Goddess of the Week: Pele

Humanized form of Pele, Goddess of Fire, paint...Image via Wikipedia

Shhhh. Don't look -- and keep your voice down. This week's goddess is already really pissed off, and I don't want her directing her wrath at me.

This week's goddess is Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire. She is one tough charcoal briquet. It seems she has some "issues" when it comes to men, sisters, and rivals. Basically, they make her really mad, and when Pele gets mad, she burns things.

I don't know what happened. Maybe another lover dumped Pele for Poliah, goddess of snow-capped mountains. Maybe Pele slept with her sister's husband again and then got into another sibling spat. Hell, maybe Pele doesn't like the happy hour at Roy's Hawaiin Fushion in Pasadena. But something happened because -- last I heard -- over 85,000 acres of the San Gabriel foothills are burning. I wake up every morning and the inside of my house smells like smoke. We can't walk the dog because the air quality is so bad. Our eyes sting, our throats hurt, our clothes stink. And I'm far south of the fires. I'm not even close to them. No matter. Right now, if you live in the San Gabriel Valley, your life is focused on conflagration.

So here's what we need to do. Are you ready? Are you sure? Because we must be very subtle or Pele might change the winds and send us running to the sea. Ok: here's what we do: we don't channel Pele. Channeling Pele would be very bad right now. Instead, we channel Pele's rival, Poliah. Remember her? Goddess of snow-capped mountains? Channel her. Think snow. Think cold. Think pure clean air. Then, make a sacrifice: bring a couple gallons of ice cream to your local fire station. Those guys are the ones who really need divine protection.

This one's for all my friends in Altadena and La Canada. You guys take care.

Need a goddess: That's why I'm here! Tell me your need and I'll find you the perfect goddess.
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Wise Women Friday: Zora Neale Hurston

German Spa├čvogel, wood carving c.Image via Wikipedia

Words of wisdom from the American writer Zora Neale Hurston (1903-1960):

Silence is all the
genius a fool has.

But that's never stopped me!

This is my week:

1. Arrived at school registration wearing a jean skirt with back zipper. Learned that was prancing around with open zipper from a mother and her sixth grade son, who was giggling like a two-year-old and whose face had gone tomato red. Must have been the granny panties.
2. Pulled out of a too-small parking space and whacked my driver-side mirror against a post. Ka-Ching! (That'll be $300, please.)
3. Left wet laundry in washer for three days in one-hundred degree heat.
4. Bought "Smooth Legs," with Micro Crystal technology!
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Guilt: It's what for dinner!

Front cover of the dust jacket for the first e...Image via Wikipedia

Hello, my name is Margaret and I'm addicted to guilt. I feel guilty all the time, and when I'm not feeling guilty I'm probably doing something that will make me feel guilty.

Just so you know, I sweat the small stuff. The dinner you didn't like, the stuffed animal I wouldn't buy you, the wrong toothpaste that I somehow -- inconceivably -- brought in the house, the math test you forgot to study for, the annoying cowlick that sticks out of your head. My fault. You suffered because of me. I totally get that, and I'm sorry.

Also, because I'd hate you to think otherwise, I think I should mention that I sweat the large stuff. Global warming, Hurricane Bill, child labor, swine flu, and that big pothole on your street. Again: me. I feel really, really bad and I wish I could have paid better attention but, there you go, once again I let you down. I'm sorry, and I will stay sorry until my dying day. Forgive me all you want, I will never forget, and I will never come to peace with it. I will always regret the pain I caused.

According to the study discussed here, guilt is not always such a bad thing, and it's kind of you to try and comfort me, but I think this is just a place where my over-achieving tendencies (so wrong, I know) globbed onto something they could excel at and went totally overboard. So yes, I excel at guilt. You might even say I am gifted at guilt. And, yes, although I feel bad saying this, I am probably better at guilt than you. Sorry. I should have let you win.

