Wednesday, July 29, 2009



Ancient Herbalist planter

At one time, my home, Woodloft, boasted a huge herb garden. Great stands of aromatic culinary and medicinal herbs abounded there. Over the years, the magnificent trees surrounding the garden grew so large that the herbs were in shade throughout the growing season. Because I love the trees at Woodloft, I decided to move the herb garden instead of trimming the trees. I replaced the garden with my seven-circuit labyrinth and moved the herbs to sunnier ground. For a while, the herbs prevailed. After the passage of a few more years, however, the new spot, too, was shaded by trees.

Previous herb garden

Once again, I chose to move the herbs instead of cutting back the trees. This time, I moved the herbs into pots. Yes, I know – the word “pot” conjures up images of Aunt Emily’s plain, terra cotta clay potted garden. Not so here. You see, I sculpt my own pots (or planters, as I prefer to call them) or mosaic them. Some of them even match my shiny car, B-dazle.


Mosaiced planter

Another unusual planter titled "Madam Thyme"

I’ve painted signs on thin pieces of slate to mark the location of each herb. Some of my herb planters are nestled in crevices along Woodloft’s front walk. Others are lined up along the wall beside the driveway. Anywhere a patch of sun appears between the trees here, there’s a good chance you’ll find a planter growing herbs.

.Slate herb sign

Another herb garden slate sign

Herb planter nestled in a crevice along walkway

Shaw’s Garden in St. Louis inspired me to start growing my own herbs. The classes I took there were invaluable and my love of herbs was nurtured by the sweet, elderly teacher who seemed to know almost everything you could want to know about them. She conveyed an infectious enchantment with herbs that has remained with me to this day.

Since that time, I have read every book I could get my hands on that has anything to do with herbs. One book that made a major difference in my life was Wise Child by Monica Furlong. The story takes place in Wales, the land of my ancestors, and it inspired one of my sculptures, Moon Woman, which I embellished with a story of its own.

Moon Woman sculpture

Moon Woman

By the moon's light she plucks the herbs from the hidden dells and meadows surrounding her glen. Sometimes she gathers in the full moon and other times she waits for an eclipse. She knows the properties of the herbs are altered by the moon's different phases.

Being Celtically aware, she practices the earth rites as the old ones before. She accepts the earth as a living entity and believes in the magical order of the trees.

She has learned how to become a healer and knows that all illness begins in the mind, dwelled upon until it becomes a thought form. She teaches others to discipline their thoughts for they will take form and that if you change your thoughts, you can change your life.

Doran planter

I plan to include many posts about herbs and some of the ways I use them. Here is a picture of a typical planter I created and the story I wrote to accompany it.

The Doran

Some call her a witch because in her presence miraculous things sometimes occur. She is known to be able to cure many illnesses with the oointments, teas, tinctures and potions she makes with her herbs. She spends hours cutting, removing seeds, shredding roots, turning, drying, crushing, steeping, infusing and distilling. She uses eyebright, pennyroyal, primrose, lovage, borage and comfrey. She carefully watches the sesons: She dies with the winter and rises with the spring. She is totally in tune with the harmonics of nature because she is able to see on luminous levels. She believes we are all in some way linked together; the birds, trees, plants and flowers and we are somehow a part of something much greater than we are able to comprehend. She is majestic, serence and at peace with herelf and the universe that surrounds her. She is a doran..

One of the herbs I have used medicinally is thyme. In my study of herbs, I read that thyme helps alleviate respiratory problems.

Another large thyme planter titled "Thymekeeper"

I had a chance to test that use firsthand several years ago when a friend was using some rather noxious chemicals to clean my swimming pool. As he threw a scoop of cleaning agent into the pool, the wind shifted and he inhaled a large dose of the powder. He began to have trouble breathing, so he called the hospital. They told him to relax, to wait a while, and to come to the emergency room only if the breathing problem persisted. In the meantime, I grabbed a huge handful of thyme and made an infusion by placing it in a large glass canning jar. I poured scalding hot water over it and covered the jar with a piece of aluminum foil. After letting the thyme steep for about 5 minutes, I removed it and poured the resulting infusion through a sieve. I served it to my friend with a teaspoon of honey, telling him to drink it as hot as he could stand it. He sipped the concoction until it was gone, and within thirty minutes, he was breathing normally again with only a bit of discomfort in his chest. The active ingredient in thyme is thymol, a fairly effective antibiotic and antifungal. Wild thyme may have antispasmodic properties, this is usually observed in the context of an infection rather than chemical exposure. I have used this method time and again and I can tell you that it has always worked for me.

