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Is it the intense colors or the larger than life forms that catch my eye? Is it the light in the sky, or the simple intimacy of her work that draws me?

I am referring to the bold and beautiful artwork of Margarita Sikorskaia. I keep coming across her images and have to pause each time that I do. The first Sikorskaia painting I saw was of a dark-haired woman in a large, dark blue shawl holding her four children close. The mother exudes a sense of strength as she protects and cares for her children with both confidence and compassion.

The next painting I discovered features another large mother in a light blue dress huddled over her infant, she is either breastfeeding or cuddling her baby. In either case, this mother seems to be deeply engrossed with her babe.

These, and most of Sikorskaia’s paintings, are set outdoors under bright skies and arid landscapes. Sikorskaia was born in Russia and has lived in Minnesota since she was 22, yet the colors in her paintings reflect the classic color combinations of southwestern desert paintings of vast sunsets and stunning rock formations. Perhaps it is the intensity of emotion that links her paintings to these incredible expressions of nature.

After seeing these two images, I was curious about what else Sikorskaia had to offer. Finding her online gallery, I found more intimate moments between mothers and babies, tender times between fathers and children and passionate moments between lovers. Her work is so large in structure and form, yet so intimate in emotion. Sikorskaia’s work really began to speak to me. So I decided that I needed to speak to her.

March 4, 2014 I had the privilege of interviewing Sikorskaia. We talked about her work, her birth, the birth of her son and her thoughts on nature.

I first asked Sikorskaia about the major themes of her work. I had a long list of anticipated answers prepared, she gave me one word, Love. The love her images portray extend to herself, her friends, her family and to nature. “With giving birth, my priorities changed,” she said, “What seemed to be so important became unimportant. What was unimportant became important, such as a connection to the earth, to each other, to love.”

“I put on the canvas what I am feeling.” continued Sikorskaia. She explained that once she had given birth she had to begin making sense of who she was both as a mother and wife, but also as the woman she was before giving birth. Her intimate images between lovers depict these feelings. “After I had a child, I had a desire to remind myself of (my) body independent of a child.” She said this helped her get her sexuality back, a struggle many couples experience when a new baby arrives on the scene.

In her paintings Sikorskaia addresses not only the changes she experienced in motherhood, but also the changes she saw in the men around her. Of her paintings of big men holding small babies, Sikorskaia said she wanted to capture the emotion she saw in men’s faces as they would pass around her baby. “'I am a strong man holding this precious thing in my arms' transforms a macho man into a protector and a magical creature,” said Sikorskaia.

As her son’s birth brought Sikorskaia plenty of inspiration for her work, I asked for her son’s birth story. Her son was born on March 8th, internationally known as Women’s Day, after an 11 hour labor. She was at a birth center and had wanted to give birth in the water, “but I was so relaxed that my labor stopped, and so I got out.” She was told to lie down but explained that it was so uncomfortable she had to get up. Sikorskaia said that after several hours of labor, she was worried her midwife and birth team would want to interfere. “But they were so patient and there was nothing to worry about. And I was so thankful for that” she said. In her final reflections of her son’s birth, Sikorskaia said, “actually gravity helps. I tell everyone I know to use gravity to assist.”

I asked Sikorskaia if her Russian heritage had any impact on her attitudes towards birth. Like everything else, “Russian birth is changing rapidly,” she said. But Sikorskaia followed that comment with, “One-hundred percent, I am a Russian birth mom. Labor is just a part of life you go through. You just sit down or lay down and have a baby. I delivered on all fours." The story of her own birth carries the same casual tone. She explained that her parents had guests over and when they left her mother began to tidy up as she realized it was time to have the baby. Sikorkaia’s mother and father then walked to the birth center, which Sikorskaia made clear to distinguish was separate from the hospital in Russia. As men weren’t welcome in birth rooms at that time, Sikorskaia’s father walked home and was notified that his daughter had been born by the time he got there.

While both birth stories took place indoors, Sikorskaia said she tries to keep her characters in a natural environment, “where they belong.” She explained that the human experience often leaves us feeling disconnected. But being in nature helps us feel connected and allows us to be in the moment. “I like the beauty of the vastness (of nature), you can be the only figure and not feel lonely,” she said. Sikorskaia continued by explaining that when her outdoor characters are "embracing, kissing, holding,” they display “love and affection, being in the moment, a sense of peace.”

