Thursday, December 30, 2010

Here There Be Amigurumi Monsters

Step 1: Find cute monster photo b/c I can't draw.
Well, almost. This is my first attempt at crocheting something sans pattern, and I would like to take this moment to get on my knees and bow down to the those crochet artists who actually make their own patterns. The process is one that makes me want to rip my hair out - and then crochet with it - in a vain attempt to turn a 2D picture into a 3D object. 
Step 2: Wish I had amigurumi design software... or modeling clay.
As I sit hear pondering whether an all around decrease would create the exact butt shape I want, I also wonder if I could start adding some knot magick into my crocheting... Maybe I should just remember to take this one step  at a time. But the next frickin' easy hackey sack I make is going to be a magickal hackey sack for sure! ...One that promotes concentration and patience. :)
Step 3: Craft something vaguely monsteresque. This could also be a very unfortunate duck.
If you'd like to see some truly fantabulous crocheting, I suggest checking out Amigurumi Artist. The patterns are free and are available for anyone who wants to take a swing at them. I take one look at those and think that making a tiny monster sounds pretty simple right now.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Winding Down and Gearing Up

I love the day after coming home from vacation. If you time it just right, you can shove several hundred activities into your travels, completely wear yourself out, and get home in time to have a good day or two's rest. Granted, I'm a little spoiled by the fact that I work in a school, so I'm still enjoying the perks of the two week winter break. Hey. Don't look at me like that! I had a very busy weekend that included several batches of cookie eating, present-opening, friend-hanging-out-with, and kitty-photographing (that's Zoe on the right), not to mention a mountain of late-night-board-game-playing. And that stuff is hard when you have Midwestern friends and relatives:"Let's get food." "Aren't you hungry?" "For the love of GOD take some cookies! And who wants wine? Twelve bottles! Here! Get tipsy!" (This last one was my friend, Sara, who made the mistake/best decision ever of ordering fifteen bottles of wine for $90 through Barnes & Noble. She and Jake were swimming in wine and were trying to slowly pawn it off on the rest of us. As you may suspect, none of us were really reluctant to take some off her hands.)

Christmas was good this year, but also strange. Half of it was me holding in the urge to tell my mom that I'm thinking that maybe I don't want to celebrate Christmas while at the same time thanking her for a most excellent hand pureeing device. That one really is making it hard for me to break my love of stuff - especially cooking stuff. But Christmas was also strange because for the first time it was missing my grandma. I went to her house with my folks, went through every room in the house and came back with boxes of her jewelery, scarves, dishes, and bags and bags of yarn. And I hardly felt anything. I guessed my time for crying and missing her was over. But opening gifts with the rest of the family my brother and I got $50 checks from her. She had set it up with my mom as last Christmas gifts before she died. That was really hard. My brother and I had to try not to look at each other to keep from losing it. That was an awkwardness and a sadness that I think hung over me the rest of the evening.

But thank goodness for friends and their ability to distract. I went over to Jake's house with my husband the day after Christmas. He and Jocelyn had told me to bring an appetizer, main dish, and dessert. Well, that was what Jake told me. Jocelyn had relayed that I should bring a meat, vegetable and appetizer. This mix-up, the relaying of this information to me two days before, and the fact that my friends are total pranksters, gave me the vague suspicion that I would show up with all this food and they'd say, "Yay! Thanks for feeding us!" and proceed to mooch with grins. It turns out we all mooched off each other with grins because everyone did bring food. We spent most of the time cooking and watching YouTube videos on Jake's iPad (Still something I find to be not extremely useful for the price, but entertaining nonetheless.).The other bit of the time we spent trying to convince Jocelyn and her fiance to elope. They're the only couple in the group left to get married. They'll be tying the knot in traditional Catholic fashion in May- even though Jocelyn is agnostic ,and I think finds the whole Catholic set-up slightly amusing.

And so, with yet another wedding on my mind, I'm back in the comfort of my Madison abode getting set up for the new year. I returned to find that the hamsters have hit middle age and, instead of deciding to hold roaring parties while I'm not watching, have opted to take the time to rest...sumo wrestler style apparently.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Break

See ya, everyone! I'm off for a few days celebrating Christmas with the Minnesota relatives. Meanwhile, I'll be leaving my little guys in charge of the guarding the apartment. Let's just hope I come home to find the place in one piece this time .*
*Last trip we returned to find empty beer bottles all over the place. Zeke was passed out on his back inside a toilet paper tube. Elroy was still running in the wheel with a lamp shade on his head. It was chaos. I had to nurse them back to sobriety, chase away the stoned chipmunks and get the little mini saddles off several squirrels. At least they know how to party.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Celebrating the Light in the Dark

A solstice bonfire with ice & paper lanterns. A stop in to Monty's Blue Plate for hot chocolate piled with whipped cream and chocolate. Shooting teenagers at the local laser tag with my Pagan buddies. Yule was good this year. :)
I really want to learn how to make one of these now.
And these.
The goddess in giant puppet form.
Fuel for laser tagging.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Yule Bellydance Lesson

I can dance half naked in front of hundreds of people. I can paint myself up like a two bit whore (stage make-up) and prance on out bare tummy, and occasionally cleavage, exposed. But I can't for the life of me get up the guts to wear a two piece swimsuit. And even though I'm on several club DVD's in all these wacky costumes, AND have performed for the local cable channel, I'm somehow not ready to expose my belly on a home video.

Weird and shy as I may be sometimes, I still love to teach. So I present to all of you my first Internet-home-video-bellydance-lesson. With background music! :) Although I wasn't aware that the sound of my coin scarf would act as white noise that almost blocks out the music and my voice. Sorry about that.

Merry Yule everyone! And shimmy on! :P

P.S. For those interested in smoke hands, the video is here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Vampires Can't Bellydance

"You know, I'm curious."
"Hey! I've got the best idea ever!"
"You know what would be really cool?"
It was the first of these phrases, all of which portend doom, that led me to discover this little horror. 

A fellow dancer and I were working on our duet choreography when we had a bit of a mental shut down. Smoke hands are neat and everything, but they can only take you so far into a piece before your audience finally starts to realize the filler. "Hey... I think they've been doing the same move in different directions for three minutes..." So when bellydancers get brain farts we do what every other bored and worn out human being with access to a computer does - we watch Internet videos.

