Friday, May 28, 2010

Book Reviews

I’m on Amazon! With my book review for Stuff Every Woman Should Know by Alanna Kalb. It’s through Sacramento and San Francisco Book Review and my other two reviews for Some Girls: My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren and The Highland Clans by Alistair Moffat should show up there in print soon. Fun Fun!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Oh and a strongly adults only webcomic I’m loving right now is There is a lot of masturbation jokes and full-frontal nudity as comedy so if that’s not your thing, don’t check it out. But if you love ribald sexual humor in a medieval setting, among others (Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth come to mind) check it out.

The heat! The heat!

One thing about it, summer on the farm spells busy. So much for blogging every day in May, instead I’ve got cattle on pasture, fence to maintain, hay to cut and rake and bale, calves needing broke to tie and lead, baby poultry to attend every few hours, cows to milk (perhaps two farms, we’ll see), lawn, garden, and that’s just to maintain on top of the house and groceries and book reviews due. No wonder I’m exhausted. Not to mention the bug or whatever I picked up on our California trip that left me exhausted and …erm …very in love with my bathroom last week. By Saturday, after ten days on, five days in California, and another ten days on, J said I was delirious with exhaustion. I don’t remember, honestly. I couldn’t quite connect who he was or why I was at his house or what exactly my name happened to be. Could have been the nausea, could have been the dizzy spells, who knows. At least this week seems a little less daunting now that I don’t keel over into the counter every few minutes because my eyes are crossing.

Okay, enough whining about me. Gonna whine about herbs. Our luck getting plants to start this year has been nil. We have a few, but they look pretty spindly and weak. Maybe I should stick to writing and recipes. I found one last week that I never posted for lavender.

Lavender is among the prettiest and is the closest thing to flowers that I grow. The reason I don’t grow flowers? Two reasons actually. One, I can kill them with a dirty look, and two, unless they have some purpose, like soothing headaches or being tasty additions to Italian food, I don’t see much point in making the effort. Useful things, to me, are more beautiful than ornamental ones.

So lavender is a shrub. It grows better further south than zone 5, which is where we are, and needs tender care to survive here. It grows better along the Pacific Coast and in the South. Lavender prefers a “dry, light, limy, friable soil and full sunlight.” It can also be grown inside, but prefers the outdoors far better. For a tea to sooth exhaustion and tension, pour a cup of boiling water (always the boiling water) over a teaspoon of dried lavender flowers. Cover and steep fifteen minutes, strain, and sweeten. My herb book recommends it for use after work. I like a cold Sam Adams, but that’s just me. :)

Hope everyone is enjoying the warm weather (as I gag from heat stroke) and have a fun and safe Memorial Day weekend if I don’t get back around to posting before that. I plan on spending a goodly portion of it in the milking parlor and sleeping.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What we all want more of: thyme

Another herb whose use I couldn’t recall was thyme. Trusty herb book again, dudududah! Thyme acts as an astringent, both inside and out, and too much can lead to poisoning. To use it to cleanse the kidneys and bladder, pour a cup of boiling water over a teaspoon of thyme. Let steep 15 minutes, strain, and sweeten. Drink one cup once a day for a week.

As far as growing thyme, it’s one of the herbs I started that made it, so it’s something I’ll comment on growing. Thyme grows slowly, so start early and give it plenty of sun. It’s hardy, which is good for me ;) and likes a regular watering schedule. It prefers a light, sandy soil, and when first starting new plants, weed control is essential as it does grow so slowly.

I’ve been trying to write three book reviews this week. Falling prey to my own whininess, I’ve got nothing to say, I don’t have any time, I’m not inspired, I’m hungry, I’d rather clean up dog poo… whatever. The thing is, if I don’t write, the creativity comes out in other ways, especially odd, vivid dreams. Indiana Jones with carnivorous cows with wings comes to mind. The answer? Simple. Write like my life depends on it. Who knows? My sanity might. Too many more cows with sharp teeth and Temple of Doom or running around town for plant starts and getting locked out of the house and I’ll go crazy... ier.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Merely Marjoram

J and I potted plant starts this past weekend and didn’t do much to awaken either of our inner gardener. Most of my herbs didn’t make it (old seeds and too wet) so maybe you shouldn’t listen to me on the basics of gardening. So I’m brushing up with Haven’t actually gotten around to reading much, but I know it’s there. :)

While potting, J kept asking questions (surprise surprise) and I realized that I had no idea why I’d planted some of my herbs. I knew they had a purpose when I picked them, but I couldn’t recall what it was. So let’s go over that shall we and maybe shy away from actually putting seeds in the ground. That seems to be where, for me, things go horribly horribly wrong this year.