Sikorskaia’s work has certainly raptured me and transports me to those very particular moments that make up the beauty of a mother’s experience. Although the emotions she has expressed are frozen in time by oil pastels, Sikorskaia’s paintings have still more stories to tell. “When people look at my paintings and tell me what they see, I really like what they see,” said Sikorskia,“and it expands the painting. If they put their own story on it, it makes the painting bigger.”


Take a moment to browse Sikorskaia’s work, what stories can you tell to make her paintings bigger? Please share.


Pesticide driftThe following article is reposted with permission from the Pesticide Action Network.

Pesticide drift can lead to serious medical consequences, so it's important to take all incidents seriously and immediately seek medical attention. In addition to affecting people, pesticide drift can damage ecosystems, pets and wildlife, and cause economic harm by contaminating crops and poisoning livestock. It is important that all drift incidents are promptly reported, even if no damage is apparent.

If pesticides drift onto you or your neighbors, you should:

  • Evacuate the area, warn your neighbors and seek medical attention.
  • If you were hit with spray drift (droplets or dust particles) that contacted your skin, shower as soon after exposure as you can.
  • If you experience any symptoms of pesticide exposure, immediately see a doctor or call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
  • Call for help. Once you are in a safe location, notify the appropriate authorities of the incident (see below). If you feel your life is in danger, call 911.

Always Report Pesticide Drift

Regardless of whether people were directly exposed to pesticide drift or any ecological damage or economic harm is immediately visible, it’s important to promptly report every drift incident to the agency responsible for pesticide enforcement. The appropriate agency varies by state, but it is typically the office of the County Agricultural Commissioner.

You should report the incident to both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and to your state agency:

  • The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) will report pesticide incidents to the U.S. EPA. Call 1-800-858-7378 from 8:00AM - 12:00PM PST.
  • Each state has an agency for reporting pesticide. Find your state on the NPIC webpage, and call the appropriate agency to have them record a report.

In California, calling 1-877-378-5463 should connect you with the appropriate office. If you seek medical attention, be sure to tell the doctor that pesticides are involved or suspected. In addition to helping the doctor diagnose and treat you, this will ensure that the incident is counted in official tallies, since many states require doctors and veterinarians to report cases of suspected pesticide poisoning incidents to the state.

It’s important to notify authorities as soon as possible, and to ask for a formal investigation and pesticide sampling on affected properties. This is because pesticide residue can degrade quickly, and samples should be taken as soon as possible if they are yield conclusive results. Write down all of the details of the exposure before you forget anything, including the time and date of the incident, what happened that led to the exposure, and the location of the application site and neighboring buildings.

Resources :

The Drift Catcher

In our work with communities on the ground, PAN leases or sells Drift Catchers to select groups. For advice on alternative ways to detect drift, read Getting the Drift on Chemical Trespass. You can also contact us or check out a list of pesticides the Drift Catcher can detect.

There is a commitment involved in conducting a Drift Catching study as a PAN community partner:

Driftcatching Takes People, Time and Money

While the Drift Catcher is simple to use, there is a time investment involved with taking samples and running the study, so it is best to have a group from your community working together. Anyone participating in Drift Catching studies must attend a training so that they can be certified in using the Drift Catcher. Group members must also be available to take samples when pesticide applications are occurring in the area.

The Drift Catcher is leased on a yearly basis to community groups. PAN selects these groups based on our current campaign goals. Leasing costs for the Drift Catcher are $200 per year. Sample analysis costs are high, typically ranging from $125 to $255 per sample. PAN may be able to help you find funding, or provide some support.

