My Mother’s Pincushion and other Notions about Sewing Notions

 

 

on the right is the empied pincushion, middle in the back side, like new, and having always loved her sweet little pincushion, I turned it over and decided to use it

on the right, the emptied pincushion, middle the back side, like new!

210 pins, 18 needles, and one safety pin were stuck into my mother’s pin cushion last Saturday when I, needing to distract my mind from the funk I was in due to physical discomfort, absent-mindedly picked it up and decided to take them all out. There was a practical purpose, if you could call it that, as I wanted to decide what to do with it. Likely it had more of each when it came into my life a few years ago, I’ve used both pins and needles and a few safety pins from it.  There was quite a range of pin sizes, both in length and thickness, and of course needles of various kinds and sizes.  Many needles, and a few pins, were sunk in deep and had to be teased out as I pushed and felt around, searching for sharp points. Mike could not believe how many there were, it is a small pin cushion 3″ square. Like “junk” drawers, closets, garages, the ‘back room”, or a storage shed, pin cushions are tiny spaces for collecting anything that has a sharp point, but unlike those other “catch-alls” (of which Mike has many, though not a pin cushion!) you can easily see what you have, find what you need, and it’s portable!

IMG_0353This mind distracting activity got me thinking about the history of pins and needles. I could write about what I found, but there are wonderful internet sources for both…..as the history of pins and history of needles are not the same! Anyone who has gone to a history museum and seen collections of artifacts has noticed, among the more eye-catching, larger household items and tools, samples of needles made from bones, hard woods, shells, etc. Early pins were even made from thorns. Although there is an interesting history of the early metal pins, like weaving, no one knows for sure when people first started to use needles or pins. It seems we’ve been trying to hold things together and fashion something out of something else for as long as we’ve been around!

IMG_5828As for my mother’s pin cushion, (which having always loved, I turned over to the unused side and decided to use), it represents only a fraction of her sewing notions, in fact only a fraction of her pins and needles, especially needles. I’ve been amazed, since bringing home her sewing basket, at the number of packets of needles she had! I don’t think even the most avid seamstress could use in a life time what she possessed! Why? Did she forget she had them? Not likely, until her last years Mom’s mind, and memory, was pretty sharp, and many of these packets go waaayyyy back! There’s no doubt an explanation I’ll never know.

IMG_5825There is a certain nostalgia to having mom’s sewing basket. Sewing notions, bits and pieces of this and that, packages of binding, snaps, hooks, spools of thread, etc. that collect in the life of anyone who sews is a personal collection of creative endeavors and accomplishments, as well as unfinished or never started projects (I’ve  given away or sold at garage sales fabric and notions from my own stash that were never used).  Like most sewing baskets, her’s has packages of binding never opened, as well as left over bits and pieces of this or that held on to….just in case. This collection of her sewing history is personal, yet so universal.

sewing stuffMy own sewing basket is a smaller version with an almost identical collection, though with my own unique sewing “signature”. Like mom’s, whose sewing history spilled over to the sewing machine stool, which had a deep storage area and contained more bits and pieces of notions, my basket is only a piece of my history, which spills over into drawers and boxes. (I sold mom’s table Singer machine, with the stool contents intact, to a very pregnant young woman who wanted to make baby clothes and couldn’t afford much. Needless to say, I came down on the price and she got a good deal!)

my thread collection, some inherited, all representing a project of mine or someones! The little green box was a thread box of my mom's.

my thread collection, some inherited, all representing a project of mine or someones! The little green box was a thread box of my mom’s.

Decades ago a friend’s mother died and my friend gave me a large box of sewing paraphernalia, including a lot of thread, all on wooden spools. There were little bits of decorative lace, lots of binding, etc. The friend said she didn’t sew and didn’t want it, but wanted it to go to someone she knew. I’d never met her mom, but through the years, felt like I was given a “legacy” collection, a collection of stories from this woman’s life. There were notions I used and many I never used, but only recently, in my “get-rid-of-it-all” phase of life have I let it go.

Some of the sewing notions from my mom's sewing basket.

Some of the sewing notions from my mom’s sewing basket. Including a well worn, very old, but never replaced tape measure. What’s in your sewing basket?

A new spool of thread represents a project afoot, something about to be created….pins used over and over for projects, needles that pull together pieces of fabric to make something new, or patch something old, all hold stories and connect us to an ageless tradition.  A tradition sometimes passed on from mother to daughter, sometimes learned anew by sons and daughters wanting to do something creative, or for practical, functional reasons, maybe to make clothes, sails, bags, fishing nets, quilts. We’ve been sewing things together to create something new for a long time!

And I haven’t even mentioned buttons and button collections! For another time!

Finding harmonious energies in Nature

“Whenever I have read any part of the Vedas, I have felt that some unearthly and unknown light illuminated me. In the great teaching of the Vedas, there is no touch of the sectarianism. It is of [all] ages, climes, and nationalities and is the royal road for the attainment of the Great Knowledge. When I am at it, I feel that I am under the spangled heavens of a summer night.” Henry David Thoreau

One of my herb harvests became a herb mandala!

One of my herb harvests became a herb maṇḍala!

We have certainly had some “spangled heavens” this summer, with warm summer nights, clear skied full moons, and an extraordinary meteor shower. Did you see it? Here in our woodsy home, surrounded by tall firs, we only managed to catch a few ‘shooting stars’.

