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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What Do Spiders Have To Do With Halloween?

Out with the dogs in the early morning hours I noticed the multitude of spider webs seemingly everywhere. The two types of webs most prevalent were that of the grass spider, who weaves the funnel type webs, and the garden spider, who weaves the round web we are most familiar.

I'm usually ok with spiders as long as they aren't actually crawling on me. Being a gardener I come across the orb spider fairly frequently. I know they won't hurt me but being the size they are, it always gives me a jolt. Spiders are beneficial arthropods, that survive by feeding on insects. Oftentimes they are the most important biological control of insect pests in gardens, fields, forests, and homes.

In fall and winter, spiders might be found lurking in dark corners of the house or the basement. For a female spider getting ready to lay eggs, she’d need to catch enough food so she would have the energy necessary for laying eggs. Then, she’d need someplace to tie up those eggs. For spider that makes webs, all this extra work would leave quite a few cobwebs around.

Click here for an interview with our local Penn State Horticulture Educator Emelie Swackhamer.

So why the connection with Halloween? Mainly it is a matter of association with that which people fear. People often are afraid of the dark, creepy, hidden places and any creatures lurking in such places. Walking into a spider web is rarely a pleasant experience.

The spider web is said by some pagans to represent the wheel of life and time, the turning of the seasons. In addition the spider has eight legs - and there are eight major festivals in the pagan/Wiccan year. One of them is Samheim, which is a time to reconnect with our ancestors, and honor those who have died. This is the time when the veil between our world and the spirit realm is thin, so it's the perfect time of year to make contact with the dead.

Below are just a few of common spiders who are contentedly living amongst us just trying to survive. If we leave them alone, usually they try in earnest to leave us alone. Spiders are more common in our homes than we think. According to David Bodanis in his book "Secret House" the typical clean and tidy home still houses many, many spiders. These beneficials prefer to stay hidden in the dark corners of our cabinets and basements and quietly give us a hand in keeping those insects at bay who can do us harm. To destroy their webs and then spray liberally with poisonous insect spray just seems ludicrous.
Wolf spiders are common spiders outdoors and are occasionally seen indoors. They are moderate to large-sized spiders (1/4 - 3/4 inch long). Wolf spiders are found on the ground or under stones in a wide variety of habitats, such as forest floors, grassy meadows, swamps, and bogs. Some even like to live underground. They commonly hunt during the day or at night when it is warm. Wolf spiders are dark-colored, usually brownish or grayish, with white markings.
The bite of the Wolf Spider is poisonous but not lethal. Although non-aggressive, they bite freely if provoked and should be considered dangerous to humans. The bite may be very painful. First aid and medical attention should be sought as soon as possible, particularly as to children or the elderly.
Orb spiders are common spiders outdoors near buildings, but are usually not found indoors. They range in size from small to large (1/8 - 1 inch long) and are found in a variety of colors, with some being brightly colored. Orb spiders have large, swollen-looking abdomens, including some that are oddly shaped. They make the classic round, flat, wheel-like web familiar to most people.
The black and yellow argiope (are-JI-o-pee) spider, also known as the garden spider, is familiar to many. It is large (up to 1 inch long) and brightly colored black and yellow.
Another common orb spider is the barn spider (figure 9). It is large (4/5 inch long) and brownish in color.
The bite of Orb-Weaving Spiders is of low risk (not toxic) to humans. They are a non-aggressive group of spiders. Seldom bite. Be careful not to walk into their webs at night - the fright of this spider crawling over one's face can be terrifying.

Grass spiders, a type of funnel weaver, are common outdoors and are occasionally found indoors. They are generally brownish or grayish with light and dark stripes near the head. They have long spinnerets and are moderate-sized (3/4 inch long). Grass spiders construct a large sheet web with a funnel they use as a retreat. These webs are commonly built on the ground, around steps, window wells, foundations, and low shrubs.

These spiders are non-aggressive and the bite of these spiders is of low risk to humans.

Sure spiders are ghoulish but if you really look close at them they are fascinating. Certainly not so ugly they're cute as goes the saying, but we sure can't say mother nature is dull.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

But It Said Blueberries On The Box, Read Those Labels

It seems wherever we turn we are bombarded with articles sending the message that the food industry cares little about the health of those consuming its products.  Truth is, these corporations are 'for profit' organizations with the priority being to give the consumer what they want at the least possible cost to the company. As long as they are following labeling laws and pass FDA inspections, they certainly aren't going to let ethics interfere. How they shop and feed their own families is their business. That is why it is imperative for families to do their own research and not be gullible to the power of slick advertising.
Click here to watch a video using blueberries as an example of why we as consumers have to do our own homework.

