Strega Nona Entertaining: Conjuring Creative Fun

From recipes to rituals, I will kindly divine the perfect celebration for you!

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Colleen DuVall

Colleen DuVall

Colleen DuVall has written articles, plays, short films, and a novel. Most recently, her work has been featured in her new blog, Off The Beaten Path for the Shepherd Express online (http://shepherdexpress.com/blogs-1-1-1-61.html), and the Wisconsin Life radio show for WPR. She recently adopted a little grey and white cat named Tessa, after beloved 22-year-old Bootise passed on.

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A Hopeful Spring

There’s something about that first whiff of spring in the air that makes one hopeful. Even if you don’t normally consider yourself an optimist, it’s hard not to smile more often or sing to yourself when the sun shines a bit brighter and the birds sound a bit chirpier. This is the optimum time to start either a new project, exercise plan, or go for a new job. Here is a simple but effective ritual to assist in welcoming spring:

Decorate your altar with some fresh bright yellow daffodils. Fill your chalice with a sunny beverage offering such as orange juice or lemonade. Set out some eggs or images of eggs. In fact, get one boiling on the stove. An optimum hard-boiled egg should be brought to a rolling bowl, submerged in a small pot of water. Once the boil is full, turn off the heat but leave on the burner, cover and let sit for 12-15 minutes. Eventually drain out the hot water, rinse the egg in cold h2o, dry and set aside.

If you don’t already own some runic stones, I highly recommend "The Healing Runes," by Ralph H. Blum and Susan Loughan. Any set will do – however this one specifically for healing is apropos for new beginnings and the like. Light some incense and draw five runic stones from the bag and lay them out in a row vertically, going toward you. This is also fun because the stones are shaped like little eggs.

The first stone runic symbol that you draw symbolizes “heart in the past (overview),” and how that can be influencing your current situation. The second will represent the present, and what you will most likely be grappling with right now. The third stone represents “surrender” or an obstacle for you to overcome. And much like a tarot reading, the last rune will be the future, if you continue on this current path.

Decorate your now boiled egg with the symbol of the last rune of your reading. Peel, eat, and meditate on what you have learned. When you are done, toss the remainders of the shell into a planter outside that should bloom when spring gets fully underway.

Photo credits:

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Hugging Your Introvert


There used to be a time when identifying as an introvert might be akin to admitting you had a social disease. Since there is such a thing as geeky-cool now, and others fly their nerd flags high and proud, there is no shame in freely admitting that some of us recharge our batteries best solo, rather than surrounded by others. The world can be overwhelming, with non-stop cell phone tunes and Twitter tweets closing in on all sides. For one's mental and emotional health (which eventually effects the physical by the by), give yourself permission to turn off and drop out once in awhile. This is especially essential, if giving sidelong glares to strangers who sit too close on public transport is becoming the norm. And why is it in an otherwise deserted cafe, chatty Cathy always plops down right next you? Here are some kind suggestions to deal:

Learn to say, "no." It's been a crazy week and you've worked your last day of it. All you want to do is curl up with your latest SK tome or a good movie, under the covers, preferably with a mug of cocoa or tea. But your buddy who you haven't seen in many moons sends you a cheery text. "Having a last-minute party! Are you in?" Let me answer for you, fellow introvert. No. No you are not. You are not there in that frame of mind, and you will not get there, just because you force yourself to go. If all you want to do is hide from the planet, the last thing you want to do is plant yourself in an over-stimulating party scene. Likewise, cramming into an over-crowded bar to see a band is a bad idea. Because if you go, you will be resentful. You will be uncomfortable. Even if you are able to distract yourself for awhile, ultimately you are going to be wishing you were snug at home with your original plans. So that is your plan. When people invite you out, you say you have them already. It isn't necessary to go into great detail as to what they are. Take a raincheck and meet your friend for a one-on-one coffee chat, where you can really catch up the following week.

