Monday, December 19, 2011

Kawaii Bento Penguins for Lunch or Party

OMG! One of my friends at work brought these for our holiday potluck; they are SUPER easy to make and pretty much the cutest things ever. Plus they taste good, even for picky eaters.

Kawaii bento penguins


  • Olives
  • Carrots
  • Cream Cheese
  • Toothpicks

… Pretty straightforward: Slice the carrot(s); cut a “V” out of them. Cut a wedge out of half of the olives; stuff this with cream cheese. In the other half of the olives, place the small carrot wedge so that it is sticking out like a beak. Assemble as shown – large carrot slice on bottom, cream-cheese-filled-olive endwise, olive head with beak skewered through the middle – and voila! You have the most unbelievable cute and totally yummy little winter bento additions or hors d’oeuvres you have ever seen, and even the kids will eat them.  (A big thanks to Christine Duval for the inspiration!!)


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cute and (sort of) Healthy Bento Treats!

Alright. Because I seem to be lacking in creativity and free time this week, here is a link to a nifty little treat that I found for your bento! Super cute, super easy, and - as an added bonus - even mostly healthy! And hey, strawberries are high in Vitamin C. Very important for boosting the immune system this time of year. ;)

So, go check out these Delectable, Simple, and Adorable Santa Hats!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Meat Buns - Bento or Mennonite, these are awesome.

In nearly all of the anime shows our family watches, bento lunches are a huge part of the interaction between characters. One of the most intriguing foods to me (besides yakisoba sandwiches, which I have yet to try) were the meat buns - so I went ahead and made them for dinner last night! Granted, the recipe was from a Mennonite blog and the "real" name for them is "Meat Perishky", but still.

These are from the original blogger's page, but mine really did turn out like this!
I used the dough recipe from the site and BBQ pulled pork for the filling, and out of the 5 dozen or so buns the recipe made, there were maybe a dozen and a half left this morning! ALL of the kids - and my husband - loved them, which is essentially unheard of. Most of us had them for breakfast this morning as well, and took them in our lunches, too - which is kind of the point, right?  :)  A bit time-consuming but VERY easy to do, and we are looking forward to experimenting with fillings (think homemade Hot Pockets). Even better - they freeze beautifully!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Random Acts of Kindness

... There's a fellow I pass on the way in to work every morning, between the bus depot and my office. He's a scrappy little guy named Roy who works the graveyard shift somewhere in Woodburn, a town about 20 minutes away from here, and we know each other only in passing - a smile, a "Good morning!". I often see him carrying two coffees that he picks up at McDonald's as he is walking in to the downtown bus depot from the commuter bus dropoff - one for himself, and one for the bus driver.

This morning, he stopped and handed me this, simply saying, "I got this for you today," with a smile. No reason. Just knew he'd see me, and picked up a little something extra. I gave him a hug in return.  :)

... It is amazing how just that one little gesture made such a huge impact on my world. It only cost him $1 and a few moments of his time, but who does that sort of thing any more?? And why don't people do it more often?!?

My day was going fine before that, just following my normal routines, feeling a little blah - but just that one tiny thing made me stop completely in my tracks and re-evaluate a few things. Like, why don't I do things like that? Is it really such a hassle for me to stop and think of the people in my world - and do just a tiny little something to brighten up their day?

Thank you, Roy, for reminding me of what's really important - and how the smallest of gestures can make such a huge impact on another person's world.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A day of summer

<p>This has been "The Summer That Wasn't" here in Oregon; 60 degrees seems to be an average high! In addition, we have been spending every waking moment unpacking and putting our new house together. It is beyond wonderful, but a lot of work! </p>
<p>So, upon leaving an absolutely crazy day at work, I step outside to a beautifully warm and sunny day, flowers everywhere, and dragonflies and butterflies zipping and fluttering around. It felt like summer for a day. :-)

I hope that whatever craziness or gloom may currently exist in your world, you are able to pause for a few moments and enjoy the beauty that surrounds you - this is truly am incredible world that we are part of.

Mitakuye oyasin!

Monday, June 27, 2011

My apologies for the recent absence!

Life in my corner has been a bit on the crazy side! Jeffrey has been dealing with a kidney stone (that is refusing to cooperate), kids are being shuttled to and fro for summer activities, and we are packing and preparing to move to our new home in a couple of weeks!

So, while I would like to give you a whole lot more content than I have been, here's a quick sampling of what I have coming down the pipeline over the next couple months:

  • Natural treatments for high blood pressure and diabetes
  • Social media marketing strategy and tools
  • Permaculture design for suburban homes
... And in the meantime, please enjoy some free ebooks and beautiful desktop wallpapers! New wallpapers are being added weekly, so check back often for more of Jeffrey's amazing photography. ;)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Finally Spring!

Here in the lovely Pacific Northwest, spring has been slow to give us any sunshine. While we are beginning to see a glimpse here and there, what we DO get lots of are flowers. Here are a couple I spotted on my way to work this morning; may they add a little color to your day, no matter how grey! :)
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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Waiting On" Wednesday: The Awakening

"Waiting On" Wednesday, a weekly event, is hosted by Breaking the Spine. The purpose of this event is to get bloggers to spotlight and share the books they are anticipating on being released.

This week's eagerly anticpated novel is:

The Awakening
by Jeffrey Pierce
Release date: Friday, May 13th

From the author's website:
What if everything you thought you knew was wrong?
We're taught in Sunday School that angels are benevolent beings who watch over us, who love and protect us at every turn. Yet the Revelation of John from the Christian Bible states that it is the angels who will pour out God's wrath on humanity, murdering billions of people. If you were an angel and truly loved those you watched over, could you destroy them, even if God commanded you to? 
And if you couldn't, who would God send to do the job in your place? 
Suspenseful, thrilling, and controversial, in The Awakening we find a world where nothing is quite what it seems, where the truth of spiritual reality has been distorted by millennia of folktales and mythology. While angels exist, they aren't what we believe them to be. They are the Old Ones, living among us from the time they were sent here, over 2,000 years ago, with a dark mission they chose to reject. Having fallen in love with mankind, some of the Old Ones work behind the scenes, teaching our great spiritual leaders while other immortals have entered into relationships with humankind, their angelic blood mingling with our own, manifesting in gifts widely considered to be psychic abilities and prophetic dreams. 
Seamlessly weaving Hopi, Mayan and Christian prophesies with current events and the theories of quantum physics, The Awakening is a novel of the ending of a reality, of the reclaiming of a dimension that we call home. Told from a perspective beyond the filter of mythology, the beginning of the end is shown from a non-religious perspective while embracing the spiritual origins of our own existence.

