gardening season is upon us. 
we have broken out the shovels, are routinely turning our compost, and are hammering away at our raised garden beds.
we suspected that the athena women would be doing the same. so in conjunction with lessons on personal growth, we shared our experiences with digging in the earth and watching beauty emerge. 
here's how.
starting a garden

1 | prep your soil. 
adding compost and tilling garden prior to planting are ways to ensure good soil
2 | compost.
   a) measure a 3x3 square feet space.  A simple pile or contain in a custom bin
   b) add alternating layers of carbon (brown materials-leaves and garden trimmings) nitrogen (green materials- kitchen scraps, manure) and thin layers of soil. Top off pile with 6 inches of soil pile shouldn't smell.  if it does, add carbon materials (leaves, straw, sawdust)
3 | choose right plants for zone.  
when buying seedlings look for stocky seedlings with a few blooms and roots that are not over crowded.
4 | plant in wide beds.
plants that will be harvested (vegetables or cutting flowers) should be grouped tightly to discourage walking on crop.  it also reduces water waste  and helps target compost and nutrients.
5 | water properly.
water in the morning, when it is cool.  this helps to preserve water and avoid diseases that could grow on crop.  substantial, infrequent watering (one inch on water weekly including rain) 1-2 applications weekly, this encourages deeper rooting.
6 | weed.
no easy way about it, grab a bucket and get to it!
7 | protect plants from pests.
use natural remedies like bacillus thuringiensis, horticultural oils, insecticidal soaps, garlic/hot pepper sprays.
8 | harvest.
during peak season check produce daily, use herbs day of pick.
9 | cleanup.
remove sick plants during season, rake underneath since disease can harbor problems, long term.  healthy or expired plants can be left in place over winter. chop off annuals, then yank out, leaving soil intact, preventing weeds from gaining foothold.

·      put sand under carrots, to make pulling them up easier
·      put egg shells under tomatoes, to give more calcium to soil
·      tie leaves over cauliflower heads to keep them white
·      marigolds and oregano repel insects and deter hornworms.
·      rosemary deters beetles
·      thyme repels cabbage worms
·      chives and garlic deter aphids
·      do seed swaps and exchanges to save money, and expand crop selection
·      pick basil in late afternoon, for more intense flavor
·      peak leafy greens sporadically, from different plants rather than just one
·      cut produce with knife or scissor
companion planting
what is it?
art and science of laying out vegetable garden so that complimentary types of vegetables are planting in same bed.
rule of thumb
take note of which family vegetables come from.  plant regular families together. 
things to avoid
don't plant certain veggetables next to each other because they might stunt growth or growth will yield.
raised garden beds
buy two 1 by 8-inch cedar boards, which don't rot with age. they come in 8-foot lengths, which is perfect for 4 by 4-foot beds. cut each plank in half, so that it is 4-feet long. or have the store make the cuts. many places will do it for free.
also buy a 3-foot length of a 1 by 1-inch pine stake; cut it into four pieces and use them to nail the cedar boards to at corners for bracing. that's all! each box costs less than $10 to make.

remember, gardens to not have to be intimidating. it is just another space to show your creativity, your love, and your growth. 

gardening and growing - recipe

in april, we decided to keep in simple.
the food. the drinks. the decor. 
we wanted to enjoy the raw outdoor space, the laughter and love of women, the reflections on growth. 
as it turns out, simple is good. simple is great. simple is all you really need. 
 the sarasota
1 large bottle of sweet white wine
1 can of raspberry lemonade concentrate
a splash of Sprite
crushed raspberries
mix all ingredients together and enjoy!
ricotta crostinis
top lightly toasted bread with a layer of ricotta
add high quality ingredients
we used cucumbers, mint and dill | radishes and sea salt | tomatoes and basil pesto | hazelnuts and apricot jam

happy eating - simply!

lessons on growing

april athena in photos
stayed tuned for how to, recipes, and reflections. 
 thank you, athena women, for your unwavering support and love.
thank you, athena, for growing legs and learning to run.

tutorial - cake decorating

We, at the Athena Collective, love cake. 
White cake. yellow cake. chocolate cake. strawberry cake. all cake.
What we didn't love was decorating said cakes. There were crumbs in all the wrong places. Icing disasters. It was a mess.
But that's the great thing about A|C. We like to embrace the mess, but also perfect the mess when possible. On this occasion, we learned how to perfect it. 

1. Ensure that the tops and bottoms are level. This might require cutting off the tops of the cakes to achieve a flat surface.
2. Freeze the cakes. This will eliminate some of the crumbs from escaping during the crumb coat.
3. Crumb coat. Apply a very thin layer of icing to al sides of the cake. Crumbs will fall off the cake and be seen in the icing, but that is okay. 
4. Freeze/refrigerate the cakes again in preparation for icing.
5. Apply a generous layer of icing to the top of the cake.
6. Spread the icing slowly. When you remove the spatula from the cake, always keep it moving. this prevents cake breakage and crumb emergence. 
7. Smooth with a plastic piece. You can cut these plastic pieces from used berry containers. 
Hint: Icing spreads well when utensil is dipped in water. 
8. Have fun with icing tips. Practice before applying. Be creative!
9. Enjoy!
Thanks to antonia for sharing her expertise and patience. 
If you use these techniques and tips to decorate your own cake at home, we could love to see. Post on instagram @athena_collective or twitter @athenacollectiv

Fostering the relationship with self: diving into meditation

With any relationship you need to spend time together to get to know each other.  The relationship with yourself is no different. I have lived in my body for quite some time now, but it wasn't until I started cultivating a meditation practice did I really start learning about myself. What makes me uncomfortable, what tension screams for my attention when I try to still my mind, how much I have grown from the person I was a few years ago to the person I am today. 

