Ahhh Beltane. A time when the young God ripens into a man. It's that blessed season when the world finally feels defrosted from winter, where the emerald leaves have returned to the trees, flowers are blooming with a myriad of colors, and bees are busy pollinating it all. Nature has truly awoken from its slumber, flourishing with life for both flora and fauna alike.

...unless you live in the desert. Then May is brown just like July is brown and December is brown. But I digress.

Anyway, back to birds chirping and shit.

Beltane is a lively time of year, marked with life and vitality. Spring vegetables are just beginning to pop up in the market (I HIGHLY recommend proscuitto-wrapped asparagus. Yum yum!), which makes them the perfect food for a Beltane feast. Dairy is also appropriate, given that many animals are birthing this time of year. Daisies and tulips make for a beautiful table decoration. Anything alive, really. 

For my personal altar, I incorporated live greenery with dried flowers (roses and lavender). While I would have preferred fresh, dried is what I had on hand. That's the wonderful thing about Paganism: it's versatile, which allows us to harness our creativity. And isn't that the point of the Penniless Pagan—to use what you have on hand? Of course I could have used a cactus, but something about sharp, piercing needles seemed less visually appealing than crimson rose petals. Green (God) is an obvious color for the season, as is yellow or pink (Goddess). Here I used red (Goddess) to balance the green of God.

Get creative with your altar! It's all about what feels right to you personally. If you're looking for inspiration, simply look outside! There's no need to complicate your altars or rituals, or to feel like you're doing it "wrong." Study nature. The answers are all right there.

Isn't that just another wonderful part of being Pagan? ;)

I'd love to see your interpretation of Beltane! Share your photos with me on Facebook or Twitter! Can't wait to hear from you!

Blessed Beltane, Everyone!

What's your favorite Beltane dish? Do you have a go-to Beltane tradition?

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Simple Food Blessing

Instead of acknowledging Earth Day in the typical way (because every day is Earth Day for Pagans!) I've decided to touch upon another subject.

When I was a teenager, much like many other teenagers, I was a vegetarian. After a year or so, my growing body became anemic. But when I returned to eating meat, I felt such guilt. How could I believe animals have souls and yet still eat them? How could I have such profound respect for something I'm willing to kill for sustenance? 

Eventually I came to realize one simple truth: Everything on this planet lives at the expense of another. The antelope dies for the lion. The fly dies for the toad. Even the tomato ceases to be a living plant for the vegan.

It was then that I came to accept that I am not a terrible Pagan for liking myself a steak. We shouldn't feel guilty about sustaining ourselves. But what we should do is recognize the sacrifice that has been made. One life dies so that another may life. And we are obligated to acknowledge and honor that transformation from one form of energy to another, from a living creature (or plant!) to nourishment. 

Before every meal I say one simple blessing and I invite you to do the same!

Happy Earth Day, fellow Pagans! 

Do you have a blessing you say before a meal? How do you honor the blessing of nourishment?

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Natural and Herbal Treatments for Insomnia

When I was younger, and therefore foolish, I never understood insomnia. Insomniacs are really tired, so don’t they eventually just fall asleep?  It wasn’t until my beloved grandfather died that I experienced my first true fight for sleep. My grandfather was eighty-five and not immortal. I knew he wasn’t going to live forever. In fact, towards the end, he was so very sick and so terribly miserable, I knew death and the beautiful afterlife that awaited such a kind, gentle soul was far more beneficial to him than living a painful, cruel existence just for the sake of checking off another excruciating day on this planet.

But I so naively underestimated the sorrow I would experience.

I thought I was ready. After all, I was nearing my third decade on this wondrous planet. I’d experienced death of loved ones before. But my grandfather was unlike anyone I’d ever known, and when he died, it broke my heart. I mean, Broke. My. Heart. Despite my struggles to return to normalcy after a mere week (I mean, that’s enough mourning time for someone you knew was dying, right?! Poor, ignorant Michaela), I spent the next year grappling with my emotions. After a few weeks the numbing misery wore off, but I found myself unable to be passionate about much of anything, including my biggest passion—writing. It took me a solid year—a year—before I could return to writing. Instead of allowing myself to grieve, I fought the emotional transition tooth and nail. In hindsight, I think my healing would have been quicker if I just allowed myself to grieve unencumbered. But I spent so much time refusing to accept that such an extreme loss required deep healing that I instead threw my whole system into shock.

Annnnd that’s how I found myself praying for the alluring pull of slumber that frustratingly eluded me no matter how hard I tried to sleep.

