Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The End of the Cat as We Knew Her

In August, after already having been wheedling my husband about getting a new cat (his cat...his because he brought her to the relationship and always cleaned her litter box and took her to the vet and fed her...died about four years ago), I took the kids to a local cat rescue.  The kids are big enough to learn how to love, respect, and care for a pet.  We all like cats.  We learned the kids are not allergic to cats (my husband seems to be but said he would put up with the allergies because he likes cats so much)... why not get one?

We went to a rescue called Angel's Wish, which fosters cats of all ages, needs, and types in homes with people rather than in a shelter.  The foster families bring the cats into the adoption center every weekend day until they get adopted.

I'd decided that I wanted kittens, having had a bad experience adopting an adult dog that we never did get one hundred percent house-trained (who also had HORRIBLE anxiety).  I had my eye on a pair of orange kittens, a brother and a sister.

Tayla and Tike.

That's what the foster family named them.

They were about the same size, and when we took them into a visiting room, they were SUPER friendly and playful; the kids were squealing with delight as they leapt at cat toys wiggled in front of them and wrestled with each other.  We checked out a few other kittens, but none were the friendly little Tayla and Tike.

(Not them, but they looked like this!)

By the next week, I had a request in to adopt these kitties.  After promising I would clean their litter boxes for their whole lives.  Yep, I had to make that promise.  I only get a day off if I'm away for work.

September 3, we brought home our little bundles of joy, thought to be five months old.

A few days later, each kid had named one.  My son named the boy Patrick (after Patrick Star of SpongeBob SquarePants fame) and my daughter named the girl Lulu.

They chased each other, wrestled each other, enjoyed playing with cat dancers, and were a joy to behold.

Within a week or two, I noticed a drop of blood on our antique settee in the basement.

"Someone probably clawed the other when they were wrestling," I thought.

We carried on.

Then I saw a drop of blood in the litter box.

"Hm, weird.  Maybe just the same issue as before."

We carried on.

I started to see blood here and there, but kept explaining it away.

I didn't take them to the vet until finally one day in November, I found bloody diarrhea ALL over the three season porch depicted above (hidden behind the couches).  It was super disgusting and very worrisome.

So I made a vet appointment.

I took both kitties in at the same time.

Lulu and Patrick had been about the same size when we got them, but now she was 7 lb 3 oz and he was 11 lb 8 oz.  The vet felt Lulu was an appropriate size for her age and Patrick was very large.  So that wasn't too concerning.  The vet did note that Lulu had blood in her stool (she pooped in her carrier on the way to the vet) and ran a test for worms, as she had been de-wormed twice with the rescue; maybe she had worms that still hadn't resolved.

There were no worms in her stool.

The vet prescribed antibiotics.  I chose to take the pills because they were less expensive than having a compounding pharmacy make up liquid antibiotics.  I also took a sample of sensitive stomach food, because sometimes blood in the stool of a young cat can signal a food allergy/intolerance.

The antibiotics went over like a wet fart with Lulu, though she did eat the new food.  She fought me tooth and nail and would hold them in the back of her throat until she could get away from me and then cough them out.  A week later, I was asking for a prescription through a compounding pharmacy.

Because Lulu was still pooping blood.  In the bathtub.  Up to six or more times per day.  Sometimes also on the carpet in the dining room or living room.  I have since learned that cats do not like to make messes like this; they are meticulous.  The fact that she was doing this was not only distressing to us, but probably even more distressing to her.

The vet agreed to call in the liquid antibiotic and I made a special trip in the dark to pick it up after work and after I'd picked the kids up from school.

She hated that antibiotic, too, even though we'd thoughtfully had it flavored with "fish" flavor.  But she did take it.  The pharmacist said she should not be pooping blood in two to three days on the antibiotic, if it were to help.

Six days later, I was still cleaning up bloody stool three to four times a day, from various parts of my house.

I called the vet again and told her it wasn't working and that the sensitive stomach food seemed to have made no difference, either.

I took Lulu back to the vet, where it appeared she had lost a few ounces of weight over the past two weeks and I was advised of several options to test her blood, her GI tract, or for parasites.  The GI panel might give us information, but we wouldn't do anything other than keep trying to change the food to firm up the stools.  The parasite panel would tell us if she had either a treatable parasite (that cost $5 to treat) or one of two untreatable parasites.  The blood and metabolic panel would tell us her blood counts and organ function, suggesting whether she might have something like leukemia or another illness.

I didn't know what to choose to do, so the vet suggested starting with the blood and metabolic panel, because it might give us information we could use to DO something.  She also prescribed high fiber food, probiotics, and a de-wormer that would kill the one treatable parasite from the parasite panel, feeling it was reasonable to just treat for parasites again in case that was the problem.  She said the antibiotic should have helped by now if it was going to help, so she let me skip the last day of dosing.

We went home and continued to clean up bloody stool and fight about taking medications.

She did like the new food, though I noticed she was eating perhaps half of her 1/3 of a cup of food at a time.  It took her a long time to eat the whole 1/3 of a cup, if she even did at all.  She was drinking.  Patrick was after her probiotics like white on rice; he tore apart the box twice, scattering the packets everywhere, before we finally put them in the refrigerator to keep them away from him.  The vet DID say they were tasty to cats...

The blood was taken for testing on December 7.

December 9, I got a call from the vet.

She told me that all the lab values were normal, except for highly elevated globulins.  These help mediate the immune system, and, when elevated, suggest illness.

Well, duh.

But she thought it was an illness called FIP.  Which is fatal and untreatable.

I found out later there is no test that can definitively confirm FIP, but if beta globulins are high, as evidenced by electropheresis (another test they can do), it's highly likely that is the problem.

Stunned, I thanked the vet for the information and my head started spinning.  It spun all day Friday.  I didn't know what to do with this new information.  I had asked what we would do regardless and the vet felt that really the only thing we could do for Lulu was continue to try to find a food that agreed with her and firmed up her stool.  She didn't think information from the GI panel would change her treatment and didn't think the parasite testing would be that helpful because it could only potentially confirm an incurable parasite.  We could do the electropheresis for another fee, but that would only allow us to feel confident Lulu had FIP.  Not change anything we would or could do for her.

I had my hospice hat on by that time.  You can see that, right?

I called the vet back after talking to several knowledgeable and animal loving friends.

"I want you to be brutally honest with me.  I am an oncology social worker and a former hospice social worker and am not afraid to have a tough discussion," I told the vet.

She said she thought we could get more clarity with additional testing, but confirmed the actual treatment or likely outcomes probably wouldn't change with the information.

On the verge of tears, quietly, I asked, "am I a horrible person if I am considering euthanasia?"

Matching my tone, she quietly answered, "no, I think in this situation, given all she and you are going through, it's a reasonable option."

