DIY

A while back I had started getting into homemade beauty products. After my husband and I returned from a month long lomi lomi immersion at Ho’omana Spa Maui, I became more aware and more enthusiastic about using organic and natural products. Overall, just trying to keep it simple and reflective of what’s in nature. One of the courses we took while on Maui was on ancient Hawaiian plant medicine. In it we learned how to make a number of different things for the face and body that are beneficial.

Around the same time, at our old martial arts school, we had the opportunity to partner with the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Our martial arts lineage had a recipe for dit da jow, zheng gu shui, and this herbal tonic that a doctor over at the college worked with us to translate. Apparently the recipe we had was barely a guide. It had notes that were phonetic but also a bit quirky so it took the doctor a bit of digging to figure out what herbs were meant.

Dit da jow and zheng gu shui are pretty common herbal medicines and it’s not uncommon to see kung fu schools with various recipes. We used to get a family recipe from Brendan Lai’s Martial Arts Supply when they used to have a storefront in the Mission District of San Francisco. It was really good. Around that time, I think we were learning leg sweeps and my calves were so torn up. Ugh, awful. I looked like a weird leopard. The folks at school recommended the dit da jow and I seriously became hooked because it rapidly reduced my healing time. And, I think when you’re a woman doing martial arts, there’s just a certain amount of scrutiny about various bruises you may have collected that you just don’t want to deal with.

Anyway, we ended up partnering with the doctor to do a seminar at our school. As luck would have it, the school had been broken into, so quickly relocated the group to a nearby park since it happened to be a nice day. We made the three formulas right there in the park and the concoctions have been stewing ever since. I hear it’s kind of like wine in that it’s supposed to get better the more you let it sit. This batch has been stewing for about two years now.

Making the hit medicine and then being exposed to ancient Hawaiian la’au lapa’au has helped me to see opportunity in a lot of different areas. My family is a big influencer on my pull to grow and make things. At our old house, we had a backyard that was pie-shaped and contained lots of cool things like pomegranate trees, plum trees, and soon we put in raised bed vegetable and herb gardens. We were always pickling or jamming things. Then, my brother got into beekeeping so we had a hive on the property with access to raw honey. And one of the plants that grew well in the California coastal climate was lavender.

So, one of the things I first tried to make was a solar infused lavender oil. The bees LOVE lavender and also a lot of spearmint and lemon thyme we had. I used dried lavender from the yard as well as olive oil and coconut oil and then stored it in a mason jar which I kept out on the porch for about three weeks. It actually probably has some moon energy too because I wasn’t taking it in at night too, so there’s that too. On a later batch, I also added in lemon blossoms and orange blossoms from our little potted citrus trees outside.

The solar oil just has a light tough of the lavender, though when I tried calendula flowers in oil (after hearing they were really good for skin), that combination is much more potent – like a really heavy marigold scent.

When my brother gave me some of the beeswax from the hives, I got to thinking about salves and lotions. He had suggested salves since they are easier to make. I had originally intended to make this dit da dow salve or my dream was to make a lotion out of it. Since dit da jow is a liniment, I find it difficult to rub into the skin. It’s super watery and gritty from the herbs/minerals in the formula, so I would always have to take this extra step of mixing it with one of my lotions or oils in order to rub it into the skin a little better. But the lotion or oil I would mix was always a little off on consistency and had the chemicals or scents of whatever carrier oil/lotion I was mixing it with at the time.

With the wax, I started looking up recipes for lotions since I prefer that and how it’s less sticky than a salve. There are a lot of simple recipes out there. I had one in this book of herbal remedies that used a solar calendula oil to make a “rich, luxurious cream”. It’s similar to this basic recipe from Wellness Mama only you use the calendula infused oil in place of the almond/jojoba oils listed.

In my first try, I really learned the importance of prep and tools. Wow. I must have burned myself a number of times…

The wax I had was not like what you get at the herb shop that comes in small little beads that melt easily – think shredded cheese into a roux. My wax was a huge chunk that looked like it came from a block of artisan cheese. I thought I could cheat a step and just melt the whole thing in saucepan. Nope, it gets wax all over the pan that’s near to impossible to get off. This is where I felt I learned a new found respect for the double-boiler. Also, having grated wax to begin with. That would have made the process so much easier and avoided some hot wax splatters on my skin. Ouch!

