Category Archives: In My Head

rue the day!

A few weeks ago when I was reading about beneficial plants to grow for the chickens, one of the suggested herbs was rue (Ruta graveolens) as it has both medicinal and insecticidal properties (for poultry and for people.) Among other things a brew or a powder of the dried leaves is apparently a great way to treat lice.

A few days after reading this I happened to be at a small local nursery and was very surprised to see several small rue plants sitting amidst all the run-of-the-mill herbs. What synchronicity! Rue is hardly a kitchen staple in the US, so it seemed very fluky and fortuitous to find it.

Rue has a fascinating history going back to ancient Rome where it was used as a key ingredient in moretum, a spicy garlic and cheese paste. (Virgil even wrote a poem about it.) I first learned about rue when I lived in Italy where it's used to make some types of grappa (grappa con ruta), and later re-encountered it in Ethiopia where it is used extensively both to flavor coffee as well as in the ubiquitous Ethiopian spice mix, berbere.

After I brought home the four rue plants from the nursery (their entire stock) I was reading about companion planting and discovered that rue is also a good complement for raspberries. More synchronicity as I had five bare root raspberry plants I was just about to plant!

Since there seemed to be a lot of naturally occurring significance around these rue plants I decided to make their presence in my life even more meaningful by planting them on a day that would best befit their name. That is, on a day that I could truly "rue."

In general I try (not always successfully) not to regret things; even various "mistakes" in life always seem to provide opportunities for learning. I also like the Chinese fable about "good" luck and "bad" luck that illustrates how a loss can turn out to be a gain; it's all about perspective.

That said, even in my most sage (yet another herb with a dual meaning!) moments I still have things I can't quite accept in a harmonious way. Can you really find an upside to Hitler? Apartheid? Darfur? And the scores of other senseless tragedies that continue to occur?

On a more personal level I think we all have those (hopefully few) things in our lives we really do regret or lament. Either something of our own doing or something unfortunate that was done to us. The kind of thing that no matter how you look at it, no good seems to come from it.

So…getting back to my rue plants, my thought was that by planting these beneficial herbs on a day that had very negative repercussions in my life, I would be shifting perspective and creating a positive outcome. Conveniently I knew just such a day was coming up today (another synchronous occurrence) so I didn't have to wait long. I must say it felt great to "take back" the day by openly and flagrantly "rueing" it.

Now that I've done this I really appreciate that rue is also known as "the herb of grace." How fitting.

What if everyone started their own personal "rue gardens" to exorcise bad memories?

blossoms of hope

I know that Buddhists believe hope and fear are two sides of the same feeling. As long as there is one, there is always the other. To be free from the grasp of fear you also have to let go of hope. The idea of “cultivating hopelessness” is a strange concept for the Western (especially American) mind, but it really resonates with me. I know from personal experience how easy it is to keep bouncing back and forth between those two states of being. It seems the best way to get out of the futile ping-pong game is to try to take the middle road and relax in the present moment. (Easier said than done, of course.)

But…that all said…when sunny Spring days burst forth with such vigor and promise, I still can’t help but be swept up by hopeful feelings! (I tell myself it’s okay as long as I’m still appreciating the here and now.) For the past few days I’ve been marveling at the sculptural blossoms shooting out of my walnut tree. It makes me think back to my December post when the last leaves were falling from the tree. It’s very comforting to see nature fulfilling its mission and destiny right on time, without question or doubt.

The sage plant right outside my kitchen door has also erupted in a profusion of blossoms. As pretty as they are on the plant, I keep thinking about what I could make with them. I like cooking with chive blossoms but I’ve never made anything with sage flowers before. I’m imagining frying them up in brown butter (along with the leaves of course) and serving on some nice homemade ravioli. Mmm, that post might be coming soon.

Oh, and for those who want to read more of the Buddhist perspective on hope and fear, I’d highly recommend Pema Chodron’s book, “When Things Fall Apart”. (There’s also a short excerpt from it here.)

new tuesday

After yesterday’s sad turn of events with the baby chicks, I started to really question my chicken-raising dreams. I tend to get swept up by the romance and beauty of ideas–in this case, the notion of enjoying these wonderful creatures who would also provide us with fresh eggs right in our backyard. While I also see the realism behind the romance (all the work involved etc.), I don’t tend to focus on or prepare myself for the really dark possibilities–like baby chicks dying right in your hands.

Since I’ve been dealing with a lot of loss in my personal life, I started to think that maybe this wasn’t such a good time to be inviting the potential for even more grieving. But as strong (and in many ways, reasonable) as this self-protective urge was, my larger belief system was ultimately stronger. Given the opportunity, I always have to say “yes” to the adventure of life. Even though being open and vulnerable to all of what life brings can at times be brutally painful, I wouldn’t want to trade it for being closed down and shut off.

With that in mind, I forced myself to get back on up to the farm supply store and get a new chick. Unfortunately they had sold out of the Barred Rocks and wouldn’t be getting any more this season. So my dream of having one in my flock (at least for now) died with “Tuesday.” But they did have White Rocks, the next best thing.

