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!

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Leap of Faith…into a Bright, New Future

“These trouble and sufferings of ours are, after all, quite small and won’t last very long. Yet this short time of distress will result in God’s richest blessing upon us forever and ever!…I was given a physical condition which has been a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to hurt and bother me, and prick my pride. Three different times I begged God to make me well again. Each time He said, ‘No. But I am with you; that is all you need. My power shows up best in weak people.’ Now I am glad to boast about how weak I am; I am glad to be a living demonstration of Christ’s power. Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite happy about ‘the thorn,’ and about insults and hardships, persecutions and difficulties; for when I am weak, then I am strong–the less I have, the more I depend on Him.” (2 Corinthians 4:17; 12:7-10)

Letting go…that has always been my biggest problem when it comes to faith. I lack trust. Sure, I can–and have often–blamed many of my trust issues on my childhood. And I’m not belittling the effects of childhood trauma when I say this but, what am I doing with this lack of trust? Am I continuing to point that finger of blame at another person and thus staying mired in the pain…and in the past? Or am I turning it around at myself, asking what can I–or You–do with this pain for the highest good and taking responsibility for that lack of trust? Choosing the latter option really can be a leap of faith…

I took that leap of faith last week. And here I am in an entirely different world all of a sudden…a world of hope, of joy, of faith.

For many of you reading this blog, you may or may not know that I have been a volunteer at a local museum since 2012; two summers’ ago, I had to request that I be taken off of the schedule for awhile as a return to academia (as I work towards my degree in Creative Writing with an Emphasis in Fictional Writing, and a minor in Environmental Science), a massive landscaping project here on The Herbal Hare Homestead, work on two separate novels, and part-time work at a local car dealership to make ends meet, overwhelmed me time-wise. Something had to give. But I always planned to eventually return…Someday.

God had bigger plans.

Friday, out of the blue, I received an email from the Coordinator of Volunteers (and I sincerely hope that is the correct title of this wonderful lady…) telling me about a position that had opened up at the museum. This was not a volunteer position, but a paid one heading up their extensive Herb Garden.

I hesitated. Two years’ ago, when I had asked to be taken off their schedule for a time, their long-time Horticultural Lead had left, partly, because the pay scale was so low. As many of you know, though this is a homestead where I am attempting to grow most, if not all, of my fruits, vegetables and herbs, I am still in the early stages of development. It will be some time before this is producing enough to be even semi-self-sufficient. So salary isn’t something I can readily compromise on. There was also the matter of being transportationally-challenged. Mom’s vehicle is still “grounded” as we have yet to get it registered again (see past blog posts on the whole story) so how do I get there??? I’ve been walking nearly everywhere since mid-May.

I called the United Way. I called Unemployment. There is a ride-share program and a reimbursement program if one must take a cab, or some other temporary means, and I found I qualified for both but, they are extremely temporary–as in the “help” would only last a few days because of the distance. I didn’t want to apply, get it, and then have to quit again in three days’ time. Our transportation issues may not be resolved by then.

Or so I thought.

While I was hemming and hawing about all of this, about an hour after the first email, I got another email. The C of V touched base with the Agricultural Lead. I was told to get my resume in yesterday as they had extended the window for getting in said resume just for me and recommendations were already given.

“Lord,” I thought, “You dropped this into my lap; You must have a reason. I don’t know how on earth I’m going to get to this job, if I even get it, but You must have something in mind. I’m going to trust You in this…and not worry about the ‘how’ of it all.”

So, last Monday, I submitted my resume before 8 a.m. and, by 10 a.m., I had received the call to set up the interview. The young lady on the phone sounded enthusiastic about everything so we set the interview for Thursday. I contacted a friend of mine to see if she was available to take me up for the interview and I put a call into my rep at the Unemployment office about the reimbursement program. While I waited for the returned call, I tried not to think about how much a cab ride, twice a day at 37.5 miles each way, was going to cost up front…and fought to suppress the shudder that threatened to erupt in that contemplation. The chorus to Lauren Daigle’s “Trust in You”: “I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You...” echoed through my brain over and again.

