After winter comes mud season on Crazy Boy Farm. While it is not my favorite time of the year with the extra laundry and drying the dogs off before they can come in the house, I am thankful for the warmth. And this year I am extra thankful for the business of spring with the animals and life on acreage that becomes our own park.
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Proeun and I were on our yearly gettaway this Thursday. We may be a bit behind but on Wednesday we started getting the strong impression that the Coronavirus would be affecting our family (and community) much stronger then we originally thought. We talked briefly about what our financial plans should be if Proeun’s work closed. We already homeschool and stay home much of the time so that was mostly the extent of our talks Wednesday night.
We went to Duluth for lunch and some shopping. We were enjoying each others company so no radio. In the late afternoon we checked in at our hotel. While we were unpacking and settling in we turned the news on. It was shocking how fast things were changing. States were shutting down schools and declaring a state of emergency. New York had established the first containment area in New Rochelle.
Locally things were changing as well. We went to dinner. Normally there is a 1-3 hour wait for dinner at this restaurant. On Thursday there was no wait and a lot of nervous smiles.
We went to bed Thursday night wondering if we should cut our time short and head home. In the morning we both knew that when we turned on the news more would likely have changed overnight.
We had our breakfast and headed home. We stopped at Walmart on the way to fill our water jugs. I didn’t expect the whole toilet paper thing would be present in northern Minnesota but yep no toilet paper on the shelves. The baby wipe aisle was pretty bare as well, as was the bottled water.
Matthew Wood is one of my favorite resources for herbal health information. He has an email list I highly recommend. His recommendations include standard (but not so standard) practices of early bedtimes, increasing vitamins and minerals and avoiding sugar. He posts updates on the Coronavirus on his home page.
Honestly most of us have no idea what to do when we are sick. There was a young man behind us in line at Walmart with a cart full of 1 liter bottles of Mountain Dew and skittles. He was stocked up I am telling you, probably 20 bottles or so.
But in all seriousness we often are our own worst enemies. I know in our family we tend to have a cycle were we start adding more and more activities and duties then all of a sudden someone is sick. I have a saying that when we get sick it is our body telling us, giving us permission and commanding us to slow down. So we do. We clear our schedules and stay home and rest. Now I am aware that we as a family have a great deal of privilege to have that as an option and we are not in the high risk group for this illness but there are other illnesses and health is about more then avoiding the Coronavirus.
One thing Matthew Wood says is with herbal medicine it is less about killing the virus (or bacteria, illness, etc.) but building up the body’s systems so that it can effectively fight the infection. This is a good practice no matter what the illness. So this is what we are doing to build up our body systems.
- Early bedtime. By 10 at least but the earlier the better
- Reducing Stress. This is closely related to the first because if you lie in bed at night worried about the Coronavirus you won’t sleep. Stress is very debilitating and we want to build our body up.
- Washing hands. I have not tried making hand sanitizer but I have heard there are recipes online and when we stopped at one shop they offered us some when we came through the door.
- Reduce sugar. When I am looking for new recipes to try I normally search for Keto or THM recipes as these tend to have no sugar. Here is my favorite THM cookbook. More on THM in a later post.
- Increase fruits and veggies. While at Walmart Proeun went to get some vitamin C and Zinc. The shelves were bare! He tried ordering some online and it is out of stock. But there were still plenty of citrus fruits and bell peppers (vitamin C), and don’t forget greens and mushrooms, etc. Garlic and onions are also amazing traditional staples for fighting illness.
- Learn the things that make you feel nourished and cared for and do those.
- Research and try some immune boosting foods.
When we arrived home I made a batch of elder berry syrup. My favorite recipe comes from this book. But there are many recipes online.
I also started a mushroom bone broth. I had some lamb bones left over from a dinner during the week. I added astragulus root (I got mine from here but they are pretty backed up right now. Could also use this powder), reishi mushrooms, shitake mushrooms, 2 onions, a whole head of garlic and some apple cider vinegar. There are also vegan immune boosting broth recipes online.
There are so many resources out there. If you are interested in taking classes on herbal health I have taken classes with and highly recommend the following schools and instructors Green Wisdom School of Natural and Botanical Medicine, Women’s Environmental Institute (I HIGHLY recommend their upcoming class on Lyme Disease!), Erin Piorier, and Angela Campbell.
