Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Sense of Wonder Camp

"If I had influence over the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life." Rachel Carson


If you are anywhere near Lancaster, PA and have a daughter aged 8-15, I highly recommend that you consider this week long Eco-Feminist day camp as a gift to her.

My daughter started the year she was old enough. We taught a session at the camp when she was about 5 or 6 and she couldn't wait to be old enough, pleading with me every summer until she finally met the requirement. Now she assists the staff. She just couldn't bring herself to walk away from it when she reached 16.

Why? The above quote is part of the stated philosophy of the founding members (Full Circle Susquehanna, Inc.) and it goes on to say, "These words of Rachel Carson express the philosophy that guides our camp. We want girls to know the beauty and mystery of nature and to see and learn about female role models who hold a deep regard for the Earth and the amazing life on Her."

The things the girls see, hear, and do at this camp are extraordinary. Women who work to change the world in powerful ways come to talk to them. They've met women in politics, women who fly (and soar), women who travel to other countries to make a difference, and women who use their skills and talents to support themselves and contribute to others.

On the surface, it is a week of being outside, guided by the incredible knowledge and attitude of naturalist Lisa Sanchez. Interwoven with that experience is a rich and diverse tapestry of learning new skills and ideas. Over the years, Molly (my daughter) has learned basketry with natural materials, gourd crafting, drumming, Tai Chi, Mask Making, and how to work and play in a group - and many other things. Native plants, animals and insects are studied as well as stream life and habitats, while always the interconnection of all things is noted and discussed.

This year the camp will run from June 16th through the 20th. The theme is Sustainability. If you are interested in more information, email fullcirclesusq@aol.com, or call 717-872-6334.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Wild Foods to the Rescue?

This thought has come up time and again over the past 15 or 20 years, and now with the world financial situation what it is, and with people struggling to feed their families, it has me really trying to come up with an answer.
It was in the back of my mind when we put together the book "Wild Foods for Every Table" here at The Essential Herbal. I had recently read one of the stories that come up from time to time about a young boy lost in the woods for days, and how worrisome it was that there was nothing for him to eat. When he was found, the rescuers quickly fed him energy bars and donuts.

I find it horrendous that humans have grown so distant from their food sources that it would be possible to lie down upon a bed of chickweed and burdock, and die of starvation while pine needles and slippery elm trees wave overhead. No matter what the season, with a little bit of education we can all find something good and nourishing to eat outside.
Wild foods are not some trendy novelty. Many of these foods escaped the colonial gardens of our ancestors, or fed the Native Americans here in the US. In other lands, the wild foods were what shaped and formed the national cuisines until more convenient forms of these plants were developed - and later processed, preserved, and packaged.

We have been trained to think that food must come in cartons and packages, far removed and nearly unrecognizable from the original condition. Kids at the grocery store check-out ask me what the different veggies and fruits that I buy are called. Serving my own siblings a delicious plate of steamed nettles or lamb's quarters is a novelty that is generally politely declined. Why? Because it didn't come in a box or bag from the freezer with a Green Giant or Bird's Eye on it. I'm guilty of this myself, having had a hard time getting used to the rich saffron colored yolks of eggs from our chickens rather than the pale chiffon yellow eggs at the store. I have to push myself to get past the sterilized world of foods that we've all been forced into.

But now it isn't funny anymore. Now there are people in parts of the developed world who are subsisting on meager supplies of canned vegetables and scouring trash dumps for food. I'm not talking about places where drought has wiped out any vegetation. I'm talking about countries where people are accustomed to going to the grocery store and buying foods - just like the people in the US.
So the dilemma as I see it, is how to educate people in the art of foraging. How do we change the mindset from how it stands at this moment? Wild foods - roots, greens, fruits, etc - are so much more nutritionally valuable than the pablum we're buying. Their flavors are unique and full. They are free, plentiful, and available to nearly all but the most urban areas. And, should those who do have them available choose to utilize them, there would be more food for everyone, even those who do not live in an area where these wild foods are readily available.

