While we don’t celebrate Samhain until the actual astrological date (this year it is November 6), and our kids are all grown, and we live in the country so we haven’t ever had a Trick or Treater come to our house for candy, we do still celebrate the season. Ever since we moved to the Valley, I’ve spent Halloween with my sister and nephews.
Every year we go down to my sister who lives in the village and we get to have fun with the Trick or Treaters who visit her house. This year my nephew and his girlfriend joined us, and we had a lot of fun scaring the kids and adults alike. It’s a tradition as strong as Thanksgiving, and as long as she’s lived in the village we never missed one. We’d get pizza and beer or wine and dress the kids up head on down for a quick bite to eat then we’d hit the streets with the kids. When mine got old enough to go alone, I had the honor of walking with Jeana and the Boys. Now the boys are grown and my kids have moved away. But we still get crazy on Halloween.
For many, the Halloween season ends after Halloween. But for us, this season of honoring our Dead begins on October 1 and doesn’t end until the day after Samhain. After Halloween at Jeana’s, we came home and hosted our annual Dumb Supper. We did not have one last year, and this year we cut the guest list by about 80%, but it was still quite lovely. I’ll post those pics another day.
So here are some pics of the Halloween shenanigans we got up to at Jeana’s – after she made me my first ever Moscow Mule. Thank you, Jeana, for giving us a place to go to celebrate the spooky and zany goings on of the season! I love you!
For many, when they talk about the holidays, chances are they’re focusing on the traditional trio—Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. But for me the holiday season begins in September with the Autumn Equinox and lasts until February (Imbolc). Once Imbolc is celebrated, that gives us a month to pack up the winter decorations and focus on the promise of life with coming Spring.
Being Pagan gives me reason to celebrate Life all year ’round really (ask me about The Wheel of the Year), but the most special time for me is the Autumn and Winter holidays.
The Autumn Equinox marks the beginning of the dark part of the year, where we begin winterizing our lives. We harvest the last crops from our gardens, put the outdoor furniture away, prep the house by getting the furnace checked and ordering heating oil, pull out our warmer clothes, and… decorate for the first part of the season!
The week following the Equinox we usually decorate outside. We pack away our wind chimes and garden gnomes and replace them with ghosts, witches, skeletons and spiders.
Come the first week of October we turn indoors. We aren’t really into gory Halloween decorations that many people love to display this time of year. We collect witch figurines, skeletons, crows, pumpkins. And while our crows stay out year long, this is when we pull out the fun stuff.
While we decorate for Halloween, the actual holiday we celebrate is Samhain (pronounced SOW when). This is a time to honor and acknowledge the loved ones we’ve lost, our blood ancestors, those who lived on the land we now live on, and our spiritual heritage.
We honor them with an Ancestors Altar that stays up all year round, but this time of year we spruce it up a bit, by adding mementos, more photos, and more candles. This year we will pay special tribute to my mother-in-law, Lauretta Phillips, who passed in January.
We also host something called a Dumb Supper. This is a beautiful and moving tribute to those who have passed on. Our Dumb Suppers’ past have included as many as 20-25 people. The 2019 Supper was a bit smaller. We did not host one during the pandemic in 2020, but we plan to host a very small, more intimate event this year.
The way a Dumb Supper works is pretty simple. Everyone attending brings a dish, dessert, or drink to pass that is connected to the loved one they are honoring. They also bring a photo or memento to place on the Ancestors Altar. The event is lit only by candlelight (black candles preferably). The table is decorated (ideally) in all black. Black tablecloths, napkins, plates, eating utensils, glasses – as much as possible. Over the years, I’ve collected the dinnerware, utensils, cloth napkins and tablecloths, but in the beginning I used paper products which you can pick up at any party supply store, especially this time of year.
