May 23, 2012

This Week In The Garden & Beyond

Sunshine, heat and Spring rains have all contributed to a happy garden.  The new black violets above are perfectly pouty.  I adore them!

My very favourite thing about lady's mantle is the way it cradles water droplets and makes them look like gems.

The columbine below is about to open any minute...

I'm so in love with this massive tuft of chives I have.  I can never use them all though.  I carve out a hunk every year to gift to someone and they just keep expanding.

The peas will bloom very soon.  And then, those sweet little pods will appear!

My new garden friend.  Look closely - although it looks, from this angle, like he has huge ears - it is actually his wings that are the ribbed stone in the background.

The clouds this week have made for some nice pictures of the valley.  There are two lakes in this shot.  The one beneath the trees and another one that is showing just a sliver beneath the dark hill in the background.  The strip of land between the two lakes is home to one of our valley's cities.

There are 300-400 "countable" lakes in British Columbia, but the number of small lakes and waterways in our province are too numerous to catalogue.  We have so many lakes in the valley that you cannot travel far without passing one.  I never get tired of looking at them.

 "Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books."  John Lubbock

May 21, 2012

Hair - Practices in Custom and Culture

I have been trying to pay more attention to my habits - why I do the things I do.  Some questions I have been asking include: Which things have become routine?  Is there meaning there, or merely the comfort of habit?

One of the habits I’ve accumulated over the past 5 years or so, that I’m finally taking some time to look at, is a hair-removal routine.  Each month, just as my body begins its custom of releasing and cleansing, I take some time and go through a hair removal ritual.  I don’t touch the hair on my forearms or head, but all other hair on my body is removed. It is a completely separate entity from my regular beauty routine.  It’s not about beauty at all.  It is simply a recognizing and a gentle nod to the process occurring in my body at that time.

A friend of mine from Bangladesh has told me that she too has a similar routine, but in their culture the hair removal comes after the cycle is complete.  It is more of a ‘fresh start’ custom for women.

Taking a quick look at other cultures, I’ve found that many have customs surrounding hair and its removal or retention.

From a social stance, ancient cultures had hair removal practices both as a sign of beauty (in Greece and Egypt) and as a practical way to keep healthy, such as with tribes people who wear little clothing and may be exposed to insects such as lice or ticks.  Although it has been observed that this custom may also be partly related to an idea of desirability, even in tribal culture.

Another social instance of hair removal is the practice or removing facial hair or the hair of the head and body as a sign of grief.  In some cultures it is expected that the grieving would remove their hair or even contribute hair to the deceased’s tomb.  Or, in the case of the Chinese, the families of the deceased would not cut their hair for 49 days after a death.

Moving over to spirituality-based reasons for hair removal, the Buddhist monks are a well-known example. They are required to shave their face, eyebrows and heads as a nod to Siddhartha who by rejecting his outward self, would eventually find enlightenment and become Buddha.

In Islam, law dictates that Muslims remove underarm and pubic hair as a hygienic practice (also seen as cosmetic.)

In Sikhism hair is never cut, as a sign of respect and gratitude to God.  Hair is wrapped in a turban and let down to comb twice daily with a comb called a Kanga.

In many ethnic groups, we begin to see that over time the younger generations adopt more modern ideas of what is appropriate for them spiritually and in society.  Many young Sikhs cut their hair and modern Jews forgo the “peyos” or long sideburns common in Hasidic practice.

In Western culture today, hair removal is almost exclusively seen as cosmetic.

For me, acknowledging my body and its rhythms and participating in my own releasing practice feels like an offering to myself.  Not to a god or in exchange for enlightenment.  Just a simple gift to my own body and spirit.

Update: This post triggered interesting dreams for me, one of which was a reminder about a dear friend who, being a devout Christian once, vowed to never cut her hair short as a tribute to Mary's humility, when she washed Jesus' feet in this verse:

"Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair."  John 12, Verse 3 (NKJ)

Hair was extremely valuable in biblical times and another verse (and story) that always struck me as fascinating was that of Absalom.

"But in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.
And when he cut the hair of his head, (for it was at every year's end that he cut it: because the hair was heavy on him, therefore he cut it:) he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels after the king's weight."  2 Samuel 14:25-26  (NKJ)

In those days, the hair of the king was considered the most valuable and sold for the highest price, but Absalom's hair was so beautiful that it garnered the same worth as the king's (his father.)  Absalom's tale is one of grief, anger, vanity and betrayal.  In this, his beauty seems to be a cautionary tale against vanity.

The most popular Bible story regarding hair would likely be that of Samson and his ultimate undoing by Delilah.

