Haka for Christchurch

Ever since the massacre in New Zealand, I’ve been wondering if I should post anything about it. I’m not sure what to say about it. I’m glad that the Troth condemned the shootings. There was a bit of a debate on the Facebook group about whether they should because it wasn’t clear if this guy was a “real” Heathen, even if he did mention Valhalla in his manifesto. I and some other members called it out as a “No True Scotsman” fallacy, and our side won. To me, it doesn’t matter if he was a devout Heathen or not. There is still way too much overlap between Heathens and white nationalists, enough that the general public has trouble telling us apart. That alone makes it important for inclusive Heathens to loudly disavow these actions whenever they happen. This isn’t a message to other Heathens, it’s a message to everyone else that we’re not OK with this, because sadly a lot of them don’t know.

I’ve also been thinking about the irony of a white nationalist from Australia shooting a bunch of Muslim immigrants in New Zealand, claiming they don’t belong there. And you do?

I know white nationalists do some kind of mental gymnastics about how somehow white people rightfully own Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, and the United States and other immigrants should not be allowed. As a first-generation American on my mother’s side, I’ve never found their arguments convincing. There are “Mexicans” who live here in Texas whose families go back many, many more generations than mine, some all the way back to when Texas was part of Mexico, or even before that, before Europeans even got here.

And yet our president, and many other people, seem to think they don’t belong here, but for some reason people who look like me do. Nobody ever questions whether I really belong here. That just doesn’t make sense.

Well, I digress. What I really wanted to do is show you these videos that made me feel a little better about humanity. The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, and they have this special ritual dance called the Haka that can be done for various purposes. Since the shooting, apparently there have been multiple hakas performed in honor of the victims and to unite the diverse New Zealand community.



Hoping for a Better Yule this Year

I really hope this Yule turns out to be better than the last one. I usually have some friends over for the solstice, but last year that didn’t work out, so my husband and I celebrated the solstice with just the two of us. However, I was invited to a Christmas Eve party. There were lots of people there, and a buffet of food laid out, and we watched Donald Duck cartoons, which the host explained to us is traditional to do on Christmas Eve in Sweden.

As usual, I spent Christmas Day with my husband’s family opening presents and having Christmas dinner. I brought some of the German Christmas treats that I made. Those recipes from that cookbook make A LOT of cookies. Then we went home to watch the Doctor Who Christmas special before going to bed.

However, while I was on the couch cuddled up with my husband watching the show, I suddenly had a horrible feeling come over me. I got some respiratory symptoms at first, which I tried to dismiss as allergies, but then the chills and aches started soon after that, letting me know that this was not allergies. As soon as the television show was over, I went to bed.

By the next day, I didn’t feel like getting out of bed at all. And then I couldn’t get out of bed for more than a few minutes at a time for the next three days. Remember that horrible flu outbreak that went around last year? The one that ended up killing thousands of people? I’m pretty sure that’s what I got, because I was dumb and didn’t get a flu shot. And I’m pretty sure I got it at that Christmas Eve party, because none of my family had the flu (except for my husband when he caught it from me later). I haven’t been that sick in a really long time. I had both respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms, but the worst thing was losing all control of my body temperature. I’d get up to use the bathroom or something, and then get horrible chills, shivering, teeth chattering. I’d rush back to bed and cocoon myself up in as many blankets as possible and shiver a while until I finally fell asleep. Then an hour or two later I’d wake up completely soaked in sweat and feeling like I’m cooking in there. I’d unwrap myself from the blankets, take off my soaking wet clothes, turn the fan on and stand in front of it to cool off, change into some dry clothes, and by the time I was about done changing the wet sheets and blankets on the bed to some dry ones, my teeth would be chattering again and I’d start the cycle all over again.

And that’s how I spent my winter vacation. My husband has a normal job where he gets Christmas Day off but that’s it, so I spent most of my time alone with my cats cuddled up with me either sleeping or watching the Ken Burns Vietnam War documentary series that I had recorded when it came on in November (and that gave me some very weird dreams!). When I told my husband about the cycling between being freezing cold and burning hot, he decided we should start taking my temperature, and it was 103. He thought maybe I should go to the doctor, but I asked Dr. Google “how high does a fever have to be before you should go to the doctor” and was told 104 . On the news they said that clinics were overwhelmed with flu patients, so please don’t come in unless it’s a true emergency, so I never did. Then again maybe it did reach 104 at some point and I just didn’t catch it.

