Touched by His Noodly Appendage

As you know, I have been publishing my old “Letters from the Publisher” from back when The Magical Buffet was a monthly e-zine because the letters didn’t migrate over to the new blog format. Most of my letters aren’t worth republishing. However there are a few that share some of my more personal thoughts that I wanted new readers to have access to. With that said, here is my “Letter from the Publisher” from May 2008.

What defines a religion? What is the nature of faith? Does religion require genuine faith or can it get by on a set of rituals and a community that acts in sync? Guess what? I can’t answer those questions! I think everyone has their own opinion to those sorts of questions, so I can’t, and won’t, pretend that my thoughts on such topics are answers. But what’s great is when something happens that makes people ask themselves these kinds of questions. Which brings me to the subject of this month’s Magical Buffet Mythology, the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

It’s true that the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was created out of an act of annoyance by founder Bobby Henderson. Specifically a letter of protest that he wrote to the Kansas State Board of Education, that he then also posted on the website www.venganza.org. Essentially it was a sarcastic piece explaining that he fully endorsed the idea of intelligent design being taught as a science, but if they were going to do that, he needed to stress the importance of the inclusion of the Flying Spaghetti Monster creation theory, which is certainly as valid as intelligent design. (Do yourself a favor and read it on the website, my sum up doesn’t do it justice at all.)

This has led many to say that Henderson is mocking faith, and to sum up most of the hate mail on the website, that he’s a jerk. Obviously, I don’t agree. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and its adherents, Pastafarians, serve a vital purpose. They force people to examine their beliefs and the double standards that exist in a country that is supposed to believe in a separation of Church and State. In March 2008, Pastafarians in Crossville, Tennessee successfully won city approval to place a Flying Spaghetti Monster statue next to the Courthouse, and proceeded to do so. If it’s good enough for the Ten Commandments, then it’s good enough for the adorable Flying Spaghetti Monster. They make schools ask themselves, what is science, and what is spiritual? And, they do it all with a wonderful sense of humor and a pirate’s accent!

Is the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster a “real” religion? Well, they have a definite belief system, a rich mythology, and academic endorsements. People say they are Pastafarians, and are subject to harassment and threats, like many other religious groups. They do not have a not-for-profit status like most religions, but since many religions profit greatly from their followers anyway, I can’t hold that against the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The American Academy of Religion hosts discussions of the Pastafarians at their annual meetings.

I can’t speak for everyone reading this, but I for one have been touched by His Noodly Appendage!

~Rebecca

I wrote this letter for the month I decided to feature the Flying Spaghetti Monster as the deity for the Magical Buffet Mythology. I wanted to explain its inclusion, and use it as a touchstone to discuss the nature of faith. In reading this letter now, and the profile I wrote up for the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I realize I really didn’t do the FSM, or it’s church, justice. Honestly, I don’t know if I can do any better now. The thing with the Flying Spaghetti Monster is, either you get it or you don’t.

I love how the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has taken on a life of it’s own. Pastafarians challenge the idea of what makes a religion a religion, work tirelessly to uphold America’s separation of church and state, and endeavor to maintain the integrity of science. All of that awesomeness comes wrapped in an adorable little ball of spaghetti with a bunch of followers who talk like pirates.

What’s not love about this?

I still remain touched by His Noodly Appendage!

By the way, that awesome illustration of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was done by Will Hobbs back when I first published the Flying Spaghetti Monster article. It’s so adorable I couldn’t resist featuring it again here.

Hanuman

Illustration by Will Hobbs

Long time Buffet readers, with good memories, may recall my affection for the Hindu deity Hanuman. Back in 2006, when The Magical Buffet was still in its monthly e-zine format, I wrote an article about him. Hanuman features greatly in the Hindu epic “Ramayana”, where he plays a major role in helping reunite Rama with his wife Sita, who had been kidnapped by the villain Ravana.

A defining moment for Hanuman, in my opinion, is when confronted by people who question Hanuman’s motives for his selfless devotion to Rama, Hanuman tears open his chest to reveal Rama and Sita enshrined within. Back in 2006 I said, “When I think of Hanuman I ask myself one question, one that I pose to you now. If I tore open my chest, to show the world what was enshrined there, what would everyone see? It’s that question, and more importantly, the answer to that question, that illustrates Hanuman’s importance.” In the past four years I’ve never stopped asking myself that question. (It’s very similar to Lama Willa Miller asking you to consider who you serve in the second week of her book “Everyday Dharma”.)

With that in mind, you’ll understand why I was super excited to get a copy of the book “Hanuman: The Devotion and Power of the Monkey God” by Mataji Devi Vanamali from Inner Traditions. Hinduism is greatly influenced by what regions and countries it’s found in. Also, with texts like the “Ramayana”, there are an infinite number of versions of the tale. As far as I’m aware, there is no bad mojo attached to retelling the “Ramayana”, and in fact, those who do so are blessed. I think encouraging others to read it, also blesses you. So pick up a copy, it’s a great read. I’d recommend this version, it’s very cinematic.