PAN often works with communities in the Midwest and California, but has partnered with groups from other areas in the past. Examples of previous Drift Catching projects include:

  • Communities in Illinois
  • Communities in Iowa
  • Communities in Minnesota
  • Hastings, FL
  • Hawai'i SEED
  • Philippines
  • Sisquoc, CA
  • Tehama, CA

Photo by Fotolia


TMJ symptomsTemporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders affect up to 12% of Americans and can cause pain, decreased range of jaw motion, and a clicking noise associated with movement.[1] They can also lead to referred pain—pain that is felt at a location other than where it originates—all over the head and neck, including earaches and headaches.[2]

Causes of TMJ Disorders

TMJ disorders can be influenced by multiple factors, including traumatic injuries, hormonal influences, and overuse and/or improper use of the muscles of mastication (chewing). Clenching of the teeth (bruxism) is often a leading cause of TMJ muscle pain, although many people are not aware that they have this habit.[3] Women are more likely than men to suffer from TMJ symptoms, and these disorders are most likely to occur in people 20 to 40 years old.[1]

Natural Treatment Options for TMJ Disorders

There are many natural ways to treat the unpleasant symptoms of TMJ.

1. Occlusal Splint. Most commonly known as night guards, these splints are custom-made dental orthotics that help protect the surfaces of the teeth and prevent clenching. These are one of the most frequently used treatments for TMJ disorders. They are most often worn at night.[1]


2. Physical therapy. Stretching and range-of-motion exercises designed by a physical therapist can help to relieve pain and restore proper movement and function of the jaw.[4]

3. Massage. Massage has been shown to be effective in relieving TMJ pain.[5] Some massage therapists specialize in TMJ and even work on the muscles inside the mouth to release tension surrounding the jaw.

4. Acupuncture. Acupuncture has been shown to provide short-term relief from painful TMJ disorder symptoms.[6]

5. Osteopathic manipulative technique. A study in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies showed that this technique, practiced by a doctor of osteopathy, reduced pain and improved range of motion after six months.[7]

6. Self-management. If you suffer from TMJ pain or discomfort, it is important to be aware of your own habits. Avoid chewing gum or eating hard, chewy foods to put less stress on the TMJ muscles. Keep your teeth apart with the jaw muscles relaxed as much as possible throughout the day. Avoiding stress and learning what situations cause you to clench your teeth are both very important in preventing TMJ symptoms from getting worse or returning.


[1] Dent Clin North Am. 2013 Jul;57(3):465-79
[2] Otolaryngol Clin North Am. 2014 Apr;47(2):301-331.
[3] J Oral Rehabil. 2006 Jul;33(7):473-81.
[4] J Man Manip Ther. 2009;17(4):247-54.
[5] Adv Clin Exp Med. 2012 Sep-Oct;21(5):681-5.
[6] Clin J Pain. 2010 Jul-Aug;26(6):541-50.
[7] J BodywMov Ther. 2010 Apr;14(2):179-84.


My earliest memories of horseradish (Cochlearia Armoracia) include my mother's mother digging it up in late August. She would grind it up and share her plentiful batches with the neighbors, who would add it to everything from sauer krat to meat loaf. Everyone recognizes the pungent taste of this common plant. It can be found in many mayo-based sauces to complement meats heavy in fat content, like pork

Horseradish, from:

The medicinal part of this plant is the root. lists these as other names for the peppery root:

Amoraciae Rusticanae
Armoracia lopathifolia
Armoracia rusticana
Cochlearia armoracia
Cran de Bretagne
Grand Raifort
Great Raifort
Mountain Radish
Moutarde des Allemands
Moutarde des Capucins
Nasturtium armoracia
Rábano Picante
Rábano Rústico
Radis de Cheval
Raifort Sauvage
Red Cole
Rorippa armoracia

No one seems to know the exact origin of the plant, but it became rather popular during the middle ages in the Nordic and Germanic regions. By the 1600's it had spread to England where it garnered its common name Horseradish. Horse meaning coarse, in ordering to distinguish it from the common radish. It is a member of the Cruciferae family as is broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, etc. It is cold tolerant and can be planted early on in the spring.

Healing Properties of Horseradish

This spicy root has been used for respiratory ailments. The famed Dr. Christopher suggested using Horseradish for sinus ailments. He advised holding a bit of the pungent root in the mouth until the taste was gone. Anyone that has ever eaten it knows the root's ability to make the sinuses instantly drain. Even today, it is in many remedies for respiratory complaints and allergies.

