Thursday, April 18, 2013

It's that's time of year again . . .

Life is returning to the world -- the trees are budding, dandelions dot the grass in my yard, there are birds singing and collecting nest materials, every night I see rabbits, every morning is sunshine. Persephone has returned! It is spring!


They slam in to my windows, their abdomens pulsing on the other side of the glass; they perch on my car, a daily scourge mocking me as I try to leave my house. They hover at the exits, black and yellow, deep red, deepest black and metallic harbingers of terror. Bastards.

I have spheksophobia, the fear of wasps (and hornets), and my fear is extreme. It is my only true phobia, but one that interferes with my life daily. I can say confidently that wasps and hornets are probably the number one reason why I hate summer and prefer the colder months. They are everywhere, and as the heat rises, they become more prolific. It is completely impossible to avoid them during the day in summer, and it's become even worse since I moved down south, where it is hot longer than it is cold.

I was three or four years old the first time I was ever stung by a yellow jacket. We were visiting Florida and it was my first time seeing a nest. I was fascinated -- I had already developed a complete obsession with anything nature-related. I wasn't close to the nest, just watching from a distance, but I still provoked an aggressive response in one of the wasps, and I didn't understand what I had done.

Since then, I've been stung three more times, but all of them by honeybees -- once on my arm, and twice on the bottoms of my feet (I run around barefoot a lot and still do today). And I'll clarify here: while bees make me nervous, I can gather enough strength to tolerate them. I don't want them right up in my face, but I can handle them flying around a few feet away. If I can see a wasp and am  aware of them being there, I can't be in that area, whatsoever.

A few days ago, I was doing my dishes and looked up to see a black wasp sitting on the kitchen window above my head. A sight like that reduces me to complete flight mode. I wanted to be able to just grab a shoe and squash it, but I physically cannot make myself get that close to a wasp. It was 8:15 in the morning, I had to get ready for class, but I could not do anything knowing that wasp was sitting there. I called Clint, and he woke up and came over to help me. He squashed the wasp with his bare hand!! I was screeching like an old lady, just terrified. I've felt like wasps are crawling on me since seeing that one inside.

That isn't the first time Clint has witnessed my fear of wasps either. One time last summer, we were parked at a gas station. It was hot, we had the windows down, and I was sitting in the passenger seat of his Jeep. A wasp flew up to the window, right in front of my face, I could hear its wings beating. I hardly have a memory of what happened next -- it was a primal response, no thinking or cognition at all. Somehow, despite having my seatbelt on, I was able to slide out of it into the backseat, launching myself as far away from that wasp as I could. Clint didn't even know what was happening (neither did people outside of the car). I just remember yelling to roll up all the windows, and I couldn't calm down for several minutes.

Another time many years ago, I was at a barbecue. There were yellow jackets all over -- in the soda cans, flying around cake and other food. I ended up jumping in the pool with all of my clothes on, staying under the water as long as I could, to get away from the wasps.

Even last week, I was at the bank and when I came back out into the parking lot, there were yellow jackets flying around my car. I ended up walking all the way around to the back of my car, got in through the back seat and climbed to the front seat to avoid having to go near the wasps.

Furthermore, the past couple of days up till now, it's even becoming hard for me to go out on the deck to water my plants because of the wasps. And the cicada killer wasps haven't even arrived -- have you SEEN those things?!
By the way, this is a male, the small one. Females can be larger than 2 inches long. Image found here.
I first encountered them when I moved into my current house last summer. The males are very territorial and fly at anything that moves. They hang out on the railings of my deck and I just can't go out there. Everyday it gets warmer and warmer, and I dread the coming months. My phobia has really made me a prisoner during the summer. I've even been late to class before because I can't get into my car if there is a wasp sitting on the windshield.

And I'm not just plagued during the day by actual, living wasps. I have nightmares about them too, the most recent being a wasp that followed me around my house, stinging my back. I couldn't get away from it and it was trapped under my shirt. I've had other nightmares where I'm locked in a room full of swarming wasps and hornets, all different sizes.

