Piecing a Potion by Beth Winegarner

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I really like tinctures. I'm too sensitive to many pharmaceutical medicines, or I get weird side effects that doctors have never heard of. Plus, I don't like taking a ton of pills, and I don't want to drink quarts of herbal tea. I like a little something I can put under my tongue, or swirl in a small amount of cool water and drink down. Plus, they're just a little bit witchy.

Here are a few of my favorites: 

  • Lemon Balm from Herb Pharm: Great for anxiety, the onset of a panic attack, or when you're wound up and having trouble getting to sleep. 
  • Calm Tummy Bitters by Urban Moonshine: Excellent for mild digestive upset, gas, bloating, nausea. (For more serious gut issues I turn to activated charcoal, loperamide, or both).
  • Adrena Nourish by Herb Pharm: To be honest, I'm on the fence about the existence of "adrenal fatigue" and I'm opposed to taking supplements that contain animal adrenals. But this one has a gentle blend of herbs that does seem to give me a little boost when I'm feeling flat. 
  • Red Raspberry Leaf by Herb Pharm: Helps ease PMS and contains potassium and magnesium, which are great for muscle cramps of all kinds, especially menstrual cramps.
  • Relax Tincture by Whoopi & Maya: You know what's also great for cramps? A little THC. This tincture includes cannabis, passionflower, raspberry leaf, motherwort and cramp bark. It's really soothing and lovely. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find it in dispensaries in ages so I'm trying to make the last dregs of my bottle last. 
  • Treatwell 20:1 CBD Tincture: I use this for general body pain and for a mood lift. I've found that it is also a mild stimulant, so I only take it in the morning -- otherwise I have trouble getting to sleep. 
  • Heart Mender Essence by Dori Midnight: I use this sometimes when I'm having those kinds of big feelings where my chest just aches. It's a blend of flower and crystal essences in blackberry-rose brandy. A few drops on the tongue does the trick.

DIY: Ombre colorwash concrete walls by Beth Winegarner

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OK, I promise this isn't going to turn into a DIY home improvement blog, but I do have some projects going on that I'd like to share here. This is one of them.

We have these steps that lead from our back door to our garage. They're perfectly fine. Sturdy, concrete; they get the job done. But after almost 7 years of looking at them (and the walls surrounding them) several times a week, I was getting tired of the plain concrete. Actually, the walls weren't even plain -- they had some weird stains and paint blobs and differently colored parts. I wondered if I could make them look nicer. 

 Meh.

Meh.

I imagined a nice ombre blue, so that it would feel like you were sinking deeper as you go down the steps. Finding instructions for painting ombre walls isn't difficult. I didn't want a thick mask of color -- I wanted something a little lighter, like a wash. But it's not easy to find info online on doing colorwashes at all, let alone on concrete. So I had to read a lot and come up with a plan I thought would work. And it did!

I worked from these basic ombre wall instructions. I chose 4 colors from a single paint strip, so I knew they were designed to work together. I used an exterior flat latex paint. I divided the walls into 4 equal strips, marked with chalk, knowing I would leave a gap of a few inches on either side of the chalk line. (When I did the blended sections, I just painted right over the chalk -- it gets swept up in the paint and doesn't show through.)

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I mixed about 2 parts with 1 part water (or maybe a little less) and applied it with a brush. You could use a roller, but some parts of my walls were really textured and I wanted a brush so I could get into all the cracks and crannies. I started from the bottom, which I DO NOT recommend. Instead, start at the top -- that way you can paint over any drips as you work downward -- watered-down paint is really drippy.

Paint your top color. Then your second-from-the-top color. Then use the technique in the ombre wall post: dip one side of your paint in the darker color, and the other side in the lighter color, and use it to fill in the space between the two colors. This helps create a nice gradient between the two. 

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Then paint the third strip, and use the two-tone paintbrush technique again to create the ombre/blended color space between the two. Repeat with the fourth strip (or however many you're doing). 

Touch up any drips or other areas that aren't quite right. And you're done!

