Fire Cider: Let’s Call it What it Is

fc_recipeIf the Chick-fil-A lawsuit over “Eat More Kale” got your goat, this should too: A while back, the national company Shire City Herbals trademarked “fire cider,” a term that has long been used as a traditional/generic name for a spicy, warming, apple cider vinegar-based herbal remedy popularized by Rosemary Gladstar. Now, this company is suing three herbalists over this trademark.

As USPTO.gov puts it, “A trademark or service mark includes any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services.” This is different from a patent, which protects the production of the item itself. It is possible to patent a recipe, but it has to be a pretty newfangled and unusual recipe. So, (while I’m no legal expert), what this seems to boil down to is that the trademark doesn’t prevent people from making fire cider, it does prevent people from using the phrase commercially.

Trademarking can be a legitimate way to protect a business’ investment/reputation. So what’s the problem?

“Fire cider” has been used as a generic term for decades. It was popularized by Rosemary Gladstar beginning in the 1970s, and she has shared both the recipe and the name freely. On the other hand, Shire City’s “about us” page states that one of the co-owners “began making early versions of Fire Cider in the 1990’s” and first sold the remedy in 2010. I began my first program at Rosemary Gladstar’s Sage Mountain Herbal Education Center in 2010, and fire cider was one of the remedies we learned to make. It was a popular one and already well-known amongst my fellow students, through Rosemary’s work. It’s also included in Rosemary’s books, which came out well before then.  The term “fire cider” was in widespread usage before Shire City even started selling their product.

Trademarking “fire cider” is akin to someone trademarking the phrase “chicken noodle soup.” Limiting the use of a generic name like this compromises our ability to communicate effectively. In this case, it makes it more difficult for consumers to navigate herbal remedies, and stifles fair competition. If someone goes to the co-op to pick up some fire cider – the warming remedy that they heard about from a friend or in Rosemary’s books – they should be able to see clearly which items on the shelf are fire cider, because they’re labeled as such. By preventing that, this trademark seeks to force other companies to use substitute names and descriptors, which just makes things confusing. Remember, this isn’t as though Pfizer was trying to keep other companies from using the word “Advil,” but as though they were saying they had the exclusive right to the generic term “ibuprofen.” It’s as though Smucker’s had trademarked the term “jelly” or Merriam-Webster claimed it had the exclusive right to call a book a “dictionary.”

Stifling the use of a traditional/generic term like “fire cider” (by reserving that use for a single company) is unacceptable. In order to have power over our own health, we must be able to communicate clearly about which remedy is which. In addition to making our own fire cider, it’s our prerogative to purchase fire cider from the many and varied small companies run with intention by skilled herbalists. Those companies must have the right to communicate effectively with consumers, and consumers have the same right to clearly understand the product they’re buying.

This is an issue that strikes home for herbalists – but its ramifications aren’t limited to those of us practicing herbalism.  If you’re a consumer of herbal products, and you want to make sure those products are labeled so that they’re easy to find and compare, this affects you.  If you care about strong local economies based on thriving independent businesses (like the herbal businesses affected by this trademark and lawsuit) this affects you.  If you simply believe that it’s our right to communicate effectively and clearly, that corporations must not be allowed to own traditional terms in our language, this affects you.

Please, take action.  What can you do? Check out the video below and visit freefirecider.com to find out.

 

 

PS:  Don’t forget to mix up some of your own!


Rob Stewart’s REVOLUTION

I have a confession to make: I don’t watch environmental films.  After all, I know what they’re going to tell me, right? And I’m doing my best, right? Do I really want to listen to someone tell me how bad things are when I already know? But flattery will get you lots of places, and when I was offered the chance to screen and review Rob Stewart’s new film Revolution, I said yes.  (For the record, I didn’t have to promise the review would be good, and I don’t get any kick-backs based on click-throughs.)