Unplug. Turn off the computer. Shut off the phone. Stop scrolling! The world won't stop spinning, I promise. There used to be a time when if you weren't immediately available, people would patiently wait for you to get back to them. Remember that? When you wanted to know how someone else was doing in your life, you would ask them in person when you saw them. Doing this for 24-48 hours can be sheer heaven. Lose yourself in a project that you've been putting off. Take a long walk. If you're camping, you sure the heck better do this, or I will come after you and scold you.

Listen to the sounds of silence. Taking a retreat where you observe an internal mute button can be therapeutic, as well. Sometimes it's good to give your vocal chords a rest. This can be done in an actual retreat center where silence is observed after dinner, or perhaps an imposed one on your own. If you live with someone, they've got to respect it, though. Check yourself into a reasonably-priced hotel if necessary. The interesting side effect here, is that thoughts will come to you – often with clear insight and clarity. Clear the cobwebs and have a revelation. Write it down in a journal, if you don't want to forget. See, being on your lonesome isn't so bad now, is it? Happy Imbolc, introvert.

 

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Shadow Solstice

This Winter Solstice, I suggest getting in touch with your shadow side. This is the season to become introspective – and with the weather often urging us to spend more time indoors – this is the perfect time to look inward.

Meditation:

Brew some good spiced herbal tea and burn some frankincense and myrrh incense on your altar. Light red and green candles and turn off the lights. Get in a comfy spot and slow your breathing. I have found the best way to completely relax is to first contract, then very slowly release all of the muscles in your body, starting with your head and working your way down to your toes.

Sit cross-legged or lie in the corpse position on a yoga matt on the floor. Start with scrunching up your facial muscles, furrowing your brow. Then relax your face in slow motion. Do the same with your shoulders, hunching them up. Tighten your arms off the floor and make your hands into fists, then release down the length of your arms, starting with your shoulders, and unfurl each of your fingers, one by one. Repeat the exercise with your chest muscles, stomach and lower belly (these Navel and Root Chakras can store an awful lot of stress, so take extra time to release the tension here if necessary). Tighten your legs all the way down to curling your toes under, and very gradually relax these muscles as well.

To clear your mind of tedious recurring thoughts and worries, concentrate on breathing in deeply through your nose, letting your diaphragm fill and let go while taking your time. Be sure to keep the deep breaths coming from your belly, not up in your chest. Count down backwards from 20. Repeat several times, until you feel your mind clear and open.

When you feel ready, meditate on your shadow self. What are the sides of yourself that you keep hidden? Could any of them be positive that you are hiding from the rest of the world out of fear, or any other reason? Whether it is something really adventurous – like trying downhill skiing for the first time, or simply attending a community event you've been curious about – give yourself permission to explore that. Think about the ways you could nudge yourself out of your comfort zone, and discover one of your hidden shadow selves more fully. When you've settled on one that particularly speaks to you, resolve to act on it between now and the new year.

Send an image of yourself participating in and enjoying this activity out to the universe, thank the Goddesses and Gods of your choice, and when you are ready, carefully roll up to a standing position. Gather a bit of icy snow from outside and sprinkle it in the candles to put them out. Drink your tea and experience gratitude. Peace.

 

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Transylvania Dreamin'

I will absolutely never top the 2008 Halloween that I spent in eastern Romania on the Dracula Tour. I have told this tale many times with a fondness and nostalgia only paralleled by the idyllic childhood that I experienced living out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by the woods. Knowing this, the best that I could hope to do is to attempt to recreate some of the highlights of my revered trip with my dear friend, Michael Hora. So here's my best (pardon the pun) stab at it.

Michael and I ate very well when we were there. The included continental breakfasts were anything but a wimpy box of cornflakes, or a lukewarm dollop of canned sausage gravy on a stale biscuit. We stayed at many very pleasant hotels on our journey: in Bucharest, Brasov, Sighisoara, Sibiu. The included breakfast buffets alone were like something out of dream: plates of every succulent homemade pastry you could imagine, hot plates of eggs, sausages, potatoes, cold plates of cured meats, pickles, olives, several artisan cheeses, fresh vegetables and fruits, blintzes, juices, and well-made strong coffee. The dinners were nothing to sneeze at, either. Yes, Romanians know how to eat! But I digress. The best way to describe this fare would be a mix of Serbian, Russian and Greek-style dishes – hearty and well-seasoned.

