Violet Syrup Revisited

I should’ve blogged about this sooner as it has been over a week since I posted about harvesting the violet blooms from my yard…especially since the recipe I posted with it called for 8 cups of water, 8 cups of sugar per 1 cup of violet blossoms. Unless you have an extremely sweet tooth, you might want to cut back a little on the sugar. I followed the recipe to the letter and found it to be so sweet, it was actually painful (if that’s even possible). There was also no need for me to gather a second cup of blossoms as I now have five quarts of violet syrup…Mom and I may be eating a lot of pancakes for a while. (chuckle)

Actually, it’s funny because I’m finding that I’m not caring as much for the end product–though that’s always a plus–but it’s the whole process of watching, waiting, harvesting, preserving that keeps me homesteading. It’s the journey. The skills learned along the way. And the satisfaction I find every time I try something new.

Violet syrup? Who knew?

And with it, comes a bit of nostalgia. As a little girl, I was forever picking the violets and dandelions that graced the lawn of my paternal grandparents’ home. Though the blending of deep purple and bright yellow might be considered gaudy by many if, for example, you were to paint your house in this combination (this from the lady who painted hers black with orange doors, but that’s another story for another time…), to my 4, 5, 6 year-old self, they were a striking contrast that looked oh-so-delicate in a little Dixie cup on my grandmother’s windowsill. Sure, I felt a little sorrow the next morning when those bright blossoms shriveled and curled and turned various shades of brown in their cup and yet, the next day, I couldn’t resist picking a few more.

Today, the herbalist in me recommends dandelion greens for everything from a healthy fodder for your rabbits, goats, poultry, etc. to a valuable folk remedy for kidney and urinary infections. And I’m making violet syrup to pour over pancakes. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll pick a few extra blossoms for my own windowsill now…and come full circle.

May God bless you & keep you!

Have a Coke and a Smile

I think I was in high school–or not long after–when Coca-Cola came out with that slogan: Have a Coke and a Smile. Considering all the sugar in it, the high fructose corn syrup, it’s a wonder anyone drinking it has a healthy tooth in their head with which to smile. I wasn’t as health-conscious back in high school; a glass of Coca-Cola was a treat from time to time. Today, with the Irritable Bowel Syndrome, any soft drink puts me in a world of hurt. But today, I bought a single-serve bottle of Coke.

Just not to drink.

Reducing my carbon footprint has been an ongoing goal of mine ever since I worked in Corporate America. The two hour commute weighed heavily on me. I wanted to work closer to home so that I could walk. Or pedal push. And yet, four years’ ago, when I started working at a local car dealership that is less than two miles’ away (yeah, there’s an oxymoron for you…), I continued to drive. It wasn’t until circumstances forced me to start hoofing it that I actually got up the gumption to start doing it. Granted, I work evenings so safety is a bit of an issue. It’s the whole single-female-walking-alone-in-the-dark-past-fields-of-corn thing. No, I don’t expect children bearing scythes and other sharp, servering objects to come popping out at me, but it does take a bit of nerve…or it did until we set the clocks ahead and now the sun stays up long enough for me to reach home again. There is also a safety issue in that there are no sidewalks beyond the local super Walmart so at least a mile of that walk is spent in the breakdown lane. Not the most operative choice, if I do say so myself.

Pedal-pushing would be much better. But, underemployment, as that evening job at the dealership is part-time, is making that adult-sized tricycle a bit out of reach at the moment. I’m opting for the trike because it is also a cargo bike. There is a big basket that sits between the two back wheels for hauling groceries and pet feed and such home. This would certainly beat lugging heavy bags home by hand. And Walmart will also assemble it for me when I walk down to pick it up. So, a future goal. For now, I make do with what is.

I won a bicycle many years’ ago. Granted, it’s not a cargo bike. It’s not even a tricycle. It’s a simple, two-wheeler…a vintage-style Schwinn, single “gear”, with the brake down by the pedal rather than the hand brakes that usually grace modern bicycle handlebars (picture the bike Margaret Hamilton rode in “The Wizard of Oz”…before she graduated to a broomstick).

I won it…and it has sat collecting dust and rust in the soon-to-be new barn ever since. Oh, I’ve pulled it out a time or two, pumped up the softened tires as needed and given it a whirl here or there. I simply don’t have a lot of confidence in my balancing ability (I’m a bit of a klutz) and I’ve allowed it to intimidate me–especially the prospect of riding it on Interstate 6! But necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, so this morning I pulled it out of its enforced retirement and gave the chain a good drink of WD-40. Then I pumped up the front tire that had gone flat and am now waiting to see if it holds the air or if the inner-tube needs replacing. Sadly, the handlebars had rusted quite a bit in storage. What to do?

My very first bicycle was a hand-me-down from my maternal grandfather. It had belonged to one of my aunts who had since graduated to a 10-speed. Like this vintage-Schwinn, her old bicycle had sat in the basement for some time and had rusted. My grandfather took some Coca-Cola, and a bit of aluminum foil, and took the rust off with it. I wondered if it would work for this bicycle, too. We didn’t have aluminum foil. And I wasn’t about to buy a roll of it just to see if I could remove some rust. I also wasn’t buying a whole 2-liter bottle of Coke. A single-serve size would do…along with a piece of steel wool we had under the sink for cleaning the pots and pans.

It only took seconds to see that, yes, the Coca-Cola was taking that rust right off of those handlebars. In less than 15 minutes I had removed every inch of rust from those handlebars, rinsed it with water, and polished it up with a soft cloth. It looks like a new bike. The Coke worked like a charm…and I only used a small portion of what was in the bottle.

As Mom sipped the remainder of it, I wondered what does it do to our insides?

May God bless you & keep you!

Violet Syrup

That name alone was enough to catch my attention last spring. I’ve heard of sugared violets before, for decorating cakes, but never violet syrup. But the blog I was reading and following added a post about gathering wild violets and making a syrup out of them. This young mother would make quite a number of quarts from them to be used on pancakes and waffles and such; her children loved it. I was intrigued.

Of course, by the time I’d read the post–perpetually always a few days to a week behind on my reading–the carpet of violets that cover a good portion of my property were out of bloom. I have been waiting patiently for this spring to gather some and give it a whirl.

And I almost missed them again.

Northeastern Connecticut has been inundated with rain. Rain. And more RAIN. I shouldn’t lament; my well is getting a good replenishing. But who wants to pick flowers in a deluge? Sure, and I could consider the adventure of it but, when the rain is pouring down like that, I’d rather curl up with a good book and a cup of tea. And I confess I’ve indulged that desire a bit over the last few days.

Today it was back to business as usual though. The sun is shining and the forecast is for upper-70’s to mid-80’s over the next few days. Suddenly, that “blah” feeling I tend to experience when it rains steady for too long, has gone away and I’m charged again.

So I picked some violets.

The recipe I have calls for 1 cup of the flower heads to 4 cups of sugar. But you have to brew the flowers in 4 cups of hot water for 30 minutes on up to 8 hours (or overnight) and then slowly melt the sugar into the heated violet “tea”. The recipe says it will not be the pretty purple you expect until you add a bit of lemon juice…a little bit at a time. Right now my “tea” is a lovely green. It even smells green…with a hint of violet. It is hard to imagine a few squirts of lemon will change that to a purple later on but we shall see…who am I to question the logic of chemistry? Or the allure of magick?

May God bless you & keep you!

Chive Talking

“And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day.” Genesis 1:11-13

I’ve been spending a little time each morning, building more raised beds, adding compost to the beds and, after mucking out chicken coops and rabbit cages and such, starting some new compost. Earlier this week, as I was transferring some of that compost into the new beds, I let out a “whoop!” that brought Mom to the door with a scowl!!??! Even when I explained my elation–the discovery of dozens of red wigglers in that compost pile–I could tell she didn’t quite “get it” as she shook her head and walked away. Even my assurance that worms in the compost bin are a very good thing didn’t convince her. She still thinks I’m addled. Worms aren’t her thing.

Oh, well. I refuse to let it daunt me.

Of course, some of the already established beds also got a dressing of this composted rabbit waste…with worms. I have a small bed about equal distance between the front and the side doors of the house. And my chives are up in it.

I love chives. I love the flavor they impart in cooking, as well as their aroma. They make a nice addition to salads. And I usually eat one raw coming out of the garden. Fresh like that, they really pack a punch. But my favorite use is in my favorite winter casserole: Spinach Mashed Potatoes. The recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of chives; mine are usually “heaping” tablespoons but it’s all good. Usually I buy them dried from a local herb store as I haven’t quite mastered the art of drying them with a food dehydrator–until Tuesday of this week. It took a couple of tries; the first batch I cut and spread on the screen turned brown and lifeless using the recommended drying time. So I cut the time in half and voila! I have a half-pint jar of chives and will be drying another half-pint this weekend. So I’m feeling a little victory here. And this is one that even Mom can relate to a bit.

As I love chives so much for cooking, the herbalist in me has never really looked into them as a potential medicine. But, before writing this blog entry, I did do some research in some of my herbals. Not much there either except in Juliette de Bairacli Levy’s “Herbal Handbook for the Farm and Stable”. She recommends sprinkling some cut up chives into animal feed for the “expulsion of worms.” (Good thing the chives are well away from that wormy compost pile…)

And, unlike many cooks, I have no aversion to sharing that recipe for Spinach Mashed Potatoes; good food is meant to be shared.

SPINACH MASHED POTATOES

6 large or 8 medium potatoes, peeled and diced (if using white potatoes; if red-skinned, may leave the skins on them).
1 10 ounce package (or equivalent from garden) of spinach
8 oz. package of shredded cheddar cheese (or, an 8 oz block of cheddar and shred it yourself; usually about 50 cents cheaper (eh, I am ever the frugal fanatic…))
1 stick of butter
1/4 cup of sour cream
2 tbsp. chives
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. dill
1/8 tsp. black pepper
pinch of salt, to taste

Boil potatoes until tender. Drain. Add stick of butter, sour cream, sugar, black pepper and pinch of salt; mash (will be very creamy) In large skillet saute spinach, chives and dill in olive oil until just wilted. Fold into mashed potatoes until well mixed then fold potato and spinach mixture into casserole dish. Sprinkle cheese over the top and back in the oven for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Enjoy!

May God bless you & keep you!

References

De Bairacli Levy, J. (1952) “The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable.” Faber and Faber Limited, London,
England.

A Part of the Whole

“As God’s messenger I give each of you God’s warning: Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you. Just as there are many parts to our bodies, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of it, and it takes every one of us to make it complete, for we each have different work to do. So we belong to each other, and each needs all the others.” Romans 12:3-5

In this journey of healing and homesteading, it shouldn’t be any surprise to myself that I often measure my worth by what I have accomplished each day. I pressure myself constantly to do more, over-crowding my life until I squeeze all of the, well, life out of it. And I drive myself bananas trying to fit that 30 hour day into a 24 hour time frame. As I blogged about yesterday, growing up with an alcoholic in the home, unreasonable expectations were placed upon me.

In high school, and for several years after, my dream was to be a heavy metal rock star. I wanted to be on that stage, playing my guitar, being viewed as the best of the best. I was driven to find some worth in myself and, despite having a beloved grandfather as a mentor with my writing, that wasn’t an acceptable career in those days; a metal artist was so much cooler (sorry, Poppop…). And, in my more honest moments, I know part of the musical appeal was to get under my stepfather’s skin; my father plays guitar, too.

Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon (though not a metal band), George Lynch of Dokken and, later, Lynch Mob fame, and Yngwie Malmsteen were my heros, my mentors, if you will. And I wanted to play just like them…especially George. I also sang lead. Queen of Metal, Doro, was the major influence there. I wanted to sound just like her but she’s a powerhouse as a vocalist. My own voice, by comparison, sounded weak to my ears. As mentioned yesterday, my stepfather often taunted me about my musical aspirations. However much I practiced, it was never enough. I should work harder, practice more…if I wanted to succeed…even as he directed from the easy chair. In those earlier days, if I read an article that George Lynch practiced 8 hours a day–and, of course, this jived with my stepfather’s “advice”–then I would suddenly be killing myself trying to squeeze those 8 hours of practice around 6-8 hours of work and another 7-8 hours of sleep…and mentally beating up on myself when I failed. My younger self did not take into account that each of these artists were performing for a living. They didn’t have to go to a “day” job (though I’m sure they all had one before they “made it”).

Sadly, that vicious cycle of comparing myself to others and pushing myself to do more, because I never do “enough”, has stayed with me through the years. I recently read that author, Nora Roberts, writes 8 hours a day, every single day of the week…including holidays and vacations. I don’t know how true this is but I do know I simply don’t have 8 hours a day to give to my craft, no matter how much I may wish it or enjoy it. The best I can do is 4 hours…and that’s only if homework and homestead work don’t take priority. I still try to get to the keyboard–or at least sit with a notebook and pen–every day. Again, that’s the best I can do. I do not have the luxury of staying at home all day, everyday. I haven’t gotten that proverbial foot in the door of the writing industry enough that I can afford to stay home (and maybe some would argue that’s what’s holding me back but I’m also partial to food and shelter…for me, for Mom and for my animals). That doesn’t mean I haven’t tried to “find” 8 hours a day though. And, for anyone who has been following this blog since last August or September, you know I suddenly started setting my alarm for 3:30 a.m. after reading an article that Dolly Parton does her best writing at that hour. That fell by the wayside fast as first Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and then a bit of Chronic Epstein-Barr slapped me in the face. I work away from home evenings; I don’t get home early enough to support such an early rising. And that’s a fact. I’m now back to 5:30-6:00 a.m. And most of my writing time has been shifted to evenings, after all of my college homework and chores on the homestead are done, and the rest of the world is heading off to bed (fewer interruptions that way).

It’s the same with the homestead. In this case, my mentors are the folks at Path to Freedom. My homestead is nowhere near as developed as theirs; it’s certainly not a working farm yet. I have to constantly remind myself that this is a family working 1/5 of an acre. I have almost a full acre and, while Mom may plant a few vegetables, most of the work is mine. The Dervaes also started over 20 years ago; I’ve only just begun.

What all of this means is that the mental and emotional abuse I endured as a child and teen, I still perpetuate on myself today. I’m still not “enough”, not doing enough. And so, I see myself as less than those I might unwittingly put on the proverbial pedestal. Whenever I receive a compliment about my playing, my singing, my writing, or anything else I do, it always comes as a surprise and then a bit of discomfort that I am not deserving of the compliment. Such are the seeds of doubt planted by the alcoholic…and they are as perennial and as invasive as a blade of couch grass.

The truth of the matter is that my perception of self is actually quite skewered. I may not get up at 3:30 anymore, or write a full 8 hours each day, but I continue to maintain a 4.0 GPA in a creative writing degree program. I have been published before; have had a couple of professors encourage me to try publishing some of what I’ve written for class, and I’ve managed to attract a following of over 500 people with this blog in less than a year’s time. Once, while practicing with the folk group at church for our Christmas program, I was admonished by the choir director to sing softer. Our objective was to sing the Baby Jesus to sleep…not wake the dead. So much for that “weak” voice. And, many years back, my second husband’s nephew gave me quite a compliment when his mother pooh-poohed my guitar playing and he exclaimed, “But you haven’t heard Auntie Lisa play!” And, of course, having grown up with alcoholism in the home, my mind immediately rejected the compliment.

“One evening I was taken by surprise when another member complimented me. I was very uncomfortable with this gesture of kindness, feeling inside that I didn’t deserve it. When I tried to talk her out of her kind words, she refused to take them back.” (Courage to Change, 1992, p. 130).

Ironically, it is a young adult fiction story that has helped me to accept and appreciate who I am. It is a novel by author, Karen Cushman, called “Catherine Called Birdy” in which a young woman in medieval times seeks to find her purpose in life by trying to be an artist, running away with a circus (or maybe it was a fair; been awhile) and various other projects. In the story, Catherine trails a Jewish family and the old grandmother finally gets her to open up about why she wants to join their traveling show. I’m going to paraphrase a bit but the old woman admonished her that when she got to the pearly gates of heaven, she wouldn’t be asked why she wasn’t an artist, or a dancer, or someone else. She would be asked why she wasn’t Catherine. It doesn’t matter that I don’t play like George Lynch, sing like Doro, have a fully-working homestead like the Dervaes or write for 8 hours like Nora. I sing, play, write and homestead like me. Like that part of Christ’s body, as He intended.

May God bless you & keep you!

References

Al-Anon Family Groups, (1992). “Courage to Change.” Al_Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc, Virginia Beach, VA.

Cushman, K. (1994). “Catherine Called Birdy.” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, MA.

Learning Peace of Mind

I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid…John 14:27

I’ve neglected my Al-Anon daily reader for awhile now…and it shows. Tonight I picked up “Courage to Change” and read today’s message. As always, it was exactly what I needed.

Today’s reading talks about how we often deny the gifts we have by wishing that things were different. Or by refusing to “accept something over which” we are “powerless” (Courage to Change, p. 129). No matter how many years I have spent in therapy, or whether or not I am currently exposed to active alcoholism, it always amazes me how quickly I can fall back on the learned behavior that I grew up with. There is a constant maintenance that never really goes away. If I ignore it, get lazy, whatever you wish to call it, that learned behavior creeps back in and takes over again. Maybe not as strongly, because there is a healing that came with the past maintenance, but it can certainly wreak some havoc…sort of like the weeds in my garden. If I don’t get out there each day and pull a few of them, they’re liable to take over.

And, really, with Mom now living on the homestead with me, it is more important than ever that I keep up that maintenance.

No, Mom seldom, if ever, drinks alcohol. She was married to an alcoholic for 40+ years. Granted, he went dry the last five years of his life. Quit cold turkey. But never attended an AA meeting or sought any professional help; he didn’t think he needed it. Mom learned a lot of coping behaviors in those 40+ years. And, living together, I find myself confronting some of them in myself, too.

I’ve been in a bit of a funk for some time now. A lot of stress, mostly financial, but there is also some stress in simply learning how to live again with Mom. I’ve gone from being 50 years old to being treated like I’m 15. I know it is a Mom “thing” but it grates against the nerves at times. I also find I’m a bit territorial. When Mom moved in she offered to take over kitchen detail. On the one hand, I appreciate the offer, her willingness to help. On the other hand, I really miss my relaxing Sunday afternoons, cooking and baking for the whole week, freezing portions for later in the month, canning, preserving, and also making herbal tinctures and salves and such. I enjoyed planning out my meals before I did a grocery shopping and saving the money that such planning brought about. The simple solution would be to simply sit down with Mom and talk about it. But here is where the learned behavior comes in.

Mom will sit and listen to whatever I have to say. She will nod and agree with me, tell me to go ahead and start cooking, etc; defensively assure me that she’s not stopping me. A half hour later, she will be in the kitchen again. I’ve even gone so far as to half-jokingly tell her I was kicking her out of the kitchen, or firing her from KP duty (after the umpteenth meal of scrambled eggs, rubbery and tasteless on the inside, super-crispy-can-barely-cut-them-with-a-fork on the outside). It doesn’t matter. She’s learned to ignore such requests. Because my stepfather made requests and then changed his mind again as it suited him, which is typical of an alcoholic. Who could possibly keep up? She learned to agree with whatever he said to his face…even as she went about her own business later. She was very careful to agree while he was talking. Any opposition and, like many alcoholics, he would start yelling and screaming at her. He could also be violent. So she agreed. We all did. Because it was better than dealing with the temper tantrums.

As you can guess, we don’t communicate well. I learned to stuff everything. Actually, Mom did, too. We mutter under our breath instead…and then pretend we said something entirely different if, what we muttered, carries farther than we thought it would. A passive-aggressive approach because, living with an alcoholic, you really can’t voice your opinions, your feelings, express your wants or needs. Again, it’s the temper tantrums.

In Al-Anon, “The Serenity Prayer” is often recited:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will. That I may be reasonally happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.”

I cannot change what our past has been. But, by ignoring the myriad tools that I have been given, through both therapy and Al-Anon, I allow that past to taint the present and the future. I’ve even allowed it to affect my homestead.

Another learned behavior from living with active alcoholism is a skewered perception of what one can and cannot accomplish in an hour, a day, a week, etc. The alcoholic will ask for the impossible and then berate you when you fail. I remember when I was learning to play guitar, my stepfather used to make comments that everyone else he ever knew who played would always have the guitar in their hands. They practiced 6, 7, 8 hours a day…or more. He would then insinuate that maybe I didn’t really want to play, or that I didn’t really have any talent. Though I worked 30+ hours a week, and still managed to practice for 2-3 hours each night after work, in his eyes it wasn’t enough.

Today, no matter how much I do accomplish, it’s still never enough. I am a single woman working this land alone. I know exactly where I want to be but, because I’m not there yet, I often feel ashamed. Because it’s not a fully-working farm yet. Because, like healing from the effects of alcoholism–even someone else’s, homesteading is a journey. And, like healing, there is always room for improvement. I deny myself the gift of that journey.

And, by holding onto these learned behaviors, I also deny myself the gift of my mother, whom I am still blessed to have here on this earth. 40+ years of learned behavior will never likely ever be “unlearned”; this is where I learn to accept the things I cannot change. The only thing I can change is…myself. My own behavior. So I think “Courage to Change” is going to become a daily reader again…along with some regular meetings whenever I can either find a meeting within walking distance…or find the transportation to drive to the nearest one.

“While I am responsible for changing what I can, I have to let go of the rest if I want peace of mind. Just for today I will love myself enough to give up a struggle over something that is out of my hands.” (Courage to Change)

May God bless you & keep you!

Al-Anon Family Groups (1992). “Courage to Change”. Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Virginia Beach, VA.

The Birth of an Animal Rights Activist

My parents didn’t spay or neuter. They believed that every animal should have at least one litter. Only we never seemed to stop at just one.

As a little girl, having a constant stream of young kittens and puppies to play with alternated between the thrill and delight that any child experiences when presented with a new kitten or puppy, and the underlying sorrow that I would have to say, “Goodbye” to them in the not-so-distant future. My mother always assured me that we would find homes for them. We seldom did. And, of course, we couldn’t keep any of them; we couldn’t afford to feed that many. And how do you choose just one? Besides, if we kept only one, it wouldn’t be fair to the others, they assured me. And, as I was constantly told, as the kitten or puppy matured, the mother would start to fight with them and I wouldn’t want that.

Every six to eight weeks my stepfather would place the kittens and/or puppies into a box and we would take another trip to the local shelter or pound. I always accompanied him, unwilling to relinquish those last few moments I would have with my new friends. I hid my tears the best I could. And whispered to each of them how much I loved them and how sorry I was; as a child, I was powerless to change their lot in life. And I knew it. I also lied to each of them, telling them they would find homes. Because that’s what I was told. And I wanted to believe.

Of course, once we arrived, those beliefs were shattered–both for me and for my young friends. Walking through rooms full of cages that were full of unwanted and unloved animals was overwhelming. The frantic yipping and meowing as each animal begged to be released, to find that forever home, was a heart-wrenching chorus…especially since we weren’t there to adopt, but to add to their numbers. How on earth do you find homes for so many animals when we couldn’t even find homes for 5 or 6? In every shelter there was also a row of cages labeled Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. I guess you could call it “death row” because, even as a child, I understood enough that the animals in these cages (or pens) had only until that next Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday to find a home. Afterwards, they were gassed. This was the 1970’s; no-kill shelters, if any existed then, were unheard of. And so we left them there and drove home again.

Our pets free-ranged the neighborhood. We lost quite a number to the streets and highways as motorists, unable to brake quickly enough, struck them down. Daisy, Ginger, Misty would be in heat again; it didn’t take long for other dogs or cats to find them and impregnate them. And the whole cycle would start all over again. I lied to Ginger and Misty, too. I told them we would find homes for these puppies or kitties…

And, as I type this, I realize that at some point we did start choosing at least one from a litter. Ginger was Daisy’s daughter. While Daisy had only 6 puppies (yes, only!), Ginger had 12, 13, sometimes more. Some of them might have been still-born but the numbers were astronomical for a relatively small dog. We also kept Ginger’s son, Barney. Barney came down with heartworms. He died slowly, painfully, gasping his last on my parents’ bed. We didn’t do vets either. And while Misty wouldn’t venture outside but did have Muzi in the beginning; he gave her a litter of four kittens before he was run over by a motorist. We kept three of the kittens; a friend took the other in a rare instance of finding someone a forever home. However, one of those kittens was a male–Toby. All of Misty’s litters afterwards were by her son, a too-close breeding.

Bubbles, whose only litter-mate had been stillborn, spent her first year with us. She couldn’t “me-ow”; she made a little tsk-ing sound each morning as she jumped onto my dresser and waited for me to awaken. Though they were all grown, mother and child did get along just fine; another myth debunked. Bubbles also never went into a heat or, if she did, Toby had no interest in his sister/daughter. Only a year with me but she carved a place so deep into my heart that I was devastated when, after a year of cuddling this beloved pet, my stepfather gave her to the dog warden along with Misty and Toby’s latest offspring. I cried an ocean of tears but there was no getting her back. My stepfather screamed and hollered at me to stop; I’m still getting choked up now.

When we moved across country a year later, the dog warden came again to pick up Misty and Toby to take them to the shelter. He was a neighbor of ours. When I asked him, with all of my teenage heart hanging on my sleeve, if they would find new homes, he didn’t lie to me. He said they would try. By then, Misty was an older cat. While I hope she did find some caring person to give her a new home, I also can’t help wondering how much time she spent in a cage, feeling alone and abandoned, before she, too, found her way into a cage labeled “Monday”; ditto for Toby. Daisy and Ginger both found their way onto Interstate 70. Daisy in a blind panic from Fourth of July fireworks; Ginger, just because. It was a year before this move. In that year, we had acquired Baby, a little beagle. At least in her, I know she went to a good home. A neighbor of ours, knowing we were moving, offered to take her in. She and her husband were unable to have children. Their home was filled with cages of birds, hamsters, guinea pigs, etc. They also had cats but no dogs yet. It was not a hoarding situation; these animals were the beloved children they never had. While my heart broke to say “goodbye” to Baby, as we pulled away from the curb that one last time, my heart knows she was at least loved throughout the end of her days. I vowed then and there that, when I was finally out of the house and on my own, no matter what, if I ever had to move, I would make that extra effort to find lodgings that would allow me to keep my pets. The heartache was just too great. And the looks of confusion and fear on each pet’s face haunt me still. Over the years, the myriad rescues I have taken in have all been either super anxious to win my affection, fearing being abandoned again, or else, incredibly shy and quite a work to win over; I suspect, if Bubbles, Misty, Toby & Co. did find homes, they were tough to win over, too.

We got Tiger when we finally rented our new house in Rhode Island. Tiger disappeared only a few months after we got him. Then we got Garfield and, later, Samantha. Samantha’s first litter all died before they were weaned. By this time, I was in my early-20’s but still living at home. I had graduated high school before we left St. Louis and was now working a part-time job, while also taking a correspondence class in Journalism and Short Story Writing, taking guitar and voice lessons, and fronting metal bands. Samantha had a bit of a nasty attitude; few could pet her, let alone handle her. I was an exception but that trust didn’t come along until after she’d had her second litter. There were complications. Three of the kittens were still attached to the umbilical chord, which had somehow gotten wrapped around her front paw. My stepfather noticed the problem but assumed she would get them off on her own and left her alone. By the time I came home from work at noontime, Samantha’s paw was three times its normal size due to her circulation being cut off. When I came in the door, she jumped out of the box she’d been laying in and chirped at me. Amazingly, she let me look at her paw but the chord was so deeply embedded into her skin, there was no way for me to cut it. I picked her up, placed her back in the box and closed the flaps (we didn’t have a pet carrier because our pets rarely, if ever, visited the vet), then headed for the door.

My stepfather tried to stop me. He yelled and threatened. He wasn’t paying for any vet. I was working; I had money saved in the bank. I would pay for it. As if it was an even worse threat, he told me if I was going to pay all that money foolishly, then when I finally moved out, I was taking Samantha with me. I told him I planned to anyway and stormed out the door.

We drove to East Greenwich Animal Hospital where the prognosis was not good. She had one kitten in the box who was not attached to the chord and seemed fine, but the other three were so tightly wrapped with her, that the vet could give me only two options: either I take the paw (i.e. amputate) or he euthanizes the kittens because he could not cut them away otherwise. While it broke my heart to lose such young lives, I opted to spare Samantha’s paw; he wasn’t even sure she would regain full use of it but, thankfully, she did. And he managed to save one of the kittens still attached. Like the previous litter, the two that survived this initial catastrophe, died before they were weaned. Not wanting to ever go through such a thing again, I had Samantha spayed. Again, my stepfather threatened that I was to take her with me when I moved out; he thought the money spent to spay/neuter was a waste.

When I moved out in 1990, Samantha came with me. She had belonged to my Aunt Sandy’s father-in-law before we took her in; she was at least a year old then. I had her another 15 years. She died of renal failure just before I bought the property that is now The Herbal Hare Homestead. Prior to her passing, my then-father-in-law was amazed at the lengths I was willing to go to to spare her life. He walked in one night while I was hooking up the IV to administer her daily sub-cutaneous fluids. Though he thought it was silly, he also thought I’d make a good vet.

I beg to differ. I think the constant exposure to neglectful and abusive pet owners, the continued exposure to unwanted and abandoned pets, would turn me into a fanatic. And fanaticism doesn’t help anyone. I also don’t think my poor heart could take the pain of it. Though I know, and have had to make such decisions, to terminate a life that is beyond any human capacity to help, I think I’d be an empty shell from it over time. Instead, I’d rather mitigate as much suffering as I can by caring for the orphans that come my way and making The Herbal Hare Homestead a haven and a rescue for those in need. And, where possible, to lend my time and financial resources to help others who can provide that veterinary care better than I can. Over the years, I have added herbal remedies to my care; rabbits, especially, do not always respond well to more orthodox medicines. Thankfully, my vet’s sister is also an herbalist and he’s well-versed in the myriad herbs and their uses and, rather than condemn, as many would, applauds my use of them. Over the years, we’ve worked together…rather than against each other. (Would that more doctors, nurses and vets open their minds and hearts to such practices; herbs and modern medicine, when understood, often compliment each other…and alleviate more suffering by doing so)

May God bless you & keep you!