Do-Overs, Mulligans, and Restarts — Let’s Take It From The Top

I spent a pretty good portion of the day yesterday combing through comments posted to the blog.  Considering I’ve been out of the ring for a couple months, due to the Bad Situation and its ongoing effects, there were more than a few of them.  Over a thousand, in fact.  And most of them were autogenerated come-ons for various websites selling — well, here’s a very partial list:

replica handbags, knockoff handbags, michael kors, levitra, viagra, retin a, clarisonic, soma, parajumpers, strattera, propecia, nike, kamagra, bose, dr dre, montblanc, seo, burberry, bose, and apparently Michael Jordan.

It was pretty clear pretty fast that my filters really needed fixing, but I was unwilling to universal-wipe the comments just in case there was some gem buried in there.  (For the impatient types, there wasn’t).  Accordingly, I was able to experience the full spectrum of Interwebs barker teases, which kept raising unanswerable questions in my head as I scrolled through. Most were fairly innocuous:  If soma is a drug, how do you make a bra out of it? Who is Karen Mullen and why is her coat so important — does it make you invisible or something? Is she here standing behind me, transparent, right now? What on earth is a “parajumper” and why do I need one? Do I get a base jumper for half off if I buy it?  Is everyone on earth selling “replica” handbags except me, and if so, how did I miss the memo?

Others were a bit more disturbing — such as the website that asked, “Does Viagra work on dogs?”  or the one that promised in English not just broken but annihilated that I’d become a “supercharged dildo” if I used their SEO scripting.

I finished the job and fixed the filters (again) and then, hoping for some lighthearted entertainment, moved over to my favorite vice: the U.K.’s best rag, also known as the Daily Mail.  There, I learned about various family murders, a guy too dumb to turn off his truck when the tailpipe got buried in mud, more than enough about Kim Kardashian’s sartorial choices, and the news that a cute young woman had just received a $500,000 advance to write a book about her life buying drugs, taking drugs, having sex for drugs, and writing magazine pieces about all of the above plus some comments about makeup.

I had the John Cleese moment in “A Fish Called Wanda” — the courtroom scene where he says, “Right, that’s it” — and went outside into the back garden, wishing that life had a “Reset” button.

Well, sometimes it does.  As Robert Orben remarked,

Spring is God’s way of saying, ‘One more time!’


Chamomile and chives. I’m pretty sure that pot was empty before winter.

Instead of my usual manic winter cleanup last year, I’d decided to let the various containers, pots and the side bed do as they would without any interference.  And sure, I found a tangled mess of dead tomatoes and peppers, a marjoram that looked like it committed seppoku, and what I think are three-foot-tall dandelions in the side bed.  They’re either dandelions or they’re triffids, and I have no more bandwidth to worry.

The Brave Little Valerian x 4


But I also found that the Brave Little Valerian had not only survived me ripping it up last fall, chopping off its roots, and cutting its root crown into four pieces before replanting — but that all four of them were thriving.



The passifloras, both Big Fred and the Little Guy The Butterflies Gnaw Down To A Stick During The Summer, had also pulled through.

Passiflora edulis “Frederick,” a.k.a. “Big Fred”


Fred seems to have forgotten that he is supposed to be a “vine,” the kind of plant that climbs things, and settled into a comfortable couch potato position on the fence.




The side bed was a jungle.  I’d sown calendula seeds at random right before the rains set in, simply out of curiosity as to what they would do.  I found, amidst the three-foot-“dandelions” mentioned above,

Calendulas, an official Really Useful Plant

a riot of blossoms that I immediately started cutting and drying. (Calendula has an herbalist and culinary history since the Middle Ages. King Henry VIII insisted that his food be brightly colored and his cooks used Calendula for bright orange and yellow shades.  According to ancient and modern herbalists, it’s also a superb treatment for skin conditions, burns, bruises, and strains, and has applications for gastrointestinal disturbances as well).  But it wasn’t just the calendulas that had taken advantage of my benign neglect.

Golden lemon thyme, lime thyme, Faustino thyme, yarrow, and one determined strawberry plant



The various thymes had run riot, the yarrow was exploding, and a strawberry plant that had appeared really, truly, and seriously dead for months had resurrected itself.



Even better, the lemon verbena had come roaring back after my perhaps too-enthusiastic harvesting last fall.

A very forgiving lemon verbena.


(Lemon verbena makes a fantastic tea all by itself, adds terrific flavor other less appealing medicinal teas, and can convince almost anyone to eat their vegetables when added as a delicate seasoning, either fresh or dried.)



And much to my delight, my lavenders had survived.  I’ve had about as much luck with lavenders as I had in the past with passifloras — I’d plant them, they’d flourish for a while, and then they’d curl up and die overnight.  Less water, more water, less sun, more sun, feed them, don’t; nothing I did seemed to make any difference.  But simply being left alone was more to their taste.

Lavendula augustifolia “Hidcote” — English lavender.

There’s also another one, planted next to an aloe that also seems to have pulled through pretty well.

C’mon, little fella! You can do it!

It’s a smaller varietal which, unfortunately, I seem to have forgotten the name of, though its flowers last year had a lovely, rich, deep scent that a lot of lavenders don’t possess. (A lot of them have that cutting, acrid, headachy sweetness that smells like Grandma’s wardrobe).  It’s looking a little punky right now, but I hope the spring will inspire it as it has its companion.

