Higher Education

“I, Wisdom/Sophia, give good advice and common sense. Because of my strength kings reign in power, I show the judges who is right and who is wrong. Rulers rule well with my help. I love all who love me. Those who search for me shall surely find me. Unending riches, honor, justice and righteousness are mine to distribute. My gifts are better than the purest gold or sterling silver! My paths are those of justice and right. Those who love and follow me are indeed wealthy. I fill their treasuries. The Lord formed me in the beginning, before He formed anything else. From ages past, I am. I existed before the earth began. I lived before the oceans were created, before the springs bubbled forth their waters onto the earth; before the mountains and the hills were made. yes, I was born before God made the earth and the fields, and high plateaus.” (Proverbs 8:14-26)

I love learning. Sometimes to a degree that I feel like I’ve become a Jill-of-all-trades, mistress of none. And yet, what I do isn’t usually shoddy. Again, I just love learning. And I don’t believe you can ever have too much of it.

Working at a living history museum, I am finding another aspect of this new career that suits me even better than all the other facets of this position–I’m learning something new everyday. And it’s not just some odd trivia or fact. I’m learning skills that are almost completely lost from most of society and yet, less than 200 years’ ago were known by most, if not all. As industrialization and then, automation evolved, hand skills were lost. While I can appreciate the efficiency and economy of being able churn out X-number of wing nuts per hour, I have a much deeper respect and appreciation for the craftsmanship involved with doing everything–or almost everything–by hand. I say “almost” because by the museum’s time period (1838-1840), textile mills were spread all over New England…and housewives started putting away their looms.

The enormous loom in one of the buildings is, for me, the ultimate goal. I’ve tried weaving before…brief introductions from friends and the occasional exhibitor at the local fair or craft show. It’s been enough to wet my appetite rather than the development of any skill. But that will come in time. In time, I hope to have my own loom so that I may practice at home. How cool to give someone a new shirt or skirt and know that, not only did I follow the pattern and stitch it together, but I hand-wove the fabric it was made from and set the dyes as well. Or perhaps I purchased a couple of antique chairs at an auction that needed new seats and was able to sand them, paint them and add new caned seats to them so they’re like new. Again, these are fast becoming lost arts. If I can learn some of them well enough, I can also offer workshops to teach others. And then maybe the arts won’t be lost…not entirely.

But I have to know kitchens in the 1830’s, to know how to tend the fire, to cook and to bake on a hearth before I can learn spinning and weaving. And I’m all for it.

Last week, I spent three out of four days learning cooking on a hearth, as well as the histories of two of the houses at the museum; both of them routinely have cooking demonstrations. I also milked Bonnie, one of the red Devon cows that calls the museum “home”, in the hopes of possibly becoming a milk maid. It will mean traveling in an hour earlier on the days that I’m scheduled to milk but I think I can handle it. There will be a slow training/introduction to it before they let me loose to be solely responsible for each of the cows. And, as we approach winter, they will be drying off the cows. Springtime they will calf and then the milking will begin anew. Though there isn’t a specific class or training for it, working in living history, you learn the rhythm of life that comes from working the land, working in close harmony to nature. You learn which chores are appropriate to perform in which seasons, how to schedule your day via the weather. I.e. you don’t work the earth when it’s pouring outside lest you compact the soil. And candle dipping is done in cooler months or the tapers will never harden (or firm up) in the high humidity of summer.

Sunday’s cooking lesson had me grating cheese to make potted cheese (delicious!), and mixing the spices via a mortar and pestle; kneading bread dough; tending a roast (yeah, I know…the pescetarian; I hear it was good) over an open flame; making mulled cider using a red-hot poker to carmelize the cider and spices together; heating a beehive oven and learning to test it for readiness for baking by how long one can keep their arm in it before the heat gets overbearing (this is, of course, after the fire has died down and the hot coals scooped out, the only heat being what’s given off by the bricks. I managed a full 13 seconds); fresh-squeezed lemonade and apple pie from scratch.

And, on Saturday, I sat with a group of artisans who set up an exhibit in one of the public areas and tried my hand at lace making. I also put a bug in another lead’s ear about learning how to do netting.

I’m thrilled.

And I’m itching to try my hand at everything at once. While I can appreciate my own enthusiasm, I also know I need to reign it in just a teensy bit. I don’t want to just try it. I want to achieve some proficiency at these skills so that, someday soon, I can apply them here at The Herbal Hare Homestead.

In short, along with the more “formal” education I am receiving through Southern New Hampshire University, as I earn my degree in Creative Writing with an emphasis on Fictional Writing and two minor concentrations in Environmental Science and Illustration, I am earning another sort of degree. A degree in life skills that can only serve me well for the rest of my days.

May God bless you & keep you!