How I hate this phobia...but it's really impossible to overcome. People say just be calm, keep your heart rate low, just ignore them and they'll ignore you. It really isn't that simple. I'm not just nervous about them, or I don't like them, or whatever -- I am absolutely terrified, as well as humiliated. And this fear humbles me as well. It has to, especially when both friends and total strangers have seen me run screaming in public, when fellow classmates have seen me leave the classroom because there's a wasp on the ceiling and the professor is saying it's not a big deal. I try so hard to control this fear, but it's a futile effort. The worst is when people tell me that I shouldn't be fearing any part of Nature, that I should respect it but not fear it. Especially when Pagans say this to me! It's infuriating. And this phobia is disrupting my life and preventing me from doing a lot of the things I want to be doing.

It makes me feel a lot of shame as well. I've spoken to people before who have had terrible wasp experiences, things like stepping on a rotten log housing a hive and being attacked by that entire hive simultaneously. Hornets flying up shirts and stinging people repeatedly. I haven't had these experiences, yet I'm more terrified of them than any other person I've met. I don't think I have the strength it requires to ever control this fear, and I really think I'm missing out on so much because of it. It is beautiful outside right now, warm but with a cooling breeze, a little cloud cover so the sun isn't so intense. Birds everywhere. But I can see the wasps, flying around my windows, landing on my deck. And I remain stuck inside. I'm always stuck inside.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

G r a t i t u d e + S u n d a y

In my continued effort to be more positive and work toward self improvement, I'm joining Taryn at Wooly Moss Roots for Gratitude Sunday. In her words: "Sunday's heartfelt tradition. A time to slow down, to reflect, to be grateful. A list of gratitudes."

This week, I am grateful for:

* -- a certain item I found at a thrift store while looking for bottles to hold my Florida Water. It's become a new DIY project for me, but I don't want to say anything about it until it's finished. I've been photographing the whole process from the beginning.

* -- Clint bringing over some tools in order for me to work on my secret DIY project! I wouldn't be able to do it at all without him lending me some things.

* -- the buds growing on my trees in my front yard. I have a pair of trees that create a canopy over my front walkway. They're one of my favorite things about my house (and I don't even know what they are; I need to find that out!) and they've looked so tired and sad without leaves. They are becoming filled with little, green, hanging buds and pollen. I can't wait until they are in full bloom with leaves!

* -- seeing a little House Wren land on my deck, and then watching it curl up in the soil in the pot holding my Jaguar Daisies. He shook his feathers and wings in the dust for a few seconds and just sat there in the leaves. It was so cute. What a perfect time to look out my window at my plants!

* -- some time spent in the garden center at work. I really hate my job, but it's easier to stay there than having to find another place and have to go through training all over again. For a few hours on Friday, I got to cover the garden center and I spent that time learning as much as I could between helping customers. One of the guys I work with gave me lots of advice and encouragement for my containers, and made some suggestions on how to change my watering schedule. I hope his suggestions work!

* -- coupons. I've seen some episodes of that show Extreme Couponing and a lot of it makes me angry. Those people are buying things they don't need or use just because they have coupons for it. And although some of them donate their extra items, most of them create enormous stockpiles and keep it all for themselves, even though it will never be used. One woman on the show even bought tons of bags of cat treats, doesn't own a cat, and was just keeping them because she got them for free with coupons. But anyway, I've started collecting coupons on my own, trying to find ones for items I buy all the time and things I like to treat myself to once in a while. The other day, I made my grocery list and tried to use as many coupons as I could for needed items. I ended up saving $17, even getting an entire carton of eggs for free, paying only $4 for a $9 bottle of vitamins, and other discounts. I know that doesn't sound like a lot of money, but $17 is almost two meals, half a tank of gas, or around 10 items of clothing at a thrift store. So I was happy about that and definitely going to continue!

* -- getting two exams out of the way during this past week of class. I have a little more time to catch up on other things I'm reading. I like to spend my breaks at work catching up on books, so now I can do that for a few days guilt-free, because I won't be blowing off study time.

* -- a fun party Friday night after work. It was a friend's birthday, I got to hang out with some people I don't see often, and saw a really cool band play. I wish I had more time to get out.