Mega supermarkets and convenience foods didn't take off until consumers were willing to pay for such time saving solutions in their meal planning. With all the pressures in life, it would be nice to know the food we buy for our families is what it claims to be and not just a convincing advertising ploy. Reading labels is the only way to be sure of what you are buying. As educated adults we know that as long as the label says what is in the product the food companies have done their part, and if we as consumers choose to buy packaged and prepared food that is our decision.

The irritation is why should we have to pay top dollar for the natural, organic, "better" foods. Why should our food bills be twice as high if we want wholesome food that is nutritious and not just empty calories to satisfy hunger. It's enough to make one paranoid that everything we put in our mouths is altered or tampered with, and not really food at all, just artificially colored, flavored, scented, salted, sweetened stuff. If it tastes good, the customer seems happy, maybe not healthy, but good enough. Do most people even know what wholesome fresh food is supposed to taste like to even make a comparison?

As a parent, it is very frustrating to feel no matter which way we turn there is something to make us feel insecure and inadequate. Few decisions in life have more anxiety wrapped up in them than the decision for parents whether to be traditional, and have one spouse put a career on hold and focus on the home front, or try to do it all and juggle home, spouse, children and career.

Can it be that unless we are in a position to be able to grow and put up our own food, bake our own goods and keep the pots simmering from scratch, we're not doing what is in the best interest of our families? But how many can realistically do that? Not many people are in a position to become a homesteader. When you don't get in the door until dinnertime there often isn't the time to prepare many of the main meals from scratch. (Thank goodness for the crock pot.) Many folks just don't have access to convenient seasonal co-ops or farmers markets. Therefore, they are dependent on their grocery stores and just hope the fresh foods available aren't too laden with pesticides and the soil it grew in had some value to it. Not everyone can afford the organic section when they try to stick to a food budget.

So what is a parent supposed to do? There is no way we as a society can turn back now. Our age of technology is so interdependent and woven we usually have to pay for every little thing we need. I can remember the thrill of eating foraged plants or out of the garden and thinking "wow, this is really free!" It is almost comical when you compare that way of thinking with how our hunter, gatherer ancestors survived.

We need air filters for our homes for clean air to breathe, water filters on our taps for purified water, access to a Trader Joe's, Whole Foods or co-ops for decent food. So the choice becomes ours.
We can run a little faster on the hamster wheel of the workplace to make more money to afford it all in hopes for better health, only to lose our mental or physical health anyway from all the stress.

Or, we can reevaluate our lifestyles and walk away from it all to become more self-sustaining. But to grow and put up our own food requires time, effort and a commitment not everyone is willing to give.

Most of us will take the middle road and try to become more aware in our consumer choices, better organize our free time to perhaps plant a garden, shop at farmer's markets and co-ops, learn how to can or freeze extra produce, and just do the best we can with our individual situations.

An interesting article written by Scott Morefield, entitled "Four Ways Our Family Says No to GMO's" addresses the concern with genetically modified organisms in our food supply. He believes the best thing we can do for our health is to remove GMO's from our diets. In this article he focuses on the problem with corn, soy, white sugar and canola oil. He sums it up by saying the best way to avoid these "franken-engineered crops" is to just avoid the center aisles in the grocery store.

This code chart is handy to remember while shopping for produce at your supermarket.

Now back to blueberries. July is the month to take advantage of the availability and best prices for fresh blueberries. Very easy to freeze for use all year long, this fruit is considered one of the 'must eat foods'.

Try making these delicious blueberry muffins. As with any home baked goodie, without preservatives they only stay fresh for a few days. If a batch of 24 at a time is just too many, simply freeze the extras.


4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour (or 2 cups all-purpose and 2 cups wheat or another whole grain of choice)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 cups (16 oz) sour cream or plain yogurt)
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

In a mixing bowl, beat eggs. Gradually add sugar. While beating, slowly add the oil and then the vanilla.
Combine the dry ingredients in another bowl. Sift to blend thoroughly. I just toss with a pastry blender.
Add the dry ingredients alternately with the sour cream or yogurt to the egg mixture.
Don't over mix muffins, stir only till moistened; don't worry about pressing out every lump.
Gently fold in blueberries, try to keep the blueberries whole.
Spoon into greased muffin tins. The typical muffin tin uses about 1/3 cup batter per muffin. 
This batch will make about 24 muffins.
Baked at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Advice From My Pup
1 housing market for the rich, and another for everyone else
students feeling impact as colleges lose funding
Both of these articles were printed in our local newspaper only a few days apart.