If you prefer books. Here are some of my top recommendations to promote herbal health.
I am all about teaching my children how to be healthy. This book not only has my favorite elder berry syrup recipe but lots of recipes and activities to get kids excited about herbs.
I also highly recommend Staying Healthy with the Seasons. This Book is written more from a Chinese medicine/ body systems perspective. It goes through the seasons of the year and which body systems are more closely related to that season with recipes and action steps to promote health.
I told my sister I hope we all are reminded how important our health is. We should also be empowered that there are things that we can do to promote personal and familial health. What are you doing to stay healthy?
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I wrote last week about how the storms of 2019 had really paved the way for rebuilding and re-purposing. I have had the book Garden Awakening on my night stand for a couple of years now.
Finally this last month I read it. I am now so excited to get out to my garden. I had honestly not known of any other way to plant a garden but in rows. One herby friend of mine blew my mind a couple of years ago when she planted her garden in a spiral shape.
I am so inspired by the information I am discovering as I delve more fully into the healing nature of plants and well nature . Mary Reynolds is from Ireland. She still lives in Ireland and she writes from this perspective. She doesn’t mind talking about magic and fairies and connections, but from a fully Irish perspective (this just happens to be part of my cultural heritage). While I feel like the majority of European culture has lost its nature connections; it was so refreshing to read a totally engaging book that says it is not lost. It just needs to be reclaimed.
One way to do this is by reclaiming your land (whether a small lot or many acres) and setting your intentions for it. Speak to the land and acknowledge that you belong to it as much as it belongs to you. You were brought together for great things, so embrace that and get moving.
Reynolds writes, “We are drawn to certain locations where the land resonates with us and pulls us towards it. People can spend their entire lives looking for the places where they belong, places where they feel at home, where they fit and can comfortably set down roots. We are simply a reflection of the land beneath us, and nature is always waiting for us to return home.”
I am so happy to have found my home and place to put down roots. That doesn’t mean that it is always perfect, but the connection is just what you need.
As the spring weather kicks into full gear in my north country home I excitedly plan for a new year and a new beginning. I will be adding more elderberry, a hawthorne and mulberry tree but more plans are in the works.
In what ways do you feel connected to your land (whether pots on a balcony, a city lot or acreage)? What ways can you cultivate more connection? Is this important to you?
It was July 17, 2019. Friday of the Chisago County Fair. Avril was showing one of our goats at the fair and we typically spend ALOT of time at the fair. That morning I got an odd call from my sister. She is not a weather buff or even a news buff but she had heard that potentially serious storms could be coming through our area and called to warn us and ask that we keep an eye to the skies. In fairness the weather has been getting more severe over the past couple of years and we have had our share of storms but because my sister called I took it to heart.
After lunch and the dairy show I asked Avril to come home with us to help with chores. About 4 o’clock we went out to feed the animals. It was getting dark so we fed the animals we could indoors.
Then we saw the clouds and went inside to batten down the hatches. It was fast, all of 10 minutes but the high winds and hail left a massive amount of destruction.
In truth it seems like the pressure of life had been building for a long time. We had made the decision to stop doing our CSA but then weren’t sure what our next course of action should be. Then Proeun’s brother passed away unexpectedly and the whole family was thrown into a turmoil. I was also facing alot of pressure and personal issues.
Now I see the storm was the release we needed, the intense focus of energy did cause alot of damage (honestly the repairs are still not completed) but it gave us something tangible to focus on. There were 3 major trees that went down around the house. One hit our car and totaled our car. Another punctured our roof and caused water damage in one of our bedrooms. Other trees went down on fencing and in our field. Right after the storm I would say my home looked a little like what I had been feeling inside.
Now we know how and what to rebuild. So sorry for the radio silence for so long. There have been alot of storms here, but now we are rebuilding and I am very excited about the opportunities.
It has been ages since I wrote. What have I been up to? Well a full summer of swimming lessons, rural school, camping and honestly I can’t even remember what we did except try to get a break as much as possible and try to recover. 2017 was a very difficult year for us as a family and it really felt like we had never been able to slow down and catch a breath. So our goal for this year was to get healthy–mind, body and spirit. But it seemed like I wasn’t really able to get started on that goal until this summer when I came across Sharny and Julius in a Facebook post. I was inspired by Sharny’s story and realized she had a similar number of children, was a similar age to me and we had similar before (only my before picture was actually how I looked at the time). I began to think maybe I had another option then accepting that my body would never be fit again (actually I don’t think I had ever been really fit, only young).
