Celestial Serenade

Today I experienced the North American total solar eclipse. Sort of. As I live in Toronto, north of the band of totality cutting centrally across the continent, ours was a semi-eclipse, with about 70% coverage. I call it the Partialclypse (cue Brian May’s Mad Max soundtrack).

There have been other solar eclipses visible in my part of the world during my lifetime; I have very vague memories of watching one when I was a kid … I think. Back in the early ’90s, my future astrophysicist-teacher husband – I call him Mr. Science – travelled with the Royal Astronomical Society to Mexico one whirlwind weekend to view a Total Eclipse of the Sun (cue Bonnie Tyler). (This is the same man who went to Australia in 1986 to view Halley’s Comet.) He still talks about the eclipse as a spiritual experience: when the day went dark, all the hairs on his arms and neck stood straight up, and he was deeply moved. In 2008, Mr. Science and I viewed a total lunar eclipse together, on the shore of Lake Ontario one icy February night when I got so cold, I thought I’d developed hypothermia. This was before I had my “good” camera, so I used a point-and-shoot with lousy zoom and no tripod. My teeth were chattering and hands shaking so much, this is the best image I could capture.

Total lunar eclipse as seen from Toronto, Canada February 20, 2008.

The term eclipse, by the way, comes from the Greek word for ‘disappearance’ or ‘abandonment’ (cue the bouzouki). Cultural folklore, from ancient peoples on down, deals extensively with solar eclipses, ranging from creation myths to omens of imminent misfortune to giant demons (dragons, frogs, bears, serpents, werewolves or vampires) devouring the sun to rocky relations between heavenly lovers.

Despite the fact that I knew today’s eclipse would not be the awe-inspiring total blackout, complete with Baily’s beads and corona (hmm, sounds like that trip to Mexico) that other parts of North America would be treated to, I was really looking forward to it. The weather cooperated beautifully. Too bad Mr. Science didn’t; at the last minute, he decided to scarper to a friend’s cottage, taking the protective eclipse-viewing glasses with him (cue Marche funèbre from Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2). Since I had no intention of melting my retinas or destroying my camera’s lens by pointing any of them directly at the sun (cue Thomas Dolby), I was left to fashion a rudimentary pinhole viewer out of a couple of pieces of cardboard, aluminum foil, tape and a pin to make the “lens” through which the tiny but harmless solar image would be projected.

It worked! The images are like moon shadows, but in reverse (cue Cat Stevens). Using this homemade viewer, I was able to track the progress of the Moon’s silhouette across the surface of the Sun, taking photographs every few minutes. Lacking a proper tripod for both my big camera and cell phone, I had to hold my phone in one hand while trying to steady and “focus” the cardboard lens in the other. As a result, the images are primitive and indistinct, but I still enjoyed this bit of old-school science.

Pinhole images of the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse as seen from Toronto, Ontario.

Continuing the musical theme, my next post will focus on my nomination by a fellow blogger for the Shuffle the Music Tag.

 

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Savouring Summer

August is waning, and our cottage vacation is over, but there is still some summer left to enjoy! I made this After-sun Spray for my sister, who spends tons of time outdoors birdwatching and capturing stunning nature photographs. (I, on the other hand, am a moon-worshipping troglodyte; even though I adore the natural world, I eschew the sun like a 14th century peasant trying to avoid the Black Death.)

Once again, this is a recipe from Pinterest, and my sister reports that it is a very successful one. The fragrant, non-greasy spray – which can be used any time, not just after sun exposure – contains aloe vera, witch hazel and Vitamin E to soothe, calm and refresh the skin. Omit the Vitamin E oil if you can’t find it or it’s too expensive.

After-sun Spray

  • 2 oz. (60 mL) glass spray bottle
  • 1 tbsp witch hazel (look for the alcohol-free kind; I like Thayers)
  • 2 tbsp aloe vera gel
  • 1/4 tsp Vitamin E oil (optional)
  • 1 tbsp fractionated coconut oil
  • 6 drops lavender essential oil
  • 2 drops peppermint essential oil

Mix ingredients well and decant into spray bottle. Shake before using. Spray on skin (avoid eyes) and gently rub in.

