The Worst Gardening Advice I Have Ever Received

“Jesus asked, ‘How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story shall I use to illustrate it? It is like a tiny mustard seed! Though it is one of the smallest of seeds, yet it grows to become one of the largest of plants, with long branches where birds can build their nests and be sheltered’,” (Mark 4:30-32)

My family lived in apartments throughout all of my childhood and teen years. For much of those teen years, we lived in the inner-city where we didn’t even have a balcony to place a few potted tomatoes. How I got to be an herbalist and a garden lead at a local museum–and even how the gardening bug bit me in the first place–is beyond me. But bit me it has.

And it has been a long road.

So, what’s the worst piece of gardening advice I’ve ever received?

“Just get out there and get your hands dirty!”

Yup. You read that right. I can’t imagine anything more condescending from an experienced gardener to the uncertain novice thirsting for any knowledge they can absorb on the subject. Sadly, it was one of my instructors with the Master Gardener program who imparted this bit of wisdom. (Insert sneer here) as my inner gremlin asks, “How badly did you get your rocks off with that holier-than-thou bit of ‘wisdom’?” I mean, really, would you tell a would-be brain surgeon to go out there and just “get their hands dirty”??? Yes, I do have to get my hands dirty to really learn how to garden. But, please, a little quantifying might help (more on that later).

Confidence is a beautiful thing. I didn’t have confidence as a gardener when I first enrolled in the Master Gardener program. I enrolled in it in error, not understanding exactly what the Master Gardener program was/is. Years’ before, when learning about herbs and their medicine, the mother of one of my herbal instructors gave a lecture and demonstration about starting seeds. She had just completed her Master Gardening training so the light bulb went off in my head. I could learn how to do this sort of thing if I signed up for the Master Gardener program at my local extension center. It wasn’t enough that I learned what to do with the herbs once they were grown; I wanted to learn how to grow them so I could be sure they were organic and, especially, safe to use.

Four years’ later, I signed up for the Master Gardener program (yes, I am a bit of a procrastinator but it also required a bit of saving to afford the cost of the program…)

Now, before I go any further, I am not dissing the Master Gardener program. Experienced or not, knowing what pests and diseases may be infecting your plants is valuable knowledge to have and I have used it quite a lot over the last 9 months in my tenure as a gardening lead. But becoming a Master Gardener didn’t teach me the basics. The novice gardener has questions:

How deep should I sow these seeds?
How big should the plants be before I transplant them to the garden?
How much compost should I spread on each bed?
How frequently should I water them?
Are those little leaves popping up from the directly sown seeds I planted or are they weeds threatening to take over?
How early should I plant this plant?

The list can go on. Forget about the trade jargon of “potting out”, “hardening off” and “pricking out”. It’s all Greek to me. Oh, and I can grow these vertically? Why didn’t someone tell me? Dividing plants? Pruning??? (Gasp…)

It truly is quite daunting for the newbie gardener. These are living organisms. And, no, the vegetarian isn’t going to stop eating entirely out of respect for the plants. Many of these plants grow specifically for giving us food, others medicine. And, oftentimes, they don’t die immediately after delivering. I can harvest lettuce leaves over a number of weeks before the plant is spent; I know that now.

My first mother-in-law was/is an avid gardener. She grew mostly for beauty; her flower beds were/are gorgeous with beautiful water features–complete with koi fish, bird baths and feeders for the birds, and even perches for the squirrels to eat from. They are full of life. I learned some from her as I started landscaping the tiny stretch of front lawn I had while married to her son; it whetted the appetite to know more. Especially when I decided I wanted to grow as much of my own food as I possibly could on the current front and side lawns. Over the years, I’ve had some fairly successful vegetable patches from “just getting my hands dirty” but I knew there was more that could be done. And I knew these were basic gardening skills that the majority of my fellow Master Gardeners already had.

“Just getting my hands dirty” wasn’t enough. And it certainly isn’t advice that is going to instill some would-be confidence that you can do more, be more, as a gardener. I’ve heard this advice many times since the Master Gardener program. It’s cruel. And, always, the inner voice screamed, “But how???”

