Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Random Update: Vacation!

Hello from vacation!  I'm just a few days into a seven day hiatus from my commission agency and what a relief it's been.  I spent all of Monday scrubbing our Witchy Cottage spotless.  As a Virgo, I take cleaning and organization very seriously but our home had become a chaotic disaster.  I couldn't stand it!  After all of that cleaning, it knocked me out for the better part of the day today.  I went to Zumba, cooled down from that and here I am.  So what have I been up to in June?

Mostly, work.

Fortunately, the new prices and contract agreement with my agency has worked out splendidly. Despite drawing fewer pieces than last month, I actually made the most I've made with this agency yet.  This was particularly helpful after my new tablet purchase.  That doesn't mean that I haven't been crazy busy with work, though.  I'm still putting in more than full-time with the job between commissions and gigs, but at least it's not 80+ hours a week anymore.  It's only more like 50-60.  "Only."

My exhausted husband with our dog Artemis.
The immense number of hours has given me severe burn out.  I've easily been burned out since May, so I scheduled with my agency to take a vacation.  I was actually supposed to start my vacation Monday of last week but rush orders took up until Wednesday.  Then, when my agency officially set me at vacation status, alterations came in and I ended up working through the rest of the week.

Our June 15th rainbow!
My vacation technically started Friday night, which also happened to be fellow Circle of Fountains member Phaedra's birthday.  She wanted to go out drinking and dancing for her birthday, so a group of us went to some retro-themed clubs in the area.

With the anniversary of Michael Jackson's death just the day before, most of the clubs were heavy with the MJ music, which was fantastic.  I wish I'd been able to get my hands on a black fedora and a white glove for the night.  Ah well.  Maybe next year!

I'll be honest: I am not a club person.  Despite dancing it up on New Years, which was in the courtesy of my own home, and loving me the heck out of some Zumba, clubbing makes this introvert highly uncomfortable.  Dancing?  In front of strangers?  It doesn't help that my last experience of "going clubbing for my friend's birthday" left me stranded with a cup of water while a sleazy guy snaked his hand around my waist.  When I told him I was married, he held up his hand and said, "Me too.  But I won't tell if you won't."

On the bright side, great company and great music made Phaedra's birthday much more comfortable and memorable.   Besides, it wasn't about me.  It was about Phaedra. And watching her dance like no one was watching was amazing.  I wish I had a tenth of her charisma and confidence on the dance floor.  She's got the moves!

Happy birthday, Phaedra!

In other news, I've been actively going to Zumba but I haven't taken any workout pictures to add to my gif.  Honestly, just trying to get to my class has been hard enough.  Every highway and inner main road near me is under heavy construction, making what should be a 10 minute drive anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes.  I left at 5:30 one night for a 6:15 and didn't get to my class until 6:45.  Bah.  So taking a picture before class hasn't really been a priority.  Plus, I've been stalled on my weight loss since April.

Turns out, there's a reason for that...

This is a print screen from my lab work.  I've known for a few months that something hasn't been right because I've been excessively tired and my anxiety has been through the roof.  I blamed a lot of it on work and stress, but I've also been overdue for labs since April.  Though, exactly when I've had time to go in is beyond me.  A doctor's appointment was one of the first things I jumped on the minute my schedule went from 80 hours a week down to 50 or so.  It didn't even take a full 24 hours after they drew my blood for them to change up my medication.

For those not in the know, what you're seeing in my labs is my TSH - a hormone produced by the thyroid.  My lab's ranges are .4-4.5.  My doctor's ranges are actually .3-3.  I'm at 24.32, which is crazy over considering that I've been diagnosed as hypothyroid since 2011 and level for about a year.  Who knows what happened to make it spike.  I've been steady on my medication.  I couldn't give you a clear reason.  Welcome to the wonderful world of autoimmune diseases.

Obviously, having my thyroid levels way out of bounds has put a bit of a thorn in my weight loss plans.  I'm either going to have to ramp it up or give myself more time.  It's frustrating.  It feels like most people who want to lose weight can cut some sugar and watch their calories and the pounds just melt off (I'm glaring at my roommate as I type this...).  I restrict my diet to non-inflammatory foods, manage my calories down to + or - 1 calorie over my target, exercise like a mad woman and nothing changes.  Then it turns out that the cause is something I have no control over.  I would rather have control.  I would rather my weight lie entirely on my shoulders.  If it did, I wouldn't be 195 lbs, I'll tell you that.

