Thursday, November 10, 2016

Maintaining Death Positivity in the Face of Fear.

The death positive movement is not about the desire to die.

It is about changing our attitude toward death. It's about acceptance, and achieving peace with the reality of our own mortality through art, music, and the building of new traditions. There is a difference between seeking death, and the realization and acceptance of the fact that it comes to us all.

I used to be a thanatophobe. Aging and dying were terrifying to me. When I was diagnosed with intracranial hypertension, I had thoughts of my mortality forced on me and had no choice but to learn to accept them. These are points I agree with, taken from The Order of the Good Death:

  1. I believe that by hiding death and dying behind closed doors we do more harm than good to our society.

  2. I believe that the culture of silence around death should be broken through discussion, gatherings, art, innovation, and scholarship.

  3. I believe that talking about and engaging with my inevitable death is not morbid, but displays a natural curiosity about the human condition.

  4. I believe that the dead body is not dangerous, and that everyone should be empowered (should they wish to be) to be involved in care for their own dead.

  5. I believe that the laws that govern death, dying and end-of-life care should ensure that a person’s wishes are honored, regardless of sexual, gender, racial or religious identity.

  6. I believe that my death should be handled in a way that does not do great harm to the environment.

  7. I believe that my family and friends should know my end-of-life wishes, and that I should have the necessary paperwork to back-up those wishes.

  8. I believe that my open, honest advocacy around death can make a difference, and can change culture.


 

Right now, we're facing down a system where more people are going to die. Whether it's through escalating police violence, underserved hospitals, becoming uninsured, or through war. Part of me is tempted to keep my death positivity under the radar, because me and a lot of people like me are facing down very real, very dangerous consequences right now. Even before this election, I was told that my posts are "in poor taste," "morbid," or "not what people wanted to hear."

But is letting it go the right thing to do right now? In a time when people are facing serious losses because of their sexual, gender, racial, and religious identity, is giving up the fight for the right for people to have their death, dying, or care options honored a good idea? In the face of a climate-change-denying government, is it right to give up the push for sustainable burial practices? Am I willing to go back to supporting a culture of thanatophobia?
I don't think so.

The death positive movement is also largely headed by young women. In a time when women of all beliefs and ethnicities are facing deep setbacks, I am not willing to cede anything. Not on this frontier or any other.

As a mixed, LGBT, Pagan woman, it isn't easy to try to maintain a positive attitude towards death and dying when it has become an even more imminent fear for even more people. The right thing has almost never been the easy thing. I will continue to promote death positivity however I can.

[embed]https://youtu.be/fNSdNvm16Fg[/embed]

If you're curious about the death positive movement, please visit The Order of the Good Death.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Rabbits rabbits rabbits!

Do you remember to say "white rabbits" or "rabbits rabbits rabbits" first thing on the first of every month?

I don't, usually, but it's a fun bit of folklore. I enjoy it on the occasions I do remember.

But where did this practice come from, and how did it spread?

Nobody really knows where it started, but it was common enough (chiefly among children) to warrant writing down in 1909. There also doesn't appear to be a definitive phrase-- "rabbit rabbit," "rabbits rabbits rabbits," "white rabbits, white rabbits," and other permutations of colors and lagomorphs all show up periodically. They're all supposed to bring you luck for the rest of the month, provided they're the first thing you say upon waking. According to some accounts, they're supposed to ensure that you'll receive an unexpected gift before the month's end.

One thing that is certain is that it seemed to be a predominantly New England thing at one point in time. I watched a lot of Nickelodeon as a kid, so I still remember being reminded to say the words by Stick Stickly during "Rabbit Rabbit Day." Of course, my tiny brain was usually buzzing with too many things to remember to actually say it when I woke up!

Why rabbits? That, unfortunately, is also hard to say. It might be part childhood silliness, it might also be part rabbit's position in folklore. Stories from all over the world describe rabbit as a clever trickster character, akin to Raven, Coyote, or Anansi the Spider. Could saying "rabbits rabbits rabbits" on the first of the month allow you to tap into some of Rabbit's luck and cleverness? Rabbits have also been associated with luck and prosperity, likely due to their ability to multiply quickly. What is a little baffling is why there aren't earlier references to the practice of saying "rabbits rabbits rabbits" on the first of the month.

[caption id="attachment_2929" align="aligncenter" width="555"]Rabbit rabbit! Rabbit rabbit![/caption]

Why the first of the month? It could be purely in the hope that you'll be lucky the whole month through. It may also be because of their association with the moon-- not only does a rabbit's reproductive cycle lasts between 28-31 days, as crepuscular animals they are most active at dawn and dusk.

Here's wishing you good luck for the month of November!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

I Quit Diamox, and I'm Scared.

Please do not take anything I say here as advice. Though I have my reasons for doing it, what I am doing here is probably very dangerous and stupid. If you have a neurologist, ophthalmologist, or even just a regular doctor, do not discontinue your medication without consulting them first.

If you've been reading here for awhile, you've probably seen me talk about having idiopathic intracranial hypertension and taking acetazolimide (generic Diamox) to control it. Unfortunately, that hasn't been working out as well as it used to.

