Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Handfasting

A few months ago, dear friends asked my sister and me to prepare a handfasting for them. They would be having a church wedding as well. The handfasting was a more personal choice for them. We'd all met years ago at the Renaissance Faire, and are fond of archaic, ancient rituals that have been left behind. The symbolic binding of a couple's hands is the basis for the terms we've come to know as "the bonds of holy matrimony" and "tying the knot". During the Middle Ages, public hand-holding signified exclusivity in a relationship. Handfastings were considered to be valid for a year and a day - or as long as the couple chose to commit to one another. Rings were only for the very rich, so a ceremony involving a cord sufficed.
The cord signifies that the couple has chosen to pledge to share their higher selves and all that is divine within them. It is tied loosely and removed without being untied so that it remains as a circle.
There are many circles in a handfasting. Most couples choose to wear circles of flowers and greens upon their heads, and for Laura and Robbie, the celebrants encircled us, holding hands. The circle represents the infinite love that knows no boundaries or restrictions.

Because our ceremony was planned across many miles while the couple was working hard on the larger wedding - and because we've known them so well for so long - we put together instruction and vows that we knew they'd like.
The final symbolism in the handfasting is for the couple to jump over a broom. The broom sweeps away any remnants of the past which no longer serve us. They jump together into their common future. In this case, we did not have "Cakes and Ale" because the wedding feast was yet to come.
It was really delightful to be able to share in their love and commitment to one another. They have been together through some very thick and thin times. Robbie is a force of nature, and Laura is a an amazing woman filled with talent and empathy. The circle of friends that gathered to be with them were wonderful, warm, and witty. It was the best party I've been to in a very long time. The solid fog that socked in the mountainside was almost a welcome sight, because it meant that we rented a room, allowing us to partake of all the more merrymaking!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Internets, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

Every so often it hits me that the young'uns around here don't remember the days before the internet. That just floors me. My daughter has no recollection of a day before email. By the time she was 6 or 7, computers were a part of our lives.
Does anyone even remember DOS? I still have nightmares about the UniVac mainframe that was part of my job as a police dispatcher back in the late 70's. It was a blank screen with a blinking cursor. The Home key, and the Escape key were very important. I still distinctly remember the day that I spent 6 hours entering a stolen car with a boat and boat trailer - only to recieve a call that it had been found. Then having to remove it.
It isn't like it was all that long ago, and yet in a handful of years, everything changed. It's remarkable, really.
When my sister and I started in business during the early 90's, I can remember spending a day or two sitting and writing notes to different suppliers, requesting catalogs and sales sheets. Some we phoned. In order to find new suppliers, we needed to go to the New York Gift Show, and comb through the bazillion booths in order to find a few that were relevant to our business. It was grueling - and fun. We got to meet some amazing people. But everything was slower. Much slower. Orders were placed over the telephone, or later the fax.

Staying in touch with friends was also more deliberate and it took more time. Sometimes it was phone calls, sometimes letters - and sometimes we just lost track of each other, tossed around by the winds like seeds from a maple tree.

Without the internet, it would be impossible for an independent magazine to exist and prosper (at least for me). How would the word get out? How would the articles arrive? Oh, the typing involved, and then I couldn't even email the file to the printer!

Now I will run into friends and they will tell me that they keep up with me by reading the blog (HI!). I am always aware of that as I write, and sometimes picture a myriad of faces while tapping away on the keys. Some are faces that I've never seen, and only make up to match the personality I've come to know as a cyber friend. Seriously, folks... would you have believed that 20 years ago? Certainly in the beginning there was a dearth of civility, as people tore into each other on forums and established pecking orders. It seemed that the internet would be a harsh place, and yet we've learned to use it more gently over the years. Looking at that evolution, we progressed very rapidly, thank goodness!

