Friday, December 31, 2010

Finding the Sacred in S-E-X (or, how I conquered Good Girl Syndrome and learned to be a Lover)

Today's post is very personal, and I debated with myself for a while before deciding to write about it. I finally concluded that I wished that someone had shared these things with me years ago, rather than having to slowly find them on my own. So I write today with the hope that, perhaps, someone out there will benefit from what I share.


I was raised as a religious youth to be good and chaste, and subsequently I ended up suffering from the all too common "Good Girl Syndrome." In other words, once I'd saved myself for my wedding night, I made the transition physically, but not mentally or emotionally. I adapted to all the other aspects of marriage quite well, but I did (and still do) turn red if my sexuality comes up in a conversation (for example, telling someone that I'm pregnant). It wasn't that I never enjoyed myself, but I had been fed so many cultural messages about sex being dirty, just physical, animalistic, and anything but spiritual, so it was hard to look at it as good, let alone holy. I still wanted to be a righteous person, and I wasn't finding much (especially from religious sources) that ever talked about sex in a positive light. So even though I knew that it was ok to have sex when you're married, there was still a part of myself that was always uncomfortable with the fact that I was sexually active. I even recall shortly after my wedding having the thought "well, there's no going back [to virginity] now, it's too late."

Now physical pleasure is a valid aspect of sex (and needn't be considered 'dirty,' I think, unless it is the only reason for the sexual relationship...which of course would not be the case in a marriage). Procreation is an important part of sex too (but, again, not the only reason for the relationship!) With that said, (at least for me) finding the spiritual side of sexual intimacy was what finally helped me move out of the 'virginal youth' mindset and into being able to be a 'lover' wife. I deeply wish that I had figured out both my problem and the solution years ago when we were first married, but it's better late than never I suppose. I finally tuned in to myself as a sexually active person, and it's remarkable how much better my life (all aspects of it) have become.

So how did I recover from my Good Girl Syndrome and find the spiritual side of sex? There were several parts, but first I should note that my husband has been supportive of me throughout this process, and that it was not his fault in the first place. He always wanted me to be able to love the physical side of marriage as he did, and tried to help me in whatever ways he could think of. But there were things going on inside me that couldn't just be loved away, and it took a while to find and fix them.
  1. I had to realize what was wrong with me in the first place. It wasn't just that I was tired, or hormonal, or had low libido because of the nursing was that in some deep-seated part of my unconscious I wasn't comfortable with my own sexuality. I faced that and called it by name, and naming your demon is the first step to killing him.
  2. I read The Soul of Sex and it was very helpful for me in appreciating sexuality as much larger than just the physical act. The author explored classical archetypes and discussed sexuality from a philosophical perspective that was very helpful to me. (If you didn't read my book review, click the link there and go read it. Please! That book was literally life-changing for me.)
  3. I got in touch with my pagan side. A number of pagan religions (notably wicca) teach that the sexual act is the ultimate thing in the universe, the Great Rite between Goddess and God. It joins opposites into a whole that is greater than the parts, and finds resolution in the dichotomies of existence. Considering the common pagan belief that we all have aspects of gods/goddesses within us, or all have the potential to become gods/goddesses, then when we enact the Great Rite we are creating a microcosm of that holy (and vital) resolution. 
Since beginning to see both sexuality and sexual intercourse in this new (better) light, I have sought ways to keep sacredness in my sexuality. Here are a few:
  • Think about things like what I mentioned above (both in and out of the bedroom): the unified whole being greater than the parts, the physical unification being a symbol for spiritual and other unity in your marriage, etc. Discuss these ideas with your spouse.
  • Lighting candles. We have a few fancy ones from this etsy shop, but mostly we have cheap tealights and they work just as well. The ambiance of candlelight is not only romantic, but many
    photo by Alice Harold
    religious ceremonies utilize candles, and the light/fire of a candle has many spiritual connotations.
  • Try a bath (you can add candles there too!) Ritual washings are part of many religions, so try washing each other before proceeding to other activities.
  • Massage one another with oil (or lotion). Anointing with oils and formalized touching are found in many spiritual practices. Take the opportunity to use repetitive motions and physical touch to arouse and relax your spirits as well as your bodies.
  • Anything which shuts out the world can be a way to tune into the spiritual. So, in intimate times, shut out the world, and tune into your own spirit, your spouse's spirit, and the Spirit that is over your marriage.
  • If consummation is the 'magic moment' (afterwhich you are 'married' and would have to seek a 'divorce' rather than an 'annulment'), then every time you re-consummate your marriage it could be considered a way of renewing your vows. Think about that!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


