Strega Nona Entertaining: Conjuring Creative Fun

From recipes to rituals, I will kindly divine the perfect celebration for you!

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Colleen DuVall

Colleen DuVall

Colleen DuVall has written articles, plays, short films, and a novel. Most recently, her work has been featured in her new blog, Off The Beaten Path for the Shepherd Express online (, and the Wisconsin Life radio show for WPR. She recently adopted a little grey and white cat named Tessa, after beloved 22-year-old Bootise passed on.

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(Spring) Cleaning House

The first day of spring is sneaking up fast. Along with the urge to undertake various spring cleaning projects in the homestead, there is also the need for other renewal of a more personal nature. When is the last time you treated yourself to a meditation class, massage, Reiki, or other natural pampering experience? If you are like me and hard-pressed to answer, it is high time you checked yourself in for a treatment. In fact, make a day of it. Inform anyone else who may routinely depend on you that they will simply have to take a number.

When looking to book, it is always a good idea to go by word-of-mouth that you trust for a good experience, particularly when it comes to massage. If you don't already know someone that you trust or who can be referred by someone that you do, at the very least, do some research and read reviews. Once you've got your appointment booked, get a good solid 8-hours of snoozing in the night  before. Likewise, don't indulge in any partying of the hardy kind. You want to truly be able to luxuriate in the experience. If you are about to rid your body of any pent-up toxic energy, you might as well shed as many toxins as possible leading up to it.

On the day of your appointment, don't schedule any other activities. Wake up in a leisurely, unrushed manner. Take the time to do a crossword puzzle or get artsy with an adult coloring book. Enjoy some fair trade coffee or green tea and a light, healthful breakfast, such as fresh mashed avocado on whole grain toast. Garnish with a few red pepper flakes and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. If you want to partake in a little yoga or other low-impact workout before heading out, definitely do so. Listen to some pleasantly relaxing tunes, too.

I realize that some of you may be morning people, but for the optimum experience, I would recommend a mid-day appointment, around noon or one. A good one-hour minimum is a sure bet to enjoy the best possible benefits. Some spas even offer private nap rooms to continue relaxing after your treatment. If there is no nap room available, head home and take that lengthy siesta. Later, enjoy a home-cooked meal and a quiet evening at home. Play some mellow records like Joni Mitchell, Pentangle, or Cat Stevens. Watch activity out the window. Read a good book. Write in a journal. At all costs, unplug and let the hustle and bustle pass you right by. After all, you've earned it. When Monday rolls around again, consider your inner spring batteries fully recharged.


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Turn up the Heat and Chill Out

Imbolc is a natural time for contemplation and quietude. The weather often compels us indoors and forces us to slow down and partake in some sort of hibernation. If we stay this way for too long however, restlessness and boredom can set in. How does one cope with extreme temperatures and no waiting plane ticket to sunnier climates in sight? Sometimes even simulated heat is better than none.

On those winter nights that you're feeling chilled to the bone, turning up the heat and meditating could be just what is needed to help in biding your time until spring. Don't be afraid to boost it enough to break a sweat. Yes, it's an indulgence, but you can always turn it down to normal right after. Bundle up, put on your heaviest wrap-around scarf, wool hat, leg warmers, arm warmers, fuzzy socks, and fashion a Snuggie-worthy blanket around the back of your shoulders. Prop yourself up on too many comfy pillows.

Before you get completely settled in though, light your favorite scented candle, dim all the lights and light some relaxing incense as well, preferably something such as "Tranquility," by Essential Essences, with lavender mixed in. Likewise, heat up a lavender and chamomile Anti-Stress Comfort Wrap, such as the one from Earth Therapeutics to drape over your shoulders.

A Himalayan salt lamp is a great tool for assisting on nights such as these, and has been known to help in removing toxins, stale energy, and even allergens out of the dry air, as well. Speaking as one prone to allergies, I noticed a difference immediately. Turn on your favorite soft-voiced guided mediation or mood music, or tune in to the white noise of a radiator, wood burning stove, or fireplace, if you're lucky enough to have one in your home.

