When Sage was turning one (some two decades ago), we wrapped him up in Pete’s leather jacket, propped him on the couch, and took a photo of him.
Each year on his birthday we’d repeat this tradition with the same coat, building a collection of 18 photos of him growing from baby into man–slowly, slowly, until the jacket finally fit.
It’s a strange tradition (to be sure) but it’s our strange tradition. And I’m so glad.
We might not have baby books or beautifully organized photo albums, but we have these.
When Lupine was born some four years after her brother, we knew which jacket she’d wear for the same tradition: a fringed buckskin coat that had belonged to my grandma. Her mother’s mother’s mother’s jacket. Yes, that felt right.
Though my Grandma Lee died when I was a young adult (long before Sage and Lupine were born), my kids know her through the stories, recipes, and knitting she left behind. And through one fabulous, handmade leather jacket.
And that’s how it happens that each fall (jackets–or jacket in hand) we head outside to take our photos.
This year’s birthday/jacket photos mark Lupine’s 17th year joyfully taking these whimsical photos with me, one autumn after another.
And it’s our second-to-last time.
Here we are, inevitably approaching the end of this journey. And even though I knew it was coming, it’s still taking me by surprise.
It’s bittersweet this mothering business, and I’m holding on tight to my heart.
Because it’s quite unexpected somehow, that this one turns 17 today. (“Seventeen!” said in the voice of the Humbug from the Phantom Tollbooth). But I am here for it, this watching her grow. And what a joy and an honor it is to be her mom!
Lupine is my foraging buddy, my kitchen companion, my sewing-making-baking-photography-road tripping coconspirator. I adore spending time with her, with her big heart and her kindness and her gift for seeing beauty absolutely everywhere.
She inspires me daily, and it’s nothing short of a gift to get to walk this path by her side.
The very next morning after we took these photos, the last of the fall leaves were swept away in a wind, so we caught it just in time.
It’s a metaphor, I think:
Don’t wait. Because autumn and childhood won’t last.
Savor all you can.
Happy birthday, Lupine Bluebird. I’m so damn grateful you were born.
P.S. Just for fun, here are a few treasured jacket pictures of Lupine from years past… (I mean that gnome hat! Seriously.) You can also search “jacket pictures” in the search bar to see loads more, if you’re so inclined.
For years, each afternoon at 4:30 I’d pour myself a tiny glass of wine when I started cooking dinner.
As a homeschooling mom, it was a small signal I gave myself that the day (for the most part) was done. I was “off duty” and even though there was still a lot to attend to, we were done at least with the bulk of the busyness of the day.
As an easily overstimulated, highly-sensitive person, a glass of wine made me feel more calm when my nerves were jangled from so! much! kid energy! all day long. It numbed me out a bit and I felt less overwhelmed (at least by the second glass).
It was my external cue to breathe. To relax.
And it was a tiny little glass, so no big deal, I reasoned.
I’d refill it once (or maybe twice) while I cooked.
I’d fill it again before dinner and sometimes (though not always) during cleanup, so I never knew exactly how much I was drinking. A glass? Surely more. Maybe two? Two and a bit? I wasn’t sure and that was fine. I think I didn’t really want to know because then I’d worry.
But the math wasn’t difficult. I knew how long a bottle (or a box) lasted, and I could reverse-calculate how much I was drinking, despite my optimistically small glass.
And I knew it was too much, even if no one else thought it was.
And I worried about it. Quite often, actually. Was I drinking too much? Was this bad for me? Could I become addicted? We have a family history, after all, and it’s a brutal one.
And what was I normalizing for my kids? What if they someday drank like this, too?
And finally: how much money was I spending this way every year? I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
And the worries would loop, keeping me awake night after night. Though my anxiety spiraled, my behavior was consistend and year after year, and my small glass was always full (even if my internal cup was not).
And then one November, on a random Wednesday morning a few days before my daughter’s birthday, I woke up with a headache. And I laid in bed wondering, worrying: was it hormones, or stress? Or… malbec?
And I suppose simply because I was asking this question (again), and watching my kids growing up before my eyes with another birthday just around the bend, my worry loops accelerated. I so wanted a headache to just be a headache, not a red flag.
