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Tarot & Tea, Lemons & Books, Love & Whips, Oh My!

Posted by sirensays on February 8, 2011

Dearest loyal readers:

My apologies for not posting sooner. I had a great response to last Autumn’s posts – thank you, everyone. Autumn is so inspiring, it’s easy to find interesting people to profile. It is certainly the same during the holidays, but as I was focusing on other writing projects, I failed to entertain you with a Solstice/Christmas post and I offer my sincerest apologies. We also have a long-term guest at the house, one who is quite demanding of our time and attention and, unlike your blog host, never apologizes.

Stella Lounging About

She’s a pint-sized package of smarts, moxie and affection, so if you are interested in meeting this foster girl, please drop me a line!

Stella the Foster Dog

Here it is already February of the new year, so I decided to mention some things that you may find of interest.

Book Recommendations

As an avid reader who sometimes gets restless, I find myself looking for old childhood favorites as well as new literature, mysteries and non-fiction. I shop at Amazon, local booksellers Kepler’s and M is for Mystery (a total gem of a place in downtown San Mateo), used bookstores and of course, I keep my library card handy. Here are some you might enjoy:

-If Walls Could Talk, by Juliet Blackwell (yes, she of the author interview last autumn https://sirensays.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/juliet-blackwell-author-interivew-season-of-the-witch/).

This is the first of a new series called The Haunted Home Renovation series, set in San Francisco and Oakland. This is a paranormal mystery of the same genre as her witchcraft mystery series. But this features a non-witch, a woman named Mel who is running the family construction (or rather, reconstruction) company, specializing in renovating historic homes. It’s in this story that her ability to see and interact with ghosts manifests, resulting in her involvement in a recent murder, some old history, make new history, possibly rekindle a romance, remain surrounded by believable men, and still be passionate about her trade.

Cover for Juliet Blackwell's "If Walls Could Talk"

I was surprised at how easy it was to learn construction and remodeling lingo, and how exciting Blackwell makes it all. I really like this protagonist because she’s realistically quirky (as opposed to the trend in fake, bitchy & brittle heroines), imperfect but warm, intelligent, knowledgeable and a solid alpha female (it takes one to run a construction crew – I know this because I had a female friend who did so).

With an eccentric sense of style but a thoroughly pragmatic view on construction, Mel takes us not just through this mystery of the murdered man, but also on a tour of Bay Area renovation/used/antiquey/junk shops that I found both enthralling and believable. Do yourself a favor and get this book!

– Up a Road Slowly, by Irene Hunt This book is a classic, especially for girls. Written in the 1960s, it’s a timeless portrait of growing up, coming to understand the world around us and the people who inhabit our lives, including adults.

Young Julie is sent to live with a maiden aunt after her mother dies. Her Aunt Cordelia, a school teacher, lives out in the country. Her effect on young Julie’s life is profound albeit at times quite subtle, as we come to see in the following ten years of Julie’s life. It was this book that got me hooked on the beautiful poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Sara Teasdale, a love I have to this day and was able to share with my sister and girlfriends as a child. I’ve also come to understand that this book, while among many others, was predominant in its influence in how I viewed learning, independent women and the mysteries of autonomous women, a love for the arts and culture, the importance of siblings and family and life in a bygone era that is still relevant today.

If you have a daughter, a niece or any other young girls in your life, please consider this book for them – and don’t forget to consider it for yourself.

-No Flying in the House by Betty Brock A delightful childrens’ story about Annabel, a fairy child and her tiny dog/guardian, Gloria, who mysteriously appears on the terrace of Mrs. Vancourt. Who is this girl, and what’s up with that dog? A book that lent much magic to my childhood, it’s still available from Amazon if you can’t get it from your local library. Another one for the kids in your life, including you.

-Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader by Tanya Lester This is a quirky, fun read, a bit uneven because the author, by profession, is a gifted tea leaf reader, not a writer. But she brings to vivid life some of her sessions, clients and their stories, told against the backdrop of her personal story. Her intuitive abilities, genuine care for her clients and her adventures with this unusual but ancient practice make this book interesting and fun. For those interested in the metaphysical, I recommend it.

