27 June 2012

La Belle's Hobby Farm: The Art and Agony of Waiting

Your heart is full of fertile seeds, waiting to sprout.
~ Morihei Ueshiba

he most difficult part of being a gardener is the waiting.  You plant, you weed, you mulch, you water, you weed, and you wait.

I hate waiting.

Every evening, when I water my garden, I give an encouraging pep talk to my plants, coo to the two rabbits that have moved in to the meadow next door [which means soon there will be a passle of them!], and peek into the pot that holds my sage seeds.  Nothing.

As a GenXer, I'm softer then past generations: expecting everything to upload, download, convert, revert, turn on, turn off, in under a millisecond. But living at that speed isn’t real.  It isn’t sustainable. It isn’t healthy ~ either for us or the earth.

And certainly not for the garden.

To produce the miracle and magic of good fruit takes time.  The roots need to sink deep, grow strong, find their anchor.  The routine of watering, weeding and mulching can seem boring at times,  a waste of time, money, and effort, when you don’t see results right away.  But stop the routine and you reap nothing but withered stems and sterility.

Yes, it is difficult waiting in the garden.  But there is so much to learn here in the shade and the sun and rain and the drought.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

What are you waiting for?

25 June 2012

I Ain't Stupid!: Discovering the Artist Within

The way we imagine ourselves to appear to another person is an essential element in our conception of ourselves.  In other words, I am not what I think I am, and I am not what you think I am.
I am what I think you think I am.

~ Robert Bierstedt
or years I believed I was lazy, unfocused, stupid, scatter-brained, and perhaps a little ADD.  I would sit and try to focus on a task, but one sentence, one word, and my mind immediately made ten different associations.  And those ten led to ten ideas each.  And so on.

Then I found out that I had a higher than average IQ.

Ok, so what? The knowledge of my brain capacity didn’t help me feel any less stupid.  Why couldn't I just follow directions?  It’s simple, stupid ~ just go from A to B to C to get to D.  It didn’t matter if I reached the correct conclusion or answer just by looking at the problem; I had to show the steps I had taken to get there.  But that only led to heart-scarring angst for a pupil who longed to please, and frustrated teachers who saw great potential, but were not educated about personality types and the different ways children learn.   As hard as I tried, I couldn’t tell them how I got the answer, I just knew. 

The Crystal Ball, J.W. Waterhouse

Add “smart-ass” to my list of labels.

Many moons later, I was given the Myers-Briggs personality test and discovered that I was an iNtuitive.  And that I was among only 1% of the population.

A whole new life opened up for me. 

I continued to dance to my own music, but this time with a freedom and confidence I had never known.  Finally, I could be at peace with my identity/personality.  Now, that doesn't mean that I don't feel lazy and unfocused at times, but now I have a context.  I understand how my brain – both the neocortex (sometimes called the rational brain) and the limbic system (commonly called the emotional brain) works and how I uniquely process and use the information I take in.

Consequently, I could also now be more patient with others with different personalities.   Just like I lived with the mismatched labels that had been stuck on me, the other fifteen personality types also had mismatched labels that I had given them. 

Sensitives still manage to get on my nerves ~ patience is not one of my virtues.  But with my new-found knowledge, I no longer view them as slow and stupid; rather, I recognize that they are more detail-oriented and methodical, two strengths which I don’t always tap into.

And I’m still a smart-ass.   

But now I’m a confident and creative one!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Next week, we look a little deeper into an iNtuitive’s so-called faults and how to use them to unlock creativity.  In the meantime, share with us: were you mis-labeled? How did you cope?  And what led you to realize your gifts and strengths?

21 June 2012

Top Five Friday: Teapots!

When we sip tea, we are on our way to serenity.
~ Alexandra Stoddard

eauty can be found and enjoyed everywhere and anywhere.  You just have to look for it.  Alexandra Stoddard is one of my favorite lifestyle authors, and a great proponent of making the ordinary into something magical and beautiful.

We are so rushed today, so scattered.  Even our coffee shops have drive-thrus now.  Convenient, to be sure, but hardly conducive to beauty, rest, and appreciation.  Tea is an art, and can be a beautiful, serene part of your day ~ either at the beginning, on a work break, or in the evening.

And it starts with a beautiful teapot.  Here are some of my favorites that I would love to add to my collection!

Love the set! I have this in a deep red.