 ... The first three chapters of The Awakening are available free on Jeffrey Pierce's website, and signed copies are available, as well. I can't wait!!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

K is for Kanban

I have organizational challenges. This is no great surprise to anyone who has spent any amount of time with me. I also love gadgets and systems and things, and am forever trying out the new latest and greatest way to keep my life (brain, house, what have you) in order.

The latest nifty tool I've stumbled upon is so simple it almost seems silly. I've been playing with it four a couple weeks now, and am really enjoying my personal Kanban board! What is "Kanban", you ask? Well, from the Personal Kanban website, "A kanban is a tool to visualize, organize, and complete work." Todd Clarke at GetLit (an IT blog) offers his usage of the board, complete with pictures. I love the layout he has used, and thoroughly intend to copy it.  LOL  The whiteboard I have setup at home is much simpler, but doesn't quite do the trick. 

Todd Clarke's super-cool Personal Kanban board at LeanKit Kanban

In a fantasy world, I would have a big flat-screen monitor on the wall of my office, displaying my own personal Kanban using something like the LeanKit Kanban site - and everything could be done with a few clicks of the mouse! As it is, however, I think I'll make do with my whiteboard, colored dry erase markers, and different colored sticky notes.  :)

Friday, April 29, 2011

My first guest blog - Self-Publishing 101

(Thank you so much, Elizabeth, for inviting me to post on your blog!!)

For those who don't know her yet, Elizabeth Petrillo Marcellin is another fantastic author. I will be reviewing her book, Element Keepers, here when I get the time - and it is highly recommended!

We began discussing self-publishing about a month ago, and she mentioned I should write an article helping newbies to the game... So I did! You can view my post on Elizabeth's website.

Friday, April 15, 2011

G is for Goddess, Gratitude and Elbow Grease

Several years ago, on the evening of a full moon and the summer solstice, I was hit with a sudden and burning need to proclaim my devotion to the Goddess. Standing barefoot in the moonlit night, surrounded by comfrey and ripe blackberries, I announced to the universe my promise: To pledge my life, and that of my daughters, in service to the Goddess.

Little did I know what that would mean...

Now, as a little background, I am not a religious person. Spiritual in an all-encompassing, earthy kind of way, sure - but not tied to (or particularly involved in) any one path. But for some reason, that evening, I was Called. Please feel free to substitute "God", "Energy", "Aliens", or whatever word works best for you in place of Goddess - that is just the aspect of the divine that rings truest for me!

Since that promise, I have experienced both the worst and the best life has to offer. I have been literally broken, physically and emotionally - and I have learned to heal, truly and wholly, and to love and be loved. I have discovered that the greatest of life's challenges also offer the greatest gifts - although we have to work to unwrap them, and they often need aging and the right catalyst to ripen. I have also realized what it means to "serve the Goddess" - and that it is not just a verbal promise, but a commitment to work my arse off!

Rather than saying devotionals and prayers or taking a vow of celibacy (which I did do for a time), the way I can best serve and celebrate the Goddess is by embracing my own power, beauty and wisdom - by becoming as true an embodiment of divinity as I am capable of and realizing my full potential. My girls will grow up learning to do the same, and I will do my best to help every woman I befriend discover her own divinity.

Goddess, I am incredibly grateful to you for the gifts I have been given - not least of all my husband, who is the light of my life and the sun to my moon, and my children, who are are the most precious of jewels and the shining stars in my sky. Thank you for always giving us enough, and for providing me with the raw materials to make something incredible. Thank you for the strength, beauty, compassion and wisdom you have given to me - and for showing me how to find it in every person and situation.

Friday, April 8, 2011

F is for Focus

We've been having parenting challenges with a couple of our little ones lately, primarily revolving around a lack of ability to focus and pay attention. They can be told something - instructions, a rule, or what have you - and moments later it is as if they never heard it. As you can imagine, this is rather frustrating. Admittedly, they come by it honestly... I was diagnosed with both ADD and "absent seizures" as an adolescent, and these two definitely share those tendencies!

However, I am of the opinion that behavior is learned. While they may have tendencies toward spaciness and forgetfulness, they can (and will) learn ways to deal with it - as I continue to do even today. Staying on top of things is a constant struggle for me, and I see that reflected in my girls' behavior. It's not out of any sense of laziness or malice, just a simple "Oops; I forgot!" ... But it does have real-world consequences, some of them pretty serious. As an adult, if they "forget" that they have work on a certain day, for example, that could very well be the end of their job - setting in motion a whole crazy CHAIN of consequences!

I am finding that there is no easy answer to teaching my children how to pay attention, focus and think through their actions. It is a constant process of learning (or teaching, depending on where you stand), and is different for every person. An excellent article I came across that offers some practical and effective suggestions for teaching children to focus is titled (prepare to be shocked) "Helping Children Learn to Pay Attention", by Jane M. Healy.

Many of the suggestions Dr. Healy offers are things we already do in our household. Many others are things I understand and support, and just haven't had the time to put into practice! Family martial arts and yoga have been on my "must-do" list for a long time now, for example. *laughing*

I have to wonder... Would so many kids (and grownups) have "ADD" and other focus difficulties if we didn't spend so much time indoors and plugged in?? I highly doubt it. Someday, we'll move out to the country and test that theory.  :)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for eBook

I don't think Jeffrey and I initially had any comprehension of how MUCH is actually involved in self-publishing and marketing your own book. It's waaaaaay more than just writing a good book and uploading the file somewhere - you have to find an editor, format it correctly (and differently for print vs. ebook), design the cover, build a website, blog, network, market, solicit reviews, design trailer videos, learn new software, panic when your computer crashes, check stats every 5 minutes, lather rinse and repeat ad nauseum... It's pretty crazy stuff!!