Do governments need to start programs like the Victory Garden programs, and teach people how to find and identify these foods? That was certainly effective! Those of us who do eat wild foods and make wild medicines are nearly universally willing to teach anyone who will listen. Yet this whole topic still has the stink of radical fringe all over it. Somehow it needs to be legitimized and made acceptable to the average person who is struggling to make ends meet.

So how do we get from here to there? How do we make this happen so that people can stop going hungry while they pace over land covered with food? Is it just a matter of waiting until enough people become hungry enough? I hope not. I really hope not.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Foraging ~ How do we learn?

Chickweed nestled under lavender in the snow.
Over the years, I've come to the conclusion that we have an innate sense of which plants are our friends. Some people believe that they actually call to us.
I'm often asked how I've come to know so many of the wild plants around me, so I've been thinking a lot about that lately, expecially since my silent, knee-jerk response is something akin to, "how can you not?"
Of course, it started out in childhood, walking through meadows with my brothers to play or fish in the creeks, avoiding "burn hazel" (my grandfather's name for nettles) and cow patties. We all knew poison ivy/oak on sight by the time we were 5 or 6. Both of those we learned the hard way. Along the way we learned which trees bore different fruits to eat when we got the chance. Playing in the woods, we'd gather dry pine needles to plug up the holes in our forts made from fallen timber. Sassafras leaves just smelled good as did angelica. We spent days adding food coloring to vases full of Queen Anne's Lace, and blowing the fluff from dandelion seed heads. In the fall we found milkweed pods and found ways to play with them. Poke berries were our "sidewalk chalk". Hollowing out the pith from elder stalks was just ... interesting, and we chewed the tender stems of grasses and grains. Seeds and flowers and fruits were always fun to dissect and inspect. I still remember my sister telling me a story about a fairy princess while gingerly taking apart a bleeding heart flower, with each part representing something in the story - finally ending with a bottle of champagne! Take one apart, and you'll find that.
Eventually, as we started gardening something else came into play. I really don't quite know how to explain this, but I could always tell a weed seedling from a seedling of something I wanted to grow. 'Course, if I was wrong, there'd be no way to tell, would there? Except that often, looking at a little sprout I'd think, "that's *something*", and leave it to grow into a flower or vegetable.
It wasn't until my 30's that I was really drawn to start using wild plants on a daily basis. Up until then, it was "kid stuff". Reading about plants, seeing pictures and descriptions would remind me that they were nearby and send me out searching. Sure enough! There they'd be.
Soon I was poring over field guides, and gathering groups of friends to trek into the woods. We'd all take our guides and find a plant of which we weren't certain. Then, we'd confer, trying to agree on a specific plant using several field guides. If that didn't convince us 100%, we'd take a leaf or two home for further research. It helped to have it physically available to note the stem, texture, scent, hairyness, etc.
It still takes me a couple of walks each spring to get my bearings. A few days ago there was a discussion about a cress that is rampant around here, but it took me a while to remember that we call it peppergrass, and to be able to envision how it looks in the summer and fall.
I tell people who want to learn to choose 5 plants their first year. Those 5 will give them plenty of information, and projects for a year. The next year there will be more.
This all just reminds me how lucky I was to be a kid in the 50's and 60's when children were sent outside to play all day. We existed among the plants and used them in our play. They were our toys, our teachers, and on occasion our sustenance. They waited patiently for me to come back to them.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A day in March - whoosh!

Here is a picture of my cluttered mind....

At the end of each day there is a moment when the accomplishments of that day are silently catalogued and listed in my head. Check... check... check for the mental list that goes on and on. It doesn't help that with each check, a new idea pops up that leads me astray.
Yesterday was one of those days that always makes me chuckle when people talk about how much they want to work from home and "take it easy". As always, I must admit to loving what I do, but easy? No.

