NASA Goddard encourages and celebrates different faiths – Part 3!

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Holidays to balance out your hot and sticky summer! Thank heavens, too — we all need something other than air conditioners, swimming pools, and ice-cold lemonade to keep us afloat as we roast. (Though honestly, none of those are all that bad.)

Nothing for us Pagans this month, but still plenty to go around! A very happy holiday to anyone observing this month. :)

Like the ones in February and April, below is the section of the email sent to all NASA Goddard employees with the holidays for the month of July, including some links at the bottom with additional information and a diversity calendar. As always, thank you to Matt for sharing!

July 3

Asalhapuja (Buddhist): A Theraveda Buddhist celebration of the Buddha’s first sermon and the setting of the Wheel of Truth into the world.

July 4

Independence Day (United States):Marks the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence by representatives of the 13 colonies. The U.S. proclaimed autonomy from England and formed of the United States of America.

July 4

Shab-e-Barat (Islamic): A fast in preparation for Ramadan. It is believed that on this night, Allah absolves sins and fixes the destinies of humans for the coming year. It is common, particularly in India and Pakistan, to ask Allah to forgive people who have died. Begins at sundown the previous day.

July 9

Martyrdom of the Bab (Baha’i): Commemorates the arrest, torture, imprisonment, and execution of the Bab, the prophet-herald of the faith, in Tabriz, Persia, in 1850. Begins at sundown the previous day.

July 14

Bastille Day (France): Commemorates the event that launched the French Revolution. On this date in 1789, the Bastille, which held political prisoners and became a symbol of oppression by the monarchy, was stormed and prisoners freed. Given their French heritage, many Louisiana parishes, including New Orleans, hold Bastille Day festivals featuring Cajun food, music, and dance.

July 20

Ramadan (Islamic): This begins the first day of the Islamic month of Ramadan, the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic year. The fast of Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and mandatory for every Muslim who has reached puberty except those who are ill, pregnant, or on a journey. During this month, no water or food may be taken from sunrise to sunset. The feast of Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan.

July 20

First Special Olympics Games (1968):On this date, the first Special Olympics, an athletic competition for children and adults with cognitive disabilities, opened at Soldiers Field in Chicago. The first Special Olympics had 1,000 participants from the United States and Canada.By 1995, this competition had expanded to include Winter Special Olympics (added in 1977) and to involve 7,000 participants from all 50 states and 143 countries.

July 23

Birthday of Haile Selassie (Rastafarian): One of the holiest days of the year for Rastafarians, this holiday celebrates the birthday of Emperor Haile Selassie (1892–1975) of Ethiopia, who is revered by the Rastafarians as a descendant of King Solomon and is believed to be the incarnation of God. He was born Tafari makonnen and later took the name Haile Selassie, meaning Power of the Holy Trinity. The etymology of Rastafari is based on the word ras, meaning “prince” and Haile Selassie’s birth name, Tafari.

July 24

Pioneer Day (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints):This marks the day in 1847 that Brigham Young led other believers in the teachings of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, into the valley of the Great Salt Lake, where they would establish the center of their church and build Salt Lake City.

July 26

Americans with Disabilities Act Signed (United States):Celebrates the 1990 signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which provides for reasonable accommodation in work situations and standards for physical accessibility to buildings and public transportation.

July 29

Tisha B’Av (Jewish): This holiday commemorates the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in both 586 B.C.E. and again in 70 C.E. All Jewish holidays begin at sundown on the evening before the date shown.

We invite you to visit the Web sites used to compile this calendar for additional information. There you will find a wealth of information on days that are recognized throughout the world. Please find the sources listed below:

Friends, Families, and Fantastic News!!

It was the wee hours of the morning when I received the text. I didn’t process a lot of what was going on, just that it was storming out and that the blinding light from my iPhone rivaled the intermittent lightning outside. I rubbed my eyes, bleary from sleep, and rolled away from the light to wrap my arm around Matt.

I don’t remember much from that night, but when I finally saw the picture text at 7am which featured a gorgeous newborn, my eyes, once drooped from exhaustion, suddenly flew wide open:

Nathan H., born at 10:32pm 9lbs even, 21in long


And Seahorse, whose arrival has been anticipated since the day my amazing friend Dana texted a picture of her positive pregnancy test, came Earthside!!

I’ve known Dana for a number of years now, and while we have yet to meet in person (seriously, this needs to be remedied, STAT), I feel like I’ve known her my entire life. We’ve shared struggles, excitement, and pure, unadulterated joy together these years, and I am so fortunate to have her and her husband as my friends (and to know her daughter, too, because this girl is SERIOUSLY adorable and hilarious). To hear this kind of news firsthand and to share this, another milestone, with her and her family is like the icing on the friendship cake! A BABY!!! :D

A huge, happy, boisterous congratulations to mama Dana, daddy Nate,  and big sister Hannah, who bring Nathan into the world to continue their perfect family! I am so happy for you guys, shedding tears of joy (serious tears, NGL) whenever I imagine how happy you all must be. :) Much love and many blessings as you enjoy your time together!!

Food Allergies: All about anaphylaxis

As a food blogger (among other topics), especially a “specialty” food blogger, the most disappointing and potentially limiting thing to have is a food allergy. Tree nuts are typically a huge part of any vegetarian diet, but I’m one of those lucky people who gets an anaphylactic reaction to tree nuts — pecans, cashews, walnuts, almonds, and so forth are all out of the question. It actually kinda sucks.

I’ve written about food allergies before (When Soy Annoys and Honeymoon Stories), but I haven’t really discussed what anaphylaxis itself is and how serious a condition it can become.

