December

 

December, to me, is twinkling. The day’s light is pale, fragile and translucent – and there is always twinkling. Twinkling of the indoor lights that peep from windows, determinately warm against the outdoor winter light, twinkling of streetlights that come on in the afternoon and of Christmas lights. I find some of them pretty and some of them tacky and garish.

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Last year’s Solstice Branches

The pretty ones give me an inner twinkle. It’s the twinkle of anticipation as the festive season – and deeper winter – draws near. I love winter: the beauty of bare trees and of frost, the cosying up, the feeling of mystery in the darkness and in the . The anticipation that I feel is similar to that of my son as he opens his advent calendar each day. It’s in our excitement in this month of preparation for the solstice and for Christmas. It’s a child-like feeling and that’s probably what’s so special about it; this time of year awakens the part of me that will always be a wonder-filled, magic-believing, enthusiastic child. The busy awake feeling of my inner world is in contrast to the outer world, which speaks of sleep and inactivity.

But glitter and sparkle is where they both meet.

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A beautiful, glittery heavy frost in 2012

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Magical, Avalonia-like misty frost near the Forest of Dean last winter

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“Snow Garden” – snow is made from soap powder and crystals, twigs, fir cones, conkers etc are added. Taken from Earthwise by Carol Petrash.

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Samhain soup

We set aside Sunday (1st November) as our family Samhain day. I’d baked a cake beforehand (discovering that carob and blackberries go really deliciously together!), and I’d made some soup. Samhain soup. The idea had come from The Radical Homemaker blog, where a recent post described how she makes an annual Samhain Stew. The broth is made from bones from the various animals they raise on their farm, plus some other ingredients that they grow, and the family remember with gratitude the animals that they’ve raised, as well as their broader harvest – and their ancestors.

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The idea wasn’t one that I would use directly: as a vegetarian, I’m not comfortable with the idea of a living creature having been killed for my consumption but respect that others – such as my husband – do feel comfortable with that idea and so make a different choice. Our garden isn’t large enough to produce much food from plants or animals, but we grow a little, so a home-grown pumpkin and some herbs picked and dried in the summer went into our soup (which you can see garnished with one of our rampant nasturtiums!). Joining them in the pot were a couple of tomatoes and a pepper from a close friend’s greenhouse’s harvest, plus a couple of things from our vegbox, a couple from other independent shops that we frequent and a couple of things bought in the supermarket. For me this symbolised celebration of the harvest from the land – be it land I tend, land I know or land I don’t but am very grateful for. It reminded is of the year’s story from planning (“I want to grow pumpkins, Mama!”), to planting, to watching them grow, to harvesting to consuming. It celebrated our family’s efforts, those of a friend who is a big and special part of my life, and the efforts of those who work for the companies that we buy food from. At this point in our life where it’s not possible for us to be as self-sufficient as we one day hope to be, we are blessed to have the convenience of those businesses.

The soup did us several meals, including one shared with another very treasured lovely friend, and the evening meal of our Samhain day. This one was eaten outdoors around a bonfire and with our Jack o’lantern, following a beautiful walk near the Mendips which began in golden sunshine lighting up all those glowing Autumn leaves, then later turned to quite Avalonian wintry mists: pretty symbolic of Samhain’s calling us towards winter. It looked as though there had been frost there the previous night: something I often take as a cue for when to celebrate Samhain, rather than adhering to a specific date. (Although frosts do tend to arrive a little later here in the city). We put a spare chair and bowl with ours by the fire for the souls of loved ones who have passed on, speaking a little about them, and about the tired Earth being almost ready to tuck herself in for her winter sleep. We took our corn dolls from the nature table, told them any regrets or disappointments that from the year that we wished them to take into the fire to be burned up, and then my son took delight in throwing them in.

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We’ll continue our goodbye to the year – our Samhain-tide – for another few days until just before the dark moon (the lunar phase that I correspond to this point in the solar cycle) and until it really feels like winter is arriving.