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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 working in living history 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 the 1830’s. 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 certain 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 museum…and for The Herbal Hare Homestead.

Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so impossible to plant hops. The museum 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!

Who’s Really in Charge Here Anyway?

“We ought not to insist on everyone following in our footsteps, nor to take upon ourselves to give instructions in spirituality when, perhaps, we do not even know what it is.” St. Teresa of Avila

I’ll admit it. “Charles in Charge” has nothing on me. I’m in control, or so I tell myself, and then hear the echo of what can only be God laughing as I tighten the reins…and chaos erupts.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I think I remember reading somewhere that 98% of us have at least a touch of it. Some of us have a bit more than a touch, unfortunately. Oh, it comes in handy at times. The alphabetized CD, DVD, VHS and book collections make finding whatever I’m looking for a snap. Because, really, who wants to waste time looking for something that may be right in front of your nose? I have bigger fish to fry, as they say. And, maybe it’s a bit extreme but my closet is color coded with all the yellow garments together, all the red, all the green, etc. Again, it makes finding that outfit easier. And I’m all about economizing my time. However, these little impulses and neuroses also tie me in knots and can make me a rather difficult person to live with.

Poor Mom.

This feeble attempt at perfectionism often manifests as criticism. I hear myself and cringe. Criticism was definitely NOT the intent but that’s what surely came across if I put myself in her shoes. And really, how important is it if the buttery popcorn bowl wasn’t rinsed first before it went into the sink? Or if the spoon rest is backwards on the stove? This latter “pet peeve” doesn’t get spoken; I simply turn it around again but then I think, as I’m doing it, does it MATTER???

And here is where the knots get tied because, as one voice is asking about the importance of such an act, another voice knows how much of a mental distraction it will be if I leave the spoon rest backwards…or the toilet paper feeding from under, rather than over.

Of course, I’ve never really sat down with Mom and tried to explain exactly what it’s like to live with OCD. Sadly, such a conversation tends to veer off into why mine is so intense in the first place: it’s a response to the molestation I grew up with. And that is a subject Mom would rather forget about altogether. As a child, I couldn’t control what was happening to me so I acted out by adopting these little “habits”. It gave me a false sense of security. And I was desperate to feel secure. Not only the abuse but also the alcoholism, the drunken accusations that told us all that we were “stupid” and couldn’t do anything “right” and to “look a little harder than you have to”. Like many children who grow up with some sort of substance abuse…as well as the abuse of their bodies, minds, and spirits, I turned all this negativity onto myself and shouldered all the blame. If I was a better student, he wouldn’t be so angry. If I kept my room neater, maybe he’d leave me alone. If I did all the chores around the house, all this chaos would stop.

Who was I kidding?

I’ve been tied up in knots since I was a very little girl. Is it any wonder that I’m still tying myself in knots? Unhealthy though it may be, it’s also a comfortable numb. It’s familiar. And, if I don’t grasp, and clutch, and sterilize my whole life, I start to relax…and then chastise myself for being “lazy”.

The paradox of all of this is that my property from the roadside looks like tobacco road. This is another coping mechanism from dealing with alcoholism. It keeps people away. But such a desire never cropped up until a few years ago when I had a live-in boyfriend…who was also an alcoholic. He seemed a nice enough guy when we met. And there was an instant rapport. This last one should have been a red flag…heck, it should have been flashing in neon red. Because that kind of comfort level so early on, well, they say a girl looks for her father when she dates…or, in this case, father figure. I was embarrassed. The sometimes-arrogant self, who would never allow herself to be caught in such a situation, got caught in it. How did this happen? How did I let this happen? And, worse, it took me forever to finally get out of it. The same mind control that I grew up, manifested again in this romantic partner. The same self-doubt and shame crept in. And I felt sorry for him. He, too, had grown up with abuse in the home. I knew what that was like. And, while I had had a network of family and friends behind me as I sought therapy and tried to claw my way into some sort of normalcy of life, he was still wallowing in the beaten-down misery he grew up with. He even threatened to beat me physically…and I still let him stay. It wasn’t until, in a drunken stupor, he cut down a beloved shade tree in the yard that I snapped and gave him the boot.

Tobacco road’s been growing ever since…because I’m mortified that I allowed myself to be caught up in this unhealthy situation. I fell down on my principles. Every stitch of therapy went out the windows. Though I have no actual proof, I even suspect he was abusive to one of my cats as Trooper’s behavior while he was here was almost unbearable. And it stopped almost immediately once this man was finally gone for good.

A little bit at a time. That’s what friends tell me as I tackle this overgrowth. It’s a little bit like that “One Day at a Time” motto advocated by both Alcoholics’ Anonymous and Al-Anon. A little bit at a time, one day at a time.

