Green Cleaning for Dummies - Week 2: The Laundry Beast

**Green Cleaning for Dummies is an 8 week program
Week 2:  The Laundry-Beast

The Dynamic Duo Meets Sodium Per-carbonate  (Hydrogen Peroxide) and Washing Soda (Sodium Carbonate/Soda Ash)

Step 1:   Purchase a new jug of white vinegar and baking soda specifically for your laundry room.    

Step 2:   Make a new friend known as Sodium Percarbonate which is simply a dry form of hydrogen peroxide (its washing soda mixed with hydrogen peroxide to make it stable in dry form).    Ecover's non cholorine bleach is a common source, but you can find similar hydroden products in hardware and pool stores.    It's the same stuff that is likely in your medicine cabinet in a brown bottle just in dry form.

Step 3:   While it isn't strictly necessary, you can take this week to make a new friend
known as WASHING SODA (washing soda is sodium carbonate/soda ash -- essentially baking soda that has had all of the water removed so it is stronger--you can even make the stuff but that's for another thread).    If you can't find it or Ecover don't fret, OxyClean or similar will make due.     

A lot of people don't realize that there is no magic to OxyClean -- it is simply hydrogen peroxide and washing soda mixed together.  The problem is that you are never sure what other "fillers" they put in there.  So if you can get them separate you'll have better control.    

Note:  This week was going to be an introduction to borax (see Borax note below).    You don't have to use it at all!  But if you are going to, I think you should at least know how to use it responsibly.    Hydrogen peroxide is a much safer and effective choice.

Step 3:  If you are so inclined get a downey ball (trust me...who said we had to put gross chemical downey in it?).    If you already have one or your washer has a place for "fabric softner"  great!   

Step 4:  Designate a measuring pitcher style measuring cup and/or regular measuring cups just for the laundry.   Kind and number doesn't matter.  I just eyeball it and make due ; but other people are fussier and particular about wet and dry.


Use the Triple Threat to manage your laundry!

To clean the residue grunge and deposits out of your washing machine:

Set your washer to "heavy/soiled".  Fill your washer with hot water and add 3 cups of vinegar and 1 cup of baking soda.   Let it run through its cycle but stop it after its spin and drain.    Get a rag and wipe down the drum.    Follow with a cold water rinse on the "heave/solid" setting.

Baking Soda!  Boosting the power of your detergent:

Add 1/2 cup of baking soda to the wash cycle.
If the clothes/towels are especially odoriferous and 1/2 cup to the rinse cycle.

Washing Soda!  Boosting the power of your detergent with a kick:

Instead of baking soda add 2 Tbsp to the wash cycle.   Works spectacularly well for cloth diapers!

Sodium Per-carbonate!  The whitening and stain removing power of color safe oxygen.

Add 1 to 2 tablespoons to the wash cycle.   Works great on cloth diapers!   Use together with washing soda or alone.

Vinegar! Whiten Whites, Brighten Colors, Freshen, Reduce Static Cling, and Soften

To Freshen, Soften, Brighten Colors, and Whiten Whites:  Pour vinegar into the downey ball and toss in with the wash.  The vinegar will release during the rinse cycle  and will make those bold colors stick just like it does for Easter eggs, will reduce odor, and will brighten the whites and soften the laundry by removing the gunk that turns whites yellow and makes fabric stiff.

For Sweat Stains and Ring around the Collar:  spray stains with straight vinegar before washing.     Use on cloth diapers that DO NOT have elastic (prefolds, flats, contours, natural fiber inserts and similar)

____________________________________________________________________

SUPPLEMENTALBorax! The Sherman Tank

What's the deal with Borax?

*CAUTION:  Borax is a phenomenal laundry booster for a nasty load, and can be used later to make much stronger cleaning solutions for the really heavy duty jobs.  You don't have to use it at all!  But if you are going to, I think you should at least know how to use it responsibly.  Keep this on a high shelf away from young children.  Borax is natural yet is definitely not the best choice for everyday cleaning.  Borax is NOT edible.  Keep it out of reach of children and pets.  It is harmful if ingested, however, you must deliberately eat it and since it is a salt it would be a feat to eat it because it is just as unpalatable as straight baking soda or simple table salt.  Have respect for all chemicals including soap!   Borax will not burn you (though you can, like anything be allergic to it), it is non reactive, and the box you buy is in crystal form so there is no dust and no breathing hazard (as long as  you don't snort the stuff by sticking your nose in the box).  You only need a very small amount of it for the tough, nasty, heavy duty jobs that nothing else can touch.    Don't over use it.  Don't reach for it first.  Don't reach for it every day.    One box should last you a very long time -- I'm talking YEARS!   I just got through using a box that is 6 years old.  It is used ONLY for MUSTY items I'm washing that other washes haven't touched.

