It's been three weeks since the fire, but it still smells like smoke at Dragon Flower Farm.
As we work on the Dragon Flower Farm, we are also developing our philosophy around what we are doing, and why. At this point (and it will likely change) I would say it is a philosophy of the mean––the middle way, if you will. One aspect of that philosophy is the role of chaos. In Jungian thought, the forest represents the primeval, the chaotic, nature red in tooth and claw. The home represents order, civilization, humanity's dominion. The garden is the place where the two intersect. It is ordered, but it is still influenced by the power that resides outside of its walls.
Back in January, I'd asked mystery author and wildlife biologist Ellen King Rice to help me ID some of the mushrooms I'd found growing in the woods and here at Dragon Flower Farm. As you might recall, we ended up turning the post into a series of tips on how to ID mushrooms, which is something no one should take casually, at least if you're looking to eat them.
I'm an herbalist, so why did I relegate herbs to part 2 in this series? Because without giving time and attention to everything I outlined in part 1, herbs will be nowhere near as effective as they could be, if they are effective at all. If we aren't taking in the basic building blocks to support healthy immune system function and implementing necessary lifestyle practices such as a well-balanced diet, adequate sleep, stress reduction, and movement, we are really expecting a lot of the plants. They are not magic bullets. We have to do our part so they can do theirs.
Many people ask me about proper immune system support and host resistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so I've written up a little guide to address some of these questions. The best preventative measures you can take aren't very glamorous or exciting, but rather the boring ol' basics we've heard so many times that we often just gloss over. But it might be helpful to know just why these things are important.
The flora is waking up here at Dragon Flower Farm after a long sleep. I wish I could say we are, too, but the truth is we're merely shifting from hard-work-inside to hard-work-outside. It's the same with the fauna. As I mentioned in the post on bird baths, our feeders were super active all winter. In addition to the usual flocks of house sparrows, house finches, and European starlings, we experienced frequent visits from cardinals, dark-eyed juncos, woodpeckers, and even the white-throated sparrow, a treat to watch for its two-footed, back-and-forth dig move in the dirt under our feeders. Like the birds, we're flush with motivation to make the most of springtime; while we marvel at the awakening garden, several projects are keeping us busy during this shelter-in-place.
Anthony and I tended to be fairly home-oriented even before the coronavirus hit and made us homebound by executive order. Fortunately, this emphasis on the home sphere has enabled us to shift into the shelter-in-place with relative ease because there's plenty of drama going on right in our own backyard. With three bird baths, three platform feeders, and a suet feeder poised within view of our back windows, we've got a 24/7 wildlife study right here.
With all this homebound time suddenly at my disposal due to the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order, I recently spent a day repotting our houseplants. This is a routine, mundane activity that most people do every couple of years or so, but the truth is, I've never done it before. Throughout my entire adult life, I've moved every two to three years, so by this time, I'm usually trying to figure out what I'm going to do with my houseplants rather than adjusting their growth space for the long haul.
If you've read the previous two blog posts in this series (here and here), your pan is well-seasoned, and you know how to care for it. Before you start using it, the first thing you need to do is a bit weird, and it sounds like something out of a fantasy novel, but you need to get to know your pan.
Generally, there are a few rules for cast iron skillet care and a few myths that can be dispelled. First of all, there is cleaning the pan. A well-seasoned pan, that is being used properly, should not be difficult to clean up. Hot water and a metal spatula are usually all you need. If you are cooking something that has a lot of sugar or starch (say potatoes), then you may need to break out the non-soap steel wool.
To help promote these ideas, we're giving away a free, signed copy of Bringing Nature Home. All you have to do to be eligible to win is subscribe to our newsletter. If you're already subscribed, you're automatically in the pool, but please do tell your friends! The drawing happens on March 31, 2020, so sign up before that cutoff date.
Last week the St. Louis chapter of the national organization Wild Ones honored us with mention on their blog. The post titled "New Member Lisa Brunette: Her Creative Telling of Our Shared Story" went live on Feb. 11th and was mailed out in a newsletter to Wild Ones St. Louis members.
In order to use cast irons, there are a few things you need to do: You need to season your pan (which I will cover). You need to learn how to care for your pan (covered in an upcoming post). You need to learn how to cook with your pan (covered in an upcoming post).
Last week we took a magical trip into mushroom land with former wildlife biologist and author Ellen King Rice. Ellen and I first connected back when I lived in Lewis County in Washington state. She was just starting out on the author trail and lived in neighboring Thurston County. Both counties are primarily rural. I found the community in Lewis to be highly close-knit and highly supportive. I myself received a lot of support as an author, and it inspired me to give back to the community and help other authors, like Ellen. I witnessed the community continually coming out to support individuals in need as well as businesses and organizations. Ellen's project, Naked Came A Fungus, is a terrific example.