My sister has recently begun a WordPress blog, Nature’s Dance, where she’s just started posting about native flora and fauna, her birding and travel experiences and articles about her photography exhibits. There you’ll also find a fledgling (see what I did there?) gallery of her amazing images, plus a link to her Flickr website featuring many, many more. (She does, by the way, offer all her photos for sale…) Please do check her out!

“All these herbs are nice, but where’s the catnip?” A summery image captured a few years ago at the cottage by my sister.

Scenes from a Witch’s Cottage (Part 3)

The hummingbird hovers, the goldfinch alights
A leafy green path ’neath the lofty pine beckons:
“Come ye to the woods, seek their earthen delights
where oaks count the hours and bright toadstools, the seconds.”Willow basket in hand, she heeds sylvan call
and wanders past foamflower and lowbush blueberry,
whispers welcome to trees, with a silent footfall,
she soaks up the magick of old forest Faerie.A lighthouse stands guard on the point, giving warning:
Wave-lapped rocks – sailors’ bane! – warmed by midsummer heat.
Her throne a moss pillow bedewed from the morning,
she rests, breathes in pine-scented air, soft and sweet.How wondrous the isle where the woods are enchanted!
How sparkles the sun on the diamond-like water!
How blessed is she in her sturdy white cabin,
where secrets are passed from wise mother to daughter!

Scenes from a Witch’s Cottage, Part 3
© 2017, Valerie Barrett

A Faerie Quest

For many years now, the Faerie Folk have made themselves known on our cottage island. These wee creatures usually remain hidden, appearing only when they want to be seen. The little wooded isle has an abundance of portals, in many forms, which they use to travel from their realm to ours: sometimes the base of a tree (usually oak), sometimes a cleft in the rock. The Wee Folk, for the most part, seem to accept our presence and allow us to go about our business, but we know only a little about them. We have discovered, for example, that their quixotic, mischievous nature can make them rather tricksy. Gardening tools and the lids of cooking pots will be where they should be one hour, and go inexplicably missing the next. The refrigerator may be nearly empty on a Tuesday, and stocked with a staggering seven bottles of salad dressing on Wednesday. And tiny red- and white-spotted parasols, found scattered amongst the leaves where there were none the day before, are signs that the perverse Fae delight in a festive frolic through the woods of a rain-drenched night.

This week, a mysterious scroll, written in elegant hand on aged parchment, was discovered in the house, which is itself quite old. It seemed to have been left by a benefactor, wise in the ways of the Fae, looking out for our welfare. Here is what the message said:

’Twixt water and forest the ancient stones hide,
long since forgot within deep cedar shade;
a place of high rev’rence, once sacrifice made –
an altar, a portal where Faerie folk bide.

Old spirits sigh ’neath the leafy green bower;
they whisper of magick beyond human ken:
should Mortal pass through, a year becomes ten –
and all youth is gone in the count of an hour.

When human eyes light upon grey granite table,
take heed! For hungry Ones watch from the wood!
But gifts from the land must ye bring, fair and good,
to soften their hearts toward Men, if ye’re able.

Upon the high altar, the Fae to appease,
lay these humble off’rings, the spell to unbind;
these gifts must ye proffer, these treasures to find;
in all there are seven – a number to please:

One gem of clear crystal for scrying and Sight;
two feathers, now pluck’d, from wings that flew free;
green cones of the pine, numberéd three;
four stems of wild thyme, a fragrant delight;

For five, bring blue berries, a sweet woodland feast;
six glassy grains from a wave-lapped sand beach;
and last, seven seeds of the wise oaken tree.
Hope the Fae favour your obsequious deeds!

The blessings of Faeries must you also ask,
your future determined by their fitful will.
Seek now, then, these gifts, a long quest to fulfill –
Good Fortune smile on you in your fateful task!

