The Old Kashubian Elixir

When I was very young I spoke with my mother about witchcraft. I was only curious to know if her experience had anything to add to what I had been able to piece together from reading and, of course, popular media. I wasn’t surprised at all when she told me a few things she knew about the existence of witches in the region where she was born- Pomerania.

It’s important to know that this area has a fascinating past. I will not go into much detail here, but it is worth your time to learn more about it. Pomerania is located on the Baltic Sea’s southern shore. It lies between and is part of different lands depending on the period of history. At times Germany, Prussia, and Poland each had a claim on this land. Even Sweden grabbed onto the land for a while. Also, though, a part of the land of Pomerania, mainly the east, was claimed by the Kashubians. All I knew as a child of that name was that when we were in Germany for our long visits with the family, my Oma would occasionally, in annoyance at something Opa did, roughly call him an old Kashubian. I didn’t really understand what the jab was about, but I understood the intent. And that was enough for a child to know.

So when my mom told me that she knew from her own childhood that her mother had on a few occasions visited a Kashubian witch, I figured it was just what one did from time to time in that region. She told me that the witch was a woman who knew about natural remedies, medicine from plants, and also things about magic spells. Otherwise she was just a regular part of the little community of farmers and fishermen on the Baltic. She tended her chickens, kept a garden, and went to church. They were unusual in one particular regard, my family, in that they were part of the only Catholic community in that area. The majority of northern Germany was Protestant, but with their proximity to staunchly Catholic Poland, I suppose it fits.

One of the biggest misconceptions about the witches in most areas and times is that they are godless or worse, in league with the devil. However, they would tell you that the opposite is true, that their knowledge and craft does nothing without faith in God. Yet that didn’t stop trouble from finding the witches of Kashubia. They were put on trial and executed just as in the rest of Europe. The last witch to be tried and executed there suffered the so-called water test. Krystyna Ceynowa was bound and thrown into the sea to drown.

In the excellent article, “Women Who Know- The Witches of Kashubia,” Stasia Budzisz conducted research and interviews in the region. The modern women who are left with the knowledge seem to be a dying group. They have no one left to pass their knowledge to because you have to believe in God to make it useful.

Thinking all along as a child, and then holding onto these ideas for years, I thought there must certainly be some science behind the remedies they created. As it happens, the collected folk wisdom, witchcraft or not, we find out more and more that the healing properties of the plants involved are, indeed, present and potent.

It was this realization that led me to search for recipes or versions of remedies dating back as far as I could manage to find them. I have found several under different names. Some of the recipes became especially useful during times of the plague. When nothing was helping from the medical establishment, people did what they could. They relied on folk wisdom for their cures. There is no data to support the efficacy of these remedies, but I choose to believe it helped then, at least for some. I also believe it helps now.

There is a long history around the quest for an elixir of youth, life, health, and so on. Mythology is rich with references to these magical brews which were said to even cheat death. It has had many names and has come from many sources. Four Thieves Vinegar, Master Tonic, and more recently, Fire Cider, have certain qualities in common. They contain potent healing ingredients, and they are combined with apple cider vinegar and then allowed to ferment. The result is a liquid that is powerful and filled with a complex flavor profile like nothing else you have had.

The particular recipe I have used will not be published entirely or exactly here. I have been making my Old Kashubian Elixir for about two years now. I started out of curiosity to see if these remedies I had been reading about were, in fact, viable today. Since I have been using the elixir, and also giving it to my kids, there have been no health issues more than a temporary nasal congestion. On a normal day, I give myself 2-3 droppers of the elixir. Since I teach in public schools, I am exposed to a lot of unpleasant microbes. If I feel the slightest tickle in the throat or notice anything amiss, I take the same droppers, but three or four times a day. And, of course, with our new outbreak of everyone’s favorite mass panic virus, I am taking more than I normally would, just out of caution. I know it isn’t something to make light of, but I also know that the microscopic realm is constantly waging war on us. Use your kindergarten skills, and much stress can be avoided. Wash your hands thoroughly. Keep your hands to yourself. Stop touching your face.

