Enchantment Learning & Living Blog

Welcome to Enchantment Learning & Living, inspirational blog about the simple pleasures, dreams, and fantasies that bring true magic to the everyday. 

Homemade Bronzer

Over the years, I've gotten into making my own makeup (that's when you know you've gone full-on eco-conscious blogging hippy BTW).  The more I learned about the junk that goes into cosmetics--even the supposedly organic kind--the more I've tried to figure out ways to make my own for better quality control.  I started with my Thank Goodness It Ain't Maybelline Mascara and it's clear off-shoot that's ideal for hot summer days.  They made me a DIY makeup convert.  The recipes are quick and economical, costing me mere cents rather than the twenty or so dollars I would shell out for a good quality organic mascara!  Plus I know that my ingredients are all natural and safe to use.

I took it to the next level with this homemade bronzer.  It's great for sensitive skin like mine and for people who don't like a ton of heavy makeup on their face.  An added bonus for me is that I get to choose just the right color and saturation.  Seriously, who hasn't bought makeup that turned out to be the wrong shade for your complexion or much too heavy for your taste?  With my own blend, I take out the guess work. While it might cost a little up front to purchase your bulk ingredients, they go a long way and never spoil.  You end up spending only about a dollar for an ounce or two of bronzer.  Amazing!

I adapted my recipe from Wellness Mama, my go-to guru for everything DIY natural.  I even used Wellness Mama approved Gold Mica Powder and Bronze Mica Powder for my blend.  Technically these mineral powders can't be called organic because they come from the earth and might have other trace minerals or substances in them; it's similar to how you can never call fish organic, only wild caught.  That said, if using these natural mineral powders still bother you, I've seen some recipes successfully use cocoa powder and other spices for their bronzers.  I went ahead and used the mica powders because I wanted a little sparkle in mine (natch).

Feel free to play with the quantity and ratios of the powders here to get your desired look.  I just listed the blend that worked for me.  I like to store my bronzer in old lip balm tins and tubes for an added touch of beauty.  You can use this on your lips, cheeks, and even eyes.  This summer, it has become my go-to beauty product. 

So why do I include this in my year of Radical Self-Care?  Because sometimes we need to feel pretty.  Sparkly even.  I think this bronzer does the trick.

Special Tools:

Clean tin can

Old saucepan

Spatula

Ingredients:

2 TBS shea butter

1 TBS coconut oil

1/2 TBS beeswax

1/2 - 1 tsp of bronze mica powder

1/2 - 1 tsp of gold mica powder

Instructions:

1. Place the saucepan on low heat and fill halfway with water.  Then place the clean tin can in the center of the saucepan.  Put the beeswax in the tin can and let melt slowly. When beeswax is melted, remove from heat.

2.  When beeswax is melted, add the shea butter and coconut oil.  Don't be surprised if beeswax partially hardens.  It will melt again as the oil liquefies.  Let oils melt and blend with beeswax (it takes around five minutes).  Stir to mix fully.

3.  Remove from heat.  Stir in desired amounts of powder to oil and wax mixture.  (FYI: I like to keep a separate tin can that I use strictly for blushes and bronzers because the pigment will stick to the can.)  Stir until combined.

4.  Pour liquid into a container of choice, either a reused lip balm jar or chapstick tube.  Let sit until cooled and solidified (about an hour).  

Makes one large pot of bronzer or two to three smaller tubes.  To use, simply apply to lips and cheeks as desired.  Enjoy!

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday fantasy, and absolutely delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is the everyday, subscribe here.

Want even more inspiration to make your dream life a reality?  Follow me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter @EnchantmentLL.  Thanks for following!

All-Purpose Seasoning

A few years ago, I started making my own all-purpose seasoning.  Why?  Because I got tired of buying small jars of the stuff for a few dollars a pop and because I learned that many of those spice blends contain additives, fillers, preservatives, and other yucky things I'd prefer to have in my body.  I'd also learned about the staleness and poor quality of the ingredients in many of theses blends by the time they reach store shelves.  Since part of committing to radical self-care is about becoming more aware of what consume, I decided to make my own healthier version of an all-purpose seasoning.  Now, I can never go back to the old stuff.

For starters, it is way less expensive!  Buying in bulk means you spend less on fresher goods, reduce waste by not paying for yet another spice jar, and you can tailor your blend to your own needs.  I buy my spices in bulk at my local herb store but you can also purchase bulk spices at your local natural grocery store or online at Rose Mountain Herbs.  

I use my blend for everything from popcorn to roasted veggies and beyond.  I've also gotten more than a few friends and family members addicted to it.  I use all organic ingredients and quality sea or Himalayan salt.  You can decide how much salt you want to include.  The recipe below suggests one cup of salt, but if you are on a reduced sodium diet, you can lower it to half a cup or omit it completely.  The cumin and paprika make the seasoning for me, adding unexpected notes of warmth and spice.  That said, if you prefer some spices over others, feel free to play with your own ratios or omit the flavors you don't enjoy.  What I offer here is simply my go-to seasoning recipe that enhances everything I cook. 

What's on the menu tonight?  I'm thinking Italian Grilled Veggies with a heavy sprinkling of this seasoning.  I might make a night of it and throw in a batch of watermelon coolers.  Take that heat wave.  

Ingredients:

1 cup sea salt 

1/2 cup pepper

1/4 cup cumin powder

1/4 cup onion powder

1/2 cup garlic powder

1/8 cup chile powder

1/8 cup paprika

Combine ingredients in bowl and stir well until combined.  Store in airtight container.  Makes a little less than three cups.  Enjoy!

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday fantasy, and absolutely delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is the everyday, subscribe here.

Want even more inspiration to make your dream life a reality?  Follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter @EnchantmentLL.  Thanks for following!

La Vie en Rose Cocktail

Ahhhh summer...the season when we are most likely to experience the world through rose-colored glasses and savor the sweeter things in life.  Lately, I've been working on cultivating a little more sweetness and a little more softness to my every day--which is, frankly, a lot harder than it sounds.  As much as I love simple pleasures and self-care, I am inherently a creature of discipline, focus, and routine which is great...up to a point.  

It makes me highly productive and able to relish the day-in-day-out of my teaching and writing life.  There's so much to be excited about, especially in my writing world (but I'm not telling about what yet, winky face).  And yet when summer comes, I am always reminded of the importance of cultivating my life beyond the page and the classroom, much as I love both.  Too much routine and you risk its dark side: stagnation.  

Summer keeps me playful, adventurous, and bold.  Summer is for saying yes to new experiences and keeping your heart open to adventures.  It is a season for relearning the value of being deliciously unproductive--or rather, recognizing that staying out all night dancing is just as important for your soul as your weekly workout routine is for your health.  Of course, summer is also for those sweep-you-off-your-feet novels that encourage you to find the romance in every situation.  

Laura Florand's Once Upon a Rose (which, you'll remember, I recommended back in April) is the perfect example of this kind of breezy, warm read that asks us--no, demands that we acknowledge the healing power of pleasure.  It's not a perk in this book but a necessity for the well-being and creative life of the heroine, a burned out indie musician, and the overly responsible hero, heir to a family business in Provance (cultivating--you guessed it!--roses for high-end perfume companies).  Their romance unfolds in a series of delicious scenes that saturate the senses and leave the lingering scent of roses in its wake.  In short, it's a story about the sweetness of finding your happily ever after--and the work it takes, especially for the more work-focused among us--to allow yourself to enjoy it.

Long after I finished the book, in fact, I thought of roses.  Big bold bouquets of them.  The gentle kiss of rose water splashed on the inside of my wrists.  The bushes lining neighborhood homes begging to me to stop and take in their splendor.  And the desire to indulge in all things rosy...including cocktails.  

Thus my La Vie en Rose Cocktail was born.  It was inspired by three things: Florand's book, a bottle of rose liquor I stumbled upon, and Smart Bitches Trashy Books' Covers & Cocktails, in which readers concoct adult beverages based on various books they've read.  The results are always yummy and not unlike imbibing the liquid essence of the stories they are based on (how's that for everyday magic and kitchen conjuring?).  The drink is tart like a gimlet, soft like rose perfume, and sweet like a long summer night.  Gin adds a nice herbacous boquet, but if you prefure vodka, by all means, follow your heart.  And--who knows?--drinking this heady elixir just might make you bold enough to seek out your rose-colored happily ever after. 

Ingredients:

2 oz gin (or vodka)

3/4 oz fresh lime juice

1 oz rose liquor

ice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker and shake vigorously for thirty seconds.  Pour into martini glass.  Serves one, so find someone who makes you see the world through rose-colored glasses, double the recipe, and make a night of it.

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday enchantments, and delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is the everyday, subscribe here.

Want even more inspiration to make your dream life a reality?  Follow me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.  Thanks for following!

