Do you know what I find so amazing about the month of March? It seems like every year I forget what the arrival of Spring looks like and every March I find myself amazed anew. Somewhere between last week and this week, the world around me went from the dull washed-out colors of winter to a vibrant green so intense that it is achingly beautiful. In just one week. One week has transformed mud into a bed of growing things. One week and I need to change the entrance reducer on our one remaining bee hive. One week and my herbs are coming back to me.
Aren't they beautiful? Each of them with their own uses, waiting to aid my family in the coming year. Do you use any herbal remedies for your family? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below.
A muddy driveway is one of the charms of country life as I said recently on this blog, but it's fine only just so far. Today is a brief break in the rain. Of course I say that through gritted teeth because the dark clouds were spitting little bits here and there while my husband and I worked.
Over and over, it was up the driveway and down to the gravel pile by the front gate. We couldn't opt for the rolling pour that made the driveway in the first place because I'm not sure they could have done it without getting stuck. The dump truck left it at the end of the driveway for us instead. I don't blame them, they weren't the first vehicle not to make it up my driveway.
I'm very happy we were able to borrow a tractor for this work. I've done it with a wheelbarrow and a shovel before and I DO NOT recommend it. Am I crazy? No, yes, maybe, I don't know; that's a complicated question. It's just that the problem with farm work is that when something needs to be done…It really needs to be done.
Now I need to go back for a second and point out what I said. "We were able to borrow a tractor." It says a lot about having good friends, knowing good people, and living in a good area when you can borrow a tractor to get your work done without having to rent it. It's one of the things I like so much about living in a rural area: the sense of community. The willingness to help another person out without any personal gain. It's one of the main themes of my novel: how much we all need each other to survive.
So on a farm, you do what needs doing, when it needs doing. Sometimes you get help, sometimes you don't. But now that it's done, it's back to my writing desk; because I'm going to do what needs doing when it needs doing.
I'm going to tell a little story today. It's not a nice story. It's not a feel-good story. So if you want to skip this one you can. I nearly skipped it myself. I wrote this post a few days ago and couldn't bring myself to upload it. But I realized that you guys are tough, you can take it; and the reality is that farm life is almost always a mix of beauty and tragedy.
I broke the cardinal farm rule. I was away from home during kidding season. This mistake cost a life. I know it seems harsh but that is part of having a small farm. "If you have livestock, you also have deadstock," as my mentor always says to me.
I was out doing the day-to-day tasks that pile up and need doing. I got caught up talking because I didn't realize it would be the day my goat gave birth. Had I been more observant I would have guessed, but I wasn't. My husband and I didn't arrive home until after seven thirty in the evening. He went out to do the feeding while I caught up on some work that needed doing.
When he came back in he had a baby goat in his hands. She was limp, unmoving, silent. None of those things are good. He stood holding her while she blinked at me, her eyes rolling, a small pitiful sound escaped between her fuzzy little lips. I turned on the water in the kitchen sink. Warm; warmer than body temperature, but not too hot. I'd have measured the temperature, but in these instances there is no time for precision. Obviously we were at the point where seconds count.
I plunged her little body into the water and held her head above it. My husband and I took turns rubbing her limbs and body, keeping the water circulating around her. Warming the water every time it felt cool. The inside of her mouth was cold, not just cool. I've seen mild hypothermia before, but never anything this extreme.
Twenty minutes passed, since she was still alive I called my mentor. She talked me through the rest of what I needed to do. She's been saving baby goats for more than twenty years. We did what we could. Seconds mattered, and we were not there in those crucial seconds. We got her warmed up, and her heart rate up, but she didn't improve.
We got her dry and settled in wrapped up with some hot water bottles; again warm, but not too hot. She maintained her body heat, but gained no strength. I was rubbing her gums with colostrum from her mother, and molasses; hoping she would gain some strength. She did not improve.
After an exhaustive four hours she took her last breath. I cried and my dog whined. We both knew the sound, we've heard it before. I know in my heart I did everything I could for her except the most crucial thing: I was not there before it became an emergency.
Only after all of this did my husband lead me out to the farmyard to see what I didn't get the chance to see before. The twin who survived. She is warm, loud, healthy and lurching around on her little goat legs as I write this. Very few things are all bad, or all good either.
It was a long time coming for marketing reasons, but my publisher finally allowed me to announce the release of my book to my friends, family, and general public.
