How to Create a Label for a 7-Day Candle

Votive Candles

You can’t deny it: They look so pretty and colorful!

Plain 7-day candles are great, but they certainly have that je ne sais quoi appeal when festooned with colorful labels. Most of the readily available labeled ones are of Catholic iconography, though, and buying them makes me feel guilty. There are plenty of specially designed hoodoo candles on the market, which the manufacturers call “mystical candles” or “veladoras místicas. These are essentially the same candles, only with different labels promising love, luck, and money. They just cost $12-15 instead of $1-3.

If you’re going to go through the process of making your own 7-day candle, you can magically charge the stuff that actually gets burned rather than slapping a label over the same old same old. In fact, you can add herbs, oils, and small stones to the wax if you want. Or, if you’re using the coconut oil additive trick, you can steep herbs in that oil before making the candle so that every speck of wax has a special correspondence with your purpose. But it is awfully fun to have a corresponding label, too. And it’s dead easy to whip one out.

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Measure twice, cut once. And laugh at my horrific drawing and handwriting.

The first thing you are going to want to do is measure your specific candle jar. There are loads of manufacturers out there, and I’m fairly sure each one uses a few different glass molds as I’ve seen the same candle from the same company use slightly different jars. Most of these 8-inch tall jars are straight cylinders, but they have slight bends or tapers at the top and bottom. You just want to measure the straight bit and not any of the bends. It’s easiest to measure this with a sewing tape measure, which is flexible and will hug the glass. Once you’ve taken the height measurement, subtract 1/2 inch. Then measure around the circumference of the jar and add 1/2 inch. For example if the “rectangle” you measured is 7.5 inches tall and 7.5 inches long, the label you create will be 7 inches tall and 8 inches long. The shorter height will leave about a quarter-inch glass border at the top and bottom, which will look nice and give you some fudge factor. The longer length will allow your label to have a 1/4-inch overlap seam in the back, which will help the label remain stuck to the jar when glued.

Portrait Landscape

Choose something tall and skinny, not short and wide.

The other major thing is that you need a picture that is in “portrait” orientation. And this is a case where you would want it to be much skinnier than a normal portrait. If your final image should be about 7 inches in height, you really do not want the image to be more than 5 inches wide. 4 would really be the preferred maximum.

Once you’ve got an image you like either drawn, photoshopped, or simply uploaded and cropped into a rectangle you think looks decent, you’re ready to print it. The easiest way I have found to do this is by using Microsoft Word (I know!) on standard letter paper (8.5 x 11) and manually trimming your paper to the desired size.

Landscape and MarginsBegin by setting your page to print in landscape orientation (see how the icon with the man on his side is darker?) and setting the document’s margins to .5 inches on all four sides. I’m running an older version of Word for Mac, and I know it’s different on the newest Windows OS, but those are the settings you want for whatever version of Word you are using. Once that is set, go to Insert > Photo > Picture from File and select the picture you want to use from your files.

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 10.48.30 PMAt this point, the image should insert itself into the document and automatically resize itself to fit within the top and bottom margins of a letter-sized paper. We need to re-size it. If your height measurement of your label is 7 inches, then you would likely want something between 6.5 and 6.75 inches as the final height of your image. It is very easy to set the image height in word by simply dragging a corner of your image to shrink or enlarge the image. At whichever corner you click, a little yellow box will appear that will display the width and height of the image, as shown below.

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Resize the image to your desired height, then center on in the page, either by selecting the center alignment button in the home tab, or by clicking on the image and hitting command + E for Mac or control + E for PC.

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Finally, I like to soften the edges of the image, simply because I think the harsh straight lines look a little weird with candlelight coming through them unless they are a decorative border, and I do not have the skills to fiddle with creating a decorative border. If you want to soften the edges, you just select “Format Picture”, go to “Glow & Soft Edges” and move the bar on the soft edges right from zero. I tend to think somewhere in the neighborhood of 19 points looks pretty decent.

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And with that, your need for the computer for this project is at an end. All you need to do is print the image. I prefer to use a translucent vellum paper because it looks a bit like frosted glass on the candle jar, and it lets the light come through the image beautifully. It also “softens” the image, so if you’ve stolen a fairly low resolution image from the Internet like I did here, it will still look decent when it is printed and when light shines through it. Alternately you could use a parchment or even one of those transparency sheets used for overhead projectors. You just want to stay away from a very opaque paper, especially since this label will wrap all the way around the candle. When you print the image, you may find that you will get a cleaner image if you use a laser printer. Inkjet printers lay down strips of ink, and those strips do not always blend together well. When backlit, even the best ones can be fairly obvious.

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Assembled tools: Printed image, cutting mat, straight edge, X-Acto knife, glue, candle. Not pictured: wax paper for gluing.

Once you’ve got your images printed, all that needs to be done is to cut them down to the desired label shape and glue them onto the candle. Cutting can be done with scissors instead of an X-Acto blade if needed, but you will likely still need a ruler with a straight edge to make your measurements and a pencil to lightly mark your cut lines.

Finding the top and bottom cut lines can really be done by eye. If your image is a quarter of an inch smaller than the label height, you just scootch the straight edge up or down the border a small tad, make sure the line is parallel with the paper edge and mark your line. Left and right will require some subtraction and division. If your paper is 11 inches wide and your label needs to be 8 inches, subtract 8 from 11 and divide by 2. You would in this case need to take 1.5 inches off the left and right sides of the paper.

More Images

Left: Demonstrating where cut lines should be. Middle: Demonstrating size (and perfectly square cuts!) of the final label. Right: Demonstrating gluing. Remember to turn the image over (easy to forget with vellum!), use washable glue, and protect your gluing surface.

