Gluten Free

I watched this video this morning (the link is below…) and felt a nagging little tug. I have many of the symptoms of gluten sensitivity but, as the video describes, sometimes the tests come back negative and, even when they come back positive, switching to a gluten-free diet doesn’t always completely solve the problem (though it is a huge step in the right direction). I also went to this physician’s website and, when I can afford to, I may become a certified gluten practitioner–I can’t think of a better service to offer as a holistic healthcare practitioner. Our diets are killing us. And, while no one achieves immortality, I think enjoying a better quality of life while we are on this planet is worth striving for.

I think it was Confucius who said, “You are what you eat.” We eat a lot of garbage. Some of it comes from the food industry itself with its packaged this and processed that, and its long list of preservatives few can pronounce without babbling. It is in our water and our soil, both necessary for growing the foods our bodies need to eat, from chemical fertilizers and pesticides. There is also something in the process of even so-called natural foods that can affect our health adversely. No, please don’t give up eating entirely but more and more we are hearing about gluten sensitivity. Gluten is found in most breads, cereals and pastas–even whole wheat varieties that are considered healthier for us. And it is being linked to autoimmune diseases such as Celiac’s Disease, Crohn’s Disease, Lupus, even Alzheimer’s and Diabetes (O’Bryan). And, while the media tends to link it primarily to wheat, it is also found in rye, barley and triticale.

So what is gluten? I found two separate definitions online. One: A substance present in cereal grains, especially wheat, that is responsible for the elastic texture of dough. A mixture of two proteins, it causes illness in people with Celiac’s Disease (pretty generic). And two: The tough, viscid, nitrogenous substance remaining when the flour of wheat or other grains (barley, rye, triticale) is washed to remove the starch. In other words, if this latter definition is correct, it is already naturally in grains but it can also be purchased separately for the creation of greater elasticity in breads and pastas, and is often added to our processed, packaged diets. I actually bought a box several years ago–before I knew what it was–for bread making. It was right there on the shelf in the baking section of the supermarket. So it is a common ingredient. The danger is that our modern diets have been inundated with it so much that our bodies cannot handle the overload. It all comes back to that old adage: Everything in moderation. Of course, if you’ve already been diagnosed as gluten-sensitive, or worse, with Celiac’s Disease, going gluten-free is now the more sensible choice.

Dr. Tom O’Bryan has written a book entitled, “The Autoimmune Fix”. I have not read it yet but it will definitely be on order soon. Does this mean that it will suddenly become gospel? No. But knowledge is power. And it doesn’t hurt to learn as much as we can about what we are putting into our bodies.

May God bless you & keep you!

http://www.mindmovies.com/inspirationshow.php?episode=461
http://www.theDr.com (this is his website with more information on this subject)

Tightwad Tuesday

I think I created a post a couple of years back about frugality but it bears repeating. We live in a culture where everything bigger, or more of something, is better. It is natural to want more in life. But when so many people are in debt up to their ears because they have far too many credit cards; they allowed that real estate agent to up-sale them into a house they couldn’t afford or, I cringe as I type this as I work for a car dealership, but up-sales are a part of that world, too. As their photographer, I spend a good part of the afternoon driving around the parking lot in brand new cars–I don’t even own a car right now! So put me in the seat of that Silverado High Country–and, believe me, Premier has some sweet trucks in their lot right now–and I’m practically salivating…and this summer’s 90+ temperatures have nothing to do with it. However, I’m already eating a lot of pasta and beans, and PB&J for lunch; I refuse to take the Crazy Cat Lady a step further and start dining with the felines as, sadly, many do. And no, that real estate agent or salesperson isn’t inherently evil in trying to up-sale you a higher-priced item. A bigger sale means a bigger commission and they have to eat, too. Without those commissions, they’re barely scraping minimum wage. But keeping your head instead of letting emotion drive your decisions is a discipline worth learning. The salesperson will still earn a commission on the item you can afford but you won’t be re-mortgaging or filing bankruptcy later on. Take it from one who knows: debt hurts.

Years ago, a gentleman that I was dating made a good point about something. He was incredibly frugal about his necessary living expenses: housing, food, utilities and yet he indulged in extravagances. But, as he pointed out, because he conserved so well on the essentials–and he didn’t starve or freeze during the winter months; quite the contrary, he had updated his home to be super energy efficient and so it stayed toasty warm all season–he could afford a few luxuries. He could indulge in many of his interests. And so, he actually lived a bit better than most because he was careful with his expenses and, when he made an investment, he did so with the future in mind. He also tithed regularly, had a healthy retirement fund and a savings. These last three are key. Without some sort of savings, you automatically have to go into debt when something breaks or needs replacing. Without a retirement or 401K, what will you do when you grow too old and infirm to work 40+ hours a week? And He only asks for a tithe = 10%; you get to keep 90%.

