Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Finds - An Ode To My City

I may currently live in FL and admit that I love the beach, but in my heart and soul I am a city girl. My city is New York. I was brought up first in Queens and then on Long Island, but escaped to the city as often as I could and went to school in the city. I love the electricity, I love the grittiness, I love that there is always something going on and something to do, I love the culture, I love everything about it. It's my heart. It's my home.

One of my most favorite places in the city is The Cloisters. The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that specializes in the medieval. The place is like stepping back in time to a different world. Part of the art is the architecture itself.

I went to school in the city and the campus was basically the village: Greenwich Village. The village is alive with history and culture. Between amazing thrift stores and all of the designers having boutiques, the shopping was amazing (even if it was usually just window shopping for a poor college student!). The bars are literally historic from having operated during prohibition, had been men only, and yet another one in particular being the birthplace of punk.

I went to school for theatre. Yes, I love the spectacle of Broadway and the grand musicals that it's known for, but what I studied and love is experimental work that is more commonly found off Broadway. Actually, more specifically it's found off off off off Broadway. Amazing places like Todo Con Nada, The Wooster Group, and PS 122 among others.

I hope you enjoyed visiting some of my favorite places in my city.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Subversive Halloween Costume

I work in theatre. Theatre is typically a very creative environment. Unless it's being run by corporate bean counters. Like here.

The people in the Ivory Tower have declared that we are not allowed to dress up for Halloween. Of all of the work environments around, I can't think of another better suited to celebrate Halloween than in theatre.

That said, I typically do not wear anything special to work for the holiday and, sadly, can't remember the last time I was able to get dressed in costume to go anywhere.

For some strange reason (I wonder why...), I really would love to be something fun at work this year. But it has to be subtle and subversive.

My ideas so far:
-Wear a track suit and be The Bride from Kill Bill.
-Jeans, T-shirt, leather jacket, motorcycle boots, and my maille gauntlet to be Sara Pezzini from Witchblade.
-Shorts, boots, tank top, sunglasses, & guns (?) to be Lara Croft.

I think Witchblade would probably be the easiest to pull off and not get noticed.

So, my creative friends, any ideas? What do you think I should be that the bean counters wouldn't notice?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Herbal Concoction: Nerve Tonic

I've been feeling the stress of work creeping back into my heart and soul lately. Admittedly, nothing in particular has happened it's just the life sucking ability that place has over me when I let it (which is more often than I care to admit). I received my herbs last week and hadn't done anything with them yet. As a little pick me up, I decided that needed to change. On my way home from work yesterday, I picked up some supplies that I need to start playing and experimenting this week. I still need to get some mason jars and jars to put final products in as well as some tincture bottles, but I think I have enough stuff to at least get started.

My first lesson with Rosemary Gladstar focuses on the Nervous System and since work is stressing me out, I thought an appropriate concoction would be to brew my first Nerve Tonic Infusion. The herbs in it provide nutrients that help strengthen and support the nervous system. Unlike allopathic medicine which usually works fairly quickly (by deadening nerve response), natural therapies take time and consistency is key. When used over an extended period of time, nerve tonics can rebuild the nerve connections and create a lasting flow of energy. In essence, herbal nervine therapy increases our ability to cope with the stress of daily life. Just what I need.

The Nerve Tonic that I decided to make includes lemon balm, chamomile, oats, chrysanthemum flowers, rose petals, and lavender flowers. I must admit, I was was in awe of how incredibly beautiful the herbs looked all mixed together. They have a sweet, floral smell. Steeping time can vary for an infusion anywhere between ten minutes and an hour. Since this is a medicinal infusion, I tried 30 minutes. It's a very soothing flavor that I think I enjoy without the need to add stevia (yes, it's an herb) to sweeten it. Next time I try it, I may let it steep for a bit longer to see how it effects the herbs and changes the flavor. Since this formula needs to be taken over time, it's actually easier to make it in batches instead of a cup at a time. I'm going to play with steeping time first and then make a day's worth at a time.