You may recall a few months ago when I asked people how they would sum me up in two words.
Recently I posted this query on facebook:
Jenni apparently has a reputation... if someone were to ask YOU what I have a reputation for, what would you say?
I posed the question because recently I'd had a conversation with someone (who has a reputation for her own cooking) who said "it doesn't matter what you make for the bake sale, it's sure to be awesome." It reminded me of an experience in Pelican where something I'd baked was one of the 'hot' prizes at bingo night...and yet I don't recall having actually baked much of anything for anyone there. Somehow I had a reputation, and I wasn't--am still not--sure how I got it. I bring things to potlucks of course, but it's rare to know who brought what to those kinds of things, so I don't think that explains it.
Anyway, so it seems I have a reputation for my cooking...and I suspected I had a reputation for other things too, and I wanted to know what!

Here are some of the answers I got:
  • You have a reputation for "knowing stuff". Hahaha.
  • Troublemaker, of course.
  • cooking. Being into natural stuff.
  • Strong opinions.
  • Speaking your mind (even when you were 12!). And being firm in who you are and what you stand for. :) 
  • [from a sibling] I would have said being weird, wild, and kinda hippie...but that could be said for anyone in our family. :)
  • Being so cool.
  • Kindness
  • Telling it like it is, but with lots of love.
  • I love [your family of origin] and all your, I'd say a girl who knows at least a little about a LOT of things.

If you didn't already respond on the FB thread, what would YOU say I have a reputation for?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

An Integrated Path

This is something I have been thinking about for some time, but haven't been sure how to write it out, nor sure how it might be received. However, I'm going to go ahead and just put it out there. It is what it is, I am what I am, and, come what may, now you know it too.

You may have noticed in the last year that I've written a bit about our celebrating some traditional Pagan holidays, namely the wheel of the year (solstices, equinoxes, and the quarter days between them). I've mentioned how we do not find this to be in conflict with our Christianity at all, because we believe that God wants us to understand and respect the Earth that he gave us, and we feel the observing the passage of seasons and the cycles of time is respectful of Him and His creation.

But it goes a bit deeper than that; so I will explain.

When I was in college I was in the play Macbeth, and, as you're probably aware, there are witches in the play. The director was doing a more modern take on the play, and wanted the witches to be modern wiccans (now this isn't justified by the script at all, but she was the director so we did what she said!) As one of the witches, I did some research into wicca. I was very attracted to the simplicity of the "wiccan rede" and I loved the way we laid the circle in one scene--presenting a candle and then a crystal at each of the 4 directions, then ringing a chime to each, I think there was incense...I don't remember exactly anymore. It was just beautiful and so serene and purposeful. I loved it, and have been drawn to the symbolism of the rituals as well as the attunement to nature and natural cycles.

Of course, as a believer in Christ, I never pursued wicca, but my fascination with the nature spiritualities remained. When I visited Ireland, we saw stone dolemans and ancient passage tombs, which again fascinated me. In recent years I've begun to observe the solstices and equinoxes--not with formal rituals, but with a special meal or a gathering of friends, or at the very least I take note of the day. It feels appropriate to observe these things, and the mindfulness of observing the passage of time is very grounding. If there is one truly significant thing I've learned in this exploration, it is that truth can be found in many places, and that truths never contradict each other. They may be very different, but they still fit together in the long run.
The "Wheel of the Year" showing the 8 Sabbats, which occur about once every six weeks
This last month I've been reading Drawing Down the Moon: witches, druids, goddess-worshippers and other pagans in america by Margot Adler. Mostly I just wanted to know more--to understand more. I wasn't seeking spiritual enlightenment so much as cultural literacy. One idea from the very beginning of the book jumped out at me though: Many Pagans come into their beliefs because they feel that it is "Old Religion," In other words, Christianity and other major world religions are only a couple thousand years old, whereas humans have walked the Earth for far longer than that, and these Pagans are seeking the spiritual path of the earliest humans.

From my perspective, the earliest humans were Adam and Eve. I do believe that they had religion--religion straight from God in fact (in other words, the perfect religion). I believe that over time--especially in a pre-literate/illiterate society, some things were forgotten or confused, while others remained more or less intact. I am inclined to agree on many points with this blogger who expressed the idea that we (as mormons) share with Christianity the understanding Christ as Savior and the need for the atonement, and we share with (many) Pagans the understanding of our divine origins and equally divine potential (as children and also literal heirs of God). In other words, I think that Pagans do have something right, I think they do have (at least part of) that original Old Religion that Adam had. I find that certain aspects of pagan beliefs overlap or mesh with mine, and that certain aspects of their practices, therefore, seem appropriate for me as well. (I don't want to get sidetracked in this post by going into what specifically those things are, but I may dedicate a future post to that topic if you, gentle reader, want details!)

