Book Review–The Overstory by Richard Powers

I was introduced to this book through the North Country Herbalists book club. I sadly did not finish it is time for the discussion, which would have been great because their is literally so much to unpack in this book. Still I am so very glad I read it.

I started out with very little information about the subject of The Overstory–though I assumed it had something to do with trees. The first section of the book is entitled “Root” and contains all sorts of vignettes of various people in different times. There did not seem to be much rhyme or reason and I had extreme difficulty connecting with some of the characters.

By the second section, “trunk” the characters were beginning to meet and the story was starting to make sense but it was starting to get more challenging in other ways. The concepts and assumptions were starting to stretch me a bit, though I had been introduced to them recently through other classes. Namely that trees connect to each other, that the forest is a living thing in and of itself, not only a collection of individuals. The roots of trees connect and share information such as what pests are present and even send out warning signals.

The backdrop of the book is the heyday of the Pacific Northwest lumber wars, an event I knew little about at the time, but pitted human interest–economic interest, against protecting the last giants of a forest. The politics and passions or the movement are brilliantly played out.

The author’s characters mention several times in the book that stories are the only true way to change a person’s mind, and Powers does a good job presenting an interesting idea (one that smacks of truth) through a story that draws you in and makes you both furious and hopeful at the same time.

It inspired me to change how I view forests and how I view my future. I now have a goal of returning more land to wild spaces. Barbara Kingsolver said of the book, “Monumental. . .A gigantic fable of genuine truths.”

Look for the amazing descriptions of the eco systems existing in the tops of some of the worlds largest trees. A great read.

Happy 4th with an explosion of wildflowers

It has been a long time since I stayed up to watch the fireworks on the 4th of July. But here on the farm we are enjoying a different kind of explosion–wild flowers. So beautiful and fun.

I am currently taking a Botany for Herbalists course through the Matthew Wood Institute of Herbalism. One of the tools they recommended was a Black Eye Lens. It is a magnifying lens that clips on to a smart phone. I also have a Nikon D3100 (this is a newer version of the camera I have). I love this camera and use it for most of the pictures I take on this blog or if I know that it is a photo I will really want to keep. But often I don’t have it with me. I might not always have the lens with me, but at least I can fit that in a pocket.

So we are celebrating this special time of the year, which also happens to be flower season with pictures using my black eye lens.

Water droplets pooling on my Lady’s Mantle
Marshmellow plant just starting to bud.
Red Clover
Milk Weed
Still Identifying–I am thinking Evening Primrose

I still need to work on lining the lens up so that you don’t see black on the edge. The last couple of flowers I have not identified yet, but I was fascinated that I was able to get pictures with insects on the flowers so I shared them anyway. It is a fun new toy to enjoy this time of year.

Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference Brings Connections

Last weekend I was able to participate in the Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference. This would have been my first year to attend the live conference which normally takes place annually in Almond, WI. But with 2020 happening it was moved to a virtual event. None of us knew how the events following the death of George Floyd would effect us and the world. But I am so thankful for the opportunity to really connect with an amazing group of women who really thoughtfully planned what turned out to be the perfect event.

What struck me as particularly timely was the poetry of Dominique Christina at the Saturday night keynote event. Conference founder Linda Conroy said of Christina that she embodies the goal of “living on purpose,” and she is “using her poetry to change the world.” Conroy went on to say “I don’t think you will ever see the world the same way,” after hearing her poetry. For me that has been the case.

I am attaching the link to the recording. Christina comes first so you don’t have to watch over an hour of herbal goodness to hear the poetry. The first poem she shares struck me. Even listening to it again I didn’t catch the title but she said that the poem, “reveals me.” She describes, “the hologram I created. . .in the attempt to survive my experience,” and how the poem was a conscious effort to peal back those layers to bring a level of “integrity with myself. . . be entirely myself–the magic of it but also the mess of it.”

What is particularly striking is Cristina’s experience is so different from mine. But by sharing it you see a glimpse into an amazing woman’s past pain and how she is turning that to beauty. Throughout this time of racial tension I am reminded how important stories are. Of course it is nice and healing to share our own (first we have to be really honest with ourselves about who we really are and why), but it is equally important (if not more so) to listen others stories. Especially the stories if those who traditionally haven’t had a voice.