Most natural therapies for nervous system disorders are based on nutrition, herbs, exercise, and a reevaluation of lifestyle. I already do eat fairly healthy and drinking this fortifying tea will only benefit me. Unfortunately, working out has fallen by the wayside lately and that needs to change. I've also let myself get complacent about things that I love doing: namely being in nature and making my maille. It's hard to care about anything after having your life force sucked out of you for eight hours at a time, but again: that needs to change. On a side note: I've been having problems sleeping lately. I don't know if this tonic did it or just my feelings of happiness (or exhaustion?) when I went to bed, but I slept very well last night. Happy.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Simple Joy Sunday

Finding the simple joys each week...

A happy little surprise came this week when I found my Chain Maille Mantle included in a treasury made by merigreenleaf at Elbit Enterprises.

I did some more from scratch cooking this week: four cheese macaroni and cheese with chicken and broccoli. Didn't come out half bad, actually. Another night I made a honeyed ham, some steamed veggies, and garlic mashed potatoes. Between both of those meals and the the beef stew I made last weekend (some in the fridge & some in the freezer) we've got leftovers for days. Leftovers makes me happy.

My big box of herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs arrived on Thursday!! Everything is so fresh! I can't wait to start playing with all of it.

I had two people that I haven't seen in a while notice that I lost weight PLUS I got a sweet, unexpected compliment from a couple of the guys at work. Makes a girl feel good.

As always, check out more Simple Joy Sundays over at Cool Zebras. What were some of your joys this week?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Florida Herb Society Meeting

Last night I attended the monthly meeting of the Florida Herb Society for the first time. I was interested to see what the group is about and to also, hopefully, meet other people with some of the same interests I have (I think some people would say: make friends). The meeting was structured a little bit like a union meeting (which kind of cracked me up): the president used a gavel, there was a report from the treasurer, and the secretary read the minutes from the last meeting. There were a lot more people there than I expected: I'd say there were a good 30-40 people there. I say people, but really there were two men and the rest were all more or less senior citizen women with the exception of one of the guest speakers and the VP of the group who were closer to my age. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed that there really wasn't anyone there that I could relate to age-wise, but everyone seemed nice.

They had two guest speakers scheduled: Deserie Valloreo of Herbalwise was scheduled to discuss Herbs for Vibrant Skincare and Kathy Oliver of My Mother's Garden discussed helpful and harmful garden bugs. Deserie provided a great handout and demoed how to make a hydrosol/toner (see the end of this post for instructions). In addition to Kathy's talk, she also had herbs for sale from her organic nursery. I picked up some Texas tarragon and Lemongrass. Texas tarragon is a culinary herb with a lovely, light scent that will be good with poulty, pork, or shellfish. Lemongrass is commonly used in stir fries or Thai food, but it's also great for skincare (as an antiseptic for oily skin) and as a medicinal herb (it removes harmful metals from the body).

I still have A LOT (tons, in fact) to learn, but this meeting (particularly the skincare stuff) taught me that I actually know more than I realize. Despite either knowing much of what was discussed or knowing that I could read it in a book, it was nice to get out and be social even if it wasn't with my peers. Next month they have an herbal vinegar hands on workshop scheduled and even though I pretty much already know how to do this, it could still be fun.

Here's a brief description of the hydrosol/toner demo from Deserie:
Use distilled water combined with your choice of herbs to make an infusion.
Strain your floral water into a spray bottle.
Add 1 or 2 drops of alcohol (preferably vodka since it's pretty much scentless) for every ounce or so of herb water.
Add 3 or 4 drops of your choice of essential oil.
Shake, spray, enjoy!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Simple Joy Sunday

Finding the Simple Joys that kept me happy this week...

My Thai Basil started to sprout! I've never had much luck growing from seed in the past, so this is kind of huge for me. I have three small pots all growing. It looks adorable!

There were actually a couple of days this week that I got a really good sleep. That's been very hard for me to come by lately so this was much appreciated!

Not only did I finally manage to order my herbs this week, but some already arrived! I ordered the bulk of them from Mountain Rose Herbs and the few things they didn't have in stock I got from Rosemary's Garden. I ordered the herbs that I was studying in my first herbalism lesson plus I got some others to make a memory tincture (figured it would help while during the herbalism studies!), a nervine tea (anything to help the nerves while I'm still at the somewhat hateful job), a facial cleanser, an astringent, shampoo... I think that's everything... Anyway, the order from Rosemary's Garden was a little more expensive than Mountain Rose Herbs, but it arrived stupid fast, looked like a present, and is quality stuff. I should receive the Mountain Rose order by the end of this week.

