Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Winter Solstice and The Art of Remembering


Winter waterfall in Six Mile Creek

Hammond Hill in winter


Part I

Alan Pike, always at home in his headlamp
This Christmas, I’m more keenly aware than ever that I’m not alone in missing someone who is gone. Every year the holidays remind us of those who are no longer here to share them with – and for me, the winter months and Christmas are always hardest. Growing up in New York State, winter was a favorite season. I’d sit and watch the snowflakes fall for what seemed like hours, tucked under a blanket with a sleeping dog for company. At my father’s house on Christmas day we would venture out for a snowy hike in the woods or if the conditions were right, a cross-country ski – sometimes in the dark of night, if the moon was bright enough, me, my father, my sister, and one fleece-encased dog, her breath coming in puffs as we glided along the powder white trail. The skies were always grey, and we’d walk the woods bundled in down jackets, hats and gloves, the skin of our faces blushed and smooth in the cold. Later in the steamy kitchen, my father would whip up filet mignon, or some creamy rich concoction with haddock and crab, and always for dessert a chocolate raspberry torte and decaf coffee. After dinner we’d sit in my father’s living room opening gifts, trying to stifle our teenage annoyance when he’d reach over to stick a bow on our foreheads because hey, it’s the holidays. We’d drape ourselves in discarded ribbons; he’d open his obligatory chamois shirt from LL Bean and act as though it were spun with threaded gold. 
My father in his kitchen

Now that I’m more mindful of the celestial shifting of our planet and the times of the year that mark turning seasons, the Winter solstice has become an important addition to my holiday season. The changes of the earth mark a time for remembering, and it is in this space that I can honor the memory of my father and others I’ve lost over the years. The shortest day, the longest night, it feels to me like a time of spirits. I’ll leave some wine and plates of honey and cheese in a few special places around the yard and burn some incense for my father as darkness falls. In that way I suppose I do not celebrate so much as I turn inward. These days I am not urging on the coming of spring. I relish the quiet dark days and the sleepy, introspective energy they possess. With everyone on vacation, for a few precious days email nearly ceases altogether, and I relish the break from obligation. I pickup a new and challenging historical or mythological text to study, I try to be more diligent about the things that are delightful, but that take time - evening baths in candlelight, morning meditation, and yoga. 

When writing about the Winter Solstice, author and scholar Joseph Campbell pointed out that the weather during the wintry months even long ago necessitated an indoor fire, which made the ceremony more intimate by nature, as opposed to it’s seasonal “yang” celebration of Midsummer, where outdoor bonfires that drew the entire community were the norm. So perhaps, though here in Charleston it is rainy and over 70 degrees, I’ll light a fire tonight. To remember those wintry nights tucked into the warmth of my father’s living room while he was with us, and to create the time to sit and be with him, wherever he is, still. 

Me and my father
A winter walk in the woods
Alan Pike, The Man, The Myth





Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A Faery Enchanted Holiday Giveaway!

Happy Holidays:

As the holiday season approaches, I wanted to do a giveaway - I know many of you have given Faery Tale as a gift, so I thought this might be a nice way for me to say Thank You!

Give Faery Tale as a gift for the holidays and I'll send you a beautiful signed and hand-crafted bookplate. (I found 3 different and gorgeous handmade plate styles on Etsy from Tricia at The Oddest Owl that I think you'll love.) 

Simply email me with your address and any special inscription, and I'll get it shipped out to you before December 22nd. 

And, as a special thank you from me to you: Ordering more than 1 copy? Because 3 is such a magical number: Any reader who orders 3 copies or more will receive a special holiday gift from yours truly.  

Instructions: 

Free Bookplate: Send an email to signe@signepike.com, including the address you'd like me to send to, the name of the person receiving the book, and any short inscription (keep in mind that bookplates don't allow much room to write). See below for available styles. Let me know if you have a preference on which plate you'd like and I'll do my best. 

Free Gift: Email proof of purchase for 3 copies to: signe@signepike.com. Be sure to include your address. Your special gift will be of my choosing - some examples are jewelry, baked goods (made by me, of course), candles, soaps and more. You can order online from Amazon.com and email me the receipt, or even better, if you want to support your local indie store, you can simply send me a photograph of your receipt via email. 

Restrictions: Apologies, but I can't send gifts to P.O. Boxes - you'll need to provide a street address. (Bookplates are no problem.) And it breaks my heart, but until I have a house in Scotland (dream on, Signe!) this offer is only available in the United States. 

Here's to what I hope for all of you will be the happiest and brightest holiday season. 
More posts to come!

