Self care is something I struggle with daily. Sometimes I get in a good groove for a while and it truly strengthens my mental, emotional, and physical health when I do. Last year was incredible for me in so many ways. I finally got the therapy I’ve needed for many years and faced some old trauma and began to heal. I pushed myself to do things I’ve never done (taking a road trip to Oregon on my Vespa!) and to do things I’m uncomfortable with (taking a DBT class). All of it has paid off.
This year the thing I most need to reclaim is my physical health. Part of doing that is continuing to work on my emotional self care to bolster my efforts. But I must do more now and I know that I can. It’s like how I knew I could quit smoking fifteen years ago but I had to quit about a hundred times before I finally got to where I could get through stressful days without smoking. I know I can lose weight and I really need to. This isn’t about vanity, though being obese does constantly undermine my self esteem, it’s about high blood pressure and arthritis and high triglycerides and truly caring for this old meat-cage.
I have to lose 100 lbs. That’s a lot but I need to think of this as a long-haul project because I want to be here for the long haul. I know I can do this and I know that if I do nothing else but keep my calorie count within a certain limit every day for the next year my body will be significantly better.
This is not a weight loss journal but Sugar and Pith is my journal of self care which includes skincare, growing things, making potions, and mindfulness. So I wanted to share that this year is about regaining my physical health and continuing to strengthen my mental health.
In my garden, my aloe plants represent health and wellness. I use my aloes for burns and sores and scrapes. I thank them every time I cut the tip of a leaf from them. This aloe was a baby of my Queen Aloe who is now itself making little replicas. Every time I spot them in my garden I feel a sense of well-being.
I hope that all of you have some small pleasures that help you stop and take a deep breath.
I’ve been setting up a peaceful space in my side garden to write in. I have my old mesh metal table and chairs there, just got a sunbrella so I can be out there when it’s bright, and I’ve planted up one bed and started the arduous task of weeding the space which is – ALL WEEDS. Having a place to write that’s all mine and in the garden has turned out to be exactly what I needed. A place for calm reflection, for writing fiction, journals, and to write more posts for this website. Writing in my garden means I’m also getting up to weed for little breaks. It means I’m already out there so I check on my plants and do a little spur of the moment pruning.
Writing and gardening are two of my best self care activities so my general perspective has been improving. I’ve also been on a news fast which helps a great deal because the world is on fire with no sign of abatement.
It’s not always possible to create a space like this, as I’m lucky enough to be able to do. Some of you might live in an apartment, for example. If it’s large enough you can create a little corner of tranquility for yourself. But even if your space is extremely limited, you can find spaces that make you feel peaceful and that improve your mood and/or perspective. Once upon a time I lived in a studio apartment with a roommate in San Francisco, then I lived in another studio apartment with a different roommate. There was no where to hide. No where to retreat to for peace and quiet. So I found a number of locations near my apartment that I loved to sit quietly in by myself (and a thousand strangers) to recharge and breathe more deeply, or sometimes calm down from a rage.
My favorite peaceful place was to sit in the pews of Grace Cathedral. I’m not religious. I don’t actually like religion. But one thing I LOVE are cathedrals and old religious art and music. I love the hush of cathedrals and the sky-high cielings. I love the stained glass and the marble floors. I love the alcoves and candles and the residue of thousands of people’s most intimate prayers and hopes stuck to the walls. I would sit there for an hour just breathing and letting go and being alone and it was incredibly peaceful.
I also used to spend a lot of time sitting in the little park across the street from Grace Cathedral that my friend Carrie and I dubbed “Heaven”. Old Chinese people met there to practice Tai Chi and I loved to watch them. Is there anything so beautiful as watching a bunch of old people moving as gracefully as herons through quiet marshes? Mom’s with babies in strollers and rowdy children would stop there on walks and hang out. Ruffians and homeless people hung out there too. Some people ate their bagged lunches there on breaks from work. I loved watching all the people come and go.
But my favorite hideaway spot of all was a little park off of Grant Street in China Town with a big metal statue in it. No one I knew would ever bump into me there. Hardly any tourists ever stopped there either. It was a favorite spot of mine to write in my notebooks, steam with anger (and then relax as the environment drained it all away), and plot my dreams. I also worked on different styles of alphabets that eventually morphed into my real handwriting that I still use today.
If you don’t already have somewhere to go to feel peaceful in, start looking for one.
If you already have one, I entreat you not to forget to spend time in it as often as possible.