When I brought her home, the boys wanted to name her Tuesday in honor of the hen we lost. So now we have a “new Tuesday.” She is the quintessential little yellow “Easter” chick. While we all still feel very sad about the death of the original Tuesday, we are happy to have this new sweet addition to our family and to being open to everything yet to come.

full moon rising

Last night as I was cleaning up the kitchen after dinner (a repeat of my quick chard & couscous pilaf) I noticed the full Moon rising from behind our redwood tree, making lacy silhouettes of the branches. Earlier in the day I had read that Native Americans of the Lenape (Delaware) tribe named the March full Moon, “Moon when Juice Drips from the Trees.” I always seem to have intense experiences during full Moons but this was a pleasantly quiet and uneventful one–just a peaceful solitary moment in a still garden. When was the last time you stood alone under a full Moon and a clear sky and breathed in the fresh night air?

out of the darkness, into the light

After weeks of cold rain I was starting to worry about my potato plants. I had only covered them with a thin layer of compost and soil, yet there was still no signing of leafing out. I kept trying to console myself with thoughts like, “This isn’t as much rain as they get in Ireland.”

But deep inside, I was starting to believe they had rotted in the ground. Then this morning the sun came out and with it the first potato leaves–pushing their way up through the cold, wet earth! Joy!
What a fitting metaphor for my state of mind as well. Those of you who have been following this blog know I’ve been going through a dark time in my personal life (relationship issues etc.) Unfortunately this was another tough week in that department. But today when those tender green leaves came forth they galvanized my resolve to start consciously shifting my attitude toward happiness, regardless of external factors.

And in case the message wasn’t clear enough I also got an email that perfectly reaffirmed this. I subscribe to a daily inspirational Word for the Day from A Network for Grateful Living. This was the quote for today:

“Don’t be concerned about being disloyal to your pain by being
joyous.” —Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan.

That’s how I’m going to try and move forward from here. Looking forward to a bountiful harvest (of potatoes and more…)

winter walk

We finally started getting some much needed rain yesterday. Great for the environment, but the dreary gray skies don’t do much for my state of mind. This morning I really needed to clear my head so I went out in the light showers for a quiet walk in the woods near my house. It was so soothing to be alone in the stillness of winter, just the sound of water dripping off of trees and the soggy squish of wet leaves underfoot. It gave me an opportunity to slow down and focus on the small things (in a good way) like water drops on leaves,

moss and lichen covered rocks,

and sculptural rain-slicked trees.

The walk made me think about two different Rilke quotes that I’ve always liked:

“if there is nothing you can share with other people, try to be close to Things; they will not
abandon you”


“Being an artist
means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the
storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come.”

Words to live by.

the salmon cabin comes home

For those of you who have been following this blog, you might remember my random encounter/love-at-first-site experience with a derelict pilot house back in October of last year.

Well, a few weeks after I saw it I decided to go back and start knocking on doors until I could track down the owner. I eventually did and learned it was rescued from a 1920's era salmon fishing boat that was recently demolished. Since then, I've spent the last few months negotiating the details of how I could bring this into my life.

Today it finally came home and is now sitting in my garden, propped up on blocks! To say it needs a lot of work is a gross understatement, but I'm so happy to have it. It's not just about the structure itself (though it is pretty cool!) but what it represents to me. As a dreamer and a die-hard romantic, living in this "get real" world of ours can sometimes be a difficult and deeply disappointing experience. So when something magical like this actually comes together it makes me hopeful that dreams and romantic notions really can come true.

field of wheat

This morning I took my cup of hot chocolate almond milk out to the yard and sat next to my lush micro wheat field. It was foggy and cold, but beautiful to sit out there in the stillness listening to hawks circling overhead. I have been trying to start each morning with fifteen minutes of quiet observation and reflection in the garden, regardless of the weather. It's a good way to begin the day with peace and gratitude.

salmon cabin

For as long as I can remember (probably dating back to my childhood
playhouse) I've always had a very strong attraction to sheds, shacks,
cabins, bungalows–all kinds of solitary, one-room dwellings. I'm also really drawn to weathered, rusted and deteriorating maritime locations and structures–old barges, boathouses etc.

So today I literally stopped in my tracks when I was driving in an industrial part of town and saw this abandoned pilot house by the side of the road. Both my shack and maritime loves rolled into one. Wow. I'd love to convert this into a freestanding studio for myself…

sleep out

Slept outside in the garden with the kids last night. They've slept in tents when camping but this was the first time in the open air for them. They were so thrilled and surprised (and a bit dubious!) when I suggested it. It was a really still, warm evening with an almost full moon (hard to sleep it was so bright.) After the kids fell asleep I lay there staring at the sky for a long time, thinking about all the other people staring up at the same sky. And all the other places in the world where I'd like to be staring up at the sky. Romantic thoughts…