So, to add some of that quantifying advice, get out there and get your hands dirty by joining a local gardeners’ club. By volunteering at a local public garden. By asking a gardening friend, neighbor or relative if you can perhaps help them in their garden…or maybe they’ll be willing just to answer your specific questions when they crop up (no pun intended). Today we have a wonderful resource in YouTube, as well as other online gardening sites. I only half-jokingly admit that I learned everything I wanted to know about gardening from Monty Don, Charles Dowding and Jon Kohler. And they would be my personal recommendations if you want to learn. Both Charles Dowding and Jon Kohler have their own YouTube channels: No-Dig Gardening and Growing Your Greens, respectively. Monty Don is the host of both the BBC2’s Gardener’s World and Big Dreams, Small Spaces. The former is probably one of the most excellent gardening shows I have ever encountered. The camera crew gets in nice and close so you can see exactly what Monty is doing and explaining. And more, Monty always ends the program with some tasks you can do that particular weekend. It’s great step-by-step advice for both the newbie and the experienced gardener. Would that the U.S. had such a fine program; I might even reconsider TV (i.e. cable) for it. But, as always, we lag behind on such important matters. But that’s a post for another day…

In the meantime, yes, do get your hands dirty but, for that boost of confidence, find a gardening community to grow with. In the few short months that I have been a gardening lead, I have learned so much from my fellow gardeners–both paid staff and volunteers. You never really know everything there is to know about gardening, no matter how seasoned. Learning and sharing is part of the cycle of growth…whether you’re a plant, or a person.

May God bless you & keep you!

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Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it…Really?

“Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me, make me whiter than snow”. (Psalm 51:9)

With last week’s nor’easter dumping over 14 inches on northeastern Connecticut, everyone in this part of the country should be almost virginal…or else we’re the bad apples of the country and in great need of that purification. (Chuckle)

And forgive my cynicism. In truth, there is none in my heart. Even about the snow. I am one of those weirdos who actually LOVES snow. I don’t mind a bit sloughing through 14 inches to get to the barn. And, as this was a light, fluffy snow, it was easy to shovel us out and about. However, it did chase away the gardening bug. A little over a week ago, I had been contemplating getting the garden beds prepped. Two nor’easters in as many weeks have put that activity on a back burner; ditto for the pruning of apple and crabapple trees–mainly because getting to them is a bit of a challenge at the moment. What little snow is left has turned to ice by morning, and slippery slush by afternoon.

This is mid-March. When I look back at just a decade or two ago, sure, winter extended into March but it didn’t start in late-February, early-March, as more recent winters have done. More, though it has only been a week, those 14 inches have melted down to about 2 inches; snow when I was a kid (granted, that’s like a few centuries ago) lasted weeks on end. I’m used to seeing snow in early-February, January, even December. Despite the 14 inches that fell outside my window last week, this is actual proof of climate change. It’s kind of scary; we need this sort of snowfall all winter long to replenish our waterways. Without it, we’re in danger of future droughts–not unlike that which California has been experiencing in recent years.

And, yes, I hear all of the climate change naysayers coming out of the woodwork. How is this “actual proof of climate change?” Warm air is forced to rise over cold air. Though the warmer temps are enough to melt some of our polar ice caps, as cooler air rises from that melted ice, it meets that warmer air, forms clouds, which then result in either snow or rain (Kitchen, 2016, p. 91). In this case, we got snow. And, judging only by a storm like this, we’re judging by weather, not by climate. “Weather is what we experience on a day-to-day basis. One day can be hot and dry and the next cool and wet. Climate can be related to the statistical probability that any day during the year will be similar to the same day the previous or following years” (Kitchen, 2016, p. 4). In other words, the earlier start of winter that many of us remember from as short a time ago as a decade, versus the late appearance of snow that has been happening for a few years now, is evidence of a change in our climate. The climate, our earth, is warming up. It should be in a cooling trend based upon the earth’s natural cycling. Oftentimes, we look at the weather, which is cold and/or snowy, and think how can this be “global warming”? I think, at times, this is a misnomer. It makes the whole subject confusing, and often scary, for any but the most seasoned meteorologist. The term “global warming” applies to the climate but weather may often be very different and seem at odds with the climate. A lot of it has to do with jet streams and how that melt off travels via those jet streams.

