Apr 21, 2015

The Magic is Everywhere

My little town smells like citrusy evergreen tips this morning. And sure enough, as I headed out to feed breakfast to the local elementary school kids, I took a look at the neighbour's trees and noticed flashes of bright green at the ends of all the branches.*

The wild neon of the weeping willows along the lakeshore has mellowed a bit in the last week. Cherry blossoms are already giving way to leaves, and the large rue plant in the front garden is forming flower buds. According to the local orchardists, Spring arrived two weeks early this year.

In the vinyards every stray, creeping vine, save the two main producers, has been clipped from the trellises. They are bare and sad-looking at the moment, but they will leaf soon. In the cellar at my brother's winery, he is bottling like a madman. Last year's gewurztraminer has just hit the shelves and the 200-plus wineries in The Valley are gearing up for tourist season.

My own energy is trying to keep up with the shifts. It has been an odd and unsettling transition from Winter to Spring. I'm feeling as though a bit of tempering is happening - an adjustment here, a refining there. I wish I could say I've gotten to be an expert at this over the years. I still find change somewhat uncomfortable. I'm perfectly happy to watch the seasons melt in to one another, but watching parents age, and my almost-adult nieces struggle through the last of their teen years, has been a bit more of a challenge.

As always, I turn back to my practice. Busy mornings have thwarted my usual long river-walks, and so I squeeze in yoga, breathing exercises, and bits of meditation throughout the day. I take a moment (or more, if I'm lucky) to linger at the altar. My offerings have been meagre of late. Candlelight and incense only go so far. It's time to uncork a treasured bottle of wine, and add some fresh flowers.

Spring is settling in, and I'm finding my groove again.

Move, stretch, bloom, inhabit, and then move some more. Watch the sun stretch out its stay in the sky each day, and set a little bit further north each evening. Find solace in the cycle, and your place within it. Love more. Smell more flowers, and trees, and weeds. Notice the magic.

The magic is everywhere.

*Should you decide to sample the delight of fir or spruce tips (chock full of vitamin C, and lovely immune stimulating properties) then pinch a small amount of the soft, bright-green tips from a tree (that has not been exposed to sprays) and nibble away!

You might also:

~ soak tips in hot water and enjoy as tea

~ infuse in honey, being sure that all plant material is covered with the honey (turn honey over daily if it is difficult to keep the tips submerged)

~ create a syrup

~ chop fresh tips finely, and add to sugar and a small bit of oil for an uplifting bath scrub

Mar 31, 2015

What the Hell am I Doing With My Life - The Tarot Spread

I'm not a fan of April foolery, so in these last few minutes of March 31st, I'm offering you a silly-yet-useful bit of fun:

For those moments when you are just not sure that the guy, the girl, the job, the trip, the naked fire spinning, was such a good idea.

Card 1 - Where am I at right now?  (What the hell happened?)

Card 2 - Where am I headed?  (And will I find my pants?)

Card 3 - If I continue on this path, what can I expect to encounter?  (Please no spiders.)

Card 4 - How will this play out in the end if I keep moving in this direction?  (Hopefully booze.)

Card 5 - What is the overall theme/sense of this situation?  (Probably booze.)

The layout shown is a quickie sample. If you want a little more symbolism, you can lay out the cards in a compass or crossroads style. Card 1 would be in the north, Card 2 in the east, Card 3 in the south, and Card 4 in the West, with Card 5 in the center or over-laying the spread. Whatever works for you.

I rarely read for "timing" because I'm weirdly drawn to sabotaging myself if I narrow down a span of time for something. (I will purposely stall or rush an action - just to be particular.)
If you are not entirely crazy like me, cards 2, 3, and 4 can be timeline cards. Card 2 can signify immediate future, Card 3 can be a little further out (weeks), and Card 4 can speak to the far off future (months).

Enjoy! And may your path be bright with good fortune. (And may you always find your pants.)

~ Tarot deck shown is The Wildwood Tarot

Mar 29, 2015

The Many Faces of March

My lettuce and green onion seeds have been in the ground for a little more than a month now, and have just this last week made a show of life.  I was so very eager in February, when the unseasonably warm weather arrived. Eager for life and Spring and growth. But there were still frosts, fogs, and dark days to come that required candlelight and tea and some satisfying hibernation.

