A Lament at Mabon

I’ve found myself feeling very disconnected and aloof lately. What follows is a bit of wax-poetic rambling from earlier this evening as I sat among the trees to enjoy the energies of Mabon, and the rising of the Full Moon.

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“Princess of Cups” from The Druidcraft Tarot, artwork by Will Worthington

Once I knew the language of trees
How each rustling of their leaves
Could mean so much—if only one knew how to listen.

Once I had so much definition in just that one thing:
That I could see their faces and
Read their leafy lips as they blew in the autumn breezes.
And now it seems so foreign…
Have I been so long in this land of fluorescence and brick?
Have I been gone so long that I have forgotten
How sweet the melodies of the forest can be?

Now it fills my heart not with understanding
But with a melancholy longing
For that which once felt so familiar to me, no—
That which still feels familiar—
But only the familiarity of a dream
As though in the very throes of sleeping wonder
I’ve been wrested from it by mundane duty.
Ephemeral on the edges of my consciousness:
Like flickering of faery light,
And distant horns of hunters that roam the evening skies.

In my heart, with each pulsing of the blood that flows through my veins,
I feel it… an echo.
An echo of something deeper—and much more profound and yet:
In my waking consciousness, I cannot quite put finger on that which I have lived before.
The melody haunts my eardrums and yet I cannot quite put to fingertips—
Or lips—the profound tune that catches in the wind and then is gone.

Faintly, my mind’s eye remembers beauty which no photograph, no drawing—
No painstaking sketch could ever come close to imagining.
On the tip of my tongue, the faintest taste of something… something…
Always searching for that which I cannot in waking consciousness grasp.

With each falling leaf,
With each howl on the wind that seems to pierce my very soul…
I want to remember
I want to wake up
Back in the place where trees spoke and moonlight bled between the branches on inky nights…

There were nights when I would run
From phantom figures in the trees,
Where I swear I heard the hoof-beats harrying me along dirt paths…

There were nights, long ago, that seemed to go on forever,
Where the cold dark eyes of a vampire
Haunted me in my sleep,
Where deep and sorrowful melodies pulled me into a sense of ecstasy.

There nights when I could hear the goddess calling me in the mists,
Her silver light a comfort,
A crow to show me the way…

And yet, now…

I cannot feel more than mere glimmers of what had once been
There was a time when I had tasted of Cerridwen’s cauldron—
When I could see the way energy moved through the land—
So apparent to my sight, that I felt one with them.

And now…
I am so trapped in that webbing of wire and artificial light
That I find myself balking at the very notion of sitting in my own yard past sunset.

And yet
Here I am on the verge of dusk,
Staring, trembling, into the forest—
As if on this night of all nights
Something will come to me that will wake me from this madness

On this grassy marshland hill,
Perhaps I’ll find a wonder—or a wound…
Like blessed Pwyll, of Dyfed before me,
Perhaps my lady in white will come riding by to take me back to that place of understanding,
That place of oneness…

Perhaps the dark hunter will blow his horn
And carry me upon his steed and into the western winds.

Or perhaps,
I will have sat here, my heart broken open,
Only to return again tomorrow
To that endless drudgery of everyday life…

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Thinking About: Initiations / Rites of Dedication

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Yesterday, I was finally able to perform my initiatory rite into the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. I’m not able to speak at great length about the ritual itself in this post, but I can speak about my feelings leading up to it, and my thoughts following its completion.

Despite having the materials for the course for the past six months or so, I had done very little of the actual course work. Life sort of caught up with me, and my job, home life, and mental health just did not lend me the time and proper head space I had needed to perform the rite. Thankfully, the quiet spell has seemed to have broken over the past couple of days, and I’m feeling called home once again to my practice, my art, and my studies with the little warm spell we appear to be having.

Strangely enough, it was the rite of initiation that had given me some of the most trouble in the materials I had received- not because of its content or its format or any objections I had with what it would entail. I couldn’t quite place the source of it for those first months- in fact, I don’t know that I realized some of the… oddness I’d been feeling until I was speaking to a friend about the topic this afternoon.

