Springtime Waits for No One

Notes from my talk for UUFM on 12 April 2020

Last month was the Spring Equinox, a holiday called Ostara by Wiccans. Next month comes Beltane, halfway thru Spring season.

At Ostara the Sun rises directly in the East, days and nights are equal in hours. Here in the American Southeast, trees and flowers were leafing out. Up North, people are still waiting for that to happen. Anticipation!

Ostara is a time to start work. You made plans at Imbolc, right? Get those out and review! What were you dreaming of back in the dead of Winter?

I started work in my garden. Pulling early weeds, cleaning up dead plant stems, building what is needed or re-building what has broken. I found that my strawberry ziggurat had partly washed out, so I dug and poured in dirt from other parts of my garden…after first extracting a toad. I hope it found other shelter.

All those dreams of yours are YOURS. Remember that – you are responsible for bringing them into reality. How will you express yourself, improve yourself?

Next month begins with a huge fire festival, Beltane! Halfway thru the Spring season when life is bursting out of the ground. Beltane begins the brightest part of the year, when days are long and nights short.

Yes! The light has arrived! The Sun rises so early that I have time to work in my garden before taking a shower and getting ready for work. Great time to squish marmorated stink bugs or knock them into a bucket of soapy water.

It is time to GET BUSY. And it is time to eat your greens. Vitamins, fiber, minerals; you will need to stay healthy if you want your work to succeed. Take care not to burn out, whether it is sunburn, windburn or bonfire burn!

This is time to work, but not wear yourself out. We still have a lot of the work left to do. Strike while the iron is hot, take breaks when your aim begins to falter. There will still be enough work to do in Summertime.

This is a time to bask, but not be lazy. Enjoy the good days and the warm sunlight. If you cannot appreciate all of it, pick parts that do appeal to you.

What is your natural working pace? Are you fast like dandelions, popping up before the end of winter, or fast like blue jays, strong and clever? Are you slow and cautious, like oak who leafs out last or turkeys who stump so many hunters?

Check your progress as you go. Those late frosts are killer; what unexpected events throw a lot of your work into peril? Do what you can to pace yourself and prepare.

A lot of folks suffer allergies in the Springtime. What are allergies, but attacking the harmless? Pollen is not poisonous; your body mistakes it for an invader, because it is coated in protein like a virus.

Are you attacking harmless things or ideas? Can you take a step back and get a new, less personal perspective?

YES, protect yourself from real threats. Take actions appropriate to threats: wear bug spray if the mosquitoes are out, wear a condom if you do not want a new baby, wear a sunhat, wash your hands well if you are about to eat.

Spring changes fast! Engage your joy, pay attention to this vivid phase of life.

Unpopular Opinion Game

Unpopular opinion game, 10 things that everyone else likes that I do not.

In no particular order:

1 Bacon. It tastes like cloying death.
2 Sitcoms. Two minutes in and everyone is acting exactly like every other sitcom ever produced. Tiresome and predictable.
3 Coffee. I can drink it but it doesn’t do anything much for me and the flavor is not enticing.
4 Sports bars. I would rather spend time on public transportation.
5 Horror. Being frightened and startled are the things I work hardest to AVOID in life…not entertaining at all.
6 Spectator sports. I would rather DO something than watch someone else do it, unless they are in the process of teaching me how.
7 Couches. Huge, uncomfortable, cumbersome, usually ugly. Their main purpose seems to be turning lively humans into joyless meat sacks.
8 Beach vacations. Maybe if someone there could identify all the shells? Swimming in salt water would be fun, tho.
9 Las Vegas. I have ZERO desire to throw away my money, especially when it means some fat cat gets it. And I get all the fancy, colorful lights I need at Christmas.
10 Shopping. If I need something, I go get it. Occassionally it is fun to see new things, but going into a store is merely a chore.

The Austere, Part 3

The family painted the hotel’s cinderblock walls creamy off white. Its gloss threw strange reflections and shadows onto the ground. They replaced the shingle roof with metal, painted the lightest tan. It shined like gold in the sunlight. Josten told everyone that the Egyptian Pyramids had been shined to a gloss and had gold foil put on the peak, just like their hotel.

Annie and Tom smiled at each other, then Tom sat down to look Josten in the eye. “My grandmother was from Ethiopia, do you know where that is?” Josten’s eyes grew large. “Is it in Egypt?” Tom smiled and said it was next to Egypt, “with just as long of a history. Coffee came from Ethiopia.” Josten said he liked the Pyramids better than coffee. Then he wanted to see a picture of Tom’s grandmother, which made him sad. “I want her to be Egyptian.”