I’m firmly anti-chemicals. Well, let me rephrase that. I’m 99% firmly anti-chemicals. Antibiotics are a modern miracle. I’d be dead from strep throat by age 8 were they not discovered. My husband would have died from appendicitis if it weren’t for anesthesia and surgery. I’m not totally against modern medicine; I just believe it is all too commonly used when there are natural and (generally) safer alternatives in nature. But when I was on day number four of no sleep, I mean NONE, I was thisflippingclose to buying a bottle of anything that promised to knock my ass out and tossing back a handful. Fortunately, I had a friend talk some sense into my too-tired-to-function brain and recommended an herbal product that had me counting sheep in no time.

I now use a singular herb, which I’ll get to in a moment, but that day I used:

Deep Sleep by Herbs Etc
I like this company not only because their products are all natural, but they come in liquid-gels, which I think helps the body absorb them quicker and easier. This is a blend of several different herbs, all of which I’ve found to be gentle but effective. The only reason I don’t use this product as my main go-to is because it contains lemon balm (which is the balm….get it?!?!). While wonderfully sedative, lemon balm can lower thyroid function and is therefore not recommended for long-term use in people who have hypothyroidisim. It is fine for periodic use; you just don’t want to use it daily. I took Deep Sleep for three days and found myself back in a normal sleep pattern by night four. Another awesome thing about this company is they sell small-quantity cards, so you can try something without having to purchase a whole bottle. While you probably can’t find the small-dose packages online, I see them all the time in health food stores.

Now, my FAVORITE sleeping herb is:

Valerian Root**
Two capsules and I no longer care about anything in the world! I HIGHLY recommend you get an organic capsule if you’re buying it pre-packaged, because the non-organic capsules can sometimes contain bulking agents, which companies don’t always disclose. I was using the non-organic version and felt very hungover the next day, even after only one use. I also found my sleep to be deep but very short, usually only 3-4 hours. This has not happened with the organic.

Learn from my mistake and spend the extra couple of dollars for the organic. I take this brand and I’ve never slept better (2 capsules, 1030 mg/cap). I sleep deeply and soundly and sometimes even sleep COMPLETELY through the night, which I haven’t done in…well, I don’t think I’ve ever done that. No hangover. No grogginess. Just restful sleep. I usually take this for just a couple nights before getting off to allow my body to re-situate.

Don’t let this scare you but…
NOTE: You want to avoid taking valerian in large doses for more than two consecutive weeks. Valerian can cause depression in some individuals, so just hop off if you’re finding yourself unusually blue. Avoid if you have low blood pressure or hypoglycemia. Valerian can increase the effects of sedatives and antidepressant/anti-anxiety medications, so please consult your doctor before use. Do not use when driving or operating heavy machinery.

While this may seem too everyday to be beneficial, I actually find chamomile to be quite effective. I often have a cup with milk and honey before bed and find myself pretty chiiiiiiilled out by the time I drag my rear-end upstairs. I’ve also taken the capsules if I’m not in the mood for tea. Chamomile is extremely safe, but I usually take two capsules.

And, if I’m being honest, I *may* be known to take a mouthful of water, rip open an organic tea bag, and swallow the chamomile as is. Listen, if you’ve ever been to an acupuncturist and have experienced the taste-bud offense that is Chinese herbs, you’ll understand why I can choke down pretty much anything without gagging. Dirty! (Did anyone else hear that in Lorelai Gilmore’s voice???)

Hot Magnesium Bath
No, this is not an herb. And it’s probably not going to work if you’ve been on a four-day, no-sleep stress bender. But under normal tossing-and-turning circumstances, I find a hot magnesium bath leaves me pooped! I buy this brand of magnesium fakes, dump a handful into a hot bath, mix it around with my foot until all those pointy pieces are dissolved, and slip in. And while magnesium can burn, a reasonable handful in a full bath-tub’s worth of water is enough dilution to avoid the sting.

*Clears throat and straightens tie* In conclusion, the wonderful aspect of herbal sleep aids is that they are non-habit forming. The biggest complaint I’ve heard from people about over-the-counter “traditional” sleep aids is that they can’t just take them for a night or two and resume normal sleep patterns. That’s precisely what I do with sleep-inducing herbs. In fact, I think it’s important to take a break from sleeping herbs after a few nights. You’re trying to gently nudge your body back into a normal rhythm. Therefore, unless I’m severely sleep-deprived, I try to take valerian root for two nights and then get off it for a while. This allows me to gauge whether or not my body has found its new groove and is adjusting accordingly.

And if you’re looking for general sleep tips, Katie fromWellness Mama has some great tips on improving your sleeping environment! (Found towards the bottom of the post.)