To Boost the Detergent Power and Condition Hard Water:  Add 1/4-1/2 cup to the wash (depending on load size) for laundry that needs that extra kick in the pants.  NOT for every day...it is for laundry that is really nasty and/or moldy/musty.  So despite what recipes for homemade laundry detergents you find floating around that have it as a major ingredient, skip the borax.  That's like killing an ant with a Sherman tank.

Especially Stubborn Stains and Smells (like mildew, fermented urine):   Pre-soak the items in the wash with 1/2 cup borax (or 1 tbsp per gallon).  Let pre-soak at least 30 minutes.    Wash and double rinse.

TIP:  Got really, really stubborn toilet stains that you can't get out no matter what you do?  Before you resort to that blue stuff you need a gas mask for,  put in 1/4 cup of borax and let it soak before scrubbing.

Magickal Ointments

When the subject of Witches' ointments is mentioned, the infamous "flying ointments" immediately come to mind, at least to those with some interest in the history of Witchcraft and magick. These salves, consisting of psychoactive plants steeped in a fatty base, were rubbed onto the skin to aid in what is known today as astral projection.

These are not the only types of ointments known to Witches and magicians, however. Many others have more earthly uses that correlate to those of oils. In fact, any of the oils mentioned in the Oil section can be converted to ointments simply by adding them to melted beeswax, lard or (in today's world) vegetable shortening.

However made, ointments should ideally be kept in crystal or porcelain containers. Realistically, any jars with tight-fitting lids will do fine. Keep ointments away from heat and light. Be warned - though most of the ointments discussed in this section are fairly innocuous, some of them are poisonous and may be lethal. By including them in this work, there is in no way advocating use of such hazardous mixtures. These ointments form a part of herb magic of long-gone days, and so are included here solely for their historical interest.

MAKING OINTMENTS

Ointments are easily made. They consist simply of herbs or oils and a base. In the past, hog's lard was the preferred base because it was readily available, but vegetable shortening or beeswax produces the best results. The base must be a greasy substance that melts over heat but is solid at room temperature. Some herbalists actually use dinosaur fat (I.e., Vaseline, which is prepared from petroleum)!


There are two basic ways to create magical ointments.

THE SHORTENING METHOD

Gently heat four parts shortening over low heat until liquefied. Watch that it doesn't burn. Add one part dried herbal mixture, blend with a wooden spoon until thoroughly mixed, and continue heating until the shortening has extracted the scent. You should be able to smell it in the air.

Strain through cheesecloth into a heat-proof container, such as a canning jar.

Add one-half teaspoon tincture of benzoin to each pint of ointment as a natural preservative.

Store in a cool, dark place, such as the refrigerator. Ointments should last for weeks or months.

Discard any that turn moldy, and lay in a fresh batch.

THE BEESWAX METHOD


This process creates a more cosmetic ointment without a heavy, greasy feeling. It is best to prepare it with oils rather than herbs, as it is difficult to strain.

If possible, use unbleached beeswax. If not, use what you can find.

Chip it with a large, sharp knife so that you can pack it into a measuring cup.

Place one-fourth cup or so of beeswax in the top of a double boiler (such as a coffee can set into a larger pot of water). Add about one-fourth cup olive, hazelnut, sesame or some other vegetable oil. Stir with a wooden spoon until the wax has melted into the oil.

Remove from the heat and let cool very slightly, until it has just begun to thicken. (This step is taken so that the hot wax won't evaporate the oils.)

Now add the mixed oils to the wax.

Stir thoroughly with a wooden spoon and pour into a heat-proof container.

Label and store in the usual way.

In the recipes that follow, the recommended method of preparation will be mentioned.


EMPOWERING OINTMENTS

Once the ointment is made and has cooled in its jar, empower it with its particular magical need. This vital step, remember, directs the energy within the ointment, readying it for your ritual use.


USING OINTMENTS

Ointments are usually rubbed onto the body to effect various magical changes. As with oils, this is done with visualization and with the knowledge that the ointment will do its work.

For Your BOS: Self Empowerment Spell

This is a fairly simple spell, and of course you should change it according to your tastes.

You will need:

    * 1 white candle (probably the bigger the better)
    * mirror


The candle should be cleansed before you begin, and could be infused with white energy, the energy of love and strength. Meditate upon your intentions before you begin. why do you need to empower yourself? Is it because you wish to realize the beauty within yourself, or you wish others to see the beauty or strength you know that lies within you.

This spell also works best if you do a cleansing of yourself, whether it is bath or shower or just visualize all of the negativity that you are carrying with you washing away.