Every so often, I had found myself called to go over it once again. I’d start making the plans and preparing for it, and something would come up: the weather would get bad, I’d have something I had to do, etc. It would be set aside and left for the next time I’d felt the stirring somewhere within me to get back to work.

Yesterday was different. I had finally accomplished reformatting the rite a bit so that it would work with the amount of private space I had and a few other technicalities; it sat in my journal, just waiting to be performed. Yesterday was another of our random January thaws. The sun was bright and we were nearing forty or fifty degrees Fahrenheit rather than the bitter 10’s and 20’s that are typical of this time of year. I felt it on my way in to work that morning; something was stirring. By the time I was home for the afternoon, the desire to be outdoors and working on something was burning within me.

And something spoke to me then: the initiation ritual. And after months of trying to plan it out, to perhaps contact other local-ish OBOD members to assist me in performing it, to make sure everything was prepared… I decided simply that I was going to go through with it, and quickly gathered some incense and a candle and my journal, and headed out to the small grove of pine and cedars that has been my sacred space for over ten years…

The ritual was nice, pleasant, it brought me back to a sense of being at home- on my land, within my being, in my spirituality… But as I was walking inside after its completion, and as I was talking to my friend this afternoon, I couldn’t help but think that initiation and dedication rites are never quite as profound as we expect them to be.

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I find I’m always, on a certain level, expecting the ritual itself to be the eye-opening, awen-inspired moment of “Ah-ha! I understand completely, and now everything will start to be different!” But as I reflected upon my journey to the rite itself, and upon the lessons included with the ritual in my course materials, I realized that the true initiation had begun long before I had stepped out the door that afternoon.

Initiation and dedication to a specific path happens not in the single moment of a ritual. They begin within us before a circle is drawn or a candle lit. The shift of paradigm has occurred before the rite; the rite is merely a formality, a means of affirming that which we have already long known to be true. The epiphany is not a new paradigm or state of being, but a realization that we have arrived at this new place some time ago, and can now acknowledge and celebrate it.

For me, that shift started back some seven or so years ago, when I first saw the Green Man staring up at me from the pages of a book, and I started upon my discovery of Druidry. It was there in my discovery of the OBOD’s countless open resources, the befriending of other members of the order, the books, podcasts, YouTube videos, music, etc. that I found resonated with me- which were created by members. A shift had occurred the day that I purchased the Bardic Grade course, and again on the day I received the first packet of gwersi in the mail. What happened in the grove yesterday was merely me finding the voice to affirm and speak aloud the truths that had been in my heart for years. And now, the journey deeper into my studies continues.

What are your experiences with initiation rites or dedication rituals (be them to a new path, deity, etc.)? Share, if you’d like, in the comment section below.

Blessings of the Winter Forest,
Rachel

Thinking About: St. Patrick’s Day and The Spring Equinox

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image found via wallpapercave.com

Today marks a holiday that has, for a very long time, held a great deal of significance in my life: St. Patrick’s Day. Now, I am not, nor was I ever raised Catholic, but I was made familiar with the story about how St. Patrick “drove the snakes from Ireland” as a kid- and was later introduced to the notion that the “snakes” in question were in fact the remnants of Celtic paganism in Ireland.

Growing up, St. Patrick’s Day was among the most elaborately celebrated holidays in my family / friend group (Halloween and Christmas/Yule were the only things of more significance). It was something that had many fond memories, wearing green, listening to Celtic music, attending the parade downtown, and enjoying the Irish inspired feast that was prepared by family friends. I had, for a long time, been very interested in my Celtic heritage, and St. Patrick’s Day was, in essence, a day in which I could celebrate that apologetically. But realizing, as I was growing into my Pagan path, that this day was considered to be a day celebrating a man who is credited with ridding Ireland of pagans, left me at a sort of moral quandary.

