Category Archives: Spirituality

Rites of Passage, Including Kindergarten and Grade Six

Rites of passage are something that I consider important. Not big splashy ones; just marking milestones. And there have been a few of them lately, this last week of August and the first weekend of September.

Owlet had her intro to kindergarten the last week of August. On Tuesday we went in for an hour-long session in her class, listening to her teacher talk through the structure, the subjects, and the schedule. After that there was a barbecue in the schoolyard, which she partly like because of hot dogs and being able to play with her friends for daycare who had also advanced to kindergarten, and partly disliked because the music was too loud. The next day she went in with half the class for a morning of kindergarten. Despite being told over and over, she didn’t fully understand that I wasn’t coming in with her again for that session, and there were almost tears; she and her buddy from daycare held hands for support as they followed the teacher inside. Then she had a day off, and then Friday was her first official full day of school. Again tears threatened, but her teacher introduced her to another girl in the schoolyard while I slipped away. At the end of the day the teacher brought out the non-bus and non-daycare kids, but Owlet wasn’t among them, even though she had been when they left the classroom. It turned out that she had split off from the group to follow a new friend to the daycare programme; her teacher found her sitting with the daycare kids, happily munching a daycare granola bar.

Her daycare educator e-mailed to see how the first days had gone, and I was glad to be able to tell her that things were fine. Owlet finally gets to use her Star Wars lunchbox, and get a juice box in it — a treat that was withheld from her until she started kindergarten. She is excited about the great playground equipment (restricted to the younger grades), about learning computers (two in her classroom, an entire computer lab next door), having new markers and coloured pencils. She coloured a picture for her new teacher on Friday morning, hugged her leg before leaving on Friday afternoon, and has been practicing her teacher’s name and saying “bonjour” and “au revoir” (the latter with a truly adorable rolled ‘r’). The one thing I’m not thrilled about is the fact that she’s in the only kindergarten class in the basement; the three others are on the main floor with large windows. But her teacher has made it colourful, and the music room is right across the hall. She hasn’t said anything specific about being frustrated or sad about not understanding what her teacher says — she is very good at using gestures to illustrate what she is saying, and I’m certain it will only take a couple of weeks before Owlet starts nattering in French.

Sparky’s first day was a breeze. The schoolyard was packed with hundreds of kids and parents looking for their class lists, saying hello after the summer, and generally goofing around. Once he found his friends, there was no point to me staying, so Owlet and I walked to the park behind the schoolyard and hung out there until the classes started being called inside. The grade sixes were last, of course, and the teachers gathered all four grade six classes on the field to take mass photos before they went in. They’re the top of the heap this year, the last before high school. The night before the school held an info session for parents, and I got to meet his teachers and hear about their policies, their units of inquiry, and the planned field trips. There’s a lot of science and focus on renewable energy, which is going to be exciting for Sparky. Math will be focusing on stabilizing and reviewing the material they’ve already learned, much to my relief. He’ll have a new math resource teacher, as his past one (who, incidentally, has also been his math tutor this past summer) has her own class in another school this year. His homeroom teacher happens to be the same teacher who taught him French In kindergarten at his first school, which he finds amusing.

The day before school started, we went out to brunch, which is a nice new tradition, I think. Megan and Audrey came with us, as Audrey was starting kindergarten the same day Owlet did.

The other recent rite of passage was baby Ivy’s blessing. HRH and I were honoured to be asked to lead the ritual by Ivy’s parents, who are friends of ours. It was the first real ritual Owlet had observed; she had been very interested in the whole idea of a baby blessing leading up to the event. (What is a blessing? Why do we ask the gods to protect her? Will the gods sit or stand? If they’re not there, will the gods hear us even if we don’t shout?) The wish Sparky made for the baby was for a long life, and Owlet (even though she hid behind me and was too shy to say it) had prepared a wish that the baby always feel comfortable enough to be herself. (I said it for her. It was a really good wish, and I was very proud of her for coming up with it.)

Of all the formal rites of passage I am privileged to perform for my spiritual community, baby blessings are my favourite. I only wish we’d been in a better state to stay afterwards and enjoy food, drink, and company, but I was exhausted and rapidly going downhill (fibro has been particularly difficult lately), Sparky was fighting a cold, and Owlet was having that kind of weekend where she needed to get home to have a quiet supper and regular bedtime.

It’s been a busy week.


Every five years or so, the people of my spiritual path gather together in southern Pennsylvania for a long weekend of reflection, worship, fellowship, and meetings. Between these major retreats, there is a weekend for the leaders within the tradition; a sort of leadership conference where decision-making happens, policy is discussed, and techniques are shared.

