Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Positive Energy for the New Year

The first few weeks after the holidays are one of my favorite observational times of year.  It’s during this time that people engage in rebirth and renewal activities that to a Pagan mind bring on spring, but to a good Southern mind bring on the New Year.  The true purpose of simple actions like lighting candles to make a home seem homier when guests come by goes typically unnoticed.  Almost every home does it no matter what their religious persuasion.  They light candles or fires in their fireplaces, effectively holding the darkness at bay until the days gradually become longer reminiscing a time before electricity. 

People make New Year’s resolutions in an effort to better themselves or their lifestyles, not realizing that this, too, is an effort to banish negativity from their lives so that they are better able to receive the results of better choices.

The most common, Spring cleaning, which begins in every good Southern household just as soon as the Christmas decorations come down.  It’s a thorough cleansing of any built up energy, be it bad or good, and a rearranging of one’s living space to make it more inviting and open to receiving.   

All three of these examples are all about getting a fresh start.  They are about beginning anew without any of the past lingering or attaching itself to the open possibilities of the present, which is a good thing no matter what you personal beliefs happen to be.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Angels at the Alter

Gas, Burton, Ville, Mige, Linde
On Sunday, September 22nd, several friends and I loaded up in my car to drive south to a HIM concert many hours away in Atlanta, Georgia.  So great is our love for the band HIM that this is not our first long distance trek to catch just a glimpse of the magic that is their music.  And, in fact, all of the fans that we have met while waiting in line or perhaps enjoying the show, have all traveled long distances to witness this band's mesmerizing stage presence.  The pull of their euphonious music can only be equated, and I am not exaggerating here, with the power of the moon that governs the ocean tides.

The band HIM hails from Finland, and their music, which is sometimes called "love metal", is a homogeneous mixture of divine melancholia and hope-filled doom.  I was first introduced to HIM many, many years ago while in high school when a few of their early songs were added onto a friend's mixed c.d.  I devoured those three songs and rabidly went in search for more.  Now, their music is the soundtrack of my life, and each new album only adds depth to my love for them.

A HIM concert is a quintessential experience that delved deep into the shadowed areas of souls, luring the crowd into a mass ecstatic frenzy of pure devotion. Throngs of "devotees hand on to, and sign every note, their bodies pulsing to the rhythm, writhing with the need for more.

What does this have to do with Southern traditions and the typical feel of my blog? EVERYTHING.  For, there, at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, Georgia, a venue that was once a prominent downtown Southern Baptist church, countless fans gathered for a metal show.  Unseen forces and an unheard mystical call lead HIM fans all to a place once used for worship (of a different, more traditional southern-friendly kind) so that they could show reverence for this mighty band which brings them to their knees.

Heartagram symbols were displayed freely on jewelry, t-shirts, jackets and tattoos, and no one was overheard asking what the symbol meant. The Heartagram encompasses a vast variety of meanings, but to the concert-goers of a HIM show, it's the easiest way to show love and support of a band that has been bleeding poetry to them for twenty years.  It represents the circle of life, dark and light, love and hate, life and death... People stood outside in the hot sun, lined up and down and around the sidewalks of Luckie Street for hours in peaceful, polite company.  And when at last the show began, and this Finnish band of all bands took to their throne, the audience did the only thing they could do.  They released out exalted, passionate cries to the band they love, and fell into the hypnotic rapture that can only be inspired by HIM.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Whispers in the South

Lately, I have found myself taking part in various whispered conversations either at work or among my friends.  These discussions range from silly to serious, but they all have one thing in common.  They are unacceptable topics of conversation in the South. Below are two situations I encounter regularly.

The funniest and most common unmentionable topic is of course the casting of 50 Shades of Grey.  At work, at a family members house, and out at lunch with friends this sly subject sneaks its way into the atmosphere.  In hushed tones, someone blushes, clears their throat, shuffles around nervously, and whispers.  “Have you heard?  They have picked the actors for 50 Shades.”   This is hilarious.  Why are they whispering when they know that everyone around them has already read these books and bought the t-shirt?  These are the same people that when asked if they have read these books they shuffle, turn red, look everywhere but at the person who asked them while giving the pseudo-answer. “Hmm.” 

