February thoughts, folklore, Imbolc offerings, and social media.

Theo van Hoytema – February 1915
Public Domain

February! We’re one step closer to spring! 🙂

Like most gardeners, what usually gets me through any ‘normal’ winter involves plotting and planning the next steps in the yard, (divide and conquer), and thoughts of spring bulbs shooting up from the ground, even when they’re surrounded by pockets of snow hanging about on the lawn and in shadier nooks of the property.

February 1st marks the festival of Imbolc, or St. Brigid’s Day. It’s a celebration to mark the beginning of spring, a cause for celebration if ever there was!

Imbolc’s possible origin may come from the Old Irish word, imb-fholc, ‘to wash/cleanse oneself’, referring to a ritual cleansing.

Smithsonian American Art Museum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Brigid, patroness of poetry, smithing, medicine, arts/crafts, cattle, and Spring, shares many mythological traits with St. Brigit of Ireland.

The saint, with the same name as the goddess is likely derived from the Proto-Celtic *Brigantī “high, exalted”, and they both share today with Imbolc, which generally speaking, is about a new year and new beginnings.

I thought about that ‘ritual cleansing’, today. I’ve considered how the past year has affected me, at least psychologically, and maybe what we all need right now is some sort of ritual cleansing, no matter how small the act, to rid ourselves of the negativity heaped on us all during the past few years, and especially 2020.

Like many people, the pandemic and the politics (of anger) have proved to be a major distraction against any ‘creativity’ with which I’d normally involve myself. That includes writing, photography, and making wee nature sculptures. Sure, I’ve made some little fairy houses and furniture, but I can’t seem to focus too long on any one activity.

I thought at first I may be experiencing some sort of depression or melancholy, and inhaling too much of the angst in this world has deprived me of the oxygen normally sustaining any creative pursuits.

Because of that, of late I’ve stopped watching the news so often. I don’t want to be ignorant of what’s going on, but I don’t think being obsessed by it has been helpful either.

The melancholy may in part be true, but winter affects me in general, but being aware of that now, I tend to get outside more often for fresh air and some excercise, which really helps. I’d love to hear how others are feeling affected by all of this, and how you’re coping with it. I’ve used art as therapy for most of my life, but have hardly posted anything here of note in the past 6 months, with writer’s block seeming to win the day everytime I sit down and try to type.

I’ve felt many flashes of inspiration, when the snow is falling, or when I see a bird or animal, or find an interesting bit of history I’d like to share, but when it comes down to putting thoughts into words, along with any photos, garden related or not, everything I want to post about seems so trivial and unimportant when I consider what’s going on in the world now; how so many people are suffering.

So instead I’ve been sitting on my hands.

Even though I’m an introvert, I really like people and set out to understand what makes them tick.

I love to read about people, especially artists and writers from the early to mid 20th century, but I’ve never been one who requires people around me all the time like some extroverts might.

Perhaps because I have so much going on in my head, which has in the past, energized my creative bents, I don’t have that need, and find parties and big social affairs draining. After all, my studio is called Wall Flower Studio!

I’m totally freaked out by Covid19. I only go out if I have to, which means the bank, the grocery store, gas (not so often because I’m home so much), and when out, I do everthing I can, (while trying not to appear rude) to stay at least six feet away from people. This can be challenging however when others seem oblivious to the danger Covid poses, or are perhaps they’re handling the pandemic by ignoring its existance altogether… I’m not judge, jury or hangman, but will continue to keep my distance whenever possible.

Eduard Marmet, CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons

But, even I have my limits with all of this homebody business. I can’t wait to go on a trip to anywhere, or to a big, loud, busy shopping mall & spend some money, buy a new pair of shoes, and do some serious people watching.

Until then, I’ll continue to (happily for the most part), read and research the many topics of interest I’ve been digesting for the book(s) I’ve been trying to work on during the past few years.. I”ll get there eventually!

Perhaps the reason I’ve been finding it difficult to write, and address my feelings about the past year, and overcome them, is in part because I, (like many of you) feel powerless to do anything of value that might bring about positive change, especially under lockdown conditions.

I certainly don’t mean to depress anyone. I’m just happy that this is all finally spilling out of me after months of trying to pin down the exact feelings on how I’ve been handling events beyond my control, which truth be told, is something I’ve never been good at..

I suppose supressed feelings, along with a side order of inaction, are my best defense, with the addition of browsing the interent, baking cookies, shovelling snow or cleaning my house, which by the way is immaculate right now, and yet nobody can come over and see.  😉

However, in a  strange way, what’s really helped take my mind of the pandemic, (as long as I avoid political/pandemic posts), is Twitter.

