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One of our ‘rules’ is that getting to a foreign country is so expensive that we want to stay there as long as possible.  Another rule is that we each pack only a piece of luggage small enough to carry on, and a personal bag. Yet another rule is that we do our best to dress like locals. This means we have to get creative about what — and how — we pack.

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It took almost 18 months, but I finally broke my write-a-blog-post-every-week streak. Ah well, guess I’m not perfect.*

To be fair, breaking the streak meant traveling to Paris, San Francisco, and then Georgia within a month, along with some personal things that I’m not ready to share here (yet), so it wasn’t anything small that broke the mold.

So, here I am, catching up a bit.

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It doesn’t always work out this way, but in a little bit I’ll be spending a week in Paris with my sister and the plane and lodging will cost me less than $300.

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(To be revisited in six months, around my birthday.)

Health:

Peri-menopause is proving to be more difficult than I expected, although why I thought it would be another else, I’m not sure. Having spent two years attempting to get in better shape I find myself at the same place, nearly, that I was post-chemo. This (literally) depressing. (A mental state I wrestle with far too often to be healthy.)

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Several years ago, J. gave me a lovely new camera — a real one, one that adults might use – as a gift. It’s a bit intimidating, because while I love to take photographs, and I am proud of the work I do, this is a camera that requires a bit of effort to master.

I haven’t really,

But I have picked up a few tricks and I think you’ll see that in the next book I gave him for the holidays — one that documented our honeymoon.

This link will open a PDF of the book. (The .pdf is nearly 30mb, so it may take awhile.)

One of the main holiday gifts I gave my husband, J. last year was a couple of books through a company called Blurb. The first was from one from our trip to London back in 2007. What I learned more than anything? I needed a better camera (see an upcoming post). But I had a lot of fun culling through the 1000+ pictures we took (yay for digital pictures) and choosing the ones that meant something special to us, as well as being particularly interesting.

I thought you might enjoy it as well.

This link — London 2007 — will open a pdf of the book.

It was our 10-year anniversary (of making ‘googly eyes, as J. likes to say) and we decided to visit Ashland. Always a favorite, and also the first vacation we took together all those years ago. (more…)

Charles Jencks (creator of the awesome Garden of Cosmic Speculation) has created a 1300 foot long reclining woman out of an surface mine. She is called “Northumberlandia.”

Northumberlandia was formed, amid some controversy, as a lasting legacy in recompense for the disruption caused by coal extraction on such a grand scale, as the mine is the largest of its kind in England.

I think she’s beautiful!

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/9506204/Northumberlandia-giant-naked-goddess-carved-into-hillside.html

I’ve seen it written that ‘all wells in Ireland are sacred to Brigid’; but I think it would be more accurate to say that all wells are sacred to the Goddess. Some, however, are indeed sacred to Brigid, a fascinating example of co-opted Goddess-made-into-a-saint. She is, along with Patrick and Colmba, a patron saint of Ireland and a much-loved object of veneration to this day. Her feast day is the 1st of February, called Imbolc in Irish and marks the beginning of the season of lambing, spring, and lactation.

Located next to the Irish National Stud, just a short walk outside of the town of Kildare, the area surrounding the well has been turned into a small park, perfect for contemplation, no matter what your religion.

Leading up to the well is a series of five small standing stones. Each one, according to local tradition, represents one of Brigid’s virtues: meditation, hospitality, charity, peacemaking, and reverence for nature. The rite is to stop at each stone in turn and dwell on an aspect or quality of Brigid and then say a prayer in between each one.

  • Stone #1: “A Naomh Bríd Gui Orainn” which means “St. Brigid pray for us.” Brigid is viewed as “the Earth Woman”. “Brigid of the land”. “Brigid of the seasons”. “Anois teacht an Earraidh, beidh an la ag dul chun sineadh, is tar eis na Feile Bríde, ardoidh mé mo sheoil.” “Now it’s springtime, the days are getting longer and after St. Brigid’s Day I can hoist my sails again.”
  • Stone #2: Reflection of Brigid as “Peacemaker”, Brigid who crossed all divides. Daughter of a wealthy Pagan Chieftain and a poor Christian bondswoman. The legend where one day a poor man came to Brigid looking for food for his family but there was no food in the house so she gave him her father’s precious sword and said “Go and exchange it for food for your family”. She changed an instrument of death into an instrument for life. “A Naomh Bríd Gui Orainn”.
  • Stone #3: Brigid as “Hearth Woman”. She who keeps the fire lit. She gave a home to all. “A Naomh Bríd Gui Orainn”.
  • Stone #4: Brigid as “Healer”. Many come and tie a piece of cloth on the tree here asking for Brigid’s curative powers to be left on the cloth. “A Naomh Bríd Gui Orainn”.
  • Stone #5: Brigid as “Champion of the Poor” or Brigid “Woman of contemplation”. There is a 32 chapter book written about St. Brigid by the monk Cogitosis. 23 of these chaptes are about Brigid’s love for the poor, the sick, and the lonely. There is a legend where a friend of Brigid’s came to her with a beautiful basket of prime apples. Brigid took the apples to the sick and poor around her to which her friend said “But Brigid, those apples are for you.” Brigid replied, “Well what’s mine is theirs.”

