life, Uncategorized

Sharpies, Spicy Crab Crepes, and Gratitude.

It is Thanksgiving.

I am on the landing of my stairs, stomach full of spicy crab crepes, mind whirling from xylene fumes, drawing esoteric symbols on the walls and wondering if I am half an orphan or just going to be expected to front bail money in the near future.

I’ve never really been big on Thanksgiving. Aside from its history as a holiday, I mostly associate it with being screamed at, having my hair yanked into shapes it was never meant to have, and dressed in stiff, uncomfortable clothing so I could go all of twenty feet downstairs to eat green bean casserole in my grandparents’ living room. The food was good, don’t get me wrong, and I love my grandparents, but I could’ve done without the rest of it.

As a result, my partner and I don’t really sweat it much. We have no big plans — if I’m feeling ambitious, I might make a turkey breast, stuffing, cranberry sauce, baked potatoes, and the like. This year, we figured it made more sense to just make a bunch of whatever we had in the freezer.
Mashed potatoes? Sure!
Peas? Okay!
Chocolate chip cookies? You bet!
Taco pizza, a thing I suggested when I realized I didn’t have mozzarella and only had shredded “Mexican blend” and figured I could also top a hot pizza with fresh tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and salsa? Absolutely!

In the end, we said, “screw it” and had crepes delivered. They were open, it was early in the day, and neither of us were feeling hungry or energetic enough to go through the motions of putting together a Thanksgiving dinner. We didn’t have a turkey anyway, so nothing about dinner was going to be traditional.
Besides, crepes filled with spinach, avocado, and spicy shredded crab sounded incredible.

I did do my other annual traditions: I made a donation to the Mashpee Wampanoag people, and I called my grandpa.

“You talk to your mom lately?” He asked.

“No. I don’t. I haven’t in ten years or so,” I replied. It’s a conversation we have every time we speak. I don’t think it’s that he forgets — he just hopes the answer will be different each time. It isn’t. It won’t be.

That’s when he told me something strange. Every year, he’d sent her a check. Even though she doesn’t ever talk to him, she always cashed them. Except for the last two.

That tugged on my memory. A few months ago, I’d gotten a message from a distant relation. They’d talked to her for a while, then she’d just dropped off the map. Did I happen to know if she was okay? I didn’t.

Still on the phone, I messaged my ex-boyfriend. He was still friends with her on social media, chiefly due to a combination of morbid curiosity and a love of cringe comedy. No, he explained, she went from regularly posting her usual weird shit to dead silence since last February.

“Maybe she died,” my grandpa replied.

“I don’t know. Jail’s probably more likely,” I figured. She had a well-earned reputation for getting loud and shove-y when she drank, including punching her adult son in the face one evening after a funeral and slapping both of us around when we were small. After decades of not being either arrested or punched back, I wouldn’t be surprised if the world had finally gotten around to making her experience some consequences.

I’d like to say that I was concerned. That it gave me something to think about. Really, my mind could only go one of three ways: 1) She’d passed away or ended up jailed somewhere, and it was sad that she’d ostracized so many people and wasn’t able to pull her head out of her ass before that. 2) She’d gone silent in the hope that the people still in her orbit would feed her ego by vocally and publicly worrying about her. Or 3), she just didn’t give enough of a damn about anyone asking after her to bother to tell them that she was still alive.

It did put me back in the Thanksgiving spirit, though. I’m thankful that I’m not there. I’m thankful that I don’t have to deal with this in any but the most indirect of fashions. I’m thankful that my partner and I, despite not coming from the healthiest dynamics, have chosen and worked on having a loving, supportive, functional relationship. I’m thankful that JJ has finished her round of antibiotics and is experiencing a little stray kitten glow-up. I’m thankful that there will be taco pizza tomorrow.

And then I climbed to the top of my stairs, busted out a magnum Sharpie, and drew on my wall.