Somehow I got it in my head that typing in the phrase "vampire bellydance" would produce some hilarious results. Oh. And it did. Oh, how it did. Were I to list the things this woman does wrong, I might actually produce a page's worth of ranting. So, leaving aside the fact that she's trying to do veil AND candles, the fact that her music is a mix of everything from folkloric Evanescence  to what sounds like German rap, plus the fact that she's wearing contacts and fake vampire teeth, I have chosen my top gripe with this apparent bellydancer: The woman humps everything in sight! The floor! The air! The audience (Thank the gods, from a distance.)! She gets down and dirty with so many objects that I feel sorry for the curtains for getting left out of the action!

For those of you who don't normally see bellydance, this is NOT bellydance. This is a stripper wearing a bellydance costume. ...And I hope you all find it as wonderfully entertaining and hilarious as my friend and I did when we were grasping at our sides and doubled over laughing (At 2:30 when she's flipping her veil up with both arms: "Oh, God! It's a beached whale! Quick! We must help it flail  back to the ocean!").

I'll be posting a Yule bellydance move for you guys tomorrow, and I leave you with this piece of advice until then: If I ever see any of you on YouTube, blogs, Myspace, Facebook, Photobucket, etc. dancing like this outside of a spooflah, I will hunt you down and make you watch your own video while professional bellydancers berate you.

...but if anyone is bold enough to spoof this, I have no quips or qualms. :P

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Arch Nemesis: Orgonite

"It's VERY powerful!" Screamed the hippie man. He was wearing a purple robe and had a bean-stuffed pyramid hat perched on top of a mass of scraggly, white & brown hair.
"Yeah, I was reading the brochure. So, what does it do, exactly?"
"See, we live amongst many harmful rays because of all the new technology. Do you have a microwave at home?"
"Oh! Well then this would be really good for you to have because you can put it next to the microwave and it will protect you from the deadly waves!"
"That's good, but I'm not really one of those people that puts her face up to the microwave-"
"Well you don't even have to be close for the waves to affect you. I mean, we're surrounded by radio towers and televisions and all kinds of things that can bring you down."
"...Interesting. ...Oh, hey guys! Wait for me! Um, good talking with you. Bye!"

This trippy conversation, that was thankfully cut short by my helpful friends feigning leaving, was what introduced me to the mysterious substance known as orgonite. It was also what has lead to my quandary today.

For those of you who haven't heard of it, orgonite is supposedly a magical substance with countless super human powers - a few of which are listed on
  • Turns negative energy into positive energy.
  • Purifies the atmosphere, detoxifies water, ends drought.
  • Helps plants grow better, repel pests & require less water.
  • Mitigates harmful effects of EMF radiation.
  • Disarms and repels predatory forms of life.
  • Inspires a pleasant demeanor and balanced, happier moods.

I was especially impressed with the claim that this rock ends drought. Who knew that by combining copper wire, random metal shavings, food coloring and resin, that we could solve most of the world's water problems? And it makes plants grow faster? My God! Why are we not mass producing this stuff and sending it to Africa!?

Okay, so orgonite is complete and total bunk (If you'd like to see more of what it's supposedly capable of, check out "Cloud Blasting". If this actually worked I don't think meteorologists would even exist.). Of course, this got me thinking about what Pagans often believe about inanimate objects. Rose quartz attracts love. Basil is good for using in money spells to attain wealth. And it got me wondering, where do we make the distinction between crazy pseudoscience and magick?

Perhaps I should be more clear where I stand. I've always believed in the power of magick and symbolism as extensions of the mind. Brains are powerful tools. I know that if I believe strongly enough that wearing a crystal around my neck will bring me peace it will. That crystal will remind me. Get me thinking about what I can do to have a peaceful day, and I will actively seek out the things that will help me relax (Bubbles!). Not to mention that when I feel at ease, the feeling radiates. Magick awesomness complete. And in this respect, I feel like orgonite makers have a bit of a right to claim that it inspires a pleasant demeanor.

I think the distinction comes somewhere in the realm that goes outside the influence of the human mind. I like to joke with my husband that my wand keeps tigers away.
"Lauren, that's really stupid. How can it possibly keep tigers away."
"Hey. I don't pretend to know the process, but I do know one thing: I don't see any tigers."
When people start claiming that a small block of resin can make plants grow taller just by its very presence, then things start getting a little weird. It jumps to the level of crazy when it claims to purify water and act as a five dollar home security system.

But what do you guys think? Where do we draw the line between magick/belief and crazy claims? Is there a line? Are the concepts of magick and spells just as insane as phrenology (Analyzing someone's personality by the bumps on their head. "Oh my gosh, Mabel! There are several holes in your skull! I'm getting that you suffer from a lot of inactivity.")?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

You Don't Have to be Rich, But...

Cooking Adventure: Baked Teriyaki Chicken
Source: All Recipes
The Bellydance Soundtrack: I got... by Beats Antique
Prep Time: 5 min.
Cook Time: 1hr. 20min.

...It definitely helps. My husband was complaining that I never use the cookbooks we have in the house, and this is very true. Aside from a few choice recipes that are tried and true, I rarely venture outside the Internet and Bon Appetit magazine for new concoctions. So, in an effort to break away from the usual, I took down Mario Batali's book "Molto Italiano". Looking through, here were some of the ingredients listed for some of the simplest recipes:

Manila Clams
Red Mullet
Cremini Mushrooms
Prosciutto di Parma
Dried Shrimp
The Golden Fleece

Okay, so that last one was an add-on on my part, but you get the idea. Apparently, being a celebrity chef must pay really well, because the only place I can go to find any of this is the Metcalfe grocery store in Madison - where, it just so happens, they were having a free chocolate and wine tasting. And whenever there's odd food and mixed with free food I'm there.

The first, chocolatey part was definitely the best bit of the visit. Seventy-two different flavors to choose from! And I really have to recommend the lavender chocolate. The best way to describe it is the way one of the grocery store staff did: "It tastes like it smells! Awesome!" 

