Welcoming the Frost Giants

I burned my Butzemann, George Alfredson, a little late this year. I waited until the weekend after Halloween. I don’t think that he got taken over by an evil spirit, but it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t wait longer than that!

Before it was time for him to go, we did a little tour of the garden and what we accomplished together this year.

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The biggest accomplishment was building walkways around the raised beds in the garden. Before there was grass in-between them, but that meant I was always having to pull out grass that was getting into the beds. I didn’t teach summer classes this year, so I spent most June mornings (before it got too hot) with George building these pathways out of limestone blocks and shredded cedar mulch.

I don’t know if you can tell from the picture, but he’s sitting in front of the Jalapeno pepper plants which got loaded with peppers this fall when things cooled off and it started raining again.

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I also experimented with planting a second crop of some warm-weather plants this year. I planted more tomatoes and pumpkins in June, seeing if they could mature before it freezes and give us a second harvest. The cherry tomatoes did, but the big tomatoes I planted were still green by the time it started to get cold. Maybe next year I’ll try May.

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The Seminole pumpkins were also not quite ripe by Halloween. I planted them in a garden bed, but let them sprawl out into the lawn.

But ripe pumpkins or not, it was time to say goodbye to George, my second-generation Butzemann. When I burned his father last year, I had him carry some notes to dead loved ones with him. I did the same with George this year, and gave him a note for Basil and one for my paternal grandmother who also died this year (my last remaining grandparent). That’s just something I thought up myself, rather than a real Urglaawe tradition, but I don’t see any reason why that would be a bad thing to do.

After George left, the weather started getting much colder, so it certainly felt like the Wild Hunt had finally arrived. We actually had an unusually cold November, and our first freeze was November 13, which is a little earlier than usual. Our usual date for a first freeze is around Thanksgiving, but sometimes it’s later (a few years ago we didn’t have a freeze at all).

If you’re a gardener like I am, you know that the first freeze is a big deal. That’s when your tomatoes, squash, beans, and other frost-sensitive plants die. That’s when you have to run out there and pick whatever you can before the Frost Giants turn them to mush.

I got a good crop of cherry tomatoes, jalapeno peppers (which I ended up pickling), and I went ahead and picked my pumpkins and am hoping they will ripen the rest of the way in the garage.

I know my ancestors feared the Frost Giants, but I kind of welcome them. I know it’s probably because I live in Texas, so it’s rare for it be below freezing for over 24 hours at a time. And even here they can be scary. They do kill all the frost-sensitive plants, leaving their blackened corpses for me to pull up and throw in the compost pile. If we have icy roads, no one knows how to drive on them, so there are a lot of car accidents. Homeless people die. People accidentally set their homes on fire with space heaters. (Though probably more people die from heat than from cold around here.)

But the Frost Giants also kill the mosquitoes and other pest insects, and the death of the frost-sensitive plants clears space in my garden for planting frost-hardy plants like collard greens and carrots. It certainly marks a distinct change in the environment.

So after mourning the dead on Halloween/Samhain, it just felt like good timing to have the first freeze right after that to kill what was left of the summer plants, and right after that came Thanksgiving, which is a time to feast on the harvest we quickly gathered before the freeze.

And now it’s time to look towards the Yule season (even though, as I’m writing this, it’s in the 70’s outside, because that’s how December in Texas works!). I refuse to put up Christmas/Yule decor until AFTER Thanksgiving, but it’s after Thanksgiving now.

I have been known to give offerings to the Frost Giants on the occasion of the first freeze. Maybe with climate change they eventually won’t even come this far South anymore, so I’m going to appreciate them while I still can.

Hail Skadhi and your kin! If you would like to drop some nice, beautiful snow in Texas this year like you did last year, I sure wouldn’t complain!

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The Danger of White Christian Nationalism

This year the theater students at my college did The Crucible by Arthur Miller as their October play. It wasn’t as fun as the one I went to a couple of years ago, which was Bram Stoker’s Dracula (the guy who play Renfield really hammed it up!), but they still did a good job. The programs they handed out had a note on the back from the director about how Arthur Miller first wrote this play during the McCarthy era, and today’s political climate makes it just as relevant now as it was then.

A lot of upsetting things have been happening in the news in the last few years, the latest of which was the worst massacre of Jews in American history. I’ve become somewhat desensitized (not saying that’s a good thing; it’s just the truth), but our latest mass shooting has got me squirming again, so I’ve been pondering why. After all, hate crimes are nothing new. Mass shootings are nothing new. Mass shootings which are also hate crimes are also nothing new either, sadly.

I first heard about the synagogue shooting at a family gathering we had that day. My sister-in-law asked the rest of us if we had heard the news, and we hadn’t. My father-in-law misunderstood at first and thought it had been a shooting at a mosque, and perhaps it was by a Trump supporter. Sister-in-law corrected him saying that it was a synagogue, those are Jewish, and he must not have been a Trump supporter because Trump is not anti-Semitic. After all, he has a Jewish son-in-law. I said that a lot of Trump’s supporters are anti-Semitic though, like the marchers at Charlottesville, but then the conversation sort of devolved into how Trump is a rich New Yorker, so even if he isn’t Jewish, he might as well be, ha ha.

It turns out that the murderer was not a Trump supporter, but only because Trump is not sufficiently anti-Semitic enough for him. He did carry out this attack because he was motivated by the conspiracy theory that the caravan of Central American refugees is an invasion force being summoned to the Texas border by The Elders of Zion. Trump supports those types of sentiments enough that he is about to send thousands of troops to Texas to defend us from these poverty-stricken Guatemalans that are walking hundreds of miles across Mexico to maybe get here in a month, if they make it at all.

 

During the 2016 campaign, I personally knew at least one heathen who voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary and then refused to vote in the general election, because he said both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were equally bad. After Trump won, he said that his liberal friends need to quit being so hysterical about the whole thing, and be glad that “screaming pantsuit lady” didn’t win. He also said that since the Republican establishment hated Trump, the Republican Congress would obstruct all his worst decisions just as much as they obstructed Obama.

There was also a prominent pagan blogger I used to read who supported Bernie and then Trump. I remember his arguments that perhaps it’s understandable that Mexicans and Muslims would not like Trump, but no one else has anything to worry about. I also remember that same blogger saying that pagans should be happy with Trump because he wasn’t the Christian Right’s preferred candidate, and this meant that the Christian Right has lost its political power. I never was convinced about either of those arguments, but especially not after Trump made Mike Pence his running mate.

Two years later, and white Evangelical Christians are the religious group who support Trump the most. They support him more than they supported George W. Bush, who was one of them! And the only Republican politicians who criticize Trump anymore are ones who are retiring or dying. All the ones who have any power now are completely loyal to Trump.

Those loyal white Evangelical Christian Republicans include pretty much everyone who has any power at all in Texas politics. I’ve long thought that if Texas ever secedes from the union, it will become a Christian theocracy. That’s certainly what a lot of the people in power in the Texas government seem to want, if that pesky federal government would just stay out of the way. Our restrictive abortion law went all the way to the Supreme Court, and even though it was struck down, it was around long enough for most of our abortion clinics to close anyway. Most of them never reopened. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick called a special session of the Texas Legislature just to try to pass a bathroom bill to supposedly protect me from getting raped by a trans-woman in a public restroom. Yeah, because that’s something I’m really worried about. Luckily it didn’t pass, because it would be “bad for business,” but calling a special session is supposed to be just for emergencies.