Dragonflies – my favorite!

What can I say – I’m a girly girl!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

How do you surround yourself with beauty?

20 June 2012

La Belle's Hobby Farm: The Tommy Toes Are In!!

Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it. 
~ Author Unknown

should write a book about my hobby farm experience.  I would call it: “How NOT to Hobby Farm” and it would be the Dave Barry version of gardening. My landscape dude did not come as planned on Saturday.  The carburetor on his rototiller was leaking.

I didn’t even know rototillers had carburetors! 

Nor did I know that landscape dudes don’t check their equipment until the day they are supposed to be working; no, make that the hour they were supposed to be already unloading said rototiller and munching up my soil.


That roar is understated.  I was not understated when I called up Landscape Dude #2 with the sexy Australian accent (what? I failed to mention that before. My bad.  Yes, very sexy accent.) I practically cried on the phone.

I think I scared him.  He didn’t even return my call.  No sexy Aussie to till my land.


In their real bed at last!!
Meanwhile, in tiny nursery beds, my tommy toes were wilting.  So against all conventional  wisdom and my own better judgment, I dumped out three bags of organic mushroom compost and planted the majority of them in the old flower bed, behind the basil plants (which as still going strong!), and in front of the mulberry weed.  This little patch has very rich soil and gets sun, but not eight hours of it, and it’s in part shade, thanks to said mulberry weed. 
At least they are in the ground, and not lost to the tiny plastic bins that were quickly becoming their caskets.

All I can do now is water them in the morning and in the evening and pray to St. Isidore, the patron of farmers, for a harvest.

This coming weekend, I look for a spot for the cucs and the watermelon.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Want to take bets on whether these guys make it through the Virginia summer and actually produce tomatoes?

18 June 2012

Coffee and Creativity: Finding the "Write" Balance

Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice,
rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.
~ Proverbs 27:14

ome people wake up in the morning and say, “Good morning, God!”  You know them ~ insufferably cheerful Pollyannas who don’t need a drop of caffeine or a cold shower to shake off the film of sleep.

The rest of us struggle to rise, and if we say anything beyond a grunt, it would translate as “Good God, it’s morning!”  For a long time I thought I was a spiritual slacker for greeting a brand new day with such a nasty and ungrateful attitude.  However, this little bit of wisdom from Proverbs above rights my world again.

Take that, Mister/Miss Perky! Nyah!
So imagine my chagrin when I read Laura Vanderkam’s article on Fast Company this morning.
Mornings are a great time for getting things done….Your supply of willpower is fresh after a good night’s sleep.
You have got to be kidding me.

My alarm went off at 4:45 this morning.  Do you know how much willpower I had after about six hours of sleep?  Just enough to glare at the phone, slide the snooze button, and roll over.

Thunderous applause.

And you want me to get things done?

All right, all right.  So I have tried this before.  As you can see, it didn’t last long.  One part ADD, one part sheer stubbornness, one part love of sleep.  One would think I could harness that stubborn energy and apply it to my creativity. 

Then number two on Laura’s list of before-breakfast routines sparked my interest: envision a perfect morning?  Readers that have been with me for awhile know a little of what that would look like.  To write undisturbed for one to two hours. To churn out pages and pages of writerly brilliance.  Savoring a pot of tea and a plate of buttered toast.  But in the world I live in right now, that type of bliss would entail getting up earlier than the 4:45 alarm. 

And by definition that would not be blissful.

However, I certainly need something to help me become more productive.  And by productive, I mean actively creative.  I can dream it, write it, play it, sing it, craft it.  But life ~ or at least the disorganization that is part of my persona ~ seems to shove all those great ideas to the back while I put out yet another fire.

This is no way for a serious creative to live!

Something must be done.  I am convinced there is a palatable compromise hidden in Laura’s advice.  I just need to find it and try it out for a couple of weeks.

Right after I take a nap.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Do you follow a set routine?  Do you find that it helps you accomplish your goals while reaming open to the creative spark? Or did you find your creativity stifled?

15 June 2012

Top Five Friday: Herbals - To Tea or Not to Tea?

Ecstasy is a glass full of tea and a piece of sugar in the mouth.
~ Alexander Puskin

ontinuing our celebration of National Iced Tea Month, today I offer up my five favorite herbal teas.