I've finally gotten a cellphone, but can never remember to take it with me anywhere. I've never sent a text message. Dragging my feet, I just don't know how many sea changes I can handle in a decade. I mean, I still remember telephones that were on party-lines. Oh oh... before I wind up sounding WAY too much like Andy Rooney, I will wrap this up!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Perhaps December should be renamed Zippy

I am well aware of the fact that time passes much more quickly as we age. At 4, I can recall wanting to go to school so badly, and the wait went on forever. In school, I couldn't imagine ever graduating. In my 20's, all of the seasons seemed to last forever. Now in my 50's, it would seem that each month is but a day or two, with the occasional bad month lasting an eternity.
But what the heck happened to December? I mean, really! Last night I went to bed and it was mid-November. Suddenly the Solstice has passed and we are on the doorstep of Christmas rushing headlong into 2010! Truth be told, I don't even think I got used to writing 2009 yet (or even 20 anything, for that matter).
So yes, this may be a bit of exaggeration, but not much. I keep thinking of that Steve Miller song, "Time keeps on slippin', slippin, slippin, into the future..."
The upside of this of course, is that next time I wake up it will just about be spring. The seed catalogs are arriving now. They are so beautiful! Most of them have an old-timey feel (there's that theme again), and the one I got from Landreths' today is just breathtaking. This is their 225th year celebration, and the catalog has some truly frame worthy artwork inside. The cover is from their 1884 catalog, for instance.
I suppose I'd better hurry and plan the garden before fall is upon me once more.
This month has flown by so quickly. Between holding classes, getting the newest issue of the magazine out, shipping orders (the jar is 3/4's full that holds the entries for the vessel pendant!) and helping with Maryanne's soap, it seemed impossible for it to be time for Molly to be home for college already. Yet last night, she and friend Lisa were upstairs, just like the old days, whooping and laughing. The Balms and Salves making DVD is grinding along at a pretty slow pace, but once we get a good chunk of time to really sit down and work on it, that will go very quickly.
Anyhow, this is just to let you know that I'm still alive. Just hopping and skipping along. Probably see you in the new year if not before, so HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Random Thoughts on a Rainy Day...

#1 - It is important to pay attention when removing a pizza from the oven. On the other hand, when the business side of said pizza smacks against the drawers and cabinets, A) try not to mention it until AFTER it has been consumed, and B) know that it may take several days to find all of the cheesy grease.

#2 - It is appallingly stunning to realize how quickly a beautiful, well planned Christmas tree farm can turn into a mud bog of mythical proportions. It is also amazing how quickly cold weather can fix that.

#3 - I still remember and long for the day when the engine light would go on in the car and you could turn into the closest gas station where they'd pop the hood and have a look as part of the normal service. Sigh....

#4 - If you have a chronically ill person in the house, NEVER say or post anything about how well they have been getting along. Doing so is asking for trouble.

#5 - and perhaps most important - when preparing for a tea class, do not assume that even half of the participants will be able to eat scones. Have some gluten-free offerings available.

#6 - If there is a spectacular meteor shower going on, it will inevitably rain.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

It's the most _____ time of the year!

Everyone experiences this time - we'll just say December - differently. For some of us it is full of hope and cheer, and I remember visiting a friend as a child where their tree must have been 12 feet tall and covered with handmade beaded ornaments that the mother had made to resemble faberge eggs. It must have taken her all year! It still boggles my mind. For some it is a good deal more challenging.

My Christmas memories have to do more with the charming way that my grandfather attempted to inspire wonder in the 5 children and his daughter who all landed unceremoniously in the little house he'd been sharing with my grandmother.

Poppy strung the lights every year. Those big bulbs lined the rooftop, and he usually tried to do it when we were in town doing some shopping, so that we'd arrive home to the light show. He got all the good jobs... it was also his assignment to take the kids out looking at lights so that Mom and Mimi could get some wrapping done. In the meantime, we'd all be begging for a tree because all the kids at school had theirs up weeks ago. But no, ours was delivered by Santa - code for: Poppy went out on Christmas Eve and purchased a leftover tree on a lot, dragging it in after we went to sleep. The adults then decorated it with glass balls, lights, and that leaden tinsel of olden times. Sometimes Poppy would get up on the roof and stomp around with a set of sleighbells. Of all my relatives, Poppy was the most magical. That man had some crazy whimsy about him, but most people never knew it. A carpenter by day, he must have spent a lot of time thinking about how he would enchant us. He died a long time ago. I was only 14, and still miss him now.