The first ray of hope occurred. Mom put in a call to the bank that holds the loan on the car. We had avoided this for weeks, fearing they might repossess the car instead and she would lose all of the money she had invested in it. But she said they were wonderful. She explained how she has cataracts. She gave up her driver’s license as she fears harming another on the road driving with such blind spots in her vision. She told them she also owed back taxes (something we are still struggling to remedy) but the biggest hurdle is that the Connecticut DMV refuses to renew the registration because of her loan and her not having the valid license anymore. She lives with me. I am a licensed driver. And I’ve been the one driving the car, not only to work, but taking Mom to her doctors’ appointments, to the store, to visit family, etc. The DMV wouldn’t put me on the registration because Mom still has the note on it…despite having put me on the insurance policy as the main driver of the car. The bank sent a letter authorizing the DMV to transfer my name to the registration. Once the back taxes are paid, we should be able to re-register the vehicle.

Thursday came. I donned my favorite garden gnome attire (my period-correct costume that I always volunteer in) and waited for my friend to arrive. We stopped for coffee (her) and tea (me) and, along the way, the second obstacle was blasted out of the way. My friend bought a “new” (pre-owned) truck; she offered to let me use her current vehicle until we can get Mom’s vehicle issues resolved. God bless this woman! Now, the only two hurdles left were the salary questions…and the actual hiring for the job.

The interview went well. There was a good, instant rapport. We toured the Herb Garden together while we talked. She asked about my education. I told her I had received my certificate in Herbalism from Michael Ford and Joanne Pacheco, then Apollo Herbs, now Mike heads up Apollo Botanicals. I also have a Master Gardener certificate from the University of Connecticut; my minor in Environmental Science with Southern New Hampshire University also stood me in good stead. I shared my experience with beekeeping as the museum now raises honey bees.

She had another person to interview.

I breathed a sigh of relief after we parted; I hadn’t realized how nervous I had been. I thought even then that it had gone well but, of course, we always second guess ourselves. I thought about all of the things I could have mentioned, the questions I could have asked and then forced myself to quit stressing about it. He was in charge of the outcome, not I. Thy will be done, Lord. I realized, as I went back to the car where my friend was waiting, that salary had never come up. I hadn’t asked, not wanting to blow the interview, but knowing if it was too low, it might be a game-changer.

The next day passed in a sort of fretful struggle not to fret. I considered calling. Then rejected it as I remembered a friend of mine who used to do hiring that today’s employer doesn’t want skeighty-eight hundred calls from hopeful employees. Before I went to bed that night, the idea came to me that she hadn’t asked for references. I sent her an email with three. She called me two days’ later, thanking me for the references and said she was waiting on one of them to return her call; she would let me know one way or another on Monday. She also realized she hadn’t mentioned the salary.

The third miracle. It was much better than I expected. Another sigh of relief. While it won’t make me rich, it’s enough to live on.

Monday morning I got the call. And the position.

How quickly a life can change! After over seven years of first unemployment and then under-employment, I now find myself not only in a full-time position, but in one that utilizes most of my formal education, and I get to do something I absolutely love. A more perfect job could not be tailored for me. And every obstacle that could have made me hesitate too long and lose this opportunity, He removed.

That simply.

How is this even possible? I have been in complete awe since Monday. Yes, there’s the usual jitter of nerves; that’s natural. I’m going into new territory…almost. I have been a volunteer there so I know most of my co-workers already. That certainly helps. My awe is in Him. Again, this position won’t make me rich. But I can’t help thinking how all these years of struggle and strife have molded and shaped me…for this??? This is wonderful. This is incredible. This is better than anything I could’ve ever imagined. I mean, I’m working in a garden most days, playing with and instructing about herbs; I’m steeped in history; I’m surrounded by antiques and farm animals; I get to wear beautiful, period-correct clothing on a daily basis. Not only am I using my certifications in herbalism and master gardening, but even the two semesters of acting I took at the Community College of Rhode Island back in the mid-1990’s. No, we don’t role play at the museum but, trust me, you become another person anyway when you don such attire and move amongst the public. How cool is that? I almost want to ask, how did He know?? But this is God we’re talking about. Of course, He knows.