This may seem a strange subject for a Christian minister to tackle. I know plenty of others in the Christian community who fall into denial based upon biblical promises that God will never again destroy the earth as He did in the great flood (Genesis 8:20-22). Am I doubting this promise? No. And climate change advocates are not denying this promise. Even after Noah’s time there are famines and floods described in the Bible (i.e. Matthew 7:24-25; Revelation 12:15-17), just not to the magnitude of covering (and destroying) the whole earth. As Christians, we often lament that God doesn’t appear to talk to us as clearly and directly as He did Noah and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But maybe He is. Maybe all of these changes, all of the freak storms and natural disasters that keep hitting us in intensity and frequency are His way of telling us we’re not using His resources in a responsible manner so that there will be enough for later generations. If not God, Gaia is surely speaking. She’s gagging and gasping for an air that doesn’t sting and burn and destroy her.

I am reminded of the Parable of the Three Servants in Matthew 25:14-30 where a man goes away and leaves each of his three servants a certain amount of money. The first two invest their keepings and double the money; the third, distrusting, digs a hole to keep it “safe” and only gives back what he was given. He is chastised for this. And the money he kept safe, taken and distributed to the first two men. We are given currency in the form of the air we breathe, the soil we grow our food in and build our homes upon, the water we drink, cook and clean with. Instead of keeping it all in clean and healthy growth, as the first two servants did with the loaned money, we’re burying it all in carbon emissions, chemical fertilizers and plastic waste. We call it progress. But how is it progress when the only thing that grows in these conditions are more cancers, respiratory ailments and greater poverty? How is it progress when there is a perpetual increase in species’ extinctions on a day-to-day basis? Yes, Man is given dominion over the earth. But we are abusing that authority.

So, what can we do? What can we do as average, blue–or even white–collar workers? Some of these suggestions may seem like a drop in the bucket but, if each of us takes a few baby steps to reduce our waste, our energy usage, that drop can become a flood of a different sort. Got a leaky faucet? If you have to save to have it fixed, save.
And then get it fixed. You’ll save water. You’ll save energy if that water is also warm rather than cold. You’ll save even more on your electric bill if you have a well with a pump that’s kicking on every couple of hours to replenish your tank. I sheared $25.00 off of my electric bill each month by having a leaky kitchen faucet fixed so there’s a win-win situation. Get rid of the lawn; it’s useless. This is the U.S. It will never look as pristine as the old English manor house because our climate (there’s that word again) is different than England’s. The only way to get “pristine” in the U.S. is to use chemicals. And you’re part of the problem if you’re doing so. Plant low-maintenance plants that don’t require a lot of watering instead. Better yet, plant some fruits, veggies, herbs. And grow them without the Miracle Grow and Round-Up. Create a backyard habitat for birds, amphibians and other wildlife. If you bake, consolidate your baking and do it all in one day as homemakers of old did, putting everything in the oven at the same time. This saves energy. And money. And, if all of this sounds more like thrifty homemaking advice, that’s because the two go hand-in-hand. If you can walk to the grocery store, walk. Get one of those little shopping carts in which to carry your purchases home. In the U.S. we have the freedom to vote. Use that freedom to vote for those who want to preserve life in all its forms: animal life, plant life, insect life. Human life…regardless of socioeconomic standing, skin color, orientation, country of origin or religious beliefs. Vote for those who will invest in better infrastructure so that walking, bicycling and public transit become safer alternatives. Google Amsterdam + bicycles and see what this great city is doing. Don’t trust politicians? I don’t necessarily blame you. The U.S. government seems to be heavily influenced by the oil cartels, big pharma and pesticide/fertilizer giants who don’t give a damn if you or I live or breathe as long as they get their 7+ figure bonuses each year. They can afford to buy a new oceanfront McMansion in Ohio; the honeybees and future generations of children can’t survive their chemical pollution. They can also afford the expense of trucking in what produce they can grow without honey bees from northern Canada. And, once that part of the earth is exhausted, well, they won’t be here to care…nor do they seem to care that their children and grandchildren will have to live with those consequences.

