25 November 2007

Excellent New Turkey Recipe

The thing about cooking a turkey is that it's essentially REAL simple. Turn the oven on. Take the bag o' innards out of the turkey. Put the turkey in the oven. Wait a while. Eat it. Try not to let the cook know how dry it is.

Given this, I'm always impressed with great! new! ways! to cook your Thanksgiving turkey! because they're hard to invent.

It's possible, though. I knew of a recipe once that involved coating the turkey with some sort of egg paste, which then burnt black and got peeled off, supposedly revealing juicy delightful turkey meat underneath. I never tried it. And then there was the turkey frying craze of a few years ago, on account of which apparently several American garages got burnt down, which at least gave everybody something to talk about, though if you didn't burn the house down, it's true the turkey was pretty edible.

So I'm happy to report to you an excellent new recipe invented by my brother Jim. He explained it to me, but I didn't write it down, so I might get it wrong, for which I'm very sorry. But it produced EXCELLENT turkey, very moist, tasty, and juicy, and nobody died from it and the house didn't burn down. I think that's as good as it gets, on American Thanksgiving.

Jim's Turkey, Thanksgiving 2007

First, break your oven, so that you don't know what the temperature is. (If it's already broken, all the better.) Preheat the oven -- since you don't really know what its temperature is, it hardly matters what you set it on, though I gather you want it HOT.

Then, worry about whether it's too hot, and put an oven thermometer in. (Make sure it's a broken oven thermometer, though, or the next step won't work.)

Next, discover that the oven thermometer you've put in the broken oven is also broken. Go out and attempt to buy a new one. (It's American Thanksgiving, remember; if you're in America, this is going to take a while, cause nearly all the stores are closed.)

Come home to discover that the house is very smoky, on account of something is burning in the oven. Turn the oven off.

Take the turkey out. Its little plastic temperature gauge will have popped up; this is good, cause those things never work, having been created broken. Leave the turkey on the counter and worry about it -- it's nice and brown, and the plastic gauge says it's done, but IS it done? REALLY?

When your sister gets there, ask her how to tell if the turkey is done. She (if she's me) will tell you that the plastic temperature gauge is useless, and you can try wriggling one of the legs, but really you need to cut into the turkey near the bone to see if it's still pink.

Discover that the turkey is not done. Turn the oven back on, this time at an even lower fake temperature (we still couldn't read the temperature, you understand), and cook the turkey some more. Test it every once in a while. When it's finally done, eat it.

What I like about this recipe is that it's so true to life. We're not the Betty Crocker Oven Bakers over here. You could follow this recipe with a wood stove as well as a broken electric one. It's very versatile.

How this broken oven trick will work with the later mandated Christmas cookies, though, I can't say. Perhaps Jim will try it and tell us how things turn out.

14 November 2007

Here's Rhys

Rhys, having had all his shots, is now cleared for Dog Park Visits. We're pleased; he's kind to small dogs, fearless with big dogs. He barks all the time, sure, but that's on account of the necessity to herd all moving things. He can't keep up with the big dogs, on account of his youth and his short little legs, but he loves to chase after them; this also is "herding." They don't notice, so they don't mind. When they play with him, they roll him over and over like a barrel.

Someday I'd like to take him out to a Corgi convention, so that he can play with lots of other dogs just his size, and just as determined to herd the universe.

12 November 2007

Official Pagan Holidays

The Wild Hunt reports that one of Britain's government sections, the Department for Children, Schools, and Families, has instituted a new holiday system; their civil workers may take "bank holidays" according to their own choice, by swapping -- they can work on Christmas, for instance, and take Samhain off. Other departments are expected to follow, in the move to adopt an official post-Christain calendar.

Fair. Fair and good.

Thoughts on the Sabbatical. Or BBC America. Whatever.

I really like being on sabbatical. I like it lots. I do believe that what really would suit me would be a perpetual sabbatical. That would be great. Then I could spend all my time sitting around looking out the window having Great Thoughts (which is my case at the moment has to do with The Theatre, yes you may be jealous if you like), whilst BBC America blithered in the background.

At the moment we're on "Cash in the Attic," a lovely show in which the presenters show up at your house, because you have invited them, and then find stuff you've put in boxes and left conveniently lying around. Jonty, the antiques specialist, wanders through your house and then tells you that your porcelain leaping trout is truly amazing and worth at least 40 GBP. I like especially the way the spontaneity is completely unconvincing. It's so clear that everybody gets all their stuff out for Jonty to find. Do you really want him looking through the bedroom drawers? I think not.