We started out just before 8. There was snow falling, and even though the weatherman was only calling for a few inches, we knew if we didn't get down off the hill for provisions, there'd be no feast today. So - off we went, sans coffee and pre-shower, on a mission to get out and back while we still could. It's a pretty casual town, so we didn't stand out in our slovenlyness.
After getting back home, putting away the groceries, pulling myself together, and making sure everyone was fed and happy, I set off for the soap studio for a day of making product and packing orders. The weather had turned, bringing out the sun, so my sister called to say that I could probably make it down to her house (with a little sarcasm).
We toiled away making several kinds of lip balms, the Bug Off! sticks, Sinus Sniffing Jars, and wrapping soap. In between we discussed the finishing touches for the magazine and exactly how to promote the soon-to-be released new book. Oh - and how we were planning on getting everything done. That was a big topic of conversation too. She had a couple of tree customers while we worked, but we got a huge amount of stuff finished, packaged, and labeled.
I came home and fed the troups again. Thank goodness for large salads and leftover salmon.
Next on the agenda was finishing up the 18 swap items for a spring gardening swap on The Essential Herbal List. By about 9 last night they were finished and bagged, just needing labels.
After that, the Hiker's Releaf that has been stewing all winter long needed to be strained and bottled and labeled, all the while thoughts of a new idea for a prize drawing for the next issue and how exactly to accomplish that are swirling in my head.
Somewhere in there was laundry, dishes, some bookwork, packing orders for The Essential Herbal, answering emails, and some housework.
I woke up this morning and finished the labels for the swap items.

And this isn't the busy season.
So my advice to anyone who wants to work for themselves is this: choose something you love, because you're going to be doing it all the time. Week days, week ends, holidays, and the middle of the night. You'll push on when you're beat, because there is no time left.
Personally? I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Dandelion ~ Spring Tonic

This time of year, there is much talk of spring tonics. Their purpose is to cleanse the body from the sludge of the heavy winter diet of meat, root vegetables, and very little fruit or greens. These days, with food shipped hundreds (or thousands!) of miles, many people's diets don't change that much seasonally, but still we behave differently based on the weather and season.
Winter holidays stuffed us with sweets. Very little sunlight, or desire to walk around outside, and even the viruses and bugs of the winter season have left us lethargic and sluggish.

Around here, the old-timers have always eaten their spring tonics as vegetables. That is not to say that tonics weren't prepared... it's just that whipping them into scrumptious dishes makes the medicine go down in a most delightful way.
When we put together "Wild Foods for Every Table" a couple of years ago (available here), the recipes for dandelion were the most prevalent of all the wild edible herb dishes submitted. After chickweed, they are one of the first to come up in the spring, so it would make sense that people long ago, hungry for some fresh greens, found many ways to prepare them and serve them to their families.
All parts of the dandelion are nutritious, helping to increase bile secretion and flush the liver, kidneys, and urinary tract. Dandelion is full of vitamins and minerals, helping to reduce water retention and swelling without depleting potassium. It can also help brighten and refresh the skin by getting those toxins moving through and out of the body.
So don't turn up your nose at the fabulously valuable dandelion! If it is growing nearby, give it a try. Snip the young leaves and add them to your salads, egg dishes, casseroles and pasta dishes. Pull the roots and roast them for a delicious beverage. As always, the price is right!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

On the Eve of Spring

Spring is such a roller coaster in the Mid-Atlantic region.
I don't complain so much as marvel at the variety in the temperatures and winds and atmospheres from day to day.
One morning we rise to greet sunny warmth, and the next welcomes us from sleep with cold lashing rain and foggy gloom.
We're putting the finishing touches on the next issue of the magazine, so I was paging through an ancient gardening book looking for inspiration, but instead found myself reading it (again) and daydreaming about working in the garden. That's part of spring too, it seems. Going off on tangents. It's so hard to stay on task when it is almost possible to hear the earth sighing and the plants reaching for the sun. The tiny "pops" as seeds burst their shells, the clamor of birds gathering nesting material, and the gusts of wind rattling last year's seed pods and grasses, all combine to raise a spring symphony that could be likened to a Syren's song.
This picture was taken during the first week of April last year, down in the woods. The Bloodroot, Troutlily, Chickweed, and false strawberry all struggle to climb above the rotting leaves from the prior autumn. It is nearly a riot, as they push and shoulder each other aside to reach the sunlight.
Much the same can be observed in the human residents of the earth. More so than any other year in recent memory, I feel us waking thunderously. This week in particular is packed with celebrations and holidays. We started with St. Patty's Day (which came directly following my daughter's spring break from school), and approach the Spring Equinox, Purim, Good Friday, and Easter.... all under a full moon. There are also many personal "holidays" including birthdays, the opening of HerbMentor, a new license :-), and the beginning of the return of my nephew from the distant West. On top of the May/June issue of The Essential Herbal being finished up, our book comprised of the first 5 years of spring and summer - "The Essential Herbal, Under the Sun" is in the last stages and will soon head to the printer.
I know very well that I did not hibernate this winter. The memory of all the accomplishments of those cold, short days is still with me... and yet, I feel as if I am waking from a long slumber!
Spring is like that here in the Mid-Atlantic region. The variety of seasons is not just visual or dependent on temperature. It is within us. I wonder sometimes if people who live in regions with relatively constant temperatures ever get to feel this excitement or renewal.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A new driver in the family