In planning your Dracula dinner menu, why not stir up some homemade Hungarian "ghoull-lash" with extra garlic toast and cheese on the side? If you're feeling ambitious, grill some steak kababs (get it, steaks/stakes). Have several appetizer platters of the cold snacky fare mentioned above. Finish off with some "Vampire Bite Marshmallows," roasted over a big bonfire in your backyard. To achieve this effect, dip your toasting fork in some dry cherry wine to start. Impale the hapless marshmallow twice, and roast to your liking. When ready to eat, dip the half of the marshmallow below the bite marks in some more of the wine, then sink your own teeth in.

Besides knowing how to eat, the Transylvanians instilled in me a love for highly potent fermented pure fruit beverages. The ones to get a hold of are pálinka (apricot brandy) and Țuică  (double distilled plum brandy). Beware, as these little firebombs will kick you in the butt and keep one partying all night long. For some more mellow stylings, opt for the always popular Vampire wines, available in pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. This is not a night for white wines.

If you do not know any local gypsies in your area to play around the fire, download some atmospheric and authentic gypsy music, such as: "Authentic Gypsies," by Laszlo Borteri & Niko Radic. Gypsy Kings and/or gypsy jazz are probably a bit too upbeat for this affair, but in the end you must go where the spirit moves you. At some point, play the ultimate vampire crowdpleaser, "Bela Lugosi's Dead," by Bauhaus. Invite people to perform gothy interpretive dances.

As far as dress, I'd suggest folks attend as their personal favorite fanged one – there are so many to choose from! Have a steady stream of beloved bloodsucker flicks playing on the telly. Visually, they are always a treat. A word to the wise: this kind of event may inspire spontaneous biting. Consider yourselves warned, children of the night.

REFERENCES

http://www.dractour.com/

http://www.budapestbylocals.com/hungarian-goulash.html

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/75133/roasted-garlic-bread/

https://vampire.com/

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Back to School Partay

Fall Equinox is so tantalizingly close you can taste it. Whether you are a parent who routinely coaches homework, or a "non-traditional" returning bookworm yourself, fall is a glorious time of year. Truth be told, I geek out every year over needing to purchase new school supplies. Often noted as everyone's favorite season because of its best-of-both-worlds weather, rich warm hues in clothing and nature, and an excuse to overindulge in all things scented pumpkin – this is the perfect time for a get together to overindulge with pals in tow. Here's how:

Compile a playlist of several school-themed movie soundtracks: "Breakfast Club," "Dazed and Confused," and "Valley Girl," are just a few that immediately come to mind. "Rock 'n' Roll High School," and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," are other excellent selections.

If folks are game, have everyone dress as an archetype from high school: cheerleader, jock, nerd, drama club weirdo, hippie teacher, hard-ass principal. Dress to reconnect with your former teenage self, or to indulge a fantasy of what it may have been like to be someone else for a day. Let this be a warm-up for Halloween.

One word for food fare: apples. They are so succulent/tasty/lovely/tart/juicy at this time of year, no one can get enough of them. Cut up slices to accompany various cheese plates with grape garnishes, and make them the dipping favorites for a caramel apple sauce centerpiece. If you're feeling ambitious, bake a homemade pie. And by all means, break out the hard cider. Assemble "after-school snacks" of "Ants on a Log," (celery, peanut butter and raisins on top), or "Lincoln Logs Sandwiches." Do not be shy about breaking out a package of Totino's Pizza Rolls or a fresh bag of Cheddar Combos. Believe me, people will delight in the nostalgia.

For other gimmicky fun, create an initiation to gain entry to your event. If leaning more toward a college theme, pop in a DVD of "Animal House." Create a drinking game where everyone does a shot whenever John Belushi  as Bluto pulls a crazy stunt onscreen (food fight, breaking dude's guitar). I leave you with this from the FoodChannel Editor:

"WHAT IS A LINCOLN LOG SANDWICH?

