Fired Up about Fire Cider

This post was updated on 2/26 to include new links, and to reflect changes re: the applicable Facebook page.

You may have heard that the term “fire cider” has been trademarked – a term that Rosemary Gladstar coined and that has since become common parlance for a preparation involving deliciously warming herbs like garlic, onions, ginger, horseradish, and turmeric; apple cider vinegar; and honey.  Like many, I was appalled to hear this.  The herbal community is in many ways a gift economy, whereas this move has every appearance of shameless commercialism.  To remove a term in common usage – one that herbalists all over the world use thanks to Rosemary’s generous teaching of this recipe – is detrimental both to the herbal community and to the English language.  Already, words that herbalists might or might not otherwise choose to use are exclusively the realm of the medical community (“diagnose, treat, or prevent” are forbidden except in a disclaimer, and even “tincture” may be iffy because of its early use in conventional medicine), but it’s a new twist for Shire City, an herbal company, to take “fire cider” away from the herbal community.

The good news is that this is not the end of the story.  Here are some resources to keep up on the news and to help make sure that the story ends well:


Marking the Darkest Days

Hans Gude--Vinterettermiddag--1847Here in the northern hemisphere, we are closing in on the darkest day of the year.  In my neck of the woods, the cold gray months are only beginning, and may last through April – but on the 21st, the sun will start returning to us (or, more objectively, we will start returning to the sun).

There are all sorts of mythological renditions of the sun’s yearly return.  I admit my favorite is Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, a book I adore and a film I watch every year.  This story of deities adjusting to a changing world, of the importance of believing in things (like justice and perhaps Santa Claus) that exist only if we believe in them, is my favorite Christmas story.

And what of “the” Christmas story?  The story I grew up with?  Despite that I no longer practice Christianity, I still love this, too.  It strikes me as the most hopeful, joyous story of the New Testament.  The moment of birth is one of sheer potential.  The image that speaks most emphatically to me is the simplest: A star in the darkness.  Light that shows us hope.  Light that shines at the start of (a) life.

For me now, this holiday is about light in the darkness, about hope in the face of winter’s long dark days, and the potential of the new year and the returning sun.  At or near the solstice, we bring light and brightness and greens into our home.  At the darkest time of year, we stage a holiday full of jollity and firelight and promise.  We shake our fist at the long black night – not to provoke it or exert any influence whatsoever over the night itself, which was here long before we came onto the scene – but to show that we are still alive and hale and whole, though the snow is deep and the sunlight scarce.  We gather together and feast and exchange gifts to show that we have put enough by and will share our goods and sustain each other while the plants that nourish us are resting as seed and roots.  We bring greenery into our homes to remind ourselves of the scent of the forest and the sight of leaves, of all the growth that will take place as the days warm.  And lo, we tilt toward the sun, the days lengthen, and – though there might yet be a long journey before spring – we find that we have, together, made it through the dark days.  We find that our faith – in the wheel of the year, the return of light to the world – has carried us through.

For herbal support this time of the year, I recommend listening to “Joyful Herbs for Darker Days” by Guido Masé.  You can also find written notes here, on his blog.


All I Want for Christmas is This Cool Swag from Indie Artisans

Eek!  My last post was Halloween-themed and it’s almost Thanksgiving.  I’d better get a jumpstart on the next holiday with some gift giving suggestions for Christmas and Yule.  Here’s what I want for Christmas: Support these and other indie artisans so that we’ll be living in a world full of creative, talented people.  Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive:  If I listed all of the artisans and companies that I love, this page would never load – and some of my favorites (you know who you are) aren’t actively selling their work right now.  There are also tons of jawdroppingly talented handcrafters and artists that I haven’t even discovered yet.  Don’t hesitate to tell me about them in the comments!  And now, without further ado, I present to you:

A basket of goodies from Carioca Witch. (Photo used with permission.)

A basket of goodies from Carioca Witch. (Photo used with permission.)