The first week of September

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I bid farewell to August on its last day with a change of the nature table to a more autumnal theme, including a few little bowls and baskets for holding all the treasures of nuts, cones, conkers, acorns. leaves, seedpods and more that will be “harvested” on our walks. The next appropriate activity seemed to be baking a cake: I can usually rely on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to provide recipes rooted in the seasons so the result was based on an apple cake recipe of his that I added some blackberries to in order to autumn it up a bit more.

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Despite odd teasing days of bright, warm sunshine, Autumn is definitely palpable here. It rules the later mornings with their chilly fragility. It tugs to us the also-cooler evenings at an earlier hour. It’s in the slightly weaker daylight, the gusty breeze, the swelling apples and the occasional mist. It’s in the sweet, purple blackberry juice dribbling down my son’s delighted face. It’s starting to touch the leaves – not many yet in the places I walk, but some: curling them, painting them, drying them, plucking them from their trees. Some resist longer than others. I feel a little sadness at the idea of them dying, despite my love of this season and knowledge that death facilitates the joy of rebirth and renewal.

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I find September itself brings a kind of rebirth. Perhaps my years of schooling, despite having ended almost half my lifetime ago, have drummed into my subconscious the feeling of a “new start” at this time. Perhaps it’s the sense that the land is birthing its fruits and crops. Perhaps being pregnant just leaves me a little fixated on birth right now! (Especially as my first-born was due in September).

Nevertheless, we are settling into a new groove after a few weeks of being away from home a lot and out of our normal rhythm. This week will be the first full week back dancing our usual dance – although it never is exactly the same because we add to that dance the new steps we’ve learned as the seasons and our lives turn and turn; our harvests.

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The week has also seen a bit of tree pruning to optimise light in our garden as the sun gets weaker, some slipper-making, and a bit of house cleaning and space-cleansing. This week calls for me to finish making our draught excluder and to top up the cedarwood on our anti-moth blocks. To dig out the inner-child self-healing work I began last winter (and then neglected as the garden called my attention). To dig out gloves and warm hats. Time for preparation. Turning in, cosying up and winding down. And for looking forward to the pumpkins still ripening in our garden – to not forget that the year still promises harvests to come.

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Earth Day… what more can I do?

Each year on Earth Day, I try to make a little pledge, a vow for some kind of increased kindness and/or caretaking towards nature. Nature that supports me, that I’m part of, that I am. It’s a good annual opportunity for me to re-evaluate the size, shape and patterns of my tread on the Earth – something I do at other times too (usually when I’m queuing. Or should be asleep). Still, I like to make a point of doing so on this day because I enjoy the unity in knowing others all around the world are doing similarly.

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I’ve been thinking a lot this week about a recent post I read from Root Simple. Thinking about how easily I, like the author. can slip into the denial/self-pacification of “I am doing all I can”, or into excuses of “I have a young child, life’s busy and I have to look after myself”. Valid points for anyone. For me they’re also blocks at looking at one else I can do, at examining how I tread on the Earth.

The author of the beautifully-written post reminds us that it is our Western post-industrial revolution lifestyles that have caused the problems we’re now facing and that we are all part of that. We all have responsibility here, no matter how hard a fact that is to swallow. So I took a big gulp and set aside my but-I-don’t-fly-and-don’t-buy-many-consumer-goods smugness for a minute to consider what else makes a Western lifestyle; specifically my Western lifestyle.

There are many “green” choices that I perform daily and constantly tweak further. However, one area I’d mostly overlooked/put on my blinkers about is food. I buy mostly UK-grown seasonal veg and potatoes, often organic, but what else forms my meals? Rice, pasta, noodles, lentils and pulses, sometimes quinoa or couscous. I eat a fair few avocados and sweet potatoes, usually from the other side of the world. What do I snack on? Nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, bananas and other fruit grown abroad for a lot of the year. What do I drink? Tea, coffee, hot chocolate, redbush/herbal tea. Even the herbs in the herbal teas are grown abroad despite being able to be grown here. And then there’s the packaging. Feeling less smug now.