When I was a bit younger than I am now, I liked to support the sort of anti-Catholic reclaiming of the day: all of those “Proud to be a snake” type sentiments that seem to go around. But, as I’ve made clear, I’ve been studying medieval history (in which the Catholic Church plays a rather prominent role), as well as my own ancestry and continuing my interest in Celtic spirituality. The truth of the matter is that much of what we know about the ancient Celts and their stories come from the transcribing of them by Catholic monks. I’ve learned more, also, about the ways in which the Celtic Church adopted certain aspects of Celtic spirituality from the pagan roots that had remained. Books on Celtic spirituality today, whether they’re focused on a more Pagan or Christian view point seem to focus on many of the same virtues: hospitality, heritage, music and poetry as sacred things, connection with the land…

So why get lost in the battle over which religious tradition is more “correct”? Why spend a day being angry about something that happened well over a thousand years ago?  I’ve chosen, instead, to observe this day as one on which to connect with my ancestors: both of blood, and of the Celtic spirit that still survives in both Pagan and Christian aspects of spirituality, and to really focus on those aspects of Celtic spirituality that I wish to continue on into my own practice. So, whichever way you observe St. Patrick’s Day, I hope you enjoy it!

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image found via: crystalinks.com

The Spring Equinox is also just about upon us. This year, I believe it falls on March 20th. For me, Ostara, or the Spring Equinox, has been a holiday I’ve never really know what to do with. As I believe I’ve mentioned, the seasonal weather patterns don’t always quite line up in Michigan, to the Wheel of the Year which is more oriented towards European climates. The days and nights may well be equal in length on the equinox, but the hold of winter is usually still very present here well into April / nearly May. The balance has never quite been something I’ve really felt this time of year. Speaking in the terms of deities, the goddesses often associated with the name of the festival: Eostere, Ishtar, etc. have never been goddesses that I have felt called to work with either.

This year, I’ve been finding myself called to an archetype I believe does sort of coincide with the idea of balance between dark and light: that of the maiden goddess of death. Persephone as flower maiden / Queen of the Underworld, Hella the half beautiful/half corpse like ruler of Helheim, Blodeweudd as beautiful flower maiden / but also the one responsible for Lleu Llaw Gyffes’ death… The juxtaposition of the beautiful young woman and the archetype of death one might more readily associate with a crone goddess instead. It feels extremely relevant to me, a young woman, who is seeking to go into funeral service work in the future. Perhaps, this Spring Equinox would be an ideal time to start working with one or more of these goddesses and see where the journey takes me.

How will you be celebrating the Spring Equinox?

Wishing you a blessed St. Patrick’s Day / Ostara / Spring Equinox and wonderful weekend,
Rachel

Update: March 1st, 2017

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My Imbolc Altar

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a personal update post, or written at all really. This first part of the winter semester has been rough, and I’ve been unable to create as much content for the blog as I would have liked to. My classes are interesting, and I’m very fond of all of the professors that I have this time around, but I think that the academic burnout and senioritis has really started to sink in, as well as a string of sort of rotten luck (more on that in a moment). It’s felt like an uphill struggle; now, with only a few more weeks left, it’s feeling a bit like careening down the other side of that hill in a rollercoaster cart. For the next month and a half or so, I’ll be much less active online, as I’ve a fifteen and a twenty page paper to do for my major history courses along with coursework for the other two classes I’m taking. The monthly tarot readings are also going to be left for the time being and will resume in May once I’ve graduated.

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The Feb. Full Moon, Seen From Campus

The biggest struggle this semester, aside from academics though, has been my own battle with depression and anxiety. Due to a number of conflicts, circumstances that couldn’t be prevented, etc. my friend group has gotten dramatically smaller here. On top of that, money has been a real struggle, and the limited budget means weird diet shifts every couple of weeks- all really typical college student stuff, but sort of exacerbated by the aforementioned academic stress and dramatic decrease in social circle. I finally went “This is a problem, and I need some help,” after having a bit of a mental breakdown over a splinter of all frigging things a few weeks back. I’ve been going to the campus counseling center, using some essential oils, and spending more time with the few friends I DO have left around. I think, for the most part, I’ve really pulled myself out of that pit for the time being, and am starting to come back round the bend to a better place.

