What To Do With A Critic?

I have known for a good many years that you had to have thick skin when raising children. You know the saying, “Three things don’t lie: drunks, children, and yoga pants.” Kids will speak out the truth as painful as the listener may find it.

Then I became a writer and published my first book. I KNEW I would not be everybody’s cup of tea. I like strong southern women who love Jesus but cuss a little. I also believe that sex is a beautiful thing and should be celebrated. I do not write about premarital sex or glamorize sleeping around. And I knew, having spent my entire life in the Bible Belt, that plenty of people believe that even mentioning sex or sexual attraction makes your book smut. I would like to point out that by this definition the Bible is smut. But, I digress- that is another post.

By and large, the reviews I have had have been very favorable. But a few, have stung! Its funny how the one bad review sticks in my head so much faster and securely than the ten good reviews I read before it. I talk to myself a lot. I have had many conversations explaining how I can’t believe my own press, good or bad. Those bad reviews should be taken, improvements made on parts I can, and then flushed. I am not everyone’s cup of tea and that is okay. As a matter of fact, my peeps probably don’t drink cups of tea. They, more than likely, drink sweet tea by the gallon or Jack and Coke.

Then I ran across this quote:

“The only just literary critic,” he concluded, “is Christ, who admires more than does any man the gifts He Himself has bestowed.”

— J.R.R. Tolkien

http://www.goodreads.com

This man wrote the book that has defined the world of fantasy ever since. I should hope to write something so spectacular and deep in my life time. And, by the way, it did take him a life time to write Lord of the Rings. And even he dealt with critics.

So, on this day I remind myself of what Tolkien said and let Christ be the only critic that matters.

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It’s National Homemade Soup Day- Recipe!

I am a huge fan of soup. It is the first meal I made solo at the age of five. Yes, I was five- you can read all about it here. My mom made this soup frequently and she taught me how.

Soup comes in so many forms ranging from extremely difficult to super simple. What we called homemade soup is super simple. Because I only know how to make soup in a large quantity, I often freeze portions in quart size freezer bags. This soup reheats well making it a great option for daily lunches. This recipe is very flexible making a great way to repurpose leftovers such as pot roast or pinto beans.

Recipe for Homemade Soup

1 lb. of ground meat or ground turkey
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 medium potatoes peeled and chopped
2-3 cups of mixed veggies- any kind you like
1- 13 once can of stewed tomatoes
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1 tsp ground sage
1 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

In medium skillet, brown the ground met with the onions. 

In an  8 quart stock pot or Dutch oven (you can use a larger stock pot- then you don’t have to worry about over-filling) bring water and potatoes to a boil.  Add enough water to boil the potatoes, but not so much that you have to pour a lot off, because the water does have lots of nutrients in it.  If you are using fresh or frozen veggies, add them now.  Boil until the potatoes are fork tender.  Add the ground meat, stewed tomatoes  and veggies- if you are using canned or leftovers.  Add seasonings and more water or broth as needed to achieve the desired consistency.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes then let  cool a bit.  This soup is great with cornbread or crackers.

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Herbs: An Overview

When thinking of gardening, cooking, eating healthy, one cannot get away from the beauty and necessity of herbs.  Regardless of your goal- to grow healthy food for you and your family, to attract butterflies, to make your gardens beautiful or to simply delight your senses- herbs fit the bill.

For the most part, herbs are perennials and hardy.  Even in our erratic weather patterns in Texas, herbs have performed very well for me and have brought me much satisfaction and joy.  As with most fresh food, when you have tasted the flavors of fresh sage, thyme, rosemary and more- you can never go back to the herb dust you can purchase off the shelves in the supermarkets.  The taste is just so amazing.  And by fresh, I also mean the herbs harvested and dried by your own hands.

And just to clarify a few terms:

Herbaceous– means that a plant dies back to the ground in winter, but comes back each spring.  You can have plants that are not herbs but are herbaceous and Herbs that are not herbaceous!

Perennial– a plant that returns year after year, can be evergreen or herbaceous.

Below is a tip sheet that will help you get stated in the wonderful world of herbs.