[caption id="attachment_1817" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Still my favorite kind of Netflix and chill. Still my favorite kind of Netflix and chill.[/caption]

It seemed to control my symptoms okay (at least, I haven't needed another spinal tap), but I was getting progressively worse episodes of tingling, jitteriness, panic attacks, tachycardia, serious unintentional weight loss, and suicidal ideation. (Ideally, one's lifesaving medication should not make one want to chase an entire bottle of it with a tall, frosty glass of drain cleaner.) Every time I took it, I could feel a shift in my mental state-- I'd become irrationally anxious and queasy. Even though it was pretty much the bomb dot com for helping me avoid a shunt surgery for as long as it did, Diamox and I are probably going to have to part ways for good.

The scary part is I did this on my own. I just had my insurance situation sorted a bit ago, so I haven't yet been hooked up with a specialist who can keep an eye on me and see how I'm progressing. I can only go by how I feel, but that's not always a reliable indicator-- if you have intracranial hypertension, it's possible to sustain long-term damage to your eyes even if your symptoms don't seem that terrible. I've lived for several years hearing stories of running out of meds, worsening symptoms, seizures, comas, and worse from people in my support groups. The idea of going without treatment is, to put it very mildly, terrifying.

The weird part is, fears aside, I feel better now than I have in awhile. My IIH symptoms haven't even really worsened at all. I still have some high pressure days when the weather changes or I'm close to menstruating, but other than that I've reached a fairly even keel. I figure this means one of two things:

  1. Diamox actually stopped working for me all that well awhile ago, and I never realized it. Its effectiveness does tend to decrease over time, so this is probable.

  2. The side effects I was getting were bad enough that even dealing with worsening pressure just doesn't register anymore.


 

Whichever it is, I haven't yet had cause to regret quitting. My head and eyes honestly feel about the same as they did the past few months I was taking it, and I use the same diet and lifestyle measures to control my symptoms as I ever did.

Does this mean I'm going to be drug-free for good? No, not if my doctor and I come to the conclusion that that isn't the best course for me. A specialist deals with a bunch of optic nerve diseases and knows how things progress. I've only had IIH once, and I'm not even done having it yet. I would like to explore either going to a different treatment protocol (Lasix and Topamax, for example) if there's a chance that it can help me feel even better, or try alternative/complimentary treatments to reduce or eliminate my reliance on prescriptions altogether. Ultimately, it comes down to whatever the-person-who-went-to-college-for-a-whole-bunch-of-years-to-learn-how-to-fix-problems-like-this and I figure out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Dead(ish) Ringers.

When #ThingsYouTakeToTheGrave was trending on Twitter a week or so ago, I figured I'd make a smartass post about safety coffins. I was very into the work of Edgar Allan Poe when I was a kid, and he was nothing if not a bit preoccupied with the idea of premature burial, so some of his fears rubbed off on me. I've spent a lot of time thinking about what would be the best way to avoid being buried alive in the event I contract some form of Victorian novel heroine disease.

Poe and I are far from the only people to have worried about premature burial. The Chirurgeon's Apprentice has a post on the subject, and the amount of energy and creativity that went into "safety coffins" is nothing short of amazing. Even today, with far better tools for detecting when someone has actually died, safety coffins are still a thing. A far cry from the old bell-ion-the-end-of-a-rope model, some have defibrillators, heart monitors, oxygen tanks, and even webcams.

It got me thinking-- how would I avoid being buried alive? Truth is, I don't want to be buried at all. I'd like to avoid embalming and be left somewhere to decompose, either out where scavenging animals can have at me or in a cave to chill with a whole bunch of calcite like the crystal maiden. With burial regulations being what they are, unfortunately I'll probably have to settle for either burial, cremation, or being set into the ocean.

[caption id="attachment_2668" align="aligncenter" width="626"]Cozy. Cozy.[/caption]

So! Scratch an open-air decomposition. I wouldn't necessarily trust technology-- I know how finicky it can be under the best of circumstances. Add decomposition gases, moisture, several feet of soil, and having to hope that whoever my signal's recipient is doesn't have crappy wifi, and I don't know if I'd be comfortable with a techy solution. Not without a backup, anyway.

Being able to get myself out of a grave isn't an option, because I'd probably be too weak to do it. Besides, if I can get out, grave robbers can get in. I don't think I want to end up as a necromancer's sidekick for the rest of my unnatural life (though I am less likely to die a violent death than I am one that is proceeded immediately by "Hey, watch this!"). So, that leaves a signal of some kind. Preferably one that doesn't depend on electricity and a wifi signal.

Really, it seems like the old bell-rope scheme might be the best. Yeah, my body will eventually become all bloaty and gross and accidentally ring the bell anyway. I'll be dead, though, so people running to my grave to disinter me isn't really my problem so much. Maybe a bell rope securely tied to a metal ring bolted to the lid of the coffin, so I could feel around for it and give it a couple of yanks? I'd need a coffin large enough to move my arms around and find it, though.

I need to think about this and look up more stuff. Preferably things that won't end with me on some kind of watch list.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Misadventures in Going Green: The Confidence Cactus.

I looked at the sad remains of my poor African violet. Beside me, a friend's girlfriend attempted some consolation.

"What you need," she said brightly, "Is a confidence-boosting plant. You need a cactus!"

I had moved into a place with a nice, big bay window in the front. Perfect for growing plants (or so I thought)! Research by NASA shows that plants can play a role in improving and maintaining indoor air quality, making them a fantastic way to remove invisible toxins like toluene, benzene, and formaldehyde from the air without requiring electricity, filters, or ozone-producing ionizers. Plants that filter the air-- how much more green can you get? Of course I wanted to give it a shot.

