2019 was a year of work. For putting in the work, yes, for sure–but also for seeing many years’ worth of work recognized. It was the year that I finally began to cumulatively take my health seriously, and actually saw some results. I began seeing a therapist regularly, I visited the dentist (it had been several decades since my last visit, ugh) and I even got my mams grammed for the first time! I got my cards read for the first time which was quite thrilling and wonderfully illuminating and I cannot recommend Sister Temperance Tarot highly enough! I began writing a book, also a first-time thing, and which was an unexpected and exciting opportunity which for a good portion of the year kept me quite busy.
There were endings, too. A piece of legal business that had been dragging on for nearly three years finally wrapped up and I am so, so glad that I don’t have that hanging over my head anymore. With its closure, I was at last able to say goodbye and to properly mourn my grandparents, who were incredibly special people, to whom I owe everything , and whose influence and guidance are the only reason I am anything in this world today. You could say that by October of 2019, I was feeling almost…carefree. If you knew me, you’d know that is an incredible rarity.
And I felt so terribly guilty and ashamed about feeling this good. It’s tough to feel great about your wins when so many people are struggling, when the world is in such a terrible state, and when it seems every single person you know is dealing with grief and loss and suffering of all kinds. You can’t just joyfully crow about your pretty-okay life when your loved ones are in pain, can you? So I tried not to.
In early December, folks were tweeting about their accomplishments for the decade, and part of me wanted to join in, but another part of me thought “well, what about the people I know (and the people I don’t know) who for them, maybe it’s an accomplishment just to get out of bed in the morning?” I don’t ever, even unintentionally, want to make someone feel bad about themselves. But is how someone feels about themselves in relation to how I feel about myself any of my business? I can’t control that. And what about that old chestnut that reads something like, “don’t ever shrink yourself for someone else’s comfort”? It’s a lot to think about, and I clearly have a lot more work to do as I head into the next decade. (Which I have begun to explore already on my personal blog, Unquiet Things, if you care to take a peek!)
Regarding the latter half of this decade and more to the point–the latter half of 2019, there were some things I really loved, and I am always happy to share these things with anyone who will listen to me. Some of these things are actual things, some of them are activities and practices that I really leaned into this past year, some of them are just spaces and feelings. They all brought me an abundance of joy and wonder and a great deal of satisfaction.
The Swayers pants from State The Label are so effortless and comfy and light, I swear it’s like you’re not even wearing pants at all. They remind me of those breezy, wide-legged palazzo pants that I wore to death in the mid-to-late nineties before the dreadful skinny jeans came on the scene. I eventually succumbed to the stupid skinnies, but I probably should have just waited for the Swayers. Alternately, and certainly less expensive, I also love these pirate pants I got from Amazon. Ok, they’re not pirate pants, they’re “pilates pants” but I misread it and bought them because I thought that was kind of funny. I don’t do pilates in them (or at all) but they are great for sleeping and lounging! Back to the Swayers–they are pictured here with my Kate Bush tee from Bread & Water print shop.
Speaking of black clothing….is there anything more frustrating than your sea of black viscose tunics simultaneously slipping with a whispering susurrus from their plastic hangers to land in a rolling heap of midnight on your closet floor, once your back is turned? It’s a problem. My sister recommended to me that I get some velvet hangers and that solved that problem. I’ve no end of dumb problems though, so don’t worry, there’s always something else. Like how all my black tunics sort of look alike, and I never know which one I am reaching for anyway.
A notebook for nonsense & scribbles. I wish I had something I could link to here, but I have since forgotten where I got this little eyeball notebook (and have you ever noticed how we become obsessed with the things that freak us out? I am terrified of getting stabbed in the eye, yet eyeballs somehow became one of my favorite design motifs.) My favorite thing to jot in here right now is poetry comprised from snippets of Nigella Lawson’s descriptions of food. But it also includes quotes from whatever book I am reading at the time, conversational tidbits, make-believe song lyrics, a word from a dream. Anything and everything! These wandering tidepools of words and phrases provide the dreamiest flotsam to wade through and sort amongst like seashells and starfish, at a later time. Now that I think about it, this particular notebook either came from RitualCravt or Hauswitch. Its companion page-marker is from Bill Crisafi .
