Llywellyn Publications has decided not to accept my manuscript.  However, they did suggest that I set it up as an eBook for the Kindle on my own, which I will probably do.  They are also still open to other manuscripts.  I have a couple small presses I can also approach.

It will take me some time to set this up.  I've been sick for the last month.  A persistent cough has turned into pleurisy, the treatment for which is Vicodin.  I'm feeling much better now, but not terribly useful ;)  I've also been run ragged by the beginning of the school semester, so I'm going to be pretty out of touch for some number of weeks.

Part of the steampunk website is a section of examples of costumes made by myself and others that I break down into individual pieces to illustrate the relative ease of creating such looks.  It can also provide guidepoints for others.  I've just added two new examples, the Man's Casual Attire and my own Severe Outfit in Black and White.

I've added a new page to the steampunk website, with the rather non-creative title of "My First Costume."  This is geared toward people first coming to the site, particularly because they are wishing to attend a steampunk event but are at a loss who to start costuming for it without spending a bunch of money.  This is a quick rundown of the best resources on the website for such a person to read.

After all, that is kind of the central point of the website, and it's the most common circumstance of people I've been suggesting the site too.  Most recently, it's been for people wanting to attend the steampunk ball in Milwaukee today (Thursday), or TeslaCon in November in Madison.

Today there's a rather mind-boggling post over at patheos.com, entitled "Is Wicca a Christian Heresy?"  I'll just let you read it - and my comments over there - for yourselves.  In short, however, I feel it largely just reversed the tired old "Christianity was stolen from paganism" arguments, pointing to a few superficial things and confusing them for central doctrine and beliefs.

I was shopping for fake flowers in a dollar store today when another woman joined me, marveling at the selection.  She started up idle chatter about the great prices, then told me how she gave thanks to God for the great prices because, as a born-again Christian, she gave thanks for everything.

I'm not sure God wants credit for the low-paid workers in China who made these products, I thought, but kept my mouth shut.

Then she went on about how she's been a born-again for 19 years, and she understands God, but she isn't religious (by which she means she doesn't follow anything that she doesn't believe belongs in Christianity), etc. etc., and... "are you a Christian?"

"No, I'm not," I responded evenly.

She makes this overly sad face, like she was on a stage, then "hides" it like she didn't want me to see.  "What are you?"

You really shouldn't ask questions you don't want an answer to.  In that light, I consider answering to be my own little contribution to karma.  "I'm Wiccan."

Another pouty face.  To her credit, she didn't go crazy on me.  "Is that like witchcraft?"

I'm good at explaining Wicca.  I'm less good at trying to get to a useful answer working backward from questions like this.  "No, it's not witchcraft.  It's..."

"Are you like a white witch?"

Which part of "not witchcraft" didn't you understand?  Also, in retrospect, maybe my problem in explaining just came from her not letting me finish a thought.  "No, it's not like that.  It's a religion."

"What do you believe then?"

"Well, we're polytheists and..." and we don't believe in proselytizing in dollar stores.

"What does that mean?"

I'm beginning to weep for your lack of education.  "It means I believe in multiple gods."

Another pouty face.  "So, you, like, work magic thinking it's for good?"  She doesn't even let me address that one.  Perhaps she was sensing my frustration at the fact that anything I said magically transformed into a confession of wearing a pointy hat and mumbling over a bubbling cauldron.  "Well, you should own a Bible.  An authorized one though, because you wouldn't believe all the nonsense versions people are publishing today."

Who the hell "authorizes" a version of the Bible?  I didn't ask, because, unlike her, I don't ask questions I don't really want to hear the answer to.

I smile.  "Thanks, but I already own one.  A couple actually."

"Well, that's good."  And she starts going on about how awesome Christians are, as if I've never met one.

"Actually, I was raised Christian.  Most of my family still is Christian...."

"Are they born-again?"


"Oh....they're not Christian, they're religious."  She says it like it leaves a nasty taste on her tongue and making a show of trying not to roll her eyes.  "They haven't really come to know God.  They follow all these man-made ideas, and that's not what God wants, and without God you can't really understand love and compassion."...blah, blah, blah.  Somewhere in her tirade she also bragged about insuring all of her Christian friends, so when they died they could support widows and orphans, which was just kind of creepy.

Wait a minute....you just tried, at least in your own mind, to understand what I was as a Wiccan, but you go all preachy about my Christian relatives?  How messed up is that?

And then she walked off, saving me from blowing a gasket.  A couple minutes later, however, she returns and starts right back up again.  And now my patience had officially ended.

"Ma'am, I understand you're trying to be helpful, but I'm not going to listen to you criticize people you've never even met.  Your child also appears to be rather humiliated by you lecturing strangers about religion."  Because her roughly tween-age daughter kept shamefully wandering away from the conversation.

"Oh, no.  She's just learning disabled.  She had grand mal seizures and now doesn't know how to deal with people."

Why...why on earth would you tell me that?  Why not just say your daughter's really shy, rather than give her medical history to a complete stranger?  Because, you know, she totally needs a medical condition to explain why she doesn't want to be part of this conversation.  I actively kept from responding, because I'm pretty sure whatever I tried to say would come out as "You're a terrible mother in public."

Meanwhile, the lady still has other issues to address.  "I don't mean to insult your family!  I'm sure they're very nice people.  And if they were here I would say so and hope that they could sit down and actually read the Bible, rather than just blindly following the religion in which they were raised."

