The Enchanted Friendship and Birthday Wish

Did we all have that friend when we were kids?  The one that was intertwined with our very self evolution?  The memory we keep with us forever?  I have written about mine a few times over the years.  Her name was Susan.  I watched her through the windows of my classroom that looked out on to the courtyard of my old Catholic school.  She walked in with her mother to the office to register.  I just knew she would be my friend.  I prayed that she would be my friend.

She had mousy brown hair, and big glasses.  She was very short and was athletically built, even at twelve years old, because she was a competitive figure skater.  And sure enough we were fast friends.  Her mother said to me one day that she always knew when I was on the telephone because Susan didn’t hang around and chat but would respond quickly, “Meet you in ten minutes!” and would dart out the door.  We would meet at the park, ride our bikes, take buses downtown, or just hang out at her house before her parents got home from work.  We would watch foreign films and drink too much coffee.  We would dance around the living room and stay up late to gaze at the moon.  She loved classical music and was intelligent and so, so confident for a teenager.  She inspired me to be better.  And we made some really great memories.

Then we go through those decades of marriage and raising children and working to make ends meet and before we know it we are middle aged.  Oh, we had the kids’ friends’ parents, we have friends we met at work, or we have the couple’s friends.  We have old friends and we have family but I always longed for another friend like I had when I was young.  I sent up a prayer about it.  You can do that.

Well, for the first eight months of our friendship when I would describe her to my kids or tell them what we were up to, I would say, “Oh, she’s like Susan.”  My children do not remember Susan- she was their godmother but our fallout was when they were far too young to remember- but they know what I mean because of all the stories I have told to them over the years.  Not that she is like Susan, but that our friendship reminded me of the carefree relationships of youth.

Tina took my herb class and that is how we first met.  I don’t really open up to many people.  So many times I am not what people expect.  I must have decided a long time ago that I really didn’t want to be hurt.  I started a women’s group at my husband’s recommendation to get me out of the house and meet new people in our new town.  One month five of us went to a nearby small town and shopped in the old main street shops.  We stopped and had coffee on a patio, our faces to the sun.  Tina had offered to carpool with me and as we drove down the mountain she asked me if I wanted to see the house she was building.  I was surprised but delighted.  I loved the second floor loft of her new home that looked down upon the river and the wildlife.  “It’s an Anne of Green Gables room!” I exclaimed.  And she knew what I meant.

“Meet you in ten minutes,” one of us will say.  To the coffee shop or to the mall or the Riverwalk or to each other’s house.

I was first astounded by her generosity.  I have met few people with such a big heart.  She and her fiancé (now husband) brought us over a whole truckload of chopped wood, barely knowing us.  She is the only one I know who owns all of my books, though I am certain she has little use for them!  I officiated their wedding.  As we walked down the path along the river talking about this and that and everything, a large owl swooped down in front of us.  The trees were filled with leaves and the water from the river was cool.  And all was enchanted.  Just like when I was young.

Tina is lovely and petite and gracious and funny.  Intelligent and kind and heartfelt and authentic.  She listens.  She talks.  She is wonderful to be around, whether in silence or in rapid conversation.  I can be myself.  She is herself.  We are at a stage of life where we can meet in ten minutes.  Being older, I appreciate her friendship so much more.  I am so lucky that she was sent to be my friend.  That she wants to be my friend.

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It is her 50th birthday today.  I hope you will join me in wishing Tina a very happy birthday.  Those friendships that define us and help inspire and build us get better over time and it is never too late to wish for a new best friend.

The Innate Healer (and what to do when you cannot help)

I shivered in the cold, forced air of the dim hospital room and pulled my shawl tighter around my shoulders.  I listened to the ominous drone of the heart monitor.  He finally fell asleep.  I watched my child, now a man, lay there in the hospital bed with the flimsy covers upon his slight frame, barely covering his tattooed arms.  His dark hair pressed to the side of his face.  His brow still furrowed from pain.  My baby.  I pulled the covers up around him a bit more and held my breath so not to let the pressing tears release.  Breathe.