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Little things have really been the cause of several shifts, good and bad, over the past few weeks. I’ve been able, with the exception of this past week or so, to post a YouTube video to my channel for the YouTube Pagan Challenge each week. I was visited by my soul-brother and best friend, Mark, and we got to talk several times on spirituality, plans for the summer, goals, etc. and make a video with one of our close friends, Shelby, on the experience of being a pagan and a millennial. You can find that on YouTube here. I also, during his visit, acquired a new tarot deck: After Tarot. I’m hoping to do an actual review of the deck later on, but in the past few weeks of having it, I can honestly say that I love it to pieces. The creators of the deck seemed to be aiming, from what I read in the book that accompanied the deck, to be looking for more of a predictive tarot style: really reaching into the future past what the cards traditionally depict and represent, but I’ve gotten a different feel from it (more on that later, I promise!).

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The 4 of Wands, 10 of Swords and 5 of Swords from After Tarot

The other major change / update in my life is that I am no longer moving to Florida in May. Due to a number of circumstances, most of them financial, it will not be possible for my boyfriend and I to afford our own place for a while. At first, I was really upset about this. I’d spent months planning this, and was so close to its fruition now when I found out that it wasn’t going to work. As I’ve stewed over the situation though, I’ve realized it might honestly be for the better anyway. For one, it makes a lot of financial sense to move back in with my parents and just dump all of my money from a job into paying back student loans, and do things like learn to drive, take up my parents’ offer to help me get a car, etc. But, beyond that, it also perfectly plays out in favor of some of the goals I’d already set for myself spiritually speaking. I’d been planning on taking a year between graduation and going into school for funeral services to pay loans and devote a good deal of time to spiritual study. Needing to live with my parents also keeps me from being close enough to a program to even contemplate more school; essentially all I can do is work, pay loans, and work on really developing and revitalizing my spiritual path. I also had a plan for a small tattoo in devotion to the Wylde Hunt that I will now more feasibly be able to afford without having to pay a bunch of money to move all the way from Florida to Michigan. It really sucks that my seeing my boyfriend again is postponed, and that I’m stuck moving back home, but I’m starting to think that it might not be so bad- and even for the best, really.

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The Hierophant from After Tarot

I’ve a number of plans for spiritual / witchy stuff in the works for the coming months. I’m currently participating in the #tarotnerdschallenge on Instagram throughout the month of March, and the YouTube Pagan Challenge videos, and hopefully some posts correlating to those videos, will be continuing throughout the remaining weeks of this semester. My parents have graciously given me permission to through a Beltane bash just after my graduation with my witchy friends from school and my home town, and I’m very much looking forward to that. Beltane will also mark the beginning of a year devoted to spiritual study, as I’ve mentioned. I’m really looking to pick up my old project of trying to create a fleshed out path centered around the Wylde Hunt again, and am hoping to compile it and maybe even publish it as a book; this time I’m looking at it more holistically- trying to include a healthier diet / exercise portion in it, myth/history, interpreting the Hunt as psychopomp and ferrier of the soul from one place of being to another, etc. etc. etc. More of this will probably come in blog posts as I work on the research and practice required for it to be ‘completed’.

That reminds me. Those who followed my old blog, The Raven & The Oak, will find that it has now been taken down. I went through the process of saving all of the posts on it to a Microsoft Word file for my own record and memory. It felt as though it was time. Many of the posts were from my high school and early college days; my path has changed, my ways of writing and thinking about different topics have changed. I noticed that my younger self was particularly problematic about sourcing information and images used in posts, too. It was time to let it go, and to move forward with current projects instead. Hopefully, The Patchwork Crow will be a bit more sophisticated than my previous blog had been.

Many blessings to you all,
Rachel

Imbolc: The Light in the Darkness

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As the new solar year gets under way, it is nearing the time of Imbolc. In Druidry, and indeed for many neo-Pagans, this is a festival that marks the returning of spring. The light has started to return to us following the Winter Solstice, or Yule, and the first signs of new life can begin to be seen. It is associated with a return to youth, light in the last dark months of winter, a time for stirring from our post-holiday stupor, as it were.