The shared fare brought by everyone is set up in the kitchen- buffet-style. Everyone describes the dish they brought, how it is connected to their loved one, who they are honoring. We share a memory or story about each of our loved ones we are memorializing. Then, we hold a drawing to determine who will have the honor of filling the Ancestors’ plate, which is then set at the head of the table. (I call it the Dead Head of the table.) Once the Ancestors have been “Served,” everyone fills their plate, taking a little bit of each dish shared. We then retire to the dining room where we eat in complete silence—not even whispers are allowed.
The mealtime is used to memorialize internally our loved ones, recall memories, maybe be open to receiving a message they may wish to share with us. I provide paper and pens for everyone so that they can jot notes. I’ve had conversations with loved ones, been inspired to write poetry, and sometimes I’ve just spent the time remembering them and the good times. People are welcome to share what they experienced once the meal is over, but no one is required to share anything if they so choose.
If, after reading this, you’d like to try to host a Dumb Supper and you have questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was receiving so much wonderful feedback about how everyone loved Josh and Brooke and wished they could visit Earth and Sky Retreats, and how they wished there was a dating site like QuirkyFlirt.com.
Well, as a writer, I can only do so much. I can’t afford to open a retreat like Earth and Sky, but I can do my best to bring it to my readers. So I created a line of Earth and Sky Merch so you can drink coffee out of an Earth and Sky mug along with the rest of the Earth and Sky crew.
I also enlisted the aid of my talented and amazing future daughter-in-law, Jolene, who is an AMAZING silversmith and makes the most beautiful and unique pieces of jewelry. I featured her online shop in the Earth and Sky Series, and made it brick and mortar shop in the (fictitious) town of Demilune, NY. Can you guess by the name which actual New York town I used as inspiration for Demilune? Sending me the answer to email@example.com will get you an entry to win that fabulous necklace pictured above!
After reading the book, Jo was inspired to create the piece Josh gives Brooke. She made two-I have one and one of my lucky readers will win the second, pictured above. Lucky me! and hopefully, lucky you!
There are other prizes, and more to come. Here are a few I’ve collected already:
All you have to do for a chance to win any of this (and more) is download the 25 quests in The Hunt. Some of them require purchases, but many do not. You can enter simply by sharing posts and sending me your email so I can keep track of entries and so I can contact you when you win! I promise I won’t use your info for spam or share it with anyone. I promise. If you do sign up for my newsletter, I will be sending you newsletters when I publish them.
So start checking off your Scavenger Hunt list today, share my posts, send me piccies of you holding the items requested, and have some fun as we celebrate my release of the Earth and Sky Series.
To help you start off, here is a sample of the LOVE IN THE FOREST collection by Nurtured by Nature Designs. Aren’t they beautiful?? Visit Jo’s page and you get another entry into The Hunt. Buy a piece and it’s a double win, you get a beautiful piece of jewelry to wear AND an entry into The Hunt! It’s that easy!
Jump on the train that leads to Earth and Sky Retreats in Demilune, NY by grabbing your own copy of LOVE IN THE FOREST, available at the following locations:
Amazon.com Keep in mind, if you are buying from amazon.com there are second hand sellers who will reap all the profits. So if you see the print copy for more than $15.99 at amazon, that’s a second hand seller. Better to buy the print version from Barnes and Noble, and the digital or KU copies from amazon.com.
So, there we are. Have fun getting to know Brooke and Josh and the rest of the Earth and Sky gang! And good luck in the Scavenger Hunt!
We will be holding the drawing on the Autumn Equinox. So get your quests in and join in on the fun!
I can never be idle. When I’m idle, I’m usually napping. I have a difficult time giving myself permission to just “be.” That includes watching television or movies, or curling up in a comfy chair with a good FICTION book. I can sit on my porch and be idle, but that is dependent on the weather and bugs, as it’s not screened in. And, even then, I’m mentally listing my To-Do’s lined up for when I get done idling.
My day usually consists of getting up early and writing or doing writing-related tasks until it’s time to start my day job. Then I work from home anywhere from 10 to 6 hours a day doing work stuff. By then I’m a bit worn out, so I take a break before it’s time to do house chores, errands, cook a meal. After dinner, if I’m not burnt out from an unusually emotionally rough day with clients, I’m back to writing or promoting.