The second, eye-popping part can be best described as the walking through hell bit. All the food looked so good. Fresh-baked foccacia, Tilapia and whole Striped Bass, prosciutto (very thinly sliced ham), and... no... could it be? It is! TAQUITOS! ...My grocery store doesn't sell them anymore. And aside from the Taquitos, everything was locally made, organic, and fiscally beyond my reach - like someone was taunting me with a carrot on a string. Well, or a Taquito.

This leads to my dinner tonight, of Baked Teriyaki Chicken. While it didn't come from several local chickens individually loved and read bedtime stories every night until they finally yelled, "Eat us! We can take no more love!", it was inexpensive and tasty. However, my mission to decrease my food budget and shop at this magical grocery store has begun. ...But I think Mario Batali will stay on the shelf a bit longer. Until I get a raise, that is.

1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold water
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
12 skinless chicken thighs

Directions (WARNING Don't skimp on lining your baking tray with aluminum foil! This stuff is so sticky that it can peel the non-stick right off your tray!)
1. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the cornstarch, cold water, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, ginger and ground black pepper. Let simmer, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens and bubbles. 
2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). 
3. Place chicken pieces in a lightly greased 9x13 inch baking dish. Brush chicken with the sauce. Turn pieces over, and brush again. 
4. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Turn pieces over, and bake for another 30 minutes, until no longer pink and juices run clear. Brush with sauce every 10 minutes during cooking.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Stories for the Witchlettes

Recently I've been adventuring around Witchy Grandmother's site and taking in her adorable children's stories. It spurred me to dig out some stories of my own. Well, not quite my own, but ones that I've had with me ever since I was a kid. This particular storybook once had a title on a title page and on a cover, but what remains of the anthology is being held together by one of the great enemies of time itself - duct tape. Flipping through and saying to myself, "Ooh! I remember this one! Ooh! And that one!", I came across one of my favorite, instantly recognized a Pagan theme, and thought I'd pass it on to all of you. Enjoy!
A long time ago old Miss Daw lived in a narrow house on the edge of the town, and young Kate was her little servant. One day Kate was sent up to clean the attic windows, and as she cleaned them she could see all the meadows that lay outside the town. So when her work was done she said to Miss Daw, "Mistress, may I go out to the meadows?"
"Oh, no!" said Miss Daw. "You mustn't go in the meadows."
"Why not, Mistress?"
"Because you might meet the Green Woman. Shut the gate, and get on with your sewing."

The next week Kate cleaned the windows again, and as she cleaned them she saw the river that ran in the valley. So when her work was done she said to Miss Daw, "Mistress, may I go down to the river?"
"Oh, no!" said Miss Daw. "You must never go down to the river!"
"Why ever not, Mistress?"
"Because you might meet the River King. Bar the door, and polish the brasses."

The next week when Kate cleaned the attic windows, she saw the woods that grew up the hillside. And after her work was done she went to Miss Daw and said, "Mistress, may i go up to the woods?"
"Oh, no!" said Miss Daw. "Don't ever go up to the woods!"
"Oh, Mistress, why not?"
"Because you might meet the Dancing Boy. Draw the blinds, and peel the potatoes."

Miss Daw sent Kate no more to the attic, so she stayed in the house and mended the stockings, and polished the brass, and peeled the potatoes. Then Miss Daw died, and Kate had to find another place to live.

Her new home was in the town on the other side of the hills, and as Kate had no money to ride, she was obliged to walk. But she did not walk by the road. As soon as she could she went into the fields, and the first thing she saw there was the Green Woman planting flowers.
"Good morning, young Kate," said she. "And where are you going?"
"Over the hill to the town," said Kate.
"You should have taken the road, if you meant to go quick," said the Green Woman, "for I let nobody pass through my meadows who does not stop to plant a flower."
"I'll do that willingly," said Kate, and she took the Green Woman's trowel and planted a daisy.
"Thank you," said the Green Woman. "Now pluck what you please."
Kate plucked a handful of flowers, and the Green Woman said, "For every flower you plant, you shall always pluck fifty."

Then Kate went onto the valley where the river ran, and the first thing she saw there was the River King in the reeds.
"Good day, young Kate," said he. "And where are you going?"
"over the hill to the town," said Kate.
"You should have kept to the road if you're in anything of a hurry," said the River King, "for I let nobody pass by my river who does not stop to sing a song."
"I will, gladly," said Kate, and she sat down in the reeds and sang:

Early one morning
Just as the sun was rising,
I heard a maiden sing
In the valley below:
O, don't deceive me,
O, never leave me,
How could you use
A poor maiden so?

"Thank you," said the River King, "now listen to me."
And he sang song after song, while the evening drew on, and when he had done, he kissed her and said, "For every song you sing, you shall always hear fifty."

Then Kate went up the hill to the woods on the top, and the first thing she saw there was the Dancing Boy.
"Good evening, young Kate, where are you going?"
"Over the hill to town."
"You should have kept to the road if you want to be there before morning," said the Dancing Boy, "for I let nobody through my woods who does not stop to dance."
"I will dance with joy," said Kate, and she danced her best for him.
"Thank you," said the Dancing Boy. "Now, look at me."
And he danced for her till the moon came up, and danced all night till the moon went down. When morning came he kissed her and said, "For every dance you dance, you shall always see fifty."

Young Kate then went on to the town, where in another little narrow house she became servant to old Miss Drew, who never let her go to the meadows, the woods, or the river, and locked up the house at seven o'clock.

But in the course of time, young Kate married, and had children and a little servant of her own. And when the day's work was done, she opened the door and said, "Run along now, children, into the meadows, or down to the river, or up to the hill, for I shouldn't wonder but you'll have the luck to meet the Green Woman there, or the River King, or the Dancing Boy."

And the children and the servant girl would go out, and presently Kate would see them come home again, singing and dancing with their hands full of flowers.
P.S. Apologies on the scribbles. My 5 year old self got easily distracted.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Handmade Holidays: Giveaway!