The second thing that draws me toward paganism are the symbols and rituals. For example, the spiral is an ancient symbol for eternity. I find it aesthetically more pleasing than the sideways 8 used in mathematics, and have several pieces of jewelry with spirals in them. It may be a 'pagan' symbol, but I wear spirals because they can mean 'eternity' to me too, and since I believe in eternal marriage and eternal families and eternal progression, I like wearing the symbol that reminds me of those things. Goddess symbols--particularly the pregnant Goddess--remind me of my participation in the miracle of procreation.
A ritual may be something as simple as raising ones hand or lighting a candle, or as complex as a lengthy liturgy. In my perception, rituals have precisely as much (or as little) meaning as is felt by the participant. I find that the simplicity of lit candles, awareness of seasons and cycles, and repetition of simple mantras enhances my spirituality. I feel closer to nature and closer to the Holy Spirit as I tune out the world with these things. Aspects of these 'pagan' rituals work for me as a Christian. I may adapt some and ignore others, but the source is undeniable. (In fairness, any moderately literate person should know that many modern 'Christian' practices were originally pagan, from the Christmas tree to the Easter egg...again, it's not what the ritual is that matters so much as what it means to the practitioner!)

So there you have it. I am 'coming out of the broom closet.' I'm getting in touch with my pagan side, and I think I'm a better Christian because of it.
Incidentally, I am not the only one--not by far. But that is a conversation for another day. ☺

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Miracles

Today I was on my way to a friend's house to finish up a Christmas present project (I didn't have space to keep it hidden here, so she let me hide it at her place). I also had a loaf of cardamom bread to drop off to a friend in the same area, and decided to take the route to drop off the bread first.
As I turned up my (bread) friend's street, I saw a hunched-over gentleman shuffling along with crutches. The roads were icy, there was no sidewalk, the temperature was below freezing, and he was moving about 4 inches per step. I guessed that he was on his way between the senior center and the assisted living apartments (they are a block apart, and he was nearly to the driveway of the latter), but something told me to stop and offer him a ride anyway. Even if I only took him up the hill of the driveway, I figured he would appreciate it.
So I stopped right there in the middle of the road next to him, rolled down the window, and said "can I give you a lift?"

He stopped, looked over, and said "God does answer prayers!"

It turns out he was not going to the assisted living apartments. He was going to some other apartments, and they were up two hills and a mile away. I imagine it would have taken him an hour or two to cover that distance at the pace he was going.
I am humbled. I was the answer to a prayer. So many times others have answered my prayers (spoken or only felt), and today it was my turn to pay it forward in some measure. It puts me in mind of two years ago when I was blessed to be in the middle of another miracle. I could have done my errands in a different order this morning. I could have not stopped (I did have my kids with me in the car, and plenty of things to get done). But God used me to make a miracle for someone who needed one today.

Miracles are all around us. We just have to recognize them for what they are.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Midwinter (Yule/Winter Solstice) Celebration Ideas

I have not decided exactly how we want to celebrate Midwinter in our family--we've done several things in past years and enjoyed them but we can't really do all of them every year! So I don't know what we'll do from year to year, maybe it will always be different!

Winter Solstice is usually on December 21, but sometimes falls on the 20th or 22nd (this year it's the latter). It marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. It is the time when the sun begins to 'return' in the northern hemisphere. In most pagan traditions, it was the time when the God (the Sun) was reborn (after his death at Samhain). It seems only fitting for Christian, then, to observe this time, since it is also when we celebrate the birth of our God (the Son).
As an Alaskan, I also find it fitting to celebrate the return of the sun, and the defeat of the darkness.
I've written about some of this before: Celebrating Solstice (a brief explanation of why I like to celebrate solstice, also some great footage of solstice at Newgrange), and Season of Light (some thoughts on how solstice fits in with Christianity)

Celebration Ideas
  • Make and walk a solstice spiral (ours in 2007, my mom's in 2009)
  • Hold a gathering with friends--this year we're having a soup potluck.
  • Eat foods that are round and/or yellow (or orange, or glowing), like the sun!
  • Make and hang orange circles (sun ornaments). ----->
  • Sing songs about light and sunshine!