I knew I was going to have to keep the release secret for months before I turned in the finished manuscript to the publisher. He made sure I knew before I had finished writing the last chapter. I thought that not telling people about it would be easy. It's not the first thing in my life that I haven't announced all over the internet. I spend quite a lot of time not announcing things all over the internet. It's a bigger effort for me to remember to post things
But I was wrong. I was so wrong. It's really hard not to tell people that you care about when you are proud of something you accomplished. Especially when it's something like this, which is literally years in the making. For a long time only the smallest little select group of insiders knew this was coming, and even we couldn’t really talk about it much.
On the evening of the fourteenth, with trembling fingers I pressed the button to post, then told my publisher while my husband raced to be the first person to like it. (Good job honey.) What I didn't expect after all the time I spent waiting for this moment, was how nervous I would be to finally announce it.
Do you know what made it better? I didn't have time to be nervous anymore as a huge wave of support and congratulations washed over me. The likes, shares, comments, and questions poured in so fast I couldn't keep up. I couldn't ask for more than the support of a community as wonderful as all of you. Thank you from the bottom of my grateful heart.
The eggs are the first sign of spring creeping around the corner. The second and less pleasant sign of creeping spring…the mud.
There's mud everywhere. It freezes, it snows, it thaws, and my driveway and yard get deeper and deeper. The driveway is now impassable to all but the most determined souls with four-wheel-drive. I've been ferrying visitors through the muddy ruts while leaving their wholly inadequate cars parked safely at the bottom of the driveway.
It honestly didn't bother me a bit, until I realized I can't get deliveries. While I was ordering copies of my book from my publisher to sell at events, he offered to have the package sent to my house for my convenience. It was then that I realized there is no way a delivery man is going to make it to my door. I had to ask my publisher to accept my order at the office and let me pick it up there. The books should arrive just in time for my official release date.
The rest of it is just a series of little annoyances. I have to carry my shoes, or arrive everywhere is my muck boots. Stylish with dress clothes I assure you. When I feed the chickens, I watch them churn all their feed under the mud. We'll get a bumper crop of everything they are planting out there this winter. Not to mention, the stubborn refusal of my dogs to wipe their feet at the door.
It may sound like I'm complaining, but really I'm not. My driveway has character, and a current built-in-guarantee that guests need to call ahead. It's just a part of the charm of country life. I would take my muddy ruts over a paved driveway in town any day.
Before I start my post… DO NOT USE THIS FOR BABIES UNDER 1 YEAR OF AGE!
This is how my children suffer. Okay suffering may be too strong a word, but not if you ask them. I have one child who currently has a rasping cough. I did the concerned mom thing, I took her to the doctor. This visit, to my great surprise, my doctor recommended that I give my child a honey-based cough syrup. The doctor then proceeded to give me absolutely no suggestions about where to find such a thing, but this isn't a problem for me.
Honey and Onion syrup to the rescue! Or as it's been nicknamed in my house: Hunion Syrup.
I first discovered this gem in a book called, "The Wild and Weedy Apothecary" by Doreen Shababy; but I've encountered it many times after that as part of folk medicine practices. I know folk medicine is just old wives tales, blah, blah. I hear you. But I'm going to say: just because it's an old wives tale doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't work. I've personally used this remedy for my own family, and extended family, for years. It's a go-to for me because I pretty much always have an onion and we keep bees. It's so simple to make, that my kids have done it. It's ridiculously easy.
Cut up as much white, or yellow, onion as you think you are going to use. I normally use about half a large onion. Next I pour in raw local honey (not from the supermarket that stuff is mostly corn syrup.) Cover the onion completely.
Then wait a few hours until the hygroscopic honey leaches the juice out of the onion, and into itself. It will be obvious by the onion's now wilted appearance and the liquid nature of the honey.
All that's left to do is strain the onion out of the honey, and administer. For adults 1-2 tablespoons. For children over the age of one year (don't get hung up on dosing, it's just food) I force mine to swallow about a tablespoon.
FOR BABIES UNDER ONE YEAR DO NOT USE THIS!!!! Raw honey has been linked to BOTULISM DEATHS in babies due to their underdeveloped digestive system. AND LOUDER FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK! BABIES CAN DIE FROM THE CONSUMPTION OF HONEY!