I'll save the gory details of most of it for another post, but here are the basics of what I've learned regarding the easy way of actually creating (and self-publishing) an ebook:

1) All eBook publishers are not equal. Most of them require completely different formatting; if you are techy or willing to take the time to learn, this is a little bit of a hassle but not the end of the world. If your tech knowledge is limited to Microsoft Office and the internet, you are best sticking to Smashwords for publishing your eBook! They will take your (properly formatted) MS Word document and run it through their "Meatgrinder", converting it to the various alternative formats - and then sending your book to multiple distribution channels! Voila. You are now selling your book at Amazon, Sony, Apple, and more - with a minimum of frustration.

2) Start your book with NO FORMATTING. None. All those lovely paragraphs you created using the tab key in Word? BAD. Consult the wonderful and free "Smashwords Style Guide" for more details.

3) Find an editor. It's easy to think you can skip this one, but trust me - no matter how wonderful your writing is, you need an editor. Check your friends & family list first to see who might qualify as a free or low-cost option; offer to bribe them with autographed copies, chocolate, booze, babysitting - whatever it takes!

4) Get your marketing started well before you actually publish your book! Create accounts on social media networks, especially Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Shelfari. Spend time there. Get to know people. Engage in useful conversation - don't just promote your book, that comes across as spammy and is a definite turnoff.

5) Publish your book to Smashwords. The process takes awhile - typically a couple of weeks to be accepted into their "Premium" category, longer if you need to fix formatting errors. Tagging your book and creating an appropriately enticing description and author bio are important, as is placing your book into the relevant categories! Give these items some thought. Also consider pricing - while some authors charge the same price as paperback novels, a majority are pricing their books at $2.99 or even $.99. There are divided schools of thought on eBook pricing; go with your gut - and check out J.A. Konrath's blog on the subject.

6) Send advance copies to reviewers! If you search the web for "indie book review", you will find a number of reviewers happy to accept your book for review. Keep in mind that not all reviews will be positive; be prepared to accept whatever they dish out with grace and good humor.

7) Announce the release of your book!! Tell friends, family, co-workers, neighbors; create and send out a quick press release to your local paper and related publications (such as Parenting Magazine for a book on "Dealing With Your Demon Child", for example); make sure a link to purchase your book (or to the book's website) is in every electronic correspondence you send out... Be the book.

8) Be grateful for the sales and reviews you get, and don't expect to quit your day job any time soon! A new self-published author typically only gets a handful of sales in the first couple months; sales increase with oodles of marketing, additional books, and sheer dumb luck.

Self-publishing is definitely a labor of love! Whether you want to make a living off writing or are just excited about the thought of seeing your book in print (albeit electronically), the world has definitely changed for writers - and the possibilities are limitless, if you are willing to put in the time and effort. But most importantly? Have fun!! Life's a game, not a race to the finish.

D is for Doomsday

Sorry, I couldn't resist.  LOL  With everything crazy going on in the world, it seemed an obvious choice! Let's see if I can throw a little science into the mix...

Alright. So, it's 2011. Which means next year is 2012. Is the world as we know it going to end??

Short answer: Highly doubtful, but who the heck knows?!

Natural disasters, political craziness, economic collapse, nuclear threats, sunspots, 2012... The list goes on. Regardless of validity, "Armageddon" is a prominent thought in our global consciousness right now. But hasn't it been "The End Of The World" time and time again? Every generation has its doomsday fears; is now any different?

Humans tend to think we know an awful lot, what with all our research and science and data and all that... but the truth of the matter is, we've been living on this planet a comparatively short time. The earth is not a static ball of rock that we live on and have mastery over; it is a dynamic, living, constantly changing being of its own - and we happen to be one of the tiny creatures living on its surface! When natural disasters like the recent Japan earthquake happen, we all seem to go a little bit crazy asking ourselves, What could we have done to predict or prevent this from happening?

... And the answer to THAT question is: Probably not a darned thing. There are some warning signs out there when the earth gets unsettled, but whether anything monumental will happen (or not) is really anyone's guess.

Right now, for example, we seem to be in a period of extremely heightened seismic activity. There are largish earthquakes happening ALL OVER the globe on a daily basis. Magnitute 6+ earthquakes don't even make it beyond local news. To add to that, we are entering solar cycle 24 - which is predicted to be the largest in well over 100 years. Solar activity has been correlated with increased seismic activity. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, right? For those curious souls out there, here are a few hard science links that may be of interest. Unless you prefer the "ignorance is bliss" mindset - which is not always such a bad way to go.  ;)

Seismic monitoring stations:

Yellowstone Seismic Maps
Pacific NW Seismic Network
USGS Earthquakes
New Madrid

Solar activity:

SolarIMG (photos and graphs of solar activity and more)
Solar Terrestrial Activity Report
NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory

... What do you think?? I would love to know your opinion!!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

C is for Contraception


Okay. If that and the word "Contraception" didn't scare you away, then off we go!! LOL

A little background: I have been using an IUD (or intrauterine device) for contraception since my youngest was born, 5 years ago. Conveniently, the lifespan of said device is 5 years. So, it was time for me to either get the thing replaced or find an alternate method of birth control. With 4 children already between the two of us, Jeffrey and I would definitely prefer not to have another baby!

For a variety of reasons (which I am happy to discuss in detail if anyone wants to know), I elected not to get the Mirena replaced. After taking it out myself about two weeks ago, I am certain I made the right decision. However, I have previously used about every birth control method known to man - and have very poor tolerance to any of them. My body just doesn't like outside intervention or hormonal interference. ;) So, the most appealing method to me came up as Natural Family Planning!