(P.S.: I ate your cookie.)
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Goddess of the Week: Isis

Ancient Egyptian goddess Isis, wife of Osiris....Image via Wikipedia

Tough love, smough love. A girl doesn't always want to have to be a hard ass. A girl doesn't always want to be "R-E-S-P-E-C-T find out what it means to me." Sometimes a girl wants tender love, sweet love, bring-me-flowers-and-show-me-you-love-me-by-offering-to-wash-my-dishes-and-buying-me-bling-love. And a girl wants to be understood and appreciated and admired. She wants someone to love her clever little jokes and get dizzy at the sight of her soul-penetrating gaze, sun-brightening smile, great-smelling hair and her ample hips. And is really too much to ask that that special someone also enjoy romantic comedies, shopping, Jane Austen, the Home and Garden Channel, Oprah, Norah Jones, bacon, butter, and cheese? Is it really too much, in fact, to simply want a soul mate?

Not if you're the Egyptian goddess Isis, who was the sister and lover of the god Osiris (we are not going to comment on the awkward incest references in ancient myths. Gods and goddesses have different taboos and genetic problems. We'll leave it at that.) Other gods and goddesses may have slept around, but Isis and Osiris truly were soul mates. They shared divine authority, each using his or her special gifts to bring civilization and knowledge to the people of ancient Egypt.

So far, so good. But this is a love story, so chaos must follow. Namely, the god of chaos, Seth, a jealous little prick who envied his brother Osiris and murdered him, threw him in a box and tossed him in the Nile. But Isis stood by her man. She searched and searched and did lots of magic and then she found him and she hid him and Seth found him and chopped into fourteen pieces and Isis put all the the pieces together but she couldn't find his penis so she made him one of clay and then Osiris came back to life and they had resurrection sex and Isis got pregnant but then Osiris had to go be lord of the underworld, but at least he wasn't dead, and everyone lived happily ever after. Except for Seth, who was vanquished by Isis and Osiris' son Horus and had to move downstairs to the underworld and carry Osiris on his shoulders for all eternity.

Which all goes to show: soul mates can be awesome (and there's no sex like resurrection sex), but soul mates can also be a lot of work. And you really have to ask yourself, might I be just as happy with a couple of dogs? If the answer is no, then definitely channel Isis, she'll help you find a good partner who'll probably even do your taxes for you because he'll recognize how valuable you and your time really are. If not, might I recommend this?

Daisy: this one's for you.

Need a goddess? Oh my goodness! You better let me know! I'll find you just the perfect one.

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Wise Women Friday: M.F.K Fisher on Cheese

Cheese on a market in Basel, SwitzerlandImage via Wikipedia

Words of wisdom from the American food writer M.F.K. Fischer (1908-1992):

Wine and cheese are ageless companions,
like aspirin and aches, or June and moon,
or good people and noble ventures.

Sometimes you look at a couple and you think: What are they thinking? This will never last, and then, low and behold, twenty years go by and they're sending you postcards from their second honeymoon in Maui. It just goes to shows. You never can tell.

Wine and cheese, for example. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: you are crazy, Margaret. No one less than M.F.K Fisher called wine and cheese "ageless companions." Entire parties are devoted to wine and cheese. Restaurants have wine and cheese hours. Magazines have wine and cheese columns. But I'm going to take the contrarian position here. Wine is good. Wine is fine. Wine is a lot of fun. But cheese...well, that's next to butter.

Personally, I go for your soft, gooey cheeses. Your bries, your Humboldt Fogs. My feeling is that if you are going to eat cheese you should go try to pack as much fat and cholesterol in it as possible and really make it a decadent experience.

That being said, I'm also a fan of goat cheese, which my sources tell me is a healthier, lower-fat cheese experience. Goat cheese is like a demilitarized zone in my house. Some people feel strongly for it, some people feel strongly against it. Peace is kept by keeping your opinion to yourself. But, really, how can you not love something so perfectly white and creamy? Smear it on fresh bread, sprinkle it on a salad, pair it with a pear; it's like eating a cloud. Plus, it's almost healthy so you can feel smug! And that's always a plus.

