Nov 30, 2013

Tis the Season to be Having Uncomfortable Family Gatherings and Awkward Conversation

The holidays can be a strange time.  Families who may not see each other much throughout the year often come together en masse, and that can be joyful and heartwarming, or terrifyingly uncomfortable. And that's even before the conversations and questions begin. The movies would have us believe that all the discomfort is temporary - just long enough to have some good laughs at the Griswolds, or those nutty folks who left their kid home alone - but holiday reality sometimes feels more like "The Shining."

For those whose homes are not turning into a holiday encampment for familial guests, fortunately "family" is an inclusive term.  We may have our own family unit - a partner, children - or we've developed a network of friends that are like family that we can celebrate with.  Should you find yourself completely alone during the holidays for some reason, and not wanting to remain so, many cities host dinner events or even full travel packages for people who have no other holiday plans.  And if you are wanting to lend a hand, of course there will be many places that would appreciate a volunteer at this time of year.

For the rest of us, who bite their tongue while pouring the wine, and who take the jabs while wearing the paper crown from the Christmas cracker, and who try to find a polite way to answer all the well-meaning-but-inappropriate questions, I want to share my little list of things I do to ensure I survive the holidays.

Holiday Helpers To Prevent You From Cowering in a Closet With a Bottle of Bailey's During Christmas Dinner or Drunkenly Serenading Yourself in a Bathtub (Alone) Like Bridget Jones.
(Working Title)

1.  Have a backup plan.  Always.  Find a friend who knows your situation and let them know that if they see you with your nose pressed up against their window like an old-timey English street urchin, they are to let you in and pass the turkey, and act like nothing happened.

1a. If you don't have friends or alternate family in the area, make like that millionaire show and have a phone-a-friend on standby.  Someone who will talk you down from taking a piece of your aunt's hair and creating a poppet with it and some turkey bones, and then burning it in the bathtub.

2.  Don't be too proud (or ashamed) to let someone in on your holiday concerns.  Tell a good friend (see #1) or a good therapist.  If you have a family member you trust, share with them.  You may end up with an ally across the dinner table.

3.  Do something nice for yourself immediately before and after the holidays.  This is a crucial step - and I recommend booking your appointment now, because I can guarantee that plenty of folks are doing this.  Get yourself a massage, take yourself out to a fancy dinner, buy yourself the holiday gift you want and are sure no one will buy you (with gift receipt, just in case) or whatever else will make you feel really special.  The "before" present is to remind you that you deserve to be treated well, and to give you a bit of holiday hope, and the "after" treat is the reward for not stabbing anyone with a candy cane.  Yay!

4.  Consider donating your time and/or money anyway.  Even if you aren't alone for the holidays and looking for some meaning, find a cause you can contribute to.  It is important all year long to be aware of who needs help in your community, but this time of year can be especially hard on folks who cannot afford to feed, house, or give gifts to their children, let alone provide them with any kind of holiday cheer.  Local food banks accept donations, food, and manual help.  Our little credit union has a "pajama tree" up, where you take one of the ornament cards with a child's gender and age listed on it, and return the card with a pair of appropriate pj's.  There are so many places that are accepting help - finding somewhere to volunteer this time of year shouldn't be a problem at all.

5.  Try to find something to laugh about - or some kind of wonder or joy.  Make a snow angel.  Watch the sky for Santa.  Invent a new drink called "The Steaming Hot Mistletoe Kiss." You can think of something.

We're in for a wild month.  Hang in there. I know you can do it.

*picture via wiki commons

Nov 21, 2013

To Drink is Divine Or, How To Divine With Your Drink - The Love and Lore of Coffee

I was reading an article last week that told of how coffee was the most recongnized scent in the world.  Not roses or lemons or lavender.  Coffee.  That intoxicating essence of roasted beans pressed or percolated into a favourite mug that fits your hands perfectly.

I was a late-bloomer when it came to drinking coffee, but I've always loved the aroma of it brewing.  I even did time as a barista for a year to help out a friend who owned a coffee shop.  I learned how a perfect espresso should look and smell, even though I didn't drink it myself.

Years later, I'm a coffee addict, trying to cut down to one cup a day.  The caffeine has become a bit hard to handle for me.  I'm working on blending in herbal fillers to my daily grind to soften the buzz without giving up on the taste.  Some of my favourite additions are roasted chicory root, roasted dandelion root, and cacao nibs.  Grind it all up with your beans and you've got a killer blend that won't have you levitating by mid-morning.  I'll do anything to not give up on coffee completely.

