I love digging my hands into dirt. The simple act of breaking up rich, sticky clumps and pushing through the top layers to make room for a new plant makes me feel connected to earth, sun and seasons. How can you not feel the miracle whenever a teeny-tiny seed is planted and nurtured  and becomes a plant that produces food?

Last fall, I attended the Minnesota Herbal Education Festival. Well, first let me back it up a bit, I only knew about such a festival because I attended a local farm tour last July. One of the farms I visited was Will Heal Farm. During my visit there to look at their herb gardens, bee hives and the yurt they built to house the classes they teach, I signed up for their mailing list. It was through that mailing list that I learned about the Minnesota Herbal Education Festival. I hemmed and hawed over the cost to attend and how I’m too busy but something kept tugging at my sleeve, so with my usual “this feels like something I should do” decision making process, I signed up to go.

flower and bee

The festival was like discovering Atlantas or some hidden dimension. Okay, maybe not quite that big, but for me, it was an eye opener. I expected the classes would be about the kind of herbs I grew in my garden (lemon balm, sage, lavender, basil, rosemary, thyme, etc) and possibly a bunch of flowers and other herbs that I knew about but had never grown myself (echinacea, St Johns wort, chamomile). But what I discovered was that there are plants that I walk by in the woods all the time, plants that I mainly saw as weeds (mullein, nettle, plantain, wild ginger), and other plants that I thought of as seasoning (garlic, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne) that all had medicinal properties.

I mean, sure, I’d heard garlic was good for the immune system but I kind of thought that was folklore until I heard there’s an actual property in the garlic, allin, which converts to allicin when crushed or chopped (you should wait 10 minutes before cooking with it to allow time for that conversion and to not destroy it with heat) that gives garlic it’s potent medicinal properties. There is science and the wisdom that comes from experience to the folklore that we hear and have, perhaps, passed off as old wives tales.

“Old wives tales,” that is such a condescending label in so many ways…

Mississippi River

As a person who loves fairy tales and folklore and magic and plants and stories and wisdom passed down through the ages, learning about medicinal herbs was like hitting a goldmine! It was a whole bunch of my passions all wrapped under one ginkgo biloba tree! But I also discovered at the festival that I was a mere babe in the woods. There were women and men who had been studying and working with herbs for ages. Some of them had grown up with this knowledge, passed down from a grandmother, mother or neighbor.

Was I coming across this information too late?

As I have felt so often at my age, like with my discovery of bike touring and all the solo adventurous things women do nowadays, I felt as though I had arrived too late to the party. For many things I wish I could do, it’s my aging body that stands in the way, but for learning about and using medicinal herbs, it’s my aging brain and ebbing of time that made me think it’s too late.

It’s a good thing I decided to ignore that immediate defeatist reaction. So I won’t be a herbalist master, open up a clinic and have people coming for miles to seek my wisdom — is that my goal? No.

plants and dogs

plants around bathtub

What I care about is how I feel when I’m growing things and then combining them into a restorative tea or a mind-focusing tincture or a pain relieving salve or just a fun little lip balm. Did you know you can use cinnamon or turmeric to add color to a home-made lip balm or lipstick? Then there is the Fire Cider I have brewing in my cupboard for a month. Can’t wait to try that one out. And the bone broth I made, which I’ve been putting into rice dishes, making into an awesome egg drop soup and just drinking as a warming broth on chilly days.

Fire Cider

I’m not sure why, but making this stuff makes me happy. Perhaps you don’t even have to apply or drink the mixtures to get their benefits. I like the idea of being able to make my own medicines so I know exactly what’s in them and I don’t have a laundry list of side effects to deal with. I also like that basically, you are healing yourself with food rather than chemicals created in a lab. The effects aren’t felt as quickly or strongly but the cost of a quick fix is too high for me.

Anyway, since the festival, I have taken a Roots Medicine Class and a Medicinal Syrups class at Will Heal Farm. I bought a bigger teapot at Goodwill to make bigger batches of tea. I signed up for the North Country Herbalist Guild and have attended their monthly meetings. At one NCHG meeting, a woman brought extra scobies for people to take with them and I have started making Kombucha – what a COOL science experiment that is!


What I have learned from these opportunities to spend time with herbalists is that they are a very generous bunch of people. I’ve been given roots, tinctures, dried herbs, and teas. I’ve been given handouts and index cards filled out with Herbal Materica Medica information and recipes for the things I’ve sampled in classes. And I have seen herbalists bring jars of herbs to gatherings to donate to groups like Standing Rock Medic Healer Council and Tea for the People.


This kind of generosity, openness and sharing of information has been shocking in its sharp contrast to what I generally know and experience. Perhaps this spirit of giving and teaching and helping is actually rare, but what I’d rather believe is that it is more abundant than I know about. It’s certainly not what we hear or read about in the media or social networks. Either way, this generosity I see in the herbalists and gardeners I’ve recently encountered lifts me up and makes me want to be part of the givers rather than the takers.

salad table

What about you? What kind of evidence do you see in your life that generosity is alive and well out there? I’d love to hear more examples. Perhaps they will provide ideas of how to build more loving kindness into our lives. Not that I don’t see a need for warriors as well. So if you have those examples, please include them too.