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A Goddess isn't always enough

{{fr|Jeunes filles en tenue traditionnelle dje...Image via Wikipedia

A little rabble-rousing today because of this article by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in The New York Times Magazine. Entitled, "The Women's Crusade," this essay notes the following:

  • Between 70 and 100 million women are "missing" from the planet, which means that while, theoretically, longer life spans mean there should be more women than men in many countries, these demographics don't pan out. Why? In part, it is because girls and women are seen as less deserving of healthcare than boys and men. In India, girls between one and five have a 50% higher chance of dying than boys.
  • Unknown millions of girls and women are slaves. Right now. Today. Often they live short lives of forced prostitution.
  • In the developing world, maternal mortality is high. In Niger, one in seven women die in childbirth. In the U.S. it is one in 4,800. In Ireland it is one in 47,600.

I like to write about goddesses because I like to understand how my experience fits into a larger global perspective and I like to feel part of a historic continuum. But a goddess won't help the millions of women whose lives are impacted by gender inequality. Education will help. Economic independence will help. Microfinance will help.

Lifting up women lifts up us all. Not just philosophically, but practically. Kristof and WuDunn note that "male domination of a country is a risk factor" for terrorism (The speculation being "that when women are marginalized the nation takes on the testosterone-laden culture of a military camp or a high-school boys’ locker room.") Likewise, male domination hurts economic growth by marginalizing what Bill Gates has called "one-half of a country's talent."

You want to help the world? Educate a girl.

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Goddess of the Week: Inanna

DumuziImage via Wikipedia

L is for the way you look at me (unless there is a football game on).
O is for the only one I see (you looking at that waitress's cleavage).
V is very, very, extraordinarily pissed off that you crashed my car.
E is even more than anyone that you adore (is that stupid Ford truck of yours).

When Mr. Right turns out to be Mr. Wrong, you need a goddess who teaches smart love. Not dumb love. Not slick-talking love. Not cute-ass love. Not can-I-borrow-some-money love. No. Smart love. Respect-me love. Tell-the-truth love. Look-at-my-eyes-not-my-chest-when-I'm-talking love. Put-away-your-own-damn-dishes love.

The smart love goddess is Inanna. This Sumerian goddess was no dim-witted beauty rising from a clam shell. She was smart enough to teach her father, the god Enki, to give her his 100 objects of culture, which meant he gave her supreme authority over civilization itself, including the gifts of agriculture, weaving, written language, and well, prostitution -- but that's a different story.

Inanna was married to Dumuzi, the shepherd king and the mythological first ruler of Sumar, but when he treated her like dirt, she sent him packing, and how! Here's what happened. Iannna went to visit her sister Ereskigal, queen of the underworld. Unfortuntely, there was a little sibling rivalry over the whole 100 pieces of culture thing, so Ereskigal killed Inanna. Being Inanna, however, that wasn't really a big deal. She came back to life and made her way home. There was just one problem. The accounting is very strict in the underworld. Inanna could leave, but someone had to take her place.
She thought, "Hmmmmm, my sister is such a bitch. Who am I going to get to replace me?" This was no easy question. Think of all the people you might send to hell in your place. The list went on and on and on.
Anyway, Inanna gets home. She goes to find her cutie-sweetie-lovebug Dumuzi, who she knew must be almost suicidal with grief.
Where does find him? On her throne, living it up, a martini in one hand and a belly dancer in the other. The dirtbag.
But it did solve the problem of who to send to the underworld. With a snap of her fingers, Dumuzi was like a bad stain you soak in bleach. Gone.
As for Inanna, she looked through her bag of culture and found a little thing called Goddess Happy Hour. It's where all the goddesses get together, drink mead and complain about the stupid men in their lives. Very therapeutic.

