Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017!

This has been a pretty crazy, busy, productive year for me!  I have done some pretty amazing things, if I do say so myself, and most importantly to me, I stuck to my plans and completed the things I set out to do.  For those of you that have been with me all year, at the start of the year I made a commitment to a couple of things. 

Firstly was sticking to writing a blog post every week.  In some ways, blogging is the thing that has been with me the longest, as a regular practice.  When I first started blogging, I was mostly writing to myself.  I would blog, but I wasn't sharing my posts much.  I sort of figured if someone stumbled across them, that was great, but I was still quite shy about my writing and about my ideas, so I rarely shared my blog posts.

Then, I joined my first Blog project, and that helped me blog regularly.  That was the first year I did a weekly blog post, and I shared my blog with the others in the project, but again, rarely outside of that.  It still felt sort of raw and new, and I had a lot of fear about what other people would think about what I was writing.

The next year, the Pagan Blog project shut down, and I tried to do keep up the blogging with others on one of the forums I am part of, but that sort of dwindled out after a couple of months, and I didn't keep the commitment to myself to keep up the blogs, so last year I didn't blog much at all.

But this year, I decided that I needed to hold myself accountable, and that I needed to be more proactive in sharing my blog.  It was a big jump for me, to share my blog....especially to share it publicly and not just in Pagan groups.  But I was challenged to put myself out more in July as part of one of the retreats I participated in, so I took the plunge and shared my blog with different groups, and had a great response!

Sharing my blog with more people definitely helps keep me motivated to write, and to keep up with my own schedule.  When I started my Patreon to help start turning my writing into something more than a hobby, it doubly encouraged me to keep up the writing.  I absolutely love it when people respond to my blog sharing posts with comments about how they liked what I have written.

The second big project I did this year was my moon phase posts.  I had this idea, at the end of last year, that I could work with each phase of each moon, looking at the meaning of the full moons (where each full moon represents a different energy), and then applying that energy to each of the phases.  I planned on keeping my own journal and working through them, but also decided I would share what I had uncovered, and thus my year long project was born.

It was hugely rewarding, I learned a TON, and most of the time I looked forward to writing the posts.  It was way more involved than I thought it would be.  It doesn't seem like it at first, but moon phases pass really quickly.  I hadn't really thought about the fact that I would be writing something every 3-5 days, along with the blog posts (and sometimes those lined up and I ended up writing two things on the same day, which could be challenging).  But now that it has come to an end, I am so grateful that I did it.

It was really interesting to see how each cycle manifested differently because of the energy of the full moon.  I was worried at first that it would get repetitive, and yet as I journaled each phase, I came to new places in looking at each phase.  I found new ways to think about the different energies, and how you might use those energies in your personal practice to enhance your life. 

Another big, but short, project that I have done now for a decade is NaNo.  50k words in a month, sounds huge, and the first couple of years it was.  Each year brings new challenges, and I've done different subjects on different years.  This year's made me change the way I thought about NaNo, and definitely the way I wrote.  I was writing for a purpose, and it wasn't to create a story per say.  I was writing to create background for a roleplaying game I will be running in the future, so I was coming up with back history for all the characters that my players might encounter.

This was a lot of fun, but again, a lot of work.  On top of all the other things I was doing, by the time all was said and done, I had written almost 80k words in November...and was just a little frazzled.  Then of course, December brings holidays, gifts, and other commitments.

One commitment that I hadn't planned on was writing for Wyld.  I thoroughly enjoy being a part of it, and I feel that writing articles for a Zine (or the mini-articles for inbetween issues) is a very different sort of writing from blogging or writing fiction.  Also, having hard deadlines, for people that aren't just me, adds a bit more pressure, but also more motivation to not only do things on time, but early if I can manage to help make things easier on them.

I wrote at the beginning of the year about how I was using a calendar to plan my days, and I absolutely would not have been able to make all my commitments without it.  It is interesting to flip back through now and see how different months have different levels of scheduling.  I also like that I can look back through and see what I was up to throughout the year.

This next year will bring new projects and new challenges.  The first thing I'm doing differently is my calendar.  This year I just got a simple monthly view desk calendar.  So I had a little box for each day, and I used it to jot down tasks for the day.  But each day only got a tiny little box, and sometimes that wasn't enough.  I did use a digital app to help remind me about things I did every week, like the blog, weekly planning for an online group and a photo sharing project I did this year.  And I had a moon dial to help track the moon phases and my own cycles.