We also have extremely lax environmental laws; pretty much the bare minimum that the pesky federal government forces us to have. After all, they believe that God created us to have dominion over the natural world, and we should be able to do whatever we want with it. Their official position on climate change is that it doesn’t exist, and of course the issue of teaching the Theory of Evolution in public schools is a perennial favorite that comes up times and time again.

I’ve lived in Texas my whole life, and I’ve never been a Christian, so I’ve always been an outsider here. Sure, I’m white, cisgendered, and straight, so that helps, but I’ve always known that even though I won’t be one of the people they come for first, as the First They Came poem from Nazi Germany illustrates, even if you’re not first on the list, they will come for you eventually. Not being a Christian was always a big strike against me here. When I was a kid, I knew that my classmates thought I was destined to burn in Hell for eternity. I knew that they subscribed to a belief that people who aren’t part of their group deserve such a fate. Seems like an extreme punishment for the crime of not believing in their god, but that’s what they think we deserve.

Now I’m seeing this alliance forming between Evangelical Christians and white nationalists, uniting under the leadership of Trump. On first glance, this doesn’t make much sense. Christians aren’t supposed to be racist (Christianity is supposed to be universal for all people), and white nationalists don’t necessarily have to be Christians (since some of them are heathens or atheists), but they are similar in that they both believe that everyone who is not like them need to be, to put it the Dalek way, exterminated. Maybe not literal extermination like the Nazis attempted, but the bad people who don’t belong here at least need to be driven out, or marginalized to make sure they have no power.

In The Crucible, the outcasts were the first ones to be accused of witchcraft, that is true, but eventually some of the most respected people in the community got the noose. When people in power get the feeling that their society needs to be purged of the wrong kind of people, hardly anyone is really safe. And the irony is that Salem was founded by a bunch of people who were all the same race and religion, thinking that if they founded a society that was pure enough, that everything would be OK.

Evangelical Christians think that everybody needs to be Christian (and not only that, but the right kind of Christian), and white nationalists want a white ethno-state with no non-white people in it. They both want to purify society of anyone who is not like them.

Maybe the reason why the synagogue shooting seems scary to me is because Jews were not supposed to be on the hit list. Like my sister-in-law said, “but Trump’s not an anti-Semite!” And yet Mike Pence has a “Messianic Rabbi” say a prayer in Jesus’s name, to further emphasize that the victims of the shooting were not the right kind of white people, because they weren’t Christians.

And it doesn’t matter if Trump isn’t Evangelical Christian or anti-Semitic himself, the Evangelicals and Neo-Nazis both see him as being on their side anyway, so that’s good enough for them and makes them feel empowered to start getting rid of the wrong kinds of people. And that should have us all worried, not just the Mexicans and Muslims.

 

Well, I hope this post doesn’t attract any Frog People to come tell me I’m a SJW libtard cuck femnazi NPC or something. I’m not sure if I’ve even made much of a coherent argument, since I’m nursing a cold while writing this and my head’s all stuffy. These are just the things I’m thinking of as the Midterm Election gets closer.

I already voted last week during Early Voting. I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much about Beto O’Rourke, but he is running against Ted Cruz, who is a perfect example of the kind of thing I’m worried about. Ted was the last man standing against Trump during the primaries, but now he’s become a Trump supporter, despite Trump taunting him with an internet meme about his wife being way hotter than Ted Cruz’s wife. Meanwhile, he attacks Beto for not representing “Texas values,” whatever that means. Beto’s lived in El Paso his whole life, sang on stage with Willie Nelson, and loves Whataburger, but Ted keeps attacking him for not being “Texan” enough.

I always vote in every election. It’s literally the least I can do. I know what long-term Republican one-party rule looks like, because that’s what we’ve already had in Texas for my whole life (there was that one term of Governor Ann Richards back in the 90’s, but right after that we got George W. Bush). Now the Republicans are trying to make the federal government look the same as the Texas government, and I am not looking forward to that. I don’t like the two-party system either, but it’s better than a one-party system. Then all you have to do is stick an R by your name and you can do whatever you want. Alabama came close to electing a sexual predator just because he was a Republican and Evangelical Christian. I’m glad they didn’t, but it was way closer than it should have been. Ted Cruz isn’t as bad as Roy Moore, so I doubt we’ll have a similar upset here in this red state and elect a Democrat for senator.

But it sure would be nice. I guess we’ll see what happens tomorrow. Last election, I prayed to Tyr and Zisa to oversee the election and make sure it was fair. I’m not sure how much good that did, but I’ll try it again this year. I know it’s not really the gods’ job to save us from ourselves though, and there are a lot of people now who think that White Evangelical Christian Nationalism is the vision of the country that they like, and there are a lot more people who just can’t be bothered trying to do anything to stop it. For those of us who think that this country needs to figure out how to be a diverse, multi-faith, multi-racial society without shooting each other or sending bombs in the mail, I hope that voting is enough to start pulling this thing back in a different direction.

If it’s not, then I’m not really sure what else I can do.

Basil 2005 – 2018

It’s almost the Day of the Dead, and time to honor those who have left us this year. Here is my tribute to a family member I lost this year.

I first saw him when I was in graduate school living in a two story townhouse style apartment with my elderly tortoiseshell cat, Ginger. One night I was awoken by the sound of Ginger growling at the glass door that led out to the balcony from the bedroom on the second floor.

I got up to see what she was upset about. Out on the balcony, there was a handsome gray tabby cat with white legs and a white chest chewing on Ginger’s potted catnip. When he saw me looking at him through the door, he looked completely unconcerned and continued enjoying the catnip. Ginger didn’t even like catnip that much, but she growled at him as if to say, “The nerve of that guy! That’s MY catnip!”

Like many apartment complexes, there were several stray cats living around the place. Some of them were feral, but some of them were probably cats who previously had owners, but had been left behind either intentionally or unintentionally when the owners moved. Over the next several weeks, I started to pay attention to the gray tabby cat, and it started to seem more and more likely that he didn’t have an owner anymore, despite being friendly and already neutered. He was a bit skinny and got beat up by the local tomcats a lot. He also seemed to be outside all the time, day or night. He started coming to get catnip on my balcony regularly each night. This apartment complex was right next to a major interstate highway, and I worried that he’d get hit by a car sooner or later, like many of the stray cats did.

The day before Thanksgiving 2006 it was one of those days where it was going to be in the mid-80’s during the day, then that night we were getting a sudden cold front and it was going to freeze. When I was walking home to my apartment, the gray tabby greeted me and rubbed up on my legs. That moment I decided I shouldn’t leave him outside in the cold that night, and I picked him up and brought him inside.

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He spent the night downstairs in the living room while Ginger and I spent the night upstairs in the bedroom. Ginger wasn’t too happy about him being inside her apartment now, but she had already gotten used to him getting on our balcony each night, so at least he wasn’t a complete stranger to her.

I wasn’t sure what to call him. My balcony had several different potted herbs besides the catnip, so I started calling him Basil, since that was the one herb I had that also seemed to make a nice name. My sister came to spend Thanksgiving with me the next day, and she thought Basil was kind of a stupid name, but I told her it was just going to be temporary until I thought of something better.

Eventually I took him to a vet to get a checkup. I told them he was a stray cat I found and was thinking of keeping him. They scanned him for a microchip and he didn’t have one, so I said, “OK, I guess that means he’s mine now.” I got him vaccinated and microchipped, and the vet commented that it was hard to get the needle in because his skin was tough, which is another sign that he’s been living outside all the time for a while. They estimated his age as being about a year and a half old, so he was probably born in the spring or summer of 2005.

