Thursday, December 20

Menu for Hope, Last Day!

Today is the last day for the charity raffle Menu For Hope, started by food blogger Pim from Chez Pim, raising money for a school lunch program in the town of Lesotho, somewhere in Africa--can't find where. This program doesn't only benefit the kids, it also benefits the local farmers, because all the food is bought from them rather than buying imported food staples from the West.

The way this raffle works is that prizes of many kinds are donated. Each $10 you donate buys you a raffle ticket, and you get to name which prizes you'd like to win. The prizes donated are great in number and really great in quality this year. Apparently since so many were donated, the chances of winning are quite good. So it's fun and for an excellent cause.

Monday, December 17

Christmas In New York City

Tomorrow morning will be drizzly and grey, like this morning, and the morning before it. We'll be getting up early to straggle into a taxi and fly over the continent from Vancouver to the bright cold of New York City, where my family lives. The City is a wonderful place to spend Christmas... full of lights, and window displays, an abundance of restaurants and excellent shopping. And I love the way that my family celebrates Christmas; it's warm, and fun, and elaborate. It may not compare to the fun we had when my grandmother Oma was alive and Christmas was an extended family affair, but it's wonderful nonetheless. And there is always tons of delicious food involved.

Part of the reason I'm so happy to celebrate the holiday with my family is because celebrating it alone with my husband Gordan doesn't really work. He grew up in communist Yugoslavia, where Christmas was viewed as primitive and bourgeois. What did they celebrate in the winter instead? New Year's Eve! And how did they celebrate it? Why, of course--with a New Year's Eve tree! And New Year's Eve presents! And lots of food, and parties, and Jack Frost also brings presents, and... I never quite understood why his enthusiasm for New Year's couldn't transition over to Christmas. (Meanwhile on New Year's he's afflicted with yugonostalgia, which is not very celebratory either. The crowd of Bosnian friends here gets together, sing lots of Yugoslavian pop songs, then Gordan gets morose and grouchy and we go home.) However he loves a good party of any kind, which my family certainly knows how to throw, big or small... so I'm hoping we can bring some of that holiday cheer back with us.

My shopping for presents is basically done, thanks to the internets. I might get a few more trinkets to give. One thing I am thrilled to have pulled off this year: I am sending a certain someone in my life this notice regarding their new monkey. I got Dragana to write in it--so that the recipient sees no familiar handwriting--"You're going to love this! From, Liz" because of course there are so many Liz's in the world. Dragana's going to Trinidad for Christmas (ah, the benefits of being partnered with a sailor) so she'll post it from there--an appropriate location for a monkey import company, I think. Oh, I really hope my mother falls for it.

I must admit that I never got around to decorating our apartment here. First, the building doesn't allow live Christmas trees--which is actually okay by me. However I always buy a wreath instead, and I haven't come across any this year. I also planned to get more strings of lights, and to tie a bunch of brass bells onto a big red ribbon and hang them about, and to make and buy more little hanging decorations... doves and stars and glass balls, I have in mind. Gordan and I have agreed that we'll continue to decorate (in other words, start to decorate) when we return. Perhaps the stuff will be on sale then? And as Gordan says, we can be decorating for Orthodox Christmas, which is on 7th of January. I'm browsing photos of decorations on flickr for inspiration, and finding plenty. How did your seasonal decorating go?

Thursday, December 6

Essential Oils for Emotional Balance: Introduction

We mammals live because we ingest plants, directly or indirectly. In this way, the very matter of which our bodies are composed originate in plants. We are, in this sense, part plant. Further, in the grand evolutionary scale, plants and animals are still close to each other. Just as a gardener can care for a plant and offer it more vibrant health, so can plants heal us.

Essential oils are oils within some plants which contain volatile aromatic compounds, the 'essence'. These compounds perform medicinal functions for the plant. For example, all essential oils are anti-microbial to varying degrees, thus protecting the plant. These essences may perform similar medicinal functions for animals which ingest or rub against the plant, or use it in any other way.

The healing influence of plants has a broad spectrum of possibilities. The study and use of these healing influences is called herbalism. Distilled essential oils are one shade in this spectrum. As such, they have many unique advantages and disadvantages. They are potent. They are sensual, directly engaging the sense of smell. They easily pass through the skin. Because of the volatility of their compounds, they evaporate and fill the air. When essential oils are extracted, water which is full of similar volatile aromatic compounds is also produced, called flower water or hydrosol. These hydrosols are another shade on the spectrum of plant healing, and are milder than essential oils.