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I am considered an expert in my field.  I can tell you about hundreds of local plants, their medicinal properties, growing conditions, contraindications, their uses, how to prepare them, and how to heal nearly every ailment there is.  I am an herbalist, a medicine woman, a plant girl, a lover of nature, a great believer in the original medicine, and a skeptic of modern medicine.  And yet, all the herbal knowledge in the world could not help me as I stood on that cold tile floor.

“Help me, Mom!” he screamed over the phone before I got there.  He went in to the emergency room for a fever and back pain and the hospital gave him a spinal tap.  They missed.  Three times.  Spinal fluid pooled into his lower back and created more pain than my child could handle without madness.  But he was in the hospital now, so it was too late, I could not help.  Except to pull the blankets over his arms to cover the goosebumps.  To kiss his head.

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A few weeks later- last weekend- I stood by the bedside of my grandmother, whose tall, thin frame was dwarfed by the hospital bed and flimsy covers.  The drone of the heart monitor and the bustling of nurses outside the door filled the large, cool space.  My beloved grandma had fallen and just had a partial hip replacement.  Again, I could do nothing but watch her sleep.  My children came.  They gathered in the room and talked wildly, trying to catch up on events since the last time they had seen each other.  My new granddaughter was passed around.  Smiles and laughter filled the space as grandma would slowly open her eyes and look around and grin.  So much life that came from her.

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I am a healer.  We are all healers, especially women.  Any of us would take care of an injured frog, or a stranger, or try to bring life back into someone with warm soup or a hug.  Anxiety fills our chest as we feel the pain of others, see their worries, the punched feeling in the stomach when we know we can do nothing.  That is why so many of us become healers.  We have to do something. 

I have learned that the only thing I can do in cases when no one asks for my help, or I simply cannot help, is to release the outcome.  They might die.  They might not be able to change their life.  They may still have lessons to learn.  They are choosing other options.  They are their own decision makers.  They might be paralyzed.  They might…oh the possibilities of tragedy are endless.  And there we are… trying to save the world.  Sometimes we just cannot help.  Once you can release the outcome, you can then breathe and be there to give love and support or to pull the covers up over chilled arms.  We must release what we cannot control or it will control us.  Give it back to the powers that be.  We can only help ourselves and do what we can for others.

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My husband looked so pale.  A colorless sheen crossed his face as he came out of surgery a few days ago.  (It’s been quite a month, y’all.)  I had released all outcomes.  Whatever happened, happened.  But here he was, smiling dopily from the morphine drip, and a long overdue hernia surgery complete.  At home, I help him in any way I can.  He asks me for help.  I can help him.  I give him my own antibiotics and pain medicines along with his prescribed pain pills.  I make him teas for his digestion and tend to his wounds and bruises.  I am so much better when I feel like I can do something.

Sometimes we can help, sometimes we cannot.  My neighbor called me after badly spraining her ankle yesterday.  I took over some muscle healer and she was at the dog park by the afternoon.

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I feel like it is a very good idea to have some basic knowledge of herbal medicine.  Everyone should know what herbs heal wounds, fight infections, handle pain, and heal.  I currently have two books on this subject on Amazon.  The Herbalist Will See You Now; Your Complete Training Guide to Becoming and Working as an Herbalist and The Homesteader’s Pharmacy; the Complete Guide to Creating Your Own Herbal Pharmacy.

They may just give you one more outlet in which you can help yourself and others.

 

Decorating With Notes of Spring

The air has a slightly different feel to it.  A different scent.  The cold is still there.  I bundle up as I go out to do chores.  But there is a tinge of something else upon the morning breath.  Life.  Spring.  By all indications, it is still the dead of winter, but I sense it.  I sense the pulse of the earth strengthening and the awakening of the plant world beneath it all.  Spring is coming.

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Pick up miniature roses from the grocery store.  Water once a week.  They will live until you can transplant them outdoors.  I had miniature roses grow three feet high in the garden before!

My home is still in the dead of winter.  Warm blankets caress chairs and the furnace is on.  The sun shines like a spotlight through the closed windows, still low in the sky.  My spirit falls more easily into stress and I long to be in the garden.  To be outside with a book without wind chill.  What to do?  The only thing I can do is to introduce notes of spring into the house.