Once you’ve got your label cut, you just need to apply the glue. Choose a washable glue stick, and choose one that is “repositionable” if you can. Washable formulas will allow you to easily wash off the adhesive with normal soap and water when you go to make a new candle after using this one, and the repositionable formula will allow you some fudge time if you really botch gluing the label down the first time. You will lay a thorough smear of glue not only in a few places in the middle of the label (total coverage is not necessary), but along all four edges (where total coverage is pretty necessary). You’ll need to get glue on, not just near, the edges, so protect your surface with some paper before beginning gluing. Wax paper seems to resist the glue and it doesn’t leave any smears on the vellum, so it’s a great choice if you have it.

I couldn’t take pictures of how to apply the label, but you basically line the top edge parallel to the cylinder edge, but a touch lower. Then you sort of roll your hand around to thoroughly glue down one of the two side edges, moving your hand up and down the paper to eliminate air bubbles. Then press the label down as you glue it around the jar, again moving your hand around to eliminate air bubbles. If you’re worried about your skin oils leaving prints on the vellum or smearing the ink, use a clean rag to press down the label. When you get to the overlap seam in the back, make sure the edges meet neatly and make sure you glue it down so that you get no little “ripples” along the seam. If you’re using vellum, it is stiff enough that it will not crinkle or crease, or even move that much along the glass. Gluing it neatly is very easy–far easier than the gluing projects we did in grade school! Once the label has been smoothed down to your satisfaction, let it sit to dry for about 5 minutes, and then you are free to light your candles!

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The final products. As you can see, it is impossible to see any of the frosting or cracks in the purple candle, thanks to the vellum label, so a warm cooling environment isn’t a necessary step unless you’re a perfectionist. The artwork on the purple candle is a “Beltane” print from Neil Sims. The artwork on the green candle is a drawing of Gerald Gardner that was recently done by a super cool Gardnerian.

I know it’s a little silly, but I really love the idea of labels. If you were a talented artist, you could draw iconography pertaining to a type of spell you were doing if these were spell candles, rather like Sabrina Underwood or “Sabrina the Ink Witch” has on her line of 7-day candles. And how cool would it be to make a few of these up showing black and white images of our dearly departed? That would make for a gorgeous Samhain altar, especially for a coven. I think the artwork is a great way to add just another level of oomph to whatever working you’re using these candles for.

How to Refill 7-Day Candle Jars

Vigil Candels

An Array of 7-Day Candles in a Hoodoo Store

In my former coven, my High Priest and his husband were somewhat famous for asking the rest of us at least once every few months if any of us wanted the spent jars from their 7-day candles. Of course, no one could figure out what to do with them, but their predicament stuck with me. They can’t be the only Pagans who struggle with what to do with the empties. After all, seven-day candles have a firm foothold in the Pagan world. We use them as meditative tools, as eternal flames on altars, as elemental and God and Goddess candles, and even for spell work. And we are just a tiny segment of their market. These things are huge in the Hispanic community. In fact, I know some Hispanic families that consider these candles to be a regular grocery staple, much in the way toilet paper and laundry soap would be.

A lot of people just toss the spent jars in the trash, but they can be recycled, if recycling is available in your area. Most glass recycling programs just have two major restrictions: 1) the glass is soda-lime glass, not borosilicate (Pyrex) and 2) the glass is clean. In my former home in Olympia, you could actually recycle glass with food on it, but you would have to clean out candle containers, so always check with your own recycling provider to see what is permitted.

But my feeling is that if you’re going to go through the trouble of cleaning out a spent candle container, you might as well just refill it yourself. And if you’re going to go through the trouble of refilling one, you might as well learn how to do it well.

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The test subjects. I got two in case I broke one in this process. Fun Fact: This Marian aspect is the patroness of Cuba and has been syncretized with the orichá Ochún in Cuban Santería.

This venture, unlike many DIY projects, will not save you money. These candles are readily available in plain white from the Dollar Tree for a whopping $1, or from Walmart or the Dollar General in an assortment of Saints and colors for $1.50 each. I chose to support my local Spanish grocery, where I believe they were supposed to be $2, but I was charged $2.65. The teenager who checked me out was being trained, and my Spanish is just good enough to pick out “white lady surcharge” in her supervisor’s instructions, which deeply amused me. The point, though, is that these candles are so cheap that even with buying “expensive” ones with extra charges, you will spend more on bulk wax than on buying new candles.

Frankly, I think that’s a good thing. If we do it ourselves we get the luxury of choosing wax and wicks that have consistent qualities, whereas the manufacturers of these candles, who operate on slim profit margins, have to make the best of whatever raw paraffin and string they’re sent. As a result, their candles are notorious for their inconsistency. If we pour our own, we will have more control over how they burn and that can be very useful magically, especially if you practice divination from burned candles. We also get more control over what types of wax we get to use, which is especially useful if we want to make smart environmental choices. I made a table below of common environmental concerns associated with the five major waxes used today below. There is a sixth wax that could be used: tallow, or rendered animal fat. It is something, however, that you would have to create yourself. It can also smell a little funny and be sooty depending upon how well it is made, so I haven’t paid it much heed. However, if you sourced your fat from locally-raised, grass fed cow or sheep or from a deer you hunted, it would be about as environmentally friendly as locally-sourced beeswax. If using tallow interests you, you can find instructions on how to render tallow and make candles from it online.

Wax Environmental Concerns Table
Environmentally, it is hard to beat beeswax–especially if you have a locally-produced source. After that, it’s a bit of a tossup for me personally between soy and coconut. On paper, I think coconut comes out the winner, but I live in walking distance from corn and soybean fields, and there are soy oil and wax producing plants in my state. In theory, it would be my local option, while coconut has a hefty mileage footprint. For me, local is really important. Others may feel the same way about GMOs. Make the choices that are best for you. Personally, I steer away from paraffin for fairly obvious reasons, but I also stay away from palm. Read up on the issues in that industry. It’s terrifying.

But there’s more than just the environment to consider here. There’s also what material is going to work best for the project. So, I made another table, this one with the various physical traits of each wax.

Wax Tendencies

In the end, I opted to use soy wax for this project, as I wanted a more environmentally-responsible wax, but with minimum hassle and a manageable cost. I also thought beeswax was a bit overkill for a container candle. I love the tapers and pillars I make from beeswax, but it really shines (hah!) in those applications. I’ve always been disappointed with every beeswax container candle I have ever made, seen made, or purchased. And with that big decision, it is time to actually start re-filling the candle.