-Under Wraps, by Hannah Jayne is the first of a new series called The Underworld Detection Agency, set in San Francisco. The author, a friend of mine, has a wicked sense of humor, a great imagination and the ability to blend fantasy and reality in a manner that if not channeled into a novel, might grant her a stay on the whacko ward. But luckily, these are modern times, when a gal with Hannah’s talents can land a book contract, work her tush off and have a great new series to show for it. This book drops March 1, but I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy. It’s a fun, sassy, wry and witty read that combines mystery, lust and murder in a world where other beings exist but the majority of humans can’t see these beings in their true form. See that little person other there? Well, it may really be a troll.

The main character is a young, smart lady named Sophie Lawson and she is immune to magic, which is why she can see these beings in their true, and sometimes disgusting, unattractive, alluring or wicked form. She works at the Underworld Detectin Agency in San Francisco, a bureaucracy that can help everyone from banshee to zombie transition into normal, everyday San Francisco life. Sophie seems to know all there is to know about the these otherworldly creatures, be they bloodsuckers, the undead, the magical or the merely strange looking. Or does she? When there are gruesome murders, Sophie finds herself working with the handsome detective Parker Hayes. When Sophie discovers things – including some of these beings – aren’t what they seem, life and death get worse. So then what will a modern, monster-seeing girl do? I know what this non-monster-seeing girl will do – recommend this book! It’s a fun, witty and freaky trip through a San Francisco you haven’t yet experienced.

Okay, so that’s all for the current book recommendations. At the risk of sounding middle-aged, so far this year, I’ve enjoyed relaxing at a tea parlour with friends twice, gone to the local annual orchid show, searching for a local source of organic chicken eggs and become addicted to Downton Abbey (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/downtonabbey/index.html). Thankfully, there will be a second season, otherwise I don’t know how I’d get by. At least there are some newish episodes of Poirot to keep me occupied. Must keep using those “leetle grey cells!” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094525/

As impressed as I am by his grey cells and fussy habits, I love Poirot’s secretary, Miss Lemon. I adore her clothes, her demeanor and of course, her name. In fact, I am very focused on lemons right now.

I unconsciously zero in on a few different plants a year, incorporating them into uses both magical and mundane. Last year, it was fennel and borage, the year before that it was lavender, mugwort and mint.

While my current crush is on lemons, I have always loved lemons and other lemon-scented herbs – lemongrass, lemon balm – the aroma, the magical uses, the oils. I love the color of lemons, the waxy green leaves and the bright flavor the fruit imparts, from sparkling water to vinaigrette. We use it frequently on pasta, in salads, teas and other beverages. My Mister and I even made a big batch of limoncello http://www.slowtrav.com/italy/notes/food/dh_limoncello.htm. The cheerful, flexible lemon, using it as a physical and spiritual cleanser at home, in the bath and as an extra zing in my tea, is a food that I, the native Californian, no longer take for granted.

Now, we all know that Poirot loves his tea and accompanying delicacies, indicative of tradition in his rapidly changing times. Perhaps that is why so many of us in the 21st century are enamored of it and its requisite rituals, be they oriental or occidental. But what do tea and this blog have in common, besides me of course? Well, when one mentions tea parlor, my mind lights upon the delicacies of the sweets and savories, then focuses in on the idea of tarot and tasseomancy (tea leaf reading). No offense to Poirot, but these seem to be more the pursuit of ladies, blending (pun intended) the comforting culture of tea and snacks with the mysteries of intuition and the unknown. While not strictly the province of women, of course, in a land that doesn’t have high tea, a tea parlour teems with ladies relaxing, laughing and exclaiming over the pot of their choice. Oh, how I wish there was a local place which offered tarot, tasseomancy and tea!

A Man Manfully Enjoying His Tea

At least San Francisco locals hankering to learn about tarot can attend Second Saturday Tarot Workshops offered by the warm and knowledgeable Anastasia Haysler (http://tarotmediacompany.com/), who lucky for us, makes them affordable.

For those in the Oakland/Berkeley area, Leila Jo Crawford, proprietor of Crafting the Sacred, has a tarot class as well as does reading and creates lovely little magical crafts and other goodies: http://www.craftingthesacred.com/ Her deep intuitive sense is combined with a loving focus on your well-being; I highly recommend her.