Of course, Super Tightwad here–and, no, that doesn’t equal “cheap”; your birthday gift may have been purchased on sale but it didn’t come out of the gumball machine–weighs everything. Whether it is a necessity or an indulgence, I carefully weigh it. I’ve been known to take field trips to the supermarket to price all of the fixings for a veggie burger at Burger King (i.e. condiments, lettuce, tomato, etc) vs. one made at home with all of the trim; the cost was nearly doubled. When you realize what you’re really spending, how convenient is it? I know I’ve posted before that Amy Dacyczyn’s “Tightwad Gazette” is one of my secular bibles. When I first started reading it, the first thing that happened was she changed my mind about how I viewed frugality. I grew up in a home with a very modest income. Of course, my stepfather’s penchant for the bottle had a lot to do with our financial status and there was as much shame attached to his behavior as there was to the hand-me-downs and goodwill visits. In the “Tightwad Gazette”, however, Ms. Dacyczyn points out how, for example, we buy brand new clothes and, within a few months to a year, we either relegate them to the back of the closet where they never see the light of day again or we discard them. In fact, discarded clothing makes up a large bulk of our landfills so overcoming even this one fetish for the latest fashions would solve another problem in our society. She relates a story about buying a pair of boots second-hand for her daughter. They were the right brand but the color was “wrong”. Well, her daughter wore them to school, despite the “wrong” color, and came home raving about how everyone loved the boots in this unique color. I am not at all ashamed to admit that when I decide I “need” a new skirt or blouse, I shop at the thrift store FIRST (intimate apparel and shoes are the exceptions). It’s all about perception. If you can look at frugality as a skill, an art, maybe even as something fun–a game to be played in the marketplace, it takes away the stigma our society has attached to thrift. And who doesn’t love a few extra dollars in their pocket?

Maybe it is natural to want more. I’m thinking that’s just another myth we’ve been brainwashed by our media to believe. I know I quote HGTV a lot but they are a good example of the societal mindset. In my not-so-humble opinion, nobody needs 5000 square feet of living space unless your last name is Duggar and you’ve got 19+ kids in tow. Even then, I would question it. You see a lot of waste on HGTV, a lot of spoiled, superficial people (or seemingly so) who have to rip out the “dated” kitchen and replace everything. Okay. Maybe the refrigerator is old and inefficient. That would make sense. But a coat of paint on the cabinets would give the room a fresh, new look without sending a lot of composites and laminates to the landfills…or without emptying your wallet. I also quote tiny houses a lot. No, not everyone could live in a space 400 square feet or less, but they do provide some great examples of how to maximize living space so that maybe 1000 square feet instead of the 3000 square-foot McMansion will suffice–without one feeling deprived. The tiny house movement forces us to look at life from the perspective of “what do we need” vs. “how fast can I keep up with the jones'”? And, as they quote a few tiny house builders and/or buyers in their advertisements, the mindset is to save more on the cost of living so you can afford to live life–to spend more quality time with family and friends rather than in the office working overtime to pay for the 3000 square feet; to get outdoors and spend more time in nature; to spend more time playing sports, attending concerts or going to the theatre–whatever your passion. When you look at how much you sacrifice in memories, in good health and happy, relaxing experiences, the cost goes even higher.

May God bless you & keep you!

Works Cited

Dacyczyn, A. The Tightwad Gazette. Villard Books, New York: 1993.

Monet I Am Not

I added a brief blurb to one of last week’s posts about starting a mural on the wall of my home office. This is the one room of the house I have never painted in all the years I have lived here. I’m not sure why–and it certainly could use a coat of paint–but somehow the unpainted, unfinished walls add a sort of creative aesthetic to the room. A blank but less-than-perfect slate upon which to feed the creative genius. Last week, I painted the sky and the grass. This week I added details.

