Saturday, November 30, 2013

Making an Herbal Salve on This Last Day of November 2013

Chickweed flowers

Last year, I purchased Rosemary Gladstar's home study course, The Science and Art of Herbalism. About a month ago, I received an email from one of the teachers to all the students. The note mentioned that the recipients were probably well on their way to completing the course. The sentiment made me raise my eyebrows, as I had barely skimmed Lesson 1 and its Addendum.

I felt a bit discouraged, but in the following weeks readied my blood for the challenge. Things are a bit different than March, when I bought the course. Beren sleeps better (as of the past month), he also goes to school two mornings a week. One of those mornings Jared and I get to spend together, working on our nursery. The growing season and seed collecting season are over. It's amazing what the alchemy has created - restful evenings free to do not only chores and nursery-related computer work but a bit of reading and schoolwork.

Here and there, I'll be posting pieces of my homework. Some assignments include making herbal preparations and discussing my experience. Just like my apprenticeship and the Chrysalis Center, this is perfect for me. If you've read this blog before, you'll notice I don't mind writing about myself…in some ways.

Chickweed foliage. In our garden.
The Science and Art of Herbalism: Lesson Two. 
Making an Herbal Salve:

With winter here, my son (3 years on 12/2/13), Beren, has chapped cheeks. He's independent and does not like when adults wipe food from his face or add salve to it. He does respond well to participating in creating herbals (and chickweed is his plant, for now), so today I asked if he'd like to make a salve with me. "Yes!" he answered.

I set up the mini-crockpot that we use for wintertime infused oil/salve projects. I added a chickweed oil I had made in the summer. I chopped small bits from a large hunk of beeswax given to me by the beekeeper who tends hives on our landlord's property (also where we live). Beren added the beeswax to the crockpot and stirred, a bit vigorously at times.

We went for a walk outside, and when we returned the house smelled of beeswax. We ate lunch and tested our salves. They were a desirable consistency. Beren spooned his into an old, beat up and faded Nivea tin.

A month ago, I had given him this tin with a softer version of this salve in the same tin. I went off to do something and when I returned, the tin was nearly empty and salve was smeared all over his hands. He wasn't too happy with his greasy, slippery hands, nor was he happy when I wiped them off.

I hope this salve is a harder consistency and one he is more inclined to use on his face. I succeeded on the first task, but on my son, who is a Metal Tiger in the Chinese zodiac, he'll determine what goes on his face in a happy manner.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Heavy Metal Meets Hair Metal

Tonight Jared, Beren, and I danced to the Bangles, Rob Base, Skid Row, Motley Crue, and New Order via It had to happen. We stopped for lunch at Five Guys after looking a piece of property and buying produce at the Stangl Market in Flemington.

"Every Rose Has Its Thorn" by Poison came through the speakers. I sang along. Jared made a joke about playing the song at a New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team gala event, and politely ignored the tears that appeared in the corners of my eyes. Perhaps only "Night Moves" by Bob Seeger would have brought the tears from my eyes and down my cheeks. I am a sucker for rock ballads.

About twelve years and two weeks ago, I sat in McCormick's, an Irish bar in New Brunswick. They had St. Patrick's Day "Warm Up" the 17th of each month and served corned beef and cabbage. I'd go there with friends sometimes. On this particular evening, I sat across from a guy named Jared that I had had my eye on. I had invited friends, but they stayed away.

Earlier in the week, we'd watched the presidential polls come in at a grungy rental inhabited by lefty political types. We managed to get past "hanging out" at the lefty hub - a place where my rear end fell asleep on the far too cold hard wood floor, and to a place where a couple beers might warm our reclusive natures.

I hooked my motorcycle boots around the rungs of the barstool. We talked about music. Jared had been into metal as teen. 'Real' metal.

Me? My teen years were spent in rural New Jersey. My first concert was the Bangles in Easton, PA. I loved the 1990's era hair metal band's hit songs. I spent memorable hours (probably six in total because my friends who actual had cable TV were bored by it. But, me, I was without at home, and was transfixed,) watching MTV at a friend's house. Headbanger's Ball, Aerosmith videos…

"I liked hair metal," I admitted. I laughed and turned my face to the side, a bit embarrassed, but also a bit "love me if you will. I dare you." Jared took me up on my dare. He told me later that he knew he loved me when I turned, and he saw the profile of my face, my nose especially, I think, and I was laughing.

