Mar 222014

Good morning everyone and happy Saturday once again! As I had mentioned to some, today’s posting is an important message. Yesterday, I read the following on my Facebook feed from PNC’s Facebook page:

We have an announcement of some sad news everyone: the technical difficulties that have plagued the site finally overcame my ability to fix them a few weeks ago and myself and the other volunteers helping to keep the PNC online have decided that we’re going to wind down our operations.

I’ll be helping to keep those blogs and bureaus that want to continue to produce content going during the transition so this doesn’t necessarily mean that the blogs and bureaus that you’ve been able to access here are going to completely disappear, only that the super-feed from the main PNC site is going to go away.

Thanks for your many years of support and I’ll continue to keep you informed during the changes regarding new sites that come online.

I already know that a few of the authors are going to continue writing over at the Patheos Pagan channel, so if you don’t already “like” and follow that site, now is probably a good time to do so!

- Dashifen

To color me surprised is one thing, but this just made me sad. So I started asking around what I needed to do. After talking to a few people, I made the decision that today would be the last post I write here.

But!!! This isn’t the end! No way! There really aren’t a whole lot of people covering the military side of Paganism, so I wouldn’t just do that. Some of you may recall last year I was asked to periodically write articles for PaganSquare which is run by the good people who bring us Witches and Pagans and SageWoman magazines. Considering SageWoman has been out 25 years now, that should make folks feel pretty confident in their dedication toward keeping news not just happening but remembered for all time.

One thing you will notice is I won’t be posting on the military news quite as often, perhaps only once a month. There will be some structure set in place so that each article will be specifically written in regards to news that involves Pagan military. But, because Anne Newkirk Niven (the main lady in charge of those wonderful magazines and PaganSquare!!) and I talked in depth over the phone on what it is I do each week, she felt it should be continued but split in two. That means I will indeed be posting each Saturday as always, but in two different areas. The latter will be for an upcoming feature on PaganSquare which is tentatively entitled Chicago Witch. I’ve lived here all my life, my parents grew up here, their parents, and their parents, too. I’ve been told I even have the Dennis Farina/Superfans accent. (Da Bearz!) And, I’ve been Pagan now for nearly twenty years, so the two together makes perfect sense. Okay Anne, no problem. I’m on it.

Also, I was emailed a copy of every post I’ve ever written here on Warriors & Kin. Anne asked I sort through them, and she will put up the “evergreen” articles for remembrance for all time. And here I thought I was going to have a leisurely weekend for a change. Nope!

So, while I won’t be posting here anymore, you will certainly be able to find me and my articles, be they for a military slant or a personal one, on PaganSquare – alongside over 150 other wonderful contributors who are all also Pagan. It’s a good thing to know when a door closes a window is always open, especially when the window is a pretty big one.

Thank you all in advance for continuing to read my articles and valuing my writing the last four years. You’re all awesome people. So as always, take care, and many blessings to you and yours!

Mar 012014

Good morning everyone and happy Saturday once again! And as I mentioned last week, today is my 40th birthday, and I’m so gigged about going out tonight! Even the ATM wished me a happy birthday this week, which was nice and kind of creepy at the same time. (It will be really creepy when it starts commenting on my hair and clothing!) I’ve been dreading this particular birthday for several years, because I was raised that old = bad, and mean jokes (which now are recognized as bullying) were the way we expressed our love for each other. So of course, 40 = not just old but ancient. When our dad turned 40, my brother and I were especially cruel; we gave him a walker in a red bow, so I’ve been wondering when mine was going to be delivered. And to make it worse, I’ll add the back-story to where it came from:

My brother, who was in pique physical condition in high school, was hit by a car months before dad’s birthday while crossing the street. Because of that, he required a walker for a while. Coming back from the hospital, he was struggling to move an inch. At that point, a stereotypically decrepit old man, the crooked old man with the crooked smile no less, breezed past him with a cane. It made my brother’s efforts that much more pitiful, and he threw the walker to the ground in disgust. And of course, his frustration was found to be absolutely hysterical, so getting even was in the works. Hey! We put the fun in dysfunction!

So yeah, I’ve been dreading this day for a long time, and I know the “You are O-L-D!” phone call from my brother is coming. But now that it’s here, I’m genuinely okay with it. The guys are taking me out for my idea of the most awesome dinner ever, Mercury has officially gone direct yesterday morning, and Thursday, I heard a robin singing. All is almost well; Ms. Clairol is giving me the hint I’m no Rogue and cannot rock these white streaks like she can.

Which all of this has me asking a few questions for you all today:

- If you are on active duty, away from people you care about, how do you handle certain checkpoints in life? It’s hard enough to imagine being away from family and friends on your own birthday, but what if it’s the birthday of your children, especially the day of their birth? Does technology like Skype help you through?

- The older we get, especially if we broke or strained something, the less things tend to work. And yeah, we simply don’t look the same. Do you embrace your changes, fight them off or push them aside?

- How do your beliefs fit into “the new you”? Do you find yourself innately becoming more spirituality in-tune over the years or do you deliberately work harder to do so?

- It’s been said the general we (not the General Lee! Ha!) are ageists. After a certain point, has maintaining your social identity become more of a challenge? If so, at what point did you notice people treating you (slightly) less favorably, and what did you do about it?

- When some people think of veterans, they think of some old guys hanging out at the VFW, yammering on about the damn kids and whatnot. Well, except for ours, which was recently closed to make room for condos and will hopefully be reopening this month. (General public karaoke days are full of hipsters! LOL!) So my question is: What age of a person do you envision when you think of a veteran? If your response is “Any!”, how many of those hipsters do you think are vets? (My response: Check back on a member day!)