I’d often see him visiting other apartments and getting treats and pets from other people. That was probably how he’d been surviving. None of my neighbors said they owned him, though, and over time it became known in the apartment complex that he was my cat now. But obviously someone had owned him at some point. It remained a mystery how he came to be living out in the parking lot of the apartment complex.

He was even friendly towards dogs. I had neighbors who got a female pitbull puppy, and I’d come home to find that dog and my cat laying right next to each other on the lawn between our apartments. The dog’s owner even came to me one time and said, “I think your cat is friends with my dog,” and I told him yes, I had noticed that. He said that Basil came to visit his dog often and they’d hang out together.

Since he had been living outside for a while, he didn’t like being inside much at all. He didn’t seem to understand the concept of a litterbox at first and left some messes for me to clean up. As a compromise, I let him outside each morning before I left for class, and brought him in each evening when it got dark. Eventually he figured out my schedule, and would make himself hard to find in the evening when it was time for him to come in for the night. It felt like having a teenage son staying out late past his curfew.

Basil full of catnip

In the summer of 2008 I met the man who would eventually become my husband. Sometimes he’d help me search for Basil when he’d go missing. We spent many evenings searching the apartment complex for him shaking a bag of cat treats.  I remember one time we found him all the way at the other side of the apartment complex at the volleyball court, and he sent us on a wild chase trying to get him and make him come in.

In 2009 I graduated with my Master’s degree and moved into a rental house with my boyfriend, who already had two cats of his own, so we had to merge them together into one big cat family. He had an elderly Tonkinese cat named K.K., who used to be his store cat when he owned an antique store. He said he didn’t know what K.K. stood for because that’s just the name she came with when he adopted her. Maybe it was Kitty Kat? His other cat was Lily, a young black and white spotted cat.

The two elderly cats, Ginger and K.K., were too old for shenanigans and settled in together just fine, but the two young cats, Basil and Lily, had some serious issues getting along at first, complete with territorial peeing and occasional fights where blood was drawn. Ginger ended up passing away in 2011 at the ripe old age of 18, and eventually the remaining three cats settled their differences and figured out how to live together in harmony.

Basil and Lily

In 2012 we got married and bought a house on a large lot further out in the country, away from any busy roads. The girls remained mostly indoor cats with occasional brief excursions into the back yard, but Basil still loved being outside, climbing trees and getting on the roof, chasing little critters around, and lounging in the sun in the herb garden or on the brick BBQ pit. Whenever my husband or I did any work out in the yard, he was out there with us assisting. He remained an extremely friendly cat and loved it when I had barbecues for Midsummer and invited all my friends over. So many legs to rub on! So many people to pet him and tell him how handsome he is!

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K.K. passed away in autumn of 2012 at the age of 17 and we were down to two cats, but Basil and Lily had finally become good friends. In many ways, they had opposite personalities. Lily is afraid of most people and really only likes my husband. She kind of tolerates me, but if we have company, she always runs and hides. But she and Basil would chase each other around and play together. Each night when it was time to for Basil to come in, I shook the package of cat treats to lure him in, and then both of the cats would get treats. Eventually she learned that when it got dark, it was time for Basil to come in for treats time, so she would meow at the back door, or even come and find me and meow at me to let me know. Then I’d get the treats, open the back door and shake them, and when Basil came in, Lily would rub up against him in greeting before they’d both get their treats.

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Heathens say that cats belong to Freya, but I always thought Basil was more of a Loki’s cat with how much he got into trouble. He was a bit too smart and too fearless for his own good. At the apartment complex, he learned how to ring people’s doorbells to get them to give him treats. He figured out that doorknobs are how humans open doors, and would stretch himself out as tall as he could to grab the doorknob with his paws to ask to go out. I’m sure if the backdoor had a level-style doorknob instead of a round one, he would have figured out how to open it. One evening I couldn’t find him, and I finally heard his meowing coming from my neighbor’s garage, and had to awkwardly ring the doorbell and ask them to open the garage to let him out. He must have gone in there to explore earlier that day while they had it open and then got shut in.

He once got crystals in his urine that blocked his urinary tract and almost died. He had to have a catheter put in and stayed at the animal hospital for several days. Before that, he was as friendly with vets as he was with anyone else, but after that he became aggressive with them. His charts at the vet ended up with a warning on them, “Aggressive! Will bite and scratch!”

He also got into fights with other cats in the neighborhood, because of course he had to defend his territory and his family from these invaders. Many of our neighbors let their cats run loose outside most of the time, and many of them also don’t even get their cats fixed, so they get into territorial fights a lot. Sometimes he got injuries that got infected and he needed to go to the vet to drain them and get antibiotics.

He seemed to like dogs better than other cats and continued to make friends with neighbors’ dogs wherever we lived, but he was NOT happy when my sister-in-law visited with her two dogs, a blue heeler and a border collie mix. I guess he didn’t give them permission to come into his house! My sister also has cats, so her dogs are used to cats and view them as friends, but when they tried to greet Basil he stood his ground and arched his back and puffed himself up and was almost ready to strike. These dogs were several times bigger than him, and there were two of them, but I had to lock Basil in a back bedroom, for the dogs’ safety!

He was a real warrior of a cat, so maybe he was Freya’s cat too.

Basil on Shelf

Last year my husband and I started to notice that Basil was getting skinnier and Lily was getting fatter. Lily would eat all her food and then help herself to the rest of Basil’s, because Basil would only eat a few bites and then wanted to go back outside. We started trying different foods to see if he’d like other food better. We started trying to feed him in a separate room from Lily (which only freaked him out because he didn’t like being shut in a room). We took him to a vet, and they did a blood test and said his liver and kidney functions were just fine, and maybe he was just a picky eater. They asked me if he had been lethargic lately, and I told them a little, but I figured it was because he was 12 and starting to get older. The vet concluded that there was probably nothing wrong with him and sent us home.

By February his hip bones had started sticking out, so we took him to a different vet to get a second opinion. That vet ran a complete blood count on him, something the previous vet didn’t do, and found out he was severely anemic, and told us we have a very sick cat here. He also tested positive for FIV, which the vet said was very common in cats the fight with other cats. They said I would have to bring him in for twice a week injections of a drug that should stimulate his bone marrow to make more red blood cells. Since my husband and I both work during the day, I had to drop him off at the vet before work, and then pick him up after work, for something that only took a few minutes. I felt terrible leaving him at the vet so much.

Basil and Lily Feb 2018

He kept getting sicker, and by March the vet concluded that the drug was not working, and his bone marrow must have failed due to the FIV. Daniel and I did lots of research online and found out that getting a cat vaccinated for FIV can cause them to test positive for FIV. I had gotten that vaccination way back when I first took him in, because I knew his “lifestyle” put him at risk, so I got him vaccinated for pretty much every cat disease they had a vaccine for! We told the vet that, and he said there was another, much more expensive test they could do to see if he really had FIV, and also if he had something called “feline infectious anemia” that is caused by a bacterium.

We got the test, and he was negative for both of those infectious diseases, so the vet said he probably had cancer. They said to be sure they’d have to do some biopsies of his bone marrow, but at that point he was so sick and had already been at the vet so much that I didn’t feel like having the vet drill into his bones to confirm that he had a disease that wasn’t curable anyway. My mom recently had one of her cats die of cancer, and she had been on steroids for her last few months, which really helped her feel better, even though it doesn’t actually do anything to cure the disease. We asked the vet for some steroids to give Basil.

