The Golden Circlet

All the good things in life


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Homeschooling: Herbal Marshmallows

Floppy and I have been working through this book, a sort of children’s herbal.

 

I have mixed feelings about herb books. Part of me loves them, loves the wise-woman magic of making medicines and cosmetics and foods and rituals from plants. One of my failings as a parent is that I don’t do well with Floppy’s little injuries and illnesses. I tend to get irritable with him for having gotten sick or hurt — a blame-the-victim mentality if ever there was one, but to be fair, he usually gets boo boos from doing things like tearing through the house at top speed after having been told 10 times to cut it out. But I think some of the irritability is really just my own frustration with not being able to fix it, not being able to help. I’d like to have a repertoire of wise-woman tricks — even if they are only placebos — at the ready to care for my loves. I love the idea of having a witchy little apothecary of things I’d grown or collected to share in difficult or painful times.

Also, Floppy loves this stuff, in much the same way I did when I was his age. The natural world has magic in it, and making aromatic herbs into mysterious things that you can tell magical stories about is appealing to him as it was to me.

On the other hand, a lot of the medical claims they make in books like these are, you know, pretty much totally unfounded. I get the feeling that most of the adult people who are “into” herbs don’t have a very high standard for scientific rigor of medical claims, you know? And, well, fair enough. Even if you want to be intellectually rigorous about it: There are a lot of legitimate reasons for herbalists to be cynical of science as it is actually practiced, such as the fact that scientific studies of herbal medicine — as with every other kind of medicine — don’t happen unless someone stands to make a lot of money, and are biased in various ways against herbs that cannot be used to make anyone any money. Also, it’s very hard to research herbal medicine and traditional folks beliefs of all kinds, because these things work — if they work — synergistically, embedded into systems that are hard to study. You can’t isolate one active compound from a traditional herbal medicine practice and do a randomized controlled trial on it without feeling like you’re searching for the needle in the haystack. For example: Imagine an herbal compound for blood pressure and cardiac health, let’s say, that works when one part (which part? that’s a whole study right there!) of the whole plant is brewed into a tisane given to you by your herbalist, but does nothing when the compound is isolated from the plant and synthesized into a swallowable pill given to you by your pharmacist. Some plants are perfectly edible, delicious, and nutritious, when consumed by a healthy, non-nutritionally stressed human as part of a balanced diet, and fatally toxic when consumed in quantity by a hungry human. Some medications — not herbs, plain old Western medications — do nothing when the patient doesn’t know s/he’s taken them. This stuff would be terribly difficult to research with enormous resources. But there are very few resources to study herbal medicine traditions, and there never will be.  

So I understand why herbalists are cavalier about science. Nevertheless, using a medication — any medication, even one made out of a plant and brewed up into a mild herbal tea or applied as a wise-woman poultice — that I has nothing more than folk wisdom to recommend it, or even ensure its safety, gives me the creeps. And teaching my son to do this strikes me as unscientific, unthoughtful. So I have mixed feelings!

I’m resolving this in the short-term by sticking to those portions of the book that feature food herbs and somewhat schlocky-sweet magical stories. With which we are having an excellent time!

This week, we made marshmallows using real marshmallow root:

I was SO excited for these marshmallows. I’ve always wanted to make marshmallows with the actual botanical, and the recipe had no gelatin in it, which I also liked, because I dislike the fetid smell gelatin gives homemade marshmallows. But, truthfully, these turned out more like meringues than marshmallows — whipped egg white is the main ingredient — and Floppy thought they were disgusting. I think they might be good floating in hot chocolate — but haven’t tried that yet,

After we stuck the marshmallows in the oven, we read a silly little story about two children exploring a garden where the spirits of herbs grow and beg humans to use them. Floppy thought this story was wonderful, magical and inspiring, and after we read it, he wrote a little plants-and-magic tale of his own. A successful evening all around!

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The Artist’s Way and What God’s Got

I have mixed feelings about The Artist’s Way.

On the one hand, I know lots of people who have found it instrumental in developing their own creativity and careers. On the other hand, I don’t believe in anything like the spiritual power of positive thinking. I just don’t believe that God provides gifts, help, or aid to people who are on the right spiritual path, at least not on consistent basis. My belief in God is a tenuous thing on the best of days, but as my rabbi said when I asked him about his own personal faith, “The question is not, ‘Do you believe in God?’ Of course I believe in God. But how much God? Clearly, not enough.”

