Holiday Greetings and a Quote

Holiday greetings to all! I’ve been away from the online world, mostly because my computer has been out of commission, but also because of the busy time with holiday preparations.

I’m very thankful for all the people in my life, and for all their love and caring. I’m thankful for the blessings of abundance that surround me. Thank you Universe!

We had a wonderful Winter Solstice ritual and celebration on Friday night with a small festive group of family and friends. The ritual was fun, and the feast was delicious. We didn’t have as many guests as we’ve had other years, and I enjoyed having a mellow gathering. Only four of us stayed up to keep the vigil; this was the first year that ElvenTiger has made it all night! We played games and ate candy and hung out by the fire.

Our Christmas celebration was also a lot of fun. We gathered at Mom’s on Christmas Eve for a yummy supper and to watch a movie. I also got to bond with her new kitten a bit. Then, on Christmas morning, we opened gifts at my house, had Christmas dinner and played with the new games and toys. The celebration continued into the evening, as Raven and BlackLion joined us to open gifts, have some munchies and play a game.

Then I took a shower and collapsed into bed. I tend to get caught up in doing too much to get ready for the winter holidays. While I wasn’t stressed out this year, I do feel tired, like I did too much and wore myself out a bit. I want to take some time to just relax and restore, and not have to accomplish anything.

Here’s a quote I found today that spoke to me of the importance of being present where and when you are:

“If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.”
– Maria Edgeworth

From Holiday Frenzy to Holiday Fun

Over the years, I’ve been gradually figuring out how to not only survive the holidays, but to thrive throughout the season. I’m lucky to have a Mom who loves this season, and so my holiday spirit is strong. Yet preparing for the holidays has certainly become a lot of work over the years, especially after having kids. We celebrate both Winter Solstice and Christmas, so we have multiple gatherings to prepare for and host.

Six or seven years ago, when the kids were small, it got really overwhelming and stressful, and I had to rethink the things I chose to do around the holidays. I want to cook and make cards and gifts and buy presents and decorate the house and all of that, but for the right reasons. I want to have fun, and put positive energy into what I’m doing, not be freaking out because there’s not enough time to “do it all.” As the saying goes, it’s the journey that’s important, not the destination.

Ever since then, I’ve been gradually refining how I craft my experience of the winter holidays. First, I acknowledge that December is a busy time, and don’t try to do too much. I recognize that the preparation for the holidays is my creative project for the month, and try not to add others. Second, I make sure that I take time to have fun and relax. Some of my holiday preparations are relaxing, like making collage cards for my immediate family. I enjoy thinking of each individual as I work, creating a card that reflects their interests and personality. I also take time to read, which is my way of recharging. Third, I go easy on myself. I’m learning not to be so quick to judge myself when I don’t do a “good enough” job, or I eat sugar or don’t find time to exercise. Especially at this time of year, I “go with the flow” more and try to be in the moment, no matter what I’m doing.

If I do get overwhelmed or find myself getting stressed out, I have tools to release myself from those states of being. The major one is skillful use of lists. Having a long “to do” list can in itself be stressful, but if you prioritize the list and note when you’re going to work on each item, you can see the big picture and know that everything will get done. Next is asking for help. Especially now that the kids are older, they’re a big help with things like cooking and wrapping gifts. Not only that, it’s fun to do together! Putting on some Christmas music also keeps me in a cheerful mood, and reminds me of the fun of the season.

And finally, after preparing busily for events like the annual Winter Solstice ritual and celebration, or our family’s Christmas Day get-together, I consciously relax and enjoy myself. Spending time with friends and family is an essential part of the holiday season, and I look forward to those times, even as I enjoy curling up in a quiet moment to create unique gifts for them.

Creating a Process-Folio

I recently read The Unschooled Mind by Howard Gardner. It was focused primarily on how to change and improve public education in order to foster true understanding (rather than the “teaching to the test” that goes on too much of the time). One of the concepts that I found really intriguing is that of “process-folios.”

Many unschoolers track their learning by creating yearly portfolios, which display some aspects of the subjects they’ve been studying. Often these consist of finished products such as artwork, reports, workbook pages and the like.