This method of contraception has gotten a seriously bad rep over the years, but it goes beyond simply 'being careful' - today's NFP includes checking your BBT (basal body temperature), cervical position and mucus, and other symptoms - actually being aware of and charting your own body's cycles and rhythms using scientific indicators for ovulation and fertility. If done correctly and cautiously, it has about a 99.5% efficacy rate in preventing pregnancy - which is on par with an IUD or even tubal ligation. It is also pretty darn helpful if you are trying to GET pregnant!

Okay, I get paying attention to when you ovulate - but not all women know when they ovulate. How do you tell? Well, beyond the ovarian pain, general crankiness (or horniness), and other obvious symptoms, your body goes through some measurable changes. One of those is a slight temperature spike during and for a few days after ovulation, and the other is a change in cervical mucus and position(thus the "eew factor" lol). Becoming familiar with how to track these signs is a challenge of its own!

Fortunately, there are tools and resources to make it easier, such as:

So, now the challenge for me is to re-learn my body's symptoms and cycles. Having been without a period for almost 5 years, dealing with PMS and ovulation and menstruation is a bit strange! Being able to track my own fertility and prevent pregnancy? Priceless. I'm also planning on teaching my daughters (one of whom already menstruates) this knowledge - that they may grow up more aware of their bodies (and the repercussions of their actions) than I did! :)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

B is for.... BENTO!!

... We watch anime at our house. A LOT of anime. Not the whole "fighting robots" or Pokemon stuff; generally unique, interesting, fun and well-thought-out shows that just happen to be animated! Well... okay, some of it's a little weird - like the zombie living with a necromancer and a vampire ninja and a weird magical girl who carries a pink chainsaw and... you get the point. ;)

One of the common themes in many of the anime shows we watch is a thing called "Bento". Bento is apparently what everyone in Japan eats for lunch. Unless they're eating Yakisoba sandwiches, of course (which are actually weird but quite good). Bento can be any of a number of things, ranging from simple finger foods (think Lunchables) to crazy Hello Kitty shaped rice balls (called "onigiri") with cheese and fruit cutout shapes. Seriously. Do a Google image search for "Bento" and see what comes up!

I have no idea how they create half the stuff they do - but I want to learn!! After digging for a bit, I've discovered shaped rice molds and cutout punches for seaweed (to make faces and such), a myriad of different bento boxes (which are really freaking cool) and TONS of other accessories. No more boring lunches for my kids! LOL

Admittedly, I'm a bit concerned about the amount of time it could possibly take to put something like this together:

... But doesn't that make lunch seem a little more entertaining?? And besides, if I'm going to take up a hobby, why not make it something sort of useful?! Now, if only I could find a nanny and housekeeper willing to work in exchange for room and Bento... :)

Friday, April 1, 2011

A is for Adventure!!

Alright. I thought about making out lists of what I should write for each day of the A to Z blog challenge; "A" was going to be either Andrographis or Astragalus - both of which are very useful herbs!

... But that seemed kind of dull.

So, I started thinking: "What do I NOT know that I would like to learn more about?" And that, my friends, is what I'm going to focus the coming month on.

Too many people get stuck in nice comfy ruts, sticking to what they know or deem safe - and I've never lived my life that way. Life is an adventure, and it's meant to be LIVED! Devoured, savored, attacked, rejoiced in. There is so much to do and learn and share; join me in this wonderful adventure as I seek to expand my horizons this month!

See you tomorrow. :)

A to Z Blog Challenge for April

... Just wanted to let y'all know that I finally gave in - I will be participating in the 2011 A to Z Blog Challenge. That means I get to write 1 article every day for the WHOLE MONTH!! ... Which, considering I post an average of a blog per month or so, is indeed a challenge for me!

If you'd like to join me, please visit and sign up on their list.

Happy Blogging!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Book Review - Escaping Destiny by Jeffrey Pierce

Escaping DestinyEscaping Destiny by Jeffrey Pierce

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recently finished a marvelous fantasy novel - Escaping Destiny, by Jeffrey Pierce. Having been an avid reader for many, many years (especially in the fantasy/sci-fi genres), I am pretty selective about what I will recommend to others. This story was truly exceptional. I was hooked within moments, and am now itching with anticipation for the next book in the series!

Escaping Destiny is the first in the Tapestry series, and is set in a richly detailed universe with multiple worlds. The main characters of the book are all part of an ancient prophecy, and struggle to find their own identities while trying to figure out how to thwart fate. The characters are colorful, believable, and consistent, and their journey through the book is riveting! I would consider this to be a good choice for both general reading and for deeper discussion, as it mirrors often the personal challenges, religious differences and societal prejudices that we often face in our own world.

The author speaks in a clear, descriptive voice, using a minimum of words to convey complex and subtle details. While I virtually skim most books, I actually had to slow down and read this one word-for-word! At various points throughout the book, I found myself in tears or laughing out loud. Many of the passages are incredibly beautiful, such as this one:

"... The mer tilted his head back and began to softly sing. Sovay closed her eyes, holding back her tears as the beauty of the wordless song washed over her. It was as if the sound of the gentle wind and lullaby of the waves had been set to music. There were no words, only the purity of tone and intent that rose and fell from Beltross’s thin lips. The sound held the deep emotion of the sea, the power of an unchained storm, transmuted into the gentle lapping of the waves that danced around a child’s bare toes."

This book easily earns 5 stars from me, and makes my "Favorite Books of All Time" list!

Jeffrey Pierce is a writer, photographer, and traditionally trained shaman who offers a unique perspective to his readers. I imagine him as being very much like the main character in this story, Kai Oakman! He maintains his own website at, where the first three chapters of Escaping Destiny are available for free. I eagerly anticipate his next book, which is due out in May.

View all my reviews

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Calendula-Comfrey Ointment for Eczema and Diaper Rash

For skin care, this is the magic combination! Super easy to make, this is a recipe to keep in your first aid kit year-round. In addition to eczema and diaper rash, the ointment is useful for general rashes and irritation, dry skin, and repairing burns or wounds that have begun to heal.