This homestead is healing me as well as it is healing the land. My OCD says I should be able to perfectly landscape the 3/4 of an acre I’ve set aside for fruits, vegetables and herbs in a weekend’s work; it’s not good enough otherwise. Reality says, as I am implementing Charles Dowding’s “No Dig Gardening” method to bring as low an impact to the earth as I can, that such an enormous undertaking simply cannot be done in one weekend…not to the scale I envision. And not by one single person…especially one on a part-time income.

No, the “No-Dig” method isn’t expensive. Quite the contrary. It uses flattened cardboard boxes laid out on the ground (something easily had for free from many of the local businesses who don’t mind not having to pay out to cart the cardboard away instead) and then composted waste, from both the kitchen, and the animals, layered on top of the cardboard to create a raised bed. I’ve been dismantling a broken section of stone wall that runs along the front of my property to outline the beds once they’re made and using old feed bags that I’ve cut open and laid flat for the walkways in between. As funds permit, I buy a bag or two of red mulch and lay it atop the bags. This is where the part-time income comes into the picture as I cannot purchase enough at one time to cover all of the walkways at once. And, as I am on a major interstate, as well as in the commercial district, it has to be “pretty”.

So, a little bit at a time, one day at a time.

And, when the OCD starts kicking up again and stresses perfection, I need only look outside to see the rhubarb growing tall and strong in the three-tiered pyramid I built for it and the strawberries; I need only look at the green beans poking their kidney-shaped heads out of the ground in one raised bed and the beautiful purple flower heads of the chives, and the lush expanse of marjoram in another to tell me that, yes, one day at a time is good enough. It doesn’t matter that it’s not “perfect”. Obviously, these plants don’t care a fig if it’s perfect or not; they’re still growing in imperfection.

As for the grass?

Mankind has ever strived to tame and “control” Nature. I refuse to use anything gas-powered, or any chemicals, to kill it off. Even with the raised beds, the weed and grass barriers being laid down, there’s still the occasional blade that pokes up even amongst those sections already landscaped. This is a reminder that, despite my valiant efforts to control and manipulate this landscape, much like the landscape of my life, there is Someone greater than I who is really in charge. Someone who takes those knots I’ve tied myself into, lays them out flat…and helps me to grow.

May God bless you & keep you!

A Bigger Life

“Ask, and you will be given what you ask for. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Anyone who seeks, finds. If only you knock, the door will open. If a child asks his father for a loaf of bread, will he be given a stone instead? If he asks for fish, will he be given a poisonous snake? Of course not! And if you hardhearted, sinful men know how to give good gifts to your children, won’t your Father in heaven even more certainly give good gifts to those who ask him for them?” (Matthew 7:7-11)

Believe it or not, I often struggle with this biblical passage. Struggle because there is too much doubt in my heart that what I wish for, what I hope will come to be, I am not worthy to have. This passage says nothing about worthiness. It asks only that we, well, ASK. No other hidden clauses.

Of course, when/if I discuss this passage with others, I invariably get that old standby of predestination. If it’s meant to be, it will be. Yes, that’s probably true. Does not the Bible also tell us that even the hairs on our heads are numbered by God? And that He knows when every sparrow falls so, therefore, He also knows our struggles…even the desires of our hearts? And yet, I hear that old adage and, no sooner have I gone to God in prayer for what I need, or even want, and I’m already deciding that what I’m asking for is probably not a part of His will and, therefore, why am I asking? I defeat myself as soon as the prayer is out of my mouth…or head.

What kind of lukewarm faith is this? Is there nothing too great for God? Did He not make me along with everyone else?

Then we get into the whole thought process of accepting that maybe He is instead trying to mold and shape me for something better, something that is in line with His plans. And my anxiety ramps up because maybe it will require too much of a sacrifice…like the loss of someone I love (did not The Twelve leave even their closest family members to follow Jesus?) in order to have that dream. Because, whatever dream He put on my heart, I’ve already convinced myself I’m not worthy of. So I try to guess His plans. What does He want me to do? Show me the way. And then I start chastising myself for being so ungrateful for what I already have. And I shouldn’t want or ask for more. Who cares if I’m robbing Peter to pay Paul and find that Peter’s flat broke? I’ve reached the cap on God’s mercy, or gifts, or grace. Such thinking, I consider, must surely anger God. For where in the Bible does it say He has a cap? Nowhere. His love is unconditional. Passage after passage tells us that He wants only the best for His children. Yet still I doubt. If You’re going to show me the way, I need neon signs and strobe lights highlighting that way. And even then I’d probably doubt if it was “meant” for me.

You see, people who grow up in abusive homes, especially if the abuser was their father, or a father figure, have difficulty believing in a loving and compassionate Father in heaven; it’s an alien concept. We get the angry and vengeful God who punished the Israelites for worshiping other gods and erecting idols, for being stubborn, etc. But the God who loves us, who will give His children good gifts, we struggle with.

