Zurich Reflections #1: I Think I’m in Love

I didn’t think I could fall in love with a city, but I’m falling in love with Zürich.

Right now, I’m sitting at a local coffee shop, and I can hear the church bells ringing close by. I got here by bus (we have two bus stops within easy walking distance from our house) and a short walk. The coffee, of course, is excellent.

While I sit here, I can look across the street at an older apartment building that has old European style architecture. I look left and there’s a very modern looking building, and when I look right there’s a small intersection of narrow streets and more tall buildings. Some of the buildings are residential, some are commercial, and like the building across the street, it’s mixed, with stores on the ground floor and apartments above.

Space isn’t wasted here.

Our apartment is actually large by Zürich standards. We have a large balcony off our living room facing a courtyard area overlooking several other apartment buildings, and we have a smaller balcony off our kitchen where you can look down at the front door. From our back porch, you can also look up into the hills around Zürich. Most mornings, in this season, we have fog in the morning until it burns off around noon time.

Most places here have lots of large windows so that you can maximize the light. Some of the windows here also do what I call the “magic trick” of opening two ways! You turn the handle one way, and you open the window (or door) fully, you turn the handle the other way and the window opens from the top to let in enough air for ventilation. The windows are big enough that there are times when I’m in my office where I open my street-side window, pull up my chair, and just watch the world go by. It’s generally very quiet in our neighborhood (although, we do have construction going on down the street until the end of the month), even with the bus and the train going by at all hours.

It’s pretty spectacular when storms come through. I tell the wife that we have excellent storm watching windows!

It’s not just my neighborhood that’s winning me over, either. (Side note: Our neighborhood has a Berkeley kind of vibe, so we’ve occasionally called our part of Zürich “Zerkeley”.)

When I walk through the city, doing errands or whatever, I notice a lot of little things. Like I said earlier, there’s a mix of the old and modern. One minute you’re walking on regular pavement, the next you’re climbing up a cobblestone street. There’s also little details of the city that you notice if you’re open to finding them.

There are water fountains everywhere, and nearly all of them are potable. You can always see people taking a drink or filling up their water bottles. Some are just small little spigots in a corner, and some are large fountains with old statuary.

Speaking of water, there are canals, rivers, and the Zürichsee (Lake Zürich). I am really looking forward to swimming in the lake come Spring! The city even hosts several open water swimming events over the summer, including one that is similar in length to the Tiburon Mile. There are also lots of pools, both indoor and outdoor, maintained by the city, so I’m excited to start swimming again soon!

The architecture here is amazing! Both the modern and the old. What’s really fascinating is that if you walk some of the side streets, you’ll find strange little murals from the 1800s, or odd old statues, or suddenly come upon a green space. I even found an old well from the Middle Ages that was preserved by the local historical society!

Food is excellent here. In fact, all the meals I’ve had here that have all been excellent. The quality of the food here is just amazing, even the groceries! While it is true that it’s expensive to eat out here, groceries are pretty comparable to SF Bay Area prices. The biggest thing I’m getting used to here, though, is that you don’t rush your food here, especially when you eat out. You’re expected to take your time and savor your meal.

And once you’ve had proper Swiss fondue, you’re spoiled for fondue anywhere else.

I could expound on a lot of things about here that I love, but the best thing is that it’s comfortable here, both in our lives and the city itself. The energy here is old, with the energetic sense of old warding to protect the city and country. (Given Switzerland’s history, that makes complete sense.)

To put it another way: I feel more welcome and comfortable in Zürich than I have in any other city in the US.

Und das ist sehr gut!

Two weeks…Three New Ancestors…

It’s a gloomy, rainy day here in Chicago, and it seems rather fitting that today. So many Ancestors in so short of time. I’ve already done my rituals: lit candles and incense. But today I feel the need to write about them and what they meant to me.

A little less than two weeks ago, my mentor and friend, Lizann Bassham passed after a long struggle with cancer. She had decided that she wanted to stop treatment and die on her own terms. Her partners kept vigil with her, both in person and online, updating those of us who couldn’t be there on her Facebook page.

She was an amazing woman and an amazing spirit. She was also the first mentor I’ve had that was a both/and priest: both pagan and Christian. When we first met when I was in seminary, it was the first time I could see that the idea of both/and could be done in a professional capacity. We had many deep and poignant talks while I was at PSR and learned so much from her. Not just about being a multi-faith priest, but how to navigate this world from the spaces in between. We were both priests who lived in the in-between spaces, and as beings who intimately know those spaces, it can sometimes be very difficult to live in this world with that knowledge. But Lizann did it with such gentleness and grace and love, that I hope that I, too can emulate that.

