Friday, February 27, 2009

Gray Cranes and the Hula Valley

Every once in a while, we humans learn what we have done wrong and fix our mistakes. Here is one example of that: Farmers and cranes are learning to coexist in the Hula Valley Nature Reserve. (1) J. Issacson, writing for Arutz Travel notes that
A unique beautiful park was recently opened in the Hula Valley...A combined effort of farmers, the Jewish National Fund, and nature conservationsts, the Hula Valley's newly reclaimed swamplands are now home to over 13,000 cranes from Siberia (Sia's note: recent surveys now put the number closer to 20,000)...In addition to feeding the cranes here, the Hula Valley has been reflooded - in effect to return the area to the swamp lands they once were. Now, an area that was until recently dry land, has ponds and streams. Ducks and geese are among the new inhabitants of the new park.

The battle to save both agricultural land, and to encourage migrating birds to winter in Israel, was achieved in a creative and cooperative effort. And we have gained a wonderful new park with lakes, waterways, a bird lookout tower, bicycle paths, and wonderful winged guests!
Crane Festivals:

If you live in the U.S
and want to see cranes closer to home, try the Festival of Cranes in the
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. It takes place in November. Or visit one of the other crane festivals in Oregon, California and Arizona.

Crane Art, Jewelry and Gifts at the International Crane Foundation

Parents might enjoy the charming crane growth chart by artist Janet Flynn.
Many of her cards and prints are available through the International Crane Foundation. The ICF gift shop also offers crane art, jewelry, books, cards and gifts for sale. Check out their website and learn about the work they are doing to save cranes worldwide.



(1) A bit of history:

For thousands of years ...

...the Hula Valley was an important resting place for birds migrating from Europe to Africa and back. Tens of thousands of birds found refuge in the pond and swamps. In addition, many species of rare fish and plants lived here, creating a wonderland of flora and fauna.

Immediately following the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, the government decided to drain the swamps and pond - which covered more than 15 thousand acres at the time - and convert them into agricultural fields. The task of draining the Hula Valley began in 1951. Scientists and nature lovers in Israel waged a vigorous battle to conserve at least part of the original landscape and eventually the government agreed to set aside 800 acres of the pond for a nature reserve. Officially declared in 1964, the Hula Valley Nature Reserve was the first nature reserve in Israel. Sadly, several species of flora and fauna have nonetheless disappeared from the Hula landscape.

Tens of thousand of birds, including cranes, storks, pelicans, cormorants, and several types of herons, make their homes in the reserve, enjoying life in the pond and the swamps. More than 200 species of water fowl flock to the reserve. The reserve - and indeed the entire Hula Valley - is blessed with abundant food supplies for these avian visitors The reserve is also a haven for rare water plants such as the lovely yellow iris. Buffalo were placed in selected parts of the reserve because their grazing helps preserve the open meadow.

The staff of the Hula Nature Reserve is involved in an effort to return certain bird species (such as the white-tailed eagle) to this area.

The reserve has lovely walking trails, including a "floating bridge" over the swamp, and special lookout points where visitors can observe the birds. The main path in the reserve is suitable for wheelchairs.

In the spring of 1994, another stage in the campaign to restore the Hula Valley was completed: the flooding of 250 acres of wasteland, located approximately two kilometers north of the Hula Nature Reserve. Because the wasteland had already sunk below its original level, it in any case flooded during every rainy winter. The intentional flooding of the wasteland improved the quality of the water in the Sea of Galilee. Now the water "rests" in the Hula Valley, giving the organic materials time to sink, whereas previously these substances flowed into the Sea of Galilee, polluting the water.

Art: Flying Crane

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mother of God

A sexy Virgin Mary? A menstruating Mother of God? I cannot possibly comment...but the blogger at Got Medieval can. He's an expert:

The Virgin Mary is having quite a year, and it's only February. Last month, as you may have heard, a Chilean designer, Ricardo Oyarzun, put on a fashion show featuring sexy Virgins Mary. This story made its way through most of your major newspapers and blog type venues, for two obvious reasons:

Those two reasons, obviously, are that the story filled those hard-to-fill column inches in the "Faith and Spirituality" section of the paper and it gave news outlets in general excuse to feature large-breasted models and call it news. And, of course, this all comes hot on the heels of Mary's appearance on the cover of the Mexican edition of Playboy back in December. ...Lest you all accuse me of bringing this up solely as an excuse to feature scantily clad women myself, there is an important medieval angle to all of this. Responding to the outraged Catholics (whose outrage he had, of course, intentionally courted), the designer, Ricardo Oyarzun, had this to say:
There is no pornography here, there's no sex, there are no virgins menstruating... This is artistic expression.
None of the news outlets that picked up the story record the reporter's next question after this spirited defense, which surely must have been,...What kind of porn, exactly, do you watch, Mr. Artistic Expression?"