I asked about the process for euthanasia and she told me how it worked and that regardless of my choice, she would check in with me on Monday.

Over the weekend, it seemed like the stool was more formed.  I kept trying to talk myself into Lulu getting better, somehow.  I felt guilty for having been resentful of having to clean up bloody poop every time I wanted to take a shower or bathe my children.  As my husband put it, I was in denial.

Everyone around me told me it was reasonable to euthanize this cat.

This EIGHT MONTH OLD cat.  So young by any standard (other than that of perhaps an insect, who only lives a day, week, month...).

How can I kill an eight month old cat?

My dear friend from forever told me it was cruel NOT to help her die in a comfortable way.  My husband reassured me it was a viable, even good choice for the cat AND us.

I woke up December 12, Monday morning, to two bloody stools by my bed.  I cleaned them up, but this time with no resentment.  Because I finally decided it must be pretty bad if she can't make it to her litter box when she could until November, and that she didn't want to be doing this.

I went to a therapy appointment I had scheduled but had almost canceled for "nothing to talk about" because now I definitely had something to talk about.

My therapist asked me how much suffering I would need to see before I decided it was enough for both the cat and the family.  She felt I already had an answer about what to do and wished me well with my decision.

I left the therapy appointment, drove home, and called the vet, asking for a euthanasia appointment.  I hung up, and immediately felt sick to my stomach.  I called and left a message for my husband, telling him what I'd done and asking for reassurance that it was the right choice.

I walked into the house and down into the basement room (we have a finished room down there with couches and carpet), where I'd been sequestering both cats together, so Lulu would be able to make it to her litter box.  And she had been making it.

But it's no life to live without natural light just so you can get to a litter box.  Even if you do have your brother with you and an overhead light.

She was lying on the couch, where she had taken up residence over the past week or so.  I realized she had not been playful for quite some time.  At eight months old, you'd expect a cat still to be playful.

Unless they were really super sick.

Lulu was really super sick.

With a lump in my throat, I sat next to her on the couch, petting her, telling her I was sorry.

I got out her cat carrier, put it in the middle of the room, and resumed sitting with her on the couch.

Finally, the time came to make my way to the vet.

As with the last two times to the vet, she cried, pooped blood in her carrier, and vomited on the way.  It was horrible and sad.

I entered the vet's office with a heavy-hearted, dragging-my-feet feeling and announced my presence.

The vet assistant came to me and took us back to a room.  As with the last vet visit, Lulu didn't even try to groom the blood and stool out of her soft, beautiful fur.

"She's really really sick," I had to keep reminding myself.

The vet came in, and "just for curiosity's sake" took her temperature, which was normal.  Her weight was about what it had been four days prior.  The vet reiterated that likely this would not get better and likely it was FIP, which is rare and something she only sees about once or twice a year.  She agreed with my decision and supported it.

She lifted Lulu to the exam table, laden with a brown fuzzy blanket.  She put in a sedative and then left me with Lulu, petting her, whispering I was sorry over and over and over again.

A few minutes after receiving the sedative, Lulu panicked, afraid of what she was feeling, losing control and not knowing why.  She tried to jump off the table, but flopped to the side as she tried to jump; it was so distressing to watch I burst into tears and cried until the vet came back into the room.  I was able to get Lulu into a more comfortable position and keep petting her, but her claws were still dug into the blanket, arms out in front of her, as though she was gripping for life.

Oh God.  Please forgive me for doing this.

Lulu's eyes never closed, but they became distant.

The vet came in and cheerfully noted that Lulu looked "nice and relaxed."  I had to sign paperwork stating she had not recently bitten anyone and that she was mine to euthanize if I wanted to.  I signed.  I sent her off for group cremation.

The vet put the lethal dose of sedative into her and within three breaths, our Lulu was gone.  I remarked on how fast it was and they agreed, the vet and her assistant.  I couldn't make eye contact with them and they told me I could spend some time with her and quietly exited the room.

I pet her for a few minutes, telling her I was so sorry.  I wrapped her in the blanket and silently left the room to pay for this dreaded deed.  It felt crass to pay afterward, like I was buying some ghoulish luxury service.  At that point, I understood why they asked when I arrived if I wanted to pay before the appointment.  I should have.

I got in my car with an empty cat carrier and called my mom.  She already knew I might have to euthanize Lulu.  She said, "hi!  How are you?" and I broke down sobbing, "I just killed my cat!"  She said, "oh no, I'm so sorry.  You didn't kill her.  It was for the best.  I'm sorry you had to do that; I've never had to do that with a pet."  Mom was actually very reassuring and invited me over for lunch (which I declined, because I had the kids to get from their early release day at school).

I went home after hemming and hawing about what to do with myself and showed Patrick the empty carrier, telling him I was sorry.

Patrick spent a good day or two looking for Lulu, calling for her, wondering why I didn't put down two bowls of food anymore (partly because he liked to eat her leftovers).  It was terribly sad.  But he is becoming more interactive with us without her.  In some ways.  And in others, I think he's starting to understand she's not coming back.

The kids were sad, but they don't really understand death.  My nearly five year old daughter was mostly mad I didn't let her watch the euthanization.  My son was mostly quiet.  We all took turns holding and cradling Patrick that night.  My son called it "pass the Patrick".

It's just unbelievably sad, but has been a relief not to clean up blood for a couple days now.  I still feel sick to my stomach about it, but I also think it was the right thing to do.

RIP, Lulu.  Approx April 2 - December 12, 2016

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Spiritual Twists and Turns

I've been on a tear to figure out my own spirituality all Summer and now Fall.  I've been learning about the many facets of God, Jesus, the holy spirit, angels, and life before and after death that I never really dreamed were there.  Some people even believe we have dragons, unicorns, fairies, and other mystical creatures guiding and helping us.  At this point, to be honest, I have no reason to say those beings aren't real, at least outside of our physical apparently-concrete world.  And I don't know how much "proof" is really important. 

If you find a system of belief that works for you, that helps explain the whys and wherefores...who cares how exactly it all comes to be?   

The basic message I keep returning to and arriving at is that God is Love.  The purpose of life is to express and experience Love (which can manifest in limitless ways).  We are spiritual beings having a human experience; we are of God and God is of us yet also greater that us.  God is all protecting, knowing and compassionate.  He/She/It is always there for us and will always look out for our highest good. Fear and ego block the messages coming from God; they make it hard to hear what God wants us to know and feel.

Of course, no one lives outside their ego all the time.  No one is perfectly spiritual every moment of the day.  No one acts out of love 100% of the time.  But love can always guide us back to center.  

That's what I've been looking for; a center.  

I started Reiki training in September, partly to connect with my spiritual side more, partly to see if it could be a new career for me, and partly to find center. 