I’d like to recommend a Ted Radio Hour podcast I heard recently that was originally recorded in 2013 called “Giving It Away.”  It consists of a collection of four Ted Talk clips, one of which was by Ron Finley, also known as the Gangsta Gardener. After listening to the short clip in the podcast, I had to later go seek out his full Ted Talk. Finley’s story is a great example of all the positive things gardening can do for an individual, families, and entire communities. A little gardening can help solve big problems.

And on that note, I just can’t resist adding the music video “Gardening is Gangsta” by Master Mark and Sifu Paul Davis.

prairie grass

I’m a big fan of the television show “Once Upon a Time.” I enjoy fairy tales and magic, the battle of good against evil. Even if real fairy tales are not like Disney’s version — good doesn’t always win — I still hope that such losses hold a lesson. And in the case of the recent election, I hope the lesson reinvigorates people like me to never again sit back and assume the worst can’t happen.

Fairy tales, television and movies divide the world and people into good and evil in order to simplify the story. But that kind of black and white thinking is rarely found to be accurate in real life, even though we act as though it exists. We have the division of Democrat and Republican. Of Liberal and Conservative. Of majority and minority. Of legal citizen and illegal alien. Of white and any-other-color. And all the other divisions we have created because it’s easier to categorize and villainize the “other” so you can disregard anything they have to say. It’s not that divisions don’t exist — we know they do from the election. The problem comes when those divisions are used to divide because it provides a political and power advantage.

So what do fairy tales and TV programs have to do with my nickname for Trump that I titled this post with?

Well in “Once Upon a Time,” the character Rumpelstiltskin started out as a frightened man who seemed to fail at everything. He was accused of being a coward by the people around him. When he had the chance to become The Dark One and gain power over others, he was quick to take the offer. He became a bully.

Now that I’ve mentioned fear and failure, you may wonder about my comparison of Trump to Rumpelstiltskin. The bully part, however, is pretty obvious, and since most bullies are at the core insecure and frightened, it makes me wonder what lies below Trump’s surface. Of course, there is also madness that can make someone exhibit bullying behavior, but I’m giving Trump the benefit of the doubt.

Be Calm coffee cup

Rumpelstiltskin became known as a shrewd deal maker and businessman.

Which is how Trump is also viewed.

Rumpelstiltskin tries to overcome his true nature when he falls in love with beautiful, fair Belle. And Belle believes there is good in Rumpelstiltskin. Since R wants to retain Belle’s love, he tries to become the man Belle sees him to be.

Now, I don’t know that Trump is trying to gain anyone’s love exactly. He needed to gain the love and backing of a significant number of voters to get elected. And now he needs to take on another persona to gain the trust of people in government. He needs to work with legislators and staff. And while he may not need to work with the public, it would certainly make life easier for him if he could convince those who are protesting against him (literally or in social media) that he’s really a good guy and completely competent for the job.

He needs to get us to quit worrying about all the things he said and did during the campaign. And Trump has been sounding more reasonable since he won the election. His acceptance speech came from a stranger — a man we’d never seen before. Did that make me relax? No. And his cabinet picks since the election have made me utter, “Oh, there he is. The Trump I know is back.

horse trail riding

I’ve heard political commentators say that a campaign is different than actually being elected and governing. Trump is now part of the system that he so heavily criticized. He’s part of the club. He’ll have to work within government processes.

So this leads me to wonder whether campaign talk is like locker room talk. Is it something everyone does that we shouldn’t take seriously? Boys will be boys… It’s just talk, after all.

But how do the people who voted for Trump feel about that?

And how does this work as far as credibility? Although I’d love for everything Trump said to have been a lie, doesn’t that make him a liar and someone we shouldn’t trust? Doesn’t that mean he’s everything that he accused Hillary Clinton of being?


Rumpelstiltskin for awhile actually does seem to have been changed by his love for Belle. But there is a dagger that has magic power to control Rumpelstiltskin. Anyone who holds this dagger can force Rumpelstiltskin to do things he doesn’t want to do and prevent him from taking the actions he does want to take.

Therefore, Rumpelstiltskin returns to his pattern of deception and destruction and harm in an attempt to destroy the dagger and free himself. He does this while maintaining an outward persona of still being a changed man.

Yet, Rumpelstiltskin does occassionally do things that help his community. He doesn’t completely regain their trust but they will, with reservation, give him another chance, not wanting to become full of hate and revenge and distrust themselves.

Can you see how this scenario could be the fairy tale of Trumpelstiltskin? Perhaps the metaphorical dagger is certain government laws or procedures. Perhaps the dagger is certain news sources. Perhaps the dagger is the court, other legislators or you and I. I can hope each individual has that much power, at a minimum, the power to irritate. Or, one could worry, the dagger could be more sinister — another country or a person or group with monetary or other power over him.