As it seemed prudent to maintain cordial relations with the Fae, we immediately took our gathering baskets to the woods and began foraging for the required gifts. We had some idea of the location of the “grey granite table” – the place on the lakeshore where fishermen past had always cleaned their catch – and, indeed, the signs were there that this was no ordinary set of stones!

With the utmost respect and reverence, we left our seven offerings, along with our own scroll, a carefully-worded beseechment for magickal favour, on the long-lost altar. A short while later, we received word that all was good: the blessing had been made, and the Faerie Quest fulfilled.

Rainbow Rays: DIY Beaded Suncatcher

As I eagerly anticipated our family’s annual vacation at the island cottage, I wanted to make a pretty suncatcher or windchime to hang amongst the pines – something to catch the warm summer rays or peal prettily in the breeze.

I was attracted to an idea from Pinterest which used a piece of driftwood and rainbow-coloured beads. You could use any combination you like, from a single colour to a multi-hued riot. I picked up several packages of glass beads in various colours, shapes and sizes for a song at a local dollar store.

While I stuck to all-glass beads, the Pinterest model was more ornate, incorporating metal and wood beads, findings and shells as well as glass. They claim their suncatcher is also a windchime. Although I followed their method exactly, I was disappointed to find that mine rarely makes a sound, if ever. I think that’s because I spaced my strands 1.5 to 2 inches apart, which is too far for the beads to make contact with each other. Plus, those extra findings stick out at angles, making it more likely for the strands to “chime” as they connect.

The piece of driftwood I used came from the island and happened to be the perfect shape and size; it even bears an uncanny resemblance to the one on Pinterest! Driftwood is so decorative, but a small, fallen branch or a wooden dowel – unfinished, painted or stained – would work, too.

I liked the symmetry of five strands of beads, with the longest in the middle. Of course you can use any number you want and keep them all the same length, or vary them for a bohemian feel.

The cute little bells at the bottom are optional. They actually ring – if you shake them – but even a brisk breeze won’t make mine chime! Other options for the string ends include larger beads, prisms, shells, coins (real or fake), bits of broken jewellery – anything to add a bit of jingly bling. Whatever you choose will have to have a hanging hole or loop, of course. (To add holes to soft metals such as copper, bronze and aluminum, I use one of those screw-down jewellery punches – great for old coins – and it is possible, if you’re careful, to drill holes in shells without breaking them. Now, if I only had a powerful-enough drill for beach glass!)

After I’d completed my project, I realized there’s an easier way to attach the strands and hanging cord to the wood. Tiny screw-in metal eye hooks would be faster and would eliminate the need for drilling holes. I’m planning to try another project using this method.

To make the suncatcher (as shown), you’ll need:

  • driftwood, branch or wooden dowel
  • non-elastic, clear nylon beading thread or fishing line
  • beads of various colours, shapes, sizes and materials (glass, plastic, wood, metal, ceramic)
  • small metal bells
  • string, twine or leather thong for the hanger
  • drill to make holes OR metal eye screw hooks for attaching bead strands and hanging cord

How-to, 2 ways: (I used the DRILLED method for the example shown)

  1. DRILLED: On the top side of the wood, mark a hole for each beaded string, spacing them no more than an inch apart. Leave enough room at the ends of the wood to wrap twine around several times for a hanger (as shown) OR to add eye hooks to attach a hanging cord. Drill the holes using a small-diameter bit that is long enough to go all the way through the thickness of the wood. Drill straight down, not on an angle. HOOKS: Mark the positions on the underside of the wood, and screw in the eye hooks. You should be able to tighten them with just your fingers, but use pliers if necessary.
  2. Cut stringing thread/fishing line to the desired length for each strand of beads, adding plenty of extra for tying off.
  3. Make your first strand of beads: first, securely tie on a bell, making sure it will dangle freely. (You’ll see that my bells are a bit wonky because I tied them too tightly.) Trim the excess thread created by the knot, leaving a couple of inches for extra security.
  4. Add the rest of your beads, hiding the extra thread under the first few beads. Set the first strand aside.
  5. Finish all of your beaded strands in the same way, adjusting the length as desired.
  6. DRILLED: To attach the finished strands to the wood, thread the free end up through a drilled hole. (I started with the longest strand, in the middle.) Thread on another bead; this one will hold the entire strand in place. Tie the thread to itself just underneath the bead. HOOKS: Knot each beaded strand on to an eye hook. Using a needle if necessary (I found I didn’t need one), thread the remaining string down through the first few beads at the top, hiding the end inside a bead.
  7. To add the hanger shown, cut a long length of string or twine (I doubled it for added security). Knot it around one end of the wood. Wrap around the end several times, covering up the knot. Allow enough string for the desired hanging length, then take to the other end and down the opposite side so the piece will hang evenly, without twisting. Wrap several times as you did the first end. Knot the string securely to itself. Use a needle, if desired, to thread the end an inch or two under the wrapping; trim the excess. To use eye hooks for hanging, install a hook near each end of the wood on the top side. Tie on your hanging cord.