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Preseli Bluestone Folklore & Magical Properties

The minerals that I’m drawn to shift over time. For a long time, it was smoky quartz. I read all I could about it and discovered that the properties that it’s said to possess were exactly what I’d needed at that time. Next it was Herkimer diamonds, especially the black ones. Same thing. Recently, I’ve been exploring the stones that come from the areas that a significant portion of my ancestors hailed from, which is how I came upon Preseli bluestone.

Preseli bluestone is best known as the stone used to make the inner ring of Stonehenge.

To be fair, the Druids didn’t actually make Stonehenge — it’s way older than that. While the did use Stonehenge, they didn’t drag the stones there. Stonehenge was actually an evolving project, contributed to by various tribes over a very long period of time until it became what we see today.

Preseli bluestone originates in a specific area of Wales, a staggering 160 miles from Stonehenge itself. Now imagine doing it by walking, and also you’re pushing gigantic rocks. There had to be something special about these stones for them to be considered worth the trouble.

Stonehenge and Preseli Bluestone Lore

One theory is that people indigenous to the Preseli area migrated, taking the stones with them due to their religious or cultural significance or as a means of establishing an ancestral authority over their new homeland.

The ages of Stonehenge’s stones vary widely. One is over two and a half billion years old, while another is a relative youngster at only 800 million. If we were to shorten these years to mere seconds, the younger stone would be about 25 years old. The older would be over 79.

Parts of Stonehenge have been standing since roughly 2500 BCE. The site itself seems to have been abandoned around 1000 BCE.

Some of the stones have carvings on the surface — these are only visible using either lasers, or sunlight at a very specific angle.

The techniques used to create Stonehenge are pretty sophisticated. The lintels (the long stones on top) are locked to their supporting stones with a mortice and tenon joints, slightly smoothed, and connected to their neighbors with tongue and groove joints. Their supporting stones were leveled on the top to account for the changes in elevation of the ground, so everything sits very evenly. When all of the stones were intact, they would have looked like a continuous ring.

A close-up image of Stonehenge, showing two lintel stones balanced on four sarsen stones. The end of one of the lintels demonstrates the "tongue" portion of a tongue and groove joint. Some of the sarsens in the rear of the photo show nubby projections, which would've helped to lock their lintels in place.
If you look carefully at the end of the lintel on the left, you can see the tongue end of a tongue and groove joint. Look at the sarsens in the back, and you can see the nubby bits that would’ve held their lintels in place.
Photo by Kris Schulze on Pexels.com

One stone, the Slaughter Stone, probably wasn’t actually used to kill anything. It gets its name from the bloody appearance of water that collects on its surface — the water reacts with iron compounds in the stone, oxidizing them and turning the water a rusty color.

Preseli bluestone was said to be transported by Merlin, using magic.

The Ethicality of Preseli Bluestone

The original place where bluestone is found is Carn Meyne. This is a protected area, and is off limits to mining and rock collecting alike.

The Preseli bluestone on the market today ostensibly comes from a nearby farm, where a deposit of the stone was found. Others may come from specimens collected from Carn Meyne before it was legally protected.

With this in mind, there’s some concern that Preseli bluestone trafficking might be a thing. If the Pagan and new age communities’ demand for bluestone outstrips the supply, then it could incentivize the smuggling of bluestone or other unethical practices. It can already be challenging to find genuine bluestone, since green dolerite is sometimes re-labeled and sold as bluestone for a higher price.

As always, it’s up to you to decide whether or not to acquire bluestone. If you do, do so from a reputable dealer. If you find that you may be succumbing to some of the consumerist habits that lurk in aspects of the new age movement, consider whether a different, ethically sourced, local stone will better meet your needs.

Preseli Bluestone Magical Properties

The significance of bluestone to Stonehenge’s creators has been lost with time. The most we have now is what modern crystal users have deduced. For the most part, it’s used to tap into one’s ancient origins — connecting with the spirit of the peoples for whom bluestone was important. Some authorities believe that the bluestones of Stonehenge may have been used as healing tools. While the larger, outer sandstones marked a boundary, the smaller interior ring of bluestone may have been used to heal the sick and injured.