Basil wasn’t completely back to normal on the steroids, but it did seem to make him feel better. He became a little more active and ate a little more. Easter was April 1, and I had my sister-in-law, her husband, and my parents –in-law over for Easter dinner, and Basil got a lot of petting from them and seemed to have a good time.

But the steroids only worked for a couple of weeks, and then he started to go back to the way he was before even with the steroids. I started to try to mentally prepare myself for the reality that Basil wasn’t going to make it this time, but my husband had more trouble accepting that. He did a lot of research online and found out that there are other infectious diseases that can cause anemia in cats, so we got the vet to give us an antibiotic to give him along with the steroids, even though the vet said he doubted they would work because those other diseases were very rare. The steroids and antibiotic were both liquid medications we had to force-feed him with a syringe at home, and they must have tasted terrible because he’d struggle and then foam at the mouth when we gave him the medicine. We had to do that twice a day, every day.

We started keeping him shut up in a spare bedroom during the day while we were both at work and at night while we were asleep. We put food, water, a bed, and a litterbox in there all close together so he could get to them easily. He had gotten to the point where he stumbled around when he walked. I fed him meat baby food that he could lap up because he had trouble chewing hard food.

The medications didn’t seem to be working, but my husband was having a much harder time accepting that it was time to give up on Basil. I found a vet that does home euthanasia, so we set up an appointment for the afternoon of Sunday, April 15. All day Saturday and Sunday we let him lie outside in the herb garden in the sun, which was all he ever wanted to do. My husband wondered if cats understand what death is and if he knew his time was short, and so he wanted to do as much lying in the sun as possible. I guess there’s no way to know for sure.

And maybe all that sunshine did him some good, because Sunday morning he seemed to perk up a bit, and Daniel became doubtful again that we were doing the right thing. He ended up calling the home euthanasia vet and cancelling, telling the vet we were going to give him a few more days.

But by the time we came home from work Monday evening, he could hardly walk at all. I went to bed that night completely expecting to find him dead the next morning.

The next morning, April 17, he was still alive, but just barely. Daniel and I both called in sick to work. If we held baby food or cream up to his mouth, he would lick a little, but then would sort of nod off and his face would fall into the food, and then he’d jerk awake again and try licking some more. Sometimes he’d try to get up and walk and only take a few steps before lying down on the floor exhausted and breathing heavily like he had just had a hard run.

We called the vet again, and he said he could get there in about an hour. We put Basil in his bed and put him in the herb garden in one of his favorite spots. The vet had two injections to give him, one that would render him unconscious, and then a second one that would stop his heart. We petted him as he got the first injection. When he was completely unresponsive, he got the second injection, which actually made him start gasping and coughing, which bothered me a little. Then he let out one more big sigh, and death came over him.

Daniel didn’t want to bury him right away, so we put him back in his room, still in his bed. We left the door open so that Lily could go in there with him. I don’t know if she understood what was wrong with her big brother or not, but she kept vigil over him for a while. I set my Freya statue and my Odin candle in there on a table. Daniel is always reluctant to bury our cats right away, just in case they are maybe not really dead. We both know that’s an irrational thought, but I think waiting until rigor mortis sets in and they really start to look dead helps with closure. We buried Basil after work that Thursday. We put his grave under a Mountain Laurel tree just outside our ritual circle in the backyard, near where K.K. is buried under an American Beautyberry tree. The weather had started getting warmer, and the mosquitoes were starting to come out, so Daniel put out a lot of citronella candles and torches. We had Basil’s funeral by the light of those torches, listening to the sounds of night creatures like Chuck-wills-widows starting to come out. We wrapped him in the red fleece blanket from his bed, with one of his favorite toys, some catnip, and some cat treats as grave goods.

I still feel horribly cheated that he died that young. I expected him to make it until at least 17 or 18 like our other cats had. I still wonder if we would have been able to get him better medical treatment if we had gotten a proper diagnosis sooner. During his funeral Daniel apologized to Basil that he might have put him through unnecessary suffering by giving him those medications he hated so much for the last few weeks of his life. It’s just so hard to know what the right thing to do in this situation is. In some ways, the death of pets is easier because euthanasia is an option, so you don’t have to wait and wait and wait for nature to take its course, like how I had to just wait and watch my dad slowly die of dehydration in that hospice. But on the other hand, euthanasia means you have to decide yourself when your loved one is going to die, and pets can’t tell you when they want you to do it.

 

For a few weeks after Basil died, Lily continued to meow at the backdoor when it got dark to let me know it was time for Basil to come in and get his treats. She’d look confused when I didn’t open the door and just gave her some treats. She’d eat her treats, then go back to the door and start meowing some more because Basil still wasn’t in yet.

Lily started spending all day in Basil’s room, which probably still smells like him. She lies in the same spot he was laying the night before he died, before we took him outside to wait for the vet.

It took a while to get used to coming home to a quiet house, instead of coming home to Basil greeting me at the door. Lily eventually stopped meowing at the back door each evening, but she never goes outside at all anymore, so I had to get used to working in the garden with no cat.

I waffle about getting a new cat. Lily seems to get no exercise at all anymore, so maybe getting her a new friend would do her some good. For all I know she does nothing but lie in that room all day when we’re at work. But I decided I would at least wait until after the Wild Hunt has come to collect Basil’s soul and take him away.

Is there such a thing as Cat Valhalla? Can Basil feast on cream and tuna and catnip with the gods now? He did fight all the way up until the end. Even that last day, when it was clear his anemic body was struggling just to get him enough oxygen to stay alive, he was still trying to get up and walk.

I know it’s been six months, but it’s still hard to believe he’s actually gone. He was an especially good cat. I know, all my cats have been especially good cats, but he was especially good. Even though his life was shorter than I would have liked, I hope I at least managed to give him a better life than he would have had if I had not taken him in 12 years ago. He was my buddy through graduate school and getting married and buying a house and pretty much becoming an adult. George Carlin said “life is a series of dogs,” but my life has been a series of cats.

The Sacred Twelfth Day Feast for Southerners

This year I actually bought a can of smoked herring to try the traditional Urglaawe meal of herring on Twelfth Night, but I still won’t skip the traditional New Year’s meal that I’ve been eating since I was a kid: black-eyed peas!

When I was a kid my mom told me that you have to eat black-eyed peas on either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day “for good luck.” Sometimes we’d just have some from a can as a side dish to whatever else we were having for dinner, but we’d always try to eat at least a few. There used to be a chain restaurant called The Black-Eyed Pea that we’d go to sometimes, and they would give you a special free cup of black-eyed peas with your meal on New Year’s. Of course, it was also packed on New Year’s and hard to get a table! Sadly, it looks like now that restaurant is out of business. I’d usually get the chicken-fried steak there. Yum!

Later I found out that you’re supposed to eat collard greens and cornbread with your black-eyed peas, so that’s how I do it now. I also cook the peas with the leftover ham bone from the Yule ham (with any leftover meat still on it), because the peas need some kind of smoked pork in them. The leftover meat ends up falling off the bone, and then I shred it up into bite-sized pieces and mix it back in.

In addition to the lucky peas, the collard greens represent money. The golden cornbread and pork are also symbols of prosperity. Overall, it seems like a very Vanic meal. In Urglaawe, the New Year’s feast is in honor of Frey, and the traditional fare is pork and sauerkraut. Well, collards are really just a more heat-tolerant, non-heading variety of cabbage, so I think this is close enough as a Texas equivalent of the traditional Twelfth Day feast for Frey.