Marjoram was the first herb I couldn’t remember why I planted it. It smells good yes, but what it’s for? No idea. Going back to my trusty herb book, Jude’s Herbal by Jude C. Williams, M.H., marjoram grows to a foot tall and treats asthma, mainly. It can also be used to make a tea for nervous tension and indigestion. Boil a cup of water and pour over several sprigs of marjoram steep covered for ten minutes, strain and sweeten with honey.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Yum. Sage. And Lamb. And Sage...

There’s nothing like fresh sage and fresh rosemary with fleshly ground black pepper and garden fresh garlic on a simmering slab of homegrown lamb steak. I am so looking forward to summer. Sage helps digest greasy foods, thus is well-paired with out homegrown lamb, as lamb tends toward the fatty end of the red meat scale, as compared to beef or venison.

What else does sage do? is a very informative website about sage and it explains the herb’s origin in the Mediterranean herb and how it has been used for thousands of years both in the kitchen and in the herbalist’s bag. It stimulates the kidneys and helps remove toxins from the system. It’s also a sedative and can help with headaches, as well as cold since it helps the alimentary and bronchial systems. It can cause poisoning if taken excessively. The above website also explains how sage works, the chemical substances it contains, called alpha- and beta-thujone, camphor, cineole as well as other constituents, including rosmarinic acid, tannins, and flavonoids. If I had any idea what that meant, I’d tell ya.

A fun additional resource on sage:

As far as growing sage, it’s a sturdy plant that, like the rosemary, survived MJ’s dumping. It’s great in sausage, another fatty meat, and grows best in a nitrogen-rich clay loam soil. Bring on the chicken manure! It can be started from seed or grown from cuttings off established plants. The leaves are thick and dry well. I used the oven last year, set at the lowest setting, with the leaves spread out on a cookie sheet. It’s easier to burn leaves than the bread though, so don’t get all engrossed in the dishes or a book while dying herbs. Little tip. :-)

On poetry: Yesterday we talked about what to write, today we’ll deal with time. We go to work to buy time, the time to do the stuff we like to do. (I actually go to work so I don’t have to deal with drunks every night, but that’s a side issue.)

So if we want to write when do we fit it in?

Some of my best work came out of waiting in the car. Seriously. Especially during my anti-social college years, to get a break from people, I’d go sit in my car between classes and scribble. It’s the mindset of “ok, I have an hour. What’s in my head today?” And sometimes it’d be good and others it was barely readable. But the time crunch made it so I spent less and less time on the bad stuff and more and more time on the better stuff, simply because I wanted to get to the interesting stuff before time ran out.

Many writers, like William Faulkner, wrote in the morning before going to their day job. Others write at night, but my point is you don’t need huge amounts of time. Take a notebook to the grocery store, get in the longest line, and pound out a half page while you wait, or idea web, something.

We make time to eat, primp, pee, sometimes spend time with our families and workout, even to watch tv or surf the net. It’s just like anything else, you have to carve out those fifteen minutes or an hour, no one is going to come down and say, “here, you worked hard and are entitled to fifteen minutes of uninterrupted writing time.” We have to entitle ourselves. Write while watching your kids play sports. Write in your head in the shower and jump out and get it down. Write in your head while working a crappy job you can’t stand then dictate it to a tape recorder on the way home. They run about $40 for a digital one, but well worth it, especially if you spend a lot of time in the car and can talk and drive at the same time.