**Some information is cited from the wonderful Brigitte Mars, AHG. Check out her fantastic herbal reference guide, The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicinefor more information!

Have you ever tried herbs to help you sleep? What’s worked for you?

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NOTE: As with any recommendation found on this blog, consult your doctor or naturopath before use.

Five Ways to Handle Stress Naturally (Without Alcohol, Drugs, or Murder)

You ever have those days where everything seems to go wrong? Of course you have. You're alive. (And if you're not, since when did zombies read blogs??)

No one likes a bad day. But I believe everything is a mindset. I also believe we are powerful beings who have control over more than we realize. So instead of spending the day miserable, here are some suggestions to help improve your mood.

1.  Listen to relaxing Jazz. This may sound very Aunt Marie of me (Breaking Bad, anyone?) but I find turning on some jazz really helps me chill out when I’m fa-reaking out. Sometimes I make myself a cup of tea and crash on the couch, close my eyes, and let Billie Holiday carry me away on her sweet, sweet voice. Other times I use it to help with a dreaded task (like dishes or laundry). After a song or two I’m usually much more relaxed. (And oddly drawn to anything purple…. Anyone??)

2. Take a walk.   I know, totally trite. But it really works! The key is to not think about whatever is eating at you. Pay attention to the way the fresh air feels on your face, your nose, in your lungs. Watch the birds in the trees. Notice how the soft earth feels beneath your feet. Or if you live in the city, let the industrious cacophony drown out your mind. And when you inevitably start thinking about your stressors again, don’t get frustrated with yourself! Just recognize that your mind has wandered and re-direct your thoughts. I do this when I’m struggling with writing and want to demolish my computer screen. Just the act of redirecting my attention almost always allows the answer to come to me. And if nothing else, my pulse has most definitely calmed down after twenty minutes in the fresh air.

3. Listen to loud music. No, this is not #1 repeated. Whether it’s in your earbuds or cranked up on your living room TV, blasting some music seems to release frustrations in a way no amount of chamomile can. Sometimes you need to embrace the angst, and that’s when I blast some Breaking Benjamin in my ears. Other times, when I don’t want to be angry or frustrated but can’t seem to shake it, I play some Hanson (Don’t knock ‘emtill you’ve tried ‘em) and sing at the top of my lungs. I find the poetic lyrics and upbeat melodies never fail to shake me from my cranky mood. Whatever resonates with you- Miranda Lambert, Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran— just play it loud and play it proud. (Unless it’s The Macarena. I think we can all agree that never should have happened.)

4. Take a Shower (you filthy animal). First off, if you didn’t catch my Home Alone reference, I’m not sure how you manage to get through the Christmas season without seeing that at least twice. But back to my point, I find I always feel better after a shower. Maybe it’s because I never shower without my radio (see #3). Or maybe it’s because something about sandalwood bar soap makes my soul happy. But whatever it is, I always come out feeling much better. It’s 15 (or sometimes 25, other times 4) minutes of me time— time when no one is asking me questions, time when I have no other obligations other than scrubbing the pits, time when I can block everything else out. Just make sure to keep your mind in the shower. Don’t take this moment to review your to-do list. Don’t start chastising yourself about your thighs. Wash your hair, sing some tunes, and forget everything else that isn’t standing in that four-foot space. (And if there’s someone else in there with you…that’s never bad either. Unless you don’t know them. Then you definitely have more important things to worry about other than your thighs.)

5. F@#% It All! It’s crass, I know. But when all else fails—Screw it! Sometimes, when my mind won’t stop reeling and my list of chores keeps growing, I say damn it all and sit down with a book (or if you prefer, an episode of your favorite TV show, a round of Candy Crush, whatever tickles your petunias). When I set everything aside for 20 or 30 minutes and solely focus on something that makes me happy, I come back much more refreshed and far more motivated to complete whatever needs to be done. I know what you’re thinking, “Michaela, I’m already stressed. Where am I supposed to find 30 more minutes, you crazy broad!” Listen, life is short. If the laundry doesn’t get done today, I guarantee the world will not stop spinning. So what if you have to re-wear a pair of jeans one more time? In five years will that matter? It will matter when you’re so completely and utterly stressed you barely have the strength to make it out of bed…or worse. Disease is born of stress, trust me on this. When your body, as well as your soul, is at peace and in an optimistic state, you’re less likely to catch that cold, to throw out your back, to twist your ankle as you’re barrel-assing your kids into the minivan. You never know when this is all going to end. Be nice to yourself. Cut yourself some slack. And for goodness sake, cut out a mere 30 minutes a week to do something for yourself!!!

What do you do to shake a bad mood?

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