We're taking a day off from herb talk because this is a red-letter day here on the hill.
The kid pulled it off. She made it through the parallel parking and the 3 point turn, and got her driver's license. She is, at this moment, off picking up a list of groceries that I made up before the test, so she could have a destination to try solo.
It took her a little while to realize the enormity of the situation. She was prepared to fail, and as the inspector signed her permit she was still expecting a rejection. We talked on the way home about what this would mean. In honor of that, I'd like to share my youthful love note to my first car.... And just look at the difference these years have made in cars!

MY CAR BOB
Somehow I managed to pass my 26th birthday without my driver’s license. After several permits and 10 or 15 surprises of changes in state licensing procedures (they are kept secret, no publicity, in order to test the driver-to-be’s sincerity), a kindly and understanding trooper awarded me with the coveted rubber stamp on the permit.
After all those years of pretending I didn’t care to add to the congestion on the roadways, I lost control. I leapt from the car leaving the officer staring, and the door open, while I jumped up and down, whooping to my sister. She had been through this before, but the results had never been too good. She was on a bench with a mother and 2 driver’s ed teachers. She had told them the horrors of my student driving “career”, so all had expected me to be defeated once again by the demon course. They cheered for me as I stumbled over the doorstep and staggered blindly past the line of waiting testees to be validated.
I was too excited to drive. Instead I hollered and yahooed, and beat on the dashboard. This was a big triumph. I had somehow, in less than 15 minutes, become a real person.
Now it was time to find “the” car. I had taken a temporary job and expected to be able to afford 8 or 10 hundred dollars. My sister’s husband having ignored dire warnings, had taught me to drive (many before him had failed), and took it as his responsibility to find my car. My bank account swelled, but no decent cars revealed themselves to me. I started to spend, lend, and blow the money.
Finally yesterday, with no savings, and 400 expected income, the car arrived. A 14 year old 1969 Ford Galaxie for 300 bucks. It was buy the heap or walk. It isn’t much to look at, but better than many I’ve seen for more money. Pretty regular – until the test ride….
As I slid in, I was unimpressed, but knew I’d buy it because it was cheap and ran. Then I adjusted the seat. I’m short, but this seat moved into a position only a tall person could expect. I could see everything. I had power! I searched the steering column for the ignition keyhole. Not there. Delighting in oddities, I grinned when it showed up on the dash nearly a foot over from the usual place. I was beginning to warm up to the heap. Disappointment was almost painful as the car refused to even make an effort to start. Finally Bob suggested jiggling the gear shift lever. It worked. What character! And what a lovely noise the car makes…”Ba-doom brum brum brum brum”. Other than terribly bald tires and the need for front end alignment, the car is perfect. The paint is terrible, and half of the ornamental chrome is missing, but the interior is nearly perfect, and I feel like its beautiful outside – when I’m inside driving. Sometimes when I walk up to get in, it startles me that the outside isn’t gleaming candy-apple red, but faded dull, dented, white.
No matter. This car and I were together in another life. We fell for each other right away, and I think we’ll look out for each other. It seems to be a male. I say that because he’s a rugged individualist. Who would expect an old bargain basement Ford to act like a sexy young foreigner? Yet he’s still old fashioned enough to be comfortable around. Anyway, I named him Bob in honor of my driving mentor, and he seems to like the name.
Today I spent six hours cleaning him and 3 hours driving him. It was plenty of time to realize that this was one of the better breaks in my life. We perceive life similarly. Besides, we need each other.
For one thing, being short, I’m a bit afraid of other, bossier drivers. Bob remedies that by seating me in an almost menacing position, and making noises that sound like we could blow anything else right off the road. He’s got confidence.
Bob is a big car with a small appetite. I’ve never really liked compacts, but in the past ten years, everyone has adjusted to them. Bob has 4 big doors. No more bumping and grunting to get in the back. What a luxury. What a back seat!!! It’s as big and lush as a taxi. Compared to the cars of today, it is almost an obscenity, but it is beautiful, with a huge shelf in front of the rear picture window.
The dashboard sits back almost 6 inches, so that I can carelessly toss my stuff onto the shelf made by the indentation. The radio still plays, but only get am stations. He takes regular gas, NOT unleaded, and has a hinged gas cap that won’t get lost. Bob does not have bucket seats, thank God, but long soft sofas. Most wondrous of all, Bob has wing windows in the front. They wind open like the regular windows instead of nasty clasps and catches that take years of practice to figure out.
So now, not only can I get myself where I want to go, I have found a friend. He’ll never rust away in a (gag) junkyard. I’ll take care of him forever, get a job to earn enough money to restore him. Whatever. We’re in this for keeps.
Nowadays I have a real plastic picture license. The stamped pink paper one lives with other valued pages of my life. With my own car and a plastic license, nobody will be able to tell. But Bob knows, and at the same time, I know he has some itty bitty weak spots. So if he doesn’t take a turn too wide, I won’t let anyone kick his fragile grill. If he doesn’t let a tire blow out, I won’t push him into any other cars. If I don’t drive too fast, he won’t float across the center line and squeal his bald tires at me. In two short days we have reached this understanding. Great things are ahead for this duo…I just hope I don’t run out of gas money.
Sadly, Bob ran through a red light 4 years later and smashed a brand new camero. Yes…. It was icy, but he had to go. I later regretted that decision.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A great place to learn some herbalism