I feel like I’ve been running an emotional marathon for the last few months. My city caught on fire, my mom has been staying between the hospital and skilled nursing facility for three months, and my mental health (already at a low ebb) has deteriorated. I have an appointment with a new psychiatrist this week to get some extra support, a change of meds, and some therapy. I’m scared for that meeting but also looking forward to getting some help sorting myself out.
One of the things that has contributed to my mental health decline is losing touch with all but the most basic self care. I shower less often than I used to, I’m in an awful sleep cycle, I don’t keep up with chores, and I eat out a lot or when I’m home I just eat lots of cheese sandwiches because they’re fast to make. I want out of this whole cycle I’m in and it feels like it takes a herculean effort to make even the smallest changes in my current unhealthy routine.,
However, I’m motivated. Over Christmas I got a lot of orders for Sugar & Pith products. A huge volume of orders compared to what I’m used to making and processing and though it was hard to shift gears to get into the bustle of production – IT FELT AMAZING AND ENERGIZING. If I got that much business every month I’d be propelled by the forward motion of work. I was fortunate to have been included on the Simply Recipes gift list. Now my business is super slow again and to rev it up I need to get myself in better emotional shape.
Self care routines are vital to people with mental or emotional issues. A good self care routine can keep you going during the tough cycles and to some extent keep emotional cycles from becoming desperate. For some people a good self care routine kept up meticulously is all they need to maintain good mental and emotional help, for others (like me) it’s never going to be enough on its own to keep me in a healthy place. But it’s still an incredibly important support to other therapies and meds that keep me steady.
One of the things that I’ve let completely drop from my routine over the last few months (nay! the last year!) is spending time in my garden. The importance of spending time in my garden can’t be understated. It quiets my mind almost as well as alcohol does but burns calories rather than piles them on. It grounds me, delights me, and soothes me. Lately I’ve made the effort to do little tiny things in the garden just to get myself out there. Even a few minutes can refresh me.
One of the best memories of my entire life, and a formative one, was the time my family went on vacation without me. I was 14 years old. My parents gave me money to buy myself groceries and it was my job to make sure the garden was watered every day. It was summer and I hate summer heat so I got up early every day before the heat and I ate yogurt with granola in it and some fruit, drank some tea, and then headed out to the garden to water. After watering I would take one of my mother’s harvest baskets and go pick beans, squash, and tomatoes, probably some raspberries too. It was the best part of every day. I had our beautiful turn of the (last) century house all to myself. After spending time in the garden I would escape the encroaching heat by coming inside to make paper dolls and watch soap operas. Later in the afternoon I would go downtown to meet with friends and get ice cream. We were writing a novel together that summer.
This morning I got up before 9 am (a feat for me these days), made coffee, took a shower, and got dressed. I’m creating a writing space in my garden to get myself out INTO the garden more often and to write more often as well. So I brought my mug of coffee and my laptop out to my new bare garden spot and as I’ve been writing this post I’ve stopped to pull up weeds a few times. I’ve been listening to the mourning doves cooing (a favorite sound of mine) and watching some tiny birds playing in the tattered hedge between ours and the neighbor’s driveway. This is how I want to start every day. It was so hard to drag myself out here but I’m glad I did.
Skin care and body care are important aspects of self care, but we all need activities and routines that strengthen our emotional and mental health too. What activities make you feel really good, peaceful, supported, and/or healthier? Are you able to keep up with it? Have you let those activities lapse? Obviously I would never judge anyone for letting their self care routines slide – but I hope that if you’ve let something go by the wayside that you really love or need in your life because you’re overwhelmed or tired (or both) that you try to figure out how to get back into doing it. And never be afraid to seek extra support and help to get you there!
I’ve had two weekends at the Santa Rosa Community farmer’s market at the Vet building on Saturdays and it’s so much fun getting out in the world with my remedies, potions, and lotions, getting to meet people in my community and chat with other vendors. The best thing about my first weekend was that I sold a copy of my book Cricket and Grey; Winter.
This past weekend the best thing is that I sold out of my Embalming Cream. People do think the name is weird but when they put it on their skin they’re won over by the luxurious quickly absorbing feel of it and the wonderful scent. If you’re able to stop by and say hello this weekend you can try it for yourself! I’m making a brand new batch.
I’m really pleased with how my table looks but it’s somewhat cramped. I’ll be adding a second table soon so I can spread out and have a few more things for people to explore such as cubed bread to dip in salad dressing made with my herbed vinegar so people can taste how good it is for themselves.
Come by and say hello this weekend on Saturday any time between 8:30am and 1pm!
Introducing my brand new product: Shine Skin Polish offered in 4 beautiful pure essential oil scent blends
This salt scrub has a higher oil to salt ratio than most and the sea salt is fine so that it gently exfoliates and cleanses your skin while leaving it hydrated and velvety soft. You can use it in the shower, the bath, or as a foot spa treatment (how I have used it in my personal trials).
