An Open Letter

rosemaryDear Family, Friends & Readers,

I will not be at liberty to write for some time.  I am not at liberty to share the details of the what and why.  In many moons I will be free to talk and I will do so.  Until then, I want to leave you with two things.

The first is an excerpt from a piece I wrote called The Power of the Powerless:

“Under the current ideology, we have given government access to the most intimate aspects of our lives.  And sometimes the agenda of that government might be in line with our beliefs, but it could as easily express an opposite belief.  The point is that if we allow government to implement policy at the level of intimate, individual decision, it can forever intrude and the harsh flashlight of the night raid could easily be blinding you next — whoever you are.”

Make no mistake, this can and does happen.  And the antidote is to be Havel’s green grocer and proudly hang your truth sign in your shop window.  As soon as I can, I will hang my sign.

praying mantisUntil then, I will be seeking The Peace of Wild Things:

“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free” (1).



© Jennifer S. and, 2013.


(1) poem by Wendell Berry.

The Power of the Powerless

In the aftermath of bigotry’s coup d’etat in North Carolina, I am deeply saddened to hear many friends express the sentiment that perhaps it is time for them to leave.  I do not want them to leave.  Nor do I want to leave.  North Carolina is home.  Her universities educated me.  It is here that I discovered the Goddess.  Here that I met my best friend.  I fell in love in this state; and it is in her red clay that my husband and I grow our family’s food.  My children were born in Duke Hospital and have played and laughed and loved from the mountains to the coast.

So no, leaving is not an option for me.  I’m not going to follow the flight response.  Which leaves fight.

Living as we do in Durham County I’m certainly doing the math on a civil war’s outcome.  Perhaps if we take Durham, Orange, Wake, Chatham, Mecklenberg, Watauga and Buncombe Counties and secede?  With our mighty fine land base and excess of fabulous and talented individuals, I think we could do very well for ourselves.

Secession has some support from anarchists and proponents of liberty.  Keith Preston, founder of the American Revolutionary Vanguard, calls it “liberty fostered by decentralized particularism” (1); and he cites the ideas of Voltairine de Cleyre, an early individualist anarchist and pioneer feminist who suggested “an ‘anarchism without adjectives’ whereby society would operate as a collection of voluntary communities independent of ‘one size fits all’ utopian pipe dreams for the remaking of mankind” (1).  Preston also cites contemporary support in the work of left-anarchist, Kirkpatrick Sale, who points to Vermont as a model and determines that: “Peaceful, orderly, popular, democratic, and legal secession would enable a wide variety of governments, amenable to all shades of the anti-authoritarian spectrum, to be established within a modern political context.  Such a wide variety, as I see it, that if you didn’t like the place you were, you could always find a place you liked” (1).

Yet if I’m honest with myself, secession is not really an option either.  I have never believed in separate but equal.  The last thing we need is real walls to replace our societal ones.  And if I am even more honest with myself, I am not willing to go through even a peaceful, democratic and legal uprising over this.  Because if I truly sit with what has happened, I can’t help but to see it as a diversionary tactic employed by a greater power broker than the National Organization for Marriage.  In the end, secession is for me a cop-out, a surrendering white flag in the greater battle that I am beginning to understand is being waged.

I am, however, struggling to define my opponent.  And it’s difficult to fight in the absence of an identifiable enemy.  Shadow boxing at its best.

To a point Preston’s defining of The New Totalitarianism is helpful.  He explains how the idea of political correctness, first engaged in American universities, has now become the ruling paradigm.  He posits that the radicals of the 1960’s in the end have not overthrown the U.S. empire, but rather have taken it over for their own agendas, merging with the “older, pre-existing political, economic and military establishment” (1).  Preston then traces the current ideology of this American ruling class to Marxism and sees it as a “re-application of Marxist theory to cultural matters, where the ‘official victims’ of Western civilization replace the proletariat as the focus of a dualistic struggle for political power” (1).  And he goes on to describe how that ideology plays out:

“1. Militarism, Imperialism and Empire in the guise of ‘human rights,’ ‘democracy,’ modernity, universalism, feminism and other leftist shibboleths.
2. Corporate Mercantilism (or ‘state-capitalism’) under the guise of ‘free trade.’
3. In domestic policy . . . ‘totalitarian humanism’ whereby an all-encompassing and unaccountable bureaucracy peers into every corner of society to make sure no one anywhere, anyplace, anytime ever practices ‘racism, sexism, homophobia,’ smoking, ‘sex abuse’ or other such leftist sins.
4. In the realm of law, a police state ostensibly designed to protect everyone from terrorism, crime, drugs, guns, gangs or some other bogeyman of the month” (1).

Personally, I’m okay with some of the currently held assumptions of the ruling class.  I’m not keen on racism, sexism or homophobia, for instance.  So in some respects, I am Preston’s cultural leftist.  But at a deeper level, I can’t help but to resonate with his ideas.  Because while I hold certain beliefs, I do not wish my views to be force fed to others, at home or abroad.  Each individual is their own authority and entitled to make up their own mind and heart on every issue under the sun.  And where the problem begins for me, as I’ve said countless times, is that place where individual authority becomes righteousness, where belief becomes an action that harms.

In my book, the born-again Christian who believes that homosexuality is a sin is as entitled to their opinion as I am entitled to my belief that Love=Love.  I may seek to engage them in discussion, they may pray for me, but neither of us should ever seek to inflict our way of life on the other.  And as I’ve also said countless times, I’ve no clue how my kids will turn out and I want a society that protects them whoever they may be.  Under the current ideology, we have given government access to the most intimate aspects of our lives.  And sometimes the agenda of that government might be in line with our beliefs, but it could as easily express an opposite belief.  The point is that if we allow government to implement policy at the level of intimate, individual decision, it can forever intrude and the harsh flashlight of the night raid could easily be blinding you next — whoever you are.

So yes, I find Preston’s work incredibly useful in starting to blow some defining smoke on the shadowy figure I’m boxing.  But I think he falls short when he stops at decentralized particularism.  And though he touches on it, he doesn’t quite capture strongly enough how neatly we have all — on every point in the political spectrum — been ensnared by a larger net.

For help going further I must invoke the assistance of Václav Havel, the 9th and last president of Czechoslovakia (1989–1992) and the first president of the Czech Republic (1993–2003).  In 1978 he wrote an instructive and inspiring piece called The Power of the Powerless (For full impact I strongly encourage a read of the entire English-translated excerpt.)

In this work, Havel describes how power is maintained in a post-totalitarian system.  By this, he does not mean that the system is no longer totalitarian, but rather that it retains its power by a control mechanism that is vastly different than the traditional off-with-your-head totalitarian approach.  Havel is talking about Eastern Europe forty years ago, but his words could as easily identify the America Preston describes with his new-totalitarianism, the America I experience today: “unadulterated, brutal, and arbitrary application of power, eliminating all expressions of nonconformity . . . the system has become so ossified politically that there is practically no way for such nonconformity to be implemented within its official structures” (2).

Havel’s thesis is that in a post-totalitarian system both those in power and those subject to that power collude to maintain the status quo.  They do so by propping up and hiding behind ideology:

“Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them. As the repository of something suprapersonal and objective, it enables people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves . . . .  It is an excuse that everyone can use, from the greengrocer, who conceals his fear of losing his job behind an alleged interest in the unification of the workers of the world, to the highest functionary, whose interest in staying in power can be cloaked in phrases about service to the working class. The primary excusatory function of ideology, therefore, is to provide people, both as victims and pillars of the post-totalitarian system, with the illusion that the system is in harmony with the human order and the order of the universe” (2).

In North Carolina, for example, Amendment One supporters and opponents both participate in the charade.  One puts a sign up in his front yard that reads “Pro Marriage,” while the other plants a sign that proclaims “Protect NC Families.”  Neither is brave or foolish enough to put up a sign that expresses their true feelings.  I have yet to read a sign on anyone’s lawn that says “Anti-Gay,” nor have I seen a sign that says “Pro-Gay.”

Neither do I ever expect to see a sign expressing their common truth, the same one they share with Havel’s greengrocer: “‘I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient'” (2).  As Havel explains: “[The greengrocer] would be embarrassed and ashamed to put such an unequivocal statement of his own degradation in his shop window, and quite naturally so, for he is a human being and thus has a sense of his own dignity. To overcome this complication, his expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign which, at least on its textual surface, indicates a level of disinterested conviction” (2).

After all, there’s nothing really wrong with “Pro Marriage” and certainly we all want to “Protect NC Families.”  Both messages fit nicely into their ideological bedrolls and are politically correct enough to allow us to maintain that level of comfort and societal numbing to which we have all become accustomed.  In North Carolina, the outcome of the Amendment One vote disturbed me, but not in the end because of what it said about how 61% of the population feels about marriage.  I’ve lived in North Carolina for twenty years and the vote as an expression of an ideology with which I’m familiar wasn’t surprising: could have wagered it all on which counties would vote which way and won big.  People were simply playing their roles.

As citizens in this greater play, this larger power dynamic, we are permitted these minor ideological battles.  They are, in fact, encouraged, because they consume us and focus our attention away from the larger ideology ruling from behind the curtain.  We are left bickering over semantics such as a definition of “marriage;” or puzzling out mystery as science, as we could do endlessly trying to answer: “When does life begin?”

Think of all of the ways our attention can be divided.  Pick us apart by race, gender, sexual orientation, age, income, musical taste, religion, eating habits, smoking habits, exercise habits, or our scientific and technological beliefs.  It doesn’t matter what we’re divided over, simply that we are divided.  And it is very, very hard, not to participate in maintaining the division.  I can’t stand by while homosexual friends and family members are degraded and told with whom they may partner; who they may love.  I must participate in the immediate fight.  Neither can my neighbor, a Christian, stand by if she perceives that her way of life is threatened.  Yet, by our participation on either side of the issue, what we are truly saying, each in our own way, is what Havel’s greengrocer said with his “Workers of the world, unite!” sign: “I live here and I know what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me. I can be depended upon and am beyond reproach. I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace” (2).

In America in 2012, the non-conformist that’s squashed isn’t ultimately the homophobic or the homosexual.  Yes, each contingent has won some skirmishes and lost others.  This week in North Carolina, it’s easy to feel that the non-conformity that’s been squashed is homosexuality.  But in San Francisco, is this true?  Doesn’t the non-conforming homophobe in San Francisco feel squashed?  In the end, the homophobe and the homosexual are still both conforming to a greater power dynamic; again, they are playing their roles.

I am aware that I’m still not defining my opponent clearly.  And in this endeavor, words do fail.  In this endeavor, the way to reveal the opponent is to start fighting.  And the way to start fighting is to refuse to play.  And this, this is the true non-conformist that the system is designed to squash: the person who stops playing.

In Havel’s story, his greengrocer stops hanging the sign in his window, stops voting in elections he knows are fake, that he knows contain non-choices.  He speaks his true mind, expresses his conscience.  And in so doing, he “steps out of living within the lie.”  The greengrocer’s revolt is the action of living within his own truth.  And when he does he finds that “he has broken through the exalted facade of the system and exposed the real, base foundations of power. He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain.” (2).  By standing in his truth, the greengrocer has pushed societal dialogue beyond the limiting proletariat-bourgeoisie divide of Havel’s 1978 Czechoslovakia.

I am confident that we can do the same in 2012 America, moving our societal dialogue beyond the diversionary division of victim-classes (1).  Yes, for some, I am aware that standing in truth means proclaiming “Anti-Gay” or “Pro-Gay;” and I do not seek to conform or silence either individual.  By all means, be your truth.  I ask only that each stop for a moment and check to make sure their truth is genuinely held and genuinely expressed, not merely the action of propping up or hiding behind ideology.  Because cast in the political arena, these individual truths expressed as ideology could be endlessly divisive.  In my opinion, these individual truths have no place in politics.  They need not our policy; and they divert our attention from the highest intention we could hold for society.  As Havel writes:

“The original and most important sphere of activity, one that predetermines all the others, is simply an attempt to create and support the independent life of society as an articulated expression of living within the truth. In other words, serving truth consistently, purposefully, and articulately, and organizing this service. This is only natural, after all: if living within the truth is an elementary starting point for every attempt made by people to oppose the alienating pressure of the system, if it is the only meaningful basis of any independent act of political import, and if, ultimately, it is also the most intrinsic existential source of the ‘dissident’ attitude, then it is difficult to imagine that even manifest ‘dissent’ could have any other basis than the service of truth, the truthful life, and the attempt to make room for the genuine aims of life” (2).

