Thursday, January 30, 2014

Feline Friday: The Staying Warm Version

It has been Damned Cold here in upstate NY, as it has been in much of the rest of the country. So cold, in fact, that when it went up to 24 today, we all got stupid excited. You could actually hear people humming "We're having a heat wave." Okay, maybe that was just me.

For the moment, we're looking at close to a week of almost normal temps (around 29-30 degrees F), which is a distinct relief after weeks of bitter cold.

Thankfully, we have lots of ways of staying warm at my house. Witness a few of these:
 Method one: cuddle up with someone cute
 Method two: hover around the pellet stove
 Method three: wait for me to put a blanket over my legs and then take up most of said legs (only Mystic can take up THIS much room)
 Method four: fight with the other cats over the cat toys (it is amazing how much heat this generates)
Method five: the cat classic...sit in the sun

I hope you managed to stay warm this week, with or without cat toys.

[And an aside to Dad: I don't know why you keep reading Feline Fridays either. It must be one of those unanswerable questions of the universe.]

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Few Cool Things

It is snowing again here, and although it was 30 overnight, then temps are now heading back down into the basement--it is expected to drop to the teens during the day, then back to the negative single digits overnight..for the next few days.

All of which has brought on a migraine (on a day when I planned to Get a Lot of Writing Done, dammit!), so I'm just going to post a couple of cool things to amuse you and then run away again.

Cool Thing the One:
To celebrate the upcoming release of the Baba Yaga books (September and December, if all goes well with Berkley), I found myself this REALLY COOL shirt on Etsy.
Baba Yaga Tee Shirt
 I'm not a big tee shirt person, especially because I only like them if they have V-necks or scoop necks (not the normal crew neck, which is much easier to find). So you can imagine how excited I was to find this one that had a picture of the Baba Yaga's traditional cabin on chicken legs.

In case you're wondering, the writing says "Turn your back to the forest, your front to me." That is the magical phrase that you were supposed to say to get Baba Yaga's hut to turn around and show you the front door. (And no, I don't read Russian...I asked the shirt's creator.)

I've been thinking I might give away one of these when I get closer to the book release. What do you think? Is that something anyone might like? They're cotton, and very comfy...

Cool Thing the Two:
I just finished reading my pal Alex Bledsoe's newest book in the Eddie LaCrosse sword jockey series. He Drank, and Saw the Spider is the fifth book in the series, and they just keep getting better and better. In fact, when I started reading, I intended to make a note of some of the best lines, and email Alex to tell him how great they were. By the time I hit about the 10th one, at only chapter two, I gave up. Yes, the book really IS that good. (Minerva didn't want to give it up so I could read it, as you can see. She is a cat of discerning taste.)

Cool Thing the Three:
I spent the last week putting together all my numbers for my accountant, so she could do my taxes. (Gah. No, that is NOT the cool thing.) For the first time ever, my combined jewelry and writing income actually exceeded my "Day Job" income. Mind you, that's before taxes, since once the government gets their huge Self-Employment chunk, it will be a lot less. And I'm going to have to pay out a large amount in taxes, which isn't going to be fun. And to be honest, some of that is a reflection of the not-so-large size of my salary for running a not-for-profit shop and not working full time. But still, as a concept, it is kind of cool. You have to take your wins where you can find them.

That's all I got, folks. Tell me something cool that's happening in your life, okay?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Feline Friday: The Keeping Warm Edition

It's damned cold here. Really cold. Record-setting cold. Toe-curling, hair snapping, don't wanna go out to work in it cold.

Thank goodness for warm cats.

I hope you're keeping warm, wherever you are. Chime in and tell me your location and the temp there (although I warn you, if it is over 60, there is a small chance I will show up on your doorstep).

Here's your feline Friday furball fix.