Wishing always for faery dust between your toes,
Signe
Sweet Dreams

Lizette the Night Fiddler

They Gathered in the Morning

Monday, November 14, 2011

Our Place in Nature


The starlings are back.

Since my husband and I left the bustle of New York City to make a home among the twisting creeks and sandy beaches of Charleston, S.C., the birds and butterflies mark the seasons. Of course, year-round this is a place of water birds. Near the ocean, sandpipers skitter light-footed across the waterline. Back in the creeks, herons sit stock-still on dock pilings, their keen eyes focused beneath the silty surface of the creek. Snowy white egrets stretch themselves in flight against some of the bluest skies I’ve ever seen.

But I know that it’s autumn with Thanksgiving around the corner when I step into the back yard to hear the chorus of chirps, squawks, and cackles of the starlings. They flock by the dozens in the branches of our 80-year-old red pine, their bodies rendered invisible by the pinecones were it not for the interminable calamity they cause. They bully the cardinals and even the blue jays. They shovel seed from the feeders and can empty them in minutes. But I don’t begrudge their presence: after all, it’s not their fault. Starlings are genetic refugees.

In 1890-1891, a small group of European starlings were released in New York City by the American Acclimatization Society. Their romantic but idiotic ambition?  To introduce all the birds mentioned in the works of Shakespeare to Central Park. Today the population of European starlings in the U.S. is approximately 200,000,000. It’d be an understatement to call starlings a nuisance. In my back yard, we get off easy. Across the US each year flocks of starlings are responsible for nearly $800 million dollars of crop damage.

Fiercely aggressive, they root out and destroy the nests of other birds. They’re opportunistic feeders. Sadly, people are encouraged to annihilate eggs, nests, adults and young starlings alike. We have created a monster. Starlings are only one example of how human beings have interfered with the natural course of nature only to cause disastrous and likely irreversible results. Like everything in nature, there is always something to admire in the starlings – the way their glossy feathers refract in the light like so many rainbows, the liveliness of their conversation, the way their jaw has genetically evolved to adapt here. They’re also quite clever and can even imitate human speech.

There are now 2,789 different plants, fish, mammals, insects, reptiles and birds wreaking havoc in the natural environment of the U.S. thanks to human meddling. In America alone, we’ve introduced African bees, snakehead fish, Asian carp, the Red Imported Fire Ant, zebra mussels…the list goes on. My point isn’t to bemoan our state of affairs – organizations like Invasive.org and the National Invasive Species Council are doing their best to mitigate the issues, despite the fact that they’re fighting a largely uphill battle. The time has come when we need to adopt a responsible position in the balance of the world’s ecosystem and stop screwing around with it. It’s a mindset, an intention, and a respect for the natural world that needs to be put into action now, not tomorrow. Because when we mess with nature’s balance, disastrous things happen. My hope is that we can learn from the mistakes of the past and carry that knowledge forward. We need more education, adaptation of these issues in school curriculums at all age levels, more outreach. Stricter regulations. But most of all, we need active thinkers and community members who take the time to say to our corporations and government bodies, “This is not okay.”

Avaaz.org, Sierra Club and Nature Conservancy are great places to start. Donate your time, donate your money if you can, and most importantly, donate your attention to helping us recreate the way people treat the planet. Sure, this planet is resilient. It lived for millennia before we came, and with hope it will live millennia after. It’s up to us to decide whether or not we’ll be on it. Because when you consider things this way, human beings—with no natural predators, our technology, our adaptability and our incredible intellect—are the most invasive species of all.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Connecting with the Faerie Realm


Hello, Everyone! 

Recently, a reader asked me for tips on how to begin her own relationship with the faeries. There are dozens of things you can do, and the most important thing of all is to follow your own intuition. I've seen tiny and beautiful hand-beaded bags made as gifts and left out, I've seen incredible little faery doors crafted from all natural and found things left in the woods. One woman baked fairy bread with her two young kids and left some outside for the back garden beings. The creativity never ceases, and the possibilities are endless. But here are five basics that I've incorporated into my life - I hope they're helpful! If you've got things you do and would like to share, please, feel free. The more suggestions the better. Also, Faery Tale really can be used as a teaching tool. Do what I did! It's all there in the pages of the book. 