We have two young adults in college at the same time. Not wanting them to start out life in debt we had always told them we would help the best we can with their education. We had purchased a piece of land which was to be our back up funds if needed for college expenses. So here we are in the middle of it and that land is worth less than we ever anticipated, so just like the stocks, we're trying to just leave it be and see what happens.

Both kids are getting the education they know they need to at least get a shot at a chosen career. But as they deal with the demands of their schedules, the pressure to pay for it, and then read articles such as above, even they wonder if it is all worth it. Young people are supposed to leave their safety net of home with the energy to take on the world and make it a better place, but at times that energy seems to be slowly leaking like a deflating balloon. I pray they don't lose their drive, idealistic visions and optimism for their future.
The forest scene in this picture was taken in the Muir Woods out in coastal California, near San Francisco. Just being in the presence of these majestic wonders which have been around for years helps us put things in perspective. Every generation has had its problems making a decent living in efforts to afford health care, tuition fees, housing costs and retirement worries. Every generation probably thinks the times are getting worse compared to the good old days.

Staring up at these giant trees sends the message down to us that "This too shall pass" and "It is what it is". People have always struggled with money, the weather, health issues, politics, their children, and somehow one day leads to the next and we get through it, hopefully all the stronger and wiser rather than beaten down.

To keep from thinking too much I take the unspoken advice from my pets. Riley has no problem parking himself on a bench and having down time staring at the birds. He doesn't seem to feel guilty in the least. He should have a bandana around his neck that reads "Don't worry, Be Happy!".

So as autumn officially begins this week, I'll try to take his advice and see the whole picture. We will all get through these tough times just like we did last year and the year before. Another season of football and hockey along with the approaching holidays will put life back in the household. And that means the kids will be coming home :) So with so much to look forward to, there is so much to do. And yes Riley, I'll try to take time to sit with you on that waiting bench.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Goldenrod - Ally For The Kidneys

A sure sign that summer is coming to a close is the transformation of open meadows and wastelands to a mix of golds, yellow, whites and a touch of purple.
It is a shame many people just see these wild plants as weeds in areas that just weren't kept mowed. Another example of the "great forgetting" of the knowledge of our ancestors.

Fall asters in natural settings are much smaller than garden types. These bushy 3 - 4 foot tall plants remind me of nature's baby's breath adding its delicate touch to the whole meadow scene of golds and yellows from the Goldenrods.

There are more than 80 species of Goldenrod and all but one can be found in North America. A common type of Goldenrod is Solidago canedensis, which can be identified because it develops galls on the stems. For medicinal purposes Solidago virgaurea is best.

The name Sodidago comes from the latin meaning "to solidify or bring together" the lips of a wound. It was one of the main wound remedies during the Middle Ages and in this country was used extensively by the American Indians. Used for a variety of ailments, most of these uses trace back to poor kidney action. Today's naturopathic medicine still favors Goldenrod as one of the best kidney and bladder remedies. If the kidneys fail to remove uric acid from the blood, it builds up in the system causing dark, cloudy urine. The effects on the other organs snowball. If the organs of detoxification become compromised the body suffers the consequences. Patients with exhausted kidneys have tired lower backs, tired feet, just drained of vitality. Goldenrod pulls the blood into the kidney from the vessels.

Here are three ways you can make your own preparations with Goldenrod. For later use gather what you need at the beginning of the flowering season. Cut off the top part of the plants a little below the bottom-most flowers. Tie them in bunches and hand in a dry, shady, airy place. Pick fresh every year because they lose their diuretic quality after a year of storage. These recipes came from the book "Medicine of the Earth" by Susanne Fischer-Rizzi.