On Mini-Holidays & Trips to Santa Fe

I love a good mini-holiday.  Especially when said holiday is in the middle of the week.  You throw caution to the wind, pack a bag, and hit the road in pursuit of a carefree adventure.  In fact, nothing says sweet sweet summertime like taking an impromptu trip with no real agenda, set plans, or heaven forbid, those atrocious specimens schedules.  

All by way of saying, I felt the road calling my name when I wrapped up spring semester.  I wanted an adventure.  I wanted to lose track of time.  I wanted to goof around and dress up and eat good food and enjoy art.  I wanted to cruise down my New Mexico highways blasting Spanish pop and later get dolled up for a night at the theater.  Which is how I found myself in Santa Fe last week for no other reason than to see a fabulous play and enjoy the luxury of sleeping in a hotel for the night.  

Let me be clear before I continue: the places I went and the things I did in no way represent all the things you must see if you visit Santa Fe.  In fact, you'll find this is a hodge-podge assortment of places and things to enjoy born out of off-the-cuff recommendations from friends, aimless walks down side streets, and a shameless Google search to find the best chocolate makers in the city (hey, wine only takes a woman so far).  

Having grown up in New Mexico and visiting Santa Fe more times than I can count, I skipped a lot of the museums and historical sites the town is famous for because I've seen them a hundred times--and would happily see them again, but that wasn't in the cards for this trip!  I love being a tourist in my own backyard.  Go see them.  Enjoy them...then maybe try a few of the places I discovered on my recent trip.  

IMG_9968.JPG

I stayed at the Lodge (pictured above) because I found a killer deal online (hello off-season).  It sat on top of a hill, making it feel removed from the city and yet, in reality, it was only a two-minute drive to the plaza area.  Personally, I like to go to Santa Fe during the off-season to avoid the crowds.  If I were staying longer than a night, I would have taken advantage of the hotel's beautiful outdoor area to sunbathe and write.  As it was, I enjoyed the view from my window while sipping a morning cup of coffee and getting in a little writing before heading to Clafoutis for breakfast after a lovely night at the theater.  

Two words: French Bakery.  Here's another word: Delicious.  A friend of mine recommended it for breakfast and, boy, was I glad she did!  I indulged in coffee and chocolate croissant for breakfast (alas, my beloved almond croissants were sold out by the time I got there).  I also took a souvenir home in the form of an apricot clafoutis or custard pastry for which the bakery is named (pictured here with my breakfast croissant).  

But I'm getting ahead of myself: I originally went to Santa Fe to see one of my friend's plays, In the Other Room (Or the Vibrator Play) at the Santa Fe Playhouse, which, according to its website, is the "oldest continuing running theater west of the Mississippi."  It's a quaint theater with a rich history and the play was a saucy and surprisingly poignant story about Victorian-Era gender and sexual norms...that has surprising relevance today. 

Pre-theater, I dined with an old friend at 315, a delightful wine bar and restaurant. We sat on the patio and drank rose while soaking in the intoxicating spring mountain air.  We split the fava bean and artichoke falafel, truffle fries, and the asparagus and mushroom strudel (all pictured below). Each dish was as tasty as it was visually stunning!  This place is built for leisurely dinners where conversation, wine, and food are savored with equal fervor.  After the play, several of us (including the director), went for drinks at Del Charro, voted one of the best bars in Santa Fe.  My chile-mango margarita and I agree!

Funny how most of my travel blogs revolve around good food...which brings me to my farewell lunch at Jambo Cafe before I cruised back to Burque.   This award winning African-Carribean restaurant is a favorite of the locals and I can see why.  I ordered the Jamaican hibiscus tea and a tofu jerk sandwich with cumin fries.  You can tell a lot about a place by what they can do with tofu; it's either bland as all get out or melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  Jambo Cafe knows how to make tofu tasty and the portions were so big I easily got two meals out of it.  Yum!

Since I had no set agenda for this trip, I also took some time to window shop and peruse some of my favorite stores.  I can never go to Santa Fe without peeking into Act 2, a woman's consignment boutique with unique affordable clothes.  Having recently gone to the mall on an errand, I remembered two things: 1. I hate malls and 2. I love small shops like Act 2 where I can find funky clothes.  Bonus: it's more eco-friendly to shop consignment.  That's what I call win-win. Last but not least (and here I am circling back to food again), I went to Chocolate Smith where I got some delectable lavender-lemon white chocolate, cherries dipped in dark chocolate, and caramels, for which they are famous for, with flavors like peanut butter and jelly, thyme-lemon, cardamom-orange, and pomegranate-fig (pictured below).  It's like a mini-holiday in my mouth whenever I indulge in these little treats.

Wherever the road takes you--to Santa Fe or another destination--allow yourself to lose track of time, discover new places--or redsicover old ones--and enjoy the simple pleasures the unfolding day brings.  

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday enchantments, and delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is the everyday, subscribe here.

Want even more inspiration to make your dream life a reality?  Follow me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.  Thanks for following!

April in Paris

Somehow the arrival of April always ushers in the delicious promise of new adventures along with the gentle kiss of spring rain and the season's first batch of lettuce.   What can I say?  There's something about the heady perfume of lilac blossoms and longer days that lure me from my home in search of...whatever delights life wants to send my way.  I can never fully explain this feeling, except to say that it is like a cross between spring fever and the giddy carefree youthfulness that makes you rise before the sun, ready to taste the day.  

It also has me dreaming of travel and faraway places, mostly because this is also the time of (the school) year that I am most in need of rest and play time.  This fall I wrote about how every November I feel like becoming more introverted in Comfort Me with Books...and Other Simple Pleasures; I find I still turn to books and other simple pleasure in the spring to revive my soul and get myself adventure-ready.  The only difference?  Fall is for introversion and spring is for...mischief!

Growing up, I always thought of Paris as the place to travel to, mostly because I was reading Henry Miller and Anais Nin, those literary Parisian icons--that is, when I wasn't watching every Audrey Hepburn movie I could get my hands on (many of which happened to take place in or are inspired by this city of lights).  My imagination was further inflamed by reading about French culinary delights in the pages of Gourmet magazine.  Naturally, I developed quite the fantasy world to escape into when I got tired of homework and the little things that begin to wear on a young woman when spring hits and all she wants to do is kick off her shoes and walk barefoot in the grass.  

And when I finally went to Paris two years ago, well, it was lovely.  From kir royales and escargot before dinner, to long strolls along the Seine and full days viewing art, there was much to enjoy in this city.  But (and I almost hesitate to confess this, because Paris is Paris) part of me knew that what made my visit so absolutely beautiful was the years I'd spent daydreaming about this place and imbuing it with my own rose-colored vision.  

...all this by way of saying that spring always makes me feel like that kid again, dreaming of travel and Paris, wanting to be of the world and in the world, as Hepburn's Sabrina would say. So if you, too, are looking to dust off your soul and emerge from hibernation, here's my list of books, movies, and treats to help you feel expansive, delighted, and ready for a trip to Paris--even if it's just from the comfort of your favorite reading nook.

While I haven't read it yet, I can't wait to dive into Laura Florand's Amour et Chocolat Series, starting with The Chocolate Thief.  There's chocolate.  There's Paris.  There's romance...need I say more?  I'm totally loving her La Vie en Roses series, starting with Once Upon a Rose, about perfumers in the Provence.  So while it's not quite Paris, the fields of roses and heady descriptions of the lush French countryside (not to mention rich internal lives of the main characters) make you want to linger within this book.  And wear perfume.  And...visit the French countryside (wink wink).  

If you're looking for something about the history and daily life of Parisians, not to mention a touch of mystery and a dash of romance, look no further than the Paris Key by Juliet Blackwell. She is one of my all-time favorite auto-buy authors and this is the first of many Paris-themed reads from her.  Be warned: you will be prone to sipping wine and taking long walks through your own city while under the influence of this book.

And if words on a page are too much for you at the end of the week (I'm talking to you, essay graders!), then consider watching some of the Audrey Hepburn classics like Funny Face (1957) & Sabrina (1954), both of which are about finding yourself in Paris and bringing that magic home with you.  If you want to go farther afield, Alfred Hitchcock depicts the French Riveria in all its glamor in his thriller To Catch a Thief (1955), starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in one of the best cat and mouse games you'll ever see.  Feeling a little extra saucy?  Try Henry & June (1990), a film about Anais Nin and Henry Miller in 1930s Paris...need I say more?  For a more contemporary look at Paris, you might want to try another of my favorite odes to this magical city and the Jazz Age, Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris (2011).  It's about romanticizing history...and learning to find romance in your daily life.  