I cut all meadow down

 I thought he'd be upset seeing the meadow trimmed, but he watched steadfastly, with no comment. "I cut all meadow down," Beren would say later. 

I'm eavesdropping from the couch. Jared and Beren are reading bedtime stories, including a favorite from the library called A Visitor for Bear. Beren finishes the punch lines. In the story, a grumpy and solitary bear is repeatedly surprised by a mouse. He opens the cupboard, and "There was a mouse!" Beren says. "Small and grey and…" Jared continues. "Bahwight eyed!" Beren ends the sentence. In case you have trouble interpreting that, it's a "bright-eyed" mouse.

Is it just us? Do other parents melt when they hear their children speak? Jared and I love Beren's words, his stories. I have surreptitiously filmed Jared and Beren reading this story at least three times.

On drives, he pipes with tales. "I've got a tahwactor," he tells us from the backseat. "Oh, what color is your tractor?" Jared asks. "Buhwoo." "Blue, of course." "And, it has a buhwushhog attachament." "Brush hog attachment!" Jared exclaims. "I'm gonna mow the meadow with my tahwactor. I've got a new gahween one," Beren says, kicking at the back of my seat. Jared murmurs to me, "Beren knows words I never heard until I was thirty. A brush hog?"

"What are them ammohs doing? Some are sitting. And they are standing. And they are laying down in the meadow," Beren tells us as we pass an alpaca farm. Ammohs are animals, by the way. He always accents the "do" in doing.

Slowly, Beren's letter "r" is coming into its own when placed at the end of a word, at the expense of the preceding vowel sound. "I'd like some murrrr," he says. I thought I heard an "l" sound, too. The word "knife", inexplicably remains, "neef".

It's all touched by golden wings for me. His little voice flecked by gold. Why is that? Was it the wait - that we waited a good while for him to talk?

Hearing the soft little voice of my friend's two year old charms me sweetly, too. "A lot of traffic at this time of day," she told us as her mother drove Beren and I to a local farm. I was stunned.

Last winter, we picked carrots at North Slope Farm with one of the farmers, Colleen, and her son. We warmed ourselves by a woodstove, and the other farmer, Colleen's husband, Mike, joined us. Beren was silent, except for his glad crunching on his sweet carrot. In the quiet of the still room, Beren pointed to the front of the woodstove where a vent was open and said, "Hole."

Hole? There I sat with my then two year old, who refused (could there be another word or phrase here - "chose not") to speak in words to, hug, kiss, wave bye-bye, or high five even those who he loved best. And he said "hole."

In the early days of talking, Beren's personality, one who likes activity and good laughs, would call from the backseat, "Mouse!" "Cat!" "Dog!" "Wubs!" "Fuzz!" We'd respond appreciatively and exuberantly. "A cat? A cat is in the car! Oh!" "Oh no, not a fuzz! Not a fuzz in the car!" "Webs! There's a spider in this car?" We'd all laugh and the game would begin again.

A year later, I lay beside Beren as he drifts to sleep. I break his latch. "Let's talk," I say. "Let's talk about something," he agrees. "I've got a tahwactor." "What are you growing on your farm?" Beren answers, but I don't quite understand. "Beets? You're growing beets?" "No. Nuhshing. I grow nuhshing. I have a meadow. I cut all meadow down," he says. He grows nothing, but has a meadow he's stewarding. His breathing slows and becomes raspy with the last bit of congestion from our household's week long cold. I wait a moment and rest my hand on his chest. He rolls away and sighs.

Golden wings. Good night.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Asleep, and then awake

As I sat chatting with a friend, I looked up at Jared and said, "He really needs to be taken out of the game. He looks grim." Jared agreed and brought Beren a couple morsels of food. Jared was rebuffed by our stone cold almost three year old.

There were subsequent attempts to add warm articles of clothing to his body, to add food and drink, to engage. Each time either Jared or I was ignored. For the past hour, he had been climbing on hay bales at a local farm's end of season party. The sun had set long ago. Dinnertime had passed. A reasonable amount of time since the last potty break had also passed.

As a child I was notorious for not wanted to take bathroom breaks while engaged in outdoor play with my neighborhood friends. I remember once making it to the screen door and peeing in my pants. I did this many times, many more times that I should have, until I truly old enough to know better.

My mother would whisk me into the house, clean me up, and send me back out. I never remember an angry word from her, but I do remember turning back once and seeing my friend lean over to inspect the puddle on the ground. "Carrie would knock at the door, 'Where's Rachel?' she'd ask. I'd say, 'She'll be out soon,'" my mother tells me.

With family history in mind, I watched Beren careen around the hoophouse loaded with hay bales. It was cold. Jared and I were ready to go. Yet, he didn't appear to be having a good time. Jared approached him once more, and Beren refused him rudely.

It was Jared's turn to say, "I tried. He's all yours." I've said that to Jared, once or twice or many more times. I suppose it's the loving and respectful, but rightfully frustrated parent's version of "Your son…"

Beren dashed the other way as I approached and shouted, "Run away! Run away!" He began to exit the hoophouse. I grabbed him, and he kicked furiously. I sensed a stalemate. I pointed him back into the hoophouse. He ran inside.

I regrouped. A few minutes later, I approached again and whispered into his ear, "In five minutes, we are going home." He stared at the banjo player who had begun playing minutes before and said something. "I'm sorry, I can't hear you," I said. "Go home now." "Go home now?" "Yes."

I lifted Beren up, and he was exhausted. I'd 'won' by waiting out my child. I carried him to the porta-potty, and we packed inside. "What's this?" he asked pointing to the pink spiderweb shaped thing in the urinal. "Do you want to pee before me or after me?" I asked. "Later." "Ok, when I'm done, you go." We finished without trouble.

In the dark, we reunited with Jared and walked to the car. Beren shrieked when I put him into the seat. His clothes were filled with hundreds of long and short bits of straw and his skin was scratched and irritated. We changed his pants and the drive home was pleasant, though we noticed his face was puffy.

At home, it was already Beren's bedtime, but we all bathed, warming and soothing our upsets. Jared and Beren continued our bedtime routine - stories in bed. I brought a snack and water. I sat nearby in the living room. After stories, Jared and Beren make one final trip to the bathroom, but this time, Beren loudly protested all the way. He streaked back across the house and into his bed. "I don't have to. I don't want to!"

Jared crawled into our bed. He was exhausted, and not feeling well. I sat on the couch. "I'm ready for Momma," Beren said, which he says when he is done with stories and is ready to nurse to sleep. "I'm ready for you to go pee," I replied. No nursing until the last bathroom trip is our rule. Silence. He had fallen asleep.

I was stunned. We've been gently working on getting to sleep without nursing. And then… there it is.

He snored and slept poorly, nursing a few times through the night.

The following day, we went my parents' house. Beren stay with them, as we tended to our in ground beds that we cultivated for seed collecting. Jared and I slipped out for a pleasant lunch together at the Bridge Cafe in Frenchtown. When we returned. my mother appeared on the front porch, "He's not well," she said.

On the drive home from my parents' house, Beren was exhausted. Despite my attempts at chatter, story time and low key car games, he was miserable. Beren became agitated. "I want to sit in Momma's lap. I want to. I want to!" He gulped air and tears streamed down his cheeks.

Thoughts of a friend's imaginary invention, "the maternity seat" came to mind. I considered pulling him into my lap, he was so forlorn. Jared, tired and still not feeling quite right, had nearly missed an oncoming car in the minutes previous. I decided to let him stay in the seat.

"Do have anything in case he throws up?" Jared asked. I was dazed and thought, I hope that doesn't happen.

"It's stinky. It's stinky in here!" Beren wailed. When I cracked the window, he shouted "No!" I rolled the window up and down, and Jared passed back a eucalyptus hand salve, "Maybe this smell will clear your nose?" Negative.

About 15 minutes later, Beren emptied his belly thrice and again. Once into my hand and his lap, then his shirt. Then into his hood as I held it. Then, onto a pair of Jared's spare pants.