  • Here Comes the Sun (The Beatles)
  • Morning Has Broken (Cat Stevens)
  • Sunshine on my Shoulder (John Denver)
  • Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam (LDS childrens hymn)
  • The Lord is my Light (there are several hymns with this title, all based on a Psalm)
  • Bring a Torch, Jennette Isabella


(I have to give the disclaimer here that I only thought of a few of these, my facebook friends helped come up with most of the list)
  • Sun Bread
  • Orange slices (not segments, but slices cut across, so they are round)
  • Cinnamon rolls or orange rolls or pinwheels or other spiral breads
  • Squash soup
  • Yellow Curry
  • Deviled eggs (or hard boiled eggs, or eggs in almost any form really!)
  • Pomegranates
  • A yellow cheeseball
  • Lemon or lemon-poppy seed muffins
  • Carrot sticks arranged like sun rays on a plate
  • Round crackers (such as ritz) with cheese on them (if you like the squirty cheese-whiz type, and then you can make spirals of cheese on the crackers)
  • Flan, custard, butterscotch pudding (in little round dishes)
  • Pineapple upside down cake--especially if you use the pineapple slices, and maybe even put cherries in the center of each!
  • Yellow bundt cake 
  • Peanut butter balls
  • Lemon meringue pie (or pineapple meringue, or orange meringue...lots of options!)
  • Meringue (cookies)
  • Round or sun-shaped cookies (you can even decorate them elaborately, like my friend did here and here)
  • Spiral/pinwheel cookies like this (or with whatever sugar cookie/butter cookie recipe you like best) try dying half of the dough orange or yellow rather than pink.
  • Make a 'yule log' jelly roll, with chocolate frosting on the outside (and if you're really ambitious you can pipe woodgrain on it too!)

What do you do for Solstice?
What other ideas can you add to my lists of foods, songs, or activities?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Significant Solstice

Tonight there is a full moon, and to top it off we'll have the rare treat of a total eclipse!
Our family is excited to observe this, because 1--we'll have excellent darkness and 2--it starts at just 8:30pm Alaska time, peaking around 10:30. We don't even have to get up in the middle of the night to see it! I plan on taking photos and hopefully will get some good ones that I can share here.
Here is a lot more detailed information about what will be happening:
The last Total Lunar Eclipse visible over North America was back in February, 2008. And since we were clouded out that night, our family hasn't seen one since August, 2007! If you have a clear night in your area, I'd encourage everyone to stay up late for this one, or at least wake up with the kiddos, since this will be the last Total Eclipse of the Moon visible over the USA until April 15, 2014! You can be sure our kids will do a lot of growing between now and then, so make sure they take advantage of this opportunity!

A total eclipse of the Moon occurs when the Full Moon slips behind the Earth and passes into the Earth's shadow, lining up perfectly with the Earth and the Sun. In my opinion, the most interesting parts of a lunar eclipse are the partial stages -- the ingress when the Moon is entering the Earth's shadow, and the egress, when the Moon is departing. You can notice the changes over a period of minutes, especially as totality approaches, and it can be quite exciting!

During the partial stage, the curvature of the Earth's shadow can usually be seen across the face of the Moon. This is one of the classical proofs that the Earth is round, as noted by Aristotle in 350 B.C. Try to observe this for yourself [tonight or early tomorrow morning]!

Though all of North America and most of the Pacific will be able to see the entire eclipse, this one will favor observers to the west, on the west coast of the USA and Canada, and in Alaska and Hawaii, being visible during earlier hours of the evening.

Ingress begins when the Moon enters the Earth's penumbra (or partial shadow) at 5:27 UT, which corresponds to 12:27 AM EST and 9:27 PM PST on the evening of December 20. Not much is clearly visible during the penumbral stage, except the brightness of the Moon is somewhat dimmed. If one could be on the Moon's surface during an eclipse, one would see the disc of the Sun begin to slip behind the Earth, cutting off more and more of the Sun's bright rays as the eclipse progresses.

The main event begins when the Moon makes contact with the Earth's umbra (or full shadow) at 6:32 UT, corresponding to 1:32 AM EST and 10:32 PM PST [or about 9:30 Alaska time!]. Though not much is visible at this exact time, a dark edge will be seen on the Full Moon as the Earth's shadow begins to sweep across the Moon's surface. For the next hour or so, a partial eclipse of the Moon will be visible, as the Moon is swallowed by the shade of the Earth.

Totality begins at 7:40 UT, which is 2:40 AM EST and 11:40 PST [or 10:40 AK]. During this time, the Full Moon is completely covered by the Earth's shadow. During totality, it is common to see a murky red glow on the face of the Moon. This is the result of red sunlight being filtered through the Earth's atmosphere onto the Moon's surface.

Believe it or not, when the Sun appears orange at sunrise and sunset, and paints the clouds and the landscape with shades of pink, the Sun's orange rays that don't touch the ground keep radiating out into space and shine on the Moon during eclipse! It's as if the Earth's atmosphere acts as a red filter to remove all the Sun's light except for the reddish shades. If one could be on the Moon during a total lunar eclipse, the Earth would appear as a black circle surrounded by a red ring representing all the sunrises and sunsets!