Flamboyant Cuttlefish.  Production still courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Flamboyant Cuttlefish. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

What I’d been forgetting is that films don’t just tell, they show.  Revolution is, firstly, stunning.  It’s filled with shots of creatures that make you think, “Wait, that’s a real live living thing?  That’s so crazy and cool and gorgeous and just plain weird!”  In the narration of the film, Stewart says, after describing his first experience with a shark, “…sharks were like dragons or dinosaurs, but they were real.”  This film is filled with images that remind you of how fantastic and unlikely and breathtaking this world is.  Just for that, it’s worth watching.  Just for the sheer joy of remembering that we’re on the same planet as creatures like cuttlefish and baobab trees.

Of course, it isn’t all happiness and joy.  There are darker images:  Ruined coral reefs.  The Alberta tar sands.  Huge plastic bags full of dead seahorses, caught for consumption.  The impact of these images lies in the fact that they’re not shoved in your face the way Game of Thrones loves to spatter blood around.  Instead, they’re presented almost gently.  As in, huh, bags full of something brown.  And then you recognize that they’re seahorses, small ones, so there must be thousands in those bags.  And then you think of the way seahorses move, because you’ve been watching gorgeous images of sea creatures.  And perhaps, if you’re like me, you think of how seahorses have always been one of those animals that seem to be out of a fairy tale, one of the creatures in this world that really seems to argue for the reality of magic, or something even better.  And seeing them there, body after body piled into clear plastic bags, so obviously a commodity speaks for itself.

Production still courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Rob Stewart and young activists in Saipan. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

It’s this gentle, almost meditative quality that really drew me into the film.  Told almost conversationally, in the format of a memoir, Revolution follows Stewart’s own experiences: learning about animals as a kid, making the film Sharkwater, and realizing that it’s not just sharks that need saving, it’s the oceans, the forests, the atmosphere, and us.  While Stewart does call his audience to action, he’s not shoving an agenda at the viewer, and this film is refreshingly lacking in pontification.  Stewart acknowledges both the crushing frustration of watching politicians do nothing again and again – but also offers evidence that hope is merited, that people really do care enough to make changes.  He encourages personal action and personal responsibility, while acknowledging his own outsized debt to the environment incurred in the making of the film. Perhaps the best thing about this film is Stewart’s talent for sharing his own contagious affection for the creatures filmed, for the natural world as a whole, and for the young activists striving to make things right.

Sifaka. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Sifaka. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Conversations about the environment so often only happen among those who already agree with each other.  The liberals talk about how scary global warming is, while the conservatives, I imagine, talk about how crazy those conservationists are.  This is a film that I think might be able to cross those boundaries, because you just can’t help but be delighted by shots of leaping sifakas (a type of lemur)  and pygmy seahorses, because it’s a first-person narrative (“I did this” instead of “you should do this”), and because this is a story told in an openhearted way.  I know no one wants family fights over climate change, but this is a film that just might start a conversation instead.

I was ready, when I hit play, for the harrowing statistics, the overarching problems.  They’re problems that I already fight to contribute to as little as I can, that I already obsess over, that, frankly, I usually do my best to avoid hearing more about.  What I wasn’t ready for was Stewart’s modest way of presenting our generous and exuberant world – the world we’re fighting for.  As he asks, “What if we had a world to fight for instead of fighting against our problems?  What kind of world could we create if we designed it to be beautiful for us and all species?”  It’s worth finding out, and if you want to share with friends why we’re fighting for that world, or if you could use a refresher yourself, watch this:


On Raw Milk, and current regulations in Vermont

Vermont’s legislature is currently debating the regulations around the availability of raw milk, and earlier this spring I spoke to the House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products as a raw milk consumer.  (This post is an adapted version of what I said there.) You can find all the House Ag Committee documents related to this bill (including testimony from myself and other witnesses) on their website, and you can follow the Farm Fresh Milk Campaign at Rural Vermont.  The current situation is that it is legal for farmers to sell raw milk in the state of Vermont, but there are some very strict (bordering on prohibitive) regulations that make it difficult for farmers to reach consumers.  An effort is being made to mitigate those regulations, giving consumers easier access to the extremely high quality (and safe) raw milk that is being produced in the state of Vermont.

