Musings from the garden

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Musings from the garden ..... little did I know 4 years ago when I started my first class of wu dang tai chi that I will enjoy it and stick with it. Little did I know that once I graduated to the sabre form that I will enjoy it so much and that each time I come out in the garden the sabre will accompany me, next to my journal, book, pen and coffee ... but it does.

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And also little did I know that my ambition to remember by heart the 5 forms I ve been taught will come so handy these days when I can and do practice on my own, in the garden or in the house. Ambition and determination always pays of ... this is what my father used to say. And it does! And as I am thinking about my parents, my mother used to say that ... I am like a crow ... oh well maybe this is why these lovely black creatures keep coming to me each time they see me

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About Albania ... the beginning of a story

 

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About Albania ......Memories ....are amazing .....they are collected somewhere in our mind and many times only a sound, a word, a smell, a person can bring them back to life .....this was the case yesterday when I was buying my takeaway coffee in the harbour ....Lola, the lovely waiter was Albanian (yes, when I “feel” a foreign accent, I want to find out where is it from). When I told her I went to Albania years ago on business and mentioned a bit of my adventures and love for her country, she had tears in her eyes. I know how it is. I am also a foreigner. What happened after that is even more interesting ....during the day I had an avalanche of flashbacks ...bits I completely forgot about ....vivid memories of my time in Saranda where I went for a “human trafficking prevention conference”, of the people I met and their dramatic experiences, the superb town/ resort was an absolute jewel of authenticity and peace (it reminded me of Balcic in the 1920’s when it was popular with artists, musicians, writers), of the hundreds of years old olive trees (this is where I fall in love with this tree), Tirana with the abundance of colourful terasa and young people being so fluent in many languages, the road from Tirana to Saranda which took hours and revealed a country of incredible beauty ....mountains, sea, hills ...peppered with the thousands of little military buildings, testimony of the paranoia of their communist leader, being stopped at point gun .....seeing military helicopters surveilling areas ....shortly the Kosovo conflict was going to start, delicious dinners with some of the other country managers of various American charities and so much more .....I cannot believe i was so lucky to have these experiences. Definitely it is time to write down properly my Albanian experiences ...it will be in the book I am writing now .....the painting .....the tree ....could very well be.....memories of Albania


Paintings take time

 

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Back in my studio .... painting again and thinking about a line I read earlier today ..... “the universe is made up of stories, not atoms.” - Muriel Rukeyser of course I agree ... I do ... stories need to be told .... my painting goes through a light phase now ... probably in an hour it will be a dark one and then light again until I hear ... that s it for now ... time to move to another painting....


From a verdant garden in Grenada - My attempt to be as brilliant as an Aloe Vera plant - making a delicious carrot and apple flavoured juice from an Aloe Vera leaf

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Once upon a time (about three years ago) I took part in a tiny craft fair in a location recommended by a friend  .... I decided in advance that for the very first time I would present my own hand made soaps - and one of these would be my own Aloe Vera soap. During the event, on a very hot weekend day, in full sun, in a pretty but airless scented rose garden, I kept asking myself why I had agreed to take part in such an event ... anyway ... I forgot that everything is for a reason - that I was going to have my answer in a couple of hours........... Just before the end of the fair an elderly, well mannered lady in a pretty floral dress approached me ........and proceeded to ask me about my love of making soaps, and about my Aloe Vera soap in particular.... After getting to know each other a bit, out of the blue she asked me if... I would like to have an Aloe Vera plant as a gift from her.

A few days later, in her lovely top-floor flat overlooking the tree lined Eastbourne Golf Club fairways, the conversation took us to our stories......and to stories of her younger days when, together with her husband, she had "arrived" in the West Indies ... sailing a catamaran, from Island to Island (as those of  certain way do)... simply enjoying life to the full. While ashore on the Island of Grenada they discovered that a new friend, a local family, were having a home built in a huge, naturally abundant garden overlooking the blue ocean.....and, naturally an invitation was forthcoming to see it .... as there was another building plot in the same green, verdant garden site available, next to their new friends .... so, why not, they were footloose, free spirited, so of course they bought the plot, slowly built a garden home from local materials and then spent many many years there. I loved her stories about the garden, so full of exotic plants, including the many many Aloe Vera which had earned the reputation among locals for being absolutely amazing in terms of medicinal properties, something she and her family then experienced during their long years surrounded by the best GP they ever had -  Aloe Vera. 

