Back On the Shelf!

You know that line in one of the Sex and the City movies, where Carrie declares that she’s been “Cheating on fashion with furniture?” Well, I also have a declaration. I’ve been cheating on reading with plants. *GASP*

Plants, you ask? You, Rachel? Who consistently kills everything green?

Ouch. But, yes. I am on a kick this year to finally realize my dream of having a garden–multiple gardens!–in which I will plant, raise, and harvest vegetables, herbs, flowers, fiber and dye plants, and potentially even a Venus fly trap or two. What kicked off this kick? Well, first, grocery prices. Second, again, this has been something I’ve always wanted to do, but had an inner block about. I’ve always wanted to have the knowledge, ability, and wisdom to use herbs for medicine and health, to grow and eat vegetables fresh from the garden (and save some of the harvest for the long winter months), as well as to grow beautiful flowers and have green spaces in which to sit and create.

This year, I’ve realized, I’m not getting any younger, and so I subscribed to a half a dozen gardening, herbalism, and green/plant witch podcasts, bought a bunch of books on herbalism, gardening, and the like, picked up a bunch of garden stuff like soil and fabric pots and seeds and plants, and got started on learning how to do this stuff. Part of this process was something that one of the podcasts (I forget which, I think it might have been The Backyard Gardens) pointed out–namely, not every plant is going to make it, even for the experienced gardeners, so you shouldn’t be afraid to try different things and find out what works for your available garden space, soil, time, and skill.

Another thing that I realized was that I had always thought about wanting to know more about my family tree and history. I grew up listening to all of these family stories, learning about my dad and mom and grandparents, as well as the family lore, folk remedies, and other bits of wisdom sprinkled throughout the conversations. (For example, I told my mom that I was planting elderberries, and that I read that the berries could upset your stomach. She told me she used to eat tons of them right off the tree–oh, and that one time, she got in a patch of poison ivy (my mom is SUPER allergic to poison ivy) and when she got back home, she mashed up the berries and put them on her skin where she was exposed, and the only bit of poison ivy that was reactive was a thin strip where she missed with the berries.

So, I decided that this year, I am going to begin collecting the family lore. I picked up 23andme kits for me and my spouse, I am going to grab a copy of Dragon (because there’s no way I will transcribe all of the interviews I plan on doing), and I am going to be putting together the Brune-Coombs Circus and Traveling Menagerie Family Archive, Library, and Curiousities. (I’m workshopping the name, let me know what you think.)

With that bit of an introduction, here are the books I finished up in the past week (or two…) Also, you may notice that not all of the links here will take you to Amazon. As much as I love the ease of ordering from the ‘Zon, I’m trying to be a little more intentional about my consuming, and so I’m trying to list either the link directly to the author’s site, or another such as Bookshop.org. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

an old basset hound standing in the sun next to a greenhouse with a citronella plant in the foreground slightly out of focus
I startled Captain, who has taken to napping in and around the new greenhouse. I think he likes the heat for his old bones.

Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel by Lisa Cron
I’m currently in my first of three thesis classes for my MFA from SNHU, which are the last three classes I need for my degree. This semester, I’m buckling down to write 25,000 words, the first 11,3000 I turned in on Sunday. For our assigned reading, we got this book, which I had read a year or so ago, but which I decided to read all the way through again. I’m glad I did. This is one of those craft books that, as I go through it, sparks and spurs all kinds of ideas and helps my brain connect a bunch of creative ideas for books that I’m writing (or planning.) In this last read-through, I pulled out some great notes for my thesis project, as well as some ideas for my horror novel, that I think will really help to make that project better than what I’ve written previously. I mean, I hope to improve with everything I write, and this is one of those books that will help you do that. Next, I’m going to try to look up Cron’s Wired for Story, as that seems like it will also be a good craft book to check out.

Backwoods Witchcraft: Conjure Folk Magic from Appalachia by Jake Richards
I’ve got a few books in the planning phases that deal with folk magic and getting back to herbal remedies, and that, plus an interest in history and witchcraft, led me to this book. It is fantastic! Jake Richards practices Appalachian folk magic, and he leads the reader through a seamless narrative of history of family and place, conjuring, folk magic and remedies, and even some “how-to’s” — his stated objective is to record these histories, remedies, and workings so that they will not be forgotten. (This is probably where the catalyst to buckle down and start working on my own family history came from, now that I think about it.) Whether you’re interested in the conjuring or just looking for an interesting read, I recommend this book.

The Green Witch’s Grimoire: Your Complete Guide to Creating Your Own Book of Natural Magic by Arin Murphy-Hiscock
Can I just say that I really love how these books are packaged and presented? I love the cloth-bound hardcover, the green theme, the layout and formatting … I won’t lie, that’s probably a large part of why I’m obsessed with Arin Murphy-Hiscock’s books. This one, I particularly enjoyed, because even though I’m more of what you might call an “EpiscoPagan” (sticking with my monotheistic roots but super into meditation, plants, celebrating the seasons of the year, candles and mason jars, etc.), I thought there were some interesting ideas of how to set up a journaling practice. Will I call it a grimoire? Maybe, I don’t know. But do I have a dream journal, a plant and meditation journal, and now, soon, a journal to collect recipes, family/folk remedies, family lore, and my own herbal recipes? Why, yes. This book helped me come up with some ideas of how to organize a journaling practice, and that has been helping me to start focusing on putting my thoughts in my creative work and less into my social media (and THAT has helped with my mental state, let me tell you.) If you are interested in this sort of thing, I recommend picking up a copy (it’s also on Kindle Unlimited, if you have a subscription, but again, the tactile aspect of reading this book was, for me, super enjoyable.)

Practical Herbal Medicine Handbook: Your Quick Reference Guide to Healing Herbs & Remedies by Althea Press
I found this, as the title promises, to be a good “quick reference.” There is a quick overview of herbal medicine, a quick overview of the different types of herbal remedies (liniments, infusions, etc.), a quick overview of many herbs and what they treat, and a quick overview of remedies and their suggested cures, broken down by category. If you are looking for something to try for, say, getting to sleep, then you can flip to, say, the lavender-chamomile sleep balm for a recipe that could help. One of the things I found in this book, though, was that many of those recipes called for using an essential oil instead of the actual plant, and I’m looking to use the plants I am growing, so I found that less useful. The other thing was, for example, the book talked about making lozenges, and some of the tips for making lozenges and TOOLS for making lozenges … but was there a lozenge recipe that one could try? No, there was not. Like I said, this is a handy reference guide, but for what I’m trying to look into, it’s not a one-stop shop for finding things to help sore throats or dry skin. It’s a great book to keep on the shelf next to, say, Homegrown Herbs by Tammi Hartung. I may also end up giving it away if someone comes over who is interested in getting started with herbalism and wants a quick guide to what it’s about before they dive in deeper.

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