The finished suncatcher is about 12 inches wide and 16 inches long.

It’s All Cool

Time has flown in more ways than one. Here we are halfway through summer, and today is the one year anniversary of this blog! I haven’t been able to write much in the last few weeks, and I know I’ve missed a lot. Things have been happening – things I needed to take care of – but now they’re done, and it’s all cool.

A major project has been revitalizing my Etsy shop. I chose a fresh new name, thereby uniting my shop, blog and Facebook page with a single identity. After careful consideration, I finally settled on Gillyflower Faire, which resonates with me on multiple levels: it’s a little bit archaic, a term for a marketplace, a nod to the Wee Folk, and a description (hopefully) of my handmade baubles. So, I said a fond farewell to Wood So Wild, and set about the many tasks necessary to incorporate this change.

I’ve added many new listings to the shop, including a line of beaded jewellery. The beaded pieces feature genuine gemstones – each chosen for a specific meaning – or wood or glass seed beads, accented with sterling silver and other metals. The styles are sleek and uncomplicated – the type of jewellery I like to wear. And I enjoy working in themes, so I’ve done a few chakra/rainbow pieces, evil eye talismans, and even some using Canadian gems to celebrate this country’s 150th birthday! Here you see just a few examples; there are many more to come.

This flurry of change and activity, combined with the sultry summer heat and the lack of air conditioning at home and in my now-defunct car, has left me in a sweat. My internal temperature control has been broken for years, and now, at this stage of life, it takes very little (stress, or any ambient temperature above 0° C) to turn me into a raging inferno. My friends and co-workers, being kind souls, tell me that when I’m in the grips of a hot flash, I don’t actually show it – aside from my frantic fanning of any item within reach – but I don’t see, or feel, how that can possibly be. You ladies of a certain age know precisely what I mean.

I’ve written before about a few items I keep handy to combat those uncomfortable moments. I continue to use arrowroot powder, either as-is or scented with a few drops of essential oils, as a herbal body powder. Arrowroot powder, also known as arrowroot flour or starch, is made from the powdered rhizomes of several types of tropical plants, notably Maranta arundinacea. It was once used to treat poison arrow wounds, hence the name, and is used as a food thickener as well as in cosmetics. Natural and safe, lightweight and silky, it’s the perfect alternative to cornstarch or talc. Arrowroot powder is inexpensive and found at bulk food and grocery stores.

The batch I made this summer has a fresh, invigorating herbal fragrance and uses essential oils known for their antiseptic properties (lavender, thyme) to combat nasty, sweat-loving bacteria, as well as ones reputed to relieve menopausal symptoms (clary sage, grapefruit). If you can get the shaker top off and on again, go ahead and reuse an empty baby powder bottle. I found 4 oz. plastic shakers at one of my favourite suppliers, Voyageur Soap & Candle Co. Here’s my recipe:

Talc-free Herbal Body Powder

  • small container with shaker lid
  • arrowroot powder
  • essential oils of lavender, Roman chamomile, clary sage, white thyme and pink grapefruit, or use your own favourite combination

Fill container halfway with arrowroot powder. Add 5 to 6 drops of each essential oil. Cover top of container and shake to combine. Fill the bottle with more arrowroot and snap on the lid. Shake thoroughly. Use as a body powder, avoiding eyes.