Years later, there she was on the balcony in Eastbourne, a lovely Aloe Vera plant, itself a daughter of her Grenada Island garden mother .......and together with Peter we received her into our own family along with a happy soul full of stories, of beautiful memories of life in Grenada that most of us can only dream of (before understanding that at that time in their young lives all they had was a boat and their own dream). Our lovely Aloe Vera plant had also become a mother - she had three babies growing in the pot alongside her, babies who are now living their own lives in the homes of three of my dear friends. Each time I visit them I "visit" them.....loving to see their progress.

As many of you know, I love experimenting with new food recipes. So, yesterday, I decided to try and make .... Aloe Vera juice from my very own plant. Over the years of course I had bought Aloe Vera juice from a dear friend who had built a Forever Living practice but I wondered if I could find a recipe and make my own....... Youtube is a great teacher !!!... there are so many videos that teach you everything you need to know about this and that. So, Peter learned how to carefully harvest a few leaves so as not to harm the plant and I went on a research phase for recipes. It was a team effort all the way and we both enjoyed it a lot! Before showing you a step by step process, let me tell you that you can also buy individual Aloe Vera leaves from ethnic shops - three years ago I bought my first Aloe Vera leaf from an Iranian shop in Eastbourne. I am sure if you check on line you can outsource one or two locally. From them you can make a batch of basic juice and freeze it safely.

Here are the steps

1. Harvest just a few leaves with a sharp, really really clean knife, not too many leaves in relation to the size of the plant, working from the bottom of the plant, using the opportunity to remove imperfect leaves, if any.  

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2. Put the cut leaves into a big bucket of water, with the cut end facing down into the bucket - for 15 to 20 minutes. Why? Because you need to naturally release and remove any yellow liquid, a laxative like no other so be careful. 

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3. Remove the spiky edges of the leaves by carefully sliding the knife along the edge of the leaf just as if you were de-spiking a fresh fish (but really simple instead), and cut-off the narrow tips of the leaves, to leave a liquid full, fat leaf, ready for skinning - oooooh! 

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4. Now peel the leaves with a kitchen "potato" peeler, catching the top or bottom of the leaf in the peeler and pulling down, all the way to the other end - just like peeling an orange in one go. 

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5. What will remain is a beautiful clear gel, an extraordinary, very slippery gel "fish". Put the gel into a fresh pot of water, making sure before you do that any remaining bits of the outer green leaves are all removed.

6. Put the Aloe Vera in a blender with just a little bit of water and wiz it until the content is really smooth. 

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7. I have seen quite a few different approaches from this step forward .... some people put the blended juice through a sieve (this is what I did as well) - this way you obtain a nice, clear juice. 

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8. This step is again for you to enjoy and to be creative. I added about half a carrot and half an apple and wizz it again. The result is really really delicious. I will mix the Aloe Vera juice with cucumber next time and blueberries, raspberries ... there are endless possibilities. 

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Keep the blended juice in the fridge (it is really lovely when cool) and enjoy in small quantities at a time, a glass the size of an egg cup - Enjoy! 


Let's make some elderberry syrup today

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As you know, one of my favourite happy, peaceful ways of putting a nice wall between myself and uncertainty is by engaging with creativity. So I have been regularly picking up my journal and I have been allowing my hand to release my tensions through intuitive drawing.. and I am writing in my daily gratitude journal and filling in a few more pages from my creativity workbook...........But I have other ways as well of sealing myself off from the world for a time - yum yum, glug glug!

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By eclectic cooking, trying my hand, mouth and taste buds at making all sorts of exciting foody things .......including trying my hand at things my distant family used to conjure up from nature's larder - berries, mushrooms, fruits that I would gaze at on the kitchen table with amazement before they were subjected to the magic hands of my grandmother or aunt or cousin - and even more so after the first mouth full of whatever came out of their cooking pot! 