Which is what led me here, looking down at my poor violet. I'm not even sure what had happened. Too much sun? Too little? Too much water? Not enough? Shock from being moved from a garden center to my living room?

Determined not to give up, I took her advice. I didn't just get a cactus, though-- I did my homework. I read about cacti until my eyes ached. I looked up ways to identify the most commonly-sold varieties, how to fertilize them, how often they'd need re-potting, everything. I put more research into this plant than most people put into raising their first child. I was ready.

[caption id="attachment_2466" align="aligncenter" width="640"]I was so ready. I was so ready.[/caption]

Unfortunately, one of my other room mates was not.

She was pretty, but dumb. Slender, red-haired, with sparkling blue eyes and a ready smile, she had already managed to be the bane of pretty much anything that wasn't nailed down and on fire. Someone's bottle of prescription lithium, a quarter pound box of MiracleGro, the cat doots in the litter box... Somehow, all of them ended up left in chewed remains on the floor. Siberian huskies are sweet, pretty dogs, but they can be enormous pains in the ass.

You can probably see where this is going.

Somehow, she managed to eat the cactus. I don't know how, I don't know why, but I came home to find a prickly, chewed-up murder scene in the middle of the living room (and a dopey-smiling dog at the front door). It didn't seem to do her any harm, but there was no saving my poor plant-- the one that was supposed to renew my faith in my ability to nurture plant life.

"Okay," I thought, "Clearly it was my mistake for assuming that A) half-inch-long thorns would be a deterrent to this dog, or B) her owner might have been inclined to train her not to eat everything in the interim. I will do better next time!"

[caption id="attachment_2467" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Cactus pots. Totally going to do better.[/caption]

I put my next cactus in a lizard terrarium. It was a small, round plant with soft, hairlike thorns-- nothing I'd have to worry about injuring its scaly room mate. It also had the benefit of timed grow lights and a built-in thermometer and humidity indicator. Now, nothing stood between me and successful horticulture!

So, let me tell you about crickets. They're pretty much the standard in live reptile food. Most insectivorous reptiles won't bother with dead prey, which means that keeping lizards generally entails learning how to keep crickets. This is easier said than done.

A lot of the nutrition in an insect is in its stomach contents. An entire industry has evolved around providing them with the best nutrition to hopefully benefit their future predators. Unfortunately, when provided with a bowl of fresh food specifically developed (after years of in-depth research) to appeal to crickets, fresh water, and a tiny sign saying, "FREE FOOD!!! YUM!!! CRICKETS PLEASE EAT HERE OK," they'll proceed to eat the cardboard box they came in, the paper towel they're sitting on, and each other. And then promptly starve to death.

So, what I'm saying is, they ate my freaking cactus. I returned home from work, stoked to see how my new plant was doing. Unfortunately, it wasn't doing at all-- its freshly hollowed-out corpse was now a bustling insect housing development. Somehow, I was living in a house where literally nothing was safe. Somehow, this place was less capable of sustaining life than the Sahara.

With my dreams of clean air and horticulture twice dashed, I gave up rather than subject more plants to the trial-by-fire that was my living room. It wasn't until years later that I attempted to keep houseplants again... but that's another story.

 

 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

j. Reads "The Book of Sacred Baths: 52 Bathing Rituals to Revitalize Your Spirit"

Note: I was recently given the opportunity to read and review a copy The Book of Sacred Baths: 52 Bathing Rituals to Revitalize Your Spirit, by Dr. Paulette Kouffman Sherman. I received no compensation for this review beyond a digital copy of the book, and all opinions are my own. This review contains some affiliate links to purchase the book, should you be so inclined. Thank you for helping to support this site!



The Book of Sacred Baths.



I'm a big fan of baths in general. I use them medicinally to help relieve pain and anxiety, and I use them in a ritual context as either preparation for spiritual work or as a ritual unto themselves. So, you can probably guess that I was pretty stoked to be asked to review The Book of Sacred Baths: 52 Bathing Rituals to Revitalize Your Spirit!


The Book of Sacred Baths: 52 Bathing Rituals to Revitalize Your Spirit is a sort of practical guide blended with a recipe book-- it tells you the reasoning behind the practice of spiritual bathing, followed by some easy-to-follow instructions for beginners. Generally, books on witchcraft and new age practices tend to fall into one of two camps: they either offer a base of esoteric knowledge intended for experienced practitioners, or function more as lists of simple recipes for those without enough experience to craft their own. As a resource, this book straddled the line pretty well. Experienced practitioners who haven't deeply explored magickal bathing will come away with a better understanding (and hopefully enthusiasm) for it, while new ones will have a list of magick bath ideas they can put into practice immediately.



[caption id="attachment_2426" align="alignleft" width="176"]Author Dr. Paulette Kouffman Sherman. Author Dr. Paulette Kouffman Sherman.[/caption]



I found the author's background particularly reassuring. Dr. Paulette Kouffman Sherman is a psychologist as well as an experienced new age author, so she knows her stuff in the realm of the mind as well as the metaphysical. Considering the number of witchcraft and Pagan resources I've seen offer dubious advice, it was nice to have something from someone whose experience with health and the human condition bridges the line between the clinical and the spiritual.


I would have enjoyed more discussion of the herbs and stones chosen to accompany each bath, and I felt a little underwhelmed by the section on baths for health (possibly because it was the one I was looking forward to the most). I would have liked to have seen a variation or two on Archangel Raphael's Healing Waters Bath versus bath rituals for self-love (which I thought felt more at home in the Baths for Your Love Life section) and drinking more water. Fortunately for anyone who may feel the same way, there's enough of a knowledge base here to make it pretty easy to develop your own rituals and recipes following the same overall format.