Then you all go to the auction house and auction off your crap and get money for your project, such as building a greenhouse, publishing a children's book for your grandkids, or buying a ramp for the house so your wheelchair bound spouse can get in and out the door. It's all very meaningful.

Later, my Favorite Show will come on, which is "How Clean is Your House?" the answer to which is not very, or the show wouldn't be visiting you. You can ask Kim and Aggie to come to your house, or, more likely, your friends and family can turn you in, and then Kim and Aggie come and shriek about the dead flies in your sink and the cat turds all over the living room floor, and they take swabs and send them off to the laboratory so as to prove to you that you're going to die from filth if you don't start cleaning your house, and then they clean it all up all sparkling, whilst giving you handy tips about how to clean your bathtub with lemon juice, and then they come back two weeks later to find out if you've changed your evil ways.

Now that I write this all out, I can see that one of the charms this show has for me has not to do with my present -- my apartment is fairly tidy these days, and I don't need Kim and Aggie, thank you very much -- but with the past. I have been, in my time, BOTH a professional housecleaner, whose specialty was cleaning up the sort of house that Kim and Aggie seek out, AND a regular humor columnist for what was then the Reclaiming Newsletter -- under the guise of "Hannah Clancy," I wrote a fake housekeeping column for many years, in which I advised readers to do such things as throw glitter on the dust to hide it. We got a letter once from a reader in Germany, who informed us in a serious tone (though god knows the letter itself might have been a joke -- one can hope) that Hannah was doing her readers a disservice in advising them to clean their bathtubs with sandblasters.

Some of the bathtubs I've seen on "How Clean is Your House?" could have done with some sandblasting.

I won't get to see them today, though, cause I have to actually go into work, on account of having a meeting.

If I'm asked how the sabbatical is going, the answer is great! going well! getting lots done!

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

And my house is clean.

09 November 2007

Ceiling Cat iz mai sheprd

How, devoted LOLCat follower that I am, did I miss the LOLCat Bible?* Thank Goddess I know now where it is, so that I may bookmark it and read it often, perhaps every morning, so as to start my day off right, in a spiritual fashion, in tune with the good vibrations of the source of all goodness -- i.e., Ceiling Cat -- and his coequal cohorts, Hover Cat and Jesus (who once said, as you'll remember, "Doggehs haz sofas, burdiez haz nests, but see? Invisible bed 4 meh!"

Life is good.

There's lots left to translate, if you want to get in on the project. In the meantime, here, for your delectation, is Psalm 23:

1. Ceiling Cat iz mai sheprd (which is funni if u knowz teh joek about herdin catz LOL.) He givz me evrithin I need.
2. He letz me sleeps in teh sunni spot an haz liek nice waterz r ovar thar.
3. He makez mai soul happi an maeks sure I go teh riet wai for him. Liek thru teh cat flap insted of out teh opin windo LOL.
4. I iz in teh valli of dogz, fearin no pooch, bcz Ceiling Cat iz besied me rubbin' mah ears, an it maek me so kumfy.
5. He letz me sit at teh taebl evn when peepl who duzint liek me iz watchn. He givz me a flea baff an so much gooshy fud it runz out of mai bowl LOL.
6. Niec things an luck wil chase me evrydai an I wil liv in teh Ceiling Cats houz forevr.

Don't miss the Book of Job, by the way. Srsly.
*Thanks to fishing for water for the link!

08 November 2007

Dog Story Redux; All Is Well

The upshot of the sad dog story below is that over in the dining room of my new apartment is a Welsh Cardigan Corgi* puppy, 4 months old, who is quietly and happily tearing apart his stuffed sheep.

We still miss the dogs we had to send back, but we do dearly love Rhys**. He's focused, and intense, and hilarious. He loves his training sessions. He was housetrained, pretty much, within a week after he arrived; he was crate trained immediately. He's cute. He's loving. He fits in the apartment.

The only real problem we had is that the Corgis are cattle dogs. They don't herd people by butting up against them and trying to shoulder them into the kitchen. They herd people by biting their ankles and/or standing stock still in front of them and barking incessantly. The barking is tolerable; the ripping up our clothes and ankles is not.

When we went to the first puppy kindergarten class, I saw how deeply ingrained this behavior is; he spent the entire "free play time" herding the other little puppies, running flat out in a semi-circle around them, getting them to stay together, much to their confusion. I have never before or since seen him so completely joyful, and so completely energized.