Looking back over these last several years, while I’ve railed and cried and growled in frustration as yet another thing goes wrong, another something breaks, another vet bill, another something crops up, when I look at my very limited income over these years, really, I shouldn’t still be standing with a mortgage intact and surviving as well as I have. He’s been with me all along. And, though there have been times when I’ve doubted along the way, deep in my heart, there’s been this little mustard seed of faith that maybe, just maybe, He was grooming me for something bigger and better.

Wow. Was He ever.

I’ve been singing His praises along with the rails and cries and growls; now those praises are shooting straight to the moon and back, Alice, to the moon. Because this is all Him; it always has been. And I know, in this heart of mine, that He truly is with me…and always has been. I know that whatever storms or ripples may come up in my future, if He leads me to it, He will lead me through it. The key is, and has always been, for me to let go of that “how”; to let go of the outcome. His plans are so much bigger than mine. Or yours. Such gifts are here for you, too…if only you let go and trust in Him:

When You don’t move the mountains
I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You”

May God bless you & keep you!

References

Daigle, L. (2015). “Trust in You”. Centricity Music. Trust In You Lyrics (n.d.). Lyrics.com. Retrieved July 27, 2017, from: http://www.lyrics.com/lyric/31688835.

Little by Little

“Then God looked over all that He had made, and it was excellent in every way. This ended the sixth day. Now at last the heavens and the earth were successfully completed, with all that they contained. So, on the seventh day, having finished His task, God ceased from this work He had been doing, and God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he ceased this work of creation.” (Genesis, 1:31, 2:1-3)

I’m starting to notice a difference. I tackled a too-big landscaping project last summer; it has carried into this summer. And I’m still not finished, still not caught up. But I’m learning not to cringe at the over-grown state of affairs, and to notice the subtle changes along the way. As time and resources allow, I build another raised bed, add more compost, cover more walkways with pseudo-garden cloth (recycled/re-purposed feed bags). In the meantime, I’ve been harvesting blackberries in season, clipping back invasive bittersweet as it threatens to choke out everything else under the sun, and weeding the one little 4′ x 8′ garden bed presently under cultivation. The green beans are thriving. The cheap Walmart squash seeds are dead in the water, so to speak, so that half of the bed will soon be planted in beetroot and leafy greens. I also have some heirloom beans that will have enough time to grow before winter’s freeze, maybe some broccoli and cauliflower as we head into August.

Something unusual is happening here. I’m not worried about being Super Girl anymore. I’m learning to let go of what other people might think. Who cares? I think it has finally sunken in that I’m not Samantha Stevens; twitching my nose won’t make everything perfect…I can’t even twitch my nose like that. And this acceptance is sweet. I have 1/4 of an acre in the middle of a Do It Yourself construction zone. I also work off-site and am in the middle of a degree program. The 2-3 hours I give to this DIY project each morning from dawn until feeding time may not seem like much to some but, for me, while I still cringe from time to time, those 2-3 hours help to break it all down into manageable bites. And, little by little, I’m seeing results. It is taking shape. And I’m even resting on that seventh day.

That’s the truly unusual thing. I usually push myself until “burn-out” sets in and then I waste more time trying to recuperate. Instead, though I don’t consider myself a couch potato type, I’ve been spending part of my days off from the dealership in front of the boob-tube watching You Tube videos about gardening and landscaping…and learning a lot, getting ideas and, yes, on Monday morning when I’m back in the garden at dawn, implementing some of them. Now that I’m not stressing and worrying so much about making everything perfect, I can actually enjoy the journey better. And I actually get more done. Who knew?