 Everyone knows that reading keeps you warm. Magic and I agree that Alex Bledsoe's new book is the best thing we've read all year. Maybe in a few years!
 Most popular spot in the house...the top of the pellet stove. (I'd sit there myself if my butt fit.) Usually Samhain's hangout, occasionally she'll share with her pal Angus.
 Or not.
Everyone else hangs out on the heated waterbed. (Sometimes it takes 4 cats to hold it down.)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fast and Easy Daily Divination

Lots of people read their horoscope every morning, but for many of us, that is the only bit of “checking in” we do. After all, few people have the time (or inclination) to do a full tarot spread with their morning coffee. And mostly, we don’t need that much detailed information. Luckily, there are lots of fast and easy ways to get a quick hint at what your day holds, or what you need to know to make the most of it.
Years ago, when I was practicing with my first coven, my then-high priestess had us do an interesting experiment. Every day for a month, we pulled one rune stone at the beginning of the day. We wrote down the stone, and any flashes of intuition we got when we looked at it, and then checked in at the end of the day to see if there was, in fact, any relationship between the two. Not surprisingly, there often was.
This also turned out to be a great way of learning the runes themselves. I started out having to look up the meanings of each rune in a book [my favorite is Lisa Peschel’s A Practical Guide to the Runes—it’s old, but it is easy to use and understand], but by the end of the month, I was much more familiar with them. If you’re interested in becoming better acquainted with the stones or any other form of divination, try doing something like this. It’s a fun and practical way to learn. Either pull one out of a bag, if that’s what you store them in, or place them in a small bowl and just close your eyes and grab one.

If rune stones aren’t your thing, you can do this with tarot cards instead. If you’re not used to using the cards, I suggest starting with something basic like the classic Rider-Waite Tarot. That’s the one I started with, lo these many years ago, and I have been reading professionally for ages with this one pack. [It’s a bit battered by now, but it works so well for me, I’m rarely tempted to switch to something else, despite the bevy of beautiful decks out there.] However, there are lots of variations on the tarot card deck, and you can pick whichever one seems to “speak” to you the most loudly.
As with the rune stones, you can start your day by shuffling the deck and picking out a card at random. Sometimes one will even jump out of the deck at you. You can either ask a question (“What does my day hold?” “What do I need to know today?”) or just see what comes up. If you are dealing with something tricky, you can ask a specific question, like “Should I go out on a date with that hunky guy at the office?”

There are plenty of alternatives for those who don’t have or don’t like either rune stones or tarot cards. I have a number of interesting decks that I use for inspiration, answers, or just a way to get in touch with spirit quickly and easily.
One of my favorites, which I’ve used numerous times in ritual with my group Blue Moon Circle, is the Goddess Inspiration Oracle deck, by Kris Waldherr. She’s well known for her beautiful goddess-themed artwork, and this deck is filled with amazing images, as well as lovely descriptions of the 80 goddesses featured on the cards—yet another way to learn while being inspired and guided.

Another one I like is The Gifts of the Goddess: 36 Affirmation Cards by Amy Zerner and Monte Farber.
My current favorite was a Yule gift from my friend Rebecca Elson. She gets to preview lots of great decks for her blog, The Magical Buffet, and she knew I’d love this one when she saw it. The Conscious Spirit Oracle Deck, by Kim Dreyer, has lovely pictures and inspiring affirmations. I’ve taken to pulling one each morning, standing at my altar, and reading it out loud. Then I try to carry its message through the rest of my day. For instance, this morning’s card was number 18: Air Elemental. And the affirmation said, “I embrace the element of air and am open to all knowledge and wisdom.” Isn’t that a great way to start out the day? (Also, I have to do research today, so it makes a certain amount of sense.)

The simplest way to use any of these options is to choose one—runes or tarot or some other form of tapping into intuition—and simply pull one stone or card each morning. Take a minute to focus on it, and you’re done.
If you want to take it a step further, you can keep a couple of different options out where you can access them easily, and pull from whichever one calls to you the most that day. Or do runes one month, and tarot cards another.
To move a little more deeply (and I highly recommend trying this, at least for a month sometime), write down your stone or card, and any thoughts or feelings you have about it, and keep track of them in a small notebook or in your Book of Shadows, if you have one. (If you already journal, you can add this to your daily jottings.) At the end of a day, a week, or a month, take a look back and see if you can make out any patterns that could be helpful.
Asking for guidance and/or inspiration doesn’t have to be complicated or take a lot of time. You certainly don’t have to be an expert card reader to do it. (In fact, many folks like me, who do read professionally, can’t read for themselves at all. Ironic, isn’t it?) You just have to take the same amount of time and effort you would put into reading your daily horoscope. And honestly, this is likely to be a lot more helpful!

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Bathroom Blues

No, this is not a post about some sort of personal issue... Nor am I sad. In fact, I'm pretty happy. Why? Because my (one and only) bathroom just got a makeover. In fact, I painted it blue.