The candle should be placed in front of the mirror, and the mirror should face you.

Light the candle. Feel the positive energy emanating from the candle.

If you worship a deity, call upon them to help you. Chant or say a prayer.

This is an example:

I walk in beauty with the Goddess.
I am strength. I am beauty. I am will. I am love.
She is within me. All who see me, know Her.

No Personal Gain?

If you're anything like me you have a small addiction to Witchy Movies & TV shows... Charmed, Buffy, The Craft, yeah, without doubt some of my favorites. And with most of them you'll see a general "no personal gain" rule when it comes to magick. For Charmed fans you've heard it over and over again, as if it were written in stone somewhere. For those of you who are more fans of Buffy or The Craft you'll see it implied, even if it's not spoken. Every time someone uses magick for personal gain reasons disaster strikes. So for those who are just starting out on their Witchy Path it can be an anxiety they face, not know if it something they should put worry in to or simply ignore.

The truth of the matter is simple - There is NO Personal Gain Rule! It's purely impossible to do something which doesn't cause some kind of personal gain. Even to step in and help someone else makes our life better... Personal gain is simply a fact of life, it's not a bad thing.

It's also worth noting that since witches come in every walk of life there is really no universal RULES over the uses of Magick. While some traditions or groups do come with their own beliefs and rules, overall there is generally no such thing. A Christian Witch is not going to be bound by the rules of a Voodoo Priestess or a Wiccan Witch...

The majority of witches in the US and Europe today to tend to at the very least see the Wiccan Rede as a good basis for their own personal practice. For those that follow a tradition or belief system that falls under the Wiccan Umbrella the Rede is one in a few "rules" which need to be looked to. However, even when we consider the Rede, the Threefold Law and what has been referred to as the "The Witches Law," magick for personal gain is not only not spoken against, it's not even mentioned!

Why is it not mentioned? Well, because there really is no reason to bring it up. As I said above, Personal Gain is not a bad thing! It's simply a fact of life. If we never sought to gain anything in our lives we would never grow and frankly never survive to see tomorrow!

Instead what is mentioned is the use of Magick which will cause harm - either to others or to ourselves. The Wiccan Rede states "An Ye Harm None, Do As Thou Wilt" which simply means as long as you aren't harming anyone go right ahead and do it. The "Threefold Law" states that whatever we put out we will have returned to us "Threefold." So again, there's the general implication that if we are doing harmful magick, we'll only reap harm in return. I've only come across the "The Witches Law" a few times, and I've heard it referred to as the "10 Commandments for Witches" a few times, but generally it simply backs up and expands upon the idea that when we sew negative seeds we reap negative fruits.

All in all, there is simply no reason to worry about Personal Gain when thinking about doing magick. On the other hand we do consider how our magick is going to affect both others and ourselves. For myself I tend not to focus on HOW or IF my actions will affect someone negatively, but rather I focus on if I am acting for the greater good. I am a firm believer that harm is subjective, and so I prefer to focus on acting for the greater good of those involved. In doing this I understand that even if my actions DO cause some "harm" or what could be seen as harm by some, the benefits (or positive) is going to outweigh the risks (or negative).

Quickening Moon

In February, the nights are cold and we begin to feel a bit of cabin fever. We're tired of being cooped up in the house, and there's a part of us that's just longing for a bit of warmth. This is the season of Imbolc, the days when we know that if we can just hold on for a few more weeks, we might get lucky and see little green shoots peeking out through the snow and slush.

Correspondences:
  • Colors: Purple and blue
  • Gemstones: Rose quartz, amethyst, jasper
  • Trees: Rowan, Myrtle
  • Gods: Brighid, Aphrodite, Juno, Mars
  • Herbs: Hyssop, sage, myrrh
  • Element: Fire
This is a month when new life is beginning, but still lies dormant. Pregnant animals, due in the spring, begin to feel the quickening of their unborn young. The earth itself is quickening, as seeds and bulbs far beneath the soil begin their journey towards the light. We know these things are coming -- and we know also that this is a good month to make plans for the future. We can dream and hope, and set goals for ourselves. Accept responsibility for mistakes you've made in the past, and move on. Magical workings this month should focus on personal achievements and advancement.

Also Known As: Hunger Moon, Ice Moon

Green Cleaning for Dummies - Week 1: Vinegar & Baking Soda

**Green Cleaning for Dummies is an 8 week program
Week 1:  Getting to Know Your New Friends  - Vinegar & Baking Soda!

         Step 1:  Buy a jumbo grande box of baking soda and jug of white vinegar (why white--aka distilled?  It is cheaper by the jug than apple cider, but you can use that instead if you prefer).

