Postcard 1: heading east

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Last Friday the kids and I departed on a 3 1/2 week road trip to New York State, Massachusetts, and Maine (then back again). So far we’ve spent plenty of time alone (just the three of us), lost in books and knitting and other quiet pursuits, as well as days visiting family and friends. We spent the night with a dear friend from elementary school, and caught up on a bit of what’s transpired since our days were consumed with Strawberry Shortcake and forts in the woods.

All of us are feeling so grateful for the kindness we are shown when we venture out of our comfort zone on journeys like this. We’ve been offered meals and beds, family cottages, and backyard yurts (and that’s just the beginning). It’s humbling, really, to be shown such generosity.

People are good.

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After a couple of long driving days, we landed in upstate New York, where we settled in at a family cabin that some friends were kind enough to share with us. The weather was perfectly moody, and we enjoyed both sunshine and rain as we explored the glens, lakes, and towns of the Finger Lakes region.

Before departing for points further east, we were lucky enough to be offered a tour of Aurora Shoes by the owner, David.

Aurora was one of the first blog sponsors I had back in the days when I posted here five times a week, and my own beloved pair of Auroras were on my feet when we arrived at the factory for our tour! (Mine are probably nine or ten years old, and still going strong. Their quality is unsurpassed.)

20190529-_RJW1007-220190529-_RJW104520190529-_RJW1012-220190529-_RJW105520190529-_RJW104020190529-_RJW1012Sage was enamored with the many creatively repurposed machines–from wood and metal working tools–as well as the vintage industrial workhorses designed for just this job. It gave me pause to consider the world we live in, where handcrafted is over overlooked for mass produced, and what is lost in that hasty downgrade. I reflected on my own business, and the parallels that exist between a simple, handcrafted items like Aurora shoes and LüSa soap.

The tour was fascinating, and we were so grateful for David’s generosity (with both his time and leather scraps for my crafty kids).

If you find yourself in Aurora, NY, they’re open to the public on Fridays (and so worth the detour).

Before saying farewell to New York State, we detoured through Ithaca for a last hurrah (and something I’ve wanted to do since I was a teenager). We headed out to lunch at the Moosewood Cafe. Squee! (Sage lacked our effervescent enthusiasm and so stepped out of our selfie, but enjoyed the food nonetheless.)

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If you’ve been around for a while, you might know that I was a vegetarian for most of a decade, from the time I moved out of my parents house. Learning to cook as a young adult was a vegetarian adventure, and a stack of Moosewood and Molly Katzen cookbooks was my guide.

Needless to say, taking my kids out to lunch at Moosewood was a delicious way to check something off my life list (and Lupine’s as well).

Finally, we detoured through a bookshop (Buffalo Street Books) before hitting the road. Delighting us all, we unexpectedly stumbled upon Herbal Adventures there! What a delightful surprise on our cross-country road trip.

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And with that, we’re off to points further east! I’ll share more the next time we find ourselves with internet. In the meantime, I’ll be posting occasional stories and posts on my Instagram feed.

See you there, friends.

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Grace, acceptance, release

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Yesterday I burned my journals.

Decades of stories that I no longer remember; sadness that I’ve long since healed; struggles I still work to overcome. It felt symbolic, doing this on Mother’s Day. As the pages fluttered in the flames I caught glimpses, memories. And then they were gone.

The grace and acceptance we give our children is a gift we rarely give ourselves. And these were stories I didn’t need to retell. Stories that I’m ready to thank and let go of. They shaped me, but I don’t need to carry their weight any longer. Grace. Acceptance. Release.

I also recycled a beautiful baby book with lovely prompts like “our midwife“; “our homebirth story”; and “family bed”. I had desperately wanted to pour myself into those pages as I had into my teen journals, but never did. And those mostly empty pages left me feeling a twinge of inadequacy every time I saw them for 16 years. Unlike my youthful journals, there wasn’t space on these beautiful pages for my struggles and my grief. For motherhood in all of its complexity. So it was cathartic to finally let it go.

