The Beauty of a Standing Wood Lot and wood burning stove primer

In 2012 we moved from our 40 x 80 foot city lot to our dream property–a 40 acre hobby farm. The farm has a nice mix of land– 20 acres tilleable, 5 acres around the house and outbuildings and 15 acres wooded.

Recently this mix has been huge in our quest of more self-sufficiency. The house also came with a wood burning stove in the basement and some wood to finish out the season. Shortly after we moved, in mid-January the power went out. We were new to rural living and power outages and were not sure what to expect. But luckily we had wood in the house and were able to start a fire and be warm and cozy until the power came back on, which luckily wasn’t too long.

But we had little experience with wood burning stoves and were not really good at keeping the fire going. We kept smoking the house, only to have the fire go out overnight and struggle to get the fire going in the morning.

The next year we were pretty much out of cut wood and decided that our time was better used in other farm projects then laying up wood for the winter. We had struggled to keep the fire going anyway and decided we would rely on the house’s furnance.

But then in the summer of 2019 a storm hit. I write about it here. While traumatic, one of the benefits was that we were required to clean up our yard where all the trees went down–3 full trees in the yard alone, more in the woods.

While it was so frustrating to have our beautiful yard destroyed and favorite trees go down in a storm they were a gift to our family and our quest for seasonal and self -sufficient living.

We brought out the splitter and over the summer of 2020 (It took us awhile to get things set up to cut our own wood) we began cutting and splitting wood with the goal of having 6 pallets to get us through the winter.

In November as the weather started to cool, we began to experiment with the stove. We bought some creosote logs to clean the chimney and did a couple test fires during the day before we were ready to have a fire going overnight. Our energy bill in December was under half of what it normally is and the trend has continued.

But more then saving money using my stove with wood from my favorite tree has had a profound effect on me. I realize that I enjoy the smell of wood smoke and suspect that there is something about this smell that reminds me of comfort and security in my genes.

The fact that I am responsible for my own heat is also profound. We had to chop and split the wood and now we have to mind the fire to make sure it continues. I have learned that there are cycles to the fire. About once a week the ash to coal ratio often hits its tipping point and we have to clean out the ashes. Then for about a day after that it is hard to get the coals going without the ashes for insulation. So it is kind of a Catch 22–you need the ashes to insulate and preserve the coals but you also can’t have too many ashes.

Now four months into the winter we are almost out of wood. We hope to have 10 pallets next year. Virtually all of this year’s supply of wood came from one tree (my favorite and I am reminded of her sacrifice every time I use her wood), but there are other trees around the house and in the woods that will keep our house warm for many years to come.

While it is important to acknowledge that we share our land with wild life that lives in standing, dead trees (and therefore we do not want to cut down trees even if they are presumed dead) with so many trees down all over the property we have more than enough wood for the animals and us.

Traditional homesteaders often purposely kept wood lots for animals and people. Sadly land is being cleared all over, even in our own neighborhood. I feel so thankful to the previous owners of our farm that felt like woods were valuable enough to leave standing.

Calm in the season of Imbolc

I am so blessed to live in an area where I get to experience the beauty of the four seasons. While winter has a bad rap I know that it is a season of renewal, rebuilding and planning. As I study traditional seasonal living more I learned about the season of Imbolc–the shifting of winter to spring, a season of expectation.

A couple weeks ago we had beautiful freezing frosts in our neck of the woods.

Yesterday I was listening to a class about this seasonal shift with Gigi Stafne of Green Wisdom School of Natural and Botanical Medicine. While there is incredible beauty in this season it is also a season when many people suffer from anxiety and other mental dilemmas. Traditionally one of the names for this season was the “Hunger Moon” or “Hungry Moon.” Perhaps stress and anxiety at this time of year is in our DNA?

One of my favorite commercials during this season of unprecedented world wide stress is the Calm commercial. Where there is a video of rain dripping off of vibrant green leaves and the directions to do nothing for 30 seconds. We forget sometimes that “doing nothing” is actually something when we rest in the present moment, in our body’s intake and outtake of air. In the beautiful sounds of nature and the pleasant warmth of the sun on our face.

Author Angeles Arrien says that anxiety or frustration,

“is created by holding back energy or not taking action on energy. It is a state of feeling extremely anxious because our energy, that wants to be used, is not being directed. Anxiety is sitting in a chair, but going 100 miles an hour. . .Anxiety is an energetic resource which shows us that if we spend a long time in the negative states of mind, we will have emotional reactions which affect our essence, vision and intuition.”

