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Plants I've Known

These are the stories of the plants I’ve known.


31 Ruminations: It's Not a List, It's a Story

Austin H Howard


Given Name: Brittiany Richelle Caraway

Home: Finding one is still a work in progress

Current Name: Austin, B, Ms. Complexities, Wifyface

Classifications: Human, though she has struggled to admit this.

Family: Howard

Maintenance: Requires copious amounts of self-care and alone time but does enjoy socialization with select humans.

Propagation: The normal human way...

Toxicity: Can become extremely toxic when triggered but normally docile and mostly friendly.

I was planning to sit down and write a blog about my Mother of Millions and a recent incident they had. But I kept hearing another story circulating through my consciousness. A story about a different mother.

That’s how I write, I hear the words over and over in my head and the only way to make it stop is to type it out. Am I crazy? Perhaps… Do I hear voices, yes. Do they tell good stories, most assuredly.

So this week’s Blog is going to be unique, my birthday comes but once a year and this one is quite special. And this is how I’m celebrating turning 31 years in this body.

It’s been two years since I last checked myself into the mental hospital.

Two years ago almost to the day, I entered the Klarman Eating Disorder Clinic at McLean Hospital for the second time. I Stayed there for ten long weeks because everything I thought to be true had been shattered by my abusers, for the second time.

I was a shit show. I was more of a train wreck than I had ever been. And I truly believed my brain was too broken to be reprogrammed. I believed I would never heal enough to be a functioning person. I got pretty dark…

I know this blog is titled Plant’s I’ve Know but I am the most important creature I have ever know. And I needed to take stock of my life over the last two years. This website and all that I do is to help raise awareness for C-PTSD and hopefully this story can help someone else who’s suffering.

And it’s my birthday so I’ll do what I want!

Sept 17 2018 - I’ve been crabby since the moment I joined waking life, it took about an hour for me to realize the cause - my birthday is tomorrow.

The old me, pre-recovery me, hated holidays and all things happy, anything that had cheer... At the top of my Holiday Hate List was my birthday. Not because I hate getting older but because it was the last time I saw my mother.

Before she died she LOVED holidays. She was one of those people who decorated for Valentine’s Day. Basically, if there was a decoration for it, she covered the house in that shit. But after she died all holidays seemed empty, especially my birthday. (This wasn’t just in my head. My entire “family” struggled after her death. Celebrations were just a larger group of broken, depressed people.)

My tenth birthday is where it all went down hill.

My mother and I fought because she chose to go to the hospital instead of coming to my birthday party. My party sucked without her and I didn’t want to be around anyone or celebrate. I just wanted to be mad. I wanted her to be there and I wanted her to know how much she hurt me.

This wasn’t the first time she was too sick to celebrate my birth. When I was seven she also spent my birthday in the hospital. My mother had cancer* and spent most of my childhood in and out of the hospital. After her absence at my seventh birthday she PROMISED she would never miss another one. And now as I turned ten she broke that promise.

After the party, my father took me to visit her and I continued to punish her and myself with my anger. I told her I didn’t want to talk to her and I sat outside her room in the hospital hall for what felt like forever.

A nurse knew it was my birthday and brought me a cupcake. She sat down in the floor with me and I remember thinking that this stranger cared more me for than my own family. I never went back to my mother’s room and within days she was moved to the ICU; A place I was not allowed to visit.

She died two weeks later with no resolution between us.

For years I hated my birthday because it felt like a celebration of the last time I saw her, and not in a healthy, positive way. As I got older, and after a few years with my narcissistic sociopath of a father, I realized that I should feel guilty. Through years of psychological abuse, Phil made me believe I was a horrible person and I did not deserve her forgiveness.

Jump to two years ago when I (on some level) still believed this to be true. I remember talking to the intake woman at Klarman. She is a wonderful lady, so kind and caring. She told me what day a bed would become available and when I could arrive to check myself in.

“That’s two days before my birthday. Ten days before my daughter’s birthday…”

I wasn’t nearly as upset about spending my birthday in the hospital as I was about missing my daughter’s. But I knew I had to go. I was dying. My heart was giving out because I lost so much weight and I could not force myself to eat. And then there was the lie that was the final nail in my first recovery’s coffin; the bombshell my abusers dropped on me just weeks before.