Infusion of thyme with mug created by Brian Seckinger

I have often encountered interesting uses of herbs for culinary purposes when I travel to other countries. I travel to Italy as often as time and money will allow. During one of my trips there, I noticed that some of the restaurants in remote rural villages displayed small glass jars with an unidentifiable solid mass immersed in pale green liquid. I eventually discovered that the solid portion of this concoction was cheese. At one of the restaurants, I convinced the elderly chef to tell me what else was in the liquid. He laughed and told me (this was actually a matter of him showing me by using hand gestures in a charade-like manner) that there really was nothing to it. He said that you take a round of goat cheese, brie or some other cheese, put it in a glass jar, and add plenty of juniper berries to “keep” the cheese. You then add whatever other herbs you like as well as several cloves of garlic. Finally, you pour the “nectar of the gods” (extra-virgin olive oil, of course) into the container to cover the cheese.

Cheese and herb jar

This cheese can sit on your counter indefinitely. Most Americans store cheese in the refrigerator, but I can tell you from experience, this method works just as well. Juniper and other herbs contain antimicrobial substances, so I suppose that is why the method works. The cheese can be served to guests by placing crackers on a plate and having your guests use a small cheese knife to scoop the cheese out of the jar. Some of the oil will follow. As you can imagine, this is a delicious appetizer.

I hope I have whetted your appetite for more herb stories – and for more herbs! If so, please “stay tuned.”

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Sunday, July 26, 2009



Cheryl Harvey Hill with Duke, the Bush bean dog

Recently, I reconnected with my childhood friend, Cheryl Harvey Hill, through Facebook. Cheryl and I, along with Karen Gulakowski Price and Virginia Negy Hall, sang together in a group we named The Four Melodies. We went on “tour,” singing at family reunions, company Christmas parties, and on stage at West Junior High School, in Warren, Ohio. It was the 50’s and our songs reflected the music of the pre-rock and roll era. We sang songs such as “Catch a Falling Star” by Perry Como.

Three of The Four Melodies, Karen Gulakowski, Cheryl Harvey and Cheryl Galloway

After several weeks of conversing by e-mail, Cheryl and I re-established our friendship and I discovered what a remarkable person she has become. She is a journalist and a photographer and still the spunky, witty and humorous gal I remember. She has surprised me, however, with her cooking expertise.

Cheryl and her husband, Christopher, lived in Europe for two three-year tours of duty while they were in the military. They lived in southern Bavaria and in the central German town of Griesheim in the state of Hesson. It was in Greisheim that Cheryl’s gracious prodding earned her the recipe for tzitziki from her friend, the owner of an excellent Greek restaurant named Vater John’s.

Here is what Cheryl has to say about this particular recipe and her method of cooking:

Irish Tzitziki

“I jokingly call this recipe 'Irish Tzitziki' because I don’t think any self-respecting Greek would make tzitziki with cream cheese. Real tzitziki is made with Greek yogurt, but finding Greek yogurt is not easy so, out of desperation (which as you may know, is often the source of true inspiration), I decided to substitute cream cheese for Greek yogurt and -- wha-la! -- my Irish Tziziki was born. Everyone loves it, but I must confess that I’ve never served it to a real Greek. I’ve also never written the recipe down before, so let me practice on you and you can tell me if it makes sense. Here goes:

Irish Tziziki

1-8oz. pkg. cream cheese

1 medium sized cucumber

1 clove fresh garlic

1 T lemon pepper

pinch of sea salt

Peel, seed and finely shred cucumber.

Place shredded cucumber in cheese cloth and twist to remove all liquid.

Place all ingredients in food processor and whip until creamy.

Serve on pita bread, crackers (my favorite), warm garlic bread or garlic bagels ... I definitely believe you cannot have too much garlic."

(I must interject here, I promised Cheryl I would try her recipe even though I have never liked cucumbers. For some reason I develop hiccups when eating them, so I avoid them like the plague. I decided that since I am posting this recipe, I needed first to taste the tziziki and face the consequences. Guess what? I found it to be delicious and no hiccups!)

Craisin "Let Her Whip"

“I am a huge fan of easy spreads that begin with 8 oz. cream cheese. I have another easy spread that you might like better; although I really do hope you will try the tzitziki.

"Anyway, in this one, you simply put 8 oz. of cream cheese in the food processor with ½ cup of 'Craisins' (the cranberry raisins, or you can use plain ol’ raisins), ½ cup walnuts or pecans and let her whip!! That’s all. It’s so easy and delicious. This is only one of my “let her whip” spreads. Another uses several different types of olives and still another uses a variety of peppers and olives mixed: bottom line is that my “let it whip” spreads are only limited by your imagination and what you may have available in your pantry or fridge. Also, any of these spreads can be spread over a large flour tortilla, rolled up, and cut into pinwheel slices to serve for more festive occasions. Oh so pretty and oh so delicious and I promise you that I’ve made all of these many times.

