Today is Sunday.  In less than two weeks, I will be unemployed.  This is by choice, but it is unsettling.

I gave notice at the job I have toiled at for some 9 years on Friday.  I am not unhappy with my current job.  It can be tedious, and is often about as exciting as watching paint dry, but it isn’t completely mind-numbing, and there is just enough variety to make it rather enjoyable.  What I’ve been doing for a while is insurance research.  The quick explanation is when someone goes to the doctor or emergency room and has an x-ray, but does not have their insurance information at the time of the exam, the record comes to us as either blank in the insurance field or the claim may be rejected if the insurance info we do have is no longer current.  I take the basic patient information and check with Blue Cross, Preferred One, HealthPartners, Medica, Medical Assistance, and a few others to see if they have coverage for that patient.

I will be moving at the end of the year.  January 1 is a new moon, which seems very auspicious for the start of a new future.  My husband and I will travel some 1500 miles to New Jersey, both of us looking to start new careers, new lives, empty nesters spreading our wings.  There are challenges ahead; will we be able to get a decent apartment before we get jobs?  Will we be able to get jobs before we leave the state?  Will our savings hold out until we can get everything set? 

I’ve been calling it stepping off a cliff.  I don’t know how far I’ll drop before I can start climbing again.  Maybe I’ll free-fall into a soaring glide above the treetops.  Maybe I’ll drop like a rock.  Maybe my foot will step onto an invisible step, and I’ll find myself on a stairway to the sky.  I don’t know.  But, I’ve taken that first step.

Makin’ Scents…

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It’s not very pretty, but I hope is smells good.

Today I tried a new experiment.  I’ve found it difficult to find good smelling cone incense.  I have gum arabic, some powdered wood (pine and black walnut), and some lovely spices, so I figured I’d make up some incense cones.  On the left is gum arabic, walnut, and sandalwood, and on the right is gum arabic, pine resin (from the tree outside), pine wood powder, and cinnamon.  After it dries for a day or two, I’ll see if it lights, and how it smells.  Wish me luck…

Addendum:  I have tried the pine/cinnamon cone, and it smells lovely – I just have trouble keeping it lit.  It actually burned down through the center once it got going.  May need to adjust the formula to have more combustibles.  The husband says it smells like a sugar cookie got tossed into a campfire.  Mmmmmmm….

What I Did On My Samhain Vacation

We have reached the end of the year.  Depending on where you calendar is based, that could mean any time from November 1 to sometime in January or February.  The year tends to renew in the winter, when the world is frozen, or when nature is at the very least slumbering while awaiting the awakening that comes with spring. 

Last weekend I had the opportunity to participate in a celebration of the end/beginning of the year at a little farm out in the middle of nowhere, Wisconsin. 

Nestled in the cleavage between two small hills, the heavily wooded property boasted a small clearing, marked by four stone altars, marking the quarters.  In the center of this clearing stood a great wood figure, covered with cornstalks.  He stood about the height of four or five men, standing on each others shoulders.  Wooden arms outstretched, he had two eyes made of squash, an eggplant mouth, and a huge phallus of pine and pumpkin.  Dogs and children romped about as the finishing touches were added – a burlap bag full of debris for testicles, a pair of paper plates for nipples, a pumpkin top for a navel.  He stood legs apart, ten log toes poking out from under the cornstalks. 

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After a lovely potluck dinner – so much food! – I wandered outside to a little tent that was set up between the house and the clearing.  Inside the tent was two chairs, one of which held a wicker basket, and a low table holding a candle, some paper, and pens.  I sat down to talk to my father.

Dad has been gone for several years now.  His death was unnecessarily long and painful, as death from MRSA usually is.  I never got to talk about my new-found beliefs with him.  I had only just begun to explore the Lithuanian side of my ancestry.  I wanted to be able to ask him about his parents’ and grandparents’ practices and beliefs.  What did they do to honor the seasons?  How did they worship?  Who – and what – did “God” mean to them?  What was the connection between land and deity? 

Instead, I had to talk to his spirit.  I wrote him a message – how much I miss him, how I regret not being able to talk to him when he still walked with the living.  After folding the note, I placed it in the basket on the other chair and walked back up to the house.