For the December 21 eclipse, totality ends at 8:53 UT, which is 3:53 AM EST and 12:53 AM PST. After that, the Moon's egress through the partial phases will continue through 10:01 UT, or 5:01 AM EST and 2:01 AM PST. These are no doubt some rude hours for people in the eastern USA and Canada, but earlybirds might be up and around before sunrise on the morning of December 21, and should make it a point to catch the departing partial stage. If you are up that early, be sure to also look for the bright morning star Venus, which is currently blazing in the pre-sunrise sky.
(from "Classical Astronomy Update" newsletter, thanks mom for sending it to me! You can subscribe here )

This article by MSNBC has some details about what to expect, and also tips for taking good photos.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Oh Say, What is Truth?

I've come to realize a few things about truth:
1--It can be found in many places
2--I'm entitled to personal revelation on any darn topic I want/need, 'spiritual' or not
3--Truths don't contradict each other. They may be very different, but they still fit together in the long run

That is all.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Moments of Mindfullness

I find that there are moments every day when we can be mindful. I find that the more I take heed of them, the more full my life is. So I thought I'd share a few of the things which bring me into mindfulness.

  • Kneading bread
  • The repetitive motion of knitting or spinning
  • Getting (or giving!) a massage
  • Looking at the moon, especially when it's full
  • Closing my eyes, and listening to/feeling my heartbeat
  • Breathing clean, fresh air
  • Washing my face (I don't scrub so much as just press a really warm washcloth to my whole face and soak in the warmth and steam)
  • Absorbing sunlight (I like to lay in the light and read a book, or just close my eyes and feel the warmth).
Eagle, at three days old
  • Doing some yoga poses (ideally facing into the sunlight) such as the mountain, star/triangle, tree, upward facing dog, and child's pose
  • Yoga-style guided relaxation 
  • Putting on lotion
  • Nuzzling with one of my babies
  • A hot shower, especially if combined with some quiet, deep breathing as I just let the water run down my back
  • Combing or braiding my hair
What kinds of things bring you into mindfulness?

I've mentioned a number of repetitive motions here--when the body is engaged in something that doesn't require attention, it's pretty easy to put the attention on something else. One repetitive activity during which I have not yet learned to be mindful is folding laundry. I detest folding laundry though, so that's a goal of mine for the coming year

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Not the Cool Kid

I'll state upfront that this post may sound a little like a pity party. I don't mean it that way. I'm not wallowing, just trying to make sense of something that has bothered me for many years.

I've never been the cool kid. When I was younger I figured it was because I didn't go to the same school as everyone else, or because I was a bit of a geek, but even in adulthood it seems I lack some prerequisite coolness gene or something. I do have close friends, but they are few and scattered across the continent. I have many local associates, but when the chips are down, very few of them seem to stand up as true friends.
Is this because I've moved so far from where I grew up? I don't think so. I had a few friends in my youth, but haven't remained that close to any of them in adulthood. I'm sure part of that is a lack of effort on my part...but I've never felt much reciprocal effort either. I suppose that after so many years of perceived rejection I've developed a habit of not trying very hard.

This fall it came to a head again when we held our annual pie night, and had very low attendance. Some of this was due to a little invitation fiasco (not as many people got invited as I'd intended), but our guests were still a small fraction of even what I'd expected. I could say it's just their loss (we had some good pies!) but this seems to be the story of my life--I plan special events, and then nobody comes.
My wedding reception? A quarter of what we'd expected (there was SO much leftover cake). It could be blamed on being 6 days before Christmas, but a friend of mine got married a week later (2 days after Christmas) and I hear her reception was very well attended.
When I was 9, my mom and I planned a really spectacular medieval-themed birthday party, and nobody came. Nobody. I remember that we'd been nervous that people might not understand the themed invitations, so we wrote that "the celebration of Lady Jenni's birthday" would begin at "ten bells (10am)" to make sure it was clear. (I remember telling her that I thought "ten bells" was pretty obvious, and that adding the "10am" bit was overkill.) On the appointed morning, 10am came and went, and nobody showed up. So my mom started calling people. I think she was able to round up two people to come and play games and share cake, but they didn't bring presents, because they hadn't known it was my party. (I suppose maybe I was too big a geek with the themed invitations...but is it really so hard to call and ask if you're confused? Our family always did themed parties!)
How about when I was 16. I was too old for parent-subsidized parties, but I spent hours making a cake and used my meager income to purchase other goodies for a sleepover. Several girls came, but none of them could spend the night. When my sister had her 16th birthday slumber party? She had a dozen girls. It's not just that my family was uncool; it was me.
Last summer solstice we planned a bonfire on the beach and invited many friends. One couple came. Just one. I've thrown tupperware parties and pampered chef parties, and always the attendance is so low that I end up making hefty purchases myself so that I can reach the minimum party sales amount to get any free stuff. Even adulthood hasn't made me cool.