Channel this goddess: if your princes turn out to be frogs, if your frogs turns out to be dung beetles, if your dung beetles turn out to be Jon Gosselin or Mark Sanford.

Anne: This goddess is for you. Use her well.

Need a goddess? That's why I'm here! Tell me what you'd like and I'll see what I can do.
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Wise Women Friday: Julia Child

and sometimes I take pictures of butter with b...Image by Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Words of wisdom from Julia Child, who introduced Americans to the art of French cooking:

If you're afraid of butter, use cream.

Yes. I saw "Julie and Julia." Yes. Meryl Streep channels Ms. Child and makes her so darn appealing that it's hard not go home and whip up a pot of beef stew. But let's not talk about that. Let's talk about butter.

When I think of butter, I think of my father-in-law, Tom Finnegan. When he was dying of leukemia, I knew that the end was near because I found butter in his refrigerator. Tom had given up butter years earlier, a consequence of a week at a very regimented diet and fitness camp where people were encouraged to reject all things hinting of cholesterol. This was before the good versus bad cholesterol days; this was during the cholesterol equals Satan days. So when I saw the butter, I knew that Tom had thrown caution to the wind. If he was going to die, he was going to first relinquish the shackles of healthful self restraint and slather his final days in creamy, wonderful, artery-clogging indulgence.

What is it about butter? Cream it with sugar and it's an airy piece of heaven, just a handful of flour away from the promise of a birthday cake. Cook it with lemon juice and eggs yolks and it's higher fashion than a Prada bag. Spread it on a rustic loaf of bread and you've just connected yourself to the span of human history. Butter moves cooks to wax eloquent and gives comfort to the dying. But why is it so good? It's like a miracle. Inexplicable yet redemptive.
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Another Goddess of the Week: Pachamama

Marta Colvin Pachamama (aymara Mother Earth), ...Image via Wikipedia

Feeling sandwiched? Feeling squeezed like a cheap piece of meat between two slices of whole wheat because you're caring for both children and parents? Then welcome to the sandwich generation. Forty percent of women aged 35-54 admit to feeling totally stressed out by their exclusive membership in this club. Why? Because caregiving is hard and often thankless. Conservative estimates claim that twenty percent of caregivers of any type are depressed. When you are asked to give care to both your parents and your children, it's almost impossible not to end up a big fat emotional mess.

It's not the caregiving itself that is often the problem. If you've given care, you know that the act can be very rewarding. The problem is that when we give care -- especially sandwich generation care -- we often end up denying care to ourselves. We don't get enough sleep. We don't eat right. We stop exercising, meeting with friends, and doing the things we love because we simply can't find the time. But take if from someone who knows, when caregiving consumes you, you will explode, and it won't be pretty.

The goddess for caregivers is Pachamama. Pachamama is an Incan goddess who is still revered in parts of Chile and Northern Argentina. She is, literally, the earth we walk on, and she is the ultimate caregiver. She gives you her fertile dirt, her life-giving water, her shade, her sunshine, her cool, quiet nights. She is a good mama. She is a too good mama. Because people take advantage. They expect her to give, give, give and yet they offer nothing in return, just like spoiled children, just like most children. And you know what happens? Pachamama keeps it all inside. She's tries not to get all resentful and bitter. And then she explodes in an earthquake.

But Pachamama has learned that she needs to take care of herself first. She cannot care for anybody until she acknowledges that her needs are as legitimate and important as anyone else's. So she lunches with her gal pals. She walks the dog. And she doesn't do every goddamn little stupid thing herself. She gets help. In the places where she is still worshipped, every day people toast Pachamama and honor her by spilling a little chicha (a sort of hard cider made of corn) on the ground. She has a festival day the day before Ash Wednesday, and the whole month of August is seen by many as a time to pay her special tribute. The point is, she gives, but others give back because a happy Pachamama, a Pachamama who cares for herself and allows (demands) others to care for her in return, is a non-exploding Pachamama.

