A Funny Question; An Honest Response

Johan Deckmann, 2018

Johan Deckmann, 2018

A few months ago a friend asked me if I make money with my blog, and if so, how. They followed it up with the statement that they “can’t imagine” that I don’t.

That’s hilarious! Because I surely do not!

I have been writing online and off, for most of my life. I have never been paid to write anything. I might be given a gift or a freebie for something I have written, after the fact. I might be supplied with products that I did not have to pay for, in order to write reviews about them.  These things happen occasionally, and I’m generally not one to turn down free stuff! I also feel compelled to mention that almost 100% of the time, these are places I have already purchased items –perfumes, tee shirts, candles, soaps, whatever–from, previously. I would certainly never write about stuff that I would not actually use my own money to buy. But back to the “getting paid” part– I cannot think of one single time when one single person* has paid me one single, solitary penny for something I have written or to write something for them.

…and if I am being honest, I wouldn’t want them to.

I am coming from a place where I feel like when I start accepting money for something I enjoy doing, that’s going to create expectations and obligations and it’s going to cast a grim pall over the very thing I enjoy. And I very loosely use the word “enjoy” here. I do not really take pleasure in writing. It’s uncomfortable and sometimes downright agonizing for a number of reasons. One, I’d really prefer to be doing anything but writing. Sure, I’d rather do the fun things I love, like knit, or read, or watch a movie– but sometimes I am avoiding the writing process so intensely that I will manufacture chores and tasks and errands which don’t even need doing, let alone doing now, instead of writing whatever it is that I am supposed to be writing, Also, it’s a mortifying, humiliating process. There’s nothing like seeing the nebulous thoughts and ideas and emotions that have been percolating murkily in your brain, exposed to the light and pinned down to the page or the screen in front of you…and then realizing that those unwieldy, imprecise words don’t match up with anything you thought you were thinking, and don’t even begin to convey any of the rich nuances of your, you know, really important opinions. And then of course you compare yourself to others, and you say cruel things to yourself, and it’s just this entire process of dashed expectations and self-loathing, and it’s all rather fraught, and dammit, you knew you should have been scrubbing that toilet, why did you even sit down to write in the first place? So I guess, if I were being honest, I would probably rather be doing anything but writing.

Which is funny…because I simply cannot remember a time when I wasn’t writing. As a child I often wrote stories about a girl my age named Jenny. She didn’t have adventures, she didn’t get into scrapes. She woke up for school in the morning, she played with her dolls (these stories had …just bizarrely elaborate lists detailing Jenny’s Barbie doll collection), she planned parties; Jenny was incredibly dopey and boring, but hey, those were the things that interested me at the time. As I grew older, I would write many unfinished horror stories in the style of Stephen King, and in my late teens and early twenties, I fancied myself a bit of a poet. In between those years there were always journals and diaries and letters and notes passed back and forth in high school, and let me tell you, my notes were epic. God help the poor boy who had to respond to one of those.

Though I haven’t been blogging at Unquiet Things for a long time, I have been weblogging for a long time. Maybe not as long as some, granted. It took me a long time to be OK with, and not freaked out by, computers and the internet. It wasn’t until a job I had while I was in college that I began to get comfortable with typing my thoughts as opposed to scribbling, which was pretty great timing, because this was in the latter half of 1999 and Livejournal had been founded earlier that year. Also in attempting to pinpoint a date just now, I am looking back and realizing that I graduated high school in 1994, and four years later, in 1999, I was still in community college. Full disclosure: it would be another three years before I actually graduated with my two-year degree. Yep.

Livejournal took my obsession with journaling to a new and interesting level. I never diaried my thoughts hoping to keep them private–I actively wanted people to read them. Sadly, no one actually wanted to, or cared about my not-so-carefully concealed notebooks. And why should they? It was, at its basic level, just highly legible but profoundly mundane personal drivel and daily gripes that were interesting only to me. But now, people all over the world were going to read my dumb thoughts and opinions–and they did! And they commented on them! It was everything I ever wanted.

My interest in fiddling with the LJ code to customize and tart up the look of my page led to me learning some html–nothing fancy, just enough recognize the basics and be able to tweak things if needed, which was especially useful when website design software like Dreamweaver became available to me. So now I could build my own website and blog! And I did! I even called myself myself an amateur web designer and I built a website for that purpose, too (and believe it or not, I made some money doing it, but that is a super weird story for another time.)

My blog has gone through many iterations over the years, beginning as a small purple thing on geocities, which few but a certain gormless ex-boyfriend may remember, as I had built a little [name redacted] insult generator on one of the pages as a spiteful side activity. And over the years it’s had many names…I was akissofshadows (Anita Blake shoutout!) on LJ, along with myblogskip, and then several other Lovecraftian or MRJamesian names that I’d cycle through in order to escape detection by another ex, this one must nastier and more awful than the previous, and who monitored my online activities like a hawk, because was a a snoopy asshole. And no, that’s not even fair to the snoopies out there, it was more than that; he had no sense of boundaries or privacy and thought he was entitled to every piece of me. Nosiness is one thing. His abusive behavior was something else.Yeah, I’m still mad about that. Never not gonna hate that guy.

Anyway! I digress! The point is, I have had a lot of journals and blogs over the years. But I never started writing with the idea that I think a lot of bloggers have now , a sort of “I’m going to make a living off of this! Where my sponsors at??” type of mentality. Hey, if that describes you, great. Good luck to you, and I wish you much success. But that was never me. I don’t write for money, I don’t have sponsors, I don’t have ads on my sites, I don’t even have a “donate” button, for pete’s sake. Never have, never will.

I have never struggled with my site’s image or branding. I know many bloggers who have started their site focusing on one type of thing, and perhaps they’ve built their whole personal brand or whatever around it. But then they become burnt out, or their interests change, and then they experience a great deal of angst and teeth-gnashing when it comes to blogging about something different or shifting their focus, and subsequently feeling the need to change the whole look and feel of their blog/website and online presence. I have never experienced this. I write about the things that I think are weird, or sad, or funny, or beautiful. That’s basically all it is, and it encompasses a broad spectrum of things–I will never be at a loss of food for thought and the resultant blog fodder. And even if, let’s say, I made a big change, like a super major change, say, oh, I don’t know–maybe I wanted to start writing about Christian parenting and scrapbooking. So what? What’s to agonize over? This is my space on the internet, no one is paying me or expecting things from me, so I can write about whatever shit that takes my fancy!

And that’s another thing. Sometimes I will see bloggers post things like “what do you guys want to see more of on the blog this year?” Fuck that shit. I don’t really care what anyone wants to see. They’ll see what I write about, that’s what they’ll see. And I know that sounds a little harsh, and I don’t mean to sound unkind or like I don’t appreciate all of the folks who have tuned in over the years (I love all 5 of you!) but I think that if you have followed my writing for any amount of time, whether we are real life friends, or if you know me from LJ or tumblr or polyvore or from my time writing at Coilhouse or more currently at Haute Macabre–I think you understand where I am coming from, and have a basic idea of what I’m about. And you probably don’t care! So if I don’t care and the people who count don’t care, then I’m not particularly worried. Everyone else can either get with the program or peep on over at another blog! The internet is pretty great like that.

