nine05

life in balance


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Red Fox Retreats

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Sometimes I think my heart’s all cartography, that I am a map of all the places I’ve been and loved. There’s such immortality and immediacy in a map, such preservation of the current moment, and some days when I look inside myself those place-moments are all of me. Some part of me will always be up in the balcony at the Paramount Theatre in Austin; some part of me will always be standing on a dock lakeside at Squam. And some part of me will always be in the water at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland with my husband, my hands on his shoulders, my legs floating out behind us. In Iceland over a year ago, that first time, standing on the threshold of all the changes that would follow. Changes that, in just under a month, will culminate with the birth of our first child.

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And just like that, part of me will always be waking up in a crisp white bed in an old manor house in Somerset, at Red Fox Retreats, surrounded by a community of women so beautifully brave that it just brought me to my knees with awe. Before I went to Red Fox I remember being so hungry for words, words, words about what the experience would be like. And yet now that I’m home, I’m finding that the experience was one of those strange wordless moments in time, even for someone like me who practically bleeds the alphabet.

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So what can I tell you? That everyone was open-hearted in a way that surpassed everything I expected. That Sas, Susannah and Meghan gave us everything, left absolutely nothing on the table, guided and led us in a way that took my breath away. That we talked, that we were vulnerable with each other, that we danced outside barefoot in the rain under the moon late one night. That we walked up the Tor in Glastonbury together; that my body felt safe and protected, capable and whole. That we bore witness for each other. That we all came to heal, and that we took to it like the holy work healing ought to be. And for me, that I felt close to my son again; that I felt once again like I might be on the cusp of making the right choices for us; that I was respected and upheld by the other women in the circle in a way that was both sacred and matter-of-fact. It’s tough to articulate how much I needed it and impossible to express how grateful I am.

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We didn’t have photography classes at Red Fox, so oddly enough, I found that one of the most significant smaller moments for me was reaching a reconnection with my cameras. I’ve noticed this year that when I’m feeling creatively stuck, photography is the first thing I disconnect with completely – it’s like a canary in a coal mine warning me when my batteries are on empty. Wandering the grounds and exploring Glastonbury with my mind’s eye on my camera’s lens felt like a homecoming; it was one of the gentlest readjustments I made during our time retreating and yet it had such a healing impact on me.

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And Glastonbury itself – well, I hope I get a chance to go back one of these years. One of the best herbalist shops I’ve ever been in, the chance to wander through the quiet ruins of Glastonbury Abbey in the late afternoon sun, and a delicious meal in one of the most fabulous pubs my time in the UK has ever taken me into. Although next time I think I’ll skip the mushroom hot cocoa in favor of something a little less healthy.

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Walking around the grounds, that last night, I felt this sense in my bones: that we are here once, that we’ll never be here again in this way. That this moment is untwinnable. Usually I rail against that sense that time is passing, that the moment can’t be held transfixed, but for once, at Red Fox, I was able to just watch the sunset, feel the moment passing on, and grieve, but with gratitude. And if that’s not really everything there is to say about the experience – well, then I don’t know what is.

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Fall Squam Recap

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We’re close to two months since this year’s fall Squam Art Workshops session now, and I think I’m just beginning to close the books on understanding what this session meant to me. I’ve had a harder time digesting and processing this year’s experience than I think I ever have, including even my first year back in 2012. This session was strange for me; I was still feeling physically weakened from my Penland experience and was afraid to be away from home – a feeling so foreign to me that I had no idea how to begin to cope with it. I went into the woods feeling so vulnerable and with no idea how I would bring my energy to the experience in a way that would do it honor. In any other year I would have said that the classes are really secondary to my Squam experience, and I expected to be too drained to get much out of them this year. In the end, though, they were the highlight of my session, comforting in a rare way, thanks to my two beautiful teachers who just brought such calm, healing energy into their classrooms each day.

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My first class, on Thursday, was with Nicola Taylor – an exercise in portrait photography with a fantastical twist. We were posing for our own photographs, which was really important to me but also felt very vulnerable. I was humbled by how everyone in the group really supported me and helped me through the process. When I saw my photograph at the end I was completely speechless at how perfect it was, how powerful and authentically myself it made me feel. And the whole thing was drama free, peaceful and even fun for me, which I never expected. The whole class was such a gift and I’m just so grateful to Nicola for creating the space that allowed this moment to happen.