You cook black-eyed peas about the same way you’d cook any other dried bean, though they are a different species than the common bean (pinto beans, kidney beans, etc.). They’re actually more tender and take less time to cook than common beans. It’s not even necessary to soak them, but if you do, they only take about an hour to cook. If you don’t soak them, they take about two hours to cook. I sweat some onions first, and then add the ham bone and a pound of peas, cover with water, and simmer until done. Simple!

There are actually more varieties than just the black-eyed ones. There are solid red ones, solid black ones, ones with purple eyes instead of black, etc. The ones that aren’t black-eyed are usually called “cowpeas” or “Southern peas.” I’m sure any of the colors would work for the magical meal. The black-eyed ones are just the ones most likely to be found at an ordinary grocery store.

As for the collard greens, I have some growing in my garden right now that are ready to harvest for the feast. Collard greens are just the southern version of kale, without all the trendiness. No really, collards and kale are just different varieties of the same species of plant! And they’re also the same species as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. I grow collards in my garden every winter. Yes, I grow kale too, but the collards do better. I grow mustard greens as well, and sometimes mix them in with the collards when I make a “mess o greens.” Mustard greens have a “bite” tot hem, while the collards are a lot milder, like cabbage. Turnip greens can also be mixed in, and even diced up turnip root, but my turnips are not anywhere near ready yet.

To make a “mess o greens,” I rinse the greens from the garden well (make sure there aren’t any bugs hiding in there), cut out the tough rib in the middle, and then slice them up into bite-sized pieces. Then I sweat some onions in bacon grease in a pot, add in the greens (keep in mind that they shrink a lot when they cook, so you have to have a lot of them), get the greens to wilt a bit, and then add water or chicken stock and gently simmer them.

In most cases I like my vegetables a little on the crispy side. Collard greens are an exception. In this case you’re supposed to cook them until they are very soft, maybe about half an hour. Then I add a splash of vinegar (members of the cabbage family really benefit from something acidic added to them) and salt and pepper to taste.

But if you boil vegetables for a long time, all the nutrients come out into the water, right? Well, in this case, the liquid from the cooked greens is called “pot liquor” and you are supposed to drink it. You can dunk your cornbread in it.

Which brings me to the golden cornbread, which is made with buttermilk and cooked in a cast-iron skillet. Texans also don’t like very sweet cornbread. I’ve had cornbread before that reminded me more of yellow pound cake than cornbread. In my cornbread, there is more cornmeal than flour (because it’s CORNbread), and only 2 tablespoons of sugar (because it’s cornBREAD, not cake).

Sometimes I mix the greens into the peas, and sometimes I eat them separately. Both the greens and peas get some hot sauce on top. You can also put the peas over rice (and then it’s called Hoppin’ John). Beer is my preferred beverage to drink with it.

Black-eyed peas are from Africa, collards (and other members of the cabbage family) are from Europe, and corn is Native American, so this meal is as multicultural as Texas itself.

To me, it’s just not New Year’s in Texas without it.

Delicious Yule Treats from the Ancestors

When I was a kid, we used to go to this German restaurant and store in Dallas called Kuby’s. It was a hang-out spot for my grandmother and her German immigrant friends. I especially liked going there around Christmastime. Germans really know how to do Christmas right, and that whole place was turned into a Christmas wonderland with so many wonderful goodies. At least that’s how I remember it.

We’d always get an advent calendar with little cardboard doors to punch out and get a chocolate each day until Christmas. For Christmas I’d sometimes get these imported packaged cookies that “Santa” probably got from Kuby’s too. There were these little round spice cookies coated in white icing called Pfeffernusse, and these other spice cookies that were bigger, and came in different shapes like hearts and stars, and some of them also had white icing, but some of them were covered with chocolate.

This time of year, around Yule, when it gets cold outside, I start really craving German food. I never really want it the rest of the year, just when it’s cold and drizzly outside, so a couple of years ago I put The German Cookbook by Mimi Sheraton on my Yule wish list. I’m a lot more into cooking than my mom ever was, and my grandmother died when I was very young, so I never really learned how to cook any German food myself.

Then I put the book on my cookbook shelf in my kitchen with all my other cookbooks and didn’t really do much with it.

At least, until this week.

This week some kind of baking-madness came over me and I decided to try making, not just one, but THREE of the recipes for traditional German Christmas treats from this cookbook. I made Anislaibchen, Pfeffernusse, and Lebkuchen. Phew! And of course each of these recipes is huge, so now I have enough cookies to give some away to pretty much everyone I know and still have plenty for myself and my husband. (Especially since I also made a batch of not at all traditional peanut butter and oatmeal no-bake cookies because they are my husband’s favorite.)

I chose those particular recipes because I remember getting store-bought Pfeffernusse when I was a kid, and wanted to try homemade. There are several versions of Lebkuchen in the book, and the Nurnberger Lebkuchen looked like the recipe that was closest to those other, chocolate-coated cookies I remember. I also chose to make Anislaibchen just because it had only four ingredients that I already had on hand.

So how did they turn out?

Anislaibchen

The name means “anise drops” in English, and these are kind of weird. Anise is a love-it-or-hate-it flavor that I happen to love, so I don’t mind having a black licorice flavored cookie. The cookie itself is weird though. There are only four ingredients: sugar, eggs, flour, and anise seeds. You whip the eggs with the sugar for 10 minutes with an electric mixer (thank goodness I have an electric mixer and didn’t have to do that by hand!), and then mix in the flour and anise seeds, drop them by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet, and then leave them sitting out overnight! That’s the weird part. They’re supposed to dry out on the outside. Then when you bake them, the dried-out part forms a crispy, crackly crust over the soft inside.

Like I said, this week has been cold and rainy, so mine didn’t dry out as much as I think they were supposed to. The ones around the outside of the cookie sheet did form the crispy top, but not the ones towards the middle. Maybe I should have left them out longer to make sure they all dried enough, or maybe even put a fan on them to help with air circulation.

Pfeffernusse

This name means “pepper nuts” in English. This is the recipe that had the most spice in it: citrus peels, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, cardamom, and black pepper. I couldn’t find candied orange or citron peel at the store, so I had to substitute just plain dried orange and lemon peel that I rehydrated with a little rum. They also have eggs, white sugar, brown sugar, ground almonds, “3 heaping cups of flour,” and “a generous pinch of baking soda.” That’s a thing that annoys me a little bit about this book. Baking is supposed to be precise! What do you mean by “heaping cup” or “generous pinch?”

These cookies were also left out overnight, and then it says to bake them at 300 degrees for 20 minutes, or “until they test done.” What does that mean? How do you test them? I ended up eating one to see if it was done, and it seemed like it was, I guess. Then when still warm, they are brushed with rum and rolled in confectioner’s sugar (I shook them in a Ziplock bag for that). I like the coating of powdered sugar better than the white icing on the store-bought Pfeffernusse. It’s pretty.

Lebkuchen

To my surprise, even though Lebkuchen is usually described as “German gingerbread,” the recipe in this book does not call for any ginger. Makes me think gingerbread is actually something different! This recipe has citrus peel, cinnamon, and cloves (along with eggs, sugar, a whole pound of honey, ground almonds, flour, baking powder, and black coffee), but no ginger.

I expected to end up with a cookie dough from this, but instead I got more of a cake batter that the instructions said to spread out into a jelly roll pan (I used a half-sheet pan), and then cut into bars when done and cool. So more like a bar cookie or brownie than something you roll out and cut with cookie cutters (like gingerbread).

