First Days

“There is nothing better for man than to eat and drink and provide himself with good things by his labors. Even this, I realized, is from the hand of God. For who can eat and drink apart from him?” (Ecclesiastes, 2:24-25)

Hope.

These first days at the Village are filled with hope…a new beginning. A chance to finally pick myself up off of the ground, dust off the hardships of the past several years, and put that proverbial one step in front of the other.

At least that’s the outcome I’m hoping for. But it’s His will…not my own. And I trust Him to see me through it…whatever “it” is as these first days turn into weeks, months…and, hopefully, years. Family and friends are right; this really is the perfect position for me. I mean, I’m an herbalist with an obsession with all things 19th century. And I’m suddenly in charge of an extensive herb garden in a recreated 19th century living history museum. It is so me. I hope I am so them, too.

Yesterday was the first official day of work. I confess, despite my knowledge of herbs, I was completely burned out by the time I got home. A lot of information all at once, interpreting herbs, not as I know them today, but as they would have been used in 1830’s New England. I have a stack of pamphlets, printouts, copies, etc. of various 1830’s gardening tips to read. And yet, gardening methods, while they have evolved, are essentially the same. Sure, we may have tools that aid us in our work today but we’re still sowing seeds, pricking out first leaf plugs, hardening off, transplanting, direct sowing, pruning, thinning, weeding, watering, feeding, mulching, composting, harvesting and saving seeds. The plants, whatever variety, still need some combination of sun and rain, and a healthy soil in which to grow healthy and strong.

I am feeling the challenge.

Daunting to consider that I will have a voice in deciding whether to keep or cut down the overgrown sassafras tree that is starting to shade out a nearby Baldwin apple; ditto, as regards the Baldwin apple which is struggling…with one limb now devoid of bark and riddled with holes. How important to 1830’s medicine was a Buckthorn? As it overtakes what we refer to as the High Bed, do we simply remove it? Or does it make sense to replace it with a smaller specimen? This latter one requires some research, of course. My tender heart acknowledges the life force in each and wants to save them all…but doing so might mean the loss of others. In some cases, these are the “bullies” of the garden, stealing sunlight, stealing rain, stealing nutrients from their neighbors.

Then there are those heirloom plants that we meticulously save the seeds from each year so that we have a proper offspring the following growing season: medicinal poppies; Fuller’s teasel; an heirloom Calendula, whose stems hold a single flower on each instead of multiples and whose petals are a light, sunny yellow instead of the orange we expect today. The herbalist in me wonders if their medicine is more potent. But replacements, if they can be found, are costly and rare. This is a collection…as surely as the myriad antiques that grace all of the buildings. I’m not just a gardener. Or an herbalist. But a curator.

Of course, the flip side is the thirst to prove myself, to live up to this challenge, to develop the veterinary medicine tour I discussed while learning the new “ropes”, based upon the books of Juliette de Bairacli Levy and the many 1830’s-era volumes their research library carries. I want to build up the composting system so that we have more with which to feed our plants with…instead of buying organic from a local nursery. I’m looking at the greenhouse and thinking, while it is manned, and a separate department all its own, I would love to take cuttings and expand our plant base instead of buying new plants each spring. And, from my short tenure at Roseland Cottage, create a spares’ bed behind the scenes where, if we lose a beloved plant in the public beds, we have another to replace it. I’m also looking at the honey bees right across the lane and thinking a bee garden tour.

The ideas are popping.

For the Village…and for The Herbal Hare Homestead.

Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so impossible to plant hops. The Village has quite a good crop of them this year. They use a trellis instead of the more common straight pole method. As a result, the hops receive more sunlight. And they’re thriving. Where friends have tried and failed to grow them, adopting this method here might just be the thing. I use hops in the upper-respiratory tincture I make each cold and flu season. Hops relax us, help the body to rest…and to heal. And, using a trellis, they don’t take up as much space. I’m also looking at plants like rosemary and cardamom and turmeric–plants that typically grow in warmer climates and, suddenly, a small greenhouse might be a pretty sound investment for this homestead. And the informality of the beds appeals greatly. Currants grow amongst the sage bushes; colt’s foot alongside Welsh onions; raspberries and rue. There’s even a lovely knot garden…impractical but just the right hint of romance.