Tea for Flushing Out Wastes; Rheumatism

Goldenrod herb (Solidago virgaurea)
Stinging nettle herb (Urtica dioica/urens)
White birch leaves (Betula pendula)
White willow bark (Salix alba)

Mix the herbs in equal parts and store in a tightly lidded container. For a cup of tea, pour 1 cup boiling water over 2 tsp. herb mixture. Steep, strain, add honey or stevia to taste if desired.
Mountain Rose Herbs is a very reputable company in which to purchase dried herbs you can be assured are fresh

Goldenrod Tincture

Fill a dark jar with freshly cut goldenrod herb. Pour in a grain spirit or fruit liqueur (such as 100 proof vodka or brandy) to cover, close the jar tightly, and let the mixture steep in a dark , warm place for 2 - 3 weeks. Shake occasionally. Strain the tincture into dropper bottles. (Mountain Rose Herb carries bottles as well). A daily dose is 20 drops taken 3 times a day either on the tongue or added to a glass of water.

Goldenrod Wine

Fill a mason jar halfway with freshly cut goldenrod herb. Top it off with a liter of good white wine, clos the jar, and let the mixture steep for 2 - 3 weeks in a dark, warm place. Strain the wine into another bottle. Drink 2 to 3 snifters daily.

For those of you who enjoy the stories behind plants, this comes from "The Book of Herbal Wisdom" by Mathew Wood.
All summer long, while other plants are flowering, Goldenrod is steadily raising its single stalk towards the sky. Finally, around the middle of August the golden-yellow spires appear. Both a staff and a spire are included in the picture. It is like the tarot card showing a man walking along a road with a heavy burden upon his back, a walking staff in his hand. His head is bent down, so that he does not see a church spire rising in the distance which shows that his destination is within reach. The message of Goldenrod is to endure to reach the goal.

The root tells a story as well. If you dig up the Goldenrod during the growing season you find the rootlets go downwards into the soil all summer long. When the weather starts to get cold it sends the roots out sideways, forming a compact mass just under the surface, as if the plant was storing for winter. The message is of free growth, then of change in order to prepare for a difficult time. The root holds onto the earth, just as the foot of the traveler cleaves to the path with determination to reach the goal.

Friday, September 16, 2011

San Francisco, Green and Clean

Having been to San Francisco for the first time this past summer, this article below caught my attention. Rather than the placement of trash cans along public places there are recycling bins: paper trash, recyclables, compost. The green compost choice was something I had never seen back east. My first thought was, wow, what an awesome idea and commitment for a city to maintain such a program.

We had tickets to see a concert performed by the very talented jam band, Phish. There weren't any typical trash cans around the field and only after more observation did I figure out why. They didn't want all the disposables people throw out mixed up in some garbage bag. With thousands of people, the field was covered in plastic trash by the end and I felt a bit disgusted that people would just throw it on the ground. Then I learned why that is what the city prefers for these type of events. Within hours all that waste was gathered up as recyclable. There were billboards explaining the progress in their successful program in the efforts to reduce landfill deposits. Oh, and the concert was fantastic. Usually bands attract the age bracket of its height, but Phish seems to attract a wide variety of not only age but walks of life. Very interesting to say the least.

San Francisco is a beautiful, clean, yes foggy and chilly city, but what a neat place to explore and take in a taste of the west coast. Very, very friendly and dedicated people who are obviously very proud of their historic city. Actions really do speak louder than words. To be clean and green isn't just the lifestyle choices of select groups of environmentalists. That is just the way it is.

San Francisco Processes 600 Tons of Compost Daily
By | September 15th, 2011

San Francisco, the gleaming city by the sea that houses the Golden Gate Bridge and unnatural amounts of fog also produces about 600 tons of compost a day. The city started the first mandatory composting law in 2009 and the effort has diverted vast amounts of wastes from the landfill. It eventually hopes to reach its goal of 100% waste diversion by 2020. Currently, it diverts up to 77% of its waste from the landfill through recycling programs. Although achieving 100% is darn-near impossible, the fact that the city currently diverts so much of its waste and aims to do more is remarkable.

Everyday 600 tons of food waste are hauled away to be turned into compost. Every residence and business in the city has three different color-coded bins: blue for recyclables, green for compostables, and black for the remaining trash. The city works with Recology to process waste. The composting facility is about an hour outside the city in Vacaville, a farming community.

Many farms buy the compost and these include Old Hill Ranch in Glen Ellen, which is home to 100-year-old vines in Sonoma’s wine county. The compost will be applied here and other vineyards in the fall. The food that the city discards returns to the city as fresh produce and wine, thereby closing the loop.

Many cities have begun to realize that burying garbage is a waste of resources. Landfill mining has never been more popular and several cities have started to realize the potential of waste management. Seattle for example, recycles or composts about 50% of its wastes and is aiming for 77% by 2020. The city has also banned plastic-foam containers and requires all single-use packaging to be compostable. Los Angeles diverts over 65% of its wastes and is aiming for 70% by 2013 but no other city is as ambitious as San Francisco.