And laying there in bed that morning, my head throbbing, I knew that I wanted to finally be done.
Done worrying. Done doing harm to myself, Done throwing the dice on my family and my health. Done not knowing if it was a headache or a hangover.
And whether “done” meant a few days or a week or a month or forever, I had no idea (though honestly, a month sounded hard). I’d have to figure it out along the way. But I would start that very day.
I’m not great at moderation like other folks are. I’m all or nothing –in or out. And so I didn’t “cut back”. I quit. Without a plan or a vision, I went from daily drinking to not drinking at all. I poured the rest of my open wine bottle of red into a wide-mouth jar and threw in a splash of vinegar. Then it would be transformed into red wine vinegar for cooking and I wouldn’t be tempted. Would I regret it? Was this wasteful? Would I buy a new bottle the very next day? I didn’t know the answers as I poured, but leaned in to trusting my gut.
And with time, I would transform that half-bottle into something altogether different and more nourishing, and in doing so I would do the same with my life.
And I never looked back.
Today marks six years.
Six years of learning healthier ways to manage my overstimulation, anxiety, and stress. Six years of being more alive than I’ve been in ages. Six years of taking good care of my body, my brain, my liver, my gut, and my heart. Six years of better self-care.
Six years of life, lived wide awake–not half asleep.
Six years of loving and taking care of me.
And let’s not forget better sleep, less anxiety, and–yes–fewer headaches.
Growing up in Wisconsin, we normalized daily drinking. It’s Just What We Do Here. But damn. I have a long and tragic family history of alcoholism that took more than one life too soon and I didn’t want to throw those dice.
Nor did I want to normalize daily drinking to my kids.
Nor did I want to keep pouring so much money (of which we perpetually have not-quite-enough) into a glass.
Or keep doing harm to my body.
And so I quit.
And here we are.
Six years happier-healthier-wealthier-wiser. It was hands down the best decision I ever made, and I can’t imagine life any other way.
And, as it turns out, it wasn’t hard after all. (No, really!) I suffered far more in the drinking-and-worrying years than I have in the not-drinking years (by leagues). How ironic that I drank to quiet my anxiety only to give it to myself in spades through that very same action.
I had fantastic support during the first year (my husband Pete quit with me as well, until I felt sure-footed enough to carry on on my own). And while quitting for me was about rewiring a habit (not overcoming an addiction), it still felt like a big deal. And it still does today.
And I’m pretty darn proud of myself for going from drinking daily to not at all.
So why am I sharing this? Because in the years since I’ve quit, a few friends have reached out as they tentatively, cautiously, often privately embarked along this same sober path. It’s scary. And it can be lonely in a culture so enthusiastic about getting us drunk.
And whether those sober-curious friends looking for someone to witness the vastness of this leap or something more small and concrete like a few recipes for alcohol-free celebratory drinks, I want them (and you!) to know I’m here. I see you. And I believe in your strength to walk the path you so want to be on.
So if you’re looping in that all too familiar am-I-drinking-too-much? worry spiral, I just want you to know that I get it, I see you, and it is hard. And I also want you to know how lovely it is over here on the other side. And it’s not lonely at all. You’ve got this. I mean it.
In the thick of COVID’s first few months, I shared these words with you:
New plan. When we can safely travel again, you come to Ireland with me on an herbal retreat. We tour off-the-beaten-path stone circles and burial tombs; connect with and learn from local herbalists, storytellers, and organic farmers; forage wild things; plant some trees; hike to some magical mossy groves; and ground out deeply on the Emerald Isle. Who’s game for this plan? ( She asks, fully lost in the dream/fantasy realm…)
And your reaction was off the charts. You were feeling it, too, and shared my vision of what might be.
AND I COULDN’T SHAKE THIS DREAM.
Day and night it followed me, whispering in my ear. Of how life-changing it could be; how magical; how transformative.
So I set to work, breathing it into reality.
And this time last summer, I set off on the adventure of a lifetime with a small, intimate group of fellow travelers (and soon-to-be friends), as we journeyed the wild western coast of Ireland, connecting, resetting, and restoring ourselves on the land that called us.
Because we keep our trips intentionally small, our 2022 retreat filled quickly and many who wanted to join us were unable to.