I didn’t start feeling well enough to be up and around much until New Year’s Eve, right around when my husband came down with the flu by catching it from me and I had to take care of him as he used up all his sick leave. I was still weak by the time the Spring semester started and I had to go back to work. One of the symptoms that took months to finally go away was that my sense of taste/smell was off. Everything tasted and smelled weird. All coffee, even the high-quality stuff I usually drink, smelled like the ickiest cheap gas station coffee. I ended up throwing the rest of the Yule treats I made in the compost bin. The can of herring I got for Berchtaslaaf is still sitting in my pantry. For a long time I could only stomach bland food like oatmeal and chicken soup and green tea.

While all this was going on, I thought to myself, “I hope this isn’t some kind of omen of the year to come.” Well, looking back at 2018, I guess it was! There’s a good reason why I hardly blogged at all. Blogging was one of the last things on my mind during 2018. I was just trying to survive it. Not everyone did. Some had close calls. Most of the crap that went on is stuff I don’t want to post about on a public blog, though.

Preparing for the next Yule, I’ve realized that maybe one of the “reasons for the season” is to look around and go, “Wow, I survived another year,” and to see who else is left when you all get together for the gift-giving and feasting. I don’t really believe that people used to be afraid that the sun wouldn’t come up again after the longest night. It always does. It always will. We know that. But we never know for sure if we will. Sure, in modern times we’re less likely to starve or freeze to death during the winter, but you still never know when you or one of your loved ones will be struck down by cancer, or a car accident, or a heart attack, or even an especially virulent flu virus.

Doctor Who Christmas specials are just plain silly sometimes, but other times they can be incredibly well done and hit upon some really deep stuff (well, I guess that all Doctor Who is like that, actually). Anyway, there was a Christmas special from a few years ago called “Last Christmas” that I thought was one of the best ones. It had these creepy face-hugger type aliens that would suck out your brain, and while they were doing it they’d put you into this euphoric dream to keep you calm during the process. In a previous episode, Clara’s boyfriend Danny had gotten killed, so her dream was that Danny was still alive and they were spending Christmas together. Meanwhile, the Doctor is trying to get through to Clara and let her know that she needs to wake up before her brain gets eaten, and slowly Clara starts to realize that she is in a dream and actually Danny is dead.

Have you ever had someone die and then you have a dream where they’re still alive, and then you remember that they’re dead as you wake up? I sure have, and I’m assuming that must be a fairly common thing since they made a Doctor Who episode about it. Of course Clara doesn’t want to wake up, but you know how dreams work. The more you realize it’s a dream, the harder it is to stay in it.

Eventually even dream-Danny is trying to get Clara to wake up so her brain doesn’t get eaten, but Clara says she doesn’t want to because this is their last Christmas together. Danny replies, “Every Christmas is the last Christmas.”

It’s probably a good idea to keep this in the back of your mind during the holidays. Treat every Christmas like the Last Christmas you’re going to have with someone. Eventually one of them will be.


Well, I have lots of preparing still left to do for Yule, but so far it’s looking like this one will be better. I got my flu shot this year as soon as they were available way back in September. I spend most of Monday and Tuesday doing a thorough house cleaning complete with moving furniture around to get in all the nooks and crannies. I haven’t felt like cleaning the house in a very long time, so I knew I had to make hay while the sun shines and clean while I was actually in the mood for it. Hopefully that got rid of both the physical grime and also the spiritual bad mojo. Maybe I should burn some sage or juniper as well just to make sure. A few days ago one of my friends texted me asking if I was going to have a get-together for the solstice this year. I had assumed no one would be interested, so I wasn’t going to even try, but after she texted me I decided to go for it, so I guess I’m having people over for the solstice after all. I’m also invited to a Yule gathering at another friend’s house the weekend after that. I’m glad I already got my flu shot.

For treats, I’ve decided to make Dresden Stollen and Zimtsterne. I already made shortbread, but I brought it to the department Christmas party last week, and my coworkers devoured it all and there’s none left. I’m going to burn a Yule log as usual, and try wassailing my apple trees for the first time (I’ll probably do all my fruit trees, not just the apple trees, because they probably want some wassail too). The Yule tree is up and ready for gifts to be put under it. I’ve got all my shopping done and now need to start wrapping.

