Eastern Associations and the Lunar New Year

Welcome to the Year of the Fire Monkey!

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I think this season has taught me the most about some of the major differences in thinking when it comes to superstitions between east and west. Singapore is extremely superstitious (and my friend who grew up in Bangkok says they are there too so maybe all of SE Asia is….).

I was thinking a lot about the superstitions I grew up with. Knocking on wood is one of the big ones in my life usually following saying something like “I have never broken a bone” with the added joke of knocking on your own head if there isn’t real wood around. Bad luck being associated with black cats, walking under ladders, breaking mirrors. Good luck being associated with rabbits foot, and four leaf clovers… I feel like if you are not familiar with these some of them take some long explanations.

Here, things seem more straightforward. A lot of associations are based on homophones or words that sound the same but had different meanings. Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese are both tonal languages so words can be spelled the same but said with different tones changing the meanings. So for example raw fish is YU (said with an upward tone) in mandarin and this is a homophone for abundance and affluence. Actually after some digging, it is when you say “raw fish” that it sounds like “increased abundance”. So fish is associated with wealth and abundance. This logic is everywhere!

Similarly, my husband has been sick this last week with a nasty cough. One of the cleaning aunties at school told him not to eat chicken. Now being from the west the logic would be to have chicken noodle soup. So he asked why not eat chicken? She explained that when you cough you sound like a chicken so, don’t eat chicken when you have a cough.

Food is huge in Singapore, and my grocery store had a handy chart on foods and traditions for the lunar New Year. So the following is from a sign in the Cold Storage I took a photo of:

Visiting Family – This is huge! There is generally a big reunion dinner. In lots of families this is the single most important meal of the year. It reminds me of Thanksgiving but even a bigger deal. My in-laws just came back from a trip and sat next to someone who flew to Hong Kong for something and then turned around and came back the next day because she had to be home for New Year’s dinner. That big a deal. It is the largest travel weekend in China. Think Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled into one. This is it. This is when you go home. I have a friend visiting from the states for this reason. Many of the dishes eaten at this meal have special meaning too. Fish is eaten, and prawns, and in Singapore there is a special salad that is tossed.

Prawns – in Cantonese prawn is “ha” which sounds like laughter, and shellfish in general symbolizes strength, positive energy and good fortune. Prawns as also known as the dragons of the sea and represent strong marriage and family bonds.

Meat Dumplings – in northern china jiaozi are eaten and shaped like gold ingots and symbolize good fortune and wealth.

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Rice Cakes – Sticky rice cake or “nian gao” is eaten and in mandarin nian means year and gao is cake and sounds like tall or high. This represents a child’s wish to grow taller each year. Also filling up the rice bucket is supposed to symbolize the increase of prosperity, fertility luck and wealth.

Spring Cleaning – the word for dust is pronounced “chen” which is the same as another word that means “old” so cleaning the house signifies getting over the past and looking forward to a new start.

New Clothes – it is traditional to wear new clothes for the spring festival and also seen as respectful as the younger generation has to look respectable for the elders.

Wearing Bright Colors – Red. Everything is red! Wearing red is seen as auspicious and people avoid wearing black.

Putting up the character “fu” – Fu means good fortune and happiness so a decorative usually paper cut out of the character is placed in a prominent place in the home. Some families turn it upside down since upside down in mandarin is “dao” which sounds like the word for too arrive so it means a wish for good fortune and happiness to arrive in the household.

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“Fu” in the center is upside down

Hong Bao – are red packets. The custom is for the elders to give these to the younger generation with money and usually in even and lucky numbers (6 and 8 are favored) I have also heard that crisp two dollar bills are preferred in Singapore.

Mandarin Oranges – this one had me stumped but now I know! It is customary to give a pair of oranges (and man did I see a lot of people on public transit today with little bags with two oranges) to relatives. This signifies good luck. The word for mandarin oranges is “ju” which is similar to “ji” which means auspicious. Some believe the larger the oranges the better the luck. The reasoning behind giving them in pairs has to do with the phase “good things come in pairs”. They are everywhere this time of year! I’m not complaining, I love them, but they are also a traditional gift to a hostess. I was instructed to bring two when I go visit my friend’s house tomorrow.

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Yu Sheng – The special salad in Singapore where each ingredient has auspicious meaning and they are paused to the center and thrown in the air.