Hopefully this and yesterday show that the two top excuses we use to get out of writing, I don’t have anything to write about and I don’t have time, are bullshit and if all else fails, write about the bullshit.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Rosemary Writings

What do we complain most about as writers? I have no time and I have nothing to write about. I’ve been reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (excellent read, by the way) and, frankly, that’s bullshit. It’s the same excuses we use for why we don’t want to work out. I’m tired. It hurts. I have no time. I’d rather watch Desperate Housewives… well we’d rather do all that than go to work too, but bills need paid and so we grab our coffee and head off to town. Writing is much the same way. Whatever reason we feel compelled to torture ourselves, there is some kind of benefit, maybe not cash, but perhaps it heals or feeds something in us that when it’s going well, there’s absolutely nothing else we’d rather be doing.

Kind of like farming, but that’s another story all together.

So, nothing to write about, eh?

Well, rosemary is one of the hardest herbs to grow. It actually grows better from a cutting off an established plant than it does from seed. To get the seed to germinate, exact conditions must be met, a perfect harmony of water, light, and heat, a formula which, alas I am unable to give you. Only one of my rosemary plants made it last year and this year I’ve yet to see any emerge. It needs consistency more than anything, it seems, in order to mature into a hardy shrub with light blue flowers. It’s a perennial, so it will keep coming back, lasting years if well taken care of. My rosemary plant even survived Momma Jen throwing it out and then me repotting it, after explaining to MJ that dormant plants are not dead plants.

Rosemary stimulates the urinary organs, helps with headaches, heart palpitations, sleep disorders, depression, and muscle spasms, but can be poisonous if taken to excess. Rosemary prefers dry, well-drained soil, even rocky, with high alkaline content and full sun or slight shade.

Here’s a fun website for more about rosemary and its uses.

So what does all this have to do with having nothing to write about? By trying to start rosemary, you just gave yourself a ton of material. Write about selecting the seeds, from a magazine or at the grocery store, the brightly colored packets and oh-so-easy misleading directions, the smell of the soil you use, the cool water, the feeling of putting tiny seeds into the dark embrace of the ground. Write about checking the starts daily, seeking any sign that any of them made it, the exhilaration as they poke their heads up, the little snap as you snip back the weaker starts. Or if you begin a plant from the cutting of another plant, write about sticking the little guy in the ground and talking to him every day as he gets established, puts down roots, moves the wife and kids in… oh like you don’t talk to your plants, whatever. :-)

Nothing to write about? Bullshit. Look around you. And if all else fails, write about bullshit. I mean it. Manure comes in so many different shapes, consistencies, and colors…oh I so need a hobby...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Lemon Balm and Persona Poems

I love lemon balm. It smells wonderful, tastes great, and is just a fun plant to have around. It’s calming, helps with menstruation (guys and gals benefit from that one!), helps with upset stomach, and is just a general all-around good herb. I haven’t tried this recipe, though it sounds delicious. Take 20 sprigs of fresh lemon balm and pour 1 quart of boiling water over it, then add 4 tablespoons of honey, 10 whole cloves, and juice from half a lemon. Let steep ten minutes, strain, and serve. For stomach cramping or nerves that result in heart palpitations, mix dried lemon balm leaves, like a teaspoon to 6-8 leaves, with a cup of boiling water, steep covered for ten minutes, and strain.

So how to grow this wonderful her. It’s another member of the mint family, two feet tall, and makes flowers late in the summer that you can deadhead if you like. It basically grows anywhere and under any conditions and may become a noxious weed if left to its own devices. So basically plant and grow. It likes sun, but is shade-tolerant also, especially in dry climates. It prefers a well-drained clay soil or a sandy loam with a consistently moist soil, so water regularly, but don’t overwater, so the soil doesn’t dry out between waterings. It can be grown easily indoors or in containers.

For more information on the uses and history of lemon balm, try It’s got a list of a ton of resources too. As with all herbs, take care to make sure there are no reports of drug interactions. For example, women on the pill should not take St. Johns Wort as it may interfere with the effectiveness of birth control. I’m not an expert so please do your own research specific to your unique and individual needs.