But whatever the designer's tastes in kink...menstruating Virgins are entirely acceptable in a medieval context and not the slightest bit salacious. Indeed, the Virgin Mary's menstrual cycle was the subject of much medieval theological disputation. Ultimately, it was decided that the Virgin must have had one, because Jesus was born fully mortal, and according to medieval medical theories, a mortal body was created out of the matter provided by the mother, the same matter that is expelled once a month. Incidentally, this same matter they thought became the mother's milk, so Jesus's suckling was independent confirmation of the existence of Mary's cycle.

Mary, we moderns hardly know ye.

Those interested in feminist thealogy might be interested to hear about a New Version of "Cakes for the Queen of Heaven". For a thoughtful discussion of Mary's Pagan roots, I recommend reading The Rise and Rise of the Queen of Heaven by David F. LLoyd.


Stephen Benko specializes in early Christianity in its pagan environment. In The Virgin Goddess: Studies in the Pagan and Christian Roots of Mariology, he traces the development of the cult of Mary from Greek and Roman mythology through to recent times. Benko avoids anti-Catholic polemics and is sympathetic to the place of the “queen of heaven” in Christianity. That said, he unerringly traces Mary’s roots to the pagan, pre-Christian heavenly queens of Greece, Rome and the wider Mediterranean—those mutable goddesses whose ranks include Artemis, Astarte, Celeste, Ceres, Cybele, Demeter, Diana, Ishtar, Isis and Selene.

“Christianity,” he notes, “did not add a new element to religion when it introduced into its theology such concepts as ‘virgin’ and ‘mother’; rather, it sharpened and refined images that already existed in numerous forms in pagan mythology.”

The combining of beliefs from different traditions, called syncretism, was not new but a recurring theme in religions of the Mediterranean area. As with the transmission of pagan-to-pagan images and ideas, so pagan-to-Christian shifts began to occur in what Benko calls “functional equivalency.” The first centuries of the current era, during which the early Christian religion was embraced and modified by the cultures of the Hellenistic world, constituted a period of particularly rapid syncretism. The images of various distinct goddesses merged to become indistinguishable from each other.

But the cult with the greatest influence on early Christianity, according to Benko, was that of the Great Mother (Magna Mater). Known in western Asia Minor as Cybele, she was to become the model for Mariology. Throughout the region, many priests of the new Christian religion were recruited from among the pagan educated classes, and they naturally took their Greek philosophical ideas with them. Thus Stoic and neo-Platonic concepts of mythological earth-mother goddesses were projected onto Mary with little adaptation: Cybele’s devotees saw her primarily as a chaste, beautiful and kind goddess; her worship centered on salvation, and her cult advocated baptism, not in water but in the blood of a freshly sacrificed bull. The cult also enlisted celibate (sometimes self-castrated) priests, as well as virgin priestesses. Similar views relating to celibacy and the evils of sex soon entered the orthodox church and subsequently congealed as official teaching.

Benko describes the process whereby Mary became “the female face of God,” or the spiritualized image of the church. He writes: “Mary was eventually declared to be ‘Mother of God,’ which is a wholly pagan term filled with new Christian meaning. Did Mary become a goddess when this declaration was made? The answer of Christians was, and still is, an indignant No!—but in fact Mary assumed the functions of pagan female divinities and for many pious Christian folk she did, and does, everything the ancient goddesses used to do.”

By the mid-third century, Hellenized forms of Christianity had been granted a level of recognition in the Roman Empire. Sixty years later the emperor Constantine reaffirmed that freedom, and soon the forced conversion of pagans began. Their temples were demolished or “Christianized,” along with the congregations. By the end of the fourth century, pagan cults seemed to have been all but eradicated. But this should not be confused with the end of their influence. As we have seen, syncretism leaves its mark.