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Abalone – This one I am glad I finally know. There are abalone ads EVERYWHERE!!! And I mean everywhere and it was starting to drive me crazy. It has a parallel meaning of assurance of a surplus in the year ahead.

Sweets and Chocolates – Candies and chocolates and sweets oh my! They mean safety and good fortune so pass the love letter cookies, those awesome cashew shortbread things and the pineapple tarts!

 

Scallops – These for some reason symbolize more “sons” or offspring” generation after generation, an interesting association given the articles I have been reading about the missing women in China…

Leeks – besides this word getting a certain Finnish Folk-song stuck in my heard… leeks symbolize the ushering in of wealth in the coming year.

Fresh bamboo and Pussy Willow – these both symbolize the growth of fortune and prosperity.

I’ll pick my friends brain tomorrow and see if I can come up with anything else!

Gong Xi Fa Cai and Xīnnián kuàilè

Photo from the Lion Dance I saw on New Years!
Photo from the Lion Dance I saw on New Years!
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Work/Life/Path balance!?

Like the title says…. work/life can be hard…. work/life/path can feel impossible some days.

Some times it can be hard to see how to fit everything in, plan for a holiday when you won’t have the day off, or celebrate a moon when you just want to pass out. I think I can say we have all been there, looking longingly at the stack of reading we want to devote real time to, and then back at all the chores, like that pile of dishes and laundry. Sometimes I want to quit and run away to the woods. But I do love my job, so that isn’t going to happen. I think transitions are especially hard on spiritual studies. When you move, you have a new space to get used to, new local spirits to get to know, and if it is long distance, a new change of the seasons to adjust to. When you change jobs you have a new routine to get used to. A wise person told me to give myself 6 months to really adjust to my move since it was a big one. I’m half way through, still trying to figure it out.

And with that, I’m off again!

Take care!

 

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short reflections after the holidays

What a wonderful solstice/yule/Christmas I had! I hope you did too! I had a few random small thoughts and things to share so this post is going to cover a few topics.

Solstice:

I got curious since I now live at only 1 degree north what the actual difference was in daylight between the summer and winter solstice is where I live. This year the answer is 8 minutes and 40 seconds. That is it. This got me thinking about solar calendars and lunar calendars. That 8 minutes difference is really hard to notice. I would makes sense therefore to measure the passing of time by the moon, since that is something you can track and actually notice. This was a total “ah ha” moment for me. I have tended to live in places where the solstices and equinoxes were a big deal because, well, they were noticeable. You can tell the days are longer or shorter. Here, not so much. It makes sense that a lunar calendar would dominate here.

Walk Your Talk:

I started a new tradition a few years ago. I love gifting to people, but it can be hard to come up with an excellent heartfelt gift every year. So every other year I have decided to donate in the name of my family to charities. It can be overwhelming all the work that needs to be done. There are so many causes, so much work that needs to be done. You can’t do it all so don’t try. Pick something. Last time I donated I picked helping people, this time helping endangered species. As most of you know while I was in Hawaii I was involved with a volunteer organization helping one small reef. This won’t save the world’s coral reefs but it made a difference to that one. If we all just figured out what it was we could do, how much money and time, and picked a cause, we could make a huge difference. So now that I am in a new place where the effects of deforestation for palm oil production are huge and right in your face, I am very focused on being an education consumer. That’s what I mean, you can be overwhelmed easily trying to focus on everything that needs to be done. Pick something. Have that be your cause. And then if you have room in your life for another one, add one more. But don’t feel like you need to champion every cause. Burnout happens.

Trees:

Earlier this month I did some field work in Singapore. We had extra room on the boat so my boss invited along another professor, some students and my husband also came. While I was working on the stations, Everyone was enjoying the area. The other professor we brought with us is in forestry and he was having so much fun checking out this area that is normally closed. My husband should have a naturalist. They were geeking out over insects and he was asking about different plants. I loved having them along! When we got back the prof. looked up on of the trees we had seen and discovered that it is actually critically endangered in Singapore. It is a relative of the jack-fruit and breadfruit. He contacted his colleague who is an expert in cultivation of native plants. We passed along the GPS coordinates and she went out a few weeks ago and collected several seedlings that will hopefully help in reestablishing the species on the island! I am so happy I was able to help! In a year or so when the seedlings are ready for planting we are arranging to have one planted on our campus.

