Friday, August 20, 2010

Fall Equinox coming up!

Doing a bit of re-reading of Spiral Dance by Starhawk. It's been a few years since I read it. I have the 20th anniversary edition. There is probably a 30th out, I need to get it. It's fascinating to read her 10th and 20th year commentary on the book. Amazing to see how the path has grown since she wrote it in the 70's. She says herself that there was so little material to draw from in her own research into the path of the goddess. No more than a handful of people were contributing to that branch of anthropology/religious study. Since then so much has been added, much spurred by Starhawk herself, and many others.
I think a complete re-read is in order. I was just doing a bit of brushing up to implement my role as ritual co-ordinator for the next Tejas Web public ritual, the one for Autumn Equinox, or Mabon. I got a bit side-tracked by Starhawk's updates.
It's all good!
Starhawk's own path has taken her to Earth Activist Training, among other things. It's her own branch of Permaculture, but very much activist. She has a new course coming up soon. I hope to take it myself as soon as I can. It will add a lot to the Permaculture Design Course I already took here in Austin. 
By the way, that one is also coming up. Click on the links above to check them out! I'd recommend them both!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Writing Tools: Redux. And Vampires, Oh My!

  A while back I wrote here about my writing tools, including some software I use. I just found another free software program that seems promising. I haven't tried it yet, since I don't want to divert myself too much from ongoing projects. Perhaps I will start a new one on it soon and give it a try. However, if you want to check it out for yourself, it is called Storybook. As I said, it is free, open source, software, but it has a lot of great points to recommend it. Here's a quote from the site: "Storybook is a free (open source) novel-writing tool for creative writers, novelists and authors which will help you to keep an overview of multiple plot-lines while writing books, novels or other written works." Your computer needs to have a recent version of Java on it as well, but you can get it from the same site as well if you don't have it. If you try it out before I do, let me know how it works. 
   My current tools are still working pretty well. My mystery novel, code named "Bluebottle", is going pretty good, I had a slight breakthrough on the plotting today. I've done a little recently on my dotty vampire play as well. 
   Speaking of vampires. My friend Silas just gave me an early birthday present. He brought in a deck of tarot cards called "The Vampire Tarot", by Robert M. Place. The deck draws heavily from the basic Bram Stoker "Dracula" novel, but there is a touch of other things in there as well. Nosferatu makes an appearance, as does Edgar Allen Poe. It's really pretty nice. I'll keep it handy as I work on the play. (Working title: "Quiche of the Vampire".) 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Lion, The Witch, and the rather Tatty Chifferobe in the corner.

Pay no attention to me, I really don't have anything to say today. It's okay, you can click on "Next Blog" and you won't miss anything, really! I'm in a bit of a weird mood. We thought about going in to Austin tonight for the weekly Contra Dancing, but we're going in tomorrow for other reasons, and we do our best to conserve trips. Any trip in to town consumes at least a half a day from other things, takes at least an hour each way just driving, and consumes one and a half flagons of petroleum at least, unless of course I ride the Shadow, and that's rather a one-seater, as they say.
Of course, to really conserve fuel, I could have foregone the mostly fruitless trip I took with my mother to Kerrville and back on Monday. Roughly four hours each way for nothing. Sigh.

At least one minor achievement. I got a new hard drive for this desktop from and installed it yesterday. We've been having some issues, and this One Tera-gigabyte drive seems to help a good bit. Tera, that's Greek, I think, for "so freaking large you may as well forget ever, ever backing this sonofagun up again!" Oh well, it works fast. We still have to get our crashed second drive over to a friend who is hopefully going to be able to retrieve the whole bunch of stuff that was on it and no longer accessible. Nothing major, I don't think, mostly music and maybe some pix, possibly also the answer to the meaning of life. No, wait, I think that turned out to be "42".
All this time I thought "42" was that domino game my grandparents liked to play with other oldsters.
All this time they were playing with the meaning of life. I should have known.

So, what's up with you?