Yes, I’m hitting hard. I’ve had enough. I do trust God to provide for our needs. But I also feel that we should be taking better care of what He has given us. Because our resources are not infinite. And there is a price being paid that will only get bigger as time goes on unless we take some real steps to try and turn this around. I don’t want to start over again on Mars, creating another big waste dump out of what was once a beautiful planet. I love earth. And, what started as an itty bitty blog post about a recent snowstorm has turned into a full-blown tidal wave on climate change. But it’s important. Because life is important. And we’re destroying life on this planet. One species at a time.

May God bless you & keep you!

REFERENCES

Kitchen, D. (2016). Global Climate Change: Turning Knowledge into Action. New York, NY: Routledge Publishing.

Bass Ackwards

“I am confident in this, that the one who began a work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Despite working with computer and online technology for at least a couple of decades now, I still flub up every now and again. Part of it may be that whenever I go to a new site, new application, etc., I am more liable to just start following menu paths and clicking here and there as to read the actual instructions beforehand.

Such is the case with my new Patreon site. I was supposed to build suspense by posting little snippets of its launch on my social media sites, my blog, etc. Well, as I’ve given up social media for Lent, such a climatic approach would be nearly impossible anyway. So, I clicked the “Launch” button almost from the moment I first logged into the site. Needless to say, a quick visit, at this point, would be a little anticlimatic anyway; I haven’t downloaded much yet.

Bear with me; fiction, in the form of short stories, some poetry, some samples of business icons, etc. as well as paintings, drawings, knitted, hand-spun and hand-woven items will appear from time to time. Perhaps even some herbal products as time goes on. I’m still working it all out.

So, what is Patreon? “Patreon is a membership platform that makes it easy for creators to get paid.” We’re challenged to memorize that; I haven’t yet. It’s in a spiral-bound notebook for the moment. (Chuckle)

This menu path should bring you to my Patreon page if you’d like to check it out: https://www.patreon.com/theherbalhare

May God bless you & keep you!

PS If, for some reason, this doesn’t bring you to the site (may have to copy and paste in search engine), please post a comment below and I will check into it. Again, I’m still learning. Thank you for reading my blog…and for your patronage! =)

As 2018 Greets Me with Frostbitten Wattles…

“The One who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ Then He said, ‘Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me, ‘They are accomplished. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water.” (Revelation 21:5-6)

This has been one of the coldest New Year’s in my memory. Welcome to 2018! The wood stove is cranking and, though I cringe a bit with their use, ditto for the heat lamps in the barn. Like it or not, the chickens, ducks and goats are spending their day in the relative warmth today, out of the wind.

Here in New England, the temps have scarcely risen into double digits this week (unless we count minus doubles). Single digits–including some minus single digits–have been the norm. So much so, that we hit 16 degrees on Saturday and it felt like a heat wave! The animals here at The Herbal Hare Homestead felt so, too. And, as they had spent all but a few hours of the afternoons in the barn all week, they were waiting at the door for me Saturday morning, eager to get out and about. Yesterday was a little cooler but still warmer than it has been. The animals raced out again to greet it.

We lost power yesterday for a few hours. We have a well for our water, which includes the need for a well-pump. No water flowing from the faucets; no flushing ability. Not knowing how long we would be without it, Mom & I took a trip up to the local grocery store to purchase extra bottled water and a few extra bundles of wood as our furnace has an electric start. The animals were outside, enjoying the deceptively-bright late-morning sun. We stopped for a bite to eat and then came home. All total, we were gone less than two hours.

Thankfully, the power was back on when we came home. Without even removing my coat and gloves, I traipsed out to the barn to check and replenish water buckets, knowing that without the heat lamps, they were likely frozen–or quickly on their way to being so. The goats and ducks were huddled inside the barn, as were a few of the chickens, but most of the chickens had decided to huddle under the bathroom window where that deceptively-bright sun was being absorbed by the black painted walls there (this is a small corner space where they are protected on two sides (north and east) from the wind and a hill that acts as a buffer on a 3rd side; usually a pretty protected area).

It was on that first return trip from the barn that I found Sargent Feathers, head bloodied and, to be honest, my initial thought was I had lost him. He looked bad. I have a couple of new cockerels from Taffy’s latest brood-fest. Had they ganged up on him? Nope. He’d likely be a bloody pulp in that instance. So far, they’re more afraid of him than anything else; he’s not the boss of the barnyard for nothing (though I am well aware as he ages, that could change…especially with these new boys; fortunately, there are enough females, a large enough barn and plenty of free-ranging to mitigate most reasons for aggression…). Anyway, the blood appeared to be isolated to just the bald spot on the back of that Polish-crested pompadour. The flesh had chapped and cracked in the cold. I picked him up to carry him indoors to treat it and found something much, much worse: seriously swollen wattles…i.e. frostbite.