And that’s a lesson worth learning.

May God bless you & keep you!

Ow…

I had a similar problem last summer when I started adding an hour’s fitness walk to my daily routine. Suddenly, my right leg started hurting and the third and fourth toes went numb. Last summer I went walking in inappropriate shoes, which is what I blamed this painful experience on. The doc ordered an ultrasound; they did an MRI; they ran all kinds of tests. Ruled out a blood clot, though I was advised to start taking an aspirin each day (and, no, I confess, I haven’t been consistent with it). The conclusion was that I must have strained or twisted something while walking. I tend to be klutzy so any ankle turning or twisting, nine times out of ten, is regarded as “routine”; I scarcely notice it. However, this summer I’m wearing decent walking sneakers with a good arch support in them. And the pain is back…with a vengeance.

Last night’s walk home from the dealership, I confess, I didn’t think I was going to make it. I had a stop to make at the local Walmart so, while there, I picked up a tube of Ben Gay and, before heading up the hill towards home, I slathered it all over my right shin, ankle and calf. As soon as it kicked in, I started walking again. The pain was less–enough so I could make it home–but I was close to tears by the time I reached the side door.

Mom helped with feeding everyone last night and I’ve been trying to take it easy. But I have work tomorrow and that requires another long walk. I am not looking forward to it. I took a very short walk today to pick up some birdseed at the local feed store, which is two doors’ down…and came limping back in agony again. And I’m not usually a baby about such things…only the enforced inactivity that is ultimately the end result (chuckle; I’m a terrible patient).

This northeastern corner of Connecticut has a very limited public transit system. This morning I signed Mom up for door-to-door pick up, which is available for seniors, but, for the rest of us, we have to go to the nearest bus stop. In this rural corner of the state, the nearest one would bring me almost to the dealership’s door so it doesn’t really solve the issue. And I am writing all of this, not to garner sympathy, but more as a way of brainstorming and trying to think of a way to bring about some sort of reform. I am hoping this is a temporary thing with my leg. The doc will have to be called and an appointment made again. And, yes, I know most people have automobiles and can drive themselves. But, surely, for seniors, for the disabled, and as our economy still struggles to recover from the Great Recession, for those who find themselves financially challenged and cannot afford the high loan payments, insurance premiums, maintenance fees and/or tax bills that car ownership brings, there must be a way to provide better transportation options. I’m hoping by brainstorming, some little light bulb will go off in my head, an “A-ha” moment, an inspiration that might show me the way to bring about some positive changes.

Of course, all of this circles around to the environmental impact of automobile ownership. I have long been an advocate for walking, bicycling and/or taking public transit whenever and wherever possible to mitigate the effects of fossil fuel usage. For those who sneer at this whole global warming thing, or succumb to denial about it, my present difficulties might seem to them a justification for all the number of autos on our highways and byways…and “proof” that one cannot exist without one, the lie we all tell ourselves that car ownership is a necessity. If it is true, it is only because our present infrastructure has been built around said automobile ownership and backed by funding from the same fossil fuel industry that promotes them. If we take a look at the Netherlands, the city of Amsterdam has been totally re-vamped and is now centered around bicycles. Children as young as four years old are seen riding them. And automobile traffic is kept to a bare minimum, with the bulk of it being deliveries for local businesses (Van der Zee, 2015). Their carbon impact has been greatly reduced, as well as the instances of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and many of the other diseases that plague us in our sedentary lifestyle.

I am willing to concede that this may be part of my problem in this: poor circulation brought about from the sedentary lifestyle of a writer. Though I am also a homesteader, even many of my homesteading chores see me sitting down: rabbit grooming, nail trimming, knitting, sewing, looming, etc. My part-time endeavor at the dealership is also a sit down, sedentary position as I stuff envelopes, answer phones and create the next newsletter each month. I’m thinking maybe our automobile fetish may be killing us in more ways than one.