And this is when I made a revelation about myself.  I'm actually pretty patient about people not understanding my religion, in part because of that amount of nonsense that is out there about it.  But I will not put up with people making ugly, stupid presumptions about my family's understanding of God.  There's just no excuse for it.  There are millions upon millions of non-born-again Christians putting a positive face onto their religion.  And to start making your criticisms personal, directing themselves specifically at my family?  Oh, no, you didn't.

"My family does not blindly follow anything. We were raised to think for ourselves.  They have studied, and made decisions on that study.  They are Christians, they do understand God, they are honestly good and charitable people, and I have nothing against them or their faith.  I dare say my mother knows the Bible; she has been attending Bible-study for decades.   She also teaches confirmation..."

"Confirmation isn't in the Bible, you know."

"Neither are cars."

Dead stop. It was like her brain just rear-ended itself, which was kind of amazing to watch. "What?"

"Cars aren't in the Bible.  Doesn't mean it's bad for a Christian to have a car." ...or a confirmation, which was my point.

She decided to have none of my logic.  "Well of course not.  Only the Amish believe that.  Or..is there another cult too?  No, just the Amish."

Great...now she doesn't even need me to have someone to argue with.  She's debating with herself.  Also, that's totally NOT the reason why the Amish don't own cars.

"So what Church does your mother attend?"

"She a Methodist."

"Oh!  Maybe she's a Christian after all.  Is she a born-again Methodist or a Baptist-based Methodist?"

What the hell is a "Baptist-based Methodist"?  I think of Methodists as being in two groups.  There are "our" Methodists, and then there's the "no drinkin', no smokin' no havin' fun kind of Methodists."  It's only in the last decade I learned there was such a thing as a born-again Methodist (George W. Bush is one).  Not sure if they are a third group or if they're intertwined with the "no drinkin', no smokin' no havin' fun kind of Methodists."

"Well, she's not a born-again," was the only answer I could provide to that rather limited question.

Pouty face again.  "She should read the writings of John Wesley.  He's got some really great stuff about all the things that religion makes us do that has nothing to do with God's plan...like the idea that the unbaptized will go to hell, as if God would send an innocent child to hell because he wasn't baptized..."

And heaven forbid my Mom actually read something of the denomination's founder before she decided to join, or like John Wesley is some secretive figure that most Methodists have never heard of.  We learned about him in Sunday School.

I kind of stopped listening as she went off on another rant.  Clearly there was no point in telling her that most denominations do not believe that baptism saves a person, or that I suspected she had no idea what Baptists believe. Heck, Mom would even agree on the whole value of personal relationship over empty ritual - if only the conversation wasn't being held in a dollar store with a stranger that didn't invite the damn conversation - but that doesn't make her a born-again, thank God.

...give a crap about lists.

Over on About.com I wrote today about the "Real [insert group here] dont..." mentality, entitled "Differences between Definitions and Rules of Religion."

This mentality is born of people who want to live a simple boolean existence, where everyone who is a part of "us" agrees on everything, which is an insane expectation of the human race.  It also leads to the pretty fairy tale where "OUR group doesn't do bad things." As a group, no, we're generally pretty decent folk.  But as individuals?  There are some nasty people out there.  Some are Christians, some are atheists, some are Wiccans, etc.

Being an ass doesn't make you a non-Wiccan.

These sorts of expectations also muddy the already complicated topic of defining our religion.  It's one thing if you don't think someone is Wiccan because they aren't initiated, or they're admitted atheists, or they're still monotheists and trust in Jesus.  Then you're debating what truly makes one a Wiccan.  But when you start decrying people you simply don't like (and perhaps for good reason), you've stepped past a question of definition.  

Yes, there are Wiccans who cause harm, and eat meat, and vote Republican.  many of us don't even see a problem with Wiccans doing that.  But there are also Wiccans who abuse children and slander and lie and steal.  That doesn't take away their Wiccan membership, and it doesn't make Wicca as a whole suddenly responsible for their bad behavior.  We can condemn such behavior while still acknowledging these people are Wiccans.

It's just another reason why "Wiccans would never hurt anyone," is one of the post pointless, non-sensical and unrealistic statements I hear semi-regularly uttered in our community.

http://steampunk.cnberyI've been adding lots of stuff to the new steampunk website, Steaming Apparel.  mostly its examples and some basic tips and tricks for people who aren't sure how to costume for steampunk: either because they aren't costumers, are new to steampunk, or both.  My work over there my slow down over the next few seeks as I prepare for school, but it's definitely an ongoing project.  It also has a forum for people share ideas and ask questions.

Returning from GenCon

8/08/2011 03:30:00 PM | | 0 comments »

Got home from GenCon late last night and have caught up on much needed rest.  Photos are up on facebook, although I've set it so everyone can view the photos (I hope.)  You can find them here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2164576746465.2119112.1008025218  If the link doesn't work, let me know and I'll see if there's anything I can do.  (BTW, please do not ask to friend me on Facebook.  It's the one place I keep semi-private, just for friends and family (other than pictures).)