The next part of the recipe that I find to be the trickiest is when you’re supposed to combine the oil-wax mixture with aloe vera. Since I ultimately wanted to combine the dit da jow, I really needed to follow these more complex recipes that had a cooling and second combining process. Enter, the blender. By the way, don’t use a blender to make lotion, it’s really terrible. What happens is the oil-wax can cool too quickly as you’re mixing in your blender and then it gets all piece-y and chunky in your blender. Plus, the blender ends up getting a lot of body product junk on it.

Heed my warning! Don’t use the blender. Probably I should have just used one of those handheld immersion blenders and bought separate equipment for making body products. So, what resulted was a lotion that was very moisturizing, but had these pockets of wax that you really had to rub into the skin. Now when we moved and were making it through our first winter in the Rockies, the extra protection barrier the wax created was kinda nice. It helped my dry skin a lot, but other than that, it wasn’t a functional every day lotion.

I consulted a friend who’s a cosmetic chemist to see if there was any way I could salvage what I had done. I mean, here’s this homegrown lavender and beeswax and it would have been potentially just totally wasted. Luckily, she said I could go through the heating and mixing process again and that should fix it. And it sorta did, but it was still off. Then, I had one tub that was very liquid-y with bits of wax not quite melted and incorporated. And another batch that was super sticky waxy.

Between my friend’s advice and this other site, I also incorporated a couple tips to get the kind of lotion I wanted. I definitely have a new appreciation of chemistry and emulsifiers after this.

So here’s how I fixed it.

I got the double boiler set up and also a whisk.

I monitored the heat really closely while pouring in my waxy lotions and whisked the heck out of them. Not fast, but consistently so that the waxy lotion was at least better blended.

Then, I’d add the liquid-y lotions more and more while still mixing and making sure everything was blended.

The problem was I had more liquid-y lotion than waxy so I also decided to incorporate this other face lotion, I’d gotten from Lush that was kinda like a salve but left a powdery finish. If I wore more makeup, this product would have been really good as a primer. Or, if I was in a really humid climate, but since it’s dry where I live now, I knew I’d never really use it.

I think by combining this product into my lotions, it helped out so much. And I found out later because you can’t use beeswax in a lotion in place of your emulsifying wax. Wow. Learn something new every day!

Still, the process taught me so much and while it may be a long time before I attempt a lotion again, I have more of a sense of this process now and what all is involved in it.

What really makes me happy though, is knowing exactly where these ingredients are from. I hand selected all of them (except for the Lush stuff). When I wear the lotion, I know that there’s infused oil from my old backyard and wax from the bees. It’s a nice feeling for something I will probably use up in a couple months.

lotion

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#19

my left shoulder linked me to the world

as one pivotal point connecting my intuition to reality

it allowed me to extend my hand easily

 

and then it was hit

and then this left shoulder froze up

and then it didn’t want to move any more

and it rebelled against any kind of movement that connected it

 

the anger it felt

it just went through the motions

leaving it to others to take care of

since it knew what happened when it tried

 

it wanted to heal

it just didn’t know it had to

and every time this shoulder twisted forward

it would only go so far

 

we all knew it could do more

 

still it scoffed at anything imaginative

or big

or difficult

as something for other shoulders to attempt

 

sometimes the simple act of this shoulder being in a room

sometimes this shoulder attempting in a small way to move

sometimes it began to uncover something new

 

it is learning to unthaw

that its toughness is not a brick wall

and can be melted

and when it does

its reconnection

will

be

magical

 

because this shoulder connected my self and intuition and hopes and dreams

to reality

stretching out as it does so freely

to eternity

 

 

 

 

#9

symptoms:

constantly running

in some respects a good thing

constantly turning and thinking and speculating

you try to hold it in your mind but it transforms into something else

diagnosis:

i see now that you have trouble being stationary

do you feel as though you are carrying something you can’t get rid of?

an invisible monkey holding onto your neck with firm grip?