Though most the summer has been warm and lovely, it’s also been challenging for me due to an infected tick bite, followed by several weeks of antibiotics, causing other problems, more drugs, yada, yada, yada. Tired, achy and hot on the 90+ degree days (those same sky-view-limiting trees like to hold in heat!), my muse was looking for a creative, calm distraction from bodily woes.

a few of my little color doodle designs

a few of my little color doodle designs

Ten years ago, sick with what was diagnosed as idiopathic gastroparesis (I wonder about that word “idiopathic”, does it come from idiot? Is it when doctors don’t know what the heck is going on and feel like idiots?), I started drawing mandala-type designs I called ‘color doodles’. The color and geometric foundation of my ‘doodles’ was calming, centering, and focused my mind away from constant nausea and pain. There was something soothing and healing in each little design as I concentrated on drawing it. For about 3 months I drew one design after another and the little drawings became transformational for me.

Geometric form has helped people order and calm their minds, homes and communities probably since people learned to draw forms. Geometric designs and architecture are found in all the great civilizations, from the Incas of South America to Egypt, ancient China, and the Indus Valley culture of India, with which I am most familiar.

Our tiny Vastu building has in common with all Vastu buildings a cuppula which corresponse with the open space below, or the Brahma, or center. The center of mandalas is also often called the Brahma or center.

Our tiny Vastu building has in common with all Vastu buildings a cupola which corresponds with the open space below, the Brahma center. The center of a mandala is also often called Brahma.

Vastu Shastra, (also spelled Vaastu and sometimes called Vastu Vidya) the ancient architectural principles of India designed to bring harmony to buildings, like many Vedic teachings, was lost as a science and art for centuries because many ancient texts were destroyed or misinterpreted by people and cultures who invaded, dominated, and suppressed the Indus Valley culture. But ancient buildings, both residential and temples, built according to those Vedic principles were not destroyed and through the efforts of Ganaparti Sthapati, who was an architect, sculptor, and teacher, there has been a revival in India of Vastu architecture. We were fortunate 11 years ago to find a young American architect who studied with Ganaparti. He drew up plans for a small Vastu building, designed for us based on the land and our Vedic astrologic charts. Though only a ‘mini’ example of Vastu Shastra, it is a lovely building and folks comment on the ‘energy’ of the building. (You can read more about Michael Borden, Vastu architect, and look at pictures of gorgeous homes built according to Vastu principles here: Vastu Design.)

a variety of flowers and berries make up this little manadala.

a variety of flowers and berries make up this little mandala.

When the ancient rishis, or sages, wrote the Vedic texts Thoreau refers to above, they wrote about Ayurveda, Vedic (Jyotish)astrology, Yoga, and Vastu. They understood the energy fields of the material world, including the earth and everything on it. The existence of those energy fields has been confirmed by modern science. The rishis understood the importance of working in harmony with those energies for health and well being, including the magnetic fields of the earth and cosmos. The rishis understood the magnetic fields of the earth to be laid out in a grid pattern. That grid pattern is a theme repeated in a Vedic astrology chart, in the architectural plans for a building build according to Vastu principles, and the patterns of mandalas and yantras, intricate patterns created for the purpose of calming and interiorizing the mind. The energy grids are the foundation of the sacred geometry found throughout Nature.

A 'floating' mandala on a hot day of calendula, borage, feverfew, mint, rose and other flowers.

A ‘floating’ mandala on a hot day of calendula, borage, feverfew, mint, rose and other flowers. You can see in each flower a mini-mandala!

Consciously or unconsciously, people have always sought to reproduce and harmonize with these grid patterns in architect, art and the lay out of towns and cities. Examples can be found in stain glass windows found in the great cathedrals of Europe that have similar patterns to the mandalas of Hindu culture and yantras of Buddhism, or the patterns found in ancient Aztec and Mayan art and architecture, best known being Sun Calendars, or Sun Stones.

a little bontanical mandala I made at Grayland Beach of the flowers found amongst the dune grass.

a little botanical maṇḍala I made at Grayland Beach of the flowers found among the dune grass.

When my muse began to make botanical mandalas this summer, I realized the theme of geometric design has repeated itself in my life, often at times when I needed an outer expression of creative harmony. Our little Vastu building, my color doodles, labyrinths I draw in the sand at beaches, and now mandalas made of herbs and flowers, all have this theme of symmetry and geometric pattern. It is human nature to be attracted to these grid-like patterns as a way of finding harmony in chaos. We all seek that harmony. The symmetry brings balance, the creation process brings calming focus. I encourage you to try working with the harmonious geometric patterns of energy and Nature in whatever way you find to be creative.

another floral mandala in Nature! Part of the beauty of flowers is their harmonious forms.

another floral mandala in Nature! Part of the beauty of flowers is their harmonious forms.

I find the process of actually creating geometric designs most beneficial, but there are oodles of coloring books of mandalas and some of yantras available.  At the very least, notice the spirals and grid patterns found around you in Nature, from a conch shell or snail’s shell to the interior of a flower.  It is not difficult to find energetic harmony in Nature, even when there appears to be such in-harmony around us.

Nature creates beautiful harmonious mandals grid patterns everywhere, as in the center of this poppy.

Nature creates beautiful harmonious mandala grid patterns everywhere, as in the center of this poppy.

Wikipedia has a very informative page about mandalas in art and architecture, with scrumptious pictures! Mandala

 

 

Checking your bags

“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”  From Strength to Love, a collection of sermons and speeches by Rev. Martin Luther King, 1963.