The Old Kashubian Elixir, as I have called my mixture with a nod to my childhood and heritage, contains a variety of potent and vital ingredients. Each of the most powerful ingredients has properties that are in demand during times of exposure to sickness. This could be any time, so I recommend a daily dosage.

The first of the super ingredients is garlic. It is the triple threat of the microverse. Garlic is antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral. I am not going to delve into the scientific studies which support this and other claims, but it is helpful to know that garlic has been seen as a supporter of good health for a very long time. The Roman Legions, for example, were in the very dirty business of warfare. Roman soldiers at daily roll call were made to eat a clove of garlic, or several, before they were dismissed. Every single soldier carried garlic with him along with other rations.

Onions are the next member of the super food list of stars. Onions are known to have potent diuretic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown onions to be an effective expectorant, making them useful for moving the bad stuff along its way. . Onions are also rich in quercetin, which has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease by preventing cholesterol from attaching to arterial walls and blood platelets from sticking together and forming clots.

Horseradish has in its arsenal the added property of being antiparasitic as well as several of the other qualities already mentioned. It is a great immunoenhancer, just as the others can be. It supports better circulation as well as general good breathing. It has nothing much to do with horses, by the way.

Ginger has been touted as a wonder root for centuries. It has properties similar to the others mentioned and is a strong microbial warrior.

As an antiinflammatory and antioxidant, turmeric is also a part of the arsenal of the elixir. Also, because of the curcumin contained in the root, this elixir takes on the characteristic yellowish hue one would expect from a nice curry.

Adding a bit more to the power base is the compound called apigenin from good old celery. The elixir also contains varying amounts of capsaicin from a blend of chili peppers I grow in my garden. Some are stronger than others, but it all goes in the mix.

Finally I add the benefits from one or two citrus fruits, usually lemon and orange. I have tossed around the idea of experimenting with other ingredients as well, such as ground avocado seed, rosemary, mustard seed, and several others. I will develop those ingredient profiles over time, but all of the ingredients rest in a base of apple cider vinegar. This performs the very important job of fermenting the mix. I keep the process going for three to four months, longer than is typical from what I have read from others.

There are those who want a more immediate product, and so skip the months long efforts completely. They simply boil everything at once. There is a whole different science lesson behind that which I will not get into here. Fermenting, among many benefits, means that my product, once it is strained out and bottled in amber flasks, has a shelf life of just about as long as you want it to. No refrigeration is needed.

I’m using right now the last flask of my elixir from the previous batch. I am just about ready, as coincidence might have it, to bottle the new batch that I have been tending to for the last four months. I’ll fill up a dozen, or maybe thirteen, amber bottles with the elixir. Each bottle holds about four ounces of liquid. Doling it out by the dropper, and not the shot glass, I should be set for a while. But I may try to start a new batch sooner than I normally would in light of our current health crisis.

Some friends have asked about it, and wondered if they might have some. I don’t mind doing that, but I do understand that this is a commodity. Call it an investment in the marketing department. If I follow the guidelines of the witches of Kashubia, I would simply do it to help those in need. This I have done with my family and a select few friends. If I ever do move it into a commercial realm, I certainly have a plan for that as well. So, who knows? You might one day see the Old Kashubian Elixir on a store shelf or on a table at the local farm market. These are strange times.

Peace to you, and thanks for reading.

The Fitness Journey

117.

This was the number that finally made a difference. It was the number that shook me out of the latest downward spiral I had been in for how long – I can’t say. The fitness I wanted for myself had, at that point, been pushed aside into irrelevance by the forces of depression and sadness.

Two years ago I had already been moving back and forth of the continuum of wellness and crisis. I suppose most people didn’t see it, but I knew. The death of my mother two years before that had been more difficult than I ever admitted. What I see now was that I was gradually veering off course, but not radically enough to panic over it. My normal practices of exercise at the gym and eating reasonably well started to seem less important. The priorities had shifted. I was eating anything I wanted. There was always room for another drink. And loud laughter made it all seem like things were as they should be.