So, no. I don’t make any money here. I don’t actually make any money writing anywhere else, either, and I never have. Ever.  And that’s OK! I have a full time job. I don’t love it, I don’t even particularly like it, but I’ve never been under any illusions about the the need to like what I do for a living. That’s crazy talk. Work is dumb, don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise. I work to make the money to be able to do the things I really want to do. Which brings me back to a point I was initially making, which was this: I do not necessarily want to get paid to write. I reserve the right to change my mind about this one day, but when someone says they want to pay you to do something**, they will of course have certain expectations of you and your work product. And then you feel obligated to meet those expectations. Do I want to feel obligated to work on something I am doing in my spare time, in my not-work time, in my obligation-less time? Fuck no. FUCK NO.

So this is my ridiculously lengthy answer to what might appear at the outset to be a very simple question. Anonymous friend who initially asked this question, I hope that you do not take this response as a personal attack or perhaps me passive-aggressively fuming about an innocent question that you had asked two months ago. It’s not like that at all! And, I promise, you’re not the only one who has asked this***. You were just the one who inspired me to type out this massive dump of rambling thoughts about it. I bet you’re sorry you asked, though!

*I do use Amazon associate links from time to time in my blog posts; every once in a while Amazon will send me a $5 gift card. Does that count? I don’t really think it counts.)

**Although if someone wants to pay me for something I have already written, that’s cool.

*** Who does she think she is, even writing this response, you might be wondering. No one even cares, no one thinks you SHOULD be paid to write anything! You may be right to think so. You probably are. I’m the little person, a nobody. Just one among millions of mediocre bloggers. I am not pretending otherwise. But more than one person has asked me this question, I swear. Maybe even three or four! But probably less than ten.



2018 Needful Things

S.At Haute Macabre today, the collection about which I wait impatiently all year to write–our year-end Needful Things! I mean, we write seasonal versions of Needful Things too, so it’s not like it’s been a whole year since I’ve shared the stuff and things I love, but…whatever! I’m still excited to share!

2018 was a year of ugly, escalating anxiety for me; every time I thought I had a handle on my worries; they shape-shifted into a dreadful something else for me to panic about. I often got myself so worked up that I couldn’t have even told you what I was panicking about – there were just so many things plaguing me, they had begun to coalesce into a massive rat king of dread and torment.

And so my assortment of Needful Things that I share today are the small things, not even necessarily tangible things, that induced calm in my heart while the rest of my world was in turmoil; the things, however small or seemingly inconsequential, that relieved worry or distress in some small degree, or introduced a modicum of peace and stillness when everything felt like it was falling apart. The things I employed or enjoyed during this past year that made life feel, while not “fixed,” or “perfect,” but rather just…better.

Ulyana Sergeenko Haute Couture Spring Summer 2019

If you ever had wanted a runway/haute couture installation version of Tale of Tale’s eerie video game The Path, (an interactive, and relentlessly unsettling retelling of Little Red Riding Hood) …

…I believe that witnessing the gothic-folkloric-with-a-rebellious streak fantasy of Ulyana Sergeenko’s Spring 2019 collection* debut in Paris under the direction of Ellen Von Unwerth will, in a vague way, scratch that strangely storied fairy tale forest itch.

SU show



*So it’s apparently inspired by Nobel prize winner Mikhail Sholokhov’s epic novel And Quiet Flows the Don,a story of Cossack women set during the dramatic days of the revolution and civil war in the early 20th century–but even if just for a moment as they circuitously gathered on the gloomy forest path of that cleverly designed stage–I saw what I saw!

In actuality, though, I suppose the garments resemble nothing even close to the casually dressed shadow-chic of The Path’s characters, nor it’s bleakly beautiful, forbidding atmosphere. Someone needs to make that collection happen!

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture Spring 2019

Links Of The Dead {January 2019}

Winter Is Dead by Artificialia Room

Winter Is Dead by Artificialia Room

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

This time last year: Links of the Dead {January 2018} | {January 2017} | {January 2016}

💀 Morphine And A Side Of Grief Counseling: Nursing Students Learn How To Handle Death
💀 The World Of Victorian Grave Dolls
💀 What People Actually Say Before They Die
💀 Haunting new research indicates we will actually know when we have died
💀 Hand-made elegantly decorated Japanese urns
💀 How a nontraditional funeral helped this mom process her daughter’s tragic death.
💀 I Could Face My Own Mortality, but My Son’s Was Another Story
💀 I’m 33, Healthy, and Planning My Own Funeral
💀 Is This How We Conquer Our Fear of Death?
💀 Death Finds A Signature Look
💀 7 Powerful Books By Women That Deal With Death And Grieving
💀 What’s Under the Bejeweled Clothes of a Catacomb Saint?
💀 Trump’s Border Wall Would Destroy Historic Gravesites In South Texas

5 Breakfasts

Willem Clasz Heda Breakfast Table with Blackberry Pie

Willem Clasz Heda Breakfast Table with Blackberry Pie

I’m a morning person. (“Booo! Hisssss!!” Don’t think I can’t hear you!) No, but really, I am. Once I’m awake, I’m not really the sort of person to lie in bed scrolling through facebook until my limbs feel like moving in human ways again. But the key here is, “once I’m awake”–because I can very easily roll over and go right back to sleep, and perhaps even sneak back into the same dream I was dreaming before the alarm interrupted my slumber. But once I am actually out of bed, there is no going back, and I honestly prefer it that way. Mornings are the best. The earlier the better. I’m not even the sort who can lounge around in my pajamas once I’m no longer burrowed under the covers; nope, once I am out of bed, I am committed.

And it’s not because there’s “a whole day of possibilities” before me (barf! and also, they’re probably all bad) but because at 5 o’clock in the morning, no one is calling you on the phone. That’s right. I hate phone calls so much, I will wake up at five in the morning just to enjoy some ring-free quiet time.

I don’t typically want breakfast within these first few hours of waking; that would feel too much like rushing things along, and I don’t think my digestive bits are even ready to clock in at this point. During this pre-dawn time of day, I prefer to take things slow. I like the still, quiet atmosphere of a world just beginning to regain consciousness, and I softly make my way through this world on tiptoes so as not to alert it to my presence. No teevee, no radio or music or news, and for god’s sake, don’t talk to me! I have my small routines at this time, and they are undertaken in utter silence.

Upon waking, I either immediately 1. throw on some ratty exercise clothes and go for a brisk walk, or, 2. splash water on my face and spend about ten minutes with my morning skincare routine. Both are activities that cause my brain to start working, albeit in different ways, maybe even on different levels An early morning constitutional, while the blood is pumping to my brain, is when I often get my exciting “aha!” ideas. The less active routine of my six or seven steps of cleansers and toners and serums and gels and whatever else, gently generates the brain and starts it to slowly ticking and whirring as I go through my process of morning ablutions.

At this point I may have a small glass of aloe juice and get the coffee started. I may curl up on the sofa to read a book, or work on a knitting project. I definitely don’t start checking emails or plugging into the world just yet. This is time just for me, to do the things I like to do, uninterrupted, sans any other obligations. Responsibilities don’t even come into picture during this time. And finally, around 7:30 or so is when I start thinking breakfast-y thoughts.

After Breakfast by Elin Kleopatra Danielson Gambogi.

After Breakfast by Elin Kleopatra Danielson Gambogi.