For my mom, Christmas was an accusation of sorts. It didn't really show when we were kids. She was a great actress. But as we got older, it would throw her into despair, as if all the lights and love and cheerful greetings taunted her with the things that didn't turn out as she'd hoped. Every year she would try so hard to make things right, and every year she saw herself falling short of expectations only she had. Poor Momma never knew that her happiness would have meant more than anything money could buy.

Because we live in this loose commune, there are at least 4 businesses running between 3 adults. One of them is a Christmas tree farm, and we add a shop for the month of December, just to showcase the soap, books, teas, etc., that we do all year long. We have classes (although the last one of the year is today). We do lots of stuff, and the danger is in losing the fun of the season - I'm sure MANY self-employed people can share that sentiment. Last year we celebrated the holiday in mid-January! We won't do that again, though. Anyhow, if we aren't careful, we can lose sight of everything good that's going on. Nose to the grindstone, it's hard to see beyond the spray of grit.

In the long run, I'd have to say that I've finally learned to enjoy this time and let the expectations go. Maybe some old friends will pass through town while visiting family, and we'll get together. The kid will be home from college and the house will fill with young voices and the tempo of youth. We'll all let each other know in one way or another that we love each other - in spite of transgressions and hurts.

Whatever you wind up doing this December, enjoy the people you love.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Jan/Feb 2010 - The Essential Herbal Magazine

The latest issue hit the mailstream yesterday. It won't arrive in most homes for another couple of weeks, and up until the 15th, we'll still be starting new subscriptions with the Nov/Dec issue (unless requested otherwise in the comments section of the shopping cart), BUT we are actually a good week ahead of schedule! Our contributors are spectacular, and they stay ahead of deadlines. I am so grateful for their generous and giving natures. Herbies are the best! Certainly in the past I would have waited another week to post the cover and table of contents. Apparently 2009's lesson was that if there is a moment available to accomplish something, grab it! Oh look! There's a moment available... so here's the new issue :-).
Inside the bright cover, we have an embarrassment of riches to share!
Field Notes from the Editor
Winter Haikus from Sue-Ryn Burns
Down on the Farm, A Dilly of an Herb... Michele Brown and Pat Stewart give us the low-down on 2010's Herb of the Year.
Dilled Salmon Cream Cheese Tea Sandwiches, Susan Wittig Albert
Scrambled Herbs Puzzle, Janet Teas
Warming Winter Recipes - Cold & Flu Care, Betsy May. Instructions for body butter, sore throat spray, mustard plaster, ginger honey and MORE, this article is full of great ideas.
Elderberry Eases Winter Woes, Mary Hammond (includes a wonderful syrup recipe)
Happy New Year, Susan Evans delivers some quick tips for de-stressing and dreaming big.
The Global Herbal, Australia (Part 1), Marita A Orr tackles the background of herbs and their usage fon the continent down under.
Take-Apart Soap Mold - Cory Trusty gives clear, illustrated instructions for building an inexpensive, professional mold for your soaping adventures!
Tales from the Tetons - Kristena Haslam focuses on Osha for this article.
Aloe, Gail Faith Edwards. Beginning with the words, "The word Aloe in Sanskrit means Goddess", Gail takes us through the history and medicinal uses of this wonderful, easy to grow plant.
Wintertime Soups, Mary Ellen Wilcox How does Curried Pumpkin Soup sound? Sweet Potato Corn Chowder? These are some of the selections that Mary Ellen shares for the cold, winter days.
Roseroot! Not the Rose You Think, Joe Smulevitz C.H.M.H. brings light to Rhodiola Rosea, aka roseroot, Arctic root, and golden root.
How to Build an Herb Drying Rack, Karen Hood is another terrific project with simple, clear instructions so that we'll be ready when the herbs are knocking themselves out next summer.
Historic Herbal: Pearls, Kathleen Setzer - Kat has a penchant for finding ancient, fascinating ways to use herbs. In this issue, pearled lozenges - using real pearls!
The Soap Pot, Slow Cooker Soap in Winter, Alicia Grosso - another method for making soap!
Dill Pesto Recipe
Herbal Extracts, Cindy Jones... there's more than one way to skin a um ... extract an herb.
Pineapple Sage Jelly, Karen Mallinger. Once again our left-brained friend steps out of her comfort zone and finds that maybe her right brain IS still functioning.
Celebrating Oats, Susan Evans. She knows how to celebrate AND stay healthy. Oatmeal bath, granola, and oatmeal crisp recipes included.
Rose Hip Butter, Mary Graber. Known as Mountain Mary on our Yahoo! list, Mary posted this recipe and allowed us to use it in the magazine, too.
Louisianna Lagniappe - Sweetheart Rose Brownies, Sarah Liberta. Quick, easy and oh so delicious and special. Sarah does it again!