Lots of steampunk stuff this year, and lots of photos of steampunk stuff.  Also participated in the costume contest, which was a lot of fun, even if I didn't win.  Several hundred costumed attendees, including myself, also paraded through the convention center, which was a blast even with a blister on one foot. ;)

For the second year in a row, the Dresden LARP (Never Say Nevernever Again) was the highlight of my time there.  unfortunately, my husband had the camera for 7th Seas so I have no pics.  This year was even better than last year for reasons like:

  • Bigger location in which to play
  • More players
  • really organized GMs
  • I've actually read the Dresden books now
  • An even cooler character than last year, which I didn't think possible.
 Last year I was Matthew Thompson, White Council warden and sibling (we were a little ambivalent on the gender) to Eric Thompson, former warden and now Red Court vampire duke.  The guy who played Eric was amazing, and we had a really good chemistry going, which led to all sorts of tension.

This year the GMs were apparently hoping I would show up because they had a character in mind for me.   So I was a little surprised when I opened my packet and found out I was playing Eric.  Why did they want me to play Eric so badly, particularly when Eric's player also returned this year?

Because Matthew is a ghost, and riding along in Eric's body.  Two character sheets, two sets of goals, two sets of knowledges about other characters, random flip-flops between personalities, and some really evil GMs made this one of the best gaming experiences I've ever had.  At one point I was actually physically fighting myself, Matthew trying to keep Eric from murdering another character, throwing myself around a closet.  The GM just looked down at me and laughed.  "This is why I hoped you would play this character."

So a couple people got to actually talk to Matthew, while most people either talked to Eric or to Matthew pretending to be Eric.  Occasionally someone got both of the latter, if a GM was torturous enough to switch me mid-conversation.

I didn't actually accomplish a whole lot, because I was too busy just juggling two personalities.  Eric and Matthew were also working against each other, so my lack of success is relative.  But it was just so darn cool dealing with all of the internal stuff, which at one point got so intense that I realized I personally was concerned about what one of my characters might do behind my back.

Last week, Obama said that America voted "for a divided government, not a dysfunctional government."  I have to disagree, Mr. President.  The current debt debacle is exactly what we voted for.  People just weren't paying attention at the time.

Every person in Congress was voted in by the American people.  That includes 87 Tea Party Republicans, who promised a litany of things like cutting spending and not being politicians.  They pride themselves on having strong convictions on which they will not compromise.  The problem is a politician has to compromise.  Otherwise, nothing gets done.  That IS how the system works.  When no one compromises, nothing happens.  many of them specifically promised they were going to oppose the Democrats at every turn, and that's exactly what they've been doing.

People voted for this.  People heard "less taxes," "less spending," and "less government waste," but they didn't bother asking how this was going to get done, and they ignored the fact that their candidates were going to all but shut down government efficiency.

The Tea Party wants to make this a budget argument, but the budget has already passed.  Promises have been made.  Bills have have been accrued.   The debt ceiling is not about budget; it's about paying our debts.  Should we be talking about budgets?  Absolutely, but not right now.  Right now we have to figure out how we're going to pay for the budget already passed.  That's what the dept-ceiling argument is about.

But the Tea Party is holding the discussion hostage.  They want to talk budgets, and they will not let us pay our bills until we promise them things about the budget....including promising to pass a Constitutional amendment concerning balanced budgets.  Not just consider an amendment - pass it.  Constitutional amendments have to be voted on by the people.  Our government simply cannot promise an amendment will pass.  It was that impossible demand that killed the Boehner bill this week: not because the Democrats are big, uncompromising meanies, but because that condition is simply impossible.

But the Tea Party doesn't seem to get that.  They want an amendment, so they demand an amendment, regardless of how these things are actually done.  This is civics class 101, folks, just like debt limits are economy 101.  So they hand the Senate an impossible to fulfill bill, the Senate shoots it down, and the Tea Party wails that they passed a solution while the Democrats killed it.  Thus our lack of a solution is the fault of the Democrats.

The fault is also, they say, at the feet of President Obama.  Rep. Michelle Bachmann calls it a failure of leadership, even though she refused to support even Boehner's plan, a member of her own party.  Is she really blaming Obama for not providing an even more conservative plan than that suggested by her conservative party?

And let's make something very clear: legislation is not the job of the President.  He is the Executive Branch.  Congress is the Legislative Branch.  He can talk with people, he can start discussions, he can suggest ideas, but introducing bills isn't his job.

We have bills to pay.  A lot of us don't like how big those bills are getting, but that isn't the issue of the moment.  The issue is how we're going to pay.  I don't like my credit card statement some months, but that doesn't mean I should just refuse to pay it until I straighten out my spending habits.

And let's spend just a moment reflecting the recent history of our habits.  President Clinton balanced our budget.  We were actually paying down our debt.  Then 9/11 happened and we went to war...and for the first time in history, we didn't raise taxes to support those wars.  Indeed, we lowered them.  Republicans raised expenditures.  Republicans lowered taxes....lowered them to the lowest rates since George Bush Sr., whose rates were the lowest since 1931.  And the Republicans have fought tooth and nail to keep military expenditures high, while continuing to drive down tax rates.

And American keeps falling for it, voting for people who promise safety, security and low taxes, without asking how the hell we're going to actually fiscally fulfill such promises.

So, Congress, please pay our debts so our country doesn't become the national equivalent to a deadbeat dad.  Stop arguing about the multitude of things that aren't actually the issue at this exact moment.  Put on your big boy pants and grow the hell up.

And, America, wake up.  Next election, listen to more than the sound bites and the negative advertisements and start asking yourself the hard questions, like whether your candidate will actually get something done in Washington or merely march around and bluster.

