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!

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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 returning as I turned onto Route 20 in Massachusetts…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 Bullard Tavern and then back to the Herb Garden. I really needed a tea. Tuesdays the village 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 OSV, 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!

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!

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.

A Pipe Dream

“For I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me strength and power.” (Philippians 4:13)

This morning I arose early, unable to get back into a deep sleep again after Paz’s not-so-rude awakening. I mean, how can you resist when your butterball of a tuxedo cat wants cuddles? At 17 years old, Paz is my geriatric buddy so, while he’s hale and hearty, and I’m definitely not writing him off, everyday we have together is precious. Though “Mommy” laments a bit of lost sleep, I was happy to scratch him under the chin and cuddle him close. When he’d had enough, he took my hand between his paws–much like a child would a stuffed toy–and went to sleep…typical Pazzy-style. I dozed but it wasn’t long before the knees started aching and I noticed a faint line of pink gracing the horizon. As soon as the first birds started twittering, Paz leaped down in search of some dry kibble.

It was a productive morning. Yesterday Mom and I were graced with a visit from an old friend from my corporate days. She had seen my plea for more cardboard on Facebook and, also being a resident of northeastern Connecticut, she offered to bring some by. Christmas came early in the form of an SUV loaded to the gills with huge cardboard boxes. I am so grateful! I managed to build the largest of the beds I will use to plant my herbs into just as the sun was coming up. Now I just need to make some more compost to fill it. Again, I am grateful.

And still on a quest for more so I can landscape the rest of the garden…(hint, hint) (chuckle).

All of this was before 7:15 a.m. I did some yoga and then headed back downstairs to start feeding time here on the farm. And, for the more traditional farmers reading this, yes, 8 a.m. is a little later than most for feeding time but, as I work until 7:30 p.m. off site, it’s a good 12 hour balance between feedings this way. Anyway, I fed and watered ducks, chickens, goats and cats; dosed the goats with some B-12 as some anemia had set in with the recent worm issues. The worms have been eradicated but, Domino, in particular, took it hard; I am happy to say that he seems well on the mend, with his appetite returned (thank God!). I spent the rest of the morning in the rabbit room, giving them some playtime outside of their cages, feeding and grooming them. Of course, I also spent some of the time in prayer (rabbits are restful creatures) and reading one of the chapters due for this week’s homework assignment.

Now it is 1:30 p.m. and I’ve already spent some time writing my book, now this blog and will soon begin the trek to the dealership.

I love what I do at the dealership. More importantly, I love the people I work with; it’s like a great big extended family. But, as much as it’s needed, there’s a part of me lamenting that, once the midday heat passes over, how much I would love to be back out in the garden, working this farm, working to make it into a working herbal, apian and fiber farm.

That is my dream.

Other people do it. But I am definitely not in a place financially where this is even remotely viable. So, for now, this is my little pipe dream: to earn a living, both as a writer and a homesteader, and not have to rely on the insecurity of working elsewhere.

And, yes, everyone read that correctly: insecurity. There is no such thing as job “security” anymore. In fact, there never really has been. The economy, sales–or lack thereof–affect every single industry in some capacity or another…at some time or another. That’s why achieving a measure of self-sufficiency is so appealing. No, not self-sufficiency away from God; He’s at the heart of every endeavor, whether it’s planting some seeds and watching them grow, trimming a goat hoof, or greeting someone on the phone at a local car dealership, I can do nothing without Him. This is the self-sufficiency that doesn’t rely on the traditional 9-to-5 (or, in my present part-time scenario, 3:30 – 7:30), or the energy grid, or the fossil fuel industry but a self-sufficiency that relies on faith in God, and on the wit and capable hands He blessed me with. To know where my food comes from, to make it all from scratch, to spin my own yarn, weave my own cloth and sew my own fashions…that is the dream.

And, as I bask in this feeling of satisfaction from such a productive morning and early afternoon, I hold onto this feeling, memorize it and allow it to motivate me into making it more than just a pipe dream. A reality, where all of the goodness of the Earth gets purposed to God and abundance is shared with a smile.

May God bless you & keep you!

Dates with Monty Don and Charles Dowding

“Rest in the Lord; wait patiently for Him to act. Don’t be envious of evil men who prosper.” Psalm 37:7

Forgive the redundancy but I really am a bad patient. As this leg continues to throb and ripple with muscle spasms, and my toes turn all tingly through the lack of circulation and swell and give me all manner of discomfort, I have been forced to spend most of my time on my duff, feet propped up to take the pressure off the leg. I could’ve taken out stock in the amount of Ben Gay I’ve slathered on knees, shins, ankles, feet and toes. Ditto for the aspirin. I look at the fine weather we’ve had the last couple of days and I growl at this forced convalescence, thinking of all the gardening I could be doing and various other farm chores. Since Thursday, it has been the bare essentials only.

And, yes, I know…Ben Gay? Aspirin? I am an herbalist, after all. But, while I almost always choose herbs over what’s become conventional medicine, as deeply as I believe that herbs are a better, healthier choice, sometimes they don’t work as fast. I needed more immediate relief just to walk up that hill Thursday night after work. Last night it was a warm bath to ease sore muscles (still no clue exactly what I did to the leg…); tonight there’s a jar of oil in which Plantain, Comfrey, St. John’s wort, Calendula and Cayenne Pepper have been slowly brewed. The first four ingredients are good for the skin. When combined like this you have the perfect combination of emollient, drawing power, anti-scarring agent, natural sunblock, and rash relief. I don’t have any of these but, whenever I make something to put on my skin, I add these four. Our skin is the largest organ of our body; we often neglect it. The cayenne is for improved circulation and for relieving sore muscles.