So there you have it folks. So much stuff to make, do, and learn in the coming months. We love this issue and are pretty sure you will too.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

snowy cheer

Yesterday I awoke with the kind of dread that few people understand. I am terrified of driving in the snow. Up until my late 20's this was not the case. But on my 29th birthday, a series of 3 weather related accidents in as many weeks changed me into a quivering mass of nerves when the skies darkened in winter. The vistas from my home mean that there is no way to get home (or out) without twists and turns on steep hills.A month or so ago, I signed up for a Reiki class. This is something that's been on the peripherals of my thoughts for at least 20 years, and so finally the time seemed right.
When the forecast for snow arrived, it actually sickened me... but it was only going to be flurries, and the class would most likely be over by dark...
Well no - on both counts. Knees and hands shaking, I borrowed my brother's Outback, and headed out.
The class was wonderful. Much more than I expected or hoped for! The group was informal and everyone was incredibly open and delightful. As the afternoon progressed, I could see the enormous flakes settling onto the market roof across the alleyway.
In the city, the streets were only wet. Driving out to the edge of town, they started getting slushy. By the first little town I pass through, the road was snow-covered, and the dinner plate sized flakes were difficult to see through. I was humming at the top of my lungs (because that's a nervous habit of mine).
Imagine my relief when I spotted a cinder truck turning up onto the road that would eventually lead to my house! Normally, I would NEVER take that road because there are 2 gnarly s-turns that are both very steep, but hey! the truck would lead me.
Hah! That so and so turned off *just* before the first s-turn. Now I would be forced to do it alone. And so I did. And it was fine. It was almost fun, and between that and the residual bliss from the class, my brother (who had been pretty worried because it was getting late) exclaimed that I looked pretty happy for having gone through that experience.
It will still scare me to drive in the snow. But *maybe* I can work through this.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

simpler shopping

Every year I climb on the soapbox for a couple of minutes to say a few words about the benefits of shopping with small, family owned businesses. It isn't that I don't understand why some things really need to come from places that don't fall under that description! Computers and cameras don't grow on trees. My own sensibilities and choices lead me to what appears to be a future of eternal bargain hunting, so I also know that price matters - a lot.
So what can we do to make this particular season less stressful and draining? Personally, the mall sucks energy out of me so fast I can almost see it floating off. I haven't been in our local mall in a very long time. That's just zero fun. Big boxes? Also not any fun. If you have little ones, that can be very difficult, and you do what you have to do - no judgement here.
The internet has created communities where we know each other - much like we used to know the shopkeepers of 30 or 40 years ago. Because of that, I really enjoy shopping with the people I know on the internet. Many of them also happen to be advertisers in the magazine, and can be found along the right hand side of this post. You can take my word for it when I tell you that each of those businesses is run by a person or family that I know and trust.
The downtowns are also starting to come back, vibrantly, full of individuality and life. Talented artisans and craftsmen, great unusual shops, art galleries, museum shops, you name it! They're coming back to life in a deliciously different way. That is how I remember holiday shopping years ago! We'd meet downtown, shop around, grab a bite at a coffee shop or deli, and catch the bus home. It was so much fun, exciting, bracing, and it put us in a holiday mood. We got cold, and we loved it.
Finally, if you are a subscriber, you know that there is a lot of handmade gifting going on out there. That is also one of the more pleasant ways to get in the spirit. The next thing you know, everything is done, you're ready to celebrate with friends and loved ones, and it's time to welcome a new year. Everyone wins - you, the small business owner, and you're even doing your part to make the aisles less congested in the big box stores!
This ends my yearly diatribe.