 

IMG_5465If I had children, or grandchildren, I would talk to them today and try to explain how we carry inside of ourselves many ‘bags‘ of feelings.  One of those bags may contain hatred. I would tell them the hate some people put in that bag is toward themselves, making the bag heavy and hard to bear. I would tell them some people put hate they hear from others in their own bag, making it bigger, and when that bag of hate is too big, there is no room for the bags of love, compassion and joy, and it spills out into words and acts of hatred. I would encourage them to never let their bag of hate get big, to fill the bags of love, compassion and joy so there is no room for hate.  And to never, ever, put in their bag hatred spilling out from others.

I do not have children, or grandchildren, so I will pray that children everywhere learn to love, feel loved, learn about compassion and feel joy. I will pray they are protected from the hatred of others.

If I had a neighbor whose skin was darker than mine, I would go and sit with them, I would hold their hand, listen to their concerns, fears and anger. I would not tell them I understand their feelings because I don’t, I can’t. But I can empathize, I can show compassion and love. I can feed them and let them know I care.

I don’t have a neighbor whose skin is darker than mine, so I will pray for dark-skinned people everywhere. Pray they know there are those who care, pray for their safety when they feel unsafe, for their peace of mind when they feel fear and anger.

imageIf I had a neighbor who was a cop, I’d tell that person I appreciate what they do when they act as guardian to the children, to my other neighbors, to our community. I would listen to their concerns, fears and anger. I would ask they always listen to their own heart.

I do not have a neighbor who is a cop, so I will pray for people everywhere who work to protect others. Pray for their safety when they feel unsafe, for their peace of mind when they feel fear and anger.  Pray they have big ‘bags‘ of compassion.  And if they don’t, to step down from their work, for that quality is needed to protect others, to be a guardian of the lives of the children, of my other neighbors. Of people everywhere.

Perhaps you are feeling helpless, or hopeless, angry, overwhelmed, or detached from the events of violence this week, last week, last month, last year…..everyday. Perhaps you do not believe in the value of prayer. Besides political and social action, you can check your own ‘bags‘, be sure your bags of love, compassion and joy are full and that you are not filling a bag of hatred, which is spilling out from many people right now. You can share that love, compassion and joy wherever and with whomever….with children, with your neighbors.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  From Strength to Love,  Rev. Martin Luther King

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Loving the gone-wild ones!

While admiring pictures in herb books of neat, organized, bountiful gardens, I get heartache and desire as I view past the book at our weedy yard and over grown garden. I ponder how the “Herbal Immersion Course” I’m taking has exasperated my frustrations about clay soil, forest shade, an endless “army” of slugs, and most of all, my own physical limitations that have thwarted garden dreams for decades, dreams of bouquets from abundant cut flowers, baskets brimming with vegetables, herbs, etc. Every spring I foolishly get hopeful as Mike finds time to help with the heavy digging and weeding, then moves on to higher priorities like firewood and house repairs. Oh, I’ve had harvest baskets, some years veggies miraculously did very well, especially when there was less shade, and as I mention below, some herbs grow like weeds. Bouquets are plentiful during the short bloom season of our profuse old fashion bush and climbing roses, and hardy nasturtiums keep color alive all summer. But gardening for me, on this land, has for the most part become a process of default, not choice, not dream gardens. If it survives….hurray! If it thrives and multiplies, hallelujah! I’ve resigned my garden philosophy to the sentiment expressed in the Rolling Stone song…“You can’t always get what you want….but if you try sometimes you might find, you get what you need.”

Gazing past the pages of gorgeous lush gardens, I see plants I didn’t plant (many called “weeds”) buzzing with pollinators, watch a chipmunk munching on a seed pod or berry (they also have a taste for pea vines and beet sprouts), and see many plants growing in abundance that are indeed just what we need!  It is a lush sight, but not neat and tidy. Messy gardening is what I call it!

Here are a few of our “resident” plants who, in their abundance, practically scream at us….“here we are, use us!” Perhaps you have them too!

IMG_5381Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, which I planted probably 35 years ago, literally grows everywhere – around our house foundation, in the garden, in the backyard, across the driveway, down the driveway – you get the picture.  It is antiviral, making it a good choice to add to teas for colds and flues and an excellent tea for calming nerves. Though I’ve never found it effective for chronic insomnia by itself, it can be used for occasional sleeplessness and does make a nice evening tea.  One reason for my taking the herb class was to motivate myself to try new uses with these abundant plants we already have, so my first new use of Lemon Balm was a lemon balm and apple mint hydrosol*, very refreshing to use as a skin spritzer or in water to drink on hot day to calm and lift spirits.  And it was fun to make! I plan to try a lemon balm glycerite, a tincture to extract the medicinal constituents using vegetable glycerine instead of alcohol, (which, for me, might be more effective for sleep as it is  more concentrated than tea).  I’ve put lemon balm in various recipes such as my cauliflower hummus to add both flavor and the beneficial properties of the plant. There are many internet sources for information on Lemon Balm, lemon balm recipes, etc.  A good general information one is Herbrally.

Apple mint, Mentha suaveolens, another plant that has “gone wild” here, was the mint IMG_5378of my childhood. My original plant here was given to me by a volunteer at the visitor center where I worked. She and I developed a friendship around our mutual love of plants. Sadly, she died of cancer a few years after we met. This lovely mint-gone-wild reminds me of her and her warning that it would grow everywhere!  Over the years I’ve often ignored apple mint in favor of “true” peppermint, though pollinators of all kinds love it.  It is a more calming mint than peppermint so I use it in evening teas, and though many sources say it’s large, soft, fuzzy leaves aren’t as “acceptable” as the daintier peppermint leaves in culinary use, I find the milder flavor blends in more and doesn’t give that strong peppermint zing when you don’t want it!  I like adding it to grain salads, and due to its calming properties, will add it to my lemon balm glycerite for flavor and medicinal benefits.