They named the puppy Pharoah. Before long, he was just called Ro. Konan’s scratches healed and he forgot them. And tho the puppy did not limp, Josten always worried he had hurt Ro permanently.

Since they had a dog, and since Tom removed carpeting as it got damaged, and since they had a section of open grass lawn in the back, Annie and Tom allowed their visitors’ dogs and cats.

Then they put the animal shelter on speed-dial, because people began dumping unwanted cats and dogs in their parking lot. Konan fell in love with a litter of kittens and bawled when the animal truck pulled in. The family assembled.

“Pharaoh is not used to cats. He will think the kittens are prey, Konan.” Konan threatened to kill Ro. Annie took a deep breath and tried again. “We already decided to keep Pharaoh. He is in our family, now. Family should love each other. That means we don’t hurt each other!” Aaron glared at his sister and stepped in. “Those kittens of yours sure are cute.”

The animal control officer shifted their feet and stared out the door. Aaron picked up one of the kittens, which complained at being lifted. Konan jumped up and tried to grab the kitten back. “Gentle! Be gentle, Ko. Grabbing a little one like this could really hurt it. See how I am holding it carefully?” Konan began crying again but kept his eyes on Aaron and the kitten. Then he gathered the rest of the kittens in his arms and cried on them. Outside the lobby, Pharaoh yelped at being left out of the family meeting.

Annie pulled the officer aside and asked how many cats they had now. “Any adult cats that are used to dealing with a dog?” The officer turned wide eyes on Annie. “You would need to come to the shelter. We get new animals every day.” Annie nodded and turned to her brother. “Let’s do that, you and me. We can take Pharaoh and find a cat who gets along with him.”

“Nooo!” Wailed Konan. Tom finally picked him – and one of the kittens -up and hugged him. Them. The kitten hissed. Aaron looked upset, too, so Annie tried to hug him. Annie suggested again that they visit the shelter to get an adult cat. Aaron wanted to keep all of the kittens, and Tom suggested keeping one. Josten had left the room and sat with Ro, watching everything thru the big plate glass window.

Animal Control sighed. “Truth is, our shelter is full. Maybe you could keep the kittens for a week. I will be back for them if we have space.” They looked at Annie and Tom and said quietly, “Kittens are hard to care for. The children may be tired of them by then, or may have a favourite.” The adults looked at each other and nodded. “One week, see you then,” Annie confirmed. Tom wrote Animal Control on their big desk calendar. Konan hugged Tom tightly, and gradually fell asleep.

The Austere, Part 2

Aaron showed up from work one evening with a puppy the size of one of the children’s shoes. “Kids need a dog. Especially with all these strangers around.”

As the children cuddled it, Annie threw her washrag down onto the check-in counter. “We have enough on our hands right now. You going to raise this dog?” The younger boy shrieked as the puppy scratched his arm. The older boy threw the puppy onto the floor. “Maybe help raise these boys, too,” Aaron said and picked up the younger boy. “Show me your scratch.”

The boy wriggled out of his grip and ran away. The older boy swung at Aaron and missed. “All right, fair enough. You boys don’t even know me hardly at all, do you?” The child glared, furious, then suddenly stared down at the whimpering puppy with a look of terrible guilt. “That dog didn’t know he hurt brother.” Aaron nodded. “That’s true.” The man and child stood for another quiet moment. “It is a baby dog. Does not have good coordination yet. He could hurt you again and not mean it.”

The child ran after his brother with a confused glance over his shoulder. Annie and her brother looked at each other. “That dog better be a girl. I am already outnumbered 4 to 1, here.” Aaron picked it up and checked. “Nope.”

Near the lobby door was a patch of weedy river rocks where there had been grass or flowers. Tom pulled them all out to find gravel at the bottom. He filled it with garden soil and planted kitchen herbs. Annie was dubious about plants that did not grow taller than houses but enjoyed watching the herbs grow. Some even had flowers. The younger boy, Konan, grabbed mint leaves and rubbed them on his clothes. “I would smell like candy!” Tom put a dish of peppermints on the check-in counter.

Inspectors from the county arrived one day. Tom handed them his resume of work from kitchens all over, but they shook their heads. “We just need to see the kitchen.” They left an hour later, having checked every wire, gas line and knob. “Even the lights,” Tom added. “They checked the light sockets and the switches.” But now they had paperwork approving the site to serve food.