yes, this prevents the thoughts from releasing properly so they swirl endlessly instead

you probably have tension in your upper traps from the weight that isn’t your that you carry

treatment:

we need to give you tasks to do

big and small, endless juggling at first

we see that you are nimble

and also we recommend a kind of surgery

well to a degree — it’s non-invasive

one of the things will be to relax enough that we create an opening next to your neck

it’s like bone setting

once we get space in between the monkey’s grip and your neck

we latch onto the invisible monkey with a firm grip of our own

it’s a swift pull and then it’s off

you should notice instant relief in your neck and upper back muscles

over time thoughts will cycle through regularly

prevention:

1) nature

2) breathing deeply

3) gratitude

4) action

5) walks and other forms of physical exercise

6) meditation

7) eating right (less sugar and alcohol which are the monkey’s favorite)

conclusion:

just because you have an invisible monkey strangling your thoughts and keeping them from circulating

don’t let it keep you from a normal, happy life

invisible monkey is treatable

you can be free

#5

more confused than angry

more stuffed away than needing to speak

more afraid of meaning than feeling

more resentful than righteous

more betrayed than mistrustful

more disgusted than indulgent

more agitated

more disappointed

more hurt

more angry about the understanding than the experiencing

such a fleeting moment

it lingers longer than is comfortable

then is washed away by song

and sun

and tomorrow

Catalyst of change

I’ve been thinking a lot about healing and I suppose whatever the opposite of that is. I’ll go with destruction– that seems to be pretty far from what I understand healing to be.

Once, at work, it was a stressful day and a co-worker was talking about this experience she had where she was the most relaxed she’s ever been. She was describing lying in a tank of water submerged and apart from all stimuli. She was able to completely let go. She said, “it was like it was a trigger for relaxation.”

And that was it. I felt like I understood that more than I expected to. It transformed the way I understood and associated “trigger” with being connected with something bad, something violent.

What if there are triggers –cues– for good, for positive interactions? What if you could be one? What if you weren’t destroying all that you come into contact with? What if you were repairing, healing, growing? What would it take?

Anyway, only some unstructured thoughts at the moment, though I keep returning to it. These are the questions I’m interested in exploring as I change professions and am at the periphery of big personal shifts.

Curious about how others look at this…

Commitment

I took a trip to Minnesota recently that came with a lot of unexpected detours. I went to celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday and as the second stop on the Jwanouskos Ramos Wedding Celebration Tour.

We had an amazing time seeing the beautiful lakes and forest areas. So green compared to California! However, the time was sadly overshadowed by my grandmother's decline in health.

She was a strong woman with a huge heart — one that unfortunately was born with a defect. Her breathing became more and more difficult during the time we arrived such that she was admitted to the hospital the day after we flew in.

She knew. We all knew what was next. Though I tried to avoid the conversations and the subtle shifts, she was dying. In my head, her death was something that would happen way far off. Not when I was there. As time went on, it was clear she wasn't leaving the hospital. So the best we could do is make her comfortable.

Maybe it's the wrong segue, but I depended on my practices during this time. I have her and my weary family members lomi lomi massage. As the pain medications wore off, I sang her Ka Lei Aloha I Na Kupuna – a Hawaiian chant and lullaby that Brent and I sang for the new expectant mothers preparing for birth. It is a song about being surrounded by the love of the ancestors and understanding that you too are part of that love. I talked to her about my tai chi practice and the book on Russian breathing systems I was reading. I read her my poetry. I talked to her about the business Brent and I hope to create. I talked to her about my step daughter — who she told me to give the beanie babies in her basement. And I practiced yoga in the early hours of the morning to the rhythm of her strong yet forced breathing. I even was able to bind in Marichasana D on my tight side. I think it was even the day or day before she transitioned on.

My Grandma taught me so much about pain, death, and family during this time. I tried my best as a visitor from California to be there and be grounded, be compassionate for my family. And it was hard to do that. It was hard to see them come apart at the scenes and feel like though you wanted to, you couldn't. As if something kept you from it.

I was named after my Grandma and she was one of the strongest ladies I knew, who got things done. She didn't fuss or make a big deal about it. She was a nurse and she was used to long hard hours and endless self sacrifice. At the same time, she was fun and laughed a lot while she called you on your shit. Up until the last days she was talking, she was cracking jokes and speaking her mind.

