Imbolc Awakenings

Imbolc Awakenings

Imbolc is the time of the light maiden Brighid, a virginal Goddess that appears as the returning light. Quite noticeably the days are getting longer, by a few minutes each day. It is still the midst of winter and yet, if you look carefully, the buds are swelling. Some precocious winter flowering plants defy the odds. Here and there some particularly perky wildflowers are peeking through the snow or old leaf litter:  snow drops, winter aconite or dwarf crested irises, perhaps. Deep within the Earth, the life-force is stirring, the seeds are soaking up the waters of the thawing snow and begin to germinate. The wheel of the year is turning. Slowly the sap begins to rise once more.

Imbolc, or Candlemass in Christian terminology, is the festival of growing light, of cleansing and  purification. It augurs the time of Lent, traditionally a time of abstinence and fasting to purify body and soul.

In the olden days, people would fast or restrict their diets in order to cleanse the body of all the residues of heavy winter foods. To practice a little self-care in this way is to prepare body and mind for the new season.

It is a also a time for scrying and divination, for visualising in your minds eye the possibilities that lay ahead. Take a little time out to prepare yourself for the challenges and opportunities yet to unfold. Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses, on good and bad habits, and on making a commitment to your soul journey. What kind of nourishment do you need to feel fulfilled? What kind of meaning are you giving your life (or want to give your life)? Are you walking your talk?

Imbolc is a good time to charge the seeds that you want to flourish with intention and to foster your inner flame. Take care of that light through the dark of the night. Soon the sun will soon rise again.

 

A strong immune system is your best defense

A strong immune system is your best defense

Powerful immune-boosting foods you probably already have in your kitchen.

No matter what bacteria or viruses are floating around, a strong immune system is your best defence. But it is not always easy to keep it topped up. Stress, pollution, or close encounters with bugs that are floating around at the workplace, or in public spaces all contribute to the body’s defence system falling to sub-optimum levels.

Thankfully, there are things you can do to boost your body’s immune response and thus prevent disaster before it strikes. There are three key elements to an effective immune defence strategy:

1) Reduce stress levels

While short-term stress can actually boost the immune response, the daily grind wares it down. Severely. If you suffer from high levels of stress address this problem first. Take more breaks, make sure you sleep enough, try to worry less. Just inch away from that edge. It is called ‘self-care’. Try and extend the forgiveness and compassion you show towards other people also towards yourself. You too deserve a break once in a while.

2) Exercise, preferably out in nature

Exercise is a proven strategy that can reduce stress. But do it for its own sake, not to beat someone else’s or your own record. It should be fun, not stress. Exercising in the fresh air also gets the bugs out, improves circulation and respiration. And it works wonders for mental health.

3) Nutrition

Forget supplements. A nutritious and varied diet with plenty of naturally derived vitamins and minerals is the best support you can give your body. Denaturalised foods (over-processed, fast foods and the like) do not provide the nutrients your body needs. Worse, they deplete and weaken it. Organic foods are your best bet. Try to include smoothies or fresh-pressed juices in your daily diet. It’s a great way to take in a lot of nutrients without having to eat all day.

In the old days, it was customary to fast or at least to restrict certain kinds of foods during Lent, the six week period prior to Easter. During the winter and especially during the holidays, we tend to eat too much, and usually far too much of the wrong kinds of things. Fasting or eating light helps the body eliminate waste matter. Spring cleansing diets were also common. These include plenty of fresh early spring herbs such as Dandelion and Nettles while cutting out meat and animal products for a period of time. Few people follow this kind of regime now, but there are still ways to give your body extra nutritional support during the winter months.

Superfoods

How many times have you heard some exotic thing is THE BEST FOOD EVER, and that for sure it will cure every imaginable human malady? It’s the best thing since sliced bread until the next ‘miracle cure’ comes around. They are usually expensive and come from far away places…Can you smell the rat? Well, truth is, the best foods usually grow right on our doorstep and are neither exotic nor expensive. In fact, you probably have several on your kitchen shelf. Vitamin, A, C, E and D, Iron, Selenium and Zinc are the most important immune system nutrients. But instead of taking them in synthetic form, mixed with a bunch of unidentified filler substance, you would be much better off seeking out natural sources for these vital nutrients. The body often can’t absorb supplements properly, which means that your money often literally goes down the drain.