I went through the first class both as a believer and part-skeptic, and still feel that way.  I am not sure I understand or "believe in" the Reiki energy, but one of the points of Reiki is that it doesn't matter if you believe in it; it has the power to heal and do good regardless.  It flows through the practitioner; it is not controlled by the practitioner.  

Besides, even if it "doesn't work," the individualized attention you give to another, as a Reiki practitioner, is almost as valuable as if it truly is powerful energy medicine (which it might be?  Call me the Skeptical Reiki Practitioner).  Many scientific studies show the benefits and power of feeling cared for, the power of the placebo effect, and the benefits of unconditional positive regard...and care and unconditional positive regard are Love, aren't they?  So Reiki is doing God's work, however it is happening.

I have done Reiki on a handful of people other than myself, and those not related to me have expressed appreciation for the work, saying they felt better after the treatment than before, so whatever is going on there, it's good.  (And that's another thing about Reiki, by the way; it only does good. It cannot be used for evil.)

I had my own experience during class; nine other practitioners worked on me from a distance from the standpoint of helping me to heal my anxiety.  I felt heat in my forehead and movement in my lower chakras...they confirmed that those were places they worked on the most.  And that I need to learn to trust myself more.  

I am safe.  

I am supported.  

I belong.  

I trust my intuition.  

"Trust yourself, trust yourself, trust yourself," I heard chanting through my mind as they worked on me.  

And I felt that regular "buzz" of anxiety that I always feel day to day...gone.  It was gone for about three weeks.  It was heavenly not to feel sweaty-anxious all day every day.

Of course, I'm back to feeling adrenaline rushes several times a day, tight shoulders, sweaty concern, looking for center again.  Though it's not as hard to find a center now as it used to be. 

Anyway, after my first Reiki class, I felt like I had too much going on in life.  I kind of figured out this is not likely to be a new career for me and I wasn't sure I wanted to continue to devote three more entire Saturdays to becoming a Reiki Master.  Doing self-treatments felt like another thing to do in the day and I was making myself miserable trying to do that every day as well as my evening meditation every night.  I contacted my teacher, asking for a refund for the classes I hadn't taken yet.

She'd heard this B.S. before.  In a calm, measured voice, she walked me through a very brief meditation on the phone before we even started talking.  She told me her cancellation policy was clear and on her website (it turns out she does not do refunds except in extreme situations), and she told me that we often resist that which can most stand to benefit us.  A guy even wrote a book about it (The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield; looks like you can read the whole thing for free right at that link).  

"It sounds like you want calm, you want centering, you want to feel in control.  That's what this is," she told me.

Argh.  Harumph.  Fine.  I'll go to one more class. 

And it was a pretty great day.  My classmates and I are starting to get to know each other, and while we do work hard, we leave feeling somehow lighter.  

I received my Reiki II practitioner certificate October 8, 2016.

I'm about to return for Advanced Reiki this weekend.  I feel more willing to go than I did a month ago, but also still harbor a bit of resistance (though I am voluntarily doing the self-treatments now!).  I haven't actually read that book about resistance (and now it's due back at the library), but I have read more about self-improvement in that time (a great easy read was Dr. Brene Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection).  There comes a time, though, that you have to stop reading about self-improvement and just do it.  Improve thyself. 

Do what feels right, not what your over-thinking brain tells you is right.  Do what is in alignment with your values and say no to what is not in alignment unless there is a very compelling reason not to say no.  

I also went to hear my son read a Bible verse at his Catholic school's Mass in September.  It was a Mass in celebration of God's angels and focused on the messages from/of the Archangels; that Mass broke my heart open.  It felt like Divine timing.  I have been looking for a spiritual community. I already love my son's school community and am making friends among the parents who volunteer with and serve the school community.  It felt natural to consider joining this church community (despite the fact that I am not 100% on board with the political leanings of the Catholic Church), and I am now in the process of becoming Catholic.  I keep thinking my grandma would be happy.  Is happy.

What interests me most about becoming Catholic is not the Church rules, politics and rhetoric (some of that I just plain disagree with), but the contemplative traditions, rites, and routines.  I personally do not think you need to confess your sins to a priest to have a happy afterlife, but you do have to make an effort to do your best and make right with those you wrong...similar enough.  I love the idea of reciting a rosary as a meditation.  I find the rhythm of the service is very much like those I grew up with in the ELCA Lutheran Church, where I was baptized, had first communion and was confirmed.  I hear new meaning in messages from the Bible and Jesus after all the time I have spent listening to Hay House Radio  and meditations by Sarah Hall.  It feels like a nice fit for this season of life.  

My parents told me I'd return to church. 

Why are parents always so right? :-P

I am still settling into my spiritual beliefs.  But...I feel like I have only just started to truly understand and embrace them.  Like I was sleeping before, but now I am waking up to the true nature and purpose of life.  Lucky for me, my daughter is very interested in learning about spiritual things, so we are learning some new things together, which has been very positive for our relationship (she is still only 4.5 years old and she can present with some very trying behaviors at times).  

I don't know what next month or year will bring, but I feel I have defined a purpose for life right now.  Love.  Service.  Gratitude.  Blooming where you're planted.  Serving those you most care about.  Loving those you care about as much as you can.  Not fretting so much about career or other ego-ic pursuits, though some of those activities are necessary to ensure a comfortable life.  




Blooming where you're planted.

Serving those you most love and those who need love.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Damn. (A poem?)

Today, I had the privilege and sad honor of sitting with another family who is learning, though not really absorbing, that their loved one with acute leukemia is going to die.

Despite a "potentially life-saving" bone marrow transplant.

Despite "the mother of all chemotherapies" trying to kill the leukemia.

The leukemia grew despite the chemotherapy.

This patient continues to hold onto hope, though.

It's still early in recovery; maybe graft versus host disease will kill the leukemia, though it may also wreak havoc on her body.  She's willing to take that risk, she said.

She retired and enjoyed life for about six weeks before leukemia decided to force her hand, force her to call the doctor, force her into the ER on a weekend and then in and out of the hospital for the last eight months.

Clinically, her doctor says, she's in the top 25% of all people recovering from the type of transplant she received.  She looks like she's doing well.  She feels well.  She hasn't needed a blood transfusion or anything so many other patients need.

Technically, though, her leukemia is also in the top 25%.  It won't quit and won't quit and won't quit.

She wouldn't answer my question about her gut feeling about how things are going right now and going to go.  She spoke from her head, not her heart.  It was hard to not want to press reiki right into her heart in that moment.

Her daughters sat wiping silent tears.  She sat agape, not sure what to say or do.  She put her hand on her husband's knee.  How will he function without her?, is all I can wonder.

Her doctor had to ask about how far she wanted to go with medical interventions, should the worst start spiraling out control.

It happens fast when it does.

The spiraling.

Out of control.

Out of


Which is what the leukemia is, but no one will outright say that.  Because there is a tiny sliver of hope.