The clairvoyant Dawn Swanson is also incredibly gifted. She is accurate, gentle, has a marvelous sense of humor and is the real deal. She doesn’t teach tarot, but uses cards in her readings, which are either in person or by phone. Dawn will often assist in healing what ails ya, and she has honed her craft into a practice which will enhance your life. She also teaches at Aesclepion in Marin County. Her website: http://www.readingsbydawn.com/

Well, on to other things, this being Valentine’s season.

The restaurants will offer specials, which is their justification for jacking up their prices, often prohibitively in these lean times. However, I was lucky enough to receive a coupon for Valentine’s dinner at Happi House fast Japanese food; two dinners for $10.99. How wonderfully unromantic! Perhaps Bucca di Beppo, where the insane noise level will drum any thought of romance out of your head?

Like so many, I both love and intensely dislike (how unseemly it would be to use the word “hate” when speaking of love!) Valentine’s Day. I do enjoy its more ancient roots, which involve nudity and whipping – always a winning combination for some. In ancient Rome, there was a festival called Lupercalia which featured young men using skin ships to slap the backside of young ladies to ensure their fertility. Ahhh, so good to know that the more things change, the more they remain the same. I hope that however you choose to celebrate – or not celebrate – Valentine’s Day – whip or whipless, that it’s pleasurable for you.

Please note these future blogposts and events:

-An interview with the lovely Elka Vera, Reiki practitioner, spiritual coach, artist and hypnotherapist. You can check her out here: http://elkavera.com/

-A Mystery Tea this spring, featuring authors mentioned above – Juliet Blackwell and Hannah Jayne, http://www.julietblackwell.net/ and http://crimespace.ning.com/profile/HannahJayne respectively. Details TBD.

-A review of some natural essences products, all a delight to the senses. Some of these products are for magical uses: powders, baths and oils, all high quality, made with attention and power; the same can be said for the natural perfumes, hand-crafted by a local perfumer. I am looking forward to doing this!

-PantheaCon is just around the corner and in Silicon Valley’s backyard at The Doubletree Hotel in San Jose: https://www.pantheacon.com/ Come for the magicalware shopping, stay for the workshops, parties and presentations. See you there!

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Posted in Cooking, Dogs, Juliet Blackwell, Magic, Pop Culture, Reading, Tarot, Tasseography, Valentine's Day | 2 Comments »

On All Saints’ Day About All Souls’ Day, aka Dia de los Muertos

Posted by sirensays on November 1, 2009

I hope you all are still enjoying the season of the dead with the cacophonous cawing of crows, the raucous ravenings of ravens, the misty mornings, the bright orange pumpkins on doorsteps, the turning of the leaves, the smell of woodsmoke in the air (which may be fainter this season due to burning restrictions), the angle of the autumn sun, the “falling back” today, which hopefully translated into more relaxation for you.

Today is All Saints’ Day, known officially as the Solemnity of All Saints, often referred to as All Hallows or Hallowmas. For many, Halloween is the big holiday, but in many parts of the world, Halloween is not celebrated much at all and the focus is on All Saints’ Day, followed by All Souls’ Day, November 2. In areas with a heavy Latin American population, tomorrow is known as Day of the Dead (El Dia de los Muertos or Dia de los Difuntos). It’s also celebrated in Brazil, the Phillippines, certain European countries and the African diaspora.

Caucasians in the U.S. have been picking up on this holiday, as it’s filled with colorful folk art, ancient customs with syncretized Christianity and Indian pagan customs featuring offerings to the dead, ceremonies at graveyards, family get-togethers and altars built to honor the dead. It is often celebrated  in homes and neighborhoods, in communities of Latinos.They offer pan de muerto, sugar skulls, ceramic skulls, statues of Catrina (based on an old zinc etching by printmaker Jose Guadalupe Posada) and Frida, skeletons of pets as well as people, flowers- namely marigolds, liquor, gourds, or the favorite meals of the deceased.


It’s not often shared with Caucasians unless Caucasians create the celebration themselves, participate in a large scale celebration, such as those held in Los Angeles, San Jose or San Francisco.


It is a holiday that is easily appropriated and misunderstood, even though the reality is that one doesn’t have to be Latino to understand it. Its Catholic roots are strong and I recall much of what I learned in Catholic school about it. Many Catholics quietly attend Mass, remembering their loved ones in prayers and candle lightings. But currently, non-Catholics who are interested in celebrating the dead are much more focused on the colorful Mexican celebrations, not the more somber-seeming, strictly Catholic ones.