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Plantain leaves washed and ready to dry, to remove moisture before making an oil infusion.

13533167_10206899128817401_8443144441246995934_nPlantain, an under appreciated “weed” plant, is huge in our yard this year! I harvested a small batch for my first exploration into making a healing salve and told Mike, who gets cuts and scrapes a lot, about using a fresh leaf poultice to quickly stop bleeding and speed healing. In the past I used the leaves for this purpose all the time and would hunt around for a plant, this year it is growing everywhere!  It has multiple medicinal properties, including anti-inflammatory. The plant tannins  help draw tissues together and allantoin stops bleeding and  promotes healing of injured skin cells. It is used to sooth bug bites and a recent raid on my body by mosquitoes gave me an opportunity to test this. A strong tea, cooled and dabbed on the bites stopped the itching for a better night’s sleep. If applied immediately, it can draw out the toxins of a bug bite and even be used to draw out a splinter! According to Rosemary Gladstar, you soak the splintered finger in plantain tea, then apply a poultice of crushed leaf under a band-aid, keep reapplying a fresh poultice until the splinter comes to the surface and can be removed. I plan on trying this next time one of us gets deep-seated splinter! Anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, plantain has many first-aide uses. There are two varieties of Plantain, lance-leaved plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and broad-leaved plantain (Plantago major) and they both contain these medicinal benefits. Here is a story of Plantain’s healing benefits along with a recipe on how to make a Plantain oil: First Aid in Your Backyard.

IMG_5384BorageBorago officinalis, has grown in our garden for decades, any attempt to invite it to grow outside the garden has failed. In early summer I reluctantly pull up many new plants, but always leave too many, forgetting how BIG it becomes! When in bloom, it makes for such happy bees, I do not have the heart to pull more. I use the beautiful blue blooms in salads and to garnish desserts, but honestly, that isn’t often enough given the abundance of Borage in our garden. I let it grow for the bees, and because I love looking at the little star flowers, the same reasons it has been given the names “bee bush” and “star flower”. This year it is on my list of plants to discover “why is it here, why do we need it?” I’ve begun my research and learned of its nutritional value and plan on using the leaves in recipes. Though it has little thorns on the leaves and stems, when chopped and added to stir fries and other dishes, the thorns disappear.  The leaves maintain a beautiful dark green color when cooked.  Used as a food in Europe more than in the US, it’s medicinal benefits have also been well researched in Europe.  It has beneficial constituents for the digestive system, lungs, urinary system and heart. Sounds like we need to be eating it more!

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A finishing salt made during a workshop at a conference on plants in the Northwest includes Douglas Fir needles, dock seeds, and Nootka rose petals along with garden plants like Calendula.

There are other plants that grow themselves with little assistance on our part in this wild, “messy” spot of earth we call home. Plants that seem to be calling for a closer relationship include Burdock, Calendula, feverfew, violets (past their prime for this year), honeysuckle, a hawthorn tree (past the medicinal flower stage, but looking forward to the berry harvest to make syrups and tinctures which are excellent for the heart), and many more.  At a recent herbal conference about medicinal plants in our Northwest bio-region we learned of the medicinal and culinary uses of Douglas Fir needles, the most dominated conifer surrounding us.  I’ve long been aware of the medicinal properties of many of native Northwest plants, such as nettles and Oregon grape, but it never occurred to me to look up to the trees!

All this wild abundance, both native and introduced, makes the view past the pages with the pretty gardens more exciting and hopeful!  Stay tuned as I learn to love the ‘wild things’ even more and find out they are just what we need to stay healthy!

Resources:

There are many fine books and resources in the world of herbal medicine, I mentioned a few in a previous post. Here are a few more.

Any book by Rosemary Gladstar is worth having if you are interested in herbs. Her most recent book is packed with information and recipes: Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow and Use 

Juliet Blankespoor is the founder of The Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine and the course I am taking. She is soon to have a book out and her blog is full of fun and useful articles: Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine Blog.

In the Northwest region, Ryan Drum is a gem of information and has many detail articles about specific conditions and plants on his web site: Ryan Drum

* Hydrosols, also called floral waters, or distillates, are usually the by-product of distilling plant material to make an essential oil. A simple stove-top distillation process will produce a scented water less intense than an essential oil, thus making it usable in ways an essential oil could not be used. My first hydrosol was with wild Nootka rose petals and rose petals from our vintage rose bushes. The results was heavenly, as was the lemon balm/apple mint water! See below for basic directions on how to make a floral water, you can also find many articles on-line, just search for “stove top herb distillation.”

Stove top

A Day of Remembrance

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Roses and rosemary, botanicals for remembrance

“Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

imageHow does one say “Happy Memorial Day”? There is nothing happy about war, about having a day to remember all the lives and dreams cut short by the politics and hatred that give birth to war. Watching the National Memorial Day concert on PBS last night, I appreciate and am grateful for the emphasis on helping the wounded soldiers who come home, not just wounded in body, but in heart, soul and psych. We as a society have come a long way in understanding the human cost of war is not just in fatalities.

Memorial Day is a day to reach out to the warriors who survive the battle fronts, as well as the family and friends of those who do not come home, they too are the casualties of war and live every day with broken hearts.

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Clematis is said to represent mental beauty. May those who suffer the travails of war find again mental beauty and peace

Dwight D. Eisenhower was a warrior and a thoughtful man who saw war for what it was. Here are two of his many quotes on the subject.

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

“When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war”.