But it's there and taking up the 98% of space it has mostly no right to.

I don't know how much more of this kind of thing I can witness.  I went to this meeting out of care, concern, compassion and love, but I feel a bit wounded, as I think we all do coming out of the thick tension of such a conversation.

I always say there's not enough literature or intervention to support the grieving professional.

Who has no right to the grief.  Or do we?

What right do we have to feel grief?  To what extent?  How long?  How much?  When?  Where?

I try to get it out while I'm still at work, so as to be the present, loving mother and wife I want to be at home.

My spirituality tells me these people were put in my life for a reason, for me to learn something from them.  They are in their situation to learn something as well.  My lesson is different; we each take away a lesson and if we do it right and well, we do not have to suffer while we learn.

Though I'm not sure how not to suffer when someone is dying what feels an unfair death.

Should I be ashamed at this navel-gazing?  Perhaps.

Perhaps I should learn some grace from that amazing woman.

Amazing grace.

How sweet the sound.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

My First Full Moon Circle

Did you know that yesterday, today and tomorrow are days of the full moon this month?  I guess technically if you have to choose one day, it's today.

Though this month, it doesn't seem like things are wacky and "off" like they can be at the full moon.  Health care workers typically kind of dread the full moon because people or things seem to get "loony" (loony deriving from "lunar," which, of course, refers to the moon).  They see more than the usual number of people with terrible mental health or substance abuse problems or equipment won't work or there's just  more than the usual "lunacy" in the work day when there's a full moon.  We love blaming Her, poor Moon.  

Maybe things feel more centered this month becasue I took the time to make a second visit out to Circle Sanctuary for a Full Moon Circle last night.

Because Selena Fox, the usual high priestess and leader of most Circle activities was not available for last night's Full Moon Circle, she left the leadership to one of her right-hand gals, Ashleigh, who offered a wonderful experience.

The theme of the night was the Spiral Labyrinth.  Ashleigh started us off with coloring pages to choose from: Theseus and Ariadne (stars of the Greek myth of the minotaur in the labyrinth), a minotaur labyrinth/maze page, or David Bowie holding Sarah in the movie Labyrinth.

Thus we were introduced to Ashleigh's (fun) sense of humor.  I, of course, had to have the David Bowie coloring page.

(This is the exact image.  Yup.)

We were all sitting around, coloring, mostly quietly, when someone mentioned how meditative coloring can be.  

And that's when our education for the evening began. 

Ashleigh explained that was exactly why she thought we should start by coloring; to get us in the mindset of meditation.  We were to be doing a spiral labyrinth meditation together later; here was where we were to start. 

She told us the ancient Greek myth of the minotaur in the labyrinth, putting some emphasis on the fact that Ariadne gave Theseus a clew (a long string to help him find his way out of the labyrinth after he had killed the minotaur).  After we'd learned what seemed relevant and were prepared for the labyrinth walking activity, we headed outside. 

It was still fairly bright out as we walked solemnly to the spiral labyrinth Circle maintains (it looks like this, but currently MUCH more lush with wildflowers and tall unruly late-summer growth; it's at its peak of gorgeousness right now): 

At the entrance to the labyrinth, we were each smudged with incense and we entered, singing, "we are the flow, we are the ebb, we are the weavers, we make the web."  We continuously sang this as we each grabbed a piece of the "clew" (a ball of very thick yarn), and held on to it, all of us connected yet walking separately. 

I remember closing my eyes periodically, breathing deeply, trying to feel my feet ground to the Earth, like roots.  Each step, the roots grew a bit longer.  I was slowly walking, holding onto the yarn that held us all together, singing, sometimes humming, sometimes not singing at all to take deep, cleansing breaths.  

The light was fading into twilight, ever so slightly. 

At the center of the labyrinth, a fire was lit and a "minotaur" (one of the participants with some toy horns on) stood symbolically, waiting for us. 

Before we had left the temple room (inside the big barn prominent on the property), we had each written at least one fear and how life could be if we were to let that fear go. 

As we all reached the center circle of the labyrinth, Ashleigh kept the group walking around the edge of that circle until everyone was inside the circle.  She gathered the ends of the yarn we were holding, set them down and proclaimed, "the circle is cast." 

Ah, brilliant! 

I smiled. 

We were invited to take in the sounds of the coming night, breathe the air and get grounded. Finally, we were invited to decide whether we really wanted to release our fears written on our papers.  We held the papers over our hearts, contemplatively, and, one by one, as we felt called, stepped up to the fire, announced aloud our fears, and cast the papers into the fire.  

"I renounce my fear of leadership." 

"I release my fear of not finding my way."

"I let go of the fear of the anger inside me."

"I release the fear of setting to rights some very big wrongs." 


" -----" (silence, while throwing paper in the fire)

So personal and brave.  And I truly, truly felt that none of the fears people were expressing were impossible to heal. None of them.  

Isn't that the way?  Our fears CAN be healed.  We simply have to want to heal them and take the necessary steps.  It doesn't always feel simple and may NOT always be simple, but it's possible.

We hummed a tone, while sending our wishes/prayers for healing to people, nations, or groups.  Words tumbled out of mouths, landing in the circle, flying into the night, wishing wellness to all.

After we'd all submitted our fears to the fire and wished the world wellness, Ashleigh offered a bit of a talk about letting go and our power, saying, "there's a song for that, you know." 

We are an old people, 
We a new people, 
We are the same people,
Stronger than before

We chanted.  It felt RIGHT.

We were invited to each take a cutting of the clew home with us, as a reminder of the experience of the night.  Mine is hanging on my van's rear view mirror.

We were invited to leave the labyrinth, each in our own time, in the manner we wished to leave it. 

I surveyed the landscape, now nearly dark.  Fireflies lit here and there.  The humidity was heavy in the dewy air.  The plants offered that delicious sharp and heady odor they do at this time of year.  Heaven on Earth, for me.  

(I was super surprised at how few insects, particularly mosquitoes there were out there...)

I took my time circling my way out of the labyrinth.  Again, my feet formed a connection with the Earth.  My eyes intermittently closed as I breathed deeply and enjoyed the silence and solitary, yet never-alone feeling of that part of the evening.  

I always walk too fast in my regular life, so I walked slowly back to the fire near the temple-barn.  

Everyone decided to sit and enjoy some snacks near the fire instead of going back inside; we could finally see the beautiful full Sturgeon Moon of last night and we marveled in Her.  The cool of the night was so welcome after a day of heat and humidity.  The company was friendly, the fire just right, and though the chairs were a bit dewy-wet, I am so grateful for the experience of my first Full Moon Circle. 

Thanks again, Ashleigh, and I hope to see you soon.  