The recipe:

16 oz coconut oil
2 large handfuls Calendula petals
1 small handful Comfrey leaves
1 capsule vitamin E oil
A few drops lavender essential oil


Double boiler
Wire mesh strainer (or cheesecloth!)
Bowls of some kind to strain oil into
Jars/containers (re-used are fine!)

Step 1: Melt the coconut oil in a double boiler over medium-high heat, stir in herbs, and simmer VERY gently for 30 minutes.

Step 2: Remove from heat and strain through largish strainer to separate herbs from oil.

Step 3: Strain the oil again, if needed, through a finer mesh strainer or some folded cheesecloth to remove all herb residue from the oil.

Step 4: Add vitamin E and essential oil. Alternatives to lavender for skin care would include chamomile, petitgrain, and rosemary, among others.

Step 5: Pour into jars! Makes approximately 16 ounces of ointment. Don't panic; it takes awhile to set! Fine at room temperature, but store in refrigerator for maximum life.

A note regarding the ingredients I use: Whenever possible, I source organic or wildcrafted herbs - or better yet, herbs that I have collected myself! The fixed oils and butters get expensive fairly quickly, however, and I don't have the luxury of spending hundreds of dollars on organic oils (much as I would like to) - so I have linked to the highest-quality and most affordable oils I can find.

Coconut oil is especially good for skin care - very moisturizing without being overly greasy! You can find it in grocery and health food stores as well as many online retailers.

Both comfrey and calendula grow almost anywhere, can be harvested for a good stretch of the summer and fall, and store well. They are also inexpensive to purchase.

What do you use salves and ointments for, and what herbs or essential oils are your favorites for eczema?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chronic Stress and Adrenal Fatigue

We're going to talk today about chronic stress (an increasingly common complaint of people across the globe) and 'Adrenal Fatigue.'

What, exactly, is Adrenal Fatigue, you ask? Or even, what the heck are adrenals?

Well, you might notice that 'adrenal' sounds suspiciously like 'adrenaline' – and you would be exactly right.

So, what do adrenals do? Why are they important? And why does it matter if they become fatigued? How the heck do they get fatigued in the first place?!?

First things first….

  • What are Adrenals, and why should I care?
  • How do I know if I my adrenals are fatigued?
  • What causes Adrenal Fatigue, and what can I do to fix the problem?
Why are my Adrenals important?

Hormones are the 'keys' that fit into 'locks', or receptors, in our cells - and tell them to do certain things. Simply put, they are chemical signals produced by an organ that is sent to other organs and tissues, causing an effect in those organs or tissues. Hormones help the body to maintain its balance, and without them, we would not function!

For example, insulin is a hormone. It is needed to move sugar from our blood into our cells, as sugar is the 'gas' that fuels our body. When our insulin production is not regulated properly, our bodies cannot maintain a balance – and our bodies either become hypo-glycemic or hyper-glycemic (too little sugar or too much sugar). Both conditions cause serious symptoms and can lead to death in a matter of hours if not corrected. So, it stands to reason that maintaining normal blood sugar levels – and therefore healthy insulin production – is pretty important, right?

The same holds true for our adrenals. Our adrenal glands are responsible for the production of Epinephrine, Norepinephrine, Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), Aldosterone, and Cortisol. Phew! That's a mouthful! What the heck are those, and what do they do, you ask? Here's a breakdown:

  • Epinephrine is more commonly known as Adrenaline. Adrenaline is our body's "Fight-or-flight" hormone, and causes changes in our metabolism and nearly all our body's systems. It is what prepares our body to survive a battle, what allows a mother to lift a car off her trapped child, and the 'rush' we feel when engaging in potentially life-threatening activities (like bungee jumping or public speaking). 
  • Adrenaline increases your heart rate and blood pressure, raises blood glucose, and opens your airways. If you have ever had (or witnessed) a severe allergic reaction, an 'Epi-pen' is simply an injection of Epinephrine.
  • Norepinephrine is another 'stress hormone,' acting in similar ways to Epinephrine. It specifically affects parts of your brain responsible for attention and responding actions. When Norepinephrine is released, it increases your heart rate and triggers the release of glucose from your body's energy stores, increases blood flow to your muscles, and acts as a neurotransmitter – improving your ability to think clearly and quickly.
  • DHEA is a steroid that is not completely understood. It plays a significant role in the immune and stress response, improving memory and mood and enhancing mental performance. It is actually prohibited under the World Anti-Doping Code of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which is the organization that manages drug testing for Olympics and professional sports!
  • Aldosterone regulates the exchange of sodium and potassium in the blood, regulating blood pressure.
  • Cortisol is an anti-inflammatory steroid, also known as hydrocortisone. It is another stress hormone, helping to restore balance after stress. Cortisol acts primarily to increase blood sugar, suppress the immune system, and assist with the metabolism of fat, protein and carbohydrates. It also counteracts insulin, which can contribute to hypoglycemia or diabetes symptoms. Changes in cortisol levels are associated with depression, illness, trauma, fear, pain, and other extremes. Additionally, high levels of cortisol lead to collagen loss in the skin (think wrinkles), increased gastric acid secretion (heartburn, anyone?), lowered bone formation ability (aiding the development of Osteporosis), impaired learning ability, the shutting down of your reproductive system (infertility), increased appetite (a factor leading to obesity), and a weakened immune system. Every person has their own rhythm of natural cortisol production.

Wow! Them there are some potent drugs. Our bodies have fantastic self-regulating systems, and the hormones our adrenals produce in reponse to stress are one of the most observable reactions! HOWEVER, are bodies are not meant to express these hormones continuously. If our adrenals were a tool to use, they would be in a box on the wall labeled "For Emergency Use Only". They have a limited capacity, and a long recharge time! If we overuse them, pretty soon they get totally tapped out and exhausted – and our bodies get sick from the emergency drugs they keep throwing at us! This is where Adrenal Fatigue comes into play, and where we start to become aware of an unhealthy cycle our society is prone to encouraging…

What Is Adrenal Fatigue?