         Step 2:  Purchase spray bottles:  1 for each bathroom, 1 for the kitchen, plus 5 extra.   Size does not matter.  If you like big get big.  If you like dainty get small.    Plain, colored, pretty, embellished...whatever!

If you do not have covered storage containers handy, buy some small cheap ones. same number as the spray bottles.  You can even purchase pretty glass or porcelain ones if you want.

If you are fond of Chinese take-out or the deli the large and small plastic containers soup, potato salad, and chow mein come in are perfect. Even old/used jars with screw top lids as long as the don't still have a odor from the original contents..   You can easily paint the lids to hide product names.   Keep those coffee and powder scoops.  They are perfect for the baking soda.   If you don't have any improvise with what you have. spoons, measuring spoons, medicine cups, the top off of mouthwash...etc.

         Step 3:  With a marker, sticker, or label maker mark your kitchen and bath spray bottles:  50% Vinegar.   Mark two extra as 100% vinegar. Put the other extra spray bottles aside.  You will use those at a later time.    If you want to, you can label your containers baking soda (one for each bathroom, 1 for the kitchen)

         Step 4:  Fill your kitchen and bath spray bottles 1/2 water and 1/2 vinegar.   And of course, fill the 100% with all vinegar.  Fill your covered containers with baking soda.

         Step 5:  Put your new friends in their new homes.  1 of each  of the 50% vinegar and baking soda into bathroom and kitchen. The kitchen also gets the 100% vinegar bottle and the other 100% bottle should go into your most used bathroom (or your only bathroom).   Why so many containers?   You'll clean  more if you don't have to trapise all over the house to get your spray bottles and containers.   Keep a set in each bathroom and a set in the kitchen, that way they are always handy.

The VAST MAJORITY of your household cleaning, dishwasher duties, and laundry care can be done using just these two powerhouses.   Before you use a stronger recipe, apply more elbow grease first!   As a general rule, if you want to disinfect use the 100% vinegar, for general cleaning the 50% is more than sufficient.


Use the Vinegar and Water 50% to:
  • Wash mirrors, windows, glass, and fixtures. 
  • Spray down the shower tile and door/curtain
  • Clean kitchen counters, stove, table, and refrigerator
  • Quick clean the kitchen and bathroom sinks

Use the Straight Vinegar to:
  • Clean the microwave (heat some vinegar in a bowl, let sit, then wipe away)
    or...spray the microwave, heat it for 20-30 seconds, let sit, then wipe.
  • Disinfect the cutting board; spray it on
  • Put some vinegar in a small pot, throw in some cinnamon sticks and cloves
    and whole allspice heat until hot, turn off heat and let sit to scent the kitchen.
  • Deodorize the toilet:  pour it in and leave it
  • Clean your coffee maker...pour it in; run a cycle--the run 2 clean H2O cycles.
  • Disinfect your counters, baby's eating area, toys, etc.
  • Wash the outside of the windows that are exceptionally dirty (it cuts grime)
                           
Use Baking Soda to:
  • Scrub the tub and deep clean the bathroom and kitchen sinks
  • Scrub stubborn stains or dried food off of the counter, stove, and pots
  • Deodorize the garbage disposal (pour some in and go away)
  • Deodorize and clear drains (pour some in, go away, return and flush with vinegar)
  • Pour some in the toilet, let sit, flush, add more and scrub before the water refills.
Got BS residue?  Spray with vinegar, watch it fizz, and wipe away!

NOVEL IDEA:  Instead of a covered container, use an old jar or Parmesan cheese container or other lidded sifter for the baking soda.  Poke some holes in the lid of the old jar and you have yourself a container that sprinkles on like comet.

MULTITASKER:  If you are a 'poo freer you can use the same vinegar spray bottle and baking soda container to wash your hair.

CAUTION:  Don't use vinegar on marble!   You can however, use baking soda.   And if you have a very stubborn stain go with the milder acid in a grapefruit, scrub it away, then rinse very very very well with fresh water.     And of course, don't squirt vinegar in your eye so keep those spray bottles pointed away from you.

CAUTION:  Granite is pretty tough and you shouldn't need to use anything stronger than a drop of plain soap and some water.       Germs don't grow well on a surface like granite.   A diluted vinegar solution to de-germ is probably okay such as if you got some raw meat juice spillage--but the problem is that some granite counters have sealants that  may or may not be damaged by the acid.   So I wouldn't risk it.    Your better option is a hydrogen peroxide and water solution for de-germing purposes once in a while, like I said, for instances of raw meat spillage or to remove a stain.