I’d also encourage you to pick up a copy of “Hanuman”. Vanamali does all the heavy lifting for you, by meticulously chronicling all the stories of the Monkey God in all their delightful variants. Being a Hanuman fan myself, who enjoyed reading the “Ramayana”, I thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve been calling “the Hanuman-centric” retelling of the “Ramayana” that occurs in the book. For me, this book is like a wonderfully detailed refresher course that also has some new insights on all things Hanuman. However, I think it would also work well for someone who has always wondered about the Hindu monkey deity, but hasn’t wanted to go through assorted religious texts to learn more.

A Writer’s Journey: The Birth of Blue Honor

by K. Williams

It was August of 2008 when I finally decided that my journey in writing the first big project of my career was going to end. Yet, it neither began nor ended there. The art of writing a novel is a much more unpredictable animal.

That unpredictable animal struck me in the fall of 1998. I was entering my last semester in college and seeking a way to blend my studies in a tidy finale. I had already switched gears half way through college, eloping with English and leaving my dreams of a future with Biology behind, while engaging in an affair with History on the side. As if they formed the holy trinity, I needed to find a way to bring these three diverse studies into one being and prove my time meaningfully spent.

Blue honor’s birth was a spark in a moment in time that could not predict the eventual result. Sitting in my room, on the phone with a college peer, I rolled the idea over and over examining how it could work, mulling my hypotheses like a good scientist. Eventually, it was decided. I would blend my major studies in English with my minor studies in History, once again leaving Biology to the past, and write a novel. Then the question of when and who arose. It was all well and good to say: I am going to write a book. I had written a good portion of several attempts already. I knew that unless I had a solid idea it would end as abruptly as it began on the to be worked later pile.

What this needed was a great time period to base it in. The Middle ages. No. I leaned to the Middle Ages in my other work too much already. It would be covering the same ground and perhaps diminish the other books if I ever brought them to fruition. I was already engaged in writing a fantasy epic and it felt too close to the subject to entertain. How about the Revolution? No. I just did not feel in love with that moment in time to write a semester length independent study about it. It would be dry, boring and therefore poorly written. No. I had to be in love with this time. What’s your favorite time? Well the era of World War II and the Victorian Age of course. The blood coursed through me. I was getting close. Well, where then? The Forties could land you in the South Pacific or Europe depending on which theater. I was excited. War always drew me in as a subject matter; a passionate and violent lover it was, but never boring. Yes! There had to be a war. But, no. I can’t do the fabulous forties. I’m already thinking of a couple works then and I don’t want to use them for this. They’re not ready to be done yet. Besides, I had a bad time in that class and don’t want to think of it right now. All right then, the Victorian Era it is. The Victorian Era and a war were definite. One more step and I had my spring board.

You can see from my bend in studies and thought that I had a penchant for Europe and the middle ages. It would have been so natural for me to want to go to England and follow someone to India. A dashing hero running away with the East India Company, but it just did not sing the song of my heart.

Bubbling up from the well of inspiration, it came to me. Why cross the pond? By that time, there was so much happening here in the United States of America, it was unnecessary to do so. Wouldn’t I want to know more about my own nation? My minor studies in history had followed early European History, early British History and turn of the century America. Adding a piece of Victorian American History might just give me a tidier grouping. The bubble popped and the answer sat in my lap: The United States Civil War. And, it just so happened, my peer had just done a study with the perfect professor and could make the introductions.

In a few days I had my appointment, met with University at Albany Professor and Yale graduate Richard Kendall and hashed out my idea. He was astounded! No one had asked to do an independent study such as this before. He was more than happy to spear head the plan. So with the green light, I spent the semester buried in books and the United States Civil War, bleeding with brothers, blue and gray, horse charges and cavalry, and won the battle of the paper and pen. I brought Emily and Joseph to life, setting them up with their families and lives. I put them through war and hell. I gave them fear and happiness. I played god in my version of the 1860s for five months. When I was done molding this creation, I handed Professor Kendall the final work, totaling about 80 pages of fictional and historical blood, sweat and tears.

Professor Kendall was floored and could not wait to have a good look at it. Within a week we spoke again and he apologized that he could not provide me with a letter grade as all independent studies were left at satisfactory or unsatisfactory. He wanted to give it an A at least and wanted me to know. He hoped I would pursue publication of the work. I should let him know if I had and how it was going. He said it deserves more than stopping here.

From there, the book seemed to roll into life on its own and Kendall appeared to be right. I brought it with me to a seminar on how to get published, where I met Sarah Jane Freymann Agent, Katharine Sands. She called in two months willing to take on the project. I just needed to flesh it out. I returned it to her double in size and the process of shopping around for a publisher began, but also began the process of my roadblocks. From negative to glowing, reviews came back from all kinds of editors in every avenue Katherine could find, but time after time the project just did not light the fire it needed to. Instead, it lit the fires of resentment in myself and made this part of the journey a struggle, as if I was about to fight my own war.