There is nothing more comforting than a cup of tea.  Add some homemade shortbread, a good book, and your favorite lounge-at-home outfit, and you’re set to soothe those commute/misbehaved kids/unfeeling partner/insert your downer here-shattered nerves!

Herbal teas are made from herbs (imagine that!) versus leaves of the Camellia sinensis.  So technically it isn’t tea, it’s a tisane, which Merriam-Webster defines as an infusion used as a beverage or for medicinal effects and which comes from the Latin ptisana ~ to crush barley.  And that is what is done here: the herbs are crushed to make “tea.”

Photo courtesy Desislava Vasileva

Just a reminder: if you are taking prescription meds, some herbs may interact or counteract them.  So read up on your herbs carefully before making a cuppa!  The Herb Companion is a great resource, as well as my mother of all go-to books ~ Nutritional Healing. 

Love this stuff!  It really does help ease a tummy ache ~ although if one has overindulged, a detox fast is your better bet!

It goes without saying that when putting something in your body, it is best to put in something that hasn’t had toxins sprayed all over it.  TM has great organic teas and this one is my favorite versions of chamomile.  Love the lavender scent! 

Allergy alert! If ragweed gives you the sniffles and makes your eyes weepy-red, give chamomile a pass.

I cannot sing the praises of Mountain Rose Herbs enough.  I buy oils from them and have tried a few of their teas.  Haven’t been disappointed yet.  This tea is scrumptious!  My goal is to try all of them. 

Note: I don’t know if this version is organic, but I believe Tazo does make an organic one.  Great flavor, pairs well with cream ~ or in my dairy-free world ~ coconut milk.  A calming tea to drink right before bedtime.

Grate some fresh ginger in a pot of this and your sinuses will clear and your tummy will settle!

And now to put the kettle on!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

What herbal teas do you enjoy? 

13 June 2012

La Belle's Hobby Farm: Tilling vs. Mulching

My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made
while learning to see things from the plant's point of view. 
~ H. Fred Dale

ill this garden ever get planted!?  Last weekend I tried to find a reasonably priced used rototiller.  Raised beds were a nightmare of the past, and  I decided I would just use the land I do have and tear it up.

Everything I had read said this was unnecessary.

But I am impatient. You might not think so since it is now mid-June and my 48 tomato plants are wilting and struggling in their tiny nursery beds.  Oh yeah.  I can’t WAIT to write my lessons learned post at the end of this growing season!  It will be a lesson in humility!  Meanwhile, I made a discovery last Friday.

Landscape dudes rototill. 

photo courtesy of Sergejs Nescereckis

Glory be!  Why didn’t I think of this miracle before now?!  Forget the used rototiller (there weren’t any) or a new rototiller (you want how much?!).  I can now have my land rototilled and I don’t have to actually do the work.  I’m sure seeing a 5’2” woman chasing after a runaway rototiller would have made for some great YouTube moments.  However, I am sure it is much better this way!

So I called one of the several I interviewed and he’s all set to come out on Saturday and tear up the land so my wee babies have a permanent home.  It’s in a great sunny spot and veggies have been planted there before and grown successfully ~ many moons ago.

Then another wrench was thrown into the works. But a good one!

I think.

A girlfriend of mine who is also into nature and gardening sent me this link.  Whether one agrees with Paul Gautschi's spirituality or faith or not, he does makes some really good points about observing how nature works and using those same principles in gardening.  His way of gardening certainly seems more sustainable and eco-friendly.

So now I’m wondering: do I call the rototiller dude and cancel the tilling and ask him to bring me a truckload of find compost/wood chips/organic material??

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

I need your help on this one: to rototill or to mulch ~ that is the question!

11 June 2012

Poetry Party #58

Poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes. 
~ Carl Sandburg

 bbey of the Arts is hosting another Poetry Party!  Christine inspires us with a beautiful photo and words of encouragement:

“…we are entering the season of summer – a time of ripeness and illumination. Write a poem this week in celebration of summer's glories and gifts.  Let's savor and relish the world's fullness together through the written word.”

What does this picture inspire in you?  Write your thoughts and feelings and memories of summer in a poem and paste it in the comment section over at the Abbey!  I’ll be writing one of my own this week.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

08 June 2012

Top Five Friday: June is National Iced Tea Month!