Friday, August 12, 2016

Rough Stuff

This will be a very personal post, but I believe in sharing struggles and what we learn from them in the event that it might help another human soul dealing with the same thoughts and issues.

I want to start by saying: if you feel depressed, severely anxious or ill in any way, please schedule an appointment with your primary physician to get started on your healing journey.  Please do not feel you must "tough it out" becuase this could be extremely detrimental to your health, well-being, or life. 

- ~ - ~ - ~ - ~ - ~ - ~

Most people who know me know that I have an interest both in death and dying and the mysteries that lie therein, but also in the occult, something I have come by honestly probably by observing my father's interest in the occult.  He seems to be more intrigued by the darker or shadow side of the unknown, however, while I seek the light side, while also wanting to understand what I must about the darker side. 

In any case, my first visit to a psychic medium was in February 2009.  This was at a time my husband and I had been trying to conceive a baby for a while, and I thought I'd go to a Holistic Healing/Health Fair in town where many psychic mediums were offering readings to see if I could find out whether we would have a baby at all or conceieve one soon.  That medium told me about SO many things, a few of which were extremely detailed and personal, that did come to pass, and I have seen her when I have a feeling it would be helpful to see her since then.  Oh, and it turned out she was absolutely on the mark (like almost to the date) about when I would get pregnant with our first baby... 

So I saw "my" psychic in March this year, when I was still feeling mostly "right" about the world. 

This was at the point where I was thinking about striking out on my own as a Death Doula, and she told me that if I chose to do that, everything would work out, because I would take the steps needed to make sure it would work out.  She said that even if I didn't do it right now, it was nearly time to change jobs...if not immediately, maybe within the next few years, when my children seemed more established in school and a bit more independent.  In any case, she said I could choose either a more secure route with amazing benefits or a less secure route but either way, I would choose one that would still provide all our family needs.  She mentioned something might come about in May. 

She also mentioned I needed to take care of some medical issues that may be arising and that a blood test would be helpful in determining what was going on.

One thing you will always be told by a good psychic is that we all have free will and we all can make whatever choices we want.  We ideally will follow our intuition (and I was advised to do this), because it is God/Spirit Guides/Source talking to us about what is best for us in our life journey, but we can override our intuition as much as we want... we just might get another nudge or a harder nudge in the future (an example would be a serious car accident that made you aware of the need to spend more time with yourself, if you were ignoring your own needs too much), if we make a choice that takes us too far off our life's path. 

I did follow up on the medical, because I'd noted my anxiety was worsening and my anxiety medication seemed not to be helpful anymore.  I stopped taking my medication (WITH the approval of my doctor) and felt pretty good.  I had my thyroid checked; normal (though close to the low end of normal...meaning levels were closing in on hyperthroid).  I had a blood test for Celiac Disease; negative.  It seemed nothing was particularly wrong, physically, but at least I'd done my due diligence. 

In April, I had pneumonia.  It was one of the most horrible illnesses I have had.  I was rigoring so badly in bed one night that I wanted to go to the Emergency Room.  My fever was not well managed by ibuprofen at that point, and I was absolutely miserable.  I made it through the night and got my diagnosis of pneumonia the next day.  Thankfully, the antibiotics worked (I later found out several others at work had had pneumonia as well!).  Something I have learned in recent months is that if you keep experiencing a problem in more and more severe iterations, it's Spirit trying to tell you to pay attention to something in your life; I had had several days of high fever several months before, but no pneumonia.  This was the same thing, but worse.  What was Spirit trying to get me to understand? 

The pneumonia took almost a full three months to fully heal.  I was forced to slow down and listen to my own needs more. 

My children are at the age now that they do not need me physically every second of the day anymore; it indeed is high time I start nuturing my own needs a bit more, while still meeting their needs. 

But I did nothing at that time.  Not much, anyway. 

In May someone I work with on a national committee I'm involved with at work contacted me to tell me that she had openings for a work-from-home position, doing the kind of work I am already very skilled at.  I really like and respect the person who randomly tossed this job opportunity my way and was flattered that she wanted me to be on her team (she is the director of the program that the team is under).  I applied for the job...partly because of what the psychic told me about something coming to me in May and that my time at my job was about "up," and partly because I wanted to explore the opportunity.  I completed the HR interview and was about to interview with the manager of the program when I dropped out of the interview process.  I got scared by the prospect that this job wouldn't offer the abundance and prosperity that I thought I needed.  

At the end of May, everyone except me in our house had a GI bug, which piqued my anxiety like nothing else can.  For some reason, my main and basically only anxiety is related to becoming ill to the point of vomiting.  My rational brain knows that vomiting isn't pleasant, but it's not THAT bad, and that I have no reason to spend as much time worrying about contamination that will lead to vomiting as I do, but there it is. 

And in early June, school ended for my son.  I hadn't realized how much I had relied on the routine of going to school to pick up my son for a little bit of socialization in my day.  I hadn't realized how much I got out of his school experience until it wasn't there.  We had a wonderful time together on my son's last day of school, my son and I (and I got to connect more with some of the parents in his class, which was also wonderful).  But then it was over.

I felt so lonely after school ended.  I really didn't expect to.  I felt like a loser with no friends.  I felt like I could cry anytime, all the time.  I felt like I didn't care about how well I did at work, except during the times I was sitting with patients I was helping.  I felt like nothing was interesting, nothing was really worth doing.  I didn't care.   

I recognized these feelings could be depression, but soldiered on.  And I like to think I hid it well from most people.  I like to think only those I told about how I was feeling knew how I was feeling.  It wasn't that bad at first, but seemed to crescendo over the course of the summer. 

At the beginning of the summer, I was taking the kids to the park, the library, the splash pad.  

By mid-summer, we were mostly just hanging out around home or just outside around home, me feeling a bit like I was watching them play through a fog, not caring the way I wanted to about things, and smiling lots of fake smiles that never reached my eyes.  When I did feel good, I attributed it to their happy spirits.  

I couldn't bear the thought of doing work with dying people and watched from the sidelines as a 29 year old I was helping at work died a terrible death from graft versus host disease.  Friends have been pointing out a Death Doula certification workshop to me, and I just can't.

I told the psychiatrist I had been working with that maybe I wasn't doing as well as I thought without medication, but I still didn't want to take any.  He suggested I try a meditation course offered by the pyschiatry clinic.  I signed up for it, but dropped out before it started because it felt too overwhelming (sounds like depression talking, right?).

A few weeks after THAT, in late June, I finally asked for medication, which he prescribed.  And which helped tremendously with the symptoms of depression, but incredibly increased my physical and mental symptoms of anxiety. 

It can take four to six weeks for antidepressant medication (which can also often help with anxiety symptoms) to work properly, so I powered through the uncomfortable symptoms, including waking with a racing heart in the middle of the night and again around 5 am every morning, for about six to seven weeks, when I returned to the psychiatrist. 