Steaming Apparel

7/29/2011 04:46:00 PM | | 0 comments »

I've been working on a new website, which is now live: http://steampunk.cnbeyer.com.  It's for steampunk costuming, particularly geared toward those who are not very familiar with steampunk and/or not terribly interested in sewing.

It is very much a work in progress.  There's lots of stuff I'm eventually going to add.  It's an issue of time.  (And GenCon is next week, so time is in short supply at this very moment.)

While some people keep encouraging me to add to the Wicca for the Rest of Us site, the fact is I said pretty much everything I wanted to on that topic years ago.  There are plenty of other things I have to say about Wicca in general, but those are longer thoughts, more appropriate for a book than a website.  (still crossing my fingers on that front.  No word yet.)

August 1 marks the holiday of Lughnasadh for many neopagans. For those following the Wiccan holiday calendar (the four Celtic fire festivals paired with the two solstices and two equinoxes)  is the first of three harvest festivals - the other two being Mabon (fall equinox, around September 21) and Samhain (October 31).

For me, personally, Lughnasadh has never been a big issue.  Three harvest festivals is too many for me, particularly since by August 1 our local crops have only been growing for a couple of months and aren't anywhere near harvesting.

But a summary of the Lughnasadh celebrations of one particular pagan blogging at Pantheos along with the history behind it gives an excellent picture of what the celebration CAN mean...

Continue reading at The Meaning of Lughnasadh on About.com.

I don't do public pagan events very often.  I haven't found one yet that was worth my time.  Case in point: the Milwaukee Pagan Pride Day.  I attended a few years ago, and it was mostly a vendor room...and much of what was being sold was fashion, not religious, (Celtic patterned bags and dresses, for example) and pretty much all of it I could get at any half-decent New Age store.

Got invited to the event again, and just for shits and giggles, I decided to check the schedule as posted on Facebook:

12noon Lady Valley Opening Ritual - Rev. Tyson

(The vagueness suggests this will attempt to address all forms of pagans present, which invariably results it in not addressing any...at which point, why do we need a "ritual"?)

1-1:50p Dr. Paul McDowell Tactics & Secrets for Increasing Your Personal Power

(A quick Goggle search tells me this person has written a book called Dark Lords - The Power Within, which is a "controversial journey that sheds light on the world of dark mind magic and secret alchemy used by the world's top businesses and wealthiest families.  Nothing is held back as a "Master Dark Lord" is your guide through this world of advanced business strategy, covert processes and unpalallelled [sic] entrepreneurial power. Learn how to apply these amazing tools in your business."  Sounds totally legit, right?)

2-2:50p Corin White - How to Avoid Getting a Flesh Eating Curse.

(I'm sorry...WTF? A PDF document from the event gives a different title: Graveyard Magic...which at least is a more useful title...but seriously?  Are you catering to the uber-goths?  Because last time I was there, the atmosphere turned decided chilly when three goth teens entered.  No one there wanted them.  It was tangible and ugly, and the teens weren't doing anything negative at all.  They were just checking the place out.

2-3:50p Karen Pauli - Animal Rescue-Adopt a Pedigree!

(Ok, puppies are cute, but this has what to do with paganism?)

3-3:50p Jeanie Dean Egyptian Culture & Myths

(Wow, an actual legit pagan topic. Ms. Dean.  Ironically, this event doesn't show up on the PDF advertisement at all.)

4-4:50p Barbara Kruck Animal Communication through Your Totems< (Uh...right. Ok.) 4-5:50p Dr. Joanne Flanagan - Power of the Equilibrex Pendant (If this sounds suspiciously like an infomercial, it's because it IS.  The Equilibrex Pendant "
is a Bio-energy enhancer designed to strengthen your resistance to the effects of both stress and electromagnetic fields (EMF),increase your energy level, and improve your mental performance."  Normally $179.95, you can buy yours right now for $89 here. (oh, please visit, just to see how hokey this item looks))

5-5:50 Lisa Howe Underground Allies: Connecting to Marcus Maichle Earth Spirits & Earth Stewardship thru WormFarm (composting)

(In the PDF, it had a more useful title: "Our Underground Allies: Basics of Vermiculture (Worm Composting)".  Not religious in the least, but at least the title tells you something.  Now we're talking about "WormFarm" (which sounds like a brand name) and we've decided to sound more New Agey by adding a discussion on Earth Spirits.  Seriously, understanding Earth Spirits and learning to compost in the same panel?

A quick Googling tells me that Marcus Maichle gives presentations on elemental spirits.  Is Marcus actually going to be there, or is Lisa just borrowing his stuff?)

6:00pm Lady Valley Closing Ritual - Rev. Tyson  (I'm not sure I trust anyone who claims to be a Reverend but doesn't state what he or she is a Reverend OF.  I can technically call myself one, because I'm ordained online through the ULC, but I DON'T, because it doesn't actually confer any meaning (other than I can legally perform weddings in Wisconsin))

There's practically nothing (once again) at this Pagan Pride Day that's actually pagan.  Sure, some pagans are interested in composting, but plenty of non-pagans are too.  It's not pagan.  And there are time and places for these things, but why at a Pagan Pride Day?  Is this the best the pagan community can offer?  Then I don't have a lot of pride in it.  This is more like Eclectic New Age Day.  Pagan does not equal New Ager!

"But it's Not Fair!"

