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My Medicine Chest

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I’ll be traveling this week. It will be a bittersweet trip as we will be saying good-bye to my grandmother.

But this will be my first autumn in southern Illinois and Missouri in 10 years.

I’m looking forward to visiting some of my favorite trees in their fall costumes. I hope to collect some persimmons and pawpaws. I want to show my boys about sweetgum and hickory. White oaks and red buds. There are many more.

Plants have always seemed to be part of my well-being. In many situations, I have developed relationships with sycamores and poplars.

As of lately, I’ve developed a new relationship with plants. They help me maintain my wellness. I am not well without plants. They are the only medicine I can trust.

This spring I had some terrible unexplained allergic reactions. It turned out my allergy medicines had one of my allergies in it. Somewhere between that realization and this summer, I realized that I don’t need to rely on prescriptions to feel okay. I have the plant knowledge to guide me.

Last night I prepared my medicine chest for the trip ahead. Some herbs will be used in cooking- like rosemary, thyme, parsley, and sage. Others can be used to brew calming teas- like rosehips, lemon balm, raspberry leaf, yarrow, licorice, and elderberry. I have my root tea prepared which consists of burdock, dandelion, rhodiola, and eleuthero.

I have herbs prepared into a salve that can be used on dry and cracked skin. I have a plantain liniment that can cleanse and relieve scrapes and cuts on the skin. I have a tincture (or potion as my kids call it…) in which I soaked devils claw and willow bark for pain relief and another with tart cherry and ginger to help reduce inflammation. Finally are the oils, rosemary, tangerine, and bergamot which I dilute with almond oil and use for massage.

My medicine chest

So there it is! I’ve got my medicine chest ready to go- all natural and allergen free. Just what I need to take care of myself on a long trip!

If all goes well, I’ll be able to post more about my experience introducing my boys to my tree friends.

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I’m Afraid of What is in My Freezer

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I’m afraid.

I’m afraid I have addiction problems.

I know I have addiction problems.

Often associated with work, accomplishment, and success.

That high that I achieve when I just work a little bit harder.

When I do just a little bit more.

Over the past two years, I’ve made great strides in overcoming my workaholic tendencies.

I don’t let the tasks control me.

I don’t lose sight of my priorities.

I don’t over multitask.

I clean up in between projects.

I strive to start everyday as a new day.

But yet, I am still afraid.

It is autumn in North Dakota.

The instinct to squirrel food away for the winter is strong in this part of the world.

Harvesting, hunting, freezing, drying, canning, preserving.

If you took a look at my Facebook feed everyday, you’d be amazed to see what friends are preserving.

At times they look like super heroes.

At times I feel a bit like a super hero myself.

When I know that we have chicken stock, tomato juice, pickled beans, apple sauce, and even ketchup in the basement.

We have been busy filling the larder.

But along the way,

Amid the finished gleaming jars,

Among the produce waiting to be canned,

Somewhere between the pressure canner and the stove,

There is a bit of disappointment…

A bit of sadness…

A bit of feeling that comes when an recovering addict realizes they are living a “sober” life.

While we’ve been busy,

I haven’t caught the buzz.

The drive to make one more recipe,

The high that comes when you are so deep in the process that you forget about everything else.

The only thing that matters is the finished product.

Forget dinner, forget dishes.

This is awesome!

THAT- I haven’t felt that this year.

Yet.

I’m about to tap into the goods in the freezer.

I’m about to embark on my favorite process of preserving.

Making jam and jellies.

I have a freezer full of fruits.

Hand picked luscious fruits.

Chokecherries.

Blackberries.

Blueberries.

Juneberries.

Black Currants.

Wild Plums.

Buffalo Berries.

Amazing goodness waiting to be unlocked.

And yet, I am afraid.

I’m afraid this is where I will “fall off” the road to recovery.

I’m afraid that after 7 jars of juneberry jam and 10 jars of blueberry jelly,

And 14 jars of blackberry jam,

And 21 jars of chokecherry jelly,

That I will not know how to say no.

I’ll dig into the Black Currants,

“Just a small batch.”

And the wild plums.

“I’ll have to prepare to more cases of jars…”

And more blueberries.

“We have so many! Let’s do pancake syrup.”

And more blackberries.

“Maybe I’ll make a pie for after dinner…

Wait, dinner? Did I eat lunch? What did the kids eat for lunch?

What day is it anyway?”

So wish me well,

As I venture into the basement.

As I open the freezer.