For centuries herbalists have used Horseradish as a remedy for urinary complaints, including stones. By mixing the ground root with vinegar and honey to taste, the diuretic qualities of horseradish can be put to use.

It is said to be able to ensure the gut's ability to produce protective mucus when eating meat that may be slightly questionable. While I do not recommend finding out if this works, it is interesting to know that it helps create protective mucus in the gut lining. This leaves room for experimentation to find out if it can aid in cases of irritated gut. It is said to be a remedy for intestinal worms in children.

Horseradish has also been shown in studies to display anti-bacterial effects. 

I've had many clients successfully use horseradish in herbal blends and as a single remedy. Since the taste can be quite pungent, the easiest way to get this herb down is as an encapsulated preparation. I have found that about six capsules, spread throughout the day, can make a world of difference in managing the stuffy, itchy, watery nose and eyes that can make spring a terrible experience for some. The horseradish can also be added to various meals in order to get the mucus flowing. It is better to get the mucus flowing in order to relieve the pain sometimes associated with these ailments.


Aspartame Side Effects in Children

After the dangers of refined sugar became widely known in the 1980s, the American food industry began replacing it with artificial sweeteners. As an added psychological bonus, these supposedly harmless molecules also reduced the caloric content of foods, making them popular for use in low-fat, light, and diet products. In addition to aspartame, synthetic chemical sweeteners are also known by the following chemical names: acesulfame potassium, neotame, saccharin, sucralose. Brand names include: NutraSweet, Equal, Sugar Twin, Sunett, Sweet One, Sweet & Safe, Splenda.

Foods that May Contain Aspartame

According to NutriSweet, a variety of foods are typically sweetened with aspartame.[1]

Carbonated soft drinks
Gelatin dessert
Hot chocolate
Fruit drinks (10% juice)
Breath mints
Ice cream
Chewing gum

Why Small Children are Vulnerable

While holistic doctors do not recommend aspartame consumption by anyone, children are especially susceptible. One or two packages of yogurt, gelatin, or fruit drinks can contain enough aspartame to put a baby over the FDA’s recommended intake limit of 50 mg/kg of body weight.[2]

Aspartame Side Effects Can Lead to Brain ImpairmentAspartame Side Effects

The body immediately breaks aspartame into aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol.[3] Methanol is further broken down into formaldehyde and formate. In adults, these compounds may not reach high enough levels to cause problems.[4] For babies, however, methanol can reach high enough levels to cause oxidative stress to the brain.[5] This is the same effect that is caused by free radicals. Chronic incidents of this stress will cause faster brain aging, and could contribute to the development of anxiety disorders, learning impairment, and depression.[3,6] Considering that babies may be exposed to multiple daily servings of the foods listed above, chronic effects are possible until the child becomes old enough to properly metabolize aspartame. Even then, some may experience long-term health consequences.


Also known as PKU, this is an inherited condition in which babies cannot break down phenylalanine. Aspartame can cause severe problems in children with PKU. This includes seizures, rashes, tremors, delayed mental skills, and impaired intellect.[7] All of these are results of excess phenylalanine in the blood. Considering that 50% of aspartame consists of phenylalanine, the sweetener contributes significantly to this problem. Children with PKU should never be given aspartame, even as they become older.

Blood sugar and insulin resistance

Aspartame side effects are intensified by monosodium glutamate (MSG). Studies demonstrate that aspartame alone increases the blood sugar of newborn mice by 60%, but when combined with MSG, the increase is 130%.[8] The research also concludes that subjects experience reduced insulin tolerance. Cells cannot absorb glucose or produce energy when they fail to respond to insulin. This leads to increased blood sugar, increased appetite, and decreased energy.

How to Avoid Synthetic Sweeteners

Anything that is labeled low sugar, diet, low calorie, light, or low fat is likely to contain an artificial sweetener of some kind. Carbonated beverages, fruit drinks, and yogurt can be especially high in aspartame. The best way to avoid aspartame is to entirely eliminate sweetened foods and drinks from the diet. If sugars are absolutely necessary, healthier choices include coconut sugar, agave nectar, and raw honey.