Related Articles:

The Great Mother Goddess: Motherhood, the Syncroblog

Eating Fish on Friday's? Holy Mackerel!
(on Freya, sexuality, fertility and fish) - my thanks to Driving Adhumla for pointing me to this article.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Church of the Old Mermaids

Today I would like to share a review of Church of the Old Mermaids by Kim Antieau at the Medusa Coil blog.

There is also a website for Old Mermaids created by the book's author which is charming. Currently, Kim is working on a Mermaid book tour in the Pacific Northwest.


Related Articles:

Church of the Old Mermaids Finally In Print

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

To all the gay and lesbian kids out there.... all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches, by the government, or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that, no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you, and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally, across this great nation of ours.

- Dustin Lance Black, accepting the Oscar for Best Screenplay for "Milk"

Care2 website writes:

The Oscars took place this weekend, and, amongst a year of incredibly strong films, Milk, a film biopic on Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected into office as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, won Best Actor for Sean Penn in the role of Harvey Milk, and Best Screenplay for young writer Dustin Lance Black.

You can read his whole acceptance speech and see the video here.

Check out the Care2 website. It's worth your time.


Videos at blog:

Dustin Black's press conference backstage at the Oscars.

Movie Trailor for Milk

Related Articles:

Joy in the Castro

It's OK To Think Dr. Who is Gay

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Photos from the Carnival of Venice

Today is the last day of the famous 10 day long Carnival of Venice. A flickr pool offers some lovely photos from the 2009 celebrations and I recommend these costume portraits taken by Salvano Candeo which were taken in 2006. I think these are some of his best. (His entire body of work can be found here.)

The carnival has decidedly Pagan origins, involving gifts to the gods of the sea and ceremonies we can easily recognize as fertility rituals and celebrations related to spring. Visit Venice notes that:

The word carnival comes from the Latin for "Farewell, meat!". As Lent (which begins on Ash Wednesday) obliged people to fast, during the period up to Ash Wednesday all meat, butter and eggs had to be used up. This religious formality became the excuse for a party that echoed pagan festivities. In late Rome Saturnalia and Lupercalia were moments when licentiousness and wantonry were celebrated - a deliberate upturning of the usual social order.

Over the centuries, various Popes tried to ban, contain or change the carnival with little or no result. The Republic of Venice and it's citizens were famous for their independence and Rome had much less influence in Venice then it did in other parts of Italy and Europe.

Agenda Venezia notes this about the masks and costumes worn during this event:

Carnival meant performances in theatres, in palazzi, in coffee-shops and in small playhouses, but above all it meant a climate of widespread festivity in which ordinary people and nobles, all wearing masks, mingled with dancers and jugglers, with vendors of balsams and cooked apple, with commedia dell'arte actors and snake charmers. In this climate of festivity the mask was the only possibility, in a society of social barriers, for everyone to be considered equal. The most common disguise in Venice in XVIII century was the bauta which consisted of the larva (a mask which was initially black, then of white oilcloth), of the bauta in the strict sense of the word with lace and veil, of the tricorno (a black three-cornered hat) and of the black tabarro (a silk or woollen cloak). There were numerous rites and ceremonies initially of pagan origin which were then transformed in the celebration of the power and grandeur of the Serenissima. War could be identified in the Macchina dei Fuochi (Fire Machine), the Venetians' dexterity in storming the walls of Aquileia in the Forze d'Ercole (Human Pyramids), battle in the Ballo della Moresca (Moorish Dance), justice in the Taglio della testa al toro (Decapitating the Bull) and peace in the Volo dell'Angelo (Flight of the Angel)... The other culminating moments include the water procession, with festively decorated boats and masked rowers, which concludes with fireworks against the evocative backdrop of the Cannaregio Canal, the flight of the dove which marks the beginning of Carnival, and the final grand ball on Shrove Tuesday in St. Mark's Square.
Tonight is also Oscar Night in the United States. This is also a celebration involving the display of (mostly) youth, beauty, costumes (various) and a demonstration of money and power in a city obsessed with same. Ah, spring. Ah, Hugh Jackman. He can be my Green Man any time he wants. (1)

Enjoy the photos,


Related Articles: Venice: The Goddess of Beauty or Desire (an online exhibitation)

Photo: Golden Mask found at Kiwi Collection website


(1) (sigh) I speak in admiration only. Both Mr. Jackman and I are both (happily and faithfully) married to other people. This is not as unusual, either in Hollywood or among Pagans, as one might think. Sorry, Hugh. T'was not to be.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Terry Pratchett says " We Need To Talk About Dementia"

Hear! Hear!