I am grateful for everything I have. I know I have been richly blessed already. Even when so many others were losing their homes during the Great Recession, I managed to hang on to this one…despite only being a part-time and/or seasonal worker (the only jobs available in this sleepy New England town)…simply due to His grace. It does seem a bit, well, sinful and selfish to be wishing for something more. This house is a fixer-upper; the homestead is small and, because of it’s smallness, it can also be limiting. However, the smaller size has forced me to get more creative as I continue to landscape and design, to find ways to re-purpose certain areas. It’s also on a major interstate so the dream of growing organic vegetables, fruits and herbs is already out the window. With that much carbon zooming by in a continuous stream, even with the row of Thujas across the front border, that carbon is undoubtedly settling onto each and every leaf; the Thujas can only filter out so much. And, though I am grandfathered in for the use to which I put the land, as big box stores continue to climb the hill, closer and closer to home, I can’t help but fear how much worse that carbon impact is going to be…or how long before that grandfathered use gets challenged. Of course, I probably wouldn’t say “no” if some big developer came by and offered me a decent price for it, enough that I could start over somewhere else…but that’s a bit like waiting to hit the lottery.

I dream of acreage somewhere. I dream of that plot of land down that dusty, country lane, with pastures full of goats, sheep and chickens, maybe a horse or two, and border collies zipping around “Come by” and “Away to me” as they herd those sheep and goats into the barn at night. I dream of a small pond, or lake, on that property where my ducks can swim until their hearts’ are content. I dream of paddling a canoe, or pedaling a paddle boat, out onto that lake or pond after the workday is done. I dream of campfires, with friends and family sharing meals and some good music as we break out the guitar, the dulcimer, and open our hearts and lips to song. No Kumbaya, mind you, just a gathering of friends. I dream of herb gardens, lush, full, and diverse. Gardens made for teaching how to cook with herbs; how to tincture, infuse, poultice and compress. Maybe even some “magickal” uses for luck and love and a bit of romantic whimsy. I dream of equally lush vegetable gardens and small fruits growing and a greenhouse that houses an aquaponics’ system for growing even more food. I dream of a thriving produce stand, or a booth in the local farmers’ market. I dream of supplying the local food pantry with fresh, nutritious produce instead of the packaged, processed donations they typically receive. I dream of looms full of brightly-colored threads, all weaving a brilliant tapestry from the wool, angora, mohair and cashmere fibers routinely sheared, or plucked, from the animals I raise. I dream of a little store where yarns and fabric are sold from my stock. I dream of fresh goat’s milk and cheese, and goat’s milk soap scented with some of the herbs I grow. I dream that all, or at least most, of these animals are rescues, given a second chance at life, for a forever home. I dream of summer days out on the road with a trailer full of goats as we clear land for others in a manner that is much gentler on Mother Earth. I dream of an orchard with healthy and thriving honeybees buzzing in and out of the blossoms. I dream of honey and beeswax candles. And I dream of walking into that bookstore someday, or logging into Amazon, and seeing my name on the cover of that bestseller.

And I dream. And I yearn. And I consider that, maybe, these are just dreams and never “meant” to be. Maybe someday I will do as that Garth Brooks’ song says and thank God for unanswered prayers. Surely, His plans ARE bigger and better than anything I could ever imagine. But, maybe, just maybe, I can finally find it in my heart to TRUST that God truly has put these dreams in my heart for a purpose, that it isn’t all a pipe dream, fueled by an over-active imagination. Perhaps *Someday* I will trust that, yes, I am worthy of such dreams, that God loves me beyond any human ability to comprehend. Just because. Not because I “earned” it. Not because I prayed the most compelling prayer and that was the one He chose to answer. Not because of anything of my will but because His will shall be done. Maybe, just maybe, He’s using these dreams and yearnings to first answer another prayer, a prayer that asked to draw closer to Him, to know Him better, to learn how to trust in a loving Father.

Can I let go enough to let that healing begin? To allow His miracles to take place? Can I trust that, even if these dreams do not come to light, that wherever He does lead me, will bring me more joy than I can possibly imagine? Can I trust that His gifts are not like those given on earth, to sometimes bribe, sometimes stifle, to sometimes manipulate? This isn’t a toe-in-the-water sort of thing. It’s that proverbial, giant leap of faith. Can I do it? Can I accept God’s will for me on this earth? And, more importantly, can I accept that, yes, I do have a loving Father in heaven who does desire to give me good gifts?

Okay, then.

Breathe.

Relax.

And let go.

Thy will be done, Father. Thy will be done.

May God bless you & keep you!

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!

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!