Carioca Witch

Nydia Macedo, a Brazilian witch and the artist-owner behind Carioca Witch, says, “Creating and recreating goddesses and gods from several pantheons, as well as familiars and runes, is how I fulfill an important part of my spiritual path. Hand-embroidering and sewing them together is like bringing these adorable deities to life over and over again, honoring their power and reaffirming my spirituality. This is the reason why Carioca Witch exists – my love for my pagan path and the opportunity of seeing my art being sweetly spread in literally hundred houses around the world – from Canada to China.”  I’m constantly struck by how beautiful Nydia’s work is, and how each design is so evocative of the deity it represents.  When her creations arrive, they’re always even richer in color and workmanship than I imagined from the photos.  My long-term plan is to collect the gods and goddesses related to healing and plants and hang them around the edges of my herbal workshop, with a scarf or garland swagged between them.
Make it personal: By giving a god or goddess that is special to the recipient, or who might be particularly helpful to the recipient at this time.
If you just can’t decide: The Yule ornaments are absolutely stunning!
How to order:  Browse Carioca Witch’s Facebook page and then message Nydia for more info.  Custom creations take time to make – and to ship from Brazil – so order early and often ;-)

 

Advent calendar from Sweet Enemy Art. Used with permission.

Advent calendar from Sweet Enemy Art. Used with permission.

Sweet Enemy Art

Kristin Richland swears her artwork isn’t “whimsical,” and I understand why.  We often use the word “whimsical” to dismiss work that has a fantastical element, and you just can’t dismiss Kristin’s artwork:  Sometimes I look at one of her pieces and find it charming – and then am absolutely caught up in the depth and specificity of expression on this rat’s or that tiger’s face.  Sometimes I look and think, “oh, that’s cute,” and then realize that the image is actually complex and haunting, and sometimes even rather disturbing.  Kristin Richland’s brain contains some pretty cool worlds.
Make it Personal:  Peruse the offerings on Society 6 (prints and products) and Etsy (original), or get in touch with Kristin to ask about a piece you don’t see there.
If you just can’t decide:  Quick, get the advent calendar!  Or, for this time of year when we celebrate light in the dark days, get a print of “We Gathered One Night.”
How to order: Click the links above, and don’t forget to follow Sweet Enemy on Facebook and read the blog.

 

 

Small pitcher from Doolin Pottery. Teapot from Rooftop Pottery. Large mug from Please Touch Pottery. Spiral mug and shot glass from Dancing Pig. Bowl from Glen Cross Pottery.

Small pitcher from Doolin Pottery. Teapot from Rooftop Pottery. Large mug from Please Touch Pottery. Spiral mug and shot glass from Dancing Pig. Bowl from Glen Cross Pottery.

Your Local Potter

I first fell in love with pottery at Doolin Pottery, in County Claire which – sadly – is no longer there.  I’ve since branched out, and I’m a repeat customer at Dancing Pig‘s and Glen Cross’s Pennsic booths, and this year I added Please Touch Pottery to my favorites.  The tea pot I use for herbal teas is a gorgeous fairy-tale-like creation from Rooftop Pottery, right here in Vermont.  When elsewhere, pottery is my favorite souvenir, as it’s fully functional – not just a shelf-sitting knick knack.  On the other hand, it’s not merely functional: I find tea and hot chocolate taste so much better drunk from a handmade mug than a mass-produced one, and my life also feels richer and more textured when I use handmade cups and bowls.  Since I’ve collected mugs of various sizes, as well as water glasses and a few bowls, I’m currently on the lookout for plates, which I understand are surprisingly hard to make.  Some day I’d like my full collection of dishes and bowls and vessels to be handmade, all mis-matched from different makers and with different memories.
Make it personal:  Purchase a cup, goblet, or mug that’s just right for the giftee’s favorite beverage, and include ingredients for said beverage.
If you can’t decide:  You really can’t go wrong with a good mug.  How about this one?
How to order:  Visit your local farmer’s market, craft show, or craft store, or check out the links above.

 

Used with permission.

Used with permission.