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Earth

I guess sometimes it is the contracts that helps us see. The light that shows us the dark, and the hot that helps us feel the cold. The feel of the element earth is so different here. I Hawaii everything is all raw and young and speaks of the Hadean, rocks and raw power. Here the rocks are older, formed with a different history and being on the equator the plants and animals rule here. There is very little seasonal variation and the days and nights are basically equal all year. The environment has a timeless patient feel to it unlike the unruly Hawaiian islands.

It took time to sink into this new environment. I felt the change right away but more the difference than really feeling what is here. I am starting to feel the earth under me again though. I tried at first by finding the “local” vegetation area in the botanical garden near my condo. that got me closer but not there. Going into the unmanicured juggle certainly helped!IMG_0057

Rainforest path in the garden

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I jumped off a boat there and went up a not-trail and took this photo waiting for the boat to come back.

I have also been making an effort to learn about the different cultures that contribute to the mix here. Slowly I am starting to connect with my new home. I still don’t have that deep root here but things take time.

I was talking about this with my OBOD mentor and he brought up the celtic idea that the god and goddess are the same but different in different locations and are shaped by the landscape. Maybe that is why I tend to be drawn to the local indigenous cultures of wherever I live. They reflect the local landscape. While this area has a deep rich and long history, Singapore itself is very young. Here there are strict lines between groups defined by both race and religion each shaped by being brought here. The Malay are the indigenous peoples here, and they are almost all Muslim.

I have been thinking about my home altar recently. Because there is such a presence of plants here, I have decided to combine it with my indoor garden. I will burn joss sticks (incense that isn’t very smelly since it is the smoke that takes the prayers), and will keep it full of bits and bobbles I pick up on my travels in the region.  This transition has been rough but slowly I am getting my feet under me. Again it took the contrast to really see what a toll my unhappiness in my job was having on me. I can see it now though looking at things as simply as, the shit job I did on a bookbinding, the photos I took, and the photos I didn’t take, and the things I didn’t write. So even though this move was a shock to my system, I think it is a good shock. I hope to travel extensively in SE Asia while I am here and am enjoying the learning process.

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A New Home to Connect to

Hi! I’ve been quiet for a while, but that is because I moved! Not just any move, I left the country and am now expat-ing it up in someplace I actually did a podcast from back in my podcast days. Yes I am in… Singapore!

It was very hard to leave Hawaii. Part of what made it heart-breaking-ly difficult was that I couldn’t take any of my animals with me. My cats each went to different new homes and my heart broke twice. They went on separate days. And my chickens… The girls stayed on the farm for the new farm caretakers but my main man, my big sweet boy, my rooster to rival any pet… well… Black Dynamite was a sweet boy who wanted nothing more than to take care of his ladies. Even when they started hen pecking him, and he couldn’t really walk. We were trying to let him go on his own, and made him comfortable in his own little space away from the big hens (who he kept trying to get to come hang out with him….). He was still kicking right before we left so, we called his vet. My bird vet is the best! When I called her after the dog attack took me from 9 chickens to Black Dynamite she didn’t hesitate to treat him like the pet he is. So she came over (house calls too! This lady rocks!) and didn’t say anything about the tears running down my face as we eased his passing. I held his foot and stroked his feathers and said good bye to the best most amazing chicken and bird. My heart broke again.

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Everything about this move ended up being harder than it should have been. Even as we were flying out we had problems getting our bags to transfer flights. But, as soon as we were away from Hawaii all that changed and it has been much more smooth since we landed. I’ll put that down to the ‘aina wanting to keep us.

Speaking of land, that is what I actually wanted to write about. I had started a series about my three layers thinking on connecting to a place. I said it would be interesting to test it in a new place. Boy was I right! In Hawaii I felt like I could really feel the land, get my toes in deep and really feel all three layers and just plug right in. Here? I feel like I am not even penetrating the surface. I am not plugged in yet. But I am getting there. People layer wise it is a very interesting place. Singapore as a city really didn’t exist before the British. I saw something in a museum about how there is evidence that maybe there was a trading city here in ancient times, but when the city of Singapore was founded this spot of the earth just had some small Malay villages. That very early history I want to look more into, but I kind of like to start at the present (what I can see) and work backwards (and looks for the past popping up). Singapore was founded in 1819. It was a British colony, began self-governance in 1959, gained independence in 1963, joined Malaysia in ’63 and was kicked out in ’65. Since 1965 Singapore has been independent and a city-state. It feels like a headlong race into the future with one foot in the past in older traditions.