I do quite honestly believe that this year is the first year in which I feel these things in any sort of real sense. For several years, my practice often completely overlooked the festival altogether. How could I celebrate the coming of spring when I’m up to my rear in snow? Where was the light at the end of the tunnel when we’d hit only about a quarter of the way through the Winter Semester of the academic year? After the solar New Year’s glimmer and excitement had faded, it was altogether much more difficult for me to find that same light still burning by the time we had reached Imbolc. A bit of a seasonal rut and bout of depression seemed to hit every February without fail as I juggled work, school, and social life, as well as trying to even find the motivation for the simplest of continuances of my pagan practice. Celebration and ritual generally wasn’t in the schedule for me.

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This year feels different, and I’m a little disappointed that it a) took me this long to find a connection with that idea of hope and of light returning for this sabbat, and b)is occurring right before I move to a drastically different climate where I’ll have to learn again the patterns of the Wheel of the Year as they unfold in the tropics rather than in my rather temperate home state. Perhaps it’s the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having; I was able to take a walk in the ravines this afternoon without gloves or anything of the sort because it was nearing forty degrees Fahrenheit. I’m almost more willing to believe that spring is nearing this year. It might also be that I’ve something new to look forward to in the coming months: graduation and the start of a new life.

Early January was sort of riddled with a deep depression that I had sunken into, but now that things have started to move forward, I’m gradually feeling a bit better. There’s something stirring, and I’m hoping it’s something better than last year had to offer about this time.

Here’s hoping you all have a blessed sabbat however you do- or don’t!- celebrate it. May the quiet and steadfast light of hope and life reborn be with you as The Wheel continues to turn.

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

A Humble Tribute to David Bowie

Very few moments are as burned into my memory as the night I learned, one year ago today, of David Bowie’s death. I was ill-prepared this evening when, as is my sort of ritual, I clicked over on the “Memories” feed on Facebook. The heartbreak is just as great now as it was then.
But there isn’t just sadness: there’s a remembrance. He touched the life of countless artists, musicians, actors, etc. both famous and not. There are other people, just like me, who still feel the heaviness of losing him as if it were just yesterday… And, most touchingly, my identifying with Bowie and his work had a lasting impact on those around me. I got to re-read the messages, posts, etc. of people saying “I heard the news, and immediately thought of you.” Me. I would never have dreamed that that connection would be so strong for some people- some of whom I’ve only talked to in courses I’ve taken and the like. It fills me with a great amount of love, and pride, and awe still.
The next few days, I’m sure will be solemn as more of those memories show up on social media. I’ve already spent the past few days revisiting Labyrinth and a good deal of his music- including the EP “No Plan” that was released this year on his birthday. 2016 was a year full of losses, and David Bowie was only one of the first in an absolutely devastating list of pop culture icons lost in this past year. It left me, at times, wondering how we would ever recover from that loss… But it is also important to remember that death clears the way for new growth. The endless song of creation cannot continue if nothing dies off. All that’s left to do is pick up the torches they had to set down, and carry on with their memories in our hearts and inspiration, and continue their work: of creating, of holding space for all of the other weirdos and creators out there.

-Much love to you all,
Rachel

Winter Break: Looking Forward

The semester is at its end, and that means that Yule is fast approaching. The Fall 2016 semester has been, without a single doubt, the hardest and most taxing semester for me emotionally, spiritually, etc. since my first semester at college (and maybe even fall of last year and all associated drama). My academic courses were challenging, and I experienced a total upheaval of some things within my own interpersonal relationships; that is the reason for my relative silence on the blog over the last several months. I’ve lost a couple of people along they way- and fallen short on a lot of projects that I’d hope to have going throughout the course of this semester. At times lately, it feels as though I’ve sort of pushed myself back to zero- but I know better. I’ve learned a great deal about myself in regards to my own limits, thoughts, means of self-expression, etc. And I’ve learned a great deal in the terms of time management, dealing with other people, and more.