The book had three different icing options: a white icing, a Lebkuchen glaze that has rum in it, and a chocolate glaze. I decided to do half with the run glaze, and half with the chocolate glaze.

I got really worried when I made the chocolate glaze, and I ended up with this really thin stuff. I put it on the Lebkuchen, and it was so thin that much of it ran off onto the pan. Once I finally got some to stick, I waited and waited for it to harden, and it still stayed wet and sticky. I was so sure I messed it up somehow.

But just like with the weird leaving-cookie-dough-out-on-the-counter-overnight thing, I should have trusted the wisdom of the ancestors, because I went and ate lunch, and when I checked them again, the chocolate had hardened up perfectly! The only problem is that it’s still thinner than I’d like, and I think that’s because I was supposed to have left the pan off the heat for a while longer to let it cool and thicken before trying to put it on. This was another place where the directions in the book were vague, and said to stir it off the heat “until a film forms,” so I guess I didn’t wait long enough.

Overall, I think I like the Pfeffernusse the best. They’re the spiciest of the three. My husband seems to like the Lebkuchen the best, which is less spicy and the chocolate and coffee gives it a mocha-like flavor. The anise drops would probably be better if I had let them dry enough, since I think the crispy top is the main appeal of them. They have the mildest flavor.

So that’s how I spent the beginning of Yule. I hope the gods and ancestors don’t mind that we’re not burning the Yule log until Friday night, instead of on the actual solstice, so my husband doesn’t have to go to work in the morning and can stay up late for that. I will use some of these goodies as offerings. I tend to use baked goods as offerings a lot. Considering the extra work that goes into baking something from scratch instead of buying it, it seems like a good thing to do.

And since I’m on a German food spree, I think for Friday night dinner I’m going to make another recipe from this book. Another thing I loved as a kid were German potato dumplings. My mom made them using a boxed mix, but the recipe in this book for Gekochte Kartoffelklosse sounds close to the made-from scratch version of what I remember. My mom once mentioned that you’re supposed to put a crouton in the middle of each one, but she never did it, so I don’t think I will either. I just loved the big slimy balls of starchy carbohydrate goodness! Yum! You’re supposed to eat them with meat and gravy, so I’m going to make German beer-braised pot roast to go with it, but I’m mainly looking forward to the dumplings. I hope I can at least make them as good as the boxed mix.

The Twelve Virtues of Yule

The final grades for the semester are turned in, I’m officially off of work for Winter Break, and now I can start getting ready for Yule! I need to clean the house, make a trip to the grocery store, and make cookies, but first I wanted to make a quick post about something I found a couple of years ago that I’d like to fully implement this year.

I’m not the first Heathen blogger who has criticized the Nine Noble Virtues, so I’m not going to go into great detail right now about why I feel they are lacking. In a nutshell, I don’t like how many Heathens who interpret them in ways that end up sounding more like Ayn Rand than Odin, and I also think they leave out some very important virtues that should be in there.

Thankfully, Urglaawe has its own set of Twelve Virtues that I like much better than the Nine Noble Virtues. This issue of Hollerbeer Haven talks about assigning one of them to each of the nights of Yule, which seems to me like a Heathen version of Kwanzaa. I like that idea, so this year I’m going to try to set aside some meditation time for each of these virtues on each night. Here are the Twelve Virtues with my initial thoughts on them:

  1. Stewardship – This is the night of the winter solstice, and obviously I’m going to like this virtue since I’m a tree-hugging environmentalist. I remember in my newbie Asatru days when I was disappointed with how many Heathens rejected the idea of caring for the environment because that’s hippie Wiccan stuff. The truth is that our ancestors, like all indigenous people, understood the importance of having a good relationship not just with your human community, but with the natural world as well. Placing this virtue on the winter solstice makes sense too, because its a natural phenomenon, so it’s a good time to meditate on our relationship with nature. Hollerbeer Haven pairs industriousness with it, but a lot of what we think of as “industriousness” these days leads to environmental destruction. Besides, we have Discipline and Self-Reliance on the list too.
  2. Curiosity – I am so glad that this is on the list! I think this was another terrible omission from the Nine Noble Virtues, especially since I view Odin/Wotan as pretty much The God of Curiosity. I’m a science professor, so my whole profession is basically trying to inspire curiosity about the world in others. To me, learning about things is one of the main purposes of being alive.
  3. Courage – This is one of the Nine Noble Virtues that people try to make all about macho Vikings dashing into battle, and forget about all the quiet acts of courage that people do every day without sagas being written about them. Courage is whenever you decide to do what’s right instead of what’s easy. That doesn’t always get you fame and fortune. Sometimes it actually gets you the opposite.
  4. Generosity – This is another important virtue that was omitted from the NNV list. Maybe its too altruistic? This virtue ends up falling on Christmas Eve, which is when everyone is getting their last minute gifts ready. I think it would also be a good time to do your holiday charitable giving. (No, I don’t think giving to charity is just a Christian Thing.) Being generous makes the world a better place. I think our ancestors knew this.
  5. Hospitality – This one ends up falling on Christmas Day, when most of us spend time with our Christian families eating Christmas dinner and exchanging those gifts, so that’s perfect for this virtue. This is the most altruistic of the Nine Noble Virtues, but I’ve seen it interpreted that you only need to be altruistic towards your friends and family that you have over for dinner. Fortunately Urglaawe’s virtues include “Generosity” and “Compassion” to make it clear that altruism is virtuous even beyond that specific situation.
  6. Compassion – This falls on the day when most people go back to work after getting Christmas off. In the UK it’s known as “Boxing Day,” and is traditionally when the boss was supposed to give his employees gifts. The idea here is higher-ranking people giving gifts to lower-ranking people. That matches well with this virtue. I know that Compassion gets a bad reputation with the macho Viking types who think it’s only for Christians or Buddhists. Even on one Urglaawe publication I saw a while back called this “appropriate compassion,” instead of just plain Compassion. Why is that qualifier needed? When is compassion ever inappropriate? I think a lot of people don’t actually know what compassion means.
  7. Discipline – After the last three were all altruistic virtues about being nice to other people, this one turns back on yourself. Maybe this is a good day to start making that list of New Year’s Resolutions.
  8. Self-Reliance – Like Discipline, this is one that can go too far and be abused. It’s good to be disciplined, but not too disciplined. It’s good to be self-reliant, but no one is an island. Everyone relies on other people (which is where 4, 5, and 6 come in), but you do need to do your part. Everyone needs to contribute something to the community and the world and not depend on other people for things you could easily do yourself. Maybe now would be a good time to look into learning to do a new craft or skill that would be useful to yourself and your community.
  9. Truth – Here is something that the world needs a lot more of these days! This one goes along with Curiosity as a virtue that is very important to me as a scientist. These days it seems like people are questioning whether objective reality even exists, which can put me in quite a bind since that’s the philosophical foundation of science itself. In Hollerbeer Haven this virtue is paired with Loyalty, and I’m not sure if I like that pairing. Lately it seems like people have been rejecting the Truth in favor of blind Loyalty to their tribe no matter what, even when they are wrong. I think Truth pairs better with Courage, personally.
  10. Perseverance – Don’t give up! This one goes well with Discipline and Self-Reliance. Like those, it can also be taken too far. You don’t want to fall into something called the “sunk-cost fallacy,” where you tell yourself, “I’ve already put so much into this, so I can’t quit now!” But I know from personal experience that it can be very difficult to tell when you need one last push to finally succeed, or when you’re just wasting your effort and need to give up and let it go. Fortunately there’s Wisdom to let you know when you are in this situation. As an avatar of Odin once said, “You gotta know when to hold em. Know when to fold em. Know when to walk away, and know when to run.”
  11. Self-Improvement – Now it’s New Year’s Eve, and really time to make those New Year’s Resolutions. Don’t be too hard on yourself, but there is always room for improvement if you make realistic goals. This one goes well with Discipline and Self-Reliance.
  12. Wisdom – The last virtue and probably the most important, and another one that is missing from the NNV. It goes well with Curiosity and Truth. You need Curiosity to motivate you to seek the Truth, and in seeking the Truth you gain Wisdom.