1. Tidy your home and outdoor spaces.
When I first read that faeries appreciate clean spaces, I couldn’t exactly relate to the concept. I’ve never believed that faeries were tiny winged creatures with tempers like Tinkerbell or anthropomorphic characteristics like fastidiousness or “Type-A” personalities, though I do joke about this in my book. These are human conventions born out of our modern-day neurosis and a pre-occupation with the material facets of existence. Faeries are spirits. As such, preparing a space by cleaning it is showing a mark of respect and communicating your intention to connect. The added benefit? You get to enjoy your tidy home and admire your finely kept garden. Cleaning away dust and clutter also keeps the energy of places feeling fresh, which is something you can imagine any spirit (or human for that matter) would appreciate.
The magical 3 year-old Jasmine Cook left this feather for the sunroom faery on her recent visit. 

2. Create a Special Location.
The Quartz tree I found at Penguin gets a special place on my desk in Charleston. 
This was a christmas ornament I received as a gift - it found its way into my kitchen,
where I leave out little gifts for the "Kitchen" Spirit. Haven't burned anything since! 
Whether it is a corner of your desk at work, your kitchen windowsill, a bookshelf, or any other place that feels right to you. I had a small collection of found things that reminded me of faeries in my office at Penguin. It all began with a funky and rather horrible looking quartz crystal tree that showed up in the “Don’t Want” Pile at the office. Oddly, it was the day my book proposal for Faery Tale was going to auction, and it was a pretty unusual thing to see- typically the pile was reserved for books only. Something told me to take it – the proposal sold within five days, and it’s been my lucky charm ever since. No doubt it was a gift from the faeries! 

3. Leave Offerings
My Samhain gifts: Rose petals, apples, cheddar, & chocolate
Now that you’ve got a location that’s reserved for the Fae, you can have fun with it. I like to leave out really nice cheeses, wine, rose petals. Inside, I’ll burn incense or leave small servings of honey by the faerie homes or the crystal tree when I’m looking for a little extra help or just want to say thank you. If you live in an area with raccoons, bears, etc., definitely don’t leave food out. You can leave rocks, seashells, bits of pretty yarn or fabric, etc. It’s the giving that matters, not what is given. For that reason, I’ve stopped leaving chocolate out except for very small amounts on special occasions – it can be poisonous to certain animals, and isn’t really a balanced part of the squirrel diet!

4. Meditate
There are some good meditations out there that help you ground and connect to the natural world. When we’re connected, grounded, and open; that’s when the faerie world can interact with us. There are also a few faerie meditations out there – I imagine you can find them on ITunes. (I’m working on a series of meditations with the faerie world that I want to be completely original so I haven’t explored what’s out there, but if you look, you’re certain to connect with the one that is right for you!) You can also just sit outside, get quiet, breathe, and try to empty your mind. Just listen to the world around you. Magical things can happen!

5.  Faerie Cards
Faerie Cards a great way to connect with the upper world Fae – the Sidhe -- and their wisdom. These are beings of incredible light, love, and ancient knowledge. When you use the cards you’re inviting them to take an active helping role in your life. I am a devotee of Brian and Wendy Froud’s Heart of Faerie Oracle. It comes with a gorgeous instructional book, and one of my favorite things to do is sit with a good girlfriend in the sunroom with some red wine and consult the faerie cards. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but the cards are not a toy. They’re to be used with respect and reverence. For this reason, if I do a reading for someone, I make sure that they have a pen and paper – they are responsible for taking notes. Faerie wisdom is not a one-off or a throwaway thing. It’s a gift, and those who are new to it seem to understand that when they are given a role to play in their collection of the knowledge.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Samhain: The Origins of Halloween


31st of October, 750 BC
 Evening chases the light from the hills. Beneath the darkness, winter begins to creep, casting a sleep that will sink deeply into the land. It is the night when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. Away from the huts, sticks and branches lean together in what will become a towering blaze. The bonfire signifies light to guide the way as the people enter the dark half of the year, and it protects them from the spirits that come this night to pay a visit to their world. Tonight the ancestors walk once more among them, protecting those who follow in their footsteps. Empty places are left for them to join the living at the feast table. As the living finish the feast, even the wind though the forest seems to hush as the families gather, solemn in the cold. The only sounds are the leaves that crunch underfoot as hooded figures in dark robes step forward, torches in hand. The Druids have come to light the fire. In a moment, the celebration will begin: it is the eve of the New Year for the Ancient Celts.

We've been carving pumpkins since 1837, but carving lanterns from vegetables is a far older tradition in the UK & Ireland, where they stood by the door to ward off spirits. 