The dining area was another story. Those inspectors came a week and a half later, one day before Tom’s application expired. Tom had built tables and Annie and the boys scrounged chairs from every antique store and thrift shop in a ten mile radius. She and Josten painted them to match. Then they painted fun things on them; dogs, pine trees, peppermints, faces, but Annie said no guns. Josten turned his guns into trees.

But when Annie got up the next morning, all the chairs had been painted one color again. And they peeled. Josten cried and said he had not meant to ruin the chairs. Annie sat on one. “It is still a chair. It is fine.”

Josten came home from school two weeks later with a painting of trees, to find Annie and Tom yelling at each other. He stared at the two of them as their voices rang thru their hotel apartment. Finally he screamed at the top of his lungs, took a deep breath as Annie and Tom stared at him in amazement, and screamed again. Konan hid behind his brother, whispering “bat cat pumpkin mat” to himself over and over. The four of them grew silent for a few minutes.

“Right.” Tom said. “I guess yelling is not a good family habit.” Annie said. After a few more moments, Josten held out his painting without looking at anyone, his breathing still rapid. Annie reached for it and he snatched it back, then turned and handed it to Konan. “I painted this for you.”

The Austere, Part One

Annie and her brother inherited a hotel. Sixty cinder block rooms with a lobby and a parking lot. Her brother immediately quit his roommate situation and moved into the room furthest from check in.

A season passed before Annie and her husband, unable to secure loans to improve the site, moved in as well. They sold their house and turned four rooms closest to check in into their new home.

Moving themselves and their two foster children into it immediately got them a visit and a warning from childcare services. “These are children, not laborers.” Annie assured the social worker – and the children – that school would remain the children’s primary occupation. Tom built bookshelves in the lobby and set up a table for the children in easy sight of the check in desk.

Annie put the hotel laundry to good use and washed every polyester curtain with hot water and extra baking soda. Televisions got stolen from rooms and were not replaced. Tom hung Annie’s paintings over the spots where televisions had hung. Some of the paintings got stolen, too, so Annie painted on the walls themselves. “See if they can steal THAT,” she laughed, and Tom and the kids laughed too.

The older boy painted his bedroom wall, pictures of guns and airplanes and cartoon dogs formed by a series of U shapes with a tail. “Look, Mom! A kid at school showed me how to draw dogs.” Annie and Tom exchanged one glance and then Tom said he should learn to draw cats, too. The boy stared at his work with new intrigue, and it was nightfall before the parents realised he had called Annie “Mom”.

There was a grass lawn behind the hotel, Annie planted two rows of tiny pine saplings all along the far side to give neighbors more privacy. They grew fast and tall but borers killed half of them before Annie realised. She cut down the sick ones and thinned the rest, planted poplars in between them. They grew fast, too.

Carpet got ruined and Tom stripped it out. He bought Berber area rugs and brown floor paint. And he learned to repair the air conditioners and heaters built into each room. He cleaned the defunct hotel kitchen and tried to get the gas stove working again.

“Annie, what if I quit Pancake Parlor and start serving meals here?” Annie thought, and nodded. “What would you need?”

Imbolc 2020

“I do not want to go quietly, I want to slide in sideways, cookies in one hand, whiskey in the other declaring “Whoo, what a ride!” In my notes for this talk, I wrote “cabin fever” three times. I also realized, the Internet kind of erased cabin fever from our culture. I see that as a good thing. 

Imbolc is a Old Gaelic word that may have meant “in the belly” and referred to sheep’s pregnancies, or possibly meant to wash and cleanse one’s self. Most people believe it is the former. Late winter is when ewes prepare to deliver their lambs and their milk supply freshens. Paganism really always leads you back to critters. But this is a celebration of quickening; evidence of new life about to begin.

Imbolc is the halfway point in the Winter season, literally the middle of Winter. Winter began six weeks ago, and Spring begins in six weeks. These halfway points are the truest expression of a season; we are in the thick of winter. It is cold, dreary, windy, not fun to be out of doors.

What do we do this feverish, restless, dreary time of year? We have Carnival, Mardi Gras, Chinese New Year; huge, wild, brightly colored celebrations where you can let out all the crazy. If you keep trying to follow decorum during such a dreary period, you could permanently lose your mental balance. It is better to go crazy for a few days and shake out those winter blues. If you have read any James Herriot, you know that lambing season drives farmers a bit crazy, too.

Imbolc is a High Holy day and its signature deity is Brigid, or “Bride”, the most beloved of the Irish gods. Brigid was a fire god: a blacksmith, a poet, and the home’s hearth. Poetry? Fire, you ask? Yes! A good poems sets your heart and mind ablaze. Poets in Ireland were ranked higher than kings and queens, who were considered somewhat expendable. I am not making any suggestions, here, but Irish kings were sometimes sacrificed if things had gone badly for a few years in a row.