Why this topic now? Because, although it’s been a while, I had a pretty severe anaphylactic reaction today to a dish at lunch with a friend of mine. We’re talking, throat swelling closed, nausea, stomach pains, the works. It was pretty miserable, and while I would never recommend that anyone simply take Benadryl and sleep it off, that’s exactly what I did. Please please please do as I say here, not as I do. :P

Anyway, below is some information on what anaphylaxis is, the symptoms, treatment options, and ways to avoid a reaction. Hope y’all find it handy!

What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis (or anaphylactic shock) is a severe whole-body allergic reaction to an allergen, such as a bee sting or food. The reaction happens quickly after exposure, is incredibly severe, and involves the whole body as tissues in different parts of the body quickly release histamine and other substances.

"True" anaphylaxis and an "anaphylactoid reaction" are different — the latter is often a result of exposure to a certain drug, such as morphine, x-ray dye, and aspirin. The reactions are not the same as with "true" anaphylaxis, but can exhibit the same symptoms, have the same complication risks, and are treated the same way.

Pollen and other inhaled allergens, by the way, rarely cause anaphylaxis, though it can happen. Some people also have anaphylactic reactions with no known cause.

Anaphylaxis is life-threatening!

What are the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis?

Symptoms can develop within minutes or even seconds from exposure to an allergen, and may include the following:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Abnormal (high-pitched) breathing sounds
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fainting, light-headedness, dizziness
  • Hives, itchiness
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Palpitations
  • Skin redness
  • Slurred speech
  • Wheezing

(For what it’s worth, I had every symptom above today save only for the hives and itchiness. That one’s reserved for mangoes. :P)

How is anaphylaxis treated?

Remember, anaphylaxis is life-threatening and requires immediate professional medical attention! Call 911 immediately if you suspect anaphylaxis — one warning sign is a hoarse or whispered voice due to the airway closing.

  1. Go down the ABC’s of Basic Life Support checklist (“A”irway, “B”reathing, “C”irculation) and begin rescue breathing and CPR if necessary.
  2. Call 911 immediately.
  3. Calm and reassure the person, who is likely going into shock.
  4. For a bee sting: Scrape the stinger off the skin with something firm, like a fingernail or plastic credit card. Do not use tweezers or otherwise squeeze the stinger, as this will release more venom.
  5. If the person has emergency allergy medication, such as an EpiPen, help the person administer the treatment. Avoid oral medication if breathing is difficult.
  6. Take steps to prevent shock: Have the person lie flat with feet raised about 12” off the ground, and cover the person with a coat or blanket. Do not place the person in this position if a head, neck, or leg injury is suspected or if it causes discomfort.


… assume that any allergy shots the person has already received will provide complete protection. Call 911!

… place a pillow under the person’s head if the person is having trouble breathing, as this can block the airways.

… give anything, even medication, by mouth if the person is having trouble breathing.

A paramedic or physician may open the airways with a tube through the nose or mouth (endotracheal intubation) or perform a tracheostomy to place a tube directly into the trachea. Antihistamines and corticosteroids may also be administered to further reduce symptoms after lifesaving measures and epinephrine are given.

What are some complications of anaphylaxis?

Some complications of anaphylaxis include but are not limited to:

  • Airway blockage
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Shock

So yes, immediate treatment is critical.

How can anaphylaxis be prevented?

Obviously, avoidance is the best prevention.Triggers such as foods and medication that have caused even a mild allergic reaction in the past can go rogue and cause anaphylaxis in the future. Carefully examine ingredient labels… and especially after an experience like this, get clarification on ingredients when eating away from home and any potential contact with allergens.

If you have a child who is allergic to certain foods, introduce one new food at a time in small amounts so an allergic reaction can be recognized. (We’ll have to do this with our kids, between my tree nut and mango allergy and Matt’s shellfish allergy. Fun!)

A medical ID tag is a great idea if you tend to get severe allergic reactions. This can help alert someone who is trying to help you. Carrying emergency medications, such as a chewable form of diphenhydramine and injectable epinephrine (“EpiPen”) or bee sting kit, is always prudent, too. And of course, never share your medications.

PubMed Health - Anaphylaxis

Guest Post: 5 Delicious Vegetarian Food Recipes by Michael Sandoval

I was recently approached by Michael Sandoval of, based out of Daly City, California, for The Coexist Cafe to host a couple guest blog posts for him. Since Matt and I are still recovering from Canada, the Maryland power outage, and Independence Day festivities, this request couldn’t have come at a better time! (And yes, I know I still promise you those posts. That’s what the weekend’s for, right? Relaxing! Erm… catching up with y’all!)

Anyway, here’s where I give the floor to Michael. Be sure to keep an eye out for another guest post from him next Thursday. And with that… Michael, take it away!

5 Delicious Vegetarian Food Recipes

Serve your family with the best and most sumptuous vegetarian food recipes. You want only what’s healthy and nutritious for them, especially for your growing-up kids. It pays to spend some time planning your meal and give everyone in the family a healthy dish that they’ll all enjoy. Here are some meals that you would want to include into your weekly plan.

Quick-to-Cook Vegetable Recipes

If you are a busy mom, there are so many quickie vegetable recipes that you can prepare, all without depriving your kids with the right nutrition that they need. In less than 30 minutes, a salad of warm potato, radish and halloumi, creamy courgatte lasagna or squash & spinach curry, creamy butter beans, and Japanese tofu will offer you a mouthwatering experience in just the nick of time. They’re not only economical, they’re tasteful, healthy, and very easy to prepare.