But our energy can be directed to enjoying the present–the beauty of a hoar frost, a delicious soup or cup of tea on a long winter night, while looking for the coming light.

An Open Letter to Democratic Leadership in State and Country

My family is a family of oddballs. We are a bi-racial family that homeschools and homesteads. Before that my husband was a refugee from Southeast Asia. We have lived in a variety of places including Cambodia, a refugee camp in Thailand, Alabama, Los Angeles, Fargo, North Dakota, and suburbs of the twin cities.

Directly before moving to our 40 acre hobby farm we lived in a 40 by 80 foot lot on the Eastside of St. Paul.

We have seen a lot and are blessed to have been exposed to many ideas, perspectives and beliefs. This unique perspective and our love for our neighbors and rural home allows me to see there is a disconnect between many of the policies of the Democratic party and rural communities. The party has by and large lost the Farmer part of the Democratic-Farmer- Labor (DFL) party.

I was reading a book by Thich Nhat Hanh recently. In it he says —
“When communication is cut off, we all suffer. When no one listens to us or understands us, we become like a bomb ready to explode. Restoring communication is an urgent task. Sometimes only ten minutes of deep listening can transform us and bring a smile back to our lips. . .”

Communication has been cut off and rural America is not being heard by the party. In many ways this was key to the success of Donald Trump who espoused to listen, understand and take up the cause of farmers. Whether he actually did or not is not the point of this letter. Instead I urge you to please listen to rural America and make the plight of small farms and the communities that surround them a priority.

One thing that COVID glaringly highlighted was the fact that our food system is susceptible to collapse. As many hog farmers were unable to bring their hogs to process there were people going hungry. Small custom butchers were able to pick up some of the slack but still farmers’ fortunes are tied to national and multi-national companies and so is the food system.

I am a relatively new transplant to rural life. There are a multitude of issues. While poverty, drug use and domestic abuse are far from being only inner city concerns rural communities and towns are also decimated by the number of bright young people who have to leave their homes to make a living in the city in some cases with whole towns disappearing.

A sustainable food system that really tackles the issues of minimizing middle men, and allowing food to flow freely from farms to tables should be the priority of all of us at this time. Not only does it mean economic security for farmers and sustainable rural communities but strong food systems that support our cities with healthy food.

Land Stewardship Project is one organization I highly respect. I know that the Farm Service Agency and USDA is working hard to provide resources for farmers and our own state Department of Agriculture has an Emerging Farmers’ Working Group these are all important issues and steps in the right direction. But I urge all elected officials to take a serious look at rural America not as a vast red swath of the country but as citizens that have interconnected issues and concerns that need to be addressed and dealt with. Please reach out to farmers and communities and begin to formulate policies that can again make for prosperous communities!

A local historian in our area who has lived on the same farm (the one his grandfather originally homesteaded) for 90 years remembers when families could make a living off of 6-10 cows that the farm family milked by hand. While this sounds unattainable it also sounds idyllic–a system that supported a diverse and large number of small family farms with little negative impact on the environment and that honored and cared for the animals it depended all. At the same time providing a high quality product to local consumers with local creameries in nearly every town–milk was taken to town by wagon so many creameries close to the farms were required. Of course I would not expect this to be recreated but it offers a model completely different from what we now have. A middle path could and should be found.

A Power Suit for a “New” Age

I am reading Runes, a Deeper Journey by Kari Tauring (the book is also an app). I came across Tauring’s work through the Swedish American Institute and picked up a copy of her book. While honestly I don’t understand many of the Rune references and the teachings behind it I have been very enriched through her unique way of looking at an ancient languange and divination system and relating it not only to her northern European heritage but our world today.

Under the Rune Naudiz–the need fire, Tauring writes–

Our culture has made our basic survival needs so cheap and easy to obtain that we have grown dependent on the grocery store and upon oil and gas to heat our homes. Children grow up not even knowing where their food originates–the cow gives milk, not the grocery store. This dependency exists so that we can be marketed to and told what our needs are. We are encouraged to live so far from the true need fire that we no longer know how to take care of ourselves, our children or the elderly that we are obligated to protect. We are fed soda pop, fast food, and things that cause disease. Then we are sold remedies for these diseases. Television isolates us from one another and the community. The real need fire makes us feel secure by our efforts, but also feeds our desire to strive, know, question, and invent.”

