Grief and Gratitude

 

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My mother passed away in late September—a heart-breaking loss for me and our family. My head knows no one lives forever, but my grief at the news was more than I was prepared for.

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Through sobs, I asked if someone was with her when she drew her last breath, did someone hold her hand? Yes, my brother held her hand and my sister was on a video call when she passed. (Technical incompatibilities prevented me from being on the call.)

I’ve read that when one is close to death the veil between the living and those who have gone before is thin. Was my mother joyful at seeing her husband who had preceded her sixteen years earlier? I have hope but can never know. Never. 

This thought led to more “nevers”. I’ll never make and send her cards again. I’ll never have our weekly call again. I’ll never hear about her childhood again. These losses are so hard to bear.

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Yet, as I grieved I had much to be grateful for. First and foremost, how wonderful my siblings, niece, and nephew are. From our mother’s final breath to the moment her soul soared free, they involved me every day in all aspects of her memorial. (Covid kept me from traveling.)

During my mother's visitation service my niece connected to me via
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FaceTime. I met neighbors who had been so kind to my mother for many years. I made new friends with several people who attended her memorial and reconnected with distant relatives. I’m grateful to know my mother was loved and cared for by family and her community.

 

 

Through FaceTime I didn't miss a single sentence or scene during her final service. I miss you, Mom. And most of all, I'm so grateful for the ninety-one years we were blessed with your love.

Mom on her wedding day


 

 




Down on the City Farm

 

The UW Farm is a 1.5 acre student-powered urban farm & educational facility located on the University of Washington’s Seattle Campus.
 

In the past month I finally had the opportunity to volunteer with the University of Washington Farm. I'm proud to say, even in the city of Seattle, college students can learn how food is grown and then processed for food banks, UW campus dining, and community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes.

Sorting tomatoes for CSA bags
My volunteer shift started by learning about the sanitization process for harvesting produce. We all had to wash our hands, then cutting tools and food collection bins were dipped in a weak bleach solution. The bins could not touch the ground, so while we harvested the collection bins rested inside larger bins that sat on the ground. If the cutting tools touched the ground, they were re-sanitized before they could be used again. We also could not use gloves because they can't be cleaned well enough.

A boar tomato I was able to bring home
Our first assignment was harvesting cabbages which took little time, but was dirty without gloves! Then it was on to rows and rows of various tomatoes. I learned that crows attack red things, so any red variety of tomato was harvested before fully mature. Some tomatoes had ripened in the past few days and were indeed pecked by crows.

I learned there are two types of tomato plants: determinate and indeterminate (potatoes, too!). Determinate (bush) tomato plants are bred to stop growing usually somewhere around 3′-4′ feet tall. When flowers blossom at the tips of the branches, the plant has reached its full height.

Indeterminate tomato plants are tall and require staking or caging as they keep growing taller and taller all season. They produce fruits over a long period and in tropical climates or heated greenhouses, produce continuously. When grown outside they’re usually mid-season to late types.

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All through the rows of tomato plants, purslane was growing and is often included in the CSA boxes along with recipes on how it can be used. Purslane is a vegetable rich in omega-3 fatty acids and can easily establish itself throughout a garden. 

 

 

It was a great experience, though I'd expected to be able to wear gloves for harvesting and it took days to get dirt out from under my nails. 😀

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Homeostatis

 

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This past month a lesson in my herbalism class dealt with homeostasis—a process by which the body maintains stability that is optimal for survival by adjusting to conditions. Just as the body physically processes food we eat, converts it to energy, and stores it for later use, this balance also applies to other aspects of life.

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This concept was particularly helpful the past month when work was relentlessly stressful. At the end of a ten-hour day I couldn’t handle being in front of a computer any longer and I immediately headed outside to my garden, freed from hours of spreadsheets. 

 

Fresh air and harvesting fruits and vegetables restored my mental and spiritual homeostasis. However, my writing time suffered as a result. While I wasn’t writing as much, I did indulge in more reading.