* -- my mom sending an early birthday present. She always finds amazing things, I don't know how! This year, she sent me another Tibetan-style bell, the second year in a row. They have beautiful designs and I love their tones. I hung the one from last year out on my deck in my container garden area. It's a little heavy, so the wind doesn't make it ring too often, but I love hearing that little sound every once in a while. I'm so excited watching my deck become a new sanctuary at my house. If only I could get the wasps to go away!!

Friday, April 12, 2013

"Someday's Garden" Is Growing

Sometimes when you look at the light coming from the East in the early morning, you can tell that everything will be alright in the coming day. I felt like that this morning when I looked out into my backyard. The light was just perfect, and golden.
And it has been a good day so far! Best of all, the Bleeding Hearts bulb I ordered from my professor arrived. It was sitting on my desk waiting for me when I got to lab today. Bleeding Hearts are one of my absolute favorite flowers (and I'm a goth at heart, so it makes sense)! They are supposed to be very strong, hardy plants so I hope so badly that they will grow. I got a big, black, square container to house them this afternoon.
It makes me very anxious thinking about them growing, because so far, there isn't a peep coming from the Harlequin Flowers and Persian Buttercups I planted on April 2nd. Those bulbs are guaranteed to grow, but the pots sit there looking no differently than when I first filled them. I'm crossing my fingers that I didn't do something terribly wrong, (black thumb, black thumb, black thumb...) and it's scaring me even a little bit more because my African Marigolds are looking very sad. They aren't as wilty as they were a few days ago, so I think the huge thunderstorm we had helped a lot, but they aren't looking great. I've read on several gardening sites that one of the most common causes of death in container plants is over-watering, but now I wonder if I've been under-watering. It seems so hard to find the balance sometimes.
But I can't spend too much time worrying about it, because I also made another addition to my collection today: Basil, finally!! I eat so much Basil and it gets expensive. It's one of my favorite herbs and it's a rare meal I cook that doesn't have something to do with Basil in some way. I've been wanting to grow my own for ages, but I've been too afraid to start from seed. Today I found a plant that already appears well-established, so hopefully I can continue to increase the growth and for the first time, provide food for myself that I grew myself. It might not be a big deal, just a little Basil plant, but it's so important to me.
My other plants, the Philodendron and the Jaguar Daisy are doing very well though. As you can see above, Betty had two sister flowers open up. I'm very happy about that, they are bringing so much beauty to my deck.
Philodendron is a plant that prefers shade to sun, so when/if my Bleeding Hearts grow, they and Phil' will be moved to my front porch where the light is less intense. 
I've always heard that talking to plants is great for their health. I try to spend a little bit of time doing that each day. When I let Sól out in the yard in the morning, (if the bees and wasps aren't already flying around -- I'm scared insane of them), I like to take my coffee out and just tell them about positive things. I think I remember seeing a Mythbusters episode once about talking to plants, but I can't remember if they were able to show any results. I'll have to look into whether other studies have been done showing this to have a positive effect on plant growth. Maybe it's weird, but I think would talk to them either way. I also talk to the surrounding environment, the birds, the insects, the universe, the land spirits, to whomever, and ask them to bless my little container garden. It's quickly becoming a passion of mine; I want so badly to succeed in this endeavor. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Homemade Florida Water

For a while now, I've been looking into homemade alternatives to items that I normally buy. It's a goal of mine to do this whenever possible because it saves so much money. I'm collecting recipes for laundry detergent, shower and window cleaners, fabric softener, anything I can think of or come across on Pinterest. But I'm also collecting recipes for spiritual things like bath salts, oil blends, and waters, Florida Water being one of those.

I would say the majority of the witchcraft I do at this point in my life either has to do with healing or cleansing. Washing away the old, negative spiritual dust and making space to allow positive changes to come in, in the form of thoughts, feelings, and energies. Cleansing activities have an effect on me that is both uplifting and calming at the same time. I've been neglecting my practice lately, and it's taken too much of a toll. With spring having arrived, my spirits are lifting and I'm beginning to make more time for myself (and others) on a spiritual level. Beginning to make a lot of the things I use at home is going to help reawaken and strengthen my new resolve.