From a funny topic to a serious but wonderful topic: Spirituality.  This too is always whisper worthy. Due to wide media coverage, the spread of yoga and meditation, and growing accessibility, spirituality has reached the religion-crazed South.  Now, on top of Wednesday and Sunday church going, people are becoming interested in sparking their own divine connection.  For years, I have been known as the weird vegetarian hippie girl whose ideas of healthy living were a little strange. Recently, I have become the go-to girl for all things life-expanding.  Friends and acquaintances approach me almost daily with a wide variety of questions regarding whether I think meditation would be useful for them, how should they meditate, what exactly is yoga, or why is it better to only buy food on the outside ring of the grocery store. And, sometimes, I get the wonderful questions about my thoughts of reincarnation, God, spirit, etc. People are interested in finding a deeper connection that works with their fundamental beliefs. Yet, all of these things are asked of me in the same shame-filled but slightly curious way of the above questions about 50 Shades of Grey, as if they were not entirely sure they should speak of such things. 

I have come to realize that there is  astigmatism to being raised Southern.  All around people are curious to know more about many things in life but are strangely reluctant to ask or to learn. But, eventually, like cats, their curiosity gets the better of them, and their questions come out in whispers.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Irksome Phrases

There are phrases in the English language that are used quite often which make my skin crawl. Simple words that become red flags when used in conversation.

For No Reason: This is the excuse of all excuses.  It takes the blame away from the speaker, tossing it out into the universe un-owned.  This thing happened, not because a bad decision was made, but it happened for no reason…simply because the person is unlucky. 

I’m a whatever:  I hear this constantly.  In the South, someone is usually telling you that they are a “good” Christian right before they say or do something nasty, but it can be just about anything.  It is my opinion that if you feel the need to tell someone that you are something/anything, then you are trying to convince yourself and everyone else that you are that thing.  If you were that thing, why would you need to advertise it?

To Be Honest With You:  This is my favorite of all the irksome phrases.  When someone throws in that phrase in whatever they are trying to convey, I immediately stop listening.  Why?  I am busy trying to figure out what they were not being honest about previously.  As an attention grabber, it’s counter-productive.  Those words do not reinforce the message of the speaker.  They undermine it.

These red flag phrases are a few examples of my own pet peeves.  Can you think of anymore?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Sparks Will Fly

Life is a journey, and there are many different pathways a person can choose to take along the way.  We are not bound by a set of rules.  This is the one thing I know to be true. 

Yesterday, as fireworks burst out amidst a rainy 4th of July, I found myself watching a party supply commercial that in vivid, colorful detail explained everything that an American would need for a proper Independence Day party.  This commercial was followed by an advertisement for all the correct holiday food needed to celebrate.  And, that was followed by one letting all of us know where we could buy the clothes we would need to make our celebration appearance.  After turning the TV off, I looked outside at the rain drizzling down and relished in the idea of settling down into a nice rainy day.
The peaceful quiet made me consider all the paths we are nudged towards during our lives.  From birth these “nudges” come at us from all directions, and they come to us in the form of expectations.  Disney princesses and good southern upbringing nudge us towards the mythical happily ever after.  Society pushes us towards acceptable careers, habits, hobbies, etc… Media infiltrates our minds with all the stuff we need.  The list goes on and on.

“Nudges” are thrown at us so often, we are slammed so hard by them, that we eventually become numb and start going with the flow because it’s easier to follow along than to make a decision on one’s own.

So, as I watched the rain fall down in perfect droplets on a holiday when picnics and outside celebrations are considered the “way” to commemorate, I was reminded that that too was a great path to follow.  Sometimes doing the different thing is the right choice.

Does anyone else struggle with the choice in doing what’s expected or stepping outside the norm and taking the path most right for you?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Midsummer Fun!

The summer solstice fell upon us this past weekend, and midsummer celebrations could be found all over the Northern Hemisphere of the globe.  The summer solstice marks the longest day and shortest night of the year, and Midsummer is the celebration to mark the special moment in the annual cycle.

Midsummer celebrations fall back to Neolithic times, recognized by several names such as Litha (Pagan) and St. John’s day(Christian - This is John the Baptist’s b-day celebration)  , and the celebrations embrace many practices and traditions still followed.  Healing herbs such as lavender, calendula, St. John ’s wort and many others are picked at this time. These herbs are gathered in bunches and hung in doorways to dry.  Water is used to cleanse away negativity.  Small bunches of the medicinal herbs are gathered and placed in a container of water and left outside overnight.  Then, faces are washed with the flower water the next morning to cleanse the spirit. Bonfires are lit around midnight to dispel evil spirits thought to come about as the days get shorter.  These rituals alter and change depending on what part of the world one is in, but they all celebrate the rhythm of nature, and they all combine the common elements of fresh summer food to feast upon, dancing and celebrations, bright flowers in peak bloom, and a gathering to mark the ever-changing of the seasons.



