Monday, February 8, 2016

Sick Day

Monday is my Very Busy Day, but I woke up this morning sick. Just a cold (hopefully not the flu ...), but after I'd contacted nine people (!!!) to cancel all my various Monday commitments, I crawled back into bed, took my sleeping tablet, and slept until 3:30 PM.
People deal with mild sickness differently. Adam's modus operandi is to ignore a cold. If he acts like it's not there, he's not sick, right? It seems to work for him ... mostly. But not me. If I don't Absolutely Rest, I get sicker and sicker. And I pay for it in the end. For me, the best solution is to cancel everything, and sleep until I'm well. My sick day involved:
Ricola lozenges, benadryl, very old Mentholatum 

chamomile tea with our honey
And the latest episode of Downton Abbey, of course.
Now I'm going back to sleep. See you on the healthier side of life!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Salve Plantain

I make a skin care product I call Salve Plantain. My friends affectionately call it Green Goo. Click here to read the blog post about making it.
 It's gloopy and a bit oily. It also works wonders.
On Tuesday we had a burn pile outside that I tended. I burnt my finger (middle, left hand) pretty badly. I picked up a stick that I didn't realize was as hot as it was. I knew immediately it was a bad burn, my time doing farm work that day was over, and I needed to treat it immediately. I dashed straight into the house. Within two minutes I'd put the fingertip into my container of Salve Plantain, applied a big glob to the wound, and wrapped it in gauze.
Salve Plantain immediately soothes and relieves the pain -- and I mean immediately. This burnt finger never hurt at all. Knowing how bad burns hurt, it seems crazy to say that, but it's true. But just because it doesn't hurt doesn't mean you can quit treating it. It's essential to keep the burn wound heavily coated with the salve and well-bandaged for about 24 hours.
Twenty-four hours later, the burn looked like this:
It's a flat blister. It doesn't hurt. It's not tender, inflamed, or red. I could run hot water over it. It felt perfectly normal. I played the piano with it. This was yesterday before noon.
By last night (not quite 36 hours after the burn happened), the finger looked like this:
The blister disappeared. The finger looks perfectly normal. The blister itself was never filled with fluid or raised at all. And the blister never peels off. It just went away.
I'm not trying to sell anybody anything. I only have three tubs of this stuff left until new plantain grows this spring. But I'd encourage you to make your own. It's a bit finicky, but not hard, and what a wonderful salve to have in your medicine cabinet! It will work better than any other product you have for burns.
You must apply it very soon after the burn happens -- within minutes.
You must apply it very liberally for at least 24 hours.
You must bandage it well and keep putting new salve into the bandage.
If you make your own salve, remember that the more plantain leaf you get infused into your oils, the better the salve will work. Chop up lots of leaves, chop them small, and let them infuse for a long time, getting the oil quite warm. The leaves need to release their oils into the infusion oils. When you press out the leaves, do it firmly, as if you want to get all the goodness out of that plantain. I hope you're able to make some and have it handy! It is marvelous for kitchen burns, but really any kind of burn, and is quite helpful for abrasions and skin irritations. If you don't want to make your own and really want a tub of mine, leave me a comment and we'll try to work something out :)

Friday, January 29, 2016

"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society"

A friend loaned me her copy of this book, which she's read for a book club. I'm a sucker for anything about those channel islands during World War II. Did you ever watch the mini-series, Island at War? Loved that one too. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was a blazing fast read, and very fun.

First off, its format. It's epistolary, entirely composed of letters written among the dozen or so people who play a part in the plot. Juliet, a young woman, new writer, just survived the war in London, is the protagonist. While looking for a new book idea, she stumbles upon Guernsey and falls in love with the quirky people there.

I won't spoil anything for you, but it is a fun read. The author worked for years to complete it, compelled and urged by friends and family. In the end, she was too ill to finish the final revisions/rewritings, and her niece did this piece of work for her.

Voice is such an important thing. The author did a good job generally of distinguishing among the characters using their writing voice. This is no easy task; most books really only need one voice, the voice of the author or of a single character. I congratulate her on mastering this challenge. Only one other character seemed to have a voice too similar to Juliet's, in my opinion.

Here's another book to add to your to-do list!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Good Smells

Do you keep scraps of paper? I found one recently tucked into a book. I must've written it in college; the handwriting has the neat, curly, controlled look of myself then. Underneath a long quote are these words:

"from Small Blessings by Celestine Sibley"

I have no memory of the book or the author, but the quote I wrote out must've left a deep impression. Here it is. Thank you, Ms. Sibley.

"The smell of onions cooking is an inviting smell, and a good garlicky roast attracts some of us. All greens, mustard, collards, turnips smell good to us.

"Let's see what else: fat pine, wood smoke, fresh milk, new shoes, old books, new newspapers, little children, chocolate fudge, lye soap, country stores, cedar waterbuckets, clean sheets, seed bins, damp earth, candlewax, spring water, new paint, ocean breezes, ripe peaches, burning leaves, wild honey, summer rain, new mown grass, old leather ... the list is endless.
Thank heaven."