The Four Keys of Pagan Parenting

**Okay, I did NOT write this, but honestly, I couldn't do better if I tried! This article is just wonderful for anyone with children!**

Pagans, above all, understand the value of religious freedom, and encourage their kids to research many faiths before choosing to practice one. In addition to this, many Pagans teach their kids to value nature, to welcome diversity, and to understand their family's Pagan spirituality and practices. Naturally these themes will vary in importance to a particular family, but to some degree you will usually find all four keys to Pagan Parenting.

Welcoming Diversity

Pagans tend to be very liberal, accepting, inclusive people. Many strive to raise their children with gender equality, teaching that girls and boys are equal. Pagans value religious freedom and are accepting of other people's faiths, even if they disagree. Pagans actively teach their kids to embrace cultural diversity and are commonly accepting of the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community. Pagans feel that just as there are many Gods and Goddesses so, too, are there many different people. Simply by looking at nature, it's obvious to Pagans that the divine loves diversity. The Teaching Tolerance website has many excellent resources on anti-bias education for interested parents.

Religious Literacy

As a part of a young person's upbringing, Pagans help their children to explore many faiths and explore spiritual questions. Studying world religions and even visiting different houses of worship are a common occurrence in Pagan families. Being religiously literate so that a youth can make an informed decision about what they believe is important to Pagans. Religious literacy also helps Pagans understand other faiths to foster tolerance and acceptance. Unlike other faiths, Pagans do not seek to convert others, not even their own children. Books, such as Sacred Myths: Stories of World Religions by Marilyn McFarlane, can be helpful in teaching religious literacy.

Environmental Awareness

While not all Pagans practice an Earth-based spirituality most have a deep respect, if not reverence for nature and actively teach their kids that Earth Day is everyday. Living a green lifestyle is common among Pagans. Some families recycle, drive a hybrid vehicle, eat organic food, use cloth diapers, or are vegetarian or vegan. A growing number of Pagan families strive for a sustainable lifestyle and may grow their own organic vegetables, raise livestock for meat, hunt, fish, or live off the grid using wind or solar power. There are many ways to live a greener life, and there is a great variety in the Pagan community as to how the desire to live in peace with nature is expressed. An excellent resource for teaching about nature is the "Ranger Rick" series of magazines by the National Wildlife Federation.

Spirituality

Lastly, some Pagans do teach their children about their Pagan traditions, though some do not for fear that their children may become targets for religious discrimination. Most parents do not require their kids to participate in their particular Pagan faith (there are many different types of Pagans), but beliefs are discussed, and children are invited to celebrate their holidays in age appropriate ways. There are several Pagan parenting books available with celebration ideas, sacred stories, crafts and chants for the eight Wiccan holidays. Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddesss Traditions by Starhawk is a very popular guide to Pagan parenting. Another resource for Wiccans and other Witches is Pooka's Pages, a free magazine by Lora Craig-Gaddis.

These four general themes are common, but by no means is there a set standard or doctrine to Pagan parenting. Every family is a little different and will place more or less emphasis on any of the four values. Pagan parenting tends to be very liberal, encouraging respect for all peoples, their right to their faith, and an active respect for nature. Most of all, Pagan parents want to give their kids the freedom to choose a satisfying spiritual path that fits them well, guides them to grow spiritually and makes them excited to be a part of this beautiful world.

The SuperBowl Sabbat

This is for those of you who believe the Superbowl should be it's own Sabbat! But honestly these recipes are great for ANY Celebration or Party! Enjoy!

Seven Layer Taco Dip                       
5-Layer-Mexican-Dip-2139
Ingredients:
1 envelope (1 ounce size) taco seasoning mix
1 can (16 ounce size) re-fried beans
1 package (8 ounce size) cream cheese, softened
1 container (16 ounce size) sour cream
1 jar (16 ounce size) salsa
1 large tomato, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 bunch chopped green onions
1 small head iceberg lettuce, shredded
1 can (6 ounce size) sliced black olives, drained
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

Directions: Spread the refried beans  onto a large serving platter.
Blend the taco seasoning mix, sour cream and cream cheese in a medium bowl. Spread over the refried beans. 

Top the layers with salsa. Place a layer of tomato, green bell pepper, green onions and lettuce over the salsa, and top with Cheddar cheese. Garnish with black olives.




Serves 25
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Cold Taco Dip
Ingredients:
16 oz. softened cream cheese
16 oz. sour cream
1 envelope taco seasoning
shredded lettuce
2 medium tomatoes, diced
8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:
Place softened cream cheese, sour cream and taco seasoning in mixing bowl. Mix with electric mixer until smooth. Spread mixture in the bottom of a 9" x 13". Place shredded lettuce all over the top of the cream cheese mixture. Next, sprinkle shredded cheese on the lettuce. Top with diced tomatoes. Chill until ready to serve.