Before I leave and get ready for work (Yes! I’m working on my birthday even though I can take off whenever I want to!), I did want to remind folks about a little bet I made a while back that March, 2014 was going to feature some important news. I’ve called it as the month and year when there would be a Pagan Chaplain in the military, and I also saw it as when equal marriage would be a thing across the country.

On the former, we’ll just have to wait and see, as I don’t have any current information. On the latter, well, that seems to have some momentum. Kentucky, a very red state, may be recognizing same sex marriages from other states by the end of the month. And, Cook County, which is mostly right here in Chicago, as well as Champaign County, are allowing same sex marriages to occur before June.

I keep reminding folks about this little bet, because in my experience over the years, magic(k) begins and ends with visualization and intent. I may be more on the agnostic side of things when it comes to the religious aspect of Paganism, but this hardened cynic knows magick is a thing. I’ve seen my personal works manifest themselves exactly as I put them out there (sometimes with “I can laugh about it now” results), but on this magnitude, it will take all of us to set things into motion and keep it going!

That’s all I have for you all today. With just a little over three months away, I am so looking forward to seeing so many of you again at PSG. Of all the fests out there, it is by far my favorite, and it’s only a couple hours away! And this year, I’ll be selling my paintings, which you can see what I’ve done so far if you’re interested.

Take care, and many blessings to you and yours!

Feb 222014

Good morning everyone and happy Saturday once again! We have a solid month yet until Ostara, and I think this year, everyone is at least twice as antsy for Winter to truly be over. It didn’t help this week, we went from a mountain of snow, to a serious warm-up, then a ton of rain came down and caused stuff to flood, and now it’s back to Winter again. Usually folks don’t experience that much difference unless they’re constantly traveling for work or something. But, at least I was able to wear a skirt with tights and boots this week – I really missed that!

What I’m really gigged for is my birthday next week. I’ve been wanting to go to Medieval Times ever since the place was built years ago, and so for my 40th, that’s exactly what we’re doing. I was able to talk Ron into it, as I found 50% off coupons for each of us in exchange for food donations, so our bill came up to about the same as any other nice (but not excessive) night out. And, Ryan wanted me to get the full experience, so he sprung for the Celebration Package. I’ve read some sour reviews on the upgrade, but I read into them as well: People expected the moon for the extra $16 a pop, and they didn’t feel they got it, so they bitched. Me, I already know it’s going to be cheesy, and the food is probably decent but not fine dining, and yeah, they really want you there early so you’ll spend more money at the bar and gift shop. I get that, and I’m prepared for it.

Me – I love cheesy! I’m all about wearing the Burger King-ripoff paper crown, waving the “special” pennants everyone else will have, cheering for my knight based entirely upon color coding and not for any particular talent or trait, and making a slob of myself because there’s no silverware. (I’m planning on sneaking in extra napkins lol.) And yes, I also am going to push for the blue section just so I can do this:

Yup. This is going to be awesome!

In other words, I’m a big kid. (Ron said as much many times hehe.) So yeah, I know I’m going to have an awesome night with my guys, and I get to help my neighbors at the same time! Win-win!

I’m also really gigged this week, because someone had reached out to me for my artwork to help another group, Hope for the Day, who helps those who are contemplating suicide. Yes, someone contacted me about my artwork and not the other way around. It makes me feel pretty special that someone saw enough value in my work that it could help their group raise money. So yeah, I got my first official seal of approval as a professional artist, but the real test will be at PSG this summer. Needless to say, I really hope you all love my booth!

With that touch of validation and inspiration, what I would love to do is offer another painting. This time, I want to do it for PSG’s raffle with a Pagan military slant. Do you have any suggestions on a theme? Things to incorporate? Active duty, veterans, family – all? Symbolism? Basically, what I’m asking is if you were bidding on a painting to take home and hang up in your sacred space, what would make you plunk down some cash and cross your fingers? Please feel free to comment and share the idea with others. I really want to do something special – something that makes my heart sing while painting it as well as yours while gazing upon it.

Well, I have another journey to the south side today, and my first appointment is at 9:30, so I need to wrap things up. I look forward to hearing back from you!

Take care, and many blessings to you and yours!

Feb 152014

Good morning everyone and happy Saturday once again! Did you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Did you work with the full moon last night? Some people who are single have called it Singles Awareness Day, but I have yet to buy into that. I know, I’m not being tolerant or whatever, but even the couple of years I was single after Ryan was born, mostly just dating but nothing serious, and of course when I was a kid, I always liked Valentine’s Day. As an adult, I see it as giving yourself a Valentine. I figure, if you can’t love yourself, as you are, right at this very second, then you don’t have much to give others. Rather, you expect somebody else to fill you up. Be happy with yourself and your current situation. Love it, even. It’s kind of like #3 of Mike Damone’s Five-Point Plan, but truly believing it:

Earlier this week, I was down on the south side doing showings, and I was having fun with it, even in spite of the heightened suspicion I created for being so out of place. Lots of hard, cold stares were directed at me, and one guy even came up to the window and started asking me who I was waiting for. (Ron thinks he was a neighborhood watch guy.) Some folks said that would have had them blasting pepper spray and burning rubber. Me, I was happy to be in a new neighborhood (for me, a Northsider) and to see different things. And, just driving around always makes me happy. I even took the streets back home the other day, just to see more newness. Like for example, there’s this one hill with a ridiculous incline, which I think is on 111th street a bit east of Western. Even a one degree incline here is rare, but one like that, where brakes are an absolute necessity? Nope! That stretch on Diversey between Austin and Narragansett is a gentle slope compared to that. And it was fun! Crossing bridges? Fun! Seeing dilapidated greystones and Victorians, wondering how they much have looked once upon a time? Fun! Watching snowflakes instantly melt on my windshield while sipping my tea and playing Freecell? Fun! And finding a cute grocery store shaped like a barn with really fresh avocados on sale in the dead of winter? Awesome! I just ignored the bleakness and took notice of the little things.