Breathe deep and give yourself a good 20-30 minutes to completely relax, recharge your energies and realign your chakras – there's a nifty guided meditation to do just that at the end of this article. Breathe in the positive and let go/breathe out that which no longer serves you. When you feel that you have reached your optimum peaceful state of mind, express gratitude to the Goddesses and Gods for the unique opportunity to take the time to do this exercise. Finish with a cup of hot brewed herbal tea, and sprinkle a few drops out on your back porch in offering to Mother Nature.

Leave the salt lamp on for the night and take note of the interesting dreams that you may remember in the morning. And don't forget to turn down the heat again!


“Yoga Pose Shows Exercise Wellbeing And Health” by Stuart Miles from

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A Liberal Dose of Yuletide Spirit

(or no two snowflakes are exactly alike – and that's pretty cool)

2017 has been quite a year, in more ways than one. At times, it can be a challenge to stay hopeful about what lies ahead in the future. Many of we free-spirited and open-minded nature lovers must find our simple pleasures where we can. If those of us adversely affected by the new tax plan put our minds to it, we can still stay positive and find some things to celebrate this holiday season that retain meaning and joy. It occurred to me that some of the best ways to do this, would be to act in a fashion about as anti-greed, anti-bigotry, and anti-big business corporate mindset as possible. Here's how you can proceed in 8 effective ways, in honor
of each of the eight sabbats:

1. Either opt not to exchange gifts and just spend time together; or keep it extremely simple. When I say simple, I mean price cap it at $12-$15 tops. Or, just stick to recycled white elephants or home-made presents. 2. If you do have a tree, keep it natural. These are healthier for the environment. Decorate with mementos of loved ones who have passed on, in the tradition of the Celts. 3. Make donations! Share charitably what you can for your favorite causes. Endangered animals, LGBT rights, public television and radio, Puerto Rico, and absolutely anything to do with the environment are just a few groups who would all love your help about now. If you can't donate money, share your time and volunteer for a local chapter. 4. Speaking of donations, clean out your clothes closet already. Anything you haven't worn all year or are saving for someday, pass it on instead to your local resale shop. 5. Bake some gingerbread cookies, but don't bother with icing if you don't feel like it. Personally, I just love the spicy molasses flavor and the way they make my kitchen smell. Instead of men, make gingerbread women, wildlife creatures (I am the proud owner of a wolf
cutout), or moon and star shapes. Don't hoard them. Make a few dozen and bring some along to share at each of your holiday parties. 6. Every morning you wake up frustrated after reading the news, sign as many petitions as you possibly can. Keep fighting the good fight, no matter what. It's only when we roll over and give up that dreams die, too. 7. Send an eco-friendly ecard. World Wildlife Fund always has a very nice selection at this time of year. 8. Watch all the goofy feel-good holiday movies that still make you feel good that you can. Od on the innocence of it. Two of my go-tos annually are Albert Finney in the 70s musical version of "Scrooge," and the original "Rudolph." The still timely messages in them both, never cease to warm my heart.

When you light the nightly candles, meditate on the world that you most want to live in. Let's all make it our goal next year to do everything we can to make that happen. Peace.

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A Samhain Spell: Embracing Your Inner Witch

If you are like me around this time of year, chances are good that you find many ways to prolong and celebrate the festivities of Halloween, throughout the month of October. Besides the obvious large crowd/party idea to as an excuse to create and wear a costume, I do always like to do some sort of solitary, introspective ritual, as well. Since the time is ripe for divination, breaking out your favorite tarot deck is always a helpful self-check-in.

Brew a nice homey pomegranate tea, substituting hot apple cider for hot water. Get your tarot deck ready and sip some of the tea, relaxing into the right frame of mind for your ritual. Light some dragon's blood incense, a pumpkin-spiced candle, and cast a circle. I always like to clear my tarot deck of past influences by opening the box and smudging the cards with the incense smoke before I begin. Meditate on where you are in your life presently and shuffle the cards well. I find that the celtic cross spread gives the most thorough overview of what is going on behind the scenes, since it covers both what is coming to pass and what is around the corner, if one continues on the current path taken. If the reading isn't entirely clear the first time around, re-shuffle and give it one to two more tries. Look for patterns. Even with a sound re-shuffling, I often find myself repeatedly drawing the same cards, because they obviously have something to tell me. The third time is usually the charm for complete insight into what you wish to  know.