We were given lots of advice. First: yelp when he bites, so that he knows he needs to bite more softly (this being the method used by the puppy's littermates). This method worked very well for all the pieces of our bodies that weren't our ankles; it did NOT work for our ankles, which he would then bite more fiercely and bark at. Our ankles weren't pieces of our bodies, you see. They were pieces of recalcitrant cows.

Second: distract the puppy's attention with a chew toy. This method might well work for other dogs. Pomeranians, maybe. Cardigan Corgis, I don't think so. Again. More biting, more barking.

Third: Yelp and leave the room. Well, perhaps this would have worked if leaving the room didn't include more biting and barking.

I thought up a training method of my own, which was that I kept dog kibble in my pocket, and whenever Rhys went for my ankles, I said "stop!" and if he did, and didn't then bark at me (since the biting and the barkiing are both herding activities and connected), he got a treat. Or, if I walked by him and I saw him THINK about going for my heels, and he didn't, he got a treat. I practiced this activity, whenever he started herding me, by walking back and forth through the room and giving him treats whenever he didn't go for my ankles or start barking.

This was a brilliant training method, except it didn't work. He would stop for a bit, and then later start in again, only worse.

One day I hit the wall, and said to him, "time out," and took him and put him upstairs in the crate he sleeps in (I did this cheerfully, since the crate's not for punishment). In a few minutes I took him out. He went for my heels again. I put him in time out. We did this five times. He stopped going for my heels.

The next day the child came over, and when Rhys started herding him, we started the time out procedure. He stopped.

The next day Laura came by, and he herded her; we started time out, and he stopped.

The next day when the child was here Rhys started standing in front of us barking; I said, "Rhys, do you need time out?" and he went and lay down on his dog pillow.

And ever since then, he's fine.

Sometimes when he's really tired, he'll start herding us again; we put him in the crate, and he goes to sleep.

He's also figured out that when he's really frustrated with us, he can "pretend herd," by getting his teeth around his stuffed sheep, and then butting our ankles with his nose. This is fine by me, cause it lets him tell us what he wants to tell us, without breaking either our ankles or our eardrums.

I enjoy this dog a lot. Lots of brains. Highly trainable. Very devoted to his people. Really worth the energy and time.
*That is, a Welsh Corgi, but not the kind the Queen owns. Both breeds were bred for cattle and sheep herding in Wales, but on two different sides of a mountain range. There's been some interbreeding, and they have some characteristics in common, but they have different ancestries.

**Spelled "Reese" in English, it means "exuberant." Yep.

21 July 2007

No Dogs

The update on the eagerly awaited dogs is not a good one, alas.

The dogs that were so quiet and easy-going at the Grove needed a LOT more room than the Beloved's house and yard offer. (We'd been concerned about that, but they spent all day sleeping at the Grove, and were reported to be couch potatoes. Not so much, when they got here.) The dogs that were supposed to be good with cats hunted them. The dogs that were house trained relieved themselves all over the rug, with complete unconcern. The dogs that were obedience trained recognized no obedience commands I've eaver heard of. No, wait, that's not entirely true. One of them had a vague notion that "sit" means something sort of. Occasionally for a second. The dogs that were best friends at the Grove fought badly -- in my years of living in the middle of a Norwegian Elkhound pack, back when my mom was in the dog showing and breeding life, I hadn't seen house dogs fight like that.

They couldn't be left by themselves in the house -- on account of the cat chasing and the relieving themselves all over the rug -- so The Beloved went and bought crates, and the crates worked for one of them but the other had hysterics.

We don't really know what happened to them, but our guess is that at the Grove they were ok, but that coming into a house with one person, and being the only dogs, took them back psychologically to the situation they'd been rescued from, and that situation was worse than anybody thought. They loved her, they loved me, they wanted to please, they're darling and bright and beautiful, but they can't be placed together, and they need a lot more time and work than anybody knew.

(I want to say very clearly that we don't think the Grove was at fault here. They'd had the dogs as puppies; they'd known them well then; the dogs had been placed for about 6 months or so and then had come back; we think that, very simply, the dogs are different dogs at the Grove than ehy are in a home, and that the reports of their training were greatly exaggerated.)

The upshot of all this was that we both pretty much lost a week out of our lives; The Beloved was living with the dogs, but I was over there giving her a chance to leave the house when she needed to, and we're both shattered about it. She drove the dogs back last Thursday, and we've thought about whether we could take either of them -- especially the less damaged one -- but we've come to decide that it's too much. Training a puppy takes a lot of patience and time, but it's a surer proposition than retraining a dog that's already been taught some bad things. And they just need more room than a small city townhouse provides.