Vegan Recipes

If you want an all-veggie and zero-meat recipe, check out some excellent vegan menus that you can serve to your family and friends. In fact, you can prepare an appetizer, main course, and dessert with no meat in sight. Got no idea what to prepare? Try cabbage with caraway, cauliflower salad, chupseuy, tomato soup, roast summer vegetables, and baked potatoes. They’ll offer you a serving of gastronomic adventure without really breaking your budget or your diet.

Vegetarian Barbeque

What better way to serve while camping or enjoying a nice, cool summer dine out with friends and family than a vegetarian barbeque. If you want a blend of meat and vegetables, try halloumi & mushroom barbeque. Stuffed grilled peppers, ember-baked focaccia stacks, or carrot & sesame grilled burgers will also tantalize your palate and offer you with a rich choice of healthy cuisines.

Christmas Vegetarian Cuisines

Who says you you’re excused from sticking to a diet on Christmas? If you want a healthy choice of food for the holidays, there are so many perfect Christmas recipes that won’t require any meat at all. Among the most sensational holiday recipes that you can prepare include layered squash, barley & spinach pie, truffled parsnip, red onion & egg pie, herby cheese roulade and the traditional Christmas pudding.

Vegetarian Desserts

A traditional vegetarian recipe loads you with all the sweet, yummy taste you so ever wanted while providing you with healthy, diet friendly choice of food to serve. If you want to please your guests, try blueberry cake, honey yogurt cheesecake, semifreddo neapolitano, raspberry cranachan, and real vanilla ice cream.

Now that you have the idea of some of the best vegetarian cuisines to serve, you will find it very easy to plan your week’s healthy menu in advance. So load up your daily diet with a healthy serving of vegetables and stay fit and healthy as you can be.

Michael Sandoval is a caterer from California. He is the online community manager for Better Cater. During his free time he enjoys traveling, discovering new restaurants, and vegetarian cuisine.

Want to guest blog for The Coexist Cafe? Simply shoot me an email! :)

The Passport Saga

Yeah yeah, I know, bad blogger and all that. It hasn’t been for bad reason, though. Between the Board of Directors for my company visiting for part of the week, an audit shortly after that, and several other things to juggle, it’s just been a madhouse here! I’m thankful for a brief breath of air, but it’s short-lived as we prepare for this week: In-laws came into town yesterday, family wedding on Thursday, then we’re heading out of the country for our seven-year dating anniversary!

Oh yeah, out of the country. That requires a passport, right? Preferably an up-to-date one? I imagined it would. I already had one from Matt’s and my trip to Mexico back in 2007, but I had since changed my name after getting married, so I naively thought that applying for an updated passport would be simple as pie. And don’t get me wrong, the application process was simple. It’s what happened afterward that leads to this: The Passport Saga.

It all started with the aforementioned application, for which I had to enclose my old passport, my marriage certificate (proof of name change), my Social Security card, and a few other things. It was stamped, sealed, and sent in late April, with an expected turnaround of 4-6 weeks. About three weeks later, I got my supporting documents back… but no new passport.

Okay, fine, maybe it’ll take another week. I mean, 4-6 weeks, right? So I patiently waited.

And waited.

And… yanno, waited.

When it got to early June, I started to really sweat bullets. Our trip is from 22-29 June with the wedding the day before that, so when it got to about two weeks out, I started checking the website to see where it was. It said it was to be delivered on or about 23 May, which… no? I mean, I hadn’t received it yet.

Cue major freakout. Cue calling the passport agency to get an emergency passport. Cue bigger freakout after learning that the earliest appointment was after we were to leave the country.

Then cue — by the grace of the gods — this site, which basically says to get to the passport agency at the buttcrack of dawn if you don’t have an appointment and are traveling in the next 14 days. After talking to Matt about it, we decided that was my only option, so we got to bed early that night in preparation for my verrrrry early morning.

4:50am and I was up and getting ready to head to D.C. It figures that the closest passport agency is there, and as I begrudgingly got showered and dressed, I comforted myself with the fact that I’d at least be taking public transportation. Better that than driving into the city.

It was actually a rather peaceful morning: I grabbed a caramel macchiato from the coffeeshop at the train station, pulled out my iPhone, and played some Solitaire while the birds chirped, their song punctuated every once in a while by the chatter of D.C. commuters.

(Has anyone reading this ever actually worked with or seen D.C. commuters? They’re so well-dressed and coiffed, save for their feet, which don sneakers for running around the transit system to their workplace. It’s actually kind of amusing, though after this kind of morning, I now see why running shoes are necessary!)

The train ride was uneventful, as was the final Metro ride to 1111 19th Street NW. Since I was a few minutes early — I wanted to get in line around 7am — I stopped at a local CVS and grabbed headphones, assuming I’d be bored while I waited for the doors to open. (I was right.) Headphones in hand and eventually in ears, I trekked to the agency.

Lemme tell you something. If you ever need to do something like this, do exactly what that site says and get there RIGHT at the buttcrack of dawn. Because by the time you’re into dawn’s taint, there’s already a line formed outside the building of those unfortunate souls who need to travel but who don’t have a passport for myriad reasons. So a couple tips:

  • Prep everything the night before at the latest. And I mean everything, from every shred of documentation you need all the way down to your payment method (be sure to bring a few!) and what underwear you plan to wear. Put it all in a conspicuous place where you can grab it as you’re running out the door.
  • Also prep your travel itinerary ahead of time and have it accessible by several different means — phone, printout, stored away in your brain. If you’re using public transportation, use the travel leg where the final destination is at least 15 minutes prior to when you want to be there. And remember, you want to be at the agency no later than an hour before they open (in D.C.’s case, be there before 7am).
  • Bring cash. Always bring cash. Not a lot. You never know when you’ll need it.
  • Have all your paperwork in order. DO NOT SIGN ANY AGENCY FORMS until instructed to do so. If you don’t have your forms, they have them available there. If you’re traveling imminently (14 days or fewer), bring your travel itinerary: Flights if by air, hotel if by land. (I’m already like, “One if by land, two if by sea…)
  • If you’re not traveling imminently as defined above, go home (or stay home if you were smart like that, lol) and wait until then. They WILL NOT SERVE YOU unless your travel is imminent.