To begin, assemble the following items:

Melting Wax

Step 1: Remove the label (if any) from the candle and melt and remove any remaining wax.

Start by removing the label, if there is one. If you have burned the candle before, removing the label will help you to see if the glass has cracked somewhere. Obviously, if the glass has cracked, it should not be re-used. Removing the label at this point also helps to minimize the mess created when paper hits boiling water. The labels on the candles I started out with here were plastic and peeled off easily. They just left a strip of glue on the glass that wiped off without a problem after the jar had been heated and the wax melted. However, different companies have different labels. It is not necessary to completely remove the label and adhesive at this stage, and it could even be easier once the jar has been heated. If you are confident the glass is fine and the label is proving difficult, just remove it later, perhaps after you dump the majority of the wax.

Next, all you have to do is stick the jar in a pot of water and set it to boil. The pot shouldn’t be completely full, as  the water may jump out a bit, but you definitely need more than an inch or two. As the jar heats, the wax will melt (and any paper labels and adhesive will soften). When the wax has completely melted, pour it into a trash can or, if you wish to save it, into a clean plastic or glass container. (I actually love using a glass mason jar for this, as I can just pop it into a pot and re-melt the wax straight in it.) Do not pour it into your sink unless you want an expensive plumbing bill and a huge mess. Wipe the rim of the jar with a paper towel and put it back in the boiling water for a few minutes, then pour it off again. You will likely get rid of another half-teaspoon or so of wax.

At this point, you want to remove any wax residue that remains in the jar. I find it easiest to heat the jar in the water again, and then stick half a paper towel down in it with a chopstick. You move the towel around in jar with the chopstick to absorb the wax and it’s pretty easy to remove by trapping the towel between the chopstick and the jar and dragging it up and out. I find about 3 repetitions gets the job done, with reheating the jar between each towel. You could also line a baking sheet with aluminum foil (to protect the sheet) and some paper towels or bits of brown paper bags (to absorb the wax) and set the jars upside down on the paper. Set them in a cold oven and bring it to about 250-300 degrees Fahrenheit. A good bit of the remaining wax will flow down the sides and be absorbed by the paper by the time the oven is done preheating.

Cleaning Jar

Step 2: Scrub out the jar with an abrasive cleaner. Rinse, dry, and inspect. Repeat if necessary.

When all but the smallest bit of wax has been removed, it’s time to start cleaning the jar. If its wick was held down with adhesive, you do need to remove as much of that as possible as you’ll be using your own later. Many of these adhesives are high-heat and will scrape off with a butter knife if the jar is hot, and most residue can be removed either with isopropyl alcohol or acetone (different solvents for different brands). If neither works, a commercial solvent like Goof Off may.

After tackling the adhesive, you’re in the final stretch. All that really needs to be done at this point is to give the glass a good scrub with an abrasive cleaner like Barkeeper’s Friend, which is fantastic on stainless steel and glass. Using a good amount will definitely clean up any tiny bits of remaining wax as well as any soot or discoloration from the inside, and it should get rid of any remaining adhesive on the outside. (There was no soot on this one, but I have used it on many glass candle containers in the past, and it’s a dream.) Barkeeper’s can’t be used with lots of water, or it loses its abrasive ability; what water remains in the jar and on the brush after a rinse and shake should be plenty. You will, however, have to use a bottle brush for the tall and skinny 7-day candle jar as shown above because it’s impossible to get the right angles and pressure with a standard dish brush. After a thorough scrub, rinse the jar and inspect it for any remaining wax or soot. Scrub again if needed, then rinse and dry the jar.

Setting the Wick

Step 3: Glue a wick to the bottom of the jar and center the top of the wick with a wick pin or chopstick.

When the glass jars are dry, they are ready to be wicked. And this is the part of the process I am most proud of. Most of the container candles I’ve made in the past have been short with wide tops, so it’s easy to just stick your hand there to affix the wick. But there’s no way to do that with this tall, skinny jar. As I was struggling to figure out a method, I thought it would be much easier if the wick was stiffer so that I could use it like a stick. And that was when I realized I could just slide it into a straw for instant stiffening. It is a bit tricky to hold the straw and the wick and direct them downward fast enough and accurately enough for the wick to be glued in the dead center of the jar…but it is much easier to hold the wick upright and slide the jar over it, looking through the bottom of the jar to make sure the wick gets stuck in the center. So in the end, all you do is slide the wick into the straw, squeeze a pea-sized amount of hi-temp hot glue onto the bottom of the wick tab, turn the jar upside down and slide it over the straw and wick ( which you are holding upright). Stick the wick in the center of the jar’s bottom and hold it for a couple seconds, then turn the jar right side up and remove the straw. Wrap the free end of the wick around a chopstick or grip it in a clip until the wick is fairly taut and straight. Center the wick in the center of the jar opening, and you’re ready to pour in the wax!

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Step 4: Measure and the wax and any oils or coloring. (Note: These are not my pictures. This is so fast, I forgot to take a picture of it.)

Once the wicks are set (Or even before, frankly. The wax takes a long time to melt.), you can finally turn your attention to the wax. The jars I am using here are 8.25 inches tall and 7.5 inches in circumference, and I found that about 12-13 ounces of wax was fine. You want the candle to start about an inch down from the glass rim. Weighing is easy. Set the scale to display weight in pounds and ounces, then plunk your pitcher onto the scale and tare it out so that the display shows 0.0 oz as the weight. Then simply add wax a bit at a time until it hits 12 ounces or whatever you want as your target. Add coconut oil and your coloring, then pop the pitcher into a pot of boiling water and let all the wax melt. Remove it from the boiling water and give it a stir: it should probably be close to 185 degrees Fahrenheit at this point. If not, return it to the boiling water and continue heating until 185 is reached. At this temperature, the oil and colorant will more thoroughly incorporate with the wax. Then set the wax aside until it reaches about 135 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point, it will be cool enough for stable pouring.