Ultimately, I'd recommend The Book of Sacred Baths: 52 Bathing Rituals to Revitalize Your Spirit to anyone interested in exploring sacred or magickal baths. I think it's a particularly neat find for people who have trouble fitting their practice into their schedule, feel like they've hit a slump, or need to keep their practice hidden. Had I not been offered a copy of this book in exchange for my review, I can say with confidence that I would have purchased it myself.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What do Poltergeist, The Omen, and 3 Men and a Baby Have in Common?

Let's talk about movie ghosts.

I don't mean ghost movies. I mean straight-up, weird-shizz-is-happening, how-did-that-kid-end-up-in-that-shot ghosts and curses-- the stuff of Hollywood myth and legend.

There are a number of films where the supernatural seemed to play almost as much of a role in their cachet as the acting, writing, and cinematography, giving rise to endless urban legends. Three of them strike me as particularly notable: The well known supernatural horror flicks Poltergeist and The Omen... and 3 Men and a Baby. Follow me on this.

poster for the movie poltergeist

First, Poltergeist. For people well-versed in ghost lore, it might seem like an oddly named movie-- poltergeists (from the German poltern, "create a disturbance", and geist, "ghost") are said to most often inhabit homes with preadolescent girls, and tend to be annoying and mischievous, not violent or dangerous. Unfortunately, the Poltergeist curse is anything but mischievous-- in the wake of the series' creation, multiple cast members have died in mysterious, violent, or unexpected ways. According to some sources, all of the actors involved in the series have died. Is it because of the subject matter? Is it because the scenery used actual human skeletons?

Whether the skeletons had any feelings on the matter or not, most of the stories about the Poltergeist curse aren't true. There are definitely cast members involved with the series who'd be surprised to hear about their untimely demises, and those who did pass on didn't exactly do so in mysterious ways. While some of the deaths may have been untimely (and all of them were tragic for the families involved), it's hard to pin them to a curse or malevolent supernatural entity. At least, unless there's a malevolent supernatural entity whose idea of revenge is giving old men stomach cancer.

Why is it notable? It's pretty much the standard when it comes to Hollywood ghost stories. There're probably more tales of the weird, spooky things that've happened in the wake of the creation of the Poltergeist series than any other movie.

the omen movie

Next, The Omen. It's a story about the birth of the antichrist, so it's already pretty ripe for some very weird stuff, right? From lighting striking planes, to plane crashes, to two bombed buildings, to an animal handler being eaten by lions(!), it seems that it received more than its fair share. That's not the strangest thing, though.

The strangest stories surrounding The Omen involve how it seems to replicate death scenes from the movie itself. One of the stuntmen, on his next project after The Omen, suffered a fall akin to that experienced by Damien's nanny. A special effects artist saw his companion decapitated in a car accident. A man was the victim of a shooting in front of Guildford Cathedral.

While they're certainly creepy stories, are they coincidental? Probably. There's a natural human tendency to notice things that confirm our preconceived notions, and not notice those that don't. While the people and places involved in the making of The Omen have experienced a lot of misfortune, what about those who didn't? Or the accidents that didn't quite match up to any scenes in The Omen? And how many other people on movie sets have experienced weird, tragic, or violent happenings that weren't involved with a horror movie? It's tragic, but animal handlers suffer bites and attacks pretty frequently. The IRA blew up a lot of buildings during that time period, most of which had nothing to do with movies. People are gunned down pretty often, too. All told, it's hard to say that "The Omen curse" isn't actually "The Omen really-sucky-set-of-coincidences."

Why is it notable? When it comes to curses, this one's probably the one that makes even skeptics shudder a little. Even though the things that happened are probably  coincidental, that's still a lot of really, really strange and violent happenings.

 

Lastly, we've got the 80's fish-out-of-water comedy 3 Men and a Baby, starring Tom Selleck, Steve Gutenberg, Ted Danson, and probably a whole mess of babies. The story surrounding this movie has to do with the filming location-- allegedly, a kid who lived in the building in which it was filmed shot himself accidentally with a rifle. Images of his ghost appear in scenes in the movie, along with one chilling shot that looks like the silhouette of a gun.

There're only a few problems with this.

  1. There was no building. The entire movie was filmed on a sound stage.

  2. The image of the kid looks conspicuously two-dimensional.

  3. He's got a seriously outrageous mane of hair.

  4. The images of the gun look to be flat, misproportioned, pointing straight up, and hovering in mid-air.

  5. The "kid" is actually a cardboard cutout of Ted Danson's character in a top hat and tails, and the "gun" is part of his tuxedo jacket.


And yet the old story about the dead kid in 3 Men and a Baby gets trotted out every time the movie gets mentioned, even after both Snopes and The Straight Dope debunked it.

[caption id="attachment_2326" align="aligncenter" width="395"]As pointed out here with the help of the Snipping Tool and MS Paint. As pointed out here with the help of the Snipping Tool and MS Paint.[/caption]

Is the movie less interesting without a spooky story attached to it? Judging by some accounts, the studio certainly seemed to think so-- there are rumors that the story was cooked up to drive VHS sales. At least nobody actually had to die, though. Can you imagine having your specter doomed to haunt the backgrounds of 80s comedies?

