Browsing Archives for June 2009

Good Book Therapy

June 28th, 2009

It has been a rough couple of weeks here at My Sister’s Farmhouse.  I don’t even want to think about how many miles I’ve put on my car driving to and from Arkansas, to and from the Western end of my state, to and from Atchison and Kansas City.  I thoroughly enjoyed all these trips that I have taken in the past few weeks.  I met Sarah Susanka for crying out loud!  I met and toured the home of Mary Carol Garrity!  I went with nine teenagers (along with my friends Jenny and Dave) to Heifer Ranch!  I ate dinner in Appalachia, spent the night in Guatemala, and breakfasted in the urban slums!  I went to puppet camp!  I played a gig in Kansas City!  

I didn’t just visit a bunch of different places… I visited a bunch of different ideas too.  Ideas on how to build a good house.  Ideas on how to beautifully decorate your home… and then at the opposite end of the spectrum… ideas on how to sustain your family on two cups of rice and a stolen egg… ideas on how to stretch your meager food supplies through the monsoon season… ideas on which assets are more important to keep… your health… or your groceries…

These two opposing worlds forced me to take a hard look at my own life and determine if I am not possibly the most shallow person on the face of the earth.  Just when I was about to find a way to merge moving to a third world country to help the utterly destitute with which of these super cute designer platters should I purchase at Nell Hill’s?… an old songwriting buddy called me up and asked me to come to KC and sing with him at an honest to goodness gig.

Now in the midst of cataclysmic, life changing chaos, I am forced to deal with the ghosts of forgotten dreams.  

Then I start thinking about blogging.

And Oh Lord… here we go…

Why… Why… WHY???

Why do I do this?  

What am I doing?  

What am I going for here?  

What am I trying to achieve?

What is the point?

It can’t possibly be worth all the time and money I have spent on it.

Maybe it’s time to do something of real value… something that matters… something that means something.

Something that I could possibly even succeed at!


No wait…


That might be going too far…



But maybe something that comes with a real paycheck… and helps people… and gives back… and amounts to something…


 I was distraught.

I was sad.

I was overwhelmed by a feeling of uselessness and stupidity.

I felt empty and also…

like a total dumb-ass.

Then I remembered that my book club was meeting in just a few days.

I picked up the book that I was supposed to read and I started reading it.

Furiously reading it.

Reading  to distract myself from myself… 

To ignore myself…

To forget that I even existed.

And it worked!  

I didn’t put the book down until the last page.

And when it was over I still desperately needed to escape from my own miserable flesh…

So I fished around for another book.

And I found one!

And again I was swept away by a story.

And I didn’t put it down until the last page.

And then I looked up and saw four very hungry boys, one very messy house, a garden that needed tending, and a husband that kept calling from work every three hours because he knows that I have a tendency to fall deeper and deeper into a melancholy until I am nothing but inconsolable.

But I was consoled.

Two books consoled me.

My life still does not make any sense, but I feel better about it.

Reading a good book has always done that for me.

And these were two VERY GOOD BOOKS!


The first book was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.


Book cover



The second book was The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck.



I hope to have both of these books in an upcoming giveaway and I will give you a synopsis at that time.

Until then…

If you are in need of a good read, might I highly recommend either one?

The life you save might just be your own.

This is Hal Sears.  Hal and I used to work together at the Community Mercantile which is a cooperative grocery store in Lawrence, Kansas specializing in natural foods, organic produce, and a vast selection of bulk herbs.  

Hal was the herb buyer for the store and for a few years, I was the ‘herb stocker girl’.  This means that once or twice a week, during my shift at the store, I would go through all the glass herb jars, pour them out, add new herbs into the bottom of the jars and then put the old herb stock back in to fill the jar to the top.  The store easily carried fifty different herbs and herb blends as well as whole leaf teas, powdered broth, and some bulk baking agents like baking soda and baking powder.  I enjoyed the job, especially re-stocking the peppermint and the cinnamon, but I quickly learned that powdered Valerian is the most vile smell on the face of the earth, and that I must pour the chili powder and the cayenne slowly or my eyes would sting for hours.  





Hal is extremely knowledgeable about herbs and their various medicinal uses.  At one point he created and sold his own herbal tinctures under a brand called ‘Thunder Wind Apothecary’.



Here is a bottle of Hal’s Echinacea Purpurea.  

Echinacea is an herb that can help fight off upper respiratory infections and is purported to boost the overall immune system.  The Plains Indians used it for snake bites as well as a myriad of other illnesses.  They passed their knowledge of this herb onto a travelling salesman named Joseph Meyer who began to market a concoction of the herb from a covered wagon.  To sell his echinacea tincture, he would goad a live rattlesnake into biting him, take a swig of his medicine and he would never get sick… or die… or anything.  He called his miracle drug, ‘snake oil’ and became the first in a long line of snake oil salesmen.  

Now who wants some echinacea tincture?