I envy
the cup of coffee
that gets
to kiss
your sleepy lips
every cold
and bitter morning

~ Sade Andria Zabala

Coffee is much more than a delicious wake up call.  It has a varied history of culinary and magical use, as well as its own little superstitions.  Coffee grounds can be read as tea leaves are, should you want to negotiate a rather grainy cup, or you could simply read the cup as it is poured.  It has been said that if you find the bubbles in your cup (assuming your coffee is taken black and poured in a manner to induce bubbles) moving away from you, then difficulty may be heading your way.  If the bubbles appear to be moving toward you, then good fortune is sure to appear.  Or, you may simply wish to scry into your cup. It seems as though hovering over a steaming mug is a fairly common activity.

Should you want a little more oomph out of your cup, you might want to take it into a bath with you. Starr Casas of Old Style Conjure has a cleansing bath recipe that she regularly recommends.  You simply add one cup of strong, black coffee, a handful of salt (approx 4 tablespoons) and a tablespoon (or a capful) of lemon juice or ammonia to your bathwater.  Should you wish to use this as a more traditional spiritual bath, Starr advises taking the bath as the hands of your clock are moving downward, and reading Isaiah 41.

In Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic, Cathering Yronwode mentions that coffee bean husks can be used in uncrossing baths as well.  If you do roast your own beans and have an abundance of hulls and chaff (and aren't saving them all for baths,) they make a divine-smelling mulch for the garden.

Coffee fans love to boast about the health benefits of the bean.  Full of antioxidants, coffee has lately been touted as a great protector from nasties such as liver cancer, type 2 diabetes and Parkinson's disease. Research is, as ever, on-going, but there's another department in which coffee testing is showing glowing results - skincare.

Caffeine is a stimulant that increases blood flow, and it has been found to work topically.  Tannins found in coffee tighten and tone the skin.  That's great news when you want to pass on the exorbitantly priced scrubs at the beauty counter and instead create your own with ingredients you can find in your cupboard.  Coffee can be used all over the body (be gentle on your face,) as well as in a hair mask or rinse if you are a brunette.

For a super-simple coffee scrub, use a cup of fresh ground coffee and add grapeseed oil (or olive or sweet almond) very slowly.  Blend the scrub until you have a crumbly mix (too much oil will be hard to remove from your body and will cause a very slippery shower!)  You can also add sugar if you like, or substitute your favourite body wash for the oil.  Scrub away once or twice a week - you'll have baby soft skin for barely the price of a latte.

Whether you are drinking it, bathing in it, or divining your future with it, coffee is one divine ingredient in our mundane and magical cupboards that is not likely to be ignored any time soon.

Coffee folklore, baths and more can be found:

Picture via Creative Commons

Nov 13, 2013

The Fountain of Youth is a Salami and Havarti Sandwich

There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love.  When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.   ~Sophia Loren

In the next town, there is a little Italian deli tucked into the entrance of an alley.  It is a place no tourist would likely find, but the locals know it well.  Inside that tiny shop, there is a magical army of women and men that make incredible sandwiches, piled high with fresh veggies, meats with hard-to-pronounce names, and strange and delighful toppings.  If you squeeze into this shop during the lunch rush, you will get carried away by the scent of the deli counter and the sounds of people shouting orders and the tearing of butcher's parchment as it flies off the roll to wrap up a mile-high masterpiece cradled in the bosom of a fresh baked Kaiser bun.

I don't often get a chance to stop in at this deli, and there are times I've tried but couldn't find a parking spot or even get in the door during a rush.  But yesterday I found myself inside with my nose pressed up against the glass filled with mysterious meats and cheeses, picking out lovely things to be delivered to my very own sandwich.  When the efficient woman behind the counter asked if I wanted "the works" for my toppings, I simply smiled and nodded, even though I had no idea what I was in for.  (I'm working on my control issues, you see.  No more being picky and missing out on something good.)

I was practically levitating while eating my lunch.  I had things falling on my shirt and dripping down my chin. I found crisp pickles and rich artichoke hearts and what I think might have been marinated sundried tomatoes tucked into layers of salami and proscuitto and havarti.  I was grinning like an idiot when I returned to work.

I've been in a few situations recently that involved showing my ID or revealing my age.  Each time, I've had someone say "I'd never have guessed you were that old," or "that's not possible."  One person made a comment about how I must have good genes.  I suppose I do.  While my father's family line boasts longevity, my mother's line is filled with people who's age is hard to pinpoint.  (There's something in that Ukrainian blood, I know it.)  But genes only take you so far.  So - I'll tell you my secret - my Fountain of Youth.

Find something to delight in.  Every day.

And not just delight in.  Revel in.  Laugh far-too-loud at.  Swoon over.  It definitely helps if you find something that hits high on your joy-meter, but if you aren't almost peeing, or tearing up, or nearly having an orgasm; if you heart isn't growing three sizes like the Grinch, it still counts.  No pressure. 