I am painting my dream life, my dream property in Maine. You see, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about manifesting, using creative visualization to manifest what you hope to achieve. I have several vision boards in the office, on the refrigerator, and even on the cork board next to my desk at work. For those of you unfamiliar with vision boards, a vision board is a collage of images of your heart’s desire. Mine have a wild assortment of goats, sheep, rabbits and Border Collies, as well as an array of antique furniture, spinning wheels, looms, beehives, and herb and vegetable gardens. You can add affirmations to them, too. The idea is to surround yourself with these constant reminders of where you want to be. I even have one with the image of a manual typewriter with an affirmation beside it that reads: I am a professional writer. Eh, whatever motivates you. And the mural is simply a larger vision board–one that I am putting a lot of passion and creative energy into as I improve upon my drawing and painting skills. (I read somewhere that this really helps with the manifestation process; it doesn’t hurt to try)

Painting a wall a single color is actually kind of boring to me. I know many contractors and house painters who find it meditative but I need more detail. Painting a scene on a bit of canvas is meditative for me–as long as I can still the inner critic. But that’s actually not hard to do as I paint simply for enjoyment. When I write, the critic comes out. Though I enjoy writing, too, I tend to forget the rule of thumb about not expecting your first draft to be bestseller material. It won’t be. Accept it. When I paint, though most of the details I’ve added to the mural are pretty easy to figure out, I am definitely not a Monet. And that’s okay…even if it is occupying the whole wall in my home office. Though not a Monet, it does look like a bit of folk art, with a whimsical willow tree over a sea cliff, and some fruit trees that look like they stepped out of a Tim Burton movie. Once I add some leaves and the actual fruit, these skeletal monsters will look a bit more benign. As for the animals? I think I am going to have to find some “how-to” books or websites; my artistic skills need a little honing before I add them to the wall. I can do a passable cat, rabbit, sheep and even a horse but my chickens, ducks and goats leave a lot to be desired.

All in all, it was a great way to spend an afternoon. I went into that proverbial “zone” for a few hours and found true relaxation, something that is often sadly lacking with me as I tend to be moving in 20 different directions at once. It’s nice to be able to focus.

May God bless you & keep you!

The Muses

As my best friend, Mary, just sent me a link to Ted Yoder’s video playing Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, and seeing as Saturday mornings are a little more rushed than the rest of the week (most days I go into work at 2:30 p.m.; Saturdays it is 8 a.m.), I thought this might be a little fun.

I picked up the guitar for the first time at age 15, have been singing for almost as long and, more recently, picked up the Appalachian Dulcimer. I would love to learn the Hammered Dulcimer, as Mr. Yoder is playing in the video, as well as the Celtic harp, banjo, bowed psaltery, piano, penny whistle, ukulele, and mandolin but that’s neither here nor there. I am a firm believer in that old adage: Music is Magick. And, while the room is typically silent (i.e. no music playing) when I write, there is usually something playing when I go about my chores on the farm. Whether I’m putting together another raised bed, mucking out the goat barn, or planting some new herbs, the portable CD player is set up and is blaring out a good dose of motivation. Surprisingly, though I spent a number of years playing lead guitar and lead vocals for metal bands, my muses are an eclectic mix. Hopefully, these are some of your favorites, too:

REO Speedwagon – This has been my all-time favorite band since I was a young girl of maybe 14. Teenage hormones played a part; I had Kevin Cronin wallpaper in my room…and in my locker. But his sweet voice, combined with Gary Richrath’s searing guitar solos and some great songwriting, have kept them at the top of my list. As an aside, thanks, Hassan, for the reminder of the purple corduroy jacket I used to wear with REO boldly emblazed across the back of it; I had almost forgotten about that jacket. =)

Kate Bush – One of–if not THE–biggest selling female artist in the UK; sadly, she is not so well-known here in the US but her music is awesome. And her hits, “Wuthering Heights”, “Running Up That Hill” and “This Woman’s Work” have been re-recorded by more artists than I can shake a stick at.

Blackmore’s Night – I have loved Richie Blackmore’s music ever since Rainbow shared the stage with REO Speedwagon at the original Busch Stadium in St. Louis, MO on August 14, 1982 (Superjam ’82). Ironically, Rainbow was the one band I wasn’t looking forward to on the bill that day; I came away thinking they were second only to REO. Richie’s playing ability just can’t be denied. As for Blackmore’s Night, their second album, “Under a Violet Moon” had just been released when I found myself in a small bookstore in Danielson, CT. The owner of the store had the CD playing over the PA system and I found Candace Night’s voice to be so beautifully haunting, I forgot all about the books and had to ask him who it was. I received quite a compliment when he said I was probably too young to know who Richie Blackmore was! =) I’ve been collecting their CD’s ever since and Candace’s voice just seems to get better and better–as does her songwriting and multi-instrumental abilities.

Within Temptation – Yup. Now we get to the metal–symph metal, but metal nonetheless. I’ve only been a fan for couple of years; I went through a sort of media coma for awhile. But their songs are incredibly well-written and I’d give anything for a range like Sharon Den Adel’s. Their rendition of Kate Bush’s “Running up that Hill” is beyond any words I can find to describe it. They made it their own without taking away any of the beauty of the original–and it sounds GOOD as a metal tune. Who’d’ve thought I’d be banging my head to Kate Bush???