San Francisco is hoping to rely on advanced mechanized sorting systems that pick more recyclables from the garbage flow. Recology also uses various technology like anaerobic digestion, state-of-the-art composting facilities and materials recovery facilities. Their fleet runs on biodiesel and LNG, they also voluntarily capture and destroy methane at California landfills, further reducing negative environmental impacts.

America still has a long way to go in order to reduce landfill waste. According to the EPA, in 2009 (the most recent year for which figures are available), roughly 243 million tons of trash was thrown out of American households. This equals to about 4.34 pounds of garbage per person, per data. After recycling, composting and incineration about 132 million tons still end up in landfills every year.

Image Credit: Akhila Vijayaraghavan © Top – San Francisco’s Financial District. Bottom – Compost Heap

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

To Your Health, but which way?

Today was a classic example of the frustration with conventional western medicine trying to unite with a form of naturalistic care.

We had my mother to a chiropractor for sciatic nerve pain. Within ten minutes of checking out her overall condition he states that she is dehydrated. Apparently, the number of medications many senior citizens are taking increases their need for fluids.

My mother proceeds to tell him she thinks she is getting yet another bladder infection. He then explained to her the importance of drinking more water and eating fresh rather than processed foods. Of course, she knows all this but as is typical, when people don't have to cook for a family any longer they often eat out more or eat frozen or processed foods. Once a person lives alone, their eating habits often seem to go downhill because all the effort involved in meal preparation, from planning, shopping, cooking, cleaning up, just becomes just too much of a bother. People just aren't up to it any more. They're tired, often depressed, and the likelihood of anything changing is unlikely.

Doctors understand human behavior enough to realize that they can lecture all they want, people may try for a while to improve their lifestyle but usually slip back into the old ways. Patients come into their office expecting good health to return to them through medication. Symptoms may or may not be alleviated but often as is the case, those symptoms are only masking an underlying condition. If we don't listen to our body's form of communication it'll go deeper into the body and surface with some new ailment. Often people don't turn to alternative methods until after suffering the side effects of various prescriptions playing havoc on their systems. They soon find out that alternative therapy isn't a quick fix, it takes effort, it involves lifestyle changes, it's expensive.

In our western society, we have little need for physicians until something goes wrong. We go to the doctor to be fixed. The doctor's job is to address the complaint of the patient and prescribe the correct medication. Anything beyond the family doctor's expertise is referred to a specialist in that field. Rarely do those specialists work together to put all the pieces together to understand what this one body is really telling them.

We as the patients comply with what we are told because doctors know what is best and if we have medical insurance the costs are covered. Simple as that. It is only after the frustration of continued lack of vitality and returned health that people turn towards alternative therapies. Only out of desperation are we willing to pay out of pocket.

Then we open our minds to these new ways of thinking about health and get further frustrated when we sit there and hear how many of our prescription medications are doing more harm than good. They are only treating the symptoms of an underlying cause. What is good for one thing is contributing to another.

So who do we listen to? One opinion is telling us with medication "the benefits outweigh the risks", while another is telling us to get off the merry-go-round of drugs and focus on lifestyle change. We're given a list of supplements to buy and therapies to try, none of which is covered by our insurance.

Having a chronic condition myself I can attest to trying to blend both ways of thinking. I know I shouldn't, but I often just don't mention to my specialist what alternative therapies I incorporate in my lifestyle. I just had too many negative experiences with doctors poo pooing natural methods believing it makes no difference (as he hands me a renewed script) and says come back in three months. Perhaps if I knew years ago what I do now about how to maintain a healthy mind and body in the first place, my system wouldn't have succumbed to a chronic autoimmune disease.

So the next day mother makes an appointment at her family physician to see if she really has an infection stirring again. Though her urine was tested for bacteria and white cell count, nothing was said about dehydration. The appearance and odor should have told the nurse plenty but the subject wasn't brought up and my mother didn't ask. The discussion was what was on paper as lab results. Something about sitting on that exam table makes a person feel inadequate and childlike and all the intelligent questions that should be asked don't occur to us until after we leave. We trust what our doctors tell us without question and are afraid to do anything without permission.

