Apr 202016

WW40cFirst of all, to my friends and family in Houston… I know some of you took some damage from the insane rains this week (Scott, Adam…). You have my sincerest sympathy. I know I whined about being scared by a tornado a few weeks back. You guys really didn’t have to do this just to show me up!  Thinking

I lived most of my life in and around the Houston metroplex. One thing I learned is that, while it doesn’t happen often, those floods can be devastating. I remember being stuck in my neighborhood a time or two, and MBH recalls being flooded out of her house when she was a kid. I even lost a friend during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 when she was told to move her car from a flooding underground parking garage. She took the elevator down, where the rising water shorted it out, trapped her inside, and filled with water. Kristie and I were both members of the Woodlands Writers Guild, and had worked on some writing conferences together.

And I guess this post just took a rather maudlin turn, didn’t it?

Moving to a more upbeat tone… I spoke to my mom this morning, and she seems to be recovering from her knee surgery wonderfully. The staples were removed from the incision yesterday, and she has regained motion in the knee to the point of being able to bend to nearly 90 degrees (although she says bending that far is still painful). All in all, she’s doing great.  Big Smile

Chucklers is moving right along. Restructuring the book has led to some rewrites and character expansions. Otherwise, most of the first book would be from Charlie’s POV, but interspersed with occasional chapters from other characters. In short, it would be completely out of balance without the reworks. But like I said, the work progresses. At the current rate, I should know soon whether the existing manuscript is going to be one book or two.

WW40bA final note. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve begun researching and applying some herbal medicine skills. There are a lot of pieces to those skills. You have to learn what plants have what medicinal properties, how to make them into infusions, tinctures, infused oils, salves, and poultices. But none of that knowledge does you any good if you aren’t able to identify the plants accurately. Well today I learned to identify a new plant. I’d read about it in several herbal medicine books, and seen it on various websites, but Plantain has so many variants that it threw me. And seeing pictures of something just isn’t the same as being able to put your hands on it and see it in real life.

Today, while I was walking the girls, I noticed a plant in a neighbor’s yard that looked very much like the descriptions and pictures I’d researched. And after all the rain we’ve had here (no, nothing like Houston) they were pushing up an easily identifiable flower stalk. But I still wasn’t sure, so I took a picture and posted it to a wildcrafting site I follow asking if it was, indeed, plantain. Sure enough, several wildcrafters confirmed it for me.

WW40aBut I didn’t want to go into the neighbor’s yard and start digging up plants. Besides, I sure didn’t want to make an infused oil from a plant that could have pesticide or other chemicals in it. So I decided that since I was now able to accurately identify this handy little medicinal, I went into my own back yard, hoping to find it there. It wasn’t until I had walked all the way to the back that I found it, but once I did, I was happy to see that there’s quite a bit of it near the back of the property. (Most of the broad-leafed plants in the picture to the left are plantain.) Specifically, it looks like I have Kentucky Plantain growing in relative abundance in my back yard.

Plantain is one of the better antidotes for insect stings and bites, snakebite, poison ivy, rashes, burns, cuts, and other skin ailments. When heated, the leaves can be applied topically to swollen joints, sore muscles, sprains, etc. Studies have shown that it is rich in tannin (which draws tissue together to help stop bleeding), allantoin (which promotes the healing of injured skin cells), and is an anti-inflammatory. There are other reputed uses, but I’ll stick with the ones that have scientific studies behind them.

So that’s my little bit of excitement for the day. Now I get to experiment with trying to dehydrate it, and make some infused oil out of it. I’m curious about whether dehydrating it significantly lowers its potency in infusions and oils.

I guess I’ll find out.

And that’s it. Time to get back to work. Stay safe everyone. I’ll see you in a week.  Bye


Jun 152015

Monday. MBH and I had a really nice weekend, despite the dreary weather. As I mentioned in my last post, Friday was my birthday, and she seemed determined to make it a weekend event. She’s really too good to me. J She cooked banana pancakes for breakfast on Saturday, and on Sunday, we had some errands to run, so we ate breakfast out. Then she made some slow cooker barbeque ribs cooked in homemade sauce for dinner, and they were absolutely amazing! (YUM!)