Honoring and wishing all whose lives are touched by war a day of peace and love.

Friendly pansies and violas

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this little face seems to be waving ‘hello’ and was used on one of the photo cards I sold for 7 years.

Pansies, which can be found in a variety of colors, traditionally come in shades of purples and blues, including dark maroons, to shades of yellows, even orange. There are also bronze colored and white ones.  Traditionally pansies are bi or tri-colored, though solid color ones are more popular in recent years. The wide variety of traditional tri-colors can be harder to find.

Pansies, whose scientific name is Viola tricolor var. hortensis, (though some newer hybrids have been given their own scientific namesare not fond of hot weather, which is why nurseries are already letting their supplies twiddle. They will grow in partial shade to stay cool and are generally easy to grow.

DSC01261Pansies are considered an early spring annual, but I’ve had spring plants, after being cut back when they get ‘leggy’, bloom on a second-growth the same growing season. Pansies planted in the fall will bloom into early winter and come back in the spring if protected from very harsh cold weather.

DSC01260So what is the difference between a viola and pansy?

A Colorado State University Cooperative Extension article has this to say about the difference: “….. sweet violets, bedding violas, and pansies are all classified as “violas.” Sweet violets are descended from the European wild sweet violet, v. odorata; bedding violas (the flower that we usually call “violas”) were hybridized from pansies and v. cornuta. Pansies developed from the wild violas v. lutea and v. tricolor (“johnny-jump-up”). Sixty species are native to the U.S. and about 100 varieties are offered for sale.

I find all that confusing, as do most nursery people, because in most nurseries if you ask for violas folks know you want the smaller pedaled blossoms, and if you ask for pansies, you want the larger blooms.  I’ve read one distinction is pansies have four petals pointing upwards, and only one pointing down, while violas have three petals pointing up and two pointing down.

imageI’m not sure I agree, this diminutive scrunchie- faced sweetheart is clearly a viola in my book but seems to have 4 up and 1 down!

Pansies and violas are edible, they can be “candied” and make a colorful garnish for spring  salads and other dishes, but if you plan to eat them grow them yourself or be sure you buy your plants from a nursery that grows only organic plants to avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides, an important caution for all edible plants. Violas readily re-seed and appear in our garden year after year, those plants being the preferred ones to eat.

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A sweet gift from Mike!

As a child I was given an area in our yard to plant and I always planted pansies. I loved the color variations and their little faces. I still like to plant a few in pots on the porch, safe from deer and slugs (the later still seem to find them from time to time). Yesterday, after looking in two big nurseries for plants, all we found was a large planter full of very traditional pansies! It was like my childhood in a yellow barrel! I thought it was pricey but Mike insisted on buying it for me. A very cheery indulgence!

This gift came after a breast and lymph node ultrasound, 18 months post-mastectomy. I had assertively advocated to get the test, rather than wait the recommended 6 months for an MRI or mammogram. It had been an ultrasound in 2014, 20 months after a lumpectomy for cancer,  that showed a lymph node metastasis, which resulted in findings of more cancer in my breast. Yesterday I was lectured at the ultrasound test on how ultrasounds aren’t valid screening tests, in spite of my own experience. (Used in Europe for screening, there is no radiation exposure and they are cheaper). My oncologist had agreed to order the test, for my peace of mind, but the tech and radiologist did not agree, even telling me MRIs were not good screening tests, only mammograms were valid, contradicting information I’ve previously been told. I had never said I would not get a mammogram or MRI, I wanted this test now rather than wait a full year between the other tests. A wait of a year two years ago would have had a very different outcome.

DSC01878Although the results of the ultra sound were good, the lecturing left me in a grumpy mood, angry at being treated like a person incapable of making my own health care decisions. Looking at all the little pansy faces in the yellow barrel made me feel in good company….they always seem cheery, yet also a bit disgruntled! Maybe that is part of their life-long appeal to me, they reflect my own slightly skeptical cautiousness toward life, even while looking for the positive!

Hope you can find some pansies and violas for your garden, they do have great personalities and are good company in the garden or in a pot on your porch!

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Although pansies are not a big draw for pollinators, this Swallowtail Butterfly seems at least curious.

 

 

 

 

A Weekend to celebrate ~ Moms & Herbs!

Today, the first Saturday of May, is National Herb Day, to bring awareness to the importance of herbs and herbalism.

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An old laundry tub makes a good herb area filled with nasturtiums, basil, marjoram, and oregano with pots of sage, chives and thyme where faucets use to be!

The scientific definition of herbs goes something like this: small plants that bear seeds and have non-woody parts. In the everyday world of human-plant relationships, an herb is any plant that has leaves, seeds, roots, or flowers used as food, to flavor food, or for medicinal purposes, including aromatherapy. This includes not only small herbaceous plants, but many trees and bushes; perennials as well as annuals; plants that are wild crafted (collected in the wild) as well as grown in gardens or on commercial farms.

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a “wild” spot in our garden has volunteer catnip, feverfew, and lemon balm – all plants good for medicinal teas, and violas, used to brighten up salads and other summer dishes.

I think of herbs as those plants that we have developed friendly and beneficial relationships with, a rather broad definition since many plants that aren’t herbs by other definitions fit that criteria, but herbs are probably the most beneficial of all plants. And they have always been a part of my life…..and yours.

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I keep a large pot of peppermint on the porch all year, and added a second pot of spearmint this year, easy access for tea making!