What he said on the day he received his knighthood...


Update 2/22

He also said this: "You can't ask a fantasy writer not to want a knighthood. You know, for two pins I'd get myself a horse and a sword."

Photo: Terry Pratchett and Queen Elizabeth II

Image: The Librarian, Discworld

Related Articles:

North American Discworld Convention

The Real BBC Book List: An English Teacher Comments


North American Discworld Convention website

The Seamstress Guild
The Seamstress Guild is a loose affiliation of women and men who come together for a variety of reasons. Our official purpose (whenever the Watch is making inquiries) is to prepare for the Seamstress Guild Party in honor of Mr. Terry Pratchett which will take place at the very first North American Discworld Convention in 2009. Mr. Pratchett will be in attendance.

Discworld Monthly Newsletter

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Discworld

Discworld Emporium
T-shirts, stamps, etc.

Discworld Artwork by Paul Kidby

(new) Discworld Miniatures

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ask Me About My Feminist Rage: Anne Hill Sums Up PantheaCon

For years I made sure that my booth was right next to Anne Hill's Serpentine Music booth at PantheaCon. (1) This is because I can't think of better companions in the wyrd trenches that one inhabits when working and/or presenting at Pagan festivals than Anne and her family. I spent over a decade watching Anne work and teach and I found that she is always great company, even when stressed or tired or dealing with those who are, including those Pagans who brought all their jewelry but who left their manners at home. I also value her clear-eyed, no nonsense view of the Pagan community and often benefited from her insight and advice. Plus, she's funny. Her wise and pointed sense of humor was aptly displayed by the ribbons she created and gave out this year at PantheaCon that said "Ask me about my feminist rage".

It's a great story - click on the link above to enjoy her post,


Related Articles:

PantheaCon 2009

When Is A Sex Positive Practice....Not?

Self Defense As A Spiritual Practice


(1) Thank you, Thalassa

Sunday, February 15, 2009

For the Birds: February Is National Wild Bird Feeding Month

Many ancient fertility festivals are related to the fact that during this time of year birds all around the world build their nests and look for a mate. (1) Today we still celebrate our connection to the vital life of birds, albeit in a slight different form.

Birders Magazine reminds us that February is National Wild Bird Feeding Month. Established in 1994, this celebration is now 12 years old and has over 54 million participants.

Would you like to get involved?

Here is a Bird Feeding Chart for North American birds which tells you which seeds and suets to feed the birds in your area.

Also, check out the National Audubon Society webpages, including the page called Bird Feeding Basics which has helpful information on choosing and placing your feeders.

The Wild Bird Centers' website notes that:

This observance was established because wintertime is one of the most difficult periods in much of North America for birds to survive in the wild.

Consider that:
- A typical backyard bird doesn't weigh as much as two nickels.
- Birds spend most of their waking hours searching for food -- without the help of "hands" and "fingers".
- They may consume 15% of their body weight overnight just keeping warm enough to survive.
- Like mail carriers, they're outside in sleet, snow, wind and cold.

The resolution noted that one-third of the adult population feeds wild birds in their backyards. Providing food, water and shelter helps birds survive, benefits the environment and supplements wild birds' natural diet of weed seeds and harmful insects.

Feeding Wildlife In Winter:

It's import to feed birds responsibly, so I would also recommend reading my earlier post titled Feeding Wildlife in Winter

The Bird Feeding Society reminds us that:
In nature we often find connections to our inner selves: our place in the world; our human victories and shortcomings; our challenges and inspirations and, very often, our responsibilities.

Over the last half-century of urbanization, people have gradually missed out on lessons nature may teach us. Lifestyle changes and loss of local habitat often separate us from the natural world. Television takes us to places once only explored on foot. Thankfully, there is still a nature activity still available to everyone and that's feeding and watching wild birds. Backyard birds may be the only wildlife many people see any more. The ability of wild birds to fly, their intrinsic beauty feed the imagination and their accessibility makes wild birds a perfect teacher and reminder about vanishing habitat and our responsibility to preserve it..

Need some springtime inspiration? Then head over to Voices in the Wilderness at flickr and check out their bird photo mosiac. It will bring a song to your heart.