Channel this goddess: when your children are vomiting in your ear and your parents don't remember who they are. Or when you pay the bills by nurturing the health and well-being of others. Or when you've made a nice healthy dinner and no one even says thank you. Or when you keep finding socks on the floor -- really, is it that hard to put them in the hamper? Or when you are so busy doing other people's shit that you don't even have time to feel yourself breathe.

Silknparachute: This one's for you.

Need a goddess: I'm on double duty trying to get you what you need. Just tell my your beef or your blessing and I'll see who is available.
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Goddess of the Week: Chalchiuhtlicue

Museum's captionImage via Wikipedia

The nice thing about blogging is that if you don't like what you're writing you can always hit the delete button and start over. Other creative endeavors are like that too. Bad day painting? Get a new canvas. Too much salt in your cake batter? Add more butter, sugar and flour. It'll be perfect.

The unspoken presumption of many creation stories is that we're not much more than some temperamental higher being's weekend craft project, which is why legends say that when we've gotten too unruly and ugly that higher being just tore out some of the crooked seams and even washed the whole hodge podge of a mess up and started over again. Of course, it must have been a drag. Throwing out a fallen souffle is a drag too, but what else can you do?

This, at least, seems to be the message of the Aztec goddess Chalchiuhtlicue. A creation and water goddess, she got so disgusted with humanity that she flooded the planet, washing it clean so that she could start over from scratch. A little mellower than some other higher being you may have heard of, she turned people into fish so that they would survive the deluge. She also created a rainbow so that truly exemplary souls could climb to heaven and escape all the drama that followed.

She must have been more satisfied with her remodeled creation because she decided to put it on exhibit, where it still receives raves for its inter-active features and fine sense of color and perspective. A fashion-loving goddess, she wore a blue-green jade skirt that resembled waves and looked over laboring women and new-born babies, born, as they were, out of their own small watery worlds.

Channel this goddess: When you are pregnant; looking after pregnant women is what Chalchiuhtlicue does best. Also, when you are birthing creative endeavors and they are just not turning out the way you planned. Darn it. Don't you hate it when that happens?

Elizabeth: This goddess is for you. She's greenish blue and Aztec, not Mayan. Hope that's close enough.

I feel like I'm falling behind giving people their goddesses, so I'm going to double up for a while, starting Wednesday. But if you need a goddess for any reason, let me know and I'll put you in the queue.

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Wise Women Friday: Ernestine Ulster

Can I have a Piece of Chocolate Cake !Image by tassiesim via Flickr

Words of Wisdom from Ernestine Ulster:

Eat dessert first. Life is uncertain.

Confession: I have no idea who Ernestine Ulster is or was. I googled her and got nothing. However, she is credited with this well known saying, which my friend Margaret Vandevert used to say every night as we lined up in our college dining hall. Knowing my way around the dessert cart as well as I do, I embraced it immediately and made it my own.

I like all your basic dessert-food groups: ice cream, pie, cookies, fudge, cake. I prefer homemade (my mom is a great baker and I'm no so bad myself), but in a pinch I will go for some good quality store bought. I am one of those bad, bad people who associate food with comfort. It's wrong of me, I know. It leads me to bad choices, I know. But in my heart of hearts, I do believe that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.

I have several rules about dessert. I will share them with you now.

1. Whenever possible, dessert should include at least a passing nod to chocolate.
2. It is appropriate to sample your husband's dessert. He does not need to like this.
3. Never, ever, ever, ever eat dessert that has been claimed by someone else. It doesn't matter if that piece of cake has been sitting in the refrigerator for a week; if it belongs to someone else, you must act as if it doesn't exist.