And that's it. Isn't it lovely? Somehow it spells out part of the reason I'm so happy to be living on a small farm. So many of the appealing smells she mentions are natural -- of the country and not of the city. They are mostly things you'd find in a rural setting. The city has its own allures, but its smells are generally not among them.

Ms. Sibley's book is at Amazon. I don't think I ever owned it. Whoever's copy I once read, I thank you.
"garlicky roast"

"burning leaves"
"country stores"
"old books"
What are your favorite smells?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Finishing Susan's Book

Well, that was quick! I read Susan Branch's book Tuesday, finishing it at 10:00, just in time for bed.
And I enjoyed reading it. I like a writer's voice, and sometimes if I don't enjoy her subject matter, I'll read her anyway just to hear her talk.  I understand that some of you haven't considered this book appealing. I feel that way about a LOT of books :)
This is the first of two books that together are a prequel to her other book, A Fine Romance, which appeals to my friends: an account of Susan's ocean cruise in her 60s with the man she loves, followed by a leisurely tour of England. Who can resist that?

But the grueling tale of her youth, teen years, failed marriage, and abandonment of California? Ouch.

Here's the thing. Branch says right off the bat that this book isn't about her reader. It's about her. She begins: "Some censuring readers will scornfully say, 'Why hath this lady writ her own life?'" She answers with, "because I write it for my own sake, not theirs." (This is a quote from Margaret Cavendish, 1655. Branch's book is dripping with quotes from Charles Dickens to King Solomon and everybody in between.)

And I did start marking the book (a little). I noted every time she explained her philosophy of a fairy tale life -- how she got such a philosophy (from her parents), how she tried to implement that philosophy (with sheer grit and determination), and how it was disappointed (by her husband).

I find myself bemused by Susan Branch. She quotes the Bible and loves Beatrix Potter and Julia Child and Merry Olde England. She paints and snuggles kitty cats. She loves all the things we love, doesn't she? She reads all the things we read. And when she talks to us, she sounds just like a girlfriend! She even calls us girlfriends, and I believe she knows how to be a friend. I love her blog. But I do keep a distance; I study her. In spite of the sparkling wonder of her happiness, there are things that trouble me, and she doesn't address them.

Branch was born in 1947. Her mother was born about 20 years before, so about 1927. My mother was born in 1934. I was born in 1963, the year Branch graduated high school. '27, '34, '47, '63. Much of this book was about culture and how much it changed in the '60s -- the music, the pressure on women, their behavior and dress, and particularly the expectations put on young women and young men. This is about as close as she'll get to talking about the elephant in the room: In about 1960, she'd already moved out of her parents' house, gotten a small job, and was living with her boyfriend. She was living with her boyfriend! Branch readily admits that "The '60s" (the age of rebellion and sudden, inexplicable change) didn't start until 1964. In 1960, it was still "The '50s" (the age of penny loafers, braids, hop-scotch, and good girls). Only Branch wasn't a good girl. That's the truth that she never comes out and states. I don't know why.

Something must've changed drastically in her early teen years, in her world, in her culture. Or maybe 1960s California was radically different from 1970s Mississippi. I was a teen in the late '70s. I didn't know anybody who moved in with her boyfriend. Nada. No one. Branch invokes Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra as if they were her neighbors who behaviors she was naively following. How did her parents feel when she moved in with a boy younger than her? She doesn't say. Did they approve because he was incredibly financially successful for a 21-year-old, because financial success was the value they loved most? She doesn't exactly say. She avows that her parents' generation (children in the Depression, then fighters of WW2) valued financial security and fun. How could they condemn her behavior when she was only following what they'd instilled in her?

I found the book mildly disturbing. She cries as her world falls apart, her husband plays the field, she doesn't know what to do with herself. She has no college degree, no career. She knows how to keep house, cook, garden, paint a little. In that arena of her life, she'd followed her mother's generation: keep house, stay at home, be dependent on a husband. These values only work, however, when attention to marital rules are carefully followed. She played the good little wife. He wasn't the good little husband. Only ... a good little wife doesn't live with her boyfriend for six years before marrying him.

Susan Branch is satisfied with how her life turned out, and she still believes in fairy tales and dreams come true. I'm not here to condemn her. But I do find her life a study! She presents herself as a naive, flighty, innocent girl, dancing through life with good-luck fairy dust sprinkled on her head at just the right times. But under that ... I think there's a hard-working, gritty woman with lots of determination and rigorous habits who's decided she will make her dream world happen. And she does. Not the life I'd chose for myself, but then that's the point. It's her life. If you enjoy the study, it's worth reading.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

In the January Cold

In addition to weaving, I've been doing a little of this:
People are still buying scarves. And Anna has been doing a lot of this:
She's in embroidery floss heaven! A friend sent her some cross stitch stuff. She loves it.
And Adam (Adam! Can you believe it?) has succumbed to yarn temptation. He's making a hand-knotted rug, using a Persian knot method.
 He made the frame from cedar wood scraps.
I'm wondering if his man-card is in jeopardy.
Monday night in the quite-cold, I got together with my market buddies for an evening of Mexican Train Dominoes. We all brought dinner: stuffed eggs, sausage/cheese dip with scoops, Adam's French onion soup, salad, and turtle cheesecake for dessert. I think we were more stuffed than the eggs.