All good things,


Painting: Winter Birds. Click here to find information on the birds featured in this painting.


(1) Birds and Spring Festivals:

Festivals in ancient Greece and Rome were often held to honor nature dieties such as Faunus. Faunus (AKA Pan) is a woodland deity, a protector of herbs, crops and shepherds. His female counterpart is Bona Dea, also known as Fauna.

ertility festivals in early spring timed to the mating of local birds and the return of migrating species; both events were a signal for our ancestors of the return of light and warmth. In such festivals you will often find reference (in some form or another) to the Goddess Flora and her sister, Fauna, both of whom are closely associated with bird life, fertility and the earth. Our modern phrase "flora and fauna" harks back to both goddesses and refers to plants and wildlife found in a given region.

Everywhere on the net, you can find this note:

During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that birds mating season began from February 14. This popular notion added to the idea that the middle of the February celebration of Valentine's Day be celebrated as a day of love and romance. Fourteenth and fifteenth centuries English and French poets and litterateurs through their romantic verses further promoted the concept of linking Valentine's day with romantic love.

Keep in mind, that prior to the Christian calendar changes in the middle ages, Feb 14th would be 11 days later in time, and so a bit warmer and welcoming for birds in Europe.

Friday, February 13, 2009

PantheaCon 2009

Have fun, folks.

Website for PantheaCon 2009

To Newcomers: Not every person you meet there will be true tribe for you. Use good personal boundaries and some common sense and you will find the empowered, balanced Pagans you knew were out there but had so much trouble finding before now. That's the great gift of PantheaCon and it's one reason why so many of us support it.

The organizers and many dedicated volunteers work hundreds of hours of their free time so that you can have this event. Please wear your best manners along with your jewelry and give them your support.

Articles You Might Find Useful:

The Pagans at PantheaCon

21st Century Pagans

Dysfunctional Behavior and the Pagan Scene

Healthy Pagan Groups and Individuals

The Bard and the Poser

The Shadow Knows

Going To PantheaCon

Dogma Is Not Particularly Important Compared To Ritual and Experience

Teachers Good and Bad

To The Old Timers: Like many of you, I've been going to this Con since it started and I've supported it in good times and bad. The con in turn has given me some great experiences, support and networking opportunities for my own work and some wonderful friends. If you live in the area, and you want this unique Pagan convention to continue then this is the year to give them your support. If you have a job, either attend for at least one day or send them a donation to help with expenses. If you don't have a job, then save your money but pass the word along. Events die without our support. If you value this gathering, do what you can.

To The Organizers: Seriously? You live in the tech capital of the world and you put your workshop schedule on a PDF file? I love you guys, and I think you can do better. I spent 13 years doing community organizing in that area and I know that you are surrounded by thousands of Pagans and Pagan-friendly folks who can put a complex schedule up on website. The community has been asking you folks to post the schedule in good time for over a decade now. You've gotten a bit better at that, (well done, you!) and you still need to post it on the website on it's own page so that others can link to it and so that the search engines can find your wonderful list of classes, traditions and teachers by teacher/group/tradition names and keywords and thus help get the word out.

We all want to help you out, and we know that advertising an event is hard (especially these days); why not do the one thing that will get you a massive jump in website traffic, make it easier for your attendees to plan their schedules, spread the word via the bloggers who support you, generate excitement about the wonderful events and classes you offer, and advertise the con for free. So, please use your considerable networking skills to help bring PantheaCon into the 21st Century. It's time.

A Support Group That Welcomes You

The Con can be overwhelming, especially if you are trying to do it clean and sober. Here is a group that can help. They deal with any and all issues, not just alcohol or drugs, and all who respect earthwise ethcs are welcome.

The Spiral Steps Support Groups - online group
Anonymous, non-cross talk, non-denominational meetings based on Earthwise Ethics. All are welcome

See You Next Year:

Family obligations keep me here but I will be with you in spirit.