Growing up during the depression, my mother’s parents divorced when she was a young teenager. Mom was often unable to join with girl friends to go to a movie or other such activity due to lack of money. But as a Girl Scout she had experiences that were affordable and contributed to who she became as a grown-up. Well into her elder years she remembered the badges she earned, especially the one about wild plants. A walk in the woods with her meant her pointing to plants and telling me their names. She didn’t do this much when we lived on the east coast, and I didn’t know the extend of plant information she had stored away from her youth until walking with her in the woods of Washington. There she had come home to the plants of her youth. From her I learned about eating the citrus-flavored flowers of the Oregon grape plant, about wild ginger and miner’s lettuce, and in summer she made a pie-to-die-for from red and blue huckleberries.

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The dominate herb in our life, growing literally everywhere, including on two sides of our house, is lemon balm – a tasty spring tea for calming the nerves, and a delight to bees!

As a child we picked wild blackberries and mint always grew in the garden. Though Mom wasn’t “into” herbs and edible wild plants, she didn’t study it, have lots of books about plants (she had a few identification books), her knowledge was not vast, it was simple, about the plants she was familiar with. She used parsley, knew about mint, occasionally used spices in food. The knowledge she had was part of her general food and plant knowledge learned in her youth.

cilantro chutney

a favorite herb recipe, mentioned on my recipe page, is cilantro chutney, with ginger, lemon, and coconut. Here it is served with a poached duck egg on parsnip, and peas with greens.

Humans have been using the plants around them for food, flavor, and medicinal purposes for as long has they have coexisted. Without this relationship humans would not likely have thrived. It is, in many ways, odd there needs to be a National Herb Day to bring awareness and education to people about herbs, the very plants that make their lives possible in so many ways. But sadly, too many people have lost that relationship. They eat garlic flavored corn chips without knowledge of the powerful medicinal properties of garlic (but not as flavoring in fried, processed chips!). They enjoy a chocolate mint cookie unaware of the variety of mints, the number of other herbs and spices in the mint family, or how fresh mint tea might relief that indigestion caused eating that cookie after a big meal! Nor are many people aware of how many medicinal plants are studied by pharmaceutical companies, that they may extract, patent, and make artificially the components that can heal. Why not use the whole plant!?

Fortunately, down through the ages there have always been wise folks who have written books about the healing, preserving, and culinary properties of herbs and other plants. Modern herbalists keep that tradition alive with books, courses, and research into the modern, scientific explanations of the ‘old ways.’ (Two excellent sources for more information is the American Botanical Council and The Herb Society of America.)

It’s odd to say I am now “studying” herbs. A glance at my book shelf, loaded with identification books, herb and edible plant books, and garden books that include herb gardening, one would think its all I’ve ever studied! This life-long, casual relationship I’ve had with plants, no doubt inherited from my mother’s interest, nurtured in her Girl Scout days, has gone ‘formal’ through a delightful, exciting, two-year course entitled The Herbal Immersion Program from the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. This is serious (yet fun) stuff. I might even learn a few scientific names of the plants I live with, but best of all, I have an “excuse” to spend more time with those plants, analyzing their parts, learning more deeply of their personalities, getting serious about new ways of “using” those plants.

I’m grateful, this Mother’s Day week-end, to my Mom who planted the seed that became my love and appreciation for plants. It’s a seed that has grown and gone through many cycles, and now might fully ripen….at least it will take me in new directions.  It’s my second Mother’s Day without my mother, but I’ll celebrate by hanging out with some plants I know she would have loved.

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Quick lunch on a gardening day, mixed steamed veggies, cooled and served with goat cheese with chopped parsley and chives, avocado dip, and crackers.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful women who mother and nurture children, both human and plant….and animal!  Take time this Herb Day to become better acquainted with a plant in your yard or a nearby forest, or give yourself a herbal gift for Mother’s Day! (The Mountain Rose Herb Company has a free Herb Day gift, a little downloadable booklet on herb preparations: Herbal Gift.)

Below are a few good resources for plant identification and information about herbs, their uses, and growing them. (This is a short list, there are many wonderful books, I’d list all my favorites, but I want to go out and play with my herbs!) I’ve also included a list of some the herbs we grow here in our partially shaded, woodsy yard. These are easy to grow, friendly plants with many wonderful uses.

Herbs, by Jessica Houdret (very inclusive, small book, about a wide variety of plants, including history, how to use them, growing conditions, etc. The author has written several books about growing and using herbs, any of them would be a good resource to have.)

Botany in a Day, Thomas J. Elpel (wonderful book to learn about plants, their parts, families, etc.)

Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West, Gregory L. Tilford (specific to western USA)

Plants of the Pacifc Northwest Coast, Pojar & Mackinnon (specific to NW Washington and Britich Columbia)

The Cabaret of Plants, Richard Mabey (a new book, published in March 2016, about the history of human plant relationships)

A list of herbs,

 

 

 

 

Earth Day

Earth day 2016

Happy Earth Day! Love your Mother!

 

For the curious, the plants shown, all NW natives, all traditional food and/or medicinal plants, clockwise from the orange one at top:

Orange Honeysuckle (Lonicera ciliosa)
Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)
Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana)
Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)
Smooth yellow violet (Viola glabella)
Dwarf Oregon grape (Mahonia nervosa)
The last white rose is not a native of NW but likely somewhere I traveled. I don’t travel far so possibly a nearby state. Anyone recognize it let me know.)

Animal Friends

Today, April 11, is National Pet Day, a day that sounds like an excuse for an indulgent society to celebrate one of its obsessions. But if you go to the ‘official’ website for the day, it gives a list of ways to ‘celebrate’ the day, and the list seems to reflect the delicate balance of our current cultural awareness toward animals, from indulgence, to fun, to humanitarian concern.