7/12/2011 04:21:00 PM | , | 7 comments »

I have reached my breaking point on teenagers and young adults complaining that they are being "persecuted" because they are not allowed to practice Wicca, witchcraft, etc. in their parents' homes.

I sort of understand the teenagers' plights.  They're young, they don't quite get it, and until they are 18, they don't have a lot of options.  Still, they don't appreciate it when we tell them that really what they need to do is just wait until they become legal adults.  They want suggestions either on how to practice without parental detection, or some way of magically convincing their parents to give them permission.  All of which is a lovely illustration why many Wiccans don't want anything to do with teen practitioners.  Maturity is important, and many of them simply don't yet have it.

The real bug up my butt, however, comes from those who are over 18 but have the same complaint: my parents won't let me do what I want.  My parents are taking away my constitutional rights.

Parents are doing no such thing.  The Constitution keeps the government from interfering with your religious beliefs.  It says nothing about your parents.  And your parents can't control your life.  They can, however, revoke the free room and board you're currently getting.

"But that's not fair!  I should be able to believe what I want!"  You can believe all you want.  Your parents can't get inside your head and reprogram you.  But if you are living with your parents, they can set the rules for what happens under their roof.  And there's an amazingly easy solution to get around those rules: Get a job.  Move out.  Pay your own damn bills.  Worship however you please under your own roof.

Really, it's not fair that they save you hundreds of dollars on rent every month?  You're an adult now.  You need to grow the hell up and start appreciating things when they are given to you.  If you think the world and your parents owe you everything you want, then quite frankly you're not mature enough to be making a decision about religious conversion.  So maybe your parents had a point after all.

For me, responsibility is one of the biggest lessons of Wicca, and these people appear to have no sense of responsibility at all.  If you want something, you don't expect other people to do it for you.  You also understand that the more you want, the more you're going to have to give.  If you want total freedom, you have to make yourself totally independent.  That's how things work.

Jonathan Dudley, a graduate of Yale Divinity School, recently posted perhaps the most straight-forward argument against condemning homosexuals in his post "Bible condemns a lot, so why focus on homosexuality?"

When the Bible-thumpers quote Exodus, the counter-argument is easy: the vast majority of Christians do not follow the Old Testament laws.  Indeed, they believe those rules were set aside with the sacrifice of Jesus.  At the very least, you have no business quoting Old Testament statements on things like homosexuality and witchcraft so long as you're doing things like eating pork and shellfish.

New Testament arguments, however, are more difficult, and these are what Dudley focuses on.  Most statements of condemnation come from Paul, and Paul condemned all sorts of things.  Yet many Christians quoting Paul on homosexuality are quite willing to disagree with him on other issues.

Also, interesting enough, Paul condemns homosexuality because it is "unnatural."  Not because God hates it.  You know what else us unnatural according to Paul?  Men with long hair.  A few churches do not, in fact, allow men to have long hair, but I've never heard any of them teach that long hair would damn them to hell, or support legislation that would take away rights from long-haired men.

Oh, and that whole God-wants-men-and-women-to-get-married approach?  Historically, the teaching of the church was that celibacy was preferable to marriage.  marriage was simply there for those huge numbers of people who weren't spiritually strong enough to remain celibate.

There's a bike path near my house that I regularly traverse on my bicycle for exercise.  It runs along a creek and a series of artificial ponds, and there's a variety of plant and wildlife to be found in the area.

Yesterday I came across the smallest fawn I've ever seen.  No mother in sight.  It was tottering along the edge of the tall grass, just feet from the path.  It completely didn't even notice me.

Apparently wisdom really does come with age, even in the animal world.  And ignorance is only bliss until it gets you killed.

Last yesr we had two bunnies in our yard that we named Bashful and Dopey.  Bashful behaved like a bunny should, running away whenever we even thought of approaching it.  Dopey, on the other hand....Dopey was dumb.  Dopey regularly hung out in the same spot of our yard, and his defense mechanism was to simply hold really, really still, no matter how close we got.  I got within about two feet once.

We haven't seen Dopey this year.  I sure hope he has simply stopped acting dopey (which is the only way we could identify him), as opposed to being deceased.

I'm back in Wisconsin and recovering from the World Steam Expo.  It's quite a bit larger than TeslaCon and the various steampunk events I have previously attended: lots of panels, activities, vendors, shows, dances, and just random goofiness.

This first image is me rappelling off a platform. This is a kind of amazing experience for me because it requires no hand strength to keep yourself stable on the rope: it's all friction.

After four days, I was pretty much exhausted.  And I wasn't even drinking.  Monday was a VERY tired day for a great many of my fellow conventioneers.

 I've enjoyed costuming for a number of years, even though I'm not really a fan of sewing.  For the first time in years I've been motivated to sew and create new costumes, and the results were relatively well-received.  Of particular note: my hat and monocle.  No one even recognizes me when I take them off.

At right, you see Lucretia Strange, my Steampunk persona.  The image is done by Mark Chamberlin of Chamberlin Photography.

Anyone see the steampunk episode of Castle?  Remember the steampunked arm Nathan Fillion wore?  Yeah, this guy made that.
 Phenomenal costuming from a random attendee. 

 Putting the punk back in steampunk.

 Steampunk isn't just about costuming.  It's also about invention.  Fantastic weaponry are the most common inventions, but there's plenty of variety.  This gentleman had a steam-powered skateboard.  Apparently it's even possible for him to put a remote control on it.

 A female, steampunked Deadpool, anyone?