And yet, I also enjoy a long drive in the country; a trip to sight see, etc. I’m not totally against the idea of auto ownership but rather a more judicious use of them. If one can walk, or bicycle, instead of driving, then by all means, please do. Despite my present circumstances, in the two months since I started walking instead of driving, I sleep better; feel better overall; have more energy; and my moods have been elevated. I find myself more concerned and aware of what’s going on in my community. And with the local environment (those gypsy moths I lamented earlier this week have been wreaking havoc all up and down the Interstate.). I’ve even had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a young woman one afternoon while walking in to work. She was having her car serviced at the other dealership almost across the street. We shared the walk and a happy exchange of conversation. It would never have happened if I’d been in my own little fiberglass bubble, puffing out an unhealthy dose of CO2.

My leg will heal; Mother Earth may not.

May God bless you & keep you!

References

Van der Zee, R. (2015).  “How Amsterdam became the Bicycle Capital of the World.”  The Guardian.  Retrieved April 13, 2017 from: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/may/05/amsterdam-bicycle-capital-world-transport-cycling-kindermoord

Naming Trees and a Quest for Cardboard

And so the gypsy moths have completely denuded one of the big Norway maples in my front yard. Not Helen, mind you. Helen is the grandmother of all the Norway maples here. And, yes, the Master Gardener here knows Norway maples are invasive and not native to Connecticut. I didn’t plant them; they were here when I purchased said property back in 2001. Invasive or not, they provide much-appreciated shade in the summertime, and a nice bit of windbreak in the winter. So nobody touches Helen & Co.

Except the gypsy moths.

And there’s not much I can do about that. They’ve completely denuded Ollie already. Ollie is a slightly younger Norway maple, if one judges by the size of circumference (don’t trees grow a new ring every year??). And quite lovely…despite his invasive nature. The Japanese dogwood…or maybe it’s a flowering cherry tree…is also completely denuded. I’m not sure of the species because it is one of about a dozen saplings I received as a “Thanks!” for donating several years’ ago to the Arbor Day Foundation. Only three of them survived. They’re all part of the under story near Ollie. I’m almost positive the one closest to the house is a Japanese dogwood…and, so far, the gypsy moths have left it alone. It’s the other two–one denuded, the other on its way to becoming–that worry me. And Ollie. Can they all recover from this? Or will I have a rotting Norway maple stump next spring? Horrified at this finding this morning, I tried hand-picking some of them off of the smaller trees. But it was a futile endeavor; just too many of them. I may have to invest in some bird netting and then try to pluck em all off before I cover them. It’s heart-breaking as they are all part of the latest landscaping endeavor, an effort to beautify the area closest to the interstate with ornamental trees, shrubs and flowers. Eh, if it’s visible from the road, it has to be pretty…not that the current state of Tobacco Road could be called attractive, but I digress yet again…

And, yes, I’ve named some of the trees in my yard. Here’s how it started.

I won’t get into all of the spiritual changes within that brought this about–that could take a whole week’s worth of posts–but, several years’ ago I studied Wicca. For those of you who only know Wicca through TV and other pop culture mediums, Wicca is NOT any sort of devil worshipping. I am, and always have been, a Christian, accepting Christ as my Savior back in 1995, shortly after my first divorce. But, for some reason, the tree-hugging nature lover in me has always been drawn to Wicca. And I can only conclude because Wicca is a nature-based religion.

Anyway, to keep a long story short, I took a course at the local community college entitled, “Introduction to Wicca” after a long theological discussion with the then-deacon of my church, Brother Bob. I was expecting sermons as regarding fire and brimstone raining down upon my head for even considering such a course but Brother Bob encouraged me to take it instead. The reason? Because it is the fear of what we don’t know, or understand, that breeds distrust, hatred and violence. It is fear that the enemy of my soul uses to bring chaos into my life…and into the world. So, for four weeks, I drove to Mansfield, CT and attended class. And I loved it! I learned so much, so much that I can accept and appreciate…even to how the good Lord used this experience to help me re-connect with members of my own family (I have an aunt and a couple of cousins who are practicing Wiccans). I’m not afraid anymore; there’s no reason to be.