I'm pretty much self-proclaimed undomestic when it comes to cooking, but I keep trying different things anyway. Friday night I tried the Spiced Pear Sconelettes and Ginger Butter recipes in this month's Ready Made magazine. It was fun to do and I must say, didn't come out half bad. I also used the rolling pin (believe it or not, a first for me) and the food processor (which I've always been a bit intimidated by for some reason).

The gorgeous weather we're having this weekend is making me so happy! We've had a crazy October with 90 degree temperatures, but this weekend is in the 60's and 70's. Of course next week it will be back in the 80's again.

I made some hair gel yesterday! It's made simply by simmering flax seeds until the water becomes gelatinous. I used it once and it seemed to be a light hold gel. I'll try it again, but instead use a bit more and see if it makes a difference. If this works, not only will I be able to use yet another completely all natural product that I make myself, but it is way less expensive than store bought hair gel and I'm helping the planet by not buying another plastic container to sit in a landfill. Taking only about 10 minutes to make, I'd say it's worth it.

Soap making didn't turn out right again yesterday. I followed the directions exactly. I'm guessing that I either didn't stir it long enough for it to thicken (after 1/2 an hour and no change, I got frustrated and gave up) or that maybe it cooled down too fast. I understand that using a stick blender is much easier than having to stir it manually, but I'm not ready to invest in more stuff to do this when I'm not sure what the problem is yet. I'm thinking that I may have to find a class at some point so I can find out for sure what I'm doing wrong. Regardless, I was trying to learn how to do something new and that always makes me happy.

Today, I'm planning on making some beef stew in the slow cooker and we have a ton of apples leftover from a thing at work so Scott will probably make some apple crisp. Healthy, homemade food equals happy.

As always, check out more Simple Joy Sundays over at Cool Zebras. What were some of your joys this week?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Finds - A Magickal Kitchen

I would love to have this print by Emily Balivet in my kitchen. Although, I don't necessarily consider myself to be a Wiccan or Pagan, I do feel like I have witchy tendencies.

For the discreetly witchy inclined, a Kitchen Witch is a great accessory. Yes, she represents the modern Pagan's Kitchen Witch Tradition, but she's also well known in folk lore of many countries for bringing luck in the kitchen.

My playing with herbs lately makes me feel like I'm brewing and concocting on a regular basis. It feels very much like I should have a cauldron.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mrs B's 31 Days of Halloween: Emily Balivet & The Whimsical Witch Entries

If you have checked it out yet, you must! Mrs B is having such a fabulous month of giveaways on her blog.

Today, I'm entering to win "Pagan Delights" - Mini Gift Cards ACEO: Set of 9 From the original paintings by Emily Balivet.

I'm also entering to win an Herbal Adornment of Witches Black Salt - used for Protection and Banishing Negative Energry from The Whimsical Witch.

Check out Mrs B's blog for details on how you can enter for these and other amazing prizes each and every day in October.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Snow friggin' White

I spent a fabulous few hours yesterday playing in my herb garden! Originally, my intention was to re-pot a couple of herbs, shower & get dressed, and head out to a craft fair. Instead, I totally lost track of time. My yarrow desperately needed to go into a different pot. I had my thyme and oregano in the same pot for a while so I wanted to give each it's own home. I also wanted to plant the Thai Basil seeds I got the day before at Herb Day: I've never had much luck growing anything from seed, so we'll see how this goes! This past week, I noticed some yellow mushrooms blooming in my ivy and spiky plant (that I still don't know the name of) pot so I really needed to deal with that. That was not fun. I removed the 'shrooms and about an inch of the top layer of soil which was taken over by some horrendous yellow spores and mold. Truly disgusting. I hope I was able to save it! I spent a lot of time, simply pruning my herbs and spending time with them. I know that sounds like a crazy plant person thing to say, but they are alive and have an energy about them.

While I was spending time tending to my herbs, I was also visited by a few critters. Being Florida, there was of course an insane amount of geckos around, but I also saw a different kind of lizard. His back was bumpy, he skin was so pale that it was almost translucent, and he was quite a bit bigger than even a large gecko. I also got to play with two of the most adorable frogs that might be making their home in my herbs. I felt so bad displacing them, but they were in one of the plants that needed to be re-potted. I hope they come back. I even got to see a Blue Jay up close in my neighbor's tree. I felt like Snow friggin' White.

