Off we go (again)!

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This is a story about an epic family trip, but it is also a story about decision making and following my heart.

Some of you may recall that almost two years ago (and on something of a whim) I quit drinking alcohol. I wasn’t sure if I was pausing, quitting, or simply recentering, but it felt right in the moment, wherever it might lead.

This experiment, if you will, was not rooted in a concern for alcoholism or empty calorie consumption, but rather a needed pivot my trajectory. I enjoyed my daily red wine to a fault, I suppose, and wanted to refocus on what I desired in life more than the relaxation I felt when I enjoyed my evening glass (okay,  two) of red.

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It was a decision I made for three reasons: health, modeling, and budget.

Health

I wanted to treat my body and my mind better than I had been. I worried that alcohol was bad for me, for my liver, for my nervous system. And I was right. I’ve felt great since I stopped. More hydrated, more rested, less stressed. I also have a family history of alcoholism, so daily drinking was something of a dice roll with fate. I didn’t want to risk it.

Modeling

More importantly to me, I didn’t want to model daily drinking to my kids. With a pre-teen and a teenager, it seemed like a poor choice to model alcohol consumption as a daily part of a healthy life. (In honesty, they didn’t even notice when I quit until I told them, two weeks in. But it still felt good to model better choices.)

Budget

And finally, I wanted to stop my own hypocrisy of telling my kids we “couldn’t afford” things, while Pete and I slowly leaked our family’s spending money into bottles of red wine and 6-packs of fancy beer. We figured $50 a week was a generous average of what we were spending, which is a lot of money for us.

So together, Pete and I decided to pull back. And every week that neither of us had a drink, we would put that generous $50 in a mason jar instead of pouring it into our mug and glass.

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And it added up with surprising speed. Frightening speed, really, when we consider how many years daily wine and beer was our norm.

If we don’t resume drinking again between now and Winter Solstice, we will have saved over $5,500 by making this one, small change in our lives.

What. The. Heck.

It’s hard to believe, really, how easy it was, and how fast it added up.

And so, logically, I wanted to do something really special with this surprise windfall. We wanted to celebrate our better choices with a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Like, say, going back to Ireland for another month.

And so, why not? We are. 

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Back to Ireland for a second September. From Dublin to the Magic Road, Dingle to Malin Head.

We’ll return to many of our favorite places, and explore some new areas (and time periods in Irish history) as we work our way around the country once more.

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Except I accidentally stretched our month into nearly six weeks.

Including one week with friends in Iceland.

Whoops.

Needless to say, we’re delighted. (And also a touch overwhelmed as we prepare our home, business, and lives for this epic journey.)

We depart in just over a week.

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We have friends and farm-sitters to hold down the homestead and care for our pets, and an amazing team at LüSa to keep our business humming along smoothly in our absence. We’ll continue to work while we’re on the road, carving out time in the evenings and early mornings to tend to emails, marketing, newsletters, and the like.

What a privilege to have this freedom. To travel; to travel with our kids during what most think of as the school year; to be able to pull something like this off despite the thrift-store level budget that we live with.

It feels like something of a magic trick that we can swing it.

And how grateful we are for this team of kind souls at home and at work, who are making this trip a reality for us.

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Why do we travel–and for such extended periods of time?

Because we want to savor.

Savor childhood, savor family, savor homeschooling.

Savor life.

Drink deeply of this fleeting moment while we have the chance.

Because today, my almost 17 year old and 12 year old still want to homeschool. They still want to spend their days, hanging out as a family. And I love that. So hanging out with a family in Ireland and Iceland? Well, that sounds downright spectacular.

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I’ll happily share postcards from the road here on the blog throughout our travels, and–with a bit more frequency–over on my @lusa_mama Instagram account. I hope you’ll follow along!

If you’re from Ireland or Northern Ireland and have suggestions of things we won’t want to miss, we’re all ears. We’re especially interested in ancient Ireland, Celtic sacred sites, and other Pagan or earth-centered sacred places on the Emerald Isle.

Until then, Slán go fóill! 

We’ll see you in Ireland, friends.