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On this National Pet Day I got to thinking about the pets in my life, especially in my adult life whom I had personal relationships with. Going through photo albums  (most of my animal friends lived in my pre-digital days) I found many sweet pictures to share. This is Leonard, a dog given to me for 'temporary' care and who stayed with me till his death on the road. He was my #1 guy when I began living in the woods alone.

On this National Pet Day I got to thinking about the animals I have lived with whom I had close relationships with. Leonard was a dog given to me for ‘temporary’ care in my late 20s who stayed until his untimely death on the road. He was my #1 guy when I began living in the woods.

Along with the booming industry of pet care products, from gourmet pet foods to ridiculous pet ‘outfits’, high-priced beds, pet supplements, ‘urban’ chicken houses, etc. etc., there is a growing awareness of the horrors and abuse of animals who are no more than a commodity to unscrupulous breeders or those in the illegal trade of exotic pets. Over the years cock fights have been outlawed, dog fights are illegal, the public is more aware, and angry about the fate of racing Greyhounds, there is more concern about the treatment of ‘retired’ racing horses, and pressure on circuses and marine shows to stop using wild animals as entertainment. There is a movement on both the local, state and national level to make it illegal for pet stores to sell pets from ‘puppy mills’. Many people wanting a animal companion adopt one from a shelter or rescue organization. Many states, Washington State being a leader, have animal abuse laws.

There is also a greater awareness of the benefits of living with an animal. The remarkable therapeutic value of companion animals with Autistic children, elder people with dementia, as well as the value of service dogs who bring independence and security to people with a variety of disabilities, is just a short list of the life-changing richness living with an animal brings to people.

Daisy. What can I say about her? A Jersey with a remarkable personality, I could write a blog just of stories about her

Dear Daisy, a Jersey with personality plus, I could write many stories about life with her!

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Pan

Societal attitudes toward animals have definitely shifted in the span of my life with animals, and while I think there is an unbalance on one end of the scale, with the personification of pets who don’t really care if they sleep in a purple velvet memory foam bed, I think over all attitudes have shifted for the greater good of both animals and people. Research into the intelligence and memories of animals has helped people understand that if animals have intelligence, they might also have feelings, perhaps not in the manner as we do, but of no less significance to their life experiences than our emotional life is to ours.

When Mike and I took a course in animal tracking years ago, we learned of cultures where animal and human lives interacted regularly and interspecies communication not limited to a few gifted people, but part of everyone’s every day lives. Where people were able to ‘read’ animals in the same manner animals can ‘read’ people (who has not had a pet who reacts or response to their human feelings of despondency or joy, or who knows when you are thinking of going for a walk or in the car?) The interspecies communications found in these cultures is not necessarily with ‘pets’, but with the animals living in the same geographic environment whose lives are interwoven with human lives. This interspecies communication was once more common but is lost for a wide variety of reasons in most cultures. I hope our current ‘obsession’ with pets is an indication of a deeper human desire to regain that lost connection. We have only to benefit from it.

Eliza & her brother Charlie were given to me as tiny kitties,

Eliza & her brother Charlie, given to me as tiny kitties, lived to a ripe old age.

If this day of honoring pets in any way can help bring into greater awareness the attitude that animals are the beings we share this little earth planet with, and to the degree we treat them with compassion is as much a reflection of our humanity as is the way we treat one another, then I think it is a day well celebrated.

Enjoy your animal friends today and every day!

Below are more pictures of my animal companions through the years. These were the ‘loves of my life’, in the manner anyone who has loved any animal companion knows. There were also ‘short timers’, animals who came for a time but who I found long-term homes for. (click on any picture to view larger)

Pan was a ‘yogi’ dog, as my brother once called him, who took care of all the 2-legged, 4-legged and feathered beings in his world. A friend to all, familiar and stranger, he was my best buddy on many camping trips and every day he spent with me.  He saw many other animals come and go, lost two of his own best friends when they died, my cats Charlie and Eliza, who left home when Pan arrived but were soon won back and slept with him and followed him everywhere. Also pictured above is Oki. Mike came into our lives with Oki, an elderly, deaf Border Collie/Australian Sheppard who had lived an adventurous life as a tree-planters companion. He was grumpy about getting old when we met him, but Pan guided him and cared for him with great patience. Pan was old himself when I brought Reggie the strong-willed, playful Corgi home, but he was patient and friendly during their few years together.  

Reggie, the playful philosopher and most strong-willed dog I've lived with, traveled many places with Mike and I and hated being left home even when we went to work! He was a working dog at heart and wanted his own job! He stunned everyone at his composed behavior when he was invited to participate in an animal communication class I took with Penelope Smith.

Reggie, the playful philosopher and most complex, strong-willed dog I’ve lived with, traveled many places with Mike and I and hated being left home even when we went to work! He was a working dog at heart and wanted his own job! He stunned everyone at his composed behavior when he was invited to participate in an animal communication class I took with Penelope Smith. His death from mis-diagnosed pancreatitis was wrenching on both Mike and I.

My life with chickens has been well documented in past posts (see below). Feathered friends are hard-working bug eaters, egg producers who provide endless hours of entertainment!

Tippy, an elderly dog who wandered into our yard from the neighbors, who didn't really want her, and stayed till her end.

Tippy was old when she wandered into our yard from neighbors where she’d been left by folks who didn’t want her. She stayed till her end, a mixed breed of happy, she was, we thought, our ‘last’ dog friend…..until Abby had other ideas.