Ultimately though this meant that I had things noted down in several different areas.  I want it all in one spot, and with enough room to help track all the things I am doing, plus more room for big projects (like a yearly book tracker and exercise goals).  So next year I am using a composition book, and giving Bullet Journaling a try.

The symbols and system really appeal to me, and I will be adapting a few things.  I will be adding my moondial right into the book, probably before each calendar month (as I realized that often the moon dial will straddle calendar months).  I also bought a cheap calendar that I can use to have foldout month-view pages (for larger projects).  Then I will be doing weekly spreads to give myself more room for daily tasks.  Everything will go in this book, so I have it all in one place, and I will be checking in with my book at least every morning and night.  This will let me do gratitude and planning, keep my daily draws all in one place...and add in weekly/monthly divination as I feel necessary.

Because that is my other big project for the year.  This year it was moon phases, but next year I am doing divination.  I have some interesting ideas saved for tarot journaling, and I want to delve deeper into working with my collection of decks and other divination tools (I am a huge symbol fan, so have several rune sets and other symbol based divinations).  I like the idea of doing regular planning spreads and having those right in my calendar book so I can reference and reflect upon them easily.  But I will also have a divination journal where I can gather up all my other observations and things.

Then, I signed up for a year long art-journaling project, with weekly prompts.  I am pretty excited about this, I started working on my smashbook yesterday, the container I will use to work in.  It's something that is new to me, and a bit outside of my comfort zone.  But I want to do more art, I enjoy playing with paint and doing artistic things, and I think that the structure of being part of a group that is doing it will help me add more art into my life.

 And of course, I will be continuing to blog and to write for my Patreon.  So there will be a lot going on in the coming year!  Several of the groups I am in have talked about picking a Word of the Year, sort of like a focus for the coming year (instead of resolutions), and after some thought I have settled on Harmony.  Not only do I have a lot of different things going on that I want to blend together into a workable whole, but I often feel like there is a lot going on around me and I need to be that island of calm so that I don't get stressed out.  Harmony fits both, and has some additional musical inclinations, which is great as well!

I am excited about the coming year, and I hope you all are too!  I'd love to hear what everyone else is up to.  Was this year a good one for you?  Do you have big plans for next year?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Surviving family over the Holidays

For many Pagans, this holiday season is a source of tension with your extended family.  If you aren't out yet about your beliefs, this can be a time of having to hide the things you do and believe.  If you are out, your family may not be completely accepting and you may have to deal with unwanted preaching.  Even if your family is not opposed to your religious views, spending time with your family can feel draining, especially if you don't get along with everyone.

But there are a lot of ways to help make family events more tolerable!  I often consider myself lucky, that I get along pretty well with my family and my in-laws, but we aren't the same type of people, which means I often edit out a lot of my daily life when talking with them.  This can feel very frustrating, as some of the things that I am quite passionate about and spend a lot of time on, like my blog and now my Patreon, are things that I don't talk with my family about.

I am am only partially out with my family.  I had the talk about my beliefs with my parents back in college, but we don't really talk about it now.  I don't consider it anyone else's business, so I tend to just not bring it up at family things.  I will talk about spiritual things, though most of the time those don't come up in conversation at family gatherings.

I also try not to talk too much about the computer games I play.  My side of the family definitely think that many of the games I play aren't something people should spend a lot of time on.  My in-laws just don't get into that kind of thing, so it's not something we talk about either.

Which leaves me in a very strange place, conversationally.  If you take out my spirituality and my gaming hobbies, I'm left with no good answers for the inevitable "What have you been doing?" question.  So I always try to plan ahead, to have some decent answers that I can talk with people about, that won't lead to lectures.  Most of the time this means talking about books I am reading, or fiction that I am writing.

One thing I also find that works very well for me is to frame my activities in language that my family can understand.  So I may tell them about the art I have been working on, and not mention that it was part of a guided meditation.  If I am reading about Norse deities, I can tell them about the mythology book I am reading.  This allows me to not only talk about the things that I am doing and am passionate about, but it gives them a way to join into the discussion without feeling  like they are talking about something they don't approve of.

