Monthly Archives: October 2014

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Happy Halloween!

Today’s the day … ghosties, ghouls, and goblins beware. It’s a delightfully scary, spine-chilling night for youngsters and the young-at-heart alike, but where did it all begin?

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Photo by Lance Cpl. Lisa M. Tourtelot, USMC, via Wikimedia Commons

People have been celebrating All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween) since ancient times, as a time to remember the dead, saints (hallows), and martyrs. It’s thought to have evolved from the Celtic holiday of Samhain, marking the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter, and also seen as a bridge between the living world and the world of the dead. Celebrations included costumes and merriment, using humor and ridicule to confront the power of death.

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“The Green Forest Fairy Book” by Loretta Ellen Brady, illustrated by Alice B. Preston, 1920.

Traditionally, All Hallows’ Eve was a day to abstain from eating meat. Seasonal dishes like apples, colcannon (potatoes with cabbage and kale), and potato pancakes were served instead. Bobbing for apples, anyone?

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Bob Apples by Frederick Morgan (1856-1927)

During the Middle Ages, homemakers in Britain and Ireland would also cook up batches of “soul cakes,” little cakes they filled with sweet spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger along with raisins or currants, and marked with a cross on the top to denote that they were offered as alms. “Soulers,” mostly children and the poor, would go door-to-door, singing …

A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul
Three for Him who made us all.

… while saying prayers for the dead. Each little cake they ate represented a soul being freed from Purgatory. Trick or treat!

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From a farm on Camp Dix, NJ 1914-1918, by Richard, Flickr.com.

Along with humorous costumes used to counterbalance the thought of death, a darker side of costuming also came into play. Dead souls were thought to wander the land of the living until All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1), and All Hallows’ Eve was thought to be their last chance to wreak vengeance on anyone who had wronged them in life. So those with a fear of retribution also wore costumes and masks to disguise their identities from the wandering spirits. Jack-o’-lanterns (carved pumpkins with candles inside to illuminate their scary faces) were carried to frighten the evil spirits away.

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Photo by Valdemar Fishmen via Wikimedia Commons

Whether you’re 9 or 90, a souler or a baker, a trickster or a purveyor of treats, this is the night to scare away the spirits and have yourself a big dose of costumed merriment.

Hear Ye!

Welcome New Sisters! (click for current roster)

Merit Badge Awardees (click for latest awards)

My featured Merit Badge Awardee of the Week is … Kris Sievert!!!

Kris Sievert (#6020) has received a certificate of achievement in Stitching & Crafting for earning a Beginner Level Cross-Stitch Merit Badge!

“I have been doing cross stitch for years, so I tried something different, I tried perforated paper. I had never used anything other than fabric.

It was hard because you can’t wash the item when done. I had to be particularly careful. I am giving them as gifts to some girls in my life for Halloween.”

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Candy Corn

Festively colored and nearly bursting from every grocery-store shelf this time of year, candy corn harkens the arrival of Halloween. But aside from that, what do we really know about this little dentist’s nightmare? I went searching for answers and found out that it’s certainly the candy we love to hate; candy corn has been reported as the least favorite candy by consumers. But ironically, 35 million pounds of the confection are made and sold in the U.S. each year.

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Witchy!

Creepy?

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Photo by Sony Mavica via Wikimedia Commons

Gasp.

Crawly?

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Photo by Velela via Wikimedia Commons

Shudder.

Can you identify these decidedly Halloween-ish (ween-y? ween-esque?) creatures?

Here’s a hint:

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Yup. Witch …

Hazel!

These wriggly, yellow, leggy-looking oddities aren’t actually withered fingers or a strange species of scrambling spider. They are the wonderfully fragrant, fall-blooming flowers of the native witch hazel shrub that last from October to December.

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Photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

Despite its rather eerie appearance and oh-so-spooky name (which may derive from the historical use of the shrub’s limbs for dowsing, or water-witching rods), you’ll find nothing to fear from witch hazel. In fact, it is a veritable wealth of health and happiness.

“Native Americans used witch hazel leaves and bark as a poultice to reduce swelling and inflammation. They also brewed witch hazel as a tea for conditions including cuts, colds, heavy menstruation, tumors, and eye inflammation. Witch hazel was taken internally to stop bleeding from hemorrhage,” reports AltMD.com. “The medicinal element of witch hazel [used today] is the hamamelis water that is distilled, decocted, or tinctured from fresh and dried leaves, and fresh and dried bark and twigs. Tannins and volatile oils are the primary active ingredients of witch hazel that contribute to its astringent benefits.”