Spring is right around the corner. Now is the time to think about learning how to use the herbs you are about to place lovingly in the ground OR are already coming up all around you.
Of course, my first suggestion is The Essential Herbal magazine. If you don't already subscribe, you'll want to scoot right over to the website. Our rate is about to go up to $24/yr. on April 15, so you can save some money by subscribing now at only $20/yr. That $20 will bring 6 issues (one every other month) full of information, lore, recipes, how-tos for making medicinals and herbal crafts, and lots more. Plus, save even more by choosing to subscribe for 2 years! We'll honor the $20 rate for both years if you order before April 15. We are currently in our 7th year of continuous publication, and you can view all of our back issue covers and tables of contents on the website.

Additionally, we have some terrific links to share with you today. John and Kimberly Gallagher (recognize the names from our interview in the last issue?) have put together a family business that extends in many herbal directions. One of our favorites is the upcoming HerbMentor.com. It is sort of a virtual "Herbapalooza", gathering tons great herbalists and multimedia herbalism in one place. We've been fortunate enough to participate in the testing stage, and have enjoyed every minute of it, learning lots of new stuff.
Visit here to see John's blog http://learningherbs.typepad.com/herbmentor/ which includes lots of video and audio clips that teach about using herbs at home.
For another really spectacular opportunity, check out this link (you will need to provide your email address to obtain all of the benefits) http://www.learningherbs.com/rosemary From the site:
We are officially launching HerbMentor.com to the public onFriday, March 21 at 12 noon EST.
To celebrate this opening, we are offering a FREE teleseminar with herbalist & author Rosemary Gladstar (and lots of free stuff)!
To kick off the celebration, for your herbal entertainment...EXTREME NETTLE! The Movie(It's just a few minutes long)

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

When it rains, it pours!