Its a fine line.  I know that some people feel this is being dishonest to myself.  But I don't think that it is.  I don't want my family to feel uncomfortable.  If I tell them I did a spell for healing, that would not be something they understand, but if I say I prayed for them, that is relateable.  It's all about finding the common ground and being able to talk about things in a way that doesn't trigger any assumptions or misconceptions people may have (about witchcraft or the like).

I also find that it helps me a lot to let myself drop into 'family mode'.  From the outside, it may look like I am a vastly different person.  Not only might I not talk about certain things, but I also often dress differently and use different language (excluding vulgar language and slang) around family.  It's how I was raised, and even though I don't find these things to be a problem in my personal life, I know my family doesn't approve, and so I drop them when I am with family.

In some ways it takes me back to a younger time in my life.  It does tap into the person I was when I lived at home.  But it is a piece of me, just a piece that isn't normally dominant.  When I am around my family, I let that part of me come to the front.  It makes everything more enjoyable.

For short periods, I can step into this part of me with no problem, but if I am going to be around family for long periods, like over the holidays or summer vacation, then I often do need to have little things to help me not feel like I am loosing the other parts of myself.  In many ways, my family is mild and as I like to say G-rated (while my regular life is definitely at least an R-rating!)

One way I often express myself is through the clothes I wear.  I like to dress in ways that make me feel powerful, and for me this often manifests as a bit edgy or sexy.  However, many of the items I really like aren't things that my family deems proper.  My mother especially has a lot of rules about what appropriate clothing is. On the other side of the family, my in-laws have large boisterous dogs, so I don't like wearing anything too delicate or that I would be devastated if it were damaged.

My favorite way to dress when around family is to wear things they have gifted me.  There are some things that I have gotten that I think are nice, even if they aren't my personal style.  But they make great clothes to wear when with family, because not only does it let them know I appreciated their gift, but it also means I can avoid any judgement about what I am wearing.

Jewelry is another thing I love to wear to express my spirituality.  The majority of my jewelry represents some aspect of my faith.  Some are pretty standard and obvious.  I have several pentacles in different forms, and one necklace that I adore that has not only a pentacle, but also a tiny dagger, chalice and broom. 

When I am picking what to wear around family, I think not only about what qualities I might need to call upon, but also what the jewelry might be perceived as.  I have a necklace with a smoky quartz and peace symbol that I often wear around family, so that I can embrace that peaceful place inside me.  I also favor my yin-yang, for balance.  I do have a pentacle ring I have worn every day for years now.  While it is obviously a pentacle, it is also just a star...and that is what I've said before when someone commented about it, "I like stars."  Sometimes just having a response ready so you aren't caught off guard helps you to not only feel more comfortable but also handle any questions with ease.

If I am going to be spending a long time with family, I make sure I have something to do.  For me, this typically means bringing a book or my tablet (with books on it!), because reading is a very acceptable thing with my family.  This is mainly for when I will be spending several days visiting, as I try not to read or be using my tablet when I'm socializing, but if I am going to be spending more than a few hours with family, I know I'll need an escape at some point. 

The final thing I often do too, is make a deal with myself, that after it is all over, I'll take some time, just for me, to do something special and help myself re-balance.  Even when everything goes well, family time can be draining.  Holidays add even more stress, so it feels like there is always so much going on.  And then all I want to do is curl up and read or play a game or take a I do!  I know that it takes a lot out of me, and so I plan on filling myself back up so I'm not just cranky afterwards.

Family is great, and I do love spending time with them.  But I do it in a way that works for me, that encourages things to go smoothly.  For me, I have a better time when I can avoid confrontation, and just share things with my family that we all enjoy.  The more I can slip into that mindset, the better a time I will have, and the less stress I will feel when it is all over.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Season's Greetings!

There is a lot of fuss about what you say to other people, around the holidays.  And it's not just Christians with the 'war on Christmas' argument either.  I've seen people of all religions, including Pagan, get bent out of shape when someone wished them the 'wrong' holiday greeting.  I think it's a bit crazy, for a lot of different reasons.

Most of us don't go around with our religious status plastered across our chest.  The people I pass on the street most likely have no idea of what my beliefs are, or of what holidays I celebrate.  Sure, I wear a pentacle ring, just like many people wear a cross necklace, so it is possible to have some idea, but even with those clues, you can't know for certain what someone's specific religion or holidays are.