My characters were scattered and incomplete. My story was weak without their development. I needed to find a way to fix this and make them see that the potential they claimed to see in my work was worth taking a chance on. Frustrated by my bad luck, I reworked the story, adding more, shaving more, editing, and rewording. I did this process a few times, hoping that with each polish, the sparkle of my creation would catch the eye of the right person and I would be on my way. No more, I wish you had gotten me sooner, buts.

It’s hard to see a sparkle in a crowded room of other sparkling objects. I learned that slowly. It wasn’t so much that my work was less worthy than others, but that others sparkled just as much, and there was an abundance of good things to be scooped up by editors. They had a buffet to gorge themselves at. The tiniest reason to say no became the best reason to say no. My book was bulky and intimidating at this time and would take several months of work to whip it into shape for publication. I was not connected to anyone and was no known myself. I was too new to the game to be readily acceptable. Keep an eye on this one, but the answer is still no.

Frustrated by my inability to outshine and fix the issues with my work, I set the novel aside at Katherine’s suggestion and sent her my fantasy series to suggest to a friend of hers. I crossed my fingers, but as before, the same issues clouded my horizon.

In this time, I turned to writing poetry, other novels were begun and abandoned, editing renewed and stopped and renewed, random short stories came to life. I even wrote a children’s book called Oliver Diglebee. That monkey Oliver helped to heal my wounded genius, but it did not sustain me once the wound had mostly healed. I needed another creative outlet. Somehow I stumbled onto the website deviantArt.com in August of 2005. Poking around I saw it had merit and was a friendly useable place to connect with other artists. There I was able to post my work. Meet other writers and moan about the trouble with publishing. We read and critiqued work and grew. I even completed a faux series for the Marvel Comic X-men franchise, which my readers went crazy for. deviantArt was cathartic. I was finding my soul again.

Also in late 2005, I picked up a camera with serious focus and embarked on a new journey in photography. With this new found passion, I could be out, not think and see my stacks of heart poured pages lying about unread. I captured beauty and stopped to look at things again. The clouds broke.

In time, I had healed well enough to move back from my other writings and photos, even sketch work to find that first major project waiting for me, just like Ms. Sands said I would. I pulled it out one day in July 2008 and began another edit. By August, I had found a means to publish the work. I just needed an editor. I fell into a streak of luck and placed them. Out of nowhere, I could suddenly see the end of the great journey coming. I worked diligently with anticipation. How would I do the cover? What could I do? My mother announced that there would be an encampment in town. Kismet. My heart pounded, just like in the old days. It was meant to be now.

I attended that encampment, thinking I would take a couple snaps. I had years of practice and was hopeful I would get something to work. I had this inane ability to do it. It just happened, so I just did it.

Wandering to the end of the camp, I found a horse and his rider. Jack was a sweet boy, rather sleepy and sheepish with his great head hung. I snapped a couple shots of him and his rider. I wandered the camp, a bit disconsolate as nothing but that horse seemed to really make sense. I made my way back to him after listening to some lectures and took another try while his rider sat in the saddle talking about cavalry life. I prayed. I just needed one shot to make the cover. It was the final piece; the cherry on the sundae.

I left the camp, not willing to be hopeful, as disappointment had calmed me over the years. I would find something that would do and it would be good. When I got home, I was impatient enough to begin the digital photo process right away. I opened that last shot of Jack and his rider and lost my breath. My heart stopped. It was as if I were Emily, watching Manny approach with my beloved Joseph tall in his saddle. This was really happening.

The struggle ended with a whimper. After years in the desert, I found my way back. I formatted, edited and had others edit my work. I submitted it to the publisher and it was over. The proofs arrived. The problems were fixed. The book was published and I held the product of my struggle in my hand, a proud embattled parent. I had won the battle of paper and pen and become a wiser worldlier artist for it.

Blue Honor by K. Williams is available at Amazon.com and your local retailer through special order. It can be downloaded to kindle.

“An epic journey of love’s struggle to survive when a country struggled to unite.”

The Conrads are a wealthy dairy family from Vermont, who plan the marriage of their daughter Emily to Evan Howell, the son of a neighboring middle class farmer. When Evan decides to attend West Point, that certainty is brought into question. War breaks out between the states, carrying Evan even farther from the plans their families calculated.

During rarely given leave, Evan returns home with his close friend Joseph Maynard, of a socialite Baltimore family. On their first night in quiet Vermont, the Conrad Farm is threatened by fire. Toting Emily’s prize calf to safety, Joseph offers the Conrad’s more than assistance in a time of need. Can they accept what they have not planned for?

Relying on the nurturing assistance of Henrietta Benson, a runaway slave, Emily struggles to come to terms with her new feelings for the stranger and her mother’s refusal to give up on the past.