Twenty nineteen was a really wet year for us in the Midwest. As a result, we experienced a bit of mushroom mania that began in spring and lasted clear through the fall. To pay tribute to both the magnificent mushroom and the fantastic fungus, today I've asked former wildlife biologist and author Ellen King Rice to collaborate with me on a special guest post. Here I've compiled images from Dragon Flower Farm as well as from walks in the woods. The plan was to have Ellen ID the fungus among us, but that proved a little bit tougher than either of us anticipated. So if you've got some IDs for us, please share in the comments below!
In this post I'll walk you through some of my most resourceful, DIY sleuth-shopping and decorating moments of the past year. Ready?
Our twofold mission is to plant both natives and 'human use' flora, and the native plants have not disappointed. While the rhubarb gasped and expired, and the blueberries* have continued to struggle, the natives have taken hold and flourished, pretty much without exception. As an added bonus, we've been able to obtain many of them free - either as volunteers or gifted starts and seeds.
One of the best uses of mulch in my experience is in converting an area of turf grass to nice gardening soil. I use what some people now call the "sheet-mulch method," which is basically a decomposable barrier layer, such as an old wool carpet or cardboard boxes, underneath a thick mulch. I've done this three different times at three different homes over the past nearly twenty years, and the result is always amazing. I can't stress this enough. It's an affirmation of the natural decomposition cycle, proof that nature knows best.
When it comes to interior design, form should always follow function and create a space that is equally efficient and appealing. This is why we highlighted in ‘That Finnish Lifestyle Is Hard to Beat’ how the place where form and function meet is important to Finns. Things must not only work well, but they must please the eye as well. With that in mind, let’s look at a few home changes you can make that are both functional and pleasing. And we don’t want to limit your options here, so we are going to look at trends from across the world to give you that bit of inspiration you might just need right now.
An unabashedly insidious, decidedly for-profit venture, Facebook sucks us in with the illusion of connection, networking, and something not even remote approximating true "friendship," while successfully delivering on none of these things. Facebook activity robs us of the chance to share our life events, perspectives, and anecdotes in person with real people who can engage with us in meaningful ways.
As you might remember from our Dragon Flower Farmhouse tour, I'm a huge fan of color. Living in the rainy, grey Pacific Northwest for about 16 years, I took cues from the electric-green moss and Day-Glo orange fungus in the forests and painted my house accordingly. So when the real estate agent who sold us our St. Louis home Instagrammed these stunning pictures of a 'Vivid Living' house for sale, my heart grew like three sizes that day.
First of all, why render fat? Well, fat is a substance that the human body is accustomed to absorbing. In fact, if you take in too little fat, it can have numerous deleterious effects on your health. It can lower your hormonal levels, make your skin dry, encourage you to overeat, mess with your body's natural temperature regulator, and cause mental fatigue. Now, that does not mean you have to eat animal fat. But if you are a meat eater anyway, it is certainly one of the easiest ways to make sure you are getting enough fat in your diet.
At least three of the five eggs hatched on June 24, and here you can see the hatchlings and mother, with the father just outside the bathroom window.
Exciting news: That FeetUp Trainer I mentioned in the post about why you might struggle with headstands is now a whopping 33 percent off! Yeah, that knocks fifty bucks off this cute little yoga inversion prop.
I've spent a good deal of time talking about what we had to extricate from the Dragon Flower Farm, i.e., invasive plants like honeysuckle vine, winter creeper, and even autumn clematis. Yes, it's been at times a tragic tale of what the botanists call "disturbed" areas in suburbia/near urbia. But not everything existing onsite when we bought the house in November of 2017 was undesirable. You might be wondering what we're planning to keep. Here's a list by category.
It started with the nest, which went up the last week of May, when the weather was nice enough for Kathy to crank open the louvered window. It's a lovely nest with a classic cup shape. Kathy lives in Seattle, Washington, which is still rainy and emerald this time of year. The nest was fashioned with a layer of twig in the center cushioned by an impressive gathering of juicy green fronds around the outside.
We're still in the throes of a long-term project to replace turf with a blend of plants that are ideally both native and edible, or at least one if both can't be satisfied together. I'll describe the very important turf remediation project in a future post dedicated to one of my favorite topics, mulch. But for now let's talk about the super fun part of gardening: putting in new plants.
I apologize for leaving you hanging--on the fence, so to speak, over the winter, when I mentioned we had another solution in the works to screen the view of the apartment building that looks down into our little 1/4-acre. But here it is: trees.