First you let your skin soak in warm-hot water, get good and steamy and then scoop a little bit of the skin polish out with your fingers and gently rub into any part of your skin that needs to be exfoliated and hydrated. Don’t wash the oil off, just pat yourself dry with your towel. Your skin will absorb the oil pretty quickly once you’re out of the shower.
If you give yourself a foot treatment with the Shine Skin Polish (it’s a luxury treatment for dry tired feet), do be careful to let the oil completely soak in before walking around on slick surfaces.
I have developed 4 essential oil blends inspired by the seasons. Each one has different aromatherapy qualities. The smell of the essential oil blends might seem strong when you first apply it but the scent will be very subtle on your skin, and as with all pure essential oils, it will fade fairly quickly.
The Winter scent is a blend of ginger and pink grapefruit pure essential oils. Winter is a time when we tend to go inward, stay indoors huddled together for warmth and comfort. Historically it’s been a time of dormancy and rest, a time when we come in from the fields and conserve our strength. While many of us don’t stop working during winter these days, we still feel an instinctual urge to hibernate. Ginger is a warming, spicy, uplifting scent that can help alleviate feelings of isolation and depression while pink grapefruit is fresh, sweet, and revitalizing. This scent is perfect for any time of year when you feel the need to brighten yourself up on a dark day.
The Spring scent is a blend of bergamot and rose Damask absolute pure essential oils. Spring is when the sap starts flowing in plants, buds swell up on bare branches and break open into delicate sweet blossoms followed by leaves bursting out, shattering the petals to the ground like paper snow. Spring is a time for growth, reaching for light, emerging from contemplation into action. It’s a time to shake loose the cobwebs and build, plant, sow, create, and start fresh. Bergamot is bright, uplifting, and energizing while rose Damask relieves stress, anxiety, frigidity, and is restoring and harmonizing. Both offer relief to those grieving. This essential oil blend is perfect for easing your body, mind, and spirit out of hibernation of any kind. It’s perfect for reminding you to breathe deeply and move forward.
The Summer scent is a blend of juniper berry, lime, and jasmine pure essential oils. Summer is a time of easygoing rhythms, fruition, extending oneself beyond limitations, being outside (unless you’re me and don’t agree with sun and heat), getting into nature, and dreaming. It’s a sultry season and this essential oil blend celebrates it with a fresh and cooling drink of juniper berry and lime next to an open window through which the sweet sensual scent of jasmine wafts in on a lazy slow breeze. Juniper and lime are both purifying, fresh, astringent, and cleansing while jasmine is soothing, calming, warm, and can restore optimism. Jasmine is also considered an aphrodisiac, so you may be inspired by this blend to get naked and cavort.
The Fall scent is a blend of lavender and vetiver pure essential oils. Fall is a season of reaping, gathering, preparing, taking stock, and celebrating abundance. An abundance of food, work, friends, family, tools, or love, we all have an abundance of something if we stop and look honestly. Fall is a time for fixing what’s broken; mending fences, relationships, and ourselves. We can heal while in hibernation but first we must lay the firewood down, replace weather-stripping, stack the blankets, and fill the larder. Lavender is fresh, herbal, and clean. It eases stress and restlessness and is disinfecting. Vetiver is woody, smoky, and earthy. It’s grounding, relaxing, and balancing which is exactly what you need when you’re taking stock of your life and yourself. This oil blend may inspire you to drop the crap you’re carrying around on your shoulders like a tree dropping its leaves.
This past weekend I went with some friends to tour the California School of Herbal Studies school and garden. I expected to enjoy myself because a) time with good friends is always enjoyable and b) I mean, herb gardens are my idea of heaven. I think I may have almost short circuited my own system from the high volume spazzing out I did. The only regret I have is that I didn’t ask if I was allowed to take pictures before we left the incredible school lab.
There was a locked cabinet full of finished tinctures, trays filled with students’ tincture projects in progress. There were herb presses (I must figure out how to make one myself!), blenders, scales, beakers, measuring tools, baskets of dried herbs, stacks of cleaned muslin bags for pressing out tinctures and other herbal concoctions, and two big tables in the middle of it all for working on.
Everywhere on the grounds and in the garden itself were old plant friends; comfrey, elderberries, mint in flower, feathery beds of yarrow, tall datura plants (“weeds” our tour guide, Rebecca, called them) draped with beautiful pale pink floral trumpets, thistles buzzing with pollinating wasps, tall spikes of mullein, and wormwood. There were also plants I’ve never seen in person before that filled me with the excitement of a kid who’s just been told faeries exist for realz.