Emily and Joseph’s relationship strengthens despite her mother’s attempts at turning him away. Then the time comes that Joseph must leave to fulfill his duty as a soldier. Courting disaster, the lovers agree to continue their affair on paper. In the shadows, Emily’s mother bonds with two young comrades to see the affair ended for good. Now Emily and Joseph must traverse the dangerous gauntlet of both war and treachery.

About the Author:
Born and raised in the distinguished city of Saratoga Springs, New York, K. Williams grew with a love of art and history. Drawn to the United States Civil War by its powerful combination of romance and tragedy, K weaves her first historical fiction art piece. Currently, K is working on a fantasy novel series and two screenplay projects. Also an accomplished visual artist, K’s photography and digital works can be viewed through links at www.bluehonor.com. K is a graduate of the University at Albany.

The Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot

In 1936 The Brotherhood of Light, the parent organization to the current, self-described, non-profit, religious, altruistic organization founded upon Hermetic Traditions, The Church of Light, published “The Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot”. It was a black and white deck featuring designs by Gloria Beresford. Unlike many tarot decks that exist solely for use in divination, “The Brotherhood of Light” deck acts as a companion to “The Sacred Tarot” by C.C. Zain, the founder of “The Brotherhood of Light”.

Why am I talking about a 74 year-old tarot deck? Because in 2003 Vicki Brewer redrew the original black and white images and in 2009 she redesigned the cards into a full-color Egyptian tarot deck. In 2010 U.S. Games Systems was kind enough to send me the deck to take a look at.

First, because let’s face it, it’s the thing most people want to know, how does the deck look. As an amateur at best in things tarot and Hermetic, I would call the design Egyptian art deco. The images are striking, the colors sharp without over powering the art, and the cards are in the standard tarot size making them no harder, or easier (Am I the only one who has trouble wrapping their hands around a tarot deck?), to handle than any other deck. Of course this is the description from an untrained eye. In reading the 48 page booklet that comes with the deck, you discover how much thought and consideration was given to every single thing you see on the card. The meticulous attention to “Brotherhood” detail is amazing and I assume greatly appreciated by The Church of Light.

Now let’s talk mechanics. Let me give you some info from the booklet:

Following in the tradition of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light, these tarot cards are an integral part of an internally consistent exposition of occult science in which astrology, alchemy, and magic (the tarot) are integrated.

Unique to this system is the correspondence of the twelve zodiacal signs and thirty-six ultra zodiacal decanate constellations to the Major and Minor Arcana.
The booklet goes on to explain the importance of the color with regards to focusing the unconscious mind and the correlation between these colors and astrological correspondences and the tarot itself. Also, the booklet explains interpreting the cards with regards to divination and offers a few spreads to try with them.

“The Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot” booklet features excerpts from “The Sacred Tarot” by C.C. Zain. It is interesting reading. For those of you with interest, I checked the current Church of Light website, and you can order “The Sacred Tarot” as a hardbound for $21.95 before shipping and handling. The site also lists an ISBN number, so you may be able to have it ordered through your favorite local bookstore. As a dabbler, the content in the 48 page booklet is good enough, but I figure some of you guys out there would be interested in it.

The good news is that U.S. Games Systems is handling “The Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot” so you should be able to find it anywhere that carries tarot cards, or have it ordered.

After some thought, I have to say, this deck would make a great addition to any tarot enthusiast’s collection. With it’s attractive art, roots reaching back to 1936, and it’s unique perspective, it would be at home in the hands of many different tarot readers/collectors.

Weaving a Woman’s Life

by Paula Chaffee Scardamalia

Weaving touches you, literally touches you every day. Like that advertising slogan, it is “the fabric of your life”. The towels you use to dry yourself after your morning shower are woven. The jeans you slip on in the evening to relax are woven. The sheets you lie down on at night to sleep are, usually, woven. The fabric of your couch, chair seats, drapes, kitchen towels, and rugs are all woven.

And, whether we realize it consciously or unconsciously, weaving and woven fabric not only permeates our lives, it also permeates our language, especially our metaphors. How many times have you used the phrase “woven together”, or “weaves through” to imply an integration of elements? How about that familiar warning – “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” Even the word we use for our internet community, the “Web” refers both to the web of fabric and to the web spun by a spider, an arachnid who, by the way, gets its name from a mythical mortal, Arachne, who dared to challenge the goddess of weaving, Athena, to a contest. She lost, of course, and was turned into a spider for her hubris.

Weaving is one of the oldest crafts, dating back to the Neolithic period, thousands of years before knitting was invented. Weaving was the first way humans found to clothe themselves with something other than skins and furs. Its antiquity is another reason weaving so permeates our lives, our language, and our metaphors. Weaving is primal, basic, calling to us from the beginnings of civilization.

Woven means that there are vertical threads and horizontal threads crossing over and under each other to create the fabric (remember making those loop potholders as a child?). Weaving’s structure is basic and symbolic. In that physical act of horizontal over vertical the metaphysical is invoked. Within so many world religions and spiritual traditions, there is the crossing of the horizontal over the vertical – the Christian cross, the Celtic cross, the pagan cross, the Egyptian ankh, the Druidic Tree of Life, Native American traditions’ honoring of the four directions, and others – that often represents both the masculine and feminine forces, the material and the spiritual, in relationship to each other.