Part of what it reminded me of is when I was little (late 70s, early 80s) and Dad would stop at Maxwell Street to pick up sausage sandwiches with extra onions before heading into Comiskey Park. (Just like “Willis Tower” or “Macy’s”, I refuse to call it U.S. Cellular Field.) Even back then, you weren’t supposed to bring in outside food, but we did anyway, and I could barely finish one of them. Dad would have us sit in the car, windows rolled up, and specifically told us not to even look at anymore, much less talk to them. That was directed at me, because I had a (bad) habit of talking to complete strangers, particularly male adults. (Parents saw danger; I saw easy conversation.)

I always got bored at the game after the second inning, unless they shot fireworks for a home run, but leading up to that point was incredibly fun for me. Different food, different people, different neighborhood. Just different. The newness of it all, just like my experience this week. And yeah, to paraphrase Mike Damone, it is great!

In fact, going down there has stirred a touch of wanderlust. I can’t wait to go to PSG this year, taking a mix of expressway, routes and back roads just a couple hours west from here. I’m sick to death of Winter, but it’s almost over. We have another month tops, since the weather usually seems to be completely different by St. Paddy’s Day. I already have noticed subtle clues, like it getting dark at around 5pm instead of 4:30 and few more birds outside beside pigeons. But the real cue is when the cardinals sing their Spring song. That’s when I know it’s over. I’m really trying to be patient.

So my question for you this week is if you too at least try to live in the moment. And if so, what are the little things you pay close attention to? It must be so hard for our active duty troops to be stationed overseas, and I’ve been told numerous times just thinking of home is what gets/got them through it all. Sure, it’s easier now with computers being readily available, being able to instantly communicate with loved ones compared to waiting for the mail, but there’s no way can it ever compare to actually being at home. I often wondered if any of you astrally project while stationed, and if so, where you go. And if you do, do you tell anyone about your trips? And, to clue in your friends and family back home, what are some things you’d like to see in care packages? Things that remind you of home. Things that assist you with your spirituality. Things that help you appreciate the little things in life that make life worth living. Feel free to share!

Well, I have a hectic day today, so I need to start getting ready. I hope wherever you go, there you are. Take care, and many blessings to you and yours!

Feb 082014

Good morning everyone and happy Saturday once again! Welp, Mercury is once again in retrograde, and yeah, it’s already been causing a bit of chaos around here. Earlier this week, the furnace went out, and the maintenance guy said a new one may need to be installed. It’s working okay now, but we have a lot more Winter, and we may have less time. I can at least be happy we’re renters, and that’s part of what we pay rent for. Oh well, right?

And yesterday – that was a doosy! I had a couple cancellations, which allowed me time to swing by one of my places and check on the updating progress. It’s right around the corner from another place I had to go to, so I figured why not use my time effectively. The kitchen was completed, so I was able to snap a couple of fresh pictures. (It’s fun to compare differences! This is the updated kitchen verses how it originally looked.) When I left, I had a hard time getting out of the parking spot due to all of the snow (which was a struggle getting in it to begin with), so I clicked over the all-wheel drive feature and got out. Easy peasy like always. But when I turned onto the main street and hit the brakes… nothing. My foot went all the way down to the floor. I found myself driving straight onto a busy street!

I was very fortunate at that moment; there was no traffic or pedestrians. That corner is usually congested at that time of day, so I was very lucky. The only thing I could think of was to throw on the hazards and just let it coast. And, because I had three more showings around the corner and a lease signing at the same place (I continue to show until a lease is signed, right to the very end!), I tapped the gas just enough to allow me to coast over there. I know that building well, and the parking situation surrounding it (most importantly!), so I knew it would be a safe place to cruise into a legal spot. Let me tell you, that was the scariest driving experience I’ve ever had, only a couple blocks, and I’ve been driving for over twenty years.

It was a random, freak thing. The car was just at the shop at the beginning of last month for routine maintenance with a trusted mechanic, so it wasn’t something that happened from neglect. And, the brakes worked just fine fifteen minutes before. (Here’s all the ways your brakes can fail you.) What makes the most sense to me is when I was attempting to pull either in or out of that snow-packed parking spot, ice had cut my brake line as I was rocking back and forth, until I had eventually gave up and used the four-wheel. Why Chicago doesn’t plow alternate sides of the streets the same way they do street sweeping I’ll never understand.

Needless to say, I was going through all of the “What If?” scenarios in my head. OMG! I could have wrecked the car! Or, I could have drove straight into my client’s building! Or even the granddaddy of them all, I could have killed somebody! Amazingly though, I was able to pull myself together, deal with getting a tow (which hasn’t even happened yet, because they’re all crazy busy with dead batteries and accidents), and yeah, do those showings and the lease signing. Oh, and my hyper butt even got bored waiting on people in between, playing with the video feature on my phone, if you can believe it. And the whole time, I’ve been hoping it’s just the brake line, because that should be a quick and cheap fix. For me, no car = no job, so the faster (and cheaper!) the better.

My experience yesterday had me thinking about how the brain works during and after something scary like that happens. For me, my stress levels remained low because none of those “What Ifs” had happened. Even so, I was still pretty freaked out several hours later. I had to reschedule a bunch of important appointments I had for today, and I’m concerned about the repair cost. But, at least the tow will be covered since I have the premium AAA. There’s that, and I trust the tow truck driver, because my husband uses that guy for the fleet vehicles he manages and had never caused damage to them.