This past weekend, HRH and I attended one of the latter retreats. It was the first event I’d been able to attend in seven or eight years, thanks to a variety of instances that prevented me from getting to the others (financial crisis the day before I was to leave, health crises associated with scheduled childcare so I stayed with the kids while HRH went alone) so this weekend fed my soul in a very particular way. I saw people I hadn’t seen in person for almost a decade. I participated in seminars and worship services that I didn’t lead — a rarity for me. Not having to facilitate anyone else’s experience allowed me to actually look to my own, a luxury I am rarely allowed.

The weather was stifling, and the ten-hour drive down and back was not fun. Travel steals a lot of the energy I need to function on a daily basis (thanks so much, fibro), as does dealing with heat and humidity. The metal folding chairs were murder on my back. But I am so very grateful that the universe made sure I could go this time. What I got out of it was immensely valuable to me. I reconnected with other people who practice our tradition. I reconnected with the source of our path. I did some soul searching, and had a couple of revelations that I need to meditate on some more.

We stayed at an absolutely wonderful B&B in Harrisburg, the City House, and after the day’s activities we returned there and walked to pubs or bistros for light evening meals. Our last dinner was at a locally famous steakhouse with nine other conference attendees, and it was good to be with them.

Grandma came to stay with the kids, and they had a fabulous time with her and their grandfather, who came over during the days as well. We are very grateful to them. I missed the kids, but a couple of days without them went a long way to recharging my parenting batteries, too.

Ten Years

It’s been ten years this month since my first book came out. It seems only right that I use the icon that HRH drew of me taking a bow after a G&S show for this post, yes? I probably don’t take enough bows. I’m shy like that.

It’s been an interesting ride these past ten years, and I like where my career has gone along the way.

I’ve worked in the book business since my very first part-time job at the local children’s bookstore. I went from there to working at (and then managing) the local F/SF bookstore, then working in the local metaphysical bookstore. I ‘retired’ from the retail aspect and did writing, data entry, and ordering for the metaphysical store, until the owner forwarded me a letter from one of the large publishing companies we purchased from. They were looking for someone with an English degree who was experienced in writing, the book business, and the new age market. “They’re looking for YOU!” she told me with excitement, and encouraged me to send in my CV and an introductory letter. The publisher was astonished that someone out there actually existed who matched their criteria perfectly, and invited me to sign on as a consultant as they established a new age imprint. I got to help define the imprint’s mission statement, help develop a plan and schedule, help vet proposals, and do tech reviews of the finished manuscripts. After rescuing an unfinished manuscript that also featured plagiarism (longtime readers know how I feel about that particular subject), the editor in charge of the imprint asked me to write the next book in the series. I did, and then I wrote another right on its heels at their request.

I was pregnant when that first book came out, unknowingly only a couple of weeks away from giving birth to Sparky. (Ahead of schedule… gosh, a lot happened in those four weeks; we moved a week after it came out, too. I corrected the page proofs for the second book in the hospital. And I had a delivery deadline for my third book the next month, as well. Good grief.) I remember walking into the new age store after they’d called to tell me it had arrived, and seeing a full-sized poster of the front cover mounted on foam board proudly displayed on a table among piles of that first book. It was slightly surreal to see my name that large on anything. And then the second one came out only four months later.

In ten years I wrote about alternative spirituality, practicing nature-based spirituality in urban areas, home and hearth-based practice, edited an anthology of firsthand experiences of discovering alternative spirituality, approaching pregnancy from the point of view of earth-based spirituality, and the spiritual associations of birds. I oversaw the development and editing of two new age series. I worked with some wonderful, wonderful editors, one of whom introduced me to other departments within the publishing company who gave me rewriting/repurposing work, and, ultimately, my current position as a copy editor.

People ask me sometimes when my next book is coming out, and honestly… I like what I’m doing right now. Writing a book takes an tremendous amount of energy and time, and because when I do something I want to do it right, the per-hour fee ends up being below minimum wage when I take into account the number of hours it takes to produce a manuscript I am satisfied with. Copy editing is more lucrative, frankly, and more immediately gratifying. I am one of those weird people who adores copy editing. I like knowing why a comma is necessary, or why it should be taken out. I like being able to tweak the punctuation or syntax in a sentence to clarify its meaning. I take a stupid amount of pride in being able to use a hyphen, en dash, or em dash correctly. I love finessing a paragraph to focus the author’s point, querying to make sure I grasped what they were trying to say. (The answer is almost invariably yes, oh yes, and thank you.) I have the kind of mind that remembers how an author phrased or formatted something seventy pages ago, and I can make sure every instance of a phrase or instruction is presented the same way each time. I have a sixth sense for a wonky fact that needs to be checked. I have a not-so-secret crush on the sixteenth edition of the Chicago Manual of Style. And I really like being able to put it all out of my mind when I’ve closed the document and walked away to pick the kids up from school, which I was never able to successfully do while writing on a book contract, and that stressed me out a lot. Add to this the fact that the new age market really shrank about four or five years ago, and, well… at this point in time, I’ve said everything I want to say in a book. (Would I like to produce a book on parenting from an earth-based spirituality POV? Absolutely, but while I like how my kids are turning out, I still feel like I’m flailing around when it comes to parenting, and I couldn’t do it with enough confidence.)