How 'bout some boat shots? At Saturday's farmers' market a lady strolled around with a baby and a few rambunctious boys. Actually, the oldest teenage boy came first, carrying the baby. They'd clearly just crawled out of bed.
They are live-aboards on this lovely boat:
This stunning vessel is 64 feet long. Don't know her name (didn't want to be that nosey), but I did talk to the lady.
It's her husband's dream and passion, she said, to sail such a boat and travel with the family. They are from Alberta, Canada. No wonder they are this far south in January! They've been living aboard for 3 months. The two oldest boys are plenty big enough to help a lot, but I'll-tell-ya, that's a lot of boat to manage!
She is a beauty. Three tall masts. If they had a blog I would read it!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Two Christmas Books

Adam bought me two books for Christmas, Elizabeth Goudge's A City of Bells and Susan Branch's The Fairy Tale Girl.

The first is fiction. The second (in spite of weak protestations on the author's part) is not. The first is serious, well-written prose. The second ... well, time will have to tell. I love reading Susan Branch. Goudge is elegant and old. Branch's easy, friendly style makes me feel like we're curled up on the sofa together, sharing secrets. I've been longing to finish Goudge so I can read Branch.

As I read A City of Bells, expecting to find an all-time-favorite-novel, I circled page numbers and underlined (albeit with pencil) wonderful quotes. And sometime I'll get around to sharing them with you. Goudge is an examiner of existence and the human heart, and she shoots straight at you. Here's a quick example at the end of the book:
"And suffering, he had discovered, could be the gateway to renewal, than which no more glorious experience can be man's on earth." (303) What a statement! The next time some woeful person asks, "If there's a God, why must humans suffer?" perhaps I'll answer, "Because suffering can be a gateway to renewal, a glorious experience humans cannot have otherwise." Hmm.

And how 'bout this beautiful lyric, showing how death is conquered: "'This shall die,' says death, his sickle laid to a blade of wheat in its glory and the love of a man in his pride; and the fallen seed is a green shoot and the dead love is a poem." Chew on that for a minute or two.

Branch's book is quite different, a sincere account of one woman's personal history in the 1970s, in her youth and heartbreak. But Branch is always funny and light-hearted. She's an artist, and each page is hand-written and each page has hand-painted illustrations and quotations. It's a delight for the eyes. I turned the page (56, in fact) and read what must be the nugget of the book:

*  *  *  * *

"I turned my face up and asked him, because I really wanted to know, 'Can't we just make things the way we want them to be? Isn't life like a choice? Like you decide what's going to happen and then you just make it that way?'"

*  *  *  *  *

From reading other Branch books, I believe she views her life this way. Even as an early-20s, naive (by her own admission) girl, she believed that tenet fully. She was informing her then-boyfriend (later husband), a go-getter businessman, up-and-coming uber-confident, risk-taking young man with the world tied around his pinky ... she was telling him how to make your world what you want it to be.

I wanted to underline it, I really did. I wanted to star it and circle the page and put a star in the margin. But I can't bring myself to sully Branch's art. How do you take your pencil to someone else's art, her life, her belief in fairy tale, and scratch around it because you'd like to look back at your own 52 years and see such confidence?

But I don't. I don't think my life has ever been my own choice. I feel, year after year, that life has happened to me, sometimes as a summer sunrise but often as a train wreck. We make choices and find out they led us down the wrong road. We scavenge around for the trappings of a fairy tale life, but they're just that: trappings.

I do wonder -- is Branch's public, fairy tale self an image presented for the sake her audience, complete with sparkly wonder and kitty kisses, teapots and Beatrix Potter figurines? How deep does the fairy tale girl go? I too can surround myself with the trappings of sweetness and beauty (and they are wonderful), but they don't fill the void in me. There is a void that longs for God. And there is a void that longs for love. And there is a void that longs for personal self-fulfillment and meaning. This last one varies from person to person. Susan Branch filled hers.

She said that when she told those words to her boyfriend, that's the moment he fell in love with her. She can call it a belief in fairy tales, but it has a lot more steel to it than that. It sounds more like the ripping of your personal American Dream from the matted stuff of life and weaving it into your own garment. I'm not quite sure how a person does that. I haven't had the ability.

If there's more to tell about Branch's book, I'll let you know. She's a read and a re-read, that's for sure. Everybody wants more time on the sofa with a good friend.