The weighing and melting is easy, but deciding on your “recipe” is a matter of trial and error in order to get the right rate of candle burn. Prior to this, I had made a straight soy candle in a different container and found that it was burning cooler than I expected it would given the wick size I was using. If a wax is burning cooler, a trick for making it burn hotter is to incorporate an oil, such as a fragrance oil. I didn’t want a scented candle, though, so I decided to use coconut oil. Usually soy waxes can handle about 1 ounce of fragrance oil for every pound of wax. Many people recommend also adding a tablespoon of coconut oil (about .5 oz) on top of that to help with the scent throw, so I decided to see how 1.5 ounces of coconut oil impacted the burn. However, my pitcher had a couple ounces of beeswax in it that I was too lazy to melt out, so I left that in. The next candle I made, I used 12 ounces of soy wax and 2 ounces of coconut oil. I was very surprised by how differently the two candles burned.

Candle Burn

Top row: The 12 oz soy: 2 oz oil candle after 20 minutes of burning and after 90 minutes of burning. Bottom row: the 12 oz soy: 1.5 oz oil: 2 oz beeswax candle after 20 minutes of burning and after 90 minutes of burning.

It may be hard to see here, but after 20 minutes of burning, the green candle’s wax pool still hadn’t made it across the whole surface, but it was on its way and one side was about 1/4-inch deep. By contrast, the purple candle had a very shallow wax pool that had only just touched one side. After 90 minutes of burning, the green candle’s pool had gone completely across and was about 1/2-inch deep, while the purple candle looked much as the green had after 20 minutes, though perhaps a little shallower. Neither is burning perfectly, but both both are burning just fine and pretty cleanly.

What the different burns mean is that the purple candle (thanks to the beeswax) is burning much more slowly than the green candle, which is burning at about the same rate the original paraffin wax was. In fact, the green candle is burning at the outer reaches of “fast” for me. It is burning well and cleanly, but the wick end is “mushrooming” a little, which indicates its consuming a little more wax than it can cleanly burn. It’s likely that this candle will start to form soot on the glass as it burns down halfway and oxygen starts getting restricted, and I will probably have to blow out the candle periodically and manually trim the wick. With this wax to oil ratio, I probably could have sized down to a “small” wick rather than a medium to get a better burn. Conversely, the purple candle is burning at the outer reaches of “slow” acceptable for me and is on the cusp of sizing up to a large wick. The wax pool will eventually extend to both sides, but in order to insure a good burn, I have to use the foil trick after about 90 minutes of burning because the wax pool won’t grow any more. Ten minutes after that, however, it has a full wax pool which it maintains independently afterwards, so the wick size might be just fine.

The rate at which a candle burns is something to pay attention to if you are striving to make a 7-day candle that will actually burn for 7 days. I am estimating that the green candle would probably burn for 5 days if I didn’t blow it out, but I bet I could get a full 7 days from the purple. The next time I try this, I will shoot for 12 ounces of soy to 1 ounce coconut oil and see how that affects the burn. I am fairly sure that will hit a happy medium for the wick, and I might get a 7-day burn from it.

Pour and Cool

Step 5: Pour and cool.

Whatever you’ve decided on as your wax “formula”, once it has cooled to 135 degrees Fahrenheit, it is ready to be poured into the container. Ideally, you should try to warm up the container a bit so that the wax cools at about the same rate in its interior as it does its exterior. If the rates are a bit off, some parts of the wax will stick to the glass and make it look like there are “wet spots” on the side. Soy wax is also prone to “frosting” against the glass as the wax solidifies, which some people think looks like mold. Moreover, as the candle cools it will also crack as some sections are cooling faster than others. The top of the candle is especially prone to cracks or “sink holes.

For these candles, I wasn’t too worried about what they would look like on the exterior because of what I was planning to do with them later. These cooling issues don’t really affect how the candle burns. So I let the purple candle cool on the kitchen counter where the ambient room temperature was about 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Sure enough, it developed a big sinkhole, frost and cracks. I did want to take care of the sink hole since the top would be visible, and that is a pretty easy fix. All you do is make the hole a little worse by pushing through it with a chopstick or skewer, then pour a light level of wax over the hole until the top is level.  After that, it will cool with a clean top or a smaller hole that can easily be filled by lightly melting the candle top with a heat gun or a hair dryer set on hot heat and low air.

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What a difference room temperature vs. warm environment cooling has on the external appearance of the finished candle!

In order to show the difference cooling can have on the final appearance of the candle, I used a different technique for the green candle. I set my oven on its lowest temperature, 150 degrees Fahrenheit. When it came to temperature, I set the wicked jar on a foil-lined sheet pan (so in case it spilled I could clean up more easily) and let it heat for about 5 minutes as my wax cooled to temperature. Then I poured the wax and returned the jar to the oven where I let it sit for another 5 minutes before I turned the oven off. This created a warm, insulated environment that would slowly cool down to room temperature (77 degrees) over the course of a few hours. I went to bed, and the next morning I took the candle out of the oven. It was practically perfect. No frosting, cracks, or wet spots, and only a very tiny hole in the top that looked like a bubble. A quick shot with my hairdryer took care of that.

In the end, I was left with two fantastic candles that I should have taken a glamor shot of before I moved on to decoration. And the cost per candle wasn’t that high either. I got 4 pounds of soy wax from Michaels for $14 with tax (I had a 40% off coupon). And their box of six medium 9-inch wicks was $2.53 with tax (I had a second 40% off coupon). The cost of the hot glue is negligible, so in the end my unit cost was $2.63 cents in wax per candle and $0.42 cents per wick, so a grand total of $3.05 per candle. It may be three times the cost of the cheapest 7-day candle, but it’s hardly at risk of breaking the bank.