"Just FYI: The yogurt version of tzitziki is a Greek staple and we actually learned to love Greek food while we lived in Germany; we never made it to Greece, although we would have liked to go. As you know, the European countries are so close together and they seem to run across borders and blend cultures and menus. There are many Greek restaurants in Germany but I also love the German foods, especially their Beef Rollladen (Bavarian version). It’s delicious, easy, and therefore, I make it often, too. Who would have thought that rolling a dill pickle and a piece of onion up in a slice of beef painted with mustard could be so yummy! As you can probably tell, I love to cook and I love taking traditional recipes and changing them to make them my own.”

Beef Rolladen (Bavarian version)

I hope you have enjoyed this multi-national cooking lesson given by my friend, Cheryl. If she allows, in future posts I hope to share other recipes she brought home from Europe. Until then, "bon appetit," or should I say, "genieBen!"

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Thursday, July 23, 2009



Picture of Monticello taken by Karen Price

I’ve known my friend Karen since we were eight years old. We grew up in the same neighborhood and went through primary and secondary school together. After high school graduation, we went our separate ways, but continued a “snail mail” relationship that we maintain to this day. Every other year, we take a trip together to someplace we both find interesting. A few years ago, we chose Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Karen seated in front of Monticello

Since both of us are enthralled with Monticello and renaissance man Thomas Jefferson, I decided to give Karen a different kind of birthday gift this year. I found a cookbook entitled Thomas Jefferson’s Cook Book by Marie Kimball. Karen doesn’t like to cook very much, so I suppose that a cookbook seems like a strange gift. But I think she will appreciate the detailed descriptions of all that went into running Monticello’s kitchen and social gatherings.

Thomas Jefferson's Cook Book

Jefferson spent a great deal of time in Europe and made a point of sampling the foods and fruits of every locality he visited. He was responsible for introducing to America many of the foods and culinary tools we take for granted today. For example, he first tasted waffles in Holland and bought a waffle iron.

Collection of Jefferson's favorites

I decided to purchase examples of several of the foods Jefferson discovered to send along with the cookbook. I tried to engineer the wrapping so that Karen will open each food when she reaches the chapter or page in Jefferson’s cookbook that describes it.

Since I didn't want to send a heavy waffle iron, I bought Karen a first class waffle mix

Macaroni, page thirteen

Jefferson loved macaroni. According to Kimball, he penned a recipe for “Nouilly a macaroni” and sent it to his daughter. So, I bought Karen a box of organic macaroni and cheese that I think she will find easy to prepare.

Tea, page twelve

Jefferson tasted new teas when he visited Amsterdam. Kimball says, “Tea was subject to his careful scrutiny and scientific observation.” The tea I found for Karen is vanilla-flavored. I hope she hasn’t tasted it before.

The wine I would rather have received as a gift. I bought Karen grape jelly.

Jefferson was considered the ultimate authority on wine and took regular inventory of his wine cellars. He regarded wine as a necessity of life; and I have to say that I share his belief! Karen doesn’t drink much wine, but there is a recipe in Kimball’s book for wine jelly that Jefferson had his staff prepare for him. So, I bought Karen a jar of gourmet wine jelly.

Pure vanilla beans for making the French puddings Jefferson loved so much

Jefferson also introduced vanilla beans to this country. Kimball says he sent a request to someone in Paris for “a packet of 50 pods which may come in a packet of newspaper.” I found Karen some Madagascar vanilla that I think she will thoroughly enjoy.

Green pea soup

Jefferson’s favorite vegetable was the pea. He planted over 30 varieties. I found a beautifully packaged bag of cowpeas at a gourmet shop here in Roanoke, but I knew Karen would probably not use them. Instead, I bought her a bag of pea soup I know she will love.

Below is a picture that Karen took while lying on the ground at the back of Monticello’s garden. She used my camera – one of the first digital cameras – and got one of the best views of Monticello I’ve ever seen. I’ll use this for her birthday card.

Photo courtesy of Karen Price

Collection wrapped and placed in mailing container

Wouldn't you love to receive a gift like this? Perhaps I have encouraged you to create your own special collection for someone you care about.

I hope Karen likes her unusual birthday gift. I was able to create a unique, personalized birthday gift without spending a lot of money. None of the items I bought were very expensive, but I did invest a lot of thought and time to track down high quality examples of the foods I sent. As Jefferson might have said, “Bon appetit, Karen!”

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Sunday, July 19, 2009



Kayla Finlay's healing Native American white buffalo drum

Judy, Jade and Leslie

Showers came and left but did not deter the First Annual Goddess Drumming Ceremony held at Woodloft. There were 17 powerful women who joined in our evening of wonderment.