So woven fabric is a magical cloth consisting of thousands of tiny crosses carrying the numinous energy of both the masculine and feminine, the physical and spiritual in relationship to each other – the primal and divine creative forces.

When I began weaving in the 80’s, I did not understand or appreciate what magic this craft held or what it could teach me on a personal and spiritual level, at least not consciously. I must have been pulled, though, to that first weaving class by a distant memory of one of my favorite childhood Disney movies, “The Three Lives of Thomasina”. The movie takes place in early 20th century Wales and has all the makings of a fairytale. One of the central characters is a beautiful, mysterious woman played by Susan Hampshire, who lives in a cottage in the woods. All the local children think this woman is a witch because of the strange, rhythmic sounds coming from her cottage. When we finally see the inside of the cottage, we find this ethereal blonde, blue-eyed woman sitting at a large floor loom weaving away. The suspicious thumping sound is only the beat of the reed against the cloth.

That image must have brewed in my creative soul for many years, for when the chance came to learn weaving, I took it. Several years later, when woven items accumulated about the house, I began to sell my work, first through the local guild, then at craft shows. More than twenty years later, my studio is filled with yarns, looms, and all the accoutrements that come with having a full-time weaving business. My passion for fiber, texture, color, and design found a home in the loom.

About the same time I was learning to weave and grow a career, I also embarked on a spiritual journey, exploring feminist theology, Wicca, Native American spiritual traditions (I am a small part Cherokee on my mother’s side), Hinduism, Buddhism, meditation, and yoga. I kept looking for “the Teacher,” while hearing over and over in my mind, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.”

Often, what is not explained when someone makes that statement is that the teacher doesn’t necessarily come in the form of a guru or wise sage. Often the teacher is a relationship with someone – a boss, a partner, a child, a friend, or even a pet. Equally often the teacher is a practice – the doing of something with commitment, consistency, focus, and endurance. In my case, weaving has been one of my primary spiritual teachers – it just took me a while to realize it.

My other realization was that weaving is not something separate from all the other things I do as wife, mother, author, creativity coach, and dream worker. For years, I kept asking myself, “Is this what I am supposed to do? Or am I supposed to be a writer, or a teacher or, or , or…” Gradually, I understood that weaving is part of it all, and that it is all part of weaving; that, in fact, weaving gave me insights into all those areas and vice versa. It was, excuse the expression, all interwoven!

While I may still be traveling the path to wisdom and enlightenment after all these years, at least now I know I merely have to follow the threads of a craft that stretches forward and backward in time, that joins the material with the spiritual, and I will be well on my way.

So, for you, I hope that you may find the person or practice that will guide you on your spiritual path. And with each throw of the shuttle and each beat of the reed, may the fabric of your life grow more beautiful and strong.

About the Author:
Paula Chaffee Scardamalia is a book and creativity coach, a speaker, and the award-winning author of “Weaving a Woman’s Life: Spiritual Lessons from the Loom”, inspired by her successful career as a nationally recognized professional weaver and designer. Using dreams, tarot, and rituals, she coaches women and leads group and individual retreats. Her weekly ezine, Divine Muse-ings, helps writers and other creatives stay connected to the Muse and lead an inspired, gutsy and productive creative life. You can sign up at for her newsletter or order her book at www.diviningthemuse.com.

Sleigh Bells

Back in February I wrote about my observations from watching the Grammy Awards. In a pro-human, patriotic fervor I stated, “Popular culture sets trends or reflects what is trending in our culture, and if the Grammy Awards performances that I saw are in fact to be believed, many musical barriers are being breached. More importantly, these performances are showing that despite bending, blending, or breaking genres, the results need not be a bland homogenous mess.” I swear, if you strained your ears you could have heard the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in the background.

However, I have to admit that after proclaiming that a new era of genre mashing is upon us and reigning triumphant, I grew concerned that, in fact, we were instead bearing witness to the musical end times; an era that replaces singers with auto tune, musical lineage with rampant commercialism, and professional music journalism with blogging chumps like me. Thankfully, my faith in the musical system has been restored.

The May 27, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone Magazine featured a small article by Jenny Eliscu about a band called Sleigh Bells. It did exactly what music journalism should; get a person excited about music. With only a little more than half a page, Eliscu managed to convince me to hop onto to iTunes to give Sleigh Bells a listen, and once I was there, it took under two minutes for me to click on the “buy album” button. Good journalists have the ability to find the story within the facts that will help readers care about what is going on. The same thing holds true in music journalism. Here are the facts: the Sleigh Bells are a two person band from Brooklyn that have a guitarist (Derek Miller), a vocalist (Alexis Krauss), and an iPod.