Dinner was over, darkness had fallen.  It was a new moon, so there was no light to interfere with the completeness of the black night.  Stars scattered across the sky, the bright ribbon of the Milky Way running through the middle of the sky.  The stars were so numerous, so bright, it was hard to discern on constellation from another. 

I took a small pumpkin lantern I had carved earlier and joined the line heading for the clearing.  One by one we were led down a long trail through the woods, our way lit by an occasional torch or candle.  At the end we emerged into the clearing, the great Wicker Man looking down on us, welcoming us to the circle.  We spoke the names of our beloved dead, and placed our pumpkin lanterns at the feet of the smiling straw man.
Pumpkin line

The chair, with the basket still on it, was brought down the trail, and set afire.  After circling around the Wicker Man, it was placed between his feet.

With a whoosh, the cornstalks caught light.  Our host picked up a torch, and added more fire all around the base of the figure.  The fire grew, danced, swirled, rose high above us.
Fire 2

Behind me, a rhythmic drumming began, and people began swaying and moving their feet in time to the beat. 

Bits of corn leaves flew high, and drifted down, spinning softly through the air, throwing sparks.  Fire sprites twirled upwards, a swarm of tadpoles.  The flames roared, the people sang, the drums throbbed.  As the pumpkins around the base caught fire, the sweet scent of their roasting flesh mixed with wood smoke. 

I approached the fire.  The heat was so intense, I couldn’t keep my eyes open; I uncorked my flask, and poured a libation for the fire.  Always feed the fire, keep her sated.  Cherries had been soaking in this particular vodka for two years; the color deep, the flavor strong.  I headed back to the edge of the circle, and craned my head back to watch the sparks lifting to join the stars, red and yellow heat rising to meet cold blue and white.Fire 3

I slept in the car that night.  By the time I turned in, there was already a fine dusting of frost across the grass and the vehicles.  A few blankets were enough to fend off the cold, and except for the occasional trips to the Port-a-John during the night, I slept well and woke happy.

Back in the saddle again…

It has been a long few months.

I will be done with my classes in a couple of months, and preparing to move to the New York-New Jersey area. My husband comes with me; my son, an adult now, does not.

Familial obligations draw me to Jersey. I will be close enough to help my mother, 89 years old and still fiercely independent. She has two states of being: immovable object and unstoppable force. She manages to occupy both states simultaneously, which is an amazing achievement.

Now that the days grow short, and I return to my studies, I will be posting here again.

Bright blessings, joy and peace.

“Oh. That must be…fulfilling.”

Back when I was scheduling mammograms for a clinic in Edina, I told a friend about my job.  We were at a party, and everyone else seemed to be doing work that made a difference, advanced some social cause, or followed some personal dream.  Me, I was scheduling rich, privileged women for a medical test.  I tried to make it sound more interesting, more exciting, but it just sounded lame.  My friend sort of looked away and said, “Oh.  That must be…fulfilling.”

I felt small.  I was embarrassed that I was working to keep a roof over my head and food in my baby’s belly.  So what if my work experience allowed an income at this job that exceeded what my husband was making? 

That was about 8 years ago.  My son will be 19 soon, ready to move on and find his own way in the world.  I’m still working for the same company, doing even less “meaningful” work – researching insurance coverage for patients that didn’t have their card or information when they came in.  I suppose it’s meaningful for the people whose bills don’t end up in collections.

Why did I feel so ashamed that I was doing what I needed to do to keep my family sheltered, fed and clothed?  Why was I embarrassed to admit that I was not following my “dream” or working at low pay and high exhaustion for a cause? 

I suppose that part of that was that I never really had a “dream”.  I don’t think I was raised to have one.  You did what you were supposed to do, what you were told.  If you didn’t, you were looked down on, outcast.  I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I remember wanting to be a veterinarian once upon a time, but it was somehow discouraged.  When I was approaching college, I was drawn towards film studies, but ended up in radio/television mass communications because I was told “you don’t want that.”

Not once did I question whether what I was told I wanted really was what I wanted. 

So, now I am approaching a crossroads.  My husband will be getting his degree in December, and we will be on our own.  Our son will be off to live his life.  Dave and I will be moving wherever he finds a good position. 