My husband made me apple mint tea with fresh mint from our garden!
But having a chronic illness gives me one gift I can't overlook: I can't micromanage my life. I'm an ISTJ.  I like control.  I like scheduling every minute of my time.  I like getting things done.  But I have to let go of things like this and move on.  I don't have a choice.  So, using a phrase I positively hate, it is what it is.  I weighed in at the beginning of this week.  I plan on weighing in next week and, if my weight goes down thanks to the medication, I will restructure my diet and exercise plan to match my situation.  If not, I'll weigh in the following week, and the week after that and after that, until I finally see it move.  All I'm waiting on now is my TSH.

That sums up what's new with me, so let's move on to the pets!

Artemis has been doing well!  He's not particularly enjoying all the heat, humidity and rain, but he's managing.  Despite being amazingly human and calm, however, he does his best about once a year to remind me he's a true dog.  This year's fiasco?  Rolling on a mowed-over dead garden snake carcass.

I don't think he liked how that ended.  But he's so fluffy after a bath!

Because of how he tends to roll on things like this, we had to disinfect his already worn out collar and leave it to dry on the bathroom counter.  Collars are a huge deal to Artie.  It's how he knows he belongs, so don't you dare remove it.  He spent most of the night randomly going into the bathroom, standing up on his hind legs and whining at the counter.  Poor guy.

However, his little garden snake roll did point out that he needed a new collar.  The blue on the paisley is not quite so blue anymore and the white is definitely yellow.  My husband and I plan to take him collar shopping tomorrow.  We always try to stick with blue, white and silver since he's definitely a water element.  Hopefully we find something that fits him and his personality.

Zeus is his usually tubby tabby self.  Opposite of Artie, who had a pretty eventful few weeks, Zeus has had a fairly normal month.  That's just the way he likes it.  However, someone should remind him that, should he choose to sleep on my shoes in order to make sure I don't leave the house, he should probably choose the right pair of shoes.  I don't think I'll be wearing high heels to Zumba, Zeusy.

Apollo's got the better idea: Lay on Mom's caricature gig bag.  Then she can't go to work!  It might be more effective if someone weighed more than nine pounds though.  Apollo has a reputation for being perpetually derpy.  While all of the other pets can "speak English" (Yes, we talk for the pets.  It's... normal.  I think.), Apollo doesn't.  However, this month, he said his first word: A very obvious "No."  We've been joking now that he just repeats phrases he hears nonsensically.  Maybe one day, he'll "speak."  Until then, I'll just keep making him say his own name.

Hermes, on the other hand, can "speak English" when we talk for him, but he instead chooses not to.  It's beneath Asscat.  He keeps his English down to one word, usually emphasized with sass.  Despite all this, Hermes is actually a very loving cat - social, sweet, cuddles the other cats and Artie, and has a generally pleasant demeanor.  He's just also a bit of an elitist and has his moments of impertinence. He never hisses or claws, but he will talk back with verbal, sassy meows if I tell him not to do something.  It's like having a teenager.  Seriously.

Why yes, Apollo is sleeping on top of Artie in a pile of toys and blankets.
So, to sum it up, June has been work, work, work, vacation, Zumba, Midsummer, doctor's appointment, thyroid off, dog rolls in dead snake.  Mundane, mundane, more mundane, dead snake.

... I can't get over the dead snake.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Blackthorn Hoodoo Blends: All Seeing Eye Review

A rooibos tea is an herbal tea.  Unlike most teas, which are made from the tea plant, a rooibos (Afrikaans, roughly pronounced roy-boss) is a member of the legume family.  Only grown in Africa, the leaves of the "Red Bush" are harvested and fermented, which gives the resulting tea its trademark red coloration.  The textures and flavors of this specific type of tea are complex.  Some say it has an earthy, sweet taste and others liken it to a good cigar.  Because the flavors are so unique, the only way to truly describe a rooibos is by its name: A rooibos tastes like a rooibos.