That quality time spent with Mother Nature and my herbs made me think about something I read in my first lesson with Rosemary Gladstar.

Herbs contain chemicals that have no apparent function for the life processes of the plant. However, these very chemicals have a direct and positive influence on the human body.

It's almost as if they are saying "we're good for you, here's proof."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Herb Day Recap

It's a long one, sorry.

Yesterday was Herb Day and I attended the celebration being held at Acupuncture & Herbal Therapies down in St. Pete. At first glance, I was a bit disappointed because of how small the event was, but it was more about quality than quantity really. There was a local folk herbalist with a booth full of organically grown herbs for sale in addition to a vendor with culinary herbs & spices (I got an amazing honey infused with mint from her!) and a few others with creams, salves, teas, and more. There were some herbal foods available: I tried jellyfish salad. It was kind of like octopus in texture, but tasted more like a really salty rubber band. I also got a goodie bag with a few samples of Chinese herbs and some brochures. The Florida Herb Society was there with information on membership (think I might join!) and a sample of dried Thai Basil to collect the seeds for planting.

The best part of the event, though, were the lectures. One of the lectures that I really wanted to attend (Herbs for Anxiety & Stress), I literally arrived as the speaker was thanking everyone for coming and finishing up (there was no lecture schedule posted, so I just showed up when I could). The next lecture description didn't interest me much, but I had already wandered the vendors and had about an hour to kill before the next one that I wanted to hear so I sat in on it. This particular lecture had to do with Traditional Chinese Medicine, digestive fire, and using herbs to balance digestion. The next two lectures were Herb & Drug Interaction and Herbs for Cold & Flu.

One of the points that the speaker made about herb & drug interactions that I found surprising and interesting was that many of the concerns of doctors and pharmacists is based on conjecture. They hear that a particular herb is good for lowering blood sugar, so obviously it can't be used in conjunction with a drug that does the same thing. His point is that they can work together if it is properly regulated. You should never, ever self-medicate with herbs when you are on the following types of pharmaceutical drugs:
-blood thinners
Using the wrong herbs with them can be lethal. He also mentioned that some of the research that has been done on herb & drug interactions has been done on animals. Many animals will not eat the herbs in the form that a human would for treatment, so they are instead injected. Injected herbs are absorbed and work differently than they would had they been ingested, so you are still not getting a clear picture of how they would interact with a particular drug.

I was really looking forward to the Herbs for Cold and Flu lecture, but was a bit disappointed because the speaker focused mainly on TCM. Again. Actually, it was an interesting topic and although TCM is probably the most widely used form of herbalism (in addition to Ayurveda), I feel absolutely no connection to it. The very, very little bit I know about the theory I totally get, I guess I just can't relate to it.

The final topic of the day was Becoming an Herbalist and by this point, I was pretty much the only one in the room so the owner of the shop who was also organizer of the event and the speaker on the topic and I just had a short little chat. He explained to me that there are basically four different forms and herbalist can take:
-The Grandma -This herbal tradition typically uses simples and has knowledge that is commonly handed down generation to generation.
-The Wise Woman -Leaders in this area would be Rosemary Gladstar (who's correspondence course I'm working on) and Susan Weed. The Wise Woman formulates herbal teas, tinctures, poultices, etc. and works with her family and community. She grows and cultivates herbs, wild harvests, and seems to have a strong connection to the Earth.
-The Village Herbalist -He considers himself to be in this category. It's much more clinical with much more in depth case studies and will even work with a patient's doctors.
-The Shaman or Medicine Man -This is a reminder of the Native American tradition, among others, where the healer is also a spiritual leader.

His shop, where the event took place, offers herbal training but the basis of it is in TCM. Apparently, he includes information from other traditions, but it's largely Traditional Chinese Medicine. It's unfortunate, really, because I really liked this guy and feel that I could benefit from a more hands on training but I'm not that terribly interested in that area of focus (as I think I mentioned once or twice already). He mentioned Michael Tierra and David Winston's correspondence courses as well as the American Herbalist Guild Conference (which he's trying to get down here in the next year or two) and the Medicines of the Earth Conference. I looked into Micheal Tierra's course and it does look really interesting: it's a study of Eastern and Western herbal traditions, but it's a bit out of my price range right now. The AHG conference sounds like it would be extremely interesting, but totally beyond me at this point. Medicines of the Earth, however, sounds like a lot of fun and it sounds like there would be stuff of interest to all level of herbalist, too.

