Homemade Mondays: Lemon Balm Tincture. I mean Extract. I mean Bitters.

Happy discovery of the week: tictures, extracts, and bitters, are all very close to the same thing. They have different names depending on the application. This is good news, and makes for a wider range of options in certain areas. Obviously you would want to be careful and always do research before using an herbal tincture as a bitter or extract to make sure it’s safe (White willow bark tincture, for example, is lovely for headaches but is not recommended during pregnancy as it contains salicylates similar to those in aspirin which is not really recommended for pregnant women).

I’ll share the recipe for Lemon Balm tincture, because I have some bottled up now, but you can do many different herbal tinctures this way. In my house right now I have tinctures of elderberry, peppermint, white willow bark, and lavender.

Note: Lemon balm may interact with some SSRI’s and other anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications. Please check with your health care provider and/or do your research to make sure it’s safe before taking a medicinal dose of any herb.

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Lemon Balm Tincture

Ingredients:

Dried lemon balm

pint or quart sized mason jar with a tight fitting lid

vodka, everclear, or other high-proof alcohol (some sources said 40% is enough, other sources said higher, still others said higher proof is necessary but added water…I have had good luck with 80 proof vodka)

Method:

Fill the jar no more than 2/3 of the way with dried lemon balm (if using fresh herbs, consider letting them wilt for a while first–you fit more in the jar that way and will get a stronger product). Cover with alcohol by at least 2 inches. Shake well, and leave sitting in a warm bright place. Check the next day to see if the liquid is still covering the herbs. If not, add more liquid. Shake about once a day. After 4-6 weeks, strain all liquid into a bowl using cheesecloth, a wire mesh strainer, a nutmilk bag, or something similar (press herbs to get out as much as possible), bottle up, and use just as you would the tiny bottles that are very expensive at a health food store. There are many schools of thought about tincture dosing, and I don’t claim to be an expert so please do your own research. For many tinctures, a “standard suggested adult dosage for tinctures is 2 droppersful two to three times a day.” If you’re going for maximum quick absorption of the herb, put it under your tongue. For maximum flavor, add it to a hot tea. For maximum old-timey fun, add it to a hot toddy 😉

“We Can Do Hard Things.”

My daughter was nearly bald until she was two.

See?

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With “Geen-dad”. She called this her “Tute Face”.

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Look at those sleeping babies! Elizabeth is, uh, the one in the back in case you can’t tell…she and Rebecca took several naps in this beast of a stroller that I picked up at a rummage sale.

Beginnings of a curl...

Beginnings of a curl…

She’s never had more than an inch and a half cut off of her hair before. It has taken us a long time to get to this point (if you’ll  allow me this gratuitous number of long-hair photos):

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Don’t worry, honey, you have a few years to practice teen angst before you’re graded on it…

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With Avery, our back yard neighbor and another St. Baldrick’s participant.

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Matching hair with Josefina.

Her hair goes almost to her waist when it’s down, and for a while now she has loved having long hair. My own little Rapunzel (without me as the witch, she assures me). She said repeatedly that she wanted to grow it as long as possible, and I said she could obviously because it’s her hair and she can do as she likes. The only caveat was that brushing and washing it shouldn’t be a huge dramatic battle. We’ve mostly kept to that. Ahem.

Some friends of ours, RuthEverett, AverySean, and Seamus are shaving their heads or donating their long hair on March 15th to raise money for children’s cancer research. They are doing it in memory of their friend Rebecca who died last June due to anaplastic astrocytoma (a type of brain cancer) While they are not on the same team as far as St. Baldrick’s is concerned, these kids have been playing together since before they knew what playing was. At this event they will join together to raise money to stop the thing that killed their friend. I am honored to be in the presence of such bravery and solidarity in our children.

A few months ago Elizabeth asked if she could take all the money in her piggy bank and give it to doctors so they could figure out how to help people better. I think it was about twenty three dollars and eighty-five cents. When it was first mentioned that she could cut off her hair to raise money she replied immediately, emphatic and wide-eyed. “NO!” I figured she loved her long hair so I dropped it. Then she said she wanted to get her hair cut short. I explained that some of her friends would be doing a meaningful thing. After a lot of conversation she finally whispered with her head down, “I’m afraid of St. Baldrick’s.”