I always appreciate those who do come, but I always wonder why it is that there are always so few. I invite lots of people. I try to schedule at convenient times. I give plenty of notice.
I can only conclude that the deciding factor is ME.

I've always walked to my own beat, and I'm ok with that. But sometimes I do get really lonely out here. And on those occasions when I try to reach out--to host celebrations--I wish that more people would come celebrate with me, even if I'm too weird for them the rest of the time. Come for the food if nothing else, I do have a reputation for doing that well!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Facebook Friday: 2010 in review (according to my facebook status updates)

(click on the image to get it a bit bigger so that you can actually read it)

(If you have facebook, this application will search your status updates from the year and make the collage for you...if you don't like the random updates it chooses, you can even go in and select/deselect which ones you want shown. If you want to post it on your blog though, you'll have to do an image capture of it and upload it yourself, that part is not automatic. ☺)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Celebrating Hanukkah

This last week has been Hanukkah (or Chanukah, spellings vary since it's not an English word to begin with!) Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday, dating from about 160BC, and commemorating a miracle where one flask of oil kept the temple menorah lit for eight days, inspiring the Jews sufficiently to be able to defeat the invading Greeks and send them packing. Since Hanukkah is scheduled in the Jewish calendar, it is on a different date on our calendar each year--ranging anywhere during the month of December.

Two years ago I shared Hanukkah can be for Christians too, and it bears re-reading if you don't remember it. It has several ideas for ways to celebrate the holiday, including singing or listening to songs, lighting a menorah, telling the story of Hanukkah, playing dreidel, or eating traditional Hanukkah foods. In the past our family has just eaten latkes and retold the story on one of the nights, but in the future I would like to get a menorah and light the candles each night as well. Considering my family, I suspect that reenactments of the story are likely as well. ☺

Here are a few songs:
Candlelight by The Maccabeats (a cappella)
Eight Days of Hanukkah
Light the Candles (a childrens chorus, an original song written by their teacher, quite pretty)
Miracle by Matisyahu (serious lyrics by a serious Jew, with a hiphop beat)
A men's dance and a women's dance if you'd like to see something traditional, and a song (it only has pictures, not video) Everybody Dance (to the Hanukkah Song) that kids will love dancing to
Lich'vod Hachanukkah (a traditional song in Hebrew--the full lyrics, and translation, are at the link)
and even (if you're a little less reverent) Adam Sandler's Hanukkah Song

Here are some traditional Hanukkah foods (since the miracle was about oil, traditional holiday foods are cooked in oil or deep fried):
Latkes ("potato pancakes")
Suvgani'ot (jelly-filled doughnuts) (this isn't really an authentic recipe, but it is jelly-filled doughnuts!)

Here's a bit of a chuckle for you: this year (2010) there have been wildfires burning in Israel. And the Greeks are among the neighbors who have sent planes to help put out the fires. As a friend of a friend pointed out "The irony of Greek planes flying over Israel helping to put out fires on Chanuka has not been lost on Israelis.  [But] we are all very, very grateful for the help of some of our neighbors and all of our friends.  Truly a blessed and welcome surprise." 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mindless or Mindful

Recently a friend posted on her blog about her goal to live more mindfully. She talks about how her intelligence and acute powers of observation lead her to be overstimulated and overwhelmed in many situations. She has tried many forms of calming herself--limiting the stimulii--but in the long run they don't work. So, instead, she is trying something new: mindfulness. Rather than try to calm her mind down or turn it off, she is maintaining its full power, but directing it in more specific ways.
So that's what this is about. Since this is my space, I'd like to take this one day a week to highlight the inspirations that cast rays of light into what is otherwise a difficult way to live. Simple things, humble things, beautiful things, ugly things that make everything else more beautiful, or maybe ugly things that are simply ugly, but wholly accepted in each moment of mindfulness -- whatever catches my attention in a way that helps me slow down and just breathe for a few precious seconds.
I thought about her post in the context of some of my recent life path--and I realized that mindfullness is a substantial part of what is bringing me peace too.

