraft, high magick, New Age, Christianity, Eastern Philosophy, and Jungianism. For many years I focused on domestic witchcraft which is where the name comes from.
How and when did you first come to follow this path? What about it did you like?
I was 20 years old and had a subscription to New Dawn magazine which had a few articles about witchcraft which first got me interested. Then I saw The Craft and became obsessed with finding out more. Our small town library only had one book on witchcraft and magick which was an encyclopedia. People kept stealing the witchcraft books, so I wasn't allowed to check it out. I made photocopies of almost every page and assembled my first Book of Shadows. Soon after, a bookstore opened up in my town. One day I felt a strong urge to go to the bookstore. There I found the only book on witchcraft which was The Spiral Dance by Starhawk. I know it's a cliche, but reading that book made me feel like I had come home.
Are you public about your religion/craft, or is it a secret?
Somewhere in between. Close friends and a few family members know, but most of my late husband's family are Christian fundamentalists so I've never came out of the broom closet to them. However, I don't entirely keep it a secret. If they search my real name, links come up showing my interest in Wicca. Professionally, I am not out of the broom closet. I also have a blog about being an aspiring writer that has nothing to do with my spiritual path. But like I said, if anyone digs hard enough they'll find the truth. Honestly, I'm exhausted by it. It feels like I've spent the last twenty years living a double life. I'd probably have a bigger platform as a writer if I finally merged the blogs, especially considering the novel I'm working on is a paranormal about witches.
How do people usually react when they find out you are Pagan? Have you had any memorable encounters?
I try not to spring it on a person. I test the waters out by asking them what they think about God as female or whether or not spells work. Depending on their reaction I decide whether or not to go farther. I never hide it from someone I'm dating though. I had a teaching moment with a guy I dated when I was young. We had a wonderful first date and he expressed interest in having a relationship with me throughout the evening. Finally towards the end of the night, I told him I was Wiccan. He politely kicked me out the door as quickly as possible and said he didn't want his future kids around that. This is when I learned to be upfront in romantic relationships as soon as possible or you end up wasting a lot of time.
Wow! His loss. :)
Do you celebrate the eight sabbats on the Wheel of the Year? Can you describe one or two of your favorite Pagan holiday traditions?
I do but sometimes what I do is a small ritual. There's times where I will have an elaborate ritual planned out but then my toddler decides she doesn't want to go to bed. Being a single mom, I don't always have someone else that can watch her so I can do my thing. I've learned to incorporate family activities as a way of celebrating such as a backyard fire in the fire pit at Beltane or a day at the pool on Summer Solstice. I don't teach them paganism because they have little interest in any kind of religion. That's been very disappointing for me, especially since I'm "The Domestic Witch." When I was a young mother I had idealistic visions of being a pagan parent, but forcing it on uninterested kids doesn't work. There's still hope for my 4 year old though.
In your practice, do you honor a specific deity or invoke both the God and Goddess, or neither?
All of the above. I tend to use specific deities as archetypes for self improvement. I favor Greek goddesses and am currently working with both Artemis and Athena. I've been working with Jesus as well approaching Christianity as a Mystery Religion. Jesus has been the only male deity I work with. I believe All Goddesses are the Goddess and all Gods are the Gods but am a soft polytheist. I see the different deities as archetypes not actual entities. In ritual I tend to invoke a nonspecific Goddess and God but sometimes I just honor nature.
Can you share one or two specific ways in which you practice your religion/craft? For example, do you cast a circle, work spells, or use divination tools? Do you practice alone or in a group, or both?
I cast circles and adore the ritual Drawing Down the Moon. I've gotten away from doing spells and magick for things and now only do them for psychological change. I work with astrology and tarot cards. Divination provides a road map for life. I practice as a solitary, but I'd like to change that. There aren't any groups in my area.
Do you have a home altar? If so, what's on it right now?
I have a long dresser that I use as an altar. I used to be very particular about the placement of everything but my 4 year old fell in love with some of the things on my altar (particularly the stones) and likes to play with them and rearrange them. It's all still there just not as neat. I have several candles, a goddess figurine, a pentacle, a Buddha statue, a small photo of Jesus, a wooden platter with a monkey statue on it, a porcelain turtle, dragon incense holder, candle snuffer, and lots of stones.
That's so cute to think of your little one rearranging the stones on your altar. :)
What's your favorite Pagan resource you'd like to recommend? Are there any books, websites, or other resources you've found helpful?
It's funny. Even though I write a blog myself, I think websites are some of the least useful resources. This is because it's so hard to go into depth on a subject. As for books, my top ten favorites can be found here, in one of my recent blog posts, but I encourage people to read as much as they can. Even read about things you don't believe. Nothing has solidified what I do believe more than reading about what I don't. This includes the Bible. The best way to defend yourself when your spirituality is being attacked is to know their arguments yourself.
Is there anything else you would like people to know?