Along with my co-hosts in Ireland, we decided to journey together once more in 2024, and are inviting you along for the journey of a lifetime!
This week next year, we will embark once more on a slow travel adventure around counties Clare and West Cork, far from the tourist trails. Together in the community vessel that we co-create, we’ll learn about ourselves, the earth, and one another; make herbal remedies and heart-felt magic, connect with the songs of the land, the trees, and our own souls.
Together we will pass through portals we’ve only imagined.
Within this small, sacred gathering we will have space to heal what is wounded, rediscover our voices, remember our truths, and hear the songs of the plants, the planet, and–for some of us–our ancestors as well.
Two dozen of us will journey together as we forge friendships and forage wild herbs; wander amongst ancient oaks and lush damp moss; taste freshly harvested seaweed, flowers, leaves, and fruits; make essences beneath the moon; meet artisans and learn their crafts; sing, dance, cry, laugh. We will root ourselves more deeply than we ever dreamed, with our backs resting against trees countless centuries our elders.
TOGETHER WE WILL ENCIRCLE PREHISTORIC STONE CIRCLES, SING SONGS OF GRATITUDE TO 500-YEAR-OLD HAWTHORNS, SHARE STORIES, AND DRINK DEEPLY FROM SACRED WELLS.
And you’re invited to join us.
Who is welcome on this journey? Anyone with a budding or blossoming interest in plants, herbalism, history, the sacred, and Ireland. Women, men, and non-binary folks are equally welcome, as are all races, spiritual beliefs, and backgrounds. Come alone or with a family member, partner, or friend.
The trip includes some moderate hikes on uneven ground (in whatever weather Ireland wishes to deliver) and is best suited for those comfortable with a moderate activity level. And while the programming is designed with adult participants in mind, mature, interested teens are welcome to attend along with a parent or guardian.
The retreat was pre-released to my mailing list earlier this summer and is already more than half-full! But a few early bird spots still remain, for those who are ready to say YES to this adventure.
Ready to learn more?Drop me an email today to request more details! I’ll add you to my retreat mailing list and send you a link to all the trip details including information about our itinerary, lodging, meals, and costs.
Don’t delay. The remaining spaces will fill fast, and as of today, we don’t have another Irealand retreat planned after this one.
Oh, hey. It’s been a minute. (Consistent? No. But here when inspiration strikes? Definitely.)
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what–from a career perspective–you might call ‘lost time’: the years I spent mothering and homeschooling 24/7.
I left my career as a naturalist and educator over two decades ago, when I was pregnant with my first child. I had mixed feeling about that at the time (who was I if not an environmental educator?), but we were committed to one of us staying home, and I drew the short straw. I brought in less money, so I was it.
Despite my reservations, motherhood suited me; grew on me. As my role as mama wove itself deep into my very being, the discomfort faded and disappeared. I settled in and found comfort here.
Mama became my first role and my first choice, not something secondary. It was a privilege that I learned to embrace, staying home with them day after day; year after year.
And today, I truly can’t imagine who I would be if I’d made a different choice.
But as it happens, they’re suddenly grown (or nearly so): 16 and teetering on the brink of 21. We’re still homeschooling, but not for long. That chapter of our life is in its final pages.
And I wonder: who am I now?
Where do I fit when this beautiful journey draws to a close?
This question is something I’ve been chewing on for the past half-decade, as I stretch and grow–almost imperceptibly–back toward myself.
As I find myself once more.
Much of me, it turns out, has hardly changed at all. My primary joy dwells exactly where it did when I was a scruffy fourth grade, with a bowl cut and bib overalls: in plants, in nature, and in my love of photography.
Does this resonate with you? Do you feel like you are who you’ve always been or are you just awakening to your essence now after a lifetime of searching?
For me at least, just like I was at 10 or 20 or 35, at 50 I’m still so damn enamored with plants. Herbalism and foraging specifically, but also plants and ecosystems and botany in general. Because: plants!
Nothing brings on my nerdy (offspring-annoying) teacher voice faster than plants.
And often these days I dream of making a proper career for myself again, sharing my love of plants, foraging, and herbalism with others.