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Back around 1998 or so, I was at the annual Powwow in Austin when my then wife bought me a kit for a Native American style flute. I'd been enjoying the music for some time. That kit remained unmade and survived several moves and our subsequent breakup. Finally, around 2005, I felt the need for a project, and I came across that kit. The process of making it was very enjoyable. I ended with a very nice, playable flute, and several ideas of how to do it perhaps better. 
Since it was Thanksgiving when I finished that first flute, I decided I would make flutes for each of my five children for the next year's Christmas. A special, handmade gift for each of them. That gave me slightly more than a year to learn more, and craft the flutes. I joined a couple of really good Yahoo Groups on making Native American style Flutes, (NAF for short.) These groups were basic_naf_making, and nativeflutewoodworking. These wonderful groups furnished a great starting place to learn the craft and see other works. The basic instructions that came with my original kit were adapted from a set published by Ben Hunt in his classic "Complete Book of  Indiancraft". This is a very simple and easy to follow set of instructions. I wanted to go a bit beyond this, though, so I finally ordered a manual from one of the Yahoo Group members, Kieta, AKA Kieth Stanford at With Kieta's manual as a starting point, I was able to produce my flutes.
The Five Flutes

For the fetish blocks on my children's flutes, I chose figures to represent what each would consider a significant totem for themselves, including a frog, a horse, a monkey, and two different Kokopelli figures. The woods used included local juniper, walnut, and yellow cedar.

Since then, I've gone on to make and sell several other NAF style flutes. Both by order and vending at craft fairs.

Now as to my Native American style flutes. Notice I specify the "style" part. I do have some Native American blood, mostly Choctaw, but it isn't enough to legally claim myself to be a Native American craftsman. That is actually a legal point when you begin to sell crafts.
What we call the Native American flutes were made in several of the indigenous cultures in the Americas, as well as several other types of whistles and flutes. Hunt, and others, called this style of flute the "Love Flute", as one of the purposes for it was in courting. In the last several years many artists, including R. Carlos Nakai, Bill Miller, and others, have greatly popularized the music.

I greatly enjoy playing my own flutes. They are very easy to play and the act of playing can be very introspective, restful, even meditative. There have been several studies about the natural tones produced having curative powers for the human body and psyche. I won't make any claims to that, other than to say it seems to be true for me. 
Moonstone Buffalo Flute
Moonstone Buffalo
I'll post a few pictures here of some of my latest flutes. I use a variety of materials, woods, and make them in several keys. I'm always trying new tunings and methods.

Pair of Dragons
Close up Dragon

Stone Turtle
Stone Goddess

Labyrinthine Love

Labyrinths are cool! I walked my first one back in 2007 when I first went to Tejas Witch Camp in Central Texas. Since then I've found others and have even learned to lay out my own. There are several churches around Austin that have their own labyrinths and there is one laid out in bricks in the park near Palmer Auditorium near Downtown Austin. Each one is interesting.
Differing from mazes, a labyrinth has one path, you can't get lost. Most commonly, you start at a beginning, and wind up in the center after making several circuits around and back and forth in the pattern.
Two of the most often followed patterns are the "classical" and the "medieval, or Chartres Cathedral" styles.
Classical Labyrinth
Medieval Pattern
Either can be found in various places. The Classical is one of the most easy to lay out, and contains seven circuits. There are many, many, more patterns out there to explore. A friend of mine in East Austin has one in her yard that is in the shape of a hand, winding in and out of her garden and fruit orchard, outlined by colored wine bottles which she obtained from recyclers.
Labyrinths have many purposes, including fun and meditation. Kids and adults love to walk the pathways, winding back and forth, meeting and passing others again and again. It's a metaphor for life. It's been said, also, that the pathways of the labyrinth follow the paths of the mind. To walk the pattern in a meditative frame of mind, is to relax the mind, to explore the inner workings, to release tension and find meaning.
Many walkers find a peaceful, powerful connection at the center. From the first time I walked that first labyrinth, I sensed power at the turnings as well. In life, as in art, there is power inherent anywhere a change of direction is encountered. At the center is a stillpoint. All turnings have been made, all paths have been walked. Spirit and the sacred are within reach.
Labyrinth design is related to geomancy. The best labyrinths are laid out in relation to points of power located in the earth. In fact, labyrinth patterns can be found in many cultures around the world, dating back to antiquity before any of these cultures had contact with each other. Many of these are located on Ley lines, or points of psychic and/or earth energy.
The subject of Labyrinths is a very large one. They go back to antiquity, and have been adopted by many religions through the centuries.
Find one, walk it. Read more about them. Build one for yourself, or have someone like myself lay one out for you. Enjoy!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Seeing Cycles