Listening and sharing was the subject of Cornelia Cho’s Friday night keynote. So I highly recommend you listen to that in its entirety. And the invocation by Brooke Medicine Eagle is amazing!!!

My hope is that you will take the time this week to really examine yourself and the feelings this experience is triggering and honestly look at why. And then take that new found experience and listen to someone’s story that is completely different from yours. Listen from a place of love and understanding.

And for those of you who would like more herbal goodness There is another virtual conference coming up next weekend. I got and email from another herbal teacher of mine Tammi Sweet. She says

It’s critical that we connect our learning with a greater purpose of creating a society where people have access to healthcare and are safe in their communities.

There is also a 50% off solidarity price for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and some scholarships are available. You can find all the information about this on the registration page.

This event will help you find other people with similar interests, connect with teachers around the topics you care about, and give you 32 classes to choose from.

Here is a link to get tickets to the Allies for Plants & People Symposium

Happy herbing!

Links to Dominque’s books.

This is Women’s Work. This is the book Conroy talks about in the introduction.
They Are All Me.
Anaracha Speaks. I am particularly interested in this one which chronicles the historical experiences of Anarcha, a real woman who was experimented on and tortured in the name of modern science.
The Bones, The Breaking, The Balm: A Colored Girl’s Hymnal. This one is not available new and is pretty expensive but if you love Christina it might be worth it.

Baby Chicks and Geese

It is so rewarding to see my older children starting to embrace our lifestyle of their own free will. Proeun and I have been talking about how amazing destiny and synchronicity is. We made many of the decisions we are ecstatic for years ago, when it seemed foolish (sometimes even to us), but now our life is sustaining us in so so so many ways. I am ultra grateful we made the decision to follow our heart.

The past couple of weeks we have had some new additions to the farm, thanks primarily to the efforts of our older children.

One task Avril particularly likes is having chickens. We thought about purchasing from a hatchery but the Coronavirus hit about the time we would have had to order so we decided on hatching our own.

We invested in a better incubator. We did get the one with the egg turner but there is a cheaper option. In this case you would have to turn the eggs manually. This is what we did last year. You use a pencil (definitely not pen or marker) and write the date on the egg, put and X on one side, flip it over and put and O on the other. You flip from one sign to the other about every 12 hours, we did at 8:00 am and 8:00 pm. It takes 21 days to hatch chicks. Three days before they are due to hatch you stop turning the eggs. If you are using this incubator you will want to remove the egg turner at this point.

Our first batch didn’t turn out very good. Avril trouble shooted and decided that one thing she needed to do was open the incubator twice a day, a mother chicken will leave the nest sometimes so she started implementing this and the 2nd batch went better.

Lith cannot keep her eyes open for pictures but she loves the new chicks.

She has done two batches of chicks and now duck eggs are in the incubator.

Duck eggs in the incubator.

A second addition to the farm is Embden Geese. We did order these from Peterson’s North Branch Mill, our absolute favorite store! We had been doing some spring cleaning jobs around the farm. I was feeling overwhelmed and seriously thought about hiring someone to complete the task, but instead I offered to pay the children if they would get the job done without me. They did and Proeun the 2nd (Two) decided to use his money to buy geese, He researched breeds and places to purchase and selected Embdens. Geese are a new addition to the farm.

Two showing of one of his goslings.
The 4 day old Embden Geese are very interested in what the 2 week old chicks are doing.

If you are interested in getting into poultry chickens are a great way to begin. Many cities allow a limited number of chickens. To get started my absolutely favorite books on all things homesteading is Storey publications.

They have books specific for raising poultry, including chickens, and hatching them.


I used to feel like I had a “bad lawn”. Over the years the ratio of grass to dandelion, ground ivy (creeping charlie) and violets has been slowly, maybe not so slowly, shifting. But as we shift our overall farm focus to plant allies (i.e. plants used traditionally for what ails us) I am thankful for this shift. I am thoroughly enjoying learning ways to preserve this goodness and enjoy it during the winter months, though it is actually feeding my soul right now.

I am really connecting with one plant in particular.