A process-folio, which focuses on a particular project, goes deeper. Here’s the idea. As you work on a project, you tend to generate papers and other items along the way. Save all of these for your process folio. They might be jotted notes, journal entries, first drafts, fabric swatches, feedback from colleagues or peers, photos, printed e-mails or other communications, doodles and drawings, lists of CDs or books that inspired you…whatever materials in some way contribute to or inform the final product or performance. In the book, Gardner related how students were encouraged to seek input from peers and teachers on their work while it was in progress, and to write journal entries about how the project was going. You should even hang onto ideas that proved to be a dead end or were changed along the way.

When you are finished with the project, compile this archive of items into a process-folio. You can then get an idea of your own creative process, find what worked and what didn’t, note what support you might seek out next time, and even discover inspirations for your next undertaking. You can also share your process-folio, if you choose, with project partners, colleagues or family members.

I think this is a great idea for unschoolers, and also for anyone working on creative projects. I plan to do this for all of my current creations, and I’ve already begun to compile in folders the printed drafts and notes I tend to hang onto anyway. Now that I think about it, maybe one of the reasons I’m so drawn to this idea is that I tend to be a pack rat when it comes to paperwork. Oh well, it’s good to put to new use the stacks of papers that clutter my desk and bookshelves!

We Are All Solitaries

I went and got my hair cut last night. I’ve been going to one of those places where you can walk in without an appointment and whoever is there will cut your hair. I like my hair short, and I’ve generally been happy with their work. Last night I got a really cool hairstylist (I’ll call her Alanna) and as we chatted, she told me she’s Wiccan. I told her I’m pagan, too, and asked her about her plans for Winter Solstice. She wasn’t sure. She said that she’d started out practicing Wicca with a good friend of hers, and her friend had moved away for a couple of years. In the meantime, Alanna hadn’t been celebrating the sabbats and esbats, or practicing her religion actively. She’d lost some of her former focus, now that her friend wasn’t physically near.

This got me thinking of how we can rely on interactions with others to fuel our spiritual life. Pagans, especially those who began their spiritual journey with a coven or circle, may feel like they’re not “really” being spiritually active if they aren’t doing ritual with a group of people on a regular basis. But ultimately, we’re all solitary practitioners. Each person’s relationship with the Divine is unique. When we get distracted from that, and seek connection solely through other people or customary modes and tools of worship, we can lose focus and feel disconnected. As the Charge of the Goddess says, “if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without.”

Alanna’s experience of missing the connection to her spirituality, but not pursuing it because she isn’t in a familiar setting with other people, rings true. I’ve felt it myself in the past, and hear echoes of it from pagan friends. I started out as a solitary pagan, and I’m currently feeling called to focus on that deep solo work, which for me is tied closely with my creativity and imagination. At the same time, I continue to reach out to my spiritual community through writing, Reiki, the creativity coven, hosting gatherings, and other means. As I change, my expressions of my path change too. I’m working on finding a balance of shared spirituality and going deeper into my calling as a writer. Something that works for me is my two co-writing projects. That way I can connect spiritually with others, and also feed my personal connection with the Divine. Obviously, each person’s needs and wants for community will be different. I guess it’s a matter of clarifying what those needs and wants are, and then finding positive ways to pursue them, both alone and in community.

Giving Thanks

I like to practice gratitude regularly. I feel really blessed, and I’m very thankful for all my family and friends and a lovely place to live, and creativity and abundance and health. Thank you Multiverse!!!

We had a fun time celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday yesterday. Fourteen of us gathered here. The company was terrific, the food was delicious, and there was a lot of laughter. The cooking and cleaning wasn’t too hard, either; our meal was in the evening this time, which I liked because it gave us more time to get ready. Plus I’m a night owl anyway. A few of us stayed up late and played cards, and giggled a lot.

Here’s the meal we had. This is the vegetarian portion; we also had meat for those who like it. Everything was homemade – even the bread for the stuffing! Quester taught BlackLion how to make bread on Wednesday.

stuffing (aka dressing, for those of you in the southern U.S.!)
mashed potatoes
butternut squash & apple bake
sweet potato pudding
green bean casserole
oatmeal rolls
cranberry relish (which BlackLion’s Mom made; it was awesome)

chocolate creamy pie with soy whipped cream (delicious)
apple pie
pumpkin turnovers

and the appetizers were nuts, olives, veggies, crackers and dip

It was a bountiful feast! I love it that most everyone cooks and seems to have fun doing it. We give my brother a break because he cooks for a living. He’s working today and wasn’t looking forward to how busy they’d be – his restaurant is right by a mall. Ick. I’m staying far away from those places today, just hanging out playing games with the kids. We’re enjoying some games that we just got, including Pente and Phase 10.