Many more articles on particular herbs and gardening are located in the Herb Category and in the Organic Gardening Category.

basil in the crate

Herbs- From Garden to Table

What To Plant Where

A large majority of herbs are perennials and biennials, so they will be with you for quite a while when choosing herbs:

  1. Consider their origin- did they come from wooded areas, desert areas, wet areas etc. and group like plants together.
  2. Consider water requirements of each plant
  3. Consider growth habits: height, cold hardy, heat tolerant, upright or rambler, etc.
  4. Consider their function:
  • For culinary use- what and how do you cook
  • Attract pollinators or repel insects
  • Or just for looks
  • Medicinal

Each of these points will help you determine where in your garden to locate the plants.  Obviously, a water loving herb does not need to be planted with Rosemary and Lavender as these herbs prefer a very dry climate.  If you consider these aspects before you plant everyone will benefit.

What Herbs are good for our area of Texas

  • Thyme- creeping lemon*
  • Sage- Salvia Officinalis*
  • Italian Oregano*
  • Lavender- English and Fern Leaf*
  • Parsley
  • Citronella
  • Basil- all kinds
  • Aloe Vera
  • Lemon Balm*
  • Mints*
  • Salad Burnett *
  • Rosemary
  • Lemon Grass
  • Catnip
  • Stevia
  • Sweet Woodruff
  • Garlic (plant in September)
  • Roses

The list goes on as there are so many, but these will get you off to a good start!

*- good for planting in fall as they grow all year long

 Now To Table

  1. Use Fresh- simply snip and use- sprinkle chopped herbs in your dishes while cooking or on top as a garnish.
  2. Dried
  • Cut and tie in bundle (rubber bands work great!)
  • Hang to dry or dry in oven on low or a hot car
  • Grind and store- chop in blender, store in jars in a cool dark place like a pantry.

Herbed Oils or Vinegars-  place herbs in clean jar and cover with oil or vinegar and let steep for 3 weeks. Strain and store in a cool dark place.

Island Life & Ice Cream

One of the BEST things about living on the island is that we can pick up the grandkids and head to the water.

We don’t have to stay long, but it always refreshes my soul.

Did you know that ice cream trucks come to the beach? When this one heard that music, she got right up in my face and said ” Do you hear that?!”

My G is still waters but she runs deep.

No worries, we’ll just wash off in the gulf.

Leo’s Cajun Corner

If you are looking for local eats with a Cajun flair- Leo’s Cajun Corner is the place!  You know you are in the right kind of place when you pull up and you can see the smoker going and wood piled all around.

This shop is small but packs big flavor.  They offer ribs, brisket, sausage, and more by the pound, but have great choices for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I picked up a shrimp po’boy for lunch and it was the best I have ever had.  And I have eaten a LOT of po’boys.  The slaw on the sandwich paired with the spicy, lightly breaded shrimp was scrumptious.  I ate it all.

If you’ve never had boudin balls, you are missing out.  I had never had one until I moved to Galveston- now my life is changed.  Those deep-fried, spicy nuggets are the things I dream of when I want food I am not supposed to eat- which is often. 

We’ve also eaten there for breakfast and had a breakfast bowl and a toaster.  Just simple, basic food that tasted fabulous.  One of the best things about eating at Leo’s is that the food is, well- cheap.  Not in the way it’s made or the portion sizes, but the price.  On an island that can be a bit pricey because of the tourism, Leo’s is a nice surprise.

You’ll find Leo’s Cajun Corner at 3201 Broadway Avenue J, Galveston, TX 77550.  Next time you crave a little kick in your belly but want to keep some green in your wallet- give them a try!

Making Medicine At Home

herbal tincture

For a live video go to Hollyberry Herb Farm on Facebook

An Herbal Tincture is a method of preserving the medicinal attributes of an herb in such a way will allow you to use the herbs long after their season is gone.  As I have said before, the more herbs you eat, the healthier you will be.  However, at certain times of the year, certain herbs are not available.  So, by making tinctures you can use herbs all year round.  Typically, to make a tincture you steep the herb of choice in vodka or brandy for four to six weeks.  Once the herb matter is strained out and the liquid re-bottled, the tincture will keep indefinitely.