Last week I came to a quandry when I realized my friend's birthday party was in less than three hours and I had no gift for her whatsoever. After digging around the apartment and deciding that a half-used journal, some string and one high-heel were not the best of birthday presents, I opted to quick crochet this little guy. He turned out so well that I made him a brother just for fun (This one's name is Pedro.). He's a great little guy to hang on a tree, or to keep you company by your computer and encourage you to Tweet. :)

If you'd like a chance to win Pedro, here's what you can do:

1. Comment on this post (1 pt)
2. Follow me on Facebook or Blogger (1 pt)
3. Post about this giveaway on your own site (2 pts)

Winner will be chosen randomly on Saturday, December 11th

Good luck!
**For those of you who are adept at crocheting and would like to try this yourself, you can find the pattern here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Handmade Holidays - Scarves Au Natural

In my journey to create Yule traditions I've been asking around the blogging community. Many of you have provided me with some excellent ideas, & I'll definitely be trying them out this year.

One that I plan to try taking to heart is a suggestion from Faerie Sage - a homemade pledge. The homemade pledge is a promise to only give gifts that are handmade. This can be handmade by you, or by another. I really like this idea because as we all know, handmade gifts are always the best. They leave us with the best smiles at creativity (A watercolor wedding card from my friend), and laughs for hilarity (The macaroni/bean collage my friend did of him and his girlfriend for their anniversary. It's a little hard to tell the people apart from blobs.). I suppose they're also ones that leave us with the best look of what-is-this-and-what-do-I-do-with-it faces (The Yooper condiment rack my husband and I got at our wedding. It was a bicycle wheel with various condiments hanging from duct tape. Needless to say, it quickly migrated to deer camp.). And while this certainly does still involve me giving gifts around Yule, it's something I think I'll like.

In the spirit of the handmade giver, I would like to pass on a craft I did with my middle schoolers last week. These silk scarves are very fun and easy to make - especially if you need a last minute gift for your witchlets to construct for the family. They're also the perfect donation - the kids will be donating their scarves to local chemotherapy patients this year. Enjoy!

P.S. This can be a very clean process with adults, but a VERY messy one with kids. Do this outside, on concrete, on plastic, or on carpet you plan on replacing anyway. :)

Examples of finished scarves from Karen in the Woods
Supplies Needed
 - white scarves (cotton or rayon works as well but not as nice) - For the silk scarves
 - zip lock bags
 - vinegar (red, white or cider) OR bad wine
 - steel or copper (galvanized steel works but will not give dark colors)
 - dying materials - plants, dirt, teas, coffee (see list below)
 - marking pen

STEP #1 - Lay a silk scarf out flat on your work surface. If it's a windy day you can spray it with a bit of water to keep it from blowing around.

STEP #2 - Sprinkle your dying materials on the scarf. Some of my favorite materials include black tea, dirt, green tea, herbal teas, black beans, herbs and spices. Take a handful of your chosen plant, sprinkle it on half the scarf. Add tea, dirt, or another plant.

STEP #3 - Fold the scarf in half and roll up tightly. The pattern you roll the scarf in will affect the pattern of the finished dyed scarf.

STEP #4 - Wrap the rolled scarf tightly with either copper or steel wire. Label the zip lock bag with the date and if you choose - what materials you used on the scarf.

STEP #5 - Put the scarf in the bag and pour in vinegar or bad wine. You can use a lot of  vinegar, to cover the entire scarf for an overall effect, or just a small amount so that part of the scarf is left white. If you're storing the bag inside it's best to put it in some sort of container in case it leaks.

STEP #6 - Let sit for two weeks. Then take the scarf out of the bag (use gloves or you will stain your fingers!). Remove the wire and shake off the excess material.

STEP #7 - Let dry for two weeks. Then you can hand wash in cold water with Woolite and iron. The heat from the iron seems to be the final heat set. After that you can machine wash, gentle cycle if you wish.

If the scarf isn't very colorful, never fear. Simply use it again.

Produce, Plants and Other Foods to Try
red cabbage                                                                     
black beans
sweet potato

Thursday, December 2, 2010

If All UW-Madison Students Were Pagan

I have the feeling this is what it would be like. All I can say is hooray for Garrison Keillor and the genius that is Prairie Home Companion.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

It is NOT Christmas yet!

"Christmas crept into Pine Cove like a creeping Christmas thing: dragging garland, ribbon, and sleigh bells, oozing eggnog, reeking of pine, and threatening festive doom like a cold sore under the mistletoe."
 - Christopher Moore, "The Stupidest Angel"

The quote is what has been coming to mind, and the title is what I've been yelling from the day before October all the way up to Thanksgiving. At the sight of every prematurely hung garland, and upon passing by houses which traded pumpkins for light-up lawn elves weeks ago, I have shook my fist like a cantankerous old fart in defiance of the Christmas spirit. I finally stepped back and admitted defeat after two events: 1. The arrival of the December issue of Bon Appetit in the mail, and 2. The annual hunt for, and decorating of, the perfect outdoor Christmas tree with my husband and father-in-law. And these, I think, have been the only two things keeping me sane this November/December. 

All of this comes down to one question that has set up camp in my brain this winter: Should I celebrate Christmas? Now, when I say Christmas, I am in fact referring to two holidays. One is the religious one, and one that I've never really celebrated in the first place. When I was younger I enjoyed setting up our manger scene, and as I got older I enjoyed corrupting the manger scene ("Lauren, why are all the figures looking at Mary? Isn't it cool, mom? I made Catholicism!" For those of you playing the home game, Jesus in the middle is Christianity, a tree is paganism, nothing is Unitarianism, the cow is Hinduism, Joseph is freemasonry, and the sheep is a cult.). Still, I've never actually sat down and prayed for the holiday, and never have celebrated the birth of the savior. No. My family and I celebrate the second Christmas - the commercial holiday. We use the time for family, food, and gifts. I'm all for the family and food. Food is a given. :) But I'm not so sure about the gift thing anymore.
Matilda Jane (aka: Tilly) hunting for trees.

Gift giving is an art - what you get, where you get it, how you wrap it, who gets it, etc. This year I'm having difficulty on all fronts. I especially have trouble with this universal expectation that I am supposed to give gifts, but even more, the expectation that I'm supposed to ask for gifts. After leaving the realm of childhood, the whole tradition has become strange to me. Not to mention, when I sit there around the Christmas tree and open present after present of stuff, I start to get pretty mean. I get slightly miffed wondering what I'm going to do with large badger head. Then it slowly turns to angry when I think, "I spend all year giving my stuff away to the Goodwill store! I've finally gotten rid of it and now I'm have to clean again!" I think the spirit of giving is lost on me. 