This is my very first case of frostbite here. Oh, sure, we see a few little black dots on a comb here or there–quickly treated with Vasoline, or some of my Bunny Salve (recipe below)–but never anything of this magnitude. And, of course, it is a Sunday so his vet, Dr. Japp, is closed. I quickly cleaned up the bloodied bald spot and applied some Bunny Salve to both it and the swollen wattle (salve has herbs for healing skin), very gently dabbing rather than rubbing and risking damaging the flesh even more. But I knew he would need more for the frostbitten wattles.

Though I spend at least 40 hours per week in the 19th century, it is times like these that I am ever thankful for some 21st century technology. I started perusing the Internet–some of the chicken raising community sites that I have visited and received good advice from before. I am also an herbalist with several books on both raising small livestock, and herbal remedies for pets and livestock. I grabbed a leaf from the Aloe plant in my kitchen and cut it open; again, gently dabbing it onto his wattles. You could almost see the little sigh of relief as it cooled the burn to his flesh. I set up a small cage in the kitchen for him with a big bowl of warm water to drink and some food; he drank copiously and, I am happy to say, he still has a good appetite. He has also been receiving regular treatments of warm water, soaking the wattles in the warm water to slowly warm up and, hopefully, restore the blood flow to them. There is some gray-black along the bottom edge so I am bracing myself for the possibility that he may lose part of them but, despite the seriousness of the situation, he seems to be doing quite well so far.

Of course, he is aided by the companionship of Miss Taffy, my spunky, Silkie problem child.

As soon as Sargent Feathers was settled in his cage in the house, I went back out to put the rest of the chickens in the barn. Many of them I carried in; some had to be herded (I seriously need a Border Collie…). Sunset decided to be contrary and kept ducking under the deck (Grrr…) but, eventually, I got them all settled back in with a fresh bed of hay in their nests to keep warm, fresh water and fresh food.

Or so I thought…

Taffy spends most of her time underneath what used to be a rabbit hutch in the barn. It is low to the ground and, as I use a deep litter method* here to help insulate during the winter months, Taffy has built herself a cozy little nest here. More intent on just getting everyone into the barn so I could go back to Sargent Feathers, I did not look under the hutch to ascertain that she was in her usual spot. On the next trip to the barn, I did a more thorough headcount and discovered her missing!

One can imagine the panic and the usual berating I gave myself. Fortunately, she had crawled under the barn (There is a low spot right near the barn door (barn is really a shed re-purposed as a barn) where she often nests in warmer weather). It is a shallow area, she was easy to reach and, more fortunate, she was hale and hearty, chirping away to me as I picked her up and carried her into the house. Though she did not have any frostbite, I don’t know how long she was under there and her Silkie feathers were damp.

She and Sargent Feathers are now shacking up in the kitchen just below Smoky Bones the Cockatiel’s cage. Smoky isn’t too sure about his new roommates. Master of Mimicry, Smoky has been known to “cluck” and “cackle” like the chickens pecking around in the yard in summer, searching for worms and bugs; let’s hope he doesn’t learn how to mimic Sargent Feathers’ lusty “Cock-a-Doodle-Doo” that greeted us “in stereo” the moment I turned on the kitchen light before dawn…

I’m taking heart from it though; perhaps I found Sargent Feathers just in the nick of time. It sure sounds like it.

A very Happy New Year 2018 to Everyone…may God bless you & keep you!

*Deep litter method is spreading a layer of pine shavings on the floor of the barn/coop and just adding layers over their waste and discarded hay and allowing it to slowly compost. Sounds gross; compost is warm and insulating and, if done correctly, there is no build-up of any harmful bacteria or moisture. There is also a ridge vent all along the roof of the barn for any moisture to escape if necessary. In spring, it makes a nice addition to the garden.

