Spa fun for foodies

Every year in late March, I have a personal holiday on which I pamper, indulge and buy gifts for myself.  It is not my birthday — my birthday is reserved for other people to buy me gifts.  Instead, this is a day all about self love.  It’s a beautiful thing, and I heartily advise you all to take up the tradition.

This year I decided to do something extra special, and spent the evening cooking up natural spa treatments for myself, predominantly made of things found in my kitchen.  I always say any evening that ends with you covered in food is bound to be a good one.  The night and the products were a grand success, so I thought I’d share some of them!

(The recipes I used came from or were inspired by the wonderful book, Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair, by Dina Falconi.  Highly recommended, but go easy on some of her essential oil portions, as some she suggests in her formulas are sensitizing.)

First Stop: Avocado Flour Face Mask
Ingredients: Ripe avocado, whole-wheat flour, cornmeal, water, jojoba oil

I started with a face mask made with avocado and flour.  The cornmeal provides a gentle exfoliant, and the combination creates a nice thick and creamy paste.  I combined this with the classic cooling cucumber slices on the eyes.  It was soothing, purifying, moisturizing, and decadent.  I should also mention that it looks fabulously flattering when on…

Next up:  The most luxurious bath you’ve ever taken.
Ingredients: Fresh, organic full cream, local raw honey

This bath could not have been any more delicious.  I put the bowl in a hot water bath so the honey would liquefy while I blended in the cream.  To make things a little sexier, I also threw in some sandalwood and ylang-ylang oils.  Yummy, yummy, yummy.  Milk baths are a favorite of mine (working on an etsy shop… more to come soon, hopefully!), and there’s almost nothing better than making it full cream.  Lactose is a natural exfoliant, and the fats in the milk delightfully softens and moisturizes the skin.  Honey, in addition to all its other magnificent benefits, is also a skin humectant, bringing the natural moisture to the surface.  So not only does this bath look, smell, feel (and probably taste!) sumptuous, you get out instantly moisturized.  Splendid!

La pièce de résistance:  Garden Blend Shampoo
Ingredients: Infusion of nettle leaf, comfrey root and basil, almond oil, castille soap, basil and lavender essential oil

  

This recipe made three nice little bottles of shampoo (shown above with the ingredients).  The finished product is quite watery, not like a traditional shampoo gel, but it works up an AMAZING lather.  Fantastic stuff, and it smells heavenly.  The comfrey is reparative and smells especially nice.

I also whipped up a little coconut oil hair balm with a custom blend of moisture balancing essential oils to replace my conditioner and tame flyaways.

I have to say I was very pleased with the results.  It made me want to touch my hair a lot and make kissy faces, which is always how I like to end my special day.

All in all, a very lovely time was had by this lady.  And I now have natural products I can use throughout the year that I don’t have to worry about poisoning me or my environment, and I never have to spend excessive money on hair products again!

This week, take a moment to give yourself a little pampering, and pamper the earth a little while you’re at it.

Love to you all!
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Lakefront Visit, and some Campy Tips

Hi all!  I’ve recently returned from my annual pilgrimage north, and I have to say the transition back into city life is going fairly well, considering what a spectacular week I had to leave behind.  There were a number of beautiful and memorable moments: a gigantic setting crescent moon sliding down the most vivid crimson sunset sky just minutes behind the sun, glorious weather and captivating clouds, remarkably not-frigid lake water ideal for sauna-ing, the spirits of the bluff shooing us away with absurdly brief and localized thunder and rain (two warning claps and a 15-second sprinkle), mesmerizing sky-wide northern lights swelling and flickering for hours on the night of our sixth anniversary, and – miracle of miracles – our Polish-Swedish and Danish-German skin *not* getting sunburned despite eight straight days under the sun!  That last feat was accomplished only with much credit to some Cataplex-F capsules, gallons of water and diligent/obscene re-lathering of sunscreen.  We even got to have a shivaree* for my cousin and his new bride on her first visit to our little wooded Mecca.

*shivaree or charivari (Fr.): a medieval French custom involving lots of raucous noise-making and satiric songs traditionally used as social pressure to mock and scorn sinners and fornicators, which somehow migrated to the American prairie and my family now uses it to serenade those on honeymoon.  We still begin by parading around and banging lots of pots and pans, however.

On Wednesday my partner and I got up before dawn and trekked out to our secret spot near the border, arriving before 7 am when the mist was still laying heavy over the water and the mossy groves.  (Yes, the very same sacred spot where, six years ago, we first got that twinkle in our eyes and discovered the more flirtatious aspects of blueberry picking.)

Though we have been blessed with unfathomable bounty these last many visits, the northwoods finally made us work for our harvest this year.  Four labor-intensive hours to get anywhere near our usual quantities, with scant and scrawny (though perfectly delicious!) berries to choose from.  I also could have done without the slug patch I wandered into right off the bat.  I should have left some kind of marker for myself in the cattails so as not to repeat the experience… it was not a pretty sight!  At first they were tiny and harmless, but they got progressively larger as I ventured back, transfiguring into grotesquely swollen wood-grain-patterned cashews slurping all over the choicest bushes in oozing piles.  Yum.