The makeup of Singapore is pretty solidly ethnically Chinese at around 75%, with around %13 Malay and 9% Indian and about 3% everything else (including the expat community). The most common languages are English (Singligh an English creole), Mandarin (and other Chinese dialects), Malay and Tamil. I am still getting used to all the accents and the Singlish. I find it fascinating to watch the code switching as a cashier will seamlessly change from one language to another depending on who is in front of them. Added to this mix of ethnicities and language is an array of religions. There is a large representation of Chinese Buddhism, Hinduism, and almost all the Malays are Muslim. This leads to an amazing array of fashion. I am totally fascinated by the ways the Malay style their headscarves. Also the Indian women are always so colorful with the saris and other traditional Indian dress. The fabrics are just unreal. Christianity is also present in a decent percent along with Taoism. But these don’t tend to have so much a visual impact. There is also a decent percent of the population reports as no religion (third largest group).

Needless to say getting connected to the human layer of this city is a pretty huge task. But I am enjoying it. Today I was downtown and I heard a call to prayer from the largest mosque. I have never been near a mosque during the call to prayer! What a cool experience! Also there are small shrines everywhere! I notice a new one on my commute every day. I am interested to see how this mix of religions impacts the secular culture of the city. I will be sure to share photos too.

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I hope you enjoyed this wander through my exploration of the human layer of my new home. Now that I am starting to get a handle on the present I am going to start walking backwards through time, and seeing where the past peaks out into daily life. Also while I am focusing a lot on the human layer, I have also been exploring the flora and fauna and geologic as well, just not as in-depth yet. We can talk about that more another time.

Peace Love and Rocks!

~ Kat

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Rummikub tiles in a Cemetery!?

I am a curious person, I like to explore, and I like cemeteries. So when my friend was visiting last weekend we went and explored one of cemeteries near where I live. I actually hadn’t been in this one yet so it was an adventure for both of us! This one happens to be a Chinese cemetery in the endless stream of Japanese cemeteries. The gate is large and impressive, and access is down a small trail between two other properties.

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At first glace the cemetery had the familiar sites of formal headstones, and piles of stones. However, after a few minutes of poking around we discovered that on several of the headstones there were Rummikib pieces cemented number side in.  A few of the tiles had fallen off and when we flipped them over we both recognized the game pieces. They were not on very grave, but some had more than one.

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I have absolutely no idea why there are game pieces cemented number side in on some of the graves, but I am determined to find out. This weekend I plan on asking the owner of the store/museum next door to the cemetery to see if the owner knows anything.

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On the way out we also stumbled upon this grave compound. Turned into an excellent weekend adventure complete with a mystery that needs solving!

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This self improvement work is like camping…

Photo by me!
Photo by me!

Self Improvement. This is something I have always done in my own way. Now that I am working through a defined process though, I am going about it from a different angle*. This work is intense. I have really been trying to come to grips with how much fear has ruled my life, and in that my actions. Fear is the reason I have a pen name. But why? What am I really afraid of? That is a hard question.

Early in life, in as they say my “formative years” there was a real tangible almost daily threat to my safety. While I could talk endlessly about nothing of consequence, this was a topic I hated talking about with my parents, and only once even attempted with my peers at the time. I internalized that fear, and self blame pretty deep. The phrase du jour is “triggered” to describe how I would react to some things like seeing my name and contact information on a website even in college and grad school. I have a deep seeded need to be hard to find. Does that still apply in my life? That depends on what I think the threat still is. Is my life in danger anymore? I guess not. But that experience has informed how I push out things in my life. Hurt? Out you go. Make me feel like shit about myself? Out you go. It has been interesting to think on how much danger there really still is. Then there is a shooting and I flip out all over again. Distance helps. Might be why I am so excited to put more miles between myself and my home town. I don’t know what if any threat there still is to me. That is the truth. But untangling the knots of fear from deep in my soul is hard, and I think will be a loooong journey.