Le feu de la Saint-Jean are the bonfires lit in France on Midsummer at the Fête de la Saint-Jean. This is a Catholic festival celebration.  Spain also lights bonfires of old stuff to get away from their past. They jump over these fires to rid themselves of bad spirits.  The bonfires are accompanied by fireworks displayed by the beaches.  In Sweden maypoles are raised and flowers are picked to create wreaths while girls dance and sing dressed in fairy-tale like costumes. And, Poland, perhaps gets the award for the most beautiful celebration!  Over 11,000 paper lanterns float up into the sky to mark the shortest night of the year.


For our own Midsummer celebration in the South, we celebrated in true Southern Tradition.  We had a feast of fresh summer fare; Roasted asparagus, red potatoes and tomatoes came together to create a lovely pizza with a summer sun-ripened strawberry pie for desert. We enjoyed a little summer fun splashing out by the pool, and we picked some of the lavender that was ready to be picked.  The night was ended, not with a huge bonfire, but with our own festival of lights.  Hundreds of fireflies lit up the summer Southern skies like little stars beckoning the huge super moon to top the horizon.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Knitting/Crocheting in the South

Heartagram cable-knit scarf

Child's fish hat

Growing up learning how to make things was important in my family.  At a very early age, I was taught to sew, cross-stitch, quilt, paint, tat (Not tattooing but the making of fine lace), knit, crochet, and so on.  I enjoyed the creativity of it all.  As a child, I learned how rewarding it could be to successfully be able to make something, rather than go buy it.  If we ran out of ideas, a thing of rare occasion, but if we did happen to run out of ideas, we would visit craft fairs and such for inspiration, and soon, we would be well on our way to learning how to make something new.

Fairy Tale finger puppets
Halloween finger puppets
I was in middle school, around the age of 13 or 14, when I first realized that no one my age knew how to do these things, nor did they want to know.  When a classmate rather snottily asked me where I found time to do all that crafty stuff, that her life was way too busy for such nonsense, then I understood that being able to make things and taking the time to actually do that was a rare thing in this day and time. 

Cozy Ruffled Afghan

Around high school, I discovered through my friends that they wanted to participate in the items I was making, so I began to show whoever whatever they wanted to learn.  In college, I made a little extra money by fixing torn/ripped seams of clothing owned by other girls that lived in my dorm.  My thread-filled knowledge turned into a hot commodity.  Now, I have inadvertently created a knitting/crocheting circle.  Over time, I have taught or inspired most of my girlfriends to pick up yarn in their spare time, and somehow, they have all, like me, stuck with it.

Child's penguin hat
Our knitting adventures are so common, I am always shocked when someone approaches me after they have purchased something or they are about to purchase something from my etsy shop SoftWarmandCosy to ask me where I find the time to be so creative.  Almost once a week, someone stops me to talk about knitting or crocheting.  Their eyes glaze over as they tell me about a grandmother or an aunt who used to crochet blankets, or how they would watch their elder relative sit and crochet when they were small children.  Then, they shake themselves out of their little daydream with the admission that they simply could never get the hang of it. 

This always makes me glad that my own mother and grandmothers had the forethought to share with me their knowledge of how to make handcrafted works.  Being creative was held as highly important a necessity as reading books.  I am also happy to be able to share it with my friends, and I love that I now have the opportunity to make hand-knitted items for my friends who could never get the hang of it.

Baby Blanket

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Rockin' Southern Meditation

How many times a day do you read or hear someone say, “you should try meditation”.  Once a practice for the mystical gurus only, now it has become part of most of our everyday lives. Even down here in the South.  There are a great variety of meditation methods you can choose from.  The uses for a meditation practice are so wide-spread that the definition of meditation encompasses many different ideas. The two most common uses for meditation are stress relief and spiritual connection. In fact, meditation really is in whatever form simply about connected with a deeper part of one’s consciousness.  The reason may be different, but connection is what meditation is all about.  

There was once a time when the topic of meditation was not heard of in the South, or perhaps, it was not well thought of in the South.  Due to a lack of understanding of the benefits of a regular meditation practice, the idea of it was dismissed. Unless you count sitting in a rocker on the front porch sipping sweet tea and counting your blessings as “meditation”. Now, times have changed and more information has become widespread for everyone.  Even in my small backwoods part of the world, the topic of meditation is becoming one that is much discussed and even practiced.  I first noticed the change in my weekly yoga class. Once the ending meditation, (where everyone rests in shavasana) was simply referred to as a five-minute relaxation period to “forget all of the worries of the day.” Now, after years of building a good yoga class, our teacher is able to move her students through a guided meditation that almost always goes way past the typical five minutes of relaxation.  Because her students are more receptive to the idea they are able to absorb more of the benefits.