With it went a weight of old ideas of the perfect vision I once held for what motherhood would be. Because in truth, it was harder than anything I’d ever done. Especially those early days! And I didn’t have the capacity to write down milestones when I was simply trying to keep my head above the surface.

Another release. Another long overdue Mother’s Day gift to myself.

The second baby book I released yesterday was empty as well. This one was free of guilt, because after the first I had no false expectations that I’d pen even a word. We added this one to our “cutter bin” for art projects. Transform awaits.

Today, my sense of self is not defined by who I was, or the assumptions and mistakes I’ve made along the way. My quality of motherhood is measured not in my perfection (nor in a predetermined collection of milestones lovingly penned for posterity) but in my unconditional love; in tenderness and laughter; in presence and apologies.

So here’s to embracing our own messy truths, to letting go of what no longer serves us. Here’s to grace and forgiveness and the messy magic of our own imperfections.

 

Tired, sore, happy

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I think we’re finally figuring out how to do weekends around here.

Two parts work and one part play, we found a fine balance between hauling compost and playing frisbee over the past couple of days.

Weather like this will do that. Sunny and not too hot, after such a long winter we were all drawn outside, for as many hours as we could manage. For garden prep and sipping iced tea, hauling brush and riding bikes.

We did a ridiculous amount of yard work in the past three days, something that has been back-burnered since we moved here some 6 1/2 years ago. It’s never top priority, so in our world that means it simply never gets done. But we’re determined to reseed the “lawn” (more accurately the mud amoeba with a grass border), and rake away the hard-packed spruce cones and needles, branches, and dead leaves and give this yard a fresh start.

When not giving the back yard our all, we were rebooting our raised garden beds. We built them one year ago, but made some mistakes in our shooting-from-the-hip construction techniques. So this year they needed a do-over. Our original design was compost-over-strawbales. But the bales collapsed, dropping deep inside of our raised beds, and the compost was a bit too rich for some of our crops.

We set to work removing the contents of each bed, then layering limbs from our fallen boxelder in the bottom of each bed as a modified huglekultur bed. On top of that we layered chipped branches, the straw-compost mix from the emptied beds, and finally topped with a few inches of additional chipped trimmings.

This latter layer was inspired by the Back to Eden deep mulching method. We’re excited to give it a try for weed control! As usual, we’re winging it, so time will tell.

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After gardening, Lupine and I set to work digging parsnips.

This invasive species is an escaped garden cultivar, and the leaves and stems contain a photo toxic compound that causes wicked, fluid-filled blisters to form on the skin if you come into contact with the plant on sunny day.

Despite their nasty above-ground tendencies, below ground they are ordinary (if rustic in appearance) parsnips! Delicious, nutritious, sweet root, suitable for sautéing, adding to soups and stews, or grating raw.

It was a rewarding wind down after a busy day.

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And, at long last, we paused to celebrate spring this weekend. Yes, we already celebrated May Day (the mid point between spring and summer), but on account of first snow and then the stomach flu, we had delayed our spring celebration longer than was reasonable. So on Sunday we indulged in some treats, and our usual celebratory goodness.

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On an evening bike ride, Lupine was distracted by the litter along the roadside. “Why would people do this?” she agonized.

Finally, she couldn’t bear it any longer. She pulled her bike off the road and leaned over to pick up a beer can. I got off my bike as well, and scooped up a second can. We placed them in her bike basket and rode on.

She stopped again and again and before we knew it she was scrambling up the road cut to pull take-out boxes, plastic bags, and beer bottles from the weeds. All of us joined in. (How could we resist?)

On the ride home, her basket was overflowing. There was so much litter heaped in her basket that plastic bottles and bags were flying out as she zipped down hills, and we were perpetually making U-turns to gather what we’d lost, amidst peals of laughter.

Back home—without a word—she set to work sorting it into the bags she had found to take in for recycling. I was reminded of the words of a friend who said, “The world is full of two kinds of people: takers and givers. We must decide which sort of person we choose to be.”

And perhaps this is how the world is saved. Through small, loving actions; through caring; through the belief that even one, small person can begin to change the world.

And just like that—through awareness, love, and action—the world became a more beautiful place. “That was so fun,” she said. “Let’s do it again tomorrow.”