Urban Moonshine

With Urban Moonshine, you give the gifts of yumminess and good health all in one.  These bitters and tonics are a delicious way to take your medicine, and they come in gorgeous packaging.  The people at Urban Moonshine are flippin’ brilliant, and they source crazy-vibrant herbs, many of which come from Zack Woods Herb Farm (another business I’m a huge fan of).  If you’re in on the trendiness of bitters in cocktails, you will absolutely love this company’s product.  If bitters sound like something you’d rather avoid, take heart:  They’re amazing for your health and, after a while, actually taste good.  For a start, try Urban Moonshine’s Maple Bitters, which has been called “bitters with training wheels.”
Make it personal:  Use the Urban Moonshine Holiday Gift Guide (click on image at right)  to suss out which bitters or tonics are best for your giftee.
If you just can’t decide:  Embrace the holiday spirit and give them Joy.
How to order:  Right here at the Urban Moonshine website.

 

 

Juniper Ridge incense.

Juniper Ridge incense.

Juniper Ridge Incense

This is the one company on this list that I’ve always bought via a ‘middleman,’ my local co-op, rather than direct from the source.  That being said, their product speaks for itself:  This is pretty much the only incense I burn.  The scents are amazing, not at all perfumy, thanks to their use of wildcrafted, minimally-processed plants to make this incense.  I always keep their sage on hand because I find sage a little heady while it’s burning but love the scent it leaves in the room.  The other varieties that I’ve tried (sweetgrass, pinon pine, and juniper, which might be my favorite), are so delicious that I can sit right near them, and it’s only after a while – or after leaving the room and returning – that I realize what a gorgeous scent is filling the space.
Make it personal: Choose a scent that has special meaning to the giftee (or, even better, make your own incense in that scent).
If you just can’t decide: You can’t go wrong with sweetgrass.
How to order: Right here at the Juniper Ridge website, or ask for it at your local co-op.

So, there are a few ideas to get you started, and hopefully to inspire you to look around your own region for awesome artists, artisans, handcrafters, and other concoctors of wonderful things.  If you have any suggestions for me, please don’t hesitate to post them in the comments!

PS:  I know some blog posts of this sort are paid advertising.  This one isn’t!  I’m just posting about these people and products because I like them :-)


Witches (a Question of Character
& a Fiction Round-up)

What is a witch, anyway?  When I was a kid, I knew that witches wore black, had tall pointy hats, rode on brooms, and didn’t exist.

Later, I learned that there had been witch hunts, and that historically people had been convinced enough of the existence of witches to execute those who were convicted of such a thing.  Incredibly, it seems that many of these accused witches were actually charged with healing, rather than harming.  Later still, I learned that there are people, today, who are persecuted under accusations of witchcraft (or some translation thereof).

Sometime during high school, I read Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies, and the witches that lived in my imagination have ever since been independent women living on the edge of society – but integrally a part of it – who practice “headology and herbology” on a daily basis, and deeper magic with discretion.  No one to be trifled with, these nonetheless are good witches…at least, as good as any of us flawed human beings can be.  When they do practice magic, they tend to stick to the practical and effective kind (eschewing the showier methods of wizards).

Historically, the title of “witch” has been something someone else called you, not a title you claimed for yourself.  That’s changed, of course, and many folks – including some of my favorite bloggers – self-identify as witches, people who are brave enough to practice magic in a world that doesn’t really believe in it.  I love the idea of taking a word once used as an insult and owning it, reforming it, and claiming it as one’s own.  There’s a great book entitled A History of Witchcraft, that covers both historical and modern ideas of witchcraft.  It notes, if memory serves, that modern, self-identified witches have no direct lineage relating to the medieval or colonial accused witch.  Still, I would hazard to say that the word was chosen with good reason:  Many accused witches were folks brave enough to buck the established rules of society, and even today, it takes guts to choose a different path in a culture that is dominated by the big three monotheistic religions and, otherwise, a steadfast lack of belief in the supernatural.

Now, I’m going to let history and current events do their own thing, and just tell you about a few of my favorite fictional witches.

