So really, Winter, Already?!?

A seriously brisk 24 degrees and an even more serious windchill factor as that howling west wind made itself known. We’re expecting somewhere between 0-5″ of snow – oh happy joy.

Out in the woods, it was a lot warmer just because the wind was blocked by the trees. The path is frozen (not solid but hard) although the turf is still soft and spongy. The trees all had this dusting of powder sugar like snow over them which made them look so pretty. I’m really trying to keep to my exercise schedule so  I can train for this 5K in April. It was so cold out there today though, I will definitely need long johns to try to do that.

So, I learned over the weekend that I just really Do Not Like Elderberry anything. I made Elderberry syrup and Elderberry immune drops…they smelt horrid decocting and they taste worse. The Elderberry drops were unrescuable – I made them per a recioe from an herbal class I took earlier this year and they tasted bad, had way too much sugar, and had a god awful horrid mouth feel AND to add insult to injury…when I poured them out on the prepared pan…they looked like coagulated blood. It was quite disgusting. The Elderberry syrup I rescued by virtue of adding a Lemon, 3″ of fresh Ginger, and a couple of Cinnamon sticks.  That made it somewhat less horrid. Oddly, I love St. Germaine. But Elderberries…not so much.  Maybe fresh Elderberries taste different. I’ll try to pick some next summer and see.

My November Herbal Studies homework is largely completed. I am deeply grateful for that. I just have to finish my case studies and get it in themail on Friday.  I’ve already picked up and started December’s efforts. It seems less complicated than this month’s, largely perhaps because skin & hair are things everyone in my family are concerned about, whereas the reproductive system, we’re far less so.

The Digestion Series continues to be really amazing. I was pretty concerned about GMO food before, and now I am even more so after listening to some of the speakers. I’m not terribly alarmist, but it makes no sense to me that GMO food could ever be good for us. We weren’t co-engineered along with it – not I’m sure, because Monsanto didn’t try, but largely because non-engineered humans eating engineered food means more bucks in the pockets of big Pharma when the system breaks down. Thanks, guys.

I feel like it is more and more challenging to find things to eat that won’t kill you slowly and with great pain and loss of dignity. We went out to dinner and I ordered what should have been a simple and straightforward meal of grilled chicken, salad and rice pilaf. The salad came with a hearty helping of ‘lovely’ Florida winter tomatoes and some sort of questionable ‘cheese food shred’. They both got picked out and move to one side. The chicken was bad. I took one bite and sent it back immediately. I ordered a potato in the end but it just all left a bad taste in my mouth. In the meantime, there’s some luscious, sugar-laden GMO wheat rolls sitting there in front of me; the manager offered to buy us dessert for my trauma but it was like, oh, can I please have some toxins after my chicken experience? Thanks, but no.

I can see myself increasingly refusing to eat out. The caloric intake coupled with the questionable food quality made with heavily processed foods is just offputting. All around me overweight to outright obese people were shoveling it in. I don’t want to be like that. so, guess I’ll skip the eating out. :/


Just Frigging Cold With Dainty Frills of Snow

What a Friday – 33 degrees, cold and gray. It never went above 33 degrees on this blustery November 14th, and to add injury to insult, there was a fairly brisk West wind plus occasional scattering ultra fine snow flakes. Very pretty (the snow flakes) but no fun to be out in.  I passed an older couple out doing their morning constitutional and I said “We are insane, don’t you think.” and she gasped out, “We just walk faster.”

I took that advice to heart and stepped faster myself.

The wetlands are totally brown now, except for the deep rich ruby of the Sumac berries.  This time of year you can really see why it is also called Staghorn, because the base stems are so thick and soft with velvety hair, not unlike a buck’s horns in velvet. Of course, by now the bucks have beaten the velvet off their horns and are ready to do battle with one another for the favors of all the lady deer out there.  Hunting season (with guns) starts tomorrow (the 15th), so the deer are nervier than usual.

My Coursera courses are all really great resources. What Plants Know is pretty intense although this week was easier because it delved more into the biochemistry of how plants exchange information. Which for me is always good. I also managed to sneak in under the wire for the ‘effect of chemicals on our bodies’ course, even tho technically it’s done, I made the registration so I still have access to the class. It is also quite good.

Today I worked more on the JERF/Hippocratean aspect of Herbalism and made some things with of course, real foods.  I made some Fig/Olive tapenade using a recipe from epicurious, a reasonably ok gluten-free Walnut cracker from  Elana’s Pantry, and a roasted Fall vegetable salad from myfitness.  I wouldn’t remake the salad – it sounds awesome (what’s not to like about roasted Fall vegetables?) but it rather failed in the end for the amount of prep and time it takes to make.  I’d rather have just roasted the beets, sprinkled some chevre on it and called it a day.  The crackers used oil to bring it together and I think I might opt for butter or Coconut oil next time and add some other seeds such as sesame. I would also make it with black walnuts and grind them finer, into more of a flour.  The tapenade was unfortunately very good. I say unfortunately because it was decidedly not a low cal option. I’ll be adding some mileage to make up for the unfortunate consequences to my D&E.