So she was given yet another script for an antibiotic and sent home. I'm sure medical professionals get frustrated as well when they can see down the road as one prescribed medication is given to counteract the effects of another necessary medication, and the snowballing continues. What to do when these people say they don't ever feel good anymore, knowing full well there is more going on than just the effects of age. People don't want to just be kept going, they want to live again.

But physicians have to protect themselves too, they prescribe the FDA approved medications known to treat certain conditions and comply with insurance companies. Their job is to keep people alive and these medications are often successful. Patients are informed of potential side effects and make their decision. I've often wondered how doctors advise their own families after documenting countless patient cases.

The chiropractor may not approve of the medications my mother is on and he certainly doesn't want to be held responsible should she refuse to take these drugs and her heart fails. He'll do his best to offer her advise about food choices, supplements, exercises and spinal adjustments to keep things in alignment for good energy flow and less pain.

He knows how fickle people can be when they don't get instant results and there is a chance his patients may not have the energy, time or money to continue with him and possibly even say alternative methods don't work anyway.

Ignorance is certainly not bliss when it comes to our physical and emotional health. We have to treat our bodies with respect, not take things for granted while young, and realize the body won't always just bounce back from mistreatment. With the information available out there to educate oneself, it is paramount that people take charge of their own health and make their own decisions before willingly hopping on the merry-go-round of pharmaceuticals because once you get on it is very difficult to get back off.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Never Forget.. Seventeen Years..September 11, 2001

"There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle."
Albert Einstein

This is the second time I'm quoting Einstein in the past few weeks. He must not only have been a scientific genius but a very intuitive man as well.
"Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better."

Think back at all that has happened in the past 17 years. Babies were born, children grew up, loved ones passed away. Life goes on, the dawn returns every morning, the clock keeps ticking.

For those who had lost a loved one or were there to support someone, September 11, 2001 will always be a raw and ever present memory. A recurring question being asked right now is "Where were you on 9/11?" Many people cannot remember what they wore yesterday but they will never forget that unfathomable day in American history.

For our family, we were on vacation in Williamsburg, Virginia for a few days to celebrate my birthday. My husband had gone out for a bike ride and stopped for a drink at a quick shop when the news flashed on the TV screen. It was surreal when he flew through the door of our room and turned on the television. The haze of what was happening in front of our eyes on the screen took a while to comprehend that it was no accident.

Being so near the military base, the rest of our time spent in that historic town was so strange. People employed at all the wonderful sights of Williamsburg had no choice but to try to function as usual. For the children's sake we still did all the events we had planned but everywhere the energy was so somber and tightly wound. What could possibly be the right thing to say to reassure our kids that they were safe? Even at their young age they could tell none of us were sure about anything.

When faced with the news of such loss of precious life what is one to do? Most of us felt absolutely helpless to do anything other than stay glued to the news and deal with the fearful reality by reaching out to other people. Interesting how it always seems to take a tragedy for people to look up and notice those around them.

As time went by things quieted down and folks gradually returned to the humdrum of their family routines. Those left grieving had to somehow pick up their lives while trying to find some solace in what good could possibly come out of such a waste of life.

Losing someone we love forces us to face the reality of how alone we really are in this life. Our loved ones are separate individuals with a path and fate beyond our control. Those left behind often have trouble giving themselves permission to again feel a sense of happiness.

Let's take the advice of Einstein to heart and live each day given to us as a gift waiting to be unwrapped. A gift of time to cherish, moments to treasure. Don't just go through the motions where every day brings the same expectations.

Look alive because you are alive. Learn something new every day. The more you educate yourselves about our very existence the more you'll view it as indeed miraculous. To live as though nothing is a miracle will soon snuff out the light within the soul.

As the anniversary of 9/11 comes around once again, let it be the nudge to remind us to wake up, look up, and appreciate the now, since that is really all we've got.

In Loving Memory

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Natural Facial Care


"What's with all those steps? What a hassle! Why can't I just wash?"

Those words came from both my son and daughter but as is typical with the sexes, my daughter really got into all the ins and outs of beauty care while my son probably never will get beyond step 1. And even that one is usually just what rinses over his face in the shower. Yet somehow he gets away with only an occasional pimple.

Interesting is that men actually have oilier and thicker skin that women. This is because they have smaller sebaceous glands or oil glands. Guys have very delicate skin and they really should be paying more attention to its care. Ingrown facial hairs from shaving and back acne from sweating are fairly common.

Women always will be more focused on their appearance and since the amount of collagen in a woman's skin decreases with age we tend to look older than men who are the same age. So we should be mindful of good skin care early on and not wait till we actually see signs of aging.