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In 2013, I discovered that it can be important to have one “pure joy” class on my roster – something that doesn’t stress me out at all and feels like a great natural fit. I knew Nicola’s class would be a stretch for me, so I planned to take Ann Wood’s sewn botanicals class as my joy class this year. As usual, the Squam staff somehow put my classes in the exact order I needed, and after a rough morning on Friday I found myself tucked in at Longhouse with Ann and my fellow students. Ann welcomed us to class with simple yet lovely kraft boxes filled with materials, right down to sewing needles and pins, and from the moment I saw the table all set up for us, I let out a deep breath and just fell into the work. It was one of those days where you need to be in a place of ease and somehow everything seems to align itself to comfort you. Ann was such a generous teacher – supplies, time and counsel. After Friday’s class, she offered to host an informal sewing circle in Longhouse on Saturday, and I popped in and out throughout the day, ending up with one finished mushroom and two unfinished projects to continue working on at home.

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Aside from the soothing, peaceful rhythm of the classes themselves, I found a lot of comfort in how easy it was for my body to function normally at Squam. Elizabeth was concerned that I would overexert myself and was constantly looking out for me, but the natural structure of both RDC and SAW means that it’s just flat easy to be pregnant there to begin with. There is definitely a lot of walking around in the woods, but I know the paths so well that one night I found myself walking around in the pitch-black dark without my flashlight, and I felt no fear at all that I would fall. Of course, at Squam you just can’t wander around in the dark without a Squammie with a flashlight seeing you and running over to light your way – which absolutely happened. The sweetest woman ever found me halfway through my walk and guided me the rest of the way home, even stopping outside her cabin to hold up her flashlight over the path until I made my way to my cabin safely. Sweetness and light in the darkness – my metaphor for this session.

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Boxmaking at Penland: Finished work

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The next step towards the small press project has been taken – my two weeks of boxmaking at Penland this August with Sarah Bryant were a big success. We covered a wide range of enclosure structures, some of which I’ll share in their finished format today. These projects will feel more like boxes than enclosures to contain books, but that’s a bit deceptive. In enclosure design, the book often takes the place of the inner box tray or sits within the tray just as any other object would. I could have chosen to build enclosures for books in these formats, but by building boxes for objects instead, I could explore the structures without committing myself to making an enclosure that was a perfect fit for a book form.

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One of the things we experimented with at Penland was making our own bookcloth. Though I brought my own fabric, we also had an impressive stack of fabric as part of our communal class supply. The fabric came to us by way of Sarah’s friend David, who was originally supposed to be our studio assistant for the class but unfortunately passed away before the session. My understanding is that his sister gave Sarah the fabric for us to use. I’ve never met David, or even swapped emails with him, but the idea of making him present in class by working with materials he had collected for us had such resonance for me that I set my own cloth aside and worked exclusively with his. One of the projects that came out of this was a series of comic book boxes, two of which I was able to finish in the session. They’re both simple boxes – just a tray, feet and a basic lid – but I love the pop art appeal of them. For the deeper box, I loved the sentimentality of the image of the couple in Hawaii; most of the panels from the comic fabric were somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but divorced from the rest of the panels this one is quite sweet. The shallower box, with its goofier message, got a great reception from other students; it was probably my most popular project despite its simplicity.

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We also learned how to insert a magnetic closure, which I fused with the structure of a Japanese bone clasp wraparound enclosure to produce a custom box for a friend’s tarot deck. This box was probably my best from a purely technical standpoint; the wrapper fits very snugly, so snugly that I had to surround it with weights at first to get the bookcloth to relax and allow the wraparound action to happen correctly. Once I did that, it was a perfect fit. I set a linen ribbon into the bottom of the box; it sits under the cards and provides a lift-up hinge mechanism to remove them from the box. I folded under the end of the ribbon twice and machine-stitched it closed for a finished edge once I got home.