I pulled her into my lap and thanked her for sharing a hard thing with me (she read and approved this post before publishing, lest you think I’m breaking a confidence). As we continued to talk it through, I made sure she knew that whatever she decided would be ok with me, but that I didn’t want fear to be in charge of her and push her to make decisions. I continued to offer her information about what would happen at the event; who would be there, what they would do, who might cut her hair, etc. I admitted that to be honest, St. Baldrick’s scares me a bit too. These days large groups of people I don’t know (and sometimes even large groups of people I do know) make me nervous. But we can do hard things.

There are lots of ways to remember Rebecca without cutting one’s hair. When we are at a party with other families and there are two little girls playing picnic by our feet instead of three. When we get together for playdates that used to be evenly matched and instead it’s one big sister and two little brothers. After more than half a year it feels more accustomed but no more right. Sometimes I catch my friend’s eye in a group conversation and I think, I see you thinking about your girl, and I am too. Cutting hair and donating money are two of many possible ways to show solidarity; ways to say, “We went to a funeral and then we went home….but we are still nearby. We still care about you.”

Elizabeth has decided that she wants to donate her hair to help the doctors find “betr medicin”, as she typed it in her thank you emails. Because while people are working so hard and we have come so far, the best medicine we have right now is not nearly good enough.

Click here to support Elizabeth by donating to St. Baldrick’s

Homemade Mondays: Instant Fire Cider (from Herbal Prepper)

I have been intrigued by the idea of fire cider but kept forgetting about it until I was sick. The problem is, all the recipes I’d seen for it required a few weeks’ steeping time. I might try that sometime, but last week when I woke up with a sore throat and congested sinuses this “instant” version definitely did the trick. Even after I’ve felt better anytime I felt sinus-ey grossness coming on I just take a little and it’s gone very quickly.

I will say, this stuff is NOT delicious. But it is very effective and I had all these things on hand. I did use grated raw ginger instead of powdered. With this year’s especially bad cold and flu season, I know I for one am looking for as many tools as possible to promote health and chase away infections. If you are too feel free to go check it out.

Herbal Prepper’s Instant Fire Cider

Be well, friends!

Grandma

The nurse adjusted her pillow and said, “Your granddaughter’s here. Do you know Katie?”

She opened her eyes and looked at me. “Of course I do!” Faintly, but in her usual emphatic way.

The nurse nodded and left and we sat for a few seconds.

“You know that I love you.”

“I sure do, Grandma.”

“Good. I know the same thing, but about you.”

~~~~

There are a lot of stories I could tell about my Grandma. She was a firecracker of a lady. I never, ever, questioned whether or not I stood in her good graces. I never once worried that I’d inadvertently offended her and didn’t know. I can not begin to say how reassuring that is. I look earnestly for that quality in my friends, and seek to create a safe space for that dynamic in all my important relationships.

As our family prepares to gather and remember a long life well lived, here I’ll share a couple of the moments with her that were most formative or memorable for me.

Godspeed, beautiful lady. I miss you.

~~~~

During one of our visits to see her in Washington D.C., we had this conversation and it will probably remain my favorite memory of her.

“I appreciate that we have so many strong women in our family, you know?”

She raised her eyebrows. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Well, I have a pretty strong personality, I think.”

“Yes! You certainly do.”

“I think I get a lot of that from you.”

My grandma looked flabbergasted. “WHAT? What are you talking about?”

“Well, because you….um, well….because you have..a strong…personality?”

“THAT is not true. I do NOT have a strong personality. No one has EVER said that to me before.”

“Oh! OK, Grandma. Sorry. My mistake.”

~~~~

My slightly younger cousin Jeff and I were small, and playing over at his house. He hit his head on something and there was a lot of blood, so we had to go to the hospital so he could get stitches. I, with that delicate sensitivity of soul which is not uncommon to the tender age of five or six, was more concerned that I had to stop playing with all their fun toys and go to a boring place. Jeff was, understandably, more concerned with the blood and pain coming from his face. As we prepared to go, I muttered (again with the sensitive), “OK, but do we have to listen to him scream?” (Jeff, if you read this; sorry about that! And I hope your head’s ok. I’m guessing it is, by now. You’ve seemed well each time I’ve seen you all these years since.)
My Grandma drew up to her full height, looked me square in the eye, and said, “KATIE. Be kind.”
Sometimes, when I realize I am being ungenerous in my interactions, I still hear the echo of that exhortation in my mind. I’ll try, Grandma. I love you.
~~~~
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Great Grandma Della
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The Dissonance of Advent

I’ve really appreciated Advent this year. I don’t mean in a Pinterest, made a hand-made ornament out of cinnamon with my children every day sort of way. I mean that the season of Advent just feels really right, somehow.

It feels good to remember that Christianity has this tension built into it because we don’t live in a world where things are all as they should be. Still we are told that God loves us and is always, always doing His best for us. There is confusion built into that, and no small amount of cognitive dissonance sometimes as I try to sort through a tangle of thoughts about God. You know the great thing about dissonance in music though? Eventually it resolves. There is a cadence. That is the promise of Advent. Advent promises that whatever modulation we find ourselves in now, we will get back to tonic eventually. It invites us to sit with tension and hope. Humans desire a deep sense of security and if that is to be found in our surroundings, we often don’t look further. Dissonance draws us out do deal with it, though. I once got my toddler to start cleaning up by playing a cadence a few times and then only playing the first chord and not resolving it until she moved to start putting her toys away. Dissonance is unstable, and even a small child can tell that our ears want unstable harmonies to resolve.

Dissonance of any type can be deafening. It can make it seem like everything’s just noise. It can be interpreted as such, if I choose. There is logic to assuming that we crave pattern and sense from the universe because we were made for it, but there is also logic to assuming that we only seem to see a pattern because we want to; sometimes circumstances seem to imply there is no intentionality governing what happens to us. Maybe, though, to judge all of reality by those moments of greatest dissonance is like trying to explain the legend of King Arthur by saying it’s about some guy who sleeps with his sister. That explanation is not without basis, but it also doesn’t really tell us the whole story.

I wish I could explain the whole story. Of everything. It would be so nice to be able to tell my friends, “This is why this is happening to you.” It would have been so comforting last year to say to my husband, “You’re sick now and it’s awful, but you’re going to be fine. I read ahead and you don’t have a lifelong debilitating illness after all.”

Advent reminds us that not being reconciled to our circumstances is allowed. We are made for more than complacency. We don’t get easy answers. We get Advent. We get a promise that we are not crazy for thinking that this is not how it’s supposed to be.

 I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor does he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing, singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

A Princess Worth Mentioning: Irene

An excerpt from The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald.

“She ran for some distance, turned several times, and then began to be afraid. Very soon she was sure that she had lost the way back. Rooms everywhere, and no stair! Her little heart beat as fast as her little feet ran, and a lump of tears was growing in her throat. But she was too eager and perhaps too frightened to cry for some time. At last her hope failed her. Nothing but passages and doors everywhere! She threw herself on the floor, and burst into a wailing cry broken by sobs.   She did not cry long, however, for she was as brave as could be expected of a princess of her age. After a good cry, she got up, and brushed the dust from her frock. Oh, what old dust it was! Then she wiped her eyes with her hands, for princesses don’t always have their handkerchiefs in their pockets, any more than some other little girls I know of. Next, like a true princess, she resolved on going wisely to work to find her way back: she would walk through the passages, and look in every direction for the stair. This she did, but without success. She went over the same ground again an again without knowing it, for the passages and doors were all alike. At last, in a corner, through a half-open door, she did see a stair. But alas! it went the wrong way: instead of going down, it went up. Frightened as she was, however, she could not help wishing to see where yet further the stair could lead. It was very narrow, and so steep that she went on like a four-legged creature on her hands and feet.”