Wee Free Men and the Discworld Series, by Terry Pratchett
In the Discworld, witches are known for being independent, eccentric, observant, and for doing what needs to be done.  Also, they do magic and ride on brooms.  The thing with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is that it’s wickedly funny, frighteningly insightful, and manages to take a foundation of satire and develop it into brilliant characters and well-crafted, moving stories.  These are books that you can take on a miserable transatlantic flight and laugh through the whole thing, halfway through realize you’re being told a story that will live on in your imagination for years, and only half an hour after finishing the book realize that you’ve also been inspired to think about important concepts and maybe even learned a life lesson.

The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry
This story is not necessarily about a witch, as Barry walks the line between realistic fiction and magical realism.  It does take place in Salem, and the book has a rich sense of place, with a consciousness both of the history of the town and its current reclamation of witchcraft (in part fueled by the tourist industry).  The echos of witch hunts are haunting, and the book as a whole is a subtle, complex, beautifully-told story.

Under my Hat, short stories selected by Jonathan Strahan
I’m in the middle of reading this book right now.  With a slew of witch-themed stories from writers like Neil Gaiman and Garth Nix, it was irresistible.  So far, all the stories have been entertaining, with a few real keepers.

 

 

Chocolat, by Joanne Harris
Is Vienne a witch?  I don’t recall if she’s ever referred to as such in the book.  But she is certainly an independent woman who creates healing magic in the little town into which she wanders…  The film of the same name is gorgeous, a feast for your eyes.

 

Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman
Alice Hoffman has written multiple books with witches as characters, but this is the only one that I’ve read so far.  While it’s not my favorite of Hoffman’s novels, it’s still a great read.  I love Hoffman’s ability to make fairy tales hauntingly realistic, and this one doesn’t disappoint.  The movie of the same name is a lot of fun, too.

Which brings me to movies and…unfortunately, other than the two mentioned above, I can’t think of any good movies with witches in them.  I’m not a big horror fan and, anyway, characters like those in Season of the Witch (why, Nicolas Cage, why?) don’t have much to do with witches in my opinion.  This is a great season for witch flicks, so please chime in with recommendations for good witchy films!

Q:  What defines a witch to you?
Q:  What are your favorite stories featuring a witch or witches?


Local on a Budget: Food

Giuseppe Arcimboldo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“The Greengrocer,” by Giuseppe Arcimboldo
This fellow ate his vegetables!

Food might be the most rewarding thing to source locally:  Slicing a fresh tomato from your garden or from the local farm stand, you taste the land, air, and rain all bundled up in that gorgeous red package.  This tomato is as good as it is because of the land it was grown on and the care taken by the farmer (or by you).  You literally cannot get a tomato just like it anywhere else in the world.

Now, let’s get something over with:  Mass-produced pasta and tomato sauce is cheaper than local, fresh food.  Yup.  And I’m not going to claim that it’s not.  That being said, eating local isn’t just for rich folks going out to dinner at that fancy restaurant with duck liver and such.  Eating local can be practical, as well as delicious and nourishing.

It does help to keep an open mind about what abundance looks like.  For a while now, Americans have figured that abundance meant things like meat or eggs at every meal and brand name cookies for dessert.  I think abundance looks like mason jars full of grains and beans that I bought in bulk at the local co-op.  It looks like a box full of in-season vegetables when I pick up my CSA.  It looks like a big mug full of tea made from the lemon balm plant in my yard.

As a reminder, you don’t have to do everything at once.  Just change one thing this month.  (It’s a great time for picking your own apples at your local apple orchard, for example.)  And then one more thing next month.  Take one step at a time.

With food, as with other products, there are a couple different “levels” of local.  The questions to ask are:  Was this food grown/raised locally?  If a prepared food, was it prepared locally?  Is the retailer (e.g. a grocery store) a local business?  The more “yes” answers on your shopping list, the better.