Society as an “articulated expression of living within the truth.”  It makes my heart sing to think this could be possible, that it is possible.  And that truth need not be a utopian pipe dream: it need not be parceled out into secessionist tracts.  We simply need a different perspective.  We need to move beyond tolerance, the act of accepting others as different.  Tolerance is a sound first step, sure, but I understand it like the “I’m fine” we so often mutter in response to “How are you?”  Okay, not bad, but we can do better; and really, are you fine?  Tolerance is a first step, but it’s time to keep walking.  If we were free to express our truth beyond the victim-class paradigm, what might we articulate?

We could begin by speaking of our physically constraining commonalities, our human truths: that biological need for clean water, a sustainable and nutritious food supply, and shelter.  In so doing, we have what I believe is the best chance at showing the emperor’s nakedness.  And perhaps, when naked, the emperor will have to address the deeper issues facing America nationally and globally, as Noam Chomsky recently identified in an article for Common Dreams: the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few, the threat of nuclear war, and the reality of climate change (3).

I know that even here at the end I’ve failed to clearly identify my opponent.  The best I can do at this point is to wager that if I begin to live as the greengrocer, checking in with and articulating a truth that winds through me deeper than American ideology, my opponent will find me.

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.


(1) via The New Totalitarianism by Keith Preston.

(2) via Havel, Power of the Powerless, 1978.

(3) via A Rebellious World or a New Dark Age? | Common Dreams.

Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out & Incorporate

So I’ve been doing my effing federal and state taxes.  I use an online prep site.  It makes it easier, but it still takes time.  First I have to be my own secretary, gathering our financial documents.  Then I have to become a tax attorney, studying the questions for clues to possible intelligent choices that will net me a tiny bit more of the money I’ve already earned.  Last, I am an accountant, handling the final optimization of the numbers, the loop holes and the supporting paper trail.  I’ve got at least eight hours logged on the project so far and I’m not done.

Meanwhile, I’m guessing that the new Governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory, has utilized the services of a secretary, attorney and accountant to prepare his taxes.  I’m guessing too that he availed himself of the itemized deduction for tax preparation fees.  I can’t really do that unless I pay $14.95 to have the “free” e-file company do my state taxes.  I certainly can’t pay myself for the energy and time I’ve expended being my own secretary, attorney and accountant.

lemniscateFor that matter, my work as a childcare provider for my own kids isn’t allocated any value in our tax system.  But I can take my kids down the street to ABC Daycare and now that expenditure of time and energy is given a value.  And I can get a deduction for it too.  See it’s only when money changes hands that those at the top of the pyramid scheme, our financially elite dictators, make money.  So it’s only those types of transactions that are allocated value.

Now I’m not against paying taxes per se.  I am willing to do my part in a society of mutual cooperation.  But we don’t live in a society of mutual cooperation.  We live in a Corporatocracy where the only rule is profit.  And we are all, government officials included, mere slaves to Moneytarism, the most ingenious scam for enslavement ever created.

I used to believe that the answer was to seize personal liberty.  Like the six million blacks who between 1915 and 1970 exercised their freedom of movement and left the untenable conditions of the Jim Crow South (1), I thought I could likewise liberate myself.  I didn’t even need to change my geographic location, I simply needed to drop out.  Get off the energy grid, get off the debt roller coaster, reject the supremacy of money, learn to care for my needs with actual, palpable resources.

It’s an approach that still has great value.  We must continue to refuse to participate in the Corporatocracy: we must use the resources at our disposal to create new ways of being that we are actually living here, now.  But that approach isn’t enough.  Because they’re way ahead of us.

I can refuse to be an employee.  I can make my income fall low enough that I don’t have to pay income taxes.  But there’s no way for me to avoid inflation.  In our lovely fractional reserve system, when the money supply is increased, there need not be a proportional increase in goods and services.  Therefore our currency’s value is constantly being deflated.

In 2013, one hundred years after the Federal Reserve Bank was established,  I will need $23.19 to buy what a single dollar would have bought in 1913 (2).  Get out the wheelbarrow kids, we’re going grocery shopping!

It is the rare individual that can live entirely self-sufficient.  We need to participate in the exchange of goods and services in the marketplace in order to survive.  Inflation is a tax on all of us, employed or unemployed, on the grid or off the grid.  Similarly, Governor McCrory’s proposal to eliminate state income tax and replace revenues with an increased sales tax, including a tax on food, is really an attempt to tax the unemployed and underemployed.

clean-laundrySo what’s my point in all this?  My point is that in addition to building new ways of being that don’t participate in the Corporatocracy, I need to play their game for all I’m worth.

I need to stop looking at myself as an employee.  My time and energy are a resource, a resource my employer needs.  So in truth, aren’t they my client?  They are certainly buying my services (my unique skills) and my goods (my time and energy).  I’m definitely offering precisely what a business offers: I’m providing goods and services to address a need in the marketplace.  Given inflation, I’d say I even need to make profit my mission!  And when I contract myself to do things like provide childcare to my kids, it follows that I should enjoy the rights of both business and consumer.

Therefore, I’m done with representing myself in the marketplace, in society, as an individual.  To play in a Corporatocracy, you have to be a Corporation.  In contemporary America, I must be the Corporation who handles the business of Jennifer.

I haven’t worked it all through, that’s for sure.  Slaves don’t get much time to themselves, so give me a little slack where my logic makes leaps.  But there’s something here worth exploring further.  Maybe I’ll get to it after those taxes are filed.

© Jennifer S. and, 2013.


(1) Wilkerson, Isabel. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. New York: Vintage Books, Random House, Inc., 2010.

(2) via Inflation Calculator | Find US Dollar’s Value from 1913-2013.

Mrs. Sparkly’s & Liebster Awards

I always prided myself on being the person who defied the dire predictions of a chain letter and bravely took the consequences of its death at my hands.  So I am very tempted to do the same with blogger awards.  They make me feel squirmy for the same reason those chain letters did — my following through will create an obligation for someone else.

And in all honesty, where nominating other blogs is concerned, I have to admit I will be an abysmal failure.  Not that I don’t think I read some very cool stuff, but that I am old enough to know that I am not a Connector in the Malcom Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, sense of the word.  Never have been, and never will be.  I am not someone who knows large numbers of people and I am terrible at making introductions.

Yet, still, there is something of value here that I do not want to let go.  These awards allow us to do what we call in magic “stirring the cauldron.”  Imagine that all of us in this blogging community are sitting around a cooking fire, working on a stone soup of sorts.  Into it we each place our unique ingredients, we each take our turn stirring with the ladle, we each eat our fill.

Why are we making this soup?  Why amidst our hectic non-virtual lives do we make the time and summon the energy to be here?  Because thought matters.  Words matter.  Art matters.  Shared ideas matter.  What is it to be human if not to engage the process of gathering and integrating knowledge?  And how terribly important that this process be engaged by each and every one of us.  There is great power in owning our story, in being the ones to get to tell our story.

mrs-sparklySo, because it gives me the chance to throw all that in the cauldron, I humbly accept Mrs. Sparkly’s Ten Commandments Award (1)  from the lovely Penny of Penny’s Garden: A Harvest Beyond My Front Door.  And from the mysterious James of Ravemore’s Notes, I gratefully accept The Liebster Award (2).  To Penny and James: thank you.  Thank you for reading, thank you for writing, thank you for showing up.

Which brings me to how I, as my own authority, am going to fulfill the requirements of the awards.

Each requires nominating other blogs.  What I’m going to do instead is maintain a new page on my blog called Merry Meet.  There I will post links to the blogs and sites I recommend.  Anyone on that page can consider themselves awarded either or both of these awards.  Ha!  Obligation fulfilled minus the squirm factor!

Each also asks me to respond to some questions and/or record random facts about myself.  That part is always compelling in the same way it’s fun to sit in an interview and get to talk about yourself, so I’m cool with and have fulfilled that part below.

In the case of the Liebster, I can create questions of my own choosing to ask my nominees.  Also interesting, so I’ve done that, except in the absence of formal nominees, I ask the questions instead to everyone who finds there way to this post and makes it that far in the reading!  Please respond in the comments.

Okay, here goes:

Mrs. Sparkly’s Ten Commandments (and then there were nine)

1. Describe yourself in 7 words.  Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Spirit, Love, Whiskey

2. What keeps you up at night? Literally: nothing.  Figuratively: the military-industrial complex.

3. Who would you like to be? Me in all my parts.

4. What are you wearing right now? Jeans and gray wool sweater.  Finally got cold around these parts.

5. What scares you? Greed.

6. What are the best and worst things about blogging? Writing.

7. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I’d have the voice of a gospel singer.

8. Slankets, yes or no? No clue what they are and living just fine without them so not going to look it up on Google.

9. Tell us something about the person who nominated you.  Penny makes me smile.  She lives in Melbourne, Australia, yet despite the oceans and cultures between us, we are both exploring the joy and yummy food an urban backyard garden brings.  There is something incredibly hopeful about this for me.  May kitchen gardens prosper throughout the globe!

Liebster, 11 Random Facts About Myself

I love doing laundry.  I am 5’8″ tall.  In 1988, I visited China.  I sense the fey on my land working my garden and bee hive.  I have two biological children and one god child.  I will not drink coffee without cream.  One of my favorite books is Robbins’ Another Roadside Attraction.  I have climbed to the summit of Giant Mountain in a dress.  I am a goddess of force and form.  I was once a wisdom keeper.  I will travel to the ends of the earth to hear my favorite music.

liebster-awardLiebster, Ravemore’s Questions

1. Did you think I was going to make this easy for you? *Grins evilly*

Easy is in the eye of the beholder.  I expected a challenge, yes, but what fun would a cake walk be?  Ultimately a fun challenge is easier than a boring cake walk.

2. If your airplane crashed on top of a mountain, half of the passengers survived, half of the passengers died, there was no food, and no rescue was imminent… What would you eat?

Assuming that I haven’t struck it rich and I’m still flying coach and we are still prohibited from carrying through airport security the one resource we all need to live, then either one of two things would happen.  One, I wouldn’t be flying at all, so the scenario is moot; or two, I was there, the plane did crash.  And if the plane did crash, again, with no personal water supplies, I think I’d be focused on that elemental first.  My guess is that I’d have some time to trance eat the fat off various parts of my own body (not going to carve myself up, but the mind is a powerful tool).  Then, if we’re still stuck there, and the weather or geography isn’t conducive to eating off the land, I’ll shove that dead human animal flesh Grace Slick style in my mouth any way that I can.  I would, prior to this, work like hell to get a fire started.

3. Do you think money can make you happy?

Yes, but not as much as Time and Space.  And since when is the goal happiness?

4. Have you ever seen a spirit?

I see them in the mystical place behind my eyes, but I am more inclined to hear them as voices in my head.  (Note to self: erase when the men with the straight-jacket come for me).  Sometimes I catch something in consensual reality in my peripheral vision, but if I turn to look, as is biologically ingrained, it’s gone.  Gotta stop turning to look!

5. If you were going to be burned at the stake and had one wish, what would it be?

For rain.  No, make that the deluge.

6. What does “evil” mean to you?

The deliberate causing of harm.

7. Can “Good exist without “evil”?

I exist.  But I gather you’re asking more in a universe sense.  It’s all relative.  The duality good-evil is useful, it allows us to stick a wedge in abstract thought long enough to examine things more closely.  But it’s also limited.  It makes us think things have to be either, or.  When in truth, things are.  I witness the balancing of the universe.  I believe that how we humans term the experiencing of that balance is purely contextual.  What’s evil to one is good to another.

8. If you were given a stick of underarm deodorant in your Christmas stocking, what would you do?

I won’t know until I’m in the moment.  So many variables in this question . . . and what was the questioner trying to elicit?

9. Are you a “dog person” or a “cat person”?

Human person.  Sometimes Ionesco Rhinocéros person.

10. What is your passion?

A fiery feeling in my belly.  A will inside that rises like a light.  When it engages I feel my energy uplevel, my pulse quickens.  My mind opens, possibility enters.  My passion is an energy to be harnessed.