Let’s see, what else? Hmmm…

Sumac - 20150614_201213Ah! Many of you know I’m a bit of a self-sufficiency aficionado, with a strong interest in prepping, homesteading, wild crafting, and related topics of study. Well, for the last few days, my wife has commented on some bushes we pass while walking the girls. She kept wondering what the plants with the big red blooms were. They were across the street from where we walk and in an overgrown area, so at first I didn’t pay much attention. I simply glanced at them, and being partly colorblind, saw a big, spindly plant with leaves that were roughly feather shaped, and reddish, fluffy seeming blooms. From a distance, it looked like a mimosa, and I mentally wrote it off as such.

But yesterday I had occasion to get a closer look. Now, here comes the apparent non-sequitur, but trust me, we’re coming back around to the topic in a few seconds…

See, while we love our girls fiercely, we have come to accept that they are often not the friendliest dogs in the world when it comes to meeting new people. Sometimes they’re fine, but the unfortunate truth is that it’s not uncommon for them to lose their ever-lovin’ minds when someone new approaches. They bark and growl, and in general sound like the doggie apocalypse is coming. As such, we usually make it a point to take them across the street whenever we see someone walking towards us. I know some of the neighbors probably think we’re being unfriendly, but I don’t want to have them worried about the barking teddy bears on the leashes.

Well, yesterday as we were walking them for the evening walk, some neighbors were out on the sidewalk ahead of us. So we took the girls across the street, which brought us closer to the mystery plants. Additionally, there were a couple of rabbits in the field near them. These factors combined to cause me to pay more attention to the field, and as a result, take a closer look at the plants. When I realized that the big red blooms on top weren’t blooms at all, but were in fact clusters of red berries that projected upwards from the limbs, I got a little excited. See, in my research on homesteading, permaculture, and backyard orcharding, I had learned about wild sumac.

If you’re like most people, the first sumac you hear about is “poison sumac”, and so you immediately develop a healthy caution with it. But in many parts of the world, sumac is a spice. In many places here in the US, it’s known as the “lemonade tree”. And when I learned that it grows wild in many parts of the country, I developed quite an interest in a plant that can be used as a spice, or to flavor cooking meats, or even to make a tart drink similar to lemonade. I read about how to identify poison sumac by its marshy environment, smooth-edged leaves, and yellow, green or white berries that hang downwards.

Its cousin is edible sumac, and comes in many varieties. However, almost all of them have serrated leaves, and either red or purple berries that grow in conical, upward pointing clusters. It was the berry clusters on that mystery plant that convinced me that we had stumbled across edible sumac. And, being the idiot that I am, I picked one of the tiny berries, and popped it in my mouth.

It was a stupid thing to do. My memory could have been off, right? It would have been smarter for me to take a picture, get back home, and confirm what I thought I remembered with concrete evidence from the interwebs. But as my wonderful wife will attest, I’m not always all that smart. I trusted my memory.

I got a little nervous when I didn’t taste any of the reported tart, sour flavor. Instead, when I bit into that tiny berry, all I tasted was a slight astringent bitterness, similar to biting into an unripe elderberry. But despite that lack of identifying tartness, I was still convinced I had found sumac. So I got home and researched more. It turns out that you aren’t supposed to chew the berries, but rather suck on them. The tart flavor is in the coating on the berries, and often washes off in rain. And we’ve had plenty of rain over the last few days.

So I am still 95% sure we’ve found sumac. Specifically, I’m pretty sure it’s “Smooth Sumac” (aka Rhus glabra). It’s growing on the edge of a neighbor’s property, so I need to check with them and see if they want the bushes, and if not, see if they would mind if I dig one or two of them up and try to transplant them to the back of our property.

How crazy is it that I get excited over finding a plant? Man, my life has changed.

All right. Enough for now. It’s raining again, and I have writing to do. So stay safe, and I’ll be back tomorrow.