And in the present......Sweet Abby, coming to live with us in her 'elder' years but getting a new lease on life as she hunts and runs 'free at last' in the woods! 

And in the present…Sweet Abby, coming to live with us in her ‘elder’ years, getting a new lease on life hunting and running ‘free at last’ in the woods, and being my self-appointed shadow! Our cultural shifts in attitudes allowed her to spent time with my mother living in care facilities and  accompany me to appointments at Swedish Cancer center.

Here are some resources about animals in therapy and communicating with animals.

Mayo Clinic “Pet Therapy”

PAWS For People Benefits of Pet Therapy

Penelope Smith Animal Talk

Mary Getten Animal Communicator

 

Here are a few of the many other posts about animals:

I aught to have my head examinedCoops and TransitionsAnimal LoveAnimal DancesHeart TugLast One StandingStuddly the Rooster

 

 

 

 

 

Morning in Paradise & Forget-me-nots

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Peach Tree

Wow! If you are living in western Washington this first day of April, Nature is ‘fooling’ us in the most pleasant way…with blue skies, sunshine and warm temperatures, weather that makes one open the curtains and look forward to the day! I opened my curtains to see two Stellar Jays in the peach tree. Our lone Jay has found his mate for the year. Their bright blue feathers amongst the pink petals was a colorful portrait of spring love!

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Abby and I went for an early morning walk, the blue skies beckoning us out. This is the phase of spring for flowering bushes and trees and some of the humbler flowers, such as forget-me-nots and bleeding hearts, both the wild and domestic. The ‘humble’ flowers are the ones no one has hybridized into hundreds of varieties with rainbows of color, nor do they have festivals and shows to glorify them, but they are often favorites of bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Living in a woodsy environment, I appreciate the humble ones, they tend to be hardy, less fussy, and reliable.

IMG_4685Come with me on my morning walk and let me tell you about the ‘blues’, the forget-me-nots that grow everywhere in our yard, a few sneaking into the woods and joining the wild bleeding hearts.

 

The flowering current bush in it's glory outside my bedroom window, about 8' tall!

The flowering currant bush in it’s glory outside my bedroom window, about 8′ tall!

Most forget-me-nots are blue but pale pink and white blooms are occasionally seen

Most forget-me-nots are blue but pale pink and white blooms are occasionally seen

Forget-me-nots are in the plant family Borage, genus Myosotis,  There seems to be disagreements as to their character traits. They are mentioned as being annual, biannual, and perennial (I always thought the annual ones different from the perennial ones). They re-seed easily the same year, new plants growing late summer and fall for the following spring. But the seeds, which can stay dormant for decades if necessary, also grow new plants in the spring. Some sources say their origin is New Zealand, others claim they hail from the mountains of Europe. One reference stated there was a native North American species but I could not confirm that. Seeds of many plants hitched rides early in European settlement of the New World, so confusion as to whether they were here already or caught an early boat is understandable.

IMG_4696Not all who study them agree on the number of species, 50 seems an average. Apparently it is difficult to tell many of the species apart. There is agreement that forget-me-nots like to grow in damp woodland areas. I find this true, when they grow in drier corners of our yard they get yellowish leaves and dry out. Their bloom season here begins in March and they bloom well into summer, the dainty little blue flowers blooming up the stock as it grows taller and gets “gangalier” I often pull some of them mid-summer, when there is more leaf and stem then flowers, letting them reseed with new ‘fresh’ plants. The plant contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids and though a few in a salad is ok, caution should be taken for internal consumption. 

Another spring bush adding vivid color to our morning walk is this quince

Another spring bush adding bright color to our morning walk is this flowering quince

Whether native or not, they quickly become ‘wild’ flowers, in a more polite, not so invasive way as other ‘invaders’, such as non-native buttercup. One article said they were ‘invasive and hard to control’, suggesting the use of a herbicide. Yikes! I appreciate that they return every year, sometimes in the same places, sometimes showing up in new corners of the yard or garden. Should they appear where they aren’t welcome, they are easily removed by pulling, coming out ‘clean’, leaving no root pieces or runners, (as compared to morning-glory which is very invasive!).

There are many delightful stories as to the origin of their name, some are in the Wikipedia listing, other stories, both true and fanciful, can be found on other web sites. They are the Alaska state flower, the one place they are ‘glorified’ with a festival! I appreciate not only their reliability, but their color, blue being under-represented in the flower world and a delightful addition to spring color. That’s what makes them unforgettable!

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our 'chicken coop' garden

our ‘chicken coop’ garden

Bleeding heart, both the wild and domestic, is also beginning to bloom. Last year our big plant was eaten by deer for the first time, so this year I divided it and put half in our new, tiny, “chicken-coop” garden, created in a now empty back-yard chicken coop. It is happy in it’s new home, and with other deer and mountain beaver treats, very protected! The plant remaining ‘outside’ has been sprayed with a commercial deterrent of garlic, eggs, etc. So far it is happy too!

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Wild bleeding heart, which I’ve written about before because it carpets the woods here for the next two months, is just beginning to bloom.

Early morning walks are not just for people and dogs enjoying the flora and blue skies, but for ants looking for a drink!

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Pear tree

Pear tree

Hope you enjoyed this walk-about and seeing some of what is blooming this first day of April here in our woodsy paradise!  Abby and I will be enjoying the day in the garden and sitting in the back yard under our ‘ancient’  little pear tree!

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Raised bed in the backyard, with blooming blue plumonaria, primroses, including a purple denticulata, and bleeding heart. Other perennials just beginning to grow include columbines and geums. Sweet woodruff will fill in the blanks!