Category Archives: General

Splashes of Color

The most difficult thing about this time of year is how monochromatic it can seem.  The trees are still pretty much bare and the ground is still covered in brown leaves.  The starkness of winter has its own beauty but now that spring has come around I am impatient for more color.  Fortunately, the universe provides.

Baby Mugwort

 

Lady in Red

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Spring Is Here Now

Tree BudsToday is Candlemas, a.k.a. Imbolc (Imbolc actually starts at sunset on February 1).  In days gone by (and in the modern pagan community) this day is considered the first day of spring.  And really, it makes perfect sense.  The days are noticeably longer and buds are appearing on trees and peeking out of the ground.   Even though it may still be cold and snowy we can feel the promise of warmer days.    In some places this is the time when preparation begins for the spring planting in March.  We think that nature sleeps all winter but really it just slows down, building strength for the growing season. Now it’s starting to speed up, opening up and out.

Candlemas is celebrated with fire, lit candles and bonfires, to symbolize the growing light and give warmth and courage through the last cold days.  It’s also a good time to clean and clear.  I like to do a really thorough spring cleaning in February, washing floors and walls, moving the furniture to clean underneath, scouring the oven and giving everything a really good airing.  It’s like a whole new beginning.

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Tying One On

Coming home the other day I ran into some funny public art.  I’m not sure what it was about but it did cheer me up.  I only wish I could get farther away so you could see the whole thing at once.

Ties on a Fence 1

Ties on a Fence 3

Ties on a Fence 2I particularly like this group

 

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Snow!

I admit, I was starting to think that this winter would go by without any snow at all.  I know, it’s only mid-January but we’ve had so many days in the mid to upper 40’s that it just did not seem possible.  This is how my park looked yesterday:

Trees

But this morning when I woke I heard the distinctive sound of shovel on sidewalk.  I sat up in bed and sure enough it was snowing, really snowing.  We’ve got an estimated 4.6 inches on the ground.  I’m glad to see it though I know it will not stay.  It’s supposed to hit 52 degrees on Tuesday.  But until then, I will enjoy winter’s most beautiful gift.

Snowfall

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Ode to a Neti Pot

Mention neti pots and you will usually get one of two reactions:

Love it!

or

No way!

I fall firmly into the first group.  I love, love, love my neti pot.  Particularly in the winter and when I have a cold.  I feel so clear after I use it, able to breathe freely.  I also love knowing that I’m clearing stuff out.  Living in NYC I breathe in a lot of stuff.  Pollen, car exhaust, and other things I’d rather not think about.  When I use my neti pot I wash away any yuck that has accumulated in my nasal passages so it doesn’t hang around causing trouble.

But it’s when I have a head cold that the neti really shows its worth.  Even before I became interested in alternative healing I wasn’t much of a medicine taker. But I did take decongestants when I had a cold.  I really hate lying there in bed, unable to breathe, unable to sleep.  So I took over the counter medicine.  Initially I would take multi-use items like Nyquil or Alka-Seltzer.  Eventually I realized that all I really needed was decongestants so I took those.  And they work, they do, but they left my nasal passages feeling like they’d been scoured and then blown dry.  Not comfortable.

Then my lovely sister introduced me to the neti pot.  Oh frabjous day!  If I use my neti pot in the morning and just before I go to bed at night I have no problem breathing and sleeping.  And unlike decongestants it moistens the nasal passages to it  does not hurt to breathe.  It also shortens the amount of time I spend with a runny nose and since I started using my neti daily I’ve gone from 2-3 colds a season to just 1.

When I talk to those who have rejected the neti it’s usually because they had a bad first experience.  They got water in their throat or the water burned their nose.  It does not have to be this way.  If you carefully follow the directions that come with your neti you will be fine.  Here are a few tips to help you have a good experience.

1. DO NOT use table salt.  This often contains anti-clumping agents that you do not want flowing through your nose. Use pure sea salt or Kosher salt.  I like fine sea salt because it dissolves easily and quickly.

2. Use the right amount of salt.  Often people experience burning because they added too little.  You want the solution to be the same as the salt content of your cells, in medicine they call it saline solution.  Use a solid 1/4 tsp of fine salt to 8 ounces of water.  If you use coarse salt you will need more than 1/4 tsp because there is more empty space between the grains.

3. Use warm water, a bit warmer than body temperature.  Avoid extreme temperatures, either hot or cold.

4. Bend over far enough.  You want your face to be parallel to the bottom of the sink.  If you get a bit of water in the back of your throat it means you need to bend further forward.

5. Do not add extra stuff, like essential oils, without thoroughly investigating.  Essential oils in particular can irritate the mucous membranes.

6. Keep your neti pot clean.  Wash it after you use it and don’t let water stand in it.  Also, if your tap water is not the best you may want to use distilled or boiled water.

7. Buy a beautiful neti that you will love looking at as well as using, like this one by Coryell Clayworks:

I encourage you to try it and don’t give up if the first time is not so comfortable.  It is totally worth the effort.

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Happy New Year

Did you know that there are different names for groups of animals?  A group of lions is a pride, crows are a murder, and starlings are a murmuration.  If you’ve ever passed a tree filled with starlings you know why.  Starlings like to do things in groups and one thing they do is truly amazing.  There are a bunch of videos out there depicting their joyous aerobatics but one in particular stands out for me.  It’s a combination of the music and the fact that the birds fly right over the camera person.  It is a very personal moment and it doesn’t fail to move me no matter how many times I watch it.  I suggest watching full screen.  May your year be filled with moments that feel like this:

Murmuration from Sophie Windsor Clive on Vimeo.