From those facts we hear the story of a guitarist who continually fought with his cheap hardware that left his sounds unsatisfying. Out of frustration he kept turning up the master for his recordings and the sounds became harsher and harsher, until it became the sound for Sleigh Bells. We hear about a female vocalist who until recently was a fourth-grade teacher and has now transformed into a dynamic on stage presence despite still being reserved in her day-to-day life. Then we hear how artist M.I.A., of “Paper Planes” fame, fell in love with the group. “When Lil’ Wayne said he was making a rock record, I wanted it to sound like what Sleigh Bells sound like. They’ve got the beats and the 808s of hip-hop, and a hard-core, Slayer-type thing.”

Sleigh Bells’ “Treats” album is tough to describe. It’s got rock guitar riffs, hip hop beats, and pop sensibilities. Obviously this isn’t the first time this trio has been used. There was that annoying trend a few years back where it seemed every rock band also had to have a DJ at a turntable. If you could’ve have known that Sleigh Bells was waiting in the wings, you never would have stood for listening to that crap. (This is assuming you did. If you didn’t, good for you, but quit gloating and get back into this review.)

I view “Treats” as an experience album. It’s hard to explain, but in my head all music falls into these weird personal categories: stuff to dance to, stuff to sing along with, stuff to scream along with, stuff to work out to, stuff to write to, and so on and so forth. “Treats” is an album you press play on and let it swallow you up. Sometimes I quasi head bang to it, sometimes I bust out some of my finest 80’s hip hop booty shakes, and sometimes I just play it for reliably awesome background noise.

One thing I do not do to it is sing. For Sleigh Bells, vocals appear to be just another instrument in the band. Often times the lead singer isn’t singing words and instead is singing rhythmic syllables. For instance, the song “Riot Rhythm” has the rousing lyrics of “ah, ah ah ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah ah ah, ah ah, ah, ah.” Those exact lyrics also show up in the song “Run the Heart”. The lead vocals are mixed at the same sound level as the instruments, so they often blend into the music and other times her voice is run through some effects (no auto tune I’m relieved to say). I hate to say it, but despite dozens or more listenings, I could not tell you the complete lyrics to any of the songs.

“Treats” helps reaffirm my belief that there is something to be gained from musicians blending musical genres together and thinking outside of the box. Yes, it looks like auto tune is here to stay, that the traditional music industry will continue to care more about money than artistic quality, and that amateur music enthusiasts like myself will continue to pretend that we are musical trendsetters. What’s fantastic is that despite all of that, all that which is bad, something truly original and good can still rise up out of that quagmire.

Thank you Rolling Stone for introducing me to Sleigh Bells, I really needed that.

Here’s “Crown on the Ground”, one of my favorites off the album.

The Contemplative Photographic Art™ of Roger Allen Baut, M.A.

Many cultures, since ancient times, have used images to help them in their meditative and/or spiritual endeavors. One especially good example of this is the yantra. Yantra is a Sanskrit word which may be translated to mean “instrument” and as such, it may stand for symbols, or anything that is organized and structured. In the west we can see these symbols as geometric designs or patterns, such as those devised by Native Americans. In Eastern mysticism yantras are used to balance, or focus the mind on spiritual concepts. By wearing, focusing or meditating upon a yantra it is believed that one will derive spiritual benefits. It was from these meditative instruments that Roger’s concept of Contemplative Photographic Art™ evolved.

Skunk Cabbage in Bloom

As a life-long student of Metaphysics, and its affiliated subjects, he became aware of the meditative, and/or contemplative quality of art; especially photographs. As he delved more deeply into the contemplative aspect of photographic images, he saw how some of his images possessed this contemplative quality. Ever the researcher, Roger discussed this with other individuals he knew and they, too, concurred with his premise. In fact, individuals he wasn’t well acquainted with told him they were able to work with some of his photos and gain a peaceful contemplative state from viewing them.

The Pillars

He also views his images a bit differently than most photographers as he says, “I really don’t see myself as a ‘photographer,’ per se, as my work is more a gift from the universe than anything else. Sort of like the archer, in ‘Zen and the Art of Archery,’ whereby the archer and arrow become ‘one’ just as the arrow is released, so the arrow will reach the target. I really am ‘guided’ to, or intuit, a potential photo. I don’t do set-ups or take hours waiting in a spot for something to happen. They either occur, or they don’t, and I’m happy if I only get one good photo when I’m out on a photo-shoot/hike. One other really important aspect of my work is that none of my images are photo-shopped, altered, or enhanced in any way, they’re simply raw photos. The only thing I may do, depending on the photo, is crop/trim them if needed, but that doesn’t happen a lot.”

Roger defines “Contemplative Photographic Art™” or “Contemplative Photo/Art™” as certain photographs which may lead the viewer into a calm, thoughtful, peaceful, and/or lightly meditative state.

In this contemplative state an image may rekindle memories from bygone days, lead one to experience a period of relaxation, guide one to a personal insight, or provide an experience whereby the viewer comes into resonance with his or her own inner being, and from this connection, gain insights that may benefit one on their life journey. This is his intent for the relatively new concept of Contemplative Photo/Art™.