Most breakfast items seem to be geared toward people with a sweet tooth. I can’t eat cereal; it has too many associations of my mother sitting at the table, bleary-eyed, chain-smoking and drinking coffee, while I choked down a bowl of Wheat Chex before elementary school and was almost on a daily basis immediately struck afterward with a stomach ache as I contemplated the dread and ultimate futility of the day as it stretched out before me. Existence felt grim to me from a young age, and to this day, I can only eat a bowl of cereal late into the night in mid-summer, as a snack, maybe because it was too hot for dinner. I’m not a fan of pancakes or waffles or french toast or muffins or donuts* or yogurt or granola bars or any kind of breakfast bar, really. They’re all too sweet. Blargh.

*not gonna lie–I do eat donuts–I like them, even!–but they have to be an afternoon snacks-with-coffee type thing. I can’t do a donut as a first meal of the day. I really can’t do sweets on an empty stomach, period. It makes me feel a little ill and weird.

I have, however, found a handful of savory, and one or two barely-sweet options that I enjoy and are staples in my breakfast-time rotation! They’re not necessarily appropriate for every day (either they’re a little too rich or time-consuming) but between these five options and a few bonus quickies, I’ve pretty much unlocked the secrets of the most important meal of the day.

full japanese

1. Japanese style breakfast, which I know I have mentioned before, but it’s amazing, and I would eat it every day if I could. Unfortunately, it’s a little bit involved, so I generally only do this one on the weekends.  Generally I include rice and miso soup, broiled salmon, homemade pickled vegetables, and tamagoyaki (rolled japanese omelette). You could also serve natto alongside this meal, but I can’t get past the stinkiness/sliminess factor, so it’s never on my table! There’s something about this combination of foods that is wonderfully savory, and perfectly balanced to fill you up while at the same time you feel like you are eating something light.

Here are a few of my favorite recipes for creating such a meal:

rice and eggs

2. Rice & egg. This is a hearty-soothing breakfast. I don’t think I’d eat it more than once a week, but if I am being honest, the BEST time to prepare this meal is when you are experiencing the head-throbbing, sorta-nauseous-but-you-still-wanna-eat misery of a hangover. It works best if you have some leftover rice to start with; this way you don’t have to spend any extra time cooking up a batch. Heat a portion of leftover white rice (you could probably use brown, but I prefer white) in the microwave, and while that is going, fry an egg on the stove. Keep it yolky. Once your rice is hot, stir in soy sauce and a butter product of your preference to taste–you may want slightly more butter than soy sauce, but not a lot of either–top with your fried egg, and sprinkle liberally with furikake (rice seasoning.) Devour with a comically oversized wooden spoon.

toast and jam

3. Toast with peanut butter and preserves. This is more of an every day type breakfast for me. It’s quick, it’s filling, it’s only slightly sweet if I pick a jam with a little bit of tartness. The best bread for this is Ezekial* because it’s dense and study and crunchy and it doesn’t flop under a generous smear of peanut butter. Of course, I am not sure I’d eat the Ezekial bread any way other than toasted. I’d venture that it’s a mite unpalatable, cold. I typically just keep it in the freezer until I need a slice or two, then I just pop it straight into the toaster. Once browned to your liking, spread with your favorite peanut butter and jam. I happen to like Peanut Butter & Co.’s The Bee’s Knees and bilberry jam. Enjoy on a tiny Bride of Frankenstein tray.

*I just ignore the scripture on those Ezekial bags; I save then up and use them to scoop up dog poop during when we have visiting puppers.


4. Porridge. This is actually steel-cut oats, but I call it porridge because it makes me feel like I am eating fairy tale food and not a gruely bowl of slop. It’s another everyday go-to, especially when it starts to get cold out. We cook up a huge batch of oats at the beginning of the week, and I generally eat it thusly: portion out a bit, stir in some of your preferred sort of milk, cinnamon, golden raisins, chopped dates, chopped pecans, slivered almonds, and the barest drizzle of maple syrup. Heat in the microwave until hot, and top with a spoonful of ground flax seed. I like my porridge on the thinner side, so I err on the side of more milk, but that’s totally up to you.

fake bagel

5. Fake bagel! Obviously, real bagels are preferred, but those are a weekend treat and I feel like I can get away with eating “fake bagels” far more frequently. And whereas porridge is standard fare in the winter months, when it starts warming up again, you know, like February (because Florida), I start leaning toward fake bagels for morning eats. Start with some sort of “sandwich thins”–I think mine are Arnold brand, but I just grab whatever is in the store–and here’s the thing. You may want this untoasted. Those sandwich thins sort of frizzle up and get stuck in your toaster, and honestly, I think this tastes better cold. Spread with one wedge of Laughing Cow cheese split between two sides of the bread, sprinkle with Trader Joe’s Everything But The Bagel seasoning blend (this stuff is a marvel!) and top with thinly sliced tomatoes and red onions. This is the vegetarian version, but you could also add a few slices of smoked salmon, and that’s also delicious. Having made it both ways, I can share that while the salmon version is very good, you really don’t miss it if it’s not there. It may not be the healthiest thing in the world, what with the shelf stable cheese and all, but I think it’s remarkably tasty! And after eating this you’ll probably be remarkably stinky, but it’s totally worth it.

Some quick bonus bites, for when you don’t have the time/energy for any of the above:

  • a hard-boiled egg sprinkled with Penzey’s Fox Point seasoning
  • EPIC salmon jerky (sounds weird, but SO GOOD)
  • Gardein Breakfast Pockets (these are probably “vegan junk food”, but still excellent)
  • KIND Bar, Pineapple Banana Kale Spinach (strangely funky-nasty addictive)
  • Make ahead, freezer friendly breakfast sandwiches –okay, so this is not exactly a quickie, you will have needed the forethought to make these ahead of time. But if you have done so, it’s super quick to heat it up and jam it in your mouth as you’re running out the door in the morning. Or maybe even take it to work and heat it up when you get there. This a WW recipe that I have linked to, but the idea could be adapted to a higher calorie diet, or perhaps veggie-fied, or whatever fits your lifestyle.

So, wow. I’ve just written nearly 1800 words about breakfast. I’m really tackling the hard-hitting stuff here, aren’t I? Do you folks have any favorite savory breakfasts? (Sorry sweeties and sugar fiends…you know I love you, but I don’t even want to hear about your cinnamon raisin bagels –GACK– or your Special-K bars.) Tell me all about your favorite weekend and weekend morning meals and maybe I’ll enliven my breakfast agenda with a new addition!

Planner Talk 2019: The Planninator

Planner 2019

Early last week I was in the heady throes of the honeymoon stage with my new planner…I was riding the high of having written down a thing AND done it, AND I went on to do the next thing, as well. And the next!

It was, as I said, I very heady feeling, and dare I say…empowering. I found myself taking care of something I had put off for six months (it involved a phone call…and not just an easy, 5 minute phone call, but the kind where they’d probably put you on hold and transfer you to six different departments, to which you would have to explain your problem six times over, and then they’d try to talk you out of whatever you want, or they’d have to get a manager…and then more hold time…you get the idea. I did not want to make this phone call.)

Last week I:

-called the bank to initiate a thing
-ordered new eyeglasses
-scheduled an eye doctor appointment
-scheduled a dentist appointment (it has literally been 20+ years)
-scheduled an appointment with the dermatologist
-scheduled a appointment with a new therapist (gonna give it another try!)
-canceled three services (I had to make phone calls for all three!)
-wrote a handful of things
-went to see my nail tech and got my claws removed
-participated in a monthly call for creative women
-went to Post Office (twice)
-went to library (twice)
-cleaned out closet and all clothing drawers, all without having watched or read Marie Kondo

If I am being honest, all this is probably more than I get around to doing in a year! I am basically the PLANNINATOR, crushing all goals!