Go well, stay well,



To: Rowan, Kitchen Diva, Anne and her great kids, Sage, The Luck family, Thalassa, Token, Chaos, and all my other friends who support and attend this convention year after year: You will be in my thoughts. I miss you. Safe travels.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life

Happy 200th Birthday Mr. Darwin and Mr. Lincoln

Since we are thinking today about evolution and civil rights, it's wise to "remember the ladies": (1)

The Civil War Bookshelf writes that (2):

By 1864, the women's suffrage movement was well organized and underway but pre-empted by events. In Australia, in 1864, a mistake in the wording of a new voting law allowed ladies with property access to the ballot. In the U.S., leading suffragettes

lectured and petitioned the government for the emancipation of slaves with the belief that, once the war was over, women and slaves alike would be granted the same rights as the white men. At the end of the war, however, the government saw the suffrage of women and that of the Negro as two separate issues and it was decided that the Negro vote could produce the immediate political gain, particularly in the South, that the women's vote could not.

Our time is coming...again. Progress, like evolution, often occurs in small ways over time and it can be difficult to observe. In the meantime, President Obama, you have my full support.

and... Mr. President, I still want investigations into the crimes committed by the Bush Administration.


Related Articles:

Saving What We Can: Ecojustice and Spiritual Practice

Creation Museum Opens in Kansas

Tree of Life

Related Links:

White House Agenda on Women


(1) Abigail Adams to John Adams, March 31, 1776

"I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.

"Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands.

"Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.

"That your sex are naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute; but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up -- the harsh tide of master for the more tender and endearing one of friend.

"Why, then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity?

"Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the (servants) of your sex; regard us then as being placed by Providence under your protection, and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness."

(2) From Australian Suffragettes:
Australia was the first country in the world to give women both the right to vote in federal elections and also the right to be elected to parliament on a national basis. New Zealand granted women the right to vote in 1893.

Commonwealth women's suffrage reflected the rights of women to seek election in South Australia and to vote in Western Australia, rights granted between 1895 and 1899. However, Indigenous women were not granted suffrage until 1962.

Youtube Video: David Attenborough on Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Chocolate: It's Medicinal

Women know that eating chocolate is therapeutic. (1) Karen Leland writes that the health effects are official:

A recent Italian survey conducted by the Catholic University in Campobasso, found that 6.7 grams of dark chocolate per day (about a half a bar per week) was the ideal amount for a protective effect against inflammation and subsequent cardiovascular disease.

Yep...It's medicinal.

Chocolate Bath, anyone?

Leland goes on to note the passing of a great chocolatier: of the chocolate world's great leaders, Robert Steinberg. Steinberg (61) was co-founder of Scharffen Berger Chocolate and a candy maverick who helped turn the humble cacao bean, into a star of the gourmet food world.

Eat a bit of their dark bar in his honor this weekend; your heart will thank you. (2)

Moonstruck Chocolate Co.

Here in Portland we are blessed to have the Moonstruck Chocolate Co. and their charming chocolate cafes right in our midst. Moonstruck makes luxurious handcrafted, artisan chocolates. On cold days we love to sit in the cafes and sip coffee and hot chocolate with loved ones. When friends visit, we tour the city, often stopping at Powell's Books, Vodoo Doughnuts, Elephant's Deli and Moonstruck. (Then we go hiking to work off all those calories).

Moonstruck chocolates are as beautiful as they are tasty and they make a lovely gift for Valentine's Day. You can order their offerings at their online store. Organic chocolate treats are available.

Chocolate Dieties & Pagan Themed Chocolate Molds:
(update 2/11)

Hecate has kindly reminded me to mention some delights I know well: Chocolate Dieties. Now, that's what I call divine.

This morning I found a Spiral Goddess chocolate mold. This same company offers other designs in their molds, such as Thor's Hammer, a set of ritual tools, triple moons, a pentacle and runes.

Organic and Fair Trade Chocolate:

When buying chocolate, it's important to remember where is comes from and who's life is affected by our buying choices. Here is a guide to Organic and Fair Trade Chocolate from The Daily Green: DG notes

Cocoa powder is derived from cacao seeds that grow in pods on the cacao tree. The tree's botanical name, Theobroma cacao, means "food of the gods," nomenclature with which I wholeheartedly agree. Cocoa "beans" are only called that once they're removed from the tree. What does any of this have to do with the environment? The cacao tree grows in the rainforest. Ideally, cacao trees will be grown on small farms, in the shade, to keep rainforests intact and reduce pesticide use.

[Sia notes: Shade grown is best for birds, as well. Most coffee and chocolate is grown on plantations where the trees have been cut down, destroying habitat needed by songbirds. Please make a conscious choice to buy bird friendly, shade grown coffee and chocolate. ]

Even better is organic cocoa that is also produced according to Fair Trade principles, ensuring that farmers are paid a decent wage for their work and no child labor is involved. In countries like Cote d'Ivoire in West Africa, children are being used like slaves to produce cocoa, with profits going to fund the country's civil war.