Homemade Mondays: Raw Honey For Pink Eye

S recently came down with what appears to have been adenovirus. It was a fever for a few days, and then he came down with pink eye. In lieu of writing up my own info about it, I’ll just share what mommypotamus had to say about it, because it was helpful and clear. And the honey eye drops worked very, very quickly. I put them in S’s eyes before bed and in the morning he woke up with clear eyes. And they were so simple to make! Just equal parts raw honey and boiled, cooled water (boiling is important for disinfection, cooling is important for not killing off all the helpful raw honey goodness…). This method of treatment was approved by our pediatrician, who I spoke to a couple of times during this illness.

**I am not a doctor. If you have a serious medical concern please stop googling stuff and call a health care professional you trust.**

Kind over Nice

It was freshman year, and time for our Thursday night Real Life meeting for Campus Crusade for Christ. The guys across the hall from my dorm room started gathering up people to head over in a big herd (when you’re a freshman in college and away from home for the first time it’s comforting to do things in herds).

“Is K coming?” said one of my fellow Crusaders.

“Uhh, I don’t know….Katie, why don’t you go knock on her door and see?”

I trotted off down the hall and knocked on K’s door, bible in hand and sure she was just running late. She’d come with us for the first few weeks of the year, after all.

*Knock, knock.* “Hi! Are you coming to Crusade tonight?”

Her face flashed with anger. “NO!” She said quite firmly and shut the door hard in my face.

 

I was sitting at the Oxley cafe a couple of days later for a sandwich when K came and sat down next to me.

“I’m sorry I slammed the door in your face. I just…can’t go there anymore.”

“Oh! Ok. Why not?”

“It’s just…the church is made up of people, and it’s not supposed to be perfect and cookie cutter and…” She explained herself for a while, and eventually realized I was completely lost.

“Look. Katie, you’re smart. You can figure out how to be what they want, and say what they want you to say. You can make them like you. The question is, do you want to?”

***

It took 14 years, but I think I am finally beginning to unpack what she meant.

At the time, it wasn’t true in the least. I had no idea how to make people like me. I didn’t feel like other people’s approval had anything at all to do with me.

The thing is, K’s correct. At this point, I can often figure out what people want me to do. And that is often useful to keep in mind. The problem that knowledge presents then is what to do about it. It goes a little like this: if someone is going to be offended by my choice to abstain from a particular food I can eat it, not eat it, or leave. If I choose not to eat it, I can explain why, or leave it alone and let them assume whatever they like about me (if they care to). If I explain why they can believe the best about me or not. People may like me or dislike me a little more in a given moment based on what I say. I didn’t used to know that but now I can even see it happening sometimes. My words have an effect.

It’s exhausting. What am I supposed to do with all this information?

 ~~~~~

From the Merriam Webster site:

Full Definition of KIND

1
chiefly dialect :  affectionate, loving

2

a :  of a sympathetic or helpful nature

b :  of a forbearing nature :  gentle

c :  arising from or characterized by sympathy or forbearance <a kind act>

 ~~~~~

At first glance, it would seem that kindness and tenacity are at odds with one another. It doesn’t immediately read as “sympathetic or helpful” to tell someone that they’re wrong about something, that you’re hurt by their actions, or that what they’re doing is harmful to themselves or others. I get that. Does that mean we should never do those things? I think not. I think it means we may do well to expand our definition of kindness. A small definition of kindness (which I’ll refer to from here on out as being nice) is the wide road to people pleasing and denying others feedback which can help them meaningfully learn about themselves and the world. Can it really be kindness to stand by and let someone we care for harm himself or others when we might be able to help him not to do it?  The more I think about it, the more being nice begins to look less like actual kindness.

Someone I trust recently told me that kindness is not something to strive for because kindness is about people pleasing rather than doing what is best for myself or others. I disagree. I think kindness goes far deeper than being nice and that those two things do not always or even usually look the same.

Kindness holds on tenaciously when niceness would let go. Kindness pushes through awkwardness, offense, and hurt. Sometimes, kindness draws boundaries or even steps away for a time when niceness would stay put just to keep the peace for the moment. Niceness may hide the truth to make people happy; kindness looks for the most gentle way to say what is true and necessary.