If you want to court paranoia, ride a motorcycle on the highway. If you want to guarantee it, ride a bicycle on city streets.
Now, in my experience of riding motorcycles since the 1980's, motorcycles seem to have become a lot more an accepted part of traffic. There are many reasons for this, I think.  The State of Texas mandates safe riding training for all new motorcyclist licenses. Also, more and more auto drivers I talk to have ridden in the past or know someone who does, therefore general awareness is simply up as well. That doesn't mean you won't get run over, but I feel like things are looking up.
Now for the bicycle part. I am hugely in favor of bicycle riding. Other than walking, there is no other form of transportation that I know of that is as energy efficient, healthy, or ecologically friendly as bicycling. I fully applaud those who embrace cycling as their transportation of choice. I feel very good when I see the pedi-cabs plying downtown Austin. (I admit, I'm a bit in awe of the operators who haul around three people at once!) It always reminds me of a documentary I saw on China, showing a pedi cab taking several people from a small village in China on a pretty long trip into the city. There were at least three people on back, the road out of the village was very muddy, and uphill! The man peddling must have had thighs of steel!
Schwinn Typhoon
I still own a bicycle, I've been riding since I was about 7, and I still do sometimes. My first bike was a much too large, and hugely hard to pedal Schwinn. (Fondly known as the Iron Monster! I had to prop it against a tree, climb on, and start downhill with it to keep going. I pretty much had to fall off to stop!) It wasn't the bike, and I've certainly got nothing against Schwinn. My all time favorite was a red 26 inch Schwinn Typhoon cruiser I got when I was 10. I put a lot of miles on that bike. The styling and engineering were perfect for me at the time, considering it was a single speed. I've actually owned two of those over the years. I don't think there is a better cruiser style bicycle made.

In the 1970's I got a used Raleigh 10-speed. I got all my exercise on that, often riding miles after work, even riding in a couple of 20 mile benefit rides. At that time I lived in Austin and then Round Rock, Texas, riding suburban streets. Good place for a light ten-speed like that. When I moved back out to a farm in Liberty Hill, it didn't work so well on gravel roads.
Raleigh Gran Prix: Mine was White!

I still don't live on city streets, and I'm not sure if I'd have the courage it takes to ride there, even with the wonderful new dedicated bike lanes. I live out in the country near McDade, Tx now, my bike is an old, but solid, Murray 18 speed mountain bike. The last few years I've been a bit distracted by other things, including my  Honda Shadow. But, the weather is cooling a bit, and I'll get the old Murray tuned and going again soon.
I'm constantly seeing reports of car/bicycle accidents in the city. I've even had good friends injured in those accidents. (Are you out there, Pam?) I'm sure many of those were cyclists who followed the rules. I wonder about the rest.
Bicyclists (and Motorcyclists) are required by law to follow basically the same rules as motorists. Sure, it makes things flow better when the bicyclists have their own lane, owing to the speed differences, but the rules are still the same for all who share the roadway.
It worries me, though.
These days, every time I venture downtown in Austin, I witness multiple episodes of bicyclists running red lights, turning onto busy streets without stopping, weaving in and out of traffic, and on and on. I don't want to hit any of these riders. Also, I'm very much afraid of what happens when they become another statistic. It seems likely that when they do ultimately get run over by someone, it will be seen by many as just another case of innocent cyclist getting injured by big bad motorists. 
Come on, guys! Most of us motorists are doing our part, following the rules, and watching out for you. How about you doing your part as well and not expecting us to also make allowances for your suicidal behavior! Deal?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I Shutter To Think!

   "Get the Swinger, Polaroid Swinger, Get the Swinger, Polaroid Swinger. It's more than a camera it's almost alive, it's only nineteen dollars and ninety-five. Swing it up, it says yes, take the shot, count it off, zip it off!"
Polaroid Swinger
 Anybody remember that song? Probably the catchiest camera tune ever, witness the fact that I still remember it from the late 1960's.
   I've always enjoyed photography. I haven't often had the money to do it as well as I've wanted to. My first camera was some kind of plastic off -brand 127 film camera in about 1957 or so. (I would have been 7, if you're keeping track.) We couldn't really afford to buy film much, so I was told to only shoot "special" stuff. My grandfather, W.K. Seward, had previously had a hobby of photography, even had his own darkroom set up in an old smokehouse on the property. The equipment had aged a lot by then, but I actually got to use some of it eventually. Somewhere I still have his Kodak, complete with flash.
   That Swinger I mentioned (and pictured) above? I got one just before graduation in 1968. It was black and white. I still have some of those shots I took on my senior trip to New Orleans. You had to coat each print with the fixer chemical with a swiper brush from a black tube. Wherever the coating missed, it faded away. By now, even some of the places I didn't miss have faded. Oh well.
Kodak Brownie 2A
   In my collection I also have an old Brownie 2A box camera.  It was really not much more than a slightly advanced pinhole camera. The Brownies were produced by Kodak in 1900  to afford an affordable outlet for everybody to get hooked on photography and buy film! It was a move of genius and one of the things that "made" Kodak. My model 2A was made about 1910 or so. It used 116 film. I actually shot a couple of rolls with it when I got it, I found some film somewhere. That film is no longer available now, although it is possible to use other sizes with it.  It had no clear lens, only a metal slide with holes in it, the "pinholes". Kind of cool, really. No flash, daylight only.
Realist Stereo 3D
   While I'm on the collection, I also have a Realist 3D camera. It's a 35mm camera with two lenses that produces a double slide to use with a viewer, sort of like the old View Master or even older Stereopticon viewers.  I played around with it a while. It's still usable, in fact, when you can find slide film available. I think there are still places to get the mounts.