In addition to their overtly physical actions, plant essences influence our emotions. They inspire feelings of calm, energy, deep strength, reflectiveness, lightheartedness, and warmth, among others. They also influence our bodily systems in ways which will influence our emotions, through stimulative or sedative effects. Each plant essence has a unique influence. These influences can be used for many purposes. I'm going to address the use of essential oils for the purpose of emotional balance, based on my simple knowledge and experience.

There are often times when our emotions seem to lurch back and forth, while we would prefer a more steady and regular movement through our life's journey. We know what sort of lifestyle allows us to thrive; one which is more regular, peaceful, close to nature, full of exercise and pleasure and fresh good food and social connection. As we consider all the good practices and healing methods available to us, plant essences are a practical and effective healing method to start with or include. They are potent, delightfully sensual, and easy to use and store. Because they speak so directly to our bodies and emotions, we can employ them for an immediate subtle effect. In this way they can tame those lurching emotions, bring back a sense of balance, and allow us to be more ourselves again - and expand to enjoyable and empowered dimensions of ourselves of which we may not be yet aware.

Many people are attracted to essential oils, but wonder where to start. While the expense involved is generally affordable, it does mean that each purchase is a small investment and you will want them to be well chosen. The next post will suggest a group of the most useful essential oils to begin with, describe their unique influence, keeping price in consideration. It will include suggestions for how to use them, as well as some information on safety and proper use.

Remember, as you go into healing through essential oils, that the whole world around you offers natural healing. Remember also the senses of sight and sound and taste and touch, as you cultivate your home environment and plan adventures. The process of evaporation is the original distillation, drawing potent compounds out of the many plants and the very earth around you. Breathe deeply of fresh air, full of diffuse wild essences, and take in all the good that the world around you has to offer.

Monday, December 3

New Finds in Efficiency

Efficiency is not just for offices. I've recently discovered a couple of lovely organization blogs: Unclutterer, and 43 Folders.

Unclutterer has a handy gift giving guide, by the way.

On 43folders, I came across the most fantastic application: MacBreakZ, "a personal ergonomic assistant that promotes healthy and productive computer use." It measures your keyboard and mouse usage, and determines when you need to take a break--and what kind of break, based on what you've been doing. There are three breaks. With one, it simply plays a kind of subtle warning music to prompt you to pause for a few seconds, if you've been doing the same thing for too long. Another break suggests that you close your eyes for a few seconds, then look at a distant object, before returning to your work. The third break gives you three stretches to do (illustrated by drawings of cute and hip Dutch office workers), then suggests you go take a short walk, and summons you back with another kind of music. This is all customizable, you can change the times and the breaks and various details. The software for OSX 10.4 has a long trial period, I believe of 40 days.

I also came across a to do list website, vitalist. I had been using iCal for my to do list, but I found that as my to do list got bigger, the sheer size of it was overwhelming and made it harder to focus. Right now I'm keeping my full to do list on vitalist, and just my day's to do list in iCal. Ah, peace of mind. In vitalist I can also group the to dos into 'projects', and give each to do tags (called 'contexts') which helps me to organize them even more effectively. I'm using the tags instead of due dates as well (tagging tasks with the day of the week on which I want to do them), which works much better.

Saturday, December 1

Winter's Joy

Another really excellent blend. Regular readers (all three maximum of you!) will remember the rose & cinnamon blend for love and connection. Since we're having our first snow today, I wanted to make it with an extra winter spice touch, but nothing quite as obvious as orange and clove. It became:

Orange, rose (diluted), benzoin, cinnamon.

(By the way, I almost never give quantities, but usually they are given in order of greatest to least. Especially in this case, where cinnamon can be overwhelming in excess.)

For orange you could use a number of citrus essences; sweet orange, bitter orange, mandarin, or bergamot. I used bergamot because I was in a hurry and it was right there, but mandarin I think might be the most suitable.

The citrus essences give a sense of lightheartedness, playfulness, encouragement. The rose brings an atmosphere of love, while the benzoin evokes both strength and deep gentleness, mellowing cinnamon's powerful excitement and connection and psychic enlivening.