Knowing the definition of rooibos tea is absolutely essential to understanding The All Seeing Eye Tea by Blackthorn Hoodoo Blends. Amy, the owner of BHB, has extensive experience in teaching herbs and blending teas, and her company uses only the best and most ethically-sourced ingredients.  To top it off, each tea is magickally charged for a specific purpose, making this pagan-owned small business and its products one-of-a-kind.  And The All Seeing Eye Tea is no different!

The first thing you'll notice upon opening the tin of All Seeing Eye Tea is that it has a uniquly sweet, earthy and especially nutty aroma.  The leaves are fine and thin, perfect for any kind of infuser you choose.  Because of how fine it is, you'll want to use about one tablespoon per every eight fluid ounces of tea you plan on making.  My teapots typically hold about 24 ounces, so I'm going to use three tablespoons in a full pot tea ball that is fantastically shaped like the TARDIS.

No shame.

As for temperature, a good rooibos does best steeping at high temperatures near boiling, so feel free to transfer the water over to your teapot fairly immediately.

You'll want to let this steep for a bit: 3-5 minutes is great for a rooibos to fully infuse.

It also gives the water time to cool down to a more drinkable temperature.  I'm particularly heat sensitive - I find I have to order child's temperatures at coffee shops or otherwise the skin on the roof of my mouth begins to peel.  It's an awful affliction as a tea and coffee drinker, so even once we removed the infuser, I continued to let it sit just to give it some time to cool.

The tea itself should come out as a gorgeous and highly saturated red-amber color.  The appearance is mostly influenced by the rooibos but also contains coloration from the honeybush this tea is blended with.  You're sure to notice the prevalent deep, nutty aroma when being poured, but don't be surprised when the nut flavor is just an undertone of this complex and full-bodied tea.

The flavor of this tea is going to be difficult to pin down as most rooibos teas are!  That's a good thing.  The rooibos itself has a slightly nutty flavor, so adding the natural hazelnut and almond flavoring only makes sense.  Still, rooibos is a pretty powerful herb and balances the nuttiness with a down-to-earth flavor.  The honeybush blended in sweetens the tea and the vanilla flavoring smooths it out, making this a particularly rich dessert tea perfect for after dinner.

If you're looking to emphasize the nut flavor, feel free to add a splash of milk - or, in our case, I used cashew milk since I'm lactose intolerant.  The cashew milk was an interesting addition since, if you use the unsweetened version, it adds another note of nut flavoring to a tea with almond and hazelnut undertones.  The creaminess of the milk goes particularly well with the earthy rooibos and the sweet honeybush, and emphasizes this as a smooth after-dinner snack.  This tea is particularly filling, so feel free to share!

The altar created for this tea is inspired by the energy found within the leaves.  The All Seeing Eye Tea is meant to boost your intuition.  Colors associated with intuition include silver, indigo and lavender.  Since I have a silver and lavender teapot, we focused on the lavender.  We added ribbon and flowers that matched the lavender color of the teapot to emphasize intuition and spirituality.

We also included a lotus flower candle holder as the All Seeing Eye references the Third Eye chakra.  Chakras aren't exactly my area of expertise, particularly since it's borrowed Hindu culture, but it still seemed somewhat appropriate given the situation.

In front of the altar, Tony placed his altar coin.  I added a chunk of raw amethyst, the stone most closely associated with spirituality and intuition, to focus the intent of the altar and the tea.

Behind the altar were three candles, one of which was adorned with amethyst beads.  I absolutely love this taper candle holder - I found it at a thrift store for just $5!

Since drinking The All Seeing Eye Tea, both Tony and I have been having vivid dreams about Samhain.  This is particularly unusual for Tony as he rarely has or remembers his, yet is now on week two of intensely rememberable dreams.  Impressive!

Overall, The All Seeing Eye Tea was a hit with our household!  With its nutty nuances and flavors you really only find in a rooibos, it would be a great addition to any tea collection and worth serving after dinner to guests - but only if they want a side effect of vivid dreams that night!

Want to try
Blackthorn Hoodoo Blends
The All Seeing Eye Tea
for yourself?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

[ Review] What is Florida Water and how do I use it?