Papier d’Armenie was introduced to me by the lovely Mathyld of Under the Pyramids, whose mystical jewelry and portable magics I have loved for ages. A type of incense that is comprised of paper into which essences, fragrances, or essential oils are infused, you are meant to tear a slip from a small vintage looking booklet, fold it accordion-style, place it on a heat-resistant surface and light one end, blow it out, and let the resultant smoke waft where it will. It burns quickly but the scent lasts for hours, a sort of vanilla bean, powdery-woody resin, that’s quite lovely and, as it turns out, what I think my perfect home would smell like. I think it may release some minute degree of formaldehyde, but normal usage should not present a hazard (according to Wikipedia!)
Spending time in the kitchen. When I’m feeling blue and bummed, it gives me such immense joy and satisfaction to spend some time in the kitchen, making a recipe. And then I feed it to someone who is 100% going to compliment me on it.
I don’t consider myself a very…cerebral or scholarly worker of magics, I guess you could say? I don’t wave a wand of birch over my altar, but rather I flick and flourish a silicone spatula over a hot skillet. There’s no ritualistic chanting of charms; I prefer to work with my hands, wordless–kneading, chopping, stirring, steaming–this is sacred time for me, in my sanctuary, and in this fragrantly transportive solitude, time stands still for a while. It is a balm and a wonder for my anxious, overactive brain.
The featured image for this post is Down East Maine pumpkin bread, a recipe I have an annual tradition of making every autumn since 2003 (but which I have tweaked so much that I feel like it is practically a new recipe.) If you’re interested: I use half brown sugar/half white sugar, mostly applesauce in place of oil, and for the remainder of the oil I use olive oil, twice as much cinnamon, omit the nutmeg, add cardamom and black pepper, and sub in fresh ginger for the powder. I am not sure this was the intent of the herbs gathered for this tisane, but Ritual Cravt’s Dark Moon blend of elderberry, chicory root, rooibos, burdock root, cinnamon, cloves, ginger root & orange peel really does pair perfectly with a slice of this pumpkin bread. Serve on a Calamity Ware plate for the full effect.
This Persian Love Cake, garnished with pistachios, rose petals, and candied ginger. was inspired by a mention from Pam Grossman on her Phantasmaphile blog. I didn’t change a thing in the recipe and it was glorious.
A major influence on my mood this year was my space. I spend a lot of time at home and I want it to be a haven for both myself and anyone else who may want to escape from the world to hide out and lay low with me for a time. Filled with art (90% of which is from brilliant artist and sometimes partner-in-crime, Becky Munich) books, plants and candles, and dishes of scent samples scattered in every room for those who want to momentarily change their reality in the space of a spritz, pictured above are a few of my favorite corners. (A special thanks, as always, to Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab and Solstice Scents for making my life smell so gorgeous*; and to Moth and Myth for embellishing each fragrant oasis so enchantingly!)
Media faves Book/Movies and Television/Music/Instagram/Youtube…
Non-Stacked book: I’ve already mentioned my favorite books read in 2019 so here’s one I haven’t chatted with you about: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Simple cookbook. Ottolenghi’s recipes, middle eastern-inspired dishes, though delicious, are usually kind of complicated and annoyingly call for ingredients that most cooks don’t readily have on hand. Simple is a collection of streamlined, though no less delicious recipes, that …somehow still call for a lot of things that you won’t have in your kitchen. Stock up on preserved lemons, black garlic, and rose harissa (or make your own, I guess?) and grab this book. Every single recipe is amazing. His Roasted Baby Carrots with Harissa and Pomegranate made me like carrots. And I freaking hate cooked carrots! Also highly recommended is the Orzo with Shrimp, Tomato, and Marinated Feta.