Imbolc is when you can tell that the daylight hours really are growing longer. It is sunset when I leave work now, not full dark. Dawn happens during breakfast, not on my way to work. Even Utqiag`vik, the northernmost point in Alaska, is getting 3 hours of sunlight per day.

The opposite holiday is Lughnasadh, the grain and apple harvest that is halfway thru summer. Lughnasadh is when you see the days are waning, but your larders are filling up. Halfway thru Winter, larders are emptying and we tighten our belts. This may not apply to food in our modern lives, but it can apply to our emotional and mental stores.
In farming communities, carnival is followed by fasting. In modern life, we are trying to keep up with our new year’s resolutions to lose weight or get in shape. Kind of the same idea…if you have hot work to do, cold weather is a good time to do it.

Candles are a symbol of Imbolc, celebrating the returning light. So are Brigid’s Crosses, milk, and early flowers like snowdrops or crocus. I have daffodils coming up, but I think that is climate change, not Imbolc. At Lughnasadh we made corn dollies; at Imbolc we make Brigid Crosses. The dolly sometimes gets burned after it is completed, but the cross is really just an unfinished basket. Where does that take us?

This is the end of the agricultural year. Gardeners smell Spring on the wind, or at least imagine it. We pore over brightly colored seed catalogs and dream at length about this year’s garden. We have forgotten all the work of turning the soil and weeding; we just want to see sprouts and flower buds.

The end of any thing is a good time to review. How did your projects work out this past year? DId you improve over the last time, or fall behind? Did you try a new thing? Was it an improvement? What ideas needs to get thrown out to make space for new ideas, what things could get finished before Spring arrives? What do you need to do to prepare for growth?

We handle all that ancipation with planning and preparation. Planning and preparation, you say? I say FUN! Get out the grid paper and plot your garden! Go thru your seed store and see what you saved from last year. DREAM. Fire up your greenhouse and get some seedlings started. We all have greenhouses, right?

Maybe finish that brigids cross, turn it into a egg basket. Maybe finish that poem you were writing, turn it into inspiration for your next step in life. Many folk are planning bee-feeding gardens, nowadays. This is the time of year that needs inspiration. Feed your busy little dreams. Put your dreams on paper, express all this pent up energy, get your thoughts and feelings out.

My husband uses white boards in every room, to plot menus, work days, healthy habits, notions. He bought two new white boards in the last week, and one of them is so big it will take up almost an entire wall. I love that.

What have you saved up in your heart and mind, and your belly? What does your gut tell you right now? The Hindus have 7 chakras, but the Irish have 3 cauldrons. The Belly, the Heart, and the Head. Each needed to be kept full, none should be neglected. We are halfway thru a season of deprivation. Are any of your cauldrons tipped over right now, or needing a top up?

The Belly:
You MEANT to give up junk food, but did you? Try again, put good food in its place, eat your green leafy vegetables and whole fruits.
Your gut tells you that someone on your friend lists is not a good person? Obey your gut and unfollow them.
What else is your gut telling you? If you are not in the habit of listening to it, start now.

The Heart:
Have you called your loved ones recently? Do it, tell them you love them. Get over their flaws and failings. Get over yours, too.
Do your favorite artists need support? Re-post their artwork, buy their work, comment on their social media.
What makes you feel loved? Seek that again. Start over if you need to.

The Head:
Bolster yourself by talking about or writing down these ideas of yours. Talk them up! Up! Talk yourself into bringing your ideas to life. Remember it is OK to be a little crazy right now. LET THE LIGHT IN. Let go of shade. Strategize, plot, plan, throw it all out and start again.
Do you have a gratitude habit? Is it working for you? Maybe it needs re-vamping.
Read your favorite philosophers again, read your favorite poems. Do you still love them? Do they bring you new insights? Try reading them out loud to your friends. If they are still your friends afterwards, good.

Imbolc reminds us to make use of dull times to prepare for better times. Hash out your ideas and dreams, sort out the dead seeds and half-baked notions, reconnect with what – and who – truly inspires you.

Even Brigid’s cross is just an unfinished basket. If it is not working out, toss it in the fire and try again.

Name Your Age

People with names I associate with my school days are showing up in retirement announcements. I am accustomed to Linda and Bob aging out of the office. But now, Heather and Kyle are collecting social security.

Once Courtney and Tanner are up for AARP, I’ll know my daisy days approach.