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Plants always infuse spring and life into a place.  These are the babies from my very large aloe.  Last week I transplanted them into a new pot.  Its wide berth lets them spill out and catch the sun, giving a warm desert feel to this corner.  The cheap pots at Walmart are usually my go-to.  I love their cheery celadon, rouge, and artist blue colors, but sometimes it is nice to get a special pot that reminds you of something you love.  In this case, the land of the southwest where my heart and inspiration dance.

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It still gets dark out early so candles are still throughout the house.  These Catholic prayer candles sans saints are perfect and long lasting.  I used an old Coca-Cola crate to hold them.

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Found bird nests and unique pieces of wood and stone are set carefully around the house to bring nature in.

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My Farmhouse sign (bought at Cracker Barrel of all places!) doesn’t have a place on the wall right now because I have all my own bright paintings up but it seems cheery on the floor against the wall amongst the geraniums and other plants.

I seem to collect things with bicycles on them.  Bicycles with baskets.  I love the idea of them.  I love the freedom of them.  The perk of being in the city.  The promise of warm breezes and exercise and French bread in the basket picked up from the bakery or fresh flowers.  I have coffee cups with bicycles with baskets that say things like “Do More of What Makes You Happy.”  My daughter, Shyanne, gave me a small bicycle statue.  So Doug gave me a bike for my birthday last year.  With a basket.  I only rode it a few times before the tires were inundated with goat heads.  But a kind friend came over three different times to fix my tires, fill them with fix a flat, put on my basket and other accouterments (a bell included!) and I am ready to take off on the first nice day without Nordic winds.  The bike had a place on the porch but I brought it in.  It adds notes of spring and whimsy to my living room.

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Lastly, I picked up a snazzy pair of bright galoshes.  Oh, spring, I hope to see you soon!

 

Moving Chicks to the Coop and Safe Introductions

All seven of our rescued factory farm chicks are doing great.  Little Dixie is still half the size of everyone else and the others take turns keeping her under their wing (literally) to keep her warm and comfort her.  She sings all the time and is very happy.  One of the chickens that we deemed Burn Victim Barbie, because of how messed up her neck was, looks a bit more like a Ken.  His comb is larger than the others.  Still too early to tell sexes though.  Their feathers are mostly in, even though most of their stomachs are still bare from being plucked and sleeping on deep layers of waste before their rescue.

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My farmhouse is beginning to smell like a barn and I decided that two weeks in the guest room was long enough.  The chicks are no longer sick and they are growing well.  They moved out to the coop with the big girls yesterday.

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Dixie

Every year different acquaintances on social media show off their cute baby chicks.  When they move them to the coop with the other chickens, the same devastating tale is told.  One story in particular stays with me.  A gal I know put the chicks out into the chicken yard and when she returned they were all dead.  One was almost decapitated.  Bloody, little bodies strewn about.  What happened? she thought.

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One would not bring home a shelter dog and just throw him into a room with the present house dog and leave, would they?  Or cats that don’t know each other?  Chickens are smart, they have hierarchy, and protect their own spaces just the same as any animal.  They need a getting-to-know-each-other stage.

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In the past we would have gotten our chicks in the spring so that at six weeks old it would already be fairly warm outside.  These chicks are ten weeks old today but outdoors they still need a heat lamp.  It’s just too cold, particularly at night.

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Note: to know what temperature your chicks can handle, count backwards 5 degrees from 95 degrees per week.  So my chickens can handle 45 degrees.

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I set up the portable fencing that was in the guest room (a portable fence is invaluable on a farmstead) and set up a folding table inside as a top to keep the big girls out.  I put their food and water inside the square.  We attached the heat lamp and kept it low over the fence.  Nothing touches the lamp!  I am a little fearful of fire.  I used an old piece of pallet, some wood, and this and that to cover holes and make the space secure.  If it is too hot, they will move to the other side of the sectioned off area, if they are huddled under the lamp, they are cold.  You want them comfortably wandering.  I can remove the pallet to reach in and water and feed.

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Eloise checking out the new tenants.

In one or two weeks as the weather warms and the other chickens get used to the babies, I will let them out, keeping the pen up so they have a safe space to run to.  Eloise can be quite a bitc….ahem…difficult.