I have rough days too.  Sometimes the gods are unkind, or just like to see you fall, or Mercury is a bitch. Stuff happens.  I'm not glossing over the crap - the stuff that knocks us off our feet.  I'm just saying  that if I can get through the day finding at least one reason to grin like an idiot - I feel good.  

In the last month, I have found foolish levels of delight in a haunted amusement park, a cat chasing a piece of crumpled paper, my niece telling me a story, the way the light finds a way through the clouds to beam upon one spot on the hill like it's showing the way to Brigadoon, the crows leaving walnuts on the road for me to drive over so they can swoop down and get the prize inside the shell, a package wrapped in green paper, and a cup of Indian chai that rocked my world.

Every day there is something.  And I expect there to be.  I find something to laugh at.  Something that makes me jump up and down like a Price Is Right contestant.  Silly things.  Things that other people pass by and don't notice.  I notice.  I'm the kid tugging on your coat saying "did you SEE that?" 

I used to have a friend who told me I should act my age.  I should cut my long hair short, because women of a certain age wore their hair short and classy.  I should put away the blue jeans and leave behind the Keds and wear grown up clothes.  I should settle down.

I don't want to act my age (whatever that means.)  I want to spend the rest of my life caring more about what amazing things I can see, taste, touch and experience rather than thinking for one moment about my age.  I have found the Fountain of Youth - it is decidedly in not giving a shit about your age.  It is in finding joy.  It is in a salami and havarti sandwich from a little Italian deli tucked into the entrance of an alley.

Where is your Fountain of Youth?

PS - that picture up there?  Bethesda Fountain.  Awesome right?  From Wiki Commons - by Emma Stebbins.

Nov 7, 2013

Muscle Magic?

November has sunk into the valley in a cold, wet way.  Having had a warm, sunny October, I don't feel comfortable complaining, so I wait for the dry mornings to take my walks and extend hope that the deep cloud lets a bit more light through each day.

I'm feeling myself slip into that familiar hibernation feeling that happens as the days grow shorter and the temperatures drop.  To combat the urge to curl up and not move again, I've committed to using the treadmill on the days I don't go out for a walk.  I've been having quite a bit of fun on it actually, and I've found that a good, hard pace and the steady thud of my feet on the machine begins to take me out of my body, and leads me to some interesting meditative experiences and epiphanies.  I think that this is not unlike the euphoria that is referred to as a "runners' high" - except that I'm rarely at a full run.  It may be more along the lines of what is experienced while doing ecstatic (trance) dancing or a drumming journey - the sound of my feet and the white noise of the treadmill offering up a drum-like repetition for my mind to escape in to.

The whirling Dervishes knew how to get there.

The other body-magic synergy I've been pondering is muscle-building as sympathetic magic.  

Muscle is created after first tearing down the tiny muscle fibers in the tissue.  Your body then repairs or rebuilds these little fibers and the newly generated fibers begin to create bulk.  You are essentially tearing yourself down and rebuilding yourself - stronger.  This really gets me excited when I think about combining it with activities such as "tearing down" non-beneficial habits, relationships and situations where you just didn't say "no" when you might have wanted/needed to.  Add to that some work on creating new energy or movement in certain areas of your life, while your body is literally creating new muscle cells.  Work associated with health, fertility, prosperity would all be something I'd consider here.

I've been glancing at the hand weights that have been winking at me from the corner of the room, and I've been thinking that since I'm no longer hauling dirt, plants or vegetable harvests or pushing a lawn mower anymore, it might be time to pick those little irons up again.  

And why not work a little magic while working my muscles?

* For some great reading along this topic, check out the brilliant Peter Paddon's "Visceral Magick"
* Although I'm fiercely behind on her podcasts, "Iron Powaqa" is a weight-lifting witch with sass - worth a listen!  I'm going to try to catch up on these and see what insight she has on this topic.
* art "Dancing Dervishes" by Amedeo Preziosi via Wiki Commons

Nov 1, 2013

Winners of the Almanacs and Some Thanks!

The winners of the 2014 Magical Almanacs are:


Leah McCullough

And the winners of the 2014 Witches' Companions are:

Theresa N.

Orion's daughter

Please drop me an email (rueandhyssop AT gmail DOT com) with your mailing address and I'll get these out to you!

I want to thank you all for stopping by the blog, or giving me a wave over on Twitter or Facebook in October.  I had a great time passing out all the books and I hope you'll give a second look at our featured authors, who were absolutely lovely to me when I asked for their help in getting these books to you autographed.

The authors featured in the 2013 Great October Book Giveaway were (click the names to visit their sites):

I hope your October was every kind of delightful!