Last night, I had a nightmare about plowing into a woman with a stroller, but because I know everything is and will be fine, I can simply chalk it up to Mercury retrograde. I woke up, a bit disoriented, but I was able to I calm myself down rather easily. It’s something I can laugh off in a month, and I’ll be much more choosy with where I park from now on, even if ice wasn’t the reason. But for someone who did have such a horrible accident, those nightmares can last for years. Even with treatment, where the nightmares can be lessened and daily function can improve, such thoughts can linger on. For our service members, frightening moments can happen at any time, even during Basic. Sometimes, it can be something like temporary tinnitus from shooting a rifle incorrectly, something to learn from and laugh off, but sometimes, the worst case scenarios do happen.

It is because of the latter, where PTSD is an issue, that treatment is an absolute and immediate necessity. For those who have religious beliefs, including spirituality in treatment has been studied to be very effective. For Pagans who are on Active Duty, there aren’t any Chaplains of a direct Pagan persuasion, however, many installations do have Pagan groups and circles to attend. And of course, our troops can always contact their Elders back at home as well as the good folks at Circle Sanctuary. Patrick McCollum has been working tirelessly for Pagan Chaplaincy for years, and groups like A Circle of Warriors and The Valhallah Project are already helping those in need, Pagans and others alike.

All those I mentioned above, be they local clergy members or far-reaching groups, need our support, and our troops deserve our respect and love. Spiritual healing is a long-going and interpersonal journey, and it strengthens our Community as a whole. When I see articles like these, it’s a strong reminder how far our Community needs to go in terms of even acknowledging the many sacrifices our military members make. It is because of that sentiment alone I continue to write each week, hoping to enlighten at least one fellow Pagan of the great and many needs of our men and women and their families.

And with that, I thank you all. Take care, and many blessings to you and yours!

Jan 182014

Good morning everyone and happy Saturday once again! How has the world been treating you this week? For me, I crossed a few more professional milestones, one of which I can talk about: My totals for 2013 increased by 40% over 2012. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t proud of that, and I’m even more elated this was made known to me by the broker I work with. I knew I did better, but certainly not to that degree, but more importantly, I’m just happy the work I do is repeatedly acknowledged and appreciated. It means so much to me the people I work with thank me, give me credit and pass my name along to others. That alone makes all the difference; I’ve had some good jobs in the past but miserable doing them. Oh, and it’s nice to have a job where I can set my own hours, work from home in my jammies with very little boring, paper-pushing tasks involved, no office politics (even for the mere two to three hours a month I am there) and still make more money than at any job I’ve ever had before. Yup, that’s a combined benefit I rank higher than sick days or even a 401(k).

What’s up with Ryan? He’s a happy camper at his job, too. He left for work last night for a special overnight project and still hasn’t gotten home. They don’t ask a lot of people to work a shift like that, so I have a very strong feeling they’re grooming him for a full-time position which are only available to management. He just started there in October, which sounds crazy at first, but this is a company that’s gone from 30 to over 300 employees in just three years. And, they’re looking at expanding to a bigger location in the city but also opening a couple other locations in different parts of the country. If they go that route, Ryan would be a very good candidate to relocate. Yep, we’re really happy for him and proud of him.

I feel I would be there to support Ryan for any choice he’s made, even if they were stupid, awful or truly terrible ones. My dad disowned me the last ten years of his life over $180 that I offered to pay in a few days, and in that ten years, he missed a lot. He missed our wedding, as simple as it was, vacations and holidays over his stubborn bitterness. He died from lymphoma in March of 2005, missing his beloved White Sox winning the World Series (and the whole damned season in fact), and he died alone. Dad would have celebrated his 61st birthday this past Monday. And so because of that, there isn’t much Ryan could do to make me not want him in my life, though I have to wonder what that tipping point would be.

Some of you may laugh, some may roll your eyes or even scoff, and some may just chalk it up to being a human news aggregator that I have such bookmarks as People Magazine, World Net Daily and TMZ. Sure, I can rely on RSS feeds and what my varied Faceypages friends share, but I still like clicking through all my bookmark tabs and looking at the homepage headlines. Then again, I also read print newspapers, so maybe I’m just showing my age. I admit it – I like gossip! And I like designer fashion. And, if anything else, there’s always the deal that even a broken clock that is the Daily Mail can be right twice a day.

Well, this week’s broken clock is TMZ of all sources, as they got an exclusive on some rather disturbing photos I will NOT be posting.

Pics of Marines Burning Bodies Trigger U.S. Military Investigation [PHOTOS]

While I’m betting dollars to donuts TMZ got the exclusive because they paid the highest price, unlike the WikiLeaks-Assange-Manning deal that was supposedly done on pure principle, it’s hard not to see the relevance of the photos themselves. Oh, but this was in 2004 – a year into the war and only three years after 9/11 – when many Americans were of a “Fuck those guys!” mentality, perhaps not unlike Google employees’ response to the NSA snooping. And, these pictures were supposedly taken in Fallujah in 2004, which we all know was all shades of awful and the same year the four Blackwater contractors, civilians with kitchen supplies, were burned, dragged and hung. And, 2004 was also the same year where all those Iraqi torture pics and stories surfaced. Putting all that together, one may be inclined to ponder how much, if any, of a pass we can give the Marines in those photos. Oh, and that was back when enlistment requirements and standards were a lot more lax, because civilian jobs were more available than now and troops were getting killed and injured left and right.