Where I think the crazy kicks in is that people make assumptions.  Many people assume that everyone else is the same religion as they are, and therefor should celebrate the same holidays.  While others assume that people should magically know that they celebrate different holidays and what those are.

Not only are these assumptions pretty wild, but in a lot of ways they are very self-centered.  If you assume everyone else is the same as you, and get offended when they aren't, you aren't allowing for other people to have their own individuality.  You are starting with the assumption that not only is your way right but that everyone else should do things the way you do. 

If, on the other hand, you expect other people to honor your own holidays (especially if you are one of those who gets offended if someone wishes you Merry Christmas, even though that is still the social standard), you are expecting people to prioritize your own beliefs over their own.  Or expecting them to somehow not only memorize all the different holidays but also mystically know which one you are honoring.

And beyond all of this, I think people forget why we wish other people Happy Holidays (or whatever specific holy day you are celebrating).  We are spreading cheer, offering our well wishes, and generally hoping things are going good for other people.  We are, quite literally, blessing other people.

Yet, it seems that this is something to be offended by.  Sometimes I think it is a good idea to take a step back from the language and look at what the words actually mean.  I have never had anyone wish me Merry Christmas with the intent of converting me to Christianity.  I take the words as the good wishes that they are meant to be, and don't get flustered that someone didn't wish me a Blessed Yule.

This way of thinking about the meaning behind words is something that can be used throughout the year, not just around the holidays.  There are so many different things we say with words that we can choose to take offense over or we can choose to accept the heart of what the words represent. 

One that immediately comes to mind is when someone says, "I'll pray for you."  Chances are, whoever is praying will pray to the deity they work with (whether it is God or Zeus or Gaia), and not to the deities that I work with.  I don't feel this is something I should be upset by!  If someone cares enough to pray for me, I am touched that they are thinking about me that way. 

To even take the extreme case, if someone knows that I am not a Christian and says instead, "I'll pray for your soul," I prefer to think that they believe they are wanting the best for me.  To me, this sort of comes back to the idea that other people can't make me feel things, they can only do what they are going to do and I can choose to let it upset me or not.  Sure, it would be nice if everyone in the world not only accepted other faiths but honored other people's rights to practice those faiths in peace.  But that isn't the world we live in (yet!), and so I'll live in the world we have now.

I can get all upset by other people's words, and work myself up into a lather.  I can start ranting at the person in the grocery store for wishing me a Merry Christmas, or at the one who lectures me for saying "Happy Holidays" instead.  I can fume inside and let my anger at the attitudes and actions of others eat me up.  But at the end of the day, I am the one who is suffering.  I am the one who is upset and no longer happy.

My own celebrations aren't made any less because someone wished me a Merry Christmas instead of Blessed Yule.  My Solstice isn't diminished because it wasn't named.  My holidays aren't validated by other people's acknowledgement of them.  I do what I do and that works for me.

I prefer to just accept the wishes sent my way, and let go of any objections to the greetings I give.  Sometimes I wish people Season's Greetings or Happy Holidays.  Sometimes I say Merry Christmas.  I don't always think it through.  Most of the time, I just repeat back what someone else said to me.  I smile and think happy thoughts at people because it makes me feel better! 

I feel the holidays should be a time of joy, of family, of happiness and of laughter.  These are the things that I call upon, and these are the things I wish to others.  So to everyone out there, may your holidays (whichever you celebrate!) be full of love and light, family and friends, joy and laughter!

Seasons Greetings and Happy Holidays to all!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Gift Giving

Everyone loves to receive gifts, and many of us love to give them as well.  I adore being able to gift the people I care about with things that I think they will like.  I both buy and craft things.  I like to make things for the holidays, but I also sometimes see something for sale and just know I'd love to get it for a particular person.

What I think is most important is thinking about what the recipient might want.  It really doesn't matter if I like the thing I'm gifting.  Hubby and I have very different tastes, so I try not to think like myself at all when picking what to give him (and I try to get him to make an extensive wish list too!) 

Gift-giving lets you really extend your blessings onto others.  Not only are you giving them a thing, whether it is a simple card to wish them Happy Holidays, or that thing they have always wanted, or something you made them with your own two hands, but you are also gifting them with emotions, with caring, with energy and with your thoughts.