Then one approaches the well. The well is surrounded by a short round wall. This is believed to represent the wall of the womb. Then the well is circled three times “deosil” or “clockwise” to a prayer “Circle us O Lord. Keep protection near and danger afar. Circle us, keep love within our hearts and hatred out. Circle us keeping hope within and doubt out. Circle us O Lord keep peace within and evil out.” It is custom then to leave something at the well. Circling the well clockwise symbolizing unity within ourselves, within one another, and the whole of creation. “A Naomh Bríd Gui Orainn”.

The well flows into a stream which, combined with the sound of the wind in the trees, makes for a delightfully meditative experience. At the head of the stream, a small stone arch has been built, above a pair of concrete “shoes” through which the water flows in two streams. Next to it is a clootie (prayer) tree, where supplicants offer coins and strips of cloth, tied to the tree as “time-capsule” prayers. The entire site has a feeling of deep holiness that transcends the religious differences of Pagan and Christian; this is a site of universal peace and love.

An inscription on the side of the well reads: “St. Brigid, Mary of the Gael, pray for us.” The site is still where an annual celebration occurs (on Jan 31st), with fire-lighting and chanting, and prayerful contemplation. It is customary to gather water from her well because it is reputed to have strong healing properties.

The day was lovely, the place deeply relaxing and energizing at the same time. A truly special experience.

To see our pics: http://www.flickr.com/photos/80042837@N02/sets/72157630021301237/

Imagine this:

It is five thousand years ago, the wheel isn’t invented, the Great Pryamid at Giza hasn’t been built yet, nor Stonehenge. Your people have come across a lovely valley next to a river on the eastern side of the island we know call Ireland. The valley is ideal and you choose to settle here, farming the land and building the wood and hide structures you call home.

The sun is vital to your daily life, and is accorded the highest respect and worship. Its rhythm dictates yours each and every day. During the long summer months you work long days, during the short days of winter you and your tribe tell stories, make plans, and keep death at bay.  You spend several years watching the stars and measuring the sun’s progress, making sure you understand the path of the sun.

The day comes, and the tribe gathers. You will build a monument, a ceremonial structure to honor the Lifesource. The tribe talks about what it will look like, where it will be placed, how long it will take to build. In the end they agree, and commit themselves, their children, and their children’s children to the 30 year endeavor.

And lo! Newgrange was built.

When it was done, it could be seen from miles away, a gleaming edifice crowned in green. Its presence dominated the landscape a monument to the ingenuity of humans who brought stone from 20 km away, likely brought by sea, and then floated up the River Boyne. The last km had them rolled up hill on logs. The stones used to cover the mound (cairn stones) came from rock quarried near the river.

(See our pictures at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/80042837@N02/sets/72157630018620173/with/7354889112/)

The mound is 85 meters in diameter, and 13.5 meters high  — about an acre in size. It is — literally — tons of rock, carefully built and constructed entirely without mortar. Engineering and gravity hold this structure together — all the more amazing because the interior has remained perfectly dry for 1000s of years (something that can NOT be said about modern structures). The builders were so clear about what they were doing, the external rocks have grooves carved into them, so that any water that seeps through the mound will run off before getting into the interior.

The rocks in front are carved with spirals and waves. Inside, a leaf is carved into one wall, and there are more spirals set into the roof.

Place yourself here:

It is dark outside, the skies clear and the air very cold. It is a holy day, the Winter Solstice, and your tribe has gathered to witness the miracle. Inside, you carefully walk through the 19 meters of the stone passage, with only a candle flickering dimly ahead to guide you. The inner chamber is very dark and quiet, quickly warming.

The priestess calls the sacred words aloud and blows out the candle. All is in darkness, warm and pressing in around you. Eyes closed or open, it matters not, you are blind.

Is it a trick? No! A beam of light, faint and dim, has fallen on the floor. As you watch it grows in strength and the inner chamber walls begin to glow with red-tinged light. Io! Io! The sun has returned!

To see this event, you must win the lottery for one of the tickets available for the four days a year around the winter solstice. However, electric lights have been installed that mimic the event for tourists.

As we stood in the tomb, surrounded by tons of rock, looking at the magnificence of the structure I felt a sense of awe and connection come over me: my ancestors stood here, a long time ago. Then the lights went out, and I could feel them all around me, breathing; not jostling for room, but standing quietly, waiting. The light crawled across the rock floor and emotion flooded through me: joy and wonder. Tears fractured the light into a million rainbows in my eyes.

Io! Io! The sun has returned!

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