In an unrelated incident I was out doing chores with my daughters. Around our farm we do alot of dirty work feedings animals, doctoring animals and cleaning up after them. We have special clothes we wear for these jobs–clothes we can get dirty in. But while in these clothes I feel immensely powerful, like I have what it takes to handle whatever life and the farm throw at me. And I can walk through alot of really deep mud to get where I want to go. I mentioned to Avril my feelings about chore clothes, my preferred “Power Suit” and she concurred that she felt the same way.

There is something about the way we live that is making me feel more capable and fully human then ever before. I see alot of people working towards connecting their efforts directly to meeting their needs. All over Facebook people are talking about how difficult it is to buy canning supplies this year and if you plan to garden next year I suggest you start now ordering seeds. There is a shift happening and I believe it is not only in my life. We want connection. We want to meet our needs. In what ways are you working to meet yours?

Baby animal cuteness–Benny and Jojo

So far this year we had 2 calves. Unfortunately both of them had selenium deficiency issues manifesting as mental slowness (in one case an inability to figure out how to nurse) and severe muscle tone issues. We have worked with a vet to resolve these issues and had to bottle feed both of these calves, though Jojo was able to stay with his mom and transition to nursing. Benny however had severe muscle tone issues. It took two weeks before he could stand! It took several days for him to be able to hold his head up on his own. But thanks to the great vets at Northern Veterinary both are doing so so much better now. It is really cute to see them interacting with each other. If they are put in the separate pens with their mothers they will call for each other.

I was able to get a video of them this morning. Though of course as soon as I turned the camera on they calmed down. But after a bit they started playing again.

I also introduce you to our birds at the end of the video.

One quick note I did accidentally call Benny Jojo at one point in the video. Benny is the one standing at the back.

Bitters for Digestion

Jump to Recipe

I am learning how important the bitter taste is for the human digestive system. Foods with bitter tastes tend to act very strongly on the digestive system thus stimulating the digestive juices required for optimal healthy absorption of our food.

Lately my digestion has been feeling a bit off. Mostly it has been just a low grade nausea. I hope to soon start an elimination diet to test for food allergies but since it is a big commitment of time (3-6 weeks) I want to have it planned out well. In the mean time I had been researching using bitter herbs to create a bitter formula for digestion.

I had come across a couple references to Swedish bitters but I was looking for a DIY recipe to try versus already mixed dried herbs or powders. I did not find anything that seemed to really fit me so I decided to create my own formula by using herbs I am drawn to and that grow in my garden. I used this basic recipe and this article about how to customize.

I actually came up with two recipes

I picked herbs that I could use from my garden. But couldn’t decide on just one recipe so I made 2.

Mugwort Digestive Bitters
2 oz chopped fresh mugwort (mine was in flower)
1 TBSP chopped fresh rosemary
2 oz dried dandelion root (from Mountain Rose Herbs)
2 TBSP dried hawthorn berries (from Mountain Rose Herbs)
quart jar
apple cider vinegar

Amy’s Personalized Digestive Bitters
2 TBSP chopped fresh ginger
1 TBSP cardamom seed
1 oz chopped fresh motherwort (mine was in flower, ouch!)
1/2 oz chopped blue vervain
1/2 oz dried rose petals
chopped orange peel from 1/2 organic orange
quart jar
Organic Prairie vodka

To make both you put the fresh and dried ingredients in the bottom of a sterile quart jar and and fill with your desired menstrum. In this case either vinegar or vodka. I wanted to try one of each. I then let it sit for 4-6 weeks, strain and put in dropper bottles.

Depending on whether you have low stomach acid (nausea) or high stomach acid (heartburn) depends on whether you take a dropper before or after eating. Low stomach acid take a dropper about 15 minutes before eating, high stomach acid after. Here’s to good health!

Mugwort Digestive Bitters

The bitter flavor of these herbs helps make sure your digestive system is running in tip top shape.


  • sterilized quart jars


bitter herbs

  • 2 oz chopped fresh mugwort
  • 1 TBSP chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 oz dried dandelion root
  • 2 TBSP dried hawthorn berries


  • To make put the fresh and dried ingredients in the bottom of a sterile quart jar and and fill to the top with either apple cider vinegar or vodka. Let it sit for 4-6 weeks, strain and put in dropper bottles for dosage. Refill as necessary.

Epic Life Lessons from Cows

Yesterday was an epic day–keeping in mind that many of our best epic adventures (I am think specifically of Lord of the Rings) do not start out well. Yesterday did not start out well.