I’m on the fence about social media, ( and somedays I want to dump Facebook especially), and in a postive way it brings people & ideas together who might otherwise never find one another. But in the same vein, it’s proving to have a destructive side, too.

I’m appalled at the misinformation & far-out conspiracy theories people are engaging in and accepting as fact; ones that harm and erode democracy around the world. Or the people who justify their hate and ignorance while participating in racially motivated entitlement and violent acts against others like it’s was some sort of religious rite.

I’m also ambivalent about social media. I see people sharing way too much personal information, which goes against privacy concerns I have about how all of our information is extracted and used.

But, having said all this, I do think in some way Twitter has helped me continue to dabble in writing during a time where I’ve felt it difficult to even post Happy New Year on my blog, (which I do retroactively wish all of you!) I might not think this of Twitter down the road, but for now, it’s been a positive outlet at this time.

Every day thousands of people join forces on Twitter behind different #hashtags. (I’ve explained the purpose of hashtags in a previous post, so I won’t get into that, but suffice to say, it’s a way for people to share common ground, artistic ideas and interesting bits information.)

In a sense, my whole week is built on these hashtags. Here’s a sample of some I’ve come to look forward to:

#MythologyMonday, #FairytaleTuesday, #WyrdWednesday, #FolkloreThursday, #FaustianFriday, #SuperstitionSaturday, #Caturday, and #ShakespeareSunday.

Each hashtag is self-explantory, but to make them even more interesting, every week involves a different theme on those hashtags. One can share tidbits about a theme with like-minds and learn from others on topics that interest them, too. For example, #MythologyMonday might be about horses one week and Witches or Norse goddesses the next.

Sometimes I’m keen to share a line or two on the subject matter I’m familiar with; one that will fit in the box of characters allowed by Twitter. Other times I have to investigate and research the daily theme, which means spending time locating a quote, picture or painting, (in the public domain), that fits with the subject matter of that day.

One might say this Twitter excercise is completely shallow and an effort to practice avoidance of the outside world, but I think of it as an enjoyable practice and perhaps a bit of self-presevation in defiance of the world we’re all living in right now.

I’m glad to have spurted all of this out. I feel better for having written at all to be honest, like it was some sort of ritual cleansing. To put my thoughts out there and just accept them for what the are at this moment in time is an act of cleansing. And really, isn’t that a big part of any art? To convey and communicate ideas that one may be feeling/thinking/experiencing?

So, if you made it this far, I thank you! If, like me you feel a need  for a writing outlet that’s not too suffocating or overly taxing at the moment, wander on over to Twitter and find a hashtag or two that suits your interests!

I’m looking forward to better times for us all and do know they’re coming, along with more progress with my book, and spring flowers in the garden.

Hang in there everyone. The prize will be all that more sweet once it actually arrives. There are better days ahead.. Be well & stay safe!

Sharing an Autumn Bouquet on #WordlessWednesday



An Owl on the prowl – Bird watching on #WildlifeWednesday

We were lucky to see this magnificent Barred Owl, yesterday.

It was sitting on the fence, keeping a keen eye on several Ravens, Crows, and Blue Jays who began to gather in the tree above. They were all squawking furiously at him!🦉

Apparently, Corvids don’t like Owls very much, and after witnessing this, I imagine the feeling is mutual.

It’s lucky for me they don’t like one another!

If they weren’t squawking at the owl, I wouldn’t have known it was there. 🙂

Barred Owl

 

Feel Good Friday – A #FridayFeeling and #TGIF prescription

In light of all the ‘happenings’ in the world these days, in general, it seems to me that many people focus on what’s negative; today I choose to think positive!

With a family I love and who loves me back, a roof over my head, food in the fridge, a wonderful cat, and the promise of spring, I am indeed a rich person.

This is not me burying my head in the sand. I watch the world with keen eyes. Indulge me if you will…

I see greed, war, poverty, decreasing democracy, nationalism, inequality, health, & major ecological issues, just to name a few. Each one in itself seemingly insurmountable, let alone when combined in a wider list.

The Worship of Mammon, and the personification of material greed, by Evelyn De Morgan. 1909

Online, on TV, or out & about, we’re inundated by 24 hour news cycles thrusting people’s anger towards us, depending on what side of the aisle one is on, which can trap our mindset in what may seem to be a planet pitted in frustration.