For years I've been aware of my tendency to get stressed out over things that didn't matter (or that didn't matter enough to warrant the amount of stress I was pouring onto them). One of the things that came out of that was that I struggle to fall asleep at night. It has been normal for me to lay in bed for at least 30 minutes trying to fall asleep, and I don't consider myself to be 'having a hard time getting to sleep' unless I have been laying still for over an hour but still feel alert. Even when I'm tired, even when my body begs to rest, even as I lay still and close my eyes, still my mind races on and on. My husband offered the helpful advice of "just clear your mind" but I am literally unable to do that. I do not know how to think of nothing. I do not know how to empty my mind. But reading Chandelle's post helped me realize what I do know how to do: I do know how to focus on something, and if I thoughtfully choose my points of focus, I can seriously affect my life.

I have always liked the guided relaxation portion of my prenatal yoga DVD. The instructor guides my focus through the various parts of my body, encouraging softening and relaxing and releasing throughout. I like the physical stillness yet mental awareness of yoga, and I am now realizing that this state is so good for me. I can observe and absorb with great focus, while my body is still (or engaged in some mundane task). So even as my mind is alert, it is able to be still. (edit--here is a post with a list of some of the things I do to practice mindfulness.)

The Celtic "Tree of Life" showing the interconnectedness of life
This year one of my goals was to increase my awareness of the interconnectedness of things. I believe that all truths--spiritual, scientific, emotional, or otherwise--all fit together. Which, by extension, means that all things have a spiritual aspect to them. As I have sought to observe--and tap into--that spirit, I have found my own spirituality growing. I may not find the time to spend hours in scripture study, and I have missed more church meetings this year than I care to count; yet, in spite of that, I feel closer to God and experience more peacefulness than I used to as well. It has been a remarkable exercise in mindfulness, even though I didn't think to call it that when I started.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


We bought a half a cow a few weeks ago. They asked us if we'd like the scraps, and  (under the assumption that it would be soup bones and such) we said yes. But actually it's not soup bones, it's a lot of sinew and fat. So I'm rendering out the tallow to make candles (which is all kinds of exciting and fun!)
Tallow is solid at room temperature, but becomes liquid when heated, so to render the tallow I chop up the fat chunks, add a little water, and boil them until all the fat separates from all the other stuff. Then I strain it (to get out little chunks of sinew or meat) and let the water and fat separate and cool until the tallow solidifies (at which point I can pick it off the water in a big chunk).

This morning Wolf saw a container on the counter where I'd left some tallow to separate and cool overnight. He asked what it was, and we told him it was tallow "you know, the fat from the cow."
"Oh," he said knowingly, looking at the container and seeing a solid part and a liquid part, "the tallow and the oil."
"No," Hubby clarified, "the tallow is the oil, it's just solid at room temperature."
"Really?" Wolf asked.
"Sure," I interjected. "After all, cows are solid at room temperature!"

Friday, December 3, 2010

Facebook Friday: Gratitude Edition

I haven't done one of these in a very long time, but I thought I'd do a bit of a recap of some of my status updates from the last month or so...for most of the month of November I posted things I was grateful for. ☺

"My opinions change with new information" (seen on a poster at the Rally to Restore Sanity). I don't care if you agree with me, only if you are honest with yourself about why you believe the way you do: whether it's based on habit, fear, hope, or facts. On election day tomorrow, please vote, and please give your vote the thought and integrity it deserves. Then we shall see what we shall see. ☺

Jenni is thankful for baby zerberts (if I hook him up to nurse but then don't pay enough attention to him, he GETS me. heeheehee!)

Jenni has 4 boxes going to the post office today... I'm so grateful for MDC's Holiday Helper and the chance to send things to families who need them (and that I can send *goods* since I can't afford to send anybody money this year)

Jenni is grateful for a week where many things have fallen into the places that they need to be. "All things work together for good"

mmmmm, muffins. What's not to love about muffins. :) (exploring a new recipe tonight...or, rather, a new adaptation of an old recipe: almond poppy seed muffins...
[Wolf ate two of the giant-size muffins (as in, a third of the batch). He said they were amazing, and "way better than those costco ones mom." Hmm, I seem to have succeeded!!]

Jenni worked her tail off all day. All the pumpkin is processed and frozen/canned, three pies (two kinds) cooked, three loads of dishes, and kitchen floor swept and scrubbed. Pie Night: Game On!

Jenni is grateful for long phone calls with best friends, automatic dishwashers, and warm tea and long johns when it's snowy outside.

Jenni is thankful for my Hubby, for the things he does to try to make me happy (and for keeping me posted on politics, because I get wrapped up researching parenting stuff and sometimes forget that there's a whole world out there).

Jenni is so so so grateful that my husband is into politics instead of sports; that I am never a football/basketball/baseball widow; and that he doesn't know (or care) about the scores or ratings.