Their program was affordable and I signed up for their 8 week exercise program. Each day was 15 minutes or less and could be done in your home with no special equipment. The very first day was a challenge but I persevered and completed all 8 weeks!
While I began with Sharny’s eating program as well I was introduced to Danette May and her 3 day detox. I had always wanted to do a detox but was told you couldn’t if you were nursing or pregnant. I have been one or both for the past 15 years! But this detox was completely food based so I felt safe doing it. Also my baby was no longer exclusively breastfeeding. Danette May has alot of tragedy in her story. She lost a son at childbirth, followed by divorce, extremely hard economic times and depression so debilitating she couldn’t leave her house. She used health–nutrition and exercise–to change her life around beginning with her mental health and outlook. I really needed help in this area and so I tried the detox. By the end of day 2 I called me mom and told her, “I am happy for no reason!” This was a huge change in my life.
After the detox I started looking really closely at how I was eating. As Danette said nutrition and food is 80% of our health. So I knew I couldn’t go back to the way I was eating before. Around this time my father went in for open heart surgery. Hello wake up call!
Then I remembered Trim Healthy Mama. I had been one of the original mamas back when the book was first published 5 years ago. I enjoyed it, lost alot of weight, and then got pregnant again. Then life hit me full force. This time around there are so many resources (like pictures, and blogs and products!) to help you on your way. This was the one time that Proeun and I could agree on what was healthy and the whole family enjoyed healthy food regularly. So I once again became a Trim Healthy Mama.
Now I am down 20 pounds. While I am not lighter then I was in high school I am wearing a smaller size clothes and am feeling completely satisfied and nourished. It is amazing knowing that you are putting in the time to take care of your health because you are worth it. Now if I were to pick one word to describe how I feel it would be Vibrant.
I was so inspired that I decided to become a coach! I am now a THM (Trim Healthy Mama) certified coach. Here is a link to my coaching page.
So I have been doing THM for awhile and not really talked about it. But I was inspired today. By what you ask? My snack.
As I said there are so many great resources out there. This week I am doing the October Challenge with My Montana Kitchen. This is a Fuel Cycle Challenge which is designed to cycle through different fuel (food) types to rev metabolism. It is not recommended unless you have been on THM for 6 months or over. But that doesn’t mean that you can not enjoy some of the delicious recipes. This snack was so good it inspired my post today! Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies and Secret Ingredient Hot Chocolate (the secret ingredient is okra). I made the salted caramel version.
All the recipes have been great but another favorite is Southwest Chicken Salad. We had this for dinner last night and Proeun took the leftovers for lunch. Literally every time I have talked to him today he has told me how much he enjoyed the salad.
If you are interested in learning more about my health journey or talking about how you can get started on a path to better health–mind body and spirit check out my coaching page.
Over the winter much of my time has revolved around writing and reading. Being a writer it is easy to think I know how I am supposed to be spending my time. But this spring I am reminded of the mind clearing benefits of manual labor. My days have been filled with
- scrubbing floors and window
- shearing sheep
- mucking out barns and stalls
- clearing winter debris
- cuddling children with skinned knees from playing outside
- repairing winter damage
Now when I am feeling guilty about taking time away from “work” I am reminded that sometimes it is hard work that is best for clearing the head and starting new. I could definitely use a new start.
This weekend we had snow. Snow so significant that Minnesotans, who are normally quite used to large amounts of wet stuff being dumped on us, canceled virtually all possible activities and stayed home for the weekend. This all happened on April 14 and 15th! While I love being home and snow can be quite fun my sanity saver has been the knowledge that soon, very soon we will be wearing sandals and shorts again.
Honestly I was feeling pretty down. We have been having a big life transition where we have come to realize that our farm will be a hobby farm versus a farm that supports us monetarily. It hasn’t been an easy realization. We have questioned a lot of decisions up to this point. We even contemplating putting our farm on the market and moving back to the city where it would be easier for us to both work outside the home.
But the children rebelled against the idea. This is their home and this is where they want to stay. This weekend I was reminded why I want to stay too. I was going out to do afternoon chores when I spotted something black in the snow. On closer inspection it was a little lamb and suddenly chores became very exciting. I leaped the fence–actually climbed over clumsily. Picked the lamb up and stuffed it in my coat. Then I had to wait for someone to come help me out as I couldn’t climb out holding the lamb.