"Question: I was watching the 'Sopranos' and saw Carmella making a dish which she called Lincoln logs. I am curious, what are they? They looked good, so how do you make them what are some of the ingredients?

"Answer: Lincoln Logs (as seen on the 'Sopranos') are apparently hot dog buns or white bread, in which you place hot dogs layered with cream cheese. They can be served warm or cold. They are also known as Seattle Cream Cheese Dogs, although the Lincoln Logs variety is said to be an East Coast version. The basic recipe appears to be:

Take a slice of white bread, spread cream cheese on it, split a cooked hot dog lengthwise and place each half, cut side down, on the bread. To get the Lincoln Log effect, you may need a second hot dog that is laid over the first in the other direction. Some versions appear to mix a little mayonnaise with the cream cheese for spreading ease. You can lightly toast the bread or add a piece of American cheese before adding the spread and hot dog.

"Or, you can try the standard Seattle recipe as found at All Recipes."

Resources:

Photo, "Early Morning," by Carlos Porto at freedigitalphotos.net

FoodChannel Editor. What is a Lincoln Log Sandwich. Foodchannel. The Food Channel®. April 30, 2008.  http://www.foodchannel.com/articles/article/what-is-a-lincoln-log-sandwich/

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Corn Moon Celebration

The word "harvest," immediately conjures up the calendar pages of September and October in the mind's eye – replete with dried corn husks, gourds, pumpkins, red wine, and tart juicy apples. Although all of these images are thoroughly justified, the first of the harvest fests technically begins August 1. Lammas/Lughnasadh has come and gone, but you can feel the full ripeness and end of the summer all around you. It is there in the rich green leaves and vivid colors of plant life and flowers – their lush smell from the warmth of the summer sun at its peak. The corn moon rises this Thursday the 18th. What better occasion than to gather some of your clan near and toast to the changing of seasons, then?

If you have a craft brewer in your midst, by all means, this is the time to invite them to share their bounty! Likewise with anyone who dabbles in home fermentation in the way of kombucha or wine. Definitely roast some ears of corn from a local farmer's market over an open flame, and toss some fresh Caprese salad with bursting cherry tomatoes (surely a guest had good luck in their garden this year), fragrant basil leaves (ditto), creamy mozzarella (cheesemakers step up) and drizzle lightly with extra virgin olive oil and a good three leaf balsamic vinegar. Plump blackberries or plums (anyone's backyard pickings), would certainly be appropriate at this gathering, as would any just-caught perch that the fisherperson in your group would be willing to pan-fry for the crowd. Make it a true Pagan potluck where each guest can bring to the table some of their own personal harvest for others to sample. As host/hostess, you could bake up some little "Wolf and Moon Cookies" for dessert. Here's a favorite recipe that I like to go to:

     LEMON WOLF COOKIES
     *If you don't own a wolf cookie cutter, have no fear! Just make little full moons, half moons   
     and new moons by rolling out the dough and firmly cutting the shapes out of the bottom of a 
     shot glass. If you do own one, make the wolves first, and then the moons out of the left-over dough.
     4 1/2 cups flour
     1/2 teaspoon salt
     1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
     1/2 teaspoon allspice
     1/4 teaspoon cloves
     1/4 teaspoon ginger
     2 1/2 sticks of butter, softened
     1 cup sugar
     6 oz. cream cheese
     1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
     5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
     Stir dry ingredients together and set aside.
     Cream butter, sugar, cream cheese and grated lemon peel. Mix in fresh lemon juice. Add dry ingredients a little at a time, until well blended. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for 1/2 to 1 hour.
     Preheat oven to 350 F. Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface to 1/8" thick. Dip cookie cutter in flour and cut out your wolf cookies.
     Bake cookies on ungreased cookie sheets for 8-10 minutes.
     ICING
     2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
     1 1/2 tablespoons meringue powder
     2 1/2 - 3 tablespoons water
     food coloring (optional)
     Mix sugar and meringue powder in large mixing bowl. Add water and beat at low speed for 8-10 minutes until icing forms peaks. Add food coloring a tiny bit at a time, stirring until you have the color you like.
     Spread on cooled cookies or pipe designs on with a pasty bag. Keep icing tightly covered when not being used.
     (Recipe from Patricia Lynn Bradley, Bark & Bradley®, Inc., adapted by Colleen DuVall)