If you've stuck with me this far I can explain why this works for coughs, and congestion:
Raw, local honey is a wonder of the natural world. It is antibacterial, with a mild antihistamine action. Local honey ingested over time is believed to help build a resistance to local allergens and hayfever. It also gives a quick energy boost.
Onions, especially raw, are a good source of vitamin C, anti-inflammatory, and great for removing phlegm.
So how bout them apples…er…onions.
Life on a small hobby farm can be rewarding and so full of little milestones. I just got one of the little hints that spring is lurking somewhere under the ice that is currently melting to mud. Even before the fuzzy quality of buds on trees, and bees taking to the air, comes one of my favorites; the eggs.
How are eggs a big deal? For anyone who doesn’t live on a farm you may not be aware that chickens lay eggs based on the available daylight hours. Yes chickens are solar powered. They can be tricked into laying during the winter by electric lights but I don’t like to do that. Some breeds produce right through the winter. Mine don’t.
Normally December and January I have no fresh eggs. I keep my eggs fresh enough to cook with during this time by purposely not washing them when I bring them in. I wash them just before I use them. Anything smeared with any unsavory barnyard waste is not saved for longer-term storage.
This year was unusual in the fact that my chickens stopped laying earlier than they ever had before: the beginning of November. They didn’t grace me with the first egg till this week. Normally I see one on, or around, Groundhog’s day. So this led me to do something I haven’t done in almost ten years. I bought eggs, from the store. That was eye-opening. I’d nearly forgotten the ghostly pale yellow yolks of my youth as compared to the robust yellow/orange yokes of free-range chickens.
The one on the left is from one of my birds, the one on the right is from a cage-free carton from the supermarket. The color of the yokes from my birds will darken in the spring when there is more for them to forage. There’s just no contest which I like better. I’m glad to have them back.
Gather round boys and girls and I'll tell you an origin story. No, I'm not a superhero. No cape, and my tights bunch up, or pull so I'd rather not think about them too much. This origin story isn't mine, not really.
Before we begin I'll note that the crucial piece of information that would allow you to verify this tale is sadly missing. So, take it as fact, or assume it's fiction. I know the truth, and really that's what matters.
This story starts years ago with my mother: the collector of junk, and occasional finder of treasure. She walked into my house carrying a zippered case that was starting to come apart. She informed me that it contained a gift. Inside was an old Olivetti Underwood Lettera 33 typewriter in beautiful condition.
I love typewriters. I grew up typing school reports on a typewriter. Admittedly, I grew up in the era of the electric word processor, but my household didn’t own one. We did however have a Commodor 64 computer, and one of those printers that required the paper with the tear-away guide holes. Really, it was a thing, look it up. I couldn’t use it because it was the wrong format for the school, seeing as the paper was nearly as wide as a desk. Instead, I used an old manual typewriter.
To me, the clacking of the keys of a typewriter sounds like nostalgia, like inspiration, and also a whole lot of work.
So on my table in front of me sat a light, beautiful, traveling typewriter. When I asked my mom why she bought it for me, she told me the gift wasn’t from her. My mother had spotted it sitting on a table at a yard sale. It was out of her price range but she thought I might like it so she decided to see if the woman would take less for it.
This woman of retirement age asked my mom if she wanted the typewriter to use herself, or for resale. My mom told her about me: a writer who had an idea for a book and dreams of one day being an author. It was going to be a gift to encourage me to write that book.
The woman was amazed and told my mom to take it as a gift of encouragement from her to me.
Why would she do this? This typewriter had belonged to her late husband: a newspaper reporter. It had been carried with him for most of his career. When he eventually retired he decided it was time to write his book. He unfortunately passed away before he could accomplish the dream of writing his first novel on this typewriter. It was her hope that the typewriter would be used to write my first novel instead.
So a great deal of my first draft for, “As It Ends” was written on this typewriter. Additionally the text for the front cover was typed on this typewriter and scanned in to be used as a nod to the gift that I received.
What was the crucial piece of missing information you ask. I do not know the name of the woman who gifted me the typewriter. When I asked my mom she stared at me and said that she didn’t actually know it.
So to the woman who made the anonymous gift of this beautiful typewriter, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. It was used to write a first novel.
I have an ongoing interest in dystopian fiction, both reading and writing it. I’m a fan of simple living and draw inspiration for my writing from my love of old-fashioned skills and my small hobby farm.
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My first book is available on Amazon