What did I learn today? I learned that at this point, I feel the most connection to and interest in the Wise Woman tradition. And I also learned that I never need to eat jellyfish again.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Happy Herb Day and An Update on My Herbal Journey

I didn't know that such a holiday existed until recently, too. From the Herb Day website:

HerbDay is a coordinated series of independently produced public educational events celebrating the importance of herbs and herbalism. HerbDay was conceived of by five nonprofit organizations with interests in herbs and herbalism (the HerbDay Coalition) to raise public awareness about the significance of herbs in our lives and the many ways herbs can be used safely and creatively for health, beauty care, and culinary enjoyment. Greater familiarity with herbs will increase informed use of herbal products and build public support for maintaining personal choice in the use of botanicals.

The St. Petersburg event will be held October 10 from 10 AM to 4 PM at Acupuncture & Herbal Therapies, 901 Central Ave, St. Petersburg. The event is free and open to the public. There will be lectures, free herb and food tasting, Kava Kava bar, herb plants for sale, free movies showing and opportunities to visit with various representatives from the local herbal industry to learn about the uses of herbs in health and well-being. Lectures will be held every 45 minutes throughout the day on subjects such as Herbal Skin Care, Growing Herbs in Florida, Herb and Drug Interactions, Becoming an Herbalist, Making Herbal Medicines, Cooking with Herbs and other topics.

My Own Personal Herbal Journey: I thought this would be an appropriate time to share where I'm at and how I'm doing in my own personal herbal journey. I received Lesson One of Rosemary Gladstar's The Science & Art of Herbalism and quickly got to reading. I picked up a recycled notebook for some note taking and some large index cards to start organizing my materia medica. I ordered some reference books that Rosemary recommended and have already received a couple.

I very much need to experiment, play, and get to know the herbs that I'm studying, but I ran into a little snag. There are a couple of herb shops in my area, but I'm finding that neither has what I'm looking for. One specializes in Traditional Chinese Medicine, so the majority of their stock is Chinese herbs. The other should probably be considered a vitamin and supplement shop that happens to have some dried herbs. I'm going to see what I find at the Herb Day fair today, but it looks like I'm going to wind up doing some ordering online. This is good and bad. I have a few places recommended to me by Rosemary's course and also know that Mountain Rose Herbs has a stellar reputation, so I do have options it's just a bit inconvenient. It also makes me think that my idea to open a tea and herb shop might be a welcome resource since one doesn't already exist (or did it exist and fail?). Anyway, ordering some herbs and getting to know them is next on the agenda. I'm really looking forward to this part!

There's a lot to take in and I have to keep reminding myself to take it easy. I've always had an interest in the healing abilities of herbs, but have never studied it to this extent. I'm learning something brand new and quite detailed and just need to take my time and enjoy learning instead of freaking out about how I'm going to remember all of it!

Also, recently I made a batch of garlic honey based on a blog post over at Aquarian Bath. It should be ready for use this weekend! Scott and I wind up getting a sore throat at some point or another during cold & flu season, so this will be perfect to have on hand for teas. This was also the same day that I tried making soap for the first time. That didn't go so well. Thanks for the help though, Cory! It will be better next time!

I kind of would like to continue to share my journey with all of you, but think it would probably be best to start a new blog dedicated to it. My problem: coming up with a name for it. Suggestions??

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Simple Joy Sunday

Finding the simple joys each week...

Monday was a very long day at work, but it went fast which is always a good thing. I really got some exercise that day, so I was exhausted by the time I got home. Scott had made some red velvet cake and had a nice hot mug of tea steeping for me when I walked in the door. Such a sweetie.

I picked up a notebook and some index cards to start my herbalism studies. I am so excited about where this journey will lead.

The surprisingly delicious sensation of a candy corn flavored Hershey's Kiss. Oh my gods, so good.

Camping out at Starbucks with a pirated WiFi signal from the Panera's next door while doing some herbalism studying.

Scott made pancakes from scratch for me. Soooo yummy. It just occurred to me that the majority of my simple joys this week involved food. Hmmmm...

As always, check out more Simple Joy Sundays over at Cool Zebras.