Anywho!  What was I trying to get at?  Oh yes, lovely sunny breezy romantic wooded fruitful outing with a loved one.  The birds were flitting and calling, the squirrels scolding adorably, the insects keeping a respectful distance, and the plant life as diverse and impressive as ever.  It amazes me how much certain northern fungi and mosses look like deep sea creatures building soft coral empires under the birches and pines, luring you in your pre-dawn stupor to sink down onto them and relax a moment before you remember the dampness just waiting to seep through umpteen layers of pants…  (It is always worth it, however.)

After several hours of back breaking, I finally stumbled through a bramble onto a perfectly lovely and gluttonously ripe cluster of blueberry bushes.  I inhaled deeply and tumbled down, relishing the thought that I might at last stay in one location for a few minutes without having to desperately hunt for more than a handful.  Only a few branches gleaned, I heard a short call.  It had been a while since our last “Marco!”-“Polo!” exchange that we volley back and forth periodically to keep tabs on each other through the thicket, and I was just about to respond when a chilling chorus broke out behind me.  It was a louder performance than any the wilderness had put on for me yet, and I quickly gathered that this was because the source of the fanfare was only a few short yards away.  And that short call I had heard had *not* been human.

The rally was breathtaking.  I couldn’t find a perfect example, since recordings can’t do justice to the sheer harrowing volume in that early morning forest silence, but to give you an idea, check out this video, around the 2:37 mark.

I love wolves, and I love being around them, but with that love comes a respect for their territory and a healthy dose of awareness of my rank in their food chain.  Granted, I was probably in no kind of danger, since I have encountered them here many times before; this pack has plenty to eat and no interest in snuggling up with humans.  (Many more people are killed each year by pet dogs than by wolves.)  Their playfully carefree howling was perhaps the best indicator that they had no concerns about our presence, since they undoubtedly already detected our scent.  Even so, I couldn’t help but recall that the last time I had heard a cry of this complexity at this time of day had directly preceded a very noisy pack kill, and I was overcome with the need to have a visual confirmation of my partner’s whereabouts.

I (prudently) snatched up my pail of berries and darted off away from the sound towards the last “Marco!” I could remember hearing.  Bumbling through the branches with all the stealth and grace of a careening fruit cart, I found him within a few gasping breaths, calmly standing with his head cocked, listening silently and appreciatively to the cascade of howls still echoing behind me.  I felt foolish, and I never was able to find my way back to that prime berry patch.  Maybe to ease my embarrassment, the boy suggested that we stay a bit closer to the path.

Despite my undignified behavior, it was a truly magnificent thrill, and I look forward to sharing air, earth, woods, lake, sun and berries with the pack again next year.

Brandenburg Wolves

And now for your Witch Outdoors tip of the day:  To repel insects the easy-but-powerful, natural, and better-smelling way:

Pour about a teaspoon of carrier oil of your choice into the palm of your non-dominant hand.  (I recommend Fractionated Coconut Oil because it’s light and absorbs quickly, but you can choose whatever you like: jojoba, sweet almond, sesame, olive oil…)  Add to the carrier two-to-four drops of citronella essential oil and one-to-three drops of geranium essential oil.  Blend with a fingertip, then simply dab on any exposed skin and rub in like a lotion (but try to avoid getting it in your eyes, please).  Any excess can also be patted on clothing or swiped over your hair.  And no need to wash your hands — these oils are naturally antiseptic and bactericidal!  If desired, you can make the blend in larger quantities in advance to store or bring with you on group outings.

An additional tip:  A study conducted at Iowa State University revealed that the principle active ingredient in catnip essential oil is actually more effective than DEET at repelling mosquitoes.  Note, however, that the pure oil is so potent it should be used only in very low dilution (one drop to at least one teaspoon of carrier) if applied directly to the skin, or better yet simply spray/diffuse the oil if you’re going to be in one area for an extended time.  Be forewarned, however, that this can be a risky oil to use extensively if you’re in an area with any kind of wildcat population!  (They don’t call it catnip for nothing!)  Your best bet is to blend with other oils to take down the feline-summoning odor a notch.

That’s all for today, then.  Perhaps I’ll post some pictures once I wrestle them out of my camera?  Hope everyone is enjoying their summer and staying cool and safe.

Love,
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Mother Lovers, and a Bath

I’ve learned over the years that one of the most important parts of dream retention is to pay attention to key words and phrases that stand out during a dream, even if they don’t seem to have any immediate meaning.

A while back I had a dream about my goddess self (a rare thing), and from that dream two phrases stood out:

“I am the mother of all my lovers. I bathe in the oceans, my hair in the clouds.”

The last few days have been strenuous and cold, and I came home this evening feeling very much in need of a hot bath. I have a hobby/side job making aromatherapy baths (balneotherapy!), so I filled the tub with hot water and a concoction consisting mostly of high altitude French lavender, South African peppermint, evening primrose oils and milk.