With hindsight being 20/20, one can kind of put all of these things into perspective, but of course it also depends on when these photos were taken. A lot happens in a year. When were the Marines in the photos deployed? Under whose orders were the bodies burned? And so on. We can do the same reverse chronology with many atrocities. People were pissed. People wanted to get even, and the media certainly didn’t make things better. It also has me thinking: If one of the pictures TMZ released had been of our son, would that be the tipping point I mentioned above? Would I try to rationalize what the hell was going through his head? I would still love him of course, but would I be ashamed of him – not just disappointed? I try my absolute best to care for everyone equally – a homeless guy on Lower Wacker the same as I do our son – but that’s asking a whole lot. I don’t know random homeless people. I didn’t give birth to them, walk them to school, console them, nurture them.

And that’s my take-away from those pictures: I wonder how the people who love these Marines feel about what they have done. And more importantly, I wonder how those Marines feel about that. That’s ten years to think about something you’ve done that, with glancing at mere pictures, can easily be construed as inhuman. But one thing we don’t know is this: Of the bodies burned, who were the spirits that were once housed in those charred vessels? Were they monsters that deserved inhuman treatment? I don’t have the answer to that, but I will be pondering questions such as those for a while.

Let’s make things perfectly clear: I truly respect what it takes for each and every man and woman who has ever put on the uniform, be it by enlistment or draft. Yes, even the Marines in these photos. I honor that. However, as a civilian playing Captain Hindsight based on a smattering of photos sent to the highest bidder, I cannot respect what I’m seeing and feel, at least the ones where they’re grinning, they have disgraced the uniforms they’re wearing.

That’s all I have for you today. I promise next week’s article will be much more uplifting and vibrant as we approach Imbolc.

Take care, and many blessings to you and yours.

Jan 042014

Good morning everyone and happy Saturday once again! And BRRRRRRR! I was wondering why it’s been so cold in our bedroom, so I went looking for the draft. I quickly realized the very bottom of the storm window was still open, and snow had blown in between the glass. It doesn’t help that particular window is one of the originals to this building – dating back to 1925 – and not one of those new windows like we have in the living room.

Up until recently, it hasn’t bothered us, since we have a bamboo blinds and thermal curtains over it all, and no, we can’t do the plastic. (Our cat sees plastic on windows as a challenge to gladly accept. “Bitch, please!” he says as he claws through it with a single swipe.) I’m glad I found the problem now before it really gets bad, and I also added a couple bath towels to help block the extra drafts coming in from the top and bottom of the lower window. I love our apartment, and I especially love how much less in rent we pay compared to our new neighbors (due to living here so long), but I sure do envy people who have energy-efficient windows.

sleepy cat
Our cat isn’t stupid though. He just crawls under the blankets and sleeps the winter away.

The weather will be doable today, but tomorrow it will drop, getting down to an anticipated -60-70F wind chill come Monday; the air temp will be a high of -8. That’s ridiculously cold! They’re even saying if you’re under 40, you have not experienced this before. And no, Dennis Quaid ain’t gonna save us. So because of that, I will say this: If you have the opportunity to work from home, take it, only going out for necessities, perhaps including checking on your elderly neighbors. Let the kids stay home with you and crack out the board games. (I say that, as Chicago Public Schools are famous for being open no matter what.) If you need a few groceries, get them today. If you must go out Monday, shovel where you can today (to avoid the snow turning into blocks of ice) and check your car to make sure it actually starts up. (Check the fluids, start it up, let it warm up, take it for a drive and fill it with gas.) Wear layers – even if you look a little goofy, and please, please, please, bring in your companion animals and ask your neighbors to do the same. If they give you the line about the dog being a Husky or something like that, remind them sled dogs are fed and raised for this weather regularly, and their dog is not.

And with all that said, if you go out Monday, or anytime this winter really, perhaps while you’re at your favorite coffee shop picking up something hot, order an extra cup for the homeless sitting outside. I’m pretty sure McDonald’s sells coffee for $1, so tuck a buck away for someone who doesn’t have a warm place to be. To think of all those people camped out on Lower Wacker in this weather, and even under the viaduct steps away from us, makes me truly appreciate all we have.

homeless veteran
This is a national travesty.

It saddens me too 13% of the homeless men and women are veterans and some reports say nearly 1 out of 4 – people who sacrificed so much now have so little. And what do the homeless value most? Socks. For something as simple as new socks to be so prized, something I buy regularly without even thinking that hard about it, breaks my heart. But what can we do that will directly benefit them? Like I said, something as simple as buying someone a cup of coffee is helpful. You can upgrade that to a pack of socks. You can even give away an old blanket or buy one from the thrift store for a few dollars and donate that. No-sew fleece blankets are always on sale at this time of year at JoAnn (I saw a woman there last week with a shopping cart filled with them).

Earlier this week, I caught a segment on WGN (or as we just call it, “Channel 9”) about the Angel of Lower Wacker. For the last twelve years, a wealthy oral surgeon has been going downtown at least two nights a week, delivering blankets, socks, hats, gloves and McDonald’s hamburgers and coffee, without judgment, and he pays for it out of his own pocket. You can watch a clip on his wonderful story below:

I’m not wealthy, but I can buy a cup of coffee here and there. Can you? Maybe make some at home for your local needy if you have to-go cups? Go with the old standby of offering your pocket change? I’m not big on the three-fold thing, but I do believe in basic, Westernized Karma, and furthermore, I believe we create our own – more like the three laws of motion than anything deep or spiritual. And hey, if anything else, when you do something good for someone, you feel good, and with SAD kicking into high gear for so many, we can use all the good feelings we can get. So get yourself some happy and make someone’s day a little bit better.