[caption id="attachment_2324" align="aligncenter" width="596"]ghostmov1 ... Nah.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_2325" align="aligncenter" width="596"]Definitely not. Definitely not.[/caption]

I mean, really.

Why is it notable? To me, it's easily the goofiest and least plausible and yet still gets mentioned frequently. The "ghost" doesn't look like a kid, it looks like a flat picture. There wasn't even a real house that a hypothetical shooting could've taken place in, guys.

Do you know of any other Hollywood urban legends? What freaky happenings surround your favorite movies?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

In Which I Experience Ted Cruz/Guy Fieri Erotic Slash Fiction.

So, Ted Cruz. If you don't know of him, he's an American politician who some people say may be the Zodiac Killer, and who may best be known for behaving as though several alien cuttlefish found a drifter's corpse and are making unsuccessful attempts to use it to communicate with actual people.

Then there's Guy Fieri. Best known as a celebrity restauranteur with Smashmouth hair and the slick, shiny appearance of a boiled sausage, he has appeared in things ranging from television shows, to a (now defunct) website entirely devoted to photoshopping his courtroom sketch into famous works of art, to clips of him eating backwards:

[embed]https://youtu.be/hTALYm62hWo[/embed]

(Incidentally, if this video's a little tough to stomach, you might want to skip the rest of this entry. Just FYI.)

In a stroke of mad brilliance, Lana In Macando posted a piece of erotic fiction starring questiohuman man Ted Cruz and well-oiled meat balloon Guy Fieri. This is a very long preamble, because I'm attempting to delay having to act on the fact that I told a friend I would live-blog it.

Anyhow. I bring you "Frosted Tips." Let's do the thing.

The story opens up with a truly believable and moving description of Cruz-- his disdain for the fleshy undulation of Midwestern tourists, the curl of his flesh-mouth, his attempts to out-human everyone around him. You really feel his confusion and discomfort. His attempts to wallow in human delights can lead him only one place... Flavortown.

We cut now to Fieri, occupied with admiring his unctuous body films in the mirror. There's a hint of the supernatural here, as he seems to detect Cruz's approach without heating or seeing him. Is this going to be more than a sticky-fingered, Donkey Sauced hookup in a broom closet? Yes, this could be interesting!

I could have lived without the simile likening Fieri's testicles to "sour cream-laden triple-loaded baked potatoes," however.
I think I might need to drink a ginger ale and go lie down for a bit.




Okay!

Gotta keep plugging through.

Cruz finds himself in Fieri's restaurant, experiencing a stirring in his loins and heart. I'm kind of surprised the Cruz-organism has parts analogous to a human's loins and heart, but I'm willing to suspend my disbelief here if it keeps me from having to think about it for longer than a picosecond.

Oh crap the authors are describing mouths. "Wet, narrow sea worm of a tongue." "The white ooze that had congealed [on his lips] in his panic."

No, no, no, no, n




Round three.

Mercifully, the reader is spared too vivid a description of the act itself. I'm less inclined to believe that this is for any kind of propriety's sake than it is because describing the various fleshy dongles and gibbering orifices Ted Cruz uses during copulation is beyond the abilities of a mortal author. Either way, I'm happy I don't need to hear anything else about mouths.

Instead, there's a paragraph describing thrusting, Donkey Sauce, and Fieri being a bottom. Not nearly as bad as I initially assumed.
“THIS IS WHAT WE DESERVE!”, they omitted from their mouth holes. “WE HAVE TRULY LOOKED INTO THE ABYSS AND LOOKED BACK AT OURSELVES!”

God help us all.

 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Misadventures in Going Green: The Coconut Oil Fiasco

To a lot of people, coconut oil is the stuff of legend. It's antibacterial, antiviral, heals cuts, soothes skin, moisturizes, keeps skin looking young and supple, prevents split ends, tastes amazing, and is purported to be a healthier source of fat than animal fats. It's solid at room temperature, which makes it a pretty decent base for balms and creams, but melts easily on your fingertips. It's inexpensive, lasts for a decent amount of time without refrigeration, and you can get it from pretty much any grocery store.

So, when I wanted something to replace my old moisturizer awhile ago, I figured I'd give it a go. It's cheaper, purportedly has a healing effect on skin, and was about six bucks at Sprouts. Sold!

[caption id="attachment_2355" align="aligncenter" width="300"]green coconuts, coconut I don't have any pictures of coconut oil's effect on my skin (you're welcome), so here are some coconuts.[/caption]

 

Now, coconut oil is high in saturated fat, which is why it solidifies at room temperature. It's also reported to be highly comedogenic, meaning that it clogs pores. My skin isn't room temperature and I planned on applying it and then tissuing off the excess, so I didn't think I'd have to worry too much about the oil contributing to clogged pores. I'd used other oils on my skin before (Diamox can be extremely drying), so how bad could it be?

Answer: bad. Like, bad-bad.

The first few days weren't, of course. I applied a little bit around my eye sockets, which would allow it to moisturize my eye area as I slept. I also applied it only to the areas where my skin tends to be the driest-- my forehead, the corners of my mouth, and the tops of my cheeks. I even gave my arms and legs an occasional rub down with it when they got a little dry. And, as I mentioned before, I was always careful to tissue off the excess. Unfortunately, coconut oil didn't give a damn-- I broke out virtually everywhere I applied it.

