Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Solstice Creche

I told you I would update you with how my creche turned out as I decorated it over Advent. Well here it is, in all of it's solsticey glory!

Included among the figures that came with the set are two goddess figures I made myself, a Disney Fairy Godmother, a jade Buddha my dad gave me, a carved wooden owl, a piece of granite from Ashland, a piece of pyrite and a group of quartz crystals, my favorite horse figure, a beautiful enameled frog and a chidhood toy goat. Alongside baby Jesus in the cradle is a beautiful pyrite ammonite Dave gave me symbolizing the returning sun.

I sure enjoyed decorating it, and it makes me happy to look at it.

Happy Solstice!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Good Morning Sun!

It's solstice! Hurrah!! Winter solstice is the middle of winter, the longest night of the year, the start of the days getting longer. It is a joyous holiday, a festival in the middle of the darkest winter. Northern Europeans have a long history of celebrating this time with lights, feasts, presents and a little magic. Modern Americans continue these traditions, though a bit twisted at times, with Christmas trees, a big dinner and shopping galore.

Over the years I have thought a lot about what traditions I want to keep from my childhood Christmas and what traditions I am happy to see go by the wayside. A couple years ago my older sister was explaining to her then 4 year old son why different families did different things around the winter holidays. She said there were some things about Christmas that she really liked and other things that she didn't like as much. She explained that the things she liked were generally Pagan Christmas things. Auggie proceeded to spend the rest of the holiday season asking if this or that were Peggy Fistmas. In my family we still greet each other with a rousing Peggy Fistmas :)

Of the traditions I have kept my favorite is the Christmas tree. It is truly Peggy Fistmas as there ain't nothing in the bible about no fir tree in the barn. Christmas trees are a wonderful, ancient tradition of sympathetic magic. During these dark and cold times we bring a tree that is still green (!) into our houses, decorate it with lights and shiny objects and put presents under it. By completing these acts we are hoping that whoever is in charge of the trees outside will do the same - keep them green, decorate them and bring us gifts. It is, after all, only a couple dozen more weeks until spring!

This year my boyfriend and I decorated Stuart, a live noble fir from a family member's property. Seeing as I am not spending money on new things this year we decorated him with things we had around the house including paper snowflakes and one red glass ball :) I was worried about the blue lights because I felt they would be cold feeling, but with them wrapped around the pot and reflecting the white snowflakes I think it looks quite cheery. Tree gods and weather goddesses - decorate the trees outside like we decorate the trees inside. And presents for all! :)

In college when I first started marking and celebrating the Wheel of the Year, I decided to wake up for the sunrise on every solstice and equinox. I was successful in that endeavor for a number of years. I remember a beautiful Summer Solstice at Crater Lake, a Spring Equinox on the beach at Cape Cod and more than one Winter Solstice all bundled against the cold. These last three years I haven't been able to get it together to get up that early. I always have a good excuse - it's raining, I have to go to work later, I stayed up too late the night before. But they are just excuses, aren't they?

My excuse this year was the biggest snow storm in living memory here in Portland OR. My Southwest neighborhood is under probably 6 inches of accumulation and there has been snow on the ground for 8 days straight now. This is absolutely unheard of. When I woke up yesterday morning I saw snow falling from the sky and decided to snuggle back into bed with my dog and my man. It would have been glorious, I just didn't have it in me. I did go out for a walk first thing when I woke up a couple hours later. It was pretty awesome... snow snow and more snow! And to think, just two weeks ago I was thinking how it didn't quite feel like winter and I should get used to the fact that "this" is what winter looks like in Portland. This is what winter feels like in story books! White, cold, windy and icy :)

It was a lovely Solstice despite the cabin fever. Tumalo and I went for our walk and then I came home and made polenta cakes. They were lovely yellow round pillows, like the sun itself. I topped the cakes with yogurt and homemade blackberry syrup I made last summer from wild blackberries. The first taste of the syrup instantly transported me back to a sunny field, picking berries in August. I am hooked on this home canning business :) I spent the day writing, reading and staying warm with the dogs.