Florida Water is one of my favorite holy substances. It's not holy for everyone -- some just wear it as a cologne. As Catherine Yronwode explains, it "is a 19th century formula for a commercially-prepared toilet water...that blends an array of floral essential oils in a water-alcohol base. The name refers to the fabled Fountain of Youth said to have been located in Florida."
Commercial Florida Water. Original photograph found here.
It is one of my favorite smells. It reminds me of later summer and early fall, and represents a lot of great memories for me. One of the best rituals I've ever participated in was a Voodoo healing ritual, and as we walked down a path in the woods to the ritual area, we anointed ourselves with Florida Water along the way. It is used for self-anointment, anointing altars, and many different types of spiritual cleansing. It is also a great addition to offerings left for ancestors or land spirits.

I've seen different recipes for it before, but I really wanted something simple, with ingredients that I can easily access. I decided on using Stephanie Rose Bird's recipe, found in her book Sticks, Stones, Roots & Bones. I read this book a few months ago, and I'm completely in love with it. Hoodoo and conjure practices are something I've been getting a lot of exposure to over the last year and a half, and they've influenced me deeply already. This book has been a great resource for my individual study of American folk magic. 

The ingredients are very simple: distilled water, 100 proof vodka, and lavender, clove bud, and bergamot oil. A friend from lab generously gave me some of her oils. I substituted just clove oil in place of the clove bud. It's an easier oil to find, and ordering online for less common oils can get really expensive quickly.

After I had all of my ingredients, I really needed to find some bottles in which to store the Water -- and that means a trip to peddler's and antique malls. I never give up chances to go shopping there! And I had some amazing luck today, I really couldn't believe it! I found a tall, green bottle that I'm using to store the bulk amount of the Water, and a small, dark blue glass bottle with a spray pump. When I was finished, I couldn't resist setting them up with my "Voo-Boo" doll that I bought from a friend at last year's Nashville Pagan Pride Day:

Oh, and the prices of those bottles? The spray bottle was $2.25, the tall green one, $1.99! So perfect and pretty. So now, I'm going to let my new homemade Florida Water settle for a few days before I transfer some into the spray bottle. The smell is a little strong for my liking, so I think I will be diluting it a little further with more distilled water before using it. I'm excited to research further all the different ways Florida Water can be used in a spiritual setting.  Stephanie Rose Bird says, "No Hoodoo home is complete without Florida Water." I agree entirely. Today has been a blessed day.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

G r a t i t u d e + S u n d a y

In my continued effort to be more positive and work toward self improvement, I'm joining Taryn at Wooly Moss Roots for Gratitude Sunday. In her words: "Sunday's heartfelt tradition. A time to slow down, to reflect, to be grateful. A list of gratitudes."

It has been very rough, but,
this week, I am grateful for:

* -- the weather warming a little. I am definitely a cold weather fan, but having it a bit warmer makes it easier to spend more time outside with my new plants. I want to do everything right by them. Even though it's just a slowly-growing collection of containers on my deck, I still want it to be a real garden.

* -- the last Friday exam for my hematology class. It's a huge relief to not have to worry about weekly tests, so I can devote more time to the other schoolwork I have to do.

* -- spending time with my friend Lauren. I did a house cleansing for her new place on Wednesday. Getting to share some chanting and energy work with a friend was great for me. More motivation to become active and involved once again.

* -- spending time with a Sphynx cat at Lauren's new house! One of her roommates owns him. They are one of my favorite cat breeds, and he was a classic Sphynx. They're so much fun.

* -- my church, always, and my Priestess. There is a new law that was just passed in Kentucky, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I'm very apprehensive about what may happen in the future, especially because the wording of this law is so vague. Lawmakers overturned Gov. Beshear's veto of it, unfortunately. My favorite Pagan blog, the Wild Hunt covered this story, and the Priestess of my church (also a great friend), spoke about her reaction to it. I'm grateful to have a strong role model like her and that she is such a positive voice for us in the community. She's so inspiring to me.

* -- finishing advisement for my last semester as an undergrad. I thought I'd never get here. Registration for those last classes is on Monday. I'll be doing some TA'ing next semester which I'm looking forward to.