Luck?

I don’t believe in it.

But, grace. Surely, grace…God’s grace, to be so blessed. Credit’s going where it’s due. These first days are filled with His grace…as are all the days that follow. Grace, hope, faith…they make a fine new beginning.

May God bless you & keep you!

Things Learned When Walking is your Sole Transportation

It has been almost three months since Mom’s car had to be taken off the road. And while I still yearn for an adult-sized tricycle to get me around more efficiently and safely than my feet, I’ve also learned a great deal from this experience:

1. People look at walking, and sometimes even bicycling, everywhere as hardship!!??! In some ways, that’s true. When you’re forced to “grocery shop” for only what you can easily carry two miles from the local grocery store, it does get “old” and it makes for having to seriously manage your time and resources better. Those little hand shopping carts they sell in department stores everywhere help but…

2. Little hand shopping carts filled to the brim with cases of cat food and cat litter do NOT make it up steep hills without making one feel a deeper empathy for beasts of burden.

3. Friends come from unexpected places.

4. Walking in extreme cold is much easier than walking in 90+ degree temperatures; an extra layer or two, a good pair of gloves and socks to cover the extremities, and a hat make all the difference when it’s cold…and a brisk pace will set the blood moving that much faster. One can only remove so many layers of clothing before Connecticut’s finest gets involved…

5. Those kitchy, supposedly eco-friendly reusable grocery bags, when full, are much more capable of cutting off circulation in your fingertips than are the equally-full, bad-for-the-environment plastic numbers.

6. You meet people when you walk…neighbors…people you would never meet when behind the wheel; find a sense of community you never knew existed.

7. Despite traversing concrete walkways and macadam road shoulders, walking puts you deeper in touch with nature. Damage done by this year’s gypsy moth invasion; small wetland areas on the other side of guard rails…and the diversity of life that lives in them; longer days/shorter nights; shortening days and lengthening nights; sadly, a greater awareness of how many creatures really lose their lives on a major interstate all become more apparent when walking.

8. My piggy bank has grown due to all of the loose change found in parking lots, breakdown lanes and along the sidewalks near local gas stations.

9. Bursitis flare-ups, sore knees, hips, calves all help to remind me that I’m not 25 anymore.

10. Despite the 6 lbs. lost when I first started, walking alone will not readily shed pounds if a proper diet is not incorporated with it.

11. My status as a single woman seems to have reached the attention of far too many local gentlemen…

12. Wearing a bright, fluorescent vest (so that you become more visible to local traffic while traveling on the shoulder of the road) when visiting the local Walmart will get you mistaken for an employee…and prompt you to memorize where everything is located in the store so you can answer all those “Can you tell me where (fill in the blank) is, please?” sort of questions.

13. Wearing a bright, fluorescent vest often gets you mistaken for a crossing guard.

14. Trying to traverse 2 miles of extremely hilly territory without arch supports in your shoes is a good way to flare bursitis up…especially if you’re over 50.

15. Horror stories of missing women flash through your head when you walk home at dusk.

16. Strange men will offer you a ride.

17. Strange men who are also attractive will also offer you a ride…tempting good reason but provide relief that such good reason still exists as you pick up your pace towards home.

18. I don’t tan; I freckle.

19. Even if it is only 2 miles, travel light.

20. We need a better infrastructure in our cities and towns…one that includes sidewalks that connect everything so that people can walk safely; bicycle lanes so that cyclists can also travel safely, and good public transportation lines that don’t require walking several miles to a small handful of bus stops.

21. While there are buses in northeastern Connecticut that will come directly to your doorstep–elderly and disabled only–it took over 3 weeks for Mom to get her bus pass…I wonder how many other seniors and disabled persons are left isolated due to their lack of transportation…

22. Even with a bright, fluorescent vest on, motorists do not stop for pedestrians in the crosswalks…especially if that crosswalk crosses the entrance to Walmart’s parking lot.