Doro – the Queen of Metal is always a favorite.

Dan Fogelberg – I knew his music but not as intimately as I do today until I met my second husband, Dan. He is a huge Fogelberg fan and, through him, though we have since parted, so am I. Fogelberg was one of those musical geniuses that just didn’t get the recognition they deserved. You all know at least one of his hits but the name hasn’t always stuck. And he was taken from us too soon. God bless you & keep you, Mr. Fogelberg!

Crystal Gayle – I keep hoping my locks of love will respond through some sort of weird osmosis and grow down to the floor like hers whenever I listen to her. With a Vitamin D deficiency giving me the incredible shrinking hairline, it hasn’t happened yet but I’m not giving up. And I enjoy her music even if I don’t have those incredible tresses.

Sarah Brightman – It was her light rock/easy listening CD’s that turned me on to her; who’d’ve thought this metalhead would actually take a liking to her opera CD’s as well! She has one extraordinary voice. And what an incredible duet with Kiss’ Paul Stanley on the album, Symphony: I Will Be With You (Where the Lost Ones Go). I’ve always liked Kiss but I’ve never really paid close enough attention to Paul Stanley–he has an amazing voice. And the two blend well together.

Hayley Westenra – Another with a Kate Bush re-make of “Wuthering Heights”. She does it justice though.

Francesca Battistelli – Another awesome voice, this time heading up the Christian rock genre. Her song “Beautiful” is exactly that.

Kristen Lawrence – The pipe organ set to rock and New Age. I always get a few odd looks when I listen to Lawrence as there are cats howling and church bells chiming along with the pipe organ – and who can resist a musical rendition of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”?

Vienna Teng – A little bit like Tori Amos with a little Carly Simon mixed in. She’s an extraordinary pianist with a lovely voice and tremendous songwriting ability.

Nightwish – Another metal band that delivers some great music. Loved them with Tarja fronting them–especially their re-make of Gary Moore’s “Over the Hills and Far Away”; loved them even more with Anette Olzon.

Tarja – Love her even more as a soloist

The West Girls – an obscure act; a mother and three daughters, all multi-instrumentalists who combine gospel and bluegrass, selling their CD’s off of their website, http://www.homesteadblessings.com. Somehow, you can’t not want to plant some veggies when grooving out to their single, “Green Beans in the Garden”. =)

Dolly Parton
Megadeth
Wade Hayes
Tori Amos
Flora Reed
Johnny Cash
John Denver
Olivia Newton-John
Russell Cooke
George Winston
Lorie Line
Cara Dillon
Loreena McKennett
Secret Garden
Silentium
Peter Gabriel
Lunatica
Epica
Kansas
Melanie
Escala
Abba
Jewel
Dokken
Duran Duran

Well, I think that’s it. I will probably remember more but those are the main ones. Rock on…or, for those of us homesteaders with goats and praying for sheep, Flock On!

May God bless you & keep you!

Cindy Lou

As hinted earlier this week, I have decided to make Friday’s a little different–or maybe more special–than the rest of the work week. Fridays will now be “Friday’s Flora and Fauna” and feature something on either herbs, wild edibles or simply gardening in general.

The piece I’ve added below is something I wrote back in 2010. I had originally posted it here but, at the time, I didn’t have as much confidence in myself–or herbs–and, when a reader challenged some of the information here, I actually deleted it off my blog. I’m a little more confident now and this bears repeating. And I know I have a slip of paper somewhere in this mess I call an office that has a good, official FDA disclaimer but I can’t find it at the moment. But it goes along the line of “The FDA has not evaluated any of the claims contained herein nor is this information intended to replace regular medical treatment from a licensed physician/veterinarian.” It may not be a perfect paraphrase but I think most individuals will get it. I hope you will enjoy reading it. When you work with herbs, and when you’ve tried something and found it to work, you want to share it with others. This is information only. =) God bless you & keep you!

I learned about herbalist Juliette de Bairacli Levy in the summer of 2007 while taking Apollo Herbs’ Herbal Apprentice course in Lincoln, Rhode Island. Instructor Michael Ford showed “Juliette of the Herbs”, a documentary about this extraordinary woman’s life, during one of his workshops. She became an instant inspiration in my life. I ordered my own copy of “Juliette of the Herbs”; by now, it is practically memorized but I never get tired of viewing it. I also ordered two of her books, “The Herbal Handbook for the Farm and Stable” and “The Herbal Handbook for the Dog and Cat”. I read them both, thought ‘What a wealth of knowledge’ and, for some reason, simply tossed them on the shelf. It wasn’t until October 2009 that I put them to use.

