Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Ember (Wondersmith Event)

Fire is a part of life here in the West. Every August we brace ourselves for the crispy vegetation and smoke-filled air and watch as our beloved forests burn. But there is often beauty to be salvaged from the ashes and lessons to be learned. An ember smoldering under the surface represents a crossroads: will you fan it back into flames or bury it to let it die?

It was with that question in mind that I targeted my invitations to people who may be looking to have that very conversation. I hid beautiful invitations in the self-help sections of local bookstores and gifted the lucky finders a ceremonial tea party celebrating the beauty found in fire's destruction, held appropriately out in one of the biggest fires in the country (the Pioneer Creek Fire near Lowman, ID.) We enjoyed a ceremony of incense, intentions, tea, and lots of ash-inspired treats, all served in handmade stoneware cups decorated with real gold luster. (These will be available to the public on Dec. 11th and my patreon supporters on Dec. 4th!)

This event was free to the lucky finders, thanks to my patrons on Patreon. If you like what I am doing and want to learn more or support my mission of bringing a little magic into the lives of strangers, please visit

Long before the first guests arrived, I had big pots of water boiling for flavorful teas to sip. I decided on two flavors: lapsang souchong (which is black tea smoked over pine branches and tastes like a campfire), or an herbal blend of rose hips, hawthorne, spices, and orange peel. 

In my invitations, I added a little note that the event would be semi-formal and to feel free to get crazy with dress. These lovely ladies definitely embraced that! How fun it was to see these elegant and funky outfits out in th middle of nowhere.

After guests parked their cars in a designated area, one of my volunteers (who also happens to be my dad) walked them down a scenic trail through the burned forest. I then welcomed all of the guests to our location by smudging them with homemade incense with a basis of sage and birch. Then we all sat down at the table and I talked for a bit about the intentions of the event and the nature of embers. Embers are left after the fire dies down. There is a melancholy satisfaction in examining the remains of a fire... the energy is different. While fire is all passion (anger, excitement, love, and lust) and can change in a heartbeat, the energy of embers is steady and calculated. Burned logs are ghosts of their tree-selves, still exhibiting the same bark patterns that are now black and carbonized. I asked each attendee to consider what their personal ember was and keep it in mind while we enjoyed our treats. 

A beautiful close-up shot of one of the cups I made especially for Ember. I sculpted these out of iron-rich clay that turned almost black after firing, then embellished them with real gold luster to add some sparkle. I wanted these objects to be elegant and luxurious while maintaining the roughness of their inspiration: burned logs and twigs. These cups will be available to the public on Dec. 11th and my Patreon supporters on Dec. 4th.

The guests enjoyed some ash-inspired treats while they sipped their tea. Pictured here: black sesame mochi with sweet potato and candied rose hip filling; black sesame mochi with beet, orange, and pine nut filling; and black garlic, juniper, and parsnip ash cheesy twig crackers. I loved watching the guests' surprised faces as they bit into the charcoal gray foods to reveal glowing orange centers, just like the glowing heat inside a real ember.

During the tea party part of Ember's ceremony, guests got to know each other between sips. Pretty elegant for a party in the woods! 

This table held some special goodies to be added to our teas: homemade woods bitters (which will also be available for sale on Dec. 11th), pinion pine nut-infused whiskey, mesquite honey syrup, and fresh orange slices. Also pictured are some incense holders that were later used to burn incense as we chatted and ate. 

Mike the fire-tender was busy keeping our tea pots filled and warm! I love how well you can see our setting in this picture: the skeletal remains of charred trees and soot-blackened soil topped with warm orange pine needles. Just being out in those hauntingly beautiful woods was such a treat; having a delicious tea party with interesting guests was icing on the cake! 

My personal favorite of the treats served at Ember was my spin-off on chocolate roulade cake. I made my version to look like charred logs and filled the dark chocolate goodness with rose hip jam and whipped cream spiked with rose hip-infused whiskey. I even made a dairy-free version (pictured here) with whipped coconut cream so I could join in the fun.