* Enter imposter syndrome, stage left.*
Sure, I’ve written a book about foraging and herbalism and hosted half a dozen herbal retreats. But sometimes (lately) I feel anxious that I’ve lost so much time. Two decades is a long while to have stepped to the sidelines, books and retreats or otherwise. A really long time. There are qualified teachers out there who were toddlers when I stepped away from this career.
How could I ever catch up?
And I find myself fretting: if there are people half my age who know twice (thrice? exponentially?) more than me about wild foods and wild medicine, botany and ecology, is it too late for me? Have I lost too much time? Did I make a mistake?
I’m sharing this because I suspect I’m not the only one chewing on these uncomfortable possibilities as we move between life chapters.
And then I lovingly remind myself that that’s nonsense. If someone half my age knows twice as much as me, imagine what I can learn and absorb in the next decade! The sky is the limit! And mothering taught me things that two decades in my career never could.
Like how to surrender and let things unfold as they will without hurrying, pushing, or forcing. Like how to be patient and go slow; how to drop my agenda and let life effortlessly unfold.
Parenting has taught me how to move through frustration with grace and love, and how to find magic and beauty in the chaos. I’ve learned how to forgive (mainly myself), and how to grow, evolve, and learn alongside my kids.
I’ve remembered how to explore and adventure; how to listen and trust; and how to be present and play.
And I’ve discovered how to love and trust more deeply than I’ve ever could have dreamed.
These are lessons I found only here, outside of my career and knee-deep in motherhood.
Sure, I’ve lost a few years of ‘career growth’ along the way, but fuck it. There’s more to life than work or career.
And today, I’m more inspired than ever to re-discover my passions and gifts that exist outside of parenthood. Things like plants and ecology and mycology; herbalism and foraging.
Can I learn it all? Absolutely not. Will I ever “know the most” in the room? Nope. Not a chance. But I don’t need to. Because it’s not a race and it’s not a competition. And all of these amazing people surrounding me are here to share, inspire, and support me and anyone else who finds joy and meaning in this path.
To quote one of my favorite foraging mentors, Sam Thayer (speaking about another foraging teacher): “We’re all on the same team!”
Indeed we are.
Like I’ve told my kids these past 20 years: there’s no such thing as “behind” or “late” when it comes to our own unfolding. We’re all happening right on time and exactly as we should. And just like crawling and walking; reading and sleeping through the night: there’s no schedule; no checklist; no time limit.
And everything we need will come right on time for us, if only we can remember our joy, surrender to the journey, and give it all the space it needs to unfurl.
Here’s to that beautiful truth–and our own unique journeys–no matter our age.
Sore throat season is upon us. (In full force, if you happen to live at my house.)
Perhaps because my kids are in school this year in some incarnation for the first time (Sage at technical college and Lupine auditing a couple of classes at our local Waldorf high school) we’re passing around bugs like it’s our favorite past time. And most of them involve a sore throat at some point in the journey.
My homemade sore throat tea has been a huge comfort for us during our rest and recovery. When I emailed the recipe out to my LüSa Organics email list this morning, I though you would enjoy it, too.
The process is a breeze, even if you’re new to herbalism. If you can simmer water or steep tea, you’ve got this. The tea is made in two steps: first a decoction (simmered tea), then more herbs are added and infused (steeped).
I hope it brings your family comfort in the coming days.
Combine cherry bark, fennel, cinnamon, and licorice in a small saucepan
Add 2 1/2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes
Remove from heat, add remaining ingredients, and steep covered for 5 minutes
Sweeten with honey and serve warm
Makes 2 servings.
Psst… For those who follow along on Facebook and Instagram, yes, I’m still working on a series of 3 posts to share with the protocol we used during COVID, but it’s taking a bit. Thanks for your patience.
Most of us spend much of our lives slogging through–head down, heart off, passion quenched. Doing the things we have to do, not the things we want to do.
While I’m sure there are people out there who can find meaning in flossing and laundry, commuting and dinner dishes, bathroom cleaning and lawn mowing, I’m not one of them.
The same can be said for scrolling my social media accounts, indulging in a hand of solitaire at the table, or playing a game of Tetris on my phone. It’s fine, it’s sometimes even a bit satisfying, but it certainly doesn’t make me come alive.