A question I get often is whether or not a relationship to a person of a different religion can work. My marriage is proof of that. I was with my Baptist Christian husband for over a decade before he died. Debating religion and spirituality was a passion of ours. What made it work was compromise. Even if we didn't believe what the other did we made an effort to educate ourselves about it. This includes Paganism as well. Nothing breaks my heart more than fundamentalism in Paganism. The whole point of paganism is that there's no right or wrong way to practice it.
Well said, DW! I'm sorry about the loss of your husband. Your kids are lucky to have such a strong, wise, and loving mother.
Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!
It has been such a privilege to learn from such a diverse and sincere group of Wiccans, Witches, and Pagans. And I have one more special interview planned in a couple of weeks. While all the interviewees share some common values and similar practices, they each have unique beliefs and approaches to what they do. (In case you missed the prior interviews, you can start with the first one here.) As with the others, I learned a lot from DW. I hope you did too.
Are you familiar with the "Word of the Year" tradition? This is something I've been doing for the past several years. Every January I pick one word to represent something I'd like to focus on throughout the year. One word to serve as a reminder of whatever it is I'd like to increase or attract in my life. I make resolutions too, but I've found the word-of-the-year tool to be more powerful and lasting than plain old goal-setting.
In the past, I've chosen words such as Courage, Connection, Believe, and Power. On the surface, these choices might seem kind of vague, but there's a whole exercise that goes along with picking a word. You write down your reasons for feeling drawn to the word and the ways in which you can live out this word on a daily basis. Et cetera.
This year, my word was a little different for me. In fact, I found myself resisting it at first. It seemed kind of shallow and selfish. Inappropriate, even, considering all the serious sh*t happening in the world. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this was the perfect word for me.
So, what is it?
My 2017 Word of the Year is....
To be honest, I feel a little silly sharing this. It sounds almost trivial or goofy. Why do I need more fun? I already have lots of fun in my life. I watch comedy shows on TV. Sometimes I dance like nobody's watching. (When nobody's watching, of course. Ha Ha.) And I always try to be lighthearted and positive-- the very same traits I carry over into most of my writing.
But that's not the whole story.
The truth is I'm generally a low-key, practical sort of person who tends to see the serious side of things. I can't watch, hear, or read about the latest horrors in the news without feeling low and disheartened. Plus, I'm an introvert and a homebody. That's why I decided I need to make a conscious decision to have more fun. I need to laugh more and enjoy all the good stuff I'm lucky enough to have available to me.
Life is short, y'all!
So, there you have it. Fun is the balance to my serious side. It's the antidote to my tendency to worry and fret... or to spiral into judgment, cynicism, and self-righteousness. (Thanks, 2016.)
As part of my plan to make 2017 the Year of Fun, I've committed to get out of the house and do something fun at least once per week. Guess what I did last week? I went roller skating! And I loved it!
Now, normally I prefer slower-paced activities such as hiking, canoeing, and yoga. I'm not exactly what you'd call a thrill seeker. I've never had any desire to ride a motorcycle, and my adult-onset fear of heights rules out roller coasters, bungee jumping, and hang gliding. But I loved speeding around that rink, zooming around people, feeling the breeze in my hair. And I didn't fall once! It was just like riding a bicycle: as soon as I found my balance, my body remembered what to do.
Adding to the fun was the fact that this was the very same roller rink where I spent so many Saturdays as a kid. It's where I first heard the music of Blondie, one of my all-time favorite bands. ("Call me"!) And it's where I ate bunches of terrible-but-tasty, sugary candies such as Bottle Caps (loved the root beer flavor) and Spree.
The rink has changed a little-- there's a new kids' play area and more party rooms and arcade games. But they STILL play the exact same skating games they were playing thirty years ago: YMCA, the Chicken Dance, the Hokey Pokey, Four Corners, the Limbo.... Progress is great, but continuity sure is nice sometimes, isn't it?
I don't know what I'll do next weekend yet, but I'm sure I'll find something.
Of course, fun doesn't always have to involve a fast-paced adventure or a party-like atmosphere. For me, writing is a fun activity. In fact, "fun" is an important feature of the cozy mystery genre. In the Wiccan Wheel Mysteries, there's even a character who makes fun a priority in her life. (Check out Farrah's character profile here.)
Hmm... maybe I could learn a thing or two from this character. If I ever need some inspiration for my fun weekly outing, all I have to do is ask: "What would Farrah do?" That could be fun!
How about you? Do you make fun a priority in your life?
P.S. OMG. I was just watching Blondie videos on YouTube, taking a trip down memory lane, when I found a new video released just hours before I wrote this post, on 2/15/17. Blondie has a new album coming out! Oh, and the name of the song featured in the video? "Fun"!!! I have chills. ;)
A nature-loving, mystery-reading, magic-seeking, daydreaming kinda gal, Jennifer is the author of the Wiccan Wheel Mysteries.