I suppose it is time to decide whether I have a “dream”, whether I might be able to figure out what I want to be now that I’m grown up.  I’d love to sell some of my crafts.  I love writing.  Studying the roots and origins of religions around the world fascinates me. 

What should I have said, way back when, to that friend that seemed to pity my insignificant career path?  Probably this:

Yes, yes it is, if by “fulfilling” you mean taking care of the wants and needs of me and my family.  I am not making my family suffer so that I can be “fulfilled”.  I have time for that.  And I think I will be better able to follow my dreams once I take the time to decide if it is a vision of the path I should follow and what is a pipe dream.  Who are you to decide whether my life is fulfilling or not? 

Romuva & me

I was raised steeped in the Byzantine Rite Catholic Church.  It’s an in-between branch of the faith.  Not quite Roman Catholic – none of that Vatican II nonsense, thank you very much!  Not quite Orthodox; they still follow the Pope. 

Mom taught me that I was Ukrainian, I was Rusin, my ancestors came from the Carpathians.  I accepted that like I accepted everything else I was told as a child.  I was baptized and confirmed, so I was a Byzantine Catholic for life. 

Then, one day in Catechism class, I did something unexpected.  I asked “why”. 

Miss Marie, who taught the little ones, kept house for Father Onesko, and played the organ at church parties, looked at me like I had just vomited pea soup.  I was told that there was no “why”.  That is what we believed, no questions.  I can’t even remember what I asked – it was about something that didn’t make any logical sense.  I was told, basically, to be quiet and believe – or else.  Or else what?  Or else I’d make Jesus sad.  I’d hurt God’s feelings.

Now, that made even less sense to me.  Suddenly, I saw that there wasn’t just one road to walk down.  There were all sorts of little side paths, ways to head off and see what was beyond the edge of the main road. 

Some years later, it dawned on me that I had three grandparents whose cultures I was not learning about – my maternal grandfather was Rusin, but his wife wasn’t.  She was likely Czech.  And on my father’s side I was Lithuanian.  Al parts of Eastern Europe, but not the SAME parts. 

While doing a little bit of research on medieval Lithuania I discovered Romuva. 

After the Roman Empire became Christianized, the religion was spread – usually at the end of a sword – across the known world.  One by one, kingdoms conspired with the Church to stamp out the pagan beliefs of their people, eliminating much of the connection to the land and creating a connection to the hierarchy of the church and state that had never been there before.  What didn’t get eliminated was absorbed, changed to make Christianity more palatable to the common man. 

Until they hit Lithuania.

The Teutonic Knights received a stern smack-down from Lithuania.  Grand Duke Gediminas,  ruler of Lithuania from 1316 to 1341, was a staunch pagan – and is still revered for it.  He founded Vilnius.  He “converted” for the political benefits, but never followed the tenets of the faith.  In fact, his funeral was pagan, including cremation – which had been forbidden by the Catholic Church.  He allowed Christian clergy into the country, but punished those who spoke against the people’s native faith. 

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I love that guy. 

(to be continued)

The legend of the Iron Wolf

Contemplating my insecurity

I’ve come to a crossroads.  Do I link this blog to my FaceBook page, let people I know connect me with things I write?  Seriously, it’s really bugging me.  It’s because I’m afraid.  Why would anyone want to read something I wrote?  I’m no expert on anything.  Who would give a rat’s patoot what I wrote?  Yeah, kinda dumb coming out of a Journalism major. 

I guess the craziest thing is that I know that most of what I read is not written by experts in anything.  They’re a bunch of dumb mooks like me, running off at the mouth (keyboard?).  It’s whining, complaining, pontificating, often with no knowledge whatsoever behind the screed.  But that’s just it – I don’t want people to think I’m just some dumb mook who is wasting time whining, complaining and pontificating. 

And yes, there is the irony that nobody will ever read this little exercise in indecision unless I connect it to something. 

I guess I’ll have to dive in sometime.  I mean, I already talk to myself all the time – I should write to myself as well?  So, I might as well just…do it.  Maybe.  Yeah, yeah I’ll do it.

Just not today.