“His disciple John came to Him and said, ‘Master, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons. And we told him not to. After all, he isn’t in our group.’ But Jesus said, ‘You should not have done that! For anyone who is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49-50)

Getting back to the naming of trees, this class sparked an interest so deep that I started reading every book that I could find on the subject. Some, I will admit, were a bit “darker” than others. Not necessarily sinister, or diabolical, but more like a sort of prejudiced attitude towards any religion other than Wicca (and haven’t we all experienced a similar attitude in other religions–including Christianity!). There was one though, written by a fellow Master Gardener, that talked about naming trees and how trees actually have spirits. Most Native American tribes believe trees, rocks, etc. have spirits and, as I’m part-Mohawk, part-Narragansett, it resonated within. More, I had been finding myself drawn to “Helen” and this book made me stop and think. Maybe Helen was giving me little mental nudges. Anyway, she was christened “Helen” shortly thereafter.

Now, before anyone thinks I’ve completely gone off the deep-end, and maybe I have, if you head over to http://www.treehugger.com and type in “trees” + “Melissa”, you’ll find a host of articles featuring the research of various scientists about trees. And how they share resources, protect one another, and even communicate with each other. There’s quite a number of them; they’re interesting reads…whether you believe in such or not.

So, now that Ollie is suffering from an attack of gypsy moths, and I prepare to possibly mourn the loss of him in the not-so-distant future, I can’t help worrying if Helen will eventually fall prey, too. She’s the grandmother here because she’s so enormous. I would be willing to bet she’s stood in this yard over 100 years or more, such is the size of her trunk. To lose either shade tree is a heart-wrenching thought. Invasive or not, trees don’t grow overnight. It’s one of the reasons we treehuggers object to things like over-harvesting from forests and the current annihilation of the rain forests in South America due to our hunger and greed for more wood; such important eco-systems can never hope to recover at the rate of said destruction.

But before this becomes one of my environmental rants (I’ll save that for another post…chuckle), I’m switching a few gears here. Helen, Ollie & Friends are a part of this very local landscape. As I’ve moved rock walls and started building raised beds, I’ve designed everything here to work with the current landscape, rather than any clear-cutting. I’ve been using something called the the No-Dig Gardening method, developed and promoted by Mr. Charles Dowding of England. Mr. Dowding is not the originator of this method but he has developed it to a level that has proven effective and efficient for any home gardener. Another name for it is lasagna gardening. Mr. Dowding has a wonderful You Tube channel that takes you from soup to nuts on how to landscape and grow fruits, vegetables and herbs without digging…or rototilling, which is very bad for the soil and will encourage the growth of weeds and invasive species.

Like Helen.

No-Dig, or lasagna, gardening requires the laying down of flattened cardboard boxes, which slowly decompose but act as a weed barrier while in that decomposition, directly atop the compacted soil, or grass, or weeds–wherever you decide to create this raised bed. Like any good lasagna, the next step is to layer everything: leaves, kitchen scraps, compost, etc. If you wish to go the more traditional route of bags of peat moss, potting soil, etc, that’s okay, too…even if it isn’t quite as sustainable. Once you’ve created a good six inches of layers, you simply plant your seeds directly into this mix or, if you’ve started seeds indoors, or purchased plants from the local nursery, you may simply part some of the layers and set the plugs into them. They will grow.