When I’m writing, I feel torn between writing and promoting. Or writing and cleaning, or writing and working. When I’m working, I’m worrying about the chores not getting done. When I’m doing chores, I berate myself for “procrastinating” and not writing.
Sometimes it’s a no win situation every step of the way.
So these last three weekends we’ve spent time getting away from the house by camping and visiting friends and family in an effort to create some fun-time. And it’s been wonderful. We started August off with a family camping trip to Kindervolk, my husband’s aunt and uncle’s family retreat up by Lake Placid.
The second weekend in August we spent up at Long Lake/Racquette Lake visiting with friends. We helped hang Kaz’s GLORIOUS set of windchimes that are perfect for healing the soul. Their melody is deep and rich and soft and not healing.
We got to go out on the lake and commune with nature, and just BE.
We ended that trip with a stop into an Irish Pub in Indian Lake called McShanes. WE HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT! I went completely off my gluten-free, no meat eating plan and had a Reuben, as per the chef’s suggestion as it is his favorite dish to make. And no wonder. It was yummy! But so was the selection of beers. Again, I opted for a gluten filled beer, an old favorite, Smithwicks (properly pronounced Smiddicks.) I don’t see those locally too much, so I couldn’t resist!
Finally, this past weekend, David and I went with my sis, Jeana, and her son/my nephew Matt, and our furnephew, J-J-J-Jett! (woohooo oooooh ooooh oooh) to Cranberry Lake, NY. At one point, Jeana and I actually sat and stared at one another a little dazed and out of our element, both acknowledging it felt “weird” to not have to do anything.
I tried to write here and there, but to be honest, it felt so good to just laugh and be silly with my baby sis while David and Matt went kayaking or worked on fire starting techniques, that I felt NO GUILT at putting Liza and Jack (Book 3 of Earth and Sky Series, LOST IN YOUR RHYTHM) on the back burner for a bit.
Another fun thing we did in August that was absolutely not physically productive was seeing STOMP at the Stanley Theatre in Utica, NY. I’ve been following STOMP since the late 90s and always wanted to see them, but never had the chance. When I learned they were going to be in Utica, it was perfect timing! I’ve been working on my 3rd Earth and Skies book, LOST IN YOUR RHYTHM, and Jack is a former THUMP! Performer (which is my made up world’s version of STOMP!). So to see them perform on stage, while we sat three rows away from all the action, was just amazing. We couldn’t take photos during the performance, but here is the stage before the show started and here are me and David fully masked and practicing social distancing as safely as possible!
Let’s not forget our jaunt to the newly purchased Italian Feast in Little Falls, owned and run by my nephews James and Matt, and their dad, Curt. The EGGPLANT PARM is second only to MINE. I will be re-ordering that again. (Okay, another gluten-filled meal. I paid for it later but it was worth it!)
And as August comes to a close, signs that summer is waning and Autumn is around the corner are evident. We are signing off the summer with a 50th birthday party for a friend, and then kicking off September with a D&D game with my kids. And then Autumn will officially kick off with a Mabon celebration and birthday party for my hubby at the end of September.
And, in keeping with the way I started this blog…Balance. We have to find time for fun to balance out our work mode. And I think I did a good job of it this past month!
Enjoy the rest of the summer, make time for adventures, but also remember to keep life balanced. Anything in excess is no good!
This summer I took my husband, David, home to meet my kin and to see where I spent a good part of my youth: Deer Lodge, Tennessee.
The last time I’d been home was for my Papa’s funeral in 2000. Not much had changed. The barn we used to play in was still there, although its a bit dilapidated, and off limits as repair days draw near. My grandmother’s house is still there. And although its been recently redecorated it still has that “I’m at Grandma’s” type of feeling- warm and welcoming and filled with love.