Another way to beat the heat is a cooling body mist. I found this recipe on Pinterest and dressed up my bottle with snowflake stickers. This lovely-smelling mixture contains soothing, skin-loving witch hazel, which constricts blood vessels to create a cooling sensation that lasts for several minutes on the skin. It’s especially good on hot, tired feet. You can keep the mist at room temperature or in the refrigerator for an extra icy blast.

Peppermint Mist Cooling Spray

  • 2 oz. glass spray bottle
  • 2 tbsp distilled water
  • 2 tbsp witch hazel
  • 4 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 4 drops lavender essential oil

Combine water, witch hazel and essential oils in bottle, add cap and shake thoroughly before each use. Do not use on the face.

Scenes from a Witch’s Cottage (Part 2)

Well! It has been quite some time since I’ve had a chance to focus on this blog. I do apologize for not keeping up with yours; I will try to catch up soon. I hope everyone is enjoying the newly-minted summer. Happy Solstice!

For the last few weeks, I’ve been on a mission to spruce up my Etsy shop. I hadn’t made anything new for quite some time, and many items have been languishing on my work table, waiting to be finished, or to be photographed, written up and posted. I’ve now added several items, including a new line of beaded gemstone jewellery which I’m really excited about, and will soon be posting more.

I’ve also been wracking my brain, trying to come up with a new shop name using gillyflower somehow, so that the shop, this blog and my Facebook page are all tied together. (Wood So Wild was fine, but it seems removed from what I do here.) “Gillyflower” was already taken, so I’ve pestered my friends and co-workers, and even held an informal Facebook contest; the winner gets a custom-made item from my shop if I end up using his or her suggestion. There were some good submissions, but none was exactly right.

It was just this week, when I arrived at work, that my friend and co-worker gave me a wonderful book called An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures by Katharine Briggs (1976, Pantheon Books). This volume, which is an alphabetical listing of all manner of mystical and mythological beings, customs and lore, was originally published in England as A Dictionary of Fairies by Allen Lane (Penguin Books). It was a lovely and welcome surprise!

As I flipped through its pages, looking particularly at the G’s (to alliterate with gillyflower), I came upon a term (not a G) that was so obvious – and so perfect – that I wondered why on earth I hadn’t thought about it before!

I still have work to do before I’m sure I can use the name. Etsy has rules about such things, and I will secure a domain name, too. Then there are the not inconsiderable tasks of switching the name wherever Wood So Wild appears in my listings and across other social media platforms. And, of course, I do have to come up with a new photograph for my shop banner, and design and order business cards and branded packaging. If all goes well, I’m hoping to unveil the new name this weekend and spend the next little while making the transition. And I owe my friend a piece of jewellery, for, although she didn’t suggest the actual name, she did give me the book from whence the idea came! Fair is fair, after all.

I haven’t had much time to read, so I’m still enjoying Dark Witch by Nora Roberts. Yesterday, after a spectacular lightning storm had ravaged the night, a gentle, nourishing rain fell steadily throughout the morning and afternoon. I read a little, worked on this article, and tended my herbs before heading off to work. My window garden has expanded to include a selection of culinary and medicinal herbs, and they’re all coming on nicely. As I was potting up a couple of new ones, this scene played in my mind:

Last e’en, lightning flashed and thunder shattered;
today the storm’s settled to soft June rain.
The hedgewitch steps barefoot from the garden,
basket a-brim with lavande and fresh thyme.
Rosemary, too, to remember with,
and basil – well, that’s for supper!
The warm windowsill waits with aloe for balm,
and oregano grows to flavour a stew.
What shall it be, this aft, for the cauldron?
A tincture, an oxymel, chamomile tea?
In leather-bound grimoire, receipts will be written
in spidery hand and iron gall ink.

Scenes from a Witch’s Cottage, Part 2
© 2017, Valerie Barrett