I keep my own hair long because after having cut it short a time or two, I've found that longer hair is a more suitable style for me. But I have also found that over the years of battling body image, my hair is the one part of me I could find pleasing and feminine and sometimes, powerful.

Information presented in this post found:
The Encyclopedia of Hair Removal
China Culture
Real Sikhism
About Judaism
Hair Removal Forum
Photos from Wiki Commons

May 14, 2012

Plants in Pictures

Today was my annual excursion to the garden center with my Mom.  Her Mother's Day gift from me each year is this short road trip and as many plants as she can stuff on the little cart that the garden center provides.

Not surprisingly, my favourite greenhouse is the one with all the herbs.

My mother has a real love for marigolds.  I don't understand it at all.

Multi-coloured lettuce excites me.

Every witch needs some dark red geraniums outside the front door.

It's hard to see, but this lilac is dark purple with a light pink outer edge.  Gorgeous!

The names of plants always intrigue me.

Two things I generally fail at growing.  Roses and corn.  Roses, I don't miss.  But I do love the look of rows of cornstalks.  *sigh*

I hope the weather is conducive to planting wherever you are.  Do you have a favourite plant, or something that grows especially well for you?

Happy planting!


May 8, 2012

Sweet Dandelion

My never-ending love affair with dandelion had me making a gorgeous, sweet syrup last week.

There seem to be a handful of different ideas on how this is done.  I read about a dozen recipes and then decided to wing it.  Here's what happened:

I picked a ridiculous amount of dandelion flowers and then separated the yellow petals out.  Several recipes mentioned that the bitterness of any green portion of the dandelion will give a bite to the syrup.  I have since found that this is not really the case.  My friend the Eco Diva has been making a ton of syrup and used the entire flower head.  I tasted her version and it was lovely.

My Version:

1 good cup of dandelion petals
3 cups of water

Bring water and petals to a boil in a pot and then turn off heat, cover and let steep overnight.
The next day, pour the dandelion infusion through cheesecloth or an unbleached coffee filter.

Return infusion to your pot, add a few slices of lemon and orange.  Bring to a slow boil and then remove the citrus.  Add 1 cup of honey and simmer until the syrup thickens. (About 1.5-2 hours)

Pour into sterilized jars and enjoy!

Eco Diva's version:

250 dandelion heads plus 4 cups of water to create your infusion.
The next day (after straining) add citrus slices or cinnamon & clove to the infusion.
Bring to a soft boil and then remove the citrus or cinnamon.
Add 2 lbs raw cane sugar & simmer 2 hours until thickened.

After spending an hour removing petals, I like the idea of using the entire heads.  I'm going to try her version this week.

Now that dandelion flower season is here, get out there and pick like crazy.  The smaller leaves are wonderful in salads.  The flower heads can be used fresh or dried in tea blends or infused in oil and used as a lymph massage oil (great for breast health!)  Even the milky sap is said to remove warts and corns if applied topically.  (I've not tried it - let me know if it works.)

There is no reason not to go out and enjoy those lovely yellow flowers in your yard.  Happy picking!

May 2, 2012

Spring Harvest

A walk alongside the river each day helps me center and allows me to chart the progress of the seasons.  I've watched leaves and blossoms bursting open these last two weeks and it's been quite the show.  Yesterday, aided by my trusty blue bucket, I set out to find some Oregon grape flowers.

Oregon grape is anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial.  The active ingredient in the plant is berberine, which gives Oregon grape its yellow blossoms and the bright yellow found beneath the bark of the entire shrub.  The root is most favoured for extracting berbarine (a suitable substitute for the increasingly rare goldenseal,) but root harvesting is preferable in the Autumn or early Spring before the shrub blossoms. Because berberine is found throughout the entire plant and because I wanted a gentle tonic, I chose to harvest some flowers for a tincture.

I also started an oil infusion with the flowers.  The oil can then be used on the skin to aid in relief from any inflamed cuts, rashes or other skin conditions.  A great article with more information about Oregon grape can be found here.

My other great find was a few spots where wild raspberry canes were leafing.  Raspberry leaf (wild or domestic) is wonderful dried for tea.  Although it's touted as a pregnancy drink, anyone can benefit from the vitamins and minerals it contains.  I've been low on my calcium intake lately, which is probably why this plant called to me.  Other great minerals contained in raspberry leaf are potassium and phosphorous.

Raspberry leaf can also be used a tummy tea to ease tummy ache/digestive issues and it was also talked about by Dr. Oz a while back in regards to its ability to lower blood sugar levels, which would be great for people who are at risk for becoming diabetic.

I also found this little gem, winking up at me from the road.

Head out into your local hills and fields with a good plant guidebook and see what you can find.  You never know what the local flora has to offer you this time of year.

May is coming along rather nicely, I'd say!