And finally, for the tips:

    • Buy produce directly from the folks who grow it.  As much as I love co-ops, it tends to be a lot cheaper to buy produce at a farmer’s market (or even better, at the farm) than in a grocery store.
    • Don’t worry about certifications.  Instead, talk to the farmer.  Part of the reason organic produce is more expensive is that it’s expensive to get certified.  If you find a local farmer who uses organic or near-organic methods, don’t worry about whether or not they have that USDA stamp.
    • If in doubt, buy something that grows where you live, and buy it in season:  E.g. Can’t decide between apples or mango?  If you live in the northeast, buy apples.  They’ll be cheaper, and you’ll probably get a better specimen of fruit.  Likewise, enjoy the yearly glut of tomatoes in the late summer, a time when they’re plentiful and so less expensive.
    • If you have the space for a garden, start one.  Even if it’s a small space.  Even if it’s just a couple of pots of herbs that you can use to season your food or make tea.  In fact, my advice is to start small, see what works for you, and perhaps upsize in future years.
    • Buy from the bulk section.  Most health food stores have a bulk food section for dry goods.  These are often very reasonably priced, since you’re not paying for packaging or brand name advertising.  Also, you can get only the amount you need.  So, if you rarely use nutmeg, and just need a teaspoon for a particular recipe, all you need to buy is a teaspoon.  It’s much cheaper than buying a whole jar!
    • Reconsider how much meat you eat.  Many Americans eat hearty servings of meat at least twice a day.    Dr. Andrew Weil says,

      As little as two ounces of a protein-rich food a day may be enough to prevent protein deficiency in most adults; four ounces will certainly do it. That means a four-ounce serving of meat or fish or chicken or cheese or tofu. (Click for source.)

      That means that we can cut back on meat a lot – or entirely if you choose to do so – and still be healthy.  Since meat is expensive, this is a great way to save.  One option is to halve your meat consumption, but eating really good local meat when you do.  You can also try using less expensive cuts of meat.

    • Think about joining a CSA. With CSAs (it stands for “Community Supported Agriculture”), you pay up front for a share in a farm’s produce at the beginning of a season.  Then, you pick up your share every week or so during the season, either at the farm or at another local pick-up location.  You usually get more produce than you could have bought at retail for the same amount of money.  Take the time to research different CSAs, talk to farmers about what their CSA is like, and if you can talk to folks who have taken part in CSAs.  Each one is different, but they can be a lot of fun and a great way to save some cash and make shopping for veggies really easy.
    • Buy basics, then cook it up yourself. Bread. Beans. Soups & stews.  These things are all so much cheaper when you buy the basic ingredients and then cook them up yourself.  Don’t have time to wait for bread to rise?  I am a huge fan of a basic Irish brown bread – and one of the best things about it is that it’s a quick bread.  Dry beans are super cheap – and super easy to cook, then freeze for later.  Soups and stews are amazing catch-all dishes to make with leftovers or whatever you picked up at the farmer’s market.  They’re also a great way to stretch meat.  How about a kale & sausage soup? Or a beef & potato stew?  You don’t have to use a lot of meat to make it taste rich and feel indulgent.  Lentil soup might be the cheapest yet most satisfying dish ever.  It’s also super easy to make your own vegetable broth, and it’s a good way to use up carrot greens and many other vegetable bits that you’re unlikely to eat.
      If you’ve never tried cooking with a slow cooker, try now.  Your crock pot may be your new best friend.
      This part takes some time, but it makes a big difference in your budget – and in the quality of food you end up with.
    • Check out your local options  for discounted food.  There’s a store that’s local to me that sells, among other things, blocks of cheese that aren’t perfectly rectangular, dinged cans of food and other items with damaged packaging, and yogurt that’s nearing its expiration date.  The store itself is local, and a fair amount of the food they sell is produced locally.  Their discounts help balance our food budget.  Some stores and markets sell bruised or about-to-be-overripe fruit or veggies at a discount.  There’s always the possibility of bargaining at farmer’s markets, too, when folks are packing up – especially if you’re buying in quantity.  Ask around and see what the options are in your area.

The single most important tip I can give you is to talk to people:  your friends, your local farmers, the folks who work at the co-op, etc.  Maybe your neighbor knows about a great farm stand, or your coworker belongs to a CSA that she loves, or your cousin knows about a co-op that has great deals on cases of yogurt.  Shopping local on a budget takes some research, but that research can be as easy as a conversation if you ask around.  You might be surprised about what great resources your friends and neighbors are.