I recently learned that several of the local colleges include meditation classes as part of their psychology, sociology and health classes.   These classes teach students various ways and forms of meditation to help them in their lives, and they are given ample time, thirty minutes to an hour of each class to practice these techniques and reap the benefits of what they have learned.

In short, the message has spread and been heard.  The art of meditation has spread in its many forms.  It has always been available, but now it’s familiar enough for the naturally superstitious Southern lot to try.  As an avid meditation practitioner, I am overjoyed that I now encounter others who are also benefiting from this simple activity.  Connecting with one's inner self can seem daunting, but it can also help filter out the stresses of the modern world. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Diggin' Up Bones

This weekend was Memorial Weekend, and my family spent it as we spend many weekends, not just holidays, walking through graveyards.  Here in the south the holiday is still called Decoration Day because it common for an entire family to load up a picnic and visit the local graveyard where their deceased loved ones are interred.  It is a big deal for families to decorate the graves with fresh colorful flowers.  

Haunting graveyards is a well-trampled pastime for my family.  We are all big history buffs and although we are not so very close now, we all maintain a strong connection to generations long gone, the story of how each of us came to be a part of the same family tree.  Yet, this strange hobby extends past the graves of family members we have never met.  It is not unusual for us to seek out and visit old cemeteries with interesting and beautiful carved headstones.  An older grave site is usually peaceful and calm, making it a nice place to visit to get away from the chaos of the world.

So, I wonder, does anyone else love reading old tombstones or exploring old crypts, mausoleums or vaults?  Or, is this simply one of those weird things passed down in a genealogy obsessed family?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

In the dictionary the first definition of symbology is: the art of expression by symbols.

Some form of symbology is practiced by most everyone.  Cross necklaces, St. Christopher pendants, and wedding rings are all emblems worn often to symbolize beliefs or customs that are important.  The symbols we wear are the items that remind us of our beliefs and the things we hold dear and important. 

I love symbols, and as someone who likes to constantly carry reminders of what those sigils mean. I love to look down and get a little nudge from something on my person that will remind me of what is real and important. I have collected these symbols over my lifetime, gaining a new one here and there to represent some other facet of the elements that are symbolic to who I am.  I have several that stay with me permanently.  All of which tend to raise a little suspicion amongst the unknowing.  These symbols may not be common here in the South, and tattoos especially have not been considered a usual choice for women of Southern roots, but that does not make them evil or bad.  Perhaps, they just need a little more explaining.

The symbol I have worn the longest is a silver ring of Celtic knot-work with a five-pointed star as the center focal point. I have worn this ring almost every day for over half of my life.  That being said…it’s this ring that gets the most attention here in the South.  More often than not, people stare at the ring as if it might bite them, but occasionally, they work up the courage to ask the inevitable question.  “Is that one of those witch symbols?” Or even better.  “That’s devil’s stuff.”  Now, this gets mentioned so much that mostly I answer with a shrug and say, “It’s a star.  That’s a shape like a triangle or a square.” But, that is not the entire truth.  Stars are very important to me, so much so that they are included in many of my other symbols.  The five points of my star remind me that everything is made up of the five elements, that in the end we really are made from star dust.  The star is my talisman that represents that we are all connected to something much deeper than our everyday lives. Stars represent wisdom, which brings me to the next symbol.

The constellation Pleiades is tattooed on my shoulder.  It is a constellation that has been mentioned in every major and most minor religious works ever written.   It is also the closest open star cluster to the constellation Taurus. The name Pleiades comes from Greek mythology story of the seven sisters, but is called many other names in different cultures.  The symbolic meanings of Pleiades are so vast that it is easier to imagine those stars as the observers of all wisdom and knowledge.  Those stars have touched almost every culture and every age.  So, when I get the quirky looks for have a cluster of stars permanently inked into my body I tell them it’s a reminder that my life might be short compared to the span of time, but Pleiades is a reminder that I am part of something that has always existed.  That curiously brings me to the next symbol.

Another tattoo, this is a picture of the Hindu God Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, which is in the shape of an Om symbol. Om simply put represents the divine, all-encompassing consciousness. Of all the symbols I carry with me, this one gets the most positive comments.  It seems that whether they know what it means or not, everyone thinks it’s a pretty tattoo.  I secretly think this have something to do with the deeper aspects of both Ganesh and the Om symbol, but I would never say so.  When people ask what it means, I try to give an uncomplicated yet truthful answer.  Ganesh, being the remover of obstacles, reminds me to have faith that whatever difficulty I might be experiencing can be overcome.  Om reminds me that meditation and communication with/ on the divine is where peace of mind is found. 