And I’m sure there’s more. But that’s good for now.

Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, there were already seven groups of people ahead of me by the time I got to the agency. And this is an hour ahead of time, people! By the time the doors opened and they started passing people through security at 7:30am, there were already several more groups behind me. The more often I looked back, the more thankful I was that I arrived so early.

Processing went smoothly! After security, I got in line and had the chance to tell them what happened: Lost passport, need another one, traveling imminently, OMG please help. I got a number and was actually seen by 8:30am by a very nice woman named Erika.

Fortunately, it appeared to be a simple process. She needed to go through to my old application and see what was up, then print out the new one — easy-peasy! Come back in an hour, get some breakfast, and we’ll have it at least started by then.

While at McDonald’s (what? Don’t judge), I pulled out my iPad (work email FTW!) and got some work done, including receiving some very sympathetic emails from Awesome Attorney Boss and Awesome Prez Boss about being at the agency. Sadface, hope it doesn’t take long, dude that sucks, oh the government, and so forth. Since the Board of Directors was arriving and had some plans that day, I also coordinated with a couple places to make sure everything was in line and set up for the week. All in all, a very productive morning.

An hour later, I was back at the agency and inquiring about the status. Um, we don’t have it yet, your application is fine but our passport printer isn’t, well, printing. Maybe a couple hours? Go back outside and enjoy the weather!

(To Erika’s credit, yes, it was gorgeous out.)

I hid my frustration, knowing full well it wasn’t their fault, and went back to McDonald’s to steal their internet. I had had my fill of coffee and egg ‘n’ cheese bagels by then, so I was just hanging out at that point.

… Hamburglaring, apparently.

In total, I spent seven hours in or around the passport agency, and in the end?

So yeah, THAT went well.

I let a week go by before venturing out again, hoping that Erika was right and that my new passport would just be at Will Call (what is this, a DMB concert?). The next Monday (yesterday!), I prepped again for a long morning: Early wake-up, caramel macchiato, a sweater because it was chilly and overcast. And some music, of course — now Sara Bareilles will forever remind me of passports and train stations. Kind of fitting, really.

It all kicked off pretty uneventfully until I got to the Metro station for the red line to Farragut North. As the train sped by, whooshing my hair in the process, I noticed streaks of water lining the cars, and immediately thought…

Oh shit. I didn’t bring my umbrella.

I had five minutes to get to the passport agency “on time” (read: early!), and it was pouring as I left the subway. Absolutely pouring. Determined to be nonplussed, I hiked up my jeans, pulled my hoodie over my head, and started walkin’.

It was during that walk I found another reason why D.C. commuters wear running shoes to work: In Florida, you can get away with flip-flops on slick sidewalks and asphalt — the walkways are practically made for wet footwear. D.C.’s, on the other hand, are not, and I discovered this by walking across several brick paths only to feel my feet sliding out from under me like an inexperienced two-year-old ice skater. Arms all akimbo, of course, as that helps with balance (or looking like a damn fool, but hey, I’m already wearing flip-flops in the rain in D.C.). At some point, I just kicked my shoes off and held them as I ran, barefoot, to the agency.

Okay, so the scene is set: I’m soaking wet, without shoes, shivering under an overhang. At least there were only four groups of people in front of me this time. :P

I was prepared for a long stay. I knew where the McDonald’s was, I had my iPad for more WiFi Hamburglaring, I knew where to sit to have the greatest vantage for hearing numbers called out, I had a backup plan in case Will Call didn’t have my passport. Even the agency officers recognized me, going as far as to ask why I was back again and to just let me slide through security.

But, as if the Universe finally stopped laughing at me and decided to cut me a break, I managed to get in and out in an hour… and emerged victorious, at that! I waved happily to the guard as I left, and he returned a smile with a little salute. By 8:30am, I was already headed back home erm, to work, and in soaked clothes, too! I’m surprised no one said I smelled like a waterlogged rat. ;)

I have to admit that, of all the government agencies I’ve ever frequented (state and federal), the D.C. Passport Agency was by far the greatest to work with. They are patient, attentive, overall nice people. If I ever had to brave the government again, I would hope it’d be with the passport agency.

Bad blogger! Bad!

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I haven’t been here in a month, which makes me sad for so many reasons. My head hangs in shame as I realize how much time has passed and how many awesome things have happened since the last time I’ve updated.

There have been things I’ve wanted to say, but I admit that I’ve been a bit lazy about writing them down. It wasn’t until I got an email from a loyal friend and blog follower that she’s been missing my updates that I realized just how much I need to get back to it.

So, um… here I am! I’m so happy to see y’all again. :)

My absence hasn’t been for naught, though. Since spring kicked in full force and the weather has been beautiful more often than not, Matt and I have been spending a lot of time outdoors, mingling with our neighbors and making new friends in the area. Oh, and visiting my cousin and his family before their trip to China for the summer! There hasn’t a week gone by when we didn’t have at least two or three social gatherings, and I don’t see that slowing down anytime soon!