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Interlude

I know, I know, I was supposed to provide you with medicine making posts but I got derailed by a few things, including the holidays.  I spent some years working in retail and when you work in retail you do not loose track of Christmas.  It is everpresent in your life from about Halloween on.  But it’s been a few years since I last manned a busy cash register and Christmas now sneaks up on me.  I tell myself each year that I will plan ahead, not leave everything to the last minute.  Right.

Anyway,  here is a present I made for my cousin Jen.  She has a 3 year old child now and this totally boggles my mind.  I used to babysit Jen.  I changed that girls diapers and now she has a kid of her own.  I’m not in denial or anything, I just have trouble grasping the concept.  I hope she likes her necklace, I think it came out pretty cool.

May you all have a very merry holiday and a very happy new year.

 

 

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Preparation

The weather over the last few days has been amazing.  Sunny, warm, beautiful.  I’m trying to store it up for the winter months to come, like freezing pesto to eat in the depths of January.  I know that the cold and dark days are just around the corner but I feel okay about it.  Winter has its own stark beauty, its own gifts to give.  For one thing, you get to really see the shape of trees and of the land itself.  And for another, the park is more peaceful and clean.  I like that people enjoy it in the warm weather but sometimes it becomes incredibly noisy and there is always a ton of trash.  I know people who like to bring things to the park as offerings.  My offering to nature is to pick up trash, to take at least one thing out every time I go to the park.  Sadly, there is always at least one thing to take and in the warm months, many things.  In winter we get a break from it all.

Now is the time when I start to make my deep winter remedies.  Wild cherry bark cough syrup, slippery elm lozenges, and balm for dry skin.  It’s very satisfying to have these things ready, to know they will be there when I need them.  I’m also making my Christmas lists.  A few years ago I stopped buying things for people and started giving homemade gifts, mostly food.  I make cookies and chocolates, preserves, conserves, and liqueurs.   I make bath milks, balms, soaps, and sprays.  And then there’s the knitted, crocheted, woven, and sewn items.  I’ve always enjoyed finding just the right gift for each person and making gifts myself ups the satisfaction.  I highly recommend it.

I will share the process as I go along.

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Taste of Autumn

What does autumn taste like?  I think autumn tastes like cinnamon, nutmeg, & cloves.  They pervade the foods of fall.  We cheerfully add them to pie, to soup, to cider, to eggnog but we probably don’t think about them as medicine.  At least I didn’t until I started studying herbs.  It turns out that these familiar spices are pretty powerful remedies, particularly for the digestion.  It is no accident that we find them laced throughout our autumn and winter foods.  Those foods tend to be heavier, more difficult to digest.  These spices really help our digestive system to rise to the challenge.  All three of them will ease gas buildup, relieve nausea, and warm up the digestive tract.

Thinking about this leads me to think about traditional cooking.  Often, traditional recipes will bring together foods in ways that aid their digestion and assimilation.  These days we turn to nutritional science and chemistry labs.  Our ancestors had to rely on personal observation.  They observed the effects of different foods and they went with what worked.  To me, this seems like a much better system for figuring out what foods you should eat.  How do they affect you?  Not anyone else, you.  If you have problems digesting a particular food – and it’s not due to an allergy or real intolerance – you might find out how the food was eaten traditionally.  Was ii cooked and you’re eating it raw?  Was it cooked with lots of spices and you’re having it with just salt?  Did it have particular condiments like cheese or milk or a bit of raw vegetable?  Was it soaked before cooking?  What season does this food belong to?  Is it a food your ancestors ate?  Does it grow locally?  Grow your awareness and you may find your digestion begins to improve.

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Keeping to the Rhythm

I was thinking this morning that we – in the developed world – live backwards.  In the summer, when nature is at its most active, is when we take our break.  We have off from school, we take vacations and lie on the beach.  Then, in winter when nature is at its least active, when it slumbers and rests, we speed up.  We go back to school, back to work, and we take on the holiday season, dealing with crowds, traveling, and getting generally stressed out.  It’s no wonder that we feel exhausted and depleted.   We are part of nature and our bodies have rhythms that move with the seasons but we ignore those rhythms.
This line of thought led me to consider how to get closer to my natural rhythm while living in the world.  I certainly don’t want to give up the holidays.  I really enjoy them.  I like to spend time with my family, I like all the wonderful food and the other rituals that come with the season, and I like gift giving.  It’s very satisfying to find or create just the right gift.  Then there’s those daily obligations that do not go away just because it is winter.
So I’ve made a list (I love lists) of things that I can do to scale back and allow myself more time for rest and looking inward.

Go to bed a little earlier – by 10pm whenever possible.
Take naps when I can.
Visit the park at least 3 times a week.
Avoid excess caffeine and sugar.
Eat seasonal food.
Sit in stillness and quiet at least 10 minutes every day.
Prepare herbal remedies I might need ahead of time.
Don’t make a giant list of things to make for the holidays.

None of this is onerous, I just have to stick to it.  The only one that is really tough is that last one.  It’s so easy to get carried away with plans for lovely baked goods and knitted gifts.   On the other hand, the second to last item is a joy.

My list of remedies is short.  I like to make a wild cherry bark and licorice syrup and slippery elm lozenges for my throat,  eucalyptus and rosemary salve for putting on my chest and under my nose for stuffiness, and some herbed bath salts for soaking stress away.

I’ll let you know how it’s going as we move into December.

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