So there are the Twelve Virtues. Some of them still seem redundant, but at least they include the important things that I feel are missing from Nine Noble Virtues. This year I will meditate on each of these for each night, and if it goes well, I may make it a permanent part of my Yule observance.

Alfred has gone with the Wild Hunt

I waited as long as I could, but Sunday it was time for my Butzemann, Alfred, to leave for the Wild Hunt.

My husband still wasn’t happy about the idea, but I told him again that Alfred wants to leave, and if we don’t burn him by Tuesday, he’ll just leave anyway and leave his empty body behind. And besides, since I stuffed him with a stem from a frost-killed tomato plant from last year, I guess that means his soul was the soul of a tomato plant. Tomato plants usually only get to live for one year, so he got to live an extra year as a Butzemann.

Thankfully, it had finally gotten cold outside, or at least cold by Texas standards. In early October we had still been getting highs in the 90’s, so it really didn’t feel like Wild Hunt season. But just in time, we got a cold front that gave us nighttime lows in the 40’s. You know how cold air has a smell? I’m not sure what that smell is, scientifically, but it definitely has a smell, and just like how I associate the smell of rain with Thor, the smell of cold air means the Wild Hunt is in town.

Sunday morning I still had some garlic and onions left to plant, so Alfred helped me with that. That means I got to plant almost all of my winter garden before Alfred left. It’s a little tricky to adapt these traditions to my local climate, but I think it will work out having the Butzemann created right before it’s time to plant warm-weather plants (like tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, etc.), and burned right after planting my cold-weather plants (kale, collards, carrots, radishes, garlic, onions, etc.). That way he can participate in both growing seasons.

Alfred and I also sat down together and went over the seeds that I plan on planting next year, which will be looked after by his son. I’ll stuff his son with the stems of the tomatoes that Alfred watched over this year.

I decided I should make him a special dinner before he went, and since he’s a Texas Butzemann, I made a big pot of chili. That’s the thing that Texans always want to eat when it finally gets cold. I made it the long way with stew meat, dried beans, and chili powder made from grinding whole dried peppers (instead of the shortcut way with ground meat, canned beans, and pre-made chili powder – which is fine in certain situations, but not for special occasions). I cooked it for about 3 hours. Yes, I know some people say real Texans don’t put beans in chili, but I’m born and raised in Texas and I always do. I don’t like the idea of eating a big bowl of meat without any vegetables in there, and beans are one of the Three Sisters, and I got some very good quality beans that I knew would get nice and tender. Oh, and speaking of the Three Sisters, I also put some pumpkin puree in there to thicken it, and that was pumpkin that I grew in my garden. The sweetness from the pumpkin smooths out the spiciness without people noticing it has pumpkin in it.

I also made cornbread in a cast iron skillet to go with it. That’s the best way to make cornbread! So all three sisters were represented (along with peppers and tomatoes which are sort of honorary fourth and fifth sisters, or maybe cousins, or something like that).

I set three places at the table, one for me, one for my husband, and one for Alfred. He got his share of chili and cornbread and some Shiner Bock beer, a local brand. But then when dinner was over, it was time for him to go.

My husband made a fire in our patio fire pit. He put some juniper in there which smells really good when it burns, keeps the mosquitoes away, and burns really hot. He built up the fire so that it would be really big and hot to… you know… make it quick.

I also came up with an idea for one last thing Alfred could do for us that I hope isn’t taboo or something. Since my husband and I both have dead loved ones we remember at this time of year (both human and feline), and since Alfred was leaving to join up with the Dead, maybe he could deliver some notes to them for us. We wrote some notes for our dead loved ones and tucked them into his jeans.

Then it really was time for him to go. The fire was roaring. He was sitting on the bench on the porch and seemed ready. I got two sticks from the brush pile and used them to lift him up under his arms to stick him in the bonfire. Thankfully, he was engulfed in flames almost instantly. In fact, later I noticed I had singed my eyelashes putting him in! The flames gave off some interesting colors like blue and green before going back to orange. My husband and I sat on the bench watching the fire until it burned down to embers. I noticed there were tears in my husband’s eyes. There may have been some in mine too. Maybe some of the smoke got in our eyes.

Then we went inside and watched The Book of Life before going to sleep. I’d been wanting to watch that movie for a while, and this seemed like a very appropriate time.

I kept the ashes from the fire and will sprinkle them on the garden this weekend.

Raising a Horn for Tom Petty

Monday morning, as usual, I had the local news on while I was getting ready for work. I was brushing my teeth when I noticed they were playing footage of Tom Petty and thought, “Oh, he must be putting on a benefit concert for hurricane victims or something like that,” because that’s the kind of thing he’d do, or maybe he was going to be at the Austin City Limits music festival coming up soon.

And then I saw the headline at the bottom of the screen and realized that Rockalfheim, the realm of the mighty rock and roll dead, had suddenly and unexpectedly gained another member. Again.

I’ve had a busy week, so it took a while for it to sink in. Tom Petty never inspired the same passion some other musical artists did. On the 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band I watched a documentary about how musically complex and brilliant it was. No one would ever make a documentary like that about Tom Petty. After David Bowie and Prince died, the television and internet were full of analyses of their musical genius. Tom Petty wasn’t that kind of musician.

He just wrote good songs that made you happy when you heard them. When I saw him in interviews, he didn’t seem to have a pretentious bone in his body. He talked about how it only took him 30 minutes to write one of his most well-known songs, “Free Fallin,” and about how most of his songs only have four chords anyway, so any beginning guitarist could play them.

When I was a teenager, Tom Petty was “comfort music” for me. My generation’s music was Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. When I was depressed, I’d put on that music to wallow in misery.

But sometimes I didn’t feel like wallowing, so the CD I’d put in was Into the Great Wide Open. My dad got that album when it first came out, and I liked it so much and kept “borrowing” it so much, he let me have it. I still have it.

Since his death, I have seen articles praising Tom Petty for his storytelling ability, and I completely agree. He was a modern day Bard or Skald. Sure, his songs were musically simple, but songs like “Into the Great Wide Open,” feel like the plots of a whole movie or novel. He took well to the MTV era because his songs already evoked so much imagery.

But I think the reason I always found Tom Petty’s music comforting was that his songs felt optimistic, but at the same time acknowledged that life was hard. But just because life is hard doesn’t mean you just give up. You pick yourself up and keep going anyway. Maybe “I Won’t Back Down” is a more famous example, but when I was a kid, I really loved “Learning to Fly.” I remember listening to this song over and over again.

Well some say life will beat you down, break your heart, steal your crown, so I’ve started out for God knows where. I guess I’ll know when I get there.