Weekend in the Life Of…

So, just what does a Starcat do on the weekends? Well, being a soccer Mom (not to mention basketball and other sports), I often attend a lot of games. Right now we’re in between sessions, so we didn’t have (much) sports-related activity this weekend.

Friday night I had dinner at Mom and Dad’s – they’d been watching the kids, and I went to pick them up and stayed for delicious soup and biscuits and pie. We had a good visit. I was feeling a bit under the weather (I caught a cold), so we went home and I rested and read Harry Potter to the kids. On the way home, we saw Holmes Comet!!! Very cool. Later that night I gave BlackLion a Tarot reading with my new (since my birthday in September) Mystic Faerie Tarot deck.

On Saturday I did more resting. Listened to some of the Pathway to Happiness material. This latest one was about acceptance, and is really useful. Read a bit, and hung out. Then we did grocery shopping, followed by a bunch of cooking: tempeh salad, fruit salad, vegan pumpkin pie (ElvenTiger had a craving) and, later in the evening, pad thai. Also cleaned some. Quester and I took Crow to his soccer team’s pizza party (see, I said not much sports stuff). Then worked on some cutout cards (collage-type cards that we make for Yule/Christmas), and ate dinner. We all played SkipBo after dinner.

Sunday morning I slept in, and stayed in bed for a while, just reading and doing some more cutout stuff. Did my morning meditation and Tarot cards. Played online a bit with the kids, taking a quiz about our learning styles. Then we all went over to BlackLion and Raven’s home and had lunch (leftover pad thai and pie) and helped them do some more moving in. We unpacked boxes and sorted out stuff, and just generally helped them make it more their own. The place is looking good! BlackLion and I need to organize his office space soon. We want to use it as a place to work on our book and other writing projects together.

We came back home and now I’m updating this blog, then we’re going over to Aunt Peg’s for the monthly family potluck. Yum! Quester made some garlic bread for the festivities. That should be fun. Then we’ll come home and read to the kids and the usual routine for bedtime and such, and perhaps I’ll even get some time for yoga.

So a full weekend, with fun and rest both included as well. And the bonus is, this is a short week at work! We’ll be hosting Thanksgiving for a big crew on Thursday. I like fall.

The Minds of Homeschooled Kids

Homeschooled kids are so interesting to interact with. I enjoy talking with all kids, but I’ve found that with kids who are homeschooled, the barrier between kids and adults simply isn’t there. They are conversing with you as a fellow human being, they have curiosity about your ideas, and they assume that you’ll be interested in what they have to say. They are thoughtful and respectful of ideas, no matter whose.

I’m not just talking about the “prodigy” kids who are studying advanced math and writing their own operas at age 10. I’m talking about the way homeschooled kids explore the topics that interest them. The other night, my kids were playing video games at the home of their best friends. On the way home, they were telling me about the game and how it progressed. They collaborated with each other on remembering the sequence of events, and speculated on how things in the game might unfold based on the choices they could have made. The conversation soon evolved beyond video games (for which I was grateful!) and the bombs being used into a discussion of comets and meteorites, the types of metals they contain, and what could be made with them, both now and in the past. Homeschooled kids are genuinely interested in exploring the world around them, and conversation is an important part of that process.

In a way, homeschooled kids are akin to preschoolers, who haven’t yet entered the world of tests and cliques and correct answers. They ask a lot of questions, and allow themselves to be led off on interesting tangents. They may create lots of messes, as they jump from one project or game to another. I recently went to a friend’s house during the day, and she apologized for the mess. But to me, it looked like a rich and rewarding homeschool environment. Her older child was just sitting down with his dad to do a science project at the kitchen table, her younger child had blocks and games spread out over the living room floor, and there were books and artwork all around. The perfect place for exploring many facets of the kids’ world.

I think that kids who are allowed the space and time to explore their own interests and passions are not only receiving an education, but they are also becoming well-rounded and fascinating people. They will continue to interact with the world in creative ways, and their explorations will bring them joy throughout their lives. Here’s a related quote I ran across yesterday:

“Vocation happens when our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” – Frederich Buechner.

I also did some recent writing on unschooling for the Feline Dreamers website; check it out if you’re interested.