Sing some songs around the fire pit. Pass one chalice of the last of the home-brew that everyone takes a sip of to further bond your friendship. Finally, partake in a bit of communal moon-watching together. According to space.com, "The next full moon will be the Full Sturgeon Moon of Aug. 18. It will peak at 5:27 a.m. EDT (0927 GMT), but will appear full to the casual stargazer a day prior and after the peak day. August's full moon has also known as the Full Red Moon (because the moon can look reddish through haze), as well as the Green Corn Moon and the Grain Moon."

Resources:
Photo, "Corn And Mazie Field," by franky242 at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/
http://www.space.com/16830-full-moon-calendar.html
http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/documents/consumption/HealthDishWisFish.pdf

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WHAT DOES INDEPENDENCE MEAN TO YOU?

The term "independence" conjures up different images for different individuals. For patriotic types, if you tack "day" on to the end of the word, their eyes might glaze over with star-spangled flags – the drumbeats of parades immediately filling their ears. That's all well and good. However, for some of us introverts, going solo is sheer heaven. For the most important aspect of independence, it would seem to me, would be the act of not being dependent on another person. In fact, the direct opposite of it. Not to say that we don't all need a little help occasionally. As much as one would like to strive for total freedom, we are dependent on other human beings for our survival. Plus, some of them aren't bad company.

That said, there is a certain liberty in doing things for yourself and going your own way from time to time. If you can this Fourth of July weekend – why not slip away from the crowd – even for but a little while? Strike out on your own and define what independence means to you. Here are some creative ideas to try out, and possibly spur a few of your own:

A HIKE (EARTH)
Travel to a path that you've always wanted to get your feet dirty on and commence. Breathe in the greenery and decompress. This could include a solo camp, as well. If you happen to be female, just be sure to pitch your tent far away from the sleazies who see your being alone as an open invitation to visit your site and hit on you.

A LONG DRIVE (AIR)
If you have a reliable vehicle and your life has been making you a bit batty as of late, just get in and go. Roll down the windows, blast the tunes that speak to you, and let your hair get messy in the wind. Drive until you can't anymore, with no destination in mind. Then check yourself into a nice hotel. Granted, this is a splurge, but stick with me here. Stock up on munchies and drinkables. Pretend you're a character in a movie making your great escape from something or someone. Treat yourself to bad cable movies and/or naughty ones. Pop a bottle of champagne and bounce on the bed. You are free! (Just don't trash the room, OK)? Ask for a late checkout time.

EXPLORING A NEW LOCALE (FIRE)
This could be a small town, or a large one. Although the independence theme would more likely lend itself to the former. Let yourself wander. Peruse some shops and let your mind wander, too. Buy an ice cream with a flavor you've always wanted to try. The key to utilizing your inner fire is to be bold in your choices, and wait to see where your inspiration takes you.

A BOATING EXPEDITION (WATER)
If you consider yourself a strong swimmer and have experience under your belt, find a place to rent a small craft and get out on the H20. Sailing offers a mentally and physically challenging combination, which can be infinitely satisfying. If you're looking for something more mellow, launch in a canoe, kayak, or rowboat. Row yourself out to the middle and drift awhile. See how good that feels? Sigh.

VISIT A BUDDHIST TEMPLE OR OLD UNFENCED GRAVEYARD (SPIRIT)
The key here is to find one that is secluded and that you have never been to before. Plant yourself and meditate. My favorite spot in an old cemetery is under a friendly tree. Discover where your mind takes you. Happy Independence Day.


Photo by AJ Page

 

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