Meditate on your reading and record it in  your book of shadows with the date, if you like. This can be a helpful guide when planning your next Samhain. Give thanks to the Goddesses and Gods of this most magical of nights and revel in that fact a bit. Ground and close the circle, finishing with a light snack and some more tea. Ponder how wonderful it is to be a Witch, Wiccan, or Pagan on October 31st. There is nothing quite like it, is there?

     1/3 cup melted coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
     1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
     2 eggs, at room temperature
     1 cup pumpkin purée
     1/4 cup milk of choice
     1 teaspoon of baking soda
     1 teaspoon vanilla extract
     1/2 teaspoon salt
     1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling on top
     1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
     1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
     1/4 teaspoon allspice or ground cloves
     1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour or regular whole wheat flour
     1/3 cup old-fashioned oats, plus more for sprinkling on top
     Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. If necessary, grease ten cups of your muffin tin with butter or non-stick cooking spray.
     In a large bowl, beat the oil and maple syrup or honey together with a whisk. Add eggs, and beat  well. Mix in the pumpkin purée and milk, followed by the baking soda, vanilla extract, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice or cloves.
     Add the flour and oats to the bowl and mix with a large spoon, just until combined. If you'd like to add any additional mix-ins, like nuts, chocolate or dried fruit, fold them in now.
     Divide the batter evenly between the ten muffin cups. For these muffins, it's OK to fill the cups a little higher than you normally would. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with a small amount of oats, followed by a sprinkle of cinnamon. Bake muffins for 23 to 26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
     Place the muffin tin on a cooling rack. These muffins are delicate until they cool down (you have been warned!), so it's best to wait until they have cooled down to remove them from the tin. You might need to run a butter knife along the outer edge of the muffins to loosen them from the pan. Enjoy as they are, or with a spread of butter.
     (Recipe from Cookie and Kate)


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A Pagan Do Not Labor Day Picnic

I've always strongly felt that "Labor Day" should read, "Do Not Labor Day," on the calendar. In fact, I usually mark it as such on my own and in my planner. Besides celebrating the hard-earned rights of workers, that is what this holiday is all about, right? We all need some relaxation time – to give ourselves permission to do nothing except decompress. This weekend, besides a small birthday lunch for my brother, I plan on celebrating the season finale of "Twin Peaks: The Return." I will do this with a bottle of, as Gordon Cole would exclaim, "fine Bordeaux!" Aside from that, what else can we Pagan-minded folk partake in, that is both relaxing and none-too-taxing? Well –

There's nothing quite like the simple joy of a picnic on a pretty day that brings your breathing rate right back to normal. Go on a short hike first and by all means, enjoy the last hurrah of summertime. A romantic picnic for two could make it all the less stressful. If you should start feeling frisky in a secluded spot in the woods, who am I to stop you (wink).

You can always pack the easy go-tos, such as fresh fruit, veggies, and various sandwiches. If you feel like upping your picnic game though, one of my favorite French chefs, Daniel Boulud, has some great suggestions for doing just that. If you must have your sandwiches, try his take on this staple, referred to as, "pain surprise." This would be a loaf of hollowed out wheat bread, stuffed with cream cheese and smoked salmon – what's not to love about that? Or how about Boulud's idea of dessert: An apricot puff pastry tart with three cheeses to choose from! For more Chef Boulud inspirations, follow the links listed at the end of this article.

Most importantly, bring plenty of hydrating liquids, "con gas or sin gas." A little mineral water always makes a simple occasion feel more festive to me – also more in touch with my European roots. If it floats your boat too, by all means, go for it. So chillax, already. Times like these are rare indeed. Set aside one day not to do work of any kind. No housework, no homework, no take home office projects. We should seize these rare excuses not to labor away. We should soak them up to savor while we can, in low-key style.

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Hunting the Green Man

All too often, summers slip away from us, like a will-o'-the-wisp, gone with the morning dew. Especially for those of us in the Midwest, we wait for the better part of the year. When it is finally upon us, we all too often jam-pack our calendar full of social events and family obligations. In this way, we inadvertently deter ourselves from slowing down and actually breathing in time with the summer. Do you multi-task, even while lounging in your hammock? Wrong approach! Truth be told, I myself am all too guilty. Let's examine some of the ways we can stretch out the season for enjoying, and perhaps bend time in the process.