First of all, let me acknowledge that Adrenal Fatigue is not recognized by most western medical practitioners as a 'valid' disease. It is incredibly difficult to diagnose with blood tests and other measurable methods, and therefore not often acknowledged as 'real'. That being said, people who have experience with it – as well as a growing number of both traditional and holistic health care providers – acknowledge that Adrenal Fatigue is a very real condition, and one that should not be taken lightly.

Adrenal Fatigue occurs when our adrenal glands become exhausted from the continuous producton of stress hormones, and become unable to effectively regulate those chemicals. This can be caused by one massively stressful situation (physical or emotional) or, perhaps more commonly, by chronic stress. Sustained anger, poor diet, and regular caffeine consumption are also major contributing factors. It typically is a slow-onset condition, meaning you gradually feel more and more tired, stressed, worn out, etc. – until you reach the point that you are no longer functioning adequately! Many people live their lives in this state of being, assuming the way they feel is normal for someone with a busy life and many demands and stressors. Eventually, greater health problems can develop – such as heart disease, fibromyalgia, immune disorders, osteoporosis, and other conditions.

Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue

Some symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:

  • Excessive fatigue and exhaustion; a feeling of being 'rundown'
  • Extreme sensitivity to cold
  • Non-refreshing sleep (even when you get enough hours, you wake feeling tired)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Lack of ability to cope with stress
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Difficulty concentrating or 'brain fog'
  • Anxiety or depression; feeling 'on the edge'
  • Low stamina
  • Slow recovery from exercise, illness, injury or stress
  • Digestive complaints
  • Heartburn
  • Systemic inflammation
  • Compromised (low) immune function
  • Allergies
  • Craving for sweet or salty foods coffee, or other 'pick-me-ups'

How Can I Fix Adrenal Fatigue?

First of all, THIS IS NOT A QUICK FIX. You cannot take a pill, or go on a diet, or drink a magical drink that will suddenly fix everything. Your body is out of balance, and you need to take some long-term steps to correct this imbalance. Areas of your lifestyle that will need adjustment include:

  • Lowering your stress level
  • Changing your sleep habits
  • Adjusting your diet
  • Avoiding caffeine
  • Introducing regular exercise
  • Nutritional and herbal supplementation
Managing Your Stress Level

A few ways you can help to healthily manage your stress are:

  • Avoid stressors if possible
  • Express your feelings in healthy ways
  • Learn time management skills
  • Focus on the positive
  • Create time to consciously relax or meditate
  • Do things that create joy in your life
  • Adopt healthy lifestyle habits

Healthy Sleeping Habits

Getting enough sleep is incredibly important to maintaining optimal health. Many of us, especially if we are experiencing high levels of stress, have difficulty sleeping. A few things that can help are:

  • Go to sleep before 10pm – before you get your 'second wind' at around 11!
  • Maintain a regular bedtime, so your body adjusts to a regular sleep cycle
  • Keep a journal, and unload your thoughts and worries before bed or make a to-do list for the next day
  • Avoid sleep medications if possible; instead, use herbal sleep aids such as valerian, hops or chamomile
  • Exercise daily to physically tire your body out and encourage restful sleep

Healthy Diet

Probably the number one contributing factor to all health problems, and a huge contributing factor in Adrenal Fatigue, is diet. Really, this topic needs an entire post of its own, but I'll start with a few simple tips for you:

  • Stay away from sugar! Refined sugar (sucrose, fructose, corn syrup, brown sugar, etc.) acts as a poison to our bodies, and causes all sorts of issues
  • Avoid refined starches, choosing whole grains whenever possible (brown vs. white rice, whole wheat vs. white, etc.)
  • Eat lots of veggies and fruits, the fresher the better
  • Keep your blood sugar balanced – eat healthy snacks between meals
  • AVOID CAFFEINE!! Coffee is bad. #1 most horrible thing you can do to your body if you have issues with adrenal fatigue.
  • #1 GOOD thing you can do for your body is to drink enough water. Most of us do not consume sufficient quantities; an easy way to remember is by filling two 32-oz bottles and making sure to drink them both over the course of the day.

Avoid Caffeine

Did I mention that coffee is horrifically bad for you as an everyday beverage? Caffeine 'wakes you up' by throwing your body into the fight-or-flight response; that is, by stimulating your adrenals. Rather than coffee (in order from worst to best for you), other less stimulating beverage options are black tea, green tea, yerba mate and herbal teas. Both black and green tea have antioxidants and a small amount of caffeine, and yerba mate is very mildly caffeinated but actually quite good for you.

Another food that can help boost your energy levels is a lovely berry from Brazil called Acai (ah-sigh-ee). It is typically made into drinks or smoothies, and gives you a gentle, healthy boost without caffeine's unhealthy side effects or letdown.

There are several herbal supplements that are marketed to increase energy – ginseng, taurine, guarana, and others. They are certainly effective for many people, but there is some debate as to whether regular use of many of them is detrimental to your health.

Exercise is Important

Our bodies were not designed to sit idle. It may be hard to get started, but exercising regularly will give you more energy ultimately. Start out slow, even 10 minutes per day – and it doesn't need to be aerobics or weightlifting! A few lower-key options are:

  • Yoga
  • Tai chi (and other more intensive martial arts)
  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Pilates
  • … and anything else that you enjoy and gets your muscles moving and heart pumping!