Halloween.
You might have heard this time of year also called Samhain, which conjures the image of witches on broomsticks. But Samhain, pronounced Sow-an, is actually an ancient Celtic holiday, celebrated over a two days. For centuries the empire of the Celts stretched from Britain to Turkey and from Spain, Germany and France to Czechoslovakia. Samhain was a time of year to honor the dead and request the spiritual protection of ancestors, valiant warriors and wise chieftains alike. It was believed that during these few days of “between” time (when the light months of summer and fall gave way to the darker months of winter), the spirits could visit our world. Masks and costumes were donned to help the living evade recognition from marauding, malevolent beings of the dead.

To some, this may sound like the stuff of fairy tales. The bonfire and the empty place at the table may seem like vestiges of a long-forgotten age. After all, it was around 1,300 years ago that Pope Gregory III declared October 31st “All Hallows Eve” and November 1st “All Saints Day”—a day to remember saints and martyrs—re-appropriating many of the Celtic pagan practices of Samhain in an effort to gain popular footing for the Catholic Church among a still largely pagan community. But what if I were to tell you that on Halloween night around the world, there is quite literally magic afoot?
A woman communes with the stones at Boscawen-Un stone circle, Summer Solstice, Cornwall, England 

A statue of Celtic sea god Manannan, Isle of Man
Here in America and around the world, despite the passage of time, or perhaps because of it, Samhain and its traditions are alive and well. In fact, on this very night, and perhaps at this very moment, somewhere in the quiet forests near Glastonbury, England, a circle of people in hooded robes are touching a torch to a fire. Somewhere in Seattle, Washington there is a mother telling her child of the people who came before. And somewhere in the hills of Scotland there are figures gathered in a Neolithic stone circle to remember their ancestors. In apartments and parks of our largest cities, in the quiet depths of our forests, in the suburbs of our modern-day world, there are those to whom this holiday marks a magical time of the year. A time when unseen spirits really do walk our world.

For these people, enchantment isn’t fiction, it’s a livable reality.

But who are these people, and why do they believe in such things long forgotten?
Moreover, what are we losing when we discount these ancient practices? When we cast aside our folklore? What might we be missing when we relegate the belief of hidden worlds and sacred ceremonies, the honoring of the seasons and the marking of the cycles of the earth to a world of make believe?

This is what I write about. This is what I love to explore. Welcome to the Faery Tale. 

Signe Pike is a former book editor and the author of Faery Tale: One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World. Look for the paperback, on-sale now. You can visit her website at www.signepike.com to find out more. 


Monday, September 12, 2011

9 Things That Help Me Get By








Carolina Jessamine on the patio
 brings me down to earth



Some months back I received an email from a woman about my age, living in Los Angeles. It was a thoughtful, heart-warmingly personal and truly compelling letter about her life in LA and how she often struggled to feel a sense of fulfillment in her daily life. "How do you stay connected?" She asked. How do we maintain a sense of connectedness, belonging, contentment, happiness and faith in an unseen world, whatever we believe that world to be?


I responded with the only truth I could, of course, and that email has been much on my mind since losing my close friend Matt to suicide in August. 


Because the truth is, it's hard to stay connected. Very hard. Trying to stay plugged in is no easier than dieting, incorporating a new fitness regimen, going off coffee or making any other lifestyle change. There are good days and bad days for all of us, no matter what we're trying to do. I can't say... perhaps being spiritually aware comes naturally to some people, but for me, staying grounded and trying to maintain a sense of peace and contentment in my daily life is something that takes work. There are things that happen that can shake you to your core, make you question your beliefs. There are often other things that we'd like to be doing than, say, meditating, like checking our email, rushing off to work, or going grocery shopping. 

So here are a few of the things, nine things, to be exact, in no particular order, that I turn to when I'm feeling stuck, sad, and disconnected. I've found these small things can have a transformative effect on my day; and moreover, they help keep me much more open and aware of the world around me. 

1. I Do Something that Scares Me. Fear can mean a lot of things to different people. And fear has a lot of different masks it can wear, but when we tug at the source of our fears, we often find their roots are the source of a lot of our discontentments in life. Whether it be going solo to a social event where I might not know a single soul, or signing up for a sky diving lesson, when I face a fear, I always grow. I learn to trust in myself as well as in the world around me in new and profound ways that carry with me into tomorrow.
Lucy, Co-Nature Investigator
and walking buddy

2. I Treat Myself. A lovely bottle of wine, a special box of organic tea, a new candle, a bath, a gym workout, you name it. Any of these small things, when framed as an indulgence, just for me, make me feel like I'm taking care of myself. And when I take care of myself, I'm a much better friend, wife, sister, daughter, and canine/feline mom.