 

And now–somehow–it’s Monday. Back to work, back to homeschooling, back to a slower pace as we heal our sore muscles in preparations for next weekend’s marathon!

As spring unfurls

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Spring is unfolding especially slowly this year. We’re still warming the house with the wood stove each morning, and as recently as last weekend there has been a blanket of icy snow on the ground. It makes us appreciate each warm or sunny day that much more, I suspect.

And there’s still warmth enough for tromps through the marsh and foraging expeditions in the pastures; prairie burns and garden prep.

However cold, spring awakens us. Stirs us back to life with the promise of warmer days to come.

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Last week (despite threat of snow) the kids and I loaded up and headed for Milwaukee. My sister lives there and leads a coalition to address children’s mental health needs (The Milwaukee Coalition for Children’s Mental Health). Lupine and I planned to join her for the day to help teach a workshop about herbs and herbal self-care.

It was an energetic day filled with parents and grandparents, community organizers, and some truly fabulous kids. We talked about home herbalism, urban foraging, making remedies, and our general adoration of plants. Together we infused oils, made a balm, and blended an herbal tea from my new book, Herbal Adventures.

We made seed bombs with native wild bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) seeds that I gathered last fall, and engaged in some serious earthworm appreciation (complete with screaming!). What fun!

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Settling in back home yesterday, Lupine and I realized it was May Day, and couldn’t resist spreading a little magic around the neighborhood, as befits the day. Every year we stealthily deliver May Baskets (amidst raucous giggles!) to several of our neighbors. How could we resit?

This small, annual celebration is one of my greatest delights.

Because the truth is, it’s this easy to bring joy, love, and magic to those around us. To lift someone up. And to celebrate the earth and the turning of the year.

A few wildflowers, a sprig of catnip, and a sprinkling of the fairy dust that each of us carries.

Oh, spring. How I love you.

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Herbal Ice Cream and Sorbet Recipes

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If you’ve been around here for a while, you know I’ve got a thing about ice cream.

Likely my favorite dessert of all time, I can think of nothing more delightful than a rich, tasty scoop of homemade ice cream, dairy-free ice cream, or sorbet.

Today, I’m thrilled to be over on LearningHerbs sharing two of my favorite herbal frozen treats: hibiscus + tulsi sorbet (with or without an ice cream maker), and chamomile and lavender ice cream (dairy-free variation included).

Find the post here, and get churning!

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Herbal Adventures Giveaway

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In the northern hemisphere, the days are growing longer, the sun is growing warmer, and plants are springing up all around us. Here in Wisconsin, the catnip, dandelion, plantain, nettle, and chickweed are just beginning to awaken from their long winter rest. All of these herbs are featured in my new book, Herbal Adventures, where you’ll find safe foraging tips, field ID, and loads of recipes for teas, snacks, balms, and treats made from these common backyard plants.
 

As a happy coincidence, my birthday (today!) coincides with “Thank an Herbalist Day”, and my book is turning six months old.

How could I resist offering a giveaway?
Enter for yourself (if you don’t already have a copy), or donate one to a friend or your local library!
 
If your copy is already in hand, now is the time to crack it open, and get cracking on a batch of nettle soup, a chickweed salad, or some dandelion fritters. Or perhaps a batch of Calm Kids Tea or chickweed salve. So many wonderful things to make starting now and going right through autumn.
 
To win a copy, simply do all of the following:
1. Subscribe to my blog email if you haven’t already (see below)
2. Leave a comment below to add your name to the drawing
3. If you’d like, share this post with a pal, and be sure to tell them why you think they’d love my book! Then leave a separate comment below telling me that you did so.
 
You can enter here, on my Facebook Page, and on my Instagram. I’ll choose a winner at the end of the week for combined entries.

Good luck, and happy herbalist day!

P.S. Several of you have asked where the best place to pick up a copy of my book is. While it is available at some big online retailers, buying it from your local bookstore is always a win.
Or snag your copy right from me, on my website. Thanks so much for all the love and support you have shown me (and my book)!
Giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to our winner, Spencer MacLeod!