Well, by "I" I mean my friend John, who I pay to do my major painting jobs, because he is really good at it, although I did help. (I did some of the first coat, since it doesn't have to be perfect.)

Here's the story. (You'll notice how I resisted saying, "Here's the poop," thus making a silly bathroom joke. Oh, wait, I guess I didn't.) Most of my house is painted a warm cream color. Many people would find that boring, I suppose, but for me, it is soothing--a good background for the artwork, goes with everything, and doesn't trip my "sensory overload" trigger, which tends to be way too sensitive. But there are a few places that I have color--the mudroom, where you enter and leave the house, is a cheerful yellow, and a few years ago, I painted one wall and the door of the bathroom a nice forest green.

That was a mistake.
It was really damned green.

Anyway, so last summer I painted the stairway upstairs two different shades of blue (a silvery gray-blue and a slightly darker blue), the combined effect of which was that you felt like you were under the ocean. I loved it, and found it soothing, so I finally decided to bite the bullet and redo the bathroom in those colors.
 Of course, when I had to get a new toilet recently and it was smaller, thereby revealing a patch of the old pepto-pink that the whole house had been painted when I bought it, that kind of pushed me to finally do it. (This is pre-painting and patching.)
You can see the two shades of blue here, although the picture doesn't capture the colors perfectly. Mind you, once we had the lighter blue on two walls, and the darker blue on one wall and the door, I looked at it and said, "DAMN, that's a lot of blue." So I changed gears and did the last short wall, mostly hidden behind a shelf unit, as a nice mellow light brown (since I was going to be using brown accents with the blue in the new color scheme).
 Needless to say, changing the color on the walls meant that my old shower curtains, half the towels, the curtain that usually hangs in front of the messy shelf unit, and the artwork no longer went with the room. So I had to change all that too. (This was actually the fun part--I love decorating, but I rarely change things in my house, since I'm too cheap to get rid of perfectly good stuff just to replace it with other stuff. On the other hand, I've been in the house over 12 years with the same towels and curtains, and I have a ton of artwork sitting around after 14 years at The Artisans' I didn't feel too self-indulgent.)
 The old look.
 The new look.

Here is a close-up on the shower curtains, so you can see the small blue accents that make it work with the walls.

It is surprising how much it cheers me up to have one new pretty room. It's good to start fresh every once in a while. And to celebrate, I even neatened the messy shelves :-). Now I just have to find a new curtain for in front of them, and the room will be set for another 12 years.

Do you like to move things around in your home? And if you could redo one room in your house, which one would it be?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Writing Life: January

I thought I'd do something new this year, which hopefully some of you will find interesting. I love hearing about the writing process with all it entails (I follow the blogs of a number of other authors), so I decided to add monthly updates so y'all could get an idea of what I'm up to, writing biz wise.

Here's what's happening in January. Let's call it "Juggling January"...that should give you an idea of what I'm dealing with!

The thing about being an actively working writer with multiple contracts and deadlines (as opposed to my earlier years where I was doing a book a year for Llewellyn and writing the fiction obsessively, but on my own schedule) is that you are never just working on one book at a time. In my case, I'm not even working with just one publisher.

I spent from December 29th to January 13th (that is to say, LATE last Monday night) madly writing the prequel novella for Berkley. In some ways it was easier than working on a book--it was shorter, for one thing (it came in at just over 19,000 words--the novels tend to be about 110,000) and because it is an intro to the Baba Yaga series, I had already done the world building and character creating. [The novella will take place right before the events in the first book, and should come out about a month before the September release, as an eBook.] But it was also tougher, because I'd never written a novella before, and wasn't quite sure about the pacing, or the amount of story needed for that word count. Also, I was coming off of the holiday rush at the shop, and it was tough to switch gears back to writing.

In the end, I really liked the way Wickedly Magical turned out, and it went off to Leis Pederson, my Berkley editor an hour ago, right on schedule for my January 15th deadline. Whew.

So now I get a break, right? *insert hysterical laughter here* I did take yesterday to work on the bathroom repainting project (more on that in a future blog post).

Today, I got the proofs for my 7th Llewellyn book, The Witch's Broom.
Proofs are the final copy of the manuscript before it goes off to the printer. It is the last chance an author has to catch any mistakes that her editor and the copy editor both missed (and there always are some...the more eyes on a manuscript the better). Usually there is another "final edits" step before this, but my production editor at Llewellyn, the fabulous Becky Zins, said that there were so few issues, she just added them as notes in the proofs.