Goddess Ceremonial Necklaces lined up and ready for the Goddesses who will wear them

The evening was off to a grand start as each of the women wore one of my Goddess Ceremonial Necklaces with names such as “Wayward Woman,” “She Who Knows Her Own Sacred Sound," "She Whose Voice Is As Old As The Stones.”

Trish, kitchen fairy goddess

Unusual drums of all shapes and sizes were brought in by the excited participants who were anticipating magic to take place before the evening was over.

Val with her new drum that "called to her"


Drumming has gained tremendous popularity lately and drumming circles are working their way into our society at an amazing rate. There are many types of drumming which include healing, shamanic, solstice, and global, just to name a few. Our group chose the Native American approach to drumming. We brought in the four sacred elements of earth, fire, water and air. We sat inside my seven-circuit labyrinth which represented earth. The lit torches surrounding the circle served as our fire which is considered a protector among many tribes. The lily pond behind the labyrinth and swimming pool brought in the water aspect and there was a gentle breeze providing the air needed to complete the four elements.

Deb Hillman lights sage

Deb Hillman used sage to cleanse the area of impurities. Fanning the smoke traditionally is supposed to bring in the energy of the Winged People, according to Native American belief. We used fresh sage that I grow at Woodloft but dried sage can also be used and probably burns a little faster. The air was pungent with the heady aroma of this potent herb.

Sherrye Lantz distributes tobacco to mother earth

Sherrye Lantz distributed tobacco to mother earth. Some Native American elders believe that this symbolizes tobacco roots growing deep into the earth and smoke extending to the sky, invoking a connection between the material and the spiritual..

We introduced ourselves, and I quoted an e-mail message from one of my guest's friends, Laura. She wrote, “May this circle bring release, voice and connection to all.”

Kayla Finlay wearing new Goddess Ceremonial Necklace, "Questing Woman"

Medical research has shown that drumming can be therapeutic. It can boost the immune system and increase cancer killing cells. Drumming can also have physiological effects because by enhancing awareness and releasing emotional trauma.

Drumming is the heartbeat of mother earth and a way to reach deep states of meditation.

Drumming is rhythm and rhythm is language.

Drumming succeeds when voices fail.

Drumming is music and music is the heart of the earth.

When we drum, energy rises and time stops.

Dottie and Vie

When a group comes together to drum in a circle, everyone benefits in some way. Everyone takes home something special. Magic? Did we accomplish magic? Probably not this time around, because the humidity in the air did not allow for our drums to resonate properly. We also had an array of unusual drums, some homemade, which were charming, but probably do not lend themselves to the vibrant sound of synchronous beating.

Sherrye and Judy

Connection? We did achieve connection: most definitely. This diverse group of women, including healers, business women, professors and artists had much to share and learn from one another.

Dian and Jean (seated)

Beautiful array of delicious food brought by guests

A gathering of this sort is not complete without food, at least as far as I’m concerned. We certainly had an amazing array of culinary delights including my own Le Gateau Sans Rival, a cheese slaw, several curry dishes, fruits, olive bread, oriental noodles, tiramisu and much more. One dish that was quite delicious was the Cowboy Salsa. Judy Bechtold renamed her recipe, Cowgirl Goddess Salsa, for our ceremony.

The evening continued with conversation, swimming, piano playing and a ‘Give-away’. I gave each woman one of my “Grandmother Tree” books as they left our gathering.


Next year, for the Second Annual Goddess Drumming Ceremony, I plan to encourage everyone to bring a "Give-away." This is a Native American practice of giving a gift to honor an occasion. They believe that it is always the giver who receives the most blessings. Of course, next year, we may try a different type of drumming ceremony. I watched a video on YouTube of a Tuvu healing ceremony that I was very impressed with. Can you imagine how powerful the drumming would be with one member sitting in the center of a circle and all the others surrounding her and drumming? It's something to think about for next year.

Alchemy! Dirty dishes transformed into clean dishes

The next morning, even though extremely exhausted, I was also exhilarated from our wonderful evening. I was able to go down to the market where I sell my artwork. As the day wore on, I started having memories of that huge stack of dishes left in the kitchen. I just told myself I would worry about that the next day after I was rested. When I got home, I walked into the kitchen and had a very big surprise. There, on the counter, was a stack of clean dishes, glasses and silverware in place of the dirty ones. It was as if a fairy had been to Woodloft while I was gone. I then looked around to find tiny rose soaps everywhere! Little red and pink flowers adorned my table, counter tops and bathroom. Surely a fairy had been here!

Then I saw the multi-colored message shown above which explains who the fairies truly were. They were my Kitchen Fairy Goddesses, Trish and Kayla. Thank you so very much for the wonderful finale to our First Annual Goddess Drumming Ceremony!

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