Three more weeks of Gardener class to go. I have four additional sections I need to read. I also need to identify a garden where I can find a plot to practice what I preach.  I like the class but of course, it’s that annoying homestretch of the class – I think everyone is glad there will be a break for Thanksgiving. I’m starting to design a couple of garden plots. One for the Herbal Studies Course and one for my soon-to-be plot.

I’ve been knitting whilst listening to the Digestion Series. I have the back of a sweater completed and half of the front.  It’s a great way to multi-task I find.  By the time the series is done, I’ll have acquired a ton of new knowledge, AND I’ll have an awesome new sweater.

Gray Lightening to Sweet Sunny Blue

Of sorts. Michigan weather is so odd. Sunday we had that long, ropy grey low cloud cover that looked like snow, today we have a lighter cloud cover, higher up that gradually broke to a little patchy sun through veils of silvery stratus up high. Combined with positively balmy middle 50 degree temperatures, and it made for a really warm walk through the woods on this Monday, November 10.

I almost have our Master Mind group set up with a private WordPress site. One more person to get properly added and her goals put in as a permanent page and we’re ready to roll.  I’m so excited  for all of us and I know we will all accomplish great things this year with the loving support of our triune of strong, intelligent, creative women.

Of course, that yummy doughnut yesterday made me pay today. I rolled out of bed slightly achy and with, yes, brain fog. It doesn’t help that I was not good with my hydration, so dealing with some issues related to that. I finally gave in and made an extra strong cup of an herbal cure and then pushed more water. Why did I wait so long? the herbal cure works, very very effectively, but, it also leaves me a little queasy and with abdominal cramps. There’s never any doubt in my mind as to whether or not herbs work. They definitely do!

I bought some Beets at the farmer’s market today to use in a roasted vegetable salad.  I’ll put that in to cook this afternoon (probably about the same time mom asks me to bake her carrot cake. She gets the cred for her buddies, I get to bake. Win, win.)

Our three little dwarf Apple trees are looking increasingly bare. The water shoots are about the only thing still with leaves on, bravely attempting to give the tree a last shot of energy from its still-green leaves. I guess no one told them they’ve already formed their abscission layer and all that is left no is a slow and gradual death.  I always feel so bad for those trees. They just really have a horrible location – heavy, wet soil and not enough hours of sun. They spend their lives desperately sending up water sprout after water sprout after water sprout trying to get some sun. They are a classic point of planting without thinking about how the (then tiny) Spruce trees to the south of it would grow and overshadow the Apple trees.

Today I must decant and filter bitters, as well as decant some other things like some tinctures and the Arnica oil I’ve had infusing. Arnica is good for bumps and bruises and I have oldsters who need some nice Arnica salve in their life.


Hectic Friday, Partially Sunny

It started out very nice, sunny and bright, but the clouds rolled in by noon. Thankfully, by the time I headed out for my 4 miles, the sun was peeking through here and there. I got so completely wet Thursday that I was grateful for the sun. It was a quite brisk 44 degrees with a northerly wind, which blew down a few more leaves here and there. Dad’s carefully raked lawn was covered with Norway Maple leaves, so they are (finally!) coming down.

I have a bunch of cough syrups and immune support recipes to make this weekend: horehound syrup, elderberry syrup and drops, and herbal cough drops with slippery elm – and some lip balm for my sister. It’s exciting that my family members now ask me for herbal remedies (since I haven’t poisoned anyone yet and I have actually helped them with the ailments they’re asking for help with).  I will also need to decant the vanilla bitters and add the next set of ingredients to the cherry bitters. then all done with making bitters for this year. Maybe.

The Michigan Autumn textile collection is coming along. I have photographed all my references and dropped out the backgrounds. Now to figure out what sort of manipulation I want to do with the references and put the collection together. I think it will be very pretty when its all done.

We need more apples. I’m going through those things like water. Apples are so good for you and the Michigan apples just taste so great it’s hard to stop.

Sunny & Sixty…A Glorious November 5th Autumn

Yet another glorious autumn day in which to ‘forest bathe’, as the Japanese say. I read an interesting report that said the Japanese highly regard the concept of ‘forest bathing’, which is the immersion of self into a woodland full of trees for 15-20 minutes of longer. The report said, basically, that this immersion of self into the woodland spaces makes you feel better, because we are wired to like trees.  Which, really, think about it:

1 acre of trees makes enough oxygen for 18 people.  That alone is reason enough to want to spend time with trees and maybe even to HUG them.