Planner 1

So, you may be wondering, what brought about this flurry of productivity, is it sustainable and can we really chalk it up to the the acquisition of a new planner?

To backtrack just a little, this new planner was a gift from my youngest sister (see previous planner post from her, to give you an idea as to her dedication to planners and planning.) I had her asked if she thought that she was up to the task of picking out a planner for me and perhaps some fun accessories, as a holiday gift. As I expected, she was super excited about the possibilities! I think nothing would make her happier than to have all her sisters in the same room together, gleefully ignoring each other as they plot and plan and scheme their days away in their respective planners.

With a few guidelines from me,  that this new planner be:
1. undated, but with time slots, and
2. it’s gotta be black!, and
3. hard bound (as opposed to ringed)

…she said that  with all of my restrictions, I didn’t leave her a lot to work with and she ended up going with a Passion Planner. Here’s what they have to say about themselves:

“Passion Planner is the one place for all your thoughts. It’s more than just a planner—it’s a tool that helps you break down your short and long-term goals and incorporate them into your daily life. It has been designed to encourage you to plan for the future, reflect on the past, but most importantly, act on the present. Think of it as a paper life coach — ready 24/7 to challenge you to focus on what is most important, accept your thoughts and ideas without judgment, and prompt you to reflect on your everyday life. We hope that it becomes a place where you can declutter your mind, allowing you to focus on the present moment.”

planner 2 planner 3

I also asked her to feel free to include lots of fun accessories…even though I don’t really know how they work or what I am supposed to do with them and I’m actually convinced I don’t even know what “fun” is, or how it works. But it seemed important to include stickers! And washi tape! I mean but also what are you supposed to do with washi tape? I don’t know!

planner 5 planner 6

And I know I’m hard to shop for, I want “sort of, you know, “goth”, but not like, Victorian goth, or cutesy goth, or Halloween-y goth, or like 1992-era Spencer’s Gifts, goth.”
I guess what I am saying that I don’t want anything too cheesy or too “on the nose.”  So… that pretty much rules out everything on Etsy, because Etsy tends to be all of those things. So instead she went with something far easier to pin down–cats and Sailor Moon!

planner 8

…and a darling pouch for all of my accoutrements!

If you’re curious as to where she picked up the stickers, the tape, and the pouch, these are the three shops that she shared with me:

planner 9

The Passion Planner is much larger than the one I was previously using, seen here for comparison. But honestly, I like both sizes! I’m really digging the larger version right now, but that could be due to me being the kind of person who adapts pretty easily and I generally reach the conclusion that what I am doing now is better than what I was doing before. I like that I can really sprawl and ramble with my thoughts and ideas, but I do see how this larger one might be a little bit more challenging to travel with, but my planner stays at my desk all the time, so that’s not really a concern.

If you’re interested, I was previously using the undated planner from Ink + Volt, and I thought it was pretty great. I didn’t use it consistently, and it wasn’t exactly for planning and scheduling purposes (more like for ideas and brainstorming and lists) and because it’s undated, I think I have probably been using it for two years now. Highly recommended!

Planner 10

ALSO: because my sister is a marvel and she knows me pretty well, she DID find me some “goth but not really” stickers, and they are perfect. As an aside, I gotta find another word to sum up my “goth but not really” aesthetic. But the best I’ve been able to come up with, that doesn’t sound too long-winded, self-important, or cheesy, is “cats and darkness”. I don’t know that it’s an important distinction, I mean I know what I mean and I know it when I see it. And the more I belabor the point, the more it sounds like I’m putting down the stuff that doesn’t fall into my narrow criteria–which I don’t mean to do! If you like it, it’s very good! As the sample lady once told our other sister, when she was sampling some sheet cake or bagel bites or whatever at Costco on a Saturday afternoon. “If you like it, it’s very good!”

SO THEN. Week One of using my planner was a spectacular success! I wrote a lot of stuff down, and I crossed a lot of stuff off my list. Or I put a checkmark next to it. (Are you a crosser or a checker? What’s the difference, anyway?) This week I’m…well, let’s say I’m a tad less enthusiastic.I actually might have overdone it last week, and maybe made myself a little manic about it (I mean, I seriously did feel a little crazed) and I’m still recovering, heh heh. I mean to the point that, even after writing almost 1200 words about the thing and having taken a whole mess of photos of it today, I don’t think I have actually written a single thing in it..

Well, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow! Which, I don’t think Macbeth was talking about his planner when he said :

“.To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;”

…but then again if Macbeth had all these stickers and washi tapes at his disposal, he might have been a PLANNINATOR too. Also if you look up #pashfam on instagram, you won’t see a lot of Shakespeare but you might find some layout ideas and different tips and tricks and suggestions for how other users put their Passion Planner to work. I am passing that tidbit on not having looked at it myself, because I’m stubborn and I am pretty sure I don’t need to see how other people do things, but wow, that sounds really bad when I see it in black and white like that. Maybe I’ll just take a peek.

Ten Things That Got Me Through 2018 From Harlow Skalwold


For this month’s Ten Things, we are featuring our lovely friend Harlow Skalwold, unstoppable human creator, art director at DellamorteCo. and chief coffee pusher at Banshee + Cinder Coffee. I began chatting with Harlow a few years ago, either for interview purposes…or…something else (I don’t even remember now!) and our friendship has grown and blossomed to the point where sometimes I find myself texting or DMing her about this, that, or the other thing on a daily basis. Sometimes frivolous or ridiculous, and sometimes more solemn, weighty matters–I think we’ve found in each other a kindred soul with whom to share our thoughts, no matter what form they take.

When I reached out to Harlow to ask if she’d be interested in contributing a “Ten Things” installment, she suggested “Ten Things That Got Me Through 2018”. Though I was sorry to hear that she–or anyone– had a rough go of it last year (mine wasn’t so hot, either), I felt very passionately about giving the opportunity to someone who had a painful, challenging year, to share a few helpful things that alleviated their suffering during that time.

At the same time I have been talking to Harlow about this post, reading her words, formatting the images she had thoughtfully chosen, and thinking about her experiences overall, I have also been reading Megan Devine’s It’s OK That You’re Not OK, and in this wonderful book and excellent resource, Megan talks about pain versus suffering, how to tend to your pain and adjust your suffering.

“There’s so much helplessness inside of grief, so much pain that cannot be fixed. Suffering, however, is optional. That distinction can help you figure out what things can be changed, and what things simply need to be supported.

In grief, pain gets tended, suffering gets adjusted.

You might ask yourself, where is there suffering? What tangible problems could be solved in order to reduce suffering? Are you eating, sleeping, moving enough? Can you spend more time with people who support your pain, rather than try to talk you out of it? Are there any places that induce even the smallest bit of calm inside your heart?”