The mundane has its place, but I fear we’ve let it take over.
And then there are the things that make you come alive.
The things that make you grin like an eight-year-old, until your face hearts and your heart glows.
Maybe you get a taste of it when you run outside into the cold when you hear a skein of geese winging overhead or stop mid-stride at the first chords of your favorite song. Maybe you’ve felt it when you’ve pulled over to marvel at a sunset or laughed with friends around a crackling fire.
These are the things to pay attention to.
How often do you feel it, the singing of your heart? The aliveness and awake-ness that comes from doing things that bring you joy?
And so I urge you:
Do more of the the things that make you come alive.
Do more of the things that make you come alive.
Do more of the things that make you come alive.
The active things, that ask you to show up with your body, your mind, and your heart and jump with both feet into the mud (usually figuratively; occasionally literally).
It could be swing dancing or trail running; photography or hiking; bow hunting or watercolor. It doesn’t need to make sense to anyone but you, so paint D&D miniatures or do origami if you want to. It’s yours alone, no need to explain.
These are the active joys that get us out of our heads (and out of the doldrums) and into our bodies–awake, engaged, alive.
This weekend, Lupine and I found such joy deep in the muck of the Mississippi River. We’d been invited on a lotus root foraging excursion by our friend Dwight, something I’d been wanting to do but had never had the chance.
And standing there, waist-deep in frigid water with muck up to my knees, I wasn’t sure when I’d had so much fun, or felt the child-like joy of play so deep in my bones.
It was a day rich with magic and overflowing with joy.
And even though we were numb with cold and plastered with sticky mud when we got home, it was an unparalleled delight. And it was ALIVENESS that I felt. It’s a feeling I don’t often get sitting here behind this screen.
So, friends, here’s my unsolicited advice for the day: figure out what makes you feel awake and alive, then do that. Because life is NOW, not later; not yesterday. It’s today or nothing else.
Go and get it.
Post Script: Have you forgotten the child-like magic and joy of being in love with being alive? Lost on where to find your happy place?
Think back to when you were a child. What active thing brought you the most joy as a kid? Something you’d do for hours without any thought of food or rest. (For me it was playing outside, leaves in my hair and mud on my feet, immersed in nature. And here we are.) What was it for you? Music? Art? Nature? Bike rides? Remember back to Child You, and what you loved most of all.
I headed off to the woods yesterday. It was sunny and cool; a perfect September day.
I was alone and appreciating being here for September, a month we’ve missed at home more often than not, as it was always our preferred month to take a roadschooling adventure. Ireland, Iceland, Maine, Vermont, North Carolina… we’ve enjoyed the world in September. Just not this valley very often.
Earlier this month I attended a mushroom walk with my new friend Matt at the Wild Harvest Festival, and it whetted my appetite for learning more about this forest. I was itching to get out and see what’s growing here–hidden in plain sight–on this land that we care for.
To learn more. To have an adventure. To see September before it’s gone.
And the forest didn’t disappoint.
(It never does if we’re paying attention.)
From lots of (I-have-no idea-who-they-are) mushrooms to haunting stands of ghost pipe; seeded wood nettles to peppery watercress; it was magic out there and I kept needing just a little more time to explore.
And then I crested a hill, and found where my heart must have been steering me all along: the fire circle where we spent countless days in the past decade, as the kids grew up before my eyes. Our favorite corner of the forest.
I was taken aback by how overgrown it was, our birch “chairs” sprouting mushrooms and weeds tangling our ring of stones. It had been so long since smoke wove between these trees–three years?–and I wondered where the time had gone.
A small cry got caught in my throat.
It wasn’t regret or sadness, just an awareness of the passage of time; a connection to the ghosts that were and will never be again. It was standing beneath those trees holding hands with the past.
It was remembering; longing. A bittersweetness in the corners of my heart.
Standing there in that clearing I was transported back to days when hungry fires were sparked in the woods at least once a week. Where long, lazy conversations unfolded, lunches were cooked on the flames, and life unfolded when we had nowhere else to be.
Sticks were slowly fed into the dancing flames, forts were built of honeysuckle beneath the gnarled apple trees, spoons were carved from fallen birch.