Fire and wind; sun and snow

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20190331-DSC_3113Spring is prairie burn season.

And up and down our quiet valley, you’re bound to smell smoke most evenings.

There are many restored prairies (or in-process restorations) in our neighborhood. Most are an endangered ecosystem known as “goat prairies”. In the absence of fire, these small, steep, dry, and largely south-facing prairies are readily overtaken by juniper trees.

When this occurs, the rare herbaceous, reptilian, and invertebrate occupants are shaded into scarcity.

But with the help of fire, we can (perhaps counterintuitively) help coax them back to life.

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Don’t get me wrong. It’s terrifying.

Inherently so. Because, of course, you are intentionally creating a leaping wall of fire surrounded on all sides by dry grass and tinder forests. Something that in normal life we do our best to avoid.

But it is also terrifying because the first time we had a prescribed burn, some six years ago, that fire jumped the break and raced across dry grasslands that we never intended to burn.

It was one of the more terrifying experiences of my life.

I didn’t talk about it here when it happened because it was too raw and I felt too vulnerable, and the what-ifs kept rolling through my mind.

What if someone had been hurt? What if it damaged a neighboring farm, cabin, or house? What if we hadn’t been able to bring it back under control? Acres burned, and the half-dozen or so volunteers who were there for the burn worked tirelessly to extinguish it, literally stomping the last flames as the fire trucks arrived.

I can still picture Sage, then ten, beating out flames with his jacket, his face like stone, his eyes flashing with primal fear.

As one friend put it, we call them “controlled burns”, but that’s a little arrogant. It’s fire. So they’re never completely under our control. 

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But that was six years ago. This year (and honestly, every year since that first burn), it went off without a hitch. If you look closely at photos above and below, you can see my family (and one neighbor) illuminated in the firelight. We’ve mostly worked through the fear that took root after that first fire gone awry.

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We’re providing what the prairie needs to continue to thrive.

While it is terrifying, it’s also exhilarating.

This year so far we have two burns under our belts, plus two more for Pete. The first was on adjoining restored prairies that we share with one neighbor; the second with an adjoining restoration in the other direction.

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Since the burns have extinguished and the hillsides cooled, we (and much of Wisconsin/Minnesota) have been hit by a spring storm that is tearing down power poles and uprooting ancient trees, coating interstates and backroads in ice, and generally being moody and unpleasant.

Indeed, we lost a tree of our own early in the morning of the storm. I heard it fall in the still darkness of early morning, sounding something like snow sliding off of a metal roof, and landing with a “whoof” on the ground.

Sage came into the room and asked if I saw it fall. He happened to look outside just as it went down.

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Last Autumn…

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Last Thursday…

But there’s more to that story as well.

You see, we have dozens of trees around our yard, barn, and home, and hundreds more in our woods. Yet last week, walking by the box elder that frames our house, I felt something. I paused, and laid my hands on its trunk.

Pete came around the corner and saw me standing there, listening to the tree. He raised one eyebrow. “The tree wants you to know that it looks healthy, but it’s going to fall soon. And it doesn’t want to fall on our house. And it wants you to know that it’s okay if you cut it down instead,” I told him. “Okay. We should do that,” he replied, somehow rolling with my bizarre and unexpected tree whispering.

One week later it fell.

Unaware of our conversation about this tree, Sage told me that in the night before it fell he woke and looked out his window. He wondered what would happen if that tree fell. Would it hit his bedroom? Then he looked out in the early morning darkness just in time to see it fall. It landed away from the house, thankfully.

I miss that tree already. It was “just” a box elder, sure. But one that I was fond of. It’s been here since long before we moved in, and there’s a hole with it gone. We will use the branches and trunk as a base for a few new permaculture (huglekultur) garden beds that we’re building in the next few weeks. Then this tree that whispered to us can nourish our family as well.

When it fell, it landed squarely on my greatest garden love, a hedge of elderberries that I planted three years ago from cuttings started by a friend. All things considered, the elder looks pretty good, but a few plants were lost to the blow that the storm and tree dealt.

After a friend requested cuttings, I realized that it was a perfect opportunity to transform this two-fold loss into something magical. So this morning I gathered all the broken branches I could find, and made cuttings to root, plant, and share.

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As the old saying goes, “When life gives you a downed tree and damaged elder bushes, make garden beds and propagate medicine.”

Or something like that.

Hello again

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Well, hello there!

I’ve been scarce, I know. I haven’t been blogging lately for All of the Reasons, and wanted to reconnect, to say hello.

My excuses for being away are many, primarily my book coming out into the world. It’s been calling on more of my creative energy than I anticipated, as I plan events and promotions and classes, and make sure people are aware that it’s out there in the world. Because it’s the season! Spring and foraging and all things wild and wonderful.

Alongside that, I’m digging in on some big, exciting projects for LüSa Organics–including a menstruation welcome kit for teens/preteens, and some major sustainability efforts that I am absolutely thrilled to breathe into life.

Add to these that I’m in the midst of planning not one, but two epic trips! (A return visit to Maine, mentioned in this post, and another big trip that I’ll tell you more about soon.)

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I know. It’s madness.

But of the very best sort.

Life is full, life is rich, and I’m grateful.

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You know what else it is? It’s also this fact that my kids are  g r o w i n g  u p.

And I’ve shared that journey with you, before, but really can’t anymore. It’s not my story anymore. You understand. We’ve talked about this before.

Sage turns 17 this summer, and for me at least, I feel like I spend enough time on my laptop as it is, running a business and working on my book and homeschooling. So blogging takes the backseat again. When I do have a moment to sit down, I feel more present for my family with a book or a knitting project in hand then a screen.

I’m guessing you understand that, too.

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But the biggest factor in my non-blogging was indeed the lamest of all. It’s even a little embarrassing to admit. You see when I moved my blog to this new platform, it didn’t take me long to learn the ropes. I liked the way the new site functioned, and was rolling with uploading photos and text. But then I accidentally updated the editing software for my blog and it was awful. I had to load photographs one at a time (through some six clicks per image), and it took hours to prepare an ordinary post.

I reverted to the old editor, but it refused to work. So I threw in the towel. I just quit posting.

I know. So lame.

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But things have been happening! From fun field trips to big plans, and I’ve been sharing none of it, except slivers here and there on social media.

And then today (on an utter whim) I reached out to my blog host for help with this issue and–lo and behold!–there was a profoundly helpful technician on the other end of the line and they fixed it. They fixed it! I can blog again. (At least when time allows.)

All that to say, hello! I live and breathe. And I’ve missed you.

I’ll see what I can do to get back into the groove a bit, but let’s start with this: a simple, Sunday field trip at sunrise to a beaver pond just up the road.

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An adventure for just Lupine and I, mason jars of tulsi tea in hand and possibly still wearing our pajamas, with the sun rising behind the hills. We even saw the beavers, swimming contentedly beneath the water.

Such magic. Such simple, slow magic.

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And with that, I’m off once again. But I plan to be back so soon, with more stories and more magic from this scruffy farm in the arms of these lovely hills. Will you join me?

Love,
Rachel

Almost spring

The slow return of spring in our region takes many forms. For me (and many others who live in more extreme climes, I suspect), the first hint of spring comes with the return of migratory birds.

All in one day last week, I saw (or heard) my first robins, redwing black birds, cranes, and geese of the season. What a lineup for one afternoon! There was no denying: despite the temperatures we have weathered this year, winter will eventually end. It was the first truly warm day we have had, and the sun was shining on melting snow.

And with those slowly warming days came our first taste of spring, as well. That taste, of course, is of maple sap.

We’ve tapped every year for as long as I can remember. First a neighbor’s silver maple in town, and eventually our own here on the farm. This year (like most), we tapped only the four maples in our yard, ignoring the many sugar maples that pepper our wooded hillsides. We could never wrap our head around the logistics of tapping in the woods, then lugging tanks or pails of sap across the rushing creek or down the steep hillsides. Honestly, we don’t need another big hobby or business venture.

Simplicity for the win.