Weighing in was once part of the gym ritual. It was never a big issue or source of stress. Mostly I just liked to know. I had developed a pretty accurate sense of my own gains over the years. I started lifting and running in high school. I never made it to the phase of thinking I need to just take my shirt off to do yard work. My abs have never shone through my natural insulation. But I had been making good progress leading up to my first year in college. Then for some reason a tumor in my head decided to flare up and put pressure on my brain stem. I lost control of half of my body. No one could ever tell me what the cause was, but since I felt like there needed to be a cause, I assigned it to working out too intensely.

The tumor withdrew on its own, just as unceremoniously as it had appeared. And life moved forward. I continued on the fitness journey, though I never had the courage to push the limits much any more. Still, I managed to keep the pendulum swinging mainly toward being healthy. I ran 5ks. I kept going to the gym, but i always found reasons to stop going, too. Not good reasons. Just….stopping. And then I would rally myself again and start from whatever new hole I found myself standing in.

I moved on to doing a couple of half marathons and a few obstacle races. Over the years it was fun to do those, but i never really trained properly for any of them. I would just sign myself up for one out of nowhere to scare myself into action again.

So, two years ago…. At that point I had divorced long enough to have gone through a few relationships, always ending poorly. But I felt like I was still ok. Then driving to work one morning, I had found myself in slowed traffic. It was dark, and the cars ahead of me had come to a near full stop. As I sat there thinking I was not going to get everything done at work I had planned to by going in early, I saw it coming. The suv was approaching way too fast to stop. I saw it, and I gripped the wheel and thought, this is gonna hurt.

The woman in the Lexus tried too late to stop, and slammed into my Camry at probably close to 50 mph. The force pushed me into the car in front of me, too. It hurt. My car was crushed on the back and the front. Hers was mostly fine as was the car in front of me.

Later that morning I went to the hospital to make sure I wasn’t hurt very badly. The car did its job protecting me from the worst of the force. I was decent for being in a near-deadly crash. It had probably been a full year since I had stepped on a scale. I had gone into full blown, cover the ears, shut the eyes, la-la-la-la, avoidance mode regarding my weight. I knew, of course, that I was wearing “fat clothes” because nothing else would fit. I knew I couldn’t breathe after tying my shoes. It was bad. So, when the nurse told me step on the scale, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

117. The scale registered in kilograms, so I didn’t understand at first what it was. I had one more delay tactic left in me. I avoided one more time, at least for a few hours more, until later that night. I converted to pounds that 117. I had reached my official heaviest point to date- 258 pounds. I am approximately 5’9″, so that is a lot of extra weight.

Depressed even more with that revelation, I did exactly nothing about it, But then after some time recovering from the accident I started back in the gym. I tried to see what I could do on the treadmill, remembering my 5k times. I had to stop before I reached ten minutes. I was panicking after five. Surely it wasn’t this bad, but it was.

What changed? My kids. My beautiful kids never said a word about how I looked or if I seemed different to them. But without saying anything about what I needed, they spoke to me about wanting to go to the gym with me, or to go on walks with me. It was while I was watching videos online with them that I first saw someone talking about LifeSum. I looked it up and got started.

I almost have a full year of data on the app now. I have been keeping the food diary and exercise log. I have done it with the help of my kids and precious small circle- the inner circle- of friends. I haven’t been posting about it on social media, but to those in the know, it has been a ride. Nearly a year ago I set a goal in the LifeSum app for weight loss to get me to 215. Today I am there. I have now reset my goal, and I will keep on reaching, reevaluating, and resetting. I am finally doing the journey in a sensible and sustainable way for me.

If I put weight back on now, it will be due to positive gains in muscle mass and strength. With 50 years old on the horizon, I am feeling good again.

The Oldest Ritual

Not long ago I decided to modify my shaving routine by switching to a straight razor. There isn’t a logical reason for this, unless it might be using slightly less electricity in a day. Saving money was not my motivation for this change, though, so I wondered for a while why I should do this.

I have long been fascinated with bladed tools and weapons. The razor, with its folding hinged body, was no exception. The thought of having a tool that was precisely razor sharp was very appealing. When I handled them, their weight balanced so finely, they just felt like instruments with purpose. They reminded me of heavy fountain pens, just tooled for a different purpose.