Let’s make some with Hal! 



First, Hal digs up a purple cone flower in his yard.  The scientific name for purple cone flower is either echinacea purpurea or echinacea augustofolian.  Either variety is suitable for an herbal tincture, but the augustofolian variety can numb your lips and mouth.





Hal keep the entire plant in tact.  He is going to use every part of the cone flower, including the heart, the lungs, the eyeballs, the bladder and the bowels.  





There will be dirt.  




Hal removes as much of the dirt as he can, but it is insidious.  Just when you think the plant is clean, you will find more dirt.









After a thorough cleaning, Hal hangs his echinacea up to dry for a while.  He wants it to wilt a bit.  









While the cone flower was wilting, Hal and I sat on his back porch and chewed the fat.  We rifled through all of the people that we both worked with at the ‘Merc’ and where they are now.  We talked about the changes over time in the co-op from it’s humble beginnings in a tiny store on Massachusetts street to the full service grocery store that it is now.  We also covered Buddhism, Catholicism, wild-crafting herbs, his adorable two year old granddaughter named Mercury, comfrey, ducks, my four boys, living in a small town, community life, peace, peach farming, baptism, the french horn, aloe vera, theocracy and the Latin mass.  

I love talking to Hal.  





I brought Hal a few varieties of cone flowers that we sell at the Garden Center.  

The orange one is called ‘Tiki Torch’ and the yellow one is called ‘Harvest Moon’.








This is what the echinacea looked like when Hal took it off the clothes line.









He brought it inside to his kitchen and chopped it into four inch pieces.



















Hal stuffed two glass jars with pieces of the plant.  He placed the roots in the bottom, then added the stems and leaves…




The flowers went on the top.









He filled the jars with vodka.





One jar was finished, but to the other Hal added a few other herbs.






He added some goldenseal.








Some licorice for sweetness…





And some cayenne to clear out the sinuses.





He topped it all off with just a tad more vodka.





Hal then demonstrated how he would filter the tincture after it had set in the jars for one month.  

He simply folded a paper towel inside of  a kitchen colander and set this on top of bowl.

He would pour the contents of the tincture through the colander and then bottle the resulting amber colored liquid.






Hal labeled the jars for me.





He showed me a few books that had shaped his own herbal knowledge.




And then he made me lunch!

Who got the best deal out of this little excursion?







Thanks Hal!




Several commenters have been asking about dosage recommendations for this tincture.   I hesitate to put medical advice on my blog because I don’t actually know anything.  I will say that the only way I have ever used echinacea myself is to simply  steep the dried root  in a nice hot cup of water whenever I feel the first bit of a scratchy cold coming on in the back of my throat.  You can purchase dried echinacea in most stores that have a good herb section or any health food store.  Now that I have Hal’s tincture, I will try it out and I will probably follow the dosage advice in this article (scan down towards the end of the article for the dosage info.)


Happy Herbing!


Mary Carol Garrity's House

June 25th, 2009

A few weeks ago, I toured the home of Mary Carol Garrity during her summer open house.





Mary Carol Garrity is the owner of the fabulous Nell Hill’s and Garrity’s stores in Atchison, Kansas as well as the newly opened Nell Hill’s at Briarcliff in Kansas City.







She has also written several books on interior decorating as well as a syndicated column called “Style at Home”





I have to admit to not being very adept at decorating my own home.

With four boys in the house, it is enough to just keep a pathway clear from the front door to the bathrooms.




But that does not stop me from enjoying someone else’s beautifully decorated home.





A girl can dream can’t she?





I used to love to decorate and got a huge kick out of arranging things on walls and table tops and along the mantle piece.  

I made curtains.  I collected old plates and actually hung them on the wall.  I created floral arrangements and seasonal wreaths and I made throw pillows to lay my aching head on after all that woefully wearying flower arranging. 




Now I look at decorative items and I just see one more thing to dust…






One more thing that will get broken during an indoor soccer match…





One more thing that will get mistaken for a Frisbee, a basketball goal or a receptacle from which to feed the cats…




So instead I visit other people’s homes and I dream…

I dream  of having a beautifully decorated home with furniture that has not been mercilessly ripped to shreds by the world’s most beautiful show cats, where no corn chips are ever scattered in a trail of crumbs from the kitchen to the garage and back again nine hundred time, and where the dirty dishes actually get placed in the dishwasher and not left to die a slow and painful death under the dresser in the back bedroom. 





A home where the only sticky spots on the floor are those left by the mottled sunlight… and they aren’t even sticky!

A home where the toilets clean themselves, the mud room is the only room with any mud in it, and my children suddenly understand why it is so important to their mother that all the bath towels be folded the same way and they ACTUALLY FOLD THEM RIGHT!

But that is not going to happen anytime soon is it?

So I will just have to hang on until Mary Carol opens her home to the masses again.  






If I can last that long…


PS – Mrs. Mama fixed the above photo for me.  Ain’t it pretty?