3. I Start a New Hobby. Paint, write, learn the guitar, take up meditation, yoga – the possibilities are endless. But I've found that expressing my interest in something allows new creativity to flow, and the more creative we all get, the more interesting, innovative, and dynamic our collective reality becomes.

My ankle tattoo was
a (painful) meaningful offering
of gratitude for my 
experiences in Faery Tale

4. I Make an Offering. I'll sprinkle rose petals around my yard to give thanks to nature and the world that sustains me, I'll light some incense, or do something thoughtful for a friend. Recently, I signed up for a 70-mile Spin Marathon (co-file under Do Something that Scares Me) for charity. Giving and saying thank you helps me expand my heart and teaches me how to be a better person. 
   
5. I Make Eye Contact with Those Around Me…And smile. It doesn't just transform the energy of my day; hopefully it transforms the energy of someone else's too.


6. I Take a Walk. Just to notice things: me breathing, the sunset, the dog's nails clipping along on the pavement. Artist Brian Froud believes there is spirit in everything. When I walk I strive to see it. 

7. I Cook Something. But I try to do it mindfully, with love. I put some music on, prepare my favorite beverage, and try to enjoy myself. I believe that being in a good space energetically when I'm preparing food literally “charges” the food with that positivity. It's a gorgeous alchemy. 
Heart shaped Cranberry Scones for Eric
upon my return from England this summer

8. I Buy a Plant, Visit my Herb Garden, or Feed the Birds. Caring and interacting with the natural world in my daily environment is one way I've found I can really stay connected to the earth and my relationship to it. Observing and caring for the other creatures that inhabit it is merely the icing on the cake. 

9. I Take a Journey. I'm a bit of a travel hound, and sometimes when I'm stuck I literally travel someplace else. But travel has taught me that enchantment and reconnection can be found everywhere when I know how to look for it. New restaurants, funky art galleries, an advertisement for a drum circle, poetry reading, if something catches my eye, I dare myself to do it. Enchantment and reconnection exists in our own backyards. It's learning how to see it that's the true journey. 
Sometimes the
beach is just the journey I need

I'd love to hear what you do to stay connected - it's always good to add a few new tools in the ol' spiritual arsenal. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

For Matt





Some of you may know that Eric and I lost our best friend to suicide on August 15th.

For Matt
Days later
and you’re still not here.
We catch ourselves waiting, you know.
The ring of a phone, the ping of an in-box.
Who knew that the center of a human heart could cramp like this
Or that the empty would find us
on the way to the grocery store, driving under these timeworn oaks
in a pair of sunglasses sitting on the counter
in a shopping list left near the edge of the sink.  

Remember when we
went paddle boarding ate fried snickers at the state fair ducked out for Chinese walked the dogs sat in the sand the three of us, watching the full moon bathe itself in the Carolina ocean?
Now dead-lines come and fall away
nowadays words do not stir me,
we avoid each other in the darkness, in the deadness
in the blank spaces where language won’t come
or withers away even though
nothing stops
when you pull of at an exit
the cars pass, the hours tick by
people just
ache or smile or fall in love
with out you.

You would have seen Eric and I
heads together, leaning like young trees
in the storm of your leaving
and the shaking of our heads no no no. There are phone calls to be made and we need to make them. This is good because later, when it sinks in, there is nothing but silence and weight. 
Eventually I pour some wine 
there is anger and I swallow it
because after all, what is left? There is nothing to do but sit in the sunroom 
drugged with sadness
no movements, or doing, til I remember
we were supposed to have dinner
tonight.

In the kitchen I pull out the collards,
cut the spines even as they blur
because there is something soothing in the sound of
cutting board meets knife.
You would’ve perched on that stool by the island
Your running shoes looking weary, your calves lean and strong
grey eyes looking flat
or full
and I would have looked up and told you
you can’t find what’s missing
if you don’t stick
around.


We'll miss you forever, Matt. I can't believe you're gone. 


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sunroom Teaching from Willoughby the Cat

Willoughby the Cat


It occurs to me that I often wax rather poetic.

I am sitting in the sunroom with tea, utterly contented, when Willoughby the cat gives me a little "Meert?" of a greeting and climbs onto the cushy top of my chair above my head. She settles in and I feel a rush of love for this hairy little black creature.
“Oh…” I coo. “You just want to be with Mommy, huh?”

I turn my head into her, marveling at how life is beautiful, and what makes it so beautiful are the simple things. Like sitting here, writing, and her black fur, that almost seems to shine with little rainbows of light in the bright morning sun. I close my eyes and nuzzle her soft fur with my face.