Someone You Should Know: Adrienne Fitch-Frankel
(update 2/11)

Ecotopia writes:

Adrienne Fitch-Frankel is Global Exchange’s Fair Trade Cocoa Campaigner. She also campaigns for conflict-free diamonds and was part of the Global Exchange-coordinated coalition for Sweatfree legislation in San Francisco.

Check out the Global Exchange website. They have fair exchange stores in San Francisco, Berkeley and Portland and they offer "reality tours" to over 30 countries.

Making Your Own Chocolate Treats:

The article above and the Scharffen Berger link both list a number of chocolate recipes.

You might also want to read: Tempering Chocolate from Cooking for Engineers.

Have fun,


P.S. This post is dedicated to my birding buddy Fyrehawk and her Kitchen Diva partner as well as their very special little cat who is recovering from an illness. May you live long and enjoy many years of chocolate and peanuts. We'll be right by your side. Love, SV

Related Links

Scharffen Berger

Related Articles

Give Me Enough Chocolate and I Can Rule the World
(filled with chocolate lore and links)

Medicinal Uses of Chocolate

Chocolate History, Glossary and Cooking Tips

A Nice Cuppa - Song Birds and Shade Grown Coffee

The Case of the Missing Songbirds


(1) As always, folks, it's wise to practice moderation in all things. For some people, it is possible that chocolate makes depression worse.

(2) There is more than one kind of loss here. The original Scharffen Berger Chocolate factory in Berkeley, a Bay Area landmark, will soon close.

Image: Chocolate Minerva - from Gizmodo's list of chocolate toys


Wikipedia notes that:

The name "Minerva" is likely imported from the Etruscans who called her Menrva. In Etruscan mythology, Menrva was the goddess of wisdom, war, art, schools and commerce.

Her name has the "mn-" stem, linked with memory. See Greek "Mnemosyne" (gr. μνημοσύνη) and "mnestis" (gr. μνῆστις): memory, remembrance, recollection. The Romans could have confused her foreign name with their word mens meaning "mind" since one of her aspects as goddess pertained not only to war but also to the intellectual. Minerva is the Roman name for Athena the goddess of Wisdom and Virginity. She is also depicted as an owl.

The patriarchial Roman myths have her springing full grown from the head of Zeus. Earlier myths list her as the daughter of Zeus and the Goddess Metis, an oceanic Goddess, and the first great spouse of Zeus, who was, in fact, his equal. I think it's fair to say that in Menrva, we see the offspring of Mother Ocean and Father Sky. She is said to be the inventor of mathematics, language, poetry, the healing arts, and music. As 'Minerva Medica', she was the goddess of medicine and doctors, warriors, wisdom, commerce, and crafts. Ovid called "The Goddess of a 1,000 works".

All this is probably why the character of Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter books has the first name of Minerva.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

David Tennant and Derek Jacobi Win Critic's Circle Award

Congratulations to both David Tennant (1) and Derek Jacobi for winning the Critic's Circle Award. Mr Tennant wins the award for his Hamlet, Mr. Jacobi for playing Malvolio in Twelth Night.

Here is an excerpt from the review of Tennant's Hamlet in The Guardian:
Tennant's performance, in short, emerges from a detailed framework. And there is a tremendous shock in seeing how the lean, dark-suited figure of the opening scene dissolves into grief the second he is left alone: instead of rattling off "O that this too too sullied flesh would melt", Tennant gives the impression that the words have to be wrung from his prostrate frame. Paradoxically, his Hamlet is quickened back to life only by the Ghost; and the overwhelming impression is of a man who, in putting on an "antic disposition", reveals his true, nervously excitable, mercurial self.

This is a Hamlet of quicksilver intelligence, mimetic vigour and wild humour: one of the funniest I've ever seen. He parodies everyone he talks to, from the prattling Polonius to the verbally ornate Osric. After the play scene, he careers around the court sporting a crown at a tipsy angle. Yet, under the mad capriciousness, Tennant implies a filial rage and impetuous danger: the first half ends with Tennant poised with a dagger over the praying Claudius, crying: "And now I'll do it." Newcomers to the play might well believe he will.