 

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So, what did I decide to make this time that would be exciting and evocative in so many ways - a batch of ... elderberry syrup. I discovered this years ago while visiting my Russian relatives. It always used to amuse me when opening my aunt's and cousin's fridges to see them full of jars of forest fruits prepared in all sorts of ways ... fresh ones with sugar on top, juices, syrups, amazing. And I remember that on my two day journey through Russia, Ukraine, Moldavia and Romania... by train ... back to Bucharest I had a sort of "can't wait to get home feeling" because some of those jars were in my luggage! Sweet memories (literally and metaphorically).... I wish I had more memories of those times ... I wish .... 

But, back to the elderberries .... my relatives, like many other Russians had, and still have I am sure,.. a deep connection with wild life, the forests and the gifts one has from the forests at different times of the year. They could tell which plant heals what, which berry is safe to eat and which one it wasn't, which mushroom is good to eat, pickle, cook and which one isn't!  That knowledge was transferred from generation to generation. 

So here I am, years later, preparing one of those syrups ... remembering with a warm feeling my Russian roots. 

What do you need to make it? Here it is:

3 1/2 cups water

2/3 cup dried elderberries 

2 tbsp grated ginger

1-2 tsp cinnamon 

1/2 tsp ground cloves 

1 cup raw honey (or a bit less .... it's up to you) 

First, pour the water into a saucepan and add elderberries, ginger, cinnamon, cloves. Bring to boil, cover, reduce to a simmer for about 45 minutes. Remove from the heat, let it cool, mash the berries carefully using a spoon. Pour through a strainer in a jar or bowl, discard the elderberries and let the liquid cool a bit. You are almost there ... add the honey, stir nicely and pour the liquid into a jar or glass bottle. When it is cold, store it in the fridge. Take 1 tbsp every day, add it to the top of your porridge, or pancakes, or a biscuit. It is really lovely I can tell you that. It is said that it also helps strengthen the immune system so why not prepare some? .....  Glug glug! oooooh.

 

 


Keeping a positive mindset through thick and thin - focus on something you enjoy doing

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Due to that unfriendly little v that is disrupting the world we live in, taking responsibility and looking after ourselves and our families means that for some months, maybe more, we are all going to have to change our habits - and that probably means that we could have a lot of time on our hands, time to watch the news feeds (please, dear L, NO) - or does it? The key, my mind tells me, is that in this interim period it would be good for us to focus this new "spare" time on doing things (possibly alone, probably at home, maybe not) that we used to enjoy (pre mass TV, pre internet) or still enjoy (if we think about it), activities that bring a smile, a sense of peace, and a sense of positivity to our lives. If you think it wasn't so very long ago, in our grandparent's generation, that using our hands and minds was what we all did in our spare time - even for me in 1989 in Romania we only had 2 hours of tv per weekday and 4 or so hours at the weekend - and no internet - so, guess what did we do then?

Perhaps it's not surprising then, because I love creating new things (that's my record I think you will agree), that these days I am doing my best to generate my own positive mindset, to forget what's going on in the world for a while. I turn to my pencils, pens, journals, paints, magazines, books, music or yoga mat to help me to escape the confusion of whatever others call reality AND I surround myself with colour and words, brushes and paints, sounds and stories - including the so so many stories from the past in the shape of movies and creative documentaries....often old ones as (in my opinion) they had way more story-telling substance than the new ones - we'll that's my view anyway. 

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I would say this wouldn't I but I have found myself becoming my own customer - I've turned to my own creativity workbook "Be a creative explorer". Last week, I started to complete the third chapter of the book, March .... slowly, and in no particular order of workbook suggestions ... one day I lost myself colouring in the designs, another day I simply finished the drawings, then looked with excitement at my collage assignment and started to hunt for interesting images from my pile of magazines, then using glue I happily glued them on the pages, without much thinking, using my intuition ... then I finished off a workbook writing assignment (the one I asked us customers to write about people who influenced our lives) and, guess what, what a pleasure it was to remind myself of two particular people who really influenced my life ... my Russian teacher and my English teacher, my mentor and my friend .... so much of who I am today is because of them ..... 