We've had an invigorating week so far up here on the hill!
I guess it started around Friday. Weeks don't actually run Monday through Sunday here. More like they start when things get revved up, and end when we collapse, exhausted, with everything sent, boxed, deposited, and cleaned up.
Soap orders have been rolling in. It seems like spring took everyone by surprise this year, and they all woke up one day and said, "I need soap!"
Then somebody... maybe Mary Ellen... mentioned our first book about our herbal adventures on the Yahoo list, and a bunch of people decided they needed a copy (YAY!).
In the meantime, the usual stuff was coming in, and of course we are working on the next big project. I think I've hinted around about it, but it will be going to the printer's by the end of month, so the compilation of the spring and summer issues of the first five years (how's THAT for a working title?) will be out mid-April. I couldn't be more excited about this book. It's been a while since I really looked over and read some of that stuff, and there is a goldmine of information there. Most of the issues are sold out, and so this seems like a good time to get it out there. The fall/winter edition will be another year away.
And the next issue has a deadline in a few days. Yesterday we went up to interview Susanna and Nancy Reppert at The Rosemary House. Their 40th anniversary in business is coming up in another month or so. I've known Susanna almost as long as I've been playing with herbs, and for some reason, sitting there talking to her yesterday made me realize that she is one of the most knowledgeable herbalists around. You'd think I would have already known that, but sometimes our vision of our friends is clouded by that very friendship. Nancy's amazing abilities were also brought to the forefront, as I had thoughtlessly (or was it a cagey attempt at something more like gluttony?) scheduled the interview for noon. She whipped together a stunning feast for the senses that we enjoyed while we talked. Those Reppert girls are both brilliant at what they do, and they are both incredibly modest about it in the midst of the razz-ma-tazz herb gurus who read a book or two and proclaim themselves experts. I came away from the interview with a new-found respect for both of my friends.
Whoo. I'm tired just writing it all down!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Spring Lashes the Hill!


I don't care what the calendar says, and the thermometer is a liar too. It's spring, darn it.
Last night we started Daylight Savings Time, and according to my internal light requirements, that means that spring is here!
Yesterday was typical early spring in my part of the world. It followed several days of rain and cool temperatures. The soil is saturated, and there is mud everywhere. That's been going on for a while, actually, and hindered our progress during the move a couple of weeks ago.
The day started out misty and overcast, but by afternoon it was a gorgeous and balmy forty-something degrees. As it got to be later in the afternoon, the wind started kicking up, and I watched out the office window as the hill was enshrouded in rushing, wispy clouds. So I went out onto the back deck to put the wicker furniture in some defensive arrangement.
Standing on the deck is my favorite place to watch a storm roll in. This one was fronted by magnificent swirls of pink, yellow, and pale green heavy clouds. They were followed by an enormous black cloud with an edge as sharp as a knife. This was no ordinary storm.

Looking down into the field, I saw my sister and her husband inspecting some plantings. From my vantage point, I could also see where the heavy clouds were putting down rain - and it was going to hit soon. Yelling for them to get inside, my voice was lost to the wind. So instead of saving them, I got to watch them get caught in the downpour and scamper (a word that has new meaning after the age of 50 when running in heavy mud) down the steep bank to the locked back door, and then run further to find an open door. Ah... the joys of a great view!
About that time, the furniture on the deck started flying around and landed in a tangled heap against the far railing. One chair broke loose and took the stairs. I'd prefer not to tell you what happened to my garbage. We'll just say this... it was heavy and it landed in mud. Oh, and I might as well add that I've noticed that my daughter has a well developed knack for being away from home at times like that. Lucky thing there's lots of soap around here.
We got well over an inch of rain in the next hour. Some areas got up to 2". The winds howled and the house groaned. I fell asleep to knocking, banging, clanking and gusts.
This morning is bright and sunny. Eventually I'll turn on the news to see where there are trees and power lines down. Last night's news told of trees on houses, trucks being pushed around and power outages. I'll wander out and see if we lost any shingles or siding.
But no matter what else happens, spring is here. It has to be. I turned my clock ahead, so that means it's spring.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

China Bayles in NIGHTSHADE


The next in the China Bayles mysteries by Susan Wittig Albert is about to come out, and to borrow a line from Gene Simmons on "The Family Jewels", it's good to be me! Why? Because I was lucky enough to get a peek at an early issue of the book. Susan is doing something really cool to let everyone know about the new book, called a Blog Tour. She'll be dropping in to different blogs (you can get the schedule and follow along here: http://www.abouthyme.com/blogtour.shtml) with a guest entry. As you can see on the blog sidebar, she'll be visiting The Essential Herbal Blog on April 9th, so I hope you come and be a part of it. You never know, you might just win something.