I raise rabbits—primarily Angoras for hand-spinning but I also have two Mini-Rexes and a Holland Lop named Cindy Lou. They are beloved pets. One of the challenges in raising rabbits is the difficulty finding a.) a veterinarian who is willing to examine/treat a rabbit and b.) a veterinarian who is actually experienced with treating and/or caring for them. Both, in my experience, are equally difficult to come by.

Now, I am not dissing the veterinary field. I have two very good friends who work in this field and I have met many good doctors along the way. But rabbits are tricky to begin with. There are very few medications that can be administered to them and they do not often respond well to the prescribed treatments. Add to that the cost of these veterinary services and, as a homesteader, I sometimes question the wisdom of raising rabbits. Fortunately, the “perks” to raising them greatly outweigh any inconvenience.

It was in October 2009 that my Holland Lop, Cindy Lou, suddenly went off her feed. Considering her age of almost 7, I immediately thought it might be her teeth as malocclusion, when a rabbit’s teeth do not wear down properly, is a common ailment in aging rabbits. If it is not treated, and the front teeth are allowed to become overgrown, the end result can be death from starvation as it makes it impossible to chew. I took her to the local vet who is well-versed in basic rabbit care (i.e. spaying, neutering, minor ailments). He, too, suspected Cindy’s teeth were the problem but was honest enough to admit this was beyond his level of expertise. He recommended I call the shelter where I had adopted Cindy and ask them to refer me to a veterinarian who could help. I was referred to a gentleman in Exeter, RI and, upon calling his office, received an immediate appointment.

By this time, though it had only been a day or two, Cindy was exhibiting new symptoms. These included painful urination—Cindy would continue to back up, trying to pass her urine, straining in the attempt—her backside was soaking, I was noticing the early signs of urine scalding (similar to diaper rash) on her hindquarters and her stool was barely the size of a piece of barley. Her stomach was round and distended. Also, though some breeds of rabbit often have reddish urine, Cindy’s was bright red and there was a pungent smell to it. The doctor ran x-rays, did a urine analysis and took blood samples. He also checked her teeth, which he found to be in good shape especially considering her age. Instead, he found a large mass of something—he couldn’t determine if it was wool-block or some other obstruction—in her intestinal tract. He was fairly certain she also had either a urinary tract infection or a kidney infection. He prescribed a medication to help relieve the mass in her intestines and an antibiotic to help kill the infection. Cindy was to take the antibiotics for 10 days. If her symptoms were not relieved, I was instructed to bring her back. I left his office $400 lighter in the pocket.

Now, I love my rabbits dearly and would do almost anything to help them but I was also on a shoestring budget. The $400 for Cindy’s first exam had come out of the mortgage payment (fortunately, I was slightly ahead and had enough time to try and recoup…); I prayed hard that her symptoms would clear up with these antibiotics and she would not need a return visit.

The medication prescribed to clear the “mass” in her intestines worked and her stool got a little bigger, her abdomen lost some of its “bloated” look. But the antibiotics weren’t working. I took Cindy back and was prescribed a different antibiotic. That, too, failed. Cindy went down to skin and bones; her spinal column was sticking out enough that you could feel and count each vertebrae. I was losing my little buddy. It was about 10 days after that first visit to Exeter that I looked at Cindy and thought, ‘She’s not going to be here tomorrow and there’s nothing I can do about it’. But I refused to give up.

Out of desperation, I turned to Juliette’s books.

And the only information I found on rabbits was about feeding them to your dogs! However, rabbits and horses have very similar digestive and intestinal structures so I turned to “The Herbal Handbook for the Farm and Stable” and started reading about—as Juliette termed it “inflammation of the kidneys” in horses. The symptoms were almost verbatim what Cindy was experiencing. And, fortunately, Cindy’s human is an herbalist, having all of the herbs Juliette recommended for treatment in my pantry.