She transitioned on surrounded by her family and so much love. I knew by the end of the week I was in the exact spot I needed to be and I was giving what I was meant to give.

In the days that followed, I didn't know what to do or how to help. So I began my day with yoga and tai chi. I figured that maybe if I could keep steady, my family could keep steady.

My family on my mom's side is a range personalities and A LOT of feminine energy. For some reason, people look at me and they go, "well of course Barbara does this crazy artistic thing that we couldn't think of or do." And I just am so adamant that the answer to that is, "yes! You can do it. You are capable of more that how you see yourself!" I probably get to be a little airy fairy for people if I start talking about it, so I try to just hold my tongue and not say anything unless people ask me.

But then the strangest thing happened… People started asking me about meditation, tai chi, yoga, eating vegetarian, art, music, storytelling, social justice, keeping in shape, martial arts and breathing. What? Me?

"I just do what I do."

So I started connecting more with my cousins, aunts, and uncles and on Instagram and Facebook, I'd post snippets of my practice. Mostly because without regular access to my teachers, I wanted to see and understand for myself what I needed to work on.

I even watched a yoga practice session with my brother who lightly chided me for moving too fast. He said to take my time with it.

"Yeah, see, when I was practicing, I loved up dog, you should take your time with it more. You're missing out on that stretch."

My cousin would ask me advice about breathing in yoga and how to get started at home because she wasn't ready to start going to a class. Another two cousins and I bonded over plants and essential oils. She is growing the Oxheart tomatoes that come from my Italian great grandfather (my Grandma Barbara's dad), who loved these tomatoes for sauce and just everything. In fact, my Grandma still has two living older sisters (96 & 106) and she said that the secret to her longevity was to eat tomatoes and have a little brandy every so often.

Here I'd been so secret about these holistic and artistic practices, considering myself to be the family anomaly and just like most things, I was looking myopically. My family was so supportive of me. Not who I tried to be or wanted to become, just everything I was at that moment, they saw as valuable and worth emulating. For that I am eternally grateful.

Part of me wonders about the synchronicity of this experience and wonders what my Grandma may have been trying to say. While I haven't always called or been able to visit, I never doubted for a second that she loved me deeply and truly saw me for who I am.

A couple hours after she passed, I was sitting in the family lounge with my relatives enjoying the memory of her and what she gave us. I was going through my email trying to find something about her ancestry to give to my cousins and I came across a lot of forwards of prayers and wishes and beautiful pictures from her. Then, I came on a direct message from her to me. She saw an email I sent about my upcoming play production and was sending me some money and wishing me luck. Matter of fact, supportive, and loving. I read it and it was a confirmation of everything I already knew.

So, "my practice" has taken a turn because I can longer see it as just for me and a source for my comfort solely. I see my family, my friends watching me and taking something from the one thing I do think I'm okay at — continuing to show up. This has made all the difference to me and propels me forward in dark times so that I can see those faces saying to me that they saw what I did and tried it for themselves.

Thank you and thank you to my beautiful Grandma for showing me how to continue day after day through the hardship with only love to guide you.

❤️

unbroken

the hands reach out to hold on

put the pieces back together

hold it together

the hands surround 

support

each one giving warmth

each one giving strength

the hands soothe

the hands calm

the hands centered around the body

place hands and hold 

they do so until there is no more

they bind together 

bring it all together

and make the broken whole again

unbroken

body is whole again

to make right

ache deep within

that permeates to the bones

an ache that will be released

deepness of the pain

but there is relief

the sinews soothed

the muscles

the cords unraveled

smoothed

and with this restoration

even stronger

connectedness to parts unlinked

sigh

exhale 

as you let go

deeper into the heart

deeper to meet the pain 

face to face

meeting it

to make right

herbs and spices

a couple herbs and spices in your life

to keep your life from being bland

to keep you connected

grounded back 

to the idea

of a sacred earth

more than an idea

this is a reality

if you believe

it you live it

if you help it grow and flourish

couple herbs can do the trick

keep you breathing strong

looking bright

feeling hopeful