Whatever you decide to dive into--a movie or a book--feast on this literary journey.  Make yourself a kir royal, put on that Django Reinhardt record, and spend the day cooking beef bourguignon or coq au vin.  Can't quite focus for that long in the kitchen?  Forget the more complicated recipes and whip up a simple aioli to dip garden-fresh crudites or let yourself get swept up in M. F. K. Fisher's culinary recollections of her time in France and make whatever inspires you.

However you choose to spend your proverbial April in Paris, enjoy the ability to travel from the comfort of your own home.   

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, walking along the Seine.  

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, walking along the Seine.  

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday enchantments, and delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is the everyday, subscribe here.

Want even more inspiration to make your dream life a reality?  Follow me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.  Thanks for following!

Sautéed Burdock Root

Part of my year of radical self-care is returning to the joys of cooking.  I've been making it a priority to cook on the weeknights (granted, my meals must be simple!) and to reignite my passion for trying new recipes and ingredients.  I sift through recipe books.  I check my Pinterest boards for new culinary delights.  Most importantly, I've gone back to hunting for different local, in-season ingredients to play around with, making each trip to the co-op a culinary adventure.  I find I look forward to whatever I might cook up during the week or weekend simply because I've gone beyond the pure need to fuel myself and returned to the hedonism of feeding the five senses--and my soul.

Time in the kitchen at the end of the day helps me to nourish myself.  Light a few beeswax candles.  Put on some jazz records.  Pour a glass of wine.  And cook.  It's a terribly civilized way to end the day.  After giving out energy for the past eight hours, I get to tuck in, recharge, and pull back from the more extroverted demands of my work.

Better still: I get to indulge in the delights of kitchen conjuring--taking raw ingredients, herbs, and spices, and turning them into healing, nourishing meals.  Which brings me to my latest love: burdock root.  I found this knotty unsung healer in an unassuming pile at my local store this winter and haven't been able to stop eating it since.  I'd used it for a long time in teas because of its terrific healing properties.  Like dandelion leaves and roots, burdock is known for its detoxifying properties.  It is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and cleanses the lymphatic system like nothing else.  Bonus: I found that's it's all kinds of tasty!  

I gathered a large handful for my kitchen experiment, searched high and low for recipes, and finally settled on a nice, simple sautée.  Burdock tastes like a cross between artichokes and turnips--similar to sunchokes.  I toss them in lemon juice to prevent them from oxidizing and turning a dusty brown color.  They're still edible oxidized...just not as yummy looking.  I prefer to use ghee for this recipe, as it lends a rich, nutty flavor to the root, but feel free to use what you have.  You'll notice I haven't given specific amounts here--you make as much or as little as you want.  Sautéed burdock is great as a side dish or as a light main attraction over a bed of lettuce (pictured above). 

Ingredients:

burdock root

lemon juice

ghee, coconut, or olive oil

sea salt (optional)

Wash burdock root thoroughly and let dry.  Using a peeler, shave off darker outer layer--save scraps for compost.  Slice root into thin medallions (diagonally works best to get larger pieces). Toss pieces in lemon juice.  This prevents browning and also gives the root a bright flavor. Heat ghee or oil on skilled.  Keep heat to medium.  Pour burdock root (with lemon juice) into pan and let simmer until cooked, about 15-20 minutes.  Serve immediately.  Enjoy!

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday enchantments, and delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is the everyday, subscribe here.

Want even more inspiration to make your dream life a reality?  Follow me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.  Thanks for following!

Reading Romances: 10 Life Lessons I've Learned from Reading Trashy Novels

Confession:  I am addicted--and I mean ADDICTED--to trashy book covers.  Vintage pulp.  Over-the-top fantasy.  Macho westerns.  And of course, most especially, romance novels.  Those covers are a particular weakness with their half-naked heroes with rock-hard abs and the heroines with uncooperative dresses that practically fall from their bodies.  The lusty gazes.  The idyllic background.  It all promises, well...you know.  And if there's a lusty pirate on the cover, I'm done for (what can I say? I love a good story about swash-buckling social transgression!).

I've been collecting trashy book covers for as long as I can remember.  But it hasn't been until recently that I've started reading romance books in earnest, thanks to my new addiction, Smart Bitches, Trashy Novels, which has guided me through the delicious world of these novels.  Don't get me wrong, I've read plenty of paranormal stories, cozy mysteries, and fantasies with strong romantic elements, and studied courtship novels almost exclusively while earning my degree...but I'd never fully immersed myself in this genre.  

Sure I've read Nora Roberts here and there or thumbed through the books I'd bought for their covers, but I hadn't completely committed to the romance. One of the big reasons is that I found it so overwhelming!  There are so many books and so many authors, I didn't know where to start. And (she says shamefully), there was the whole romance novel stigma.  You know, the whole, "you read THAT?!"  Why yes, yes I do.

And love every minute of it.  I've become partial to historical romances.  They are, as Sara Wendell from Smart Bitches would say, my catnip.  One of the reasons I've fallen in love with the genre is that it is about hope and all the soft, gushy feelings our society doesn't value in the way it should. Naturally, I would turn to this genre during my year of radical self-care because it reminds me how powerful pleasure is.  

This is also a genre of reinvention (these stories have come so far from the early years of Fabio heroes foisting themselves upon virtuous maidens!).  It encourages us to sweep off the dust of experience, heal the scrapes inflicted by a hard world, and remember what it is like to feel hope and other giddy, luscious things.  And the heroines!   Let's just say each and every one of them is epic in her own way but they all teach you how to cultivate romance in your own life.  

When I say romance, sure, I mean chocolates and flowers and orgasms as that comes into your life; but I also mean remembering what it is like to see the world through rose-colored glasses.  To know yourself and what brings you joy.  To take pride in owning your capacity for pleasure in all things.  And to work hard for your happiness.  So without further ado, I offer you 10 life lessons I've learned from reading trashy novels.

1.  It's important to nourish--and value--your internal life.  We live in a world that values extroversion and concrete achievements, so much so that I often come home tired of this out-there energy and in desperate need of emotional sustenance, the kind that honors the rich nuances of the human spirit that goes beyond material accomplishments. What a treat it is then to crack open a book and read about the deep internal lives of fictional characters.  Romances are delicious character-driven stories.  They offer insight into how our thoughts and past experiences shape who we are now.  Most of all, they show us the often intangible, but no less important value of taking the time to process the world around us.  Sometimes the most profound changes and experiences are revelations that burst upon us when we create space to reflect.  

2. Happy endings are real.  Seriously, who doesn't need this reminder right now?  Not only are they real but you have the power to make them happen.  What you choose to give time and energy to can determine the quality of your life, so let go of toxic people and situations and thoughts.  So yeah, happy endings real, but it takes a lot of hard work to get there!  Which takes us to lesson number three...

3.  Happiness is hard work. The conflict resolution never falls into the heroine's lap and true love doesn't just happen to her--she works at it, to understand herself, to resolve her situation, and to open herself up to love (of life, of herself, of the hero(ione)).  Guess that whole stereotype of the hero fixing things for her is busted! In all the romance novels I've been gobbling up, never once do I see a fainting damsel in distress looking for a knight in shining armor to whisk her away from danger.  She always meets trouble head on and eventually enjoys the perks of a capable hero by her side (or under or on top of her...wink wink).  

4.  Hope can take you a long way.  Romances are about hope and letting go of a jaded worldview that limits your potential and capacity for happiness.  Hope is one of those soft, gushy feelings made out of rainbows and wishes.  Because it is light as a feather, it is often overlooked as unimportant or not as enlightening as darker emotions.  But these stories refresh and revive and inspire hope.  They remind us to dream and wonder and always, always look for the joy in the day.

5.  Pleasure is powerful.  Okay so I've been reading a lot about multiple orgasms and endless sweaty nights and more sexual positions than I can properly name, but...what's wrong with that? Again, just because it feels good doesn't mean we should dismiss it as not important or serious. In fact, pleasure in any form (not just the mattress-breaking kind) is one of the most profound ways we experience life and learn about the kind of life we want to cultivate. 

6. Leave plenty fo room for sexy times!  (See number 5.) Light beeswax candles.  Wear clothes that make you feel beautiful.  Cook a sumptuous dinner.  Kiss.  A lot.  Or enjoy some quality solo time (wink wink).  Watch the sun set.  Watch the sun rise.  Paint your nails.  Walk naked around the house (wait, you don't do that?).  Read a book.  Do anything and everything that makes you feel sexy and vibrant.  

7. A good heroine takes action. Every book I've read has a dynamic heroine who takes charge of her life.  Personal chef business failing?  Move to your hometown for the summer to figure out your next move.  Crushing on the rakish duke?  Seduce him at the masquerade.  Captured by pirates?  Join the crew!  Even if she starts out as a doormat, she grows into an empowered woman.  