It won’t be long though before they are all scratching and bathing in the dirt, soaking up the sun, and scrambling for treats all together.  Just use precautions and slowly introduce for a happy chicken household.  Now…to get the smell out of the guest room…

The Well Stocked Pantry and Repurposed Antiques

I love interesting furniture pieces.  These were cubbies in a hardware store in 1950.  I love the original stenciled numbers.  I bought it at an antique store ten years ago and it was the primary showpiece, holding my tincture bottles, in my shops.  It now holds a place in my kitchen.  I realize that it is getting really dingy looking.  Sixty-nine years of army green can only hold up for so long.  (Spoiler alert!  Next week I am revamping my kitchen.  Can you guess what color the cubbies are becoming?)  I just sold my Hoosier yesterday to make room for my new kitchen idea.  It held glasses and barware.  You can take any old piece and reimagine its purpose.

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I love this idea with the pantry items.  It looks fun and unique while being practical.  Things do tend to get lost in the back of the pantry or spoil.  I end up buying way too many of one thing over time, thinking I am out.  This is a great way to keep track of what pantry pulses I have on hand.  It makes grocery planning easy.  And it serves as dinner inspiration.  Choose a grain or legume, see what veggies I have on hand, think up a theme, and go!  Dinner is on.

The Living Room Garden

The creamy white that I painted the walls last month created a palette where all of my beautiful colors and plants and things could show even brighter.  Scattered across the wooden floor are dark pink geranium petals, as if we just had a wedding.  They are intoxicatingly romantic.

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“You have enough plants,” my husband commented.  I stood shocked, jaw agape.  It was like when he said I had enough cats.  Ridiculous.

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The three foot high geraniums are blooming in large tufts of fragrant flowers.  These flowers remind me of Great Grandma’s house but I bet they will go on to remind my granddaughters of me.  They are glorious in their vibrant colors and help me get through to spring.

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My aloe is three feet tall as well.  Gifts from students and clients and friends reach as healthily and high as they can capturing a dance upon the wood floor in the light of the large picture window.  Poinsettia, jasmine, violet, mass cane, ginger, ivy, bamboo…they all please me so.

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Okay, so they take up a bit of room.  Doug has stopped joking about us needing a greenhouse for all of my plants.  They make me happy.  Happy wife+happy life, right?  The greenery and the flowers are my gardening fix.

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Here are some tips for to keep your plants alive:

Water only once a week.  Aloes and succulents, every other week, unless they seem terribly dry.  Water until the water just comes out the bottom.  Use plates under the plants, not enclosed pots or you will find yourself with root rot.

When transplanting, place a handful of wine corks (that’s why I drink wine, people) in the bottom for drainage.  Use organic potting soil.

Discard dead leaves.

Make sure they get a few hours of sun a day in the house.

In the summer, they like to go on a west facing porch.

Speak to your plants, sing to them, love them.

Give them a drink of coffee once in awhile.  They love it.

Taking the Extremism out of Veganism

What is the first thing you think of when you think of the word vegan?  I think of craziness.  I think of mobs of people pushing their way into health food stores yelling.  I think of anger.  I am vegan.  But the word vegan makes me nervous.

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Just like any group, there will be those that have to force their ideas on others in order to create what they feel is right, whether that be religion or lifestyle or opinion.  I understand it.  I just think there are better ways.  Because veganism is really a peaceful, beautiful thing.  My husband said that when I posted on Instagram and then on my farm facebook page the other day that we are vegan and opening a sanctuary we would lose followers.  We did.  The word vegan makes people nervous.

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Others have changed the term to plant based diet.  A benign term that means lots of delicious plants and denotes more of a health food approach then a save the cow message.  I told the teller at my bank that I was plant based and she looked at me very confused.  “I’m vegan,” I corrected.  “Oooh,” she answered, “what do you eat?”

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My friend is in the trenches.  She and a group of dedicated, emotional, loving people go out to cities all over the country.  They stand on street corners with masks on, wearing all black, holding televisions that display the atrocious way that animals become meat.  Blood, fear, and reality fills the screen.  Videos of these events show people walking briskly by.  Does empathy enter any of the bystanders?  I don’t know.  I hope so.  They go out to factory farms and create an unnerving presence.  They rescued a hundred turkeys before Thanksgiving.  The thing is, that when I see my friend, the violence and the plight has so greatly affected her.  Her emotional wellbeing.  Her eyes.  I worry that it is slowly destroying her.