Serve with tortilla chips.

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Honey-glazed-bbq-chicken
Honeyed Chicken Wings     
Ingredients:
3 lbs. chicken wings
3/4 c. barbeque sauce
3 tbsp. oil
1/4 c. spicy brown mustard
2/3 c. honey
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/2 c. orange juice
2 tbsp. grated ginger (substitute 1 1/2-2 teaspoons powder ginger if you prefer)

Directions:
Cut off  and discard tips of chicken wings and cut remaining pieces in two. Arrange in a 9x13 baking dish.  Combine barbeque sauce, oil, mustard, honey, soy sauce, ginger and orange juice. Pour over wings. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 40-45 minutes or until browned.  Turn the pieces over half way through baking time.
You can prepare this dish ahead and let marinate overnight.
***For easy clean up---wrap the baking pan in foil before filling.

 Serves 10-12

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Meatballs
Tangy Meatballs
Ingredients:
2 1/2 lbs. pre-cooked packaged meatballs
1 1/3 c. chili sauce
1/2 c. grape jelly

Directions:
Mix chili sauce and grape jelly into crockpot.  Stir well to blend.  Add the pre-cooked meatballs.  Stir gently to evenly coat the meatballs.

Cook on low for 5 hours.

Serves approximately 12 or more


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Buffalo Chicken Quesadillas
Ingredients:
4 cups chicken, cooked and shredded
3/4 cup Buffalo wing sauce
2 cups shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
12 flour tortillas (soft taco size)
Blue cheese dressing and celery sticks, for serving

Directions:
In a large bowl, combine the chicken and sauce and stir until evenly coated. Add the cheese and toss to combine. Evenly divide chicken mixture on 6 tortillas and top with remaining 6 tortillas. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and coat with nonstick cooking spray. Cook the quesadillas, one at a time, about 3 to 4 minutes per side, using a spatula to turn. Cut into quarters and serve with blue cheese dressing and celery sticks on the side.

Serves 6 to 8

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Cheese-Stuffed Mushrooms
Ingredients:
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup finely chopped green onion with tops
4 ounces feta cheese
2 ounces cream cheese
1 (10-ounce package) frozen chopped spinach
24 fresh mushrooms, stems removed
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Wipe mushroom caps clean with a damp paper towel. Thaw spinach in a colander; squeeze out as much moisture as possible. In mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except mushrooms and parmesan cheese. Mix well. Add more salt to taste if you like. Fill mushroom caps with mixture and place on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Makes 2 dozen

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Easy Cheeseball
Ingredients:
3 8 oz. packages Cream Cheese (room temp)
1 package Dry Ranch Dip Mix
2 cup of finely shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 cup chopped ham


Optional: finely chopped nuts, crisp chopped bacon, chopped parsley, or additional cheddar cheese, all can be used to roll the finished ball in for garnish.

Directions:
Cream the cream cheese, add ranch dip and mix well. Add the shredded cheese and ham. Divide in half and shape each portion into a ball on plastic wrap. Roll the balls in one of the optional garnishes if you like. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours or until firm. I add ham to one portion and leave one plain for those who don't like meat in theirs.

Serve with crackers or veggies.

How Many Gods Are There?

I get this question A LOT! How many Gods? It seems like everyone wants a number. I think the idea of the unknown within "religion" may be a bit much for some of those on the outside... But the truth is there is simply no answer to this question, or at least no easy one. Each person has their own interpretation of God or Gods - what, who and how many there are...

When it comes down to having to answer this Pagans fall in to  any of 6 categories. In order to truly understand "how many" Gods there are you have to have a grasp on the different belief systems which shape these ideas. So what I'm going to do is try to explain those belief systems rather than give you a number - which just isn't possible anyways.  It's also important to understand that not everyone will fit in to just one of these lines of thinking. Many will adhere to combinations or even slight variations of these, but you can use these as a basic guide to help you understand.

The first category I'm going to address is Atheism. Many people seem to think that you MUST believe in God or Gods in order to belong to a religion or to be spiritual. Most Pagans DO believe in some form of God, however there are many Atheistic Pagans. Many people hear the term Atheist and think "belief in Nothing" when in fact Atheism simply means "No belief in GOD(s)." As a matter of fact, Atheism does not mean lack of spiritual beliefs at all, as there are many spiritual beliefs, traditions and practices which do not require any belief in God. While Atheistic Pagans can have any number of beliefs on the Spiritual, I have found that most fall in to one of two groups. First there is the "Everything has Energy" group which mostly believe in "energy" over "spirit." And Second there is the group which believes that the spirit world, other levels of reality and so on are in fact reality, but that there simply is no Spirit being or Higher Power outside of ourselves...