This is where we came to live and connect as the rest of the world hurried off to school and work and we celebrated the slow life we had crafted. We called it “Woods Wednesday” (though we’d come much more often than that), and it anchored our weeks. We loved it and we lingered here, sometimes not finding our way home until late, laughing as we stumbled across the spring-fed creek long after dark.
And my heart ached a little to remember.
Because it’s been years since we kindled a fire here. And I can’t think of a greater gift that I’ve received than getting to hang out with my kids all-day-every-day as they grew from small to grown.
I miss it.
And I suppose sometimes we grieve the things that have ended, even as we celebrate where we’re going in the very next breath.
So I sat beneath the trees all alone and looked out over our past, reflecting on some of the things we got right. Like Woods Wednesday. And in that moment I felt such a mix of gratitude and grief moving through me, in contrast and in harmony. Life is like that, these two in equal measure, weaving yesterday with today and with tomorrow.
And sitting there, I recalled a homeschooling friend once asking, “If you go to the woods every week, how do you have time for Shakespeare?”
This past weekend, Lupine and I were fortunate enough to make my way to the Midwest Wild Harvest Festival. This gathering of fellow plant people was a full-throated celebration of foraging, food, creativity, and connection.
I came home with my curiosity ablaze and my heart overflowing from the days I spent learning from, with, and alongside this experienced, caring group of foragers.
(Okay, and yes, there were also some serious fan girl moments, like meeting Alexis Nelson (Black Forager) and dining on food prepared by Alan Bergo (Forager Chef) and his team; taking classes from Sam Thayer and Linda Black Elk. Because you can have your Hollywood starlets and music industry crushes. These are my equivalent.
Not to mention hours spent talking with and learning from brilliant other botanists, chefs, mycologists, naturalists, and passionate foragers. What an amazing group of humans. What an incredible weekend.
And for me, the take-away was so much more than the pages of notes and shiny new field guides I brought home, both overflowing with latin names, plant descriptions, and preparation tips.
My take-away was simply this:
Discover what you love. Then seek out others who love it, too. Get out there and make connections, build community, learn from one another.
Because this is where the magic unfolds. This is where life happens. Out here, doing what we love alongside others who love it, too.
We slipped away twice last week in an effort to savor the last fragile remnants of summer.
Our first of two back-to-back adventures was just Pete, Lupine and me for three days in Northern Minnesota.
It was our first trip in our vintage RV (affectionately known as Nellie) since pre-covid when she developed some catastrophic leaks and the kids and I undertook a full restore and remodel that is only just barely done. We installed new wall and ceiling boards, painted the ugly brown and gold cabinets grey, and covered the 90’s RV beige and brown floral wallboards with white paint and road maps. So fun. (That’s a blog post of its own, perhaps).
It felt so good to be back out on the road in that little rig, taking all the backroads, of course (because she’s happier at 55 than 70 MPH).
Turns out I am, too.
We drove up to the Big Lake (Lake Superior), and even took a swim in those brisk waters. It was delightful. And drying off after our icy plunge I remembered how absolutely vibrantly alive I feel when I take the time to have an adventure, take a risk, jump in.
One of our guides asked what year I taught there, and when I told her she replied, “Oh, cool! That’s the year I was born!” And then I did some quick math and realized that she was the same age as me the year I worked there.
Such lovely reminders of the pace at which life moves.
Being at Wolf Ridge meant time at the lake testing pH and dissolved oxygen and catching crayfish, paddling those quiet waters (while exchanging insults with the French voyagers in the big canoe, as one does), and doing the high ropes course.
So many memories of the year I spent there in my 20’s! It was delightful.
It was a last-minute trip, planned just days before we went, but it was worth it to visit, remember, and play. I’m so glad we did.
We got back home on Sunday afternoon, unpacked, repacked, then turned around and left again on Monday to celebrate Sage’s 20th birthday at my parent’s cabin in northern Wisconsin. (Ya’ll. T W E N T Y. What the.)
We spent a couple of days there together, with ample time to rest, play, forage, and connect. It was so good, and just what this family needed. And then yesterday we were on the road headed home again.
What an end of summer finale! And goodness, what a ride, motherhood. We can’t slow time, but I am grateful when we slow down to savor days like these.