So that's where things are. Thanks to those of you who contacted me about the exciting news that the dogs were coming. I wish that things had worked out. Just today I opened up an order from King Arthur and I see that I'd ordered dog biscuit mix.

The child and I are researching small dogs, one that would fit legally (and physically) into my apartment.

At present we're focused on the seldom seen Cardigan Welsh Corgi.

So maybe a puppy will be in the future.

But at the moment our hearts are broken.

05 July 2007

MidWest Camp

So I went to MidWest Camp out at Diana's Grove, and I'm back, and my report is, basically, that I thought it was great and I had a lovely time. I haven't taught at a full-week witchcamp in probably about 10 years, and I've never been to the MidWest camp. I thought it might be a good time to come back in, and I thought it might be a good idea to teach someplace closer to home, and the Dreamweavers hired me for MidWest, and so I went. And I loved it.

I had NOT been cheerful about the story line we were working with -- the Ring Cycle?! Were the Dreamweavers nuts?!

Well, no. What was problematic about the story line -- the infinite versions, the messiness, the seemingly totally retro value system -- all worked to make this what was one of the most powerful storylines I've every worked with. We focused on creation of alternate stories, on reinvention, on fluidity, on just plain walking out of a problematic story and creating a different ending. Lovely.

Also Diana's Grove is a real treat -- this is the first time I've worked in a place dedicated so thoroughly to mystical work, always, all the time, every day, and that makes a PROFOUND difference to the energy. (I've certainly worked in places which were, as venues, dedicated to realities compatible with mine, and that's better than working in rented Boy Scout camps; nevertheless, Diana's Grove is specifically empowered Wiccan. Very powerful.) Also, the dog rescue piece of the doings there has now changed my life -- I fell in love with a couple of the dogs, and they'll be arriving on Sunday, to live over at The Beloved's.

There had been glitches, though, in realms I have nothing to do with, and the result was that instead of about 60 campers there were about 15. Other than the obvious monetary impact this had, this had a major impact on the structure of the camp -- instead of the three teaching tracks, we ended up folding everything together. And this meant that, though everybody got to work with all the teachers and nobody had to decide what they WEREN'T going to do, if people had been focused on one track, and completely uninterested in the others, they still had to put up with all of us.

So there were problems for a while whilst things got sorted out. But I think that the smaller number of campers meant that we were able to work much more deeply, in a much more coherent fashion, than I've been able to do at a witchcamp before.

In the years since we invented witchcamps, they've proliferated. I used to wonder when the growth would start collapsing -- it seemed to me that there would be a point at which giant witchcamps going on for a week at a time would no longer be financially viable -- that the structures would naturally start to shift.

I've greatly enjoyed long-weekend intensives, over the 25 years I've been teaching witchcraft, for instance. They're smaller, easier to organize, less expensive, and the work can be deeper (though the high one gets with a circle of 70 people is of course very different). So I'm in favor of that.

And the camper-created structure makes sense to me, too.

In the meantime, though, I'm still willing to teach at regular camps, if they make sense to me. Or weekend intensives, if they make sense to me. Or facilitate at camper-created camps, if they makes sense to me. I'm not dedicated to one form or another. I like for things to shift and change. In a reasonable fashion.

On the other hand, now that I think of it, the Ring Cycle did NOT seem reasonable to me, but I adored it by the end of the week, and got an enormous amount of personal work done. So clearly, I should have an even more open mind than I've managed to create so far.

29 May 2007

Comments Enabled; Bags Not Packed

Those of you who have tried unsuccessfully to post comments lately SHOULD find that all is well. I had to enable myself, before YOU could get enabled. I was pretty chuffed that I could do it. (Would that it was that easy in other aspects of life.)

I'm set to fly off to the Midwest Witchcamp next Wednesday. I had considered driving, but that would take, oh, I dunno, hours, or something, and make the trip much longer. So I'm flying.

This means I actually have to think about what I pack. If I'm driving, I can take my zafu, my doumbek, a riq, and many many changes of clothes, so that I may be visually effective whilst leading group trances. Though now that I think of it, since everybody'll have their eyes closed, that's maybe not so important.

I hate this part. I've got a majorly giant suitcase, into which I can fit many things, including the means to make a proper cup of tea, and a bunch of books -- I've got a lot of summer reading I need to attend to -- but I dislike being the person who takes up most of the room in the teachers' dorm.

Next week I'll start trying to pack light. For now, I'm just thinking about it.

20 May 2007

Small-Town Communities

In the last year, I've been working steadily on helping to create -- or re-create; it depends on exactly what you mean and to whom you're talking -- a workable, solid, sane, grounded, pagan community, in the Reclaiming tradition. It's interesting work, in Pittsburgh.