In the meantime, I started reading about meditation.  Just reading about it at first.  I decided, that unlike most people, I don't really like Jon Kabat-Zinn, but I did read part of his book about a meditation program that has helped many thousands of people suffering from physical and psychological issues: 

Then I returned it to the library. 

I decided instead to reconnect with my "friend" Robert Schwartz, who wrote a book that deeply influenced a change in my spiritual views, called Your Soul's Plan: Discovering the Real Meaning of the Life You Planned Before You Were Born.  He has studied with many mediums and learned how to do past life regression hypnosis himself to help people understand why they go through challenges in their lives, in order to help them understand the cosmic lessons they were to learn from those challenges.  Any time we can positively frame the meaning of a life challenge we have gone through, we stand a chance of healing karma or healing the issue that caused the challenge in our life, thus elevating our souls to a higher level and allowing us to no longer have to experience those kinds of challenges.  I wracked my brain to try to understand why I might face the challenge of experiencing depression and anxiety (my anxiety has truly been a lifelong problem for me, though this is not true for my depression).  

I remembered I'd bought Robert's Second book and opened that puppy back up: 

I watched every YouTube video I could find with Robert in it, and read his webpage thoroughly.  (As an aside, I have since concluded that his awkward communication style leads me to believe he is on the autism spectrum, but I also think his success in his career shows how truly we are souls living in human bodies; challenges like autism do NOT have to limit us.  They just change how we might approach life.)

A little after I started looking at everything-Robert-Schwartz and re-started therapy with a clinical psychologist in July, I went to a psychic again.  I was so buzzing with anxiety at the session, basically shaking, that she asked me what was up and whether it had been a long time since I had a reading.  She said I felt very anxious (duh) and proceeded to offer a reading full of many reassurances that THINGS ARE GOING TO WORK OUT and that there is no reason for me to see anything but the joy in life.  She said my job situation has definitely reached its expiration date, like an old jar of mayonnaise (what an analogy, huh?).  I told her the last person told me that, too.  She said when you hear something in multiple readings, it really needs to be listened to.  She said my guides told me I "threw the baby out with the bathwater" in not pursuing the work-from-home job at least through the entire interview process.  And again, she also told me to listen to my intuition and NOT TO WORRY, EVERYTHING WILL BE OK (this "everything will be OK" was present at this and my previous psychic appointment).  It was a bit of a "tough love" session in some ways but so helpful in getting my butt moving a bit more on the spiritual exploration to "find joy."  In fact, one of my deceased relatives (thought to be a great-grandmother I never met), who is apparently a "spunky little old lady" kept yelling things about how I should "BE HAPPY!  You don't have to face the challenges I had to in my day!" and said that before she could even center herself to start the reading, this little lady sang to the psychic about finding the "joy, joy, joy, joy, down in your heart."

Seeing a therapist has been a great "secular" way to get to feeling "right" again.  I know I have found the right person to help me because right from the first session, she made me feel like I wasn't a person with pathology or an illness (which is the way the psychiatrist tends to see things).  She made me feel like a person dealing with a few issues that maybe weren't such a big deal and can definitely be tackled.  She told me maybe some of my symptoms of depression weren't really depression, but just passing symptoms.  And that IS exactly what they are, of course.  This jibed with something else I had read or heard recently when she said it, and literally over the course of one day, I no longer experienced most of my symptoms that I was labeling depression.  Of course, many factors were at play here, but just a little comment made a huge difference in a positive way for me.  You NEVER know which little comment you make might help someone incredibly; choose your words carefully, but please DO say something if you think it might help someone. 

I've also made a commitment to try to become more involved at school; "bloom where you're planted," right?  My "old" friends may be busy with other things.  My true friends will always be there for me.  My new friends are partly people from my kids' school.  

In any case, all of the Robert Schwartz videos and reading led me to listening to Tara Brach lectures on her website ( - she is a meditation and spiritual teacher in the style of Buddhist thought, but is very accessible to Western traditions and minds.  She has been very helpful to me more than once in my life and I am now reading her newer book, True Refuge.  Her main teachings are about acceptance, non-striving, mindfulness, and meditation.  She's in her 60's now, but you'd never know it from her recent photos: 

All of this led me to start exploring spirituality, meditation, crystal healing, chakras, angels, energy, love, gratitude, and metaphysics more thoroughly.  There is a lot to learn and I am still at the tip of the iceberg with most of it.  I started by taking the advice of, I think it was James van Praagh (who I am currently slightly obsessed with and am learning more about meditation from through his James van Praagh School for the Mystical Arts), to send love to everyone you see as you walk throughout your day as a way of opening your own heart and cultivating love, gratitude, and acceptance.  To everyone you see, you send a beam of love to from your heart to theirs.  I still do this often, and it does make me feel lighter and happier. 

I've also been listening to Hay House Radio and podcasts as well as looking at articles and reading books that speak to me.  I heard somewhere that this summer is a difficult summer for people with any empathic ability or sensitivity (I consider myself somewhat empathic).  I went looking for more information about that just this morning and found this blog post, which I found helpful and quoted on my Facebook wall (see also below).  

No matter what, you are here doing what you were meant to do and the bottom line of all that we are meant to do in this life is based in love.  We are meant to heal current or past-life traumas or problems in order to best serve each other and ourselves.  As James van Praagh says all the time, we are souls living in human bodies, having a human experience, not the other way around. 

I am on a new medication that is allowing me to sleep peacefully and does not negatively impact my appetite the way the other one did.  I am interested in things, feeling excited and joyful again, and while there is still plenty of mileage to travel, I'm on my way to recovery.  I'm up to about 15 minutes a day of meditation and am looking into joining a group that studies A Course in Miracles.   

- ~ - ~ - ~ - ~ - ~ - ~

"If you’ve been going through a challenging time, know that things will start to ease up for you soon.

Just remember to breathe, and take time to enjoy the magic life has to offer. Birds still chirp in the morning, and the wind still blows a beautiful breeze.
And though it may not always appear to be so, all is well."
- Emmanuel Dagher

Monday, April 18, 2016

Hanging out a Shingle?

I have been researching/trying to find "death doulas" and "death midwives" in my hometown of "Madison, WI" and my blog post about wanting to become a death doula is the third hit on Google when you type in "Death Doulas in Madison, WI."

I feel like there's really something wrong with that.

I can't find a Death Doula in Madison!  At least not by Googling.

There are a couple of people who kind of show up in a search on the End of Life Practitioners' Collective who apparently practice in Madison.  One seems to lack a web presence.  The other seems to specialize in Shamanic services, not ONLY Death Midwifery/Doula services.  The Earth Traditions Death Midwifery directory seems to yield two additional practitioners in Madison proper (there are a few more outside the city limits but still within Dane County).  Threshold Care Circle seems to offer up one more in Madison.  There are five end of life doulas in Madison who can be found (with some effort) on the first page of a Google search, which then devolves quickly into birth doulas and midwives, despite the search terms.