Now, normally when my skin breaks out, it's for one of two reasons. I get tiny, itchy, rashy-looking pimples when I've come in contact with something I'm allergic to (ranging from certain antibiotics, to some synthetic fragrances, to skincare products containing citrus), and I get deeper, cystic pimples when I'm experiencing hormonal shifts or extra stress.
These were neither-- just red, angry, painful spots.

I'm aware that it's possible for certain oils to bring about a kind of "healing crisis" in skin (i.e., the "purging" experienced by a lot of people start using jojoba oil), where things get worse before getting better. Unfortunately, there wasn't really a "getting better" for me-- it really seemed like the coconut oil was clogging my pores and stopping right after the "getting worse" part. I'm old enough to start worrying about wrinkles, and here I was breaking out like a teenager!

In the end, I switched back to using jojoba oil, occasionally adding argan or maracuja depending on what my skin seems to need at the time. Oddly enough, I don't experience any problems using coconut oil to make deodorant-- even though I have had breakouts with other products I've used under my arms, they seem perfectly happy to be slathered in coconut oil. Go figure.

Do you use coconut oil on your skin? What have your experiences been?

 

Friday, March 18, 2016

These Natural Perfumes by For Strange Women Are the Real Deal

Note: While I was not compensated for writing this post, it does contain affiliate links. Thank you for helping to support this site!

Ah, essential oil perfumes. Unlike conventional perfumes, these scents are generally produced without an alcohol base and are intended the lie close to the skin-- the kind of fragrance you only notice when you're very close to someone. They're subtle, but still have all of the allure of a spritz of your favorite eau de toilette.

I prefer essential oil perfumes because I'm very sensitive to a lot of synthetic fragrances. (Honestly, it's rare that a perfume doesn't give me a headache!) I also dislike how easy it is to go overboard on a conventional perfume, especially a new one. Anyone who's ever bought a new perfume and used it right before a date or a long drive, only to discover that it was way more intense than it initially let on, knows what I'm talking about.

If you're an aromatherapy devotee, essential oil perfumes may confer benefits beyond conventional fragrances. Synthetic fragrance oils may smell amazing and be able to replicate scents that aren't able to be captured by distillation, but they don't contain the same natural compounds (or offer the same benefits) as essential oils.

After trying out a bunch of different perfume oils, I have to say that my favorites are part of the selection from For Strange Women. Their products are completely natural, created with organic and wildcrafted plant essences, and I couldn't be more in love.

I picked up a set of three of their samples: French Oakmoss, Moss & Ivy, and November in the Temperate Deciduous Forest. These were chosen specifically because I prefer woody, green-smelling, relatively unisex scents. Flowery smells tend to give me a headache, and sweet, foodie smells never seem to really work with my skin's chemistry. (I'm looking at you, expensive designer perfume that somehow ending up making me smell like an ashtray.)

french oakmoss perfume

First, I tried their French Oakmoss. The listing describes it as dirty, dry, and leathery, and it's true in all of the best ways. It evokes the scent of a forest floor, sun-baked lichen on trees, and turned soil. While it's certainly an unusual scent, it's still very wearable-- I actually received a lot of compliments on it, and I loved the way the deep, green earthiness harmonized with my skin's chemistry. Of course, oakmoss ranks up there with lavender and vetivert on my list of the greatest scents in the world, so your mileage may vary.

 

moss & ivy perfumeNext is Moss & Ivy. While it still incorporates oakmoss into its scent, it's a lighter, "rainier" fragrance courtesy of basil and lavender notes. It evokes the scent of wet moss, rainy woods, and fresh leaves, without any flowery sweetness. The result is a very fresh perfume, ideal if you love the forest after a spring rain. This perfume's a little more versatile than French Oakmoss, and those who enjoy lighter, more "feminine" fragrances might find it easier to wear. I actually liked putting a little on right before bedtime-- it's when I usually relax and meditate, and being surrounded with the scent of fresh herbs and moss certainly didn't hurt.

 

november in the temperate deciduous forest perfumeLast is my favorite, November in the Temperate Deciduous Forest. Just like it says on the bottle, this evokes Moss & Ivy's autumnal counterpart-- wood, earth, warm tea, and the scent of fallen leaves. It has a woodier character than Moss & Ivy, tempered with a little more sweetness. It's deep, meditative, restful, and complex. I would have loved wearing it before bed, but I wanted to make the bottle last as long as possible! All told, it's a scent that perfectly encapsulates my favorite place during my favorite time of year. I'd smell like this all of the time if I could.

If your tastes tend less toward the green and earthy and more toward the floral, sweet, or spicy, there are plenty of other offerings that might tempt you. Northern, Midwest, and Southern Moongarden offer regionally distinct bouquets of flowers and greenery (lilac and hydrangea in the north, iris, rose, and honeysuckle in the midwest, and gardenia and jasmine in the south). Meanwhile, Bollywood's blend of rose, cardamom, sandalwood, and masala chai provide an aura of musk and spice.

Have you tried natural oil perfumes before? What are some of your favorites?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Misadventures in Going Green: No Poo? No, Thanks.

Every now and then, I get notions about my hair.

It's long, kind of coarse, and very straight. I have very sensitive combination skin, and, unfortunately, it's a phenomenon that extends to the top of my head-- most shampoos make my scalp itchy and dry, but my hair has more of a tendency to be oily. The straighter your hair, the more often it generally requires washing. Wash it too much, and you'll just encourage it to produce more oil. In the end, there's a kind of not-too-dirty, not-too-clean sweet spot I need to find with each shampoo. After, of course, finding a shampoo that doesn't irritate my scalp and strip all of moisture out of my hair.