On to poetry. While on vacation, I spent a lot of time with Ai, namely her book titled “Vice.” It’s an anthology of her work from previous books. Lovely, brutal stuff. Ai uses persona quite a bit in her work and to hauntingly lovely outcomes. So how do we use persona effectively in poetry?

I have no freaking clue.

While doing the Portable MFA, one of the assignments was to write persona poems, like Ai, but I’m finding it desperately difficult. So here I am trying to muddle my way through it. has some insights into persona poems.

“A persona poem is a poem written in the first person, in which a writer imagines she is an animal, an object, a famous person - anyone she is not.”

Sounds simple enough. Persona comes from the Greek word for mask, meaning that in a poem like this, the author “dons a mask and writes from another person's point of view.” Some questions this website says to ask are:

* What is its world like?
* What might it see?
* What might it hear?
* What might it do? (Or a person do to it?)
* What does it know?
* What might it feel or think?

Other considerations are sense of place, mining the physical world for sensory aspects to work as a backdrop for the poem, and diction since the way people talk says volumes about who they are, where they come from, education and class, all that stuff and can also give the poem authenticity by showing that you know how a person like this talks, thinks, moves, etc. Lastly, choose a moment when something is happening, something important. It doesn’t have to be dramatic, but it does need to be a moment of change. That’s what a climax is after all, a moment when a character comes away from something critically changed.

And here’s a place to start your persona poem, with the line, “I remember.”

Thursday, May 13, 2010


What makes a successful gardener? What makes a successful writer? You can have all the talent and knowledge in the world, but if you don’t practice, if you don’t have a deep love and dedication to what you’re doing, if you don’t keep learning and changing, then the talent doesn’t matter. Someone who is mediocre at something but works harder than you do will surpass your skills.

I guess what I’m saying in this brief entry today is that it doesn’t matter your skill level, knowledge, or talent. If you try, if you work, that’s what sets you apart. And it’s the journey, what you learn along the way that matters, not the perfect prize-winning tomatoes.

Someone else need my soapbox now?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

So-Cal, Cilantro, Ai-yiy-yiy

Oh California dreamin… leavin, on a jet plane… go to California, go to California… okay enough DJ shit. :) The trip was great and we are home in one piece. I lugged my laptop across the country only to use it to check directions to the Barnes and Noble and if S6 went to the coast. (It does.) So we home and holy family and people! I can make conversation for about two hours, I discovered, before I run out of shit to say and start majorly wishing there was a cow to slap around. I spend roughly eighty percent of my time either alone or in the presence of livestock or dogs so being cornered into conversation, and conversation about something besides the pros and cons of grassfed beef say, I run out of shit to say. It’s like the t-shirt says, I’m not a quiet person so if I’m not saying anything it’s because we’re not talking horses. Beautiful country north San Diego though, Escondido and the hills too. We got to hike a little and that was probably my favorite part of the trip, that and the Mexican food in Old Town. I can highly recommend that. The Wild Animal Park and Balboa Park and Coronado were cool too, but driving and getting out and walking, seeing the real California, was even cooler. Touristy stuff has never really been my thing.

In honor of the wonderful food and extremely hard working people who served it to us, today’s herb is cilantro. It’s a classic herb used in Mexican cooking, extremely flavorful and essential to any salsa.

Cilantro is a member of the parsley family and the leaves of this two foot high are used for cooking. It’s an annual unless you leave the flower heads, then it will reseed itself and regrow the following year. Start the seeds directly in pots as transplanting disturbs the roots and causes early bolting. (News to me.) They can also be started indoors six weeks before planting outdoors, I’m assuming either in peet pots or directly in a pot. I’ve had luck with using a peet pot, but the plants last year were very fine and kind of weak so might not want to listen to me. If sown directly and started in rows instead of containers, the plants need nine to twelve inches of space and they grow well in a pH range of 6.5 and 7.5. (So much for my throw manure on and go theory.) Cilantro likes a soil that drains well, can take full sun or some shade mix, doesn’t like to be overwatered, and will grow indoors under lights as well. It takes about six weeks to get a saleable plant.