So if I'm not going to celebrate the commercial or the religious, then what will I celebrate? Yule is definitely there, but I'm trying to create Yule traditions from scratch. I need help. For those of you who celebrate Yule, what kinds of traditions to you have for your family? Where do you find good Yule music outside the Mediaeval Baebes? And where in gods' names do you find Yule cards that don't just say "Happy Holidays"? And for those of you who celebrate Christmas with family and another holiday on your own, how do you mix the two?

These are all in addition to the question I asked my mom a few years ago: "Mom, why do we celebrate Jesus' birth?" "Because he was a good person who helped other people." "...Then how come we don't celebrate Franklin D. Roosevelt's birthday? He was a good person too." "Fine then! Fine! Go celebrate HIS birthday! I don't care! You won't need any presents this year then!" ...I add to holiday stress levels.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Thanksgiving Bellydance Lesson

Normally I have bellydance practice on Tuesdays, but due to the craziness of holidays and exams, practice was up and canceled. And because the teacher in me is itching to get out, and because there are many of you who have expressed interest in bellydance if-only-you-had-a-teacher-near-you, I thought I'd share a bit of dance technique with everyone as my way of saying thanks. The below move is called a smoke hand. It's really good for impressing people at parties, and for some reason grossing our little kids (It's fun to tell them right before you do this that you have no bones in your hand. :P).

Happy Bellydancing Thanksgiving everyone! :)

Monday, November 22, 2010

That'll Clear Your Sinuses! ... And Get You Tipsy.

Cooking Adventure: Sriracha & Wasabi Deviled Eggs
Source: Food & Wine
The Bellydance Soundtrack: Inchalla by Latifa
Prep Time: 4hrs
Cook Time: 30 min.

This weekend le husband was out enjoying a yearly tradition amongst the males of his family: sitting in freezing cold woods & shooting at things. I've occasionally been invited to visit the deer camp cabin, but have so far declined based on the grounds that it's a cesspool of testosterone (i.e. men attempting to be manly men by contesting who has farted up the local atmosphere's percentage of methane). It does stand to reason, though, that if my man leaves to be manly for the weekend, that I can take over the apartment with a girly girl slumber party. 

Each year the party gets more elaborate in decorations or food. And since last fall I went a little crazy getting dollar store decor, this time around it seems I was bit by the cooking bug. I spent most of Friday & all of Saturday prep cooking. It might not have taken so long, if I hadn't completely undercooked the first dozen hard boiled eggs. I ended up having to bike to the store and have another go with a new batch, but this time with specific instructions on how to properly boil an egg (Directions below). Yay,  Internet!

The rest of the recipes will come in due time, but for now I present you with the best hors d'oeuvre of the night. These deviled eggs are soaked in sake for four hours before serving them. Mix the spicy taste of wasabi with the hard alcohol taste, and it's perfect for getting party guests to wake up for the evening. 

  - 1 dozen large eggs
 - 2 cups soy sauce
 - 1/2 cup sake
 - 10 star anise pods
 - 1/2 cup chopped scallions
 - 1/4 cup sugar
 - 1/4 cup coarsely grated peeled fresh ginger
 - 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
 - 1 tablespoon Sriracha (That bottle of red sauce with the rooster on it that often grazes Japanese restaurant tables.)
 - 2 1/4 teaspoons wasabi paste
 - 1/4 cup snipped chives
 - Pinch of Chinese five-spice powder 
1. Hard boil the eggs
2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the soy sauce with the sake, star anise, chopped scallions, sugar and grated ginger. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Transfer the mixture to a heatproof bowl and let cool completely.
3. Drain the water from the large saucepan and shake the pan gently to crack the eggs. Cool the eggs slightly under cold running water, then peel them under running water. Add the eggs to the soy mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the eggs for at least 4 hours.
4. Drain the eggs and rinse lightly to remove any bits of scallion or ginger; pat dry. Using a slightly moistened thin, sharp knife, cut the eggs in half lengthwise. Gently pry the egg yolks into a medium bowl and mash with a fork. Stir the mayonnaise, Sriracha, wasabi and 3 tablespoons of the snipped chives into the mashed yolks. Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a star or plain tip. Set the egg whites on a serving platter and pipe in the filling. Sprinkle the deviled eggs with the remaining 1 tablespoon of chives and the Chinese five-spice powder and serve.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Story Time

Sometimes I just want to say, "Forget it! The week has been so insane that I can't blog without turning this into a complaint post about being busy! I'm just going to post links to cute and funny things and be done with it!" Well, I could do that, but there's only so much Internet vomit* one page can take. So today I would like to present what I can only hope may be puked up on other websites in the future - Story Time.
The Madison Zombie Lurch - 2009
Every year the walking dead of Madison protest for their rights as equal, if just a bit handicapped, citizens. After the group of 30 plus zombies perform their cultural rendition of "Thriller", they proceed to shuffle, stumble, and lurch down the street leading from the capitol to campus. And because the living dead held their dance rehearsals at the local Middle Eastern dance studio, there was ample representation from the decomposing Raqs Sharki community.
Minnesota State Fair 2009 - The Princess Kay Display