Roger’s background also includes years of study and research in the areas of metaphysics, numerology and bio-field energy work. Academically he holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social Studies (Psychology and History major with a Poli Sci minor/Secondary Education) graduating Cum Laudi with departmental honors, and a Master of Arts. Roger’s Contemplative Photographic Art™ may be found at http://chasingtao.zenfolio.com as well as his blog, which contains articles on earth changes, metaphysics, numerology and more http://chasingtao.blogspot.com

The Honey Prescription

You know what I really dislike? “Cure All” books. You know what I’m talking about, books that are all like: ‘this one thing that your doctor wouldn’t suggest to you is able to cure just about any ailment you may or may not have.’ These books prey on people’s desperation and distrust of Western medicine. As someone suffering from a prolonged chronic pain condition, I know first hand about those feelings, which make those kinds of books, despite perhaps noble intentions, provoke a special visceral response from me.

(If you will allow me a moment on the parenthetical soap box. I know that many people feel their doctors would belittle them if they mentioned things like herbal supplements, acupuncture, or any other kind of “alternative medical treatment”. To avoid any potential embarrassment these people will not see their family doctor, or worse, see them and not tell them of everything they’re doing with regards to their health. It is dangerous and irresponsible to not tell your doctor EVERYTHING you do with regards to your health. They should know about every over the counter prescription you take, every herbal/vitamin supplement you use, and anything else that effects your body be it stress and nerves or your daily yoga practice. And guess what Nervous Nellies? Odds are your doctor will have useful, constructive information to share with you about these kinds of things. Good doctors want to help you get better, and to do that they need to know your thoughts on your treatment. And you know what? If your doctor mocks you or dismisses your thoughts and concerns regarding your treatment, they’re not a good doctor for you. It’s your body, treat it right and be sure it is given the respect it deserves, your doctor will probably thank you for it.)

Now you can understand how dismissive I was when I received a review copy of “The Honey Prescription” by Nathaniel Altman from Healing Arts Press. I pulled it out of the envelope and actually said aloud to my husband, “Well I won’t be reading this.” Yet there it sat on my kitchen counter for about a week, right next to the bottle of honey I use with Greek yogurt, on toast, and in my morning cereal. I like honey, what if there was useful information about this food I already consume? And that’s when I started reading.

Right out of the gate I was impressed. The first section discusses in detail the life and times of the honeybee. I was blown away. The average beehive is as complex and drama laden as your daytime soap opera. Bees are so much more interesting than I would have thought. I generally look at bees as evil little buggers who want to hurt me. I’m afraid of bee stings, sue me. However, after reading “The Honey Prescription” I can see why so many people are fascinated by bees.

Next up was everything you probably never knew about types of honey and their differences and similarities. Also discussed is the evolution of honey gathering around the world. Honestly, the book is worth reading for just “Part One: Grounding”. Despite enjoying the first part of the book, I was still bracing myself for the inevitable disappointment of reading something akin to a snake oil salesman’s pitch. Guess what? It never happened.

“The Honey Prescription” is the book that I wish other “alternative medicine” books were like. There was so much that impressed me. Instead of acting as if folklore is scientific evidence, Altman directs your attention to current studies being done and medical applications occurring in other countries. There is a section of traditional folk medicine applications, but it is presented more as historical context rather than as a how-to guide. Despite having a laundry list of possible health applications, honey is never presented as a cure all. The author goes so far as to do what is generally a cardinal sin for these kinds of books, he tells you that you will probably not find the kind of “medical honey” he’s discussing in the United States. An even graver sin, Altman does not have his own line of “medical honey” that he offers to sell you. It really is a researched argument for exploring possible medicinal applications for honey.

“The Honey Prescription” is an insightful read. I’ve learned a lot about potential uses for honey in modern medicine, and better still, I also learned a lot about the honey that I buy in the store. This book stimulated my mind, and also my taste buds.

And I Shall Call It “PimpGate”

It all started months ago, when I decided to publicly work my way through “Everyday Dharma: Seven Weeks to Finding the Buddha in You” by Lama Willa Miller. When I approached Quest Books with the idea of having the author respond to each of my weeks, Xochi Adame, publicist numero uno at Quest Books, offered to do some sort of give away where one of my readers could win a copy of “Everyday Dharma”. Since she found my comparison of setting up my home altar to the television show “Pimp My Ride” amusing, she suggested maybe a “Pimp My Altar” contest. We both liked the idea of it being something to bring readers together in an interactive way, so we roughed out the idea of readers sending photos in of their altars/sacred spaces so other readers could see how their fellow readers approached it. Then through some yet to be defined means a winner would be chosen.