And then she turns her rear end, so that her (uh, for lack of a classier term) anus is resting uncomfortably close to my cheek.

And begins flicking me in the face with her tail.

You cannot convince me she doesn’t know how annoying that is.
Or how disgusting it is to be so close to her stinky bum hole.

My nose wrinkles in revolt, but I can't help but chuckle. Mission accomplished, cat.

We humans tend to take ourselves so seriously. Even when we're trying to expand, and grow and get better at loving who and where we are, we're so damn serious about it all the time.

Her tail flick? A reality check.
Her stinky bum? Comedic relief.

I'm constantly struck by how many of my readers tend to be animal lovers - cats and dogs both, but interestingly, many of you are cat people. Regardless of species, I never cease to be amazed how much guidance animals give us, how incredibly grounding their presence can be in our daily lives.
If we only pay attention.

So this message comes from Willoughby, I suppose.
It's good to be earnest.
But it's good to laugh, too.

Might seem like a small thing. But I think we can all recognize there will be days when such teachings will really come in handy.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Save our buzzing, pollenating friends!

I was writing in my journal in the sunroom earlier, I was distracted by a bumble buzzing against the glass. It sounded almost like a tap-tap-tapping. One would go away, another would come, and it went on for about an hour. 


Funny thing was, I was writing a journal entry about being aware of signs and signals from the world around us. 


I've been highly concerned about toxic pesticides for sometime now, but for me, today was the day to act. 


I hope you'll check out this message from Avaaz.org, an organization that seeks to bring people-power to politics and policy making in a new way, and sign their petition to the US Environmental Protection Agency. There are some great articles linked below if you want to read and find out more from great sources like The Guardian in the UK and Business Insider. 


With love, Signe


Dear friends across the U.S.,

Silently, billions of bees are dying off all over the country and our entire food chain is in danger. Bees don't just make honey, they are a giant, humble workforce, pollinating 90% of the crops we grow.

Multiple scientific studies blame one group of toxic pesticides for their rapid demise, and some bee populations are recovering in countries where these products have been banned. But powerful chemical companies are lobbying the Environment Protection Agency hard to keep selling these poisons. It’s up to us to defend the bees and our food supply by calling for a US ban now.

We have no time to lose -- a recent study shows 96% of our four main bee species have been wiped out. Let’s build a buzz across the nation calling on the EPA to outlaw these killer chemicals and save our bees and our food. Sign the emergency petition now and send it on to everyone and we’ll deliver it to the top decision makers:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/save_the_bees_usa/97.php?cl_tta_sign=d39e96a2960581aa14ba29d941c995b1

Bees are vital to life on earth -- every year pollinating plants and crops with an estimated $40bn value, over one third of the food supply in many countries. Without immediate action to save bees many of our favourite fruits, vegetables, and nuts could vanish from our shelves. .

Recent years have seen a steep and disturbing global decline in bee populations and scientists have been scrambling for answers. Some studies claim the decline may be due to a combination of factors including disease, habitat loss and toxic chemicals. But increasingly, independent research has produced strong evidence blaming neonicotinoid pesticides. France, Italy, Slovenia and even Germany, where the main manufacturer Bayer is based, have banned one of these bee killers. But, Bayer continues to export its poison across the world, and the US is one of its biggest markets.

This lethal issue is now coming to a boil as major new studies have confirmed the shocking scale of this problem. It is urgent that we get the government to act, but it won’t be easy. A leaked document shows that the EPA already knew about the pesticide’s dangers, and ignored them. The document says Bayer’s "highly toxic" product is a "major risk concern to non target insects [honey bees]".

We need to make our voices heard to counter Bayer’s very strong influence on US policy makers and scientists -- they fund the studies and sit on policy bodies. The real experts -- the beekeepers and farmers -- want these deadly pesticides prohibited until and unless we have solid, independent studies that show they are safe. Let's support them now. Sign the petition below, then forward this email:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/save_the_bees_usa/97.php?cl_tta_sign=d39e96a2960581aa14ba29d941c995b1

We can no longer leave our delicate food chain in the hands of research run by the chemical companies and the regulators that are in their pockets. Banning this pesticide will move us closer to a world safe for ourselves and the other species we care about and depend on.