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My most ambitious class project was a large box a little under a foot square for storing my embroidery projects and unusual supplies. I have several things still in progress from my workshop a year ago with Rebecca Ringquist, but I’ve felt hampered in my work because my supplies aren’t well organized. This box has compartments for pieces of fabric I’ve collected for embroidering as well as my hoop and my current projects, a compartment for my needle threaders, another for my Sajou thread collection, a spot for my needle books, and some smaller compartments for threads I’m using for my ongoing projects so that I don’t have to dig them out of my thread boxes every time I sit down to work. I absolutely adore how this box came out, but it was a real technical challenge. Covering any box this large is an odyssey, especially in an environment like Penland where our glue was drying very quickly. I also built the compartments to various depths – obviously nobody needs a tiny compartment three inches deep for their needle threaders! – which meant building little platforms within the box tray to raise the bottoms of the smaller compartments.

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And finally, the wrapper itself was a challenge. I wanted to create a wrapper that would open in the center, but Sarah and I thought that might be tough for a beginner since the lid wouldn’t have much support on the left side of the box, where there are a lot of big compartments and not many walls. Instead I opted for a bone clasp wrapper. In retrospect I don’t think bone clasps were the best choice for this box. The wrapper is double-thick book board, which makes the bookcloth loops for the bone clasps look oddly overstretched. That said, I got a great fit for a box this size, and I think the bone clasps came out nicely for my first time working with them.

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You might be noticing there aren’t any pictures of the campus or the studio in this post; this would be because I didn’t really take any. It’s always tough to know what to say globally about an experience that didn’t go well; I’d prefer to avoid pointless venting but at the same time hesitate to paint a rosy picture of a place I wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others. I certainly learned a lot about the mechanics and techniques of boxmaking at Penland – though certainly now that I’m home, I’m noticing that I was sloppy on some of the pastedowns inside the boxes, more so than I would have been on a professional project. Sarah was a wonderful teacher and her instructions were just great. Unfortunately, though, the overall experience wasn’t a great one; I found it almost impossible to do creative work at the program and came home drained and exhausted in the worst possible way. I won’t talk too much about the experience of being pregnant at Penland here, but please do get in touch with me if you’re pregnant and considering Penland. There are some downsides that I don’t think a student could know about without talking to someone else who’s already been. I’m not afraid to travel and rough it, even while pregnant, but if I had been fully informed about Penland specifically I would have declined my funding and opted not to attend. That said, I’m so glad I got the chance to work with Sarah and my fellow students, and I look forward to sharing more of my work at the workshop with y’all in the future.


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the Sweet Paul Makerie: Food Styling and Photography

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I promised last time that I would be sharing more about Paul Lowe and Colin Cooke’s food styling and photography class, and here I am to deliver. The class was my primary reason for attending the Makerie and it didn’t disappoint. A lot of the other students were in the class because photography is in some way important to them financially – either because they want to monetize their blogs and need better shots to do it, or because photography serves as a secondary function of their businesses. I was there purely as an aesthete. I want the shots I share in this space to be the best possible representation of the moment or milieu I’m trying to capture and food photography is one area where I feel very challenged. Paul and Colin really helped me to see and begin to understand the many puzzle pieces I was missing in the process.

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Paul’s food styling is impeccable, and take a look at Colin’s portfolio – the man is a pro, no question about it. Looking through his shots before the Makerie weekend, I felt a lot like I did the first time I saw the LSO performing; sometimes when you’re witnessing the work of someone whose expertise comes from countless years of practice, you can just feel that mastery in your bones. Throughout class I repeatedly felt humbled by the gap in skill and experience between myself and our two teachers, and I was reminded again and again of the importance of putting in the time to refine your own aesthetic and approach. As adults we so frequently want mastery to emerge right away – but you’ve got to earn it through hard work. There is simply no other way.

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It was actually very strange shooting photos that had been styled and arranged by someone else. I like cherry and other natural woods; I prefer the way stained wood looks as a backdrop and I use it a lot, and shooting on a painted colored background was so deeply weird for me. It taught me in a way I never could have learned on my own that branching out is sometimes necessary to create a diversity of mood and experience in my shots.

I also usually shoot my still life photos from pretty high up, and while there was a stepladder, I just felt selfish climbing up there with so many other people vying to use it – and there were so many of us working with differing ideas about how we needed to move the props around that there were always going to be bodies or hands in the shot anyway. It was more important to me to watch and absorb everything that was happening than it was to shoot close up on the food, so I wasn’t particularly aggressive about getting in there. The one thing I was aggressive about was photographing Paul work, like I was a paparazzi stalker, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember everything he had done without copious photographs of the process. If I posted them all here this post would be heavy with images, heavier than I like, so I’m sharing them as a complete photo set over on Flickr, annotated for your convenience.