I still get messages from people thanking me for being their introduction to alternative spirituality, for giving them a name to what they felt or believed, for letting them know they’re not alone, and they all mean a lot. I’m proud of what I’ve done. But I love what I’m doing right now, and I wouldn’t chose to do anything else at the moment.

This does not preclude writing on the side, of course. I almost had a new book gig this spring, actually, except they wanted me to write it on a crazy deadline, and my current contract with the game studio takes precedence. Not knowing how much work would be coming or precisely when, I couldn’t take on a book contract in good faith. I do have almost-finished novels lying about that I would like to poke at, finished ones that need rewrites, and I have started a new one for the first time in a few years, writing longhand with a fountain pen in a notebook. (It just felt wrong to try to start it on the computer, and if a story will cooperate in another easily accomplished way… well then, story, here is a Parker fountain pen and some J Herbin ink; come and play.)

Ten years. The traditional gift material for a tenth anniversary is tin; maybe I should buy a new fountain pen to celebrate. (I also see that the modern equivalent is diamond jewellery, which just makes me laugh a lot. Seriously? I’d prefer a new fountain pen.)

Thank you to everyone who has been around for this ride so far. To single a few people out (which is always dangerous because one feels dreadful if one misses someone important), I will name Ron, of course; Ceri, who kept me company on writing jams while I wrote that first book, and provided tea and sanity checks; Debra, who gave me the publisher’s contact request for the consultant in the first place; Silver, who told me I could do it, and to stick to my guns when negotiating for future titles and deadlines; Scarlet and Robyn and all the Melange Magique staff who were excited for me, stocked the book, and hand sold it; and all my lovely editors, especially Andrea, who fought long and hard on my behalf during her time as my last editor. Thank you to booksellers and readers, to reviewers and interviewers, and all my friends who encouraged me, came to book launches, and have my books on their shelves, even if they’ve never read them and never intend to. You are all wonderful, and there would be no point in doing this, if not for you all.

Christmas 2013

Christmas was busy, and it was snow, and it was family. And it was tiny new additions to the family. More on that later.

We decorated the tree the same day we had the photos with Santa done. The only drawback was that the tree we’d chosen (all tied upon the lot, of course) was lovely and full and bushy. So full, in fact, that it took up a quarter of our tiny living room. My spinning wheel needed to be moved into the hallway for the holidays, and the furniture had to be Tetris-ed in. But as ginormous as the tree is, it smelled and looked fabulous! And there was plenty of room for all our lovely ornaments.

On the night before the winter solstice we told the kids they’d each get a Yule present to open the next day, and we talked about welcoming back the sun. We talked about how it was the longest night, and how once upon a time people must have despaired that the sun would ever come back as the nights got longer and longer. We said that we lit candles to shine like little suns to help the sun find its way through the dark on that longest night and return to us the next dawn. Then we lit our candles before they went to bed and said a prayer for the sun to be strong and brave, and Owlet was terribly excited. I’d forgotten how much Sparky loved doing candles for things when he was her age. (She was so excited that she asked to do it for her nap the next day, and the next two nights at bedtime, as well.)

The next morning, we all got up, blew out the candles and said “Yay, sun! You did it! Thank you, sun!” and Owlet wandered around while we made breakfast, randomly shouting, “Yay, sun!” and “Thank you, sun!”

After breakfast Sparky asked if they could open their presents. They each had a wrapped book under the tree. Owlet got a Sandra Boynton Christmas book (with Pookie in it! Well, it isn’t identified as Pookie, but it’s totally Pookie). Sparky got a handbook for taking care of rabbits. He was very pleased, saying that now he could be ready when he got his rabbit once he turned ten, which was the going deal.