So I don’t like to be easily found, but as a professional I have to be google-able. Hence my next layer of fear. Ok you found a reference about me online, I don’t want you to be able to learn anything about me as a person. Seems like a strange feeling for someone who has a blog and did a podcast. But it is there. With that small amount of space, a different name I feel so much more comfortable. So the pen name? I’ll keep it. If I think about it from a professional sense, I don’t want to be googled and have my art pop up, I want my research to pop up. Maybe it is time to make one big art and spirituality umbrella and put everything under it. Who do I want to share this part of me with? Like minded people who I would love to sit down in coffee shop with and talk about art and spirituality. This isn’t even all my friends. That is a hard realization, that there is a part of me I am uncomfortable talking about with people I consider friends. But that is ok right? I can have art friends and science friends, and sometimes people fall in both and sometimes not.

These issues have bubbled up in the past, and while coming at them from a different angle has helped me get out of the mud on dealing with them this last one is new. I don’t know why meditating on parts of my life that need improving ended with a vision of being handed a fancy silver hand mirror, but it did. Along with the realization that I have spent a lot of time working on what is inside, and with that comes a hesitation to look in that mirror. I am not afraid of what is lurking below my surface, we are well acquainted. The same cannot be said for what is on the surface. This is even hard to express in words, while the other topics were so easy, and words just flowed out of my fingers into the keys. Do you know what I look like? Some of you do. A lot of times when I see myself in photos it comes as a shock. I just don’t spend any time thinking about how I look. I tell myself it is not important but, that is lie. When you meet someone before you can even say something they take in your appearance. I did costume design for goodness sakes! You can tell the story of a character with their costume. Do I put any effort in at all? No!

Why am I so reluctant to share my face? Seriously! My husband has been enjoying photography and I encourage him to always find new models because I am uncomfortable in front of the camera, and even more uncomfortable going through the photos with him after. This has to change! He can tell me I am beautiful every damn day (like he does) and I won’t feel like it’s true until I put some effort into making it feel true. This is not something I was expecting. Something that came out of nowhere, but was always there.

My mind and I have a good relationship, my body and I don’t. I always feel like a being shoved into a suit that doesn’t quite fit. Maybe that is because with all that was going on in my formative years I never took to the time to step outside of my mind and truly into my body. I have been known to get lost in my thoughts while walking and stumble, but I rarely get lost in my body and find that I have no thoughts. This is going to be an interesting journey that is for damn sure. Time to start looking outwards instead of inwards.

*OBOD Bardic Grade correspondence course.

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Introduction: a sense of place

I am moving. Paperwork isn’t set in stone so I am trying not to jinx it, but no matter what we are headed for new scenery by the end of the year (we hope). I thought this would be a good time to distill my ideas about connecting to a place and with nature and the environment down into written form so I can do what science has trained me to do: test the ideas. So, I am going to start here with a short outline of these ideas, and then explore them with stories from previous leaps into the unknown. Then I can revisit each one with my new experiences when I get where I am going. When I connect to a new place there are three steps and three layers that need to be examined, explored, and understood.

The first layer is the human layer. This is the most obvious and where we as an individual fit in. This includes human history, culture, and our impact and expression in the environment. There are historical cultures of a place, and the modern culture. There is also the history of human habitation in the area, and the type of settlement that exists there now. Modern history, and ancient history. All this has an influence on the human expression of a place at any point in time, and I think is very important in understanding the current culture of a place.

The second layer is the flora and fauna of the area. This includes the current “invasives” as well as the native and endemic species. There is a natural history of each place, and a history of introduction of different species. The history of the changing balance of different species in an area can have a huge impact on its current state.

The third layer to be explored is the geologic and environmental layer. What is the climate type, geologic setting, and local hazards? The world isn’t frozen, everything changes and moves. This layer can pop up in unexpected ways in the other layers. The layout of streets might be influenced by an old stream channel, or area that was a swamp.

When you combine knowledge of these three layers you start to see how they all connect and feed into each other. That is when you start to really know a place. When I come to a new place I approach it with an insane amount of questions. And of course with each answered question comes 10 more. The best thing you can do to feel more connected to where you are is be curious about it, but always remember you can never know it all, there is always more to explore!

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This is permission to be yourself!