As the time to publish week three of the “Everyday Dharma” challenge approached I knew I was going to need some way to determine a winner. Since most blogs feature polls or votes I thought it might be good to let my readers pick a winner by voting, that way the contest would essentially be powered entirely by my readers, and it would force me to figure out how to make polls work on The Magical Buffet website. With that decided, I whipped up what Xochi and I found to be a fairly entertaining contest announcement. It got published, and that’s when I found myself stuck in what I’ve decided to call “PimpGate”.

First, I feel obliged to say that the pimp has no better friend than myself. I like purple velvet, A Pimp Named Slickback (Yes, his name is A Pimp Named Slickback. Yes you say the whole thing, including A Pimp Named, every time.), and back handing people. So before going any further, to all the actual pimps out there, I’m sorry if somehow you felt the “Pimp My Sacred Space” contest belittled your cruelty, violence, and unlawful business practices by implying there is any element of spirituality in what you do. Hopefully this will nip in the bud any sort of pimp related backlash (or back hand) that may have been brewing out there.

Pimps aside, many of you guys found the “Pimp My Sacred Space” contest decidedly uncool. Apparently the word pimp and the concept of “pimping out” aren’t necessarily big with some of my readers. If somehow my attempts at comical parlance caused you any concern, I am sorry, never in a million years would I intentionally belittle or make light of an individual’s spiritual practices. I’d like to think that my readers know this, since although expressing some concern, most of them said they would continue reading The Magical Buffet. I had more people unsubscribe after writing about Florence and the Machine than I had for suggesting that people pimp out their altars. I find that oddly comforting. Of course more comforting was Lama Willa Miller’s (author of “Everyday Dharma) twitter response to learning of the “Pimp My Sacred Space” contest, “Win a free copy of Everyday Dharma in the pimpin-est way: http://bit.ly/d6Ore9” I love that lady.

You know who else I love? The one brave woman who said to herself, “I want free stuff, and I’m willing to take a photo for the opportunity.” Behold, the altar of our one contest entry! She can hold her head high knowing that for under two minutes of effort she will be receiving a free copy of “Everyday Dharma” and maybe even a Quest Books tote bag.

Our Winner's Sacred Space

Ma’am, I salute you.

Love and War and the Ties that Bind

Outsiders don’t understand the retail environment, not the real retail environment. Sure, you may have spent a summer or two while in high school scooping ice cream, folding clothes for display tables, or restocking DVDs, but that isn’t the same as working the job day in and day out, forty hours a week, for years. The hours are typically awful, the benefits vary wildly, and nothing personal, but often times the customers suck. It’s when you’re mired in the thick of it, trying to please your corporate office, your district manager, and your customers, that you learn to count on your fellow retail co-workers. Like a military squad put together in a Hollywood film, it doesn’t matter where you came from, once you’re there, it’s you guys against the rest of the world.

In fact, there are many similarities between being a full-time retail employee, particularly management, and serving in the military. You have a chain of command, often times a strict training regimen, and communal rites of passage that create the ties that bind. Whether it’s your first shoplifter, or your first time shouldering blame from your corporate office; another person you work with has been there, and these are the battle scars that forge a retail battalion. You spend a lot of time comparing wounds from previous tours of duty, and even more time talking about what you’re going to do when you get out; be it out after that shift, or out of the retail game all together.

Once you’ve been there, you really don’t ever leave. I’ve been out of retail for roughly 5 years, and I still refer to the stores I worked in as mine. We don’t carry that. That’s not our policy. When in a store, I study how the staff behaves. What do they do to prevent shrink? How do they allocate coverage of the sales floor? Much like a soldier trained to defend himself with muscle memory, a former retail manager reflexively examines how stores are run. Sometimes we’re the understanding customer, other times we’re there to tell you to sell that line of B.S. to a less informed shopper.

On Tuesday, June 1, 2010, retail lost one of it’s finest. Crystal Jenkins, Community Relations Manager for the Saratoga Springs, NY Barnes and Noble, died in a single vehicle accident. Crystal was everything you wanted for a retail brother-in-arms: friendly, hard working, organized, caring. She treated her customers well, and her co-workers better. In describing her to the authors participating in the “A Magical Buffet of Authors” event I said, “You’ll find her to be incredibly sweet and ruthlessly organized, just what you want from an event coordinator.” Crystal was one of the greats, the likes of which will be hard to find again.

Getting ready to go to her funeral, I stared at myself in the mirror while buttoning my blouse. I had on my black boots, black dress pants, a burgundy dress shirt, my hair was up in a hair clip. Without any intention to do so, I realized that I was dressing the way I did when I still worked with Crystal at Barnes and Noble. I realized that I was donning my uniform from when I served by her side.

There was a lot more to Crystal than just her job. However, I feel no shame or remorse in defining and celebrating her by what she did at Barnes and Noble. Since her funeral was standing room only, with me literally rubbing shoulders with other former co-workers, I know that there are many people that feel the same as I do. Oddly, or perhaps less odd than originally thought, many of them were dressed the way they did when I worked with them.

Yes, like a Medal of Honor I still have my Barnes and Noble name tag.