My great Grandma Strand’s house was gone, sold to the church my Grandpa Strand helped build. Twin Bridge’s was still there, although one of the bridges had been rebuilt. The General Store has long been updated. We didn’t get to see the Fourth of July parade. And there are no more square dances. Some things stayed the same, some things change. And life goes on.
Dave and I took a five-day Forevermore jaunt down, via Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky. We spent the first night on the road in a rest area in Pennsylvania, then continued driving the next day onto Tennessee. Dave was amazing, working til 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, then hopping in that car and taking us all the way to Pennsylvania before we stopped to sleep.
My sister Jeana, and my two nephews James and Matt, headed down a day earlier, and were staying in a cabin they rented with our cousins, Alisa and Brian, and Gayle. Jeana and I hadn’t been to Tennessee together since the 90s so it felt good to rekindle the memories and share the love and make more memories together.
Once we pulled up in ‘Mother’s’ drive we were met with lots of love and hugs from my Uncle Donny and Grandma and Aunt Liz. We did what we do best. We hung out on the porch and talked. We got to listen to my Uncle Don share philosophies and stories of the old days. We had a surprise visit from our cousin Teddy, whom my mom adored. He regaled us with history lessons about the South and Tennessee and what role our ancestors played in the early days of our country.
David and I walked around the grounds, and I showed him all the hot spots. “That big ole tree used to have a swing on it and all the kids would climb on and swing.” “Here’s Papa’s barn. We used to play in the loft and see that space right there… there was always a snake curled up there.” “Here’s where my grandma’s garden used to be.” “Here’s where Papa’s field was. He used to have horses we could ride.” And cows. And pigs.
I wish there had been some way to show him what I really wanted to share, my happiest childhood memories were here. But I couldn’t show him the memories, only the landmarks that now spark the memories.
We spent that evening reconnecting with my cousins I hadn’t seen since Papa died. It was as if 20 years disappeared with a blink and a tear. We hugged and laughed and caught up. And I remembered how much I loved and missed my cousins Alisa and Gayle. We’re all grown now. Our kids are grown. We’ve been married a time or two, have a few more grey hairs than we realized… but the love is still there.
I got to see my Uncle Jerry and Aunt Jill and my cousin’s Lindsay and Noah, and Lindsay’s soon to be husband, Charlie.
While we were there, we got to meet a fellow TearDrop lover, Mike Foster -owner of the Youtube Channel, Camp and Camera. We gave him a tour of our Little Guy until the heavens opened up and cut it short!
My cousin Tim came down the road to share a drink and a laugh with us on my grandma’s front lawn. We were all sprawled out just laughing and getting to know each other all over again. Tim and I raised hell in our day, and it was good to see he hadn’t changed much, and our bond was strong as ever.
Wednesday and Thursday passed so quickly, filled with rides down memory lane. There were images I’ve carried with me throughout my life, images I made immortal in one of the novels I’ve written but never published, Prairie Wind. There was a field that met the sky in my grandparents house they lived in when I was a toddler. And the Twin Bridges/Jet Bridge swimming hole. Both these are scenes in Prairie Wind. One day that will be available to read and you will get to visit the those beloved memories as I relive them in writing.
For now, here they are:
We went and paid homage to my ancestors. My beloved Papa. My dear sweet Aunt Leila. And this angel who wouldn’t let me pass without a picture or two. I wish David had gotten to meet Papa in person, but that would have brought us back 20 years, and he and I were not finished becoming the people we were supposed to be in order to live happily ever after.
We got to visit with my cousin Timmy and his family Tammy, Sheneka, Dave, and assorted grandkids! We were disappointed that we did not get to meet Timmy and Tammy’s son, Timmy, but we’ll be sure to do that next time! I was also bummed to get a call from Timmy on our way home, about a half an hour north and heading toward Kentucky. On the other end of the call was my cousin Keith, Tim’s younger brother. He raised a little hell because I left so soon and didn’t wait for him. NEXT TIME. I also didn’t get to see my cousins Melinda, Wanda, or Kenneth, but three days just wasn’t long enough.