 Let your baby travel in steampunk style too!  It's a one-baby dirigible.  It even has an instrument panel.  And, yes, they really were rolling their child around in this.

The State of Me Address

5/19/2011 03:25:00 PM | 5 comments »

This is looking to be a good summer.  Classes are done, and thanks to medication I'm neither exhausted nor depressed, so hopefully the next three months will be more productive than last summer.

My FAQ has made it through the first round of cuts at Llewellyn Publishing.  Crossing my fingers on the second meeting, to be held sometime in June.

I have another manuscript in the works, and I'm determined to finish the rewrites this summer.  Several years ago Llewellyn turned it down but made a host of helpful suggestions.  This manuscript is actually from where the To Know, Will and Dare name came.

I also have two other writing projects planned for the future.

Trying to lose the 20 pounds I've put on over the past year due to health problems.  Simply counting calories is not enough for me, so this is the goal I'm most pessimistic about.  Starting with making sure I bike every chance the weather gives me.

Need to retool the PPTs for the all semester, since I'm masochistic enough to switch textbooks.

Have not yet gotten a notification of my two Students from Hell appealing (another) failing grade for cheating.  Hopefully they've finally admitted I'm neither as dumb nor as wimpy as they keep presuming.

Cousin is getting married this weekend, then it's off to Michigan to visit friends and family, and finally next weekend will be the World Steam Expo.  On a related note, the piles of costume sewing in the living room will finally move elsewhere.

Changed the color scheme of the blog.  May do further redesigns. Depends on my mood.

Started doing a bit of modeling again, mostly Steampunk related.  I forgot how much fun it could be.  My artistic endeavors have been sidelined for the moment by my other projects, so this gives me a visually creative outlet.

More crazy emails from students.  This time it was fairly simple: "Thanks for the F."

No thanks needed.  I didn't give you that F.  You won that F all by yourself.  I merely recognized your accomplishments (or lack of).

Students like to give the impression that poor grades are a reflection of a mean teacher rather than a poor student, but that fact is it is pretty much impossible for dedicated student to fail my class.  Certainly not every earnest student will get an A, but they should pass.  They should even pass relatively well.

But it does require work, and the idea that teachers are big meanies because they expect actual work is a growing concern.  "Your So-Called Education" in the New York Times paint a grim picture of diminishing expectations - and results - in US college education.

So, yes, you should show up regularly, read assigned materials, participate in class, bring required materials, put time and thought into papers, not cheat off the Internet, and study your brains out for exams.  And many students do...and they get good grades, and they actually learn stuff. 

Part of the problem, I think, is that students too often think of college as a source of grades and a diploma rather than as a source for knowledge.  This is particularly the case for classes like mine (history and humanities) which aren't directly applicable to most students' career paths.  You don't need to know who painted the Sistine Chapel in order to be a successful biochemist.  So all students are looking for is a grade.

I am not here to provide a grade.  I am here to teach.  My students will leave my class knowing more than when they went in.  The grade just reflects how well they accomplished garnering new knowledge.

Angry students seem to universally think teachers enjoy failing students.  We don't.  I hate failing students, because it means they didn't learn anything, and I don't like that, even if it's not my fault.  So why do it?  (And I have been asked that)  Accountability.  A good grade is the reward for learning stuff.  Giving a reward for nothing merely continues this cycle of entitlement that certain students suffer, encouraging the notion that hard work really isn't necessary.

Luckily, this opinion isn't universal.  I periodically get compliments from students about how much stuff they learn in my class, or how I made the material accessible and fun so they could more easily learn.  I've repeatedly gotten the comment on my reviews from students that I am "hard but fair" and "tough, but I learned a lot."  I take that to mean I'm doing it right.

I don't believe in the easy A.  If A's are easy, the bar is set far too low.  I state it right on my syllabus: A's represent superior work, not average work.

My favorite teacher in undergrad was also the hardest grader I've ever had.  Even though he taught my specialty (Medieval European history), I sweated bullets in his classes.  An A was never a guarantee.  But I learned tons of information - information that has stayed with me over they years, rather than information that fades five minutes after the exam.  I also could appreciate an A as a real accomplishment, and I learned the value of hard work.

Life expects you to do hard work.  I'm not being overly demanding on this point.

As more spillways are opened along the Mississippi, I am reminded of what I consider a basic fact: nature always wins.  Certainly we can control and harness it, but only to an extent.  In most years, the levees and sea walls work fine, for example.  But when the water gets high enough, nature wins.

We are left with the choice or working with it,  submitting to it, or stubbornly continuing to fight.  Opening the spillways is an example of working with nature, of making compromises so both sides are at least somewhat satisfied.  Some of the people affected by spillway openings understand.  Many don't,...

Read more: Nature Always Wins @ About.com
(Sorry, I'm not allowed to publish About.com blog posts in full on other sites)

Hanging around on Yahoo!Answers, I come across of a lot of claims that Christianity is pagan, or at least questions of "Is Christianity pagan?"

People need to start learning the meaning of words, because no matter where you think Christian ideas originate, claiming that Christianity is non-Christian is a nonsensical statement.

As for the claim itself: sure, Christianity borrowed from pagan culture, because it was the only culture from which to borrow! New ideas always build upon old ideas.

But many of the specific examples commonly given are grossly exaggerated or even outright wrong. And, regardless, borrowing pagan ideas doesn't make something pagan. Christianity borrowed a TON from Judaism, but no one suggests that Christianity is really Jewish.