Because of the way things tend to back up on the desks of overworked and overloaded editors (i.e.--most of them), Becky needs the proofs, with any changes or notes from me, back by January 23rd. Yes, today IS the 15th. Welcome to the wonderful world of publishing. So everything else I was planning to work on now gets pushed back a few days until I can work my way through the manuscript. Hopefully I'll get it done by the end of the day Monday the 20th.

After that, I will be working on the Midsummer book for Llewellyn--this is one in a series of eight books on the sabbats that will all be written by different authors and put out under the Llewellyn name, not ours. It is a small book (35,000 words), but has to contain specific things so they all match. This is what they call a "Work for Hire" project. I get paid a flat fee for doing it, rather than receiving an advance and then royalties like I would with one of my own books. But it should be fun to work on, and I am looking forward to reading the entire series. The appendix is due by the end of the month (since the books will be coming out at different times, Elysia, who is supervising editor on the project, needs to make sure that all the books will coordinate), then the rest of the book will take up February, and probably part of March.

Miscellaneous other writing stuff:
  • I was sent an advance look at the cover for Wickedly Dangerous, the first Baba Yaga novel--it is too early to share it, since they will be tweaking a few things, but I can tell you that it ROCKS.
  • I also had to send Leis some notes on my ideas for the cover of Wickedly Wonderful, the second book, including a description of the protagonist and some other things. (Because the books are coming out back-to-back, September and December, things are going to come fast and furious for both close together.) And an author picture of myself.
  • At Llewellyn, they held the Launch meeting for my current book, which had originally been titled "Wisdom from the Pagan Path," but which Elysia has been calling that Paganwitchykitty book for months, since we knew we were going to have to change it. (Another author came out with a book with a title that was too close.) During the Launch meeting, where they discuss things like final titles, cover ideas, release dates, and such things, the lovely Becky Zins came up with the PERFECT title and subtitle. So this book (which I will be working on revisions for after I finish the Midsummer book) will be called....Everyday Witchcraft: Making Time for Spirit in a Too-Busy World. I love it! What do you think? (This is the one that is a follow-up of sorts to The Goddess is in the Details)
  • Any minute now, the revision notes for the 2nd Baba Yaga book are going to land on my desk too. I'm just hoping they hold off until I can catch up on a few of these other things!
So--that's January in a nutshell.  What's on your "must get done" list? And what do you think of the new title?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Feline Friday: Magic and Mystic are TWELVE!

It is hard to believe it, but this week my "babies" turn twelve. It seems like I just brought them home, all cute and adorable and climbing-the-curtains kitten-sized balls of fluff.

Yes, they WERE that adorable. And now they're twelve. But still pretty darned cute.

Happy birthday, babies.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

New Year, New Altar

It's always a good idea to start the new year out right. I like to have my house reasonably clean, but this year I took that a step further and dismantled, cleaned, and rearranged all three of my altars.

Needless to say, not everyone has three altars (or even one--if you don't have one, this might be a nice time to create one as a spiritual center to your home). But if you have even one, it is a good idea to periodically clear and cleanse it--nobody likes a dusty altar--and check in to see if it is still what you need in its current incarnation.

My main altar, in the dining room/office, gets cleaned pretty often for the most part, since I use it the most. I did, however, find that the top section was dusty and that some of the items that had been living up there no longer seemed right for the space.

In the end, I took almost everything off, changed the picture over the altar and everything sitting on top, and moved some things from my bedroom altar (which used to be my primary one, and now is mostly decorative) to this one. In fact, I also cleared off my "creativity" altar in the living room, switched things around there, and had three clean, shiny-energy, recharged altars to start the new year off right.
 The creativity altar, with items that connect to my current writing project.
The bedroom altar. The wood candle holder above, the star-shaped glass candle holders, and the candles themselves are all handmade by local artisans. The clay god and goddess figures were made by my former high priestess.

It feels really good to clear away the dust and cobwebs of the old year, and start out fresh.

Do you have an altar? If so, what kind of things to you have on it? And have you cleaned it lately?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

New Things for the New Year: Kindles and Cards and Nanos, Oh My

I've started off the new year by getting myself a couple of new pieces of technology that I've been resisting for some time--a Kindle eReader and an iPod Nano. I also have a great new set of Oracle cards, thanks to the lovely Rebecca Elson (who always knows which ones are best, because she reviews them for her fabulous blog The Magical Buffet).