Maia Toll says in her absolutely beautiful Herbiary (really for the it is a must have for the visuals of it alone)–

“Violet understands that most of us have forgotten: it’s okay to have a public face that is different from the one we wear in private. In fact, in order to deeply know ourselves, it’s necessary. . . You may think that you are being your true, authentic self by fully expressing each thought and feeling out in the world and sharing well, everything. But overexposure will send truth scurrying. Befriend your truth in the quiet and dark. Become intimate with its contours and inner dimensions before you carry it out into the light.”

Sometimes we struggle with knowing how much to share, who to share it with and how to say no. This is an area I particularly struggle with. The solution is to fully embrace and know ourselves. How interesting that when I was studying Violets I discovered that this plant is ready and willing to help. The Flower Essence Repertory has this to say about Violets–

“The soul forces of the Violet type are highly refined, full of exquisite yet delicate sweetness. Such persons long to share themselves with others, but usually hold back due to a feeling of fragility in group situations, and fear that their sense of self will be lost or submerged. Such a type often gravitates to a lifestyle or occupation where work is done silently and alone. The Violet personality inwardly feels a great deal of warmth, but he/she appears cool and aloof to others; even the body and especially the hands may be moist and cool. Although such persons may find a few others who are able to understand and accept their shyness, they suffer great feelings of loneliness, for they would like to share more of themselves than they actually do. The key to their unfoldment lies in being able to trust the warmth of others. Like the Violet flower, whose essential fragrance cannot be detected until the sun shines upon it and the air wafts it upward, so the Violet type must learn to let its essence flow into others. Violet flower essence helps such souls shift their awareness from fear of losing the Self, to trust that the Self will be warmed and revealed by others, so that their beautiful soul nature may be shared with the world.” 

I find that this pretty much describes me. And so the plant I needed came. One huge part of this is finding people that I feel comfortable to share with and give to who do not take advantage of me. So while I was struggling with this dynamic I noticed the flowers asking for attention. That was last year. Violet was one of the first flower essences I made. I learned about flower essences through this book and the Green Wisdom School of Natural and Botanical Medicines. Another resource for making your own flower essences is this book.

Sadly the season for Violets was over before I had a chance to really explore it. This year I have been anxiously waiting for the Violets to come back. I am making a tincture, oil and drying leaves for tea. Note that many sources do not recommend dried Violets and it is very difficult to find to purchase. But Robin Rose Bennett sings the praises of Violets so strongly in The Gift of Healing Herbs I decided to give it a try. So my dehydrator is out and humming away. I use this one. Note that Bennett gives easy to follow instructions for making tinctures and oils with herbs and offers some interesting combinations. Her other book, Healing Magic, is also very good.

In case you need more motivation to try working with Violet this spring Bennett says this about Violet–

“If ever there was a plant that speaks to its connection to your heart, it is sweet blue violet. Not only does violet help your body dissolve cysts, lumps, and bumps, this plant’s soothing nature can help you dissolve the red-hot burn of anger, cool the draining white heat of frustration and resentment, and relieve the simmering roil of felling stuck in separation when ruled by your judgmental mind.

“Violet leaf infusion or tincture is the remedy to use if your head is aching in response to over-thinking, or to feeling angry and frustrated with someone. Violet leaf nourishes the nervous system and provides pain relief due to its salicylic acid, the anti-inflammatory chemical related to aspirin. Violet is one of the sweetest-spirited plants I know.” (Bennett, 2014)

There is also some culinary fun to be had with Violets. Here is a syrup recipe from Erin Piorier, a great local herbalist and teacher.

Have fun working with and enjoying plants this spring! If feels like this spring has been a long time coming.

Willow, The Nigerian Dwarf Goat

I had this idea that maybe life on the farm was getting to be too much. In all honesty prior to Coronavirus we thought about moving back to the city, getting a little lot that required very little maintenance. We (Proeun and I) imagined weekends where we would say, “What shall we do today?” Normally our weekends start with a look at our “to-do” list and a sigh.

As our children got older I felt guilty about “making them” live this life that required so much from us and them. We decided to sell our animals. And I was so thankful to find a wonderful family that was excited to move our whole flock of Lincoln Longwool sheep to their farm so they were all able to stay together. We also found really amazing homes for most of our goats. But Miracle (sorry the pictures of her were on the old host for our blog and didn’t transfer) was a different story. Avril thought about it and asked if we could please keep her. We also had a couple of other special goats that will remain on our farm and have since had babies this year.