Not everyone follows the same path, but it always feels like there is a set of assumptions we all make about fellow pagans, and ourselves if we choose to use that label. Which is stupid. We are all individuals with our own strengths and weaknesses. It have been in a low spot lately… (stress will do that) and I was feeling a little low about the state of my path. It happens. I fell into the thinking traps that I think we all do. There was lots of negativity towards somethings just not clicking for me. The same thing applies to my writing. I have never been a writer and I don’t pretend to be now. But, even though I know that and I KNOW it is ok to just get it out there and blog, I haven’t writing, I’ve been deleting things before I hit post.

I snapped out of it. And I am here to say be your own fucking witch or pagan or whatever the hell you want to call yourself. What do witches do? We used to steal milk apparently. Wouldn’t it be silly if we all started judging each other on how much milk we stole? Or being harsh on ourselves if we hadn’t stolen milk yet this month? Thank you to New World Witchery for pointing this out to me. “What Witches Do” changes with the times. I personally haven’t cursed a cow, and that is another thing witches are supposed to do. Listening to that episode of New World Witchery pointed out how silly it is to have a literal checklist that never changes of things you have to do to be considered a witch. Some goes with being considered pagan.

I still wasn’t out of my self doubt, and it took another thunk on the head to finally clear the cobwebs of doubt out. This came in the form of Chris Orapello’s interview with Sarah Lawless on his podcast Down at the Cross Roads. These two man, so freaking smart, and clever, and just sharp! Chris is an excellent interviewer and really pokes at the core of our community, and Sarah is just about as badass and amaze-balls as witches come. Chris and Sarah talked about a lot of things, but one of them was on being a witch, what it means and what it doesn’t mean.

Both the episode of New World Witchery and Down At the Crossroads had this message of do your own thing. Witches, healers, and seers used to be specialized. Both made that point, and that now there is this perception that we have to do it all. Fuck it. Do your own thing. Find what you are good at. I think this is a message we can all use loud and clear in our practices.

Try anything you want to, and find what you love and what you are good at. If it’s not your thing that is ok.

This is permission to be your own seeker. Future self I am talking to you too. Try that new thing and just can’t see what everyone is raving about? Maybe it just isn’t for you and that is A-OK.

I am going to go outside and be that witch that talks to chickens, and you should listen to those episodes…. or not. do whatever.

Down at the Crossroads

New World Witchery

 

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Goodbye Podcasting! Hello new adventure!

As I wrote in March, I have decided to say goodbye to Podcasting. But enough about that! I am on a new adventure already!

OBOD-Logo2So here is my big announcement. I have been quiet lately because I joined OBOD. I started my Bardic grade work and have been focusing  on that work in my free time.  I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to write on the blog at all about this change mostly because… I really need to do work for me, and only me. I love sharing my knowledge and experiences but, I was feeling a little thin. This isn’t only because of the blog and podcast, I also do quite a bit of volunteering where I live as well.  I need to refocus inward. I won’t be sharing my personal journey but there are also other things going on!

For example: Today I want to share a project I did this weekend.

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I was looking at my pile of lessons for OBOD, and out of no where the though:  “those look like leaves of a book waiting to be bound” popped into my head.  So I did some googling. I honestly can’t remember when the last time I did any book making was, but it is something my Mom really loves so I have been around it for a long time.  I didn’t take photos of the process but here is what I did:

1) measured 2 inches in from the top and bottom of each booklet, and then one inch in from that. punch a hole with a needle at these marks for each booklet.

2) stitch the booklets together (I used fishing line)

3) cut out the cover from cardboard and cover with fabric

4) glue the ribbons and some fabric onto the back of the booklets

5) glue the fabric that was glued to the booklets to the inside of the cover, and then cover with a piece of paper.

Here are some links I was looking at while I made it:

I mostly followed this

I got a few tips from here

I used this type of stitching

It just feels amazing to hold a book that I made. Even though its not the best job, and it won’t take much wear and tear, I did it. I also like that I went with something simple. My Mom loves the fancy stitching, and folds, and different papers. Honestly it wasn’t that hard, and I think next time I will just make sure I have the right glue for the job.

Hope this finds you all well!

Before I go I want to leave you with a little bit of cute!

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One of my hens is fostering some chicks that were orphaned.

Take Care,

Kathleen

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