11. Have you ever “passed gas” in public and blamed someone else?

Aren’t we all doing this?  C’mon, greenhouse methane warming is all from cows and pigs?  Get real.

Liebster Award, My Questions to You

I invite anyone who feels called to answer any or all of these questions in the comments.

1. What does liberty mean to you?  Or, if you prefer, how about freedom or liberation?

2. Where in your home is liberty present?

3. What is America’s greatest strength?  What is her greatest challenge?

4. Is it possible to preserve autonomy in the context of a society of mutual cooperation?

5. Who is this flower above you?  What is the work of this God?

6. Would you like to live next to the Araboolies on Liberty Street?

7. What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

8.  Is it the dreaming that’s real?

9. Who can the weather command?

10. Have you ever seen a dragon?

11. Is the shape of your life yours to choose?

Go on, I double dare you — scroll down to the comments and add something to the soup.

© Jennifer S. and, 2013.


(1) Mrs. Sparkly’s Ten Commandments Award.  Answer the above questions.  Nominate ten other blogs that add sparkle to your life.

(2) The Liebster Award is given to up and coming bloggers who have less than 200 followers. The word ” Liebster” comes from German and can mean the sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, most beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome.  Thank the person who nominated you. When you receive the award, you post 11 random facts about yourself and answer the questions asked by the person who nominated you.  Pass the award onto 11 other blogs (while making sure you notify the blogger that you nominated them!).  You write up 11 NEW questions directed towards YOUR nominees.  You are not allowed to nominate the blog who nominated your own blog!

Pixie’s Killer Mac & Cheese

There is perhaps no other recipe that makes me feel more like a revolutionary in the kitchen than this one.  I grew up, as I trust many of you did, on the Velveeta and Kraft versions of this dish, where the “cheese” is like some freeze dried concoction made for astronauts.  It is most certainly not of this earth.

mac-n-cheeseI knew I was in love when I married into this recipe.  It’s from my mother-in-law, and yes, her name is Pixie, but that’s a family story for another day.  Given my affinity for warm, mushy, full-fat food, I’m guessing it really will kill me some day.  But, there are worse ways to go, so I’ve made my peace with that.  For these purposes, I mean “killer” as in “most excellent, dude.”

The recipe lends itself easily to doubling, tripling, quadrupling.  It also freezes well, so I generally make up a big batch and then freeze half.  Take care to store it uncooked in a vessel you can later bake in directly from the freezer.

1. Cook 1 pound of macaroni noodles (or shells, or pipettes, or spirals) as per package instructions, on the side of al dente.  Drain and set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 350°.

3. In a medium-size cooking pot over medium heat, melt 1/4 cup butter, then add 1/4 cup flour, stirring to form a roux.

4. Stir into the roux 2-1/2 cups of half & half or whole milk (or whatever fat content combination you prefer).  I typically use 1-1/2 cups half & half and 1 cup of 2% milk.

5. Add 1-1/2 cups of parmesan cheese.  There is room for great variation here.  I use whatever I have on hand, but prefer to stick with the Italian cheeses.  Parmesan fresh grated or from a jar both work, as does any combination of it with grated, shredded or cubed asagio, mozzarella, romano, fontina or provolone.

6. Cube, grate or shred 12 ounces of cheddar cheese into the pot.  I am partial to Cabot Vermont White Cheddar, and generally use a mix of extra sharp and seriously sharp.  Use whatever cheese you prefer, keeping in mind that the higher quality cheese you use, the more deliciously cheesy it’ll turn out.

7. Continuously stir the cheese sauce over medium heat until all the cheese has melted into creamy goodness. 

8. Mix the noodles and the cheese sauce thoroughly, then pour the mixture into a greased baking dish.  The recipe will fill one 13″x 9″ rectangular pan, or you can portion it out into baking dishes of your choosing, freezing some for later use.  Keep in mind that the macaroni and cheese will cook faster if you put it in a vessel that has a short depth.

9. Sprinkle the top lightly with bread crumbs or crushed crackers.

10. Cover and bake at 350° for 30 minutes, or until the cheese sauce starts to bubble.  Remove the cover and continue baking for 10-15 minutes until the top is slightly browned.  You can assemble the recipe and leave it in the fridge or a cool kitchen for several hours prior to cooking.  The pasta will absorb moisture, so you may need to add a little extra milk if you are planning to do that.

11. Serve warm.  Salt and pepper to taste.  When fixing leftovers, you may want to mix in a little extra milk during re-heating to keep the sauce creamy.

This recipe is offered in total rebellion as part of Recipe Rites.

© Jennifer S. and, 2013.

Rock On

scott-leadfootHear me that I love a dance!  Simply ain’t nothing else on this earth like live, from the source music.  I’m partial to a full electric sound, with the vibrations so strong they thicken the air, pulsing from the speakers as visible energy.  Into that soup I dive and into the groove I ascend.  The moment opens up.  Virtuality reigns.

I come to music as one might an ancient oracle.  I come with questions and curiosities.  I come bearing gifts.  I am rewarded with rejuvenation, inspiration, communion.

Back in the 1990’s I received a consistent vision at shows of a woman bending over an old phonograph.  She was dressed in a 1950’s habit, one of those cute housewife dresses with a short, crinoline skirt and cinched around the waist with a big bow.  I could hear the record on the turntable slowing down, making that wa-wa-wa noise.  Then the lady picked up the record, turned it over, glanced at the label and set it back down, fitting the middle hole neatly over the little nub at the center of the turntable.  Giving the crank on the side a few good rotations, she dropped the needle to the spinning vinyl.

As this vision played out, I had a strong impression of our culture, our way of life, as that record.  And I felt awed to be alive and present for that moment in history when a side A has wound down and a side B is slowly cranking up.

Fast forward to 2011 and a Furthur show on April Fool’s Day at the excellent Hampton Coliseum.  It came in the middle of a song called He’s Gone, which you can listen to below.  Perhaps it was the dirge-like pace of the tune that day, but it felt decidedly like I was a participant in a funeral parade that marched that old way of being right out of town.

There was the street, littered with bits of confetti and fragments of outmoded ideas.  And there we were, dancing.  Liberated and feeling mischievous, proud.  I couldn’t help but sway my skirts and wave bye-bye, a huge smile on my face.

I witness evidence around me daily of a new culture being born.  I encounter it in Durham’s thriving farmer’s markets.  I eat it the scrambled eggs from my neighbor’s chickens.  I am reading about it in the works of my age-peers such as Stephen Wren’s book The Sustainable Underground, in which he explores alternative ways of living now being engaged by people across the United States.

I am hearing it in the voices of all of those who are doing work to disintegrate distortions that no longer serve — such as the distortion that says one culture is better than another; that says that one religion is better than another; that says one race is better than another; that says one gender is better than another; that says one sexual orientation is better than another.  Walls are tumbling down, there is no end in sight.

It is a time of great hope, but we must also remember that for many it is a time of grieving.  For that is the nature of rebirth: it follows on the heels of a death.  And despite the new bouncing baby, that death is surely felt as a keen loss to someone still living.  Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief do apply to the death of cultures.  I believe we can expect to see as many examples of denial and isolation, anger, bargaining and depression as we do acceptance.

People are going to need healing.  People are going to need modeling.  Like the slaves who fled in the South’s darkness following the drinking gourd to new freedoms, those who boldly go where no human has gone before — either in thought or deed — hold a light by which others can see into the dark.  We would be foolish to underestimate the power of changing possibilities.  It is, rather, a significant form of activism, a formidable weapon.

karl-leadfootTo those living along the watchtower and birthing this new culture in unique and myriad ways, I offer my deepest gratitude.  And to those hesitating on the fringes, I say, “Come out, come out wherever you are!”  Visit your oracle, let it hold you so close to the creative fires of infinite possibility that you can’t help but to feel the heat.  Go for strength.  Go for the certain courage that you can create a world anew, your world.  Show up as well to pay homage to your oracle, to sustain it as it sustains you.

And so I dance.  As my feet pound the earth I know I am tracing steps as primal and ancient as the cosmos. I am giving my energy to these patterns, these patterns that I want to remain here, no matter the songs that are on this one side B.  I know I have done this many, many times before, in many different skins through countless lifetimes.  And I trust too that I will one day dance with the seven generations to come.

With a grateful tip of the hat to all of the musicians and people who make the music possible; and to zygoat420 and dschram1 on YouTube for making the recordings I’m sharing, I leave you where else but in music’s good hands.  Here’s a kick ass 2009 version of Leadfoot’s Ripe — all hail my hood’s rock hero.

(It’s okay to dance to it in your kitchen.  I promise, no one is looking.)

© Jennifer S. and, 2013.

Walnut Cake by Mail

Okay, so to start I’m going to confess I’m a long-time criminal.  Yup, it’s true.  The last time I committed the crime was December 20th.  It happened at the counter of our local branch of the United States Postal Service.  I know, that makes it a federal crime.  Scary stuff: prepare yourself.

I drag my eight assorted boxes and packages onto the counter and say, “I’d like to mail these out to arrive by Christmas.”

The Postmaster asks, “Do your packages contain any hazardous or perishable items?”

Deliberately looking her in the eye and keeping my voice steady, I reply: “No.”

It’s a tense moment.  But so far, so good.  I’ve been doing this for going on fifteen years now and my packages have arrived safe and sound every time.  I’ve kept out of jail too.

It comes down to this: I like to mail baked goods as gifts.  Christmas cookies and birthday cakes.  It started for three reasons.  One, there isn’t a thing I can afford to get my folks that they need, so that leaves gifts of books, art, and food.  From time to time I share a great read or do a painting or send potatoes or beans from our garden, but mainly, I bake.

Two, I’m a firm believer that in most cases gifts should carry a small footprint.  I’m aware that until we start our humanure project, cookies do contain an inherent and hefty footprint, but with our current ease of flush and forget, I can still pretend consumables count.

Three, I’ve read enough about sugar constraints in Little House on the Prairie and novels on WWI and WWII to grasp that baked goods are treats worthy of the status of gift.  Sugar abounds in our society so we’ve forgotten how special it is.  It feels like a tiny revolutionary act every time I send a sugary treat rather than the plastic crap we’ve been habituated as good little consumers to think of as gifts.

perishableYes, it was the anarchist in me who transferred the capitalist hegemony to the Postmaster.  Surely in asking that question about perishables, the USPS was in on the gig — their shipping counter a last societal line of defense against those who would seek to escape the consumerist culture.

So I did what I usually do: I checked my action, in this case, the desire to send baked goods to family and friends, against my does-it-cause-harm meter.  Finding that my action in no way intended harm, I decided that my personal authority trumped that of the USPS and I took the steps necessary to insure my aim was achieved: to wit, I took the path of least resistance and lied.

That is until today.  Today, mailing my father his birthday cake, I summoned up all of my thirty-nine years of courage, backed by the knowledge that I could always go UPS or FedEx, and answered the question, “Yes.”  On went a “Perishable” sticker, and that was that.

It turns out the perishable question is asked not to be restrictive, but to be practical.  Perishable matter can be sent at the mailer’s own risk.  It’s required to be labeled so that it can be treated accordingly, i.e. given more care.  The USPS is trying to make sure your shipment of cream puffs doesn’t become the next great noxious odor disaster in their warehouse.  All of this is detailed in Publication 52: Hazardous, Restricted and Perishable Mail.

But practicality aside, here’s the most important part: the Postmaster can’t ask you what’s in your package.  Freaking right.  The USPS is still pretty darn cool.

walnut-cake-recipeWhich brings me to what exactly was in my package: a Walnut Cake.  I came upon this recipe in a little hand-written recipe book I inherited from my father’s mother, my Nana.  Scrawled at the top of the recipe next to a big star are the words: “My boy’s favorite birthday cake.”  Here’s how it goes:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°.

2. Separate 9 eggs.  Put the egg whites into a large mixing bowl or bowl for a standing mixer.  Put the egg yolks into a medium size mixing bowl.

3. Beat the egg whites with a mixer or enormous amounts of arm strength and a wire whisk until soft mounds form.  Add 3/4 cup granulated white sugar.  Continue beating until stiff.  Do not underbeat.

4. Add 3/4 cup granulated white sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon almond extract to the egg yolks.  Whisk until thick and lemon colored.