 

Love,

Rachel

 

P.S. This is the second time we will have flown in the past 17 years. But I don’t think the rarity of our air travel should cause us to ignore it’s environmental implications. We’re attempting to offset our carbon footprint by planting a grove of trees upon our return. I don’t know if or when we’ll fly again (on account of climate change), but tree planting for this reason felt like a small way we could do something to mitigate the impact our trip will cause. We’ll also be picking up litter throughout our trip (as we always do when traveling, or exploring close to home) in hopes of leaving the places we love a bit more beautiful for our having been there. Do you offset your carbon footprint when you travel? If so, we’d love to hear how. 

Be here, now.

He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “If I can give you one piece of advice in life it’s this: play with your kids. Get down on the ground, push them in the swing, run around in the yard. Because one minute you’re down on the floor, roaring like a dinosaur, and the next minute they’re grown and gone. And it happens in an instant. So just be sure you enjoy them.”

I never forgot.

Read the rest of my newest post–on presence and parenthood–over on Happy, Healthy Family, the LüSa Organics blog.

You can find it here.

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Call to action, call to peace

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When your heart is heavy from the news of the day, breaking with grief for things you fear you can not change, pause. Breathe. Be.

Log out of social media. Shut off your phone or close your laptop. Make yourself some tea.

Then step outside and find something–anything–that is still right with the world. A bumble bee, drunk on nectar in your flower bed; a monarch dancing on the wind; a wildflower weed, pushing it’s way through a crack in the sidewalk.

Don’t overthink it with your worried mind, spinning off into the troubles that you perceive in this moment of soft perfection. Just observe, and let it be right. 

Watch the sunset, listen to the birds. And know that the Earth is resilient and will–in her own ways–survive the trauma of our existence.

Then head back inside and do your work.

Pick up the phone and call your representatives. It’s hard, I know. But do it anyway. Call about immigration, ICE, asylum seekers. Call about gun control, climate change, white supremacy. Call about all the things that are making you feel powerless or angry or terrified.

Or write a few emails if that’s something you can follow-through on. Or show up at a city board meeting. Anything. But do something that reaches further than your Facebook page. Because it matters. Now more than ever.

Take action and raise your voice for those who are silenced. Especially if you have privilege. Especially if you have never been targeted or marginalized or profiled because of your race, sexual identity, gender, or religion. Stand up for anyone being “othered” and do it today.

It’s vital. Your voice is needed. Don’t look away.

Then go back outside, find another butterfly, and breathe.

You’re helping, and you’re breathing. You’re finding beauty, and you’re doing the hard work. Keep it up. We need you.

Together we can change the world.

Don’t give up.

 

This is a handy resource to help you contact your representatives. 

 

The things that we gather

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There is an intimacy that comes from harvesting your own.

And intimacy of life, of death, of healing.

This feels like a contradiction at first glance, but truly, these three are inextricably interwoven.

The fact that we harvest a life when we pick even a single bloom is evident if you pause to notice, cupping the still warm harvest in your hands. To be present to what we are taking as we reach into a field of flowers or a garden of greens and pick. It changes our hearts… so different than the task of of filling a basket at the grocery store with sterile, plastic-wrapped fruits and blooms.

Whether cucumbers from the garden, flowers from a pot on the porch, or wild food and medicine from the hills beyond your door, we connect deeply with that which we gather.

Because what a thing it is that we are taking! A bloom, a handful of seeds, a life. It takes life to give life, indeed, and I strive never to forget that as I move through my daily food and medicine preparations and consumption.

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This weekend, Lupine and I wandered to the neighbor’s to forage one of our most beloved wild things, monarda (Monarda fistulosa). Also called wild bee balm, its fragrance is weaving through our hillsides these days, and the roadsides are alive with bees drunk on nectar and swaths of lavender blooms.

We love bee balm for sore throats, chills, tooth pain, and colds. Truly, I don’t know where we’d be without it. It’s a plant that called me to her years ago, with a summer sore throat. I was soothed, and instantly connected to this July beauty.

Monarda is one of my top three winter remedies (alongside elderberry elixir and elecampane syrup) for cold and flu season, and even this week a bottle was in daily use as a sore throat worked its way through our family. (It’s one of the ten plants I feature in my book, Herbal Adventures.)

But that’s the practical side of monarda. Today I’m musing about energetics.

I’m thinking more deeply about the connections we are so hungry for in our culture. Connection that we can find, just beyond our door.

In a neighbor, a friend, or a field full of wildflowers.