With hope,

Alex, Alice, Iain, David and all at Avaaz

MORE INFORMATION

Bee decline could be down to chemical cocktail interfering with brains
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jun/22/chemicals-bees-decline-major-study?INTCMP=SRCH

Bee briefing
http://www.soilassociation.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=RXLEm9WXrHk%3D&tabid=439

$15 Billion Bee Murder Mystery Deepens
http://www.businessinsider.com/colony-collapse-disorder-still-unsolved-lead-researcher-had-connections-to-bayer-2010-10

“Nicotine Bees" Population Restored With Neonicotinoids Ban
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/05/nicotine-bees-population-restored-with-neonicotinoids-ban.php

EPA memo reveals concern that pesticide causes bee deaths
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/green/detail?entry_id=79910

Beekeepers want government to pull pesticide
http://www.palmbeachpost.com/money/beekeepers-want-government-to-pull-pesticide-1107701.html

Bees in freefall as study shows sharp US decline
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jan/03/bumblebees-study-us-decline?INTCMP=SRCH

Pesticide industry involvement in EU risk assessment puts survival of bees at stake
http://www.corporateeurope.org/agribusiness/news/2010/11/16/pesticide-industry-future-bees

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

A faery Special Guest Post

Everything I Know about Faeries I Learned from my Four-Year-Old
From Syndicated Humor Columnist Robin O'Bryant

Emma
 “Momma, dey can fwy weally high and dey hab wings and dey don't want you to catch dem.” Emma nodded her head, excited, her blue eyes wide and serious. 

Her knowledge regarding the fae, it would seem, is limitless. But my six-year-old, Aubrey, a skeptic, couldn't help but argue with her little sister as Emma attempted to share her wealth of knowledge with us.

“EMMA! Faeries are NOT real!” Aubrey said with her hands on her hips. “They are just pretend, just like the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus-- but they don't like it if you catch them.” She contradicted herself without even realizing it.

      I think I just heard you gasp. That's right, my kids don't believe in Santa or The Bunny. 

Aubrey
Some people might call me a Bible thumper and they might be a little bit right. I grew up in the church and I'm raising my kids that way, which means we celebrate our holy days in very traditional ways. I hope you won't hold that against me because we spent an entire morning talking about faeries, and I really want to share it with you.

      Signe was my neighbor in Charleston for a very short time. She moved in and I moved out in only a few weeks time. When we met and realized we were both writers, we immediately started quizzing each other on what the other was reading, writing, and who we knew.
      Signe told me she was working on a book about faeries and I assumed it was fiction. When I learned it was non-fiction, I assumed Signe was wackadoo. (I kid. I thought she was amazing and lovely, because she is.) But I didn't understand exactly what she was working on.

     I was intrigued but skeptical as I read Faery Tale, but after falling in love with Signe in person, I knew there had to be substance to the book. As I read, I found myself agreeing with Signe's insights again and again.
     I'm not one of those Christians who thinks she knows everything, and I realize there are a lot of those around.  From what I've seen of it, God's creation is big. If he exists, and I think he does, he must be even bigger. I'm teaching my children to love and respect everyone around them, regardless of how they look, dress or what they believe. And I am raising my children to believe in themselves, in the power of their creativity, in the power of their imaginations and that sometimes magical, unexplainable things happen.
    I believe that there are spiritual things in other realms that we cannot comprehend and I think anyone would be ignorant to say they know what lies outside of what we can see.

    Are faeries real?

  I really couldn't say from my own experiences. But I spent Saturday stretched out on a quilt under the dappled sunlight of an extremely old pecan tree captivated by my daughters' imaginations.

Even my six-year-old cynic, Aubrey, while she firmly maintained her stance that faeries were only make believe, couldn't help but get swept away in our conversation. Aubrey mused that faeries must have saltshakers full of dew to sprinkle on plants and spider webs while we sleep.

      Emma, the most mischievous and mechanically minded child I have ever encountered, borrowed an image from Disney and explained at length about “Tinks,” faeries whose job it is to fix or tinker with all things broken-- and believe me, Emma knows about broken things.

      Sadie, my roly-poly, dimpled toddler strapped on some sparkly wings and giggling, ran through the grass with her bare feet, occasionally pausing to flap her arms.
Sadie

To me, faeries are the glitter and the sparkle in my daughters' eyes. 

They are the possibility of magic and something more. 

They are at the heart of imagination and imagination is at the heart of faith. 

How do we believe in anything if we can't first imagine it exists?

     I don't know exactly what faeries are, but I know they turned a hum-drum Saturday at my house into an outdoor adventure full of magic and imagination my kids will remember for years to come, and that is worth believing in.