8.  It's never too late to reinvent yourself.   This goes back to hope.  Sometimes we get stuck.  Sometimes we get a lot stuck. Sometimes we worry that we've gone so far down a road that we can't turn back, pull over, or blaze a new trail.  We become afraid. Our vision narrows.  We begin to resign ourselves to an unfulfilled life.  Trashy books tell us that is the exact moment when the universe needs to shake things up.  Get accidentally snowed in with an unrequited love (make sure there's plenty if mistletoe!) or win the lottery and finally live a life free from the social constraints of the marriage market. When the universe intervenes or you take matters into your own hand by quitting your terrible job to travel the world, these books remind us that we don't have to stay on the tracks we--or others--have laid out for us.  We can reinvent ourselves at any time.  

9. Emotions matter--trust your instincts.  Ahhhhh, the whole he-should-be-perfect-for-me-but-there's-no-spark plot.  Or the seems-like-a-good-guy-but-really-is-evil.  It's easy to succumb to social pressures or our own convoluted ideas about what might make us happy; but if we actually stop and listen to what will bring us joy, we will find it's often not in the generic socially acceptable picture-perfect version of our life we tell ourselves we want.  Real life is gritty (even in a romance novel); real life asks you to question the status quo; real life asks you to be true to yourself.  The only way to do that: be brutally honest about your feelings.  Not what logic tells you make sense.  Your feelings.  Those hard-to-quantify-oh-so-magical things that let you know when you're moving in the right direction (hint: it is towards the gentleman thief with a shadowy past and a mullet that would make any 80s rockstar envious...or whatever).

10.  Value yourself. This is another important lesson.  Either the heroine already understands the value of self-respect or she grows into it by the end of the story.  In either case, romance novels are powerful vehicles for showing that strong women--vulnerable, emotional, capable women--have to value themselves first and foremost.  Everything else comes out of this.

Bottom line: if reading romances is wrong, I don't want to be right!  (Cut to me sweeping out of the ballroom--bedroom?--in my disheveled fuschia regency gown and running after said pirate...book.) We could all use a little romance in our lives.  A little tenderness and hope.  And if my laptop background now features scantily-clad Victorian lovers mid-tryst or a Fabio-like hunk wrapped in pink satin sheets with a woman rocking 80s bed head, then so be it.  

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday enchantments, and delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is the everyday, subscribe here.

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5 Things I've Learned about Writing from a Year of Blog Editing

Now that I've finished my year of editing--and had some time to relax--I've come to realize that editing has taught me a lot about the writing (and living!) process.  Sometimes it felt like my editing project would never end, mostly because I don't think it is a process that can truly end. You just have to decide that you're done.  At least for now.  It also gave me a chance to review all the wonderful experiences, insights, and recipes I've collected here over the past few years.  This adventure has left me with a new perspective on writing.  Although there are hundreds of things I've learned from a year of editing, I've narrowed it down to the top five. Each one reflects a morsel of wisdom I hope to take with me as I dive into new projects (and blogs!).

1.  If you want to be a writer, write.   It's as simple as that.  When I started this blog, I'd already been writing every day since I was a teenager and knew I wanted to become a writer.  It didn't matter what I wrote or how much, just that I kept at it.  That's also how I got this blog started. Rain or shine, whether I felt like it or not, I showed up to my writing desk every day and honed my craft.  I can see moments in past blogs where my voice began to blossom because I'd gained confidence and experience through regular practice.  

2.  Perfection is overrated.  Seriously.  This is a big one.  I've seen so many writers get stumped from the get-go because they want everything to be perfect.  I've certainly been guilty of this. And yet when I started blogging, I promised myself to stress less about perfection and focus my energy on learning my craft.  What a difference that made!  I simply allowed myself to experiment and learn from trial and error.  There was also something liberating about having this experimentation visible to my readers--once my writing was out there, I learned not to fret about mistake making.  It was all part of the process.  Bottom line: writing is messy and you have to be willing to take risks if you want to develop your voice and style.  Which leads me to number three...

3.  You can't fix a blank page.  Write something.  Anything.  You can always go back and edit it later.  But if you hem and haw over each potential word or phrase, you will never get anything done.  Some of my best work came from scribbling down bursts of insights without a filter, before overthinking set in.   

4.  Your work will never feel complete...just done for now.  I fussed over my edits, probably more than I should have, and finally came to the realization that my work will probably never feel quite finished.  That said, if I want to take on new projects, I have to let the old ones rest.  

5.  Writing is a form of conjuring.  Rereading old posts, I came to see how each one reflected the happy, healthy life I wanted to create for myself.  In fact, I started the blog as a way to find joy and balance at a time when I felt like I was still learning what those things meant.  Cut to me three years later, living an abundant, well-rounded life and indulging in the pleasures each day has to offer.  Each word I wrote became a seed that blossomed into the joy I now experience.  That is conjuring at its most basic--and magical!

All in all, I learned that life and writing are about creating beauty and meaning.  And while I might still find a typo or two lurking in the shadows of my posts, as Susanna J. Sturgis writes, "Typos are Coyote padding through language, grinning." 

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday enchantments, and delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is the everyday, subscribe here.

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A Year of Radical Self-Care

I've come to see busy as just another four letter word.  It's the sludge we hide behind when we don't want to (or feel like we can't) listen to our own needs.  The world wants us to be constantly plugged in, constantly expending energy, constantly making noise.  Moreover, we live in a society that values extroversion, overwork, and excess over the softer virtues of introversion, meaningful productivity, and mindful consumption.  Even our New Year's resolutions must be loud, extreme, and quantifiable in some tangible way (I've certainly been guilty of imposing arbitrary and often unachievable markers of personal growth on myself over the years).

So what about our needs?  What about the importance of self-care?  Since January is the month of clean slates and New Year's resolutions, it seems like the perfect time to pour this transformative energy into a vow I can keep: a year of radical self-care.  

Think about it: Radical.  Self.  Care.  Not do more.  Not be more.  Not checking off arbitrary boxes of self-fulfillment.  Not imposing unrealistic ideals on myself.  Just take better care of myself.  This is more challenging than it seems because it requires me to truly to listen to myself, my body, my mind, my soul.  No small task in a world that can demand too much of us and make us forget what genuine self-care looks like.  To help chart my self-care progress year, I came up with two guiding questions:

What will bring me joy? 

What is sustainable?

First, if something doesn't contribute to my overall happiness and health, I let it go.  It's as simple--and as hard--as that.  We live in a world that tells us more is better, so I must relearn the joys of less.  I must also be honest with myself about what brings me joy (hint: it's often not what society says will make me happy).  Second, I have to think about the long-term substantiality of any new self-care routine I want to incorporate into my life. Working out an hour a day is not realistic for me with my teaching and writing schedule, and neither is cooking an elaborate meal from scratch every night. But exercising five days a week for a half an hour is, as is whipping up a simple soup or salad to enjoy in the evening.  If the goal starts making me feel spread thin, I ditch it. 

The irony of committing to self-care is that you rarely have tangible evidence of your growth--not like with traditional New Year's resolutions.  Only the fullness in my chest that tells me I am living well.  It is so deeply personal that only my bones and heart whispering their contentment tell me that I am truly listening to my needs.  And if I get off track, I won't berate myself over it.  I'll simply root out the culprit that kept me from tending to wellness--usually overwork--and get rid of it.  If I can't greet each day excited for the potential it offers, then I need to examine how I've been living and work my way back to happy (and yes, self-care is hard work!).  With all this in mind, I've come up with a few guidelines to help me in my radical self-care journey:

1. Eat whole foods.  Subtext: avoid processed and packaged foods.  I don't eat processed foods, but want to push this further and avoid anything that comes in too much packaging.  Bonus: it's much better for the environment too.  Bottom line, I want to go back to buying bulk ingredients, whole organic foods, and (mostly) cooking my own meals.  Grabbing a quick take-out or indulging in more carbs than are good for me might seem soothing short-term, but it does nothing to nourish my body or soul long-term.  Cooking at the end of the day helps me unwind and tune into self-care.

2. Exercise regularly.  Dance.  Walk.  Cardio.  Strength.  Doesn't matter what it is except that I commit to it at least four to five days a week.  This one I've actually been working on this past month after seeing how tired and cranky my body felt after a month of infrequent exercising (darn mid-semester!).  Even when I felt at my busiest, I found that ending the day with at least 30 minutes of exercise transformed me.  I went from tired to rejuvenated.  Totally worth it! 

3. Do yoga every day--even if it is just five minutes.  I keep this separate from my exercise plan (although it can be sweaty business!) because nourishing the mind-body connection is such an integral part of self-care.  And I'll be honest: I used to be good at doing yoga every day first thing in the morning, as editing my blog reminded me...but not so much anymore.  It's time to get back to that quiet me time in the morning before the day takes over.  I find I'm much more settled at the end of the day if I make the effort to do my morning yoga rather than hit the snooze button.