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In western culture, we are starving for depth and connection. In a world of soundbites, social media comments, and isolation, we are hungry for intimacy, depth and meaning. And while there is no substitution for the real, warm, human connection, we also need nature.

We need earth medicine. Perhaps now more than ever.

And so everyday I step outside. In town, I look above the buildings to the birds winging overhead, and the tree branches dancing in the wind. And out here, where the wild things grow, I take my basket and set out to see what unfolds.

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An I find what I’m seeking–always. It’s just not always what I expected to gather into my arms.

Some days when I return home my basket is empty, but always my heart is full. Other days (like this weekend) we come back with both–a full basket, and a full and peaceful heart. And a deeper intimacy with myself, the plants, and the planet.

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Back home, as we processed our monarda harvest, the scent of our home was intoxicating. Our hands smelled of bee balm, our hair smelled of bee balm, our kitchen and hallway and bedrooms were electric with the scent.

The spicy, pungent medicine was already working, spinning its magic throughout our nest.

The lives that we gathered were becoming a part of us.

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And I wondered… could this connection be so rich if these herbs arrived via post, packed plastic and paper and cardboard? Perhaps, but for me, stepping out and gathering my own makes me careful to not waste even one bloom.

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How fortunate we are to have medicine growing right beyond our door.

The truth, of course, is that you do, too. From the central city to a family farm, shiny downtowns to the endless lawns of the suburbs: the medicine is there, just waiting for you to notice. It might be something you harvest with your hands, or perhaps only with your heart. Keep looking. You’ll find it.

As a teenager I still recall the sunflower that I watched over the course of the summer sprout, grow, and bloom on my daily commute between work and home, springing from a crack in the concrete on an exit ramp in the heart of Milwaukee.

I didn’t need to harvest that bloom to take in it’s magic.

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What magic is blooming around you? Can you feel it? Smell it? See it? Take a moment today to find deeper connections, and to feel a few of the cracked pieces of you begin to heal.

Community does that, the plants do that, the earth does that.

They help us feel connection and intimacy. And all of it is free.

How fortunate we all are to share in that healing.

1, 2, 3, 11!

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When the kids were small we were down here nearly every day. Wading, swimming, foraging. But as they’ve grown, it’s harder to find the time.

Lupine has been down to the creek swimming with friends a few times already this summer, but Sage and I have barely gotten our feet wet. So yesterday afternoon, when the lunch dishes were washed and the heat was still heavy in the air, we walked to the creek and jumped in.

“1, 2, 3, 11!” The inexplicable dunking call that we have shared since they were young was shouted by all, and under I went. So cold! The spring-fed creek water took my breath away, and our laughter (and my screams) echoed against the hills.

When they are grown, will I wander here alone and whisper “1, 2, 3, 11” before slipping beneath the surface on the hottest summer days? Or will my iced dunking days be over, memories tucked into my heart alongside cosleeping, breastfeeding, and babywearing? A chapter fondly recalled, but long past.

Truly, I hope I never quit. This painfully cold dunk each July helps keep me alive (in body and in spirit). It jolts me from the mundane and roots me firmly where I belong: here, with my feet in the mud and my face grinning up at the sun.

It’s a baptism into the waters of home; my sanctuary, my sacred place. It is my meditation, my joy, and my song.

This creek runs through all of us, and binds us to this place and to each other. How lucky we truly are.

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Postcard 6: Sweet Maine

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The final leg of our trip was perhaps the most eagerly anticipated: Maine.

The kids and I took a previous roadschooling trip there 2 1/2 years ago, and they’ve longed to return ever since. I’m not sure when a place has spoken so deeply to them as did Maine (excepting the western coast of Ireland).

Acadia: the moody Atlantic, the mossy forests, the stony wind-whipped shore.

We spent a brief few days there, but it refilled our cups and readied us for the long journey home. The persistent rain that arrived before our departure was just the encouragement we needed to pack up the tent and begin our journey home.

But first, one final detour.

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Before leaving Maine, we headed to the home of some friends, and spent two days with Amanda, Steve, and their sweet family–resting, swimming, and recharging for the journey ahead.

Our visit was crowned with an authentic Maine lobster dinner, a certain highlight of the 3 1/2 week journey. (Amanda snapped the photo above before I managed to splatter my glasses, face, and shirt with lobster bits. I’m a class act, I tell you.)

They were such gracious hosts, and took good care of us before our long journey home.