It’s also sometimes used in variants of shamanism to strengthen one’s connection to the spirits of the lower world, those of plants, animals, and the elements.

Some use bluestone as a kind of spiritual anchor. This may be due to its connection to ancestral workings. When you feel unfocused or adrift in life, working with Preseli bluestone is said to help re-instill feelings of connection and direction.

It’s important to note that Stonehenge also, at least at once point, served as a burial site. I feel this gives Preseli bluestone a connection to death and the dead, not necessarily in a purely ancestral way. Stonehenge was also designed to align with the movement of the sun. This, plus Preseli bluestone’s green color (when polished — the rough stone is blue) further connect it to the energy of growth and abundance. When you combine these concepts, it’s a stone for understanding the cycles of life, death, and the recycling of energy and nutrients.

I find Preseli bluestone to be uniquely beautiful, even beyond its magical and historical pedigree. It’s a beautiful mottled green and white, almost like a dendritic agate without the branching. As someone who will likely never get to experience Stonehenge in person, I love that it’s still possible to forge a connection to the ancient people who created it.

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Delicious. Finally some good f***ing direct action.

Following the controversial decision to throw foodstuffs on artwork, it looks like Just Stop Oil’s stepped up their game.

Good!

I was critical of the action that involved throwing soup on a Van Gogh, and I stand by my initial impression. Fortunately, Just Stop Oil’s more recent actions seem to be more efficient and on-target.

Protests that block traffic are enraging to motorists, but they should be. Inconveniencing people is an effective way to cause change — if nothing else, someone may think twice about taking their car if they’re going to be stuck in a protest-triggered gridlock for hours. There are other advantages to this kind of action over the museum stuff, too. For one, you don’t have security seconds away, so you have more time to get your message across. Second, there’s a direct connection to cars, car-centric city planning, and the fossil fuel industry, so it makes it easier to get your point across efficiently. The medium does at least a little bit of communicating for you.

One article pointed out that a woman with a sick child screamed at the protesters to let her through, and I can’t imagine how scared and angry she and her child must have been. I wish I had a better solution that would get people the care they need during an emergency, while still allowing protesters to demonstrate effectively. The truth is that the protesters probably aren’t the root of the problem here — protesters blocking roads get out of the way for ambulances and emergencies. The primary issue is all of the other cars creating the traffic that’s being blocked in the first place.

Two members of Uprising of the Last Generation also staged an interesting protest that, in my opinion, seems to bridge the gap between effective communication and attention-getting. They glued themselves to the metal poles supporting a dinosaur skeleton (don’t worry — most of the skeletons actually on display in museums are plaster models made to look like fossilized bone. Actual fossils are delicate, heavy, and usually incomplete). The message was that dinosaurs didn’t survive a climate catastrophe, and neither would humanity. It still runs into some of the same issues as other museum-based protests, but there aren’t a ton of layers between their target and their objective that could cause parts of their message to be lost.

This isn’t to say that I necessarily trust some of the financial backers of these efforts. While it’s true that a rich person can inherit a large sum of money and use that in order to fight against the thing that gave them the money in the first place, this feels disingenuous when they choose to, for example, retain enough to “buy and sell high-end properties the way the rest of us buy shoes.” This isn’t to say that oil heirs should have their wealth confiscated and automatically be consigned to cardboard boxes, but maybe living in one, regular house and throwing more monetary weight behind the causes they purport to care about would be a good start. Go big or go home.

The news cares about the wealthy and recognizable0. Hunger strike until you get to talk to a head of state. Handcuff yourself to something. Spraypaint the facade of an oil company’s corporate office. The rich and famous could attract more attention through direct action than a hundred members of the general public. If you’re gonna go to town, might as well go in style. As long as members of hoi polloi are the ones sacrificing their safety and freedom, it’s too easy for the media and social networks to paint them as melodramatic and delusional.

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Sorry, hoss. Time for my cabbage bath.

(With apologies to Chris Onstad for this title.)