Bunny Salve

Equal parts organic Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) and Plantain (Plantago major or Plantago lanceolata) (This is the grass-like plantain found in most lawns, not the banana-like fruit found in grocery stores, which is Musa x paradisiaca…).

Using a double boiler (or a small stainless steel sauce pan (Please do NOT use non-stick cookware, or cast iron, when making herbal decoctions…) in about 1/2 – 1 inch of water in a larger sauce pan), on low heat, cover the herbs with olive oil (if using beeswax) or, you may melt a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil then add the herbs (again, very low heat; avoid scorching or boiling herbs…if they scorch, dispose of scorched herbs in the compost bin and start again on a lower heat setting). Allow them to slowly simmer for 45 minutes, covered. Strain when done, saving the liquid. If using coconut oil, simply add a couple of drops of Vitamin E oil to preserve and pour into a glass jar (short and squat is best size/style). The coconut oil will solidify as it cools. If using beeswax, pour the oil back into the pan and, on lowest heat setting, add about 1 inch squared piece of beeswax to 8 ounces of oil and slowly melt it; stir; pour into glass jar and add a couple of drops of Vitamin E oil; stir again.
(Word of caution: Do NOT pour any unused beeswax…or any unused salve made with beeswax…down the drain, or attempt to wash the pan with the beeswax and oil in a sink; you will never unclog the drain again without the very costly assistance of a plumber having to replace said piping. It is biodegradable and non-toxic; use a kettle of hot water to rinse the pan outside. Also, it is highly flammable; never leave it unattended when heating on the stove.)

This salve has worked wonders for urine scalding, chapped combs and wattles, chapped hands, lips, and even diaper rash (although, for the latter, I often add equal parts of calendula (Calendula officinalis) and St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum); these last two are not recommended for animal use but work well on human skin).

“These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.”

My Apologies for the Delay…

Good morning (or whatever time of day it is in your part of the world…)

In the middle of some major “renovations” here on this blog. As soon as they are completed, I will certainly include more information about them. For the time being, I thank everyone for their patience. New content will be added soon.

In the meantime, keep working towards that faith-filled, sustainable and compassionate future. We CAN be the change we wish to see in the world.

May God bless you & keep you!

19th Century Reality

“O my people, listen to my teaching. Open your ears to what I am saying. For I will show you lessons from our history, stories handed down to us from former generations.” (Psalms 78:1-4)

I tend to over-romanticize earlier times in history. Sure, there’s a lot to be said for a quiet, peaceful walk where no motorcars pollute the air, assault our ears with their constant rumble, and the threat of being struck down by one is non-existent. There’s something to be said for growing your own food, knowing where it came from, knowing what’s in it, and knowing how to preserve it for the winter months when nothing grows. There’s an art to cooking. Sadly, many in our society no longer take the time to learn that art. They’re too busy to slow cook anything; nuke for 3 minutes instead…and watch most, if not all, of the nutrition evaporate. And, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, the craftsmanship that went into everything! Today’s styles, whether we’re talking clothing, or furnishings, or even architecture, are–in my not-so-humble opinion–bland. There’s no attempt at individuality. Everything is churned out in a factory so that every house, every sofa, every pair of jeans is often identical to the next. The only difference may be that this house is blue and its neighbor is yellow. So, I lament the loss of such craftsmanship.

However, yesterday afternoon, I spent some time reading some of the literature in the herb garden “office”. “Office” because it’s really the basement to another exhibit, but it has been converted into a part-garden shed, part-gardening library and, yes, part-office. Some of what I read, I already knew but it was kind of sobering all the same:

Every family could expect to lose at least one child in infancy…mostly due to bacterial infections and viruses, of which infants have not developed immunity against and, of course, there’s no real hospital with today’s pre- and post-natal care.

Every family could also expect to lose at least one child before the age of 21 because one out of every five children never got the chance to grow up due to childhood diseases. I often criticize certain vaccinations–usually the flu vaccine and, in this case, I will continue to do so–but, while some of the vaccinations we received as children may cause some unpleasant conditions and/or side effects, they also save lives. I, for one, would not want to contract tuberculosis–what was called “consumption” in the 1800’s. Consumption was one of the biggest killers in the 19th century.