Argus C3
   I used a number of snapshot cameras over the years. Finally, sometime in the 1970's, I traded for an Argus C3, 35 mm camera from my father. He had a pawn shop at the time, and that gave me access to pursue my photography hobby for awhile. The Argus is an American made rangefinder camera. It performed very well for me for many years. Nothing automatic about it at all. You adjust every setting by hand and learn a lot about what it takes to take a good photo.
   Finally, after several years, I got a bit more serious and traded for a nice 35 mm SLR back at the pawn shop. There was an Exakta in the display case, and I went for it. Still not an automatic camera, but it was an SLR, meaning what you see is actually through the lens so you actually see what you are picturing. The Exakta was made in Germany before and during WWII.
Exakta VXIIa
   For me, it was the right camera at the right time. I was able to do some good photos with it and even competed in the Austin Camera Club now and then with it. I even was able to use a friend's dark room a couple of times. Composing my shots was so much easier with it, since I was actually looking through the lens. It was very dependable, but it was very hard to get an sort of other lenses or such for it. I finally ran into problems with it and had to retire it.
   I next traded up to a Mamiya-Sekor 1000DTL. Another 35mm SLR. This one had a lot going for it, including an inner light meter. Even better, it came with an extra lens, and the lens mount was a bit more standard, being a screw-thread mount common to the Pentax and other cameras. I picked up several different lenses at the pawn shop and I thought I was in heaven! It was actually made in the late 60's, so it was about 20 years old when I picked it up. That didn't matter, though!
Mamiy Sekor 1000DTL
   I took a lot of pictures with the Mamiya Sekor. Finally, about 2000, it developed (so to speak) an electrical problem. I had hopes of finding another one so as to be able to use my lenses and other attachments, however, the other ones I picked up used had much the same problem. A common failing, I suppose, of course, after 40 years I guess those things will show up!
   I actually regressed a bit after that, went through a few 35mm rangefinder snapshot cameras of various types. I was always finding them at garage sales and Goodwill. Most served me well until I took the plunge and went digital.
   My first digital camera was a really cheap one that worked, ummmmmmmmm, okay, I guess. Nothing to brag about. I finally got a Kodak Easy Share C533 a couple of years ago, my first really new camera since that one when I was 7!
Kodak EasyShare C533
I do enjoy digital. I never did get my own dark room, and now I don't need one. I can do all the processing and editing I want to on my computer without absolute darkness and smells. I do, however, plan to save up and get one of the more advanced digitals. Particularly one that takes the 35mm type of lenses.
   I enjoy the heft and feel of those SLR's. I admit, the heavier cameras are steadier in my hands as well. It's much to easy to shake the camera when it's so small and light. Somehow the view on the digital display on the back of the Kodak just doesn't feel right. The camera's viewfinder is often faster and more exact, but the lag time between pressing the button and the picture actually shooting sometimes causes problems. If you're shooting a moving target, you often miss, unless you're foresighted enough to press the shutter a second or so before you actually want the shot. Not easy!
Anyway, if you do email, or blogging, or use the computer much at all, the digital is the way to go.
   I did come across a nice Olympus OM-1 SLR a while back at a Goodwill auction.
Olympus OM-1
I picked it up cheaply. Olympus is a very nice camera, and this one is no exception. Yes, admittedly, it was made back in the 1970's. It's about 40 years old by now. It's a classic already. I've been using it a little lately, though. I think I should, while film is still around! I don't think 35mm is dying soon, at least I hope not. I still have the bug!