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The single most valuable thing I learned from watching Colin work is to use my freaking tripod. I have one, but I don’t love setting it up, and I follow a lot of food bloggers who seem to just climb up on ladders and shoot, so that’s what I’ve done for both still life and food. Colin shoots with a remote and a tripod – or at least, he did it that way for every shot he took with us – and I can see how it would be huge in eliminating the camera shake I tend to get with my normal lens. I shoot most of the shots on this blog with a fixed focal length lens with macro capability, a 40mm – it’s not the best lens for the photography I share on this site, but it hit the sweet spot between quality and price when I bought it. The one thing about using it that has challenged me is that its focus is much more specific than the kit lens I initially shot with when I moved to digital, so if I move even a little my whole shot is thrown immediately. Using a tripod and remote instead should allow me a bit of a speed gain – fewer shots needed to get the right one, and also I can be down by my composition with the preview screen angled down at me, allowing me to move things around without having to disengage from my camera. Not only will I be able to recompose my scenes more easily, but I won’t have to relocate the camera when I’m ready to shoot again. Just rearrange, step out of the frame of the shot and hit the remote. I love this idea – it’s going to be huge for me.

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I don’t think I could ever begin to sum up everything I learned from watching Paul work. He talked as he styled the sets, and every other minute he was saying something new and fascinating. For instance, that cold and slightly undercooked pasta is easiest to style, and that we could wrap strands around our fingers to form pasta birds’ nests, then rub in pesto with our fingertips for even distribution. The pasta set was possibly the most instructive from a technical standpoint, in that we did more to the food in that set to make it photogenic than in any other.

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Paul also taught us that if we want to shoot our food on a bed of ice, that can be done by filling a clear plastic bin with the ice and then setting it down on top of bright blue paper; the blue comes through the ice and makes it look vibrant and cold in the photograph. In general, he stressed balance and composition in assembling the dishes, which I also found interesting as a cook. Those of you who have been following this blog know that a year ago, I could not cook at all, and in the course of my self-education I hadn’t yet begun to think about food this way. Watching Paul work changed something in my brain and taught me at a fundamental level to consider how my dish looks on its plate as I’m preparing it.

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The class as a whole was one of those experiences where you’re very aware that the real lessons will continue to emerge as you practice what you’ve been shown and work to deepen your own skill. I’m looking forward to seeing how my photography practice grows and changes as a result of this workshop.


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the Sweet Paul Makerie

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I’m just back from a weekend in New York for the Sweet Paul Makerie. What a whirlwind of a weekend – four classes in two days, the most ambitious program I’ve ever attended. We met at a loft space near the Hudson Yards, with amazing views from every workspace and absolute floods of natural light at every turn. I came into the city a day early to settle in and also to spend time at McNally Jackson, my favorite bookstore in NYC – the Strand to me is too crowded, too much a Thing, and McNally has an amazing cookbook section, what can I say? Bright and early Saturday morning – 7am, to be precise – I fortified myself with a pistachio eclair and a rose-elderflower presse from Maison Kayser and made my way north to the workshops.

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We had an intense, busy day Saturday, beginning with an amazing breakfast, which I was too full to eat much of (see above: eclair, but it was worth it) and then continuing on to our workshops. I went specifically for Paul Lowe and Colin Cooke’s food styling and photography class as well as Mimi Kirchner’s Cuddly Night Owls workshop, and I was lucky enough to have Mimi’s class first – what a great way to kick off the retreat. I fell in love with the owl-making process and have been working on three more since I got home – soon I should have a whole parliament of owls to share. After our Saturday classes, we gathered on the roof for a gorgeous dinner, with panoramic views of the city everywhere I looked. The meal was unreal – plate after plate of delicious food, almost Roman in excess. I felt quite spoiled by it all. Dessert was my favorite – a maple panna cotta and a pavlova, both incredible.

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Sunday kicked off with breakfast, this time a huge frittata and bagel spread, followed by my food styling and photography session. What an experience to see pros like Paul and Colin at work. I’m still processing everything I learned from them, and I think their workshop warrants a whole post of its own so I can link to my photosets of the shoots being assembled and talk more at length about the process. The class was worth every penny of the retreat all on its own and I’m so grateful I got to take it.