I certainly feel better when I walk through the woodland pathway here. Dad always suggests I walk down to Saginaw (Highway) and I always decline. Why do I want to walk next to cars belching out their exhaust, heavy metals and air filth? As opposed to walking amongst my friends, the trees, forbes and yes even weeds, and filling my lungs with copious deep breaths of heavily oxygenated air?

My kyphi incense is coming along. I turned it today and found it is getting much harder. Excellent. I made small, pea-sized balls so I hope these will dry fairly quickly.  I made sure to work my way through my infusing oils and macerating bitters and tinctures. I need to decant some more tomorrow and bottle up a few to give to friends.

I’m taking a really amazing class right now, through Courseera. The course, ‘What Plants Know’, really has made me think about the biochemical way that plants engage with their surroundings. They have 13 or more chromophores that help them sense and engage with their environment. Humans, in contrast…have five. Our senses are so limited compared to other organisms in our environment. It’s a good thing we have thumbs or really, we’d be so lost.

Tomorrow, in addition to the bitters decanting, I will make some lip balm for my sister, and sort out some herbal remedies for my friends in need.

All the Leaves Are Brown and the Sky is Gray

And I went for a walk, on a November day…with my apologies to the Mamas and the Papas, but it was entirely appropriate today.  Unlike the song, though, I am well content with our Michigan November weather and wouldn’t trade it for California’s drought.

Cold, gray, rainy, but despite this there were a lot of dog walkers out taking their fur people for what looked to be a thoroughly exciting day snuffling in the wet leaves. The wild life weren’t scarce, either, as I startled a couple of does out of their beds. They didn’t move far, I assume they were going back to their warm (and presumably) dry nests.  Our high was in the mid fifties, and it looks like more of the same throughout the week.

I came back and helped uproot the last of the annuals and pitched them out onto the leaves for grinding and eventual composting or mulching.  The ashes and maples are almost all completely denuded now; the Norways are clinging to their leaves, much to the bitter disgust of the neighborhood at large, who want to be done with their leaves by now. I have some Tulip bulbs to plant, and I have my Calla seed pods to figure out, They finally separated from the parent stems and now the pods themselves are slightly squishy. This is what I read they are supposed to do. My next steps are to plant these babies and hope they’ll grow for me.  The Red Raspberries need to be pruned back as the floricanes are done and the primocanes need to get pruned to become floricanes.

Today I added the woods and resins to my macerating Juniper berries and Sultanas for Kyphi incense. They smelled amazing as I mashed everything together. Interestingly, things really didn’t come together till I drizzled in the teeny bit of honey the recipe called for, at which point the entire recipe just set and achieved a great consistency to roll into tiny incense balls. They are down finishing and drying out and will be done in a 3-4 weeks.

I took my reading for my Master Gardener class to the voting polls but was surprised to get processed through very quickly. I was in and out in under 10 minutes, which included time for the harried young father ahead of me to figure out where to drop his privacy sleeve.  In any event, schlepping along my 80 pages of reading made not much sense in the grand scheme of things. Then I bopped over to the local mega grocery store and scored a gorgeous Phalaenopsis for mom’s birthday (of course, I bought it for HER but we know who will be caring for it…) and snagged some Kalamata olives and wheat germ for some herbal projects I want to tackle.

My November homework still has some 31 questions to answer but thankfully only a couple more herbal experiments. They take the most time.



Almost Glorious…Nov 3

It started off a perfect Autumn day, in the upper 50s, with pure sun and that rich blue sky you see in November, but by later afternoon the sky was beginning to slowly cloud over, with that matte pearl grey cloud cover you get in Michigan. No matter, it was still a fine day for garden work and my walk wasn’t impeded in the slightest.

The sumach are starting to drop their central leaf stems (rachis) and are starting to look more like buck horns in velvet, with big gaudy velvety wine colored berries on the ends.  The rest of the wetland is largely sere and brown, with occasional small herbs and forbes around the outside that have escaped the frosts.  They harvested the soybean fields near us today, as ever a lot of dust and debris in the air but fun to watch the big tractors do their business.

The woods are layered with a deep carpet of fallen leaves now, in shades from pale browns and tans to cream and gold. It makes for a delectable sight under the late Autumn sun. The squirrels make a hellacious ruckus as they scamper around through the leaves.  Not surprisingly, not as many people out on the paths now, what with cooler weather settling in.

I’ve been learning about herbs and the reproductive system this month, and sharpening up my human anatomy. This is one time I wish I had human, and not plant, physiology.

The Michigan Autumn textile collection is coming right along.  I hope I’ll be able to send it out for sampling in two weeks or so. It would be a nice cap to a pretty Autumn season.