When there are bugs going around, use common sense: if you know that there is an outbreak in your area, don’t solicit it. Wash your hands frequently and don’t share water bottles and cutlery etc.

Prevention is the best medicine!

Be well and stay well!

Garlic

Some love it, some hate it, but almost no cuisine can do without. And just as well. Garlic is one of the healthiest items we can find in the kitchen. It really is a true superfood, Garlic packs a punch. Like other members of the onion family, it is rich in sulfurous compounds, which aid both the immune system and the cardiovascular system. The trace minerals manganese and selenium are important compounds that help the body in its fight against ‘free radicals’ and against inflammation. It has also been shown to fight bacteria. Including it in your diet on a regular basis is one of the most effective things you can do to improve your diet and to keep your immune system well-nourished.

Chilies

Not everybody can take hot chilies, but those who can attest to its superior power when it comes to sending ’bugs’ packing. It is not just another urban legend, either. Chilies really do fight inflammation. They also provide a good amount of vitamin C and A, which the body needs to fight inflammation. Additionally, they also support the cardiovascular system. They reduce blood cholesterol and triglycerides, and can also reduce blood insulin levels.

Ginger

A wonderfully warming spice with significant anti-oxidant properties, Ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory. A hot lemon drink spiced with ginger and sweetened with honey is a wonderful, refreshing drink once a cold has set in. The spiciness induces sweating, which in turn can help to lower a fever. As regards the immune-system, Ginger owes its anti-inflammatory and free-radical scavenging effects to its essential oils.

Turmeric

This yellow spice is a well-known component of ready-mixed curry powders. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is much revered as a general tonic and immune-system boosting herb. In India, a drink called golden milk is a popular beverage used to ward off nasty bugs. Turmeric supports the eliminative systems of the body, in other words, it helps the liver to get rid of toxins. However, because it is quite potent in this respect, people with gall bladder obstruction (stones) should avoid it. Turmeric has a very complicated chemical composition and its effectiveness can’t be reduced to one particular component. Rather, it acts as an overall tonic, which also fights free radicals and reduces inflammation.

Broccoli & Co

The cabbage family produces not just one, but several of our healthiest vegetables. Good thing they are so readily available during the winter months when we need them most. Tied for the top position among their peers are Broccoli and Brussels sprouts, especially in the category of ‘highest vitamin C content’. Both of them are also rich in folate, but Kale wins when it comes to vitamin A. At the bottom of the line is, you can’t go wrong if you include these wholesome, nutritious vegetables in your dinner plan as often as possible.

Papaya

Granted. This tasty fruit from Central America is perhaps a bit more ‘exotic’ than the other ones on this list. But I am including it here anyway. If more people realised how incredibly healthy it is they would be fighting over it at the store. Rich in vitamin C and A, Papaya is rocket-fuel for the immune system. It is particularly tasty when sprinkled with fresh lime juice.

Rosehips

Rose hips are the fruit of the wild rose, and one of the richest sources of vitamin C and A. Rosehip tea is a wonderfully refreshing drink for the cold season, although I prefer home-made rose hip syrup. In certain specialty stores, you may also be able to find rosehip jam or preserve. No matter which way you consume them, they are a delicious way to boost your immune system and to help your body fight free radicals and inflammation.

Elderberries

In August you can spot them as small, blackberries that hang in big bunches from the Elder trees. Tiny though they are, they are packed with free-radical scavenging nutrients such as vitamin C and A as well as folate and iron, which help the body combat many different kinds of diseases. In winter, Elderberry syrup is a delicious, comforting beverage during the cold season, especially when spiced with ginger.