There are few hours in life more agreeable
than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. 
~ Henry James

une is National Iced Tea Month. (Ahh, the bizarre information a writer finds when searching for topics!)  This makes me happy, not just because I am a Southerner who loves her sweet tea, but because I am a writer always in search of ideas.  Not just any writer, but an ADD, big-picture, iNtuitive Feeler creative, who needs things like deadlines, post-its, fascinating people, and themes to help me stay focused and productive.

I do this with copious amounts of tea.

And single malt scotch.  But that is a post for another day!

So in honor of National Iced Tea Month, the next four Fridays (computer crashed last Friday ~ mea culpa!) I will be highlighting tea: hot, iced, with friends, alone, at home and in various tea rooms in the Washington, DC area.  Without further ado, today I give you my top five black teas.

Lapsang Souchong
According to Wikipedia, Lapsang Souchong is the oldest black tea, predating Keemun tea, which is a black tea that was first produced in 1875.  Is it not to everyone’s liking ~ the smoky taste reminds me of a sooty fireplace.  But fireplaces have a romantic appeal for me, so memory, imagination, and taste buds all blend together in a beautiful polyphony when I brew a pot of Lapsang Souchong.

Earl Grey
Call me a tea traditionalist, but the Earl always makes it on my list.  The birth of this famous tea is disputed; however, the name comes from the 2nd Earl Grey, the British PM in the 1830s.  There is also a heavenly variation called crème de la Earl Grey, which I buy at one of two local tea shops.

Spiced Chai
Not all teas are meant to be iced, but an iced chai goes very well with summer picnics, although not necessarily with bar-b-que (unless it were curried bar-b-que ~ hmmm). 

Angel’s Dream
I didn’t know of anyone who sold this tea except my local tea shop, Tea Thyme and What Nots.  And then I found it at The English Store (naturally)! It is one of the most aromatic and relaxing black teas I have ever tasted.  Goes well with home-made shortbread.

Pumpkin Spice
I know it’s June and we’re a long way off from Fall.  But this is a list of my top five black teas, so Pumpkin Spice must to be here.  Very good with pumpkin pie, pumpkin custard, pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, pumpkin…oh I’m sorry I started to drool and zone out there. 

Did I mention how much I like pumpkin?

Now I'm off to make some proper sweet tea. . . .and find the used rototiller of my dreams.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

What are some of your favorite black teas and where do you buy them?

06 June 2012

La Belle's Hobby Farm: Raised Beds Suck!

Gardening requires lots of water - most of it in the form of perspiration. 
~ Lou Erickson

aised garden beds are a pain in the dupa! Week Six of La Belle’s Hobby Farm Project.  All is not going well.  In fact, it is not going at all! 

I hate raised garden beds.

And smug lumber jockeys who try to sell you treated wood for said raised garden beds.

And 3 inch screws that claim they don’t need pre-drilled holes. Liars.

And lumber that won’t lay flat on the ground while you try to screw them together.

I hate them all!!

But I have 48 baby tomatoes that need a permanent place to lay their green heads.  So now I’m scouting around looking for the best home (lots o’ sun!) for these little guys, and then it’s off to find an inexpensive, used rototiller.

I know!

All the research says raised beds.  You hand till, and leave the worms intact to do the heavy lifting of aerating the soil.

But honey, do you know how much dirt I would have to buy in order to fill up a raised bed?  Whoever came up with dirt cheap has never shopped at the local nursery or Lowe’s for organic dirt for a raised bed.

Plus, the soil already there is rich and ready to support and sustain my precious plants.  So I can get away with just adding compost, etc and not worry about pricey organic dirt.

So the raised beds are out, gardening the old-fashioned way is in.

Well, not completely old-fashioned: it’s not feasible or possible for me to hook an ox up to a plow and turn up dirt.  If you know of a greener way to plow a field, email me or share in the comments!

In another news, the three basil plants are surviving; I pinched their little purple flowers off.  This ensures they reach their full potential, both in flavor and production.  For more about growing herbs, visit Margaret Roach’s A Way to Garden – Herb Q&A.  She highlights some wonderful herb-growing advice from her friend Marie Rose Nichols McGee.  As I’ve mentioned before, Margaret’s blog is my second go-to site for gardening advice ~ second only to Mother Earth News!

I have Friday off, so wish me luck on my rototiller buying adventure!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Ever start a project and then quit out of frustration?  Maybe you decided on a work-around instead.  Share your experience with me and my readers!