The unknown is how far Trumpelstiltskin will go to destroy the dagger. And whether we will be fooled by the deceptive appearance of normalcy and good intentions.

Perhaps that sounds paranoid. A bit like conspiracy theory talk.

But fairy tales and history contain lessons to learn from.

Like the Storyville townspeople in “Once Upon a Time,” most likely we do not want to spend our lives feeling hatred, distrust, and anger or seeking revenge.

dog in cornfield

I am not going to fight against Trump and his supporters. Some of Trump’s supporters want the same thing I do, although they see a vastly different path to getting there.

But I do want to fight FOR something. I want to act rather than react.

I used to be heavily involved in fighting to protect children from bullying in schools and for gay rights.

Before that, I was involved in fighting for improved protection for women from their abusers. I fought for laws to level the playing field for battered women in custody battles, where men often had the advantage of money and power and well, just being men.

But eventually I got burned out with congressional committee hearings, rallies, letter writing, and visits with my representatives.

So I know that “doing something” is hard. You need the support of other people. You need to feel like you are not alone. And you need to have a life outside of political battles.

But this is important. I don’t want to make America great AGAIN because it wasn’t all that great before for people who were discriminated against, people who were victims of hate crimes, or for women, children, and a whole slew of less-powered, not-listened-to people. So I will be looking for the actions I can take as a citizen who wants to participate in the creation of a more inclusive and healthy world.

This hasn’t been a political blog and most likely won’t become one. But it has always been a blog about curiosity, reflection, experimentation, and discovery. And what has been happening in this country and the world will be something I’ll be further exploring.

“Living well has something to do with the spirituality of wholeheartedness of seeing life more as grace than as a penance, as time to be lived with eager expectation of its goodness, not in dread of its challenges.” ~ Joan Chittister, “The Gift of Years”

p.s. I’ve been finding some peace and solace in music. Terri Windling brought this beautiful piece to my attention in her blog yesterday: “The Gentle Good” – Un i Sain Ffagan



It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on my blog. I needed some clearing and gathering time. And time to determine what to clear and what to gather.

This has required a great deal of thinking — thinking while I’m driving (distracted driver), thinking while I’m walking the dogs, and thinking while I’m trying desperately to get some sleep.

It has taken some wandering, experimenting, and hibernating time as well.

In September, I received an email from Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, which was the prompt that started me on this journey. Elizabeth facilitates a writer’s group that meets once a month. It’s different than most writer’s groups as we don’t read each other’s work or do critiques, instead we talk about the sorts of questions that a writer might ponder.

Elizabeth’s email prompted the group to think about the word “play” in relationship to writing.


As I thought about this word, the words that popped into my mind were free, light, uninhibited, unworried about outcome, adaptable, unrestricted.

And I realized how little time I spend in the state these words bring to mind.

fat bike

I work hard to get from point A to point B. The goal is usually for me to become an expert on something or at least good at it. I want whatever it is to become something that comes naturally, that flows and is no longer difficult for me. If I can’t reach that point of flow or at least reach the point where I no longer feel self-conscious about my lack of skills, I will often decide that it wasn’t that important anyway and quit to move on to another it.

During our discussion about playing, some of the writers used the example of music and how you gain muscle memory where you no longer have to think about the notes and which fingers go where. Instead you play freely, taking the energy you put into learning the music itself and putting it towards infusing feeling and personality into the piece. By doing so, you make a song that has been played by millions of musicians into your own unique creation.

And that is how I’d like to think about life.

walk in the woods

I think that playing freely and making my own unique creation means that I need to make some changes. Like…

  1. On the days when no one seems to value or appreciate me or my unique creation, that it doesn’t mean I, as a human being, have no value. More than likely, the people who don’t appreciate my Maeryness don’t see any value in the things I’m good at. They may not even see those things are even there. I think (I hope) this just means my real life is somewhere else.
  2. Believing that I am more than the things that don’t come naturally to me. I want to quit striving to mold myself into something I don’t even want to be.
  3. For my own sanity and well being, I want to play around with the things that I enjoy and I feel good about. If I feel the need to define myself (which is limiting and I should stop it), but if I must, define myself by those things.
  4. I am the person who alone has lived my life and knows the lessons it has taught me. I would have preferred to be oblivious of some things, but life has granted me a certain set of wisdoms whether I want them or not. I am a conglomeration of what I have lived and I’m tired of trying to pretend that I am something else because something else has been seen by me as being better than what I am. It’s time to find value in the tools I’ve been given and stop looking for the ones I don’t have.

I’ve been trying to remember what it was like to be a kid — to remember what I played at and imagined and loved. I want to see if the things I started out loving provide clues to how to bring those playful feelings (free, light, uninhibited, unworried about outcome, adaptable, unrestricted) back into my way too serious life.

And so I’m returning. Slowly. But playfully.

bicycling in woods

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