But I asked him if he thought he could read it in five minutes instead, to be ready. He looked at me, not understanding. So we told him he was going to visit one of HRH’s students to choose a rabbit of his very own, and he couldn’t quite believe it. We all piled in the car and drove over, and we all sat on the floor with a litter of ten eight-week-old dwarf Netherland bunnies hopping around and over us, grey and cinnamon and black and tan, and it was the best fun. They were so very well socialized that they hopped right into our laps and cuddled, and didn’t freak out a bit when Owlet picked them up and carried them around the way toddlers all pick up four-legged beasties, around the chest and tummy. After much deliberation and interacting with each one to see whose temperament was best suited to him, Sparky came home with this one, who was the smallest of them all.

Meet Solstice, everyone. His back is dark like the night, and his tummy is light like the sun. He is calm and loving, and I don’t think Sparky put him down all day after we got home. Which is fine by Solstice, apparently, who is happy to snuggle.

We’d been sitting on this secret for over a month, buying a huge secondhand cage and the supplies required bit by bit, so we’re pretty thrilled at how it went over. Sparky was warned that because this big present was so big, he wasn’t to expect any of the big things on his Christmas list, and he was so happy it didn’t even make him pause. Sparky and Solstice were pretty much inseparable for the entire Christmas break. If the rabbit wasn’t in his arms or lap, it was next to him in a laundry basket with some toys and hay while Sparky played video games. The rabbit met everyone at the door as soon as they walked in, held out by an excited Sparky who was eager to share his new buddy. He’s a bright and cheerful little thing, who loves to do that neat jump/kick thing happy bunnies do, and to scamper from one end of the bed to the other as fast as he can. He’s fine with the cats, although Minerva is a bit overeager with him, wanting to tussle roughly like she would with a kitten, and Gryff is kind of a bit scared, to be honest. He has visibly grown in just a couple of weeks, and now has a little cinnamon patch between his shoulder blades at the back of his neck, like a little sun. It’s adorable. And Solstice loves just hanging out.

He is very patient, too.

Christmas Day was great. We had both sets of grandparents with us, and it was a genuinely lovely day. I forgot to brine the turkey, but it was acceptably tender despite that. There were new clothes, and books, and video games (including the new Skylanders Swap Force set that Sparky had wanted but had figured wasn’t going to happen since he’d gotten Solstice instead, and which he’d already finished by the end of the holidays, yikes). And Her Owletship’s big gift was a lovely soft cloth doll from Pottery Barn Kids, and a doll bed HRH built for her, with bedding that I sewed for it:

It’s a miniature of her own bed, see?

I was spoiled with cookbooks and new knitting needles and a lovely sweater, a miraculous thermal tumbler that keeps tea hot for hours, and gift certificates for more books and tea. It was hard to focus on things and keep up with the unwrapping, since I spent most of my time facilitating the kids’ experiences, and I ended up with a small pile of gifts to open on my own at the end. One that wasn’t under the tree was the Apple TV that HRH and I bought ourselves on crazy sale halfway through December. We are very impressed with the home network streaming, the cleaner interface with Netflix, and the ability to rent movies from iTunes. It works very well for our needs.

The weather was clear, sunny, and cold, so there were no walks through the neighbourhood, but the company was wonderful, the food supplied by everyone was delicious, the day rolled along smoothly, and we feel very fortunate to be able to spend time with both sides of the family like this. And then we had a few friends over on the Saturday, which was lovely, too, and on the Sunday we gathered with the Preston-LeBlancs in their new house for our annual Yule singalong, and all our wonderful holiday traditions were complete. We feel very, very blessed.

Lest We Forget

I remember, today and always.

War’s not the answer most of the time; it’s often an excuse that veils another agenda. But that’s not going to stop me from honouring the men and women whose job it was/is, or who volunteer(ed), to go out and risk their lives in confrontations beyond what most of us can envision. It’s their commitment and courage I honour on Remembrance Day. I honour our peacekeepers, too, the people who go to other countries to help rebuild after times of turmoil. And support staff — doctors, drivers, cooks, all those people who are necessary and who rarely get recognition for being in danger as well. And those left at home, who carry the double burden of hope and dread for their loved ones.

There has to be a better way. But even when someone figures it out, I’ll keep on saying thank you to all those individuals who gave lives, limbs, time, and innocence to the wars. I honour and respect their personal decisions, even if I disagree with the governmental decisions that created the need for them.

Christmas Is Creeping In

In the car today on the way to school I had the local classical station on the radio. They started slipping the occasional Christmas song into rotation on Dec 1, every five pieces or so. It was a string arrangement of a carol, and I started singing along. Sparky said, “I don’t know this one. I don’t know a lot of Christmas songs, Mama.” And he’s right. Mainly because I worked in retail for about fifteen years and developed a violent aversion to Christmas music that way, but also because I’m an admitted music snob and I dislike most “popular” versions of carols, preferring instrumental arrangements.