My brother and I used to behold these buttery carvings of local beauty queens, and wonder just how they meet their eventual death. The butter sculptures stay up for the week & a half of state fair fun - shown off in a rotating display case in the dairy building. If we happened to be there at just the right time, we'd get to see the next Princess Kay posing on a stool in the middle - bundled up in her winter finery in the cooler while a sculptor chipped away at the next giant butter ball. What my brother and I could never figure out was: If the families of the girls get the butter sculptures at the end of the fair, what do they do with them? Do they actually use them? And if so, what facial extremity do they dig into first? My brother told me if it were me, he'd take my nose. I always preferred lovingly jamming a butter knife into the eye.
Do I really need to explain this one?**
I will always remember the head-on photo of several sheep butts that was framed and mounted in my Florida home. I asked my dad about it once and he told me that it was a prize-winning photo. Of course, my first reaction to this was to raise my eyebrows and yell for Mom to corroborate his story.  Sure enough. Years ago he had worked with a company that had an office photography contest. One of the employees was absolutely ecstatic because he himself was an amateur photographer. Hoping to get the perfect shot, he spent days on this -dragging out all his lenses and his knowledge of technique (This, my dad knows because he's the type of person that listens in on office gossip and then hordes the information within his family.). Meanwhile, my dad either took at the moment or dug up out of storage (accounts vary) the sheep butt photo. Thinking it was pretty funny he submitted it. And it won. My dad couldn't remember what the prize was at the time, but I think his real prize was getting to see his coworker fuming over ram hineys.
*Internet vomit (n): the phenomenon that occurs when the life of a blogger becomes so devoid of entertaining events, that said blogger must resort to petty outside links, effectively ingesting original information from the main source and then barfing it onto their own site in a gooey, dripping Rorschach of embedded YouTube videos, Lolcats and photos of shiny things.

**It's The End. :P

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Perfect Shot

There are very few things in this world from which I demand perfection. The first was, and has always been, markers and crayons. When I was a kid, my parents got me a set of 60 professional art markers and blank computer paper. I remember being so excited that I had this rainbow of inky goodness that I spent a good half hour sitting around wondering what to draw first. In the end, I decided to save them for special occasions - namely, letters to Grandma and notebook designs. I also decided that the best way to use this veritable artistic toolbox would be to bring it to school, show them off, and proceed to horde it. And horde it, I did. I never trusted the other kids with my markers. I would watch them furiously scribble out designs with their fat hands clamped over their fat Crayolas. The beautiful tips that once graced the markers would soon be scraped away down to flattened nubs of things. The horror continued after the markers were jambed back into the box - IN THE WRONG ORDER. I would sit there thinking, "That's not where the red goes! ROY G BIV man! ROY G BIV!!" I would watch the marker boxes get shoved into desks, the poor cardboard shredded and wounded. Inevitably, the kids would ask to borrow my markers, and I would clutch them to my chest and answer with such a defiant "no" that the grubby fat hands would retreat back to their desks to console themselves in peeling dried glue off each other.

I feel that I'm getting much the same with my camera. I operate with a little Cannon Powershot - not that high up on the camera pyramid, but usable and portable nonetheless. It's not that I horde the Cannon like I did the markers. I'm perfectly fine with friends, family and coworkers using it on occasion. My beef comes with the actual photos. The usual reason why I've lent out my camera is so that I can finally have a photo of myself for a change - those times when I want photographic evidence of my experiences. And, were it not for some brief lendings on my honeymoon, it would be impossible for me to prove that I ever went to Alaska. But even though I now have pictures of me in head-to-toe sea kayaking gear, I'm missing the top portion of my head. In other photos I'm blurry. The one picture I have of my husband and I on a train has "Caution: Watch Head" printed on the metal right next to us (Okay, that one was a little funny; but you get my point.). 

I believe it is up to us, the general public, to educate ourselves on basic and slightly advanced photography techniques - just as it is parents' and teachers' duty to teach their kids proper marker care. It really would make the world a better place, as we would all be more willing to share our art supplies.

*If you really would like to see some brilliant photography, I suggest stopping by Focus My World. Michele's photos are filled with vibrant colors, some very creative angles, and perfect examples of how light in the right spot can really bring out a subject.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Dark & Light Samhain

Cooking Adventure: Baked Apples
The Bellydance Soundtrack: Aria by Medieval Baebes
Prep Time: 20 min.
Cook Time: 30-45 min.

I've always loved the Medieval Baebes, and one day I will find the time to choreograph a veil piece to one of their gorgeous songs. For now, though, I'm letting their music carry me into the new year. The baebes song, "Aria", talks about children chasing their shadows. The lyrics go:

The shadowe catchen they ne might,                                       This shadow never shall be caught
Fo no lines that they couthe lay.                                              In any trap they lay.
This shadewe I may liken aright                                              This shadow in the likeness
To this world and yesterday.                                                   Of this world and yesterday.

We can never have the past back - although some of us try. And those of us who do will only find ourselves grasping at shadows of what was. This is the darker side of Samhain - the pain that we experience when relatives or friends pass onto the next life. Whether that next life is Heaven, reincarnation, or even decomposition, we mourn the emptiness that's created when that person leaves us.

But whatever your beliefs, we can all agree that death is never the end. Our spirits move on, memories are made and kept (And sometimes, as is the case with my father-in-law's stories, embellished.), and our bodies go to feed the earth. Several of my Mexican students are celebrating Día de los Muertos tonight. They will cook food for the dead, tell their (possibly embellished) stories, and finally, will end the night praying for their loved ones who have passed. They will also light candles for the dead in order to guide them home for the night. Tonight I took from the Catholic page a bit and lit my own candle for my grandma.

I acknowledged death, but I also celebrated life. And what better way to enjoy life than through desert - an ending that only encourages us to cook more sugary endings. In this case, it has inspired my husband to cook on the next sabbat (He's already itching to cook goose for Yule.). 

A Blessed Samhain to you all. May we be ready to face the new year and the adventures it brings us.

 -4 large good baking apples, such as Rome Beauty, Golden Delicious, or Jonagold
 -1/4 cup brown sugar
 -1 teaspoon cinnamon
 -1/4 cup chopped pecans
 -1/4 cup currants or chopped raisins
 -1 Tbsp butter
 -3/4 cup boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Wash apples. Remove cores to 1/2 inch of the bottom of the apples. It helps if you have an apple corer, but if not, you can use a paring knife to cut out first the stem area, and then the core. Use a spoon to dig out the seeds. Make the holes about 3/4-inch to an inch wide.
2. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, currants/raisins, and pecans. Place apples in a 8-inch-by-8-inch square baking pan. Stuff each apple with this mixture. Top with a dot of butter (1/4 of the Tbps).
3. Add boiling water to the baking pan. Bake 30-40 minutes, until tender, but not mushy. Remove from the oven and baste the apples several times with the pan juices.
4. Serve warm.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Changing of Faces

"Halloween is the one night a year 
when girls can dress like a total slut 
and no other girls can say anything about it."
~ Lindsay Lohan, "Mean Girls"

This quote came to mind as I was driving through the downtown last night. Every manner of "hot" costume was parading in 3-inch heel, off-balance zig-zags down the streets. Firemen with hot pants jambed up butt cracks. Rainbow Brites that could easily bump the lovable cartoon up to PG-13. And several Playboy Bunnies that seemed to be lost not only on the street but also in inebriation.  Yes. Every year I poke fun. And every year I scoff at the long-legged, half-naked sorority clones huddling together for warmth against the forty degree wind chill. And damn it, every year I get that secret yearning to join them in skankdom.