After seminary we didn’t talk as much as when I was still at school, but I would occasionally say hello to her online and read her blog posts. I will miss her greatly.

Yesterday, we found out that Valerie Walker (aka Vee or VeeDub) also left this world after deciding to stop her own cancer treatments. It had been the second round of cancer for her and she basically was done with it. She wasn’t  a mentor as such to me as she was to my wife, but she was an awesome friend to both of us. I had heard about her a lot from friends of mine who were studying Feri witchcraft under her (including my wife), and I remember I was a little nervous meeting her for the first time. If I’m remembering right, Sarah asked me to come with her to a circle at Vee’s house. And while I wasn’t interested in learning Feri tradition from Vee as an initiate, I did learn a lot from her. She also always treated me as a colleague, as fellow witch also navigating being a leader of a tradition. Unlike some other leaders in the Bay Area, she never treated me as “inferior” because I didn’t happen to be initiated in her tradition. After that, we were friends and Sarah and I went to several holy days at her house. Sometimes we just came over to say hello and catch up. In the last several years, it had been harder for Sarah to get some time with her, or for both of us to go visit, since we had moved first to San Jose, then to Chicago. We did keep in touch online off and on.

Vee, to me, was like that BadAss Grandmother you never knew you needed in your life until you met her. She was fierce, and blunt, but always accepted you for who you are and was kind in that no-nonsense kind of way. She died how she lived her life: on her own terms, and I will miss her presence on earth, too.

Then, this morning I heard of Anthony Bourdain’s passing. My Mom texted me about it, and at first I was like “No way!” but then I saw the BBC article. I didn’t know him personally, nor did I ever get to see him in person, but he’s been a virtual mentor in the sense that he showed me places I had never seen before and made me see that the food of a people, and eating with people, will tell you more about a country than anything else you can do. I started watching “No Reservations” many years ago, and ended up binge watching the whole series. From then on, I couldn’t get enough of his work. I watched everything he ever did on TV, shows he helped produce, or where he collaborated with other chefs. I’ve read almost all of his books on his life and thoughts about being a chef (although, I’ll admit I haven’t read any of his fiction yet). His Parts Unknown series, to me, was some of his best work, bringing together food, people, politics, and culture in a very unique way. It’s inspired me to do my own filming of my own travel when I move to Europe, and while my own work will be more of a vlog type thing, I do want to incorporate some of the same sensibilities that he brought to his show into mine: seeing past the tourist view and into the hearts and souls of people who live there.

What I found really interesting in watching all his shows is that you can saw him grow as a person. The very beginnings of “No Reservations” he comes off as an asshole, bad boy chef playing up his asshole-ness to the camera. But as the seasons went on, you can tell that the travelling made him think and grow. One of the episodes that showed that is the episode where he was in New Orleans a few years after Katrina, where he went and apologized to Emeril after dissing him years earlier. He did it in his Anthony Bourdain way, but he was sincere. But that wasn’t the only episode that you could see that, but it’s one that stands out to me.

Then again, he was pretty open about when he messed up, especially in his writings. From his drug addiction, to when he didn’t communicate right with locals, and so on. This, and in so many other ways, his work always spoke to me as a food nerd, a priest, a traveller, and a person. Even in the end, he went out his own way, by his own rules. I hope that wherever he is now, there’s a full pig roast going on, with sausage, BBQ, and Pho.

All three of these people have had a big impact in my life, and mostly because they lived life to the fullest by their own rules and in their own time. I honor them as my newest Ancestors, and I hope I can honor them by doing the same: living my life, living it well, giving where I can, and teaching when I can.

What is remembered lives.

Lent Poetry: Food Addiction

(I missed a day! Oops)

when I know I have to eat
or when I have to not eat
a particular thing
because it makes me ill
it’s like I have to
welcome a demon in
just to feel well:

that demon being
the one that tells me
how ugly I am

and how
unacceptable
I am

The one that tells me
that I shouldn’t bother to eat –

especially
not in front of people –

because the fat girl
really shouldn’t eat
in public

but I can’t get away from
eating
because humans have to eat

we’re addicted to food
from day one
we can’t function without food

I just wish
I could stop feeling ashamed –

no – that society
would stop shaming me –

for doing what
I have to do
to survive

Food

I refuse to moralize you
I refuse to fight you,
count you,
or categorize you as good or evil.
I’ll try not to restrict you
unless I absolutely have to.
I’ll make sure to invite you in
even during the times where
I feel
I don’t deserve you.
Because I can’t exist without you.

You are not my enemy.

I want to honor you,
in all your smells and tastes and textures,
with good preparation.
I will honor
where you come from
and honor the way
you bring people
into community.

You are sacred.
You are sacrifice.
You are life.