Lemons

It is no secret that lemons provide ample vitamin C. They also contain folate. These vitamins support the immune system and fight infection and free radicals. They also help to reduce inflammation. They are wonderfully refreshing and when spiced with ginger, honey, and cinnamon, make a wonderful beverage that can help to lower a fever and soothe inflamed mucous membranes. When taken right at the onset of a cold, at the first signs of a scratchy throat, high doses of vitamin C can really help to reduce the symptoms or even ward off that attack altogether.

Sesame and Pumpkin seeds

Included for their high zinc content, pumpkin and sesame seeds are not only a tasty addition to muesli, or salads, but they also support the immune system. Sesame seeds contain not only zinc but also selenium, copper, iron, vitamin B6 and vitamin E. Selenium is used by the thyroid, the gland that is most involved in producing immune-cells. Pumpkin seeds are also rich in various trace minerals, such as iron, copper, and zinc.

What to sow in January

What to sow in January

 range isIf you are one of those impatient gardeners (like me), who are itching to get going with the gardening year, you’ll be wondering what you could possibly grow this early in the season. In the northern hemisphere, January is one of the coldest months of the year. But don’t despair! There are actually a few things that you can sow in January. But, not out in the open as long as temperatures drop below freezing. There are ways around that limitation though – like, discover a new use for your window sill, or you can make a cold frame – or maybe you are the proud owner of a greenhouse or poly-tunnel.

Here are some veggies you can sow (indoors or under glass) at the end of January (about 4 weeks before the last expected frost):

Lettuce

There are many different varieties, so pick one that is hardy in your area. Lettuce prefers cooler weather. Once it gets too warm it will quickly bolt. 

 

Kohlrabi

There are purple and green varieties. The purple one is a bit more flavourful. Kohlrabi is pretty tough and winter kohlrabi can stay in the bed until needed. Summer kohlrabi should be started under glass. They should be hardened off before transplanting them outside. Like other members of the cabbage family, kohlrabi does not like the company of other crucifers in its neighborhood.

 

Radishes

These crunchy, peppery fellows are a lovely early spring crop since they are very tolerant and are quick to grow. Best to sow in intervals, every 2 weeks to optimise the harvest. But make sure you pick a spring variety as radishes are daylight sensitive.

 

Pick open-pollinated heirloom varieties so you can save your own seeds for the next growing season.

Before they can go out into the regular bed they should be hardened off. Don’t plant them out as long as temperatures fall below zero. The ideal temperature range is 

For heirloom seeds see: https://exchange.seedsavers.org/

 

Topiaria gaudium fever

Topiaria gaudium fever

Have you heard? There is a strange fever going around. Strangely, it only affects gardeners. I call it ‘Topiaria Gaudium Fever’. It is a special condition marked by high levels of excitement caused by the anticipation of the new gardening season. Round about now you can find gardeners up and down the land working up a sweat as they are feverishly studying long lists that look like pages of the phone book (phonebook? Who the hell still uses these?) It is impossible to catch their attention. Their eyes glazed over, they are almost drooling with febrile excitement as they utter strange sounds and incomprehensible words that make no sense to most other mortals.

It is an annual condition and immunity does not seem to build up over time.  Despite the fact that the land is buried under a thick layer of snow, gardeners are getting excited about future possibilities, exotic varieties, rare beauties, and even over bog-standard varieties of garlic or potato. They are not the same, you see. There is a world of difference between a Butte Russet and Russian Banana, wouldn’t you know?!

Our gardening friends are studying their seed catalogs and they can agonize over such lists for days. With so many varieties, what should one choose? Which variety is best suited to their specific climate and will it get on with the neighbors? Decisions, decisions…

What pains them are all the seeds that they have to say ‘no’ to for lack of space or adverse climatic factors. And yet, it is amazing how much even a relatively small area will give you if you know how to make the most of the available space.

A good plan is half the work

Garden planning is the ‘unseen’ work of the gardener, but if you want success, it is one of the most important stages. A good plan is half the work. And it is such fun, too! Skilled gardeners optimize the available space by intercropping, companion planting and vertical gardening. That way you can make the most of each season. Some early crops, like spinach, peas, rocket or radishes are ready to harvest before the main summer crops just get going. But timing is everything, so you have to be on the ball!