While I’ve missed y’all dearly, I’m also happy to be able to spend time with friends and family around here. Matt and I are self-proclaimed homebodies, but we’ve been making a concerted effort lately to get out and do things, whether it’s riding our bikes, going out to the pool, barbequing with our friends in our townhouse row, or generally painting all of Maryland red. It’s been a rather nice change, and we’ve discovered that we have this proclivity to bring neighbors — who have been such for 5 years or more without once really getting to know each other! — together all in one place.

Like I said, it’s not going to slow down. We actually have a family wedding coming up on Litha (21 June!), then Matt and I are taking a week-long trip for our 7-year dating anniversary to Canada! Niagra Falls, Canada side for a couple days, then Toronto for four or so. And a few surprises in between.

Anyway, so that explains my recent absence for the most part. A friend of mine on LJ posted a 30-day vlog meme that I’m considering doing to get back in the swing of things — full meme below. Might start that this week. I’ve never done a vlog before, so this should be fun!

I also have some recipes to share, and I’m going to do a week-long Litha thing to kick summer into full gear, so keep an eye out for that as well!

Glad to be back! I hope y’all are having a great summer so far, and I’ll catch you around the internetz. :)

The 30-Day Vlogging Meme!

1. Introduce yourself
2. Views on love and relationships
3. Views on a political topic
4. Views on religion
5. What do you like to do in your spare time?
6. What did you do today?
7. 3 things you like about yourself and 3 things you don’t like about yourself
8. A place you spend a lot of time
9. Talk about school or work
10. A childhood memory
11. Where have you been spending your time lately? Three/Five/Ten years ago would you have expected to be there?
12. Where do you see yourself in 1 year?
13. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
14. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
15. Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
16. What do you believe in? And not just God or atheism.
17. If you could be anywhere in the world, but you had to be there for a certain cause, where would you be and why
18. Explain your life plan for the next month
19. then the next year
20. Are you more social or independent? Why do you think that is?
21. Talk about a moment where you were truly happy. What was happening? Who were you with?
22. If you could do anything you wanted for a living, what would you do? What do you do?
23. What’s your favorite book? Why? How much do you read?
24. What is something you’re proud of?
25. Your favorite holiday
26. What’s in your purse/wallet?
27. Describe your family, and what it was like growing up.
28. What would your perfect world look like?
29. What do you want to learn? Why aren’t you learning it?
30. Tour your house/bedroom

Green thumbs and green stones.

We got a letter last week from the HOA about our “dead foliage” in the front yard. Apparently, the HOA was none too pleased that, in a fit of boredom, Matt decided to rip up a few of them and leave them out to dry, ha.

So we took advantage of that letter and the nicer weather yesterday by revamping half of our front yard… and by “we”, I mean “I”, as he readily admits that I’m the brawn to his brains. (Though I beg to differ on the latter. ;)) The feeling after we had finished was akin to when we had to rip up the carpet in our basement after it flooded: A sense of accomplishment that can only come from tearing things down and building them back up.

I realized after we had already started cultivating that we didn’t get a “before” shot. So instead, here’s one from the listing when we bought our house a year ago. (Photo was probably from summer 2010. And no, that ‘cycle isn’t ours. Le sigh.)

I also don’t have any “in progress” photos, which is just as disappointing! At least you get the final product, right? We still have to put in a couple more bags of rocks to fill it out, but this is essentially it!

The stones, by the way, are Virginia green rocks from Lowe’s. I think they’re specific to the area as I can’t find them online, but they are this lovely bright gray color with a slight tinge of green. They get darker and more green when wet, which I found out this morning as I was leaving the house for work.

And finally, we have this rosebush in the front yard from our previous neighbors. When we first moved in, it was February and none of the roses were out. It looked like a scraggly ol’ thing, and I was pretty tempted to rip it up. Then it bloomed, and I thought… eh, maybe it’s worth sticking around.

THEN came this year. Matt and I seriously never touch this thing; I just learned yesterday from a neighbor how to prune it, actually. And it’s had so many beautiful yellow roses that it became the envy of the block: “Oh, your roses are gorgeous!” “That’s the fullest I’ve ever seen it!” “How do you do that?!”

I dunno, just let the damn thing grow. ;)

Now we just have the right side of the front yard to take care of! We want to completely get rid of those bushes, which harbor bees and wasps through spring and summer (and a garden snake who lives under our steps and who we named Snakey, but we love him (her…?) and want him to find a new home when we revamp as the bushes are his place to sun himself), and replace them with the same green rocks and some flowerbeds. Ooh! And we want to put in a bench, too, but we have to run that by HOA first. Hope they let us.

And our back deck, too, but that’s going to be a hell of a job. Pressure-washing, sanding, staining, and sealing? Yeah, I sense more backbreaking work ahead of us ahem, me.

Totally enjoyed a well-deserved Smirnoff blueberry lemonade after the fact. Very well-deserved.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed this peek into our home! :)

A Personal Update

I know I don’t do many of these, mostly because I want this blog to focus on spirituality (both for myself and as a whole) and food (because YUM), but there are some times when, as I read about your hopes and dreams and personal lives, I feel like sharing my own with you guys.

This is one of those times. :)

As I’m probably going to cover a lot of topics in one blog post, I’m including links within this post to direct you to whatever topic you might be interested in!

Recently, two great friends of mine published fiction and poetry books: Samantha Curtin, Dark Cell and Tori Z, Mr. Pumpkin Head and Other Poems, respectively. Both are great works, and I encourage you to check them out! I’m so happy to read works by friends of mine and to know that they’re accomplishing their goals.

Which leads me to my own. Y’all know about my “30 Before 30" list, right? (If not, go check it out!) One of my goals is, and always has been, to finish a NaNoWriMo challenge and submit that book for publishing. And every year, it evades me.