I haven’t gotten to go to a lot of concerts in my life, but I did get to see Tom Petty back in the early 00’s. The boyfriend I had at the time was more of a heavy metal fan, but he knew I liked Tom Petty, so he surprised me once by getting us tickets to go see him when he played the Coca-Cola Starplex in Dallas. With the possible exception of when I got to see Paul McCartney, it was the most enjoyable concert I’ve been to. We got pretty good seats (unlike when I saw McCartney or the Rolling Stones), and the Wallflowers opened. I didn’t even know that until Jacob Dylan walked out on stage and started singing “One Headlight,” so I was pleasantly surprised to get a bonus band that I liked.

But Tom Petty sure knew how to put on a fun show! The venue was small enough to feel a bit more intimate than the huge stadium I saw in the Stones in. And he did that thing where he turned his songs into a sing-along for everybody.

My favorite part of the concert was when he sang “You Don’t Know How it Feels,” and on cue, he let the whole audience sing the chorus for him.

Let’s get to the point! Let’s roll another joint, and turn the radio LOUD! I’m too alone to be proud, and you don’t know it feels to be me.

That song came out in 1994, and that reminds me of another thing about Tom Petty I noticed a long time ago. There was some kind of timelessness about his music that he could keep going through the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s still making hits. A lot of artists who got their start in the 70’s didn’t manage to do that. Even if they were still creating albums and touring by the 90’s, people came to their concerts to sing along with the old familiar hits from the 70’s, not the songs that came out recently.

I have a feeling that as long as people are strumming guitars, they’ll be strumming Tom Petty songs.

So it’s the end of the line for Charlie T. Wilbury Jr. Next stop is Rockalfheim, where two of his Wilbury brothers are already waiting for him, along with Prince, and David, and Freddie, and John, and Jimi, and many others…

Maybe somewhere down the road a ways, you’ll think of me, wonder where I am these days. Maybe somewhere down the road where somebody plays Purple Haze…

I don’t want to burn my Butzemann.

Back in February I made my first Butzemann, Alfred.

And then about a week before the Autumn Equinox I remembered: I’m going to have to burn him soon! And I was supposed to have been giving him offerings this whole time!

I did give him offerings of coffee regularly at first, and took him out to show him the plants, especially when I was planting my spring garden, but then summer got pretty crazy with me teaching summer classes, and then we went on vacation, and at some point in all that I started neglecting him.

While having coffee with my husband, I brought it up. “I feel bad that I’ve been neglecting Alfred lately, especially since he’s going to die soon.”

My husband goes, “WHAT? What do you mean he’s going to die?”

I told him, “Remember? We have to burn him some time between the Equinox and Halloween.”

He insisted I never told him I was going to burn him, but I’m pretty sure I did. Then he suggested that we keep him for one more year, since he hasn’t been getting his coffee, but I told him about how if we keep him past Halloween, his soul will leave to join the Wild Hunt anyway, and an evil spirit will inhabit his body.

Ugh, when I first made him, I knew I’d get attached and burning him would be hard, but it’s turning out to be harder than I thought. The Autumn Equinox is already a sad time for me anyway. Four years ago on the equinox is when one of our cats died AND I found out my dad had terminal cancer. So ever since then in late September I’m reminded of that.

And when I honor the Dead on Halloween, I have started to notice how my altar to the Dead has started to grow, and realize it will only continue to grow for the rest of my life as I add more and more loved ones (human or otherwise) to it.

So I know my little Butzemann is just a doll, but suddenly he symbolizes the inevitability of Death. And my husband saying maybe we can keep him a bit longer reminds me of people saying maybe our cat would be OK and will live a bit longer or maybe my Dad would be OK and pull through his illness. But nope, that didn’t happen.

I did tell my husband that I will make another Butzemann next year, who will be Alfred’s son. That made us feel a little better, but still, it’s not the same.

And I did decide that I’m going to wait as long as possible to burn him. I’m definitely in no hurry to do it. I’ll probably end up doing it on October 28 or 29. My excuse is he has to stick around long enough to watch me plant all my fall/winter crops. In Texas, this is the beginning of the winter growing season. I already took him with me to watch me plant the kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, and lettuce. He still needs to help plant the carrots, beets, turnips, garlic, and onions.

But then once all that’s done, I guess it’s time for him to go.

We don’t have the luxury of ignoring Nazis.

Much has been written already about what happened in Charlottesville, VA a couple of weeks ago, so I feel no need to repeat a lot of that. But I would like to mention something that I learned from the incident.

The first place I encountered the slogan “blood and soil” was on a Heathen message board I used to frequent back when I was a newbie Heathen. The phrase was popular with some the regulars there. Sounded innocent enough. Blood = honoring the ancestors. Soil = honoring the land. Good stuff, right?

My skin crawled when two weeks ago I watched footage of Tiki torch wielding Nazis chanting those words, with the newscaster referring to it as “an old Nazi slogan.” So for the last fifteen years or so I thought it was a Heathen slogan. I’m just really glad I didn’t start using it myself before I found out where it was from.

This is why we can’t ignore Nazis, even though for most of my Heathen life, that’s what I’ve been told to do by other Heathens. “Ignore them and they will go away. They just want attention. Don’t give it to them,” they would advise.

But ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. Instead, it lets the problem grow and grow until you can’t ignore it anymore. Ignoring insect pests gnawing away at the plants in my garden doesn’t make them go away. Ignoring a cancerous tumor growing in your body doesn’t make it go away. Why would ignoring Nazis make them go away?

If you are ignoring your enemies, you aren’t learning about them. Hence my ignorance about slogans like “blood and soil” when I was a newbie Heathen. Nobody told me where that slogan actually came from, and it sounded Heathen-ish enough, so I thought it was fine. None of the more experienced Heathens on that board raised any alarm about it.

I’m sure if I asked my husband right now, “What are the fourteen words?” he would have no idea what I was talking about. I think that’s how it is with most people, or at least most ordinary, non-racist white people. We’d rather not give much thought to Nazis and the kinds of things they say. We’ve got jobs and families and hobbies to pay attention to.

But then something happens like what happened in Charlottesville, and those ordinary, non-racist white people are shocked that this happened! “You mean Nazis are still around? Where did these guys come from? Can you believe this is happening in 2017?”

I wasn’t shocked or surprised, but I kind of wish I was. I don’t like having to know about these people. I’d rather ignore them. I’d like to have no idea what they are talking about when they recite their slogans and dogwhistles. Recently I heard a clip of a talk Richard Spencer gave. Maybe it was when he was speaking at Texas A&M last year; I don’t remember for sure. Anyway, he referred to white people as “The Children of the Sun,” which also sounds poetic and vaguely Heathen-ish. If that phrase came to me in a different context, say on a Heathen message board instead of out of the mouth of a famous white supremacist, I might have thought it was a Heathen thing, maybe having something to do with Sunna or Midsummer or something nice like that. Now I feel a mixture of curiosity about where that phrase came from, and dread Googling it because I don’t want to know what dark corners of the internet such a search would lead.

Though it’s still pretty dumb. If any group of people are “Children of the Sun,” wouldn’t it be black people? They’re the ones whose skin and hair are adapted to high amounts of sun exposure. If I go out in the blazing sun without a hat and sunscreen on every square inch of exposed skin, the next day I will be in pain! But I’ve written here before about how white supremacists are terrible at biology.

But I digress. I’m glad that Heathen organizations like The Troth have given up on ignoring Nazis. Finally it seems like people have figured out that ignoring them isn’t working, and actually that’s what they’ve wanted us to do all along.

I wish Heathens had figured this out sooner, but I guess better late than never.