Amazingly, though I got little else done, I read and wrote a goodly sample of poetry on vacation. Mostly I read Ai and started Wislawa Szymborska. Here’s a YouTube of some Ai poems, lovely reading and hearing.

Ai uses narrators and persona in her work, brutality and femininity running side by side in a no-holds-barred narrative that’s as beautiful as it is unflinching.

So it’s back to reality today, at my desk early and work tonight. It’s been raining almost since we left so will have to see if the cows are floating or if we need to inflate the ark.

Welcome home  :-p

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Promptly Parsley

Poetry prompts are a great way to get into a poem, by either taking a line that inspires you from someone else, or using their line as the first line in your poem as a jumping off point.  Here’s some prompts from Robert Service’s work:

The sky is like an envelope…
That cow-juice seemed to oppyrate a most amazin' change…
…when a lusty lass I see / I whinny like a stallion…

Parsley is another annual herb that grows well in a container. There are several varieties, curled leaf, flat leaf, etc. The herb not only looks pretty on the plate, but aids with kidney complaints and works great as diuretic for weight-loss. You can also use a large handful of chopped parsley steeped in a cup of boiling water and cooled to room temperature to help with clogged pores. Strain the liquid and apply to face as a compress for 15 minutes daily. For a parsley tea, take 2 cups parsley to one quart boiling water. Let sit until cool, strain, and reheat as needed. This helps settle the stomach and acts as a diuretic for the kidneys.

Now, how to grow the stuff. Parsley thrives in a deep pot, as it has a long taproot and grows to about 12-18 inches high. The seeds germinate slowly so soak them in warm water overnight before you plant them. (There’s a tip I wish I’d had a few weeks ago.) If you sow them directly, thin plants to six inches apart. Parsley likes loam and needs at least five hours of sunlight a day to thrive. It also like nitrogen and can handle full sun or part shade. A soil pH between 6 and 7 is best.

Or, if you’re like me, throw the damn seeds in a peet pot and see what happens. :)

Dad and I are spinning like crazy as we get ready to leave for California tonight. It’s my great-uncle’s 90th birthday party this weekend and this will be my first real vacation in something like eight years. So the past few days I’ve been running around with my head cut off and worked a double yesterday. So expect intermittent blogs unless my nights are very boring and I’ll try to get some pics of sunny So-Cal. :) Happy Days.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Rough and Tumble Basil

Probably the easiest and most common kitchen herb, basil is versatile, pretty, fairly easy to grow, and comes in a variety of species. It’s especially great cooked up with fresh roma tomatoes over whole wheat pasta. And pepper. Lots of pepper. And parmesan cheese.

Wow making myself hungry.

Okay, other stuff about basil. Most of this is from, just to cite my sources.

Basil, or Ocimum basilicum if you like the fancy Latin, belongs to the mint family and is used both in the kitchen and in medicinal treatments. A quick glance in my home remedy book, Jude’s Herbal, indicates that basil is useful for digestive problems, another reason to sprinkle it on your pasta sauce, and helps treat bee stings. Basil planted around barns and house also helps keep flies away.

Basil has a delicate constitution and doesn’t like cold weather so it’s best grown outside after all threat of frost has passed. I usually start it in the house and put it outside in June, though this year it might be earlier since we’re having a relatively warm spring. If the nights do get chilly, you can always bring your basil inside. If you live in warmer climes, the seed can be seeded directly into the garden. Always check your USDA hardiness zones though, to be sure. It can be grown outside or inside, and likes a south-facing exposure, at least in the Northern Hemisphere.

Basil is an annual, meaning you have to replant it every year; it doesn’t re-grow on its own. Keep the plants thinned to 6-10 inches apart. It’s not a social plant, apparently, and doesn’t like to be crowded. As a Mediterranean herb, it likes a quick-draining, light soil, as opposed to the heavier clays common to more northerly areas. Basil wilts quickly in heat, but revives with a good dose of water. Always pinch off the flowers if you want more leaf production, which is the part of the plant used in sauces, teas, and other brews. Basil grows to between 1-2 feet tall, prefers full sun, does well in most any soil pH, and attracts valuable bees and butterflies to the garden. It is vulnerable to whitefly, thrips, aphids, and fusarium as far as pests go, but you’ll have to deal with that yourself as pests, blights, and insects vary by region.