5. Stir 3/4 cup flour, 1 teaspoon salt and two dashes of cinnamon into the yolk mixture.

6. Fold the yolk mixture into the egg whites using a spatula.  Do this gently but thoroughly.  The stiffness of the egg white mixture provides the height to the baked cake, so you don’t want to outright mix — simply fold the two batters together.

walnut-cake-cooling7. Finely chop 2 cups of walnuts.

8. Fold the walnuts into the batter using a spatula.

9. Butter and flour your pan, then fill with batter.  Recipe makes 2-9″ rounds, a 10″ tube cake pan, a 13″x 9″ rectangular pan or 24 regular size cupcakes.

10. Bake at 350° until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Cooking times vary by the depth and size of the pan, with cupcakes taking about 20 minutes, rounds or a 13″x 9″ about 25-35 minutes, and a tube cake about 50-60 minutes.

11. Let cake cool in the pan for ten minutes before removing and finishing cooling on a rack.

12. Frost as desired with vanilla or chocolate frosting, or serve plain, or add a side of whipped cream or ice cream.

This recipe is offered in total rebellion as part of Recipe Rites.

© Jennifer S. and, 2013.

The Light that Binds

On the Winter Solstice I participated in a dawn Yule Ritual that celebrated the magical transmutation of dark to light.  As the sun rose glittering like a ruby over the eastern horizon, I felt like dancing.  My very soul quickening with the rising orb: here comes the sun and I say, it’s all right.

solstice-dawnIn that moment, I grasped the idea that regardless of our spiritual affiliation, we are all joined in our human reverence for this most basic and yet awesome of miracles: the returning of the light.  For despite our science and electricity, the winter’s darkness still reveals the truth that there is much we do not know.  Our sacred stories, our feasts, our gifts and lighting of candles, are at heart about rejoicing in that simple promise, the promise that the light does return — that there is balance, however fleeting it may appear from the perspective of the human realm.

As my garden work has propelled me deeper and deeper into Nature’s embrace, I am noticing more and more moments like Solstice dawn.  Those times when I am not searching for meaning, but rather, experiencing meaning.

I notice it in the sound of a hummingbird’s wings flitting among the zinnias.  I find it in the carefully hidden egg sac of the garden spider.  The peaceful sigh of the old, dead tree releasing to the earth whispers it as a salamander skitters over lingering roots.  The roaring rush of great wind swoops it through the willow oaks and me.  All of these moments awakening in me a certainty that the divine is not some distant presence, but a power within – within me, within the birds, within the spiders and the trees and the salamanders and the wind.

I’m wondering what this world could be like if our stories spoke of this, spoke the truth that the sacred is immanent.  How could we waste energy arguing over whether global warming is real if our stories spoke of the sacredness of the springs that give us water, of the divinity of the air we breathe?  We would already have taken the steps necessary to insure clean water and air for our children’s grandchildren.  Further, how could war exist if our children were raised, as suggested by the greeting “Namaste,” to bow to the divine in each other; to understand that their stories are inexorably woven with those of every other being on this earth?

I am a huge proponent of moving beyond tolerance.  Tolerance is accepting others as different.  Love is realizing others are the same.  So in this, I seek not a single religious unity.  This goes beyond religion, beyond Christianity, Judaism, Witchcraft, Hinduism, Islam, Catholicism, Secularism or any of the other isms.  I am speaking rather of the mysterious tie that binds — that ancient, primal, human awe that after the darkest, longest night, the sun returns.  Overstanding that the sacred is immanent is a path we can take that will deliver us through tolerance to love.

sacred-treeSo in this season of story telling, I will weave for my children a tale that includes Saint Lucy’s candle and the nine-branched Menorah, the rebirth of the Horned King and the birth of the baby Jesus, the enlightenment of the Buddha and the blessings of Ganesha, Lord of Beginnings.  And I will tell them too the story of the tree that brightens our home each December, how it connects us to the world’s sacred groves and how its sparkling lights represent the creative, sparking fire within the earth and its creatures, including them.

I encourage you to wrap yourself in the season’s cloak of mystery and spin out your stories by a blazing fire.  And by all means, feel free to change the endings.  I, for one, having witnessed the returning light, am certain it is more than possible for us to end with “and they lived in liberty, balance, love and peace ever after.”

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.

It All Comes In So Fast

This song will not leave me be this week.  It’s demanding to be heard in my kitchen, my car, my inner ear.  There is something in the primal, raw beauty of Grace Slick’s voice.  Power.  Fierce love.  Standing strong and rooted in the raging storm.  Senses open witness to the unfathomable.  This is how I want to mother.  This is how I want to live.

So many songs on Kanter and Slick’s Sunfighter resonate with current issues, but this one, this one wants sharing today, so here goes.  I raise my glass to the divine child in each of us: you know who you are without looking.

by Paul Kantner & Grace Slick

She’ll suck on anything you give her
Stare at anything that’s shiny bright
Her voice cuts over the sea even when its stormy
But she’s only two feet high – she’ll get higher

I hope she sees some things that will make her time happy
It all comes in so fast it all comes in

She sleeps through almost any sound
Even when its screaming loud and clear
But she wakes up and smiles at a friendly voice
If it whispers softly in her ear

I see in her new face, a clear beginning
It all comes in so fast it all comes in
She knows who she is without looking
She says it right out happy when the feeling is there
She’s an all new person who says just what she feels
She’s a fat faced goddess of nowhere

I hope she sees some things that will make her time happy
It all comes in so fast it all comes in.

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.


morning-glory-whiteI typically keep myself far away from the daily news cycle and heard nothing of the tragedy in Connecticut until my husband appeared home early from work to hug our children.  I did, however, catch on NPR this week a story on Syria where they interviewed children and families displaced by the violence there.  That story undid me, as too did the NY Times photos of children visiting the rubble of their school in Gaza destroyed by precision Israeli air strikes.  Precision, so they knew where they were aiming.

How can anyone on this earth harm an innocent child?  Yet our bombs and drones do it daily.  What happened in Connecticut isn’t any more or less horrific, simply way closer to home.  And there is something terrifying about such violence from the hands of someone so young . . . yet he was old enough to be a U.S. soldier.

The bottom line is that if his folks hadn’t had guns, everyone would still be alive.  It’s that simple.  When will we get this?  When will we understand that guns, that weapons, do not increase our liberty, but rather, diminish it.  Diminish our freedom and ourselves.  Liberty for me is the right to be myself wisely.  And weapons are not wise.

This incident feels so much like the soldier in Afghanistan who killed families there.  We live in a violent culture in a violent world.  With all of this violence I have a strange sense that we must make no mistake that Love is constantly under attack.

My mother sent me today an email from a dear friend who lost a child some years ago.  This amazing writer claims her words give no comfort, and that must be true: there are no words of comfort for a grieving parent.  But she does offer hope.  She says: “Reaching out in love ALWAYS seems to help my healing.”

In my recent work as a Witch, I along with others, have been visiting the astral to literally pour Love upon the earth.  At our upcoming Yule Ritual for Dragon’s Cauldron, our intention is to “shift from the love of power to the power of Love.”  This work sometimes feels silly or ineffectual: but it isn’t.

Love is still a magic word, and as an energy on this earth it has immense power — immense.  To respond to violence with Love is to respond with the greatest force imaginable.

May many, many voices say this and say this and say this.

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.

Growing Irish Potatoes in the North Carolina Piedmont

Red Maria potato plant in early growth stage.

Red Maria potato plant in an early growth stage.

When it comes to potatoes, aren’t we all a bit Irish?  I adore the earthy orbs, baked, boiled, steamed, or fried; and I’d be quite content to eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  When I ate my first homegrown ones though — little baby spring taters robbed from the plants that morning and then steamed tender and drenched in butter — I knew not only was I Irish, I’d be a Potato Farmer for life.

What follows is our family’s guide to growing Irish potatoes, Solanum tuberosum, in the Piedmont of North Carolina.  If the geographic emphasis in the title doesn’t give the clue: planting Irish potatoes is heavily location specific.  These ideas work for us, here in Durham, N.C.  For planting in your neck of the woods, take care to research tips specific to your region.


  • Tiller or Shovel, Pick-Axe, and Elbow Grease
  • Knife
  • Garden Hoe or Rake
  • Scissors or Plant Clippers
  • Hand Trowel or Rake
  • Basket, Bucket or Cardboard Box
  • Large Paper Bags


  • Winter Rye or other Cover Crop, Mulch, and Dead Leaves
  • Seed Potatoes
  • Earth
  • Water


Plant a cover crop of Winter Rye & Hairy Vetch the winter before you plan to grow potatoes in that space.

Plant a cover crop of Winter Rye & Hairy Vetch the winter before you plan to grow potatoes in that space.  This will help add organic material to the soil.

1. Set your intention to grow potatoes.  Do not make the buying of seed potatoes your first step.  Not only does your garden require preparation to accept the potatoes, but you too must open your life to them.  A single crop of taters takes months to produce, and you must also go in with eyes wide open to the fact that homegrown taters are addicting.  Your first season may well be the start of years and years of garden labor!

2. Decide where you are going to plant.  Potatoes need a constant water supply, medium-full sun, and plenty of room.  Seeds are generally sown 12 inches apart and each plant will produce about 4-6 potatoes.  Because of the insects that potatoes attract, it’s a good idea to never plant them in consecutive years in the same place.  Tomatoes and eggplant also are blessed with similar insect pests, so you’ll also need to figure them into your crop rotation, keeping them separate in the same year and not planting potatoes where tomatoes or eggplant grew last year.


Till organic matter, such as leaves, grass clippings and wood mulch, into the soil to a depth of 6 inches.

3. Prepare the earth.  Potatoes grow best in soil that is loose enough to allow them to expand.  Around these parts, where red clay reigns, that means that the most labor intensive part of growing potatoes is adding organic matter to the earth.  We begin by tilling the ground in September or October with our trusty Troy-Bilt tiller to a depth of 6-8 inches.  We will also till in at this time any grass clippings, dead leaves and well-decayed wood mulch we have available.  (Braver and stronger souls can do the tilling and breaking of ground by hand with a pick axe, shovel and hoe.)  Then we sow a cover crop, typically of Wren’s Abruzzi Winter Rye and Hairy Vetch.  This grows throughout the winter and in early February we till all that lovely green matter directly into the soil.  Soil preparation and maintenance is an ongoing part of our garden work, and every year our soil gets happier and our potatoes grow larger.  In soil that’s already ready to receive taters, you may consider following the alternate Fall planting idea, detailed in #14 below.

4. Select a seed potato vendor.  Note first off that seed potatoes are simply potatoes: each of the “eyes” on a potato has the potential to grow into a new potato plant.  While you can, and we do for our Fall planting, grow from a prior harvest, because of potatoes tendency to blight and other diseases, I recommend purchasing your seed potatoes from a certified source.  We have purchased from Maine’s Fedco Seeds Moose Tubers and from Iowa’s Seed Savers Exchange.  Fedco was more cost effective, but the earliest they can ship is April 12th, a very late planting time for us.  We’d love to hear where you obtain your seed potatoes — please leave a note in the comments!

Seed potatoes from Fedco Moose Tubers.

Seed potatoes from Fedco Moose Tubers.

5. Place your seed potato order.  This is the fun part.  When we first ordered, I was blown away by the vast array of tubers available.  Our grocery stores do not do the potato justice in this arena.  Mostly this step is personal taste and aesthetics.  Do you like blue, red, yellow or white?  Do you want a gourmet French Fingerling or a creamy German Butterball?  Perhaps a simple white Kennebec or Red Maria will satisfy.  Do consider selecting at least one each of an early season, mid-season and late-season variety.  That will lengthen your growing season and thus your eating season.  Also consider varieties known to grow well in your region; and I’m always in favor of ones called “Good Keepers,” which means they will store well after harvest.  The amount to order depends on how much room you have allocated.  Each seed potato can usually be cut in half to make two “seeds;” and again, seeds should be planted 12″ apart.  Last year we planted 45 pounds of seed potatoes and we ate them as much as we wanted from May through October — not nearly long enough in my humble opinion.  This year I think we’ll go for 60 pounds — 15 pounds per person — which will still net us less than the roughly 125 pounds per person we Americans are supposed to consume yearly.