We can watch videos such as these on youtube.com to get a sense of what it’s all about, experience the incredibly sensuous beauty of the ofrendas, the food, the pictures, the art. The Latinos who participate in El Dia de los Muertos, whether at church, in their home by building an ofrenda (altar) for offerings or with their community, don’t pay attention to what us gringos do. They politely tolerate us, for the most part. For one day of the year, many Americans want what the Mexicans have: an intact, living tradition that is beautiful, creative, loving, powerful, expressive, communal and ancient. The rest of the year, most Americans lacking in Latino roots couldn’t care less about Latino traditions. So if you’re lucky enough to be included in celebrating El Dia de los Muertos, show your respect and appreciation – learn a little bit ahead of time, ask questions and don’t behave as if it’s there for your entertainment or edification, because it’s not.  Remember that November 2 is to celebrate both life and death, which is something we can all appreciate.

Posted in Autumn, Catholic, Cooking, Holidays | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Oshun Altar

Posted by sirensays on May 11, 2009

In my previous post, while the moon was waxing, I included a basic spell for a honey jar. I made one recently, created a lovely collage and redid my altar, all as an offering to Oshun.

Oshun is a West African Orisha. Orisha are the deities that are manifestations of Olodumare (God) in the Yoruba religious system. She is a Goddess of fresh water (such as rivers, lakes, streams and creeks), love, sensuality, abundance, divination, women’s rights, the arts, female mysteries, seduction, sweetness, renewal, healing and beauty. You could say that the new moon and Springtime are Oshun, times of renewal, fresh promise and the beginning of manifestation.

Like all Orisha, she is associated with colors and numbers. Her number is 5 and her colors are yellow, gold and green (many people don’t realize green is one of her colors). She loves honey (please taste it first), pastries, champagne, cinnamon, cloves, yams, coconut and pumpkins. If you offer her honey, eggs or pumpkins, especially in multiples of 5, she will release her renewing powers in human life. Her altars must be beautiful and usually include ornate fans, mirrors, river water, cloth in her colors, peacock feathers, copper, amber or gold jewelry, flowers and yellow candles. It’s traditional to use white plates for food offerings. If you don’t have white plates and can’t afford to buy any, it’s acceptable to cover the plate with white tissue paper. If you can’t get fresh water such as a lake or river, using bottled spring water is acceptable and you can buy river rocks at arts and crafts stores. It’s preferable to gather these items yourself, but it’s not always possible.

Here are some photos of my altar (the bright lights on top of the honey jar are burning candles):
Honey Jar Oshun1
Offerings to Oshun
Peacock Featehr Fan
HoneyJarOshunCloseup

Here is a simple, incredibly delicious recipe for shortbread which makes a wonderful offering to Oshun:

½ c cornstarch
½ c powdered sugar
1 c flour
¾ c butter or margarine

Optional: nuts and chocolate, extra powdered sugar

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees.
Sift the dry ingredients and then blend in the butter or margarine
Add ½ to 1 c chopped nuts if you wish.
Mix together.

Dough may need to be refrigerated a bit if it’s warm out.
Form in either crescent shapes or small balls and put on a cookie sheet. If you use foil, you probably don’t have to grease the sheet, but feel free to do so lightly. Press down with either your fingers or a lightly flowered spoon or fork.

Bake 2-25 minutes. Note: these cookies do not darken much, so make sure you pay attention so that they don’t burn!

While still warm, if you wish to “dress” them with some powdered sugar, as these are plain, buttery, rich cookies, but not overly sweet, sift some powdered sugar over them while they’re still warm, as it will melt a bit on the warm cookies and form a deliciously sweet paste of sorts.

If you want to dip them in chocolate, I prefer melting semi-sweet chocolate chips with a tad of butter, then stirring. Since the cookies are crumbly, I carefully apply chocolate to the top of a small circular cookie or to 1/3-1/2 of a crescent shaped one. You can also add nut halves on top of the chocolate.

These cookies, with or without chocolate, make a delicious, generous offering to Oshun, especially in a crescent shape. The dough will keep for some time in the freezer. I’ve found that if it’s delicious and made with magical intent and a lot of love, Oshun adores homemade goodies. Shown your adoration to Oshun, and she will renew you!
Shortbread for Oshun

Posted in Beauty, Cooking, Magic, Orisha, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »