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 Old Sturbridge Village 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 to the Village…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 Village. 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, from Brooklyn, Connecticut to Sturbridge, Massachusetts, and back again, 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 OSV 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 OSV 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.

First Decent Snowstorm

First big snowstorm hit last night and I became a little kid again. Though an inch of snow fell in December, it barely coated the ground. This is different. According to Channel 3 News, 8 inches in some areas. I’d say we’re pretty close here in Brooklyn, CT. The snow hadn’t finished falling last night when I went out to the barn around 7:30-8 o’clock to feed, water and check on the animals, and it was over the back of my calf.

I love it!

Of course, I’m not looking forward to the clean up this morning. My driveway’s not super-long but my shoulder will be screaming abuse at me before the job is done. Thankfully, this is the light, fluffy, sugar-snow…as opposed to the heavy, wet variety…and I can push more than actual shoveling. That’s a little easier on the back and shoulders but, though I am scheduled as a Eucharistic minister this morning, I doubt I’ll get shoveled out in time for the 8 a.m. Mass. No burly young men to sweet talk into doing the shoveling for me (and I’m not really lamenting that, just stating the facts) nor do I own a working snow blower. This ought to burn some calories. =)

But, aside from these practical considerations, and a deeply-felt gratitude that we did not fall victim to the power outages that were predicted for the area (we were woefully unprepared for such; we have plenty of bottled water, candles, oil lamps but no wood for the stove), I’m feeling that childhood magic that comes with the first big snowfall.

And, yes, I do feel that it is magical. Those first few moments, before any of that snow is disturbed, that pristine blanket makes everything feel safe, clean and fresh, and makes me think of some sort of fairy land, like Narnia. I sincerely hope the White Witch doesn’t come riding up on her sleigh, but the artist and author in me sees a thousand pictures, paintings and/or stories hidden in each and every flake. I see a snowman on someone’s front lawn and think of Frosty. I see a pattern of hoof prints in the snow by the woods and, despite the yuletide season being over (unless you’re of Ukrainian descent; yesterday was Ukrainian Christmas (or Eastern European)), I think of Santa’s reindeer and their white-tailed cousins who live in those woods behind my house. The big kid in me wants to follow their trail, roll one of Frosty’s cousins into existence, throw a few snowballs at someone and lay in that snow to make an angel.

Of course, for those of us who grew up in Rhode Island, there’s still that little kid inside, hoping to hear Salty Brine’s voice singing out over the radio: “No school Foster/Glocester!” (I always wanted to live in either Foster or Gloucester as a kid…they had more snow days than every other town/city in RI combined!) God bless him; he will forever be a Rhode Island icon, his voice forever recorded in my memory.

I’m praying that these magical snowstorms will never be “forever recorded” in just a memory. Eight inches on the ground today; temperatures in the 50’s Tuesday through Thursday this week. As a kid, this sort of snowfall would last weeks. Guess I’ll have to do the angel thing on my way to the barn again. Might not get another chance.

May God bless you & keep you!

Can’t Call It a Holiday

Black Friday, that is. And many do refer to it as a holiday, of sorts. Somehow, camping outside of Walmart in frigid temps, snow, rain, or whatever else the elements are throwing at us this time of year, doesn’t seem like much of a holiday to me. Neither does fighting the hordes of humanity, swearing and cursing in an attempt to find a parking space, being flicked the bird when I do find it ahead of some other shopper, simply to find that “perfect” gift is “out of stock” and the store isn’t issuing rain checks…the “perfect” gift that will likely be returned the day after Christmas. But to each their own.

(Sorry, inner-cynic coming out…LOL!)

Of course, I used to pride myself in having all of my Christmas gifts purchased by Black Friday and to spend this day actually wrapping them and filling out Christmas cards. I’m not quite as efficient these days. And, as I tend to make most of my gifts now, instead of purchasing, and I tend to procrastinate, I’m still working on those gifts right up until the last possible moment. This year may be different though. While I don’t have any gifts completed to wrap today, having found a new passion in the form of painting, I may not be procrastinating quite so much this season. Rather, I plan to use the day to simply make out my Christmas list.

But I can’t help wondering how such a tradition got started. Yes, from my years of volunteering at Sturbridge, I know that the Christmas tree became popularized in 1848 by an engraving that was published of the Royal Family–Queen Victoria and Prince Albert–admiring a Christmas tree in their home. Prince Albert was German and the yew tree was already a tradition in his homeland. This started the trend of trimming a tree. And, shortly thereafter, as the world figuratively shrunk due to what were then modern methods of travel, and cultures blended, the tradition of gift giving became a regular thing during the Yuletide season. But, back in the 1840’s and 50’s, gift giving involved a few sweets, or small tokens, hung on those evergreen boughs. I can remember, too, reading the “Little House” series of books where Laura Ingalls Wilder writes about the gifts she and her sisters received in their stockings but, again, they were modest by today’s standards: a shiny tin cup, a penny, an orange. This was the 1870’s and 80’s. Santa was ho-ho-ho-ing across the skies on Christmas Eve by now. And has been doing so ever since. But why has this day, the Friday after Thanksgiving, become marked in red on every modern calendar as the quintessential day to bowl our fellow man over in an attempt to get the best deals? I know it’s a marketing ploy for retailers but it just seems like such a waste, such a vulgar display of materialism, greed and pride.

But, then, I tend to be a minimalist.

And, as a Christian, I would rather remember the real reason we celebrate this day. While there is no mention of a date for Christ’s birth in the Holy Bible, remembering that a Savior was born to save the world fills me with far more satisfaction and peace than snagging that marked-up 50″ plasma screen TV, at 20% off, before every other shopper does.

May God bless you & keep you!

Thanksgiving in 1830’s New England

Having been a volunteer at Old Sturbridge Village since 2011 has been the best on-going history class I’ve ever taken. While, in recent posts, I have lamented not being able to learn many of the antiquated skills that make The Village such a popular attraction–for both tourists and local folks alike, I cannot deny the value of those history lessons. I shared a condensed version of this in the dealership’s newsletter.

In 1838, the year that OSV roughly interprets, Thanksgiving was the big holiday. This was the time where, if you could, you went home for the holiday (note the singular here). The Christmas celebrations we enjoy today were unheard of. Christmas was, by the puritanical standards that still governed much of New England in the 1830’s, a papist celebration and considered idolatrous and unscriptural by Puritan fathers. That’s a tough one for most folks to wrap their mind around. But nowhere in the Bible does it give an actual date for Christ’s birth. Therefore, the Puritan religion, with its strict adherence to biblical truths, did not mark December 25th as anything out of the ordinary. OSV has many diaries and journals where the author’s entries mark this day as business as usual. And, while the Puritan religion had died out by 1838, the influence was still felt. The Christmas celebrations we enjoy today were enjoyed in the big cities, like New York or Philadelphia, but it would be close to another decade before they moved into this part of the country.

That being said, families gathered together in celebration of Thanksgiving. This was the start of our great nation, a symbol of the fellowship between our Native American neighbors and our Pilgrim forefathers. As President Abraham Lincoln would not officially mark the 3rd Thursday of November as Thanksgiving in the United States for a few decades later, the actual date for this celebration tended to vary as it was usually the mayor of a town that declared the holiday.

Much like today, housewives began their baking for this holiday weeks in advance. And, before anyone asks, because this is a time long before refrigeration, they stored their baked goods in the top dresser drawers of upstairs’ bedchambers…where they froze solid. Local dry goods’ stores would receive in rare treats, such as raisins and cinnamon, well in advance of the holiday. And, as raisins were not pitted in those days, young children would be set to helping by removing those pits, one raisin at a time. While we think of turkey as the main entree, duck, goose and other wild game were also common. Incidentally, venison would have been rare; New England of the 1830’s was mostly farmland, taking over much of the habitat, so that deer were few and far between; we have more forests today in New England than they did in 1838 due to clear cutting and the 11-14 cords of wood needed by each household just for cooking (isn’t that a kick in the head?). As so many would gather, those not seen for the better part of the year, many and myriad special dishes were set to table to enjoy together.

Interestingly, because so many loved ones would gather together in their Sunday best, a church service would lead off the holiday, and so many special entrees graced this feast, celebrating weddings was also a common practice at Thanksgiving. Housewives would simply add a few extra entrees and a special cake for the bride and groom.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t anticipate any weddings today. And, as a pescetarian, I won’t be eating any turkey, but I always look forward to the wide array of my favorite vegetables: turnip, squash and green bean casserole, and a healthy slice of pumpkin pie.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone! May God bless you & keep you!

Congratulations

“Then Daniel praised the God of heaven, saying: Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for He alone has all wisdom and all power. World events are under His control. He removes kings and sets others on their thrones. He gives wise men their wisdom, and scholars their intelligence.” Dan 2:20-21

This morning I turned on the PC, went directly to MSNBC’s website and swallowed my disappointment. My gut was telling me last night, before I turned off the TV (yes, we have TV now; Mom can’t get along without it…), that Donald Trump would be the winner. And, while it is a disappointment, because he has little to no stand on the environment, thinking only with his pocketbook rather than the safety and good health of the people, animals, and our shared planet, I have to concede to God’s wisdom in this and give thanks. We have a new president. And, before I went to bed last night, I prayed only that His wisdom prevail and that whoever He thought would be the better candidate would win.

Astonishingly, to those who know me best, Hillary Clinton was not my first choice of candidates. I have been following Jill Stein of the Green Party, which is just as the name suggests–one concerned with our environment and the very real threat of global warming. However, she did not get my vote. And, I confess, it was a bit of a dilemma all the way up to the ballot box. While I felt she would have been the better choice, I also knew, like our Independent and Libertarian candidates, she wouldn’t even be a consideration in the overall big picture. It is sad, because we really can’t call ourselves a democracy if we narrow our views to the same two parties each election, but that is the way of it. And, as I debated about my decision, knowing that maybe a few more votes might put the Green Party in a better position for later elections, I didn’t want Donald Trump to get into office. I didn’t really want Hillary either but, in my opinion, because she at least she has some sensitivity to the environment, she was the lesser of two evils. My vote went to her only because I wanted it to truly count against Trump and, maybe, just maybe, give Hillary a little more edge over him.

But who am I to question God’s wisdom?

While disappointment is a bitter pill to swallow before 4 a.m. in the morning, I give my heartfelt congratulations to Donald Trump. I don’t really think he’s “evil”, per se. I think he is an intelligent man, even if he lacks the finesse and tactfulness that should be a leading quality in any position of authority. We already have a reputation in many other countries for being greedy, wasteful and arrogant, even as we provide aid and support to many countries, especially in times of crises; before Donald Trump is through we may have to add crude to that list as well. I do think he is a good businessman. He knows how to manage big money, how to handle large debts, how to balance a budget, and he has the strength and courage to make tough decisions where it comes to job creation and the economy. For me, those things are almost as important a concern as the environment, as full-time, decent-paying employment opportunities are few and far between these days. However, I also think, as a businessman, he leads from a corporate perspective, meaning the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots is going to get even wider. No, I don’t expect anyone to be handed anything but I do hope he truly can create more and better-paying jobs so that Americans may stand proud again from having earned those wages. Somehow, though, I think we are going to see longer unemployment lines, and longer lines at our local soup kitchens and food pantries. I hope I’m wrong. If I am, in four years’ time, I’ll eat some humble pie and sing his praises.

In the meantime, I’m sending up prayers for our environment, that his decision to start extracting oil from tar sands and oil shale might change before he is sworn into office in January. I hope that, somehow, he manages to pull his head out of that sand and stop denying this very real threat–not only to America, but to the whole world, and to every living being that shares it with us. As the US currently is responsible for 25%-40% (depends who you ask but it’s a large number either way) of the energy usage in this world, I think we would better serve it–and even ourselves–if we moved to greener energies rather than mining for more petroleum. That’s my personal utopia speaking but I dread the next four years; I dread what they will do to this great planet. Somehow, America the Beautiful is more of a history lesson now than anything else–or it will be once this mining begins.

Last night, before she went to bed, I half-jokingly told Mom that if Donald Trump won the election, we were moving to Canada. Amazingly, she laughed and said, “That’s right!” I doubt she truly meant it but it has been a consideration. However, as our polar ice caps continue to melt, and knowing Donald Trump will likely not use this new authority he’s been given to try to at least help slow it down, moving is not really an option. If they melt, and our oceans rise the 40 feet scientists predict, there will be nowhere safe. And, in the meantime, as our planet continues to heat up at an alarming rate, I’m going to join some of those doomsday preppers. Greater temperatures mean bigger and stronger hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Again, nowhere safe.

And, yes, I am a little ray of sunshine this morning. I told you it was a bitter pill to swallow at such an ungodly hour.

So, a truly heartfelt “Congratulations!” to Donald Trump. Again, despite my fear for the environment, I will not question God’s wisdom in setting you in our highest office. You fought the good fight, maybe a bit down and dirty, but that’s politics. And you won. That’s an accomplishment in itself, for any candidate. To Hillary, an A for effort; you hung in there until the end. As I felt Bill did a decent job in office, I am sure you would have done well, too. And I would have liked to have seen a woman–finally–in our highest office. Just because. Thank you to all our candidates! Maybe our next election will be one of true change–a change in parties; can’t hurt. The last few elections have been more about choosing that “lesser of two evils” rather than a candidate we can truly feel good about. Sad, but true. And, as we begin the march towards that next election, may Donald Trump, and all our political leaders, lead with God’s wisdom and love…for all creatures great and small.

May God bless you & keep you!

Happy Halloween

Thanksgiving is truly my favorite holiday. Though I abstain from eating any meat or poultry, I love gathering together with so many loved ones and sharing such a wide array of vegetables: turnip, squash, pumpkin pie and green bean casserole are some of my favorites. But Halloween is a pretty close second.

I’m turning 50 in a few weeks but, if you turned those numbers around “05”, 5 years old is about how old I act when it comes to “dressing up” for the occasion. I have never outgrown it. No, I don’t go trick-or-treating–or mumming and guising, as it was originally called–but I like to make people laugh. Or, at the very least, smile. And, no matter what costume I decide on, it usually does elicit an upturn of lips wherever I go. To me, that’s reason enough to indulge that inner child.

Halloween tends to be a bit controversial within the Christian community. All Hallows’ Evening (Halloween is a contraction for this holiday), is said to be the time when the veil between the Otherworld and this one is particularly thin and the souls of the dearly departed are free to roam the earth–and, potentially, to right their wrongs. This, of course, has its roots in Gaelic traditions. The night of Samhain (pronounced SOW-en) marks the end of the harvest season, when spirits–or fairies–enter this world and must be appeased to ensure that people and livestock survive the long winter ahead. Earlier generations would invoke God’s protection upon approaching their dwellings, and guising–or the donning of a costume–was done to disguise oneself from the Fae Folk. The carrying of a Jack-o’-lantern by guisers was to protect one from any evil spirits lurking about. And, interestingly, the Jack-o’-lantern was originally either a turnip or a mangel wurzel (a type of beet). When early settlers to the Americas arrived, they adopted the native fruit–the pumpkin. Within the Roman Catholic Church, All Hallows’ Evening is part of the triduum of Allhallowtide, a time set aside for honoring the saints and praying for the souls of those dearly departed as they journey from Purgatory to Heaven. In many countries, All Hallows’ Evening celebrations also include a church service and the lighting of candles upon the graves of departed loved ones. However, as many Protestant religions do not believe in Purgatory, this practice, or belief, goes against their notions of predestination. Hence, some of the controversy surrounding this holiday.

For myself, the only “controversy” I feel about any holiday is the commercialization of it. Big box department stores have been lining their shelves for weeks with costumes and accessories, many of which will wind up in landfills after tonight. I’d hate to think I had so little gumption as to buy a costume. I’d rather give the creative genius a little room to spread her wings. Albeit, as I type this, I will confess to purchasing some rather toxic make-up to enhance today’s disguise. If anyone has a safe, less-toxic means of creating green face paint, I would greatly appreciate it for next time.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to seeing the smiles, and receiving a few chuckles, as I don this year’s ensemble. And I will continue to tell myself that the smiles and laughter are a tribute to that creativity and not the result of everyone thinking, “Look at that old fool!” Eh, you’re only as young as you feel…and I won’t say “No!” to a bit of soul cake* either!

May God bless you and keep you!

*Soul cakes were given during the Middle Ages to children and the poor when they came knocking during mumming and guising. They were cakes made with allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, raisins and/or currants and topped with a cross to signify their giving as alms. Homemade with organic ingredients they must’ve been much healthier than our sugar-laced commercial treats (albeit, I won’t say “No!” to a Kit Kat either…and hang the IBS! LOL!)

**Information retrieved from http://www.wikipedia.com for educational purposes only.

Wednesday’s Weed Walk: Belladonna

Do NOT try this at home, kids! I repeat, DO NOT TRY THIS at home, in the office, in the car on the way to the office, in school, church, the local gym or even the grocery store. Today’s post is strictly for educational and entertainment purposes ONLY! And because this is also the last “weed walk” before Halloween/Samhain, writing a blog post about an herb whose other common names include: Banewort, Devil’s Berries, Naughty Man’s Cherries, Death Cherries, Beautiful Death and Devil’s Herb (Wikipedia), seemed appropriate for the occasion.

I am talking about Atropa belladonna, more commonly known as either Belladonna or Deadly Nightshade. This is one of the most deadly plants one can have in their garden as it’s attractive fruits entice the palette–especially that of children’s–yet it takes only 2-3 of those plump, sweet berries to prove lethal for a child. Adults are not immune either though it takes about 10 of those berries to prove lethal for us; lower doses are said to incite hallucinations and, as such, it has a history of abuse as a recreational “drug” but it has some very unpredictable side effects so, again, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! Or anywhere else. And I don’t care how redundant I’m being. This is one of those you can never be too cautious about.