[1] NutraSweet Property Holdings, Inc. ©2003.

[2] Crit Rev Toxicol. 2007;37(8):629-727.

[3] Pharmacol Res. 2006 Jan;53(1):1-5.

[4] BMJ. Feb 5, 2005; 330(7486): 310.

[5] JBiosci.2012Sep;37(4):679-88.

[6] Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2009 Apr-Jun; 2(2): 63-67.

[7]Pubmed Health. PKU; Neonatal phenylketonuria.

[] Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012 Jun 14;9(1):58.


In theory, bread should be a healthy, whole-grain food. But the process that transforms healthy whole grains into the white bread found on most grocery store shelves destroys their nutrients and adds a variety of dangerous chemicals.

The Terrible Truth About White Bread Most breads are produced from flour; they are not natural forms of whole-grain wheat. They require yeast cells to expand them with gas, gluten to bind them together, and preservatives to slow the inevitable growth of mold. Most common brands also add high fructose corn syrup, molasses, and dextrose to enhance flavor.

The Refinement of White Flour Removes Nutrients

Wheat is a seed like any other. It consists of an outer covering (the bran), an embryo (the germ), and a fuel supply (the endosperm). In the case of white bread, the bran and germ are removed and only the soft endosperm is milled into flour. As the initial food supply for the growing seed, the endosperm contains mostly simple carbohydrates. These simple carbohydrates break down into single units of sugar almost immediately, causing hazardous spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels.

Wheat’s vitamins, minerals, fiber, tocopherols, antioxidants, and proteins are found predominantly in the germ or bran.[1] The removal of these nutrients is the reason why white breads and pastas must be “enriched” after processing. Unfortunately, these added vitamins typically constitute an extremely small percentage of the recommended daily values.

The Bleaching Process Adds Toxins to the Flour

The flour that is made into white bread is bleached with benzoyl peroxide. The bleaching process does nothing to clean the flour. It has no purpose other than to make the product more visually appealing, so that consumers will be more likely to purchase it. This agent oxidizes the yellow flour to make it appear whiter. In the process, benzoyl peroxide creates free radicals and benzoic acid.[2] Free radical species are well known to contribute to DNA damage and aging, and benzoic acid can cause contact irritation, discomfort, weakness, and malaise.[3] When ingested, the agent can cause headache, nervousness, nausea, and vomiting.[4]

In addition to the health effects mentioned above, benzoic acid also contributes to the destruction of beneficial intestinal bacteria.[5] In fact, this antibiotic action is what makes benzoic acid useful as a preservative. Any disturbance to the body’s natural balance of intestinal flora can lead to an overgrowth of parasites or pathogenic bacteria.

Further hazards can occur if any of the benzoyl peroxide makes it into the final product. Exposure to this agent has been found to cause a significant decrease in the liver’s production of superoxide dismutase (SOD).[6] This enzyme is one of the body’s most powerful antioxidants and its destruction can lead to rapid aging and DNA damage.

White Flour Products Contribute to High Levels of Blood Sugar

The glycemic index (GI) for white bread is 70.3.[7] Technically, this means that it raises blood sugar 70.3 percent as much as pure glucose sugar, which is extremely high. To compare this to a few nutritious foods, the GI for broccoli is about 10; cherries, 22; and tomatoes, 38. Even extremely low-quality foods such as milk chocolate and potato chips only reach a GI of about 43. This makes white bread very dangerous, especially to diabetics.[8] It is also a poor source of energy, as the high level of blood sugar that it causes will plummet nearly as quickly as that caused by a soft drink or candy bar.

If You Eat Bread

Pumpernickel, whole rye, and whole wheat breads are much healthier alternatives to white. But you still need to be careful. Bread manufacturers use a variety of tricks to make their products appear to be healthy. For example, a bread can be called “whole wheat” even if it only contains a small fraction of whole-wheat flour. Make sure that the label instead reads “100 percent whole wheat.” If the word “enriched” is anywhere in the list of ingredients, the product is not 100 percent whole wheat.