On the other hand, you might live in an area where people aren’t as conscious of shopping local.  It’s still worth asking around (after all, our grandparents bought from local farmers and butchers long before “Shop Local” became a trend), and it’s also a good idea to pass on the info you learn to others.  You might have to do a little extra footwork to find those great local farms and businesses, but you can be even more influential in keeping them around by passing on your own tips to your friends.

Q:  What are your tips for buying local food on a budget?
Q:  What does abundance look/smell/taste/sound/feel like to you?


Responding to Antibiotic Resistance:
a resource round-up

There have been some pretty scary headlines in the news this week.  Stuff like:
Drug-Resistant Bacteria Are Common Killers
Antibiotic-Resistant Infections Lead to 23,000 Deaths a Year, C.D.C. Finds
‘We Will Soon Be in a Post-Antibiotic Era’
Yes, Agricultural Antibiotics Play a Role in Drug Resistance
While antibiotic resistance has been a concern for some time, I can’t recall it ever receiving this type of press or this degree of validation from the CDC.  And if the issue is old news to some, it’s no less urgent for that.  So, what’s to be done?

According to the New York Times, “The report said that “much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.” It also said that about half of antibiotic use in people is inappropriate.”  Will lawmakers and regulatory agencies regulate this from the top down?  Will large livestock farmers stop using antibiotics excessively?  I don’t know.  But we can influence this from the bottom up, by refusing to buy meat raised on farms that regularly dose their animals with antibiotics.  (Talk to your farmer, your butcher, and/or your grocery store manager to learn more about how your meat was raised.)  We can also talk to our doctors and figure out if we really need to take antibiotics for a given issue.  These are a couple of basic steps we can take, by deciding what goes into our bodies, and what practices we want to support.

Having made those decisions, it’s important to have tools to prevent the need for antibiotics – as well as alternatives/complements to pharmaceutical antibiotics should the need arise.

On this subject, I can’t recommend any book more highly than Stephen Harrod Buhner’s Herbal Antibiotics.  While this book provides great tools for fighting bacterial infections in general, it focuses on resistant strains.  Buhner also gives a comprehensive overview of the issue of antibiotic resistance, and describes in fascinating and alarming detail the ways in which bacteria are able to adapt and how they work in the body.  This book is readable for laypeople, though Buhner’s suggestions are well-documented enough to impress your M.D.  In addition to scads of scientific studies, Buhner draws on his own experience, as well as traditional and current uses among herbal practitioners.  A companion volume, Herbal Antivirals, is due out later this month.  (You can read Buhner’s response to the CDC’s report here, at Inside Storey.

For common ailments, I find Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health to be invaluable.  It contains recipes to help you fight off all sorts of issues, from earaches to UTIs.  My go-to recipe from this book is Fire Cider.  I always have some on hand, and I find it can help me fight off just about anything if I catch it quick enough.

As good as these books are, it’s of course far better not to get sick in the first place.  In addition to basic practices like getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising, taking adaptogens can help build a strong, responsive immune system.  My prime reference here is the aptly titled Adaptogens, by David Winston.  Adaptogens fall under a wider category of herbs referred to as tonics.  Tonics are safe to take regularly, and they build good health in general (though they often address one system especially).  Guido Masé’s Wild Medicine Solution includes a wonderful discussion of tonic herbs, and specifically addresses immunity.  The whole book is a great introduction to using herbs for better overall health.

I grew up believing that bacteria were no longer a threat, having been all but vanquished by pharmaceutical antibiotics.  One of the most valuable things I’ve learned from Buhner’s book on the subject is that bacteria are far more complex and adaptable than I imagined.  I no longer believe that we possess any “silver bullets” in this battle – and I think we’ll lose if we continue believing that we have the capacity to wipe out bacterial infections wholesale.  Instead, I think it’s time to take an honest look at our vulnerabilities and our strengths, at how it’s possible to support the immune system and give it a competitive edge, and at the rich and varied resources we have in the form of whole plant medicines.