Many Atheistic Pagans are, at least in a minor form Animistic in their beliefs as well. Animism is the belief that everything has a spirit. To quote Walt Disney Pocahontas for a moment " I know every rock and tree and creature Has a life, has a spirit, has a name..."  And that's pretty much the basic idea of Animism. Everything has a spirit. For those who see this in an "Atheistic" fashion this spirit is usually seen as a "life force" of some kind. For those who are more Theistic this could be a life force of sorts or it could be that the Gods reside within all living things...  Animistic beliefs are often combined with other Theistic beliefs.

The majority of Pagans whom I have encountered are in fact Theistic. But there is even some disagreement between groups on this belief. The majority of Pagans are NOT Monotheistic, however, it is a prevailing belief among some traditions and teachings. Monotheism is the easiest form of Theistic beliefs for those outside of Paganism to understand. This is due in no small part to the fact that the worlds three most popular belief systems (Christianity, Islam & Judaism) are all Monotheistic. However, the Pagan view of Monotheism tends to be a little different than the Abrahamic view. This is because unlike Abrahamic belief systems Pagan belief systems DO tend to recognize other belief systems as valid. Pagan Monotheists believe, like Abrahamics, that there is but one Higher Power. However that's where the similarity tends to end. The difference is that while Abrahamics see God as a singular being, Pagans continue to honor the multiplicity of God. This means that although they believe in a singular Higher Being they do not limit themselves to a singular personality. Most see the names and personalities of individual Gods & Goddesses as different aspects of this singular Higher Power. I like to call this the Multiple Personality Higher Power. (lol)

While the Monotheists like the idea of simply having ONE Higher Power who is depicted on earth as the individual Gods & Goddesses. Duel-theists hold the believe in a Single God and a Single Goddess. Again, this idea tends to include the idea that "All Gods are One God & All Goddesses are One Goddess." Which again means that the individual names and personalities of Gods which we know here on earth are in fact representing different aspects of One God. And in turn those individual Goddesses represent one Goddess...

Then there are the Polytheists. Polytheism is the believe in multiple Gods & Goddesses. Our modern world has been exposed to this idea through the great myths of Ancient Rome, which have now become great movies and story books. Even children have seen Disney's Hercules at this point. However, again, no one can agree on just one form of Polytheism. There are in fact two schools here as well.

The first is what's called "Soft" Polytheism. This is the belief that while there are multiple Gods & Goddesses they are represented to the different belief systems through different names and personalities. For example, there is only ONE God of Fire, however, he is represented to humans through Angi (Hindu), Vulcan (Roman), Hephaestus (Greek) and others.

The second category here is "Hard" Polytheism. Which is in effect the belief in limitless amounts of individual Gods & Goddesses, each of which having their own separate name & personality. By this line of thinking just because Athena (Greek), Minerva (Roman) & Sophia (Gnostic Christian) are all the Goddess of Wisdom doesn't mean they are all the same Goddess. Hard Polytheists see each of these Goddesses as separate individuals rather than as different aspects of a single Goddess or as different representations of the same Goddess.

Now, as I said in the beginning some of these beliefs can be combined or altered in some way for individual believers or traditions, these are simply the basics. I'll use myself as an example of how one can belong to more than one category. I fall in to the Duel-Theistic, Animistic AND the "Hard" Polytheistic belief categories. I believe that everything in nature has it's own "spirit" which should be honored. I also hold a strong belief in a "Great God" and "Great Goddess" whom I see as the "Highest" Beings. Mostly I identify them as "Mother Nature/Earth" and "Father Time/Space." And I see them as even higher beings and the "creators" of the Gods. In addition to them I am a Hard Polytheist, as I believe that all the Gods & Goddesses which we know and honor here on Earth as in fact separate beings from one another and innumerable in number.

So, as you see while these categories can be singular beliefs and can in themselves define a number of Gods or Goddesses, they can in fact do just the opposite as well. To me what is important is not How many Gods there are, but that we understand our connection to that Higher Power, God/Goddess or Energy which is ever present to us and that we honor it accordingly. Names, labels and numbers really mean nothing. What matters is how we react to them, how we honor them in our day to day life and how we connect to them.

Candlemas, New Name - Ancient Roots

 Here in the North Eastern US it seems nearly impossible that the holiday of Candlemas should be considereed the beginning of Spring, as February 2nd tends to include a nice thick blanket of snow on our great Mother Earth. Or at the very least days are filled with drizzle, slush and sad gray skies, also known as the saddest, dreariest weather of the entire year. Which is exactly what makes this the best time for the Pagan Festival of Lights. And as for Spring, although this may seem a tenuous beginning, all the little buds, flowers and leaves will have arrived on schedule before Spring runs its course to Beltane.