Typically, when people hear the word "cleanse" they think soap and water. This is not the only nor often the best way to clean your face. The goal is to gently remove dirt, impurities and dead skin cells. Despite what advertisements say, depending on your own skin type, you may not need to cleanse every day. In between, just a rinse with water may be sufficient for dry skin. Daily spot cleaning of the forehead, nose and chin may be sufficient for combination skin. Even with oily skin don't think you have to rub-a-dub dub; be gentle.

The skin naturally produces a protective oily substance called sebum that helps keep it healthy by holding in moisture and providing an anti-bacterial layer. Stripping away this layer can overstimulate sebum production upset the balance. Experiment with what works best for your skin type. Click here for a facial wash gentle enough for every day.


Deep cleaning with steams, scrubs or masks is only for periodic use, maybe once a week. When you notice clogged pores or just a drab, tired look then perk things up with some special treatment.

Facial steams are a great way to relax and deep clean the face by opening the pores and increasing circulation. Steams are also very desirable as an upper respiratory decongestant. The addition of herbs and/or essential oils to the water can be used to add their desired effects. Prior to steaming, remove makeup and surface dirt with a cleansing oil, cold cream or gentle facial cleanser.

Begin by adding a pint of boiling water to a bowl. Simply add 3-4 tea bags such as chamomile, green or black tea, or mint to the water. If using essential oils, remember these are very potent. No more than 1-2 drops or the vapors could irritate your eyes. Good choices are lavender, chamomile, rosemary, eucalyptus or mint. Cover your head with a towel to form a tent and relax for about 15-20 minutes.

Allow your face to air dry a bit and while your pores are wide open proceed with a scrub or mask. There are a variety of scrubs available. They are generally a "moisturized grit" which cleanses and polishes through exfoliation. They nourish the skin by increasing circulation.

Finely ground seed or nut scrubs like sunflower or almonds are good for dry skin. Moistened with liquids such as water, oil, milk, yogurt or honey is very soothing for dry skin. Oily skin benefits from finely ground grains such as oats or rice, or beans. The liquid added could be water with a bit of jojoba oil, witch hazel and 1-2 drops of a citrus essential oil such as orange or grapefruit. For acne-prone skin add a dropperful of an antimicrobial tincture of calendula or 1-2 drops essential oils tea tree and/or chamomile.

These scrubs can be used as a mask as well if applied thicker and left on for 30 minutes.

Seed, nut and herbal scrubs are wonderful but messy. If you prefer something you won't have to worry about going down the drain, than salt and sugar scrubs are another option. Salt is great for exfoliation and drawing out impurities but may be too harsh for the face. Best if used as a body scrub. Click here for a body polishing salt scrub/soak for an at home spa experience.
Sugar scrubs are nourishing and gentle enough to use more frequently than salt scrubs. Cane sugar contains a naturally occurring acid known as glycolic acid which belongs to the family of alpha hydroxy acids (AHA). These acids stimulate and loosen the dry flaky layer created by these dead skin cells. Click here for a raw sugar face or body scrub with the relaxing therapeutic benefits of lavender.

Honey is a wonderful natural beauty treatment. Used as a mask honey is nourishing, moisturizing and gentle enough to not strip the skin of its natural protective oils.
Let the bees help you maintain a beautiful complexion. Wildflower and clover honey already have the beneficial attributes of these herbs within the honey itself.
Honey is a natural humectant which means it retains moisture and plumps up skin cells.
Click here for one of the two honey masks within Meadow Muffin Gardens.


Follow up the cleansing phase with a toner. Astringents and toners help to remove oily residue while tightening the pores. They have a drying effect on the skin since they usually contain alcohol or vinegar. For less astringent effects, glycerin or aloe is often added. Toners can sometimes be used instead of a cleanser or to touch up the t-zone or simply as a facial mist to freshen and cool during the day. Use toners in moderation, you want to balance your skin, not stress it. Any toner can be diluted by first moisturizing your cotton square of ball with water and then applying the toner. Click here for a gentle toner made from rosewater.

The final step is to moisturize. Massaging in the moisturizer helps bring a fresh blood supply to the skin's surface. Moisturizers are a combination of oil and water with the optional additions of natural ingredients, herbs and essential oils. Their purpose is to lubricate and hydrate the skin. Experiment with your own skin type with how often you need to apply a moisturizer. I just rinse my face with water and it then feels tight, so everyone is different.