Books featured in this post include:

 

 

 

 

Click any of the covers to order from your local indie bookstore.


Romancing Charlotte, by Colin Scott (Book Review)

Click through to buy local.

I’ve been lucky enough to snag a copy of the new novel Romancing Charlotte, by Colin Scott.  On the most obvious level, this is a charming page-turner of a romance set in modern-day Ireland.  With well-developed characters and touching but realistic familial relationships complimenting the various romantic plotlines, this is a great book to cozy up with on a chill evening.

That being said, there’s a lot more to this story:  Scott’s hero and heroine are no ingénues, and it’s refreshing and all too rare to read a romance about folks in their later years.  With a Downton-Abbeyesque twist, Charlotte is the lady of the local manor, while PJ, recently returned from living in the States, is descended from a humbler family.  This division is a tricky one anywhere, and it’s made even more complex in an Irish setting, what with issues of religion and politics.  Scott also weaves in a strong sense of place, and a subplot involving illegal turf-cutting in peat bogs, an issue that is similarly layered and three-dimensional.  While “Colin Scott” is – according to his own twitter profile – a pseudonym, it’s obvious that this Irish author is writing from inside the culture:  Romancing Charlotte takes place in the nuanced, complex world of modern Ireland, not some “top o’ the mornin’” Hollywood version.

The Verdict:  Romancing Charlotte is like a good raspberry cordial:  It’s sweet and goes down easy, but nevertheless can be quite nuanced and much more nourishing than you might think.  It’s a perfect choice for anyone interested in the subtleties of modern Irish culture, for anyone who’d like to take a trip abroad between the pages, and really for anyone looking for a good read that will neither traumatize nor patronize.


The Evolution of a Bohemian Closet

In high school I shopped at Express (during sales).  Pretty mainstream, I know.  About the same time I started paying for my own clothes, I discovered TJ Maxx.  Still mainstream, but I still stop by once in a while, since I’ve sometimes found organic cotton clothes there, and besides, shopping last year’s fashions and overstock seems to make for a lighter footprint.

Clothes from long ago and/or far away? No problem!

My closet got decidedly more interesting when I started traveling:  A whole slew of garb originally intended only for Pennsic has become daily wear.  There are also some choice pieces from further abroad: a merino sweater from Ireland, a muckross scarf, a punjabi from South Africa, a couple of beautiful tops gifted to me by an Italian friend.

When I returned from my first long stint of travel, sick of carrying an overpacked dufflebag full of clothes, I swore that I wouldn’t go clothes shopping until I had worn out or given away my current wardrobe.  For the most part, I stuck to that.  First, I brought bags and bags of clothes to Goodwill.  Then I wore the basic clothes I liked best.  As those wore out, I moved on to more daring numbers, including purple, plaid, and silver pants.  Eventually, most of the clothes I owned were some strange color or pattern, and I admit I picked up a few solid-colored tops to try to even things out. If I needed something for a specific occasion, I headed to the local thrift store.  I also got given a bunch of hand-me-overs from a cousin-by-marriage who happens to be my size.

Finally, this spring, I was heading out for work in my favorite pair of purple pants when I realized they had not one but two holes in them.  A few days later, I found a hole in the elbow of one of those basic solid-colored tops.  I also realized that most of my tops were from the ’90s and so the waist line was far too close to my belly button, while several of my pants had the same (decade) and opposite (low waist line) problem.  It appeared to be time to go shopping, and – since I wanted basics that would last for ages – I probably couldn’t get away with going to the thrift store.

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It was definitely time to go shopping!

The problem was, shopping for clothes had gotten a lot more complicated.  I’d learned that cotton (functional, comfortable, natural, cheap – the sterling silver of clothing) is a major GMO crop.  And that it’s often treated with nasty chemicals.  Not to mention that clothing companies are notorious for unfair labor practices.

In my ideal world, we’d all get handmade clothes from local artisans who source fair trade, organic swaths of fabric made by other local artisans where such fibers grow.  (Cotton does not grow in Vermont.  I’m pretty sure hemp would grow well here…if our legislative bodies would…well, that’s a post for another day.)  Unfortunately, things aren’t set up that way and, with my limited budget, that isn’t a trail I can blaze this year.