I have given my share of practical gifts over the years.  I try not to only give practical stuff...even to my mom who's list was almost always stuff that wasn't really 'fun' but more 'needed'.  My son pretty much always gets clothes at Christmas, and as a boy, some of them are pretty plain (boy pants are more ore less just pants), but we try to make sure he has shirts that reflect things he is interested in. 

You can take a practical gift to the next level by really personalizing it.  My mom-in-law gets her hubby socks every year, because he needs nice thick work socks to keep his feet warm and dry.  But instead of just giving them to him, she makes it the gift from their dogs, which definitely makes it more fun to receive!

And while I don't care for totally utilitarian gifts, I do prefer my gifts to enhance a person's life.  I think most of us have lots of things on our shelves and walls already, I know I do, so something that just looks pretty isn't as fun to give as something that looks pretty and also brings something into a person's life.  One of the great things about magical friends is that there are tons of useful items that are also beautiful and vice versa! 

A lot of time, finding the right gift comes from listening.  Not just listening to what people say they might like, but listening to what they struggle with in their daily life.  These are the things I like to pay attention to and try to solve, when I think about gift giving.  My husband works long hours on his feet, and he is always sore when he comes home.  So I am constantly thinking about things I can do or find for him that might help.  One year I found a couple foot massage tools, and I have gifted him coupons for massages (which were also fun to decorate and make special).

But I really love making things for people.  When I was in grade school, we weren't allowed to give our teachers any Christmas gifts that we hadn't made, so mom and I baked pumpkin-gingerbread loaves every year to give.  What I find really powerful about making things for people is that the whole process of making a thing is time that I can be empowering what I am making!  Mixing things in the kitchen, I am always adding love and comfort.  I want people to eat things I have made and feel happy!

I do something similar when I am making non-edible things for people.  I want my gifts to carry my blessings to the person I am giving it to.  So I will think about all the lovely things I want them to receive in their life as I am making things for them.  Sometimes I will chant as I craft, picking chants to help reinforce my intentions.  Other times, especially for long projects that will take many hours, I may watch a favorite show or movie.  It's always something that speaks to me of magic, of community and of finding your own happiness.

I like to have sacred space when I am crafting for others as well.  Having candles lit with intention and burning incense help remind me that what I am doing is special.  I'm not just making something, but I'm making something for someone as a symbol of what they mean to me.  It is a way of showing, without words, how important they are to me, how they have made my own life better by being a part of it.  That, to me, is the heart of gifting.

And even if you think you have nothing, if you don't have money to buy a gift and don't feel like you are crafty, there are other things you can gift.  One of my favorite Christmas songs is Little Drummer Boy.  I think it really captures the essence of a gift:  you give what you have.  The little drummer boy had nothing, so he played a song as his gift.  Some of the most touching gifts I have received haven't looked like much, but they were special because I knew that the person gifting me was sharing what they had.  Art, whether it is song, poetry, writing or painting are all very personal gifts that you can share.

Gifts of service can be excellent gifts.  If you have friends who have children, you may offer to watch them one night so they can have a date night (or offer to take the kids so the parents can have a quiet restful night!)  You might gift someone with help around the house or in the yard.  Your gift may be to help them edit that book they've been working on, or to be their workout buddy (even if you dread working out!)  

Even though I infuse gifts that I am making with intention as I am creating them, I also like to bless things after they are finished (or if I bought something).  Most things that I give to people have spent time on one of my altars.  I may take gifts out into the sun or moon light and bless them outside.  I definitely hold them in my hands and dedicate them to the person who will be receiving them.  If I am sending a package through the mail, I also add a bit of protection to make sure it arrives at it's destination safely and on time!

Wrapping is the last thing I typically do, and my last chance to add a bit of extra care to a gift.  I actually enjoy wrapping (must be the origami folder in me *grin).  Even those funny shaped gifts that don't seem to want to get wrapped.  The wrapping is the first thing someone sees in your gift and I love for it to be pretty.  While I'm wrapping, I like to think about how the recipient will feel when they open the gift.  If you tie on ribbon, you can add a little knotwork blessing as well!

Ultimately, I feel that giving someone a gift, no matter the time of year or the occasion, is just a little way to show them how you feel.  It's an opportunity to communicate those deeper emotions, to give them a little piece of you and to demonstrate that you see them!  Giving other people gifts is definitely a huge part of what I love about the Holidays.