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Four Thoughts on Sleep at the Warfield, June 7, 2018 by Beth Winegarner

 Sleep in Detroit, March, 2018. Photo by Austincxiv. Creative Commons license. 

Sleep in Detroit, March, 2018. Photo by Austincxiv. Creative Commons license. 

My brother had a girlfriend a long time ago who decided one day that she wanted to make the densest, richest chocolate cake possible. I can't remember whether she worked from a recipe or if she made it up on the fly. But her cake included something like a pound of chocolate, another pound of butter, plus eggs, cream, sugar and little or no flour. It was barely sweet, and so rich we almost couldn't eat it, but it was also intensely delicious. It gave us the shivers with every bite. It was almost too good. 


When I used to study kenjutsu, my sensei made a big deal out of practicing our strikes and blocks slowly. It can be tempting to move quickly, to swing the bokken like you're in a Kurosawa movie. But that's not how you learn, how you etch the motions into your muscles and your neurons so they come instinctively when you need them. But moving slowly and precisely is hard. It requires more strength, more stability, better balance. It doesn't let you to cheat, or to take shortcuts with your movement. To do it right, you slow it down as much as possible, and then you slow it down some more.


Many popular songs do this thing where they ease the tempo toward the end, to draw out the drama and rev up everyone's anticipation of the song's climactic ending. You know it's coming, and you can't wait for it, but at the same time you're ensnared in that slow-mo moment, like running through cool, sweet water. You're eager and longing, joyous yet unsatisfied. You know the payoff is coming, because that's how songs work. Except when they don't, when the whole 10- or 15- or 63-minute song is made up of that downtempo anticipation, and the only payoff is in the vast distances between beats, slow as hot fudge that hasn't been warmed up yet. 


After Sleep released Holy Mountain--a hugely influential slab of stoner-doom metal--the band went to work on its third album. What it delivered was Dopesmoker, a single, drudging, 63-minute-long song. Sleep's label at the time, London Records, refused to release it, and the resulting tensions tore the band apart. Almost a decade later, Tee Pee Records released the album, catapulting Sleep even more firmly into the stoner-doom pantheon. 

At first, it might seem like Dopesmoker--or any of Sleep's works, really--is just a lot of boring, repetitive noise. It's slow and heavy, an elephant's marathon of a record, but it's never dull. It shifts ever so subtly as it lumbers along, morphing and twisting, glinting light and shadow off its different surfaces. It's complicated and challenging, and one of the best-loved works in heavy metal. As someone who often feels overly heavy, complicated and challenging, I draw a lot of comfort from that. 

 

The Great Mouse Caper of 2018 by Beth Winegarner

 (Stock photo; not one of our visitors.)

(Stock photo; not one of our visitors.)

A couple of months ago, I woke from a deep sleep to the sound of our daughter entering our room. I looked at the clock; it was 7 a.m.

"Mommy, Pigeon caught a mouse and brought it into my room," she whispered. Pigeon's our cat.

"OK, I'll get up and deal with it in a minute," I said. 

"No, Mommy. The mouse is dead. I have it right here." She held out her hand. The dead mouse was curled in her palm. She was stroking its fur with her other hand. 

Oh.

I quickly got up and helped her put the mouse's body in the compost bin. Maybe I seem nonchalant. That's because it wasn't the first, and it wouldn't be the last. 

Pigeon is a terrible hunter, to put it mildly. For years she could only capture bugs and spiders. The backyard critters weren't scared of her because they'd seen her hunt and knew she wasn't a threat. But in recent months, she's brought a succession of small mice into the house, most of which escape because she is only interested in catching them--not killing them. Some of them were reasonably spry and took days to locate and extract, but some were injured already when she brought them in. Slower and weaker ones are easier for her to capture. 

Soon, though, we realized we had a bigger problem. Like many garages, ours is kind of a mess--filled with junk and half-finished (or never-started) projects. We've had the occasional rodent in there before, but nothing like this spring. First, a bottle of malt syrup for beer-making tipped over, spilling a long river of brown sticky liquid across the floor. We were not, shall we say, expeditious about cleaning this up. D. found a couple of live mice stuck in the syrup, and tried to wash them off and put them outside.