I started with a parsley drench—basically, an infusion (prepare same as a cup of tea placing parsley (Petroselinum sativum) in a tea ball and steeping for approx. 20 minutes). Because Cindy is much smaller than a horse, the dosage was significantly decreased but I brewed the tea, added a small drop of honey (as prescribed by Juliette in her book), and after it had cooled, began filling an oral syringe with the liquid, feeding it to her as much as she could take every few hours. By morning, I was already seeing results. Cindy was able to pass her urine again. The second day, I continued the parsley tea. I also brewed hops (Humulus lupulus) (again as a tea), then prepared a third tea of dried nettles (Urtica diorca) and, after it cooled, added the latter to some cooked barley and a jar of strained carrots (baby food). I had my doubts about these last two. Cindy, though she will head butt me and give me little bunny kisses, is not keen on being picked up and the hops’ tea was for a compress that was to be laid across her abdomen. All I could think of was ‘she’s never going to allow this’. In addition to the 3 teas I had started brewing, Cindy’s hindquarters needed bathing and a treatment of “bunny salve” (my own creation that I came up with during my herbal apprenticeship with Apollo Herbs, the primary ingredients being plantain (Plantago spp.) and comfrey (Symphytum officinale) in a base of beeswax). The nettle tea with barley and carrots was simply to be added as part of Cindy’s dinner. Again, I thought ‘she’s not going to like this and I’m going to have to force feed her’.

Cindy proved me wrong on both counts.

She didn’t like the bath in warm water but her legs and lower belly were soaked with urine and she really needed the clean-up. I had a clean wash cloth soaking in the hops’ tea. I took Cindy out of the bath, wrapped her in a clean towel and began patting her dry. She had actually lost some of her fur from this ordeal and I could see the chafing of her skin. I took the bunny salve and gently rubbed it in then wrung out the hops’ soaked washcloth. Cindy was struggling during the bathing and the salve application and my doubts were escalating, wondering how much good this compress was going to do for her if I couldn’t get her to sit still for it. But the moment I laid the compress across her still slightly-rounded belly, Cindy’s face took on an almost human expression of relief. She just relaxed back and let me hold it there. She didn’t struggle or put up any fuss and I was actually able to apply a second coating of bunny salve to her hindquarters without her objecting.

And she gobbled the nettles, barley and carrot combination down like it was the best thing in the world. It was like she knew this was what her body needed.

Within 48 hours of starting this treatment, Cindy’s appetite had returned with a vengeance. She began eating her regular food again; her stool was back to normal size and of greater, healthier quantity; there was no more soaking of her hindquarters or straining when she went to the bathroom. Within a week, she started filling out again and there was even a bit of “peach fuzz” where she had lost the fur.

It is over a year later and 8 year old Cindy Lou is still with me. After her recovery, though she has always been a little bit “sassy”, she has become more so but also more affectionate.

Juliette’s books have become for me a sort of herbal “bible”; they haven’t failed me yet and I’m enjoying the challenge of learning more about treating my animals with herbal remedies. I still have a healthy respect for the veterinary field and know there are some conditions that simply can’t be treated with herbs, but this knowledge is so empowering! And, best of all, it is yet another stepping stone along the road to self-sufficiency.

Works Cited

De Bairacli Levy, Juliette. The Herbal Handbook for the Farm and Stable. Faber and Faber Limited, London: 1952.

It All Started with Dreams of Goats and Sheep

My favorite part of the St. Louis Zoo was the children’s petting zoo, especially the area where all the kids and lambs were kept. I could have stayed there all day. We went to the zoo a lot in the summer months so at least I got frequent visits where I could feed my growing obsession. In between visits, I would fantasize about having goats and sheep of my own. It’s funny because I never saw this enormous farm. It was always a smaller place with just enough room for a small herd. And I always had a garden full of herbs and flowers–the Botanical Gardens were another favorite place to visit as a kid. I would even imagine myself in later years as an old woman with that herd of goats and sheep, and a yard full of flowers, herbs and vegetables. I can’t think of a better way to retire someday but I am working towards making that dream come true now. That old woman of myself was happily settled.

It started with the petting zoo. Books fueled it further. When my family relocated from Rhode Island to St. Louis, Missouri in December 1978, I felt completely lost. I missed my family. Granted, my stepfather’s family welcomed me as their own and I’ve been blessed with a third “set” of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins that I love dearly. It’s just the place where you’re born always has a special tug, no matter where you end up later in life. And I was convinced there would be at least one family member I would lose before we returned East again. You see, I lost my paternal grandfather shortly after we relocated the first time in December 1974. He was probably my biggest influence. He was a writer and a musician and he gave me a love of learning that I cherish to this day. He started teaching me chess at the tender age of 3–well enough that I held my own in a chess club against some with trophies bigger than houses, though I’ve never had an interest in competing; I enjoy the game just because it’s fun and requires one’s total absorption. My family managed to move back East just before Poppop’s passing in April 1975. Nanny, my paternal grandmother, passed almost a year to the day after Poppop and things were never quite the same in my world. Somehow it stuck in my head that major moves like that would result in losing someone dear again. And I did. My Uncle Jimmy was killed in a car accident 6 months’ after that second relocation in May 1979. We were only 4 years apart in age and our birthdays just 2 days’ apart. Mom and Grandma Heon would have a cake for us both on the day in between our birthdays. Anyway, at 12 years old, this was just too much grief and homesickness to deal with so books became my solace.