Baked Stuffed Pumpkin with Mushrooms, Spinach, and Cheese (A Mabon Recipe)

I made this for my coven the other night for our Mabon dinner and it was an instant hit! This is vegetarian and gluten free! Yes, you can make this with regular bread if you wish, although, we all liked the texture of the gluten free bread in it (it doesn’t get as mushy). This is pretty adaptable, and according to my original sources, you could also use cooked rice instead of bread. I may also make a non-veg version of this by adding some cooked bacon. (Mmmmm….bacon!)

I was inspired to try doing a stuffed pumpkin by this blog post and video by Jas. Townsend and Son, Inc, who have a YouTube show about 18th Century Cooking.

What you need:

1 pumpkin, about 3 lbs (or an acorn squash, or kobocha)
About 2-3 cups of gluten free bread cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 8 oz package of a shredded cheese blend of your choice (you can always add extra)
1 8 oz package of sliced mushrooms
1 5-8 oz package of baby spinach
2 shallots, finely diced
2 heaping spoonfuls of minced garlic (or about 4-6 large fresh cloves diced fine)
salt and pepper to taste
heavy cream
1-2 tablespoons of butter

What to do:

  1. Cut the top off your pumpkin and scoop out all the seeds. (You can either discard the seeds or roast them.)
  2. Melt the butter in a frying pan. Put in the shallots and cook until just translucent.
  3. Add the garlic and mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms are golden brown.
  4. Add the baby spinach and cover the pan to let it wilt.
  5. While the spinach is wilting, add your bread cubes, cheese, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and toss together.
  6. Once the spinach is wilted, stir the spinach, mushrooms, shallots and garlic together until they’re well mixed, then add it to the large bowl with the bread cubes. (Some of the cheese will melt, but don’t worry, it’s ok!)
  7. Combine all the ingredients in the bowl until well mixed, and then pack as much as you can into the pumpkin, squishing it down into the pumpkin if you have to, until you can just fit the top of the pumpkin on without it sticking up too much. (The top should still fit as if you were making a jack-o-lantern.)
  8. Slowly (!!) add the heavy cream. You’ll want to do this in 2 or 3 stages. Add some, then let that soak in a bit. Then add a bit more, let it soak in, and then add a little bit more. You want to be able to see the cream come a bit to the top, but not so much that it’s drowning (with all the bread and stuff packed in, you won’t be able to add too much anyway).
  9. Put the top back on.

Cooking method 1 (which is how I cooked it for our dinner):

Wrap the pumpkin well in heavy duty aluminum foil so that it won’t leak. Get your grill set up and start your coals (you could probably even use a regular campfire for this method!). We used mesquite coals, but I’m pretty sure you could use regular charcoal for this, too. The goal is to have a very hot set of coals to nestle the pumpkin in to. When your coals are ready, make kind of a well in the middle, and carefully set the pumpkin on them. Bring up the coals around the pumpkin (kind of like using a dutch oven), and cook for about an hour and 15 min (or longer, depending on how hot your coals are). You can tell it’s ready if you can poke the pumpkin from the outside and it feels like it’ll squish if you poked it too hard. Carefully remove from the coals into a heat proof dish, unwrap, and be ready for awesomeness!

Cooking method 2 (for the less pyro among us):

Put the lid on the pumpkin and bake at 350 degrees F for approximately 1 – 1.5 hours. Basically, when you can stick a knife in the pumpkin without resistance, it’s done. To make it fancy, you could take the tops off, add more of the shredded cheese, and put it back into the oven until it’s all good and bubbly.

Blessed Mabon everyone!

Because I Want To!

I’ve been doing a lot of “adulting” in the last few weeks, most specifically around beauty and health. I’m a little conflicted around talking about my own health stuff online, since I know that for other people (including myself) there are times I just don’t want to hear about someone’s exercise schedule, especially because our society is really messed up around conflating exercise with weight loss. I get that, and really, this isn’t to brag about my current exercise regimen or anything like that, but to talk about the reasons why I’ve decided to do what I’ve been doing.

I have a back injury. My L5-S1 disc is basically like a bad car brake pad at this point. It’s difficult for me to walk long distance or to stand in one place for too long. How it happened is that in 2010 I fell twice on my tailbone onto hard floors (once in the lab when I was still working in biotech, and the second at home). Also, it was aggravated by working in biotech for 13 years and standing for hours and hours a day on hard concrete floors. I’m still at a point, however, where strength training and stretching can keep me from having to use drugs or getting risky cortisone shots. So, after talking to my doctor (who is a DO instead of an MD and very much into holistic medicine) I decided to go the non-drug route for the time being. I went to my local 24 Hour Fitness with a pool to get a membership. Even though I was terrified of the possibility of body shaming, I asked about getting a trainer so that I could learn about exercises for my back. It just so happened that they had a trainer who also has the exact same injury that I do. I got to talk to her for awhile while I was signing up, and was pleasantly surprised that she took me seriously. In fact, in my two full sessions with her, there has been no body shaming whatsoever, just a desire to see me get stronger so I can move better. (If you’re in San Jose, her name is Kortney, and she’s at the 24 Hour Fitness on Santa Teresa across from the Kaiser San Jose.)