We’re told by marketing folk that the material things we lack are the only things that will actually make us happy. I’m just not buying in to that any longer, (pun intended). Further to that, we all know ‘you can’t take it with you’, so why do we willingly chain ourselves to so much of it in the first place?

Maybe I’m just getting old. Maybe it’s because I just read this quote: ‘Don’t grow up, it’s a trap.” 😉

I’m not saying we shouldn’t want to better our selves, our circumstances, fix what’s broken, (pipes or political systems), or follow our dreams. I’m simply asking why, when we see what ‘the Joneses’ possess and we do not, do we feel any need to keep up? Are we really lacking something, and is that something making our life less somehow, or are we simply conditioned to think that’s the case?

In any case, I won’t be able to think positively every day. Nobody could! But, I won’t beat myself up for it either. That’s where vicious cycles begin. Maybe an admission of this can bring balances. Perhaps it’s healthy to consider what’s wrong with the world sometimes in order to fully understand what’s right about it.

Maybe if we don’t dwell too much on either view, the world could become a happier place.

Maybe my mindful exercises will continue to keep my spirit light! Hopefully focusing on a ‘less is more’ mentality, and the many positives in this life, I won’t tune out the world’s problems, but won’t internalize them either, meaning there’s less risk of morphing into an ostrich, or some sickeningly sweet Pollyanna. 😉

Here’s a list of activities I’ll be doing more often. In no particular order!

  • Engaging with/in nature
  • creating more art
  • reading more books
  • baking & cooking new recipes
  • listening to more music
  • spending more time with family
  • catching up with old friends & far-away family
  • spending less time in front of screens, including this one
  • finishing my book
  • finding humor in situations (whenever possible, & not funerals!)
  • gardening, gardening & more gardening
  • Enjoying each season as it arrives & lasts (translation: not complaining about winter because it’s cold & snowy so I can’t be out growing flowers in the garden) 😉

Mrs. Woman

Seeking happiness within, and without, is my effort to engage in a balanced life. With a clear perspective of this ever changing world, it’s a worthwhile effort to look within, and out at the world around us, put ourselves in other’s shoes, and hopefully see what’s important and what is not.

What makes you happy? What would be on your list?

TGIF, my friends! Happy Friday! Have a terrific weekend. ~ Karen

Making Sense of Scents – Aromatherapy and Essential Oils

Some lavender from my garden in 2019

This post is (a typed version of) a Power Point Presentation I’d written several years ago. I created it as an introduction to Essential Oils, at a workshop I’d offered to a group here in Haliburton, Ontario.

Much of this presentation concerns the proper use of these chemicals, (because that’s what they are). They can have serious adverse affects on your health if used improperly.

The best practices of aromatherapy, with respect to essential oils should include knowledge and common sense.

Though not the ‘miracle cure-all’ some might want us to believe, and actually classified as a pseudoscience, aromatherapy may be useful to induce relaxation, but there is not sufficient evidence to state essential oils effectively treat any condition! However, I feel aromatherapy can be a wonderful addition to in our feelings of well-being when you take into consideration the science behind the sense of smell.

Unfortunately, there’s much misinformation on the internet about essential oils, and claims by individual users and cosmetic manufacturers in general who make blatantly outrageous statements about what their products can do.

The fact is, there are no facts on any healing properties with essential oils.

There is no scientific or fact-based evidence to conclude that they reduce inflammation, fight infections, reduce wrinkles, or any other claim out there.

The information below is an attempt to help people stay safe. It’s to filter through some of the misrepresentations & unethical claims in a world that’s inundated with advertising and consumerism.


Making Sense of Scents – An introduction to essential oils

What is aromatherapy?

  • Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine.
  • “Aromatherapy” is an all-inclusive term, covering cosmetic, psychological, and medicinal effects
  • Plant materials & aromatic plant oils are used for the purpose of altering one’s mood, cognitive, psychological or physical well being.
  • Research has shown that aromatherapy may be effective in treating anxiety & depression through the use of scent by stimulating nerves linked to parts of the brain that control our emotions.

The smell from a flower stimulates the olfactory bulb.  Olfaction is a part of the nose and brain associated with this, and it forms our sense of smell.

There’s a whole science behind it. Just think of the feeling you get from smelling an old-fashioned rose, a bunch of lavender, or fresh baked cookies!

Memory of Things Past… Smell and memory

Our sense of smell is closely linked with memory, more so than any of our other senses.

Cream scones

As I wrote previously a post about baking my mom’s scone recipe, and how their aroma took me back to her kitchen, scent can evoke particular memories; for example the scent of a flower in bloom can conjure vivid recollections of a positive childhood memory.