I like the idea of knowing the things that induce calm in your heart while the rest of your world is in turmoil. The things, however small or inconsequential seeming that may relieve the pain in some small degree, or introduce a modicum of peace and stillness when everything feels like it is falling apart. Thank you, Harlow, for sharing the things that made your world a little better last year :)

undies1. Awesome Underthings

TomboyX Iconic Briefs
Something about women’s underpants really pisses me off. I like a pretty bra, sure, but I do not want all that lacy, frilly crap on my butt. It’s also difficult to find good women’s underwear with a Halloween print. TomboyX has catered to all my desires and they have these y-front briefs that really tickle my fancy. I bought 2 great Halloween prints, a pack of black briefs, and then went on to get a pair with an octopus print, and one with cats! Normally I’m all black everything, but for these underpants I’ve gladly made an exception. AND the Iconic Briefs are built with a front pocket so you can pack! So cool! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it!

2. Redecorating

I redecorate every year, but it generally consists of shifting my generous collection of art and oddities around the house. This year I indulged myself, embracing the modern, stark tones of Blade Runner and Delia Deetz. My living room is shades of grey with shots of red, ivory, and black. It is eclectic but clean, minimalist, and unapologetically not Victorian or witchy.
A big change that you have control over can be incredibly cathartic.
(You get to see my living room as a fancy collage because I haven’t finished painting the walls yet and I’m terrible at taking interior design photos.)


3. This sculpture by Kiki Smith at Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ



4. Sawbones & Science Vs Podcasts

Sawbones is hands-down my favorite podcast. It’s the only podcast I listen to consistently. They are funny, witty, informative, and talk about one of my favorite topics, messed up medical history. They tackle important modern day issues as well, and being a liberal, science minded couple from West Virginia, things can get pretty interesting!
This podcast is therapy for me. I turn on a new episode while I work and I can just focus on their stories. My anxiety from the day subsides. My overactive, ruminating, worrisome brains finally shut up. This podcast is part of my self care, and something I really, really look forward to every week.

I occasionally listen to Science Vs when the topic intrigues me. Their The Science of Being Transgender which aired in December was eye opening. I’ve struggled to understand my gender identity since I was 10 years old. It feels a little ridiculous to have an epiphany because of a podcast, but there it was. All my confusion was simply because I don’t have a gender. Like a person’s sexuality, gender is something that is instinctual. Most people just know that they are a girl or a boy, whether that matches their sex or not. I don’t have that instinct. I don’t suffer from dysphoria either, though. I think I would have been okay in whatever body I was given. I’m perfectly comfortable with my body and my sex. I can identify with being a woman because of my sex, but I just don’t “get” a lot if things. I suppose like being colorblind, you don’t know you’re missing something until the world (people, society, podcasts, whatever) makes it glaringly obvious. Hey! Guess what! You’re agender!

Poppies from the manuscript Codice Rinio Codice Roccobonella, 1445. (1)

5. Online Support Groups
In May my mother was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer, out of the blue. I thought she was going to die. Her doctors thought she was going to drop dead at any moment. It was the single most horrifying thing I’ve been through in my entire life – the idea of losing my mother. Friends helped find me an amazing resource for those going through treatment and their loved ones. I was able to join a group for caregivers and close family almost as soon as I signed up. And it helped. The moderator was knowledgeable and sympathetic and just urging enough to get a bunch of strangers to open up and start talking to each other.
My mother survived her first chemo treatment, barely, and then her second, and her third, and then surgery, and then more chemo. My mother is still going strong and the doctors call her a rockstar. My mother IS a rockstar.

Connect with others in support groups for cancer patients, loved ones and people who have lost a loved one, led by oncology social workers. https://www.cancercare.org/support_groups

If you are troubled by a death, illness, disorders, trauma, social issues, identity issues, severe depression, anxiety, the loss of a beloved pet/familiar, anything… there is help out there, people who have been or are going through what you are. If you are troubled I urge you to please put google search to work. You are not alone.


6. Mab’s Drawlloween Club 2018

Daily art prompts for the entire month of October, hosted by Pop Surrealist painter Mab Graves. I’ve never done anything like this before and it was an incredible challenge that pushed me to my limits. It usually takes about a week for me to complete a full collage! I am so proud of myself for finishing, and I swear, I have never been so productive creatively in my entire life. Art is therapeutic for me, and while it kept me busy as hell, I absolutely loved the challenge.

You can check out my artwork on instagram: http://www.instagram.com/saintcalluna

voting7. Voting

Did you vote? I voted twice in 2018 – legally!*
We finally made a change and I have a little hope where there has been none in two years. We have got to put this dumpster fire out!

(*2 different elections, no voter fraud here…)

mourning8. A Mourning Tattoo and Mourning Jewelry

In 2018 I got another tattoo! My cat, Banshee, died in October of 2017, and I have never mourned for another living soul the way I mourned the loss of my sweet jerkface of a familiar. I was devastated. Distraught beyond measure. To celebrate our relationship, and keep her with me, I drew one of her owl like eyes and had it tattooed on my left hand. I am not hiding my love and my pain, and I am definitely too old to be squeamish about visible tattoos.
Then fate brought Copperelegy of The 8th House Collection to me. She inquired about an art trade… in return she created this this sterling silver urn bracelet containing the ashes of my dearly departed Banshee. It is gorgeous and perfect and fills me with such sorrow and joy. I was blessed to have had 11 years with that troublesome, possessive, mouthy, and loving little creature.

IMG_99229. Coffee

I had to stop drinking booze early in 2017 because of new medications. I quit smoking over a decade ago because it’s gross and cancer sucks. I’ve never been into the recreational drug thing, and they probably wouldn’t go well with my meds now anyway.
So what have I got??


I love coffee and you’d have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands before I give it up. I find pure joy in that first sip of the day. I love the aroma, the complexity of the flavor, the warmth on a cold morning. Or afternoon, or night… you know how it goes.

Coffee became a new focus for me in 2018 when I opened Banshee + Cinder Bespoke Coffee Co. Yes – I love coffee so much that I started selling it.
Sometimes when the world is bleak, you have to remember the simple pleasures to help get you through – because this bullshit lately is overwhelming…


10. Instagram

I really tried to make this last thing not be Instagram, but here it is. Instagram is one of the things that got me through 2018. I have my own little community of amazing people who have supported me through all my struggles, my new ventures, and random art attacks. This past year especially I have made some incredible new friends and acquaintances, and even met a couple of them in person!

I have been inspired, comforted, made to feel like I’m worth a damn. Thank you, Instafam, for getting me through 2018.

10 essentials

My 10 Essentials

Bombas Merino Wool Socks
So soft, so comfortable. I smile every time I put a fresh pair on my feet, and since I switched to wearing wool over cotton I no longer struggle with foot odor! Additionally, Bombas donates a pair of socks to homeless shelters for every pair of socks they sell.

Neutrogena Revitalizing Lip Balm SPF 20
I can’t find a tinted lip balm with an SPF anywhere. I keep buying all these fancy tinted balms and I keep coming back to Neutrogena.

Nizoral A-D Shampoo
The only thing that has worked for my itchy, flaky scalp, and I have tried everything. I just wish I found it sooner!

Urban Decay Brow Beater Microfine Brow Pencil And Brush
The right size, the right color, and easy application. Seriously, all I want are good brows…

Fluevog Shoes
Goth/weirdo staples. With my Dada Donuts and my Derby Swirls I go from vamp to Brando without missing a beat.

My iPhone
I went to being someone who thought cellphones were a leash, to someone who can barely live without their better than Star Trek pocket computer.