The run has since ended. Let us hope that the RSC see fit to put this on DVD for the rest of us. You can sign the petition here.

I have been a fan of Mr Jacobi since I Claudius and I had always wished to see him perform on the stage. I got my wish when the RSC came to Los Angeles just before the 1984 Olympics, and by dint of standing in line for hours and hours at UCLA hoping for tickets with a charming crowd of other Shakespeare lovers. My persistence paid off: I had the great pleasure of seeing both perform both his witty, romantic Cyrano in the play by the same name, and his funny, beleaguered Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. I'll never forget either of those performances and I'll always wish I'd seen his Prospero at Stratford. Here is an interview with this lovely and uniquely talented man. (2)


(1) David Tennant is perhaps best known in the U.S. for playing Dr. Who

(2) You can catch Jacobi's Hamlet, a performance for which he is justly famous, on DVD:

Jacobi's Prince of Denmark is a complex and embittered intellectual, whose occasional bursts of love, faith and even fury are transformed within an instant into weary skepticism. His first resort in any dilemma is to let fire with irony on his nearest and dearest. In a way, though hardly "innovative"--too many actors seem desperate to find (or invent) something wholly new in this too-famous character-- Jacobi is giving us a very postmodern, almost "deconstructed" Hamlet--attractive, sensitive, even high-minded on the surface, but underneath a man whose sanity and even noble intentions are ultimately untrustworthy. The more I see this version of the play, the more I think the Ghost to be a lying goblin damned, or even a trick of Hamlet's fantasy, and Hamlet himself more scourge than minister. "It hath made me mad" Hamlet cries, staring at his own two abusive hands in the nunnery scene--a reading of the line which makes more sense to me than any other I have heard. And still we'd forgive this Hamlet anything, wouldn't we?

Patrick Stewart portrays a Claudius wholly up to the challenge of overturning Hamlet's world. No lecherous drunkard he, as in many productions, but the capable CEO of the troubled state of Denmark. Hamlet underestimates him all the way. That Stewart happens to be blessed with one of the finest dramatic voices around underscores this Claudius' capacity to woo both Queen and Court. In fact, this Claudius is so dangerous that Hamlet’s famous inaction becomes a reasonable reaction to circumstances, and it is no surprise when his only remaining option is direct, and tragic, action.
Note to Shakespeare fans: Patrick Stewart played Claudius to both Jacobi's and Tennant's Hamlet.

You Tube Video: David Tennant's Hamlet

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Dewey the Library Cat & Orlando At Bloomsbury Books

Read this book. Trust me. (1)
How much of an impact can an animal have? How many lives can one cat touch? How is it possible for an abandoned kitten to transform a small library, save a classic American town, and eventually become famous around the world? You can't even begin to answer those questions until you hear the charming story of Dewey Readmore Books, the beloved library cat of Spencer, Iowa. Dewey's story starts in the worst possible way. Only a few weeks old, on the coldest night of the year, he was stuffed into the returned book slot at the Spencer Public Library. He was found the next morning by library director, Vicki Myron, a single mother who had survived the loss of her family farm, a breast cancer scare, and an alcoholic husband. Dewey won her heart, and the hearts of the staff, by pulling himself up and hobbling on frostbitten feet to nudge each of them in a gesture of thanks and love. For the next nineteen years, he never stopped charming the people of Spencer with his enthusiasm, warmth, humility, (for a cat) and, above all, his sixth sense about who needed him most. As his fame grew from town to town, then state to state, and finally, amazingly, worldwide, Dewey became more than just a friend; he became a source of pride for an extraordinary Heartland farming town pulling its way slowly back from the greatest crisis in its long history.
Dewey Read More Books

Orlando at Bloomsbury Books

Also, my sympathies go out to the staff and patrons at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland, Oregon (home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) who recently lost their beloved store cat, Orlando. I visit this store every time I go to Ashland and I looked forward to petting Orlando whenever I was there. I will miss you, boy. You were a wonderful greeter. I'm glad that you had such a good life.

Both cats were rescues and both lived a good, long, and useful life. This post is dedicated to all those who cat lovers out there, the people who take the time to notice a lost, starving or stay cat, who help out at shelters, foster kittens, donate what they can and go that extra mile for these splendid creatures.



(1) I would like to add one more item to Dewey's claim to fame: He annoyed Bill O'Reily no end. Well done, Dewey!