Being nice instead of kind is like trying to sing a harmony part without any melody to go with it. It might be ok sometimes, but mostly it’s not enough and it will definitely never be a whole song. To put a Sondheim quote on it, “Nice is different than good.” Or, to apply it here, nice is different than kind.

K was right. I’m smart. But figuring out how to be nice to everyone all the time is not a good use of my intelligence.

What am I supposed to do with all this information? Sometimes the answer, thank God, is nothing.

I can figure out how to get more people to like me by being less of who I am. The question is, do I want to?

The answer, I am relieved to find, is no.

kind over nice

 

Homemade Mondays: Drinking Chocolate

I first learned about drinking chocolate at Mount Vernon* during a family trip there.

One of the things I missed when we had to give up dairy was hot cocoa (I know you can use almond milk but it’s really just not the same). But while this is markedly different, it’s delicious enough that it fills the empty chocolatey space nicely. And if dairy is your thing, you can add a bit at the end for some extra creaminess.

Drinking Chocolate

Serves 2-3

Ingredients and supplies:

1/3 c sugar

1/3 c cocoa powder

dash salt

add-ins of your choice (see below)

wide mouth quart jar

wand blender (You could probably do this in a regular blender but we like the wand blender)

Method:

Combine sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in mason jar. Add boiled water to make about 1 1/2 or 2 cups altogether, then blend until well combined. stream in add-ins with the blender going. Taste, adjust flavorings and add-ins as needed, and serve.

Add-ins

Extract of your choice: standards include vanilla, almond, mint (a very little bit of mint goes a long way)

Heavy cream or Half and half

Whiskey, rum, or flavored liqueur of your choice, like kalhua

Candy cane

Whipped cream (use this as a topping, not streamed in, obviously)

drinking chocolate

*Mount Vernon is a peculiar mix of confronting the facts of slavery and standard white privilege denial. You can go and tour the slave quarters and read about what life was like for the three hundred and nineteen slaves living there at the time of George Washington’s death, and while it doesn’t go into too many details, they don’t hide the fact that these were, in fact, people who were owned. And yet, when we reached the end of our tour, there was a demonstration of how to make drinking chocolate “like Martha Washington herself would have made it.” Really? Ground the cacao pods into powder by herself, did she? Still, this stuff is delicious, and these days as long as you get fair or direct trade chocolate, you can even be sure no one has to be enslaved for you to drink it. So that’s nice.

We get ours from Costco right now, because I found Rodelle cocoa powder there and found this post on the internet about it (granted, it’s anecdotal and secondhand information but I chose to go with it for now; there’s also this on their website if you’re interested in reading further):

“Elise Neufeld says:

OCTOBER 3, 2013 AT 2:44 PM

Being concerned about cocoa powder, I contacted the company which supplies cocoa powder to our local Costco (Rodelle brand), and was shocked to get an email back within a few hours from their president. I was so impressed with his answer that I reproduced it below:

“It is very important to our company that our vanilla and cocoa are sustainably and socially sourced. Myself and our procurement team routinely visit our growing regions to personally audit our exporters and farming cooperatives for such issues you have mentioned. I was a Peace Corps volunteer many years ago and I learned at an early age how important it is that all parties are treated fairly throughout the supply chain especially when it comes to commodity food products in developing countries. We do source a number of “Fair Trade” products but I do feel that a lot still needs to be ironed out when it comes to the “Fair Trade” certification. Therefore we have established our own criteria based on working with transparent cooperatives supporting them with social programs and paying premium prices to the farmers. I am proud to say we have impacted over 15,000 farmers for the better by having such strict procedures in place. We do have more information on our website regarding our programs. ”

It’s good to know that even some of the bigger brands are committed to ethical sourcing!”

Homemade Mondays: Kail Brose

This is not my recipe, but it it very, very easy, it’s good for what ails you, it doesn’t have a long ingredient list, and it’s what I’m making for dinner tonight.

I’ve found other recipes but the one I’ve linked to is the first one I found so I’ll share that one. Lots of room for experimentation and using what you have. It’s also in The Scots Kitchen by F. Marian MacNeill, with a few variations.

Kail Brose

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