This initial landscaping project encompasses about 1/4 acre of my property; I have another 1/2 acre planned but in much smaller stages. This 1/4 acre is probably a bigger undertaking than Mr. Dowding would have recommended in the beginning but I’m committed to it. I spent most of last winter squirreling away every empty box that walked through the dealership where I work afternoons and early-evenings. I would pack the trunk of the car, the backseat, and throw them into what was once a garage, now storage room. One would think, with so much pack-ratting activity, that I would have more than enough to finish said project but, alas, I am on a perpetual quest to find more. Though empty boxes still travel through the dealership, walking everywhere now, I’ve been searching a little closer to home; flat-packed boxes are a prime example of dead weight. So, every now and then, I’m petitioning nearer neighbors and, hopefully, saving them a bit of the expense to have their cardboard waste hauled away…and keeping much of it out of the local landfills. It’s a design I can be proud of.

Even Helen agrees…

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!

Rain

“In that way you will be acting as true sons of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust, too.” (Matthew 5:45)

Rain. Rain. RAIN.

I’m not usually one to bemoan something so vitally important as rain. Considering the West Coast has been experiencing drought conditions over the last couple of years (or maybe longer…), I suppose I shouldn’t mind over much. My well is getting a thorough replenishing and the rhubarb, at least, in enjoying the good soaking. The seeds I planted last week are also getting a good soaking. We should have a decent crop…if the sun will also shine on occasion. Too much of anything–even something so good as rain–is never a good thing. Moderation.

While my garden is getting a good drink, the barnyard is a oozing with about two inches of mud and muck. The chickens lift one foot high and gingerly set it down again whenever they near the barn as the mud and muck seem to be worse there. My own Wellington-clad feet are doing the “Squee–elshhh–pop” thing again as I sink into those two inches of mud, trudging out to the barn with feed and hay and water. The mud seeks to keep me there, tugging and sucking on the souls of my boots until I finally tug free with that unmistakable “pop” in an endless tug-o-war. The goats are going to need a good hoof trimming soon; wet ground is never good for goat hooves. And I’m praying none of them get any foot rot from it. We’ve been battling worms; that’s enough. Only the ducks seem unfazed by it, quacking happily and splashing about in the river running through the very back corner of the barnyard. I’ve taken to placing boards down in front of the both the goat barn and along the pathway to the hen house so my poor babies have someplace relatively dry to place their toes.

I am grateful the forecast over the next few days is calling for warm temperatures and, finally, sunshine. All this rain brought a more ominous threat Tuesday when I went to the feed store: No More Hay. The local farmer who supplies them can’t get his hay cut and baled. If it doesn’t dry up soon, he’ll lose the whole crop. There was definitely worry etched across the store-owner’s face. She’s a woman after my own heart though. Sometimes bale straps break; she has her workers sweep them into large lawn bags and sells them for $3 per bag. I bought six out of the 8 she had left. My goats and rabbits will eat it well enough but there’s a lot of small, crumbly pieces of hay in it, chaff that they’ve also swept up and saved. It doesn’t stretch as far. She also carries a product called Chaffhaye, which is a bag of fermented hay. It is very good for their digestion but it is also fattening so, if I must eventually resort to using it (the animals love it!), I will have to modify how much I give to them. However, as Domino lost a bit of weight from the worms, it won’t hurt him if he does eat a bit more than usual.

Not having hay has me in a bit of a panic. My animals need to eat. What if this farmer can’t get his hay in? There are already contingency plans to call the local Agway and see if they have any…and how many bales I will need to purchase for them to make the delivery. They are the only feed place in the area that I know of that will deliver. (Sometimes not having a vehicle really sucks…) You see, the local feed place, while good folks and I will keep supporting the local business as much as I can, do not have an arsenal of resources for their hay. They run out a lot. Agway, on the other hand, has a host of sources so I’m going to call today. If nothing else, I can get a small stock in for winter.

Of course, looking out my window at the severely overgrown lawn–what’s left of it–I’m thinking I might be able to make some hay of my own in a few days. Here’s to looking at the bright side of things…literally and figuratively.

May God bless you & keep you!