We rushed her back to the house where she got a quick warm bath and a blow dry. I left her with the children as they continued to dry and warm her and went back to try and find out which sheep had given birth.
It has been a rough year for our animals. We thought that maybe none of our sheep were pregnant. In fact this little one’s mom was the one we were sure wasn’t but I guess life finds away. We spent the next 30 minutes cleaning up the mom, getting the hind quarters sheared so the baby would have no trouble nursing and getting a pen set up for mom and baby complete with a heat lamp. I knew the mother had been attentive because the baby had been cleaned. When we returned little Lucy to her mother after being warmed and dried they talked to each other. The mother was definitely making different kinds of noises then I have heard before (this is our first lamb) and nudging the baby to eat. We were so glad that the separation and human scent didn’t disrupt bonding.
I told Proeun that night, this is why we live here. This is why we have animals. Even though there are heartaches and tragedies life still finds away, even in the middle of a snow storm.
While my husband continues to provide most of our financial support from his off farm job, I really love the fact that I can contribute to our family’s income through writing. This is even better because my work is so often fun. I have written before that writing for the local paper has brought me a deeper understanding and love for my little portion of the world. It also allows me to go some really fun places. This last Saturday I heard Kelly Barnhill speak at Anoka Ramsey Community College in Cambridge. Barnhill is the author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon.
Author readings have become one of my favorite activities and for this one it was especially fun because I was able to bring my daughters. We have been reading The Girl Who Drank the Moon so it was especially meaningful for them to meet the woman who had written one of their favorite books.
Barnhill is local– growing up in a neighboring city, attending the same college and visiting many of the same places as me. She said of her book that she set out to write a book that featured a “false narrative.” It is the story of a village in a mystical land. The elders of this village have convinced the people that the woods surrounding their village is dangerous. There is a witch that lives there. The only was to keep the witch happy and keep her from killing everyone in the village is to sacrifice the youngest baby in the village to her, every year.
The twist is there is a witch, but not an evil witch, and she can’t figure out why those crazy people keep leaving babies alone in the woods. So she takes them from their reckless parents and brings them to another city on the other side of the forest where she picks an adoptive family and they grow up happy and healthy.
One year everything goes wrong. The mother fights for her baby, she is subdued and sent to the tower. The baby is a special baby, and the witch chooses to raise her as her own granddaughter. This is the beginning of the story and how the false narrative unravels. There is a young man who witnesses the elders of the town fighting this woman for her baby and he begins to ask questions. Barnhill said,”Questions are really really powerful. They can change a mind, a life, a community, a world. Kids now this. Sometimes grownups are really good at ignoring things.”
Hearing Barnhill has got me thinking about false narratives. I shared her story with my husband, now we have clear succinct words to describe the tragedy we are all living through–the false narratives, tauted as truth. As Barnhill said, “who benefits from these narratives.” When we begin to question what is truth, or if something is true we need to analyze who benefits. We need to ask questions.
Kelly Barnhill with my daughters
Looking for a full project to do this month. Check out this suggestion from my book.
Once it gets to the time of year when it is still freezing at night but warming into the 30s and 40s during the day that is the time the sap starts flowing in the trees. This brings the life blood back into the trees’ extremities. This is also the time of year when you can make the most delectable syrup around (in my humble opinion)—maple syrup.
When we were still living in St. Paul, my sister-in-law had a large maple tree in her yard. We went to a maple syrup workshop at Fort Snelling State Park and bought the taps for the trees. We convinced her to let us tap her tree, and over the course of the month we collected about 2 gallons of sap. Then, one Saturday night, the whole family came together and we boiled down the sap. Since it was a small batch, it was okay to do in the house (normally it would put off too much moisture). We stirred and stirred and watched and watched, and everyone thought we were crazy. Then finally the boiling liquid visibly changed from a watery consistency to a syrup. It happened quickly, just like that. After it cooled a bit we had a crowd of kids gathered around the huge pot dipping spoons in and eating the syrup. For many of them they had never had pure maple syrup. If you haven’t either, this is really a treat. Even if you only have one tree, it is totally worth the experience. And while small batches won’t give you a lot to preserve, you can easily do it in the house. Even a small taste is worth the experience.