I love butterflies and moths. I’ve purposefully picked plants because of their appeal to pollinators. I just wish they could read.

It’d be great if I could have a sign that say something, like, I don’t know. “Food is over here ->,” or “Please pollinate here,” or “I refuse to be responsible for raising your children, you absolute deadbeats.”

My issue is not, of course, with little guys like the yellow woolly bear from the other week. No. I am dealing with a decidedly human vs. cabbage white butterfly situation here and I’m pretty sure it’s the same damned bug every time.

A degenerate insect on a pretty purple flower.

See, my original plan was to plant a row of strawberries in one of the raised beds out front. It’s a bit late in the season for that so I figured I’d get some kale, broccoli, and rainbow chard starts instead. There was still a bunch of empty space so I also hucked in a handful of red mustard seeds that I had left over from a microgreens kit. I didn’t give too much thought toward companion planting since my selection of cold-weather crops is a bit limited. Despite this incredibly laissez-faire attitude toward horticulture, my small garden is (astonishingly) thriving.

So is all of the associated fauna, including a particularly persistent cabbage white butterfly which has anointed every single one of my brassicas with eggs and varying stages of cabbage looper. I wouldn’t mind this were it not for the fact that I need to eat those eventually. I refuse to become responsible for the offspring of this obvious delinquent.

Since I also refuse to hose my yard down with insecticide, that means that, every day, I go out there with a sponge and a jar of soapy water to physically wipe butterfly eggs off of my salad. This is hilariously futile, however, since the cabbage white butterfly follows me and deposits new eggs on the leaves I’ve just wiped off. It doesn’t seem to matter what time of day this is either — it appears out of the woodwork to laugh at me and rub its butt all over my food.

My next steps are to try to mist the leaves with BTI, horticultural soap, and diatomaceous earth, then cover them with bug netting. I’m hoping I won’t have to do this, but I also don’t want to have to continue to give my broccoli a soapy bath every day.

Next year, I’m planting an absolute assload of nasturtiums. They can have those and leave the kale alone.

Wish me luck.

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I’ve reconsidered and decided my mistakes are awesome.

The seventh or so time I checked the alcohol content of my water kefir, I was shocked.

Six percent? How is it still six percent?!”

I’d been working on getting the right ratio of juice to water kefir so I wouldn’t cause any accidental brewing-related injuries. Despite my best efforts, my second ferment still yielded something stronger than the average American beer. (That’s not saying much, but follow me here.) My partner didn’t complain. On the contrary — he thought that having a virtually endless supply of mild booze was a neat concept.

And you know what? I’m coming around to agreeing.

A cat in sunglasses emphatically says, "Nothing is more old-school than making your own damn accidental cactus grain jelly-based hooch. A dude who can walk into any kitchen in the world and make what should have been water kefir is COMPLETELY RAW!"
Ray Smuckles knows what’s up.

I make two batches, one for me and one for him. His gets the high-sugar juices added for the second ferment, like cherry, apple, and pineapple, so the kefir microorganisms can turn that sugar into more CO2 and ethanol. I don’t add extra sources of sugar to mine, but pile on spices like ginger and cinnamon. We’ve got a ton of extremely good brews that are both probiotic, and also a) safish for me to drink despite my medication, yet b) able to cause a nice buzz if you have way too much. The strongest and sweetest don’t taste like alcohol, but are still a hair more intoxicating than a regular beer. Plus they make your intestines and immune system do all good, or so I have read.

It’s a lot of work to have to strain the kefir, bottle it, mix up more sugar water, and set up new cultures every 36-48 hours, but so far? Worth it.

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PSA: This is not a water moccasin.

My partner and I were taking a walk through the park after work. The sun was still high in the sky — we had a few hours before sunset — and left bright, warm patches on the path. There was a brisk, chilly breeze that made me thankful for the mask over my mouth and nose. Everything looked like it’d been put through some kind of image filter: impossibly green and saturated blue, reflected in the million tiny ripples and waves in the creek.

It was really nice.