4.  Rest...without guilt.  Get 8 hours of sleep every night.  Takes naps.  Spend an afternoon reading or otherwise losing track of time.  I know this sounds like a tough one for teachers--especially during our heavy grading time--but I can't function without a full eight hours of sleep or regular downtime.  At the end of the day, it is more important that I get a full night's rest or spend some time knitting than try to finish everything on the day's to-do list.  It all eventually gets done anyway.  This goes double for having playtime on the weekend.   

5. Keep it hygge.  This Danish term for cozy is all about enjoying the simple pleasures that make life delicious: the scent of burning beeswax candles that waft through my home as I type this; the joys of a hot cup of tea; even the bliss of wearing your favorite pair of fuzzy socks.  You'll notice these are tranquil, calm joys.  Part of living hygge, at least for an introvert like me, is to give myself permission to indulge in the quieter joys of life even when the world is asking me to be louder than I want to be.  That's what I'm all about!  Still when stress hits, it's easy to stop paying attention to the happies we get when tuning into the day-to-day pleasures life can afford.  I say less stress, more hygge! 

...and a bonus self-care goal: leave more time to talk with the Universe.  I know what you're thinking.  What does this have to do with self-care?  It's simple.  We forget that we are part of a big, beautiful world when deadlines loom and that our lives are more than just pushing papers around (even though I do love my work routine!).  We need time to have conversations with the stars, ask the moon questions, and share our deepest wishes with the Universe--and hear them respond in turn. When we forget to nourish everyday magic, we forget to live.  

So that's my goal this year.  Radical self-care.  Radical enjoyment.  Radical magic making.  If you want to rediscover what those things mean, join me for another year as I continue to explore the dreams and delights that make life delicious. 

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday enchantments, and delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is the everyday, subscribe here.

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Comfort Me with Books...& Other Simple Pleasures

I'm always drawn to the quieter domestic pastimes come November.  I want to cook and read and daydream and find healing in the realm of the imagination and kitchen conjuring.  This is, after all, a season for introverts when the changing weather calls us indoors and our gaze inward.  A seriously always want to hibernate come November! But I feel this urge to withdraw is twice as strong this year as I grapple with the implications of the recent election results.  I find myself in need of self-care, simple pleasures, and everyday magic more than ever.  

As it turns out, I'm not the only book-loving foodie introvert searching for a little soul mending. What is fast becoming one of my favorite book blogs, Smart Bitches, Trashy Novels, wrote the much-needed Books & Comfort Food Pairings to sooth and heal after shocking news.  This post spoke to my soul: I needed to read.  A lot.  I needed to cook.  And eat.  And slather myself in self-care rituals that would allow me to mend.  I needed to surround myself with beautiful things. Hopeful things.  Delicious things.  Inspired by Smart Bitches, I've put together my own book and food pairings (and let us not forget the power of a good cocktail or body butter) to find our way back to joy...and thoughtful progress as we once again go back into the world.  These pairings are in no particular order, just what I instinctually reached for this past weekend.  

Also, keep in mind that these aren't necessarily highbrow stories (it's rare that I read anything like that!), but real sweep-you-off-your-feet mysteries, romances, fantasies that have a way of putting our world into perspective, when I'm not reading inspirational non-fiction.  Most notably, I found myself turning to fairy tales and stories inspired by them.  Maybe it is because I've been teaching fairy tales in one of my courses or maybe it is because fairytales, as my students and I found, have a way of reminding us that darkness does exist in this in this world--and that we can defeat it.

Whatever the genre, these are all stories of hope.  They feature strong characters living on the social margins and, ultimately, finding ways to triumph over injustice and build a better world. The nonfiction pieces remind us to look for pleasure in unexpected places and relish the power of pleasure to transform.  

I keep of copy of We Could Almost Eat Outside on my writing desk; this book, in so many ways, has inspired the whole concept of my blog.  It's a delicious look at the simple pleasures that are too easy to overlook in our daily hustle and bustle, but so worth the time to stop and enjoy.  It's grounding.  It's earthy.  It's about routine.  Pair with a quiet evening at home, a calabacitas tart and a giant mug of oatstraw tea to feel the full effect of this soothing read.

If you want more earthy goodness, check out the award-winning Uprooted, a fairy tale story about wild woods, dragon-wizards who kidnapped damsels (or so the village thinks), and one woman's journey into her own magic.  Pair with a lazy afternoon and cozy blanket on the couch, dried apples and a pot of autumn harvest tea.  

More fired up than that?  Try Mercedes Lackey's The Fire Rose, a gorgeous retelling of Beauty & the Beast that takes place in 1905 San Francisco.  There is elemental magic.  There is a slow-budding romance that appeals to any book lover.  And there is the breathing-taking plot about redemption and hope and, once again, a woman coming into her own.  Pair with vanilla bourbon and cinnamon-orange chocolate cups, to match the lush setting. 

For those who don't feel like cooking would be soothing, try putting together a collection of appetizers to graze on, like in my Italian apertivo, and whip up a gimlet made with orange-rosemary infused gin.  Pair with jazz records, your favorite pajamas, and this total escapist steampunk read, The Watchmaker's Daughter, about a woman cast into the fringes of society and forced to fend for herself, only to find herself swept up into a world of mystery, intrigue, and magic.  

Sometimes we just need to indulge in a rich bubble bath, for which I would recommend bringing along a cup of Everything's Coming up Roses Tea (or let's be real, a glass of wine!).  And while you're at it, commit to a hedonistic read.  There's no time like the present to remind ourselves that pleasure is oh-so-powerful, which is why I would recommend reading The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Orgasmic Life, a delicious book about living life with more joy and, yes, more orgasms! Seems to me a full-bodied orgasm is a lofty goal to end the year well.  Pair with Aphrodite's bath salts & sugar scrub.  Finish with a slathering of Winter Solstice body butter and a long nap.

After a long weekend resting and rejuvenating, I was reminded how important creature comforts. They heal.  They soothe.  And they allow us to conjure good energy to carry into our day.

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday enchantments, and delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is the everyday, subscribe here.

Want even more inspiration to make your dream life a reality?  Follow me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.  Thanks for following!

My Joy is My Resistance

Yesterday I cleaned the house. My home. From top to bottom with elbow grease and burning sage. I tore up disappointments and collected broken hearts for my compost and laid them to rest among the worms and coffee grinds.

I honor my sacred space because I built it with my own hands and my own dreams.  I honor it because they want me to be ashamed of my hard work or collapse under its burden. They don't know that it's what keeps my fire stoked. That the many hours harvesting seeds has given me a bumper crop of hope and rosemary to chase away the unwelcome spirits that come knocking on my door.

I pickled jalapenos too because it is nothing short of a minor crisis not to have these thin green disks to warm my belly with their thick seeds. I listened to bachata to warm my heart--and yes, my--well, you know.  I even danced in the kitchen, the whisks and spoons and mason jars full of vinegar and jalapenos my dance partners.  I danced because there are those that want me broken, not the supple sapling that bends and shakes and dances in the wind.

And my words...not everyone wants me to have them. But the second they take one away I just write another and another until the darkness is swept away in the flood of my story. They are afraid of my body too. My hips. And square shoulders and the steady gaze that won't look down.  Let them be.  Let them quake as I plant my feet firmly into the earth and spread my joy like the roots of trees--underground, perhaps imperceptible to some, but the foundation for a stronger future.

Let them watch the hope blossoming in my body with each sun salutation and wonder that I sway my hips--those things they wish they didn't want to hold on to--when my heartbeat is the only music.  Let them know that I relish the way the sun kisses my bronze skin and keeps me warm when others would stamp out my fire.  And when they would try to extinguish my joy, I let laughter bubble from my throat like a thirst-quenching brook.  I let my hands relish the feel of my dreams being coaxed to life between my fingers like the red clay of my beloved desert.  I mold the clay and I love the earth and shape it into stories they do not want me to tell: the ones of hope.  The ones of healing.  The ones that remind us of the moon's power and our own capacity for abundance and possibility.  

And I will take these dreams and I will swallow them.  And I will take these dreams and I will return them to the earth. And I will take these dreams and I will offer them up to the sky.  And I will make my home in them.  Let them burst like rain-soaked seeds fattened by my fertility and the honeyed sweetness of joy.

Let us feast up these fruits.

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday enchantments, and delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is in the everyday, subscribe here.

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Confessions of a Sin Eater

All it takes is one kiss.  Lip locked, you can suck out their sins and use the light inside your chest to burn them up.  You can almost taste the guilt and regret these people hold inside themselves like caged demons fighting to break free.  

This is your power.  

Just one kiss and they can know the peace of exorcism.  You've even acquired a taste for it, like bitter gin on your lips, though you can tell by your charred ribs how it costs you—and so you're careful, knowing full well the danger in the dark taste of others.  As careful as a sin eater can be, anyway.