Lounge in a hammock
Acceptable behavior 101: staring at the sky above and/or bird and cloud formation watching. Reading a good book. Napping. Going barefoot. Petting a cat. Not acceptable: any social media or a cell phone. Banish them from your sacred hammock space, please.

Camp in the woods or in farm country
Acceptable: strolling. Meditating. Breathing deep in the fresh air. Listening to trees and wildlife. Feeling the wind on your face, the sun on your skin, the sprinkle of raindrops, the fresh earth as it runs through your fingertips or a collectible stone. Building fires. Dancing in a rain storm, preferably naked. Dancing around the aforementioned fire. Taking a canoe out at night among the moon and stars. Laying down in the grass and staring up at the sky. Unacceptable: TVs, cell phones, social media selfies.

Watch a sunset, preferably near a body of water, in nature
The rules would be that you watch it from start to finish. You take it in, watch the colors that light up and change the skyline and the landscape. You take the time to notice all the songbirds that have a routine at this magical time of day. Like the swifts, who just seem to go nuts, like clockwork, swooping around in their quick little aerodynamic patterns. Guess what you don't need to do? Take a digital photo – they never do it justice, anyway. Notice all of the little changes that occur as day slips quietly into night.

Take a lunch break outside
Either sit under a shaded umbrella, go walk in a nearby park. Again, you don't need to share every moment with everyone you know. You can learn to truly take stock of your surroundings more, if you go solo. Kick off your shoes and let the grass tickle your toes. Watch the birdies, squirrelies, chipmunks, bunnies, and butterflies. Marvel at the greenery and flowers that surround you, everything perfectly at their peak. Eat slowly, savor every bite, and be thankful for these simple pleasures. Oftentimes, they are the things that make life worth living.

I realize that the Holly King rules for now, but he is still that shadow side of the Oak King. They are both the Green Man, and while we can appreciate him in his outdoor glory, we certainly should.

More reading:

Photo, "Natural Bridge Waterfall," by Rob D. from


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Summer Camp Solstice

The Summer Solstice is nearly in full bloom, and that means camping opportunities. If you haven't already booked a hot spot this year to frolic with fellow Pagans and Wiccans at one of these memorable social events, there is still time to partake in the merriment. Here is a sampling of some of the midwest celebrations available. For more to choose from, see the additional resources listed at the end of this blog. If you're looking for a more mellow and smaller outing, just grab your own merry band of pranksters, and get out in the wilderness for a few days. Worship the sunrise and the sunset, and listen to what those oak trees may be whispering to you…

June 18-25, 2017
One of the longest-running and best-loved, Pagan Spirit Gathering, or PSG, as it is more affectionately known, has changed venues over the years. When I attended back in 2000, it was in Wisteria, Ohio. Now held at Tall Tree Lake, in Vienna, IL, it has grown in leaps and bounds. There is still a community service shift program, a village cafe, sweat lodge, musicians, drum circles, vendors, classes, workshops, rituals, and camaraderie galore. The clothing optional dress code is mighty fun, too. Make no mistake, this can be a game-changer if you have not yet experienced the experience that is PSG. Sponsored by Circle Sanctuary, this year's registration is currently closed. But if you peek at their website, it could inspire you to jump on board for next year's celebration.

June 18-25, 2017
On a somewhat smaller scale, there's still time to register for the Earth House annual Midsummer Gather. You can also opt to just stay the weekend, rather than commit to a full week. There are so many rituals, classes and activities, it will make your cauldron spin. Located at the Eagle Cave Campground in Blue River, Wisconsin, "Celestial Fire" is this year's camp theme. This is one I've definitely been wanting to check out:

June 19-25, 2017
There are still goings-on at the Wisteria Event Site, near Athens OH. This lovely nature preserve and special event site is tucked away in the scenic Appalachian foothills. Work barter slots are available with an early application. One nice perk is that purchasing tickets in advance for their events is not mandatory. Famed author Starhawk will even be in attendance this year.

Other resources:

Photo, "Camping Site," by Wiangya at


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