March in the Valley has a way of teasing you out and still not being hospitable enough to be of any sort of good company. But this month of the Spring equinox, of green beer, of the anniversary of a particularly bad day for Ceasar, and punctuated by astrological oddities and a Friday the 13th, has had its moments, and has now come nearly to a close.

Before it melts into the arms April, I should thank it for the cherry and apricot blossoms. And for the arrow-leaf balsam root flowering on the hillsides, waving multitudes of cheery yellow faces. The Oregon grape bloomed this morning, one brief day after I took the photo of the buds (below, right). Everything is the bright green of newness.

While I've been a quiet blogger, I've still been stirring. Some of what moved me in March, included:

~ Briana Saussy talks about daily practice.
"Daily practice at its deepest puts us right into the mucky middle of life for that is where the magic happens."

~ The amazing folks behind Candlesmoke Chapel are down, but not out. They are selling some rare books, tarot cards, and more to fund a move after a break-in at their home. Some of these are once in a lifetime finds - bid on something and help out some wonderful people.

~ Reading: Night of the Witches: Folklore, Traditions & Recipes for Celebrating Walpurgis Night by Linda Raedisch

~ New World Witchery has a Spring Lore contest going on until the end of April. Great prizes to be had simply for sharing a bit of your family's folklore.

Also, one of the lovely hosts, Laine is struggling a bit with a medical issue, so if you have some prayers or good thoughts to send her way, I'm sure it would be appreciated. We love Laine!

~ Aidan breaks down his theory of practical magic, and I dig it.
"Practical magic is largely about shifting things from the ‘possibilities’ side of things to the ‘probabilities’ side. And then working to increase the likelihood of a particular probability to manifest."

~ I spent Friday the 13th with seven of my best girlfriends, sitting around a farm table eating a ridiculous amount of food, and drinking local wines and lime daiquiris. Some of us were tired. Some of us were sick. Some of us had kids and/or husbands at home waiting (or texting every half hour). But we made time for each other. The laughter was healing. The daiquiris were healing to those of us with sore throats (ahem).

Get your friends together. I know you are all busy. I'm the one often left to organize a gathering and it can sometimes take a month to wrangle all the schedules and settle on a date. Do it anyway. The payoff is worth the effort.

Feb 15, 2015

New Green Hope

I have just returned from a walk by the river - something I haven't done in months. The flattening of the wild flora on the path and the laying of a good half-foot of rock to "improve" the road made for a depressing scene, so I left that place I love for a time.  Over the winter, the snow and ice seems to have settled the earth again, and in most places an easy walk is possible. There are even areas where grass is working valiantly to come up through the rock.

I shall shake every seed-pod I find. There will be wild things again.

I spotted the gloriously prickled pods of burdock - one of the few plants that survived the earth-movers last Fall.  Along the outermost edge of the riverbank some staghorn sumac, a few mullein stalks, and a handful of wild rose canes have lingered on, along with a sampling of other assorted plants clinging between rocks and water. These will spread this year, populating whatever spot they can, and I am already looking forward to the summer months when the barren path will have life on it again.

Where the road meets the hillside, the red willow is the showiest plant to grace the trail. Until it is covered with leaves, the red bark stands out as an emblem of February cheer.  It is ripe for cutting now - almost a bit too ripe, as the weather has perked up and with the warming, the buds are growing rapidly.  I snipped a few stems and will find some time today to carefully skin the two layers of bark off in little spiral strips to dry for a local incense mix.

At home in the garden there are little signs of life.  The chives have popped up, lime green shoots cheerfully working their way through the soil.  I planted cold weather lettuces and green onions* yesterday. It is the earliest I have ever put seeds in the earth, but with the warm weather we are having and the raised beds I garden in, these cold-loving crops will be just fine.

The rest of the yard is still a deep Winter brown. There are perennials to trim, raspberry canes to cut back and train, new flags to raise, and so much planning. But the seaons is very early yet. Imbolc marked a turning point toward warmth for us here in the West, but I'm afraid the groundhog was not so kind to those East of the Rockies.