I tried having a "crunchier" hair regimen. I tried sulfate-free shampoos, and even gave a couple of all-natural, castile soap-based options a shot. In the end, I learned a few things:

  1. Hard water and actual soap (that is, anything that's just straight-up saponified fat) are not friends. This is why, if you have hard water, a lot of handmade soaps will leave your skin filmy and soap scum on your tub.

  2. You really, really don't want to mess around with combining hard water, soap, and hair. Not even a little.


 

[caption id="attachment_2226" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Good for the environment. Sucky for my tub. Good for the environment. Sucky for my tub.[/caption]

True soaps (as opposed to detergents), be they ever so natural, react with the minerals in hard water. The result is the deposition of waxy salts. These are annoying when they get on your bathroom surfaces or dishes. They are grody as hell when they get in your hair. Worst of all, they're extremely difficult to get rid of even when you switch back to regular shampoo.

Picture, if you will, hair that doesn't look like it's been washed in weeks. It's a stringy, clumpy, oily mess, and a mess you can't even style because every one of those clumps and strings is held together by thick, sticky, waxy gunk. So, no soaps for my hair. Helas.

When I heard about the "No Poo" method, it seemed worth a try. You wash your scalp with a baking soda and water solution, then rinse with vinegar and more water. Easy enough, right? Most of its adherents swear by it. They've developed softer, shinier, more manageable hair, and a hair product budget that comes in at under three bucks a month. It balances oily hair, clarifies abused hair, and, in short, is billed as pretty much the best thing to happen to hair since the invention of scissors. So, I gave it a shot. Why not?

The end result was not pretty. Even after trying a specially-modified version of No Poo for hard water, my hair felt just like it did with straight castile soap. I poured the baking soda and water solution over my hair, felt the "slippery" feeling everyone describes, and scrubbed away at my roots where my hair tends to be oiliest. After that, I rinsed with white vinegar and water, let it dry, and tried to brush it. Emphasis on "tried."

My hair was a sticky, nasty, gluey mess. If anything, it was worse than using castile soap. Worse, even, than homemade cold process soap.

In the end, I think boiling alone is insufficient for the hard water situations that I've experienced. To actually make this work, I'd probably have to lay in a decent supply of bottled water and avoid letting any of my "native" water touch my hair in the process. Considering that a big part of the appeal of No Poo for me was the fact that I'd be able to dispense with plastic shampoo bottles in favor of a little box of baking soda and some vinegar now and then, that kind of kills it. I'd be totally willing to give it another shot, but not until I've found either a different recipe or a water softener.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Misadventures in Going Green: What is This, A Mutiny for Worms?

Note: This post contains some affiliate links to products and resources that will help you prevent tiny worm insurrections.

Having learned my lesson with litter bucket composting, I resolved to do better the next time around. After I had moved to California and was planning a garden, my then-boyfriend's aunt serendipitously gifted us a box of worms.

Raising worms, or vermiculture, is another way to turn (some) food scraps into fertilizer It's supposed to be a bit easier than regular composting, too-- if you have a worm frame (like this one by Nature's Footprint or this one by VermiHut), you can move around and swap out trays of food scraps as they're broken down into nutrient-rich worm doots. The worms'll migrate to where the food is, so you don't really need to worry about spending too much time moving them around or picking them out by hand.

We did not have a worm frame.

What we did have was a large Rubbermaid-style container; the kind you'd use to keep winter clothes in an attic. After being assured that this would suffice, we put a layer of paper and hay in the bottom, added some worm-safe food scraps, and drilled holes in the sides of the container for ventilation. In went the worms, and we let them sit near the door to the laundry room. It was too hot out to just stick them outside, so we didn't worry too much about it beyond adding new food scraps as needed and making sure things didn't get too dry. It's not like we'd have to worry about them figuring out how to climb and making a break for it, right?

"Perfect!" I thought as I read vermiculture sites with a nearly religious fervor, "This is going to be way better than regular composting."
I am dumb.

To this day, I have no idea how it happened. All I know is that, over a period of weeks, worms steadily disappeared from the container and reappeared throughout the house-- usually desiccated into ramen noodles as envisioned by Guillermo del Toro. We made sure they were getting enough air, they kept climbing out. We made sure things were moist, they insisted on drying up on the floor. We made sure that they hadn't been given papaya, pineapple, or anything else unsafe for worms to have, they mutinied their non-existant asses all the way into the living room. I didn't want my tiny fertilizer buddies to suffer, but the "How To" sites I'd been combing for info weren't any help-- as far as they were concerned, worms leaving food, darkness, and safety in favor of a foot-and-a-half vertical climb up a smooth surface should not have been a thing.

[caption id="attachment_2017" align="aligncenter" width="334"]"ⱽᶦᵛᵃ ᶫᵃ ʳᵉˢᶦˢᵗᵃᶰᶜᵉ﹗" "ⱽᶦᵛᵃ ᶫᵃ ʳᵉˢᶦˢᵗᵃᶰᶜᵉ﹗"[/caption]

Eventually, the container sat empty. We considered putting fresh worms in and stapling tiny screens over the ventilation holes, but IIH had left me too tired and run down to consider maintaining a garden by then. About a year later, I made my way out of California and back across to the east coast. Now I live in an apartment, which is probably a good thing-- even if I have a lot of potted plants, the lack of a yard saves me from any more composting notions.