That being said, I hope you'll read my latest short (and I mean short) story at the flash fiction site Rose City Sisters. It just went up today and is called "Sweet Revenge." Let me know what you think, and let me know if you have any dessert rules that you think are worth fighting for.
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Not a Summer Song

Flowing riverImage by Ernst Vikne via Flickr

My friend Altadena Hiker has a whole summer vibe going with shots of summer flowers and links to Brazilian singers, which made me think of my favorite Brazilian singer, Luciana Souza, who has a great song about spring called "The Waters of March." Listen to it here. It's a great reminder that while the waters of March may be as cold and violent as a shot in the dark, they're also the promise of new life. Birth hurts, and each of us is reborn everyday. So there you go.
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Goddess of the Week: Quan Yin

Guan Yin and child, similar to a Madonna and C...Image via Wikipedia

It pains me to say this, but there are some things that not even a goddess can do. Goddesses are not saints. If you light a candle they will not bring back the dead, they will not cure a disease, they will not cough up the mortgage payment that you just can't make. I wish they could. I think we all wish they could.

Still, goddesses know about suffering. They've seen it all, and on a much bigger scale. They've lost seemingly immortal children. They've suffered marriages so bad that they've had their own children cut off their husbands' balls (for details, see last post). They feel your pain.

That being said, in your time of need, when things look really bleak, the goddess you want on your side is Quan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of mercy and compassion. Some say Quan Yin started out as a man, a Buddhist monk, some say she was a wealthy young woman who refused to marry and was thrown into a Buddhist convent. Some say she has an abundance of arms, some say she is beauty personfied. Bottom line: Quan Yin is what you need your image -- your story -- of mercy and compassion to be -- even if that means she has to look an awful lot like an eastern version of an Italian Madonna con Bambino, like in the picture.

Here's what everyone agrees on: she waits for you -- for all of us -- at the gates of Nirvana. She could enter there herself at anytime, but she, alone among the few souls who have made it there, will not enter until all of us have made it there, which is likely to be a long while. But she's waiting, and she's with us in our suffering, and she's comforting us. So, while we all suffer (sorry, no getting around that), we do not suffer alone.

Bonnie: This goddess is for you and your daughter.

Need a goddess: Tell me what you need her for and I'll see what I can do.

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Just a Little Bit about Aphrodite

So I'm saying goodbye to my vacation and I'm watching this lovely sunset over Newport Beach, California:

and I'm listening to four crazed girls debate the perfect names for the yachts they will one day all own, and I'm also listening to my mother-in-law rail against the media because of its paltry attention to a certain Iberian tennis god, and my thoughts turn, of course, to Aphrodite, who got me into this mess in the first place.

The Greek goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite was born of the sea and the perfect sunset. Her parentage is actually a bit vague (probably because the Greeks co-opted her from the even more ancient Sumerians, who called her Inanna). Of all the stories about the origins of Aphrodite, however, the best one is this:

Long before Zeus and the Olympians, the world was ruled by Gaia, mother earth, and Ouranos, father sky. Ouranos was a lusty fellow, so lusty, in fact, that Gaia could not even deliver the children she was impregnated with because Ouranos would not leave the poor girl alone. Ouranos didn't care. He hated his offspring. But Gaia loved her children and, also (can you blame her?) she was sick of carrying the growing brood inside her. So, she gave a sharpened flint to her son Kronos and, when Ouranos came a-calling, Kronos reached out from inside his mother, grabbed his father's balls, sliced them off and threw them into the sea. Eventually, long after the murder of Kronos by his own son Zeus, Aphrodite was born of Ouranos's seed and the sea itself. One day she just walked out of the Mediterranean, right around Paphos, Cypress.

Pretty grisly origins for the goddess of love, wouldn't you say? But love can be a pretty grisly business, and sunsets and the sea are an eternally dangerous combination, so dangerous that there is only one thing guaranteed to ward off Aphrodite's spell if you and your honey should happen to find yourself on a boat, on the sea, at sunset: a gaggle of girls and at least one mother-in-law obsessed with tennis.

(As for the yacht names: so easy: Finnegan's Wake.)