I remember being in Ms. Borden’s 7th grade class and picking up Elizabeth George Speare’s “The Witch of Blackbird Pond”. It was set in New England–Connecticut, more specifically–and the vivid descriptions of a Puritan village (I had already visited Sturbridge on a field trip and fallen in love…) and autumn foliage and the smell of salty sea air brought home a little closer to me. Maybe that’s where the dreams of myself being a little old lady with a bunch of goats really came from as the character of Hannah Tupper lives alone in her little dilapidated cottage with her goats and her cats (I am sort of in line for that title of “Crazy Cat Lady”…). She reminded me of another elderly woman who lived across the street from my maternal grandparents. Her name was Mae. And I know her last name but I am not sure of the spelling so please forgive the lack of etiquette. Anyway, this book became a major part of my life. I still have a copy. And I cannot count the number of times I have read it.

“Those Miller Girls” by Alberta Wilson Constant was another that captured my heart at that tender age. Though it was not set in New England like “The Witch of Blackbird Pond”, Swish the Goat was a major supporting character–at least in my book he was. This seemed to be a theme to my early readings. Ironically, I didn’t read “Heidi” until my early 40’s!

A couple of years later Mom had enrolled in the Doubleday Book Club. One of the first books she received was entitled, “The Tiger’s Woman” by Celeste De Blasis. Unlike “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” and “Those Miller Girls”, it did not feature any goats, though there were plenty of sheep. And this was not a young adult reader. If Mom had known the very adult content, she probably would have prohibited me from reading it at 14 years of age; the bedroom scenes were quite explicit. But this book actually became a major catalyst in my life as the lead character of Sarah-Mary Drake and I shared a common childhood: we both had fathers (in my case, stepfather) who wanted too much to do with us. I suddenly felt less alone in the world but, more importantly, the influence that this book in particular had on my life still has the power to astound me: my love of Newfoundlands from the character of Captain; my determination to learn American Sign Language from the characters of Maggie and Ben; Sarah-Mary learns gardening, spinning, weaving, breadmaking–all of the myriad aspects that make up homesteading. A later book by Celeste De Blasis, entitled “Wild Swan”, had almost as much of an impact as the lead character, Alexandria, is an herbalist, as is her grandmother, Virginia. The vivid descriptions of Virginia’s English herb garden stuck with me and put me in mind of Mae, too. Though I don’t recall Mae having an herb garden, she did know her plants, her herbs. Mom cured a case of pink eye (conjunctivitis) in me using a decoction of spearmint leaves, a remedy that she learned from Mae when she was a child.

I am definitely older now. Not sure if I’m any wiser. But copies of these books stand on the shelf of my library, tattered and torn, the bindings cracked, the pages yellowed from their many handlings over the years. Every once in awhile, I feel a need to re-visit some old friends and mentors, and remember the solace these cherished volumes provided for a lost and lonely little girl. It could be, too, that they’re simply some well-written stories with some vivid and memorable characters. I admit, if I can write just one complete novel with even half of the dynamics that Celeste De Blasis put into her novels, I will consider myself a success as a writer. She was an extraordinary author…even if she didn’t feature any goats in her novels.

Almost 40 years later, I am still in love with Swish the Goat. And I still linger overlong in the petting zoos.

May God bless you & keep you!

Motivation

The antithesis of motivation is avoidance. I have been sitting here for over 1/2 hour going through unimportant emails–the Linked In connection prompts; advertisements from certain companies/organizations I’ve been in touch with in the past; coupons that I probably won’t use, etc. One of my new textbooks touches on this, that as writers, we often tend to avoid writing. I suppose it’s not so very different from any other passion or skill. How many students of piano lessons avoid practicing? Or runners/joggers become “lazy” and stay in on that chilly winter morning? The textbook says to write anyway and that writer’s block doesn’t really exist, that it’s “a fabrication, an excuse that allows you to ignore the problem you’re having with your story” (Dufresne 22). My problem this morning is the blank slate that is my mind for the moment. But, amazingly, as I finally discipline myself enough to log into Word Press and start writing, the creative juices start flowing again.