Something I’ve come to realize in the last couple of weeks that I’ve started training, is that I really like it! I like being athletic, being in the pool, doing strength training. Not for weight loss, not just specifically for my health, but because I love it. I realized, when I was in the pool last, that I had really missed the swim training I did for the Tiburon Mile. I love being in the water. I can see my wife and my parents now going “duh”. Especially my parents, since I started swimming before I could walk! In fact, one of my earliest memories is of me in the local community wading pool. But my best swimming memory was when I completed the Tiburon Mile in 2009. (Here’s the video Sarah made about my swim.) I’m still really proud of that.

So, I’m going to try it again. I decided at that moment in the pool that I’m going to try and swim the Tiburon again in 2017. Because I want to, and because I know I can do it.

This “because I want to” thing is also translating into other areas of my life. I’ve recently been exploring more about my sense of style around clothes and beauty. For a long time I wore clothes a certain way because it was expected of me. I didn’t dye my hair for a long time because I had some weird sense that it wasn’t “right” to do. Same with clothes. There were certain clothes I avoided for several reasons (although, when I was still working in biotech, there were practical reasons I had to wear certain types of clothing), but most of the reason I avoided them is because I was trying to look like other people’s expectations of what they thought my identity was. For a long time I shaved my head and refused to wear anything considered “girly” because other people expected me to be what their version of what a butch dyke looked like. I also stopped wearing more femme clothes and makeup because there were a lot of sources telling me “you shouldn’t wear that” or “you aren’t really that femme are you?” or “you’re too fat to wear that!”

But what I’ve learned by doing work around body positivity is that I don’t owe anyone a explanation why I like swimming and being athletic, wearing skirts, or even wearing the bright blue mascara that I have on right now. I don’t own anyone an explanation of why I choose to eat or not eat foods. I can do these things because I want to, not because of society’s conflated beauty standards, or other people’s expectations of what healthy is, or not do these things because I’m fat.

I’m not sure if this is because I’ve turned 40 and I just don’t really give a crap what people think anymore, or if I’ve finally just found a happy medium with myself. Or maybe, I just think life is too short to not do the things I want to do, even if what I want to do is swim 2000 yards in a hour while wearing blue mascara.

3rd Week of Lent: The Dadga and Healing my Relationship to Food

Right now, I’m in the middle of my time with The Dagda. Getting up earlier to make breakfast took a bit of getting used to, but it’s been nice to sit and eat with my wife before she goes to work in the morning. The other side of having to make food for others as ritual is that it really brings up the messed up relationship I’ve had with food and with my body. I’m facing the reality of being the one who feeds people and eating with others. It’s complex: There’s the whole idea of finding it hard to eat publicly, but yet, I have to feed anyone who comes to our house, or, as will happen next weekend, I have to make dinner for others outside of the house.

Some of this also brings up a lot of the complex feelings I have about my own body and how I look. The Dagda is teaching me to love my belly. He chides me when I think about hating it because he shows me his own big belly and laughs, saying “If I, a god, can have a big belly, so can you!”

I was looking for something to represent the Dagda on my altar, and there were a bunch of pictures of big muscle-bound bearded men with six-pack abs in the depictions of Him on Google. I raised an eyebrow, and He said to me “That is definitely NOT me!” I see Him more as I have Him depicted in the tattoo on my right leg: big fat belly, club, and cauldron. He’s a father-type figure for me, and brings about the seasons. He helps bring about Justice for those who need and deserve it. He has the ever-full cauldron that will feed those who are in need and deserving, but be empty for those who are greedy.

He came to me in the middle of my second degree initiation in my old coven. It was weird because I thought I had had a name all picked out for my witch name, but when it came time to say my witch name “The Dagda” came out of my mouth instead. I actually don’t remember the name that I was going to use, but after reading about Him, I started to understand why He came to me. I no longer use His name as my witch name (which He was flattered that I did), but He has been my patron god ever since.

So, if I make you food or ask if you want a snack during this time, know that it’s a sacred thing. The kitchen is my temple, the stove one of my altars, and food is the sacrifice we make for being human. I will not be ashamed to partake of that sacrifice from now on.