Plum Deluxe: A Tea Review

True facts about Melissa Zupan #329:  In a previous life (that is, before graduate school part 1), I used to work for a major tea company.  I got to go to one of the World Tea Expos with them, which was one of the more amazing experiences I’ve had in business.  And through them, I got my start in blogging.  In fact, my tea review blog was one of the most highly trafficked tea review blogs on the ‘net during its time.  I ended up getting so many samples sent to me that I had a 5-year personal supply after I shuttered the blog and moved to Oregon.  And I drink tea multiple times a day.

This experience has left me a ridiculous tea snob.  I have a few good-ol’ affordable standbys that I buy by the pound for my ‘every day’ sips.  (Adagio’s Yunnan Noir, Jade Oolong, and Summer Rose for when I feel I need a hit of a flavor).  And sometimes I get a little crazy and go for a few ounces of something highly flavored (like David Tea’s Read My Lips, which is so yummy!), but usually when I want something special, I’m the nerd who’s buying single origin high mountain oolongs direct from the farmers in Taiwan.  Tea is my scotch.

So when Andy at Plum Deluxe asked me if I would try and review some of his teas, my first impulse was to say no.  I am a tea-lover who has strong preferences and opinions on her tea, and I frankly didn’t want to choke down something I personally thought noxious and produce a highly biased review that, let’s face it, wouldn’t help anyone.  But his company is just so gosh darn positive, I couldn’t help myself.  The tea looked like pretty decent quality, and had all the buzzwords I like to hear:  organic, non-GMO, fair trade, and hand blended.  More important, though, was the company’s underlying ethos.  Andy’s goal is to use tea to share the lessons of his late mother, who lost a 5-year battle with breast cancer.  Andy says that those years, however, were “some of the best years of her life” because she took the opportunity to care for herself and enjoy her life to the fullest.  A good part of that was creating “moments that matter, every day”…one of which the meditative quality of enjoying a fantastic cup of tea.

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Bags of Plum Deluxe’s “Reading Nook Blend”, “Portland Rose City Chai”, and “Afternoon ‘High Tea'”

And so I found myself with three teas:  Reading Nook Blend, which combines black tea leaves with rosebuds, lavender, and chamomile; Portland Rose City Chai, which blends black tea with rooibos, oregon rose petals, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, lemongrass, and essences of blackberry and almond; and Afternoon ‘High Tea’ White Tea, which mixes white tea with peach and apricot pieces with marigold petals and a pear essence.

And, let me be the first to admit it:  my fears of noxious, cloying brews were 100% inaccurate.  All of the teas were remarkably balanced and highly addictive.  In fact, the chai, the blend to which I had given the most mental side-eye, caused me to say “well that is a delight!” the first time I sipped it.  Well done, Plum Deluxe.  You absolutely exceeded my expectations.

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Back left:  Portland Rose City Chai. Back Right:  Reading Nook Blend.  Front:  Afternoon ‘High Tea’.

Let’s begin with that chai blend.  I adore chai; I really do.  But I have been uniformly disappointed by every one I’ve purchased from American companies, including my own beloved Adagio.  Their Thai Chai has been in my cabinet for over a year, and it is very tasty as far as chais go.  The lemongrass and coconut additions are what really make it “Thai” in profile, and they play nicely off the more traditional ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom.  These are all favorite flavors of mine, but I find I almost never brew it because of the “oil slick” that rises to the surface after brewing.  Unfortunately, most North American loose tea blenders use high levels of flavoring oils to produce the strong flavors that are winning more and more American tea drinkers.  It is understandable; a lot of people in this country want bold flavors and think teas too ‘watery’ and ‘weak.’  But honestly?  Those oils make my stomach churn, both figuratively and literally.

I fully expected the Portland Rose City Chai to be similar.  In fact, I chose it because it contained the same lemongrass, ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom backbone that Adagio’s Thai Chai does.  And I was a little skeptical when I did my ‘leaf inspection.’  The dry blend is visually pretty, with tons of rose petals and lemongrass.  In fact, the tea itself looks like an addition more than the base.  It is, however, a very “dusty” blend, which initially surprised me.  I actually had to wipe the residual dust out of my tea scoop and off my inspecting bowl.  On tasting it, though, I became convinced that it was mostly ground spices.  To me, this is a positive.  If a blender leaves chunks of cinnamon or ginger in a blend, the tea will fully infuse and become bitter before the spices have had a chance to even get started releasing their essence.  Smaller grinds are therefore better when it comes to spices.  However, I was worried by the scent of the dry blend, which to me read as more of a ‘cherry cough syrup’ profile with some Dr. Pepper in the background.  I actually find similar scents in most flavored rooibos blends, particularly ones with ‘berry’ descriptions, so this may have been because of the inclusion of rooibos and blackberry flavoring.

In the brew, however, those acrid smells disappear.  The tea itself comes forward with its characteristic astringency, and the lemongrass and rose fade into solid background players, likely because their flavors overlap with the rooibos.  The spices round and balance out the blend rather than take it over, and they create a mild ‘warm’ feeling–both psychologically and physically.  It is lightly fruity, lightly floral, and lightly spicy:  complicated, and yet an ‘easy sipper’–it doesn’t command all your attention when you’re drinking it.  I loved it.

The Reading Nook Blend, too, was a show-stopping winner.  I only requested it because it was noted as being one of Plum Deluxe’s best sellers, so I thought it would give me a good idea of the “core” of their flavor profile.  Normally, I would have given it a solid pass based off the description alone, for it contains chamomile and I absolutely, positively abhor chamomile.  To me, it is a weirdly insipid floral on its own.  I accept it more in blends, where I find its lightly honeyed taste helps bind other flavors together.  However, I cannot abide how it gums up my infusers.  I have better things to do than scrub those like I’m about to use them to perform surgery.  (See below for infuser recommendations).

But, again, Reading Nook surprised me.  I could see through the bag that it was an exceptionally pretty blend.  The leaves are very dark and they make the magenta rose petals, yellow chamomile heads, purple lavender buds, and errant chartreuse leaves pop like the colors on a black velvet Elvis painting.  My housemates started to call it my “unicorn tea”, and I did not dissuade them from that assessment.