Diseases like malaria and cholera took the lives of hundreds of people each summer. When was the last time we heard of anyone contracting cholera? There’s something to be said for public sanitation, too.

Women between 20 and 45, their childbearing years, were always at risk of losing their lives in the birthing process.

Menstrual pain, PMS and menopause were treated with patent medicines. These were primarily alcohol-based “remedies” prescribed by doctors to suppress certain symptoms. And, as anyone knows who has had alcoholism in their family, sometimes the effect is not calming but the basis for more irrational behavior.

One could practice medicine without a license, without even a formal education. The herbalist in me says this one isn’t so bad. No, I don’t want a surgeon cutting me open without ever having received formal training to do so but I don’t mind being able to tincture a few herbs together and being allowed to call it “medicine” instead of “remedy” or “supplement”. However, doctors of the 19th century were of two extremes. Some were merely learned herbalists who, rather than just the more benign plants like chamomile, mint and fennel that nearly everyone knew and trusted, employed harsher herbs. One such fellow, Samuel Thomson, believed the body must first be purged of all ill humors and then heated up because he believed that cold was the enemy. So he prescribed, almost exclusively, first, Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata) to induce violent and copious vomiting and diarrhea (Lobelia inflata has since been proven to be quite toxic) and then followed it up with a heavy dose of Cayenne Pepper (Capsicum annuum). He was incarcerated for murder when one of his patients died but then acquitted when nobody on the jury panel could readily identify Indian tobacco. The other side of medicine in the 1800’s used mineral-based remedies like calomel (Mercurous chloride), which had pretty much the same effect on the patient as Lobelia inflata. Bloodletting, purging and blistering were other orthodox methods of “healing”, methods that often sped a patient on their way by further weakening the victim. Lastly, though surgeons were often quite skillful, even in the 1800’s, the risk of infection was great and I, for one, would not like to endure such surgeries without the use of anesthetics.

Lastly, as a woman, the 1830’s hold less appeal, not enough to taint my joy in learning the skills and donning the beautiful outfits of the time, but because I’m simply far too independent to leave myself at the mercy–or lack thereof–of my closest male relative for my care. There were strict boundaries between women’s work and men’s. There was little to no industry for women at all (though the rapidly-growing textile industry was changing this). A widow living alone, even if she could figure out how to manage a plow on her own, hired out for the job instead; that just wasn’t woman’s work and one might appear “unseemly”. I face some of this same discrimination today as there are certain “stations” within the museum that women are strictly prohibited from learning: tin smithing, pottery, coopering and blacksmithing are a few of them. These were men’s tasks and so, in an effort to stay true to the time period, modern women are pretty much denied these skills. (Funny how we bend that period correctness when women are needed to “clerk” at the store and for a Christmas program during a time period when Christmas would not have been commonly celebrated in New England…but that’s another post for another day…) What’s that old expression? “We’ve come a long way, baby!”

May God bless you & keep you!

When I Am Weak

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see you good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:13-16)

I snagged the dream job three weeks’ ago. And, yes, it has been that long already. It’s also been that long, I think, since my last blog post. I went into retreat mode once the new job started. For just a moment, that little voice inside that I’d sometimes like to take a machete to, told me I was in over my head. I wasn’t qualified enough. I didn’t know enough. I can’t do this!

Sounds a little like the adversary with his tricks again.

Why do I listen to this voice? God dropped every minor detail into perfect place with this position. He must certainly have a plan. And, surely, the owner of my heart knows much better than that ol’ adversary. He says I can handle it. He says I’m qualified enough. He says I know enough.

I CAN DO THIS!

But, for a few moments this morning, as I realized yet again the size of the carbon footprint I’m wearing on the earth with this commute; as I realized that I sort of had to give up my parish community to accept this job; as I realized I have less time to work on my homestead; as I realized I have much less time to write my blog, the two books I have on the fire, and complete my homework assignments, I felt a little bit of the bottom drop out from under me. These are my core values. These are the things I live for.

I suddenly longed for something familiar, that seemingly “safe” little world where I hid myself for 7 years. A “safe” little world where dinner often came from the local food pantry and robbing Peter to pay Paul became a bigger juggling act when Peter’s pockets turned up empty, too.

And I realized, that some parts of this new routine are familiar…an echo from days gone by.