The water was perfect, and I just rested in the heat and steam for a long while, breathing deeply and grounding myself. I decided to try a gentle meditation experiment, and while I soaked, I started repeating the first phrase from my dream. I soon fell into a rhythm, and the tumbling words felt like fingers plucking endless arpeggios on a harp.

The sounds melted into new phrases as I repeated them:

I am the mother of all my lovers
I am the mother of all my mothers
I am the lover of all my mothers

Je suis la mère de tous mes amants
Je suis la mer de tous les amants
Je suis la mère de tous les enfants

As I chanted, drifting from English into French and back again, I began to see an image in my mind of a tall woman with long, flowing hair and a wide hat, standing in a garden, wearing a full skirt in a light, fine fabric, and over it a trailing white apron. I looked through her eyes at the sun-flooded rows of plants and bales of straw around her, the daylight on the fields and copses surrounding the little patch, and felt the draw of the dark, cool forest to one side, bordered by a deep green hedge.

Sharing one body, we turned slowly to face the hedge and advanced towards the forest, to a path between two small but ancient trees. As I watched our bare feet cross the boundary from light to darkness and touch down in the damp, shadowed soil, I suddenly noticed the row of tiny children following silently in her wake.  Squinting in the sunshine, they were reaching out and gripping onto the edges of her wind-whipped apron as it billowed behind her, and as I pressed closely forward, she led them steadily and calmly over the threshold into the deep woods.

Tonight she soothes.

peacefully,
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Beauty and the Feast

I love this time of year!  Tonight I attended a pumpkin carving party complete with hot apple cider and roasted pumpkin seeds.  A few days ago we had stuffed squash with sage dressing and cranberry sauce for dinner.  Yum!  It also happens to be the best time of year for harvesting black walnuts – for hair dye!

I have been on a mission for about a year now to find a suitable herbal hair dye, and I have made many messy attempts.  Tonight I think I may have just confused my hair because I used more herbs than ever before in my mixture.  I started by making a clove and rosehip tea for red highlights.  Then I steeped some black walnut hulls, rosemary, sage and nettle for a deep brown color.  The blending was very fun, and the dye was an inky black color.  I managed to get through it without staining everything in my bathroom, too!

I will say that my hair smelled vaguely of tobacco when I was done, but I love the color – surprisingly subtle, given the look of the liquid – and the whole process was really pretty simple.  My hair also feels thicker than it typically does, which is a nice plus.  I plan to do a few more doses with the rest of the batch over the next week or so to deepen the color, and then I’ll have to come up with some new experiments to try.  I’d love to hear suggestions if you have them!

Enough about hair, though…  For the next few posts, I’d like to spotlight one of my favorite collections: keys.  I love the aesthetic and the symbolism of keys, and I also like to integrate them into my magical practice.  We’ll take a look at some stories, folklore, and a few ideas for using keys in ritual and spell work.

 

Best wishes in this lovely season.

Love,
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Welcoming the Harvest Moon

Tonight I took some of the leftover berries from yesterday’s cobbler to make a deep reddish-blue ink.  While I worked, I invited a few meditations on the season of harvest, the waning of the light, and the seeking of balance.

This week marked the autumnal equinox, when the hours of day equal the hours of night, and the sun entered the sign of Libra, the scales.  It seems an auspicious time to be mindful of balance in our lives, but it also strikes me as a time of only very precarious balance.  With each breath, the days grow shorter, and the perception of balance is only maintained for so long.

I was raised with a general impression that things in the natural world have a tendency to seek equilibrium.  If you put salt in water, it will usually dissolve, and then disperse until each part of water bears an equal burden.  If you open the door after a hot shower, the cool air rushes in, the hot air rushes out, and the molecules hurry to take their places until the temperature reaches a steady moderation.

But what about entropy?  What about the natural tendency towards disorder, and chaos, and constant change?  The inevitability of wasted energy?

It is chaos that transforms and provides its own sense of order, if you step back enough.  Pour something red into something blue.  Give it a good shaking and wildness and unruliness, and eventually you reveal a smooth shade of purple.

I started to think of the harvest time not just as a season of bounty, but of sacrifice, marked by the sheaves we must cut to fill our bellies, and the things we must let go to strike that balance.  We celebrate the fleeting equinox as we recognize the cycles of change and instability that together make our balance.  We prepare to enter a period of accelerating darkness, until the scales are tipped so far that they are compelled to turn, and the balance rights itself again.

I found it difficult not to hold on to the blueberries we had picked back when it was hot and beautiful outside.  I found it hard to say goodbye to the fruitful, but if I had not given them up to be cooked and pressed and strained, they would have spoiled.  I gave up the last of them for my ink.  A handful of berries, pummeled into only juice.

To this I added a bit of salt, so that our sacrifices might be pure, and vinegar, so that they may be purposeful.

It’s a bitter juice to swallow, but it can create such beauty.

in quietude,
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