6. Prepare potato hills.  This is not the fun part.  We grow our potatoes in hilled rows as we grow our other vegetables.  We do try, however, to space our potato rows a little more apart than those for other veggies.  We want to be able to run our tiller between the rows and to have enough soil between to hill up over the plants later in the growing season.  Decide where your row is going to go and then start hilling.  If you aren’t working in recently tilled and loose soil, you may want to till again or use a pick axe to break up the soil along your row.  Using a garden hoe or rake with strong, thick, metal tines, pull the soil up into a mound.  Go down an entire row doing this.  Then turn around, face the row from the other side and repeat.  You may need to duplicate the process of breaking up more soil and mounding it up a few times on each row — my kids call these our mini mountain ranges.  Potatoes need to be planted at a depth of about 6 inches, so build the hill accordingly.  If you aren’t planting immediately, leave the row’s summit in a peak.  This will allow any rainfall to roll down the side rather than compact the earth.

Hilled rows waiting for seed potatoes.  The plants growing in the picture are self-seeded Buckwheat.

Hilled rows waiting for seed potatoes. The plants growing in the picture are self-seeded Buckwheat.

7. Prepare your seed potatoes.  Until planting, seed potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark place with plenty of ventilation.  A few days to a week before planting, place your seed potatoes in a sunny, humid and warm location.  This will encourage their eyes to begin sprouting.  Also at this time, use a kitchen knife to cut into pieces any potatoes that contain multiple eyes and enough ancillary flesh to support root and plant growth.  We generally make sure each piece is about 2-3 inches square and contains at least 2 eyes.  Leaving the cut seed potatoes out for a few days prior to planting will allow any exposed flesh to callus over, added protection against possible soil rot.

8. Sow.  I like this step.  In North Carolina, we start sowing potatoes in late February and can plant until early April, though that’s pushing it, particularly if we have a very warm spring.  The timing is definitely Easter-ific and I can’t help but think of the seeds as Easter eggs that will eventually produce the very best Easter Egg Hunt we’ll have all year.  Using your garden hoe, touch up your hill by mounding soil into a peak again.  Then run the hoe flat across the top of the hill to smooth it flat.  Then using the edge of the hoe, drag it back down the middle of the row, pushing in to create a crevice 4-6 inches deep.  Place the seeds eyes-up in the middle of the row, 12 inches apart.  Use your hoe to draw dirt back over the seeds to cover and then to loosely tamp down the soil on top of the row.  Move on to the next row and keep going until you’ve planted all of your seeds.

Sown seed potatoes.

Sown seed potatoes waiting for their blanket of soil.

9. Water, weed, top, and hill up again and again.  Potatoes need significant amounts of water to grow, at least 1 inch per week.  But while they love water, they are also susceptible to rot, so take care not to over water them.  We try to keep our potato hills well weeded: what plant doesn’t love not having to compete for sunlight, water and nutrients?  Weeding them goes naturally hand in hand with keeping dirt well hilled up around the plants.  Several times during the growing season we till between rows and then hoe up the fresh dirt around the plants.  It’s okay even to re-bury the green shoots — they’ll keep growing out of the earth as they did originally.  We also top our plants a few times to encourage them to exert more energy into their roots (the tubers we’ll be eating soon) than into their leafy tops.  Look for where an upper stem branches and cut just below the branch on an angle sloping toward the ground.  Do not top the plants if blossoms have begun to appear.

10. Rob the plants for some early incentive to do Step #9 one more time.  Once the potato plant has started putting out blossoms, you can gently check to see if tubers have begun to form.  Choose a time when the soil has been loosened by a recent rain, but isn’t sopping wet.  Using your hands or a small trowel or rake, gently move soil away from the base of a plant.  Most potatoes grow close to the main stalk and you shouldn’t have to dig far.  Harvest only a few potatoes per plant and recover the roots with soil when you’re done.  New potatoes can be tiny, tend to have thin skins and are delicious when boiled or steamed whole.

11. Harvest.  Potatoes are ready for harvest when the top of the plants die off.  They can be left in the field after this happens as long as the soil isn’t too wet or warm.  My kids are very fond of harvesting potatoes, making of it a fabulous hunt for pirate treasure.  Using a shovel I loosen the soil on either side of and slightly under the plant, taking care not to gouge any tubers in the process.  Then, grasping the root stalk firmly in both hands, I pull out the plant.  Sometimes the stalk breaks and then we scrabble through the earth with our hands to get the tubers out.  Other times the stalk lifts out easily and we pull the tubers off like large grapes.  Take your time with this process and go over your hills thoroughly: treasure hides everywhere!  We collect our potatoes in cardboard boxes, woven baskets or buckets, whatever is free.  Harvest in the morning of a day that portends sunny skies.  Lay the potatoes out in the sun for the day to harden off before storing them.  Take care to remove from your garden all plant matter, including the tops of the potato plants and any rotted tubers.  Compost them away from the garden for a long time.  This will help keep your garden free of the pesky insects that love taters.

12. Sort.  Cull through the potatoes and separate out any that show signs of rot or are soft and pliable to the touch.  Cook these immediately as they won’t store.  I also sort potatoes by size as I find that larger ones tend to last longer than smaller ones.  Having them sorted makes it easier to eat the littlest ones first.

13. Store.  Yes, I do long for a root cellar.  But in North Carolina, you’re lucky if you even get a crawl space, so in the absence of a cellar, choose a dark, well-ventilated location that stays cool.  Official recommendations offer that the best storage will be at 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit and with a relative humidity of 90 percent.  We store ours in grocery store brown bags in the bottom drawer of a large wooden chest.  They do great there while the A/C is on, but as soon as the wood stove heats, up, they sprout and have to be moved to cooler climbs, that is if there are any left by then!  We open the bags at least once a week to circulate air and remove any rotting taters, which can corrupt an entire stored bag.  You can store taters in the veggie drawer of your fridge, but note that will cause an increase in their sugar content and alter their taste: a decision that’s purely a personal taste preference.

A Fall potato seed resting in its bed of mulch.

A Fall potato seed resting in its bed of mulch.

14. Begin the cycle again with a Fall or early Winter planting.  If you have stored potatoes that have broken your heart and seeded out, making them no longer edible, consider a Fall planting, using them as your seed.  Whole, small potatoes about the size of an egg work best for this type of planting.  You must also plant in a location where you do not routinely get frozen ground from September through May and where twenty-feet of snow isn’t likely to fall, though a little is just fine.  Follow the above steps to create a hill for the seeds, digging yourself a slightly deeper crevasse in the middle than with spring plantings.  Line the bottom of the seed bed with dead leaves and wood mulch, then lay the seed potatoes on top, 12 inches apart as usual.  Cover the seeds with more organic matter and then hill up dirt with your hoe as you’d normally do.  Then wait.  The organic matter in the seed bed will decay throughout the winter, producing heat.  This heat will encourage early root growth and thus early top plant growth.  For a great guide on Fall or Winter potato planting in North Carolina, check out this Backwoods Home Magazine article written by Robert L. Williams.

Today’s post is offered as part of the SOP for Our 43,560 project.

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.

Garden Authority

winter-earthIt has been too long since I held communion with the Green Realm.  Around these parts, it is a quiet time.  Only the evergreens remain to add their chlorophyll ease to eyes weary of browns and grays.

Yet, there is work to be done.  I cut down the withered stalks of dead flowers, scattering their seeds where I want them to grow in the spring.  I separate and transplant perennials.  I pull and pile the last limas with plans to harvest their dried beans.  I give up the ghost on the peas whose glorious growth was cut short by a single night of frost that turned the pods to rubber.  I marvel at the flourishing carrots, spinach, chard and even lettuce, all of whose proximity to the warm belly of the earth spared them.

I finally realize that our firewood operations over the past few years have produced a gold mine, or rather mountain, of well-decayed wood mulch.  I shovel and haul cart after cart, tucking it in around perennials snug in their beds and dumping it in piles throughout the garden.  I rake leaves too and heave them over the garden fence.  I then till this organic matter into the soil — the pea vines and the mulch and the leaves like morsels of veggies in a clay soup.

I sow winter rye, hairy vetch, and clover, shaking the seeds out from a cup in a percussive symphony.  I hill up a single row and plant the last of our potatoes, now gone to seed.  I bury them with a winter blanket of mulch and leaves.  I hope that the heat of decay will stimulate strong root growth and an early spring flowering.

seedlingThen, the week’s work done, it rains.  A welcome rain.  Despite the cold, I stand in it.  Water rolls down my hair and into my eyes.  It wets my shoulders and trickles off my fingers as I hold up my hands to its wonder.  Droplets thrum the newly scattered seeds, exploding on impact, soaking quickly into the dirt.  They roll down the potato hill in a gentle caress.  I watch as the rain pours out over the earth like love.

As I watch, in my mind’s eye, I see green growth quick on the heels of love’s nourishment.  From the dusty, dull dirt plants are spiraling into being like a jungle.  There, in my door yard, I am witness to an awesome law — love pours out upon the earth and the seed sprouts.

It is a law as ancient as the cosmos.  It is the big bang banging.  It is the earth spinning.  It is the sun shining and the moon reflecting.  It is the tides flowing and the seasons cycling.  It is the bird flying; the lion preying.  It is the human, being.

of-the-earthYes, even I am an expression of this law, as natural as the seeds of winter rye, as blameless as their green growing.

And from this law, derives my authority.  My very existence — my skin and bones and blood — give me my authority.

It is the authority of a seed, sprouting.  Sprouting in a world that does not punish or judge, but rather, bears consequence.  Sprouting in world where the actions or in-action of one ripple to all.

Today, soaked in love and in communion with the Green Realm, I declare: “I am my own authority and if it harm none I will do as I will.”

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.

Author’s Note: This piece is in debt to the magical work of Sage Goode and the students in her 2012 Pearl Pentacle course.  You know who you are.  Thank you.

Go Boldly Into the Gray

My first two words as a child were this and that.  My folks tell the story as an example of how even at age one I knew what I wanted.  That’s true, but I also suspect it was merely a natural hegemonic expression for a child born in a culture that worships at the altar of duality.  Evidence my husband’s first word: magnet.  I’m supposed to be the wordsmith in our family, but here I’ve gotta give him props — by artfully referencing the laws of attraction and repulsion he managed to express duality in a single word!

spiral.jpgThe human use of duality does seem to be a natural flow.  After all, the opposites books my kids now read are but extensions of our ancestors’ observations of the world around them.  Dark and light.  Wet and dry.  Hot and cold.  Empty and full.  Alive and dead.

In this respect, duality has been quite useful.  It is the container that allowed human language to flourish.  Duality offers us the power of anchoring the abstract, such that it becomes something with which we can grapple in consensual reality.  Like some kind of enormous tent stakes, words like day and night, for example, establish polar boundaries that allow us to communally discuss the experience of the concept Time.

It isn’t surprising that our attempts to observe the idea called Liberty have employed the same method, with political theorists bedding down amidst the dichotomous stakes of negative and positive liberty.

Negative liberty can be thought of as the absence of obstacles or constraint and is generally correlated with an external agent.  The shackled slave is an image of a person who does not have negative liberty.  The promotion of negative liberty centers on the creation of spheres of individual sovereignty in which we can each act according to our desires and subject only to the caveat that our actions not tread on others’ spheres.

Positive liberty can be thought of as the autonomy to self-realize: the capability of a person to achieve the ends they seek.  As a United States citizen, I am free in the negative sense, but not necessarily in the positive sense.  In this case, our -isms become the shackles.  Racism, classism, sexism, hell, even consumerism or alcoholism, can constrain my ability to fulfill my life’s purpose.  The promotion of positive liberty often involves a paternalistic approach by the State which negative liberty proponents perceive as a dangerous move into authoritarianism; a treading on individual sovereign rights.

A kick ass article penned by Ian Carter in the The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and titled “Positive and Negative Liberty,” does a great job of parsing out these two terms and then asks: “Is there not some third way between the extremes of totalitarianism and the minimal state of the classical liberals — some non-paternalist, non-authoritarian means by which positive liberty in the above sense can be actively promoted?” (1).

redclover.jpgAnd there is where it gets interesting.  I could spend hours exploring the forays of the philosophers and political theorists into the paradox created by these two conceptions of liberty.  And I do expect to return to study them, most notably the work of a dear high school friend, Frank Lovett, whose 2010 book, A General Theory of Domination and Justice, has peaked my interest along the lines of Starhawk’s work Dreaming the Dark.