Let me orient you to why I am shocked there are so few Death Doulas in Madison.

The City of Madison is home to about 236,000 people.  289,000-ish people work here.  We have great low unemployment, a low pupil to teacher ratio, and really just fine living here in this city.  Sure, we have some issues and problems to negotiate, but in general, let's be honest, Madison is host to a fairly wealthy, well-educated, hard working populace.  We have tons of community resources available for free or cheap (including a free zoo!  One that is getting nicer by the year!), State government located here, and the flagship school of the University of Wisconsin system of colleges and universities.  Our political stance, as a city, is very liberal and progressive

During the 1978 Governor's race, one of the candidates called Madison "30 square miles surrounded by reality."  We're up to 77 square miles surrounded by reality, now, though, apparently...    

All of this is to say that I think we have the resources, people, politics, and diversity to support more than five Death Doulas in Madison.  Who, by the way, are hard to find and seem to work quietly.

There were 3,257 deaths in Dane County in 2014 (see Detailed tables) and 1,489 of these were directly in Madison.  Of course there are always going to be reasons why someone might not be able to employ or afford a Death Doula, but if even 10% of those people or their families wanted some help, that would be about 150 in a year! Just in Madison, not counting the many surrounding towns-that-blend-into-Madison.

I think there are.

Now, we face some challenges in bringing Death Doulas to the fore of people's minds, whether they are experiencing a new terminal/chronic illness diagnosis, facing the birthing of a baby who has already died inside (there is a whole separate specialty for those who work with stillborns, infant loss, and pregnancy loss), growing older, wanting to leave a legacy, wanting to understand how to funeral plan in a "smart" way, wanting to plan a home funeral, or wanting not to be alone at the time of death, among many other topics Death Doulas can help people with.

In some cases, there are experienced workers who will work with people facing these challenges for free.

In some cases, people roll these services into other services they offer the community.

In all cases, no one really thinks a lot about what a Death Doula could bring to their experience near or at end of life.

I have been thinking about it.

Not quite seriously enough to hang my own shingle yet, but my post about becoming an End of Life Doula was written a year ago, almost exactly.  And in a year, I have done some preparatory thinking and a little learning.

I met with the beautiful, generous, wonderful, you really-must-meet-her, Certified Death Midwife, Sharon Stewart, of Spirit Knoll.  I first met Sharon at the Welcome Spring gathering I went to at Circle Sanctuary, and she met with me a few weeks later for ... oh, was it about two hours?... out of the generosity of her heart, to tell me about her training and experience as a Death Midwife.

I learned some good stuff from her.
  • The industry is not currently regulated, so "certifications" don't mean the same things, one to the next.  
  • No one really has created the "be-all-and-end-all" definition of what a Death Midwife or Death Doula does.  
  • People tend to think "Home Funeral Director" when they hear Death Midwife or Death Doula, even though to be a "Home Funeral Director" is illegal in the State of Wisconsin; if you are going to help people with home funerals, you are helping them carry out a "Family Directed Home Funeral" and you must not file paperwork yourself, as the helping professional. 
  • Death Doulas are picking up steam and work on the East Coast, West Coast, Gulf Coast and in Canada, but not so much in the Midwest. Sharon said she knew no one making their whole living doing this work in this geographic area. 
  • Per Sharon's assessment, I already possess the skills I need to label myself Death Doula and hang out my shingle.  It'll be up to me how much time, effort, money, etc. I want to put into it.
  • It would be a good idea to keep my State Social Work licensure current if I do try to work 100% as a Death Doula.

I have also been stalking the work of Deanna Cochran and Martha Atkins, who are both based in Texas.  

Deanna offers a ton of different services, which is what I think makes sense for a Death Doula.  She also runs a business under a separate name, Accompanying the Dying, to coach and train people like myself who want to build a Death Doula business or simply receive training in end of life care.  I have talked to her on the phone in the past and looked at what she offers, but I feel I have learned most of what she'd teach, other than the business building part.  And she charges a LOT for an individual coaching session (as perhaps it should be), so I'd have to definitely be "in" on pursuing this business if I'm going to go for it. 

Deanna Cochran

To be perfectly fair, I think Deanna is wonderful, from what I know about her; I just can't figure out whether I should spend my money working with her or not before I even try to do anything on my own.  I really don't know.

Another gem doing some amazing work in Texas is Martha Atkins.  She "gets it" when it comes to death, dying, and end of life and just wrote a book about what to expect that reminds of my Final Gifts by its description, but I haven't read it and will have to do a book review in the future.

Anyway, Martha facilitates a Facebook group called Life After Death, which is an interesting collection of people sharing thoughts on end of life and bereavement (which is how I first became aware of her).  Martha has, online and in her videos, a reassuring yet appropriately-bubbly personality that makes you feel like you can trust her, even if you haven't met her before (or in real life); isn't that what you'd want from your Death Doula?

Oh, and Martha did a TED Talk.  Which makes her kind of an amazing celebrity, to me.   Nothing I didn't know was presented in the talk, but maybe you'd like it:

I realize there are about a billion other people I could learn from and model a business after, but these are the three who are currently influencing me.

I just have to figure it out; hang that shingle or not?  Attend some classes at the Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative to learn about setting up a small business, perhaps?  Do some kind of market research?  Or just dive on in with the time I do have available to me?  I don't know!

In an extremely small sample of, like, five people I've talked to about possibly opening a Death Doula practice in Madison, I have received a lot of very encouraging and positive support...but support, while very wonderful, does not a business or income make.

So, continue to research and consider, is what I will do.  I always thought I would return to hospice work, but perhaps this could be a richer modality, provided I can find a way, in time, to make a living at it.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Circle Sanctuary Visit - My First Visit

Preface: I feel like this is an extremely personal post.  Thank you for respecting my beliefs as I respect yours.  I already live by the Circle Sanctuary Inclusiveness Policy just...on my own as a person, but if you want an idea of what I mean by "thank you for respecting my beliefs as I respect yours" that's what I mean.  Not to be harsh, just...this is personal stuff I am still working through on many levels.

Also, if you see yourself or your child in any of my photos and want me to take them down, please let me know in the comments below as soon as possible.  I regret I didn't think to ask if I could include you in my blog before I took the photos and went home.


I have wanted to visit Circle Sanctuary for some time.  I have been exploring my spirituality for a few years and have determined that something in the realm of "Pagan" (which really encompasses a wide range of "nature worshipping/loving" sort of beliefs) works well for me.  I feel like living by the seasons, loving the Earth and its natural gifts, and noticing/appreciating/valuing the Earth makes sense to me.  Also that the divine is simply in love.  I'm oversimplifying it incredibly.

