May 17, 2015

The Delight and the Madness of May

May is all kinds of madness, and I'm not sure I have ever experienced it any other way.  There is the revelry of the 1st of May, if you partake in it, and the explosions of colour and form as the green world returns lustily to life.  I have seen more bud and bloom in these last few weeks than I will see for the rest of the growing season, I think.  It is dizzying and intoxicating.

I am frantically stringing more and more fishing line across bamboo stakes to keep ahead of the peas that are greedily reaching for the sky. I'm nibbling lettuces and chives while thinning onions and weeding out the clover that has snuck in to the garden beds. The honeyberry bush is delivering up funny-looking purple berries (like a blueberry, but more cylindrical) and I'm fighting off the birds nesting in the cedars for my share.

The lilacs have languished just as the dogwood and wild rose have begun to flower. The columbines opened overnight. And we finally were blessed with some rain.

The high valley desert that I live in can be cruel without enough snow each winter to fill the watersheds. If the snow volume is little, like this past winter, we depend on the spring rains. And until today, we've had little but a sprinkle. As the earth and the cycles shift and change, there is little accuracy in predicting the seasonal weather if you rely on "what used to be." The April and May showers we once were familiar with, are now closer to June monsoons. That can spell the end of some plants in my garden, like the delphiniums that don't like to get soggy as they prepare to bloom (they get dusty and mold), and the Valley's cherry crops can be damaged by the downpours so late in the spring.

But we adjust. We move plants to different locations, or phase them out for more hearty cultivars. We collect water when it does rain. We wander the Valley hills and notice that the harvest times for the wild flowers and trees has shifted slighty - and we shift too. And when the constant sun arrives, around late June until early September, we will leave our prayers and offerings upon the land in the hopes that the wildfires are few and well managed.

In the time between - and isn't it always the time between, these days - I have been wandering a bit, with my wild-hearted friend. I have witnessed the Tamarack needles return, and the chocolate lilies and wild strawberries flower.  A few days ago, I walked through the Valley sagebrush and collected a small basket full for drying, while swooning over lupines and bitter root.  

Artemisia tridentata (Big Sagebrush)

You know it is dry when the bitter root is happily blooming.

There are still activities afoot that are holdouts from late winter. The fire bowl has not been put away yet, but a burning ban in the Valley is imminent if the rain does not continue. Still, there are candles to light each evening when I finally drag myself and the cats back indoors.  There is also a crockpot of bone broth on simmer tonight - a practice that has continued from the cold months, as I find it nourshing and calming. There are blankets folded in neat piles, that I may never put away in the cedar chest. There is some odd comfort in having an assortment of soft blankets at the ready - even if they become merely cat beds until the Autumn returns.

Sagebrush plains between Valley hills

As I have been writing this, the moon too has shifted. A blink or two after its darkest possible incarnation, and it is new again. Although we won't see it as a tiny slice of crescent for a few days, it moves slowly away from its momentary position directly between the earth and sun.  I like this. While many don't consider the moon "new" until they can see it, I have always loved the idea that it starts a fresh journey the next breath after it is at its darkest. 

And what of your journey this month? What is growing around you? What is changing or shifting? Let us lift a glass of iced herbal tea (or something stronger) to the glory of May, the lushness of the earth, and the fresh new moon. Cheers!

Assorted May Mischief:

~ On May Eve I used Sarah's Sabbat Flying Ointment and whisked off to the Brocken. Her shop is closed until the beginning of June, but swing by and read her essay "For Fear of Flying."

~ Mercury now heads into retrograde. Having been born in a sign ruled by Mercury, I find the retrograde weeks perfect for organizing, and letting go of things. I generally go through my closets and find clothes and items in good shape to donate to the thrift store. I wrangle books, paper work, and all those sticky notes I write and leave everywhere, in to some kind of order. Don't fret about the wonky energy (if you even feel it). Simply think before you speak, double check important paperwork, and perhaps take the time to finally sort out your junk drawer!

Bri says it better, in this post about the current retrograde in Gemini.

~ The farmers market is open for the season and I'm in heaven. Also of note: the city has allowed local wineries to have a booth at the market and offer tastings. Just when I thought the farmers market couldn't get any better. And although wine is fine, vodka is better! New to our local spirits trade, Legend Distilling is making a name for itself with local fruit infused vodka.

SlĂ inte!

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.