Nutritional and Herbal Supplements

There are a number of supplements that can be extremely beneficial – but no two people are the same. Start with one supplement, let your body adjust (and see how you feel after a week or two), and then add others only after checking about any potential interactions. Some things you may want to include are:

  • Vitamins!! It is very important, especially for the average American (with the average American diet), to find a multivitamin that works for you. There are many, many options – I advise you to avoid commercial drugstore brands and check with your local health food store for more complete and holistic options.
  • Acidophilus – crucial if you have ever taken antibiotics; it helps to replenish the beneficial flora in your gut, which can help everything from digestion to immune function.
  • Digestive enzymes – also helpful if you have any sort of digestive issue or if you eat an imbalanced diet.
  • Adaptogens – a class of herbs that actually help your body respond better to stress, anxiety and fatigue. Some of the more widely acclaimed herbs include Rhodiola, Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng), Astragalus, Maca, Tulsi (Holy basil), Ashwaganhda, Ginseng, Reishi mushroom, and Noni fruit. My favorite is Rhodiola, and I take it regularly when the stress in my world gets to be too much or I cannot manage my fatigue levels. I also take Astragalus on occasion, and like to add the root to nutritive soups and stews (adaptogens also tend to be powerful immune boosters).
  • JuicePlus – I know people who swear by this; personally, I would prefer to eat the fruits and veggies, but this is a good Plan B!
  • Spirulina – algae of the lovely blue-green variety; incredibly rich in protein and trace nutrients and minerals, I notice a huge difference in energy level and clarity of though when I include this in my diet. If you're weird like me, you might enjoy sprinkling it on everything you eat (including popcorn, along with nutritional yeast) – but if not, they do sell it in handy-dandy capsule form.

If you can pick just one thing from one of those lists to start with, you will have taken the first step. Recovering from adrenal fatigue is not quick, and it's not easy – but it will never improve if you don't change your lifestyle habits. Take them one at a time, and as you begin to feel healthier and happier, I imagine you may find it easier and easier to do. After all, we create our own realities. How good do you want to feel?

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should not use the information on this page for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this site.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Herbs in Your Backyard

I keep trying to write herb profiles and finding myself utterly unmotivated, and I finally figured out why: It's been done a thousand times before! Anything I could write about each individual herb has already been written – probably more thoroughly than I could present to you. So instead, I shall share a brief summary of several local herbs – and perhaps encourage you to read someone else's profile of the plant! Also, keep in mind that while many of these plants grow elsewhere, the 'backyard' of which I speak is the Pacific Northwest – specifically, the Willamette Valley and Cascade or Coastal mountain ranges & foothills.

It is my opinion (and one shared by many experienced herbalists) that herbs from your local bioregion are many times more effective than herbs harvested elsewhere – I have heard some say as many as a thousand times more powerful. Whether we realize it or not, we are attuned to our environment – and that includes the plants and animals that share said environment with us. There are exceptions to this, of course – our ancestral and genetic heritage, herbs that resonate with us on a spiritual level, etc. If you are living in Oregon but your ancestry is primarily East Indian, for example, you will probably resonate with Ayurvedic herbs in addition to the local herbs.

Some of my favorite wild herbs to find in the springtime throughout the Northwest include Nettle, Burdock, Dandelion, Cleavers, Chickweed, and Plantain. Most Northwest residents will choke at this list – they are all considered horrible weeds! But how can anything as useful, as plentiful, and as able to thrive as these plants possibly be bad? These herbs are traditionally used as springtime tonic and cleansing herbs, and here is an overview of each…

Nettle is one of my favorite herbs by far. It thrives in woodlands and semi-marshy places, often taking over large patches of damp woods. While not fun to brush up against, Nettle is incredibly nutrient-dense, containing high amounts of protein, vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium, iron, choline, magnesium, boron, iodine, silica, sulfur, chlorophyll, histamine, serotonin, glucoquinones, bioflavonoids, tannins and amino acids. Phew!! That's quite the list! Nettles are used to "build the blood", balance PH, lower blood sugar, and generally strengthen and tonify the body. They are also excellent for relieving allergy symptoms, and useful in treating bronchitis. Fresh, freeze dried, in soups or teas; you name it, Nettle can do it! Nettles are great in your compost, make a superb fertilizer and weed-killer for your garden, and can even be used for making paper or cloth. Just be sure to use gloves when you harvest! J

Burdock can be found at the edges of woodlands and in disturbed fields; it seems to like areas that have been trampled upon – paths, pastures, that sort of thing. It looks something like rhubarb, with soft and almost fuzzy leaves that can reach a couple feet in length, but the most unforgettable characteristic is the several-foot-high flower stalk that develops in late summer and eventually produces gigantic and horribly sticky burrs (they were the inspiration for Velcro, in fact). The roots are the most useful part of the plant, although they are a serious pain to dig up, as they easily reach 2-3 feet deep. Burdock is excellent as a vegetable, and is high in calcium, potassium, flavonoids, iron, inulin, and mucilage. It is one of the very best cleansing herbs, and is considered an "Alterative", enhancing the performance of the elimination organs (kidneys, liver, colon, etc.) and purifying the blood. One of its best-known uses is to help treat acne – by drinking the tea! It is also useful for helping to stabilize blood sugar and as a remedy for "leaky gut syndrome".

Dandelion – who doesn't know (and generally despise) this wonderful weed?? High in calcium, potassium, iron, Vitamin A, and other nutrients, Dandelion is incredibly useful as both a liver tonic and cleansing herb and as a digestive "bitter", encouraging the secretion of digestive enzymes and making meals easier to digest. Both the leaves and the root are useful, and the flowers are also edible. Much could be written about the benefits of Dandelion, but suffice it to say that it is an absolute must in any cleansing or springtime herbal regimen! And hey, it's easy to grow…

Cleavers are one of the most effective diuretics and blood/lymph purifiers, and should also be included in any cleansing formula. They are also useful in treating urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and skin disease (such as eczematous rashes). This is another herb that you can't really avoid – it grows EVERYWHERE, and is typically considered an irritating plant, as both the leaves and seeds are "sticky" and will cling to your clothes as you pass! Look for cleavers pretty much anywhere, but especially under trees and around bushes – they like a bit of shade.

Chickweed also grows everywhere – lawns, along sidewalks, next to paths in the woods; generally all over! It is a very pleasant-tasting plant, and makes a great salad green. Cooked, it tastes something like spinach. Chickweed is a good source of iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, sodium, copper, silica, and Vitamins A, D, C, and B complex. It acts as a mild diuretic and is, like the rest of the herbs in this article, a wonderful cleansing herb for the kidneys and urinary tract. Chickweed has traditionally been used to treat respiratory problems such as bronchitis, coughs & colds, and the like – it even helps to dissolve mucus! It is also useful used externally for soothing irritated skin, minor burns, cuts, rashes, and eczema.