Because this is yours to do.

There is the gristly piece of shame that you can't quite swallow--you can feel it stuck in your throat.  Whereas the little kinks and guilty pleasures slide down with ease like melted chocolate or red wine--not really sins at all unless you're of a more pious nature and then everything's a burden. A part of you relishes this glimpse into the internal lives of strangers. 

You come from a long line of Sin Eaters, most of whom are eventually devoured by the very phantoms they swallow.  Yours is not an easy path.  Like the broken promise that rests in your belly like a shard of glass, your lives are shaped by the sins you collect.  You are the sea creature eating up the trash and ephemera others carelessly toss into your clear waters.  

This is your legacy.  

They can't even look you in the eye.  They can only plead, sometimes without a voice, to absolve them...of too much to put into words.  You know the look well.  The pressure to swallow the pestilence painted across their broken brow that wants only the quick catharsis of confession. In this, you are not unlike the priest—without the pretense of a screen.  Only your magic works.  For a time.

They can feel the sweet relief of their souls scrubbed clean; they even go so far as to promise you and themselves that they will never, ever commit those sins again.  They might even be foolish enough to believe what they say--though you never will.

This is your gift.

Zero accountability.  Then you are cast aside like a used condom when the deed is done.  Afterward, they cannot look at you because you know them for what they are.  And they know what they have asked of you is unspeakable.   That is their ultimate sin: asking another to carry the burden of their own making.  They cannot see you.  You are not a person anymore.  They see only their greed and temptation and carousing look back at them from behind your tired, burning eyes. The light burns brightest when the fire is fed.

This is your place.

There they go and commit another one.  That's the thing about sins.  They taste so good.  And not just to you.   Take away that which they are most ashamed of, and they always look for a way to get it back.  Even if they are happy to be rid of these chains, they cannot stand to look at your sullied soul.  You are rejected time and again.  Not welcome in any home.  Never asked to stop in and share a morsel, unless—

—they invite you to eat the day old bread resting on a beloved's breastbone as if you didn't know the history and mold settling into the crusty morsel: a final offering from the dead.

You are paid well for your unspeakable service.  

With each swallowed sin, a little bit of your own light dies.  Your insides blacken and curl with smoke.  Your stomach roils with indigestion.  Sometimes you cannot tell the difference between yourself and the demons caged within—or which of these creatures belong to you and which have been collected along the way, like chicken bones and bloodied feathers.  Leftovers from your meal.  

Did they expect you to look monstrous?  Twisted and broken by the weight of your—their—sins? They are always surprised to see fair features and respectable attire.  You could be any of their daughters or sisters or wives.  Perhaps if you ate them more often, the barbed wire from where they have trespassed and the swollen bee stings from violating the natural order would mold your bones into the gnarled frame of a dying tree. 

That is your future.  

So they hope.  Committing your body and their sins to the grave so that they may never speak of them again.  

That was your legacy.

But you no longer have a taste for wickedness.  Not unless it’s of your own making.  So much more delicious to collect your own experiences like sea glass or cracked-open clam shells until you have shadowbox filled with once-ugly things made beautiful.  You need not go so far afield, either.  The rotted pumpkin becomes a home for the worms that make your garden thrive.  The ghost behind your shoulder is one of your own making.  He will leave you in time when you are both ready to be rid of each other.  Until then, you have one companion that isn’t afraid to look you in the eye.

This is your freedom.  

You could suck out the poison of each and every soul that knocks on your door.  Some may even call you a saint for doing so.  But you know the real work happens when a person wrestles with her sins, real or imagined, and sends them back to hell herself.  Everything else is just swallowed smoke and borrowed time.  You know this because you have made that journey yourself.  That scars along your rib cage--one for each layer—are proof of your hard-earned exorcism.  

That was a price you were willing to pay.

The journey was long. You climbed down all seven layers, releasing sins as you went.  You let your fire burn away each transgression as they burst from your lips.  Then when you reached rock bottom, you began the arduous task of pulling yourself out of the darkness.  The only sins—such as they could be called—that survived were yours and yours alone.  Selfish?  Perhaps. 

That was the gift you gave yourself: sins that make a woman.

Not a saint.  Not a sin eater.  A woman.

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday enchantments, and delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is in the everyday, subscribe here.

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Conversation with a Zombie

He said he would love to have me for dinner--but I was careful.

I made sure that I wasn't on the menu for one.  And I took particular effort to choose a location full of breathing bodies.  A restaurant for the living.  It wouldn't do to surround myself with a host of these purgatory-like creatures, else my limbs become stiff and my skin turn as gray and rotten as a cadaver's.  You become who you hang around, they say.  

Still, I was curious.  

We sat across from each other at the dinner table.  The white tablecloth was as smooth and unblemished as his collared shirt.  He had dressed for the occasion, taking care to hide the evidence of his affliction as best he could (though truly there was only so much he could do, with a missing ear and half a brain).  Still, the tuxedo and carefully applied makeup was enough to create the illusion of pumping blood beneath his pallid, blush stained cheeks--in the right light. Which was another reason why I chose this place.  Candlelight can hide a multitude of sins.

He studied me as much as I did him as if he was trying to remember what it was like to be alive. When I reached for my wine glass, so did he--only his thick decaying fingers almost crushed the stem, whereas my nimble live ones carefully brought the dark red to my mouth.  I tried not to notice how he stared at my lips--stained now from the wine--wondering, perhaps, how I tasted.

That could have been me, of course.  If I had enough in me to make my heart stop beating and my brain stop questioning.

They're always the first to go: the ones that want to be lead.  Then the tired.  Then the hopeless.  I could never be any of these things, though I have at times been weary and known the company of despair.  No, I could never be any of these things.  Not with the fire burning in my belly.  I could feel the heat in my cheeks as if to remind me that blood still pumped through my veins.  Perhaps it was just the wine.

I couldn't even call what we had a proper conversation.  For one thing, it was hard to make out his words as he struggled to form sentences around a fat and full tongue without lips to soften the vowels and only a few teeth to slide against the crisp edges of constants.  For another, we were both frequently lost in our own thoughts, wondering how things might have been different if I had just a little less heart and he a little more.

In the end, we let the darkness beyond our candlelit table swallow any of the taboo questions: do you miss the taste of buttered toast or pickles?  Or is gray matter your only desire now?  And then the ones he refrained from asking me:  Can you describe the way your filet tastes--and the mashed potatoes?  Will you remind me what it is like to wake in the morning after a full night's rest, ready to greet the day?  

We both politely ignored the blood pooling around my rare steak and the ring of red our wine glasses left after a nervous waiter overfilled our cups.  The poor man didn't know that the infection wasn't contagious.  Well, not like in the movies.  It was the thoughts that did it. Or, really, the lack of them.  

So much easier to silences your questions.  So much easier to allow yourself to be swept up in the collective undertow and drowned in mindless oblivion.  So much easier--if it weren't for the fire in your belly.  The light in your veins.

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday enchantments, and delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is in the everyday, subscribe here.

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How to Kill a Typo

First, you have to root them out.

They are very good at hiding.  A typo is like a splinter or a thorn that wriggles deeper into your skin as you poke and prod it with tweezers--or pen tip.  And where there is one, you know there must be others just beyond your sight (these beasts travel in packs).  So be merciless, regardless of the casualties.  

Their favorite trick is to hide in plain sight.  They know all your weaknesses too--like your tired eyes. Or your desire to just get the damned thing done.  Even your hope (faint and foolish as it is) that just this once, you wrote something that doesn't need editing.  You spun straw into strands of sunlight--but no.  Perhaps you should take that last part out?  Best not to get carried away with metaphors.  And anyway, it means fewer words for those bastard typos to hide behind. Scratch that--fewer words for those bastard typos to hide behind.  They see all of this and perhaps your biggest weakness of all: you see what you want to see.  Your eyes read past the form that should be from because you want it that way.  And they love you for it.  

But here's the good news:  once you find these pesky literary rodents, they can't be unseen. You'll find the best way to discover them is by clicking send or publish.  Watch how these black marks outshine every sterling piece of prose when they think your work is out of your hands.  Typos love an audience.  The bigger, the better.

That is their one weakness, this showmanship.  The moment they are most vulnerable is when the curtain is drawn and they can preen for all the world to see.  Still, it would be wise not to underestimate them.  They will try to plead and bargain with you, arguing that their presence is a sign of your humanity--your perfect imperfection.  But don't listen to them.  Gather your words and let them be your strength.  Let your stories turn on those impostors hiding beneath your hard-worked worlds.   Let them devour the little beasts that would infest your carefully built ink-grown realm.  

Let them feast on the unnecessary comma, sucking it up like a strand of spaghetti and swallowing the excessive o's in one fat gulp.  And if there is anything left of these diseases bred from consonants and vowels, let your pen do the rest.  Strike them out.  Tear them from the page.  Snuff out their life like the weeds they are.