Apply a moisturizer while your skin is still slightly damp. A little goes a long way. Use circular strokes and be gentle around the eyes, this area is very delicate. Let the moisturizer soak in a few minutes and then dab any excess or shine with a cotton square. Look at the ingredients in your cream or lotion. The oils used vary in their qualities. Olive oil is good for most skin types, except for very oily skin. Almond oil is good for most skin types. Grapeseed and hazelnut oils are good for oily skin. Apricot and jojoba are both good for mature or damaged skin. Sunflower and jojoba oils are good for dry skin.

The more natural the better. Think ahead to the effects of long term use. Skin which has been previously exposed to products containing synthetic and petroleum-based chemicals may have these chemicals stored within the fatty tissues of the skin. Essential oils may react with such chemicals and cause skin irritation. Should this happen just temporarily discontinue use until your body eliminates these toxins.

Look for substances that have anti-inflammatory benefits if you have problems with skin sensitivities or blemishes. Aloe, calendula, and chamomile are all gentle for problem skin. Glycerin helps keep the skin hydrated. Those with oily skin should look for products containing shea butter.

Click here for a basic scent free facial moisturizer. Also offered are a selection of creams with various base oil blends and essential oils. Shea butter can be substituted or in addition to the coconut oil in any of these creams.

People are all different. Those who wear foundation may find a moisturizer too heavy under their make-up, so only use it after cleansing in the evening before sleep. Others feel their complexions look rosier and younger when they freshen up with a toner and apply moisturizer a few times a day. Find what works best for you.

Visit Meadow Muffin Gardens 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Listen To Your Elder!

Confined to close quarters during the cold weather months is bound to increase the likelihood of people to be exposed to a viral infection. Our immune systems are continuously at work protecting us from the threat of invading viral, bacterial and fungal infection.

Exposure to such environmental threats on a body in a weakened state wears down our resources and we find ourselves feeling out of sorts or flat out sick. Learn how to reduce susceptibility to illness by strengthening your immune system.

One of nature's medicines is the wild elder (Sambucus species). A shrubby, unruly bush found among hedgerows, this small tree is lanky and not much to look at when not in bloom. Attempts to rid unkept landscapes of this shrub are often in vain as it easily resprouts even after a hard pruning.

However, every June this versatile herb is beautiful as it is covered with large, saucer-shaped off-white flowers. These flowers can be gathered and used as a food source such as flower fritters, a wash or toner to maintain clear skin, or as a medicinal tea to clear congestion in the respiratory tract, relieve hay fever or aid in reducing fevers. Poultices for minor burns, wounds and swollen joints are made with mashed flowers wrapped in layers of cheesecloth. Elder flower water was once considered a valuable beauty aid among women to keep the face blemish and freckle free, as well as a great aid for sunburn.

The following vinegar spritz combines elderflowers and rose petals with raw apple cider vinegar to create a soothing sunburn relief body spray.
Elderflower n' Rose Sunburn Relief

A variation in the recipe for the sunburn soothing spray and we have a wonderful ph balancing facial toner. Raw apple cider vinegar helps bring balance to troubled skin and helps with blemishes

Elderflower n' Rose Facial Toner

 In the late summer, the flowers have turned to dark blue berries often sought after for jam, wine and syrups. If you wait too long the bushes are soon stripped clean by the birds. Don't eat these right off the bush. The fresh berries can upset your stomach. Dry or cook the berries before eating them. If you do collect your own elderberries, make sure they are the dark blue or black ones and not the red berries. The red berries belong to S. racemosa which is toxic.

Elder is a cleansing herb that improves the body's ability to flush out toxins. It increases sweating and acts both as a diuretic and laxative. Little scientific research has been done with elder's medicinal properties, but historically black elder was one of the most popular medicinal herbs throughout Europe. In North America various Indian tribes such as the Iroquois, Delaware and Cherokee used both the flowers and the berries for rheumatism, skin problems, infections, and liver problems.

Years back, elderberries were used to darken and "age" cheap port wine. It was then discovered that drinking of this wine relieved rheumatic pain and nervous system pain such as sciatica.

Strengthen your family's immune system by daily use of the following elixir or use at the first symptoms of illness. This syrup can be taken right off a spoon or added to hot water and honey as a tea. Being this syrup is honey based it should not be used by children under 1 year of age.

Elderberry Syrup
So listen to your elder!