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And I love reading books, real ones, the ones I can touch and smell, not e-books. It's just the way I am, it's my normality,  and I hoped to influence you too to my way of thinking - each month section in my book I recommend a particular book as a good read. And what about using this newfound time for the journalling work-outs I suggested, writing by hand with a lovely pen, even a fountain pen, that feels as if it was born to tell stories. Writing by hand is something I believe in a lot because the emotional impact on us is very different as compared with typing on a keyboard.... writing by hand is soothing, increases creativity and deep thinking, and really does improve your mood and in time, your wellbeing.

So, for me, and perhaps for you, knowing that we are going to have to change our habits for a few months, why not travel back in time to the days we scribbled, coloured-in, made great collages that become ever more fascinating as each new image is stuck-in and you pat yourself on the back, broken only for hours at a time by the intensity of chapters of books you may have missed reading before. BECAUSE, knowing that there will be an end to that virus, keeping a positive mindset in the meantime, by letting my creativity workbook bring varied creative activities back into your life - or to open new creative horizons, will, I really believe, be good for you - and me. 

One last thing ... my creativity workbook invites you to .... be messy, forget about perfectionism, forget about writing beautifully, just write as it comes, simply blurt-out words that come to your mind and images and colours ... because to my way of thinking it is all about the JOURNEY and not about the RESULT. The result is your mindset, your inner peace, the hours of detachment from whatever you need to detach yourself from even if only for a few minutes. 

I created this workbook last autumn .... maybe it was meant to be. 

You can find "Be a creative explorer" on Amazon worldwide. 

 

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About 108 yoga gratitude journal, self publishing and why now?

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What is actually this word ... GRATITUDE 

Gratitude … a word just like any other word … a label ….a convention …. A word we use  often in nowadays conversations …. But … do we really feel it?…..a hard but very relevant question for today’s troubled world?  The good thing is that this word starts to really, really come alive at certain moments as we journey through life. Most of the time this happens when we’ve experienced pretty challenging circumstances …..health wise, in our professional life, family life or just as we live out our lives….. In my case, I have multiple reasons from my early life to be grateful. If you’ve read my family story you will understand why I say this.

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WHY THIS COMBINATION OF ..... YOGA AND GRATITUDE

At the end of last year, after a scary moment which ended well in my family I felt drawn to a particular program on line … a  20 minutes a day, 40 consecutive days yoga program. I decided then - as an offering to the divine, as a way of expressing my gratitude - to sign up to this program and, more importantly, to commit to the program. I can tell you now that for me the word gratitude  is not a label, not a sequence of letters for how I feel for signing up. … I can feel it at the cellular level. And this was 130 days ago …. I am still doing the program, now repeating the 40 days sequence again and again and again. It is now, part of my daily routine.  if you think that I and each day in a complete bliss and can't wait to hit the yoga mat, ... think twice ... it is very hard, very, very hard and I did skip 3 days .... and ... it does not matter because ... I came back to the program after a break and kept going. The most important thing is ... not to judge ourselves, to take breaks if we need them and ... to come back to .. the mat and the journal. 

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MANTRAS

A few years ago I was lucky enough to take part in a few live kirtan evenings organised by a very talented singer and yoga teacher  Diana Sampson from Luna Rhythms Yoga. It was an instantaneous connection for me with the sacred sounds and, believe it or not, I now find myself chanting when I am driving - or walking by the beach - or while I am deeply engrossed with my painting.

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WHY HAVE I POSED TWO QUESTIONS ABOUT YOGA PRACTICE 

What I have noticed while doing my daily yoga program is that different moves trigger a different emotion in me … sometimes I feel joy, sometimes I feel empowered, sometimes wobbly …. sometimes I loved the routines, sometimes I really didn’t. Along the way it became clear to me that my experience of yoga programs was deepening and broadening….and I knew then that I had to find a way, for the future, to record my individual feelings so that I could look back and retrieve in my mind those special moments. I had to write it down somewhere.

WHY A JOURNAL 

Writing by hand is something that fewer and fewer people do these days. I’m lucky, many years ago I started the habit and ever since I have loved creating my future memories. Somehow people have forgotten that there is something really soothing and even magical about picking up that special pen and start adding…. letter after letter, word after word. The whole body relaxes, the breathing becomes smoother, and believe it or not you enter into a meditative state … you really do become more mindful. 

PUBLISHING  

So, I decided to put all of the above together and to encourage those who love yoga to record their journeys and in so doing to become mindful about what they have experienced along the way…..