The essential oils and herbal essences are soluble in alcohol making alcohol a better solvent than vinegar for making tinctures.  Once the menstruum (plant material and solvent) has steeped, all the herbal goodness and health benefits of the herbs will be suspended and concentrated in the alcohol.  This concentration is why so little of the tincture is needed in an individual dose.

There are many combinations of herbs that can be used- select the herbs based on your needs.  Dandelion is an all around great herb with so many medicinal qualities.  I use this herb alone to make a tincture that is taken by anyone feeling “under the weather” to boost the immune system and ward off the colds and flues that tend to go around in the winter.

A small amount- 1/4 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon per day is all that is taken by adults around our house.  When the children were toddlers a few drops in their sippy cups helped battle the snotty noses and colds that came with childhood.

There are many resources on the internet for recipes and several good herbal books that give instruction as to preparation of tinctures.  I like to use Growing 101 Herbs That Heal, by Tammi Hartung.

A basic recipe is:

1 clean 1 pint glass jar with a fitting lid

Approx. 1 cup chopped fresh herb or 1/4 cup dried herb, coarsely chopped.

1 pint of brandy or vodka.

Place the chopped herb matter into the jar.

Creating an herbal tincture

Pour in Vodka or Brandi, let steep for 4-6 weeks, shake weekly, then strain.

herbal tinctures

Herbal tincture steeping and waiting to be strained.  Be certain to label with contents and date- the only way to be certain you will remember what is in the jar.

Once strained, pour liquid into a bottle and cap

There you go, it is that easy!

You can see me make a tincture on Facebook @ Hollyberry Herb Farm

This is what I use for my family.  Research for yourself and decide what is best for your family and yourself.  This is not meant as medical advice or to diagnose illness.

 

 

5 Reasons Rosemary Should Grow In Your Garden

Upright Rosemary“What’s your favorite herb?”

This is probably the question I am asked most often.  I couldn’t pick a favorite herb- possibly a Top 10 list, but never a favorite.

Rosemary is an herb that would ALWAYS be on this list and very likely in the #1 spot.  The reasons are many- from ease of growing to the powerful medicinal benefits- but for sake of time, I will narrow it down to five reasons you will love Rosemary.

#1 Rosemary loves heat.

I have always gardened in Texas and it is ALWAYS hot in the summer.  Rosemary doesn’t care, in fact- it likes it!  Because Rosemary hails from hot, arid conditions in Northern Africa and the Mediterranean, its DNA makes it perfect for Texas gardens and the great majority of the United States.

#2  Rosemary Protects Against Alzheimer’s

Rosemary may also become useful in preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease in the near future. Researchers have discovered that certain phytochemicals in the herb prevent the degradation of acetylcholine, an important brain chemical needed for normal neurotransmission. A deficiency of this chemical is commonly seen in Alzheimer’s patients.  See full article here

I, personally, am not waiting for all the test results, I have started including rosemary in our family’s diet on a daily basis.  An easy way to use rosemary medicinally is in a tincture.

#3 Rosemary Makes A Great Hedge

Rosemary can be utilized as a shrub.  If you are feeling creative, rosemary can be shaped into topiary.  But more simply, plant as a hedge and trim like any other landscape hedge- except save the clippings and make a tincture!

Rosemary is heat and drought tolerant so it saves on water usage.  Very few pest or fungal problems exist with rosemary.

It blooms!  Very pretty light blue flowers appear in spring and continue for several weeks.  Some years, rosemary will bloom again in the fall.

#4 Bees LOVE Rosemary

Its becoming common knowledge (THANK GOD) that our bee population is in trouble and if the bees go, we go.  Two of every three bites we eat are pollinated by bees.  As we have said, Rosemary needs little care and won’t need spraying of any kind to look beautiful, so it is a great choice for feeding bees, butterflies and a whole host of beneficial insects.  So, plant some rosemary for the bees.  Don’t worry about getting stung, the bees have way too much work to do to worry over you.

#5 Rosemary Will Make You A Great Cook

Well, I may be over-selling rosemary’s abilities just a bit. However, it can’t hurt.  Rosemary can transform a dull chicken or homely sweet potato into something fantastic with very little effort.  Just sprinkle the chopped rosemary in the pot and – VIOLA!