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I was also lucky enough to take Living Wreaths with Matthew Robbins on Sunday afternoon. I’ve got possibly the blackest thumb around and I was expecting to find wreathmaking incredibly challenging, but it was actually straightforward, a fun and different creative challenge. I was really surprised to find myself using the same principles of composition that I use in photography to assess and improve upon my arrangement; it seems like once you begin to develop an eye for balance, you apply that analytic process everywhere.

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We had an amazing sponsor for the florals and succulents, Flower Muse. In my experience at retreats in general, usually by the last workshop of the day materials are looking a bit thin, but we had so many succulents to choose from that I actually couldn’t incorporate them all into my wreath. They sell boxes of succulents just like the ones we used in class, so they’ll be my resource the next time I make a wreath like this.

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The Makerie and Sweet Paul had lined up such great sponsors for us. We got three incredible goodie bags and so many during-the-day giveaways that I can barely count them all. I think my favorites were the Rit dye kits we got at our Saturday night dinner; they’re incredible, with two colors of dye and color remover and fixative. I also loved (and needed!) our mid-day Saturday iced coffee break from Slingshot Coffee, our kumihimo materials kit from Erin Considine and the felt garland from Mimi, which is now hanging in my weaving area. It has been so much fun unpacking it all this week. I’ve been going slowly to savor it all – not just the goodies, but also the whole experience. I feel like I’ll be mentally unpacking from this weekend for some time to come.

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Taproot at Squam: The Heart of the Thing

Squam Lake in the morning, from the Eldorado dock

Squam Lake in the morning, from the Eldorado dock

So. Two posts about the fall Taproot Gathering. That’s enough, right?

Not nearly – at least, not for me. I’ve been searching for a way to express how far I’ve come in the past year – a year’s space that’s bookended in my mind by my first Squam and this most recent one. I remember crying on Camille’s shoulder in the fall of 2012 that, in all my rush to feel safe in adulthood, I had forgotten how to be human, how to really be alive. I remember so clearly feeling incapable of speaking openly with other women that first year, like a baby learning how to walk and falling down again and again.

Me, left, with Dixie at the Taproot Gathering; photo by Dixie's roommate Katie Snyder

Me, left, with the amazing Dixie at the Taproot Gathering

And now only twelve months have gone by, and in the weeks leading up to the Taproot Gathering, there I was, sewing handbound books and crocheting bracelets and making earl grey marshmallows to give away. I felt full to the brim and so powerful, standing in my new ability to provide for other people in a way that had nothing to do with the paychecks I earn. And I saw my old full-time job in a new, more forgiving light, too, as I prepared to travel. When I look at what I did in the near decade I spent in IT, I feel a lot of pride at all the love I gave away – that I was able to not just resolve my clients’ problems with their computers and servers, but comfort them about problems they experienced in their careers and in their home lives. To me, it was always about much more than just technology, and I think that was why the last year I spent in management broke my heart. You have to cultivate a certain level of detachment once you rise up the ranks; that’s not me now, and I don’t know that I would ever want it to be. I want to be fully connected to other people, even when it hurts me, even when it takes from me, even when there’s a price to pay for it. But it was such a gift, as I geared up for the retreat, to have that giving space freed up within myself – to choose to bring love to my cabinmates and to the women I drove out from the airport, not because they were asking and I felt called to respond, but because I freely chose to give some of my energy to them. To be well enough to simply be of use to others is a beautiful thing, the greatest and most profound experience, and something I haven’t had access to in a very long time.

Handbound book, bracelet and packaging - made one of these for each of my Squam passengers this fall

Handbound book, bracelet and packaging – made one of these for each of my Squam passengers this fall

And what lovely women I met – though it’s hardly surprising to meet wonderful folks at a Squam retreat, I felt like my own openness and availability this time allowed me to connect more deeply and more easily than in previous sessions. Beautiful Dixie and Erica, who I drove out from the airport. I’ve loved being able to drive new attendees into Squam these last two sessions; I think of it as doing my part to bring new women into the fold, and each time as we leave I remember how utterly freaked I was my first year, with my delayed flight and way-more-expensive-than-planned shuttle, and I try to do what I can to make the transition into retreat more gentle for them. These two were so brave and open in sharing their lives with me and I really treasure the time I got to spend with each of them.