But then we didn't go into the garage for a few days. When I returned, I discovered two mice dead on the floor, glued to it with malt syrup, quickly decomposing because they'd become a feast for ants. They looked almost ... melted. A friend said we should call it the "Malt-ea Tar Pits" and sell tickets. 

After D. cleaned up the malt situation, I turned my attention to an old bag of sunflower seeds we'd stashed in a large rubberized trash can. It was no good for the bird feeders; it was so full of dirt and debris that it clogged the holes and made the backyard birds give us the stinkeye. We'd covered it with layers of denim insulation and plywood scrap, but I could see that something had chewed holes in the insulation anyway. 

When I peeled it back, I discovered large handfuls of empty sunflower seed shells. And a hole in the side of the bag. About the top half of the bag was also full of empty shells, while the seeds at the bottom were still intact. I scooped and scooped them into the big compost bin until all the seeds were gone. And, without thinking, I put the garbage can back where it had been before. 

A day or two later, D. went down to the garage--and heard shuffling and squeaking coming from the bin. When he looked, there was a single mouse at the bottom, scurrying around. He let it go in the backyard. The next day, more shuffling and squeaking; this time, there were six. It seems the mice were jumping into the can, trusting that the food supply was still there and plummeting to the bottom. The next day, I found one more mouse, looking battered; it probably hurt itself in the fall. I let it go outside, but not where Pigeon could catch it and bring it into the house. I put an old pillow in the bottom of the can, like a safety mat under the trapeze. But no more mice jumped in. 

I'm not sure if that's the end of the mice in the garage. Probably not. But maybe we have a little while before they discover any more sources of food. 

Pictures of You by Beth Winegarner

I recently went to Georgia to visit family and came home with an armload of photos, kept by my aunts and cousin, many of which I'd never seen before. A bunch of them are from my mom's childhood, adolescence and early adulthood -- a time of her life she rarely talked about, and we never had much of a window into. 

She grew up in rural Georgia in the 1940s and '50s, and came to California in the mid-1960s, where she met my dad, got married in 1967, and had me and my brother in the 1970s. Although she kept in touch with her family back home, especially her sisters, we just never knew much about them. (I started corresponding with her sisters, my aunts Annie and Donna, later on in life, especially after mom died in 1996.)

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Here's my mom (left) with a friend. I'm guessing she's about 5 in this photo. I love her ultrablonde hair, knobby knees, dress, smile. I've seen that same smile on my daughter's face. 

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My mom went to nursing school after graduating high school. She trained at Piedmont Hospital and also a couple of months at Milledgeville Asylum, the biggest and one of the most notorious mental health institutes in the state of Georgia. Here she is in her nursing uniform -- I think this was at the very beginning of her training. 

I came home with many pictures of my mom just having a good time. Here she is on the beach, sunning her shoulders. That looks like a camera by her side. 

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This one was surprising. We knew our dad had done some amateur racing, but had no idea our mom was into it, too!

This one's probably my favorite. Mom looking modern, happy, confident, carefree, chic. I wish I could ask her about the day this photo was taken. 

Some Excellently Named Ancestors by Beth Winegarner

 My great-great-grandfather, Zachary Taylor Jones (third from right) with his many, many,  many  children and a few other relatives, Roswell, Georgia.

My great-great-grandfather, Zachary Taylor Jones (third from right) with his many, many, many children and a few other relatives, Roswell, Georgia.

I have been spending a lot of time on Ancestry.com lately, trying to unravel a few family mysteries and, in some cases, seeing just how far I can follow the genetic threads backward into time. There's a funny, almost spooky feeling I get when I'm tracing ancestors into the 1600s, 1500s. I imagine what their lives were like -- living in one small patch of country for most of their lives, marrying young, having lots of kids, and winking out at an age where most of us are just getting started. 