* -- Sean being my Accountabilibuddy. We have similar goals (and similar mindsets). If I have him to answer to for my successes, and mistakes, it's going to help keep me focused on taking myself back. He understands well how easy it is to sabotage yourself, and his advice during our conversation yesterday was really helpful. "Carve out the useless stuff, and find inside the best version of yourself." That's the affirmation I'm going to be reflecting upon for the coming weeks.

Friday, April 5, 2013

How I Must Take Myself Back

I've really started letting myself go, in the way overwhelmed, 40-something mothers do, before they cut all their hair off, becoming shapeless grey blobs of sweatsuits and birkenstocks. That's exactly how I feel.

I didn't think that would start to happen until my mid-30's or 40's, not my mid-20's. I feel incredibly old and immature at the same time. There are so many things I want to do, that are right there within reach, but I procrastinate everything. I'm lazy and sluggish, and up until the last few weeks, I've been indifferent as well. Getting by on knowledge and daydreams rather than action. It's really pathetic of me.

It may seem as if I'm having a pity party over here, but there's a difference between low self esteem and being realistic about how one has given up on oneself. For example : Though I wear yoga pants most days I'm not wearing scrubs, I only go occasionally now, despite having more time and more studios to visit. I used to go to yoga at least three times a week, sometimes two classes a day. Now I'm lucky if I make it to even two classes a month.

I used to be a health-food fiend, strict vegetarian, spending hours on shopping trips reading every label, cooking 3 or more meals at home each day, never touching bread or rice that was bleached, never eating frozen dinners, fast food of any kind wasn't even on my radar. Now, I drink soda, I cook more with my microwave than I do with my stove. Though I stopped eating vegetarian for other reasons, I've also completely slacked off on my Mediterranean (low glycemic index) diet. I haven't been to the farmers market in months.

And because of that, I'm gaining weight. I'm around 127-128 pounds, almost 20 pounds heavier than I've ever been before, none of it in muscle weight. I've stopped exercising, I've stopped hiking, I've stopped biking. I barely have enough energy to take my dog for a decent walk each day. Two years ago, I was doing P90X, I was going to the gym almost everyday, at least every other. When I see how out of shape I've become so quickly, it makes me feel defeated, which makes me feel indifferent.

I used to read obsessively, finishing 2-3 new books each month. I carried books everywhere, and turned their pages every chance I got a moment. It was one of the most important daily activities I had. And I still read now, but so much else has taken priority over it. My poor books gather dust faster than my eyes get to see their words. I'm still reading the same novel I was a month and a half ago. I haven't even gotten close to starting all the new ones I wanted to by now.

I used to have a dedicated spiritual practice. I spent a lot of time studying different texts, practicing new and old techniques, meditating, speaking to the Earth, experiencing Nature and Paganism in different ways. I do have to say that my church is one of the only things today that can get me awakened, energized, excited, interested. But it's so often now that I don't bring back home the things I learn there. My private life now is pretty empty, and it feels pretty meaningless. I'm fucking sick of it.

I want my life back, my sense of self, my whole self back. My identity has become that of a depressed, lonely, boring shell. I've not even started any of the 2013 resolutions I wrote for myself on January 1st. I said 2013 was my year, but I haven't yet accomplished one thing other than excuses and being afraid. I'm beyond wanting everything to change, and waiting for that to happen. I've been living passively and isolated, and it's bullshit. I'm glad I feel angry at myself for allowing all of this to happen. I wasn't ever angry about it before, just sad. Sadness doesn't motivate anything, it hinders and distracts and eventually cripples. But isn't it so easy to give into sadness? That's the real insanity of my own life right now. Up until this point, I've been content with being sad. How ridiculous is that?

There are so many things I want to accomplish, and so many changes that need to be made, ones I will have to force myself to embrace. Ones that I used to live out naturally that now seem so impossible. It's like I've forgotten how to be healthy and positive, somewhere, somehow, I fell out of rhythm and convinced myself that none of my old lifestyle mattered, because everything was stressful or chaotic. I've been less passionate than a zombie toward everything lately, and it is stopping now. I'm reaching in, and grabbing my mind or my soul or my higher self or whatever it is that we have, I'm grabbing it by the throat, slapping its face, demanding it to Wake Up, and possess me.