But that is fodder for another day.  What’s got me to the page today isn’t the parsing of dichotomous hairs, but the relating of a very cool approach that seeks to understand liberty beyond the constraints of duality.  Citing the 1967 work of American legal philosopher Gerald MacCallum, Carter suggests that there is only one concept called Liberty and that it is open to “a great many different possible interpretations of freedom” and that it is only the artificial human dichotomy of negative and positive that has created the current tug of war stale mate.  Here’s how his reasoning goes:

“MacCallum defines the basic concept of freedom — the concept on which everyone agrees — as follows: a subject, or agent, is free from certain constraints, or preventing conditions, to do or become certain things.  Freedom is therefore a triadic relation — that is, a relation between three things: an agent, certain preventing conditions, and certain doings or becomings of the agent.  Any statement about freedom or unfreedom can be translated into a statement of the above form by specifying what is free or unfree, from what it is free or unfree, and what it is free or unfree to do or become.  Any claim about the presence or absence of freedom in a given situation will therefore make certain assumptions about what counts as an agent, what counts as a constraint or limitation on freedom, and what counts as a purpose that the agent can be described as either free or unfree to carry out.”

sage.jpgSimply put — it’s all relative.  It’s like the David Roth folk song, Five Blind Men, which I heard him sing when I was a young girl.  In the song the men encounter an elephant, and each touching a different part of the creature, describes him differently.  So it is as we seek to describe liberty: “Whatever you might think you see/ Depends on where you stand/ And how you feel” (2).

So, great.  How are we going to manage that?  How can we create a political and social environment that promotes liberty when it’s all relative?  I can’t see that the one-size fits all utopian approach could ever be expansive enough to contain all nuance.  Neither can I see that decentralized particularism could ever bifurcate enough to capture all nuance.

I don’t have an answer, but then I don’t think I’m supposed to.  A journey into the gray shouldn’t seek a return to black or white.  In other words, we’re asking the wrong question.  We’re seeking a human definition and attendant political action for a concept, an energy, that flourishes through us and yet independent of us.  A more useful approach might be that of physics, asking not “What is liberty?” but rather, “How does liberty work and what are its rules?”

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.


(1) Carter, Ian, “Positive and Negative Liberty”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>

(2) FIVE BLIND MEN © 1987 David Roth

What My Friend Joe Taught Me

To this day I still have the high school nightmare.  It’s a simple dream.  There I am back in Hopewell Valley Central High, rounding the corner past the cafeteria and on up the ramp to where my locker used to be.  The halls are empty except for me and this thick feeling of dread.  Anxious waves in my stomach and my lips are dry.

I’m casting about for the source of my unease.  It can’t be that I’m late: Mr. Brennan was the greatest homeroom teacher ever and never marked us late.  It might be that I can see the open door to the French classroom and, “Je ne parle pas français.”  But I was always a good student, so I know it’s not academics that have me on edge.

Then it hits me.  I’m in a high school.  And in that iconic American corral the amplification of teenage hormones and painful coming of age stories has, over the years, imbued the very bricks and metal lockers with a nervous, hyper self-conscious vibration.

At this point in the dream, I tend to remember that I am no longer a girl of sixteen, but a grown woman of thirty-nine with two children of my own.  This knowledge is always exhilarating.  Liberation soars through my veins and I rush out of the building, joyful, free.

So yes, my high school years were the same as yours.  But amidst the angst and pain I was fortunate to meet some amazing souls, like my friend Joe.

Joe and his brother Todd entered our high school and turned things upside down.  Joe was in my grade, so I knew him better, but there was a gleam to both of the brothers that was impossible to resist.  They were into making films; created music in a band called, at least for a time, Heads All Empty; and acted in or directed student plays.  But it wasn’t simply an artistic bent that made them cool.  No matter what they were doing, it was interesting and, perhaps more important, inclusive.

Within a year, probably less, of the brothers arriving on the Hopewell Valley High scene, something truly remarkable occurred: nerds became cool.  And not only nerds.  Skate boarders, drama kids, band kids, druggies, hippies and punk rockers, straight edge and otherwise — they all became cool.

At the time I couldn’t have articulated how this happened.  But looking back, I can see that Joe and Todd through the sheer force of their personalities demolished the social order.  As the rest of us were struggling to fit ourselves into the available social roles of jock, nerd or outcast, Joe simply smiled and asked: “Who are you?”  And then, no matter what your answer, smiling bigger, he’d say something like: “It suits you.”

Joe taught me that genuine authority flows not from social forms, but rather from the individual.  I am free to create life to suit me.  I have that power.

More, he taught me that in the absence of social structure, anarchy does not mean dark chaos, but rather, a richer way of being together.  For when we each take ownership of our unique energies, when we act from a place of self-security and deep confidence in who we are, our communal life becomes miraculous.

The final piece of Joe’s teaching came in our senior year.  All of us non-popular kids were nothing less than thrilled at the social changes in our school.  But I don’t think any of us were quite ready for what came next.  Not only did Joe champion us outcasts, he began to befriend the popular kids too.

Soon, all of us, from the jocks to the nerds and everyone in between were attending parties together.  I remember in particular one kick ass Murder Mystery dinner party where I’m not sure we ever figured out who done it.  Our class put on not only a senior play, Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, but also staged without any adult help, a musical written and composed by a talented boy in our class named Mark.

Through his final act of social order dissolution, Joe taught me to move beyond tolerance.  Tolerance is accepting others as different.  Love is realizing others are the same.  Big lesson from a kid who hadn’t yet hit his eighteenth birthday.

I learned last night that Joe’s physical body has died.  Learned at the same time that he did marry and has two kids too.  This is the stuff of adults, not us, who were but a breath ago filling the halls of Hopewell Valley High.

So my dear Joe, I thank you.  I thank you for being you.  I thank you for teaching me it’s cool to be me.  May your family be surrounded by love.

And because the memory of a magnificent Air Band Follies rendition of The Specials’ Stupid Marriage has never ceased to give me enormous pleasure, let’s end on that uplifting ska beat.

Listen up now, “Court in session.  What do you mean ‘Oy oy oy’?  Must have court in session.  Order.  My name is Judge Roughneck, and I will not tolerate any disobedience in my courtroom . . . .”

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.

On the Elevens

I dig the number 11.  Reminds me of those two ancient pillars, Space and Time, and me living in between.

I like seeing it show up on my digital clocks, that 11:11 observational bias thing.

I like pausing for that one minute and wishing for something.  Not because I think that minute has magical powers, but because on this earth I have the freedom to direct my energy where I choose.  And harnessing a mind for a solid minute in the service of a single wish, well now that’s a pretty significant direction of energy that’s gotta amount to something.  I don’t know, call it prayer.

And I like November.  New Year blessings and by the 11th I’m generally feeling I can tackle new things.

So 11-11-11 seemed a perfectly reasonable and human-imposed auspicious date for starting this here blog.

Sure feels nice to have that first year done.  We ate well; had some crop failure.  Definitely hoping next year will bring less weeds.  We’ll see.

For tonight, I simply want to share that above all else I dig the number 11 because it makes for a wicked cool dance beat.

Check out this YouTube of the Grateful Dead from 1968, or choose a crystal clear listen of RatDog from Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh from 11/11/10.

For the latter, I can personally confirm, on that eleven, a good time was had.

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.


When I was a little girl, I believed my Grandpa James was a great wizard.  If I woke up early enough while visiting his beach home, and I crept quietly to the stair landing of the loft where we slept, I could watch him work his magic in the kitchen below.

Somehow, through the sheer diligence of his rituals — working only in the quiet hush of dawn; pre-warming the muffin pans and coating them with melted butter; whispering secret incantations; and never, never, never opening the oven door during baking — this man managed a wondrous alchemy.  Before my very eyes, my Grandpa transformed mere flour, milk, salt and eggs into a magical, mystical and wonderfully tasty soufflé which we humbly called: The Popover.

For me, now going on forty, a warm bite of popover slathered with real butter remains an anchor, a touchstone.  Through meals upon meals, from those breakfasts down the shore, to a breakfast shared with my folks this past week, I have come to understand that the popover is capable of transcending generations and family lines.

I have eaten popovers every Christmas morning of my life.  I have shared them with aunts and uncles, with cousins and siblings, with parents, grandparents and my own children, including a God daughter who must be related given her love of them.  And we have all, each and every one of us, laughed at popovers that came out more like toilet bowls, and stood in awe of others that puffed to giant-proportions.

But fear not the toilet bowl: you no longer have to be a wizard to bake them.  We have these great new-fangled things called popover pans that make it super easy.  If you don’t happen to have a set (or the three my mother made sure she stocked my kitchen with), you can instead try out the Popover Pie modification listed below.  This can count as a vegetarian dish, but it’s definitely not vegan, though I’m guessing you could use an egg substitute and soy milk.

1. Pre-heat oven to 425°.

2. Stir together 1-1/4 cups flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium-size mixing bowl. (Optional: add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon or cinnamon sugar.)

3. Add 1-1/4 cups milk and with rotary beater or whisk, beat until well-blended.  Do not over beat.

4. One at a time, add 3 eggs, beating in each until completely blended.

5. Pour the batter into popover cups*, filling 3/4 full.

6. Bake at 425° for 20 minutes.

7. Reduce oven temperature to 325° and continue baking for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.

8. Serve immediately, piping hot from the oven: a cold popover is as my kids say, “Yucky.”  Pairs nicely with butter, jelly or for a heavier meal, put ham and cheese in the middle after cooking, like a sandwich.

*You can also try making one big popover in what my family calls Popover Pie, following the above recipe with some modifications.  Using a casserole dish, place a few pieces of butter in it and pre-heat the pan while you are pre-heating the oven to 425°.  Take care to avoid burning the butter.  Make sure the melted butter covers the entire bottom of the pan.  For your batter, use a ratio of 1 egg: 1/4 cup flour: 1/4 cup milk.  Use less for a small pan, more for a bigger pan.  I tend to use a 3-quart casserole pan and 3 eggs, 3/4 cups flour and 3/4 cups milk.  Add salt (and optional cinnamon or cinnamon sugar).  Bake at 425° for 25 minutes or until top has popped and is golden brown.  Will deflate when cut.

This recipe is offered in total rebellion as part of Recipe Rites.

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.

Let’s Play Vote!

I grew up in a great little neighborhood in a sweet little town in Central NJ.  On my block alone there were four other families with girls my age.  We were free to roam back in those days, every afternoon after school and all day Saturday.

We’d ride our bikes or roller skate.  We’d play Kick the Can or spook each other at dusk with a game of Walk Around the House.  In the winter we built snow forts or tried to roll the world’s largest snowball.  On rainy days we favored Detective Agency.  Sometimes we even succumbed to Barbies.

But no game stands out clearer for me than the one we played every day: Vote.

See, the girls three doors down had this huge rolling chalkboard in their bedroom and one day when we were fighting over what to play someone said, “Why don’t we vote on it?”

Sounded good.  Fun even.  The biggest kids who could write took turns scribing the choices we all called out and recording our votes.  But the best part was being in the citizenry and having a chance to call out what I wanted to play.

Sure I didn’t always get what I wanted.  There were partisan groups that formed and it would seem like weeks and weeks of Charlie’s Angels when I wanted Little House, or roller skates when I wanted bikes.

And yes, some days playing Vote grew itself into such an intensive, all consuming experience that we were being called home for dinner before we’d had a chance to actually play the games we were voting on.

No matter.  What is important is that as kids we knew naturally that to be fair we should hold a vote, that we should each get a chance to weigh in on how we were going to spend our play time.

In today’s election, I’m not really seeing many of my play choices on the chalkboard and I’m worn out from the excessive campaigns of the big kids.  But it still feels natural to show up.  A choice for the lesser of two evils may still be a choice for evil, but I’ll take a choice over no choice any day.

So whatever Kick the Can jail you’re finding yourself in today, listen up: “All-y all-y in come free!

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.

Down the Shore

My heart is in Jersey this week.  It’s the place of my birth and the roots of both my adopted and biological family trees intertwine in the soils there.  Since learning of the storm’s destruction, my mind has agitated down the roads of my childhood, as if the churning energies of Sandy unearthed more than trees and structures.  So I give up my agenda for this week.  I am going to tell you instead some bits and pieces from the Jersey shore I remember.