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I have been on both sides.  So, I know that anything anyone told me while I had my blinders on when I was farming would not have changed my mind.  Only I can change my mind.  I taught herbalism for many years and a plant based diet was a central part of my teachings because you can only heal symptoms for so long before you have to look at diet and lifestyle.  I am surprised still how many of those students became vegan.  At least one or two a class.  Including the aforementioned friend.  Friends have sanctuaries now.  My writings whisper and inspire.  My friends know I am vegan.  I make amazing food.  They make amazing food for me.  No one is being forced to do anything.  Most people do not want to harm animals.  They can only eat meat because they can’t see the suffering, the crying, the blood.  They don’t see families, they see packages.  But sometimes people want to see what this is all about.

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So if you want to try veganism, keep these things in mind:

1- You don’t have to tell anyone.  You can just do your thing.  I didn’t want to cause harm.  I know there are cow parts in my tires and I still drive.  I know there is no way to completely avoid it all but I can be vegan.  My anxiety has notched down to near nothing.  Depression is not an issue.  Karmically I feel better.  I love animals.  Why would I want to consume them?  I smell like death when I eat them.  Plants create vibrancy.  But I don’t have to wear a PETA shirt to the grocery store.  I can inspire in my own way.

2- Don’t go out and buy new leather shoes, but the old boots you been wearing, keep wearing them.  Throwing them in a landfill doesn’t bring that cow back.  Be reasonable but be mindful moving forward.

3- Just peek at the labels of cleaning, beauty and bath products and make sure they are vegan and didn’t test on animals.  Goodness knows, no one wants dogs and rabbits to be stabbed and tortured in the name of good eyelashes.

4- You don’t have to go no-oil, no sugar, no gluten, only whole foods vegan.  The health benefits of giving up animal products is huge.  Knowing that you saved one more animal.  One more animal.  That is enough. You can use veggie meat along with your veggies and fresh bread and glass of wine.  There are no rules.  The meat and cheese substitutes out there are awesome.  No better time to be vegan.

5- Follow farm sanctuaries on Instagram or facebook.  The animals speak for themselves.  Know that you are saving hundreds of animals in your lifetime from pain and slaughter.  Watch some documentaries if you don’t know what goes on.  Don’t be tricked by the term “humane meat.” There is no such thing.  You are also helping the environment, your health, and so much more just by one simple, light decision.

Let’s take the craziness out of veganism and replace it with compassion.  I am Animal Friendly!

 

Sourdough Making 101

Sourdough is a fermented food, therefore making it easy to digest.  A piece of organic sourdough warm from the toaster with Miyoko’s butter (vegan) smeared across it is divine with a cup of coffee in the morning.  Memories are made around loaves of bread.

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The original starter is from The Amish Cook’s Family Favorite Recipes by Lovina Eicher and is easy to put together.

3 packages of active dry yeast and 1 cup of warm water.  Pour into a small container with a loose fitting lid and refrigerate for 3-5 days.

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Now we add the starter feed. 

Add to that 3/4 cup of sugar (When did everyone get so funny about sugar?  It seems about the time artificial sweeteners came on the market.  Sugar is a plant.  Use organic sugar preferably.)

3 Tb instant potatoes (Bob’s is good, no extra weird ingredients.)

1 cup of warm water

Mix these up and then add the starter in with it.  Keep it on the counter with a loose fitting lid (it has to breathe) for 5-12 hours.  It will get bubbly.

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Use 1 cup of starter and place the rest in the refrigerator for 3-5 days and then feed again, then bake more bread.  I put a note on my calendar every five days.  Pitch the 1 cup if you aren’t making bread.  Sound like a lot of work?  If you have time for Netflix binges, you have ten minutes to work on your sourdough!

Now let’s make some bread!

Dear Lovina was an Amish mama and her recipe that follows the starter is for three loaves of bread.  That is a little much for just me and Pa so I adjusted it to my own tried and true bread recipe.