At home, Jared made a simple soup for dinner while Beren and I cuddled… after I changed his clothes. By this time, I was not feeling well either. I'd been denying that I was getting sick, but now I was drooping. We gobbled our soup. Beren had passed what he needed to, whether it was an upset stomach from the illness or from misery or both. Jared hosed off the carseat outside.

"I think I'm going to take a shower. I need to relax," I told Jared. "Good idea," he said.

I stepped into the warm water and pushed Beren's pants, shirt, and carseat pads aside with my foot. "I can't relax with this stuff in here," I thought. I scrubbed the sour vomit from the articles. The last was a cute t-shirt my parents had found in the Outer Banks. A sweet and friendly cartoon of a dog driving a blue car. A lanky piece of bacon stands in front of the vehicle. "I brake for bacon," says the shirt. I noted that Beren's vomit appeared to emanate from the puppy's mouth.

That night, sleep was spotty. I moved from our bed, to Beren's, to the couch. The last move was to be away from my menfolk's guttural buzzsaw snores. In the morning, Jared ribbed me, "Everyone had their moments last night." I had been guilty of sawing in the moonlight, as well.

That brings us to today. I spent the day drinking teas and taking doses of various herbs - elecampane, aralia, boneset, and gargling with echinacea. When I wasn't laying around, I read Beren stories.

Jared headed out alone to do our weekly shopping. Beren and I waved from the front porch. Though it was balmy, I was pleased when Beren opted to go back inside to play trains with me.

The day passed slowly. At bedtime, Beren wasn't interested in stories. He played instead. I climbed into   my bed, Beren followed and then climbed out. Jared said goodnight and went to read. Beren played again. "Turn off the lights," he said. When I did, he protested and asked for water.

This is not going well, I thought and then told Jared so. I went to the bathroom to gargle with echinacea again. "What's Momma doin'?" Beren exclaimed as he heard my gurgles. "I'm taking care of myself," I said, looking down at a beaming child. "She's gargling, Beren," Jared added.

"I'm getting back into bed," I said. Beren climbed on top of me. He rolled off, then around, around again. He tucked his hands and knees under his body, and I heard his breathing deepen. Asleep.

Ah, bittersweet. I shuffled into the office, and Jared turned to me with a smile. He saw my crumpled face, and I buried my face into his shoulder and cried. "My little boy doesn't need me," I said. Jared comforted me. We talked about Beren's exponential growth and his changing needs.

A half hour later, he rolled over, crashed into the wall and couldn't get himself back to sleep…without nursing.

Monday, November 11, 2013


How quickly the leaves have fallen. With the seasons changing, I have an accelerated sense of time passing. I miss swimming at Spruce Run. How unfair that we went just three times, and once to the beach, when I could spend most summer days, all day, by the water.

Jared and I seem the same day by day. It's only in looking back at photographs that I see that we've changed in the past few years. Just like the big oak tree by the pond. It seemed like it might there for another hundred years. Then, it leaned, leaned some more, then a big wind came. Now, it seems like the trunk has always lain partially submerged in the dark pool.

We'll miss this little red house when we go.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

R.I.P. Okra House

 R.I.P. Okra House
Things change with the seasons, Jared had to explain to Beren. But, falling leaves are fun.

I rub a glue stick across a piece of paper and try to adhere another to it. The glue is not working.

"The glue is dead," Beren tells me.

That's so interesting, I think.


Often Jared and I hear Beren day something, and we turn to each other, "That's so sweet," we mouth. I wish I could remember even the smallest number of phrases.

Like today, "I'll read this one," he says as he grabs a book from the stack we just put on the porch. "Momma, you read, too."

"Mmm. I'd love to, but I think I'll look for my book."

Or, while rolling on the floor, mid-tantrum, "I don't want to go on a trip. I want to be alone."

Or, a story that Jared related to me: while in the garden after this week's hard frosts, Beren said, "My house dried out," upon seeing his "okra house", which he trimmed the lower leaves off of until he could walk under them. Jared explained the frost, and when Beren saw the zinnia patch, he said, "My favorite flowers are gone, too."