Starting first with Long Beach Island, where my PopPop built a cottage for my Nana on the bay side of Essex Avenue in Beach Haven.  Nana had been a teacher there, waiting nine years to marry him until he saved enough money to buy her a house and the furniture to go in it.  This house at the beach was their vacation home, a summer retreat where PopPop could fish and his boys could take summer jobs as life guards.

Me, I remember the way the floor grate between the living room and the bedrooms would dig into my feet.  And I can see PopPop in the black and white picture that always hung in the kitchen, rowing a boat through the flooded streets of town after the Ash Wednesday storm of 1962, probably headed to Buckalew’s for a pint of fortitude for the long clean-up ahead.  I can hear him telling how during that storm he and others watched as an ocean front house walked out to sea.  “Got right up on her four legs and waddled out there,” he’d say.

It was in Barnegat Bay that I first learned to sail, my father, my sister and me ducking the boon in a little rented sunfish.  Same bay where PopPop captained his ship, The Rumarjo.  And it was there right at the edge of that bay I caught my first sand shark.  Yup, sure did.  My Uncle John will back me up too.

I spent time as well on 4th Avenue in Normandy Beach, visiting the birdhouse of a home owned by my mom’s folks.  I’m hoping its unusual structure, with the kitchen, living room and bedrooms perched on tall columns a full story above a semi-finished garage will mean it’s survived.  But I hear tell that in Normandy Beach the ocean met the bay, so who knows?

I remember mornings in the loft bedroom waking to the smell of grandpa’s famous popovers.  I’d rush to beat my cousins to the table and be the first to slather one with butter.  We sat at that long table often.  For lunch we ate fresh tomato sandwiches, made from big, juicy, red orbs grown along the side of the house and paired with bread and chips kept fresh from the salt air in an ancient breadbox.  For dinner we ate grilled chicken and Jersey corn with mushy yellow squash.  I remember also toast with rhubarb jelly and hairy handfuls of bean sprouts Grandpa grew in a glass jar on the windowsill.  Crumb cake from Mueller’s bakery in Bay Head.  Ribs from the joint in Point Pleasant.  All served on the finest Fiestaware.

Funny that in both places what I remember least is the beach.  Oh, sure, I can picture my Grammy’s crazy beach hats clear as day, my crotch still stings with the sand that would lodge in my swimsuit’s lining, and I can feel the bite of a crab on my toes.  But mostly it’s the houses I remember, and the times spent in them with Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, Cousins.  Down the shore you were never alone.

Rainy days at both houses were the best.  We’d play endless games.  In Beach Haven it was Monopoly, played on the coffee table PopPop crafted from the wooden hatch cover of an old ship.  In Normandy Beach it was Rummy Royal.  As the rain beat on the bank of windows surrounding the living room, we’d anti-up and play out our hands, again and again.  I will never forget the genuine joy in my Grammy’s voice when we’d win big.  She’d clap her hands together and say: “Well look at you!”

Perhaps it isn’t so out of step after all to revisit my roots at this dusky twilight time of year when the veils between the worlds have thinned, and we can better hear the voices of those who have passed on.

I find great strength in revisiting the moments sustained by my grandparents and I must trust that whatever has happened to the landscape of my youth, my memories are enough for me to go on.  After all, the real strength isn’t in the buildings, but rather, in the builders.  And what they built has sustained and will sustain.  It’s Jersey.

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.

Warming Fires

My husband is a first responder for wildfires.  With the nights turning cooler around these parts, we’ve had several dinners and family evenings interrupted by fire calls.  I’m accustomed to this annual uptake.  As the trees shut down sugar production and drop their leaves, forests are particularly vulnerable to fire.  Fire is simply following its natural ebb and flow.  But this year, something different is happening.  This year, the wildfire calls aren’t originating from our area’s forests, they’re coming from our sub-divisions.

And no, all of North Carolina isn’t burning.  No homes have been threatened.  No lives have been endangered.  The calls have come from concerned citizens reporting warming and cooking fires on their neighbor’s property.  In most cases, these citizens are unaware that fires used for heating or cooking are legal, with municipalities overlaying their unique regulations on a condition of 1997 proscribed burn legislation that provided for a citizen’s right to keep warm or to cook food.  But even absent that knowledge, I’m having a difficult time understanding their concern, a concern so strong it compelled them to contact the authorities.

When did we become a people who upon seeing a fire circle burning in the dark and cold of the night, decide that the prudent course of action is to pick up our cell phones and report something amiss?  When did we come to fear fire so?  I’m pretty damn sure my ancestors would have sighed in relief to see the flames dancing, knowing they meant light and warmth; food and human companionship.

For eons we humans have circled in the glow of fires, drawn naturally to their power, to their gifts of survival.  But also drawn to them as a gateway to mystery.  Something magical happens as the night darkens and the shadows leap and grow.  The fire’s light dances across the faces of the people we love, softening lines, brightening eyes.  Children settle, mesmerized by the molten jewels and flaring bursts of blue, white and green.  The ancestors arrive, curious.  Soon, soon, someone begins to speak.

Once upon a time, the world was a much different place than it is today.  There were no strip malls, no cars, no paved roads.  No fast food, no grocery stores, no microwaves.  No electric lights, no TVs, no computers.  Not even any gaming reserves, zoos or formal gardens.  The earth was a magical Eden, where all the animals and plants talked and there was no hunger or death. 

But, wait, I can see you’re too grown up for that version, so look, I’m going to tell it to you straight.

It was a gentler time, but things still died.  The lions ate the zebras, and the zebras ate the plants, and the plants ate up the dirt and the sunlight and the rain.  This is the way of life, my dears.  Was then and is now. 

But anyway, that’s not the important part of this story.  What matters is the talking part, and that part, that part is true.  The lions, they roared; and the zebras answered back.  The plants did a lot of whispering and the dirt stayed understandably quiet.  But the sun and the rain, and oh, that wind, they liked to never quit, talking day and night.

People?  Ah yes, there were people.  And they were great listeners.  They listened to the lions’ roars and the zebras’ response.  And they listened to the plants’ whispers and the dirt’s quiet tones.  And they listened to the constant chattering symphony of the sun and the rain and the wind.  But mostly, they listened to the dragons.

No, now don’t be afraid.  Back then dragons roamed everywhere as guardians of peace and healing.  Whole towns would befriend several dragons as treasured cohorts.  The dragons joined in the town dances, lit bonfires when necessary, and generally led a joyous life.

But then, the people changed.  Some who were jealous of the dragons stopped inviting them to the festivals.  “Who needs to listen to those scaly old beasts, anyway?” they’d ask. 

And so more and more humans stopped listening.  Worse, they started talking.  And much worse, only among themselves.  No longer did they hear what the lion had to say.  Nor did they care for the rustlings from the plant realm.  Nor did they heed the pleadings of the sun and the rain and the wind.

Soon these humans decided that if they could talk for themselves, then surely they could take care of themselves.  And so they made more and more human things, which meant less and less room for the plants and the animals and the dirt. 

The dragons, one by one, disappeared.  Many died from broken hearts.  Others hid away in the places humans didn’t want — high on snowy mountains, deep in the oceans, enveloped in the desert sands or dense jungle vines.  A time of great sadness settled over all the earth.

But don’t cry my loves, all was not lost.  For there lived always a group of humans who remembered the dragons, sharing their stories of the old ways around the fire circle.  They were people like you and like me.  They were people who understood that dragons reflect the human heart.

So these people worked very, very hard.  They remembered to cherish the things the world gave them — water and sunshine and food and trees and animal companions for the mysterious nights and playful days.  They remembered to take only what they needed to live, as the lions have done since the days of old.  They remembered to listen as well as to talk.  And slowly, year after year, as these people lived in connection with the earth in all its mystery, tales of dragon-sightings grew.

I tell you this story that my mother told me, and that her mother told her, that you might never be lonely or scared.  For you are a human being and you are a part of this world.  As natural as the lions and the zebras and the trees and the plants and the sun and the rain and the wind.  As natural as the dragons.

Those wondrous, scaly beasts of old, the ancient guardians of peace and healing, do exist.  And if you are pure of heart, as I know you are, you need only call on them and I promise one will wing its way to you and let you catch its tail.

Around a fire, we remember we are the story tellers.

So as the nights’ lengthen and the wheel turns into winter, I challenge you to approach fire with love.  I trust you to intend no harm, to respect the power of fire and to act responsibly.

If you are able to have a warming fire on your own land, exercise your liberty and do so.  If you have a fireplace or wood burning stove, use it.  Or simply light a candle.  Then watch and see who comes to your fire circle.  Notice the stories you tell.  What does mystery hold for you in the flickering light?

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.

Freeing Seeds

I will never forget the first time I watched Grandpa Jack deadhead a marigold and scatter its seeds.  It was a flat out miracle.  I took high school biology, so I knew about the birds and the bees, but somehow I never quite put it together that flower seeds would be a part of the flower.  Where I grew up seeds came from the store.  Everyone dutifully paid $1.79 for their little packet of marigold seeds or shelled out $3.50 – $5.00 for transplants already done half their flowering.  Watching Grandpa Jack open up that seed pod blew my mind.

It seems crazy to me now, that I so missed the obvious, but my mindset was a symptom of the Great Forgetting that’s gone down throughout the United States since the 1950’s: a casualty of the same cultural intention that birthed a single-serving plastic bottle to commodify water.  I was habituated to spend money on a free natural resource, so much so that I had stopped remembering it was free.

The good news, though, is that the green realm doesn’t share our cultural amnesia.  Further, despite the fact that in our man’s world a 1980 Supreme Court decision rendered seed subject to intellectual property laws and paved the way for the current situation in which the proprietary seed market now accounts for 82% of the commercial seed market worldwide (1), the plants and trees kept on making seeds.  And despite all of Monsanto’s attempts to the contrary in the intervening decades, they’re still doing so — in my garden, in your garden, in the manicured landscaping in the office park down the street.  And high up in mountain meadows and down in the salty reeds near the ocean too.

What follows is a basic guide for how I collect some common seeds found in our garden.


  • Hand(s) with opposable thumb
  • Scissors or small garden clippers (optional)


  • Annual plants that have seeded out
  • Various containers, baskets, or ventilated cardboard boxes
  • Newspaper or paper towels
  • Glass jars, paper envelopes or paper bags
  • Labels
  • Pen


1. Set your intention as a seed collector.  For a rigorous intention of preserving genetic purity, leave this page now and go directly to a source such as Suzanne Ashworth’s Seed to Seed.  I am not a professional gardener, nor a botanist.  I don’t aim to cultivate the best Durham tomato by hybridizing my two favorite strains.  I am a mom who feeds her family from our kitchen garden and I like free seeds.  They satisfy both the anarchist and the dreamer in me.  The anarchist loves getting something for free that my culture taught me required money.  The dreamer loves being in relationship with multiple generations of the plant families with whom we share this acre.  Helping to insure that the children of this year’s plants will be born in the spring is a small homage I can pay to the green realm for its abundant gifts of food, oxygen and beauty.  So my intention as a seed collector is simply to participate in the propagation of annual plants in my garden.

2. Allow plants and flowers to go to seed.  In the case of many annual flowers, as with Grandpa Jack’s marigolds, the flower buds themselves contain the seeds.  Similarly, with some veggies like beans, what we’re eating is the seeds, so to collect the vegetable is to collect the seed.  With other plants, such as hairy vetch, a seed pod may develop after flowering and separate from the blooms.  The secret is to simply wait it out and see what happens with the plant you’re trying to propagate.  Eventually that plant will move through its life cycle which will include a part where the plant knows it’s going to die.  It’s an heroic moment for the plant, a time when it gives a gift of life to children it will never know, insuring an immortality of a sort.  Bear witness to this rite of passage and you will learn how to collect the seeds.

Black beans and other varieties drying on the vine on our front porch out of the rain.  We’ll harvest them for food and seeds.