I’ve been a customer of Huard Family Farm for the last year and a half or so. Frank Huard delivers raw goat’s milk to my home about once a week, and sometimes we’re also able to pick it up from him at the Burlington Farmers’ Market. The milk from Frank’s farm is absolutely delicious, with a flavor much more subtle than anything off the grocery store shelf. I would drink it just for the taste, but I also drink it because most milk really upsets my digestion if I drink much of it. The milk from Frank’s farm never bothers my digestion. I don’t know for sure if this is because it’s raw or because it’s goat’s milk, or a combination of the two, but I do know that I can drink it by the glass and feel good and nourished.  I can say positively that (to me, and many others) raw milk tastes better and more distinctive than pasteurized milk, and I would venture to say that raw milk lets those of us who drink by the glass enjoy the local terroir in a way that pasteurized milk just can’t.

Frank has always been gracious about delivering to our door, but I’ve often wondered how he could possibly meet expenses when he has to drive all over the place to deliver milk to customers: Gas is expensive, and it has to take him a lot of time to drive to each individual customer. If Frank could sell his milk via retail stores, it would be convenient for me, but what’s more important is that it would be sustainable for him. We used to get raw goat’s milk from Trillium Hill Farm in Hinesburg, but they stopped selling milk after the 2012 season because that part of their business had proven to be unsustainable. I wonder if this would have been different if there weren’t so many restrictions around the sale of raw milk. I find the present restrictions frustrating personally, but the biggest concern to me is that these restrictions make it so difficult for farmers to reach customers. It goes without saying that a business must be able to reach customers to survive.

I recognize and appreciate that the intent of the present labeling language is to protect the consumer, but I wish that our legislators would give more credit – and more responsibility – to consumers: In my experience, what pasteurization is and does is general knowledge. I think it’s enough to state that the milk is raw/unpasteurized. So long as I’m clearly told what the product is, it’s up to me to determine whether it’s healthy for me. Please show that you respect me and other consumers by trusting us to do that.

In addition to speaking as a consumer, I’d like to say a few words just as a resident of Vermont: I don’t think it’s possible to emphasize too much how important small farms like Frank’s are. They feed us, keeping us nourished and healthy and giving us a much-needed alternative to mass-produced, trucked-in food. They keep money in the local economy. They give Vermont the distinctive sense of place that makes this state a destination. They’re vital to our sense of community: A teacher of mine used to say, “we all exist in a web of interdependence,” and eating food grown or produced by someone in your community reinforces how much we all depend on one another.

The farmers I know are the hardest working people I know, and I think it’s safe to say that, as a group, farmers are the hardest working people in Vermont. While some regulation is reasonable, the present requirements place unnecessary obstacles between the farmer and the customer. H. 426 won’t change that farming is a difficult job, but it’ll do a lot to make this work economically feasible for the farmers affected.

Anna Lappe said, “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” I want to vote for a state full of thriving family farms, by buying this good, wholesome product from a local farmer. Please make it easier for me to do that, and give Frank and other farmers a real chance to thrive by supporting H. 426.


Flowers for Breakfast:
Calendula-Blueberry Pancakes

Blueberry-calendula pancake.

Calendula petals and blueberries set each other off nicely in these pancakes.

Calendula flowers seem to be filled with sunshine, and since back in the depths of winter this year, these pancakes been my favorite breakfast.  I cook up a batch at a time, put the extra pancakes in the fridge (after letting them cool) and toast them in a toaster oven for breakfast for the next couple of days.  With not just calendula, but blueberries and nettle, these pancakes are packed full of goodness. The bright amber calendula petals and purpley-blue berries compliment each other nicely.