Erica on the dock - I hope someone snaps a photo of me like this sometime. It's so very Squam.

Erica on the dock; photo by Dixie’s roommate Katie Snyder

And then there were the amazing women in my cabin, from those who expressed such beautiful gratitude for the things I did to those who did for me. My roommate Cori and cabinmate Jenn, who kindly taught me everything they had learned in their crochet class and even supplied me with the tools and yarn I needed? Such wonderfulness. Every time I wear my shawl I’ll think of their kindness in passing their knowledge along. As much as I love classroom instruction, I think I love the informal cross-pollination of knowledge that happens when we gather together even more, and this session was such a shining example of that.

Eldorado cabin, seen from the lake

Eldorado cabin, seen from the lake

If I had to pick my favorite moment, though, it would be a moment on the dock. On Saturday Julia Shipley conducted a very short and casual lesson in our cabin; the instructions were to find an isolated place outside and really take in what our senses had to tell us about where we were – sights, sounds, smells – and record it via sketches and words. I lay on our dock on my stomach and listened and drew what I heard and saw. Deeply immersed, at first I didn’t notice the voices calling out to me as groups of women walked past my dock – and then I heard Erica from two docks over, calling my name and waving at me and smiling. I recorded these sounds too, waving at each group in turn and explaining that I was in the middle of a writing exercise and would catch up later.

I was cleaning out my bags today from my latest trip and found the paper from that day. Covered in hearts calling my name.

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Taproot at Squam: Taking back healing

Squam Lake sunset

Squam Lake sunset

I’ve been back from the Taproot Gathering for almost a month now – it’s crazy to me how much time has gone by. While I was able to start canning pretty quickly after I got home, the random combination of procuring supplies for herbal medicine making plus my trip up to Snow Farm have led to a slower rollout of what I learned about in my other class: herbal apothecary.

Herbal apothecary class space in Longhouse

Herbal apothecary class space in Longhouse

Originally, I signed up for the class because of my interest in using flower spritzes and essences for emotional health. I was introduced to the concept when I attended Squam for the first time in fall 2012; I was enrolled in a photography class and our teacher, Thea, shared a brand of spritzes by Lotus Wei with us. I found them really effective at calming my nerves and became interested in the idea of customized formulations that I could develop for myself. When I saw Holly Bellebuono’s class on the schedule, I thought it would be the perfect way to dive into custom blends.

Classroom space in Longhouse

Classroom space in Longhouse

Holly began class by showing us different formulations she had made, including in-progress infusions, herbal honeys, cordials, tinctures and oils. I loved this part of class; it really opened my eyes to the scope of what we could do with herbal medicine. Next she showed us how to use a distiller to make hydrosols, herbal water with a tiny amount of essential oils, after which we moved on to blending our own spritzes. Mine was designed to help with all the residual stress in my system from my old job and includes clove essential oil, basil essential oil, rose hydrosol and hyssop hydrosol made in class with Holly’s distiller. Holly also blended a custom essential oil for the class before we took our lunch break.

Distiller set up and ready for action

Distiller set up and ready for action

In the afternoon, we tasted several herbal tea blends Holly had made and then began work blending our own. We each made two blends. My two were a tulsi and rose blend (half and half of each) and a nettle, spearmint and lemon balm blend (50% lemon balm, 25% nettle and 25% spearmint). I was very focused on gladdening herbs and herbs to reduce anxiety in class as I blended, but would love to experiment further with more medicinal teas to treat cold and flu this season. I’m a big believer in echinacea for drying up fluids when I’m sick, so this felt like a natural extension of that. At the end of class, before going our separate ways for dinner, we also created flower essences, which was a really emotional experience for me and a powerful way to end the class.

Raw ingredients for blending teas

Raw ingredients for blending teas

I ended the day with a copy of Holly’s Essential Herbal in hand, really amped up to put what I had learned into practice. At one point in class, Holly said something to us about how women had traditionally been the keepers of herbal medicinal knowledge, and that reviving that knowledge would empower us as we treated chronic or routine ailments within our own families. That really resonated with me and got me thinking of areas where I thought our household was overly reliant on OTC pharmacy solutions.