Rather than feel guilty about what I wasn’t doing, I recognized  that the cognitive change resembled the ebb and flow of tides. Instead of words and thoughts flowing out, the tide had changed, providing a much needed mental balance.

An article in Everyday Health describes a balanced life as embracing work, health, and emotional well-being. Responsibilities drain our batteries and we need the activities that recharge us. For me, recharging meant unplugging from obligations long enough to breatheinhale calm, exhale stress.

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A friend posted a video earlier this week covering the importance of honoring our rhythms and rest. She compared
summer, a season of productivity, to winter, a time of rest. Like me, she stressed over not creating but recognized the stillness as a time for sowing one's thoughts so they can blossom.

 

As a gardener, I'm well aware of the rhythms of plants and the seasons. I now realize my life needs these seasons, too. Homeostasis, balance, ebb and flow. The rhythms of life.

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Crafting with Herbs

 

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I vowed not to take multi-day classes until I retired, there just isn't enough time. But retirement has been pushed out and I couldn’t wait. Understanding how to grow and use herbs has been one of my top interests. When I learned about Herbal Academy it didn’t take more than a day for me to abandon my vow and decide to enroll in the introductory herb class.

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With plenty of borage outside my door, the first herbal recipe I tried was fresh borage leaf tea. The taste is mild and not unpleasant, quite like a weak green tea. Learning that it helps with stress and insomnia makes it a winner for me. Borage self-sows and I have it all around the yard from spring to fall.
 

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July also meant another trip to my local nursery where I picked up more herbs for my new herb spiral garden. My purchases included the bee-friendly plants bee balm, hyssop, and lavender that are now blossoming. These plants can also be used for herbal teas, tinctures, and salves. I'm eager to make a rosemary-lavender hand salve.

After the flowering plants have lost their blooms I’ll be saving the seeds to start next year’s plants. The sunny side of the backyard will become a bee haven!

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Throughout the summer, bees swarm the chive, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and savory blossoms. I’ve often wished I could get the herbal honey they are making. Then, this week in my herb class, I learned how to make herbal honey with dried herbs and I can’t wait to try this. My herbal class has introduced me to excellent sources of dried herbs for those that won't grow in my climate.

The next step in my herbal crafting journey will be stovetop hydrosols. Perhaps if my new peppermint and spearmint plants are bountiful I can create a refreshing mint hydrosol before summer is over.

I'm very happy I decided to take this course as I can now use the information before retirement to get a head start on experimenting with cultivating herbs and putting them to various uses. In fact, I'm so happy with my decision that I've already enrolled in a month-long class during September. Life long learning is the true goal after all, so why wait?

 

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All Wound up with Herbs

 

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Hours after pulling out several feet of the "weed" above I learned it is one of the medicinal plants I should be harvesting--purple dead nettle. Argh! Fortunately, there are a few plants I missed so those will come back in abundance next year.

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Another "weed" I will be planting is heal-all or self-heal. Both self-heal and purple dead nettle can be used in salads and teas, the latter is my goal. Both have been used for centuries by indigenous peoples.

 

 

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While studying herbs and watching videos on their use, I came across spiral herb gardens. You can guess what happened next. 😀 But first, I'll share more about spiral herb gardens, as shown in the following photos. 

 

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One advantage of a spiral herb garden is that it lets you grow a lot of herbs in a small space--six feet in diameter with three tiers. The taller plants in the center should be those that love heat, such as the Mediterranean herbs rosemary, thyme, and oregano. The lower tiers get more drainage and shade from the taller plants, and this is ideal for dill, cilantro, and sage.

Another advantage for me is that it clears space in one of my planter boxes in the front yard for more vegetables. The backyard space I've already cleared has sufficient sunlight for herbs.

Clearing space in the backyard went quickly, and building materials for the spiral herb garden have come from reclaimed sources already on hand--plenty of forest duff for fill and rocks pulled out of the ground for the spiral walls. Here's what we've accomplished in an afternoon's work. Not bad for the first day!

Ready soon for plants!






 

 

Grief and Gratitude

  Unsplash My mother passed away in late September—a heart-breaking loss for me and our family. My head knows no one lives forever, but my g...