So... about this latest book...
Well, China's at it again, this time solving an on-going mystery as well as a new one. As always, lots of great herbal information as well as recipes for all the Solanaceae plants. With the election coming up, some of the back story is especially interesting and timely. There are elements to China's life that are so reminiscent to my own that I can't even go into it right now without giving away parts of the plot. I'm sure my half-brother would agree. I can say as an independent woman myself, I also love reading about the wonderful relationship China has with her husband! China fans, get ready for another great read.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Great new garden pins at The Essential Herbal!!!

Are these not the sweetest little pins? My sister has been working away, putting them together, and I just got them up on my site - www,essentialherbal.com. Only $9.95 each!!!

They come in a variety of themes. All of them are a silvery finished pewter.



They came out just beautifully.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Herb Sisters - Partners in Thyme

I write so often about getting into some herb/soap/foraging shenanigan with my sister. We have this crazy dynamic, where one of us will come up with an idea (aka scheme), and before we know it, we are off on another adventure, trying a new business, or producing a new product. Individually, we each will come up with grand plans and try things, but put us together in a room for 30 minutes, and something new will come of it.
Last week on a phone-in radio show for LearningHerbs.com (and the soon to be open Herbmentor.com), there was a discussion of the who, what, when, where, and how's of moving from a herb enthusiast into a herb business. I said that even when I don't want something to leave hobby status, it just goes there without my even making a conscious decision. Later, Maryanne and I were talking about it. It seems that business is always in the background of all our conversation.
Our mother must have given us this gene. Probably our father, as well. Both of them had it in their blood. I don't remember this, but together they started the first drive-in restaurant in our area. It was called The Little Pig, a tiny diner with only a few stools at the counter and carhops. Apparently it was a pretty popular hang-out where guys showed off their hot-rods, because it still comes up from time to time in the newspaper - even though it was 50 years ago. When our parents split up, Dad went on to open several pizza and steak shops around the country, usually selling them and moving on to start over. Mom raised us by starting a telephone answering service in our home. That might not make any sense to people who were born after the advent of answering machines, but back then, doctors, lawyers, oil companies, and businesses of all sorts paid to have their phones answered after hours. Along with that, she organized a babysitting service - Tot Tenders - after learning that her phone clients had a hard time finding reliable babysitters when they needed an evening out. Mom eventually sold the businesses and took a job where she could relax and only work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. It's frustrating though, when you're used to seeing a problem and being able to fix it. When you work for someone else, it is not up to you.
Our first sojourn into entrepreneurism began when I was doing a college paper on a local farm market. I didn't drive yet, so Maryanne took me to the interview. During an interview with the owner, the booth fee was mentioned ($8 at the time). My sister and I looked at each other, and our fate was sealed. How could we NOT do something with that?!?
Now I will say that success doesn't necessarily play a part in every scenario. That farm market fiasco meant standing outside for 12 hour days (in November) for an average of 25 cents an hour. But I got a great grade on the paper, which now resides in the local historical society library, and was published in their journal. As it turned out, Maryanne's father in law took part in the very first auction of plants held there, and I was able to interview and photograph him for the paper. A later horror involved 9 days with a mall kiosk. That one still gives me chills to think about. Much like the street fair where we set up under a tree, only to have a bird's nest full of eggs fall on our soap display. Ah.... such memories...
So... on we went. On to the Renaissance Faire as the Twisted Sisters of Herbs, on to our shop - The Herb Basket, on to Maryanne's soap company, Lancaster County Soapworks, etc... and on to The Essential Herbal magazine.
People often tell me how lucky I am to have someone to do this stuff with. Seriously, it wouldn't be any fun alone, and if it weren't any fun - why bother?

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