Jenni's kiddo seems to have an ear infection. :( Poor guy. At least we've never had one of these before (and at least it's the kiddo who is old enough to tell me "mommy my ear hurts" in the midst of his crying)

Jenni's little birthday boy has fallen off things (big head-banging/bawling falls) three times this seems that no matter what I do, the boy WILL find something to climb...and then fall off of. Perhaps I should
lace the birthday cake with arnica?! ;)

Jenni is grateful for my telephone...but also wants to let you know that I unabashedly screen calls. I will not be a slave to this technology, I will get to it if I get to it...but if I'm busy (or I don't recognize the caller ID) I let the machine get it. If you leave a message, I promise I do call back.

Criticism is always more about the critic than the recipient.

Jenni had a full freezer. Then my Hubby found pork shoulders on sale (BOGO) and brought home 42lbs of pork. Then we picked up our half a cow (another 300+lbs of meat). So I rearranged the freezer...and I got most of it in there too.
[I got almost 3 boxes worth into the freezer...there were 4 boxes of meat and 1 of scraps. Thankfully some friends let us borrow some freezer space...and very soon I'll be melting down those scraps to render the tallow and make candles! I did a little experimental batch and am excited to do the rest. I feel so domestic and sustainable and stuff!]

Jenni is helping my 10yo son plan a Percy Jackson/Greek Mythology based party. We thought parties would be a fun way to do a book club for kids. And also, we are dang good at themed parties. (He told me he feels sorry for "those kids who just get regular parties")

Put this as your status if someone you knew was killed by Lord Voldemort. As everyone knows, being killed by an Unforgivable Curse, having your soul sucked out by a dementor, or getting petrified by a basilisk is a truly tragic fate for anyone, muggle or wizard. 93% of people won't copy and paste this. Will you make this your status to spread awareness of this growing threat?

Shared link: BYU Carillion (bell tower) gets into the Harry Potter spirit

Jenni is playing doctor mom again...[Bear had spots all over] my money is on an allergic reaction to the amoxicillin. He's never had an antibiotic before, and thankfully it's a mild reaction...but I should have guessed (since I'm allergic to penicillin myself)
(The doctor concurred with my diagnosis).

Jenni just might have the best bff in the world. (You know who you are SisuGirl)

Jenni thinks peppermint tea might be the perfect food.

11/25 Thanksgiving math: if the pie crust recipe makes 1 1/2 crusts (because I have deepdish pie pans), and I need a total of 5 pie crusts, then how many recipes do I need? (Note, 3 of the crusts will be bottom crusts, but 2 will be top crusts, which are normal sized...)

Jenni has a christmas tree up, an advent wreath out, a fabric countdown chain up, and now I just need to sew presents. ☺

Jenni always breathes a little easier on the morning of Nov 29th, because it means the baby made it through the night of the 28th (which was the night my sister died 21 years ago). Rest in Peace Amethyst. I miss you. ♥

Jenni is sewing away on a nativity advent calendar. It's so cute.

Happy Saint Andrew's Day (national day of scotland). We're makin stovies, rumblethumps, shepherds pie, and shortbread. Are you scottish too?!

‎"Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." (JFK)

Shared link 12 Exercises for Mindful Parenting (fantastic article)

Jenni has a sudden and very urgent need to learn how to make a boston cream pie. Anybody got a tried-and-true recipe for me? Or will I need to find my own? (nobody had a recipe, so I'm going to try this one)

Jenni is grinding wheat and baking bread while the snow blusters outside.

Candlelight - The Maccabeats

Happy Hannukah

I love this--some nice, cleancut, Jewish boys making darn good music, complete with harmony, cultural literacy, and a catchy beat!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Saint Andrew's Day (Nov 30)

Saint Andrew's Day is the national day of Scotland. Being of Clan Stewart, we can't ignore this holiday!

On our dinner menu are things like:

Stovies and Oatcakes
Shepherd's Pie
maybe even Bannock Bread 

And for dessert:
Shortbread or Trifle or Banoffi

(No, I don't make them all, and many of these dishes overlap with England and/or Ireland...but there is a fair list there to choose from!)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

By way of explanation...

...yes, I've been watching Firefly. Yes, I appreciate that their spaceship is named "Serenity," but no, the new title here is not intended as an allusion to the ship nor the show.
It is intended as a very realistic application of the word as per my recent increase of zenness. 

But, since it's a good song, here ya go

New Name

I changed the name of this blog.
It seemed appropriate.

I debated over calling it "Chaotic Serenity" or something like that, but truthfully, even when things get nuts, serenity is a state of mind, not a serenity can be always (and in spite of chaos). So I kept things simple.
I thought about calling it "Simple Serenity" or something like that too...but again with the keeping things simple. ☺

Oh yes, and the new photo at the top--taken from my porch. Seriously, I live in paradise. ♥

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