Monthly Archives: April 2011

Random Thoughts

I’m feeling very out-of-focus this week. Maybe because:

  • I had to say goodbye to another cat Monday morning. Smudge had cancer that had metastasized. She was our mighty huntress, bringing in gifts she’d caught on the deck … moths, cicadas, praying mantes and the occasional bat.

(Lousy picture, I know. I lost a lot of photos when my hard drive crashed a few years ago.)

  • Smudge’s sister, Belette, is in the hospital. We had to take her in the same night I said goodbye to Smudge. We were afraid we’d lose her, too, because cancer runs in families. But the doctor said she didn’t have it and thinks he’s figured out the problem: hyperthyroidism. He’s now trying to get her stabilized. The poor old girl (around 13½ years old) hasn’t spent a night away from home in about 13 years and not only has to contend with that but the undignified position of having IV tubes in her (she’s torn them out twice).
  • I haven’t been sleeping well these last few days and I think I figured out why. It’s the first time in probably 30 years that when I’m home, there hasn’t been a cat in my bed at night. Maks & Misha are too young & rambunctious at this point to bring them in – I’d get even less sleep! (I already do. Maks has figured out how to turn my clock radio on. As soon as Pete leaves for work, meaning no other distractions, Maks climbs onto the bedside table & sits on the ‘on’ button.)
  • The storms yesterday across the Southeast were bad. I’m super weather-sensitive and a regular ol’ thunderstorm presses down on me, much less the terrible storms that are still pounding their way up the coast. I had to turn the television off this morning – all the news coverage of the devastation in Alabama and northwest Georgia is just too much to handle.
  • I can’t wait for the weekend. That means The Royal Wedding (must capitalize it, you know) will finally be over. Unlike many of my friends on this side of the pond, I’m not that interested and the US news stations have been devoting an inordinate amount of coverage to it. I really don’t care that Prince William played football/soccer yesterday. I do want to see what Kate’s dress looks like. I’m hoping it’s not as terrible as Di’s was elegant and understated, which is my favorite look. But a photograph would do me just fine.

And just a tidbit of information: Saturday, 30 April, is another Drug Take-Back Day here in the US. Probably one of the better ideas the Drug Enforcement Administration has come up with. First fact: prescription drugs can not only lose their potency over time, they can actually change chemical composition. Outdated prescriptions can become harmful. Second fact: if you throw your drugs in the trash, they’ll end up in a landfill and decompose there, getting into the groundwater. If you flush them, they’ll end up in the water system. Analysis has shown antibiotics and other drugs in our drinking water, which is one of the reasons antibiotics aren’t working as well as they used to and we now have drug-resistant strains of bacteria. If you have outdated or unused prescription drugs, please go here to find out where you can drop yours off and then do so. They’ll be properly disposed of.

The storms have passed and it’s shaping up to be a nice weekend. I’m going to get out into the garden and let the plants help my mood.

Earth Day – Every Day

Tomorrow, 22 April, is Earth Day. I’m sure you’ve heard about it. If you haven’t, what rock are you living under?

The first Earth Day was celebrated 22 April 1970, before many of my friends – and my kids – were born. The organization that sponsors it claims that day to be the beginnings of the current environmental movement. I’m sure that and all the other ‘help the environment’ organizations have raised awareness of how fragile most all ecosystems are.  I think what bothers me most is twofold. First, it’s only one day of the year. Second, part of the mission is to obtain federal and state funding for certain ‘green’ projects.

Here’s where I get on my soapbox. Federal and state governments all over the world are broke. There isn’t any spare money to spend on non-government-essential projects. And besides, if you look historically, any innovative technology or product has come from the private sector, not the government. Neither Daimler nor Ford had government subsidies for their first production-line autos; nor did Edison for his mass-produced light bulb.  Bill Gates didn’t have a government subsidy to start Microsoft, nor did Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook. All those organizations lobbying governments should be lobbying investors, instead. If your business plan is sound, investors will invest.

We’re budget-conscious so I’m waiting … I’d love to have solar power at the house – it’s ‘way too expensive and the cost won’t amortize out over our lifetimes. I’d love to have a non-gasoline-powered car. Electric is the only currently-proven technology and then what do you do with the battery when it wears out? (Not to mention that a good proportion of our electricity is produced with fossil fuels.) Electric cars are only practical for city living and I no longer live anywhere near a city.  (I’m waiting for hydrogen cars to be perfected.)