Be warm and safe. Be well and of good cheer. Winter can not hold out forever. Sending you sunshine to warm your coldest days, and plenty of new, green hope.

Assorted ways to get a little celebratory in February:
~ Starting today, V-day chocolate is half-off!
~ If you are down South, Mardi Gras is about to kick off! Here's is what is happening in NOLA.
~ If you aren't going to make it to Mardi Gras, you can still have pancakes!
~ And if pancakes are not your style, a King Cake is on the menu too.
~ Chinese New Year begins February 19th - the year of the Sheep/Goat!

* I planted green onion seeds, not onion sets. Seeds will survive the few frosts we have left to come - onion sets would be too far along to survive several frosts and would likely rot in the earth. If you would rather plant onion sets - wait until most of the frost danger has passed.

Jan 25, 2015

On Shortbread

This morning a malaise struck, and while I took care of myself with herbal tea and minerals, I yearned for some old, familiar comfort. When I'm terribly sick, bone broth and pillows are my usual choice of nurturing, but today's odd ache called for a spell of baking.

There is something about a warm kitchen and the scent of a sweet creation being conjured up, that soothes me. I have many happy memories of helping my mother bake, or being in my grandmother's kitchen while she whirled about.

Today I pulled out my grandmother's shortbread recipe, written in my mother's hand - well used and loved.  It's a simple recipe, usually made from memory, and often only at Christmastime.  I don't know why the family only makes it once a year. I spoke with my aunt tonight and she gasped at my making it. "All that butter" were her exact words.

Should you too decide to toss your cares about butter to the wind, here is my grandmother's simple recipe:

1 cup of butter, softened
1/2 cup of fruit sugar
2 cups of unbleached flour

English, Scottish, and Irish shortbread are similar. There are untold variations, not just from people to people, but even among family members. All involve butter, sugar, flour. You can use the exceptional Irish butter if you can find it, or true Amish butter, but good-quality, regular butter is perfect too. If your butter is unsalted, add a pinch of salt to the recipe.

We use "fruit" or "berry" sugar which is simply a finer grade of sugar than regular granulated. Regular sugar works too, or you can pulse it in a food processor a few times to make it a bit more fine. Scottish shortbread sometimes calls for brown sugar.

Cream butter with sugar and then add flour 1/2-1 cup at a time, kneading with your hands until the dough starts to crack.

Roll the dough and place in a pan or a cookie mold, or roll into balls and flatten - whatever rocks your shortbread socks.

Cookies - bake 350 degrees for approx 12 minutes
Bars - bake 350 degrees for approx 20 minutes

I am told that it's all about the hand-kneading, with shortbread.  Once I've got my butter and sugar together (I use a pastry cutter) I get in there.  In the pictures below, the top-right photo is the dough as I am adding flour. It gets a bit crumbly at first - keep kneading!

The picture on the left shows the dough "cracking." Again, it depends on which family member you ask, but kneading takes 5-10 minutes or until you are foolishly bored. I spent the time thinking of my grandmother - I'm sure that is why the cookies taste so good.

I opted for the quickie-cookie route, but you can do whatever you like when the dough is ready. It is more traditional to press the dough into a pan or roll it out, and carve it into bars.

I'm a stickler when it comes to baking time. The perfect shortbread is slightly golden on the bottom - not brown. Don't overcook your shortbread - you want it to melt in your mouth when you eat it.

Today, January 25th, also happens to be Scotsman Robert Burns' birthday. Raise a glass of whisky then, or a cup of milk, and enjoy a bit a shortbread with me. We sung his "Auld Lang Syne" just over three weeks ago, and now let's leave off with his "Grace After Dinner."

O Thou, in whom we live and move,
Who mad'st the sea and shore,
Thy goodness constantly we prove,
And grateful would adore.

And if it please thee, Pow'r above,
Still grant us with such store;
The Friend we trust; the Fair we love;
And we desire no more.