In the Temple Room at Circle Sanctuary.

Well, let me be clear.  I actually first learned about Circle Sanctuary initially because I discovered they had a Green cemetery, Circle Cemetery.  This cemetery has been open since 1995, making it one of the oldest in the United States as well as Wisconsin's first.  I learned about it from a Pagan woman I helped take care of in the course of my oncology work and started wondering more about Paganism.

Having looked into it more and upon reflection, I realize now I have known about elements of Paganism at least since I started attending MichFest in 2002.

2006 MichFest; yes, this is a goofy altar, but you get the idea

A little more background: my first visit to a psychic medium was 2009, where my son's pregnancy was accurately revealed (only his sex was wrong), as were several other, smaller, life events.

I started reading about life after life, theories and beliefs about how the soul grows and evolves, etc. and that's where I figured out that, due to my belief that we choose the challenges we face in our lives to help us grow some part of our soul that we wish to further grow (when we are in spirit form and able to think logically about it), and that we experience hundreds or thousands of lifetimes before our souls are evolved enough to stop incarnating, Christianity wouldn't work for me anymore.  I was kind of trying to convince myself it did anyway; I was going through the motions.

(Interlude to say, YES, my son attends a Catholic school and I realize he is learning a lot about Christianity there.  No problem; he can learn it.  When he repeats "doctrine," I confirm "that is what Christians believe," implying that he may or may not choose that path for himself.  I want him to choose his own spiritual path eventually, not feel he has to go along with what he's always done.  For now, I will expose him to some of the options.  His school offers an amazing education outside of the Catholic stuff, too.)

Anyway, in the past several years, I've sort of separated from the ELCA Lutheran Christian church I was raised in (ha!  I know!  I wasn't even Catholic before sending my son to Catholic school and then trying Paganism on for size!).  I believe Jesus was a very important historical figure with a relatively highly evolved soul, but I believe he is the Son of God in exactly the same way you and I are Sons and Daughters of God or Spirit.  We are all valued and important, but variously evolved souls who are Sons and Daughters of Spirit (which, in my opinion, is neither male nor female).

Which finally brings me to Circle Sanctuary.

I had received their emails for many months, often considering going to full moon circles or other events, but I just didn't feel comfortable or know whether I'd be welcome because I know so little, and I just hesitated over and over.

I received an email last week containing information about the Welcome Spring event, and finally pulled the trigger.  I finally went to Circle Sanctuary.  With the kids.

We started our day with sign in, introductions (people were from ALL over Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois), and a little round of egg hunting, in celebration of the Vernal Equinox.

When you're in the "under 5" division, you can really clean up

My daughter was in the "under 5" division and my son in the "6-12" division.  Adults were also welcome to hunt eggs (!! Adults get to have fun, too!!).  My daughter is 4, thus a big fish in a small pond and my son is 6, a small fish in a big pond.  Their egg hauls mirrored their "fish in a pond" status, and my son did quite a bit of pouting about his three eggs versus his sister's seventeen.  

I tried every speech in the "let's be grateful for what we have" part of the Parenting Guidebook

It turns out, however, that everyone won a prize (yes, even I did; I grabbed a single egg from the adult egg hunting grounds), and the smallest kids in the 6-12 division got to choose from the prize table first.  Smiles returned. 

We moved on from that to creating garden stepping stones.  

Each of us were given a pie tin, some mortar, water, gloves, access to beads and other stones, and told how to create the stepping stone.  We were told ahead of time we could bring our own special stones or items to place in the mortar, so each of the three of us had purchased a few special beads from Madison Bead Company the day before.  We all had a great time.

There was a lot of outside playtime between events.  The kids loved connecting with the other kids, and I got to meet some of the parents.  One of whom is my neighbor.  Like, I can see her house from my house.  Cool.

I wish I could have spent more time walking around the land there.  There are apparently many wonderful natural and Pagan features (by "Pagan features" I mean things like a Maypole, Labyrinth, Fairy House).  I did see the Maypole.  I want to see the Maypole dance at Beltane!

Yep, that's the Maypole

We had potluck lunch (which the kids hated, but they were anxious to get back to playing with their new friends anyway, so it was fine...and there were many very tempting snacks they had access to all day long that kept them going anyway), and then moved on to a family workshop, where were learned about broom (Besom) making and the historical and current uses/significance of them in Pagan culture.  It was the kids who were apparently supposed to "review" this information, but I learned a lot.  It was fascinating. 

Completed family Besoms in the "Summer Kitchen"

This was a nice smile after a lot of complaining in the early afternoon from this small gentleman

My very favorite part of the day, which I take as a good sign if I think I want to become a Pagan, was the Ritual. 

We welcomed Spring with praise and thanks to the Earth for all it does for us.

The Ritual opened with a drum circle.  I think this and the end were the only parts my children actually liked; the rest of the time they alternately told me they were bored or hungry.  Many times.

  My daughter, using an egg shaker in the opening drum circle

People from around the circle shared poetry, thoughts about Spring, and gratitudes concerning Spring.  We chanted, hummed, faced the four primary directions of the compass and then center to welcome in Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit; these are apparently the sacred directions.  There was the blessing of a baby girl and the blessing of the coming labor of a current staff member (wherein she was presented with some tools to ease her labor and then a Circle member read a touching children's book, On the Day You Were Born, that made half of us cry, while the mother-to-be walked around the circle, accepting the silent blessings and well-wishes for her labor and delivery from all).  The blessings of these two lives; one already Earthside and one to-be, teared me up.  And I rarely tear up!!  Thank goodness my daughter told me she was hungry again so I could get it together.

Finally, and apparently it is more customary to "cleanse" the circle prior to starting the ritual, the families who made Besoms cleansed the Ritual as it closed.  Only my daughter wanted to be a part of this, but I ultimately had to help her hold it up; it's kind of heavy for a small girl.

The Ritual was better than I expected and just what I was hoping for.  I told the High Priestess who led it so (in awkward stupid sounding words), and she offered a hug, which I accepted.

I left feeling like this could be my new church.  Everyone I approached to talk to was friendly and willing to answer questions or just talk.  I've never felt that way in a religious setting before.  I've always felt awkward and not part of the group.  I felt like I could be part of the group here.  Maybe it is my new church.

I hope it is.


Oh, and by the way, if you feel like checking out Circle Sanctuary, you can attend the April 16, 2016 Earth Day festival for free.  I'm going to go to one of the days of Beltane instead, I think, but free is a great price to check this place out if you are so inclined.

ALSO!!!!  I met a Death Midwife there today.  I got her card and I hope to talk to her more; maybe attend one of her events in Death Midwifery or Home Funerals; I'll blog more when I do that.  How amazing to meet such a like-minded person on my FIRST DAY!