On the other hand, I had come across Patagonia’s all-cotton-is-organic policy shortly after learning about the GMO issue.  They have good basic clothing, too – stuff nice enough to wear to work, flexible enough to be functional, and sturdy enough to last.  An online sale brought many pieces to prices I could deal with, and the company did okay – getting a grade of a “B” – in this Apparel Industry Trends report on labor practices.  Not perfect, but definitely a step in the right direction – especially since I started out at Express, which was given a “D”.

What about the clothes themselves?  I ended up getting two new pairs of paints and four tops (two for work, two for play).  They’re organic cotton (or blends, including hemp), fit well, and the quality seems to be excellent.  There’s a fair likelihood I’ll still be wearing them in the 2020s – along with the harem pants I just picked up a pattern for, the fisherman’s pants I plan on getting from Thailand (at some as yet to be determined point in the future), and the choli top from Pennsic that I can wear anywhere over one my hand-me-down poet shirts.


Shoutout: New England Women’s Herbal Conference

I just wanted to give a big shout-out to the New England Women’s Herbal Conference.  After all, this conference, which takes place in late August, has over 60 fabulous workshops for all levels, fire circles, dancing, drumming and earth ceremonies, Circle within A Circle for teenage women, Kids Kamp for 2-12 year olds, crafts, hands on activities, herb walks, canoeing, swimming, massage & oasis for relaxation… What more could you ask for?  PLUS, they’ve extended the Early Bird deadline to June 15th, so now’s a great time to save on entry.  Click here for more info and to register.

Full disclosure:  I’ve been working on some social networking for the conference, so don’t forget to wander over and follow https://www.facebook.com/womensherbalconference for you Facebookers and http://twitter.com/womens_herbal for Tweeters.

 


Dandelions Take a Stand for Contraception?

Scandelous dandelion, virginal rose image from One More Soul, a website dedicated to “fostering God’s plan for love, chastity, marriage, and children.”

Scandelous dandelion, virginal rose image from One More Soul, a website reportedly dedicated to “fostering God’s plan for love, chastity, marriage, and children.”

This image, I have to admit, almost leaves me speechless.  My first thought was to note the amazing feats of illogic.  How, for example, does the use of contraception lead to single-parent homes?  Contraception – by definition – prevents you from becoming a parent in the first place.  And why is contraception the root of (dum dum DUM) “Sexual Chaos“?  I mean, in my experience contraception generally requires some ability to think ahead, and planning isn’t an activity I’d call chaotic.

But true to form, I’m more interested in the choice of flowers.  I’m not going to dis the chastity rose (although I’m not sure any sort of flower is especially chaste…plants in general are awfully good at getting it on), even though it’s not much like the wild Rosa rugosas that I love best.  But a dandelion?  What substances were these people taking that made them think that the roots of a dandelion – one of our most successfully prolific plants – made a good symbol for contraception?

I suspect the logic went something like: Dandelions=Weeds. Weeds=Bad.
Contraception=Bad.
Dandelions=Contraception.
Sigh.

Dandelions are adaptable.  Dandelions are scrappy and resilient.  Dandelions are crazy-good medicine.   Dandelions are generous:  We mow them down and pull them up and spray them dead, and no matter how often or how shortsightedly we reject them they keep coming back, stronger than ever.  Dandelions stand their ground.  They’re independent and sturdy, not to mention cheerful and cheering.

No matter how we vilify them, dandelions pop up in the ugly cracks and crevices and make those places more beautiful.  This graphic is bizarre and in some ways very ugly, and so maybe it’s only to be expected that a dandelion found its way into it.

I’m totally down with roses, and I’m totally down with loving families of all shapes and sizes and styles.  But when someone compares my choices to a dandelion (and yes, I do use contraceptives) I take that as high praise.  So my second thought when I saw this poster was, “I’m a dandelion!  Yay!”

On this glorious spring day, I’m raising a toast to the dandelion. Will you join me?