Jan 14, 2015

These January Nights

What is worth a glance in January is so small, so fleeting, or so grand and impossible, that I seem to either rush by without notice, or stop and stare - and not so much in between.  The white that blankets us here in The Valley can bless an individual plant with an icy, crystalline dress, and at the same time turn a meadow into a vast sort of nothingness.  The endless hills to the north can blend, dull and white, into the low clouds or they can sparkle like evergreen-dotted fairytale castles in the sky when the sun breaks through to shine upon them. The views each day swing wildly from breathtaking to bland.

So too, are the first days-melting-into-weeks of the year. We've finished off or frozen the holiday leftovers and the decorations have come down, leaving everything a little more stark and uninspiring than the opulence of last month.  Yet there is still an excitement about starting a new year - a fresh calendar with 365 open spots for us to fill up with plans and dreams and celebrations.  There is hope for a year sprinkled with achievements and adventure.

I'm not quite ready to give up every last ornament and source of illumination. I need a small amount of festivity.  I like a bit of flickering light on these dark, cold January nights. I've kept back a tiny tree in a bottle - the most miniature Winter vignette.  And there are fir boughs here and there. Soon they will be picked clean for incense making and dreamy oil infusions. There are so many candles too, dancing shapes and shadows up the walls and on to the ceiling.

There is much to do during the day. Aside from the occasional date with the snow shovel, the daily offerings to the birds, and my local coffee shop to haunt, I've got plenty of year-end work to keep me head-down at the office.

The evenings are a different story. The days are lengthening, but the night still has its rule. It offers much time for cooking satisfying meals and gathering up blankets, books, and cats for a good long settling-in. There has been altar work too, and endless, steamy baths.

The rattles have made an appearance during meditation and a perfect little bell, gifted to me by a dear friend, is rung each night. There is so much quiet this time of year (however needed, appreciated) that to invite some moments of sound seems to me to encourage Winter along - not showing it the door just yet, but to let it know that while we are resting, we are also beginning to stir.

What stirs you on deep Winter evenings?  Are you venturing out, or staying in?  Does the new calendar send you bounding into the year ready to take anything on, or do you linger yet around the fire, letting your plans and dreams form as you gaze into your tea cup?

These January nights won't last for long - we are half through them already. I hope the remaining eves give you much pleasure or time for planning - whatever this first month of the year inspires.

Dec 31, 2014

I Love Your Spark

2014 was...interesting.  There were some stellar moments, and some uncomfortable lessons. There was adventure, and wildness and love, and some rather spectacular crashing.  I feel as though I have walked the Major Arcana from Fool to the Tower to Judgement, and today the World card turned over, and the cycle is both complete, and beginning again at midnight.

Today the sun shone brightly on the snow-covered hills, the cattle in the meadows of the next valley were breathing out dancing mist-creatures into the air as I drove by, and the moon has shown herself handsomely and so very near in the cold sky.  Today was rather stunning.  It was a good way to end this year - with the heart-aching beauty of the Valley I love so much.

It is also a good time to say Thank you.

I didn't speak much about the icky bits this year.  I was on my own alchemical journey, churning things up and out, and refining, refining (hello Temperance).  I suppose I didn't share because I thought it was meant to be a lone journey (and there's the Hermit), but these things never are. Because each time you visited Rue and Hyssop, and commented on a post, or read something here via a social media link, or chatted with me on Facebook or Twitter, or bumped into me somewhere out there in the 'verse, you left a little spark for me.

And the sparks - they added up.  And on my darkest days this year, there were sparks like fireflies that lit up my small world. I showed up here six years ago hoping for a little connection, but what I received was so much more.

Thank you, to those who have been stopping by for years, and to those who I've just met. Thank you to the ones who inspire, and the ones who encourage. Thank you to those who do the work, and remind me that the work is where I find the best parts of myself.  Thank you to the ones that bring the magic, and those that share the love, and all of you who leave your little sparks.  You have made my 2014 brighter.

I'm wishing you fireworks, and every beautiful thing that makes your soul sing. For every momentary thought, every good wish, every spark you've gifted me, may it come back to you one hundred times more.

Aside from you, these are a few things that made my heart sing in 2014: