Violet Syrup Revisited

I should’ve blogged about this sooner as it has been over a week since I posted about harvesting the violet blooms from my yard…especially since the recipe I posted with it called for 8 cups of water, 8 cups of sugar per 1 cup of violet blossoms. Unless you have an extremely sweet tooth, you might want to cut back a little on the sugar. I followed the recipe to the letter and found it to be so sweet, it was actually painful (if that’s even possible). There was also no need for me to gather a second cup of blossoms as I now have five quarts of violet syrup…Mom and I may be eating a lot of pancakes for a while. (chuckle)

Actually, it’s funny because I’m finding that I’m not caring as much for the end product–though that’s always a plus–but it’s the whole process of watching, waiting, harvesting, preserving that keeps me homesteading. It’s the journey. The skills learned along the way. And the satisfaction I find every time I try something new.

Violet syrup? Who knew?

And with it, comes a bit of nostalgia. As a little girl, I was forever picking the violets and dandelions that graced the lawn of my paternal grandparents’ home. Though the blending of deep purple and bright yellow might be considered gaudy by many if, for example, you were to paint your house in this combination (this from the lady who painted hers black with orange doors, but that’s another story for another time…), to my 4, 5, 6 year-old self, they were a striking contrast that looked oh-so-delicate in a little Dixie cup on my grandmother’s windowsill. Sure, I felt a little sorrow the next morning when those bright blossoms shriveled and curled and turned various shades of brown in their cup and yet, the next day, I couldn’t resist picking a few more.

Today, the herbalist in me recommends dandelion greens for everything from a healthy fodder for your rabbits, goats, poultry, etc. to a valuable folk remedy for kidney and urinary infections. And I’m making violet syrup to pour over pancakes. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll pick a few extra blossoms for my own windowsill now…and come full circle.

May God bless you & keep you!

Reactions

It is both touching and comical the reactions I am receiving as I walk everywhere instead of driving. Granted, my decision to do so was forced upon me. While I have long been an advocate of either walking or pedal-pushing when and where possible, I confess, I have put off this commitment to lower my carbon footprint to the extreme for quite some time now. Granted, I don’t live in a city where everything is within a safe walking distance. Nor do we have a decent public transit system for those out-of-the-way places next to impossible to walk to. I live in a rural community that has a few sidewalks plunked down at random but they do not connect the whole demographic area; much of my travels lately have been in the breakdown lane of a major interstate. So, yes, it is a little hairy at times. Thank goodness for fluorescent vests and flashlights for twilight travels after work.

First, the humorous side of it all. “You walk to work?” “You walked all the way from there to go to church?” Etc, etc. My home is in the 200 “block” of this interstate; my job is in the 500 “block”. I have “block” in quotation marks because these are not evenly-planned residential areas but a patchwork of farms amidst a few cul-de-sacs of houses leading up to a small commercial district. My trek each way is just under two miles. It takes me about 25-30 minutes to walk it downhill to work; an extra five minutes for the steeply-uphill climb to home. Church is about half the walking distance and definitely not as uphill. All-in-all, it’s not a bad walk…even if it is in the breakdown lane. It makes me laugh because we have become so dependent on our automobiles that the thought of walking, or riding a bicycle, less than two miles seems like the greatest imposition to many. Granted, for someone like my mother, who is in her 70’s, such a trek is a bit too much. She tried it one Saturday while I was at work. She said the walk down wasn’t so bad but she needed a ride back home!

Of course, Mom is part of that humor, too. Having christened her “Nervous Nellie”, she hovers and flutters about when, like yesterday, the rain was falling steady and she saw me gearing up to walk again. It wasn’t until I pulled out the umbrella that she calmed down a bit. Oy vey! I feel like I’m 15 again instead of 50 (now if only my hips, shins, calves and knees felt the same way…)

And yet, Mom’s actions are also touching as I come around that last bend in the road and see her and Max, the Blue Heeler, waiting for me at the foot of the drive, watching anxiously to make sure I get home okay.

Touching, too, has been some of the reactions from friends and co-workers along the way. Halfway to work yesterday afternoon, one of our mechanics saw me walking–and thoroughly soaked–and offered me a ride the last 1/2 mile or so. It was much appreciated as the wind kept kicking up and blowing me about like Mary Poppins on steroids. And then yesterday’s rain storm intensified during the late-afternoon, early-evening. By the time I left to come home again, it was pouring buckets. One of my co-workers saw me gearing up and actually told me I was NOT walking home in this. However, while I appreciated the offer, and the concern, knowing I had to make a stop along the way, I didn’t want to put him out and finally convinced him I would be okay. And I was. But it warmed my heart nonetheless. Chivalry is not dead. And it is good to see it, to know it. And to know people do care.

Yesterday’s rain taught me something else, too: bring a change of clothes. Walking in the breakdown lane with traffic, and especially 18-wheelers, whizzing by leaves you soaked to the gills. I suppose I should bring gratitude into the mix that it is late-May and not early-January.

May God bless you & keep you!

Please Leave your Cellphone at the Door

“Remember to observe the Sabbath as a holy day. Six days a week are for your daily duties and your regular work, but the seventh day is a day of Sabbath rest before the Lord your God.” (Exodus 20:8-10)

Okay. So maybe leaving the cellphones at the door of the church is a little extreme. There are certainly emergency workers and caregivers who attend services each week and they are often on call. I’ve got that. But for the rest of the congregation–and I shudder even as I type this as attendance is often low enough as it is–do you really need to check your Facebook, Twitter and/or Pinterest accounts during church services?

I know. This may be one of those Al-Anon situations where I would be told to mind my own business. But that LED lighting up in random pews throughout the church…that becomes my business as it just distracted me from Father Elson’s homily. Ditto for a number of other congregationalists. But, okay. I’ll try.

And keep telling myself to be still. Don’t look over there again…even if the pew is suddenly lit up like a Christmas tree at midnight.

Don’t look…

MYOB…

Nope. Rudeness is always a distraction. And playing on your cell during any sort of meeting is rude. Plain and simple. It may not be something one wants to hear but it’s true…even if you’re in the choir loft.

We gather together on Sunday to hear the Word preached, to pray, to receive the Sacrament of Communion, to be enlightened, to draw closer to God. Church attendance is on the wane. And that’s sad enough as it is. I can respect that maybe for some of you reading this, it’s not Jesus but maybe Allah or Buddha or some other deity or Higher Power. I’m okay with that. This isn’t a my-religion-is-better-than-yours-and-everyone-has-to-conform-to-it blog post. This is a simple plea to those who still consider themselves practicing Christians to show some respect to their fellow parishioners, their clergy, and even to God on Sunday morning.

No, I don’t think your cellphone is bad. But the enemy of our souls uses it to distract us from that Word when we allow the temptation to check email during service to overcome our sense of decency and courtesy. And, no, I’m not the pillar of etiquette; Miss Manners has nothing to fear. But I can’t help thinking that our obsession with social media is causing an even greater division between us and our Creator. When we can’t even sit quietly, politely, and listen for just an hour or two on a Sunday morning, what does that say about our faith?

Granted, I give everyone who attends each week high marks just for being there…at least in the flesh. But, unless there is truly an emergency somewhere that you must attend, is it too much to ask that you attend in heart, mind and spirit also? Your cellphone, the emails, tweets, and messages will still be there in an hour. And, in the meantime, you will have received the best message of all–the message of salvation from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

May God bless you & keep you!

Have a Coke and a Smile

I think I was in high school–or not long after–when Coca-Cola came out with that slogan: Have a Coke and a Smile. Considering all the sugar in it, the high fructose corn syrup, it’s a wonder anyone drinking it has a healthy tooth in their head with which to smile. I wasn’t as health-conscious back in high school; a glass of Coca-Cola was a treat from time to time. Today, with the Irritable Bowel Syndrome, any soft drink puts me in a world of hurt. But today, I bought a single-serve bottle of Coke.

Just not to drink.

Reducing my carbon footprint has been an ongoing goal of mine ever since I worked in Corporate America. The two hour commute weighed heavily on me. I wanted to work closer to home so that I could walk. Or pedal push. And yet, four years’ ago, when I started working at a local car dealership that is less than two miles’ away (yeah, there’s an oxymoron for you…), I continued to drive. It wasn’t until circumstances forced me to start hoofing it that I actually got up the gumption to start doing it. Granted, I work evenings so safety is a bit of an issue. It’s the whole single-female-walking-alone-in-the-dark-past-fields-of-corn thing. No, I don’t expect children bearing scythes and other sharp, servering objects to come popping out at me, but it does take a bit of nerve…or it did until we set the clocks ahead and now the sun stays up long enough for me to reach home again. There is also a safety issue in that there are no sidewalks beyond the local super Walmart so at least a mile of that walk is spent in the breakdown lane. Not the most operative choice, if I do say so myself.

Pedal-pushing would be much better. But, underemployment, as that evening job at the dealership is part-time, is making that adult-sized tricycle a bit out of reach at the moment. I’m opting for the trike because it is also a cargo bike. There is a big basket that sits between the two back wheels for hauling groceries and pet feed and such home. This would certainly beat lugging heavy bags home by hand. And Walmart will also assemble it for me when I walk down to pick it up. So, a future goal. For now, I make do with what is.

I won a bicycle many years’ ago. Granted, it’s not a cargo bike. It’s not even a tricycle. It’s a simple, two-wheeler…a vintage-style Schwinn, single “gear”, with the brake down by the pedal rather than the hand brakes that usually grace modern bicycle handlebars (picture the bike Margaret Hamilton rode in “The Wizard of Oz”…before she graduated to a broomstick).

I won it…and it has sat collecting dust and rust in the soon-to-be new barn ever since. Oh, I’ve pulled it out a time or two, pumped up the softened tires as needed and given it a whirl here or there. I simply don’t have a lot of confidence in my balancing ability (I’m a bit of a klutz) and I’ve allowed it to intimidate me–especially the prospect of riding it on Interstate 6! But necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, so this morning I pulled it out of its enforced retirement and gave the chain a good drink of WD-40. Then I pumped up the front tire that had gone flat and am now waiting to see if it holds the air or if the inner-tube needs replacing. Sadly, the handlebars had rusted quite a bit in storage. What to do?

My very first bicycle was a hand-me-down from my maternal grandfather. It had belonged to one of my aunts who had since graduated to a 10-speed. Like this vintage-Schwinn, her old bicycle had sat in the basement for some time and had rusted. My grandfather took some Coca-Cola, and a bit of aluminum foil, and took the rust off with it. I wondered if it would work for this bicycle, too. We didn’t have aluminum foil. And I wasn’t about to buy a roll of it just to see if I could remove some rust. I also wasn’t buying a whole 2-liter bottle of Coke. A single-serve size would do…along with a piece of steel wool we had under the sink for cleaning the pots and pans.

It only took seconds to see that, yes, the Coca-Cola was taking that rust right off of those handlebars. In less than 15 minutes I had removed every inch of rust from those handlebars, rinsed it with water, and polished it up with a soft cloth. It looks like a new bike. The Coke worked like a charm…and I only used a small portion of what was in the bottle.

As Mom sipped the remainder of it, I wondered what does it do to our insides?

May God bless you & keep you!

Violet Syrup

That name alone was enough to catch my attention last spring. I’ve heard of sugared violets before, for decorating cakes, but never violet syrup. But the blog I was reading and following added a post about gathering wild violets and making a syrup out of them. This young mother would make quite a number of quarts from them to be used on pancakes and waffles and such; her children loved it. I was intrigued.

Of course, by the time I’d read the post–perpetually always a few days to a week behind on my reading–the carpet of violets that cover a good portion of my property were out of bloom. I have been waiting patiently for this spring to gather some and give it a whirl.

And I almost missed them again.

Northeastern Connecticut has been inundated with rain. Rain. And more RAIN. I shouldn’t lament; my well is getting a good replenishing. But who wants to pick flowers in a deluge? Sure, and I could consider the adventure of it but, when the rain is pouring down like that, I’d rather curl up with a good book and a cup of tea. And I confess I’ve indulged that desire a bit over the last few days.

Today it was back to business as usual though. The sun is shining and the forecast is for upper-70’s to mid-80’s over the next few days. Suddenly, that “blah” feeling I tend to experience when it rains steady for too long, has gone away and I’m charged again.

So I picked some violets.

The recipe I have calls for 1 cup of the flower heads to 4 cups of sugar. But you have to brew the flowers in 4 cups of hot water for 30 minutes on up to 8 hours (or overnight) and then slowly melt the sugar into the heated violet “tea”. The recipe says it will not be the pretty purple you expect until you add a bit of lemon juice…a little bit at a time. Right now my “tea” is a lovely green. It even smells green…with a hint of violet. It is hard to imagine a few squirts of lemon will change that to a purple later on but we shall see…who am I to question the logic of chemistry? Or the allure of magick?

May God bless you & keep you!

Chive Talking

“And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day.” Genesis 1:11-13

I’ve been spending a little time each morning, building more raised beds, adding compost to the beds and, after mucking out chicken coops and rabbit cages and such, starting some new compost. Earlier this week, as I was transferring some of that compost into the new beds, I let out a “whoop!” that brought Mom to the door with a scowl!!??! Even when I explained my elation–the discovery of dozens of red wigglers in that compost pile–I could tell she didn’t quite “get it” as she shook her head and walked away. Even my assurance that worms in the compost bin are a very good thing didn’t convince her. She still thinks I’m addled. Worms aren’t her thing.

Oh, well. I refuse to let it daunt me.

Of course, some of the already established beds also got a dressing of this composted rabbit waste…with worms. I have a small bed about equal distance between the front and the side doors of the house. And my chives are up in it.

I love chives. I love the flavor they impart in cooking, as well as their aroma. They make a nice addition to salads. And I usually eat one raw coming out of the garden. Fresh like that, they really pack a punch. But my favorite use is in my favorite winter casserole: Spinach Mashed Potatoes. The recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of chives; mine are usually “heaping” tablespoons but it’s all good. Usually I buy them dried from a local herb store as I haven’t quite mastered the art of drying them with a food dehydrator–until Tuesday of this week. It took a couple of tries; the first batch I cut and spread on the screen turned brown and lifeless using the recommended drying time. So I cut the time in half and voila! I have a half-pint jar of chives and will be drying another half-pint this weekend. So I’m feeling a little victory here. And this is one that even Mom can relate to a bit.

As I love chives so much for cooking, the herbalist in me has never really looked into them as a potential medicine. But, before writing this blog entry, I did do some research in some of my herbals. Not much there either except in Juliette de Bairacli Levy’s “Herbal Handbook for the Farm and Stable”. She recommends sprinkling some cut up chives into animal feed for the “expulsion of worms.” (Good thing the chives are well away from that wormy compost pile…)

And, unlike many cooks, I have no aversion to sharing that recipe for Spinach Mashed Potatoes; good food is meant to be shared.

SPINACH MASHED POTATOES

6 large or 8 medium potatoes, peeled and diced (if using white potatoes; if red-skinned, may leave the skins on them).
1 10 ounce package (or equivalent from garden) of spinach
8 oz. package of shredded cheddar cheese (or, an 8 oz block of cheddar and shred it yourself; usually about 50 cents cheaper (eh, I am ever the frugal fanatic…))
1 stick of butter
1/4 cup of sour cream
2 tbsp. chives
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. dill
1/8 tsp. black pepper
pinch of salt, to taste

Boil potatoes until tender. Drain. Add stick of butter, sour cream, sugar, black pepper and pinch of salt; mash (will be very creamy) In large skillet saute spinach, chives and dill in olive oil until just wilted. Fold into mashed potatoes until well mixed then fold potato and spinach mixture into casserole dish. Sprinkle cheese over the top and back in the oven for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Enjoy!

May God bless you & keep you!

References

De Bairacli Levy, J. (1952) “The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable.” Faber and Faber Limited, London,
England.

A Part of the Whole

“As God’s messenger I give each of you God’s warning: Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you. Just as there are many parts to our bodies, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of it, and it takes every one of us to make it complete, for we each have different work to do. So we belong to each other, and each needs all the others.” Romans 12:3-5

In this journey of healing and homesteading, it shouldn’t be any surprise to myself that I often measure my worth by what I have accomplished each day. I pressure myself constantly to do more, over-crowding my life until I squeeze all of the, well, life out of it. And I drive myself bananas trying to fit that 30 hour day into a 24 hour time frame. As I blogged about yesterday, growing up with an alcoholic in the home, unreasonable expectations were placed upon me.

In high school, and for several years after, my dream was to be a heavy metal rock star. I wanted to be on that stage, playing my guitar, being viewed as the best of the best. I was driven to find some worth in myself and, despite having a beloved grandfather as a mentor with my writing, that wasn’t an acceptable career in those days; a metal artist was so much cooler (sorry, Poppop…). And, in my more honest moments, I know part of the musical appeal was to get under my stepfather’s skin; my father plays guitar, too.

Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon (though not a metal band), George Lynch of Dokken and, later, Lynch Mob fame, and Yngwie Malmsteen were my heros, my mentors, if you will. And I wanted to play just like them…especially George. I also sang lead. Queen of Metal, Doro, was the major influence there. I wanted to sound just like her but she’s a powerhouse as a vocalist. My own voice, by comparison, sounded weak to my ears. As mentioned yesterday, my stepfather often taunted me about my musical aspirations. However much I practiced, it was never enough. I should work harder, practice more…if I wanted to succeed…even as he directed from the easy chair. In those earlier days, if I read an article that George Lynch practiced 8 hours a day–and, of course, this jived with my stepfather’s “advice”–then I would suddenly be killing myself trying to squeeze those 8 hours of practice around 6-8 hours of work and another 7-8 hours of sleep…and mentally beating up on myself when I failed. My younger self did not take into account that each of these artists were performing for a living. They didn’t have to go to a “day” job (though I’m sure they all had one before they “made it”).

Sadly, that vicious cycle of comparing myself to others and pushing myself to do more, because I never do “enough”, has stayed with me through the years. I recently read that author, Nora Roberts, writes 8 hours a day, every single day of the week…including holidays and vacations. I don’t know how true this is but I do know I simply don’t have 8 hours a day to give to my craft, no matter how much I may wish it or enjoy it. The best I can do is 4 hours…and that’s only if homework and homestead work don’t take priority. I still try to get to the keyboard–or at least sit with a notebook and pen–every day. Again, that’s the best I can do. I do not have the luxury of staying at home all day, everyday. I haven’t gotten that proverbial foot in the door of the writing industry enough that I can afford to stay home (and maybe some would argue that’s what’s holding me back but I’m also partial to food and shelter…for me, for Mom and for my animals). That doesn’t mean I haven’t tried to “find” 8 hours a day though. And, for anyone who has been following this blog since last August or September, you know I suddenly started setting my alarm for 3:30 a.m. after reading an article that Dolly Parton does her best writing at that hour. That fell by the wayside fast as first Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and then a bit of Chronic Epstein-Barr slapped me in the face. I work away from home evenings; I don’t get home early enough to support such an early rising. And that’s a fact. I’m now back to 5:30-6:00 a.m. And most of my writing time has been shifted to evenings, after all of my college homework and chores on the homestead are done, and the rest of the world is heading off to bed (fewer interruptions that way).

It’s the same with the homestead. In this case, my mentors are the folks at Path to Freedom. My homestead is nowhere near as developed as theirs; it’s certainly not a working farm yet. I have to constantly remind myself that this is a family working 1/5 of an acre. I have almost a full acre and, while Mom may plant a few vegetables, most of the work is mine. The Dervaes also started over 20 years ago; I’ve only just begun.

What all of this means is that the mental and emotional abuse I endured as a child and teen, I still perpetuate on myself today. I’m still not “enough”, not doing enough. And so, I see myself as less than those I might unwittingly put on the proverbial pedestal. Whenever I receive a compliment about my playing, my singing, my writing, or anything else I do, it always comes as a surprise and then a bit of discomfort that I am not deserving of the compliment. Such are the seeds of doubt planted by the alcoholic…and they are as perennial and as invasive as a blade of couch grass.

The truth of the matter is that my perception of self is actually quite skewered. I may not get up at 3:30 anymore, or write a full 8 hours each day, but I continue to maintain a 4.0 GPA in a creative writing degree program. I have been published before; have had a couple of professors encourage me to try publishing some of what I’ve written for class, and I’ve managed to attract a following of over 500 people with this blog in less than a year’s time. Once, while practicing with the folk group at church for our Christmas program, I was admonished by the choir director to sing softer. Our objective was to sing the Baby Jesus to sleep…not wake the dead. So much for that “weak” voice. And, many years back, my second husband’s nephew gave me quite a compliment when his mother pooh-poohed my guitar playing and he exclaimed, “But you haven’t heard Auntie Lisa play!” And, of course, having grown up with alcoholism in the home, my mind immediately rejected the compliment.

“One evening I was taken by surprise when another member complimented me. I was very uncomfortable with this gesture of kindness, feeling inside that I didn’t deserve it. When I tried to talk her out of her kind words, she refused to take them back.” (Courage to Change, 1992, p. 130).

Ironically, it is a young adult fiction story that has helped me to accept and appreciate who I am. It is a novel by author, Karen Cushman, called “Catherine Called Birdy” in which a young woman in medieval times seeks to find her purpose in life by trying to be an artist, running away with a circus (or maybe it was a fair; been awhile) and various other projects. In the story, Catherine trails a Jewish family and the old grandmother finally gets her to open up about why she wants to join their traveling show. I’m going to paraphrase a bit but the old woman admonished her that when she got to the pearly gates of heaven, she wouldn’t be asked why she wasn’t an artist, or a dancer, or someone else. She would be asked why she wasn’t Catherine. It doesn’t matter that I don’t play like George Lynch, sing like Doro, have a fully-working homestead like the Dervaes or write for 8 hours like Nora. I sing, play, write and homestead like me. Like that part of Christ’s body, as He intended.

May God bless you & keep you!

References

Al-Anon Family Groups, (1992). “Courage to Change.” Al_Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc, Virginia Beach, VA.

Cushman, K. (1994). “Catherine Called Birdy.” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, MA.