It began with worries. Without going into too much detail I, like many others right now, I am worried about our economic future. While for this very instant, this day, we are safe, I was worried about what the future weeks and months might bring. I have been doing a lot of work trying to be more present but this was really testing me. At one point in the early morning the Bible Verse (Matthew 6:34) popped into my mind. It says not to worry about tomorrow because, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Ok that sounds really horrible the the idea that there is enough stuff to worry about in the present is what I got out of it.

Little did I know I actually had alot to worry about in the present (yesterday. When we went out to do chores we were missing 5 cows–2 of them were pregnant and due in a couple weeks so actually more cows were missing. We have discovered that our cows need a hard, high fencing and had spent weeks making a beautiful pen last year next to our greenhouse. We didn’t put a fence up over the greenhouse wall but instead used the wall as part of the siding and the cows broke through the plastic of the green house and walked out the front door, and onto the road. We followed their tracks for about 1/2 mile up the road. Stopping to ask our neighbors if they had seen a herd of cows walking past. It must have happened overnight because no one had seen anything, but many of them came out to help us search. One lady said she thought they were in a field about 1/4 mile off the road, behind all the houses.

Another friend from further up the road had heard we were looking and called to say her husband, who is a pilot and keeps a two seated Cessna at the local airport could take one of us up to look for them. I was beginning to be overwhelmed with the kindness offered us but the worry of the missing cows was keeping it at bay.

After 1 hour of on foot searching we took to the air. Avril was the lucky one to go up in the plane. Within about 15 minutes I got a call, they were spotted, in a field next to a drainage ditch–right where the first lady spotted them. But now we had it narrowed down.

This is the picture Avril sent me.

She sent me a picture with the text, “follow the plane.” So I set out following the plane, but then the road ended and I needed to continue on foot. This is a huge field. I was at a neighbor’s house, he wasn’t home but his dogs were loose and they followed me into the field. I was a bit worried but I was also not sure what else was in the field. We had seen a lot of bear poop while searching and an area of the corn field where the bear had previously feasted on corn.

It was a long walk, I finally found them, then the dog scared them, they scattered and I lost them again, though one got caught in a barbed wire fence. I decided I needed to secure the dog. By now the pilot and Avril were back on the ground and helping and luckily he had a length of rope in his car and we were able to secure the dog and take him back home.

I decided to go back for the cow stuck in the fence. By that time he (a young steer) had freed himself and calmed a bit but was now worried that his herd was gone.

A call came that the other four had returned to the road and the neighbors had chanced them home. Two and Avril then worked to get them back in their fencing (a different paddock that we have never had issues with) and Proeun, Mavis and I began trying to corral the one lone steer home. He got stuck trying to cross the drainage ditch ( I had previously crossed this ditch) and we were able to get a lead on him. He promptly refused to move. After another hour of trying to pull him we decided to drop the leads and corral him home cowboy style–though we were on foot. He calmly walked home and with one one minor mishap we were able to get him in the pen.

So from 10-4:00 I was reminded that there is enough to worry about in the present and I don’t need to worry so much about the future. Hopefully I remember the lesson so I don’t have to learn it again in a similar fashion anytime soon.

Book Review–The Overstory by Richard Powers

I was introduced to this book through the North Country Herbalists book club. I sadly did not finish it is time for the discussion, which would have been great because their is literally so much to unpack in this book. Still I am so very glad I read it.

I started out with very little information about the subject of The Overstory–though I assumed it had something to do with trees. The first section of the book is entitled “Root” and contains all sorts of vignettes of various people in different times. There did not seem to be much rhyme or reason and I had extreme difficulty connecting with some of the characters.

By the second section, “trunk” the characters were beginning to meet and the story was starting to make sense but it was starting to get more challenging in other ways. The concepts and assumptions were starting to stretch me a bit, though I had been introduced to them recently through other classes. Namely that trees connect to each other, that the forest is a living thing in and of itself, not only a collection of individuals. The roots of trees connect and share information such as what pests are present and even send out warning signals.

The backdrop of the book is the heyday of the Pacific Northwest lumber wars, an event I knew little about at the time, but pitted human interest–economic interest, against protecting the last giants of a forest. The politics and passions or the movement are brilliantly played out.

The author’s characters mention several times in the book that stories are the only true way to change a person’s mind, and Powers does a good job presenting an interesting idea (one that smacks of truth) through a story that draws you in and makes you both furious and hopeful at the same time.