Unfortunately, the way back was less so. Right off the side of the path we saw a snake, flopped over on its back, sides pierced and streaked with blood. It was a recent kill — the body was still in one piece, and it hadn’t even attracted insects yet. Nearby, we could see some broken sticks, likewise spotted with blood.

I made it a slidey image for those who do not wish to see violence.

As much as this scene absolutely infuriated me, I can understand the desire to get venomous snakes away from places where people — especially children — often go. I do. The thing is, if a person takes it upon themselves to kill a snake, they also bear the responsibility of being able to identify that snake. If it isn’t venomous, it’s better to leave it alone and teach children to do the same.

Nature makes it surprisingly easy to identify dangerous things. Some harmless snakes (and caterpillars!) take advantage of this by disguising themselves — compare milk snakes and coral snakes, for example. Even better, this area only has two native venomous snake species.

One is the copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix). It’s easy to identify because it has the typical heart-shaped, chubby-cheeked head of a venomous snake, a coppery head, and markings shaped like Hershey’s kisses.

Not chocolatey or delicious. Public domain picture from the CDC.

The other is the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus). This species has dark crossbands or chevron-like markings that overlay another color, and a dorsal stripe. Their base colors can be light or dark, and the variability in their coloration can make them tricky to identify. They do have rattles, which fortunately tend to clear things up quickly.

Most snakes don’t want to mess with people, because we’re too large to eat, we’re dangerous, and we’re an enormous waste of energy. They’ll put up an aggressive display, but this is always to get people to go away. The problem with copperheads is that they’re ambush predators that do a pretty good job of blending in. They tend to freeze when faced with a threat, relying on their natural camouflage to protect them. This means they often get stepped on, and may try to bite in self-defense.

(Roughly 4 out of 5 venomous snake bites are “dry bites,” meaning that no venom is injected.)

If you see a copperhead or timber rattlesnake, the safest thing you can do is give it a wide berth. It doesn’t want to attack you, it just doesn’t want to get stepped on.

The snake we saw was neither of those. Based on its coloration, markings, absence of a rattle, and the shape of its head, it was an eastern ratsnake. Not only is this species not venomous, it’s beneficial. As its name implies, its diet primarily consists of small rodents — meaning that it keeps rat populations in check. I love rats and think they make fabulous, intelligent, affectionate pets, but I also know that they’re less than welcome in cities. (If you’re in an urban or suburban area and don’t live in a rat-infested building, thank a ratsnake. Seriously.)

Ratsnakes and other black snakes are often confused for water moccasins, which is likely what caused this snake’s untimely death. There’s only one problem: Water moccasins don’t live here.

Like most wild animals, even non-venomous snakes can act aggressively if they feel threatened. The solution is to leave them alone. They don’t want to expend the effort to chase down and attack something they can’t eat, because that’s energy that they don’t get back. Reptiles can’t carry rabies, either. Some people may experience an allergic reaction to proteins in snake saliva, or develop an infection if the wound isn’t cleaned promptly, the same as a bite from any other animal.

For hikers that spend a lot of time in areas populated by snakes, I recommend learning to use a snake hook. Foldable or collapsible snake hooks are the most portable, and therefore likely the best option for people on a trail. While they aren’t as sturdy as solid snake hooks, the foldable snake hook you have with you beats the solid snake hook you left behind for being too cumbersome. If you can get a solid walking stick that doubles as a snake hook, even better!

In the event of a bite from a venomous snake, there is no substitute for the ER. Never attempt to suck venom out by mouth. Some places sell “venom extraction kits” that purport to safely remove snake venom, but these don’t actually work the way they claim to. In many cases, they just cause bruising and other tissue damage without removing venom, which may make the situation worse and complicate the healing process. There’s even some evidence to suggest that they may make more venom stay in the body by preventing it from oozing out of the wound.

The majority of snakes aren’t just harmless, they’re beneficial. They keep fast-breeding rodent populations in check, which likewise keeps rodent-borne diseases down. Before going into places where snakes live, familiarize yourself with their patterns, behavior, and habitat.