I only recently had my first proper straight-razor shave given to me by a barber. It was relaxing, but also a bit less impressive than I expected. I thought at the time that I could probably do better on my own. And with the electric razor and the disposable plastic razors I had been using to finish with, the chore was acceptable. Why change a good thing?

Going back to a tool that has been successfully replaced? Would I also stop driving in favor of a bike, or maybe a horse? Well, I guess it would depend on the distances involved, but I’ll consider that option later. The shaving switch is more about appreciating the artistry and history of the tools involved. I don’t want to go back to sharpened clam shells, but holding the straight razor feels like I am closer with the unending fraternity of stubble. I can picture my heroes from the past holding a razor quite similar to mine. I also know that tossing hundreds of plastic razors into the environmental pit of despair is no good.

Now I will stand in front of a mirror and brandish a respectable and reusable instrument to take part in the ancient chore. It is riskier, and requires a steady hand. I like the idea that there is more skill involved. Maybe I will grow tired of it after a time, but I think as long as I get to become more thoughtful about a mundane task, I will be pleased to keep it going.

Are you a warrior?

The Name of the Blog…

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

A warrior in a garden- this is my chosen title for this new writing endeavor.

According to the internet, a conversation once took place between a student and his teacher, the great Bruce Lee. The conversation was something similar to this.

“Sensei, why do we go through all of these hours of training? We practice endlessly, but there is no one to fight.” The great teacher paused and then replied, “I would rather be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.”

What, then, am I? Am I a warrior or a gardener? The truth is that I am both and more. I am also neither one. Bruce Lee, I imagine, would be pleased with this answer. Warriors are fighters, but they can’t always be fighting, can they? They must train, rest, eat…. When the fights come, and they eventually will, the warrior will stand ready to face the challenge with determination and a calm spirit.

I am no soldier, so what does my fight look like? The internal fighting; the struggles of being a decent human in a chaotic world- these fights are constant. When a man of character is faced with his hundreds of very small, yet meaningful choices which embody the day, each choice can be a fast and well-rehearsed fight. Always striving to improve something over the previous day; this becomes a fight against complacency and apathy. Choosing words that have wisdom within them; this is the fight against ignorance and the mundane. Serving as an example to emulate for the sake of my children; the fight to be responsible instead of careless is real. And always, lurking in the background, nearly forgotten, is the fight to accept reality itself and to turn away from the indulgent and, ultimately self-destructive lies of the ego.

The gardener is a caretaker of all of the life he chooses to cultivate. Gardening is the expression of love and caring for the world I am a part of. It is also a useful illustration of the paradox of the Now. The only reality, of course, is right now. Nothing else is real. The past is shadow, and the future, nothing but conjecture. Being present is the only way to fully appreciate living. And yet, there is the garden. The garden does not emerge, fully formed, from the soil. Its plants are selected and brought to place by the gardener. When they start as seeds, then the seeds must be planted, each in their proper time. Is the planting real? Yes. As I plant a seed, that act is the only real thing I experience in that expression of the Now.

The garden in the living expression of the related energies and forces that exist between the gardener and his world. There is order and disorder. Here we see harmony, and there, a chaotic element pushes through. Some choices become successful outcomes, and some are, as it happens, not conducive to success. The truth, however, is that the garden simply is.

Would I rather be a warrior in a garden, or a gardener in a war? Being both as well as neither one shall suffice.

The wizard, herbalist, teacher, father, traveler, doctor, reader, tinkerer, chef, poet, writer, warrior, and gardener….

You’ve stumbled upon an odd collection of thoughts. Please take off your shoes at the door.

I am all of this, more, nothing, and something completely different. My writing is placed here to move it out of my head, which, considering its tendency to delete information, is a good thing.

I am a writer who has been interrupted by and inspired by life. Some of these observations will fit into categories, and some will not. This is how life presents itself. I will write about… food, music, books, education, travel, history, love, animals, finance, healing, magic, beauty, and anything else I choose to explore.

I love to learn new things, and also to share it with others. So, if you choose to subscribe to this blog, don’t be a silent follower. Engage me with your thoughts.

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