The last symbol Triskele or the triple spiral is a Celtic symbol I have tattooed on my foot.  This symbol has represented many different triads over time.  Land, Sea and Sky.  Maiden, Mother and Crone.  Father, Son and the Holy Ghost.  Why did I choose this symbol?  Because, it celebrates the different strengths of being a female at any age.  This holds true no matter where you are from or what you believe. 

We all carry signs and symbols with us.  Some wear a lucky shirt, or their grandmother's brooch or other jewelry.  A lucky bowling shirt, a special ball, or a tree planted in honor or a loved one...all these and much more are just symbols that tell the world that we are alive and honor memory, and life.  Others remember their family using their china at the family dinner table.  Through years, cattle have been branded, gates and doorposts have included carvings of leaves or acorns and other items of meaning.  Symbols are a good present reminder of the past.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

I was born a tree-hugger, loving nature and gardens before I was old enough to understand their importance to the earth.  I could say coreopsis before I could say Sesame Street. The women in my family grow things.  Gardening is part of being a lady in the South.  Weezer from the movie Steel Magnolia’s said it best. “I am an old Southern woman.  It is my obligation to wear funny hats and grow tomatoes.” The truth in this is uncanny.  Flowers and bushes get planted everywhere.  By April, almost every yard has a tilled up garden spot to grow fresh vegetables.

Southern lands are green and fertile, and loving nature would seem like a natural thing to Southerners. We do have an amazing variety of flora and fauna. Yet, they blatantly disregard the importance of trees. I have long been given to serious heart palpitations when I pass yet another patch of land that has been unnecessarily cleared of its trees.  When I was younger, I was naïve enough to believe that people would only cut down woodlands in the South if they were desperate for money to survive.  As I got older, I began to notice that this was not always the case.  Sometimes people like to tear things down to show the power they have over whatever they have destroyed. There seems to be something disrespectful inside of people that make them want to remove something that has lived twice as long as they ever will.
Apparently, trees are just large obstacles that are in the way. Are people unaware of true magnificence or are they simply ignorant that trees take in CO2 and in turn release Oxygen, the chemical element humans, even Southerners, need to breathe?  I don’t know.  I sadly believe that it comes down to a lack of caring.

Outside the window of a place I frequent most days, stands the largest magnolia tree that I have ever seen.  Actually, there is an all around agreement that it is the largest that anyone from my small patch of the world has ever seen.  This tree is old and regal.  When it blooms, the blossoms are larger than my head.  This tree is so spectacular that people should stop instantly in their tracks to appreciate something that has stood through time.  Yet, it’s rare that anyone notices it, and when they do, the most common comments made are atrocious.

“I don’t know why anyone would plant a tree there.  Someone should pull that tree up.  Its roots are beginning to crack the sidewalk.”  Seriously!?!  I am afraid to admit, that I was unable to find the humor in this comment, and simply had to reply in return.  “Bless your heart. You can’t seriously believe that someone planted a 200 year old tree beside that nice new sidewalk…”  Where is the moron who made the decision to put a sidewalk two feet away from a tree?

I actually overheard someone say aloud as they peered out a Court House window,  “If they removed this big ole  tree (that’s been regally gracing the building for 200+plus years with its natural splendor), then THIS would be a great view.””  
Why is this typically Southern funny?  Brace yourself for the answer.  This is how it was explained to me.  Because, they revealed,  this verdant and flourishing green gift of nature “is blocking us from seeing the “old jail house”, “People will come from miles around to look at that spectacular view.”

Naturally, the decaying ugliness of the stoic jail is much more desired than respecting the historical glory of a tree which has seen over 2 centuries of comings and goings of the townspeople, provided shelter for small birds and animals, and has emitted much-needed clean oxygen at the site of the town square, which is populated by choking auto emissions.  

Right? This person really believed that to destroy something “old”, by removing the resplendent leafy-green vista which softly conceals the beauty that is the old nasty jail house would be a good thing. It’s another sad case of something new to replace the old, because some soul doesn’t value life, history or nature. 

The Southern view of nature is a dichotomy.  I cannot think of a single house that is not gardening in some way.  Yet, no one blinks an eye when yet another tree is destroyed.  I will not lose hope though.  I will share my tree appreciation for whoever will listen, and hopefully, that joy will spread!