Bird Ov Prey T-shirts
I live in these. Softest and coolest looking t-shirts ever. Jordan of Bird Ov Prey is an insanely talented designer, working out of Brooklyn, NY.

Batwing Sunglasses from La Femme en Noir
It took me two years to find the perfect damned sunglasses. I am finally satisfied, and I have a pile of sunglasses that I don’t know what to do with now. These suit my vampire aesthetic perfectly.

Eggo Gluten Free Waffles
The best gluten free waffles ever! I can’t find them sometimes and it makes me fantasize about buying a big freezer so I can store bulk quantities.

Hello Activated Charcoal Whitening Toothpaste with Fluoride
Black black black fucking toothpaste, I love it… I used to get charcoal toothpaste shipped from Japan because you could only get powder in the US. Finally someone has hopped on the activated charcoal craze, and lucky for me, their headquarters are 2 towns away from me!
(FYI they also make a black toothbrush.)

Find Harlow Skalwold instagram // art // Banshee + Cinder // DellamorteCo

Year After Year


“Year after year
On the monkey’s face:
A monkey’s face.”

― Matsuo Bashō

New year, old me. Same old me as last year. I will never be a new me. Or, I suppose you can argue that I will never be an old me, I will never be the me that was, because every day, every minute, every second, every moment, I am changing in the most minute ways on a molecular level and I am continuously different than I was the moment before. Which is it, then? Who cares! I am the me I am now, and that’s really all I’ve got to work with. And hopefully I will never wake up with a monkey’s face!

And so, it is a new year. I don’t plan on making a lot of big changes and I haven’t got much in the way of resolutions, but I guess I will do a few things differently in 2019. 2018 felt like a year of stasis, nearly to the point of stagnation. One major reason is something I’m not going to talk about here, it’s a family matter, and it’s constantly on my mind; there is never a second, never a minute I am not thinking about it, and it’s really taking a toll emotionally and mentally. I am hopeful that it will be resolved this year because it’s a heavy weight, and frankly, I am tired of bearing it. I think in 2018 my depression was as bad as it’s ever been. Which is not nearly as bad as I know a lot of other folks have it, but let’s face it, it is exactly as bad as it feels, and I don’t think there was a single moment in 2018 that I felt “good”.  But I can’t not live my life while I’m waiting for matters to work themselves out, and I can’t use that as an excuse to make poor decisions, to not take proper care of myself, to not take measures when I feel myself sinking to that low, dark place where the self-criticism is deafening and the self-medication is unchecked.

How did I get to talking about all that? I am not sure. Sometimes when I want to write about this thing or that, I figure whatever I’m sharing needs a bit of an introduction to get everything rolling; somewhere along the line though, the intro gets out of hand and runs off the rails, and we end up in a very different place than where I hoped to take us– and, in the getting there, the whole tone of the piece has become something I didn’t intend. Let’s dial it back a bit. I came here today to talk about my goals for 2019. None of them were meant to be about what a bummer last year was. Moving forward!


Goal: Use the nice things that I have. Here we have a spot of pre-new years cleaning and paring down. There was an entirely separate container of lipsticks on this dresser, as well as a mug of mascaras, before I went through and tossed at least half of it. The purpose, other than clearing out gross, expired product and things I don’t actually use, was to clear a small space, something I’ll see every day, and choose a few perfumes and pieces of jewelry to lay out and wear for the week. I’m great at collecting these things, but not so good at actually using them. I’m hopeful that this practice will help!

Seen here, perfume-wise is Myrrh Casati by Mona di Orio, which sometimes smells like spicy licorice incense and sometimes smells like Cinnabon, but with posh ingredients and prepared by a world-class chef, for rich people. Both iterations are okay by me. To the left of it is French Lime Blossom from Jo Malone, which kinda reminds me of fusty, old-fashioned soap, but sometimes I am in the mood for that sort of thing! If you’re into that too, well, unfortunately it’s most likely discontinued.


Goal: Continue tracking, on a monthly(ish) basis, the stuff I use; noting what works, what doesn’t, and trying to be smarter in general about the purchases that I make, and making sure I’m using everything up. If you follow me over on instagram, or remember my year-end post for 2017, this is not news to you. The above are products I emptied in December: the mask and the sample-sized hair products will not be repurchased, they really did nothing. I am still looking for that HG shampoo and conditioner for coarse, color-treated hair! I liked the Beauty Water, or I thought that I did, but I hear from a friend in the industry that micellar waters are a bunch of hooey and a waste of money, so I don’t think I will re-stock on that one. I will always buy more Tom Ford Oud Wood shower gel because it is the most beautifully-scented shadowy-forest-temple shower gel out there, but it is also $68, so I might not get more any time soon. Definitely will grab another packet of Banshee + Cinder coffee as it’s delicious, and I would buy another Lost In The Woods candle (it smells like a path of Sweet Tarts in a dark, fairy tale woodland) by A Dark House, but I am not sure where or how to even do so. I think the creator only sells her candles at events, and I’m pretty sure this was a limited release anyway.I’m on the fence with the Omorovicza Queen of Hungary mist, because it’s really just rose water, right? Surely I can find something just as nice and much less expensive!

 Hot, charred cherry tomatoes with cold yogurt from the book Ottolenghi Simple A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi

Charred cherry tomatoes with cold yogurt from Ottolenghi Simple: A Cookbook

Goal: Cook more. I like to cook. Except when I don’t! Which, in Sarah-speak, means I like to cook when I have time to cook. When I can do it leisurely, when I can linger over the process. For me the getting there is much more important than the end result, because let’s face it, I’m not actually a very good cook, and oftentimes the outcome falls hilariously short of my expectations.  But I don’t let that stop me! Unless, as I noted, I’m tired, or stressed, or rushed for time. At those times I have no desire to do the cooking and will instead drive to Chipotle or order a pizza or maybe just eat a box of crackers smeared in margarine. I am also going back to a vegetarian diet this year. Ish. (I may keep eating fish). I ate entirely vegetarian for a year or two a decade ago and I don’t think I have ever felt so good in my life! I looked pretty good, too! Man, if I could go back and give 2008 me a hug and tell me how gorgeous I was, I totally would. Collarbones! Lordy. I can’t remember the last time I saw those.


Goal: Food diary. More tracking of things! I’m trying to figure out what all triggers my acid reflux, which I started noticing when my mom got sick in 2012 and has been sporadic ever since, but getting progressively worse. I think I’ve got it pinpointed to a combination of certain starches + fats (stuffing is the worst offender) but sometimes it will come on suddenly when all I have had is a glass of water. Wine and spirits are no good, either, which is sad…but…at least it’s not coffee that’s a problem. I don’ think my weight gain over the ensuing years is helping, either, but ugh, diets are boring and dumb and you’re never going to hear me talking about them again. I’m sure it would also help for me to see a doctor, but I refuse to take a prescription for this, so: nope. As a matter of fact, since this hasn’t been diagnosed, do I even know it is acid reflux? But what else could it be? Thank you, WebMD!