And luckily, just as I was considering a purchase of some kind of skin-baring monstrosity (Like the hot Snow White, or the hot kitty, ...or the hot plumber? Ew.), a bellydancing friend put out the invitation for what is becoming a yearly tradition. Her family owns a small farm house and cow ranch just a few miles out of town - the absolutely perfect location for a Halloween party.* As well as the perfect location for a costume photo shoot. Several of us chipped in bags of costuming and our photography skills until we lost our light for the evening.

Then it was off with the costumes to munch on hors d'ouvres, fry up some burgers, and watch the terrible movie of choice - Fire and Ice. Ah, rotoscoped, half-naked, no-visible-plot line, 80's goodness. 

This was, beyond a doubt, one of the best Halloweens I've ever had. I hope everyone enjoys theirs tonight! Happy Halloween!

*Apparently, this is also the perfect place to test the amount of love your daughter's new boyfriend has for her. Elena tried bringing her boyfriend (now fiance) home for the weekend only to be thwarted by her parents - who weren't exactly comfortable with the two sleeping in the same location. Instead, Andrew was required to spend the night alone in this farm house, several miles away from Elena's house, in the middle of nowhere, with funny smells, inhuman sounds, mouse skeletons and box elder bugs, and only one light out by a decomposing barn.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Thank You Post

It's time. Well, it was actually time back at Mabon - but none-the-less! I feel that these few crazy days before the end of the year are just perfect to dish out some long overdue thank you's...
Thank you to the Witchy Godmother, Faerie Sage and Jennifer for the triple Triple Blog Award (I suppose that makes it the Three Cubed Blog Award... or the Twenty-seven Blog Award?). It feels good to get an award from three ladies whose writings and music I so enjoy. Actually, Witch Godmother, I have to confess that I first followed your site because I loved your hat in your profile photo. I thought, "A woman with a hat like that has got to be fun." And Faerie Sage, I really enjoy seeing your photos of your cooking adventures. Jennifer, I've been listening to your play list as a radio for the last hour. :) I don't normally pass awards along (fifteen is a lot!) but if I did I would hand you all a Three Cubed Blog Award as well. 

Thank you to Plumrose and everyone else who entered the contest for my amigurumi toad. Can you believe it? I actually got a request to make another one from the post office worker who helped me mail the little guy yesterday (Apologies on the lateness PR. He said it should get to you by Saturday at the latest.)! He's even going to pay me for it! Maybe this is a future small business for me? :)

A big thank you to Leeanna for always keeping our spirits up with the absolutely insane videos she finds for us, and for waking up the latent Texan in me. And to Mrs. BC - I love your stories! I especially love hearing about life in, what one of my students calls, "opposite land". ("Jacob, it's not quite opposite. It's just in the southern -" "No! It's opposite land! The toilet water flushes the other way! That makes it opposite!" "...But couldn't we be the opposite ones?" "No, because our toilets flush the right way. Duh!" I tried BC. It was a losing battle.)

And a special thank you to the other bellydancing witches out there - RetroKali and Soraya. RetroKali, I love the video reviews you do. They're some of the only ones I've found that have women (and men) with different body types outside of tall and skinny. And Soraya, I love reading about your Florida adventures in bellydance, college and fire poi. It makes me want to move back! :)

And it might sound like an Oscar speech, but a big thank you to all of the followers out there. Not just the once on DWASW, but even the ones that follow other sites. You really are the ones that keep blogs going, and you're the ones that have kept this blog going. Isn't it cool to have powers? :)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Life, Death, & Rebirth

I've been watching the trees so much lately. Madison moves a bit slower than the forests up north, so this week marks the end of the oranges, reds & yellows for the year. One maple in front of the apartment has been desperately trying to hold onto it's foliage - giving the effect of a balding, medieval monk. As funny as it looks, I understand the need to keep the things we know and love. Let's face it, for many of us, change scares the crap out of us. One day we're sprouting buds, and the next day we're losing them again. And while that usually takes years - or in the tree's case, one year - I feel like the change in my life has come like some kind of midnight frost, and all of a sudden I'm buck naked for the winter.

To start, my second niece was born in early August, and already her baptism is coming up in two weeks. My husband and I acted as godparents for my first niece at her baptism. We were so nervous because, although we have been in a church before, neither of us had ever been in any kind of Christian ceremony. The two of us kind of stood like doufuses as the minister gingerly guided us through each step of the process - like he was teaching ballroom dancing to the rhythmically challenged. Everyone was grinning at us the whole time because my sister-in-law had explained to the minister that I was Wiccan, my husband was humanist, her husband was atheist, her parents were recovering Catholic/Seventh Day Adventist, and she was United Church of Christ. He was so happy to hear about a family coexisting amongst religious differences that I think he almost wet his pants. Thankfully, he didn't. But he did end up giving a sermon about religious tolerance. So our family ended up being the visual aide for the entire congregation the week after. This time we're not the godparents, but we still get to go and see my niece swimming around in a yard or two of baptism gown.

I must say I'll need a good celebration of life. After choosing to be off her medication several weeks ago, my last, & favorite, grandma passed away yesterday in her sleep. She would tell me I'm not supposed to have favorites, but I'll never break the love I've had for her since I was old enough to have lasting memories. She was always the grandma that spoiled me rotten (Once she sent me home with two bags of M&M's disguised in a purse she had given me. My parents were none the wiser until they saw the empty bags two hours later and the inevitable sugar high that would last most of the car trip home.).  But she was always the grandma that supported me in every way, telling me, "Lauren, you can do whatever you want in life as long as you're happy and healthy. ... But don't get old! You're not allowed to get old!" Every person has that certain smell, too. And yesterday I buried my face in an afghan my grandma had given me just to take it in again. She smelled like flowery perfume, polyester, and fabric softener; she smelled like the 50's. My grandma is the person that, if I could have been selfish and held onto her just a bit longer, I would have in a second.