This is an element of my Western lifestyle I’d not given so much thought to. Perhaps is hard to because we need food and drink (unlike the TV that we can ultimately not buy at all). We need it multiple times a day, and our choices are affected by many factors – tastes, tastes of the people we eat with, cost, nutrition, convenience, emotional associations. I know I’m addicted to my Western lifestyle enough to not totally give up any of the above products (and arguably what I buy through Fair Trade initiatives have benefit to people). Yet I can’t honestly put the “I’m doing all I can” card down on my dinner table.

How many of us can hold our hand up to using the phrase “but even if I drastically reduced my energy consumption/car use/etc it wouldn’t make an overall impact on the future of the planet”? Maybe so. Yet if the probably-millions of people who have thought that did, the story could be so different. I see that view as the same as saying “well my one little vote makes no difference to who wins the election”. But obviously if we all vote (let’s just say, for the Green Party)…

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To put a more positive spin on this little lifestyle scrutinisation of mine – because it’s often motivation towards perceived rewards rather than guilt-bashing that will support real change in ourselves – I’ll think about what changing my food habits can bring me. Growing food in our garden – including herbs that I could make teas from – is something that provides benefits and enjoyment to my husband, my son and I. Baking bread is something I enjoy doing – particularly with my son (who benefits from experiencing the creative and scientific process, and, as an energy-abundant 3-year-old, from the physical work of kneading). I can do it with UK-grown wheat. Attempting to grow sweet potatoes is, as I understand it, feasible where I live. Finding more snack alternatives to dried dates would reduce my sugar consumption. The list could go on – and this is only in one area of my lifestyle.

There is plenty more that I could do. ♥

Vata

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Cold and dry like the wind, Vata dosha is dominant during Autumn and early winter. In our bodies, the falling temperatures and blustery winds can aggravate Vata, particularly for those of us who are Vata types. The elements space and air comprise Vata and movement is a strong theme; falling leaves, the seasonal shift and other changes such as the academic year all add to this feeling and the potential for being out of balance.

Aggravated Vata may present in various ways – IBS, dry cracked skin or lips, restlessness, anxiety and insomnia among them. Suggestions for balancing Vata include use of warming spices (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin etc) to balance against the cold – as well as wrapping up warm of course! I find chai to be a delicious and beneficial drink at this time of the year (like I don’t drink it during the other seasons, haha!) You can buy a lovely ready-made mix (as well as other Vata-balancing products) from Ayurveda Pura or make your own (AyurvedicYogi has a recipe).

Warm, nourishing food and drink are recommended at this time of the year and raw foods advised against as they are can be harder to digest (particularly for us IBS-prone Vata tyoes!). Massage – ideally daily – with warm sesame oil (or, if unavailable, almond) and gentle yoga both relax and ground aggravated Vata, as well as having numerous physical benefits. A good night’s sleep each night will help with this too, as well as aid the immune system in staying strong enough to tackle any bugs that come your way! As a Vata-dominant type, I find that a good sense of rhythm throughout my day and in my life helps ground me too, as does going easy on stimulants like caffeine. Sweet tastes balance vata (although it’s best to try to avoid refined sugar for providing this: honey is a better substitute. Sweet tasting foods like carrot, potato,parsnip, cinnamon and sweet fruits are good options too). Dairy is also said to be vata-balancing but is something I personally try to minimise in my diet, mainly due to ethical and environmental reasons. it’s also worth noting that many people find dairy hard to digest and/or quite mucous-forming in the body – not ideal when colds are abundant!

Vata can be utilised positively: artistic and musical creativity, dance and the ability to dream up fresh ideas and start new projects are said to be Vata qualities and so this energy could be harnessed now. To me, this seems kind of fitting with November marking the start of the new year although, like a typical Vata-type, I can struggle to sustain projects. Luckily, kapha dosha becomes dominant in late winter and early spring, bringing with it more vibes of loyalty and stamina!

November blessings ♥Mo

November

November is a faded – and fading – image in my mind. Like one of your grandparents’ childhood photos. The light is fading, the calendar year is fading, the temperature is fading and most of the leaves are usually off the trees and starting to rot into the ground. People often describe November as grey, bleak, damp, miserable; rarely anything flattering. It always seems a short month to me and I wonder if really it’s just outshone by its neighbouring months of Orange October and festive December.