Goal: More stranded colorwork knitting! These Underwing Mitts were part of my 2018 goals, and to be honest, I didn’t even start them until the end of December. Though I at first hated their fiddly tediousness, I soon became addicted to seeing the pattern emerge and I finished it up in a few days time. It obviously took me forever to get around to attempting them; in my nearly fifteen years of knitting, this is the first colorwork project I tried my hand at! Despite the fact that I throw myself into terribly intricate lace knitting all the time, I have always found the concept of colorwork daunting. Well, now I’ve done it! The only problem is…now I have to knit its mate! If all goes well I will take on these gorgeous Russian Flower mittens next…


Goal: Read 5 books. Which may seem a little light if you recall my reading challenge from previous years–heck, in 2018 I read 101 books! But this year I am doing something a little different: there’s a handful of books from the past 3-4 years that I began, and for some reason–either they were dull and plodding, or I was distracted and wasn’t in the right headspace at the time, or whatever–I never finished them. There’s actually only four books in this list that come to mind, but I am sure that there has got to be a fifth! Of course, I can certainly read any other book I wish (and trust me, I always have a long list of titles I wish to read!) , but to reach my goal, I must have read:

Goal: More flowers! You may not know this, but before your friend Sarah was all about books and jewelry and perfumes and ghost stories and horror movies and snarking on runway couture, she was super-obsessed with blooms and bouquets and all things “flowerdy”. She was also maybe five years old. But she never, ever lost that true-heart-love for posies and garlands, to include even a single, perfect blossom. Fresh flowers are expensive to keep on hand all the time, but maybe I’ll treat myself once a month or so? And seeking out and swooning over floral art doesn’t cost a thing, so I’ll definitely be doing that, whether it be the beautiful photography of Debi Shapiro, or gorgeous botanical lingerie set from Ohhh Lulu or an exquisitely luxurious loungewear from Harlow and Fox. Expect to see a lot more florals on the blog this year!

Do you have any goals for 2019? Any habits you are trying to break or practices you’d like to develop? Are you going to ignore Infinite Jest for another year? Let’s encourage and support each other in the comments!

Vampires, Witches, and Ghosts: The Top Ten Reasons Why I Love the Holiday Season By Sarah Chavez

Mucha-Christmas-in-America-1919 Header

Sarah Chavez (interviewed previously) is a museum curator and historian who writes and recreates historical and cultural recipes for her blog, Nourishing Death, which examines the relationship between food and death in rituals, culture, religion, and society. She is also co-founder of Death & the Maiden, which explores the relationship between women and death by sharing ideas and creating a platform for discussion and feminist narratives. She is the executive director of The Order of the Good Death and serves as the Social Media Editor for Death Salon.

To continue our monthly installment of Ten Things, and just in time for our full moon, 2018 winter solstice, Sarah is here to share her Top Ten reasons as to why she loves the holiday season! There are eerie and wonderful and delights to be found here, indeed; I suggest you grab a cup of something steaming and fragrant, dim the lights, curl into your favorite seat, and tuck right in!

rau Perchta by Bill Crisafi

frau Perchta by Bill Crisafi

During this time of darkness, when one year ends and another begins, people have practiced rituals to honor and appease the dead. Similar to Halloween this threshold between the old and the new allows the dead, (along with demons, spirits, and witches), passage between our worlds.

We leave offerings of food on our tables and doorsteps for otherworldly beings, eat beans for good luck (which were once believed to be vessels that held the souls of the dead), and make noise (fireworks, gunshots, cheering) at midnight on New Year’s Eve to scare away unwanted spirits who wish to do us harm or bring misfortune.

Indeed, this is a magical time of year…but not for the reasons you might think.


1. Ghost Stories
“There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.”

Ghosts? On Christmas?
Ghost stories on Christmas were once an important part of holiday traditions –
“Whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories,” wrote Jermome K Jerome in 1891.

This year, gather around a fire, or a pizza, to share ghost stories with your loved ones, or track down episodes of the BBC series Ghost Stories For Christmas and revive this wonderful, forgotten tradition.


film still from Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

2. Vampires
For me, the holidays season officially begins with St. Andrew’s Eve on the night of November 29th, when the vampires arrive. According to Romanian folklore, not only do spirits of the dead roam the earth this night but so do the undead. Be sure to rub garlic on your windows and your pets!

Holiday movies image from Bell, Book, and Candle

film still from Bell, Book, and Candle (1958)

3. Holiday Movies
If Hallmark Christmas movie marathons, and reruns of Miracle on 34th Street are not your thing (because they definitely aren’t mine), here are some alternative seasonal favorites that pair just as well with some popcorn and hot chocolate by the fire.

Bell, Book, and Candle (1958) – There’s witchcraft, a cat, and a secret nightclub for witches set against a Christmas in New York City backdrop.

Fanny and Alexander (1982) – Ingmar Bergen has a way of beautifully and painfully exposing the best and worst of human beings. In this lavish, visually stunning film he takes viewers inside the Ekdhal family’s Victorian era Christmas to explore the pain and joys of family.

The Curse of the Cat People (1944) – Intended as a sequel to Cat People (1942), this gem features the main players of the horror classic, but that’s where the ties end. In it, an alienated little girl makes friends with a ghost, and an elderly, reclusive actress. Critic Leonard Maltin’s descriptives of the film as “wonderful atmosphere [and] fine, moody fantasy” are spot on.

Night of the Hunter (1955) – I saved the best for last – Night of the Hunter is a masterpiece. This is essentially a fairy tale, both terrifying and achingly beautiful. If you’ve never seen it, here – this is my holiday gift to you.

Christmas Monsters image of The Tomten by artist Astrid Lindgren

image of The Tomten by artist Astrid Lindgren

4. Christmas Monsters
You are all probably already familiar with Krampus, but the holiday landscape is full of terrors, making it even more festive! Here are a few you may not be familiar with:

The Tomten are creatures that live in Scandanavia, and bear a strong resemblance to the Expedia Gnome. They reside among the dead in the burial mounds surrounding nearby homes where they act as caretakers, protectors and helpers of the household. But beware for they are easily offended and have quite the temper. The Tomten are known to act out their anger by killing livestock and playing nasty ticks on the home’s inhabitants, breaking things around the house, hiding important objects, (where did my car keys go?!), curdling the milk and tying the cows’ tails together. No cows? Your shoelaces will suffice.
There are even some stories of Tomten driving people insane with their tricks or even biting them. Their bites, being poisonous, typically lead to death.
You would be well advised to leave a gift of food out on Christmas Eve for this fellow.

The Karakoncolos is a version of bigfoot who can be found in Turkey, Serbia, Bulgaria and Macedonia. He appears during the Christmas holidays and lurks in the shadows on street corners awaiting the arrival of passerby. When someone crosses The Karakoncolos’ path, he asks them a riddle. If the word “black” is not incorporated into the answer, the unfortunate person receives a death blow from the monster.

Each year on New Year’s Eve the Japanese village of Oga carries out an elaborate ritual involving demonic-like ogre figures, the Namahage. During the grand annual festival fifteen Namahage march down from the mountain where they are said to live and descend upon the village. The demons hand out sticky rice cakes to the citizens of Oga, believed to ward off disaster in the coming year, which sounds pretty nice right? However, once that is done the demons visit every household in the village where they berate the women and children and then threaten to kidnap them. The family offer the Namahage some sake and do their best to convince them not to take anyone away this year. This usually does the trick.

music-Holly Ivy

5. Christmas Music
A hallmark of Christmas is the music of the season. We are all too familiar with the thematic elements of the overly cute, romantic, sentimental and of course, sacred songs of the holiday season.

When you think about it, it isn’t terribly difficult to find curiously macabre songs and carols among the pack. After all, even by Christian standards, this is the celebration of a figure who has always been linked to death.