Film and television: I didn’t love much in the way of films this year, but I did love a whole bunch of television, and it didn’t hurt that we got an enormous new television to watch these things on! TV series I thoroughly enjoyed were Schitt’s Creek for its big heart (and Moira Rose’s jewelry!), What We Do In The Shadows for its goofy vampires and both The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance and She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power for taking some very special stories from my childhood and delivering to me something new and rare and magical to love. I realize that pictured on the screen above is Netflix’s Marianne, and while that was a frequently freaky series and I mostly enjoyed it, I don’t think it ultimately makes the list today. But oh! Speaking of freaky! How could I forget the second seasons of both Dark and The OA? These shows were so incredibly imaginative and unique, there’s really nothing else like them, and nothing else has quite measured up since. No wonder I wasn’t impressed by many movies in 2019.
…though if I had to pick a film, it would be Knife + Heart, a lurid and grisly but genuinely beautiful and haunting giallo-style horror movie with a cast almost entirely populated by queer characters and taking place in the late 70’s Parisian gay porn scene. Reading that is either going to thrill you to your toes or fail to pique the slightest whisper of interest in your heart, but if you give it look, let me know what you think!
Instagram: Debi Shapiro’s stunning floral photography, Rabbit and Wolves fantastic vegan recipes, and Sarah Potter, whose deliriously rainbow-hued feed encourages me to gleefully embrace color magic and the power of vibrant aesthetics.
Youtube: I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Youtube of late; whereas I used to use it every once in a while for a knitting tutorial or to listen to dumb songs that I have weird attachments to, this year it’s become a bit of a crutch. I’ve been finding myself watching a lot of “lifestyle vloggers” and I HATE MYSELF FOR IT. I mean here I am watching someone’s “declutter with me!” video and I’m thinking “…uhhh…shouldn’t I be decluttering my own house right now?” Why I am I watching this person clean their home when my own home is a disaster? I also hate myself for watching these people because I am convinced that I can do a better job of what they’re doing and make it one thousand times less stupid. That’s probably not very kind, but I’m pretty sure you all know who I am by now, so why pretend otherwise?
Anyway! Fairyland Cottage is a channel that I am still watching and one that was recommended to me many times over by several friends. Promoting slow, sustainable living, Niamh is an Irish vlogger with the most soothing voice and charming little home, and I love peeking in on her woodland walks, her simple crafts, and her nourishing recipes. Also, the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen channel is so much fun; all of their chefs and editors are such characters with wonderfully distinct personalities ( I have a major crush on Brad.) Whether they are recreating a recipe from scent and touch alone; whether they are creating “gourmet” versions of junk food; or whether they are trying to make the “perfect” version of a staple recipe–these guys are such a joy to watch and I wish I had found out about them sooner.
LUSH’s lovely lavender + tonka Sleepy shower gel and lotion // wearing much less makeup than in previous years, when I even wear it at all (Dermalogica tinted moisturizer, Charlotte Tilbury powder, Thrive mascara, and spoolied eyebrows–and that’s it) // ultra-luxurious facial oils from Kindred Black // monthly cheese treats from Curdbox // Rue Morgue Magazine, forever and always // Subrosa’s 2013 album, More Constant Than The Gods, the perfect writing soundtrack // ORLY Nail Defense, which is mostly the only thing I have been wearing on my nails for the past 6 months or so // Dye For Yarn’s perfectly named colorways // vaguely spooky tee shirts // a Merlinite palmstone under my pillow for the wildest, most vivid dreams // Barbara’s Jalapeño Cheese Puffs which I haven’t had since the time I worked in a health food store from about 2006-2010, but I rediscovered them this year and they are even better than I remembered! // revisiting the formative magics of Lois Duncan, my favorite YA author from when I was the YA in question. Her spooky stories centering on teenage girls were charmingly written as if those girls already acquired the sensibilities and vocabularies of 70-year-old women. I still love them.