Of course, Candlemas is the Christian version of the holiday. The real names, the Pagan names for this Celebration are Imbolc or Oimelc. Imbolc literally means, "in the belly," for in the womb of the Great Mother there are stirrings. The seeds that were planted in her blessed womb at solstice is quickening and the new year grows. Oimelc means "milk of ewes," as it's also the lambing season.

You may also hear the holiday called "Brigit's Day," in honor of the great Irish Goddess (Pagan) and Saint (Christian) Brigit. In the olden days of ancient Ireland, in the capitol of Kildare, a group of 19 priestesses (never a man) kept a perpetual flame burning in her shrine as a sign of honor. She was considered to be a goddess of fire, a patroness of smithcraft, poetry and healing. She especially had a touch of midwifery. Brigit, a triple Goddess, was occasionally said to have two sisters, also named Brigit. (Another form of the name Brigit is Bride, and it is thus She bestows her special patronage on any woman about to be married or handfasted, the woman being called 'bride' in her honor.)

Obviously the Roman Catholic Church could not allow for Brigit to be called a Goddess, and yet they could not very easily call the Great Goddess of Ireland a demon either. So, as a solution they canonized her and she would forevermore be remembered as Saint Brigit, patron Saint of smithcraft, poetry and healing. In order to do this they had to create a story to explain her existence at all. They did this by telling the Irish peasants that Brigit was really an early Christian missionary sent to introduce the people of Ireland to the true God. And that her "miracles" simply misled the common people in to believing she was more than human. For whatever reason the people chose to believe this, I don't know, but it appears as if they at least acted the part. In some parts of Ireland it was even taught that Brigit was the "foster mother" of Jesus and that he had spent his childhood there.

Since Brigit symbolized the fire of birth and healing, the fire of the forge and the fire of poetic inspiration the day was/is marked by the kindling of sacred fires. Bonfires were lighted on the beacon tors, and chandlers celebrated their special holiday. The Church was quick to confiscate this symbolism as well and began using the day (Candlemas) as the day to bless all the churches candles for the following year.

Never one to refrain from piling holiday atop holiday, the Catholic Church also named this to be the day for the "Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While it may not be apparent to today's readers the reason for the Purification celebration in the early days of the church it was quite the big deal! There was an old custom called "churching women." It was believed that women were impure for six weeks following birth. And since the Winter Solstice marked the time when Mary had given birth, Candlemas marked the day upon which she would once again be pure. By Pagan teachings we can re-translate this as the time when the Great Mother or Crone once again transforms in to the Maiden Goddess.

Today of course we know February 2nd as Groundhog's Day. A day for us to pull a poor unsuspecting groundhog from his bed to ask him for a weather prediction. However, this too is in fact a rather ancient custom. Okay, not so much the Groundhog bit, but there is an old British rhyme which tells us that "If Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the
year."

Like other High Holidays or Great Sabbats, Candlemas is sometimes celebrated on it's alternate date which is astrologically determined by the sun's reaching 15-degrees Aquarius. Another holiday that tends to get stuck in the mix here is Valentines day. Orthodox Christians and other groups are in the habit of celebrating the birth of Jesus not on December 25th, but on January 6th, which then shifts the date of the Purification Feast to February 14th. But this of course is the vast minority of people. If you ask just about any modern citizen on the street they are going to tell you plainly that February 14th is Valentines day.

One of the more common folk customs still practiced today is to place lighted candles in each window of the house beginning at sundown on Candlemas Eve (Feb 1st), allowing them to continue burning until sunrise. If you plan to do so make sure that candles are all well secured against tipping and guarded from curtains, furniture, etc. What a beautiful sight it is on a cold, bleak and dreary night to see a house with every window lit by candles! And, of course, if you are your Coven's chandler, or if you just happen to like making candles, Candlemas Day is THE day for doing it. Some Covens hold candle-making parties and try to make and bless all the candles they'll be using for the whole year
on this day.

Other customs for the day include weaving " Brigit's Crosses" from pieces of straw or wheat to hand around the house for protection, preforming rites of spiritual cleansing and purification, making "Brigit's Beds" to ensure fertility of mind, body and spirit, and making Crowns of Light (i.e. of candles) for the High Priestess to wear for the Candlemas/Imboc Circle, similar to those worn on St. Lucy's Day in Scandinavian countries. All in all, this Pagan Festival of Lights, sacred to the young Maiden Goddess, is one of the most beautiful and poetic of the year.

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