Back in 2009, before I lost the corporate position, my mornings were always rushed. I kept trying to cram a 28 hour day into a 24 hour one. Of course, it never worked. And, of course, I was trying to do everything at once…perfection being my worst enemy. There’s a lesson there somewhere. It’s called time management. I may not be able to spend 2-4 hours a day writing now; working part-time at the dealership I didn’t always do so even with the time available. I discovered during 2 years of unemployment and 5 more of severe under-employment, that I am not the self-starter. I need structure. If I have too much time on my hands, if I’m only having to fulfill part-time obligations, I slack off…so much so that nothing gets done.

The female dog side of my nature told the whiny ass to shut up and keep driving.

I ran a little behind this morning rushing out the door. About halfway to work, I came up behind a school bus. Back in 2009, I always came up behind the school bus traveling down Harkney Hill Rd. and the demon called Road Rage dogged my every a.m. commute.

I can do better this time.

The early bird catches the worm…I may be back to 3:30 a.m. risings again. Or at least 4:30; that would give me a solid 6 hours’ of sleep. Then I could write a couple of hours before work.

Old habits, die hard…I’m still trying to cram 28 hours into 24. It can’t be done. I believe that’s the definition of insanity.

Eventually, reason crept back in. This is necessary. I have bills to pay off. And, though I love my little fixer-upper, I confess, I’d like to eventually purchase a bigger piece of land. If I’m ever to increase my herd of goats, and add some sheep to the mix, I need pasture. This is my chance to get back on my feet again. If for no other reason, that is the reason to keep going.

The bus stopped again.

I waited.

The bus started moving again. We rode a little further. The bus stopped again.

It may have been a slower pace than I would like to go and yet, we were still moving, still getting where we wanted to go…”we” being the line of cars stopping and traveling, traveling and stopping along with me. There’s a lesson in there, too. Baby steps…

How many times have I had to remind myself of that? One foot in front of the other. I can do this. I even started reviewing in my head the lessons learned from friend, Farnoosh, last winter in the Smart Exit Blueprint Plan. I remembered my blueprint. I mentally adjusted it to include the new, ideal position. Actually, the new, ideal position is part of the SEB plan–I needed work to financially sustain me while I work to develop my homestead (or a future one) into a working herb and fiber farm, and goat dairy. I need full-time work like this to get out of debt so the bigger homestead might become a reality. I need full-time work like this so that my stress levels over bills piling up don’t paralyze me so I can’t write at all. This is necessary!

It’s also fun. And I’ve been doing this as a volunteer since 2012!

Some part of sanity returned as I turned onto the last leg of my commute…if I wasn’t 2 and 1/2 years’ into menopause, I’d swear I had PMS with the crazy squirrel leaps my mind was doing. How did I suddenly turn into this cry baby…well, not actually crying but this feeling of overwhelm and doubt?

In myself.

In God.

The blah kind of mood followed me into the morning check-in point and then back to the herb garden. I really needed a tea. Tuesdays the museum is closed…as are all the cafes. Why didn’t I pack a few tea bags? I’m exhausted. Of course, the caffeine’s not the best thing for me…

Meetings all morning. Meetings with the teachers from the new charter school going up in the main parking lot. Suddenly, as we went around the table introducing ourselves and telling what we do at the museum, and where we’d like to go with the new charter school, I felt a nudge to share some of the ideas I’ve had for the herb garden–an addition of a vernal pool and native plant garden bed. The children from the school could help plan and plant it. They could watch to see what sort of creatures show up. We could study the frogs and salamanders and dragonflies that might move in. In sharing this project, I could teach them the importance of biodiversity and the dangers of introducing foreign species of plants. The master gardener came out to play…maybe I’m not such a lost cause after all. Everyone loved the idea.

It was then that I realized that maybe I am staying true to those core values after all. Won’t that vernal pool and native plant garden benefit the local environment? And won’t working with 5 – 9 year old children, teaching them about the environment, plant a seed (every pun intended) for future generations of environmentalists? If that’s not staying true to my core values, what is? It’s a golden opportunity.

When I am weak, He shows me His Way. He shows me the real hope for the future. Suddenly, I’m not hiding anymore.

I can do this…and, more importantly, I want to.

May God bless you & keep you!