Originally a 19th century cologne water, Florida Water was named after the Fountain of Youth that was supposedly located in Florida. While it contains "water" in the name, Florida Water is actually an alcohol-based cologne that differs from perfume in that it tends to be a "weaker" or lighter scent with less fragrance oil added.  This was particularly relevant in the 1800's as strong perfumes were considered offensive.  Toilet waters, with a lighter scent, saw a rise in use.  Even more so, Florida Water was considered unisex, adding to its popularity.

Because of its reputation and contents, it was eventually picked up for various pagan and witchcraft practices, particularly in Hoodoo and Santeria.  Florida Water is incredibly versatile.  It's primarily known for its cleansing, protective and spirit work properties.  Instead of pushing away or banishing, Florida Water instead raises positive vibrations and draws good fortune and spirits to a place or in divination or spell work.  Here are just a few different ways you might enhance your Craft with Florida Water:

  1. Known for its cleansing and protective properties, you can spray your altar, tools of the craft or even yourself with it.  Keep in mind that it has a strong alcohol and citrus base, so you may need to wipe down the item with water depending on its sensitivity to such liquids.
  2. You could also wipe down door and window frames for the same cleansing and protective properties around your home. You could even add it to some of your natural home cleaners.  This could be especially useful for house cleansing rituals.
  3. It can be used to cleanse crystals, gems and jewelry. Be sure to research the item you plan to use Florida Water on to make sure water, alcohol and citrus will not damage it!
  4. Some cleanse candles by anointing them with Florida Water.  Please be careful as this liquid had an alcohol base and is thus highly flammable. Make sure it completely dries before using the candle.  I would suggest avoiding the wick.
  5. You can add a tablespoon or two of Florida Water to a bowl of water on an altar.  Many entities, particularly spirits and ancestors, appreciate it as an offering.
  6. Use a cap-full of Florida Water in your water scrying bowl for divination.  Divination with Florida Water tends to involve spirits, so ensure that you're well educated in spirit work and well protected.
  7. Add a very small amount to a cast iron cauldron or flame-proof dish and, using safety precautions, light it on fire. Use the flame for spell work that draws to you, or for flame divination.  And, please be careful! Florida Water is highly flammable and tends to involve spirit work.
  8. You can also add herbs relevant your spell work into the cologne as a way of empowering or charging it for a specific use.
And these are just a few ideas!  That's the beauty of having access to Florida Water.

Today, I'm working with Florida Water from  Based out of Alberta, Canada, The Witchery is run by a practicing Hedgewitch with Hoodoo influences.  All of her products are handmade with care and experience.  While The Witchery offers Florida Water as both a cologne and soap, I'll be working with her misting spray for my purpose.

Because I struggled to find the time or inspiration for my Beltane altar, I felt the need for extra cleansing before the Midsummer setup.  I typically cleanse my altar with lemon water in between sabbats, but I needed something more. The Witchery's Florida Water misting spray seemed the perfect fit.

The first thing I noticed about The Witchery's Florida Water is its light but still present spicy floral scent with hints of clove.   I can certainly see why Florida Water was used as a cologne as the sweet scent from The Witchery's version is positively radiant.

What sets The Witchery's Florida Water misting spray apart from other similar products, beyond her specialized formula, is the addition of a glass Evil Eye bead inside.  You'll hear it when you give it a shake.  This charges the product specifically for cleansing and protection versus other uses, such as divination and spirit work. For those matters, try the cologne instead!  The Witch notes that, once the bottle is empty, you can open it up to use the Evil Eye bead.

To cleanse my altar, I used the misting spray similar to how I use lemon water - by coating my altar well, then wiping it down. Both my roommate Tony and I noticed an immediate calming presence brought on by the spray.  The entire front room certainly felt more spiritually clear after using the Florida Water.

Despite the Beltane altar only being up for day after I last cleaned it with lemon water, it's clear that it needed a good cleaning.  Look at all that physical and spiritual dirt that The Witchery's Florida Water picked up!

Overall, I was incredibly impressed by The Witchery's Florida Water mist, from its scent and inclusion of the Evil Eye bead to its physical and spiritual cleansing and protective properties.  It's certainly a one-of-a-kind product.  While I've only used Florida Water a few times in the past, I certainly wouldn't hesitate to make it a permanent part of my practices now that I have a reliable and tested resource.