I only ever heard about Rattlesnake Master this past winter because I found seeds for it on the Strictly Medicinal Seeds website, and here it is in person! I’m tempted to grow it just for its looks. This medicinal herb was used by many different Native American tribes for things like snake bites (hence the name), tooth aches, and nose bleeds.
Hello Ashwagandha! I had no idea we could grow this Indian medicinal plant here in Sonoma County.
This is student housing on the property – a straw bale single room house. We got to peek inside the window and see the beautiful thick rounded smooth walls and I could totally live in that space. It’s also the kind of cabin I gave Cricket’s family in the woods in Winter; Cricket and Grey
I can never resist roses in a garden. I have to stop and breath them in.
This is bedstraw. It’s had many traditional uses (mattress stuffing, particularly used because the smell of it repels fleas, milk coagulant, dye) but it’s rarely mentioned in herb books any more.
Valerian in bloom. If you mention valerian to my mom she’ll always mention how terrible it tastes, as though other bitter herbs used in tinctures taste great. Seriously, so many natural medicinals taste rank I’m always surprised she takes a special dislike to this one.
I’ve seen milkweed in bloom before but I’ve never seen their pods. I’m convinced now that terrible little aliens pop out of these pods instead of seeds when no one’s looking. Or maybe this is where faeries are gestated? YOU DON’T KNOW.
Standing in the herb garden at CSHS filled me with such happiness. The kind I only feel in gardens. Some people feel this hiking in the wilderness. I get it, it’s all nature, right? Wrong. There are no ticks in this garden. There are no bear traps or fugitive serial killers or other weird unsavory humans that can hide out of site. I love nature, but I don’t want to get literally lost in it. Or fall off an unexpected cliff-face. Or into a big-ass natural hole in the ground. I like my nature in a garden setting. But not an overly controlled garden. Super manicured gardens are okay, but they don’t delight me the way a slightly over-run garden spilling with surprises does. This garden has weeds because many weeds aren’t weeds at all but useful and good plants to have around, so they only tidy enough that the paths are still visible paths.
If I could afford the time and money to take classes at CSHS, I’d love to do that. It’s a possibility to dream of and work towards. In the meantime I’ve got my own lab and small garden full of natural medicinal treasures to work with. In fact, I transplanted my struggling arnica plant yesterday and forgot to water it, so I’m off to do that. I hope you enjoyed the vicarious tour!
Salmonberry, photographed at a rest stop in Oregon off of Interstate 5
Take break to look around.
Sometimes the best way to get out of your head is to notice the little things all around you. Nothing helps me focus more on the little things than my camera. Ever since I started taking pictures for my blogs over a decade ago I found that looking for good compositions everywhere I went kept me engaged in the world all around me. It’s not just good compositions that attract me, it’s colors and textures. I tend to focus a lot of plants and insects and walls. Walls might seem boring to some, but I’ve noticed that there are a lot of walls out there that are like abstract paintings. Peeling paint, graffiti, cracks, vines digging into grout, and sometimes weird things leaning against them.
I’ve heard so many creative people suggest that you take a walk to clear your head to garner fresh inspiration. I do love a good walk, (or at least I did before my feet turned into dust), but until I started bringing my camera along with me I didn’t see half as much as I do now.
If you’re in need of fresh perspective, or a break from a heavy head space, how about taking a little outing with your camera and see what cool things you can find?
Spending sixty seconds of your day marveling at the weirdness of the beetle you noticed cavorting on a bright flower counts as micro-self care.
Sometimes I forget to do the things I know make me feel calmer, better, healthier, and brighter. Here’s an amazing fact I just discovered: I can enjoy, nay, LOVE an herb and purslane rice salad without the addition of cheese. Cheese is one of my favorite things, but somehow I forget that food can be good without it.
This salad was inspired by my friend Catherine of the food blog Soup and Sustenance. I had just picked a huge bowl of purslane and wasn’t sure what to do with it. She suggested I make tabbouleh. I don’t love bulgar wheat in the same way I don’t love quinoa and hate millet. But I thought I could make a rice salad similar to tabbouleh. It was amazing! In truth, I don’t even really love rice. I’m a pasta and bread gal. But this was so good.
I’d just walked out on a bad situation and spending some time in my garden and then making this salad felt so refreshing. Simple things like this don’t fix problems, they can’t fix mental illness, and they certainly don’t stop nationwide political suicide from happening, but they ARE restorative and do remind me that there are still good reasons to get outside my head and just breathe.