Fried Polenta Pancakes

* 1 cup or so cooked yellow polenta

* 1 egg

* A 1/4 tsp or salt or more

* A couple tablespoons of white or whole wheat flour

Combine the egg and the cooked cereal along with the salt. Add the flour a tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together into a spoonable mixture.

Fry the batter by quarter cup fulls in a cast iron skillet greased well with coconut oil or other good fat (bacon grease if you are going for a savory flavor). Cook until brown on one side and starting to set on the top, flip and brown the second side. Top with butter, yogurt and home preserved jam. Happy day, happy day!

Pancakes can be made out of any cooked cereal ranging from cream of wheat to oatmeal to cooked rice. Just combine with egg and flour until a spoonable consistency. You can add any other kind of goodies to the pancakes to change the flavor - green onions with polenta, almonds and raisins with oatmeal, crumbled feta cheese or chopped leftover vegetables or spices like cinnamon or cumin. Depending on the ratio of flour, egg and cereal you may get anything from a fluffy fried porridge to a stiff, dense pancake. All will be delicious. Change the toppings to fit the flavoring - salsa, ranch, cheese sauce, tzatziki, maple syrup. Mmm.. pancakes.

One memorable solstice morning I walked up a trail outside of Ashland, Oregon. It was almost 7:30 and I crossed paths with a group of women with young children. One of the girls was chanting "Good morning sun! Good morning sun!" I can't wait until I have my own little sun worshipping toddlers to bundle up and tote along on a Solstice morning walk.

What did you do to celebrate the sun this weekend? How did you greet the new year? Did you do anything special to beat back the darkness? Happy Solstice!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Outer Darkness and Inner Hope

Last night was the full moon of the Birth Moon. I got home late from a play and the moon was shining down so brightly I thought about stopping at the park for quick dog walk. Unfortunately, my tired feet and cold hands conspired against me and I went to bed. Winter will do that to you, conspire against your better judgment with dark, cold and the blues.

I've been having a rough week. It's cold, it's dark, I'm broke (despite not spending any money - how does that even happen?) and I am feeling the existential weight of a 40 hour work week. I'm making poor food choices because I don't feel up to cooking and the blood sugar spikes and troughs accentuate the angsty, depressed feelings. It's an ugly negative feedback loop.

Luckily, there is a way out of these dark feelings and these dark times. It is the hope for a better day, and the faith in the light returning. Faith is the belief in the truth of an idea while hope is desire for a positive outcome based in a real knowledge that the outcome can be expected. Hope is more emotional than optimism, but more reasoned than faith. In the Greek story about Pandora hope is the only thing left in her box after all of the ills of the world are released. Hope is the light that keeps us going.

The opposite of hope is dispair. The deadly sin called sloth was originially called sadness or despair and was described as a refusal to enjoy God's goodness or the inability to love God with all one's heart and soul. I have a close family member struggling with depression and substance abuse and I have always felt that her despair is the worst part of the affliction. I feel anger at her choice to reject the gifts that the universe has bestowed on her. She has, through conscious and unconscious choices, chosen to despair instead of hope.

This is the time of year when I feel closest to that despair of depression but make a real effort to buoy myself with hope. I bake cookies, I take long walks to enjoy the winter scenery, I enjoy time with my friends in warm bars and cozy front rooms. Even if it's just putting on a happy face until spring comes again it seems to work.

The celebrations surrounding this darkest time of the year are all about instilling hope in us as well. Long nights are lit by cheery Christmas lights and decorated trees in people's front windows. I made chocolate chip cookies the other night. They may do nothing for my blood sugar, but they sure made the night more bearable :)

Joy of Cooking Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup plus 2 tbs all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chocolate chip cookies (or the rest of the bag after you eat some :)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and grease or line two baking sheets.
Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. This is best done by hand, taking turns with someone else you want to hang out with. Add the egg, salt and vanilla and stir well to combine. Stir baking soda into the flour and then combine the flour with the egg mixture until blended and smooth. Add the chocolate chips and then drop by tablespoonfuls onto the cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges are colored and tops are not quite set. Let cool on a rack and serve warm with a mug of whole milk.

Are you feeling the tinge of despair in these short days and long nights? What are you doing to encourage hope? What's your favorite cookie recipe? :)