I confess, I'm a bit of a Luddite. I'm not big on gadgets (I still don't know how to text on  my new cheapo cell phone, although in part that's because I can't get reception at my house, so I only use it on rare occasions), although I do have three computers (a desktop and two laptops, one huge old one for editing and the smaller one I'm typing on right now) and a 4 or 5 year old Galaxy tablet (which I got for when I travel, and mostly use to play Words with Friends...).

My old stereo died years ago, and I have mostly been playing music on my computer, since that has the best speakers--Altec Lansing, which I discovered thanks to my father, who is NOT a Luddite--and my portable CD player which is huge, has crappy speakers, and eats D-cell batteries like they were M & M's.

In truth, I don't listen to music a lot in the house, although the car won't move unless there is some kind of tune playing. I blast fun music while cleaning, and I like to have music on outside when I'm gardening, but otherwise, I like the quiet. Still, it was getting frustrating to move to parts of the house where I could barely hear the computer speakers, or drag the portable battery-eater out to the garden. And *any day now* I am going to start going to the gym. So the iPod Nano seemed like a good idea.

Also, my new Honda Fit has a place to plug one in, which seemed like it would be a lot easier than carting tons of CDs around. Ill let you know how it goes, since I'm still figuring out how to download music onto it, and I haven't even tried to play it yet. [See Luddite, above.]

The Kindle came about for two reasons. One, lots of my favorite authors and writer pals are putting out some of their books, novellas especially, only in eBook form, and I was missing out on them. I have a Kindle app on my computer, but I really don't like to read on the computer, since I spend so much time on it anyway, and the laptop is banned from the bedroom. I have downloaded some things onto the tablet, but I never did end up reading them there (among other things, you can only adjust the type to four different sizes, and to change pages you have to swipe the screen with your finger, which eventually aggravates my tendonitis).

The other reason I finally broke down and got the Kindle is because I've been having problems with my eyes for months, which despite all efforts by my wonderful eye doctor (including multiple prescription changes and an attempt with extra reading glasses) has resulted in major eye pain whenever I read or use the computer. [Yeah, I know. That's only about 90% of my day.] I was hoping that being able to adjust the print size would help, and that meant getting some kind of an eReader.

I didn't want to spend a lot of money, since I would still much rather read in paper form, and I wanted something lightweight, for when I was lying in bed. The basic Kindle seemed to fit the bill.

I've only been using it for a week or so, and I have mixed feelings about it. It is definitely pretty easy to use, even for the technologically challenged like me, and I can make the font as large as I want to. But I really don't like the grayish background, which I find difficult to read against at any time, but especially at night in bed. Dammit.

Has anyone else had good experiences with other eReaders they can suggest? I don't particularly want to spend the money on a new tablet, since I only need something to read on.

The last new--thankfully LOW tech--goodie is my Conscious Spirit Oracle Deck, a Yule gift from my pal Rebecca. Written and beautifully illustrated by Kim Dreyer, this deck is one of the coolest ones I've seen. I've been using it as a daily guide of sorts, pulling a card every morning and saying out loud whatever is on it as an affirmation. I also try to be mindful of whatever comes up, as I walk through my day.

For instance, today's card was #24 (Third Eye Chakra), which says: I see the wisdom of my higher self and apply this wisdom to my life. How cool is that? [I liked them so much, I immediately ordered a set as an early birthday present and sent them to my friend Skye.]
I've also been thinking a lot about this blog, and what I want to do with it in the coming year. I've considered making it a bit more personal...obviously, I spend a lot of time talking about writing and magical work, usually in the context of my own life. (And y'all get to hear about fun stuff like rat incursions and kitchen floods.) But I tend to be a fairly private person, so while I often share my life, I don't usually talk much about how I feel, or more personal issues.

And to be honest, I'm not even sure it that is something people would even be interested in reading about. (Seriously--I'm BORING.)

So you tell me: what do YOU want to read about here in the coming year? What are your favorite bits? what do you want more of, or less of? After all, I really write this for you, my readers.

Oh, and before I forget! The new Llewellyn book, The Witch's Broom is ON SALE now, and available for preorder. Once it comes out, it will be $15.99, but Amazon has it priced at $11.99, in case you want to get your copy ordered now. *happy author dance*