Not only does rosemary taste great, but by adding it to your food you are taking advantage of the health benefits and those are many:

“Indigestion

Rosemary leaf is used in Europe for indigestion (dyspepsia) and is approved by the German Commission E, which examines the safety and efficacy of herbs.

Muscle and joint pain

Applied topically (to the skin), rosemary oil is sometimes used to treat muscle pain and arthritis and improve circulation. It is approved by the German Commission E for these purposes.

Alopecia

Historically, rosemary has been used to stimulate hair growth. In one study of 84 people with alopecia areata (a disease in which hair falls out, generally in patches), those who massaged their scalps with rosemary and other essential oils (including lavender, thyme, and cedarwood) every day for 7 months experienced significant hair regrowth compared to those who massaged their scalps without the essential oils. But the study was not well designed, and it is impossible to say whether rosemary caused the hair growth.

Neutralize food-borne pathogens

Several studies show that rosemary inhibits food-borne pathogens like Listeria monocytogenesB. cereus, and S. aureus.

Improve memory or concentration

Rosemary is often used in aromatherapy to increase concentration and memory, and to relieve stress. One study suggests that rosemary, combined with other pleasant-smelling oils, may lower cortisol levels and help reduce anxiety. Another study found that the use of lavender and rosemary essential oil sachets reduced test taking stress in graduate nursing students.

Cancer

Several studies suggest that rosemary extract may inhibit tumor growth by preventing cancerous cells from replicating. One study found that rosemary, on its own and in combination with curcumin, helped prevent breast cancer. A second study found similar effects of rosemary on colon cancer cells.” Article here

 

So, you see, Rosemary should really be in your garden or at least in a pot on your patio!

I am also sure that you understand that I am NOT a doctor nor have I tried to diagnose or treat any of your ailments.

Bee on the Rosemary Bloom herb

upright-rosemary.jpg

A Poem About Fall

In the garden, Autumn is,

indeed the crowning glory of the year,

bringing us the fruition of months of thought and care and toil.

And at no season, safe perhaps in Daffodil time,

do we get such superb colour effects as from August to November.
Rose G. Kingsley

 

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Fall is the best time of the year to garden!  I have already posted a Fall Gardening Check List and I will be creating several more posts about fall gardening in the weeks coming.  I LOVE summer, but I am always ready for those brisk autumn mornings that are just around the corner!

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Feeding Your Soil- 101

“Regard your soil as the living, breathing entity it is- to be nurtured, fed and sustained.” – Peter Fossel

Garden Boxes Rock

 

Soil is the Soul of your Garden!

It doesn’t matter what you plant or where you bought your plants or seeds, if your soil isn’t healthy- you will not be successful.  Soil may not be very exciting to a new gardener, but once you really understand the complexity and the vitality of healthy soil – you will look at soil with new eyes!

Micronutrients and Microbial Organisms are essential to healthy soil!

Microbes- the unseen, unsung heroes of soil and organic gardening.  They serve first to break down organic matter into a form plants can use, and then to improve the soils structure and the ability of plants to draw sustenance from it.

Micronutrients are those minerals and elements that are not needed in great quantities but are essential for plants to be healthy.

Where to begin?

The first step in bringing your soil into the best shape possible and into a state of high fertility is to know what type of soil you currently have.

A soil test is important to do in the very beginning.  Once you have a base line, deciding on amendments will be easier.  After the initial soil test, it isn’t necessary to keep having the soil tested- the plants will tell you if the soil is lacking.

To do a soil test- get a sample bag from the county extension office or from the lab that you want to use.  With a bucket in hand, dig 6-8 inches down with a small shovel and place the soil in the bucket.  Take samples from all over the area you are testing.  Even on a small piece of property, the soil can vary from on area to another.  Collecting from multiple points will give you a better picture.  Stir all the soil together and then fill the bag and mail it to the specified address and follow the lab’s instructions.

When the results come back- take the results to your county extension office and the agent can help you read and analyze the test results.

Now, it is important to understand that you don’t have to have a soil test to begin improving your soil.  The following amendments are perfect for every garden and cannot be over used as they are organic in nature and mild in their effects.