The biggest payoff, though, was the scent.  As soon as I opened up the bag, I grabbed one of my housemates and thrust the bag at him saying, “Smell this!”  Good man that he is, he did so without question, and I got to watch his eyes open with shock and desire.  “Is that…chocolate?!” he asked, practically salivating.  We went on to debate just what it smelled like.  Chocolate is the obvious and immediate smell, but it is way more complicated and nuanced than anything that has ever come out of a Hershey’s factory.  Eventually, I narrowed it down to smelling like a Dagoba lavender blueberry dark chocolate bar and took the opportunity to nip down to the grocery to buy one to test my hypothesis.  Bulls eye.

I have no idea where the chocolate or berry notes in the scent come from, for all that is in this blend is a cream-flavored black tea, rose petals, lavender, and chamomile…and none of those flowers lean towards a “fruit” profile.  When the tea is brewed, though, the fruity notes dissipate as do the chocolate notes, sadly.  The dominant flavor is the lavender, which comes through more as an herbal than as a floral.  The rose and chamomile do an excellent job as backup singers, and using the cream-flavored black as the base was inspired.  I think that a plain black tea would have overpowered some of the florals, but the cream rounds off the flavors and blends them all together very nicely.  As with the Portland Rose City Chai, Reading Nook has no “oil slick” that rises to the surface from its flavoring, which is excellent.  I find myself returning to this tea over and over, especially during weekends when I can laze about the house doing my own studies and school planning.  It helps me get into that perfect mind space where I am alert, but calm enough that I could happily watch paint dry.  It is, as advertised, an excellent blend for a long reading session.

As you may suspect by now, I also had no complaints with the Afternoon ‘High Tea’ White Tea.  Well, I take that back:  I thought the name was weird.  An “afternoon tea” is one of those fussy affairs you would imagine Downton Abbey‘s Crawley family would partake in every day at 4 pm on the dot.  Historically, this is the ‘snack’ meal of hot tea, dainty sandwiches, scones, and cake that the posh set would eat toward the end of the afternoon, for they typically dined after 8 pm, which is an awful long way from luncheon around noon.  High tea, however, is a much heartier meal eaten by the working class at around 6 pm when many got off work.  It was usually some form of strong tea and bread, meat, cheese, and vegetable.  Of course, class divides are not so immediately evident these days, and the names of the various teas have become somewhat conflated.

I cannot say that I would serve this tea at either an afternoon or a high tea.  It is a fairly delicate flavor profile, and a black tea would be far more appropriate to either of those events.  It is, however, a nicely flavored peach tea.  The white tea here is more like a bai mu dan, which itself has a floral, peachy aroma.  That is only heightened by the inclusion of the peach and apricot pieces, and the pear flavoring does help keep it from feeling too much like you’ve fallen straight into Georgia.  This is not a tea that moves me to great descriptive heights, but it is a solid performer with a clean, true peach flavor, and I have found it to be highly pleasant to brew up when I want to wind down at the end of the work day with my Netflix obsession du jour.

Again, well done, Plum Deluxe!  I initially thought your offerings a bit pricey at $7 an ounce plus shipping ($10.50 altogether).  After all, I usually get about 12 mugs of tea per ounce of dry leaf, which would make each mug about $0.83 each, and that’s about what I pay for some truly superlative oolong.  But realistically, you’re not much more expensive than a soft drink habit, and you’re far healthier.  I also like the fact that you offer a subscription service.  If I registered for that, I’m sure I would enjoy practically anything you sent me based off the select I enjoyed here, and I’d get a fun perk of having a surprise every month.  Thank you so much, Andy!  I wish you well on this fantastic venture!

Notes:

  • Andy did not pay me for this review.
  • This post was decidedly low on the magic front.  I had contemplated choosing a blend for magical purposes and creating a tea ritual, but between wrapping up master’s degree no. 2, work demands, and lots of fun coven stuff…my reserves were running low.  If you want to see a great idea for a similar working, check out Marietta’s Plum Deluxe review at Witchy Words.  It’s great!
  • I mentioned infuser recommendations.  I am all about fancy tea brewing tools, and I have my fair share of gaiwans, kyusu, and yixing pots.  But 90% of my brewing is done with a brew basket in a mug.  Lately, I’ve been using Teavana’s “Cool Touch” Tea Strainer and have found it to be a champion when it comes to brewing teas with fine particulates, for it contains an awful lot of them *and* it cleans up beautifully.  Most brew baskets get little bits stuck in the mesh; not so with this one. If anything gets stuck, it’s usually pretty easy to remove. I find myself brewing more chamomile and rooibos these days now that I don’t have to spend 5 minutes picking bits out of the mesh. David’s Tea’s Perfect Infuser would likely be similar, but I have not tried it yet myself.  I like these brew baskets more than infusing a whole pot at a time, but I do pot-brew when I have friends over.  When that happens, I brew the leaves loose in the pot, and pour the tea through this brew basket, which acts like a strainer.  I have, in the past, tried gravity tea pots which utilize a mesh filter. Those are great at retaining particulates, but I destroyed a filter once trying to clean it, and I find that the plastic does stain over time, especially if you don’t use a dishwasher.  It’s really hard to destroy these steel brew baskets, though.

Candle Anointing Oils

In many ways, 2016 is a year I will be glad to see the backside of.  While it has actually been a wonderful year for me personally and professionally, in all other respects it has been a Dumpster Fire.

Maybe that is why I want to burn all the things.  In previous years gone by, I would hold on to candles and incense as though they cost thousands of dollars.  In fact, the last time I went to visit my mother, I found an unused candle that a friend gifted to me on my fifteenth birthday, and I turned 33 this year!  Now, however, I get a lot of pleasure from lighting up a few candles when I get home from work.  This has also been reflected in my magical practice, where suddenly all I want to do is candle magic.