We live in a society where activity and production are rewarded, so it isn't a surprise that we tend to overlook relaxation. It is often seen as a luxury. I used to never allow myself a moment to rest if there is work to be done. But as life gets more and more demanding, I am realizing how important it is for me to make the time to slow down. It is important to let the nervous system settle down and absorb the new information of our experiences. 

Relaxation can be achieved in many different ways. Some people love to garden and get their hands in the earth, for others physical activity helps quiet the mind. Taking time to promote practices that encourage well being and balance is a gift only you can give yourself. I want to touch on meditation because it is free, it is portable and everyone can do it. And believe it or not, there is no "right way" to meditate.

Some cultures and traditions have more formal ways of going about it but I believe that what ever works for you is just fine. I even like that it is referred to as a meditation practice… practice meaning its not yet mastered. Each attempt is growth from the last. Maybe I find I can only sit still for 45 seconds the first time… the next time i try for a minute thirty. Maybe I fall asleep, my next goal will be to stay conscious. Baby steps, there is no gold star for doing it right. There are no "should"s. 
"I should have sat up straighter."
"It should have been easier."
"I should have done this-or-that first." 
A good friend told me once, "Don't should all over yourself." And that's the truth. There is nothing that we should or should not do. We are perfect  exactly the way we are. The fact that we are even implementing meditation into our lives is beautiful progress… allow yourself have somewhere to grow with it

So how do we start? 

Carve out some time in your day. Again, its called a meditation practice, so try to pick a time you can make a habit with. I start my day with a 10-20 minute 'sit' in the morning and then again in the afternoon. (and fyi - a 'sit' just refers to the act of meditating.)

Try to find a space that is comfortable, and not too high in traffic. Turn off your cell phone or any other notification device.

I like to keep a timer present. My phone has an app that chimes with a really soothing tone, so i am not jolted back into reality with an alarm buzzer. But, having a timer helps me from breaking my sit too soon and allows me to let go of keeping time in my mind. 

As far as how long? You can start small and work your way to a longer meditation. Maybe have a goal of five minutes to begin and try to work your way up to 20-30 minutes. 

I like to start out with a gentle stretch. In preparation for being still for a period of time, Its good to get all the kinks out before i begin. Because without fail, the second I decide I want to be still, my body fights it. But that is life for you. 

So find yourself in a comfortable position. I prefer to be seated, usually on a pillow or something to take pressure off of my knees if I am on the floor. You can lay down if you like, its important that you remain open. So try not to curl into the fetal position, or clamp your arms across your chest. Keep your arms to your sides, soften your hands… let your shoulders fall away from your ears, and release any tension in your jaw and forehead. 

Your eyes may be closed, or open with a soft gaze. A soft gaze means you are not focusing on anything in particular, you can look down at an angle and lower your eyelids to promote relaxation.

A candle can be a nice focal point if you find that you are prone to falling asleep with your eyes closed during meditation. 

As you begin, just start focusing on your breath. Each Inhale and Exhale. breathe naturally. There are no bonus points for the most amazingly deep breaths known to mankind. But if you find yourself in need of a deep inhale and an exhale that makes some audible sounds, don't judge yourself. This is time for you, and only you know what you need to benefit most from the experience.

Listen to your body. And this is what you do for how ever long you decide to sit for: focus on your breath, listen to your body. 

Your body may become uncomfortable, tense or itchy. Focus on the area that is calling out to you. Breathe into it. This may be because of your posture or how you are sitting. But sometimes we are uncomfortable just because we are not used to it.  Obviously if you are in pain, adjust your posture till you are comfortable again. But notice if you find yourself mindlessly fidgeting or creating a sense of discomfort because you are struggling with being still. 

Listen to your body. Focus on your breath. If you find that your mind starts wandering to your laundry list of things to do, imagine releasing that thought. It is as if you are sitting in front of a river, and as the thoughts come down stream acknowledge them and then allow them to move on past you. Bring your attention back to the inhale and exhale. Thoughts will come. Thoughts will go. The practice is in quieting the mind. We are human beings, we are bound to think. Do not judge yourself. Just acknowledge and release. Focus on your breath. listen to your body. 

When you are finished, start gently wiggling fingers and toes. Rotating any joints that may have been stationary too long and gently ease your way back into the world. 

If sitting in silence is too difficult at first, there are many guided meditations you can download or purchase. Guided meditations are a great way to start. Its a good way to start replacing the chatter of your thoughts with a focused, calming intention. You can find specific meditations that help ease anxiety or promote different aspects of wellness, so if you find there is something you struggle with guided meditations can be a good resource.  

Also, many local yoga houses, holistic clinics and community centers offer group meditation classes. There will be an instructor there to hold the space for you by leading the meditation and I always find a group can help keep me accountable to my routine of practice.

The more you sit in silence with yourself, with no other purpose but to be in your own company, the more you will enjoy your own company! This is just a beginning… 

Here is to you becoming your own number one fan… Cheers!

Thank you so much, Kirstin, for that informative and inspiring reflection. Be your number one fan!