That’s all I have for this week. Stay warm everyone, take care, and many blessings to you and yours.

Dec 142013

Good morning everyone and happy Saturday once again! At this time next week, many Pagans will be celebrating the rebirth of the sun, perhaps incorporating the Hoo-Hoo! Hee-Hee! Push! Push! Push! laboring techniques into their rituals. And of course, tearing into presents is always awesome, especially for children. We adults, anything we want, we can buy it anytime throughout the year, whether we have the cash or can save up for it. At least that’s how I see it. So, because of that, Yuletide/Giftmas just isn’t as special as it is for children. For them, it’s about sending out a wish list to a benevolent, jolly, magical elf who flies around the world via special reindeer and delivering toys to good children. Just about everyone I know did the Santa thing when they were little, and the wonders of it all is a feeling I wish I hadn’t lost.

I know exactly when I stopped believing in Santa – at least as a physical being living in the North Pole. I was seven, my brother was six, and that year, Santa missed our apartment. I knew Santa knows everything, so I didn’t buy the bs story he didn’t have our new address – especially because the year before, we had lived in several places, crashing at one friend’s house to another, and Santa found us then. So that morning, when we woke up and our tree had no presents beneath it, my heart sank, but I didn’t cry. Instead, I tore open the trunk we kept the ornaments and leftover wrapping and tissue paper, and my brother and I wrapped each others toys and gave them to each other. Christmas was not going to be canceled on my watch, damn it!

This is what Jimmy gave me: His Mighty Mo fire truck. It was the best toy evah!

Even when we were 15 and 14 living with our dad, and he said Christmas was canceled that year, I wouldn’t let that happen. It just seemed wrong to even say such a thing. Since I was working, I bought about a dozen packages of cards and a ton of miniature candy canes. I was very popular in that high school, for that year, so I gave out cards with candy canes attached to anyone who was even remotely pleasant to me. It was a big shift from previous years in school, going from not having a single friend at all throughout grade school, then to having friends my first year of high school (but most of them didn’t attend the same school – if they went to school at all), to having what seemed like a million friends. So the way I saw it, the fact I had lots of friends was presents enough, and I was going to pass it along.

But imagine the scene: You had me, a total 80s Metal chick, wearing a leather jacket and kutte vest over it, with big, bleach-blonde, Kelly Bundy hair, tight jeans, a flannel shirt wrapped around my waist, a tight concert shirt with the tummy and cleavage cut out (barely held together, in fact) and my Chuck Taylors, handing out a couple hundred cards and candy canes to supposed thugs and nice kids alike, and teachers, too, in a tough, Chicago public high school. Oh, and I did the same after school at my favorite hang-out – a big mall where my other gazillion Metal friends were at.

This is pretty much what we did, concert or not. I’m… I should be ashamed, but I’m not. Haha.

And that’s where I find myself today. While I don’t believe there is a physical, benevolent, jolly, magical elf who flies around the world via special reindeer and delivering toys to good children, I do believe there are benevolent, jolly, magical people in the world who do good deeds for others without wanting for themselves, hoping to see the recipients happy. (Of course, I’d never tell a little kid that.) These people I’m talking about, they come in all shapes and sizes and come from from vastly different backgrounds and beliefs (or lack thereof). That’s what’s so special about the holiday spirit, if you ask me. You can be yourself, and give of yourself, and that judginess that’s so prevalent throughout the rest of the year seems to just go away – for a little while. Well, mostly, anyway.

Time Magazine, whether you deem them to still be relevant or not, named the Pope as their Person of the Year, and I have to agree with their choice. I may have given up on Catholicism back when I was a kid and just went through the motions for a few years, but this man really does seem to envelop the spirit of what I found a good Catholic to be when I was little. Maybe part of why even many Atheists like him is in contrast to the last guy who quit, but I’d like to think it has a lot more to do with the fact he walks the walk. We need more everyday people like him – one of whom we said our joyful good byes to this week.

But neither Pope Francis and Nelson Mandela, to me at least, still don’t hold a candle to the greatest person to ever walk among us: Fred Rogers. If you ever wanted to believe in a benevolent, jolly, magical person whom everyone, everyone, truly loved, Mr. Rogers was it. I don’t care who you are, you liked Mr. Rogers. If you tell me different, I’d call you a liar, because I don’t believe those words can be used together in a sentence. He was everyone’s real life Santa Claus, and the world is a sadder place without him.

But the thing is, we can all be him, and we don’t even have to wear the sweater, nor do we need to wear the Santa suit. In fact, to contradict Megyn Kelly from earlier this week, we can even be Santa if we’re black or women. How? By giving the good that is within of yourself without expecting anything in return. (There’s nothing wrong with hoping for a thank you or even a smile, but just don’t expect it.) When I give gifts, I go out of my way to try to make sure what I give is something the recipient truly wants, to the best of my abilities. If it’s a charity, I give money if it’s what they ask for, but my preferred charities are ones where they ask for items or time. It’s why my favorite charity is Toys for Tots. Not only do I get to play Santa, but as a recipient of their generosity, it’s my way of giving back. Because of Toys for Tots, my younger brothers did not ever have to go through the experience of Santa missing their apartments, and they were able to cling to the notion that there is a benevolent, jolly, magical elf who flies around the world via special reindeer and delivering toys to good children just a little while longer. They filled that role when our parents couldn’t, or even when I couldn’t.