To see my friends achieving their goal and having their work out there… while it fills me with pride to know they got there, it also gives me a pang of jealousy. (Sammi and Tori, this is totally not your fault. Please keep on doin’ what you’re doin’. :)) I want to have my own work out there, to see it in the hands of others and know that my name is in the world of the written word.

This stems, I think, from being too critical of my work. I’ve written a lot over the years, from creative non-fiction to the occasional traipse into fiction (though I admit, I’m not very good at the latter, lol), but I keep looking at my work with such a critical eye and with a disdain for my own writing.

When I was in elementary school, I would write and illustrate my own books all the time. We had a little “publishing house” in the library, where our teachers and the librarians would print, bind, and give you a hard copy of your own book, with text at the bottom of the page and blank spaces to take up the rest, where you could draw out your stories. I remember standing next to our librarian (a woman who smelled of perfume and the pages of old books… good lord, I love that smell), who painstakingly lined up each page with the binding machine and lovingly bound each page, complimenting me and other students along the way on how creative they are and asking how it felt to hold a book of your own writing in your hands.

I don’t know what happened over the years. That sense of confidence — knowing that I was writing something great (even by a seven-year-old’s standards!) and having the wherewithal to see those words come to life — has waned to the point where any attempt that I make at writing with the express purpose of potential publishing is tossed away. Or, in 21st-century terms, dragged to the recycle bin.

Seeing where my friends are going with their own personal pursuits, though, makes me want to achieve that goal in a way that I haven’t felt in years. It’s almost to the point where I don’t care if my writing isn’t 100% amazing or on par with some of my favorite authors. I have ideas, I have the ability to write them, and I may even have the ability to write them well. Why not take that chance?

So yup, I’m pressing forward with it, even outside the scope of NaNoWriMo. I can complete that goal later. ;) Last night, while I was lying in bed and nursing a foot that just would not stop itching, I was also scratching another itch: A novel (ha!) idea that I’ve had the past couple years that finally started to fall into place. There were a lot of aspects about the novel — the characters, the storyline, the connections between each person and how to create more conflict than what was easily available — that just weren’t coming together, and they finally clicked last night.

I’m not sure when it will be finished, but I hope to reach that goal — to publish! OMG! — by the time I turn 30. A story bordering on the supernatural, focusing on suppressed magick… I can’t wait for it to come together.

And you know y’all are going to be the first to hear about it when I do accomplish it. :)

There’s another goal I’ve been wanting to reach… and this one involves the support of (and, erm… lol, other stuff from) my husband. I’m now past 27, the age when I wanted to start having children, and no babies in sight. Seriously, I’m okay with this, as not having children right now has given me and Matt the opportunity to do and achieve other things, around the house and with our friends and otherwise, that we wouldn’t have been able to achieve had we had children.

But there’s still that nagging feeling in the back of my mind, the so-called “baby-fever” or “cluckiness” that is just taking over me recently! And as much as it’s taking over me, I think Matt’s got it worse than I do, which is both hilarious and a bit freaky at the same time. Hilarious because, come on… have you ever seen a baby-crazy guy? It’s rather adorable. :)

And freaky because, well, it’s a huge life change! To know that he’s entirely ready for it (or at least is showing me that he’s entirely ready for it) makes me wonder if I am.

Deep down, I know I am. I’m prepared, I’m even excited for it. I’m ready for the life change, the night waking, the exhaustion, the complete lack of autonomy over my own body (oh, that will be fun). We’re even making proactive steps in that direction, which is even more exciting… it’s going to happen!

Seeing my friends all around me having children or expecting makes that fever climb even higher. And awesome attorney-boss’ wife is pregnant (they already have an ADORABLE son, so it’s like, more cuteness… yes, please)! Makes me want to join that club, haha.

I don’t know what it was about last night, but after I was done mulling the novel (again… ha!) idea over in my head, I started thinking about babies. I’ll admit: Matt and I talk about babies a lot, from what room they’ll be in to how to arrange it, from arranging daycare in infancy as my responsibility and getting a more “family-friendly” car for when daycare switches to his, from cloth diapers to breastfeeding to attachment parenting to slingwraps to organic baby foods (because you know I’ll be making that myself as long as I can). And everything in between.

So that’s where we currently stand on that. And like the novel, if that ever happens? Y’all will be among the first to know. Sorry… for that, family gets first dibs. ;)

And finally… during another discussion Matt and I had yesterday, a really important thing came up: The idea of creating your own happiness.

This isn’t really something I’ve struggled with. I’ve always been a relatively happy person, so much so that even a frown would make my friends panic: “Holy shit, Steph, what’s wrong?!” Heaven forbid I ever get pissed off, lol. But I’ve always had something to be happy about, even if it took a little digging to find it.

Others, I realize, aren’t that fortunate. It took me a long time to come to that conclusion, and even longer to realize that I couldn’t help them fill that happiness-devoid hole. It would almost leave me feeling like I had done something wrong, that I was somehow deficient because I couldn’t help this person.

A recent post by Liz over at The Naked Oak caused me to reflect on this. I am, according to Myers-Briggs, a pretty hardcore INFP. Always have been. It pretty much explains the whole empath thing and the struggle I’ve had with trying to keep others’ negative energies from influencing my own, and I’ve done a pretty decent job of it over the years (though that itself needed a lot of practice, ha). But when it comes to the happiness of others, that’s where I tend to struggle… and I think it’s because I think, It’s so easy for it to come to me; why do others have problems achieving the same?

That discussion last night with Matt made the struggle even worse. It’s hard enough when I’m trying to help a friend find their happiness, but my spouse? The one person that I would hope that, just by being in his life, it’d be a bit brighter?