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The basics of anointing a candle with oil.  There are always variations upon the theme, though.  For example, Hoodoo practice usually holds that with figure candles or 7-knob candles that you either start from the bottom and rub up in order to banish a thing, or start from the top and rub down in order to bring a thing to you.

Over the past year, I think I must have gone through five pounds of beeswax between all the candles I’ve lit in the name of magic.  It’s not always for a full on ritual; in fact, I’ve lately gotten into meditatively using chime candles to ‘tweak’ my mindset on things.  For example, when I am feeling uncharitable to my students, I anoint a candle with some oils that help me feel loving, light it, and think upon all the things the kids have done in the past that have helped me connect with and love them.  If I am having issues getting a paycheck to stretch, I anoint a candle with oils that make me feel wealthy, and I think upon ways I can modify my budget as the flame burns.

As this year has plod on, I realized that most of what I had been doing in this respect was either to help me feel love and compassion, to help me relax when I was stressed, to help me feel happiness when I was sad or angry, to give me fortitude to see another day through, to improve my finances, and to tweak my heath.  Not long after I realized this, I had a long phone conversation with a magically-schooled friend.  While my friend is now a rabid atheist, he was once a member of the O.T.O. and continues to read and interrogate all things occult.  He can also identify patterns and references as well as any literature Ph.D. I’ve met.  During this call, he asked me about how my witchery was progressing and I began lamenting about how categorized and predictable my magic had become.  He laughed when I told him what I had been doing and said “Do you realize you just described pretty much all the blessings in the Gnostic mass? ‘Bless this spiritual food unto our bodies, bestowing upon us health and wealth and strength and joy and peace and that fulfillment of will and of love under will that is perpetual happiness.’ What more do you want?”

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An array of the candle-anointing oils that I made

I realized, of course, that he was right and that these six areas are excellent core foci for magical workings.  Once I had “names” for the workings I’d been doing, I decided to make pre-mixed candle anointing oils for each.  This was entirely self-serving on my part: the one thing that keeps me from doing magic when I need it and when I’m overwhelmed is the ‘chore’ of pulling together correspondences.  It seems that I find spellcraft a beautiful and creative outlet when I have no spells that need doing, and an insurmountable hurdle when I need it the most.  By pulling together correspondences and charging a blend when I feel fine, I am able to pull on that “battery” when my own reserves and creativity are low. I’ve also found that in just working with these six oils and some fairly regular candle magic, I have been able to see just what areas I need more help in.  I’ve run through my “love” dram twice now, and my “Peace” dram three times; but I’ve only used a quarter of my original “Health” bottle.  Clearly my life right now is making me a stressed-out cynic!

My own blends for these areas are below.  I did not want to utilize anything that would require infusing an oil because I wanted these blends to be made quickly and in small amounts (1 dram, or about 3/4 teaspoon).  So I first created a list of commonly available and generally inexpensive essential oils.  I then cross-referenced a few different texts on magical herbalism and aromatherapy to list out associations for each oil.  Then I did a bit of research into perfumery to figure out what scents generally complemented each other before playing around with proportions.

The one exception to this practice was the “Health” blend, which is essentially a “Thieves” oil blend.  In fact, 10-16 drops of a Thieves-style blend could be used instead of counting drops of the five component oils.  I have taken to using this blend so much during the school year to help keep germs at bay that cinnamon and clove now seem to me positively salubrious.  This, of course, meant that I did not want to use cinnamon in my “Wealth” blend, even though it is the backbone of a lot of wealth powders and oils in many different traditions.  The blend I did develop, though, reminds me oddly enough of the smell that bills and coins acquire, and I find it quite effective.

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The blends I developed and have been using for about 4 months now.  I am a fan of the concentrations given by these drops, which are strong enough for me to get a good smell of them as I do the anointing, but not strong enough to linger and overpower incense.

Any neutral oil could be used for the jojoba oil, I suppose, but I am very partial to jojoba for candle anointing.  It is actually not an oil, but rather a liquid wax.  Therefore it sort of ‘adheres’ to the candle and becomes part of the surface layer of the wax rather than just sit atop it.  It also is close to the composition of our own skin’s sebum, and absorbs very well into our skin without leaving a feeling like we’ve just been given a massage with Crisco. I certainly don’t want to have to bring a tea towel into a ritual with me to mop up greasy hands!  Fractionated coconut oil would work well, too; after all, it is usually what rose and jasmine are diluted with.

Potions in Action: Ritual Bath Spray

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If only my crafting was this photogenic.

Six years ago, I discovered Zum Mist’s aromatherapy sprays and tried my hand at making them.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked and, for a time, sprayed the heck out of rooms and myself with my various creations.  But my day jobs since then have all had a no-scent policy.  These are in the interest of keeping people healthy, and since I have a student who goes into grand mal seizures in the presence of strong smells, I certainly don’t mind them that much.  And at home, I’ve switched to using ultrasonic diffusers which last longer and require less active work on my part.

But there are two things I use essential oil sprays for, and one of them is a “ritual bath in a bottle.”  While I usually do give myself a “spa day” before a coven ritual, it is hardly an intensive energetic cleansing.  I mostly just make sure that everything is shaved that should be shaved, my feet aren’t cracked with callouses, and my skin isn’t all dry and scaly.  (Gardnerians practice skyclad, folks.)  And, of course, I shower the morning of a ritual.  But there’s a lot of time and a lot of mundane worries and activities that occur between the time I shower and the time of ritual, and I don’t have time to take a quick shower, let alone a ritual bath.

But I do have time for a quick spray before I leave.  I just squirt a bit in the air and walk through the mist, visualizing it penetrating through my aura and clearing away any gunk.  Lately I’ve been using this blend, which I like.  Just about everything in it is cleansing, and the overall smell is bright, green, and lively.  Geranium and hyssop are florals, but grassier florals than something like rose or jasmine.  To me, they don’t make the overall smell terribly floral, but a friend recently caught a whiff of it and asked if I was wearing jasmine.  While I myself would not eliminate hyssop as I have always enjoyed it in a ritual bath, an admirable cleansing spray can be made with sage, rosemary, and lemon.  Those scents alone can put me in mind of a chicken dinner, so I might also add a tablespoon or two of vanilla extract.