Then bury the fibrous leftover limbs in the slush heap with all of your other abandoned prose. Every good garden needs a compost.  

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday enchantments, and delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is in the everyday, subscribe here.

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Things I Want to Relearn

The curve of your own smile.  Sometimes you touch your fingers to the corners of your mouth just to feel the way they turn up when the sun kisses your lips.  You don't always believe that your body remembers how to express joy. 

Then there's the bliss--more a memory now--of abandoning yourself to the woods.  The city, a thing forgotten like an unremarkable story or adequate meal.  Where is that spontaneous wildling unafraid to go deeper?  The forest (be it in a book, heart, or landscape) is made up only of trees and dreams and roots and shadows, after all.  And they all want you there, going so far as to lay down a bed of fallen leaves to pad your steps and covering their rocks with moss so that you may rest your head in comfort.  It has been so long since you listened to their secrets.  So long since you told them yours.

And how did that game go, where you picked your way across the stream, searching for the next foothold on rocks smoothed over by the water's caress?  You weren't always thinking of snakes and eels hiding under them.  You weren't always worried about slipping.  There was only the cool, clean feel of the water lapping at your feet and rushing between your toes.  Feel it now and let the wet ripples carry away your worries.  

And you can't forget your hair, nor the times you wore it loose and wild (though some would call it a thorny thicket or a nest of copper wires--but those are voices best forgotten as you relish the way your curly auburn locks cascade down your naked back and fall around your open shoulders).  You must remember how to weave flowers into your long tresses and let the only chains you wear be made of daisies.

Next, find those delicious beats that pull you toward the dance floor.  Court your inner hedonist and let her play and laugh and move her body in the way that it was meant to be moved: in time to the heady heartbeat of congas and claves and vocal chords wrapped tight around a melody. This is you remembering that your natural state is joy--and that there's nothing wrong in sinking into a song's lusty embrace.

Perhaps by reclaiming these pieces of yourself--like stray strands of string and dandelion heads--you can begin to weave a new story unfettered by the dead-end plots that made you forget yourself in the first place. You never belonged at the bottom of a well or stuck under the heel of another's boot.

Weave together more forgotten things into this wild tapestry: scraps of bright ribbon and grapevines, bits of memory and the feathered corners of well-loved books.  Stitch it all together with those small pops of energy that tell you everything you need to know before logic tries to smother the sparks.  Then, when you have incorporated your last fingernail and sage leaf, finish it off with the whispers of the universe--here in a dream, there in the roadrunner crossing your path--that ask you to remember, relearn, truly understand that you are a daughter of the moon.  

That your life is in long fingers curling around tree bark, feet resting on fat branches, as you peer past the foliage into the endless horizon.  

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday enchantments, and delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is in the everyday, subscribe here.

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Things I Want to Unlearn

They are like the tight laces of a corset, these lessons, cutting into your ribcage and squeezing the air from your lungs, taught to you by people and things that prefer you breathless—and so, unable to speak.  Each tug of the ribbon wraps steel and bone tighter around your frame.  Containing you.  Small sips of air sucked through half-open lips are the only sign your heart still beats.  Those and one delicious thought: a pair of scissors.  

You could use the ones you have set aside for your embroidery.  No bigger than the palm of your hand and engraved with bird’s wings.  Silver and sharp.  Stronger even than the metal jacket closing in on your pumping heart.

You give into your impulse.  Wrap your hands around the cool silver of the thin blades.  You are alone.  No one can stop you.  Slowly, carefully, you reach behind you for the knotted tongue at the base of your spine.  You almost can’t slip the thin blades under the satin; the laces are so tightly pulled together.  But you do it and feel the first lace pop loose of its eyelet.

There it goes—

—the temptation to search for the rotten fruit in a barrel full of blush stained snow apples.  All you need to know is that you have an abundant crop—and faith in your ability to pick the best jewels from the orchard.  You’ve been through enough harvests to know the difference between worm-softened cores and firm flesh.

Then another:

The flash of disappointment when you see your imperfect body, alone, at night, freed from the corset’s confines.  The puckered skin along your stomach—the shiny purplish lash along your arm—the bruised streaks where your ribcage pushed against the corset’s skeleton all day, every day—and others, so many others—aren’t scars.  They are life lessons tattooed on your skin.  Trophies from the risks you took, the jumps you made, even the moments when you knew it was best to retreat into yourself.  The times you dared to live beyond the narrow path someone else decided you should walk.

More air in your lungs.  You can feel your chest expand.  

Enough for you to reach higher and cut through another lace—

—and there goes the bricks and mortar you once used to make a fortress for yourself.  You called it a home, but the walls grew bigger and bigger until it felt like a tomb.  A place to bury the pages of your stories.  The ones that no one would read because they lacked the light that could spark them to life.

Let those bricks be reduced to rubble.  Let your stories breathe like you can now.  And find their own homes when you set them loose like birds to the sky.  In their own time.  In their own way.  And remember that your real home is never behind tightly-cinched cloth-wrapped whalebones or mortared stone.

How long did it take you to remember that your home is in the earth and the sky?  That the roots of trees and flowers will always be your welcome bed and the wind is there to sweep away the last cut ribbon from your cage.  

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday enchantments, and delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is in the everyday, subscribe here.

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Midnight Meteor Shower Picnics

This has been the summer of picnics.  At the park.  In the backyard.  Midday under a shade tree to beat the heat or post-monsoon afternoon searching for rainbows and sipping iced tea.  Any summer occasion is a special occasion and so worthy of its own picnic.  Naturally, when I found out that tonight marks the start of the annual Perseids meteor shower, four little words entered my mind: Midnight.  Meteor.  Shower.  Picnic.

Seriously, what could be better?

Earlier this season, I wrote about how to plan the perfect picnic.  But it has now occurred to me that midnight picnics are their own kind of event mostly because the focus is less on good food and more on the night sky, especially for such a special shower we should expect to see tonight.  

What makes it so special this time around?  Well, we are likely to see twice as many shooting stars this year (almost 200 an hour compared to the average 100) as in previous ones.  This is because of an "outburst," which is when the earth's previous orbit debris mixes with our current debris (yeah, I'm not sure quite how it works either...but you can read more about the specifics here).  The bottom line is that we will be gifted with a spectacular meteor shower that can't be missed!  So make sure to plan ahead, pack plenty of creature comforts, and prepare for a lovely night of stargazing. The show starts at 10pm Thursday and goes into early Friday morning.

1.  Bring blankets.  While all picnics require a thick blanket to sit on, a midnight picnic requires other wraps of soft throws to snuggle under as the desert night turns cooler.  Maybe even a few pillows to lie back on as you stargaze.  Think of it as making an impromptu outdoor bed.

2. Plan to stay awhile.  Looking for shoot stars is like fishing--you have to be prepared to sit and wait in order to catch something good (either a fish or a star, wink wink).  If you rush the experience, you miss out on witnessing the beauty of shooting stars. Treat it like a meditation--truly, there is nothing more lovely on a summer night than stargazing, even without a meteor shower.  So pass the time by trying to map constellations like Perseids, where the shower originates, or make up your own.  What matters is that you take the time to converse with the stars.

3.  Pack a thermos (and a flask if you're feeling risqué!).  A mug of hot tea will keep you both revived and awake while you stargaze.  Fill it with an energizing (but caffeine free) herbal tea and bust it out when a case of the sleepies hits. You'll keep yourself awake for the big event without hindering your ability to get some Zzzzs once you're ready for bed.

4.  Pack easy snacks.  As with any picnic, you should keep your food delicious and simple; that goes double for a midnight meteor shower show.  Think blueberries, nuts and edible treats that won't distract you from your stargazing.  The point is to nosh as needed without tearing your gaze away from the sky.  

5.  It's all about location, location, location--this is especially important for shooting star viewing. Now we can't always get to the perfect location, but if you can, find a spot away from harsh city lights that drown out the glittering stars.  Or, if you're like me, and going to stargaze in your backyard, turn off all the lights and notice how many more stars you can see.  

Summer is by far one of the best times to forget about the clock and spend some time communing with the universe, getting lost (found?) in the constellations adorning the night sky, and keeping an eye out for those elusive shooting stars.  Happy stargazing! 

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday enchantments, and delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is in the everyday, subscribe here.

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Homemade Bug Repellent ~ Just Say No to DEET

A couple weeks ago, I was enjoying a glorious summer evening in the backyard with my family. We indulged in a luxurious meal on the patio and then played with my little niece long after the sun went down.  It was the perfect embodiment of the season...