We normally are able to manage to boil enough syrup for our family for the year, though not always. If we’re lucky and the weather is right, we nail it, tapping just these four trees, a total of ten pails. Last year we put by 4 gallons or so, this season may be less generous and more brief, if the weather forecast is any indicator.

That’s part of the magic. You never really know how long the season will be. A week? Six? And whatever you manage to boil down is a gift. We opened our very last jar of last year’s syrup three weeks ago, and we still have 1/4 cup or so left in the fridge. It’s perfect timing.

After tapping, we headed across a 100+ yard-long expanse of ice (affectionately referred to as “our own private glacier”) and down to the creek. Truly, shuffling here across the ice and the snow, it still felt like winter and I was wishing I had donned a few extra layers, but it was sunny and cheerful and continuing to promise spring.

There we wiled away the afternoon doing nothing at all, and returned to the house, to the yard, to the “plink, plink, plink” of the maple taps. We filled our enamel mugs with fresh, cold sap to bring inside, then tucked into a big pot of warming, homegrown beef stew.

This day. It was pretty close to perfection in my book. Welcome back, spring. We’ve missed you so.

Want to tap your own trees? I’ve shared a tutorial here as well as a more involved version in Taproot: HEARTH. Get your tap on!

Wander-school

If you’ve been around for a while, you might already know my propensity to load our car with gear, grab my kids, and hit the road for a month full of adventures.

We sometimes call it “roadschooling” (as in: homeschooling on the road) but really it’s just a beautiful, adventuresome piece of our life.

We took our first epic road trip in a VW Beetle when the kids were just 3 and 7. That autumn we spent a month wandering our way nearly 3,000 miles across the country to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and back again.

I’m not sure what inspired me to pack up such young kids for such an epic solo-parenting adventure, but I’m grateful that I did.

Roadtrips (as you likely already know) aren’t all picture perfect sunsets and smooth sailing. But even the turbulence is part of the adventure.

On our first month-long road trip, the tent that we borrowed from friends before we embarked broke to bits in a wind storm the very first time we set it up.

Fun? No. Memorable? Most definitely.

Indeed, there are always bumps out there on the road. But despite the inevitable hiccups, this journey (and the many that followed) was an unforgettable one. On that first trip were supported by old friends and new all along our route who offered hot meals, places to sleep, laundry facilities, showers and baths, and–yes–even a loaner tent for our month-long adventure. (Thanks, Tony and Nettie!) We had a team to call on, despite being so very far from home.

And the journey, of course, was transformational.

As a mother, as kids, as citizens of this country and of the world.

Our second big trip took place when Sage and Lupine were 8 and 13. The three of us embarked for another month away, heading this time to Vermont and Maine, visiting old and new friends along the way.

Since then Pete has joined us on a couple of two, three, and four week journeys, including a month road tripping around Ireland (talk about a life-changer!) a year and a half ago, and trips to Canada, Northern Minnesota, and Cayo Costa, Florida.

And?

The kids and I are eager to do it all again.

Seeing as they won’t concede with staying the age they are now forever, and instead insist on continuing to grow, it’s now or never. In a heartbeat Sage will be an adult, off on his own adventures. So I’m seizing the heck out of this moment. Because we homeschool; because we’re self-employed.

Because we can.

And because I might not get another chance.

The trip we’re planning now will carry us eastward again. We have a few destinations in mind–namely getting my 16 year old back to the Atlantic (a place where his heart finds such ease).

We all fell hard for Maine when we visited a few years ago, and have been itching to get back, to visit old and new friends there and (hopefully!) spend a little time promoting my book along the way.

And on our return trip, I’ll be attending (and vending, books and other goodies) at the International Herb Symposium in Norton, MA.

We’re thinking four weeks should do the trick.

With that in mind, I turn to you, my friends! We are currently accepting hot tips for places to visit and things to do in upstate NY, costal Maine, Cape Cod, and possibly Montreal (as well as places between).

Bonus points if your suggestions are nature-centered, free/affordable, or have anything to do with Tesla, Norse history and mythology, blacksmithing, or sword work. (I’m joking on that last set, but only half joking, as Sage would love anything you might throw his way on those subjects.)

For my friends between here and the Atlantic: we hope to see you along the way!