Stay away from high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, molasses, other refined sugars, and preservatives such as benzoate. It’s also a good idea to become familiar with the potential dangers of gluten. The best bread to eat is known as Ezekiel or Genesis bread. These breads are made from sprouted grains and usually do not contain milled flour or preservatives.

Remember: Always ignore the promises on bread labels and instead read the list of ingredients to know what you’re putting in your body.


[1] Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2012 Mar;63 Suppl 1:71-4.
[2] J Agric Food Chem. 2001 Jan;49(1):98-102.
[3] CAS Registry Number: 123-77-3 Toxicity Effects.
[4] CAS Registry Number: 65-85-0 Toxicity Effects.
[5] J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 2006 Aug;90(7-8):316-24.
[6] Environ Toxicol Pharmacol. 2011 May;31(3):479-84.
[7] Biomed Pap Med Fac Univ Palacky Olomouc Czech Repub. 2004 Jul;148(1):17-25.
[8] Eur J Clin Nutr. 1991 Feb;45(2):97-103.


There was a time when I would not make a trip to the health food store without picking up a bottle of Kombucha. It was my treat. Some kids like the free cookie at the grocery store bakery. I looked forward to the Mango Kombucha in that pretty glass bottle with the mandala on it.

There was a girl in my last yoga teacher training that made the best homemade Kombucha. She gave me a SCOBY so that I could make my own. I put it in the fridge and promptly forgot about it. There went that.

My husband recently went on a fermentation kick, and so we came round again to the prospect of making our own Kombucha. We acquired a SCOBY from a good friend and this time put it to work. We have since grown and shared our own to many the delighted Kombucha lover.

Kombucha Scoby

First thing's first: What on earth is a SCOBY?

It is a starter culture or “mother” that stands for Symbiotic Culture of friendly Bacteria and Yeast. Most of us are familiar with the Friendly Bacteria craze. We want those hard working bugs in massive quantities to keep us on the healthy track to better life. I’m a fan. A SCOBY looks a bit like a thick rubbery pancake and is your key to making great Kombucha. These days there is usually a friend of a friend of a friend that makes their own and has plenty to share. Put your feelers out.

From that starter culture, you can turn your basic sweet tea into a tasty vitamin and mineral delivery system. A Kombucha mother is filled with enzymes that aid detoxification, glucosamines that help to prevent arthritis, and packs a probiotic punch that helps control harmful yeasts and promotes a happy bacterial situation in your digestive tract.

The immune boosting qualities as well as mood enhancing benefits of this wonder drink are enough to make anyone jump on the Kombucha bandwagon. I mean, who doesn’t like a 2000 year old elixir that has been linked to preventing cancer and other degenerative diseases?

According to the Food Renegade, a popular website and blog on the healing properties of food, the health benefits of Kombucha include: detoxification, joint care, digestion aid and gut health, and numerous immune boosting antioxidants. Visit the link above to learn more from the Food Renegade.

You’ve acquired a SCOBY. Now what?

Let’s make some Kombucha. This recipe comes from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.

1 quart pure water
¼ cup sugar
1 tbsp loose/2 teabags black tea
½ cup acidic kombucha (when you receive your SCOBY it will be stored in this liquid)
a Kombucha mother/SCOBY

In a small pot, mix water and sugar and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and add tea. Cover and steep about 15 minutes. Strain the tea into a glass container. (I use a wide mouth Mason jar.) Add the acidic kombucha liquid. Place the SCOBY in the liquid, with the firm, opaque side up. Cover with a cloth and store in a warm spot, ideally 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

In about a week or less you’ll see a thin skin forming on the surface of your Kombucha (this is a new SCOBY forming). Depending on your tastes, you can drink it now or let it sit a bit longer. The longer it sits, the more acidic it becomes. Once it arrives at a desirable taste for you, start a new batch and put the current one in the refrigerator. You now have 2 SCOBYs. Pass one on to a grateful friend.

You are now on your way to a more healthy and vibrant life. The health benefits of Kombucha are plenty and there are lots of folks out there that have experimented with different flavorings for their mixes if that’s your thing. Give it a google search and you’ll see!

Have fun, and if you find a yummy recipe to flavor your Kombucha, please share it here. I’m always happy to try new ways of enjoying this awesome drink!

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