I’ve seen a few posts floating around that explained how, numerologically, 2016 was a ‘9 Year’: a time for dramatic changes, the shaking up of foundations, etc. I know that nationally (as an American), and globally, I’ve seen that to be true; although I won’t comment on politics and the like here (I don’t feel as though I’m well-informed enough, and quite frankly, that wasn’t my hopes for this post). And, as I’ve indicated above, I’ve seen a great deal of this theme of loss, chaos, change, etc. in my personal life as well. 2017, however, is meant to be a ’10 Year’: one for new beginnings and fresh starts. I’m really hoping that holds true as I look at what a mess is still sort of left over from this year.

As ready for a rest from 2016 as I am- as much as I want to just close my eyes and find some form of peace as we creep into the holiday season- I know that I must be more mindful than that. This past Full Moon (12/14/16) in Gemini reminded me that rest is important- but so is mindful release of all that negative crap that might still be lingering. As this final month of 2016 starts to wind towards its end, I find myself needing to look both at my past (to synthesize what has happened, to finalize those lessons learned, and to determine which things need to continue into the future), and to the future. So many changes are coming for me within the first few months of 2017. I’ll be starting my final semester of college (this time with a significantly larger amount of time to myself which I’ll have to learn how to handle), I’ll be graduating and taking those first steps into the ‘real adult world’, and moving over one thousand miles away to live in Florida with my boyfriend of four years. There is a great deal of planning to be done if these things are to be done successfully.

In the coming weeks, I’m going to be journaling about all of these things, and coming up with new plans for my personal practice, this blog, and my YouTube channel for the coming year. I was not as active here as I had hoped to be, and I’m hoping some better planning and reevaluating of where I’m at will help to change that in 2017.

Until next time,
Rachel

Summer’s End: A Reflection

I started the summer, and this blog with a post about shadow work, and the fact that this summer was going to be all about that process of radical transformation. Now, though I hardly think that process is over, school is beginning in just a few short days. My arrival at GVSU always marks, for me, a sort of new chapter. It’s a new living environment (as I’ve switched dorms each year), I’m often living with new people, new classes, etc. There’s unlimited potential for the academic year to be something great / interesting / whatever.

This year, it feels almost more potently so. I’ve had a rough summer between dental issues, plans not working quite as hoped, and interpersonal problems, it’s been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride. A lot has changed in the past few months, for good or ill.

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I’ve embraced a lot of old things that I once had felt connected to, but decided didn’t fit into the box or image I was trying to make for myself. This was literally anything from witchcraft practices from my earlier stages of practice, to more mundane things like Sailor Moon and my darker music and style interests. Old friends came back into my life- more than they’d been in the past five years or so since graduating high school. It was refreshing, and felt like a total homecoming that I was very much open to. Participating in my usual summer traditions with old friends for the first time in ages was nothing short of amazing.

But, just as I was embracing many many things that had undoubtedly been a part of who I am, I was faced with much to let go of: anxieties and fears, practices that weren’t working, physical objects, even a couple of relationships with people. Conflicts did indeed happen over some of these issues, and they sort of opened my eyes to aspects of myself I hadn’t necessarily recognized at the beginning of the summer. For example: I wasn’t, for quite some time, careful with my energy, and spending that energy unwisely, or not protecting it from others’ influence, led to myself and the other people involved getting hurt. I’ve learned to let go of a lot of anxiety I’d built up about my physical health, and those whose job it is to help me maintain it. I’m not nearly as terrified of the dentist as I was at the beginning of summer, and I’ve certainly been taking better care of those teeth now. I’ve come to realize that I have a bit of a control-freak streak. When I can’t be in charge of what I do- and especially when I’m told how I do/should feel or think in situations, I get a bit irrationally angry. I’ve been trying to take the time to step back, release that anger, and dig deeper into what is actually being said rather than closing up and getting defensive. This is a work in progress.

Some things aren’t resolved- and may never be completely. But I feel like I’ve come out of this summer’s bit of growth stronger, more confident, and ready to take on the school year and what challenges come next. The process isn’t over, but I’ve done a lot of digging and feel happier for it.

Much love to you all,
Rachel