The Holly and the Ivy
One of the most popular Christmas songs, The Holly and the Ivy may be burdened with the stamp of Christianity, but still manages to maintain its pagan fertility imagery – so obvious, there is no need to explain. It’s Christmas Sexy-Time!

Oh, the rising of the sun and the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.
The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower…

We Three Kings
Another popular Christmas song we all know, that little kids sing at school, and frequently plays over the speakers at the grocery store.

Myrrh is mine: Its bitter perfume
Breaths a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.

Bethlehem Down
Composer Peter Warlock was experiencing financial difficulties. He had recently befriended poet and party boy Bruce Blunt. The first account of their mutual company was from a press report detailing their arrests for being “drunk and disorderly.” Lack of funds to fuel their party life prompted their collaboration on Bethlehem Down, which, in turn, won them the Daily Telegraph’s annual Christmas carol writing contest. The prize money funded an “immoral carouse” on Christmas Eve in 1927.

When he is King they will clothe him in grave-sheets,
Myrrh for embalming, and wood for a crown,
He that lies now in the white arms of Mary,
Sleeping so lightly on Bethlehem Down.

The Coventry Carol
You may not recognize it from the name, but you know it. This carol was originally contained within a mystery play, retelling the story of Christmas. This song is sung by the mothers of the little boys under the age of two, who are destined to be brutally murdered by King Herod’s men. In the last lines, they say goodbye to their children. A truly haunting and heartbreaking piece.

witches vintage photograph of Perchta and her Perchten

vintage photograph of Perchta and her Perchten

6. Witches
In many parts of Europe, witches are a common and popular figure of the Christmas season. Prior to the Christian church taking over January 6th as Epiphany or Three Kings night, this was the holy night of Berchta, goddess of winter, witchcraft and animals.

Many countries have adapted Berchta to their own cultures and she goes by many different names and personas, from the kindly La Befana who leaves Italian children small gifts, to the sinister Perchta who punishes the idle and greedy by ripping out their intestines and replacing them with straw, rocks, and garbage.

food photograph by William Mortenson

photograph by William Mortenson

7. Food
By now it should be no surprise that many of our traditional Christmas foods are also attached to some dark folklore. For example, fat from the Christmas Goose would be left outside as an offering for witches who would use it to make flying ointment.

For me and many other Latinx’s, holiday season equals, tamale, pozole, and ponche season. Pozole is a soup that has been around for centuries, originating in Mexico prior to colonization. It was a common dish, made with a combination of herbs, peppers, corn and meat. When the pozole was served in conjunction with festival days, or as a part of sacred rituals, the meat in some cases was from the bodies of those who were sacrificed.
Nowadays we use pork and chicken, but making pozole is another way our traditions link us to our family, culture, ancestors, and the dead.

Grave candles in Helsinki 2004. Photo Darren Webb

Grave candles in Helsinki 2004. Photo Darren Webb

8. Visits From the Dead
As I mentioned previously, this is a time when the veil between the world of the living and the dead thins. Many different cultures welcome their ancestors with gifts of food, or even save them a place at the table.

On Christmas Eve in Finland families all journey to the cemetery to visit the graves of their loved ones and light candles. An area is set aside for visitors who do not have family interred locally. Here, they are invited to light a candle for their own loved ones who have passed on. The scene is reverent and magical.


Hyori’s Bed & Breakfast, Season 2

9. Gifting aka Treating Yourself
Not only do you deserve it, you probably need it. Holidays are hard and always cause some measure of stress – family, loss, changes, and a new year bring on all sorts of anxiety.

Do things that nourish and delight. Lavish yourself with love and care and gifts. Mind you, a gift doesn’t have to be a thing you spend money on – it can be time (which, imo, is the most valuable thing). These, compounded by living in a society that is suffering from feelings of loneliness and isolation, we are desperate to find connection and meaning in our lives and with each other.

Here are three of my essentials right now:

Teamotions Tea is not only delicious, using adaptogens to provide much needed emotional support. Created by a bereaved mother and her sister to help provide support through almost unbearable grief, their Have Hope blend will help you in the worst of times. My favorite, Seek Peace is a coconut chai that helps to “release pent-up emotions, especially anger and frustration.”

Yes! Liberation is an elixir for “healing, strength, protection and support in the face of racism, neocolonialism and oppression. Heals our broken hearts and helps us recover from trauma.” For most of us, this year has been rough. I started using this in September, and for the first time this year I felt like I could actually breathe.

Hyori’s Bed & Breakfast, Season 2 this Korean reality show, available to watch on Netflix, isn’t your normal U.S. reality TV fare full of tears, drama, and people being generally horrible to each other.

The series, which follows a celebrity Korean couple that reside on magical Jeju Island, who, (with their many adorable rescued pets), open their home to guests for the winter.

Watching this show is like a soothing balm as it leads viewers through every day tasks of cooking and cleaning, mixed with fun outings like sledding, and exploring the island. The hosts meet interesting people, have meaningful and hilarious conversations, and you get to see the delightful, healthy relationship between the celebrity hosts. This show so pure, and it just makes me happy.

Rituals- Alphonse Mucha, Christmas in America

Alphonse Mucha, Christmas in America

10. Creating Meaningful Rituals
Ritual is what elevates an ordinary event to a special one. It forges connection to culture, nature, community, and those we love.

During this time of year we are often burdened with doing things because of “tradition,” and these are so often traditions that fail to evoke joy or meaning to us as individuals. I want to encourage you to let go of what does not serve you, and to create rituals imbued with intention and meaning unique to you. Honor yourself, and the dead – there’s your New Year’s resolution. Blessings on your way.

Find Sarah Chavez: twitter // instagram

Stacked November 2018


Just in time for Jólabókaflóð* (which I am told by an actual Icelandic person, “is sort of a thing, but not really a thing”–but whatever, who needs excuses to read books on Christmas!) our Haute Macabre staff reads for the past month! 

I may have read more nonfiction in the past two months than I have in my entire life, and though I’m never going to adore the true life telling of a thing as much as I do a rousing tale of high fantasy, I have come to realize its vast importance, and it is a practice I hope to keep up with in 2019 and beyond.

* RE: Jólabókaflóð. I first began seeing mention of this in 2013 or 2014; it’s purportedly the beloved Icelandic tradition of the “Yule book flood”, wherein everyone retires to their separate corners of the home on Christmas eve to read the books they’d just gotten for Christmas. RIGHT ON. Except not so much, in my (admittedly limited) experience. My partner is Icelandic, and his mother and brothers and Icelandic; I have spent every Christmas with them for the past seven years and not once have I experienced this phenomena. We all just sit around and socialize for about 48 hours straight. I feel terribly cheated, because in that time frame, I could use a moment or two with a quiet book! My partner, as I mentioned above, says, “..well, it. s sort of a thing, but not really a thing. Sort of like how at Thanksgiving people talk about how they are going to eat so much that they will fall into a “food coma” but that’s not really a proper tradition. It’s just the way people talk about it.

However, I just read this NPR article from 2012 where they talk about the concept of Jólabókaflóð having to do with the surge in book sales from late September to November, or most likely, the purchasing of books as gifts. This explanation sits better with me, because I can see evidence of it. Everyone disappearing with their books on Christmas eve and leaving me the hell alone? Not so much.

Image by Caitlin McCarthy


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