I submitted final grades for my students this week, and already one student is unhappy.  The most amazing email showed up in my inbox:

"I dont understand how a 75% overall on three tests and a paper equal a c/d grade. thought it was a c. I missed ONE class all semester due to weather. The clicker points oviously mean alot to get them right? Good thing I have A's and A/B's in all my other courses. I guess it was a mistake to take this class, escpecially to fill a requirement."
"Clickers" are electronic quiz devices we use.  I put a question up on a PowerPoint and students enter their answers through a small electronic device.

He is right that 75% is a C, but he's ignoring the clicker component of his grade, which is clearly stated on the syllabus as being equally weighted against any single paper or exam.

So, yes, the clickers were important.  And, yes, it was important to get them right.  I'm there to teach them about history, not how to push random buttons on a device.  I know.  I'm demanding.

As for the last sentence, I'm not even sure of the meaning.  Was he expecting the class to be easier because it's a gen. ed. requirement, and most of the students in the class don't really want to be there?  Welcome to adulthood, where you will be expected to do things you don't really like on a regular basis.

I explained to him what the syllabus says about clicker scores, and then suggested that perhaps his real mistake was not taking my class seriously.  Yes, you have to not only show up, but you have to be prepared.  That means opening that great big textbook and investing real time reading the assignments, rather than just cramming the bits that are on exam review sheets.

It means you're a grown-up.  Welcome to the real world.

China Arnold has, yet again, been found guilty of microwaving her baby to death.  (One trial ended in mistrial, and a second was overturned on appeal.)  She's gone through a whole list of improbable explanations, pointing fingers at various other people but admitting she was so drunk that night she doesn't remember anything.

Of course that disturbs me.  Everyone should be disturbed about a microwaved baby.

But what really stands out to me is her lawyer, who insisted "No mother is going to do this, in this way," while also pointing out the baby's father as a potential alternative suspect.

Fathers care for their children as much as mothers.  Why is it so heinous to think of a mother doing such a thing, but less heinous to think of a father doing the same?  I'm not even sure who it insults more: women by essentially defining their nature as centered around mothering, or men by depicting them incapable of bonding with a child like women do.

An associate of mine has a terrific picture of him him cuddling his baby.  It's adorable, and loving, and amazing.  You don't see dads in those pictures very often.  Moms, sure.  Lot's of sentimental moments between mother and baby, but dad and baby pics are much more often either silly or the dad is presenting the baby to the camera like a trophy or a prize fish.

Men care.  Men should care.  And society should recognize it and encourage it. 

The Jesus Fish has been a popular car decoration now for perhaps 15 years.  The fish is one of the earliest symbols in Christianity, so it makes sense.

Then, someone with a sense of humor gave the fish feet, and replaced "Jesus" with "Darwin."  That was rather cute, although it was understandable when the Christians retaliated with a Truth Fish eating the Darwin Fish.

And then someone made a big, fat Buddha Fish, and that was just funny.

But now people are putting all sorts of religions inside of a fish, even though it means absolutely nothing.  For example, the Wicca Fish....

Read more: Religious Fish Have Long Gone Stale @ About.com
(Sorry, I'm not allowed to publish About.com blog posts in full on other sites)

Why I Enjoy Door Knockers

4/09/2011 11:34:00 AM | 1 comments »

I know doorstep evangelists drive some people crazy, sometimes because of particularly bad experiences with them.  I really haven't had those bad experiences, and after having one today, I realize I actually rather enjoy them.

The gentleman at my door was advertising the Easter service at his church.  He was very polite, and he was clearly thrilled to be reaching out to others to share his faith.  He wasn't pushy.  He wished me a good day and left when I refused his literature.

Religion brings a lot of good things to good people. As long as they are polite, why wouldn't they want to share?  I was happy for this man, and I appreciate his thoughtfulness in wanting to share that happiness with me.  Gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling, I guess.

As the Japanese nuclear reactors continue to potentially burn away their casings, people around the world are calling for reactors to be shut down.  They are asking why reactors aren't made to withstand 9.0 magnitude earthquakes.

The answer is: because the world is not wrapped in bubble wrap.

I have long had a lot of concerns about nuclear power, but I'm totally on the pro-nuclear side of this argument.  While we should, of course, strive for safety, we will never create a completely harmless, well, anything.  If a 9.0 earthquake hits a reactor, bad things are likely to happen.  Of course, if that same earthquake hits an oil refinery, or toxic chemical plant, or any number of other things, bad things are also likely to happen.  And if we give up on all of these developments, we'll slide back into a dark ages, which of course will come with it's own consequences.

The world is not perfectly safe.  It's moved by incredible forces.  We can - and should - take reasonable precautions, but we shouldn't expect those precautions to be perfect, and to consider every death as a failure.  In 2004, the tsunami in Indonesia killed 200,000+ people.    In Japan, we're looking at 10,000 right now.  Building codes kept swaying skycrapers in Tokyo from collapsing.  Sirens allowed some people to escape the incoming wall of water.  Japanese preparation was a success, regardless how many bodies get pulled from the rubble.  This was a massive quake, yet nearly everyone survived it - it was the tsunami that killed most of the victims.

This is a followup to yesterday's post.

It was theoretically an apology.  After getting fired for his incredibly crass remarks, Gottfried put out a statement saying ""I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by my attempt at humor regarding the tragedy in Japan. I meant no disrespect, and my thoughts are with the victims and their families."