‘Intercropping’ means to grow several crops together or in close proximity. But planting willy-nilly won’t do. Some plants compete more than others and some need a lot of space once they get beyond the seedling stage. Ideally, you should aim to grow plants together that don’t go after each other’s resources, both in terms of space and in terms of nutrients. In horticulture, this practice is also known as ‘companion planting’ and you can actually grow a lot of different veggies all in the same bed as long as you give them enough space.

In colder climates, it is important to start seeds off early, indoors, to give them a head start. By the time it gets warm enough for them to go out they will be strong little plants. But starting them off too early can also be problematic. Every window sill eventually runs out of space. And also, some plants have a tendency to get dangly if they are kept indoors for too long. Instead of growing strong, they grow feeble. Thus, studying the seed catalogs, which provide information about the optimal growing conditions, planting and harvesting times, is time well spent. If you limit yourself to those varieties that are hardy in your climate and can withstand the odd weather adversity, you are doing great!

To visualize what your garden will look like, and to get an idea of what needs to be done at which time of the year gives you a huge head start. You will be reward with a steady harvest for the most part of the year.

P.S. And while you are contemplating seeds, think about the bees and the butterflies as well. Use open-pollinated seeds and don’t forget to put some out for the birds!

Eager to find out what you could sow this month? Check out ‘What to sow in January‘.

The Signs of the Times

The Signs of the Times

Today is a big day, in Astrology. While Astrology is not normally my topic here, I feel compelled to talk about it.

We have all noticed the build-up of political tensions in the last 2-3 years. There have been outbreaks of political uprisings everywhere, from Hong Kong to Chile, from France to Iraq. There has also been a rather alarming rise of populism which promises easy answers to complex questions.

Astrology relates these happenings in the world to the coming together of two pretty heavy-duty planets, Saturn and Pluto, which, as it happens, finally form their closest aspect today.

The energy that these two planets together convey is of restructuring. When certain structures no longer serve their purpose because they have become too hollow, corrupted or meaningless, it is time to rethink them. To be sure, structures are vital, not just on the level of society, but also on the level of our personal lives. Without structure there is nothing and nothing can’t take action. Form and function are always linked. But to serve their purpose, they have to also be able to adapt to changing circumstances.

All planets have multiple faces and even a planet like Saturn, which signifies a tendency to become too rigid, can change. And Pluto, which has a tendency to be quite radical in an ‘all or nothing’ kind go way, can be transformative without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But it takes skill and awareness to utilize the energy of these planets in this way.

What is clear in this picture is the fact that change is unavoidable. Repressing it is not likely to turn out good as repressed energies have a way of biting us in the bum a little bit later on  (when we thought all was under ‘control’). So, how can this energy be used constructively?

Firstly, we need to become aware of it, by examining the aspects of life that seem too rigid to fulfill their purpose. Sometimes we make commitments which later on become suffocating. They no longer work to mobilize us or to provide useful purpose but become a chore and a hindrance to development and growth.

These aspects of life need to be examined. Ask yourself what kind of structure you would need in order to make full use of your creative powers. What is hindering you now and how this can be transformed so that the structures in your life become supportive and facilitating rather than oppressive.

This particular time is not easy for anyone. The planetary dance we are witnessing is having an impact on the geopolitical and well as on the social level. And we are the actors that are acting it out, albeit, most of us unwittingly. It will also have a generational impact and it would be good to consider how the changes that are taking place right now will impact the generation that is born now, or for whom it figures large in their native horoscopes (e.g. Those born in the late 80s and early 90s.).

Something to remember is that no matter what changes are taking place now, they won’t be forever. Time moves on and so do the planets. Somewhere down the road the new structures that are replacing the current older ones, will be reexamined and will also have to stand the test f time.

Nevertheless, this is a time of change. But we’d better be sure that what we bring in to replace the old is truly an improvement and authentic at its core. Just a new lick of paint will not cover up anything that has outlived its function and value.