Everything seems to be going OK so far. I really hope I didn’t just jinx it by saying so. Cross my fingers. We’ll see how this goes.

[By the way, that Doctor Who episode also had Father Christmas, played by Nick Frost of Shawn of the Dead fame, entering people’s dreams trying to save them from the brain-eating space crabs. People start to realize they are in a dream because Father Christmas isn’t real, but he keeps insisting he is real, even though this is indeed a dream. Finally one of the characters, I forgot which one, scoffs and says, “so is that what you are? The dream that saves you?” And Father Christmas says yes, that’s exactly what he is. Which is probably one of the best descriptions of the Yule Father I’ve heard in a long time.]

Why A Christmas Carol is such a good Yule tale

The most popular “Christmas” tale is probably A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I think I read somewhere that it’s the book that’s been adapted into a movie more than any other book written. Since it’s publication in 1843, it’s had a huge influence on how Christmas is celebrated, and even though it’s not Heathen exactly, there’s a lot in there for a Heathen to appreciate.

At the beginning of the story, Scrooge is a character who is not at all honorable or virtuous. His only love is for money, and in every rune poem the rune Fehu carries a warning about wealth causing discord. Scrooge doesn’t believe in a gift for a gift and doesn’t treat people fairly. He mistreats his employee, Bob Cratchit, by underpaying him for his work. He refuses hospitality from his nephew Fred, the only living family he has, because he cares more about making money than about family

The three ghosts can be thought of as messengers from the Norns: Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld. First, Urd’s messenger, the Ghost of Christmas Past, shows Scrooge how he got to this point, and what threads of Wyrd he wove to take him from a fairly nice person to the person he has become now.

Next, Verdandi’s messenger, the Ghost of Christmas Present, comes to show him how Christmas/Yule is really supposed to be celebrated. Dickens based the Ghost of Christmas Present on Father Christmas, or The Yule Father, if you want to give him his Heathen name. He shows Fred happily celebrating Christmas without him, and the Cratchits celebrating Christmas the best way they can even with their limited means.

And last comes Skuld’s messenger, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Interestingly, he shows Scrooge what happens after he dies, but he doesn’t show Scrooge’s soul being tormented in Hell or anything like that. No, he shows that when Scrooge dies, nobody mourns him. In fact, many people are happy that he’s gone. It’s the reverse of Havamal 76-77. If you live the kind of life that Scrooge lived, instead of people remembering your good name or your great deeds, they will curse your name and be glad to be rid of you.

So with those warnings from the Norns, Scrooge decides to change his Wyrd and avoid that terrible fate. He becomes kind and generous to his family and Bob Cratchit’s family, and one can assume he eventually becomes one of the Honored Dead who leave the world better than how they found it.

Now, I think it’s perfectly fine for Christians to view this story as a story of a sinner finding redemption, but I think this story is so popular because its themes are more universal than that. Heathen virtues have a lot to do with the give and take of various relationships, and Scrooge only takes and does not give. He didn’t care about romantic relationships and broke up with his girlfriend because he cared more about money than love. He didn’t care about having a fair employer/employee relationship with Bob and didn’t pay him a fair living wage for his work. He didn’t care about the relationship with the rest of his community because he won’t donate to charity to help those in need. He didn’t even care about his relationship with his own blood family. And so, as Heathens like to say, “we are our deeds,” and the Ghosts show him what the consequences of his actions will be if he doesn’t change.

So now here’s the fun question: what is the best adaptation of A Christmas Carol? There are so many! Well, my favorite has got to be The Muppet Christmas Carol. I watch it almost every year! It might help that I grew up with the Muppets in the 1980’s (Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, The Muppet Show, etc.), so even though I was a bit older when this movie came out, it still gives me the warm fuzzies because practically anything with the Muppets does. It also has Michael Caine as Scrooge, and it has some really good songs that are fun to sing along with at a party when you’ve been drinking plenty of wassail. (I turn on the close captioning on the TV so everyone can see the words!)

Here are my favorite songs from the movie:

The first one to give you the chills…

And if you’re not in the warm and fuzzy Yuletide spirit after that second song, then I don’t know what to do with you.


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.


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.


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.


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!

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.


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!

Basil Helping with Lights 001

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.

Basil in herb garden 1 (3)

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?


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.


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.


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.