Maybe it's because I'm a writer, but I am a sucker for an excellent name. And there are some excellently named people in my lineage. Such as:

Littleberry Gann
Lady Christian Barley
Barnabas Benton
Seaborn Bourn
Orpheus "Offie" Bradley
Dorcas Buss
Russell Reno Purcell
Thomas Marston "The Seagull" Green
Asbury Coke Jones
William Grover Cleveland Jones
Ursala Puddington
Comfort Puddington
Alpha Smith
Blanche Warburton
Eura Winegarner

If these people hadn't existed, I would want to invent them. 

Here I Go Again by Beth Winegarner

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In light of the news that ABBA is working on new music for the first time in 35 years, I thought I'd share an odd set of ABBA-related connections that my brain makes when I see or hear certain pop-culture moments that really have nothing to do with ABBA. 

So, you know this scene in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, where the elves arrive in their shiny armor and Elrond transforms from an elegant elf-about-Rivendell into a fierce military commander?

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I can't watch it without thinking of Hugo Weaving (who plays Elrond) and his performance in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

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It makes me wish that Elrond and the elves would break out into ABBA songs when they arrive in Helm's Deep. I know, I know, maybe it's not the most appropriate time for ABBA -- after all, the whole team of Middle-Earth good guys is currently overwhelmed by orcs -- but still. All that shiny gold armor. All that long, flowing elven hair. It could work.

And that leads me to the next thing that regularly makes me think of ABBA: Blind Guardian's song "Bright Eyes," off their album Imaginations from the Other Side. Just take a listen and tell me you can't imagine the ABBA cover version of this song. Fool, just another, fool, just another... 

 

 

Heavy by Beth Winegarner

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But what makes metal "heavy"? Good question. It becomes a particularly difficult issue when you consider that rock fans see a huge difference between the word "heavy" and the word "hard." For example, Led Zeppelin was heavy. To this day, the song "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" is as heavy as weapons-grade plutonium. Black Sabbath was the heaviest of the heavy (although I always seem to remember them being heavier than they actually were; early Soundgarden records are actually heavier than Sab ever was). Chuck Klosterman, Fargo Rock City

I first got into heavy metal music by way of Led Zeppelin and Guns N' Roses roughly in 1987, and in those early days, I allied myself with hard and heavy music about equally. It wasn't until I got around to falling hard for Black Sabbath in the early aughts that my affections began to lean decidedly in the heavy direction. It helped that sludge metal was coming up at that time; I discovered bands like Baroness, Kylesa and The Sword. But I also pled allegiance to some decidedly non-metal (but undeniably) heavy artists, including 16 Horsepower, Woven Hand, Patrick Wolf.

My trajectory has only continued heavierward from there: Subrosa, Alcest, Woman is the Earth, Pallbearer, Samothrace, Lycus, Agalloch, Red Sparowes, Marriages, Rope Sect, Ides of Gemini, In Solitude, Tribulation, thisquietarmy, Russian Circles. This music is like a soft, fluffy blanket, enveloping me in warmth. 

What I look for most in this heaviness is sound that you feel more in your guts—or at least your molars— than in your ears. A low-end sound that shakes you to your foundations. I hear it in Apocalyptica's old song, "Kaamos," and in Russian Circles' song "Vorel," particularly at the 2:48 mark:

Whenever I hear it, I see myself as some massive, powerful creature -- the 50-Foot Woman, maybe, but with more clothing—stomping my way through obstacles. 

But it didn't dawn on me until very recently that there's a relationship between the heavy music I adore and this heavy body I live in every day. Sure, it might be slow at times, but it's also massive in all the right ways. It's strong. It's sensitive. It's sleepy and deep. There are excellent hiding places. It's soft and safe, and it has its own raw intelligence, even though it doesn't always feel that way. It's off-putting, too, and there is a certain layer of protection in that. 

Yes, I Love Heavy Metal by Beth Winegarner

 Image from a T-shirt designed by Philipp Rietz, and sold by Threadless. Click the image to buy the shirt!