...then I got home and found that I was covered in mosquito bites!  It seems like there are more of these pesky insects this summer than in previous ones.  Yuck!  It was time arm myself with my Homemade Bug Repellent.  This all-natural, non-toxic spray is perfect for stashing in your picnic tote or spritzing on before some late-night stargazing...or any other time you want to frolic in the wilderness.  Why do I prefer to make my own bug repellent?  The answer is two-fold: I have all the ingredients readily on hand (many of them are also used for my homemade body butters and other goodies) and I've long since given up on the toxic DEET (see what Wellness Mama has to say about how this chemical spray negatively impacts the environment and your body).

I whipped up a pretty basic recipe after looking at others from Scratch Mommy, Thank Your Body, and Wellness Mama.  I used vegetable glycerin to as a binding agent rather than oil and mixed it with what essential oils I had on hand.  The glycerin binds the water and oils together and ensures that the spray sticks to your clothes and skin.  The key factor here in keeping away bugs is the strong scents of the essential oils so you will want to reapply every hour or so to keep the scents strong.  I used citronella--a common ingredient in natural bug sprays--and lemongrass. (Both of these plants can also be grown in your garden as a natural herbal repellent FYI.)  I love the citrusy scent!  You can also add in other essential oils like eucalyptus or lavender.  The measurements here are for a 4oz spray bottle.

Ingredients:

Water

1 tablespoon vegetable glycerin 

30 drops citronella essential oil

30 drops lemongrass essential oil

Mix glycerine and essential oils in a 4oz spray bottle, then fill bottle to the top with water.  Shake well.  Apply regularly (at least once an hour) when you plan on being outdoors.  What more homemade bug repellent ideas?  Check out the Prairie Homestead's list of natural bug spray recipes.  

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday enchantments, and delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is in the everyday, subscribe here.

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Summer Solstice & the Strawberry Moon

I went moon bathing last night.  

I wanted to coat my skin in the rosy glow of June's strawberry moon on this of all days: the summer solstice.  You can love the light of the year's longest day.  You can enjoy the way the sun's rays stretch from dawn until the last whispers of dusk, straining to reach the farthest corners of waking experience.  You can admire the way the unabashed luster of the fading daylight makes the mountains blush deeply as if anticipating things best tasted at night.  But you must not forget the moon.  Or the stars. 

And that is why I moon bathed last night.  I wanted to honor how the full moon brought more light to this day of light, illuminating the thoughts and forgotten corners that would otherwise remain in shadow.  Better to know what lingers under the stardust and hides under the moon-kissed rocks.  It is bliss to find that half-forgotten memory buried amongst my herbs; catharsis to finally rid myself of the pests that take advantage of the cover darkness offers.  This is my chance to ask the moon for answers (it will not be this receptive again for another 70 years and then-- where will I be?).

So I asked my questions--and she gave me answers.  She filled my mouth with the full sweet taste of ripe strawberries until their seeds burst on my tongue.  She washed my hair in a waterfall of her silvery light and rubbed my skin in the promising perfume of rose petals.  She confided that now, midway through the year, is the ideal time to find my story within a map gifted to me by the constellations.  She asked the cicadas to sing so that I may dance.  And she told me--as the moon always does--to remember to dream. Deeply. Tenderly.  With wild abandon.  She bid me stain my fingers and thoughts and beating heart with her lunar liquid, tonight the color of berries pressed between lovers' lips.

Dream.  Always.  For the best things begin in moonlight.

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday enchantments, and delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is in the everyday, subscribe here.

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5 Tips for the Perfect Picnic

Picnics are one of the most delicious simple pleasures of summer.  There's nothing quite like a leisurely afternoon nibbling on tasty treats and sipping lemonade in the park or lazily reading (okay snoozing) under a shady tree after an impromptu outdoor lunch.  I especially like how adaptable picnics are; they can be everything from a lavish outdoor afternoon tea or as basic as a sandwich and peach enjoyed in your backyard. It's also the perfect way to turn a quick lunch into an event that makes us slow down and appreciate the world around us.

Imagine my joy when I found out that there is actually a day on the calendar dedicated to this wonderful pastime.  June 18th is the official International Picnic Day.  As if I needed an excuse to bust out my basket!  To get ready for this big day, I give you five tips for the perfect picnic.

1.  Plan ahead.  I've gotten in the habit of keeping a picnic basket on standby along with a little grab 'n go bag filled with the basics: a blanket, a straw hat, homemade sunscreen, DIY bug repellent, and a book or two (for that afternoon snooze, wink wink).  My basket likewise includes a stash of reusable enamel plates, silverware, stemless cups, cloth napkins, and kitchen towels (for inevitable spills).  This makes impromptu picnics easy and carefree. I simply load up some food then I'm out the door. Last but not least, don't forget to keep an eye on the weather and know your location--both determine what additional accoutrements you might need.

2.  Keep it simple.  A good picnic is all about enjoying the great outdoors with little fuss.  One of the best picnics I have ever had was when I was in Sitges, a lovely beach town near Barcelona.  We put together a hasty picnic from goodies at a nearby market: olives, jamon, dried fruit, caper berries, nuts, cheeses, and crusty bread were heartily enjoyed on the beach.  We had no plates or silverware, just the bags our goodies came in.  Bliss!

Ahhhh that perfect no-fuss picnic at the beach in Sitges...

Ahhhh that perfect no-fuss picnic at the beach in Sitges...

I used to be enamoured with the idea of making fancy feasts for my picnics--complex meals and fussy seating inspired by what I saw in magazines--but they always proved more trouble than they were worth.  Food got soggy or was difficult to eat, preparation was always more labor intensive than I thought it would be, and I found myself spending way more time (and money) on a good picnic than I did actually enjoying it. The reverse was also true: the more low-maintenance the picnic plans were, the more fun I had.  Now this doesn't mean that you can't have your lavish afternoon tea party, just keep the menu uncomplicated with easy to assemble tea sandwiches and other make-ahead treats. So bottom line: simple be thy mantra. 

3.  Go green.  Ditch the plastic cups and other disposable items. Use cloth napkins, real silverware, reusable storage and durable plates.  Picnicking is all about enjoying nature so it only makes sense that you would make sure not to use disposable goods that damage the environment.  If you don't want the hassle of bringing along plates, you can always up the fun factor by using foods that fit easily in mason jars for a low maintenance picnic.  Greening your picnic basket has aesthetic benefits as well--your spread will look so much lovelier using real tableware or mason jars!  You can even keep a stack of durable enamel dishes at the ready in your picnic basket for easy prep like I do.  Want more ways to green your picnic routine?  Check out Pure Home & Body has to say.  

An assortment of easy-to-prepare goodies and reusable dishes ready for the basket.

An assortment of easy-to-prepare goodies and reusable dishes ready for the basket.

4.  Keep it real...the food that is.  In keeping with my theme of simplicity, stick to whole foods and easy nibbles.  Grapes, olives, cheese and a good loaf of bread are hard to beat (remember that Sitges picnic I told you about?).  You can also pack a mason jar salad--my Greek or Tuna-less Nicoise mason jar salads would be delish--or an assortment of in-season veggies with an Aioli or Pesto dip.  When you use fresh quality food, preparation is at a minimum.  Ripe cherry tomatoes are delicious on their own or tossed into this quick Tomato & Mozzarella Salad while fruit gets an extra kick from cured meat in my Proscuitto Wrapped Apricots.  Use what you have in your fridge, including Quick Pickled Veggies or Apricot Basil Jam paired with Ricotta, for a no-fuss meal.  

Dessert should be equally easy: dark chocolate and fruit, or single serve bites like my Vegan Peanut Butter Fudge.  If you are sticking close to home, you can stash Mango Chile Lime or Pina Colada pops in the freezer until you are ready for them in your backyard.  Top off your meal with a bottle of bubbly, Orange Lavender iced tea, or lemonade and you're good to go.  If you want to go the extra mile, you could even whip up a batch of Coconut Water Kiwi Lime Cocktails (vodka optional) or a pitcher of Watermelon Coolers.  

5. Make it festive! Now that you have your easy menu and picnic goodies at the ready for a spur-of-the-moment lunch, you can indulge in the picnic's whimsical side. Wear a blowsy hat and frilly dress to this oh-so-important date, scatter edible flowers across your plates, bring bubbles for the kiddos (and kids at heart), and get ready to twirl in the sunlight.  Or take a cue from one of your favorite literary picnics and plan your meal around it.  This a strawberry-picking inspired feast from Emma (but without the drama!), a honey-laced affair that would make Winnie the Pooh proud, or invite Alice and the Mad Hatter for a tea party on the lawn.

Whatever the occasion, whatever the plan, summer is for picnics.  

A delicious spread for two strewn with edible nasturtium and pansies for a touch of whimsy.  

A delicious spread for two strewn with edible nasturtium and pansies for a touch of whimsy.  

Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday enchantments, and delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you.  If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is in the everyday, subscribe here.

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