Dawn was so beautiful this morning. I won't keep wasting dawns like today's with hours that I throw away burying myself under negativity, irritation, and indifference. I am taking myself back, and I will not hold back to do so. No more laziness, or self-loathing, or self-sabotage. I no longer have patience for it in my mind or room for it in my heart. No one should ever let their self go.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Beginning "Someday's Garden"

Yesterday evening, I finally got started on a project I've been researching and planning since January -- the container garden on my deck. I'm only just beginning and I have a long way to go, but it's amazing how much of a difference such a tiny addition of plants makes to a space.

My friend Lauren and I went to Lowe's yesterday to get some supplies. I ended up choosing the African Marigold (Tagetes erecta) and the Jaguar Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii) that were already grown, and I got bulbs for Harlequin Flowers (Sparaxis tricolor) and Persian Buttercups (Ranunculus asiaticus) to plant myself. I'm also still waiting for my delivery of Bleeding Hearts from my professor, and I need to get my Philodendron transferred to a new pot.

Lauren has named this one "Betty," and I think it works!
I really hope the bulbs I planted will grow well. I'm so determined to lose my black thumb forever. Sitting outside in the spring air, working on digging and arranging, with the smell of the soil and the sounds of the birds everywhere, it's totally cathartic. Gardening is such a healing, relaxing activity and I'd feel so sad if all my efforts don't provide anything. I have many more plans for my new container garden than just flowers; I really want this to be a way to save money and live more honestly.

And I think I've got my current list decided on the harvestable plants I'd like to grow. Tomatoes obviously do very well in containers, and I've read some blogs lately detailing growing cucumbers in containers. I didn't think that would be possible, but it even seems to be pretty simple. In addition to those, I'd like to set up basil, rosemary, lavender, thyme, mint, sage, and parsley. I'm also thinking about chives, but I don't cook with them often so I'm not sure how much it would be worth it, though their flowers are beautiful. I'm afraid to start any of these from seed however; I've just had terrible luck in the past. So hopefully soon, Lauren and I can visit the University greenhouses and see if they are selling any that have already started growing. 

I've also been looking a lot on Pinterest for ideas on what types of markers I want to put in all my containers. There are lots of cute ideas like spoons with etching, little carved sticks, clothespins, etc. I think I would want to make them little painted rocks, or maybe something out of tin. I'll have to see if I can find a good source for reclaimed wood or maybe little trinkets I can modify from the Peddler's Mall. There are lots of creative opportunities.

It's really fulfilling to me that I've started doing this, especially when the plans began a while ago. It's hard for me to stay focused on projects, but this is something I've wanted to do for a while, even though it's just been hanging out in the back of my head for years. I got a huge new kick of inspiration from a fellow church member at Ostara. He blessed all the seeds and plants that were brought to ritual, and asked how many of us are practicing self sufficiency or considering small changes in that direction, whether through gardening, animal husbandry, etc. I think I am a part of that world -- I work on farm animals sometimes and help out where I can -- but I need to be so much more involved in it.

I think it's so important that Pagans be involved in outdoor activities, and interaction with plants. They are the best way to be in touch with the Earth, and they give so much living energy to everything, from just bringing some cheery color to our spaces, to added power in our magical practices (I'm using plants more often than I ever have in my witchcraft), to food for our bodies, and oxygen for our lungs. After having spent last evening and some time this morning with my new flowers, I find it shocking that there are so many Pagans out there, myself included, who aren't doing any kind of gardening work regularly, and I'm going to change that, at least for myself. There is way too much wisdom in flora that can be learned just by spending with them -- the kind of things you can't describe or even speak about at all. It's intuition, and compassion, and magic. 

So stay tuned for more updates on my containers. I also need to ask my landlord if I can plant in the front yard. There is a gorgeous, small section where flowers can be planted along my walkway, so I'll have to find out if I'll be allowed. I'm sure I will be writing a lot about my experience with this new activity, as it is already changing my life. As I'm writing this right now, I can look out the window and see my new flowers on the deck, catching the light and giving me color. It's so nice to be able to look up and just watch them for a while. It feels like a new little family, and I can't wait for it to grow larger.