Even though we can’t afford the ‘big’ things, we can afford the little things. We recycle nearly everything we use, generating less than one bag of non-recyclable trash a week. I’d love to get it down further but haven’t yet figured out how to do so within our current budget and lifestyle.  We compost. We plant trees and nurture those that are already here. I make my own cleaning products with stuff normally found in my kitchen. I try to get all my shopping done on my weekly business trip to Atlanta – and that route is planned out so I make almost all right-hand turns. (Did you know that produces less CO2 emissions? You’re not idling as much, waiting for either a turn arrow or traffic to clear to make a left.) If I forget or run out of something, I get it when I take Mom on her weekly shopping trip. Otherwise, it’ll have to wait. Our cars rarely leave the driveway outside of normal commutes, saving gas (and $) & not putting all that crap into the air.

All this didn’t start when we moved to the country, either. Virtually everything I mentioned above was done when we lived in the city, too. My grandparents taught me about composting. I started recycling everything I could as soon as a place to recycle became available to me – back in the late 70’s. I spent a lot of time outdoors (listening to the plants) and knew every little thing I could do would help.

I’ve done a lot of research into investing in green technology and so far, no one has produced any numbers that convince me my investment will significantly pay off – during my lifetime. Love my kids but I can’t afford to leave them that sort of legacy.  But there are those who can afford to invest today for their kids’ and grandkids’ futures. They should (and there are a few like Ed Begley, Jr. who actually do) but those ‘haves’ I know apparently don’t care. They won’t buy an on-demand tankless water heater when the old tank-type one wears out. They don’t recycle, even though recycling pickup is part of the city taxes they pay. It’s frustrating.

There’s absolutely no reason why people need to pay attention to the environment just one day a year. It should be on people’s minds each and every day. BTW, if you are living under a rock, you’re probably living about as green as you can get. Mazel tov!

Not-So-Delicate Dogwood

When I first moved to Atlanta 25+ years ago, one of the first things that struck me was the beauty in Spring. I had never seen so many flowering trees and shrubs! All these years later, I’m in an even more beautiful part of the state and each Spring, my breath is taken away for a week or so by what looks like baby’s breath throughout our woods.

(The above photo was taken in full daylight. At dawn and dusk, the flowers almost glow against the pine & holly background. I’m just not good enough at photography to capture that.)

Dogwoods Cornus spp. are found throughout the world where it gets fairly cold in winter and very hot in summer – there are more than 90 species. They supposedly grow in Minnesota but I must have been living in the wrong part as I’d never seen them until moving South. So, my research into them didn’t begin until I knew they existed!

The wood is quite hard – it was used in older times for making ‘dags’: daggers, skewers & arrows; so one of its common names is “Dagwood” (not to be confused with the cartoon character or sandwich!). Although it’s so hard it’s difficult to work with, it’s still used here in the South for making loom shuttles, walking canes, longbows and dulcimers.

As with most every plant, medicinal uses were found. A decoction of the inner bark is used to reduce fevers of all kinds; it was even used by medics in the Civil War as a substitute for cinchona to treat malaria. Native Americans throughout the US have used their local species for ague, fevers, headaches, and colic; a decoction of the berries as an emetic (to make one vomit) and vermifuge (to expel worms).  When twigs are chewed, the bark splinters into a sort of toothbrush and this was used by the Natives in Virginia to keep their teeth white. (What they didn’t realize is that they were also causing their gums to recede.)

Although Dogwood has fallen out of favor as a medicinal plant, it is still used. If you choose to use it yourself, please be sure that the bark you use is dried and at least a year old. Fresh bark can cause gastric upset.

In Victorian times, suitors would present an unmarried woman with a flowering sprig of Dogwood. If she returned it, she wasn’t interested. If she kept it, he was free to continue his pursuit.

As I’ve said before, I believe every plant has not only a medicinal but magical use. Surprisingly, I could find few magical uses for Dogwood in any of my research material. Scott Cunningham has the only reference to it (he’s widely quoted), saying it’s good for wishes & protection. I like to have my information corroborated so when in doubt, go to the source: I decided to ask the trees themselves.

Although I always try to keep in mind that not all plants communicate the same, I was a little peeved that all I got were giggles. I thought I was being laughed at. But after further contemplation, it seems to me that between the beauty of the flowers and those irritating giggles, Dogwood could be used in spells for happiness – which could correlate to ‘wishes’. Yes, the very hard wood is an indication of protection. I can’t bring myself to strip bark from any live tree (although I’ve stripped a little from branches the trees have dropped), so I’ve used the leaves in protection spells and they work nicely.