It takes a lot of stress and awfulness to make someone like me ignore a garden for months.  But you’d think I would have learned from something I posted myself a while ago — sometimes, it’s not a disaster to step back, take a breath, and leave things alone for a while.  There might just be a “Start Over” coming down the road.




Tea Alchemy

One of the more frustrating aspects of modern life is the rapid rise of the Syndrome:  a physical condition that causes its sufferers obvious distress, but can’t quite be nailed down by the docs in terms of causes or even detectable problems with body tissues.  Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome are examples.  Something’s wrong, but nobody’s really sure what’s causing it, and without long-term and expensive research even the most responsible doctors might as well be throwing darts in the dark.  In a good-faith attempt to help their patients, doctors prescribe drugs “off-label” and recommend “exercise” for virtually anything that they’re stumped by (“exercise” including your hoped-for immediate and sprightly departure into their parking lot).  And into the void rush the hucksters.  You know who they are — they’re putting up little advertising squares about “neat tricks” and “amazing fruits” on the side banner of every browser.

Enter herbal alchemy.  For various reasons both justified and unjustified, herbalism doesn’t have much better of a reputation than the snake-oil salesmen out there.  If you’re going to try it out of sheer frustration with the lack of conventional options, you should be cautious;  it requires some intelligent and focused research so you don’t poison yourself by accident.  This research is available, fortunately, because our knowledge about plant elements has advanced since the Middle Ages and the herb-women.  Some countries have produced reliable, reproducible information on the use of herbs for medical conditions (I’m thinking about you, Germany’s Commission E).  So as a person with gut problems existing since her teenage years, an anachronistic interest in medieval herbal medicine combined with the power of the Interwebs, and having the advantage of an extensive herb garden, I thought I’d try to make a tea.

Eye of newt, and toe of frog, Wool of bat, and tongue of dog, Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting, Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing. Well no, not really.

Each one of the herbs I chose for the gut-calming tea mix has an anecdotal history — sometimes stretching back centuries — for easing digestive problems.  On the top left are California poppy and valerian; next over are yarrow flowers; directly below are borage flowers and lemon balm (also known as bee balm); and then there are the heavy hitters:  chamomile in the black cup and fennel seeds strewn beneath it.  I included lavender blooms (in the center) and rose petals (with the fennel) because while they do have some evidence for calmative properties, they also might make the tea a little more attractive taste-wise.

I grew and dried each one of these ingredients, so I know where they came from and how they were handled and stored. I also investigated each herb to determine if there was any reason why I shouldn’t use it.  Here I will invoke the august Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs again, as I will probably do until the day I die: nobody should fool around with non-culinary herbs, internally or externally, until they’ve read its section on “A Sampling of Dangerous Herbs” and preferably memorized it. And even then, no herb should be used until it has been researched exhaustively for application only on yourself, and with a reality check from a Real Doctor.  We’re not talking about acute illnesses. We’re talking about those mysterious chronic situations where real medicine (and I am not using that phrase sarcastically)  isn’t offering any solutions or really any hope except “go home and exercise.”

These reality-based cautions aside, back to the tea.  Some folks who might be a little more informed about herbal medicine might ask about the valerian and California poppy.  They’re primarily known for a mild and non-addictive sedative action, not smooth-muscle gut activity, though there is some limited evidence for the latter.  I chose to include them in the tea mix because of something I read many, many years ago.  It’s a story told by James Herriot, the Yorkshire veterinarian who became famous for his book called “All Creatures Great and Small.”  While my summary is not short, it explains my reasoning.

Dr. Herriot was called to the farm of a particularly cruel and stupid man who had botched a problematic birth of one of his sheep, and then abandoned her, suffering,  in a corner of the barn to “take her chance.”  Dr. Herriot was appalled, though the sheep was not the patient he was called out to tend.  As he wrote, “I tried not to think what lay in front of her.  Soon I would drive off and see other cases, then I would have lunch and start my afternoon round while hidden in this cheerful place a helpless animal was gasping her life away. How long would it take her to die? A day? Two days.”

Without the knowledge of the farmer, Dr. Herriot injected the sheep with enough nembutal to kill a small horse.  A few days later, he was called back to the farm to attend his original patient.  In the field outside the barn, he was astounded to see the sheep he thought he had euthanized.  When he tried to catch her, she nimbly evaded him and thundered away.

Let me quote Dr. Herriot at length now:

And as I walked back up the field a message was tapping in my brain.  I had discovered something, discovered something by accident. That ewe’s life had been saved not by medicinal therapy but simply by stopping her pain and allowing nature to do its own job of healing.  It was a lesson I have never forgotten; that animals confronted with severe continuous pain and the terror and the shock that goes with it will often retreat even into death, and if you can remove that pain amazing things can happen.  It is difficult to explain rationally but I know that it is so.


Humans are animals too, and I thought I might apply this insight to a condition that can sometimes produce violent and debilitating pain and fear.  Thus, the poppy and the valerian in the tea.

And here it is, mixed:

After all that fuss.

I’ll report back on how it works, or doesn’t.  Alchemy of any sort is innately unpredictable.