I’m hoping to plan a reunion of sorts for next year, and hopefully my kids and their partners can take off to join us. I would love to have them see where I grew up. In the meantime, we have Facebook and Instagram, Zoom, and of course the old fashioned phone calls to keep us all connected.
The thing about kin is this. Yeah, we are bonded by blood, but that doesn’t mean anything. You’ve got to be bonded in love for it to be worth anything.
And I’m so blessed to be surrounded by all that love.
If you want to see more pictures, look for the link to all my photos I’ll be uploading. Or find me on Facebook or Instagram.
To my kin: thanks for the memories and love. Can’t wait to hug you all again.
I had no warning. The view that soothed my heart and healed my anxieties whenever the world became too much for me was gone, just like that. I allowed this loss of control, this loss of beauty to break me. I shut myself off from the outside literally by not going out, closing all the shutters and blinds, and only looking out my front window and door.
I even avoided my morning ritual of communing with my Goddesses because their altar is in front of a window that looks out onto the healing view I’ve embraced for 20 years.
Then this morning I decided to come to terms with it all. I sat down before my altar and asked my Goddesses why this happened and what I must learn from it.
I asked, “Why did you allow me to lose this beautiful view that was so healing for me all these years.”
They replied in full force, as they always do.
“It was never yours to lose.”
Damn. But wait. They weren’t done.
“The beauty is not gone, it’s still there in your mind and heart. The peace it brought you is still yours to embrace. You just have to work a little harder to find it now.”
They are right. The hills, the horses, the skyline is all still there. I just have to find a way around the barn to see it. So it may not at my fingertips, but yes, it’s still there.
They weren’t finished with me yet. Yep. There was more.
“Focus on the beauty that is yours to behold.”
I think they were referring to my flower beds that have been sorely neglected of late. I’m not even going to take a picture to show you how unkempt they’ve become. It’s too embarrassing.
My Goddesses bring me strength and healing. And sometimes they do it with a compassionate swat upside my head.
A tribute to my Mother in Law, Lauretta Ruth Babcock Phillips.
I love creating Powerpoint presentations for my day job. It’s fun. The biggest problem I have is keeping my word count down. (Oops, hello? Writer.) But I have to tell you, I’ve spent the last week agonizing over the at first seemingly unsurmountable and daunting task of creating a Powerpoint slideshow for my mother-in-law’s memorial Saturday. I had to make sense of so many photos, put them in order, and create the story of the life of a woman I barely knew. And, it had to be perfect.
It’s been bittersweet, like popping a red hard candy into your mouth thinking its cinnamon but it turns out to be cherry. Surprisingly sweet and unexpected.
I hardly knew David’s mom. By the time I came into her life she’d been struggling with dementia for a few years, but was still able to live at home with her daughter and son in law , Kathy and Tim, as her caretakers. We brought her to our home for a few Sunday dinners, we took her to parades in the village.
But a short time after I’d met her, she was removed from her home and placed in a facility that cares for the elderly, especially those struggling with dementia and Alzheimers. We visited her and brought her cakes and cookies, and photo albums of better days in the hopes of helping her remember bits and pieces of the good times. It was hard on David, because when it was time for us to leave, Mom would cry. When the pandemic struck, our chances to visit ended. David never got to see his mom again.
She passed away in January of this year due to complications from COVID.
The thing I remember most about Mom is her infectious smile and her laughing eyes. But there is so much more to her, I’ve learned this past week.
Mom went by many names, with her given name of Lauretta a derivative of two—her aunt was Laura and her mother, was Etta. Growing up in Maryland, as a young child she was known by her middle name, Ruth. She was also known as Ruthie, Wolfie, Laurie, and Mom, of course.
The woman I knew when she was alive was simple. Like I said, she had an amazing smile, and loving, laughing eyes, (I can’t say that enough because words do not describe her beauty and the love she expressed with a simple look, that still is witnessed years later in her photos). But by the time we met, she didn’t speak a lot. She loved sweets, and judging by the gardens around her house and from stories I’ve heard, she loved flowers. There were hints of humor and generosity in the stories shared, but I never experienced this first hand as she was already very ill.