Interested in vermicomposting, but not sure how to start? Check out some of these titles to help get you on your way:


Friday, January 8, 2016

Misadventures in Going Green: Composting.

Like a lot of Pagans, limiting my impact on the environment is important to me. It kind of comes part and parcel with the nature veneration thing-- you try your best to avoid donking it all up by making conscientious choices. What those choices are varies from person to person: foregoing factory-farmed meat, eating organic, eating local, supporting green industries, growing their own food and herbs, and so on. Naturally, once I managed to move out of an apartment and into a house with an actual yard, I was stoked about the possibility of being able to grow my own things. As part of my attempts to live sustainably, I wanted composting to be part of that.

How hard could it be? You start with food scraps, yard waste, maybe some paper or cardboard, make sure it stays moist and aerated, and compost happens. It's the circle of life (or close enough).

So, I got a container, drilled holes in it for aeration, put it in a spot in the yard where there'd be enough room to keep it turned regularly, and went to town filling it up.

[caption id="attachment_1963" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Bam. Bam.[/caption]

As it turns out, I greatly underestimated the amount of compostable food scraps a household of three people can produce. Even when one of them is a gamer dudebro who subsists entirely on Mountain Dew and takeout, that's a lot of vegetable scraps. Like, a lot-lot.
I also greatly underestimated the amount of poo that a 10 pound rabbit can produce in a week. Between bunny turds, used bedding, and food scraps, the bucket was full to bursting in a fortnight.

Still! No worries. I'd keep it turned, eventually it'd become compost, and it was still better than sending all of that stuff to a landfill where it'd only putrefy to begin with. So, I turned that bucket religiously. Every other day I tumbled it, made sure the contents weren't drying out, and crossed my fingers hoping for some baby dirt.

[caption id="attachment_1964" align="aligncenter" width="300"]"Dude, I put my extra cheese and nasty hard tortillas in an area. They get all rotty. A fly has a baby. Dirt is born. Share this moment with me." -- Raymond Q. Smuckles "Dude, I put my extra cheese and nasty hard tortillas in an area. They get all rotty. A fly has a baby. Dirt is born. Share this moment with me."   -- Raymond Q. Smuckles[/caption]

As it turns out, it's markedly difficult to separate baby dirt from banana peels and moldering bunny doots. My reused cat litter bucket didn't have a trap or extra door of any kind, so opening it up to obtain the precious soil nutrients inside was going to be a bit of an endeavor.

When I caught my then-boyfriend's dog eating out of the bucket, I realized it was an endeavor I was not going to undertake. She was fine afterward and I didn't find her behavior particularly alarming; this was the same animal who, left unsupervised for several minutes, had also managed to eat a quarter pound of Miracle-Gro, a live cactus, most of a bottle of lithium, and nearly the entire contents of a cat litter box. So I separated out what compost I could find, spread it around some of the trees in the yard, and scrapped the rest (bucket included).
It'd be several years (and yards) before I attempted to compost again... But that's another story.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Lachrymatories: Ancient Mourning Practice, or Marketing Strategy?

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Lachrymatories, or tear catchers, are tiny bottles purported to have a very unique purpose: to catch and hold tears.

Picture mourners using them to capture the embodiment of their sorrow as offerings for the dead. Women holding onto them when they were separated from their lovers by war, the better to be able to show them just how much they'd been missed upon their return. Not all of them were for sadness and mourning, though-- sometimes a lachrymatory was presented as a wedding gift or upon the birth of a child, the better to remember tears of joy.

[caption id="attachment_1906" align="aligncenter" width="239"]Photo by Georges Jansoone, via Wikipedia. Photo by Georges Jansoone, via Wikipedia.[/caption]

Though these tiny bottles are best known for frequently appearing in ancient Greek and Roman tombs, their use is disputed. There's more evidence that they were for perfumes and unguents than for catching tears from mourners. That didn't stop later artisans and manufacturers from making them, and it's easy to find stunningly beautiful Victorian-era lachrymatories of blown glass and gold. Occasionally, it's possible to find a collection (like this one from ottomanembroideries) of carefully preserved pieces in cobalt blue and clear cut glass. Modern glassblowers and ceramicists create still more elaborate pieces in bright colors and unusual shapes, and there are some really pretty pieces from Czechoslovakia with metalwork.

Lachrymatories hold a strange kind of fascination for me. I've always absolutely loved the idea of something somber given a bright, beautiful form-- it's a big part of my preoccupation with painting ravens, crows, and other carrion birds. The idea of a tear catcher rendered as a delicate blown glass confection has definite appeal, in an aesthetic sense. However, as Victorian Gothic says in The Enigmatic Lachrymatory, or Tear Bottle:
Google Books searches reveal no discussion of the lachrymatory custom in etiquette manuals, nor do they appear in product catalogs. There are seemingly no unambiguous descriptions of real or fictional characters making actual use of a tear bottle as a normal part of Victorian mourning practice.

In an ironic twist of life imitating art, the stories of mourners capturing their tears in tiny vials has influenced the creation of modern tear catchers. Even though they're sold to hold perfume or essential oils, it's the romanticized image of a tearful Victorian heroine that gives them their cachet.

Fortunately, due to the abundance of vials found in ancient burial sites and Victorian boudoirs, collecting tear catchers is easy. There are any number of eBay and Etsy listings of bottles ranging from modern blown glass to ceramic circa 100 BCE. Even though they may never have held the tears of an ancient mourner, isn't it a poetic notion?