Image from a T-shirt designed by Philipp Rietz, and sold by Threadless. Click the image to buy the shirt!

It's a common scene: the topic of music comes up, and everyone mentions the kinds they like most. And then it's my turn.

And they say: "Heavy metal? You like heavy metal?"

In some ways, I understand. The unshakeable stereotype of the heavy metal fan is a white guy in his teens or 20s with long hair, ratty jeans and a bad attitude. You know, like Billy Hargrove, Max's sociopathic older brother in Stranger Things. (By the way, you should totally read my friend's takedown of Billy over on Metalsucks.)

I resemble this stereotype in almost no way. I'm quiet, female, and prefer stretch knits, florals and cute animals. I'm also professional, in my 40s, and a mom. I sometimes wear band shirts, but not often enough to call it my personal style. But other people's reactions sometimes leave me feeling like I have to assure them I'm not sullying myself with something gross and unseemly.

The surprise most often comes from people who do not listen to heavy metal, and who may not be aware just how broad a category of music it is. Or they may not know that metal fans tend to be smarter and geekier than average, and that the music tends to have a calming effect on fans. Maybe when I say I love heavy metal, they're imagining this: 

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When the bands I most listen to look more like this: 

(No disrespect to King Diamond, whose influence is both massive and undeniable.) Metal is beloved for its intensity and majesty. It makes everything sound more epic. It transcends the mundane. Guitars and vocals soar, or they descend into the depths, meeting you where you are. Some of it's challenging and complex. Some of it's subtle and melodic. There's a lot to explore. And, yes, I love it.

The Song I Was Writing Is Left Undone by Beth Winegarner

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The world lost a special lady yesterday. I met Kathy when I was in high school, and dating her son. She was so unlike my own mom, I'm not sure I knew what to make of her at first. But I quickly became fond of her plainspokenness, sense of humor, and tendency to tell stories about her boy. Where my mom was fairly middle-of-the-road, Kathy was "cool." She'd been part of the hippie generation and never gave it up. She was a devoted Deadhead, a quiet pagan and had ridden a motorcycle when she was younger. Until I met her, I didn't know moms could be like that. It embarrassed my boyfriend some, but I was impressed. 

She always made me feel welcome in their home, where my boyfriend and I spent many hours hanging out, making out, listening to music and lazing among the redwoods. I'd just come out of a traumatic relationship, and in some ways their house was a sanctuary for me. There were crystals and goddess figurines here and there, and little pots of fragrant amber, the smell of which still reminds me of her. Although I was often a wreck then, I felt safe there. 

Where my mom was protective, Kathy was permissive. She kindly drove us to many, many concerts in Sonoma County and even San Francisco, where my mother wouldn't take me and was too afraid to let me go with friends. She let us listen to Metallica and other metal bands on the car's cassette player; I remember her responding with curiosity (and some amusement) the day she took us to Berkeley and I bought a copy of Soundgarden's Louder Than Love on tape, which we listened to on the way home. The whole family had worked at the Northern California Renaissance Faire since my boyfriend was a little boy, and I joined them for two seasons, learning to make ribbon rosettes for her feather fans, hanging out in their gypsy wagon and wandering the paths through the woods. 

There are so many things I learned from her, small and large. After a few years of trying in vain to understand how to drive a stick-shift car, I figured it out one day while watching her lift her foot slowly off the clutch pedal in her battered hatchback. I learned it was okay to shrug off beauty norms, to be a plainfaced and round woman and still be in love with life. She showed me that it's okay to become a grownup and still adore rock and roll. 

We lost touch when her son and I broke up but, as often happens in the age of Facebook, we reconnected a few years back. She knew my mom had died when I was in my early 20s. I don't know if that's what motivated it, but she often left kind, loving remarks on my posts, when I wrote about my mom or shared my daughter's latest antics. I was so grateful for those comments and the motherly warmth that came with them. I'm glad she got to become a grandma to two beautiful boys, to see her son transform into a kind and loving dad. I just wish she'd gotten more time with them, and they with her.