Now, every year we get together with a family of dear friends (we’re godparents to their girls, they’re Sparky’s godparents) and we have an intimate Yule singalong. I play the cello, Jeff plays guitar, the kids play bells or bodhrans, and if we’re lucky Pasley plays one of her recorders for a song or two (and I wish she’d play it more often, because it’s a beautiful sound, and yes Paze, I am talking to YOU) and we sing all sorts of stuff, from really old ones to some popular Christmas songs the kids know well, like Frosty and so forth. But every year, Sparky’s stumped by the more classic ones I used to sing in church as a kid.

So today, I find myself in the slightly odd position of developing a Christmas music playlist so he can hear the songs and learn them. I don’t have many recordings (see above about my snobby tastes and violent dislikes), so I’m digging through what I do have to find what I can put together. I may have to record myself singing some to fill out the playlist, which is a frightening thought.

And as every year, I find myself wanting to do something to decorate the house for the season, but coming up with a blank. Pinterest has me wanting to string pine cones on red ribbon and hanging them from found branches above the windows — so simple! — but really? And where would I find the time? And can you even get pine cones that aren’t drenched in cinnamon oil? (Hmm, this would be the perfect excuse to finally check out the new Michaels.) Candles we do all year round, so adding more seems pointless. HRH hung the Christmas lights along the peak and eaves of the house this past weekend, and they look wonderful, but that’s a night-time thing (and even that has me uncomfortable because it’s so early in December and there’s no snow again). And we don’t buy the tree and decorate it till Solstice, so that we can enjoy it during Christmas week without it drying out and having to be taken down right after the 25th. The boughs and swag for the front door don’t happen till the week before Christmas, because they’re fresh, too. I need to think some more about what we can do that is baby-friendly, works with our decor and layout, and isn’t expensive or overly time-consuming.

Part of the problem, I think, is that we have one box of Christmas stuff in the shed, and we take it out when the tree arrives, so I don’t have lead time on the non-tree decorations. Maybe we should separate them into two boxes, one marked ‘early Christmas’ and one marked ‘immediate Christmas.’ Because, you know, that would be intelligent and foresighted, two things that do not characterize my state of mind when we pack everything away in early January.

Farewell, Nixie

I am back from the vet with an empty pet carrier and a Nixie-shaped hole in my heart.

It was time, but that doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier. It also didn’t help that her veins were collapsing so they couldn’t insert the IV properly, and had to inject her in the abdomen, which meant that she went more slowly (although with the sedative and painkiller they’d already given her, she wasn’t feeling anything by that point). At least I got to hold her close in my arms until she stopped breathing. It felt right, like it was a fitting bookend to how often I had held her as a newborn kitten to feed her, to make sure she lived.

Born to a feral cat being fostered by a friend who lived a few blocks away, Nixie was the tiniest one of the litter, very tiny indeed, and we didn’t think she’d make it without help. So I went over once or twice a day to give her extra meals and cuddles. Naturally, when she was old enough, she came home with me. She never really got very big, remaining the size of an adolescent kitten. She was perfect the way she was.

She used to sleep behind a row of books on the bottom shelf of a bookcase. If she’d been rolling on the floor and had motes of dust in her fur, when she walked through a sunbeam she looked like she was the velvety blackness of space with tiny sparkling galaxies scattered through. She liked to sleep in tiny hidey-holes, particularly shelves. In her later years, she slept next to my pillow at night, though this past year she’s slept on a blanket upstairs in the attic office. Her fur was the silkiest I’ve ever felt on a cat. I loved her purr, and how she would delicately reach out with a paw and just the tiniest bit of unsheathed claw to pat my hand or my cheek, to coax me into stroking her.

We had just over ten wonderful years together.

She was light enough to be able to jump up and balance on my cello in its soft case (and don’t think I didn’t find her napping inside the empty case when she thought she could get away with it!):

She would lie on my desk and keep me company while I worked:

Sparky took a really neat photo of her when he was about four:

But this is how I will always remember her, lithe, with big green eyes, sitting in the sun on my bookshelves.

Thank you, sweet little cat, for being my dear companion, for loving us all, and for enriching our lives with your delicate personality. Say hello to Maggie, Gulliver, and Roman for us. Sparky told me last night that Maggie would be waiting for you, to show you the best sunny spots and grass to play in. And I’m not going to argue with the eerily insightful seven-year-old, because honestly, I think he’s right.