So this week, if you feel charities like the Salvation Army or Goodwill are not doing the most good, but you still want to ensure the neediest people will experience a pleasant holiday, you can always opt to donate an unwrapped toy. The Marines who put this together even visit some families’ homes and give the toys to the children in person, getting to be Santa while in their uniforms. And, as their website states, “97% of your donation goes to our mission of providing toys, books and other gifts to less fortunate children. The 3% spent on support principally covers fundraising expenses – not one donated dollar goes to pay for salaries or any other manpower costs.

Well, that’s all I have for this week. I’ll be back next Saturday to wish you all a wonderful, Blessed Yuletide and a very Merry Christmas. Take care, and many blessings to you and yours.

Dec 072013

Good morning everyone and happy Saturday once again! This past week has been a cold one for sure; even my Texan friends are getting a taste of what winter is really all about.

Don’t be a hero, Hank!

Oh sure, us folks up north can roll our eyes at “a little bit of snow and ice”, but that’s because we’re prepared for it. We have plenty of warm clothes in our closets, the cities have salt loaded up on plows ready to go at a moment’s notice, and the further remote you get, the more often you’ll see tires with small spikes in them and/or chains wrapped around them. When I lived in Wisconsin, people would take advantage of the Fox River freezing almost solid and would use it as an expressway for their snowmobiles, ATVs and snow bikes. (I’m guessing they still do that.) Right now, there’s a posting on my Facebook feed from someone from the Northwoods who reported a -9F air temperature, which once again solidifies my disinterest in moving into even colder climates than I’m already in. Brrrrrr! No thanks. I’ll visit The Dells in summer and embrace my FIBiness.

Oopsies! Sorry, my bad. I was looking for Paul Bunyan’s and missed my turn.

So, is winter fun for you, or is it a big headache? Or worse? For my military readers, how did/do you handle colder climates while on duty? When I was in my first year of college, one of my Communications classmates was a Marine who had spent some time in the Middle East. For a presentation, he passed around some pictures of himself in the desert, posing with camels and stuff. I noticed in many of the pictures, he was wearing wool caps and padded uniforms. Showing my ignorance, I asked why he was dressed so warmly, and he said the desert gets winter, too, and they made the best of things like we do here. Kind of like this clip I just found:

Of course, this was just a year after I had learned there was a whole religion out there called Islam, so I’ll cut myself some slack for asking such a dumb question. In hindsight though, don’t we all ask dumb questions at one time or another and have therefore donned the N00B hat? What’s important really is how we treat the people asking “dumb” questions, and what the people asking do with the new information. Yes, it can get frustrating when people ask the same things over and over when you known they have Google in their pockets. And, because people have been given the eye roll or even a serious tongue-lashing so many times, they don’t even bother asking questions a search engine just isn’t going to satisfy.

My classmate, standing at the podium, didn’t roll his eyes at me, and I have to guess before he got there, he hadn’t realized how cold it gets out that way, either. So, with my question, instead of going “Duh!”, he took the cue and went with it. I don’t think he was able to cover the topics he had on his cards, because his story went from “I did A, B and C”, which would have been interesting enough, into something a whole lot more. He shared personal experiences we, his classmates, would probably never know without going through it ourselves – like how homesickness didn’t officially kick in until that evening, lying in his bunk, after the snowball fight he and his fellow Marines had earlier that day. In fact, he was such a quiet, kind of emotionless guy, always sitting in back and never saying much of anything. I remember thinking he looked like a lumberjack with those flannel shirts he always wore. In fact, I don’t think any of us had known anything about him other than his name. (Robert, by the way. His name was Robert.)

For the rest of the course, Robert went from just being that big, quiet, serious guy in the back to a bit of a celebrity. He definitely carried himself differently, participating and smiling more. People liked to be around him. And, his Beavis impression was pretty funny, too.

Really this week, that’s pretty much what I wanted to cover: If you ask “dumb” questions, and/or if you’re tired of answering them. When people ask you about your service, what is your response? Do you take cues and run with them? Do you share a bit about yourself? Do you change the subject? It seems to me when a person shares a bit about him/herself, the entire topic can be humanized. You’re not just a guy who’s good at taking orders. To the person asking the “dumb” questions, you’re also now the guy who likes snowball fights and watching campy cartoons. The person asking may want to know what’s your strategy for winning the snow war: Do you build a fort? Do you line up a bunch of snowballs or make them one at a time? Were you home for that blizzard a couple years ago? And so on.

Earlier this week, Ron and I watched a documentary on Netflix called The Man with Half a Body. Talk about humanizing someone! At first glance, Kenny’s disability is all anyone notices. The camera showed people literally pointing at him at the mall and giggling, or worse, turning away out of their own embarrassment. But because Kenny is accepting of his situation, he has people all over the world who are truly inspired by his life. He’s really a simple guy who has a lot of the same struggles as the rest of us, but of course he has a ton more. And what’s the first thing we noticed about him? He’s an Iron Maiden fan, too! Awesome! After the show, I looked him up on Facebook, and not only was I happy to see he’s in a new relationship, but the guys from the band posed for pictures. How cool is that?! (Okay, some of you aren’t as impressed. I get that. Hehe.) But how about the honor of carrying the Olympic torch? Not everybody gets to do that. It’s because he chose to share so much of his life people genuinely like him for himself. Kenny’s an awesome dude for sure, and I’d like to go hang with him sometime. S’up, bro!

The same can be said about your beliefs. When someone just learning about Paganism asks basic questions, how do you answer those? I’m not talking about proselytizing, I’m talking about people who genuinely want to know what’s up with that table in the corner full of weird stuff. How do you respond? Are you guarded? Perhaps even a little embarrassed for being different? Or, are you proud of your beliefs and share a little too much, scaring people off before they get to know you for everything else about you as a fellow human being? That’s pretty much what I’m getting at this week: Humanizing yourself. Let people see you for who you are – all of your many shining facets. Once people get to know you, they’ll want to know other people who have the same basic experiences as you do. That’s how stereotypes are broken, a little at a time – that gentle, non-activism activism I wholly endorse.