Mama’s Rosemary Sourdough

Pour one cup of the sourdough starter into a large bowl

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Add 3 cups of white, unbleached, organic flour (You can use 2 cups of white and 1 cup of wheat or other flour but do not exceed that ratio or you will have a cement block.  Been there, done that.)

1 Tb+ of fresh rosemary

1 ts of garlic powder

1 teaspoon of salt

1/2 cup of warm water

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Blend well and let sit overnight on the counter or 3ish hours if you are starting in the morning.  Cover with a plate.

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Sprinkle dough with flour and use a wooden spoon to pull the dough into a ball.  Knead 20 times in bowl.  Sprinkle more flour if needed to keep from being terribly sticky.  Cover with plate again for another hour or two.

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Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Sprinkle dough with a little cornmeal and shape into a ball.  Spray cast iron pan or cookie sheet with oil and then sprinkle with corn meal.  Place dough on sheet or pan.  You can spray the top of the dough with oil then grate some vegan parmesan on top or add a little more garlic powder.  (Violife is the most convincing parmesan in the world.)  Bake for 40 minutes.

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Cool on rack.  Let cool before serving or the steam will make the center doughy.  Store in an airtight bag.  Tastes best with laughter and wine, or in blessed silence with tea.  Really up to you.  Enjoy!

 

Colorful Curry Winter Slow Cooker Soup

Need something quick, delicious, seasonal, and nutritious, oh, and easy?  This soup is perfect for cold nights in or for company.  It’s various colors add different antioxidants to the dish which boost immunity.  The beans give it protein and satiates hunger.  The layered flavors are savory with just a touch of heat and salt.  One pot, quick prep, and the meal serves 4-6.

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4 small potatoes

1 yellow/orange beet

1/4 of a purple cabbage

3/4 cup of baby lima beans (or other bean)

2 Tb curry powder of choice

2 ts of garlic powder

5 cups of broth (Preferably from the root cellar.  I used red chile/corn.)

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Chop vegetables and layer everything into crock pot and set to low for 8 hours.  After 6 hours I add 1 Tb of salt because I don’t put any in my broth.  Adjust accordingly to what your soup needs.  It may not need any extra.

Serve with delicious, warm sourdough bread (tomorrow’s recipe)!

Losing My Identity

It all began simple enough.  A ringing came from my stocking on Christmas morning in 2002.  My husband wanted me to have a cell phone so we could reach each other.  Then many years later came the smart phone and all of a sudden I could be instantly connected to my email, to text messaging, to the internet.

It all began innocent enough, you know.  Such a new, fascinating thing, social media.  I could find old friends, see photographs of family, keep track of my kids, share our fun, farm life.  I started my first company- a modeling agency- twenty years ago.  Since then I opened a dance company, two apothecaries, a farm, written ten books, and have been written about in several newspapers from the Denver Post to the Huffington Post.

I am connected.  Bound.  A Facebook page, four business pages, two Instagram accounts, two emails, a cell phone, and an unexplainable addiction to the thing I despise, technology.

My very self has been wrapped up in it all.  My identity.  I fear that if I don’t have a social media presence that I will disappear.  If I only have a home phone, will I become invisible?  How will I make friends?  I might be out of touch.  I might be free.

My friends know where I live.  There is a big sign that says Pumpkin Hollow Farm out front!  They can call me on a home phone hung on the wall in my farm kitchen.  In reality, my daughter can send me photos.  The same eight friends like all my posts on all my pages.  I don’t really like the wide world of Instagram knowing where I live, actually.  I am kind of tired of hosting zillions of events.  Amazon sells my books, as do the local shops and museum.  If I wanted to boost my farm, or my books, or my work, I could go to markets.  I could be local, face to face, authentic.  You know, old fashioned.

I can still write my beloved blog.

Does anyone else feel trapped by the constant pace of the tech world?  How much time do I lose?  I am a simple housewife, apron donned and all, who grew up in a time where the phone cord wouldn’t reach around the corner so I could have privacy.  How did we get here?  With every person we see on the phone, all the time, in every place, in every situation, always connected, as if we will lose our place on this earth if we disappear from it all.

I think I am going to get a home phone.