When I was a little girl, the winters were white and harsh. Spring meant lending a hand with working the earth. There were potato fields that seemed as long as my wide eyes could see. The first blooming spring flowers were like a breath of fresh air. They were Snow Drops. Summer was always welcomed, for it meant healing your body and soul while visiting the hot thermal spa resort, near the border of Hungary. As kids we looked forward to it all year. The importance of spa was instilled in us early on. Autumn, my personal favorite season, brought great big colorful leaves falling down gently, creating a great big blanket below each tree. My sisters and I would paint them with every color in our watercolor box and make art. We lived in a small village right out of a fairy tale in the heart of Europe. I was born in Slovakia: bordering with Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Ukraine. At times when I think back to my hometown, the nagging nostalgia reminds me that it will forever be with me.
Cradling our little village from both sides are tall mountains, and there is still only one main road traveling through town. The mountains are grand but never intimidating. This was where my friends and I played, picking berries, learning to distinguish the edible from the poisonous mushrooms, and creating camp sites. The one river running through our village was for creating a dam in the summer for us to swim in; in the winter we used it as an ice-skating rink. While I realize this all seems out of touch with the realities of today’s world, this was back in the 1980s – but it was the way of life for centuries. Needless to say, there was no lack of organic foods and natural ingredients, except terms like “organic” or “green” did not exist just yet.
Of course the older generation had quite the different experience and a lot more hardships. My life compared to my grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s life was charming, yet the essence of our culture has remained the same. To me, my grandmother Emily was a mysterious figure. Partly because I was in awe of her strength and natural beauty, and partly because I never had the chance to get to know her until I was almost a teenager. My grandmother lived in the United States, and until my family moved here ourselves in 1994, I only saw her every other year. I knew I admired her even then. Her bohemian devil-may-care attitude mixed in with a great sense of family responsibility resembled some sort of a strict but warm-hearted government leader. I have never seen such wholesome beauty, the adorable dimples, strong body, and zero makeup included. Although she never used a high-end beauty product or took a multi-vitamin her skin was flawless.
In the late 1960s, my family discovered the prettiness of the country in New York; they bought property in the upstate Catskills. This became my grandmother’s country haven. She accredited her natural beauty to living her simple life to the fullest, doing what she loved most: baking from scratch, working hard, growing a garden filled with vegetables, herbs, and flowers. She had, and still does have, chickens running all around her yard. It seems old habits die hard and combined with her love of being surrounded by great company of people,this seemed to be the recipe for glowing skin and happiness. It was a lifestyle.
Living a Natural Lifestyle
What can one do to live a more natural and chemical-free lifestyle? Genetics do play their part, the rest is cognitive learning. No matter where you live, there are ways you can borrow from nature. My earliest memory of realizing we led a special life was when my mother opened up an encyclopedia of herbs, aiming to teach us the basics. The book included illustrations and my mother sent us out with a basket. The task was to find specific herbs, not in our herb garden, but out in the woods and fields. We were excited and looked forward to the process, as well as the finished product. Soon afterward, we made teas, healing creams, and beauty products. When my sister strained a muscle, I remember my mother taking immediate action and making a cream ointment from Calendula Officinalis. The next thing we knew, our garden was filled with Calendula Officinalis and our cabinets were filled with jars of it. It was fascinating to observe my mother, a modern and stylish working woman, care about providing us with not only chemical-free solutions to problems but also teaching us to do it for ourselves in the future.
The beauty industry still has a lot to learn about what women want. Globally, educated consumers are starting to realize the dangers of chemicals that are rampant in the majority of our beauty and hygiene products. The number of homemade and successful organic or natural beauty brands is growing each year. Some have decided if they cannot find it in the store they can make it. What an idea! The green lifestyle and its idealization might be relatively new to the younger generations, however this way of life already existed. It did not come with a specific title.
Each woman is unique: in her skin regimen, her walk, and even in the way she smiles or frowns. It is the little things that sum up who we are as a whole. We women sometimes spend so much time focusing on our exterior we tend to forget that the people around us might see beauty in other qualities we possess. According to stories, my great-grandmother was the most beautiful and unattainable woman in our little town. Although she did possess unique beauty, she also faced hardships and unfortunate life challenges. I believe it was not necessarily her physical appearance that people gravitated towards. She fascinated those around her with what she stood for and represented. That was independence. Independence was rare for a woman at that time. With it came a certain modern attitude. I have always believed that real beauty shines from within. The inner strength of a woman who is focused on survival certainly cannot be measured. With today’s media being consumed with celebrity culture we forget that the most beautiful people and the biggest heroes are in our daily lives; our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts and friends.
The tradition continues. The Slavic women in my American life today all possess the same characteristic of striving to live organically and wholeheartedly. We enjoy the spa lifestyle, grow our own herbs and vegetables, use organic skincare, and we all run to the countryside whenever we get the chance. We do it with family on our minds and our hearts in the right place. My mother, sisters, grandmother, and cousin, these are the Slavic women I have come to know and love. I would not change my background or upbringing for anything. It has taught me to be the woman I am today, and that is something I will carry with me forever.
Allow me to share one of my favorite herbal recipe for shiny and strong hair.
Slavic Nettle Plant Hair Extract
How to instructions:
- Pick fresh nettle in your garden. Nettle is a weed so it is widely available. If you are in a bind, purchase it from an herbal shop. Be aware: Do not handle nettle with bare hands! The plant is harmless but stings. My grandmother picked it with her bare hands as she swore it helped with arthritis.
- Depending on how much extract you will need, either use a medium pot or a large pot of water, and bring to boil.
- Remove the pot from the burner and throw in nettle leaves or whole plants.
- Allow the plans to steep for about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Drain with a colander and you will be left with just the liquid. What you are left with is a natural hair extract to be used after your shampoo. To cool it, put it in the refrigerator.
- Simply rinse your hair after washing. There is no need to keep it on your hair for longer than a new minutes. Rinse out and follow with conditioner.
This story was originally written for Insider’s Guide to Spas.