WInter starts for me in November, around the vanishing (last quarter) moon, or when nature gives me enough signs to welcome the season in. My favourite season. I learned yesterday that the Anglo-Saxons believed 7th November to be the official start of winter; although where I live hasn’t yet had a frost, this week has certainly felt winter’s kiss.

I’m sure some would argue a case for November glowing rather than fading. A-glow with the bonfire flames on Guy Fawkes Night, the lantern processions at Martinmas, the lights in the windows of homes in the long nights (and dreary days!), and the twinkling Christmas lights in shops windows. In my head, these glows and twinkles create a kind of blurriness around and behind them. Rather than the lights, it’s that fading, blurred image of the background that is what I remember in November. ♥IMG_2546

Pitta

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Ayurveda teaches that the pitta dosha rises during late spring and through the summer; in this season we’re now at in the northern hemisphere, it’s easy to see that the long warm days increase heat and light. These increase the pitta energy in nature around us and in our bodies too:in nature within us. Formed of the elements fire and water, Pitta is generally described as being hot, fast, sharp, liquid, oily and fiery. Irritability, anger, passion, and competitiveness are considered pitta characteristics and those with pitta as their dominant dosha are said to be prone to being critical, driven, short-fused, charismatic, analytical, argumentative and sharp-minded too. They tend to be of average height and build with fair skin and hair (or red hair), sharp eyes and often freckles or moles. In physical health, they have a tendency towards inflammation-related conditions, rashes, heartburn, acidity but good energy levels. The pitta time of life is considered to be early adulthood to late middle-age (50-ish). Pitta tastes are sour, salty and pungent. Its colours are red, yellow and orange.

Balancing pitta

In summer, the elevated pitta energy can make us more prone to some of the pitta-associated problems. This may be particularly so for pitta-dominant types and during the middle of the day (and middle of the night) – when pitta energy is more abundant still. However, we can take steps to balance this. Some are things that we’re probably naturally drawn to doing out of common sense, such as staying out the sun in the middle of the day, eating salads and fruit, and drinking cool drinks. Ayurveda advises avoiding or at least reducing things that are heating in the body – for example, alcohol and red meat (if we partake of them anyway), salty, sour and pungent flavours and very hot spices.

Sweetness balances pitta by increasing kapha. I also see it that at this time of year our bodies and digestions are likely to be strong (if we are generally looking after them!) and so a little more tolerant of a bit of sugar – although unrefined sugars such as honey, dried fruit and maple syrup are best. Other sweet tastes like red lentils, almonds, coconut, sweet potatoes and similar sweet vegetables are also good. Coconut oil is cooling when used both inside the body and on it; try a foot massage with it, particularly in the evening. Aaaahh….

Sebastian Pole of Pukka Herbs recommends peppermint, liquorice and fennel as being beneficial herbs for summer. He also advises rose for its cooling, calming properties; it’s a flower that I associate with midsummer, and also full moon (the corresponding point in the lunar cycle when, like summer, things can get a little heady and over-powering) and therefore the mother aspect of the goddess. I’m currently enjoying wearing a little dab of rose oil on my third eye area each day. IMG_2211

Staying grounded and making time for stillness also balances pitta by increasing kapha, as does being by water. Right now I’m drawn to floor-based yoga asanas, (particularly the mermaid pose, probably to assist me in pretending that really I’m at the seaside!). The heat actually helps me with making time for stillness as I feel like doing very little in hot weather. Lately, my toddler and I have often spent the early afternoon indoors with the curtains partly drawn, then later ventured outside for  knitting and water play, or gently pottering in the garden sniffing the calming lavender and valerian that we’ve got in flower right now….mmmm yes please.

Yet as well as balancing pitta so that it doesn’t get all out of hand reek havoc, we might want to harness and utilise it too: to stoke our creativity and our passions, to bring into our hearts the warmth of the social gatherings and celebrations that the long days facilitate, to energise, to direct, to radiate love into ourselves and out to the world. to take some time to analyse, evaluate and gently critique where we are and what we’re doing in our lives. To just bask and enjoy. ♥

PS I wrote more about balancing pitta in this post last year.