And then we were off! Three long days pushing back across Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and the rest of the mid-east, until we were held in the arms of these green hills once more.

Wisconsin. The Driftless.

Home.

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How delicious it is, to be back in the familiar embrace of of home once more. The comfort of our cozy (cramped, chaotic) house; the familiar feel of favorite tea cups and worn wooden spoons; our suddenly green and overgrown landscape; our riotous overflowing garden.

4,500 miles later, and there’s no place else we would rather be.

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Postcard 5: The International Herb Symposium

IMG_9235IMG_9206We spent last weekend at the International Herb Symposium in Norton, Massachusetts. The days were brimful with wonderful people, inspiring conversations, and more good juju than we’ve seen in a long while.

I attended a couple of herb walks, but mostly the kids and I were in our booth, talking about Herbal Adventures and LüSa Organics, and and connecting with herbalists from the world around.

Of special note: Rosemary Gladstar.

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Rosemary’s books were my very first introduction to herbalism some 16 or more years ago. They were warm and approachable and made me feel like herbs were something I could delve into and fall in love with.

So many have this experience with Rosemary’s work. She makes herbs accessible and approachable to everyone.

I came to the symposium in part to meet her and thank her for the glowing endorsement she gave my book, Herbal Adventures, a snippet of which appears on the cover. We emailed back and forth last year, and I was so encouraged and inspired by her kind words (an excerpt is below), that I wanted to thank her in person.

Herbal Adventures has everything I appreciate in a good herb book: sound practical information and great remedies and recipes, all enhanced by personal stories and insights. This may be my new favorite!

– Rosemary Gladstar, herbalist and author

The best part, however, was that Rosemary and Lupine were the ones who really connected, after Lupine attended a plant walk that Rosemary led on the second day of the symposium.

Lu chimed in a few times on the walk with observations and her own experiences, and Rosemary appreciated her so. At the end of the walk she gave Lupine some props as her “co-teacher” which was fairy dust upon this twelve year old’s hearts.

The next day, I attended a class with Rosemary (without Lupine this time), and she was talking about Lu to her students, in the context of the importance of raising the next generation with a love and knowledge of plants and herbalism.

Oh, my. So sweet.

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On the last day, we found Rosemary just before we left. I told her we wanted to say goodbye and capture a photograph, and she said, “I want a photo with Lupine!”

Of course she did.

And so did Lu.

Hearts full to overflowing, we’re on to the next destination. But we’ll be back to the International Herb Symposium, and for another Rosemary hug in the next few years. Of that we are certain.

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Postcard 4: return to the Atlantic

My kids have an inexplicable, undying love of the ocean. Not your basic, everyday love, but an exhale-deeply-and-sink-into-the-sand love of sea. It’s hard to fathom they’re lifelong Wisconsinites, but perhaps that’s part of the magic.

They adore the sea. And I adore watching them there.

So when we rolled into Cape Cod last week, I was ready to chill out at the wooded campground, nesting and settling in, but they needed the beach. So we set up camp in a hurry, then found the nearest stretch of salt and sand.

The water was cold (yes!), but there were swimming, splashing seals and diving birds and so much magic to behold.

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After a couple of days exploring the cape and playing in the cold Atlantic, we headed up to Plymouth Plantation.

We wandered slowly through the Wampanoag village, then wound our way through the European settlement at Plymouth. As always on this trip, each piece of information or new-to-us perspective sparked meaningful conversations and further research to take on at home.

I was captivated most by the medicinal herbs at Plymouth, and we all enjoyed the perspectives and thoughts shared in both the native village and the English settlement.

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The learning never ends on a trip like this.

One burst of curiosity sparks a deep dive into further questions and research, and we’re off down another rabbit hole–whether about heritage livestock breeds, medicinal herbs, or cob oven designs.

How grateful I am to walk this path with my kids, all of us learning as we go along.

 

Postcard 3: Vermont

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After the lovely Finger Lakes Region of New York State, we veered north and headed into Vermont.

As torrents of rain were in the forecast, we ditched our camping plans spent a couple of days at an Air B&B in the mountains. The rain didn’t pan out and I had non-camping guilt, but it was lovely to have some space to stretch out and I decided to let it go. We unhitched our bikes and did some riding, and explored a few rivers with bare feet in the cold, mountain water.