And I try to say,

“That’ll be enough for now.”

Why Halloween Terrifies Me

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I have a confession to make. And since it is Halloween, it seems an appropriate time as any.

I don’t like festivities. I don’t like parties. Holidays drive me crazy. The chaos of multiple events, expectations, and excitement just seems like a magnet for drama to unfold. Halloween is certainly spooky for me. I have challenge enough in sharing myself with others. I have difficult enough time trusting their intentions. When you throw in costumes, tricks, and treats, I just don’t know what to think.

Skull of a cougar

Photo by Rachel Brazil 2006

Since I have had children, I try to be open to possibilities and new traditions. I strive to recognize my discomforts, honor them as true, and adapt ways to celebrate the holidays that will work for our family. But of course they want to do all the things all the other kids doing.

It’s kind of peculiar that Halloween is one holiday that really gets under my skin, as I am in love with all things autumn. Even more, I have a slight biological fascination with all things dead. Skeletons are a normal part of my home decor.

I don’t mind creepy crawlies or the like. In fact, the last year I truly celebrated Halloween, in 2005, I was making my living cleaning animal skeletons for a University comparative collection.

I’d go to work in my laboratory. Surrounded by animal remains and listen to music like Bauhaus, the Raveonettes, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Joy Division.

I dressed mostly in blacks and grays for only one reason: my most recent opportunity to purchase clothes had been for my grandfather’s funeral a month prior.

I was grieving, but delighted in learning about the living through the dead. (I was an archaeologist after all). I took pictures in the lab. Ranging from the cougar skull featured above, to the bat that the director had brought in right around Halloween. The entire process was absolutely fascinating, examining details that were beyond skin deep.

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Photo by Rachel Brazil 2005

That Halloween, I went to a party with a boyfriend. Even though I struggle at them.

I wore a costume. Even though in doing so, I felt like I shared more of my true self than I was comfortable with.

I carved a Jack-o-Lantern, working carefully to recreate a skeletal version of my hand. I no longer have a picture of that, sad to say.

As much as I tried to put my best foot forward. I couldn’t do it. I hated the party. I wanted to go home. I was willing to walk 12 miles to get home. Instead, I curled up in the back of the car and fell asleep. When I finally got home I had a full-blown violent meltdown and slept on the hallway floor.

For so long, I let that event become a defining moment in that “there must be something wrong with me.”

But, as I’ve written before, I’m through with believing that.

I am who I am, and when I am expected to be something other than that, it really bothers me.

Having strangers knock on my door and ask for things bothers me.

Going on to other people’s property freaks me out.

Eating loads of candy at midnight usually results in a sugar hangover the next morning.

Acting like I am someone else clearly messes with my sense of being.

Having to interact with people in costume makes me want to run away crying.

The ghouls and the gross don’t bother me. Nor does the fake blood or a random body part. So maybe my best bet is to be a hermit for Halloween. I will stay in, with my loves (who happen to be ill today). We will make creepy treats shaped like eyeballs or ghosts. Maybe I’ll try my hand at homemade caramels or chocolate candies. Maybe we’ll play with costumes and perform spooky Halloween skits.

But really, why should I do something I am not comfortable with, just for the sake of a holiday?

Bittersweet Surrender

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Bittersweet Surrender

How bittersweet autumn can be. The leaves glow with brilliant color, before cascading to the ground.  The feeling in the air is nothing short of electric. We delight in the dynamic change, and let go of our hopes for warmer days.

On days like today when the light is brilliant, the wind is fierce, and the leaves are flying, I find myself caught in the dynamic space between awe and sadness.

I think perhaps in that space, is where surrender resides. As I raise up my arms to my sides and close my eyes, I let the sensation surround me. Feeling as though I could fly, but well aware I would land on my face if I tried.

I keep my feet on the ground, grateful for each step I take.

I breathe out, letting go of what I no longer need to carry.

I call my untruths into the light and call them as such.

Knowing that in doing so, I will no longer be under their spell.

I will no longer believe that I am a contributing problem in any given crisis.

I will no longer react to crisis as if I am responsible for their existence.

I will no longer turn anger in toward myself when I struggle with something I don’t know.

I will no longer think that there is something wrong with shedding tears.

I breathe in, gaining a truer sense of myself and reality.

I will feel the sadness that surrounds my losses.

I will feel the power I have to heal myself.

I will accept others as they are.

I will see what it is to love myself.

I will let go of what holds me down

and move forward with solace.

I will trust that the winds of life will take me onward.