This is why and how "108 YOGA GRATITUDE JOURNAL" came to life. I hope you will find it useful and enjoy it as much as I did creating it and using it.

108 YOGA GRATITUDE JOURNAL is available from Amazon worldwide.  


Just as I was taught, if you can't find what you need on the shelves - learn to make it yourself - so I made my own aloe vera based hand sanitizer

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We are living through quite challenging times ... fear seems to be distributed and promoted everywhere. They tell you to wash your hands as soon as you have touched anything or anyone outside the home, to use a hand sanitizer when you are out and about (and at home when you return). But what do you do when the shelves have been stripped, what do you do when the fear grips you that you can't protect yourself (and carrying a bucket of water and some soap around the town is only feasible for a window cleaner). Then you read a small, single piece of advice not to make your own sanitizer - because you might use too much of this or not enough of that. So you are stuffed! - the only family in the whole wide world who does not have a hand sanitizer. Or are you! Can you imagine a Dad's Army type WW2 scene - "don't wear a gas mask that you have created out of a coal scuttle and a tea cloth, because it may not work" said in the context of ... no other alternatives are available at the time!  I'm sorry advisers, but that's not the way I was brought up. You need to do the best you can with the resources you can find. 

The background to this is that the other day I went into my local Boots the chemist to buy ......a hand sanitizer ... it's good to try and be as safe as one can be nowadays isn't it? But  ... much to my surprise there were none on the shelves, all gone. Then I had the usual old fashioned options ... to start wondering around the town like a headless chicken, scanning the increasingly empty shelves, getting more and more aggravated... or to do my own research and work out whether and how I could make my own sanitizer. Why not? I had taught myself to make all sorts of great skin care soaps and balms, so I was sure it must be possible. 

Because my memory took me back to the old times (1990!) - in Romania, when each household had a bottle of spirit used to disinfect by rubbing alcohol into whatever it was that needed to be disinfected. It was used for many curative things (not drinking!) - I remember using it for a back massage when one has a cold... with very good results!  So I was really surprised when, a couple of years ago, when I needed rubbing alcohol for an art related project I couldn't find it anywhere in the shops in my town ... I had to order it on line.

Anyway ... I came back home... started my on-line research for "how to make a hand sanitizer" ... and of course I found the formula...... which reminded me that my father, an electronics engineer, had said to me a long, long time ago .... that engineers are trained to solve problems .... are trained where to look for solutions..... and as my degree is also in engineering ...maybe this is why ... I love solving problems and that's what I always try to do. So, forward the cavalry:

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Here are the ingredients 

1/3 cup of aloe vera gel + 1 tbsp more

2/3 cups of rubbing alcohol in the region of 70% strength 

essential oils ... about 30 drops or so

Method? Really easy ... simply mix the ingredients together ... and pour them into a little bottle, shake vigorously ... then... start using ... I made two types .. one with grapefruit essential oils and one with sweet orange essential oils. The scents are amazingly good (as soon as you open the bottle the scents tell you that this is going to be a great experience - which it was) and even the tiniest amount feels really good rubbed into the hands.. so, my own hand made sanitizer, orange scented, is now in my purse - and the other is in my husband's bag as he loves red grapefruit. Job done! Problem solved for me, my way. 

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Seeded bread healthy wheat free sugar free recipe

As promised in my previous blog ... here it is ... the recipe of a seeded bread which reminded me of times long gone .... 

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300 g mixed seeds (flax, sunflower, pumpkin, poppy seeds ... )

100 g ground almond 

50g chia seeds 

50 g walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts (grind them all in a blender)

1/2 tsp sea salt and pepper 

3 large eggs beaten 

200 ml water

Step 1

Now that you have all the ingredients in front of you ... simply mix them all together (I placed the seeds and nuts in a blender and blitzed them together), added the eggs, stirred them until the composition looked smooth and started to add, gradually, water while continuing to stir. What you will end up with is a thick mixture. 

Almost there

Transfer the batter to a loaf tin (grease it first) and bake it in the oven for about 1 hour at 200 degrees celsius. Remove from the oven. allow it to cool fully and ... serve. Keep it in an airtight container and ... slice it and start munching... oooooh, lovely.

Well done