But if the season teaches us anything, it's that nature and life have a way of balancing themselves out. And while no one will ever be able to replace my grandma, there are always those to celebrate who are with you through those hard times. Last weekend my best friend finally got married after dating/being-engaged-to his girlfriend/fiance for five years. The wedding day was fairly chaotic, with the florist not being able to get the correct flowers, being an hour & a half late, and delivering the flowers to the wrong church. The bride, who is usually a happy camper, was not. The hair stylist ended up only booking one chair for the bride instead of the whole party, and the veil almost got crushed in the bottom of a suitcase. Luckily, the flowers got there in time, the hair got did, and my friend saved the veil by blowing it smooth with a hair dryer. When it finally came time to watch the bride walk up the aisle, I was focused on the groom's face. We've been best friends for years, and the look on his face when his fiance came in was the same one he gets when he decides that something is going to be fun. It's also possible that he was telling himself a joke. We stayed up all night partying and swing dancing (And I gave a quick toast that was just fine. Although, I kind of forgot to actually give a toast. That's okay, the groom covered for me.). 

It's these moments that mesh together to make life; and frankly, I sometimes think I've had enough of it. The seasons move on though, and we try to accommodate, mourn and celebrate every moment and every memory as much as we can. I'm reminded of the first Samhain ritual I ever attended, and the first Samhain chant I ever learned:

I do not seek to stop,
To stop the wheel of change.
I do not seek to stop the wheel of change.
But to dance.
Yes to dance.
Let us dance in it's turning.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Simplicity Amongst Chaos

Cooking Adventure: Cinnamon Corn Tortillas
Source: Me
The Bellydance Soundtrack: 
 Fleecing Punters by Pentaphobe 
(Because it's a slow, plodding kind of song. And sometimes we need that.)
Prep Time: 3-5min.
Cook Time: 10 min.

Have you ever had that feeling of complete and total boredom that comes when you get into your car to run the tenth errand of the day? Tomorrow I'm heading to our friendly Midwestern neighbor, Minnesota. And despite the fact that it's a trip to serve as the best matron in my friend's wedding, I can't help but want to claw at the car windows. Sure my Corolla is taking me to new and exciting events. I don't mind those. It's the broken days that come from the drumming beat of in-the-car-out-the-car-in-the-car-out-the-car. Trust me. That's a beat that is not fun to dance to.

In addition, I'm in charge of giving the wedding toast to a reception hall of 200 people. This after I've strutted through giving toast speeches for high school and college projects. With quite the undeserved sense of accomplishment, I'd give excellent toast speeches. Ones worthy of the A's I got. And I'd swagger away with my grade thinking, "Suckers. I'm a girl! I'll never have to do this in my life!" And now the hammer has come down on my head. I'm giving the toast for my best friend that I've known all through high school and college, and I have no idea what to say. I believe that were any of my previous speech teachers dead right now, they'd be having a good chuckle at my expense (in that way that only the recently dead who have attained slight omnipotence can do).

In the midst of tediousness and stress, a simple recipe is a welcome relief. These corn tortillas came from a recipe for sweet potato & apple soup (which turned out a bit complex and tedious itself). I nixed the salt to leave it as just a quick, handmade snack for yet another car trip.

- Yellow corn tortillas
- 2-3 cups of vegetable oil for frying
- Cinnamon
- Sugar
1. Cut the tortillas into 1 inch strips.
2. Mix equal amounts of sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Around 2Tbsp. of each does the trick.
3. Pour in the vegetable oil into a large skillet. The trick with frying is to pour in enough oil so whatever you're frying won't hit the bottom. Since we're working with flat tortillas, you don't need too much oil. Heat the oil on medium-high heat.
4. Fry the tortilla strips until golden (Around 2 minutes to start, but the process will go a bit faster with every batch as the oil heats up). Shake off extra oil and remove them onto a paper towel to drain.
5. Immediately sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mix on the tortillas.
6. Let them cool for a minute and enjoy!

P.S. Does anyone else ever feel this need to simplify? I'm curious to know what other people's ways are of slowing things down.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

And the winner is...

Primrose Lane!

Congratulations! You win this frog head and a green olive!
Heh, heh. Just kidding. :) He's in the final stages of being put together. Drop me an email & let me know where I should send him this week.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Ah! I Got Tagged!

 "Oh holy gods!! What the? OH GOD! That's some kind of... woah!" This went on for quite a while as I cleaned out the cupboard where I found the rotten, moldy, liquefied bag of potatoes yesterday. For the love of all that is good, people, use your potatoes! Or suffer nasty, disgusting nose-wrenching wrath!

Also, a while back Geeksandwich over at Unicorn Pencil threw out some random questions for me. And if there's anything I'm ready for after a very long week and battling potato stink, it's random questions. :P

**And no. The sewer horse has nothing to do with anything. It just makes me giggle.

1: Would you call yourself a geek?
Hm... I enjoy making Monty Python references. I listen to public radio all the time. And I fully enjoy Katamari for PS2. I think so.
2: Where do you like to hang out?
Absolutely downtown Madison and anywhere that offers free Taquitos. If anyone finds that second place, let me know.
3: If you could have ANYTHING for a pet, what would it be?
God. I'd teach it to do tricks! "Go God! Go! Get the stick! Good job! ...Oh no... a robber! Smite 'em boy! Smite 'em! <Lightning explosion> Excellent."
4: If you could only eat one kind of food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Don't make me choose!
5: Do you wanna help me blow stuff up?
I've already got my safety goggles on.
6: Rock, paper, or scissors?
My pet God.
7: If you could meet any celebrity, who would it be?
Zoe Jakes - most amazing tribal fusion bellydancer ever
8: What kind of clothes do you wear?
The kind without holes, and bellydance costumes.