But, you do need to look at your soil and determine what kind you have:

Sandy Soil

Clay Soil

Loam

Or a combination of these types

 

Regardless of what you grow- fruits, herbs, vegetables, or flowers- it all starts with the soil.  The plants will only be as healthy as the soil that their roots are anchored in.  Therefore, it is imperative that attention is given to the health of the soil.

Key elements are:

Friability– the texture of the soil.  It should be soft and crumbly- think potting soil.

Most people do not begin with perfect soil of just the right texture but that does not mean you cannot be successful at gardening.

If your soil is too coarse (sandy) texture will be improved by adding compost and other organic materials such as mulch, leaves, etc.

If your soil is too fine (clay), which causes it to be compacted’ then it is going to need organic matter and other amendments such as green sand or expanded shale to loosen up the soil.

The Ph Balance- the Ph balance in the soil should be slightly alkaline.  If the soil is acidic the Ph can be adjusted by adding lime. However, I don’t think this point is worth getting worked up over unless you are growing a plant or crop that is extremely picky.  There are also many acid loving plants out there.  So, know what you are dealing with but then focus on using what you have versus feeling like you must change your soil.  If a soil is alive with microbial activity, plants can tolerate a Ph balance that is not quite right.

Drainage- this is more of a location issue.  If the location of your garden does not have good drainage you can fix this with using raised beds.  Sandy soils tend to drain too fast and clay soils tend to not drain fast enough.

If you have sandy soils you need to slow the drainage down by incorporating organic matter into the soil.  Any type of compost will work.  Compost acts like a sponge and holds onto water which helps correct the problem of drainage with sand.

Clay soils do not drain fast enough, so incorporating expanded shale or rock phosphate, you can spread the molecules out and allow the water to flow through.  Clay is very nutrient dense, so if you can solve the drainage issue, you can grow beautiful things in clay.

5 Key Amendments for Organic Soil

Organic Matter– compost, manure, etc

Lava Sand- The sand-sized and smaller waste material left from lava gravel mining is an excellent, high-energy soil amendment material.

Rock Phosphate– a finely ground rock powder, contains minerals and will enhance the soil texture

Greensand- a material from seabed deposits, contains minerals and improves soil texture.

Limestone (Lime)- rock powder used to sweeten acidic soils

 Micronutrients- these may be missing from your soil but are essential for crops and blooms.  Magnesium found in Epsom Salt is a good example.

Organic matter from a wide array of sources and greensand will ensure that you have micronutrients galore.

 

Earthworm Castings

Worm castings have been long known to be a highly fertile component of organic soil.  Compared to the average soil, worm castings are said to contain 5 times more nitrogen, 7 times more phosphorus and 11 times more potassium.  They are rich in humic acids and improve the structure of the soil as well.

How To Apply- use these methods with any of the amendments

Top-Dress- this is simply sprinkling the amendments over the top of the soil.  This method would be used in existing beds.

Working It In- In using this method, you would apply the amendments to the soil and then turn the soil over.  The soil can be turned over by hand with a shovel or by machine such as a tiller.  This method would be used in new beds or in row cropping.

Fertilizers:

Compost!  LOTS of it-  This is one of the best fertilizers you can use.  If you have your own compost pile then it is free- which makes it even better!

Animal Manures– any animal that chews its cud produces manure that can be added directly to the garden.  This would include Llamas, goats, and sheep.  Other animal manures need to be composted first for about 6 months then added to the garden.  Rabbits are an exception to this rule, their manure can be added directly to the garden.

American Blue Rabbits
Not only do these cute things produce excellent fertilizer for your garden- they are easy to keep!

Carl Poole Fertilizers- this is a good company that makes some great products.

These should be applied in September thru November for Spring and Summer gardens and June – August for Fall Gardening.  Top dressing is the best way as tilling can disturb soil biology.  The less disturbance the better.  Most beds are still in good shape from the summer garden and just need to be cleaned up and top dressed.

Bringing soil to a point of great texture and high fertility is an ongoing process- once you have achieved beautiful soil, you will still need to maintain it with these same amendments and fertilizers.

Even though your plants will tell you if something is wrong, don’t wait for a struggling plant to address the soil.  Make amending the soil part of your garden schedule and then happy plants will greet you all year long!

An herb garden
Beans, and Texas natives make good companions with herbs.