Robin O'Bryant is a syndicated humor columnist, author and tweetaholic. (@robinobryant) She blogs about the ridiculousness and hilarity of motherhood over on Robin's Chicks, which she hopes is never used against her in a court of law, because that would totally suck.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

To be or not to be... Vegetarian.

First, I feel I should preface my Facebook claim of "Day 1 of Vegetarianism" in its proper context:

I am not a confirmed, do or die vegetarian. It's not that I don't want to be. Well, kind of. But making life changes takes time, and patience, and I've learned that making concrete proclamations about things is a sure sign that I'm not going to follow through on it.

So instead, I try to go easy on myself and listen to my body.

It told me to please stop drinking coffee, so I gave that a whirl, finding that drinking tea made my body feel cleaner, lighter, and my heart even stopped doing that poundy-thing it had been doing when I was nervous about something. But if there's one thing I learned from Faery Tale, it's that once we begin to listen to our intuition, there's no turning back. Er, you could, but that wouldn't be very magical at all!

Lately, the conversation betwixt me and my body went something like this:

"Uh, is this meat?"
Yes.
"No thanks."
Really?
"Yeah. Don't want it."
Okay. So.... (awkward pause) I guess that free-range chicken in the freezer is out of the question?

The texture, the flavor, the... meatness of it just didn't feel right. I found I was craving green things, and plant things, and so I decided as an experiment, to go veg for one week. Day One I half-assed my way through some white bean chili (lacking such essential things as green pepper, green chilis, onion or cilantro) but it turned out pretty darn good actually, and I felt like such a pioneer, soaking the dried beans in water and then boiling them. I am a survivor! I thought. All in all it was a good day. Plus there were so many leftovers, lunch was taken care of on Tuesday. Tuesday night I made my mom's spinach lasagna and garlic pan "roasted" brusselsprouts, which were freaking phenomenal, and after a few buddies wondered about how I made 'em, I promised to post the recipes on-line.
Vegetarian deliciousness


Linda Johanson's Spinach Lasagna

I box lasagna noodles
1 extra large jar Classico Four Cheese Pasta Sauce
1 pkg. shredded reduced fat mozzerella
2 pkgs. frozen spinach
1 large container of fat-free ricotta cheese
1 oz. chopped fresh basil
1 oz. chopped fresh parsley
1 oz. chopped fresh oregano (can substitute smaller amounts of dried for all three if fresh is unavailable)  
1 egg
pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper
1 can Kraft Parmesan cheese

Thaw the spinach in a colander and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large pot put the pasta water up to boil and cook noodles in a pinch of salt until tender. While the pasta is cooking, empty the ricotta into a large mixing bowl. Create a little divet in the center and crack the egg into it. 
Toss in the basil, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper and stir to combine. 
In a 9 x 13"  metal or glass baking pan spread a thin layer of red sauce, and on top of that place one layer of noodles. 
Gently layer your toppings  on top of the first layer of noodles in this order: 

Ricotta mixture
Spinach (be sure to squeeze any extra moisture out of it!) 
Red sauce 
Mozzerella
sprinkle of Kraft parmesan

Layer your noodles in opposite directions in each new layer -- so if you laid them down the long way on the first layer, lay them across the width of the pan on the second layer, using scissors to trim them to the right length. On the final layer -- when you can fit no more -- put only noodles, red sauce, and parmesan. (My mom claims the mozz. is ill-fitted for the top layer because it's faster to burn, and I don't question Linda Johanson.)

Bake for 30 minutes, until the dish is bubbling slightly. Remove and cool for 10 mins before serving.


Tobias John's Pan Roasted Brussel Sprouts
This recipe comes from KP's husband, a gardener and outdoor adventurer extraordinaire, and he made it for us over Thanksgiving, but I love brussel sprouts anytime of year!

Rinse brussel sprouts well in a colander under cold water. With a small paring knife, cut the white bottom from each sprout, and peel off any tough or brown outside layers quickly. Cut each brussel sprout into quarters (this allows them to cook sufficiently in the pan, so size does matter, heh-heh) and set aside.

Peel 2 big cloves of garlic and mince (or have your garlic press at the ready).
In a medium frying pan heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium high heat.
Add the sprouts and stir every minute or so until they begin to turn darker green and bit of them begin to brown. Add the crushed garlic, sprinkle with salt and fresh ground pepper, cook for 3 minutes more, and serve.

This week marks the beginning of our CSA boxes from Ambrose Family Farms.... grown with the gentle aid of South Carolina Fae, I'm certain.... I can't wait to dive in. Eric and I are ridiculously excited about this first box of vegetables. Write me with any great spring recipes!