  • So, scent can act as a trigger that recalls long-forgotten events or experiences.
  • Scent, (known as odor information), is stored in our long-term memory banks. Whether it’s flowers, perfume or food, scent has strong connections to our emotional memories!

To be sure, the perfume and cosmetics industry have built themselves around this information!


Relationship between scent, pheromones & sexual response

On a personal level, smell is extremely important when it comes to an attraction between two people.

Take a gander at your partner! Looks may have been part of that initial attraction, but research has shown that our body odor, produced by the genes which make up our immune system, is a big part of the reason why we subconsciously choose our better half!

History of Aromatherapy & Essential Oils

Egyptians preparing lily perfume, 4th century BC – Public Domain

Essential oils have been used for therapeutic, spiritual, hygienic & ritualistic purposes for at least six thousand years. Ancient civilizations, including India, China, Egypt, Greece, and Rome used them in their cosmetics, perfumes and drugs.

  • Essential oils were commonly used for spiritual, therapeutic, hygienic, ritualistic & religious purposes.
  • In fact, to “anoint” (Latin, inunctus “to smear with oil”) means making a person sacred and serve a higher spiritual purpose.
  • E.O.s have been found in Egyptian tombs and they’ve been referenced often in the bible.

What are Essential Oils?

These oils are “Essential” in the sense that they contain the “essence of” a particular plant’s fragrance, and any of that plant’s characteristics from which it is derived.

  • Essential oils are potent
  • One drop of an essential oil is equivalent to 25-75 cups of the herbal tea of the same plant. (This varies according to the plant) This is where caution and common sense come in handy!

How are essential oils made?

These are three of the most popular methods.

  • Steam Distillation: Plants are steamed under pressure. Oil is extracted and the remaining steam forms a hydrosol = floral waters
  • Cold-Pressing: Used for citrus essential oils. Citrus rinds are mashed in water. The oil released is separated from the pulpy water & collected as an essential oil.
  • CO2: Liquid CO2 is combined with plant matter, then the CO2 is turned back into a gas, leaving the plant matter and essential oil behind. This is the preferred method of extraction for many manufacturers.

My List of Essential Oil Best Practices

Know your source!

  • Buy from a reputable retailer, online or off!
  • Reputable companies properly label, bottle & package oils for sale & shipment.
  • Avoid : “fragrance oil”, “nature identical oil” & “perfume oil” – Not pure & very likely synthetic
  • Avoid vendors who are vague, fly by night, or seem to know very little about their products.
  • Ask questions: Test their knowledge

Safe handling of oils

  • Always read & follow all label cautions and warnings
  • Keep out of reach of children and pets
  • NEVER use on babies
  • NEVER use on cats (will cause liver damage if ingested. Cats will lick it off themselves)
  • Do not ingest essential oils – NEVER take them internally
  • Keep away from flame, heat and ignition sources – essential oils are flammable
  • Use latex gloves and protective glasses when handling essential oils.
  • Keep essential oils out of eyes, ears, nose, mouth or any body opening

Safe storage

  • Store Oils in Glass bottles away from direct sunlightAmber & cobalt glass are equally effective for blocking out damaging sunlight.
  • Keep Bottle Caps TightOxygen is the enemy to oils.
  • Store them in a Dry, Cool Location
  • Keep a Record of the Date Purchased and Expected Shelf Life of Each Oil
  • Remember That Oils are Flammable (hence the dry cool location).
  • Keep Oils Away from Children & pets (I can’t stress this enough

Possible reactions – Safety first!

  • PHOTOSENSITIVITY – Some essential oils are photosensitive. These essential oils are sensitive to sunlight. When they’re are applied to the skin they can cause a rash or burn when it’s exposed to sunlight.
  • If you’re going to use them, it’s advisable to avoid sun exposure for 24 – 48 hrs after use.

Examples:  Citrus e.o. especially -> Ginger, Grapefruit, Lemon, Mandarin, Orange, Bergamot, Lime, Cumin & more…

  • ALLERGIES – People with skin allergies should do a test before extensive topical use of any oil.
  • Eyes & Ears – All essential oils need to be kept away from here!
  • Avoid prolonged use of the same essential oils which may lead to skin sensitivity and future allergic reactions

Who shouldn’t use essential oils?

  • People with sensitive skin, epilepsy, heart or kidney problems.
  • Cancer patients or those with other serious medical conditions/treatments.
  • Use only with the advice of a physician or licensed medical professional
  • Pregnant women, or those breastfeeding should avoid using essential oils, and many herbs altogether.
  • Babies, young children, and pets.