If you have Dogwoods around, take a little time to admire them – they appreciate it.

Herbal Skin Care

In the northern hemisphere, we’re all itching to get out of our winter layers and into T-shirts, shorts, flip-flops and for some, bathing suits. Here in north Georgia, you need about three wardrobes this time of year as Ma Nature vacillates between late-winter temperatures and those we normally see in late June. One of the problems with getting out of all those layers is most people ignore their skin in the winter and then rush to get everything looking nice when it’s bared to the public. There are things you can start to do now and incorporate into your routine so next spring, you won’t frown when it’s time to bare those arms & legs.

Your skin is the largest organ in your body and it not only holds everything together and makes you look better than just muscles & bones, it also protects you from harmful bacteria and is the body’s ‘third kidney’ – getting rid of a lot of toxins that accumulate in the body, helping the kidneys out. We really want to take care of it! Guys, don’t tune me out. This is for you, too!

First & foremost, you need to drink plain water. I wrote a blog post all about this awhile back and I suggest you go back and read it here.

Next, you might want to try dry skin brushing. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Literally millions of skin cells move up to the top layer and die every day. Most of them you shed off but some stay stuck. Buy yourself a natural bristle body brush (I got mine at the local chain drug store for about $6). Before you get wet, brush yourself with this brush. You don’t have to bear down, a light touch is all it takes. Start with the soles of your feet and work your way up with small circles. On your arms, start with your palms and work toward your shoulders. Don’t do your face (or any other sensitive area, if you get my drift), but do the nape of your neck. Brush every part you can reach (with a handled brush, you should be able to reach everything). Bottom up, top down, always working toward the heart. The sensation isn’t real pleasant at first (unless you like the feel of fine sandpaper) but you get used to it. It’ll take you 3-6 minutes which isn’t very long. By dry skin brushing, you’ll get that stuck layer of dead cells off and unclog your pores – where the toxins are eliminated through the skin. You’ll also stimulate surface circulation which helps your skin work like it’s supposed to, and a bonus for folks with cellulite: it’ll help break up those fatty deposits. It takes several weeks to see major improvement but I saw some in a little over a week.

If you don’t want to dry skin brush, at least get yourself a washcloth or body sponge that exfoliates. You don’t have to get something as harsh as a loofa but there are now many options on the market that will help.

Next up is moisturize. Guys, don’t skip this and even oily skin needs moisturizing! By keeping your skin moist, you don’t get micro fractures in the skin surface which can allow bacteria to invade the lower layers of your skin and make their way from there into other parts of your body by way of the blood. When you get out of the shower or bath, pat yourself until you’re damp, not dry, then use a moisturizer to seal in that water. If you dry skin brush, I think you’ll find your moisturizer absorbs quicker than it used to.

Commercial moisturizers are fine. My schedule has gotten rather crowded lately, so rather than make my own, I’ve been buying a mild moisturizer and adding some essential oils to it. Once life calms down again (please?), I’ll go back to making my own.

If you’re making an all-over moisturizer, olive and jojoba oils are probably a little too heavy to use as a base unless you have very dry skin and I’d never use them as a face oil. I prefer coconut, sweet almond or grapeseed for mine … sunflower in a pinch. To an eighth cup (one ounce) base oil, add up to ten drops of:

For dry skin Rose or Geranium essential oil; for oily skin Bergamot or Juniper essential oil; for normal skin Lavender essential oil. If you have breakouts, add two or three drops of Tea Tree, Thyme or Sage oil. I’m at that age where I’ve got combination skin so for my face I use Lavender, Geranium and a couple drops of Thyme. Smells yummy.

If you prefer to make an herb-infused oil, use 1 part dried herb to 10 parts oil (1 ounce herb by weight in 10 fluid ounces of oil), put in a sealed jar, shake it every day for 2 weeks and then strain. You can use almonds, borage, chickweed, comfrey, hollyhock, licorice, flaxseed, marshmallow root, mullein, plantain, rose petals or slippery elm. These are all good emollient (softening) herbs. Be sure to first crush any herb a bit to open the plant’s pores & allow the base oil to seep in.

Enjoy these warming days and be sure to take time to admire Ma Nature’s awakening. Stress takes its toll on skin, too. Stopping to ‘smell the roses’ is a great way to combat stress!