I didn’t know how much Avril really loved this life. She recently told me that her ideal life would involve raising animals on her own homestead. She has already picked out the name of her farm, but it will be a secret for awhile yet.

It is so rewarding as a parent when your children so clearly tell you that they appreciate the life you have worked so hard to offer them. This of course makes you even more motivated to keep giving for them. So today we are basking in a warm sun, feelings and baby goat cuteness.

In Honor of Earth Day–DIY Facial Scrub to replace microbeads

I am so proud to live in a GreenStep City. In my hometown we have the “magnificent 7” that have been instrumental in working with the city and educating the public. At a recent meeting one of the members was saying that she was supervised to learn how damaging micro bead scrubbers are so the environment. Those little synthetic beads don’t biodegrade and get washed down the drain and into our water supply.

Since GreenStep is all about identifying small and doable action steps that build to big change this member said looking for an alternative was an action step she wanted to start with.

Unfortunately, our city’s Earth Day Celebration (April 22) was canceled, so I thought in honor of Earth Day I would share my own favorite DIY facial scrub.

This is based off of Rosemary Gladstar’s Basic scrub, also called “Miracle Grains” in some sources. Gladstar’s original recipe has spread far and wide, and I am not sure what the original looked like, but here is the recipe I came up with using what I have on hand.

3/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup brown rice
1/4 cup almond meal
1/8 cup dried lavender flowers
1/8 cup dried calendula flowers
1/8 cup poppy seeds
2 cups cosmetic clay

The flowers might be the hardest items to source but our natural food coop has these in the bulk herb/spice section. You can use whatever your favorites are (rose would be really nice) and even dry some flowers that will soon be coming up.

Clay can also be hard to find. I got mine from Mountain Rose Herbs. But your coop would probably have some as well.

I have a vitamix with a dry/grain attachment I used to grind this up. I store the dry mix in a quart jar, but keep a smaller 1/2 pint jar in the shower (use a plastic lid). For the smaller jar I mix 4-5 TBSP of the mix with 1 1/2 Tbsp honey and enough filtered water to make a paste.

Dry mix in a quart jar, to use mix with honey and water.

This is what I use to wash my face–no soap. When I was younger I was very acne prone. I don’t know if I would have felt comfortable only using this scrub on a daily basis then but now I love it, it is not so drying and is beautifully exfoliating. Plus not only is it biodegradable but you could eat it is you really wanted to, though the clay is a bit yucky.

More Earth Festivities include planning our new medicinal herb garden. How are you celebrating Earth Day?

Spring Means Baby Goats

I was reading on Facebook how if we are able to be under quarantine in a warm house with a well stocked fridge and pantry, plus plenty of books and TV options we really should be thankful.

This morning I was standing at my kitchen sink washing dishes. A bluejay flew by. Our cats were playing and running in the backyard, ducks were swimming in every little puddle, chickens were scratching and baby goats are in the barn. So I am feeling extra extra blessed. Here are some pictures of our cuteness to bless you.

Faline 2, one of last year’s babies, going to her forever home this morning as a birthday gift for a very sweet 16 year old.
Avril convinced me she would like to start her own goat farm. Here is Willow, her first goat.
This one is a trouble maker, always getting places she shouldn’t be, Mavis is her designated rescuer.
Catching up with mom.
We have fainting and Nigerian dwarf goats. I love the variety of colors. These ones are twins.

Easter Lily

I was shopping this week looking for a new house plant. It wasn’t on my radar at the time to buy an Easter Lily, though I had thought about it before, until I asked the clerk if they had plants and she mentioned that they had just gotten Easter Lilies in.

My family had always bought Easter Lilies when I was growing up, but it wasn’t until reading Matthew Wood’s The Book of Herbal Wisdom that I realized that you could make an botanical treatment with it. Wood says, “Easter Lily as a remedy for fibro-cystic disease of the breasts, cysts in the ovaries and under the skin, and menstrual problems.”