As for people who can’t see a snake without wanting to kill it? Stay home.

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The Second Birthday

My partner and I listen to a lot of podcasts. He’s into audiobooks, I’m not, but we can generally compromise on podcasts. Besides, over the past year, they’ve been a nice way to have other voices in the house. (Even when some of those voices are telling me about the Ant Hill Kids.)

One of our favorites is Hey Riddle Riddle (seriously, it’s adorable and hilarious). On one of their recent episodes, Erin Keif mentioned the idea of the Second Birthday.

To paraphrase, it’s something like this. You ask people if they’re okay giving up eight months or so to save lives, and most of them will say yes. They’ll endure it without much complaint. Sure, celebrating a birthday in lockdown isn’t much fun, but what’re you gonna do?

Then the Second Birthday happens. That’s when it starts to feel less and less like there’s an end in sight.

I’m lucky enough that it isn’t that likely that I’ll have to spend an actual second birthday in lockdown, but the Second Birthday isn’t so much about actual cake and presents as it is a feeling. To be honest, I’ve had a weird amount of ups and downs for a year where every day has been pretty much the same. Some lows, I can blame on The Ennui. I’ve also had my share of “I’m learning another skill!” “Let’s know languages!” and “CLEAN. EVERYTHING.” highs. Lately it’s different, though.

Part of it might be February in DC. Things have wound down from the doorknob-humpingly ludicrous events of January 6th, but there’s still tension. Tension, and cold, gray weather. As I write this, there’s an abundance of snow on the ground (well, an abundance for here), but the knowledge that it’ll be slimy gray slush by tomorrow still pulls at my mind like a fish hook.

Imbolc was earlier this week for many Neopagans, signaling the start of the lambing season. We’re about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, in a kind of spiritual Wednesday. Still, while this time might be a drag for people, the turning Earth goes about its business. Daylight hours keep getting longer, snowdrops poke their heads through the chilly ground, and the new lambs come when they will.

Here’s hoping for a happy and peaceful Second Birthday for everyone.

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The Teller of Fortunes 1: A Bit of Bloodroot in Your Shoe

Hello! I helped write a thing.

Uruvalai

โ€œโ€ฆ And here, we have the Shard in your Luck house. This is an omen of good fortune.โ€ย 

One slender, neatly-manicured hand turns a card over with a deliberate air of reverence as she explains. The words slip from wine-colored lips with a smooth, almost lyrical quality โ€” part prophecy, part lullaby.ย 

Incense smoke softly curls from the nostrils of a bronze, sleeping katagon-shaped brazier, thickening the air with its perfume. The silk scarf pinned over the tentโ€™s entrance is almost completely still in the heat โ€” the light glowing warmly through its brightly dyed designs paints the ground in shifting shades of scarlet, indigo, and violet. Much of this effect is lost on the Teller of Fortunes herself, for the eyeless, humming gaze of a shasii is ill-equipped for colors.

โ€œAnd,โ€ she purrs smoothly as she uncovers another card, โ€œThe appearance of the Oyster in your Money house meansโ€ฆ

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A World Born: The Promise of Fire and Fugue

Uruvalai

Deep in the secluded archives of the Eternalist monks is a tomb for tales: multitudes of shelves covering every moss-plastered wall in scrolls and cracked tomes. Further below, ancient crates fashioned from kruckwood, limestone, and slate sleep in the deepest catacombs. Covetous roots crowd along the walls, inching to pierce through to the vast knowledge stored deep beneath the soil. Even these ancient, patient, persistent thieves cannot pry nourishment from the sealed-up parchments and letter-carved stone.

The Eternalists never cut the roots. Instead, they carefully relocate the ancient tales whenever their pursuers draw close. They treat the pages with special, ink-preserving resins โ€” a practice refined through the passing of ages. Only the dim light of glowstone illuminates these vaults; the meticulous monks simply will not allow open flames, be it a blazing torch or a flickering candle. Even unfurling a scroll requires special instruments, lest clumsy fingers damage aโ€ฆ

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