One area that jumped right out at me was my over-dependence on ibuprofen for pain management. In class we tried out a massage oil intended to relieve inflammation, and it was really effective at reducing the tension in my shoulders, so I decided to look for a similar formula in Holly’s book to use at home, and I found two likely candidates. The first was an herbal infusion of arnica flowers that will eventually become a salve. The first step in producing the salve is to infuse the arnica in oil for two to four weeks. Since I had it to hand for a different remedy I used almond oil, but for a salve, I could also have used coconut oil, which probably would have been cheaper to buy locally. I do like the almond oil, though, and Bulk Apothecary has an excellent price on it. My oil is a little over a week into its infusion, and I plan to give it a full month to increase its potency, so in a few more weeks I should be able to make the infusion into a salve.

Dried arnica root infusing in almond oil

Dried arnica root infusing in almond oil

I’m expecting the salve to be the more potent remedy of the two I’m experimenting with, but since I was headed up to Snow Farm, I also wanted to make something I could put together quickly to use in place of ibuprofen while I was travelling. I opted to mix up a batch of the Deep Forest massage oil from Holly’s Essential Herbal; the recipe calls for ginger essential oil, which is said to aid in relieving inflammation and help improve circulation. Holly also says this oil aids in relaxation, which sounded like a great plus to me. I did find it effective, but the best part for me was seeing my mother use it. She had a pinched muscle in her shoulder the day I mixed the batch and also has chronic arthritis in her hands for which she gets regular cortisone shots. She was really into the idea of trying the blend and found it so effective that she ended up taking home half the batch. It was gratifying beyond words to see something that my hands made relieve a little of her pain.

Essential oils

Essential oils for formulating the Deep Forest massage oil

While using the oil at Snow Farm, I found that it definitely had its limits – not surprising, considering the hours I put in on my embroidery while I was there – but it did help a lot. It’s really key to use a lot of oil, more than you might think you need. I generally needed at least a quarter-size dollop applied twice (applying it all at once was too greasy for me; putting it on in two batches allowed the first batch to absorb before I added more). After I use this batch, I’m considering altering the recipe some to produce a more ginger-heavy batch, or perhaps infusing some ginger in the oil first before adding the essential oils. I would love to try first infusing the oil with some fresh ginger from our favorite market in D.C.; one of the vendors had some gorgeous plants last week and I’ll be looking for them again this week.

Herbal honey and tulsi rose tea

Herbal honey and tulsi rose tea

I also tried one more project, this time more for emotional health than physical – herbal honey. My parents have a big plot of land and are both avid gardeners, so when I need fresh herbs or flowers, they’re usually my first stop. For the honey, I used fragrant blooms from my mother’s rose garden. I wanted to use rose for its ability to soothe anxiety and thought the flavor would be great for tea. Since it’s late in the season we only got one bloom at a time, but saving them for a few days until we could harvest more was easy. To do it, wash the petals, cut out any bitter white spots, and layer them between the folds of some damp paper towels. Slide the paper towels into a ziplock and refrigerate the bag, and the petals will last for about a week. In this way, we were able to harvest three roses’ worth of petals for this batch of honey. Since I was about to leave for Snow Farm, I put the rose petals in a small 4 ounce jar, covered them with local honey from the Farm at Sunnyside, and let it sit for a week. Ordinarily a day or two would be fine to get the infusion, but since the bitter parts of the petals were cut out, leaving it for a week worked out well. To strain it, warm the honey until it’s lighter and runny, then cover the top of the jar with cheesecloth and pour the honey into a new jar. If it’s not straining through the cheesecloth, that means the honey isn’t warm enough; I was feeling timid about heating my jar and had to heat it three times before I finally got it warm enough for it to strain. Being careful is fine – you want to heat the jar safely so you don’t crack the glass. I got an extremely fragrant honey, rich with rose scent and flavor. I’ll be rationing it through the winter and making quite a bit more next season.

Herbal honey

Herbal honey

Final note: herbal remedies are not recognized by the FDA as medicines and can’t be guaranteed to treat any particular illness or injury. The information provided here is intended to be an anecdotal account of my foray until holistic medicine and shouldn’t be substituted for consultation with a physician or other licensed medical professional.