Interestingly, Belladonna also has a history of medicinal uses. Many of the hypnotic properties in this plant also deaden pain and it is used even today in many modern pain relievers. Modern pharmaceuticals have found a way to isolate these painkilling properties to produce Orthodox medicines for treating ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, diarrhea, peptic ulcers, chronic bronchitis, asthma and vertigo, among others. Deadly nightshade/Belladonna contains an anticholinergic agent that blocks the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the central and peripheral nervous systems (Wikipedia), systems that control the parasympathetic nerve impulses. Your parasympathetic nerves control those involuntary movements of the smooth muscles, those that control the gastrointestinal tract, urinary tract, your heart, your lungs and many other parts of the body. These are muscles that expand and contract, or function, without any conscious thought on our part. These nerves, we could say, work “behind the scenes” in our bodies, helping us to breathe, digest food and eliminate waste. Which would be one of the reasons this plant is so deadly as too much would likely shutdown these automated systems so we’ll leave this one to the pros…and, perhaps, to the memories of the wise women and cunning men of old.

Of course, in the days of cunning men and wise women–the true crones of old, who were often regarded as witches for their uncanny knowledge of the herbs–Belladonna was more commonly used as an anesthetic to relax, or deaden, the body for surgery, or for the making of poison-tipped arrows for men of war. That it was effective in the latter, and these early surgeries were often unsuccessful, hence, I shall throw another word of caution in here. This is definitely not a “simple” you want to brew in your home-grown apothecary.

However, it is an attractive plant and I know of many who do keep some in the garden for aesthetic purposes. It can grow up to 6’6″ tall with 7″ long, ovate leaves and lovely bell-shaped flowers that are a dull purple in color with just a hint of green and, when ripe, shiny black berries. Bees often make honey from the nectar of the flower. Wild birds and animals often eat the berries, despite their toxicity, dispersing the seeds in their droppings but this plant has proven toxic to many domesticated animals, as well as humans, so this homesteader-in-the-making would rather admire it from afar rather than in the garden.

The name “Belladonna” is Italian for “pretty woman”. In addition to its earlier uses as a medicine, and poison, it was also used by ladies as a cosmetic. A tincture of Belladonna dropped into the eyes will give them a seductive appearance, an appearance that was much favored by earlier women. However, it also distorts the vision, creating a near-sightedness that inhibits one’s ability to focus on things close-at-hand; it also increases the heart rate and, over prolonged periods of time, causes blindness (Wikipedia).

As a quick aside, I am citing Wikipedia throughout and I know this free, online encyclopedia is definitely NOT approved as an appropriate reference academically or professionally but there were enough citations attached to this listing that I decided to use it anyway. As an herbalist, though I would never consider working with such a toxic plant, it is one that I have learned about in various herb classes for safety and educational purposes–enough to know this Wikipedia listing is accurate enough to instill a big WARNING sign over anyone’s intentions to throw caution into the wind on this one. Because it is so deadly, few, if any, of my herbals lists it as a curative. For the sake of this posting, I am more interested in sharing some of the folklore I found about it, folklore that I do have in some home herbals about their magickal uses.

Coming back to some of those hallucinogenic properties, many the wise woman and cunning man was reputed to use Belladonna to “fly”. A common mixture was of Belladonna, the opium poppy, monkshood and/or poison hemlock. What I found was that this combination (and I shudder to think of what sort of “trips” these herbs combined created…)(Again and again, don’t try this at home…) was used in an ointment so, my guess is, as my sources do not give detail, that it was absorbed through the skin–our largest organ. Having had some lightheaded experiences working in the “High” bed in the Herb Garden at Old Sturbridge Village, I can testify that the absorption of potentially toxic, or lethal, plant matter can be quite potent, indeed. In my case, it was Lily of the Valley that had me reeling a bit.

But I digress…

In his excellent book, Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, Scott Cunningham also alludes to this ancient practice of using Belladonna “to encourage astral protection and to produce visions, but safer alternatives are available today and belladonna is best avoided’ (53).

May God bless you & keep you!

Works Cited

Atropa belladonna. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web.
Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atropa_belladonna. 26 October 2016.

Cunningham, Scott. Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, Second Edition. Llewellyn Publications, Minnesota: 1985.