He goes on to write about its use in Chinese Medincine for respiratory issues and “It cleared the mind (fine, phlegmatous particles are thought to obstruct consciouness in Chinese and other systems of folk medicine).” The interesting part is his case studies that brought him to these conclusions or which he lists several.

I am currently taking a class on Herbs of Women’s Health is Erin Piorier. At a recent class, March 5th–right before everything went crazy– Lise Wolff was a guest speaker on the topic of fertility. Wolff again talked about taking Easter Lily saying it was good for cysts, acne, light or heavy periods and sexuality issues whether promiscuity or the opposite extreme of shame around sexuality to the point where the person is unable to pee in public restrooms.

In my notes from this class I wrote in big letters across the top–Make Easter Lily Flower Essence–Use Brandy! What makes this remedy so interesting is that it is a Flower Essence, not a traditional tea or tincture.

I was introduced to Flower Essences through Barbara Olive’s recent Book Flower Essences for Health and Well-Being. I also learned more about it through classes at the Green Wisdom School of Natural and Botanical Medicine. For good instructions on how to make flower essences go here.

Matthew Wood says of dosing in The Book of Herbal Wisdom, “Three drops of the flower essence dosage tincture, one to three times a day, as needed, is usually sufficient. Response is usually prompt. Women with menstrual problems should take it for seven to ten days before the period, for three periods. It usually takes a few days, or three periods, to complete its cleansing action on the organism.” He also right more extensively about Easter Lily in his book Seven Herbs: Plants as Teachers though I have not read this book.

So that is a long way of saying I felt that divine nudge reminding me to make my Easter Lily Flower Essence. So I prompt bought one.

It hasn’t opened yet but I am anxious to try it out. I have a growing list of herbs I want to turn into flower essences, oils and salves, tincture, dry for tea and more. Last year I made dandelion, violet, lilac and crab apple flower essence. The Flower Essence Society has a great guide about what characteristics each flower essence carries.

In any case why not get an Easter Lily?


Last night the Minnesota Governor’s stay home order went into effect. Honestly we have been home for a couple weeks already, so at the beginning of the official stay home order I am already feeling antsy. In a lot of ways things have settled a bit and I am hoping with more Minnesotans staying home things will settle down at the grocery stores and some missing items will be stocked.

But in times like these I am falling back on my comfort foods. I did buy a 25 pound bag of white flour and some smaller bags of whole wheat flour when this all began. While I have been trying to eat more gluten free, Keto meals I rested comfortably in the fact that I could easily make my own bread, noodles, crackers, cakes, cookies, etc. with just this small staple.

So this week I was already tired of chicken breast and ground meat so I decided to do a traditional German dinner with some homemade sausage a friend had given us.

Homemade sausage, sauerkraut, spaetlze (German egg noodles) with onion gravy and mustard

I used to make Spaetlze regularly but finding the right tools to get the egg drop shaped noodles right isn’t so easy. I used to have a pot with a strainer that fit inside and I would push the dough through with the bottom of a cup. Admittedly not the best method and then when I had to throw the pot away I though “no more spaetlze.” Of course at the time I was young and broke and it never occurred to me to buy a spaetlze maker. But then I remembered I had a potato ricer. It worked beautifully, now I am thinking I will have to bring this back.

Here is the recipe I got when I was in Treffpunkt Deutsche (German youth club) at the Germanic American Institute


2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup milk or water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
Dash of pepper

Mix eggs, milk, flour, 1/2 tsp salt and pepper. Batter will be thick. Heat 2 quarts of water with a teaspoon of salt to boiling. Press batter through colander a few spoonfulls at a time into the boiling water (I used the potato ricer). Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook until dumplings rise to surface and are tender, about 5 min. then drain (or use a slotted spoon to remove if you need to keep cooking). Garnish with butter and parsley (garlic is also amazing!)

Of course everyone has different types of food that bring comfort. It is still cold and damp in Minnesota and soups/stews are what I crave. Proeun puts up with my cravings and I do try to make some foods that are comforting to him as well.

This week I will be working on sourdough with all that white flour that I have. And luckily our 4H cheese order from Ellsworth Creamery still came in. So plenty of good comfort food around here. I can’t wait till the nettle and dandelions are up and my comfort food can switch to some fresh items as well. What foods are bring you comfort right now?

Some of our favorites from the cheese order