But there's one aspect of yoga that never ceased to be a struggle for me--until I wised up and decided to cease with the struggle altogether. That's inversions.
A curious thing happened this spring here at the Dragon Flower Farm. All manner of daffodils sprouted up and rung their little bells to signal the change of season. It was curious because this is our second spring here at the farmhouse, and last year, we didn't get this kind of show. We think the latency might be because the year we bought our house, the developer who flipped it had basically razed the grounds down to nothing but short grass and nubs. Since bulbs won't flower again if you cut their leaves too early, they might have gone into a bit of shock from that defoliation and needed time to recover. The neighbors told us the yard used to be full of flowers every spring, and now we can see it for ourselves!
Our house turns 115 this year, and that's something to celebrate. Built in the year of the iconic St. Louis World's Fair, she's a solid, sturdy old gal with a few frills and flounces that tell you her history. Let me give you a tour.
Whoa?! My stepson, Zander, must have been practicing yoga since birth to have such an advanced Reverse Prayer Pose, right? He should totally be an Instagram yogi star. #yogapose #yogafit #yogabody #yogafitness #yogaaddict #yogagram #yogaholic
I don’t have any clear memory of a time when my father wasn’t gardening. Even when we were renting small houses on the outskirts of Walla Walla, Washington, we at least had a vegetable patch. Every year I remember watching my dad buy and plant seeds. Of course, our family also canned fruit, made salsa, and had a root cellar. My father was the son of dairy farmers and my mother the daughter of very poor immigrants. It makes sense that they would continue to see the dangers of the world being mitigated by a small garden and some canned foods on a shelf under the house.
This time I'm here to share the last chapter of the fence-install story, and it's a shocker.
Stephens' biggest argument against set sequences is "the potential strain caused by doing repetitive actions." The example he gives is from the primary series in Ashtanga Vinyasa style, which leads yogis through Chaturanga Dandasana more than 50 times.
My yoga practice began 25 years ago - with a yoga video tape I played on a VCR at home.
In its native environment in Asia, I'm sure it makes for a wonderful garden vine. Its dark green, ovate leaves foreground the vanilla cream-to-pale yellow flowers that appear in May. The scent they give off is intoxicating, a heady, thick sweetness you can practically taste. In fact, you can taste it; pull the pistil out and touch its end to your tongue, and it's like a dab of sugar. In fall, the flowers give way to bright red berries.
Anthony loved the property's quiet, farm-like feel. A quarter acre is a lot of land to play with, the biggest plot either of us has had across the span of adult lives spent in ten different cities, six different houses, and more apartments than we can count.
Those of you who follow me on Instagram probably noticed a recent obsession with insects.
For now, here are photos of the "yarden," someday to become the "Dragonflower Mini-Farm." It's a 1/4-acre plot close to the St. Louis city limits. Right now it's a gargantuan amount of turf for us--I mean my husband--to mow (seriously, he wants to be the mower in the fam), but in the future we hope to transform it into an organic garden of vegetables, fruit, nuts, herbs, and native perennials.
It's hot today, with the thermometer already at 94 degrees and steadily climbing. So I'm inside, working on a cool announcement I'll be making this week, hopefully. In the meantime, here are some pics of my garden.
I begin most days by drawing a tarot card. It's part of my spiritual practice to think about the current challenge or lesson and draw a card that, when it's all working well, gives me insight. One day last week, I drew The Devil.
My husband, stepson, and me. My stepson moved in with us full-time last fall and completed his senior year in a small-town. This big-city kid quickly got the lay of the land, though, making some great friends and getting to experience a different way of life. This is Trump country,...
Apparently seeing what women really look like is great as long as I’m not one of the women in the photos.
From his posh penthouse apartment in New York, he brags about making fifty cents a word on his writing.
I was featured along with six other writers in a blog series about writing with intention. Our host, Alexis Donkin, believes that "fiction can shape the way we think about the world."
So as I researched other traditions, I questioned my own. In the end, I discovered all faiths have parts I like and parts I hate. It just so happens, I like Christianity best. It speaks my cultural language. I like the story of Jesus.
I couldn't help but think of our conversation when I read the first reports about Orlando. But on my own social forums, I felt speechless. My silver tongue had no words. Then a good friend posted to his Facebook page something beautiful and sad and just right
I found through this process that it's generally good to be friendly and invite conversation, especially if you're a writer, as you never know where a good story is hiding.
We thought the kid would turn into a nerd like his parents, but he's following his own path. So I'm the proud but somewhat bewildered stepmother of a rapper.