Well, my phone’s starting to ring and it’s after 9am, so I do need to wrap things up. Yule is just around the corner, so feel free to share a bit about yourselves along with the gifts. Take care, and many blessings to you and yours.

Nov 302013

Good morning everyone and happy Saturday once again! So how has your week been? Busy? If you’re American, probably so. Thursday was Thanksgiving, and yesterday was Black Friday, which once again had people charging the gates at stores all across the country on deals. We took a long drive to the northwest suburbs to visit family for Turkey Day, and yesterday, since Ron’s company was giving out frozen turkeys (and we don’t have a freezer), I cooked that as well for a scaled down Second Thanksgiving, vacuum sealed the bulk of it.

For shopping, I have been stalking Amazon for their Lightning Deals, which I did find a crazy bargain on a needed item on Ryan’s list. And last night, we did necessarily visit Target, as we were completely out of garbage bags. All the bargain hunters were long gone, so it wasn’t bad at all – just like a regular Sunday afternoon. Ron already got his presents, and Ryan is just about done, so all that’s left is me. And me, all I want is to see the second Hobbit movie, at the theater (a place we rarely ever go), and maybe some camping gear. Pretty simple. I can be smug and say at least we aren’t these people:

Black Friday Zombies
Aw, c’mon. That picture has got to have been staged! Right? Right?!

Oh and in a few weeks, we’ll see the kids of these parents on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and whatnot, bitching about what they got (and didn’t get):

Hmmmm… what will be the gift to bitch about this year? iPhone vs Galaxy?

But of course, I’ve been out-smugged by folks who purposely did not even make a last minute run to Walgreens for a can of cranberry sauce (because they made their own from organic, locally-sourced berries, natch) and are only buying hand-crafted gifts from local merchants today – if they’re buying anything at all. Really, the biggest thing that will be putting a dent on my credit card, besides that one thing Ryan really wanted and needed, is sometime today, it was announced registrations will be open for Pagan Spirit Gathering 2014. I just visited the site, I scrolled down and found this:

PSG Not Open
Soon. Very soon.

The past two days, I haven’t even answered a single phone call. Wednesday night, right after 7pm, I set my voicemail greeting to the holiday version, and I physically turned my phone backwards so I wouldn’t even know it if someone was calling. Because yes, I’m that kind of person who would jump into work mode between the dinner and dessert. It’s just so ingrained in me! I spent yesterday working on side projects, and I will be returning every call later this morning. I still have a project left to do sometime over the weekend – designing the holiday cards for the office, which means I really need to finish our Yuletide decorations in order to snap some closeup pics for the card itself. (I’m usually done by now!) I thought it was funny the broker sent me a text to remind me to say “Happy Holidays” on the card instead of “Merry Christmas”. No problem, Bossman. I got that memo!

But isn’t it funny that in 2013, in America, people still have to be reminded not everyone celebrates Christmas or that others celebrate that holiday on top of others? (The War on Christmas wages on, doncha know. Uh huh.) Our clients, the landlords and property managers we work with, are quite varied indeed, and I know for certain there are three who aren’t Christian. (I have a suspicion on a few others, but it’s not my place to ask.) Honestly though, even for me, who has been Pagan now for 18 years, the hardest part of designing the card is not the pictures I’ll be taking (I’m good at visuals) but the message I want to convey inside. I want to be inclusive of course, and since it’s a company card, which the back will have our logo, it should also be one with a slant for business. Last year, I wrote,

May the spirit of the season provide you with wellness and great success.

Simple, inclusive, business-y, in a Christmas Carol-type font. I need to come up with something different, and in that same vein, but what? What have some of your favorite cards read?

This whole “remember not everyone is the same as you, and you should at least tolerate that” notion is just so hard for some folks to fathom. Why are some people so determined to force their beliefs on others? And what’s really wrong with people who simply enjoy the secular parts, like Santa Claus and presents, and not get into the baby Jesus story? The way I see it, the holidays are for everyone. Who doesn’t like presents, especially gifts that were really thought out and/or hand made? Who doesn’t like the notion that one time of year, we’re nice to each other? And, what’s really wrong about letting the rest of the world in on the fun? Exclusion is simply a kind of a crappy thing to do, some may even call it a form of bigotry, and it happens every year at that one time when we’re all supposed to be basically on the same page. Just think of the way poor Kyle feels.

Yes, I know, it’s silly, but it’s kind of sad at the same time.

While I’m deciding on just how to sum up our sincere sentiments in about 100 characters, being inclusive and apolitical without coming off as completely generic and cheesy, I’ll also be thinking of what I have to be truly happy and grateful for and what others wish they could. I know the number one wish many of my friends who have served was, at this time of year especially, to be home with their families. They didn’t care so much about the toys as much as they did about eating a home-cooked meal. One of my friends said his mom was pretty much a box-cooker, but because she made the Stove Top stuffing, somehow it just tasted better. Isn’t that how it goes? You can have the blandest food in the world, but if it was made by someone who truly loves you, and especially if it’s served on your favorite plate from the mismatched and chipped set in the cupboard, that makes it all the better. (Our dishes match, but the silverware is from many sets. Ryan has a favorite spoon, and he said he’s taking it with him when he moves. That’s his spoon, doncha know!)

Well folks, I have a ton of calls to return, and a long day ahead of me. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season, however you celebrate. Many blessings to you and yours.