In the meantime, I’ve actually become a bit of a couch potato–well, armchair is more like it. I’ve been relaxing (there’s a novel concept), feet up, in front of the TV and trying, albeit a little in vain, not to feel guilty for it…even as my leg throbs with a life of its own after another round of feeding and watering the farm. No, we don’t have cable/digital/satellite (i.e. so no reception) but Mom received Roku for Mother’s Day from my brother. Roku allows you to access shows via the Internet and broadcast them onto the TV screen. While there are some stations that charge a small fee, many of them are free. One of those is, of course, You Tube. To be honest, I haven’t really paid much attention to the Roku since helping Mom set it up when it first came here. She’s been enjoying episodes of her favorite HGTV shows and country music videos. Over the weekend, she handed me the remote to the Roku unit after watching me trying to watch music videos on my cellphone via the You Tube app I downloaded. (Eh, it was keeping me off my feet…)

First of all, Mom got a little bit of culture shock as my answer to not being able to walk to church yesterday saw me tuning in to Christian music videos by today’s contemporary artists as a way to still connect and worship Him. I listen to a lot of these artists on Pandora during the week and it always soothes me…despite the hard-rocking sound many of them produce: Casting Crowns, Lauren Daigle, Francesca Battistelli, Barlow Girl (which was much heavier than she expected), Meredith Andrews, Big Daddy Weave and Kari Jobe. I even got a little rap in there with Brandon Heath. After a while though, I got tired of constantly surfing You Tube for the next video and decided something a little lengthier would be better.

I have a thing for British television. If I lived in the UK, I would likely be a couch potato a little more often simply because I love their sense of humor and style…and, especially, their gardens. Charles Dowding caught my eye first. I believe it was an article in Treehugger, advocating the No Dig Gardening method, that turned me on to his You Tube channel; I’ve been a subscriber ever since. This was not my first initiation into the No Dig method, but I love the practical advice Mr. Dowding offers just for gardening overall but, more specifically, for the No Dig method. He gets beautiful fruits, vegetables and herbs. His gardens are so lush that I am frequently jealous at the yields. He makes a lot of compost and that’s helping me in that area of homesteading. And, I’ll admit it, for an older gentleman, he looks pretty darn good in a pair of jeans. He reminds me greatly of Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon. I had Kevin Cronin wallpaper as a girl, both in my bedroom and in my locker in school. Enough said (chuckle).

Anyway, it was through Mr. Dowding’s You Tube channel that I learned of the BBC’s “Gardener’s World” program, which is in its 50th year of airing (pretty remarkable, actually). Mr. Dowding’s homestead was featured on “Gardener’s World” one Friday evening and I fell instantly in love with the show. Now I watch an episode each week on You Tube. Host Monty Don, like Charles Dowding, is a wealth of information about gardening. Being forced to stay off my feet these last few days, I have been doing a marathon of back episodes I missed earlier in the year…and introducing Mom to the show, too. She’s been enjoying it. And we’re both learning a lot of cool gardening tips. I’m especially enchanted with Nigel and Nell, the two golden retrievers who follow Monty around his, roughly, two-acres of gardens…usually with a tennis ball, or one his trowels in mouth. It’s a bittersweet enchantment as I miss the big dogs that blessed my life over the years and hope, God willing, that things will get back on a more even keel in my life–soon–so that I might provide a forever home for another pair of dogs. All in all, despite this enforced convalescence, I don’t feel that the time has been completely wasted. Again, I’m watching, learning, and gaining more confidence through the pseudo-mentoring of these two gentlemen (we switched off at one point to watch some of Charles’ videos, too).

And, believe it or not, yesterday’s rock and roll religion did feed my soul, touch my heart. I’ve actually felt myself drawing closer to Him, taking deep breaths…because letting go and letting God is the hardest lesson of all for me, to give up any kind of control…and just surrendering my will to Him. I may not like the enforced convalescence but He is using it to mold and change me, to grow my faith in Him…something I’ve been yearning for. And praying for.

It was an interview I read with Lauren Daigle in “Young Salvationist” where she talks about how she surrendered her dream of music to Him that really touched my heart. When she finally surrendered her will to Him, doors started opening for her. Maybe I’m feeling “stuck” in my life because I haven’t truly surrendered my will to Him. That’s what I felt when I read this article over the weekend, that He was trying to tell me to just let go; He’s got my back. And it was the lyrics to Kari Jobe’s “Steady my Heart” that, well, steadied my heart:

Even when it hurts
Even when it’s hard
Even when it all just falls apart
I will run to You
‘Cause I know that You are
Lover of my soul, Healer of my scars,
You steady my heart, You steady my heart

That’s worth a few muscle spasms and tingly toes.

May God bless you & keep you!

References

Jobe, K. (2012). “Steady My Heart.” worshiptogether.com Songs, Ariose Music.

Maynor, C. P. (2015). “Interview: Lauren Daigle.” Young Salvationist. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from:
http://www.youngsalvationist.org/2015/02/04/interview-lauren-daigle/

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!