Sure, it might be. He’s told me that it is, haha. But I can’t be his everything when it comes to happiness; not only is that a lot of pressure on me, but it limits his scope of happiness to one person, a person that could be here one minute and gone the next. (Yeah, it’s dark, but let’s face it: All things must come to an end.)

The discussion — a long, heartfelt, passionate almost-fight — ended with that one statement: “Make your own happiness.”

I’m not sure how he’s going to find it, much like I have no idea how my friends and family and anyone else finds it. I’m confident that he will, though, even if it takes some searching.

So that’s how things are in the life of a self-proclaimed Foxy Lady. Hope y’all enjoyed this rather personal glimpse. :)

Pagan Coming Out Day 2012

Happy Pagan Coming Out Day! :D

Pagan Coming Out Day

Every year, the day after Beltane, comes a time when you get to come out in all your Pagany glory. I’ve asked y’all to share your coming-out stories on my Facebook page, and as promised, below is a survey that you can share with everyone as well.

According to PCOD:

Coming out to someone is a decision only you can make and it’s a decision best made when you are ready to do so. IPCOD encourages Pagans who are ready to come on out!

There are benefits, personally and for our religious community as a whole, as more Pagans come out. Some of these benefits include the reduction of anxiety caused by living a double life and creating a climate of greater acceptance for all Pagans.

So, if you’re ready, come out and share your own story! I’ll share my own thoughts on it later, but I’ll admit… I’ve got things to do, yo. ;)

Have a wonderful PCOD day, and don’t forget to share your own story!

The Survey

B A S I C S //
Do you have a magical/Pagan name? I did when I was younger, but I prefer not to use it now, actually. I sometimes think of it during my practice, but more as an  “aw cute, wasn’t I an adorable little witchling?” kind of thing. It was Raven, FWIW.
What does it mean? When I actually used it, I liked its trickster qualities; I was very much a secluded, secretive person when I was younger, not really divulging much. As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed a more intuitive, healing, positive side to me (that might have been there before, but that I didn’t really notice — I was an angsty teen, STFU!) that I learned were qualities of the raven. I associate more with that now than the trickster. (See: Native American mythology surrounding the raven.)
How did you find Paganism? I was referred to Silver RavenWolf’s To Ride a Silver Broomstick when I was 13, and it all fell into place from there. I’ve called myself some sort of Pagan (Wiccan, Witch, eclectic, whatever) since I was 14.
How long have you been practicing? I’m currently 27 and took a year off from practice to explore other faiths, so all that into consideration, 12 years (wow, that sounds like a long time). And I still have a hell of a long way to go!
Solitary or group practitioner? Solitary at first, though I’ve done group activities, and like it both ways. Solitary is more personal to me, while groups offer kinship.
What is your path? Eclectic Pagan.
Are you out of the broom closet? Sure am! I actually came out not long after I converted, but that didn’t go well. After this long and being more mature, my parents are much more accepting of my faith, even if they don’t like it, haha. And generally, I’m out in public if anyone asks. I also wear a pentacle almost daily, so if someone hasn’t already confused me for a Jew (seriously, y’all, there’s a difference between a pentacle and a Star of David), they’re pretty much aware.

D E I T Y //
Who is your patron God? I have none, and likely never will. I’m pretty staunchly panentheistic.
Who is your patron Goddess? See above.
What Gods do you worship? See above!
Do you fear darkly aspected Gods/Goddess, or rather respect them? If I believed them, I wouldn’t fear them, no. They’re part of what makes Deity what it is, and part of what makes me human, so I accept it rather than push it away, and acknowledge it entirely.
Do you worship the Christian God? No.
Do you ever worship animals? Nope.
Or plants? Again, nope. BUT, being panentheistic, I do worship nature as a whole and as Deity.

N A T U R E //
Do you regularly commune with nature? I should more often, but yes.
Ever walked barefoot in the woods? Yes, but not for long. I may be panentheistic, but I’m not stupid. ;)
Taken a camping trip just to talk to nature? No, but I really, REALLY want to. Our house backs up to a wooded area — not sure if we’re allowed to camp there, but Matt and I have talked about it!
Describe the moment you felt closest to Mother Earth? There was one occasion where I was walking through the woods near where I grew up — the area used to be heavily wooded, but has since been replaced with a housing complex. There was a decent-sized clearing where I often sat and just… was. I often brought a book and read there, or played on the swing I hung from a tree. I need a place like that again. ;) I also had a tree in a neighbor’s yard that I climbed often, and that was another sanctuary of mine.
Do you have a familiar? Nope.
Have you ever called upon the powers of an animal in ritual? No.
Or a plant? No.
Do you hug trees? Haha, I do. (Matt teased me about this yesterday, actually.)
Give them gifts? Yes. :)  To trees and the earth.
What is your favourite flower to work with? I haven’t worked with flowers before, TBH.
What is your favourite tree to work with? It didn’t really matter, though I really like oak. (ALLERGIES BE DAMNED.)