Don’t believe everything you read. (Even from me!)

Hype, Marketing, and Misleading information

  • Always do some research first. When I’m looking into any topic, I locate information from at least 3 sources, and not from some no name website like mine, but from well known medical institutions or universities.

Pleasant odors can be enjoyable and may enhance people’s efforts to relax. However I say again, there is no factual evidence that aromatherapy products provide any of the (sometimes extreme) health benefits sometimes claimed by some proponents and manufacturers.

Essential oils can be considered Snake Oil

False claims abound! Somethings in life never change, and the essential oil industry is no different. Remember that old adages: -> If something sounds too good to be true, it likely is.

For example:

Claims have been made by companies who have in the past promoted their e.o. products as a cure for these:

  • Cancer, Ebola, Alzheimer’s, erectile dysfunction, Aids & more!

This is completely unethical, and in some cases illegal, which led to the FDA sending them all warning letters.

These companies include some of the biggest names in the essential oil business. If you’d like to search for some of them, here is a great place to start. A link to very public information on the FDA’s website

My point is, be a skeptic, (Caveat Emptor) because:

  1. There are international standards from country to country, but there is no governmental body anywhere in the world who legally regulates the grading of essential oils. 
  2. Avoid suppliers who promote their essential oils as Therapeutic grade or ‘Aromatherapy grade‘. Purely done for packaging and marketing purposes, as (above) there is so such categorizing of essential oils.
  3. In a world of plagued with consumerism & mass marketing, education and common sense are the best ways consumers can protect themselves against false, or dare I say, trumped up claims.

Use Carrier Oils – Always dilute!

  • Carrier oils are pressed from plants, fruits and nuts. (Olive & avocado oils are my favourite).
  • Essential oils need to be diluted in these vegetable oil bases because they decrease the volatility of an essential oil
  • Carrier oils also offer better skin absorption

 Recommended vegetable oils for dillution include:

  • Olive, Avocado, Safflower, Argan, Hazelnut, Grape seed, Sunflower seed, Evening primrose, Borage seed, Jojoba, Coconut oil  & more… They’re the oils we use for cooking!
  • Carrier oils should be stored away from heat & light to ensure freshness.
  • The addition of Rosemary Oleoresin Extract is the best way to extend shelf life of a botanical oil, along with Vitamin E, which is an excellent anti-oxidant.
  • Make small batches – they can be used within a shorter time frame which means less chance of rancidity.

Blending Information – a guideline

Oils are diluted in a carrier oil for use in massage oils, along with diffusers, atomizers, & humidifiers for aromatherapy. (Along with using them in my products for scent, I like to heat oil in a diffuser over a candle, or smudge with them and burn them as incense).

  • 1% dilution: approximately 6 drops essential oil per ounce of carrier oil
  • 2% dilution: approximately 12 drops essential oil per ounce of carrier oil
  • 3% dilution? There is no need for this much.
  • Remember: Less is more with any essential oil.

Aromatherapy is so much more than essential oils

Follow your nose! There are other ways to experience aromatherapy:

  • Fresh cut flowers from your garden or local florist
  • Drink herbal tea – Mint or chamomile from your garden!
  • Pot Pourri – Dried flower petals, herbs & spices
  • Scented candles (non paraffin wax)
  • Herbal and floral infused vegetable oils – Easy to DIY at home
  • Floral waters – Some of these hydrosols like rosewater are great for use in some recipes
  • Drawer sachets & pillows – Always at hand. Dried lavender is great for sleeping
  • Smudging with herbs
  • Simmering ingredients on the stove – citrus, apple, spices, all generally found in most kitchens.
  • Scented soaps & skincare
  • Do some baking

Favourite scents

Did you know?

Vanilla still ranks as the most beloved scent & flavour in the world, according to statistics.

Some of my favourite aroma blends

  • Orange, clove & cardamom
  • Lemon & mint
  • Lavender & sage
  • Rosemary & Bergamot
  • Lemongrass & Tea tree
  • Ginger & lemon

My Blending Categories

  • Floral blends with spicy, citrus, and woodsy
  • Woodsy blends well with all categories
  • Spicy and oriental oils blend with floral, oriental, and citrus.
  • Minty oils blend with citrus, woodsy, herbaceous, and earthy

I hope this helps anyone who is interested in practicing aromatherapy and the use of essential oils.

Have fun, stay safe, and stop to smell the roses once in a while! ~ Karen