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Image by Franz Eugen Köhler, 1897, via Wikipedia

Used topically, witch hazel extract reduces inflammation to ease the discomfort of abrasions, psoriasis, eczema, razor burn, ingrown nails, cracked or blistered skin, insect bites, and poison ivy rash. A cold compress can help heal bruises, headaches, hemorrhoids, and postpartum swelling. Cosmetically, witch hazel is used as a facial astringent to reduce pore size, remove makeup, and to reduce eye puffiness.

Practically a panacea, wouldn’t you agree?

I absolutely love the witch hazel extract sold by Mountain Rose Herbs. Unlike most commercial extracts that are distilled multiple times and contain more alcohol than actual witch hazel, MRH’s extract is only distilled once and contains 86 percent witch hazel extract and 14 percent grain alcohol. It is gentle enough to be used alone, but you can also combine it with fragrant essential oils and herbs. Try this Herb-Infused Witch Hazel Recipe from the MRH blog.

Of course, if you’d like to start from scratch and grow your own witch hazel shrubs, you can buy them now from the Arbor Day Foundation (fall order deadline is November 12 through 26, depending on your location). They thrive in Zones 3 through 8. Once you have flowers, you can learn to make your own witch hazel extract on a lovely blog called Handmaiden’s Kitchen.

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a new appreciation …

for Lady Gaga. Now, who thought I would ever, ever say that?! I surprise myself sometimes.

I’ll admit I didn’t know much about Lady Gaga’s music—a little out of my wheelhouse, which includes traditional Irish dance music (think Riverdance) and soothing birdsong—but what I did know was that she had become rather infamous for her onstage and red-carpet antics, including showing up to the Grammys in a giant transparent egg carried by men in gold short-shorts and workboots, parading down the carpet in a raw meat dress, and recently having a performance artist vomit green goo on her as she sang a disturbing song called “Swine.”

Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather watch Ella Fitzgerald standing regally still on stage while singing her heart out on a classic from the Great American Songbook.

Well, blow me over with a feather, but that’s just what Lady Gaga does on her new duets album with legendary crooner Tony Bennett! Carol, my magazine designer and a serious crooners fan, gave me their new CD, Cheek to Cheek, this week, overriding my hesitation about anything Gaga by saying she was sure I’d like it, and I must admit, I immediately found a new appreciation for Gaga!

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photo by luigioss via Wikimedia Commons

Who knew she had a wonderful, full, rich voice well-suited to classic tunes like “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “Anything Goes”?

Her collaboration with Tony Bennett started back in 2011, when she sang “The Lady Is a Tramp” on his Duets II album. And this unlikely pair formed an immediate bond; not only did they have deep Italian-American roots in common, but Tony recognized a genuine love of jazz under all the crazy trappings of her public persona. “”She is actually a very authentic jazz singer,” he said. “She will turn a phrase, she will make it different, because of the moment that she is singing. And so, what happens is it keeps the songs alive; the interpretations become very intimate and everlasting.”

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photo by Tom Beetz via Wikimedia Commons

In a documentary about the making of their CD, Tony said that Lady Gaga, who he sweetly calls “Lady,” actually might be his favorite person to sing with, and that’s saying a lot, since he’s probably sang with just about every wonderful singer in the last 78 years. Because that’s how long Tony Bennett’s been singing publicly. Tony, who recently turned 88, was already singing by age 10, when he performed at the opening of New York City’s Triborough Bridge next to then-mayor La Guardia, who patted him on the head. He’s gone on to enjoy one of the longest singing careers in history, winning 17 Grammy Awards and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his 100+ albums. And, at 88, he still sounds wonderful—smooth, soothing, and yes, even sexy. (It doesn’t hurt to know that he’s known as one of music’s nicest guys, as well, and as a passionate—and very good—painter.) Just listen to their rendition of 1947’s “But Beautiful” and see if Tony’s line, “And I’m thinking, if you were mine, I’d never let you go,” brings tears to your eyes, like it did to Lady Gaga during their recording session. (Watch it here.) The CD debuted at number one on the Billboard Chart, making Tony the oldest living artist to earn a number one album in the U.S.

Okay, I’ll admit, I’m kinda gaga for Tony and this version of Gaga!

 

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