It inspired me to change how I view forests and how I view my future. I now have a goal of returning more land to wild spaces. Barbara Kingsolver said of the book, “Monumental. . .A gigantic fable of genuine truths.”

Look for the amazing descriptions of the eco systems existing in the tops of some of the worlds largest trees. A great read.

Happy 4th with an explosion of wildflowers

It has been a long time since I stayed up to watch the fireworks on the 4th of July. But here on the farm we are enjoying a different kind of explosion–wild flowers. So beautiful and fun.

I am currently taking a Botany for Herbalists course through the Matthew Wood Institute of Herbalism. One of the tools they recommended was a Black Eye Lens. It is a magnifying lens that clips on to a smart phone. I also have a Nikon D3100 (this is a newer version of the camera I have). I love this camera and use it for most of the pictures I take on this blog or if I know that it is a photo I will really want to keep. But often I don’t have it with me. I might not always have the lens with me, but at least I can fit that in a pocket.

So we are celebrating this special time of the year, which also happens to be flower season with pictures using my black eye lens.

Water droplets pooling on my Lady’s Mantle
Marshmellow plant just starting to bud.
Red Clover
Milk Weed
Still Identifying–I am thinking Evening Primrose

I still need to work on lining the lens up so that you don’t see black on the edge. The last couple of flowers I have not identified yet, but I was fascinated that I was able to get pictures with insects on the flowers so I shared them anyway. It is a fun new toy to enjoy this time of year.

Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference Brings Connections

Last weekend I was able to participate in the Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference. This would have been my first year to attend the live conference which normally takes place annually in Almond, WI. But with 2020 happening it was moved to a virtual event. None of us knew how the events following the death of George Floyd would effect us and the world. But I am so thankful for the opportunity to really connect with an amazing group of women who really thoughtfully planned what turned out to be the perfect event.

What struck me as particularly timely was the poetry of Dominique Christina at the Saturday night keynote event. Conference founder Linda Conroy said of Christina that she embodies the goal of “living on purpose,” and she is “using her poetry to change the world.” Conroy went on to say “I don’t think you will ever see the world the same way,” after hearing her poetry. For me that has been the case.

I am attaching the link to the recording. Christina comes first so you don’t have to watch over an hour of herbal goodness to hear the poetry. The first poem she shares struck me. Even listening to it again I didn’t catch the title but she said that the poem, “reveals me.” She describes, “the hologram I created. . .in the attempt to survive my experience,” and how the poem was a conscious effort to peal back those layers to bring a level of “integrity with myself. . . be entirely myself–the magic of it but also the mess of it.”

What is particularly striking is Cristina’s experience is so different from mine. But by sharing it you see a glimpse into an amazing woman’s past pain and how she is turning that to beauty. Throughout this time of racial tension I am reminded how important stories are. Of course it is nice and healing to share our own (first we have to be really honest with ourselves about who we really are and why), but it is equally important (if not more so) to listen others stories. Especially the stories if those who traditionally haven’t had a voice.

Listening and sharing was the subject of Cornelia Cho’s Friday night keynote. So I highly recommend you listen to that in its entirety. And the invocation by Brooke Medicine Eagle is amazing!!!

My hope is that you will take the time this week to really examine yourself and the feelings this experience is triggering and honestly look at why. And then take that new found experience and listen to someone’s story that is completely different from yours. Listen from a place of love and understanding.

And for those of you who would like more herbal goodness There is another virtual conference coming up next weekend. I got and email from another herbal teacher of mine Tammi Sweet. She says

It’s critical that we connect our learning with a greater purpose of creating a society where people have access to healthcare and are safe in their communities.

There is also a 50% off solidarity price for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and some scholarships are available. You can find all the information about this on the registration page.

This event will help you find other people with similar interests, connect with teachers around the topics you care about, and give you 32 classes to choose from.

Here is a link to get tickets to the Allies for Plants & People Symposium

Happy herbing!

Links to Dominque’s books.

This is Women’s Work. This is the book Conroy talks about in the introduction.
They Are All Me.
Anaracha Speaks. I am particularly interested in this one which chronicles the historical experiences of Anarcha, a real woman who was experimented on and tortured in the name of modern science.
The Bones, The Breaking, The Balm: A Colored Girl’s Hymnal. This one is not available new and is pretty expensive but if you love Christina it might be worth it.