I was so pleased with how everything at Ember came together! The warm and shimmery glaze inside my homemade stoneware cups perfectly matched the pine needles in the distance, while the felt tablecloth and various treats blended right in to the charred landscape. Sometimes there is just so much beauty to be found in the gray. While the guests finished their last cup of tea, I asked them to write down their thoughts about their personal "ember" on a little slip of paper. They were to consider something that had been simmering beneath the surface in their life for too long and prepare to make a decision to fan it back into flames, or bury it and let it die. After our tea party, we gathered in a circle around the fire and a pit and, one by one, had the opportunity to talk about our decision and then throw our paper into either the fire or the pit. Everyone present listened with respect, spoke from the heart, and made a little promise to themselves to follow through on a decision that would make their life better in some way. Some attendees decided to let go of relationships that were no longer serving them, others decided to fan a long-forgotten passion back into flames, and still others chose to keep their decisions to themselves and released them either into the ground or the fire with a silent determination. 

The guests who attended Ember were inspiring. These wonderful people embraced the unknown by accepting an invitation hidden in a bookstore, driving out into the middle of nowhere, and participating fully in something largely unknown to them. All of the guests were warm and kind to one another and supported total strangers in moments of vulnerability. It was inspiring to watch the inherent goodness inside a random group of mostly-strangers. I feel so lucky that I was able to offer this gift to them. Many, many thanks to my patreon supporters that made this event possible. Your generous donations covered the costs of supplies for this event and it is with your help that I was able to bring a little more magic into the lives of these thirteen people! Cindy and her daughter Brooke are some of my most faithful supporters; they were so excited I was doing an event in their area that they went out and scoured bookstores after I dropped a hint on social media. Their love for adventure and kindness towards other humans is a beautiful thing to behold. I sent them (and all of the other attendees) home with a little bag full of the homemade incense we burned during our ceremony so that they could re-connect with the memories of the day through scent far into the future. 

Ember was such a delightful and meaningful event for me. I love doing this. I love it so much.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Some thoughts on Magic

Mystery, magic, play... what exactly do those words mean?

For many, either you believe or you don't. Either you see fairies or you see the real world, explained by science. Either you believe in God or you're a jaded Atheist, unable to put your faith in anything you can't see with your own eyes.

But does it have to be like that? Does understanding how something works make it any less magical?

A few years ago, I was planting a garden with my then-boyfriend. He peered inside the brown paper bag sitting on the soil next to me and said, "babe, this is just a bag of old potatoes. Where are the potato seeds?" I explained to him that a new potato plant grows from the sprouts coming out of the old potatoes. His eyes got wide and he said "wait... to make more potatoes, you just put a potato in the ground!?" I'll never forget that moment of magic for him. I grew up gardening so seed potatoes were old news to me, but for this city boy in his 20's discovering something new about the world, well, there was no doubt he was experiencing a moment of profound wonder. I felt very lucky that I got to experience that moment with him. His excitement over this seemingly-obvious natural cycle reminded me of the wonder of life and regeneration: how amazing it is than an acorn holds all of the information necessary to create a giant and majestic oak tree! How incredible that a tiny mushroom spore can turn into a giant organism of a complex mycelium network under the soil! And yes, how wonderful that one potato can turn into many with just a little soil, sun, and water.

There is magic all around us, we just have to be open to it.

Maybe I've just got a big case of 'Peter Pan Syndrome,' but I absolutely still believe in magic. I'm not into witchcraft or conjuring- instead I believe in normal everyday magic. Because is there really anything more powerful than remembering that our very existence is absolute magic?

I believe I am practicing magic anytime I send a surprise package in the mail, or cook a nourishing dinner that will help to heal a sick family member, or hide a little note of hope for a stranger to find. Have you ever had a particularly insightful conversation with a stranger at a bus stop that leaves you with a new perspective for the rest of your life? I have. And maybe I've BEEN that stranger, who has suddenly and gently shaken the roots of someone's understanding of the world. The beauty of that is you won't KNOW if you're responsible for that sacred moment of clarity, since you will most likely never see that person again. That's kind of magical too, don't you think?

Magic is setting up treasure hunts for your kids (thanks Mom), or inventing Dinovember (thanks internet),  or staring out at the ocean and envisioning all of the sunken treasures yet to be discovered.