When I first got here, about 15 years ago, I worked on this, teaching Elements classes, and working with established small groups. One after the other, they dissolved. Nothing ever went further than Elements. Interest in "Iron Pentacle" or "Rites of Passage"? Nonexistent. Nor could I get a workable coven going. I finally realized that it was time to turn away and work elsewhere, and for about 10 years I worked mostly as a solitary, though I continued to teach for a while at the British Columbia witchcamp, and I worked with some cohorts occasionally, putting together lovely and interesting workshops. We're very fond of the excellent poem, "Sir Orfeo," which has LOTS of inner directions about the mystical life, how to deal with the faery folk, and instructions on vision quests.

About a year and a half ago I found a small group of dedicated pagans working in the Reclaiming tradition, and holding small public rituals on the high holidays. I started working with them, very slowly at first, so I could get used to the collective and individual energy, and see where I fit in, and what was going on. In the course of that time, some people left, some people got disconnected, some people stuck around.

Lately, I've been leading little "teaching rituals" -- not formal classes, but workshops meant to get people new to the tradition, or to the craft in general, grounded in the basics of moving energy, and the history of Reclaiming, and the political and psychic and social aspects of energy structures. Now, we've got a new group of people interested in the basic classes, in small groups, in meeting often, in working deep. This will significantly change the energy of the public rituals.

And deep is what I want, and what I've always wanted. I'm fine with the energy of witchcamps; they are energizing and exciting. And I do love a good public ritual, one that's not only large but well-structured, using group energy powerfully and responsibly. But important as the large events are, they're not where the real work gets done, as far as I'm concerned.

The real work gets done in the small groups, the covens, meeting regularly and often, over the course of years. It's only in that kind of a group that group trances hit real pay dirt. It's in that kind of a group that one's patterns get noticed and addressed. It's in that kind of a group that the relationships get out of hand, and painful, and joyful, and multi-layered. And because of those relationships, it's where individual and group patterns can get worked out.

When they do. As we all know, they don't always. Maybe mostly they don't. But only close relationships give us the compost to work with, and the possiblity of working so deep.

And that kind of work then feeds the public rituals.

I'm totally uninterested in figuring out how to get more people involved in the public rituals, so that we can make them big and flashy. I'm interested in figuring out how to get more people interested in working deep, in small groups, so that we can make the public rituals solid and powerful.

I'm told, by those who have been here a long time, that Pittsburgh's a frustrating place, that the pagan community is long fractured and lacking cohesion and full of in-fighting. Ah. Well. That would certainly be different from the usual run of things.

My experience in San Francisco, back in the heady early days of Reclaiming, leads me to believe that the main differences between San Francisco and Pittsburgh are 1) only true masochists would go around naked in public in Pittsburgh at public rituals, and 2) since there are fewer pagans in general, and a much more conservative population base, the fracturing and in-fighting in the pagan community have a bigger impact than they would in many other cities.

But Pittsburgh's a big city! Or, ok, a medium, not very small city! It's hard for people putside Pittsburgh to believe what a truly small-town place this is. One of my cohorts, in fact, was talking to a Reclaiming friend in Chicago, who, upon hearing that she was having trouble with some members of the community, was advised to go work with other groups in the community.

Please. Who would these groups be?

Well. If I'm right about the power of the coven structure (this is an essentially anarchist view of power, of course), then the need to actually work together if we want anything to get done may well facilitate empowerment.

Here's hoping that it'll take. It's nice, anyway, having another chance. I am truly enjoying being back in the game.

17 May 2007

In Which We Say Hello Again

After an hiatus of nearly a year, in order to move through some deep life changes (when I said earlier that it's the goddesses of light that are really scary I was NOT exaggerating), I'm back.

No, no, please. Let's all calm down. No need for all the hoopla. Let's just pretend I never left.

As part of my healthy holy let's-get-really-sane-for-a-while program, I signed up over at my yoga center for a Shirodhara treatment, which involves having a stream of warm oil poured on one's third eye, for about 15 minutes. It's very focusing, I must say. I had been quite interested in the information, given in the advertising pamphlet, that the treatment would induce deep relaxation, and basically put one in an altered state for about three days.

Driving home, I found that I was cheerful and focused and grounded and happy, but not in an altered state.

A couple of hours later I realized -- oh! This is my normal state!

That's me, continuously altered.

It was a lovely treatment, anyway. You need a LOT of shampoo later, though.