So there’s a dose of plants. Now for a dose of poetry.

Robert W. Service was called the people’s poet. So was Walt Whitman, but since he called himself that, we’ll let it slide. Quoting Service’s 1958 obituary, “ ‘The only society I like,’ he once said, ‘is that which is rough and tough - and the tougher the better. That's where you get down to bedrock and meet human people.’ He found that kind of society in the Yukon gold rush, and he immortalized it” A vagabond poet, Service held a variety of jobs in lots of places, drawing as his interactions with real, working class people and his own experiences as a soldier, cook, reporter, clerk, bank teller, and lots more for his poetry.

I’d like to spend some time with this rough and tumble poet this week, because as we covered in poetry month, there’s a time and place for poetry to be literary, but what’s the use of being literary if no one reads it? Pop fiction gets a bad rep, but guess what? That’s what’s on the beach reads table in the summer and that’s what people buy. Sure, some novels are literary, and they’re beautiful, wonderful works. So are some popular, genre novels. Maybe poets and readers of poetry alike should take note of that.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Herb Gardens and Kilts (Oh you know you want to! :)

I don’t know about you, but I can kill flowers if I stare at them too hard. Some people, however, can get the goofiest shit to grow when and where it shouldn’t. Gardening looks complicated and hard and seems to be all about perfectionism. This is a gardening guide for the rest of us, the lazy, the uninspired, the ah-hell-throw-it-in-the-ground-and-see-what-happens, those of us who can kill grass with a dirty look. It’s not science or probably even right in many cases, but it’s what works for me.

The plants and region will typically be Midwestern, since that’s what I’m familiar with, and I’ll try to remember to note that for those living elsewhere. None of this is backed up by any sort of science or professional association whatsoever, unless noted. Most of it has been learned in the field and I’m still scratching my head over why the hell it worked. So, kick back, smile, and let’s start gardening.

As most of you might guess, I live on a farm so there’s plenty of space for our big vegetable garden. I detest flowers since they do absolutely nothing useful except look pretty and require work, but herbs on our farm are my special baby. I love cooking with fresh herbs and I love using them in home remedies. Instead of having them out in the big garden, however, I keep them in containers on the back porch for easier access. Container gardening is extremely flexible and you can plant in anything, old boots, bowls, wire hanging baskets. I’m boring and prefer the traditional clay pots. The key is making sure the root bulb has enough room in the pot. To get you started, here are some creative ideas for pots .

Some basic kitchen herbs include: basil, oregano, garlic, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, and sage,. If you want to give it a little flash and flair and home remedy action, also try bee balm, borage, mint, lavender, lemon balm, and penny royal. Over the next few days, I’ll focus on each herb in turn, along with some poetry stuff.

Speaking of poetry, anybody have any fav poets or poetic movements they’d like to mention or see covered? I just discovered poet Robert Service and here is his ode to kilts.

A Song For Kilts
By: Robert Service

How grand the human race would be
If every man would wear a kilt,
A flirt of Tartan finery,
Instead of trousers, custom built!
Nay, do not think I speak to joke:
(You know I'm not that kind of man),
I am convinced that all men folk.
Should wear the costume of a Clan.

Imagine how it's braw and clean
As in the wind it flutters free;
And so conducive to hygiene
In its sublime simplicity.
No fool fly-buttons to adjust,--
Wi' shanks and maybe buttocks bare;
Oh chiels, just take my word on trust,
A bonny kilt's the only wear.

'Twill save a lot of siller too,
(And here a canny Scotsman speaks),
For one good kilt will wear you through
A half-a-dozen pairs of breeks.
And how it's healthy in the breeze!
And how it swings with saucy tilt!
How lassies love athletic knees
Below the waggle of a kilt!

True, I just wear one in my mind,
Since sent to school by Celtic aunts,
When girls would flip it up behind,
Until I begged for lowland pants.
But now none dare do that to me,
And so I sing with lyric lilt,--
How happier the world would be
If every male would wear a kilt!