If you want to learn about tapping maple trees, you could take a class like we did at one of our local State Parks. But it is relatively simple.
Step 1. Locate your trees. Maple trees have distinctive shaped leaves (think Canadian flag). It would be helpful if you did this step the previous fall. Also make sure the tree is at least 12 inches in diameter.
Step 2. Drill your hole. If this is your first year it should be relatively easy as you won’t be dealing with old “wounds.” These instructions are from www.tapmytrees.com. The spile (there are pictures on the website) it refers to is the one part you will have to buy, but they even sell them at Fleetfarm (or any farm and seed store) in the spring. This is the part that goes into the tree and causes sap to flow out to the spigot:
“The size of the drill bit to be used is dependent on the type of spile you are using. Most spiles require either a 7/16 or 5/16 bit. Drill a hole 2 to 2 ½ inches deep. It may be helpful to wrap a piece of tape around the drill bit 2 ½ inches from the tip to use as a guide. Drill at a slight upward angle to facilitate downward flow of sap from the hole. The shavings from the drilled tap hole should be light brown, indicating healthy sapwood. If the shavings are dark brown, drill another hole in a different location.”
Step 3. Hang a bucket on the spile and start collecting sap. It will be slow, but you should check it frequently. I would begin checking daily till you get a feel for how much sap you will get. When the bucket (ice cream buckets work well) begins to fill, pour it into a holding container.
Step 4. Once you have collected your sap, it is time to start boiling it down. If this is a fun experiment for the family (and if you have a small amount) this can be done inside. If you are wanting to store it or even sell it, you will need to boil off at least some of the water outside or the moisture will be too great in your house and it will saturate everything. Remember it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.
During this step you are boiling off the excess water until only the sugars remain. This page http://www.tapmytrees.com/pages/collect-sap-make-syrup has good pictures of the process.
History: Little House in the Big Woods has a wonderful description of a syrup-making party. In a time when white sugar was a expensive luxury item, maple syrup and maple sugar (boiling it past the syrup stage) was a way that you could make your own sweetener. Note: Molasses syrup was another common sweetener at this time.
Geography: Study where maple trees grow. What are some other forms or syrups that people in more tropical climates use? Learn about sugar beets, sugar cane, honey, etc.
Resources: I thought the website www.tapmytrees.com had the most comprehensive information about tapping maple trees online. They also sell supplies, so beware that they may suggest things you do not need.
Your local feed or farm supply store will likely have everything, you need especially in the spring.
Happy February! I was thinking about my book. It has a new cover and is now available on Kindle. It is even on sale! So to kick off a new month a bit late here is an exerpt from my favorite section in February.
So it is February and still Winter. Maybe the groundhog has predicted 6 more weeks of Winter, maybe not. Maybe you live in the far north and even through the groundhog says there will be 6 more weeks of winter you know that it will likely be more like 12. So, what to do with February?
Believe it or not, spring is coming, though it may seem to be coming slowly. Don’t neglect the beauty of this season. One friend of mine suggested that February is the time to enjoy colors, to celebrate color with sumptuous meals or dress in your most brightly-colored clothes. Maybe you will make something new and bright for your home or simply notice the layers of color in the frost on the window.
Study Light (and Color)
You should be noticing by now that the days are getting longer. With that the light is changing.
One great way to study the seasons is by noticing the positions of the sun. If you live in the city, one of the easiest ways to do this is to notice where the sun hits on your walls. Make a mental note or use post it notes to mark it. Check how it is changing every week throughout the month.
If you live on a farm and do chores outside, it is probably even easier to notice. We don’t have electricity in our barn, so our chore time depends on the sun. It is good practice to notice where the sun is throughout the day, especially in the evening.
Geography, science: We went to Hawaii for our honeymoon. Since Hawaii is closer to the equator than Minnesota, its sundown times are more even throughout the year. In Minnesota our sundowns vary from 4:30 pm in the winter to almost 9:30 pm in the summer. But in Hawaii the times vary only between 6:00 and 7:00 pm. This also a good time to study why the light changes. How does your location on the planet and the tilt of the planet effect where the sun is in our sky?
Art/ history: I had the opportunity to study in Nice, France one January in college. I went to the Matisse museum and was told that Matisse loved this area in the winter because of the sun. Take time to notice and appreciate the sun. See how the sun is portrayed in different works of art.