Above all, remember: if you are going through a difficult patch right now, take solace that these are the signs of the times. That does not mean we should just sit them out. Rather, be brave and take a long hard look at the things that genuinely need changing, but resist the urge to throw everything under the bus for the sheer hell of it.

Change is the only constant.

What is the use of New Year’s intentions?

What is the use of New Year’s intentions?

When one year comes to a close and another one comes around, it always feels like the beginning of a new chapter. Although just a date in the calendar, it represents a threshold. At such times many of us feel inspired to aim and focus on new goals, whether it be giving up a bad habit or implementing a positive new one. We make a list of intentions of long-term, medium-term and short term goals. Whatever they are, there is a record.

On the other hand, there are those who think, ‘why bother? I’ll break them anyway!’. The road to hell starts with good intentions, or so they say. But it would the road lead there with or without intentions? Perhaps, but without the guilt, one might say. But is that a reason to not even try? 

The date may seem arbitrary, but nevertheless, consciously marking a threshold to initiate change is a powerful symbolic act – if you mean it. But why should you?

It is better to aim high and miss than never to aim and shoot at all. 

We often regret the things we never tried more than the ones we did try, but failed at. 

At the core of setting intentions is actually some pretty powerful stuff! One could call it magic – the art of bringing about change in accordance with the conscious will.  The underlying idea is that our situation in life is not predetermined, that it is possible to bring about change, both internally and externally. 

Among the typical things that people tend to put on their list of good intentions are items like ‘lose weight’, ‘stop smoking’, ‘go to the gym’ etc.

But how about using this ‘magic moment’ to bring about change for the better not just within the personal sphere, but to also consider how your actions and habits impact the world around you? How are your inner values and outer actions aligned? If you could change something in your environment, what would that be?  And what is within your power to do something about it?

We may not be able to change the whole world, but we are capable of changing OUR world. That change starts with oneself. And when we stop to think about it, we will soon realize the ripple effect that our actions can have. What we do, or don’t do can have great implications that are far removed from our direct sphere of experience.

 ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’

To be sure, this is not as easy as it sounds. It requires a certain amount of self-awareness. If we want to see less plastic in the world, we can start by using less of it. If we want to see more organic produce, we can buy more of it. If we want more sustainable sources of energy, we can switch to a provider that offers it, etc. That is the base-line. It starts with our own actions. The great thing about it? Everybody holds the power to affect this type of change right in their own hands. 

It all starts with sitting down to reflect on what kind of person we want to be and what kind of world we want to live in.  It starts with a vision of possibility.

One of the big issues that have been bothering me recently is all the plastic in the world. It is truly abominable to contemplate the amount of garbage that we have produced in the last few decades (and are still producing) and how this stuff is now coming back to haunt us – as microplastics in our food, in the landfills full of toxic trash and in the silent suffering and death of fellow species that are constantly found with their stomachs full of our plastic garbage. I am ashamed as a human being. I do not want this suffering, I do not want the earth to become toxic in this way. To bring my inner values in alignment with my outer habits, it would require giving up plastics altogether. Sadly that is pretty much impossible in our modern world. But, I am making a commitment to reducing my use of plastics as drastically as I can. I can try to make non-plastic choices when I go shopping, refuse bags, don’t buy takeaways that come in plastics etc. It is of course not nearly enough to stem the tide. But it is a small start – and every journey must start with the first step.

I also set goals for myself – to care better for my websites and by extension, for my readers. That too takes time and commitment, but I am hoping that this channel of communication – the only one I have – is bringing enjoyment and maybe even inspiration to some of my readers. And it gives me the joy to be able to communicate with ‘the world out there – or at least that small section that has found its way to my pages, on their journey through the cyber jungle. I know there are a lot of pages out there by now, so I truly appreciate you stopping by!

But nothing would happen if I did not make a firm commitment to these intentions. The magic of intentions only happens when they are focused,  and followed by action. And they also need a driving force. For me, that force is love. Love for Mother Earth, and for my fellow-creatures, whether human, animal or plant.