Now, preparing for her memorial I’ve learned that Lauretta Ruth Babcock Phillips was not a simple woman at all. She was so much more. Vibrant, kind, loyal, loving, adventurous, curious, silly, endearing. Most of all, she was adored by everyone who met her.
Thank goodness Mom loved to take photos. She kept boxes and boxes of pictures, dozens of albums, framed photos and portfolio’d pictures that now sit on shelves in my husband’s office. And while there are not too many with her in them, comparatively speaking, we’ve found some lovely photographs of Mom throughout her life. She was very photogenic.
She also enjoyed traveling. We’ve found pictures of her global wanderings that brought her throughout the United States, as far reaching as Alaska, a trip she took with her sister, Sue.
She even went to the UK, proof in pictures of her standing in front of the House of Parliament along the River Thames.
She loved camping, and spent many a good times at Kindervolk, a camp owned by her best friend Bev and Bev’s husband Eric, up near Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks. David has shared with me a lifetime of adventures he experienced there as a child. Good times that were recorded often in photos by Mom, so there were very few pictures where she was included. Luckily, we found one labelled on the back in her familiar handwriting, “High Tea at Kindervolk.” She was a fun lady.
Her fun times included a four-seater plane ride with her son, whitewater rafting, a trip to New York City with her daughter, dressing up in period clothing (we aren’t sure why!), and celebrating the holiday’s with her extended family of stepchildren and their kids. We weren’t able to find those pictures, I only know that from stories shared. They went to amusement parks, had family vacations together, went back home to Maryland to visit her other best friend, Peggy and her children, and made sure she left a lifetime of good memories for loved ones to hold on to through the years.
Speaking of loved ones, we found long forgotten pictures of her husband, Earl. David’s dad who passed when David was a young boy. We found lovely vintage shots of Dad and the kids, of Earl standing beside a Model A Ford that he lovingly built himself.
We can’t forget the furbabies she surrounded herself with throughout her life. When visiting their home, you were most assuredly greeted by any given number of doggies and cats. Photos show mom lounging or snuggling with any of these beloved pets, including Colleen, Smokey, Blacky, Stubby, and Patches, among many, many others.
Lauretta was so very proud of her offspring. There are volumes of snapshots of David and Kathy (his older sister) as children, from birth to adulthood. Kathy in band, at graduation, on her wedding day.
And David, running around in a superhero cape, cowboy gear, competing in Karate events, and standing in front of his first car. And more. Too many to describe here.
Another area of her life that encompassed a huge part of her heart was her schooling and her career. She was an alumna of Syracuse University School of Nursing, and lived her adult life serving others at Little Falls Hospital as a nurse. And the few photos we found of her in her nursing uniform presented a woman who loved her role as a healer.
So as we prepare to say goodbye to the remarkable woman who brought into this world a remarkable son who became my remarkable husband, I’ve had the heartwarming task of finally getting to know my mother in law. And when Saturday comes, I will not be saying farewell to a woman a barely knew.
I will be remembering and honoring a woman who left a lifetime legacy of love, laughter, and great memories for all who knew her.
Lauretta—Mom—you may be gone, but you will never be forgotten.
I had always wondered what the appeal of guest blogging was. I didn’t understand it. It intimidated me. But then I read a few in support of fellow authors and thought that it would be fun. But I never saw an opportunity to guest blog.
And then I joined a promotion page and mailing list for romance authors. And here I am.
It can be addicting. The authors who offer these opportunities provide questions or guidelines, then let you do your thing. They can be informative, and they provide a glimpse of who Janina Grey is behind the scenes.
If you haven’t seen the previous blogs I’ve done, check them out at:
Welcome to Bicolandia! A region located in the Southern part of the Philippines. This blog is dedicated to anything and everything we love about Bicol. Let me tell you about the things that I find interesting in my side of the world.