To all of us, Vermont was reminiscent of the forests of Northern Wisconsin overlaid on the landscape and community of the Driftless. It feels like home. And we exhaled.

From the mountains in the south we traveled northward to visit with some dear friends we haven’t seen for a couple of years. We spent a week with them on our last eastward journey 2 1/2 years ago, and we were looking forward to some time together again–for spoon carving, for coffee drinking, for laughter and conversation.

They delivered all of that and more (of course).

As the icing on the cake, on our last day, we piled in the van and they took us to Bread and Puppet. Such a feast for the senses, the heart, and the mind!

Here’s a tiny sliver of all that we saw…

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If you haven’t heard of Bread and Puppet, here is founder Peter’s own words. (Peter, pictured above, founded Bread and Puppet in 1963 and is still at the helm.)

“We are the Bread & Puppet Theater because we offer good old sourdough rye bread together with a great variety of puppetshows, some good, some not so good, but all for the good and against the bad. The art of puppetry helps women, men and children alike to overcome the established order and the obsessive submission to its politics and consequent brutalities.”

–Peter Schumann

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The performances were unapologetic, pointed, and timely. Some were humorous, others thought-provoking and most were politically sharp. They opened doors to many conversations with my kids in the following days about current immigration policies, consumerism, political action, civil disobedience, and the power of the people.

I was grateful for the opportunity to attend, and have my mind widened and heart opened just that much more.

And now, we’re bound for points further south. To the Atlantic! And to the International Herb Symposium in Norton, MA.

Perhaps I will see a few of you there? Be sure to swing by my booth and say hello. I’ll have be signing books, selling soap, and enjoying the beautiful company of this sure to be lovely event.

See you soon, dear ones!

Postcard 2: history lessons

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We spent much of yesterday at the New York State Equal Rights Heritage Center and the Harriet Tubman Home, both in Auburn, NY.

We journeyed through many layers of America’s mixed past: an often brutal, sometimes triumphant, messy mix of shame and victory.

We dug into the history of slavery in the United States, and reflected on how 14 of the 21 “founding fathers” were slaveholders themselves. What does that say about our history as a country? And how does it feel as a descendent of enslaved people to see their faces on the currency in your wallet each and every day?

We explored the steps that led to abolition, and the brutal back-slide our government took with Convict Leasing, which was another iteration of slavery after its abolition at the end of the Civil War.

We dug into Jim Crow Laws, voter disenfranchisement, and gerrymandering which ensured the continuation of whites holding power throughout the 1960s and even through today.

And we explored the history of suffrage, the women’s rights movement, and the many battles for equal rights for BIPOCS and LGBTQ community.

All battles that are ongoing even today.

We were befriended by a bright, fascinating woman named Lois who was also visiting the museums yesterday. A retired physicist and historian, she described her experiences as a Freedom Rider in the 1960’s, registering voters throughout the south.

Listening to her stories, and reflecting on how recent our country’s legacy of slavery and systematic oppression really is, we reflected on how even today people of color navigate a very different world as Americans than whites do.

And we reflected on how very far we have yet to go.

I kept seeing parallels. From convict leasing to the school-to-prison pipeline. From segregation to the longterm impact of redlining. (If you don’t know what redlining is, this video lays it out clearly, and explains the ongoing, snowballing impact. My kids and I have watched it several times.) From women’s rights marches in the 1900’s to the women’s rights marches today.

We keep looping, doubling back. Demanding the same rights, fighting the same fights, walking in the footprints of our mothers, our grandmothers, our great grandmothers.

And I felt more than ever how important it is as people with privilege to have these conversations. With our parents, with our kids, with our friends and our neighbors. To talk about racism, to talk about equality, to talk about what we can each do to make this country a better place for everyone.

Because goodness knows it’s time.

The only way to dismantle oppression is to look it in the eye. To speak up in the face of injustice. To listen with an open heart to what someone else’s experience is.

“Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it is not a problem for you personally.” 

Want to learn even more? Great! Me, too. Let’s dig in.

The podcast Seeing White is a great place to peel back the layers on America and race. I’m currently listening and it’s perspective shifting.

Author Layla Saad recently published a powerful 28-day challenge that will soon be a book. White Supremacy and Me (afflink) is a must read for white people who are striving to do better and to be a force for positive change in the world.

White Fragility (afflink) is on my book list for this summer. I hope you’ll read it, too.