W H E E L . O F . T H E . Y E A R //
What is your favourite holiday? Samhain, haha. :) I also love Ostara and Mabon. Y’all probably already know Matt’s favorite is Beltane.
What is your least favourite holiday? Midsummer in Florida, holy hell. Though they’re not much better in Maryland!
Have you ever held a ritual on a holiday? Absolutely! I really want to host a Dumb Supper one year, actually.
Ever taken a day off work to celebrate a Pagan holiday? If you count our wedding on Samhain, then yes. ;)  Since then and our first wedding anniversary (which was in Salem because we rock), nope, haven’t taken off. We will be this year for a Midsummer wedding, though!
Do you celebrate Yule on the 21 rather than the 25? Yes. We do secular/Jewish Christmas on the 25th, haha. I imagine we’ll celebrate Yule on the 21st as well when we have kids.
Have you ever felt the veil thin? ::nods:: It’s a very… powerful experience. Felt it on Samhain 2006.
Ever danced the Maypole? No, but I really, REALLY want to. :)
Know what the Maypole symbolizes? Um yah duh. LOL
How do you usually celebrate the Pagan holidays? Often, something small, and typically in the kitchen (I really orient myself strongly as a kitchen witch, haha). Otherwise, I’ll reflect on the change in the Wheel. Typically not with ritual.

D I V I N A T I O N //
Do you use Tarot? Yup!
Do you use runes? Nope. Never had an affinity towards them.
Do you use a pendulum? No, but then again, I’ve never used one.
Do you use dowsing rods? I did when I was a kid, but not in my adult years.
Do you use astrology? I do, but typically with the guidance of others. I really want to be able to do it myself someday. Oh, and I always pay attention when Mercury is retrograde. You never know.
Any other form of divination? Nope. Not huge into divination.

S P E L L S //
What was the first spell you did? A dedication spell when I was 13. It was before I began my year-and-a-day study.
What was the latest? Hm. It’s been a long time since I’ve done a spell, so I honestly don’t remember.
Ever done a love spell? Kind of. More a “love thyself” spell than towards anything specific. I prefer them that way. :)
A job spell? Yes. Absolutely. And I’m employed. :)
A healing spell? Yes, for my grandfather when I was a late teen. It worked, thankfully, though that was a terribly scary time.
What was the most powerful spell you’ve ever performed? Probably the healing one for my grandfather. I imagine I have an affinity for that, actually.
What deities do you usually call on? I actually don’t call on deities; I tend to call on nature more than anything else. Though honestly, I haven’t done all that many spells (in all my years of practicing, maybe a handful or two), so I haven’t explored different deities. One side effect of  being panentheistic. :)

C R Y P T O Z O O L O G Y //
Do you believe in Vampires? Not in the “fanged people who will suuuuck your blooood,” but I do believe in un/intentional ones.
Werewolves? Haha, no.
Shapeshifters? Nope.
Elves? Mmm… I’m not doubting it, but not actively believing, either.
Faeries? See above.
Dragons? No.
Nymphs? See “elves.”
Sprites? See above.
Mermaids? See above.
Sirens? See above.
Satyrs? See above.
Ever “seen” any of the above? No.
Ever talked to any of the above? Faeries, yes, but more existentially speaking than literally.
Ever used any of the above in magic? Nope.
Do you have one of them as a personal guardian? Well… not actively. When I was 8 or 9, I had a faerie who would visit me at church (lol). I don’t know if I had an overactive imagination or if it was real, though I attribute the possibility of both.

R A N D O M //
Do you see a rabbit, a man or a woman in the moon? Rabbit.
Own a cat? No, but I WISH.
When you meditate, what does your happy place look like? It tends to be more of a feeling than a place, of total relaxation mixed with drawing up energy from the earth. I guess, if I had to visualize it, it’d be a lot like taking roots and putting them in the earth, both to give energy and to draw up some for myself. Give and take, you know. :)
Do you work with Chakras? Actually, no. I learned about them in pretty intense depth over a year ago, but I don’t work with them. I can see the benefits, though, and probably should. :)
Do you believe in past lives? I’m on the fence.
If so, describe a few briefly: I really can’t, haha.
Do you believe in soul mates? I’m glad this question is in the plural. I don’t believe in a single soul mate that’s meant to “complete” a person, but rather, people who are made to supplement your life. I’m a pretty big believer in creating your own complete life and having anyone else who enters it be a part of it, but never half of it (or even a major part of it). It’s weird that I believe this and I believe Matt to be my better half at times, but I also know that, should anything ever happen and we weren’t together in this life, there would be others who could fill this role as well. (I’m just glad it’s him!)
Do you have a spirit guide? Not that I know of.
Is it always love and light? Psh, no. Nothing in life ever is. But it’s the depression and darkness that makes me appreciate the love and light. :)

Happy Beltane! :)

To those in the Northern hemisphere who celebrate, a very happy and fun-filled Beltane to you! And to those brothers and sisters to the south, happy Samhain!!

Since Matt and I will be out celebrating his favorite Sabbat (lol) with a bunch of friends and good drinks tonight, and considering I have work today, I don’t have a great amount of time for a large Beltane post. Therefore, I’m going to direct you to some posts from last year with great bits of information, and will add some posts from my favorite bloggers as well as the day goes on. (Got one you wanna add? Lemme know!)

So enjoy these, have a wonderful Sabbat, and don’t have too much fun — it is a weekday, after all. ;)

A History of Beltane

Gods, Goddesses, and other Beltane symbols

The Faery Courts

Bee Chant for Beltane

Carefree Crafts for Beltane

Let’s talk about sex, baby!

Beltane and the Great Rite

Bonfire and Maypole Celebrations

Prayers and Rituals Honoring the Feminine

From others:

Kallan Kennedy
Sunday Stew: Beltane 2012 Edition
Sunday Stew Beltane Extra: An Excerpt from Raven Grimassi’s Book

Tori Z
Beltane 2012
Story: Meagan’s Beltaine

Anastasia Evans
A Family Beltane Ritual

Mrs. B
10 Simple Ways to Celebrate Beltane

Pagan by Design
Beltane Ritual ~ Sacred Union

Magaly Guerrero
Hot and Bothered for Beltane


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