Writers also love to read. This morning, while still in avoidance mode, I pulled a favored book off of the shelf. Favored but only read once; I’m not even sure why “only once”. So I’ve decided it’s time to read it again. If for no other reason, inspiration. The book is “One Woman Farm” by Jenna Woginrich. And it was the title that caught my eye in the first place. I happened across it in a catalog from a book club I used to belong to. Ms. Woginrich could be my long-lost sister. The pages of this book echo my dream life with very few exceptions. Ms. Woginrich raises sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, geese (I have ducks but geese are on the radar…as are the sheep), honeybees, and, when this book was written, she had just started training her first Border Collie to herd. I have avowed not to get another dog until I am ready to get sheep (which will require a bigger farm with more acreage than I currently possess…) because I want to train and work with Border Collies. “Babe” is my favorite movie and every event that I attend, be it a fair or a festival, if there are sheepdog trials or demos, I am there. My fascination with this never abates. Ms. Woginrich also grows all of her own vegetables and fruits; I’m not quite there yet but every year sees a little further expansion. This year it was the perennials: blueberries, rhubarb and asparagus. And she cans/preserves what she grows. I love doing both. No mention of herbs or making tinctures, etc. nor do I recall anything about spinning and weaving, but she’s also a musician; albeit, her instrument of choice is the fiddle; mine, the guitar and Appalachian dulcimer. Suddenly, I don’t feel quite as alone in the world.

As a homesteader, there are times when I feel like the very odd duck because most people do not seem to understand why I do what I do. I’ve heard comments about why do I want life to be so hard? Sorry. I don’t consider any of this hard; it makes me happy, actually. I hear plenty of comments about my animals. Because I am a pescetarian (vegetarian + fish), none of these animals is raised for slaughter. And I would never allow that to happen to any of them. Nor could I live on a farm where animals are being slaughtered. I know that’s where meat comes from, and I respect another’s right to eat as they choose, but it won’t be happening here. And there’s no such thing as Freezer School. My chickens and ducks give me eggs; reduce the tick and slug populations, respectively; provide sweet song and gentle chatter, laughter and love; and plenty of free fertilizer for the gardens. That is enough. They do not need to give me their lives, too. The goats are dairy goats but Felicity has not been bred. It is in the future plans, but I’m still learning basic goat care skills like hoof trimming and such; milking and midwifery will come later. The milk, cheese, soap and cosmetics that the goat’s milk will eventually provide, as well as their comical antics, affection, and, yes, more fertilizer is also enough. My rabbits, well, I’ve had 3 Angoras in the past who have provided me with lots of Angora wool. I have a spinning wheel but I haven’t mastered spinning yet; that is a work in process. The 6 rabbits that currently share this homestead with me are Lionheads. And, at present, cuddly and funny little pets who also provide plenty of fertilizer–I’m getting this composting thing down pat. (chuckle) I have considered cross-breeding them with some Angoras next spring, which I think would produce a finer wool but we shall see; one step at a time. Homesteading is a work in process. Always. You are always improving, always thinking of new ways to increase your yields, to reduce your waste and your carbon footprint, to become more self-sufficient. But the one thing I hear most–especially from Mom–is “I do too much”. Interestingly, Jenna Woginrich has a section entitled just that. Her words echo my thoughts and feelings entirely:

I have too many hobbies, too many obligations, and too many animals holding me down on this farm. Sometimes I believe this. Sometimes. If I just kept a few chickens and some raised beds with a couple or three sheep, life would be easier.

And I would be miserable.

I do what I do because it fills my mind, body and spirit. I live in this frenzy of activity not as a victim but as a celebrant…some days are overwhelming and scary, and those words “too much” haunt me like ghosts. They keep me up at night. But every morning I know what I am capable of, and what this farm stands for. What feels like fear today is inspiration tomorrow and nostalgia around the fireside in a season.

I’ll figure out the mortgage, the freelance, the bills, the manuscripts, and the workshops…It’s not what I have taken on that scares me, it’s that I’m not doing enough. Not doing enough to make this farm work, to make myself healthy, to make mistakes disappear.

You know what I think? I think wasted potential is a lot scarier than feeling overwhelmed. There is no monster greater than regret. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Yes, I do too much. It’s what I do.” (Woginrich 100-101)

I couldn’t have said it better myself. This one passage really says it all for me. It is also comforting that there is at least one other person out there with many of the same passions as I possess. And they’re making it work for them. I just have to keep putting on those big girl pants each morning, sit down, and just write. The creative genius is just another muscle that needs to constantly be strengthened and stretched. Sort of like this morning’s tackling of one of my new yoga DVD’s. I may not be getting all the way into those bends and twists yet but, in time, look out. I am unstoppable.

May God bless you & keep you!

Works Cited

Dufresne, John. The Lie That Tells a Truth. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York: 2003.

Woginrich, Jenna. One Woman Farm. Storey Publishing, Massachusetts: 2013.