3. Collect and dry seeds. Yup, that’s it.  When you see that a plant’s seeds or seed pods have been formed, pluck them off with your hand or cut them off with scissors or garden clippers.  I typically use both hands and toss the seed pods into a container I rest near the plant.  When possible, wait to harvest seed pods until they are well dried by the sun and wind, but before they are so dry that they start to crack open.  You may also choose to harvest before the pod is fully dried if you are expecting significant rainy weather that could cause the pods to mildew.  Sometimes I yank the entire plant out of the ground and hang it out of the rain to continue drying until I have time to harvest the seed pods.  Choose a container for collection that is suited to the shape and size of the seeds or seed pods.  Ventilated containers are essential for seed pods that have not fully dried as air flow will help prevent the seeds from rotting or developing mildew.  If your seeds come straight off the plant without pods, such as buckwheat seeds, you will need to collect them in a container without holes and then transfer them to a piece of newspaper or paper towel, spreading them out for 2-3 days of air drying.

4. Store and label seeds.  Remove and composte all seed pods, also discard any seeds that show signs of deterioration or decay.  I store seeds in either glass jars or paper envelopes which I get free by saving them from junk mail.  Paper lunch bags also work well.  Label your seeds and store them in a cool, dry, dark location.  Return occasionally to vent the seeds, particularly those stored in large quantity in glass jars.  Any remaining moisture in the seeds will then be able to escape, preventing the seeds from mildewing.  Most annual seeds will remain viable when stored for 1-2 years.

5. Or ignore Steps 1 – 4 and instead take the lazy man’s approach.  With all of our annual flowers, after harvesting some seeds to save for direct sowing, I drag the dead plants with any clinging seeds to places in our yard or around the garden where I want to encourage their growth.  I leave the plants there over the winter, allowing them to decay.  In the spring, we rough till the area and then leave it alone.  The process turns lawn into a patch of “wild flowers” in one season.

Six Seeds for Simple Collecting

1. Beans (Leguminosae)Soy, Green, Lima, Black, Jacob’s Cattle Gold, Tiger Eye, Maine Bumblebee, Red Kidney, Pinto — and the list could go on.  These are by far my favorite seeds to collect.  I love to run my fingers through a bowl of dried beans, their textures and vibrant colors those of jewels.  Simply let the beans dry on the plant: preferably in the garden, but if the deluge threatens, you can also hang them in a dry, humid and well ventilated location.  Once dried, remove the seed pod from the plant and crack it open.  Continue drying the seeds by spreading them out on newspaper or paper towels until they are hard enough to crack with a hammer.  Then freeze the seeds in an airtight container for five days to kill the weevil eggs that may be under the seed coat.  Allow the seeds to return to room temperature before opening the storage container.

2. Marigolds (Tagetes)Stripped French, Aztec, Single Stem — which I tend to call around these parts, respectively, little marigolds (those growing about 12″ tall), big marigolds (those growing 3′-4′ tall) and Tiki Torch (those growing 5′-6′ tall with single stems and orange petals like a daisy).  For each of them, simply wait until their blooms die, then harvest the seed pod at the bloom’s base.  The single stem marigolds form a much harder seed pod that can really poke you, so I wear gloves for that seed harvest.  Break open the seed pod to reveal the seeds.  Store them in a glass jar and vent it often.

A seed lies at the end of each petal of the zinnia’s bloom.

3. Zinnias (Zinnia)— This is the one flower I tend to harvest before it’s fully dried.  Often harvesting from my favorite blooms just as they are starting to decay in my flower vase.  This is because zinnias store a single seed at the end of each flower petal.  Pluck the petal and you’ll harvest the seed.  I discard the petals that break off, but also store the seeds with any attached petals, making sure to fully dry the petal and the seed.  It makes for a delicious aroma when I vent the seed jar.

4. Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) — This flower will do a great job of self seeding, but if you’d like to give it some serious legs and start a new patch way across your yard from an existing patch, the seeds are a cinch to gather.  Wait for the blooms to die and you’ll see that the brown center of the bloom remains.  Let it dry and then cut it off.  Smush it in your fingers and you’ll see it disintegrate into tons of tiny brown seeds.  Store in a paper envelope, or keep the seed balls whole and store them in a glass jar.

Hairy Vetch seed pods drying on the vine.

5. Hairy Vetch (Vicia) — A wonderful and beautiful cover crop which we interplant with winter rye.  It grows slowly throughout the winter and then in the spring bursts into a vibrant purple bloom.  After blooming, seed pods form on the vines.  Allow them to dry and then harvest the seeds (small, black spheres) as you would dried beans.

6. Buckwheat (Fagopyrum) — This is a fabulous, self-propagating, quick cover-crop that goes from sowing to flowering in about forty-five days.  And our bees LOVE the white flowers, though be careful if you go into a buckwheat field after noon.  Buckwheat’s flowers shut down their nectar flow in the afternoon, which can really frustrate the bees.  After flowering, the buckwheat will develop black seeds, each in a tiny brown casing, at the top of the stalks.  I walk through the field with a tall cup and grasping the stalk in my hand, pull the seeds off and into the cup.  You can also cut down the buckwheat and place the entire plant where ever you want it to grow next.

Today’s post is offered as part of the SOP for Our 43,560 project.

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.

Magical Engineering

I am a Witch.  I study in the Reclaiming Tradition and also with Sage Goode.  Locally, I am a member of Dragon’s Cauldron.  I have never hidden that I’m a Witch, but I don’t normally go out of my way to declare it either.  For many “Witch” is a loaded term and I am someone who tends to avoid confrontation.  So while I never deny I am a Witch, I soft pedal,  saying things like “I’m a practicing pagan,” or making oblique references like: “In magic we . . . .”

However, as my mind has begun to spin out what this project will explore in the coming year, it’s become increasingly clear that full articulation demands I write openly about magical methodologies.  And I am not one to shy from necessity.  Beside, if I am ever to step more securely into the shoes of Havel’s green grocer, I am going to have to start posting some personal truth signs.  Today that means sharing a Witchy approach I am employing in this here attempt to harvest liberty.

For me, living as a Witch is about stepping into my power as a creative being.  It’s about agreeing to play with the building blocks of the Universe.  As such, I find no disparity between my work as a Witch, my work as an artist and my work as a farmer.  All three engage the dynamic flow of energy between the unseen and the seen.  All three concern themselves with the bending and shaping of resources in the service of a focused intention.  All three demand an observation of and alignment with the developmental cycles of Nature.

Whether I’m speaking as a Witch, artist or farmer, my job is to draw forth the forms I desire from the realm of all possibility; to manifest the seen from the unseen.  I’ve written previously on this from the perspectives of art and farming in a post titled Virtuality.  In magic, we call this concept the Priestess Point.

I imagine this as an infinity symbol, a lemniscate curve that on one side flows through the realm of spirit and on the other side flows through the realm of matter.  The Priestess Point is at the center of the ∞, that x formed by the crossing of the loops.  Standing there, I have an arm and a leg in each realm.  Standing there I can be a conduit for the eruption of particular forces into form.  Much of my training as a Witch centers on increasing familiarity with the world of the unseen and on learning how to best connect with the Universe’s natural processes of manifestation.

Regardless of the medium in which I’m working — my life, the written word, a dirt field — I always begin by setting my intention.  And intention herself flows from desire.  My love, my passion, my need, becomes the first mechanism for shaping the cosmic soup.

I often visualize setting my intention as the drawing of a bow and releasing of an arrow.  I stand still, quiet and alert to the present moment, both feet firm to the ground.  As I raise my bow I am summoning the energies of my desire.  As I draw the string taut, I am intensifying, concentrating and amplifying those energies.  The bow’s string vibrates with their stored force.  I take my aim and let the arrow fly.

As in archery, I know that the arrow does not head straight to the bull’s eye.  My fingers on the string will subtly send the arrow left or right depending on my lead hand.  The arrow will then overcompensate in the opposite direction and it will continue oscillating back and forth in a slight wobble throughout its path.  I know too that external factors can impact.  Wind, air density, and random obstacles exert their influence.

Being a Witch means practicing the art of setting intention over and over and over and over.  It means learning what bow works for me, what hand to lead with, what vibratory intensity will lend the best acceleration.  And it means trusting that the arrow will contain the essence of my desire, no matter where on the target it lands.  In magic as in art, I have learned to trust that the forms I create contain the intensity of my initial desire, no matter how awkward or inadequate they may seem.

As I have learned to work with the natural principles of creation as they exist at the Priestess Point, so too do I align myself with the natural principles of development as they exist in the world of forms.  As a Witch I understand that the process of creation mirrors the yearly unfolding of the seasons.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we begin the yearly cycle, called The Wheel of the Year, not in January, but now, with the final harvest.  This Witch’s New Year, Samhain, known also in the secular world as Halloween, celebrates life as an eternal cycle and recognizes that without death there can be no rebirth.  It acknowledges that birth, that manifestation, starts not in the bright sunlight of the world of matter, but rather in the dark, starlit and mysterious world of spirit.  At Samhain I am doing what the plants are doing.  I am summoning my desires and shaping my intentions into seeds that will erupt into forms as the days lengthen and the light amplifies.

So there you go my friend who set me the challenge of writing on how I’m harvesting liberty.  There’s my cleaned out and presentable for company broom closet response.

I harvest liberty by doing magic:

1. Desiring liberty.

2. Intending liberty.

3. Tending liberty.

And yes, I get it, my arrow is wobbling and mixed metaphors are threatening to down her mid-flight.  Thank Goddess I get to shoot more than once.

Thoughts from an Unrepresented Voter

Yes, I did it last night.  I watched the U.S. Presidential debate.  I told myself that if I became too irate I could simply turn it off.  In the end though, I came away feeling disappointed.  Disappointed and sad.

In listening to President Obama and Governor Romney, I had a strange sense of déjà vu, transported back twenty-six years to my 7th grade History class on the day my teacher explained how elections functioned in the Soviet Union of the 1980s.  “Sure,” she said, “the voter has a choice.  You can vote for the Communist Party or you can vote for the Communist Party.”

Have we truly come to a place where our democracy is as vibrant and alive with choice and possibility as Soviet Russia?  I’m worried.

As the debate rolled out, I couldn’t help thinking that any judge in their right mind would have struck 95% of the candidates’ responses from the record as hearsay.  It was a debate, as Brian Williams described in post-commentary, of “withering facts.”  What I really need in making my presidential decision this election is a spec sheet comparison for these two brands of the same political device.

Neither candidate offered me anything new.  No wisdom was shared.  No one made a brave foray down Frost’s road less traveled by.

For example, when discussing the National Debt, a situation that compromises our nation’s security perhaps greater than any other threat, neither candidate offered a solution outside of the holy trinity: raise taxes, cut the budget, or grow the economy.  What about exploring the link between domestic materials consumption and our economy?  Or if that’s too obtuse, I’d have settled for one of the candidates saying very clearly: “You can’t spend more than you take in and we’ve been doing so for decades.  It’s time to stop dicking around.”

When the discussion turned to Obamacare, I was similarly left hanging.  The candidates bickered over the fine details, but neither offered any clarity of vision.  I can’t help but feeling that as a nation we’re arguing about health insurance when what we really want is national health care.  Insurance ain’t healthcare.  It can try to stretch there, but no matter what we do, insurance will never be more than “the transfer of risk.”  So there’s no way we can ever use insurance to solve a health care problem.  Am I the only one who wants her President to articulate this so we can move forward?

I did have one moment of hope when Jim Lehrer asked each candidate to share their thoughts on the role of the United States government.  Adda boy, Jim, give them the magical question that cuts through all bullshit: “What’s your intention?”

We can’t fathom when we elect a President the myriad decisions they will have to make while in office.  So knowing their intention is key in having some confidence that we’re choosing a President who will represent us.  Because for me, intention is where everything starts, and it’s the lighthouse beacon you return to when you get lost in the choppy and foggy seas of American government bureaucracy.

In the end, then, here’s what it comes down to so far.

Barack Obama believes that the role of the government is to keep the American people safe; and to open up opportunities and frameworks in which the American people can succeed.

Mitt Romney believes that the role of the government is to promote and protect the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Okay, there’s some clarity of choice there.  Yet, to my ears, there was still a calculated political spin to each answer.  Is this what they each truly believe?  Or did Obama cite “keeping the American people safe” to cater to America’s fear contingent?  Did Romney steal his line from Ron Paul because he desperately needs the libertarian vote?

And so the American political circus plays on.  Jerry Garcia was right.  Choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.  Am I the only one who’s aching for some new voices on that debate stage?

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.