23. Walking in the rain, as long as there isn’t any lightning to go with it, is actually kind of fun…sort of like being a kid again and splashing in the puddles.

24. The creative genius engages while walking…I “write” my best chapters, work out my best plots when I walk.

25. Walking provides the perfect medium for finding that quiet stillness where we meet God.

May God bless you & keep you!

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

“He does not fear bad news, nor live in dread of what may happen. For he is settled in his mind that Jehovah will take care of him. That is why he is not afraid, but can calmly face his foes.” (Psalm 112: 7, 8)

Growing up in an alcoholic home, change often meant something bad. Or at least I learned to associate it as such. Not the little changes that occur everyday but the big changes. The yet another move across country, either to Rhode Island or to Missouri, depending on where we were at the moment, meant beloved pets were sent to a shelter and the loss of sentimental items; a change for better financial circumstances meant more alcohol and more fighting; the sudden loss of a job also meant more fighting, creditors at the door…and possibly another major move.

As you can see, it was a vicious cycle. And it sent a message to an impressionable little girl that, even when things are looking up, expect the worse to quickly follow. It’s an anecdote for insecurity, wiping away whatever joy one might find in this life, and damaging to that little something called faith.

Yes, both good and bad exist in this world. And life is a never ending wave of ups and downs. All things balance under the sun. Hardships don’t last forever. And the good times will come to an end, too…only to swing back up again at a later time. As it says in Ecclesiastes 3:1 “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

It took me a long time to truly believe that passage.

And, of course, here I am on top of the world with this new position coming up…yet waiting for some ax to fall.

You see, there’s even more to the story than this. Things were promised to me repeatedly…only to be taken away just before they were supposed to happen. The trip to buy school clothes was cancelled at the last minute. The dance lessons had to be dropped. The babysitting money I earned was “borrowed” and never paid back. The piggy bank was raided without my knowledge. Sure, it did teach me a lot about handling disappointment. But, because this was a steady situation, it also taught me that I wasn’t worthy of anything better in life, that it was wrong to want, to strive for success. That no matter how hard I worked, the end result was always the same.

The saving grace was school. I worked hard, got good grades and, yes, there were rewards. This balanced some of the negativity coming from home and mitigated the apathy of such an existence. Is it any wonder that in my late-40’s I went back to college? Or that, in so doing, my confidence levels have steadily soared?

Of course, the New Age gurus who hang upon the every word of “The Secret” would say I’m attracting this negativity. Maybe I am. But, after having read said book, my first thought was one would drive one’s self around the bend trying to stay positive all the time. Despite everything I’ve just written, it’s just not logical–or possible–to be positive 24/7. And to deny, suppress, etc. the negative is a form of denial. It’s unhealthy. Instead of facing whatever negative thing or thought, and working through it, you’re suppressing it…where it does more damage in the long run.

Faith is the key.

I have hit at least one snag in this new change…maybe. But I’m striving to take it on faith. He brought me to it; He’ll lead me through it. To deny that there’s a potential snag looming, is to get broad-sided later with something bigger. Maybe that bigger something is His plan. But, while Jesus is referred to as the Good Shepherd, and we his flock of sheep, denial is not the answer.

Faith is.

And faith is telling me that, yes, we moved around a lot but, because we did, I have friends in Rhode Island, Missouri, and now Connecticut. If we hadn’t moved so much, I would not have my best friend, Mary, in my life…or countless other good friends. The promises made that were forever reneged? Finances didn’t always allow those promises to be kept…which has taught me the value of budgeting, thrift, living within one’s means and having some sort of an emergency fund.

So I guess I am incorporating “The Secret” in my life to some extent–I’m looking for that silver lining in every situation and focusing on the positives learned from it. The bad times hurt. But maybe they do for a reason–to make sure the lessons are painful enough to be remembered.

Either way, I’m taking it on faith…because while there is “a time to cry”, there is also “a time to laugh”. And this promise is for all of us…no matter our situation. He will never leave us.

May God bless you & keep you!

References

Byrne, R. (2006). “The Secret” Oregon: Beyond Words Publishing.