Is it juvenile to be so fixated on magic and wonder? Maybe, but is that a bad thing? I don't think so. I think children and their incredible capacities for excitement and imagination are downright inspiring, and it's a damn shame that we censor those traits out of us when we grow up. As adults, we have to work a little harder to see the magic that is blatantly apparent to kids. That's why I want to devote my art practice to bringing more wonder into the world, particularly for adults. Many people ask me if I do kids' parties or events for children, and my answer is always this: Children have Christmas, and Halloween, and Easter. They are allowed to believe in mythological creatures and see fairies in the bushes. Little kids don't need me to make magic for them; they are perfectly adept at making their own. Adults, on the other hand...

You may have seen my event "Lady Fern's Soiree" that I did last May. I wrote elegant invitations on purple ferns, then I hid them in the woods around Eugene, Oregon for lucky finders to stumble upon. We had a delicious dinner of all-purple foods, flavored with the plants from the surrounding forests. The guest list was really interesting- a couple of families with small children and a handful of 20-somethings. I was in the kitchen for most of the dinner but I chatted with the guests afterwards, who pointed something really interesting out to me: to the adults, this experience was absolute MAGIC. I mean, how many people can say they went to a dinner party hosted by a fairy after they found an invite on a fern in the woods?? It was clear that the adults were charmed. But for the little girls, this dinner was a lot of fun, but it was also hilariously normalized to them. Like, of COURSE they were at a dinner party hosted by a fairy, DUH. It was business-as-usual for these little girls, because in their world, magic is an everyday discovery. I was utterly charmed by their matter-of-factness when talking about the event to their parents later.

So how can we, as adults, allow ourselves to go back to that wonderful place of experiencing magic that was so familiar as children? I've been noticing more and more projects aimed at adults lately. One of my favorites, The Mysterious Package Company, is an organization shrouded in mystery, offering secret mysteries and puzzles for purchase. Just the way their website is organized and their email letters are structured makes something inside me shiver with excitement.

There's magic to be found in the world of health and healing, too. Did you know that a recent study came out showing that placebo pills actually help heal people, even when they know it is just a sugar pill? The power of our own brains is immense. Perhaps more healing is done just by believing that whatever you are doing works than by the actual medicine itself? I'm not saying to stop going to your doctors and that you can heal yourself with just your mind, but I do believe that doing something with faith and intention gives it a much higher chance of actually working. I think about that anytime I prepare an herbal remedy to sooth a minor health concern, that just by believing that it will help me I am one step closer to feeling better.

I have faith in science, I have faith in my own brain, and I have faith that magic exists even if you're not sure where to find it.

I also want to be part of the reason people still believe in magic.

That's why I do surprise events for lucky finders to stumble upon. That's why I create real-life narratives of fairytales and ethereal characters. That's why I encourage wonder and play... because it just makes life so much more shimmery.

Did you know that roughly 50% of Icelandic residents still believe in the existence of elves? Even grown adults put out a little bowl of porridge on Christmas Eve to offer goodwill to their smaller hidden neighbors. We co-exist in this world with so many magical and bizarre creatures, why is the belief in elves any stranger than believing in, say, a bird that attracts a mate by curating an immense and bizarre collection of random colorful forest tidbits? Or trees that communicate with each other through a vast network of mycelium in much the same way that we use the Internet? The line between 'magic' and 'science' is so blurry that I would argue it's nonexistent. Sometimes the things we see as magic are just the things we don't have a scientific exploration for yet, but having that explanation doesn't make them any less magic.

What do you think residents in a small town in the 1700s would have done if they saw you using a modern-day cellphone? Probably would have had you burnt at the stake as a witch. During the times of the Black Plague, witch doctors burned aromatic herbs to "banish the demons," but as we know now, smoke is highly antibacterial and likely DID play a major role in banishing the germs that caused illness. How many allegorical caves have we emerged from in our short human history on this magnificent planet? So, so many. And we will continue to emerge from many more, even in our own lifetimes. The cosmic nature of discovery is endless and, if you ask me, absolutely magical.

I've taken it upon myself to devote my work to conversations about magic, wonder, and connection. This is so meaningful to me I feel absolutely COMPELLED to do it. That's why with every piece of artwork I make, I envision the happy use of it in the future as I make it, just in case someday we learn that the intention behind creation is as important as the physical object itself. I'll keep designing objects meant to spark a reaction of wonder or curiosity. I'll keep gifting surprise experiences to strangers so that they, too, can experience something magical. And through it all, I'll keep learning and learning and learning.

I'm curious- what does magic mean to you?