While the sea salt does help prevent bacterial growth as well as being a key cleansing ingredient, I also like to add a splash of vodka to be on the safe side.  And I find that the alcohol helps broaden the scents of the oils.  That being said, I’ve never once had a water-only batch turn bad on me.

1 4-ounce Boston Round glass bottle with atomizer

2/3 ounce vegetable glycerin

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 ounce vodka or grain alcohol (optional, but nice)

40 drops sage essential oil

15 drops rosemary essential oil

15 drops lemon essential oil

12 drops geranium essential oil

10 drops hyssop essential oil

2 1/3 to 3 1/3 ounce distilled, spring, or reverse-osmosis water

Add the vegetable glycerin, salt, vodka (if using), and oils.  Fill the bottle with water up to where the top starts to curve to the neck, then cap it with the atomizer top and shake vigorously for several seconds to dissolve the salt and thoroughly mix the oils and the glycerin.  Shake again before using.

 

 

 

My Cauldron has WiFi

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And I can control it with my smartphone, too.

I am not even joking.

A friend of mine called me up a couple days ago and told me a relative had been injured and what she could do magically to help accelerate the healing process.  One conversation about ethics and energy and proximity later, I found myself setting a date with her to make an herbal salve the relative could use (with her doctor’s permission!) and which my friend could charge with intent in a circle.

I had the ingredients on hand for a favorite salve recipe, but what I didn’t have was time to baby a double-boiler or fuss with a crockpot that boils everything no matter what.  But I do have a sous vide cooker, and it can hold just about any temperature you want for just about as long as you want with no fuss at all.  So I hooked it up and held the infusing herbs and oils steady at 100℉ for 24 hours.

Holy heck, I think that was pretty much the easiest time I ever had making an oil infusion.  It took almost no time to set up, and it churned all night and all day with no problems whatsoever.  And when I was away at work and panicking that I was burning down the house, all I had to do was check my smartphone…and the cooker’s wifi connection would show me how it was running so I could abort if necessary.  But everything was fine, and I came home today to this glorious concoction:

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Not the most attractive picture ever…but dang!  That is some dark oil!

For reference, this oil is so dark green it looks black, but it started as perfectly clear coconut oil.  That was a pretty effective infusion, if I do say so myself.  And, best of all, I can say with 100% certainty for the first time ever in my herbals preparations that I didn’t “cook” the herbs accidentally.

Wanted: Balance

For those of you who do not see me on the daily, you are probably unaware that even though I still ultimately think of my teaching job as a blessing and what I am meant to be doing right now, we are currently in the “hate” phase of our love/hate relationship.  I like to think of this phase as the pre-Thanksgiving sneaky hate spiral, but people smarter than me call it the “Disillusionment Phase.”  Basically, it’s that time of year in October and  November where teachers have just turned the page on the first quarter of the school year, and we realize that the dreams we had during the summer for how amazing this year was going to be have evaporated.  We take a solid look at the students we’re teaching–who are solidly out of their honeymoon phase and have morphed into hellions–their lackluster grades, the extreme amount of work we are doing, and the microscopic amount of pay off we get in return, and we just think…FUCK THIS.

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I honestly think Walt had less stress as Heisenburg than he did as Mr. White.

This is a thing.  I think that just about every new teacher (and probably most seasoned pros) goes through this.  We feel like frauds.  We feel like we aren’t doing the job well enough.  We feel like we are hurting children with our perceived incompetence. We are so over-extended and so stressed that we have exaggerated thoughts like “You know, if I hurt myself in a car crash this morning, I might not have to go to school for a few weeks.”  Just last week, I found myself staring into oncoming headlights as I was driving into school at 6 am (after waking up at 2 am to start working) and thinking, “it would be so easy to just turn the wheel left…”

This is a dark place, the Disillusionment Phase.  And I am certainly not alone in it, even though is is easy to think that.  The day I caught myself fantasizing about crashing my car, I mentioned it to my best work friend and she laughed and said “Oh, I’ve been having that dream for weeks now!” and next thing I know, I’m getting emails from the rest of my department saying “Yup: I’ve had that thought recently, too.”

While the solidarity is nice, I’d really like to find a way to get out of the Disillusionment Phase, but it is hard to see a tangible solution for that.  My fourth and fifth periods may decide to stop being jerks, but they probably won’t. And my workload may get lighter, but it probably won’t. I have very little real control over these stressors.  But what I can do is try to tweak my own mindset.

So over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to re-boot a meditation practice.  The only time I have been genuinely successful in this in the past was in graduate school when I could arrange my schedule to have a wide swath of time in the early morning to wake up, shower, eat healthfully, exercise, meditate, and do some personal reading and work before heading into classes around 9 am.  This is not feasible now.  Nor is having a set time each day–my schedule is too locked from 6 am to 4:30 pm, and then it’s highly variable every day after that.  The one thing that I can usually count on is a 9 pm bed time (ugh, that makes me feel so old), but meditating just before bed makes me fall asleep instead of meditate.

It’s been a struggle, and I’ve certainly not been perfect.  But I have really enjoyed the app I’m using to help: Headspace.  There’s a free starter pack of 10 guided meditations that help teach technique and regularity, and it sends you nice push notifications with reminders and positive thoughts.  You can also schedule reminders to meditate, which has been very useful to me. If you subscribe to the service (about the cost of Netflix), you get access to additional meditations and resources, but honestly I can see myself spending a few months at least on just the starter 10, so I’m not currently fussed about subscribing.

It’s helping some.  At the very least, taking 10 minutes a day to not think of anything obligation related or to zone out with a TV show has helped me stop thinking about the merits of maiming myself.  And it does help me feel, at least, as though I am practicing my spirituality more regularly rather than being a “Sabbat and Esbat” Wiccan. Perhaps I’ll see some other benefits a little down the road.