To look around at a world full of believers, full of people trying hard to do the right thing, full of people with rich faith throwing their entire hearts into the enterprise of making this world a better place, and to know that despite all their efforts and all their creativity, the world is in terrible peril, is to know that there is not enough God to go ’round. What else can we conclude? Humans have wrecked the planet using their God-given free will (and therefore deserve what we get)? God wants us to suffer as part of some grand, mysterious plan? We’re just not praying hard enough, or doing the right things, to make God help us? I don’t believe any of that. I know that good people can try hard to do the right thing their entire lives in this unfair, unequal world, and not get any heavenly help to escape their situations. I know that powerful people motivated by greed may very well wreck my home, and yours too, and God may not show up to stop them. Unlike Jesus, I’m not surprised anymore that God has forsaken me.

So when Julia Cameron claims that all I need to do is say what my creative dreams are, begin to act on them, write about them, treat myself with kindness, and pray for divine assistance in my creative work, God will help me, I don’t entirely believe her. I do believe her a little. I believe in God, a little. And the God I believe in, or want to believe in, is indeed a creator. My God has abundance and blessings to share. My God doesn’t want me to suffer, or to struggle. My God wants all good things for me, and will add fuel to my fire — if I build it — the way sparks burst out of a log: inconsistently but explosively. That’s how God works. That’s all God’s got: everything you need, but only some of the time.

That said, my experience of the Artist’s Way is mostly that it is a helpful experience. Talking about, writing about, acting on, and being kind to yourself about your creative dreams is a good thing. I’ve been through the book twice on my own, and right now I’m working through it again in a group. I have some thoughts about why it might be helpful from a scientific, rather than spiritual, perspective, but I’ll save that for another day.


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Thinking About Lunchbox Trees

I’m plotting how to plant myself a lunchbox tree.

It’s the wrong time of year for gardening of all sorts, including the fantastical type, but even though the seed catalogs haven’t had their turn yet, it’s not too early to dream about a garden.

I know the boxes should be bright white, like these:

At least, the ripe ones should be. But they also need foliage, like any good plant. But the lunchbox tree bears fruit year round, so there should also be small green ones, unripe and empty of lunch. Probably there should also be lovely white paper blossoms, like so:


In my magical greenhouse, I cultivated this green, unripe lunchbox today. Maybe I can graft this one to an apple tree on the rail trail next summer?

Unripe Lunchbox
Here are some other visions I’m using for inspiration. From Giverslog:

The cupcake tree reminds me of General Jinjur’s cream puff bushes, and I would like to grow a cream puff bush, too. Would cream puffs be encased in parchment-papery shells, like ground cherries, do you suppose? Or would they fruit in the middle of winter, straight from long stems like winter roses?

L.Frank Baum’s world is chock full of magical trees and amazing orchards, and all of them are growing vigorously in my imagination. Check out the army of Oogaboo, for example, full of reservist soldiers — all named Jo — whose regular jobs include tending to orchards full of trees that grow apples, clocks, books, buns, ice cream cones, etc. Or Ozma, who gets dangerously transformed into a peach pit made of gold at the center of the only peach in Ugu the Shoemaker’s vast forest of fruit trees. I’d like to get some seeds from Tim Walker, because his dress tree must surely grow in Oz, and belongs in the orchard I am planning.

Then there’s the question of what would be growing inside the lunchboxes. L. Frank’s vision suggested standard box lunch fare — sandwiches, pickles, a slice of cheese. But surely hybridizers would have improved the fruit by now, don’t you think? I’ve always guessed Luxirare must have picked some of her creations from magical trees, like her bento box or her seafood squares or her trompe l’oeil avocados….

And everything from Made From Scratch’s Urban Garden Party seems like exactly something you’d eat in an Oz orchard, but especially these syllabub tulips:


I’m guessing that I may not be able to ape the very best of the hybridizer’s magical art, so the tree I’m growing may bear shrimp spring rolls and pocky. Or bagels and herring and lox. Something along those lines, anyway….