Are you wanting us to believe you didn't think jokes about drowned loved ones would be offensive?  That might even be worse that just not caring if it offended anyone. And the line about meaning no disrespect?  Gottfried, your humor is based on disrespect.  Give me a break.

The only reason he's sorry is because he got fired over it.

The Aflac duck has lost it's voice: the company fired voice actor Gilbert Gottfried after tweeting such "humorous" lines as "I just split up with my girlfriend. But like the Japanese say, 'They'll be another one floating by any minute now.'"

What the hell is wrong with him?  How does he think that's even funny?  Or did I miss  the newest fad where drowned women were considered humorous?

He's certainly not the only one, however, who thinks such humor is appropriate.  I was very tempted to post Friday on Facebook "You might be a douche if...you think "Look out for Godzilla!" was an appropriate first comment on the Japan disaster, due to the number of times I saw it.  Really, that's the best you can come up with as thousands die and hundreds of thousands lose their homes?  Hilarious.

I've also encountered the odd duck on the internet who objects to us sending aid to Japan, suggesting that we have somehow forgotten "a little thing called Pearl Harbor."  Really, we're keeping score?  Even when the great majority of victims were not even alive, much less involved, when Pearl Harbor happened? 
But, OK, let's keep score:  I'm pretty sure a little thing called Hiroshima paid their debt in full.  Not to mention Nagasaki.  Are you sure keeping score sounds like a good idea?

It's been a depressing week news-wise: too many examples of what humans do when they get scared: they get violent, and they jump at invisible enemies, taking out innocents in the process.

The world is much simpler when there's something we can clearly blame the badness on.  And if we take action against the blamed target, we feel like we're being productive instead of sitting back like helpless victims.

But the world isn't a simple place.  There isn't nearly always a convenient villain in the corner twirling his mustache.

From the About.com Blog:
Potential Satanist Compound Burned in Zambia
Vodouissants Murdered for Spreading Cholera
The Problems of Selectively Using Evidence

Website moved!

1/15/2011 03:35:00 PM | 0 comments »

The main website has now been moved from wicca.timerift.net to wicca.cnbeyer.com.  I may also eventually buy a catchy URL for the Wicca site and redirect to that location.

Every fiber of my being groans at the upcoming release of Season of the Witch.  First, it stars Nicolas Cage.  I don't actually have anything against the man himself, but his choice of movies is abysmal.  Didn't The Wicker Man teach you anything, Mr. Cage?

As a Wiccan, I expect this will start a another round of us being poor persecuted witches, and how the Church was the big meanie of Medieval Europe putting down all those uppity herbalist women.

As a historian, I just want to fall into convulsions.  Cage plays a soldier "who returns from the crusades to a Europe blighted by plague. A priest begs his service to deliver a suspected witch to a monastery so monks can determine her guilt or innocence."  (http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/221592/Season-of-the-Witch-film-review-and-trailerSeason-of-the-Witch-film-review-and-trailer#ixzz1AO7wkKZT)

Exactly which Crusade would that be?  Because the Crusades ended in the 13th century, and the major Crusades were finished by the 12th.  Bubonic plague strikes Europe first in the mid 14th century.  Major witch hunts don't start until the late 15th century, with the Church previous to that generally taking the position that witches didn't exist.

I don't expect historical movies to be perfectly accurate, but this movie clearly isn't even trying.  If you want to include this much fiction, why set it in history at all?  Why not invent your own fantasy world?

On About.com, I blogged today about How Important is a Prophet?  It was in reaction to a blog post over at ModernGnosis which stated "Aleister Crowley is no more Thelema than Moses is Judaism. The prophet is not the core of the religion. They are merely the mouthpiece for God."

As a Wiccan, we don't have to deal with the issue of prophets.  We merely have a founder, Gerald Gardner.  We don't see him as a mouthpiece for the gods.  But if you can, to a certain degree, dismiss a prophet, you can certainly dismiss a founder.  So where does Gardner fit in today's Wicca?

As I state over at my About.com post, religions evolve beyond their founders and prophets.  They may plant the seeds, but then the religion sprouts and grows, potentially in directions the founder never even imagined.

Is that a bad thing?  I would say "no."  Ideas are supposed to evolve.  If they didn't, society would stagnate.  But at the same time, we should be mindful of where we came from.  We should remember why we thought Gardner's ideas were good in the first place, even as move on from some of them.  If nothing else, it helps us to better understand why we currently embrace the beliefs that we do.

I am frequently asked "How can you accept a religion which was founded on such poor concepts of history?"  This is particularly meaningful to me as a historian, and the answer is simple: I understand the reasons why Gardner claimed what he did.  I also understand the reality of those claims, and I do not see the correction of historical fact as having much bearing on the religious aspects of Wicca. 

Yes, my religion isn't ancient.  We were never burned at the stake.  So what?  I never joined Wicca because of those things.  Admitting those things doesn't make the existence of my gods any less true.  It's like people who insist proving Genesis wrong proves that Christianity is wrong.  Really?  Admitting that there was no literal Garden of Eden disproves the existence of God and Jesus?  How does that work?

Website is Moving!

1/03/2011 12:49:00 AM | 2 comments »

Wicca for the Rest of Us is moving to a new server, as timerift will be shutting down in several months. So, the question is...what do I call the new domain?