Last but certainly not least is Plantain. This herb loves places that nothing else will grow – heavily-trodden paths, sun-baked meadows, roadsides, backyards, in the cracks of sidewalks… Rich in potassium, Plantain is a gentle and soothing diuretic, good for alleviating intestinal inflammation and mild urinary tract infections. It is also useful in treating bronchial irritation. Plantain really shines, however, when used externally – chew or crush the plant and place directly on bee stings, bug bites, rashes, and mild injuries; it is mildly pain-relieving and antiseptic, and also helps to draw out toxins and stem bleeding.

Hmm. Funny, it seems like all the good springtime herbs are useful for similar things! I do highly recommend a good springtime cleansing, although herbs should only be one portion of that effort – diet and exercise are crucial in supporting your body's health! No matter how seriously or frivolously you pursue your herbal education, remember to harvest (and use) with care and respect. Also, because I have to say it, the information presented here is intended for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and the information I present to you is not intended to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any disease. Please consult a medical professional about actual health concerns!

Taking Control of Your Health, Naturally! Herbal Teas 101

... Jobs are being lost, homes foreclosed, health insurance prices skyrocketing… What's a person to do when they can't afford a trip to the doctor?? My family's answer has been alternative medicine – specifically, diet and herbs. Herbal medicine can be very complex, but it doesn't have to be – just a simple cup of tea can be the answer to many ailments!

Most of us, in this day and age, have at least a passing familiarity with herbal teas. Peppermint, chamomile, those nice fruity teas they have at any restaurant… But that's just the tip of the iceberg! Herbs have been used for millennia to support health and treat a variety of ailments, from headaches to cancer – and everything in between. Although most herbs are completely safe for everyday use, some do interact with prescription drugs or are contraindicated in certain conditions – so ask your physician or herbalist if you are unsure.

The preparation of herbal teas is slightly different than, say, Lipton black tea bags. The active properties in herbs, including the volatile essential oils (responsible for most of the flavor) require a certain temperature and steeping time to properly extract. For nearly all herbs, you must use fresh boiling water, and steeping times for different herb types are as follows:

Aerial parts (leaves, slender stems and flowers) – Steep 1 ½ tsp to 1 Tbsp per 8 oz water for 5 – 15 minutes. The longer you steep, the more medicinally potent the brew will be – but some herbs get bitter with long steeping times! For a stronger-tasting tea, use more herbs rather than a longer steeping time.

Roots & Woody Stems – Steep 1 ½ tsp to 1 Tbsp per 8 oz water for 15 minutes or more. If you can crush or chop the plant parts beforehand, so much the better – more active ingredients will be released into the tea. If you are trying to achieve a particularly potent tea (especially for medicinal use), you might want to make a decoction – place the herbs and water on the stove, bring to a boil, and simmer for 20 minutes.

Black Teas – this can vary according to type, but the general rule is 3-5 minutes for best flavor. Long steeping times encourage bitterness, as more of the tannins are released. All the caffeine is extracted within the first minute, so it's only flavor after that. Steep to your liking. Admittedly, I prefer mine steeped for at least 5 minutes, with milk and sugar added!

Green and White Teas – again, there is a little leeway here, but generally 1-2 minutes is plenty for these more delicately-flavored teas. They can become bitter quite easily, but are delightful when not oversteeped!

With blended teas, the standard rule is to steep according to the shortest steeping time. With a blend of herbs that includes leaves, flowers and roots, for example, ideal steeping time would be 5-15 minutes. You can also go the labor-intensive route and put the woody or root herbs in water, bring it to a boil, then add aerial parts and steep (off the heat) for an additional 5-15 minutes (generally only possible if you're blending your own teas).

Medicinal teas are best drunk in small cups throughout the day. You can make it by the quart jar and store in the fridge for up to 3 days. Some health conditions require many months of daily tea. A little honey (preferably local and raw) or stevia can help to enhance flavor in good teas, and mask it in the bitter ones!

Some of the easier-to-find and more palatable herbs for medicinal teas include:
  • Peppermint – good for nausea, digestion problems, and headaches. Combine with Fennel seeds and Ginger for an excellent before- or after-dinner tea.
  • Lemon Balm (aka Melissa) – a delightful herb that aids with depression and anxiety. Soothing for over-stressed and sensitive nervous systems. Also helps with allergies.
  • Chamomile – Very relaxing; often used to calm overactive children and help one sleep. For children, combine with Catnip (add milk and honey if desired) for a bedtime tea; for grownups, I recommend blending with any combination of other "sedative" herbs – Skullcap, Passion Flower, Sweet Woodruff, or Catnip. If you can't stand the taste but like the effects, try mixing in some fruit - raspberries, oranges or mangoes would be good choices. Mint will also help the flavor.
  • Thyme – Useful for headaches, irritating coughs, and especially good for viral infections. Blend with Yarrow for a cold or sinus infection, Mullein for bronchitis, and always blend with Echinacea or Astragalus if you can (immune boosters).
  • Red Raspberry Leaf – A superb women's herb. Drink regularly to help tone and strengthen the uterus; will help keep cramps at bay and cycles regular. A must when pregnant.
There are literally thousands of herbs, in gazillions of combinations, and everyone has their own "recipe" for the same ailment. The beauty of herbs is that you can experiment to your heart's content, and find exactly the right combination of plants for you! While consulting an herbalist is certainly a good option (if you can find one and can afford it), there is a lot of information out there – books, the internet, TV shows, you name it. Be wise, and check your sources – a couple I recommend are:

TV – "Grow Your Own Drugs" (available from BBC and on YouTube)

Books – anything by Rosemary Gladstar, Andrew Weil, and Dr. Christopher (as well as MANY others)

Websites –

… Happy hunting, and enjoy your tea! J