You’ll need:

  • 1 c. buckwheat flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • a couple of handfuls of calendula petals (not the whole flowers!)
  • a handful of dried nettle leaf
  • 1 c. milk (or milk substitute)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbls. coconut or olive oil
  • 1 c. wild blueberries
Nettles.

In my yard, nettles were the first plants to pop out of the ground this spring.  Dried nettle leaf adds even more nourishment to these pancakes.

Directions:

  1. Mix the dry ingredients well.  The calendula petals have a tendency to sit on top, but don’t worry:  They’ll blend  in to the other ingredients once you add the liquids.
  2. Add milk, eggs, and oil.  Mix.
  3. Add blueberries, and mix in.
  4. I use a 1/3 measuring cup to portion the batter out and cook on the stove top just like any other pancake.  I end up with 7-8 pancakes, depending on how generously I measure.
  5. Add your toppings of choice and enjoy!

Boho on a Bike

By neznámý (scan, reklamní leták) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I bought a motorcycle helmet.  I’m not sure I’ve ever managed to spend $200 so quickly.  But I wanted full face protection from the wind, not to mention that I like my jaw just the way it is.  Really, a Vespa’s more my style than the big old bike we’ll-call-him-Logan recently acquired.  Don’t get me wrong, the bike’s super cool.  But I’ve never been a speed demon, so if I’m ever at the wheel of something with two wheels and a motor, it’ll be a scooter…

I would love to see more people (calling all bohos!) – including those who don’t fit the black leather image of motorcycles – utilize bikes (and scooters) for everyday transport.  With less cars on the road, bikes would be safer.  The demand for fuel would drop and with it pollution, not to mention money spent on transport.

The first time I rode on a motorcycle, Logan picked me up at the train station in Philly on his Yamaha 250.  The bike – for all I ended up loving it – was small, and my helmet was smaller.  We jumped on the highway within minutes and the wind tucked under the face plate and smacked me hard enough that I had trouble breathing.  Not to mention that we were flying down a highway populated by crazy city drivers, my knees scant feet from their fenders.  I chanted affirmations in my head, and we did make it through alive and well, except for the massive pressure headache I had from the ill-fitting helmet.  Thus my willingness to sacrifice income for one that felt just right.

There’s a store in Bar Harbor, Maine called Jekyl & Hyde: One side is full of bright colors, jingly hip scarves, and flowing skirts; the other is knives and black leather.  My sister has commented that this store is a metaphor for my relationship: me the crunchy boho, Logan the biker in black.  That being said, motorcycles are a pretty awesome boho mode of transport, since they’re easy on gas and get you out into your environment.

The latter was what really won me over: Once we got off the highway, I could feel the moisture rising off a nearby stream, smell the pine needles and the farm fields.  There’s no real separation between you on the bike and the family on the sidewalk or the horses in the field or the deer by the side of the road.  Cars put boundaries between us and the rest of the world.  On a bike, it’s impossible to pretend those exist.

I think we’ve gotten comfortable with our boundaries, and lots of us are a little scared to be out there without doors and windows.  That takes courage…  It turns out you do have to be pretty badass to ride a bike, after all.

(Just rediscovered this draft.  It’s a little out of date, but what the heck.)


On Voting

“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” –Anna Lappe

Election day is over, here in the States. Maybe you voted, and I think that’s important. Maybe today you feel disillusioned, and you posted about it, and now people are chiding you for believing you could make a difference. Maybe you abstained because you didn’t believe you could make a difference in the first place. But you can’t abstain from the votes you cast all year round with your dollars. Do you want to live in a world controlled by corporations, where you can buy lots of stuff cheaply, but it’s all cheaply made at outsourced factories? Or do you want to live in a world with strong local economies, full of small businesses owned by your friends and neighbors (and maybe you, too)? A world where big businesses actually own the genetic code of foods we depend on for survival, or a world where small, independent farms growing flavorful, nourishing food can survive and thrive? We cast votes for one or the other (or something in between) all year round. Whenever you can, I hope you’ll choose indies.


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?