They believed I had a half sister, a friend I knew my whole life. They had suspicion for 15 years but never told me. (WTF!?) My family spewed the facts of my father’s affair, including that he left my mother at home alone with no transportation, food, or money for the last few months of her pregnancy with me. I was told she ate maggot-infested cereal before my Aunt found out what was happening and forced her over for dinner.

So here I sat, out in front of the brick building of the clinic on my 29th birthday so filled with hate and bitterness. All the work I had done for three years to let go of the seven abusive years I lived with Phil - it was all for naught. I had even more hate and resentment. I hadn’t spoken to him in years but I wished he was dead. I wished they were all dead.

I wished they were all dead so that they could no longer torture me with their lies. As I sat there, leaning against the wall, I tried to let the heat from the bricks ground me into the present moment but I was gone.

I began reliving the first time my family destroyed my reality. I realized that if I was turning 29 then it had been exactly 10 years.

When I was 19, my father lured me into a conversation with the promise of free food. I was supporting myself and I took free meals anywhere I could get them. After lunch he took me to his truck because he had, “something import we need to discuss”.

He told me that everyone in my family had been lying to me and they had been lying since the moment my mother got sick. She had not died from cancer*, she had actually died from AIDS. And for fear it would look bad on them they told everyone, including me, that she had cancer.

I experienced one of those moments when everything slows down around you and your life flashes before your eyes. It was a near death experience. Part of my psyche did die in his truck that day.

I won’t bore you with any more details but I will say this: every moment spent with my “family”, every time they told me they loved me or that family was the most important thing, suddenly felt like complete fucking bullshit. I lost touch with reality and went off the deep end of paranoia. All I could think about was how they sat right across from me and lied, over and over, for fifteen fucking years.

Who does that?

Finally, I pushed myself to notice the sharp parts of Klarman’s brick wall digging into my back and was returned to my 29th birthday. That’s what emotional flashbacks do; they thrust you back into the feelings of past trauma or abuse. I physically never left, but for most of my first few weeks in treatment I wasn’t psychologically there. I was back in Texas, back in their houses, back in their never ending lies. Back in the body of the angry, lonely, broken little girl sitting outside her mother’s hospital room.

I think I woke up today feeling cranky because my subconscious needed this, it needed to show me how far I have come.

What I’ve overcome and I needed to remember how different I am now.

Two years has not taken my pain or fixed all my problems. But knowing that all of these people, “my family”, will never hurt me again gets me through the day. Knowing that I broke the cycle of abuse, and my children will not be trapped in the abuse cycle that has plagued my family gives me peace. Seeing that I’ve been in my weight range for two straight years, the longest sustained healthy weight while in this body, helps me take the next bite of food. I’m sober, coming up on a year without a single drink and I no longer feel the need to pour alcohol into the gaping holes in my heart. All of these things remind me that I’m stronger than my abuse and my abusers. I got out of the cycle, I broke it before it completely broke me.

Two years ago, I sat outside a mental hospital devastated and 100 percent sure that I would never ever recover from the abuse that seemed unending. But today I sat outside one of my favorite places and I felt safe and whole. I leaned against the bricks of a different building, at peace with the little girl from my past. I will turn 31 knowing that I have conquered all of it.  At 31 I’m the only person in control of my life and I am free of my abusers.


I’m not perfect

or cured but I know I have the strength to face this birthday and all the others that come after. And today I replace the pain of my past with the memories of who I am now. She is who my birthdays celebrate now.

Marigolds + Motivation

Austin H Howard

Marigold + Motivation


Given Name: Marigold Island

Home: My front yard

Scientific Name: Tagetes

Family: Asteraceae

Maintenance: I just dropped the seeds and BOOM. They like full sun and need good drainage. More info for care here.

Propagation: Good ol’ sowin’.

Toxicity: Marigold flowers and leaves are considered safe to eat by humans and are commonly used as culinary herbs. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, pot marigolds are also not considered toxic to puppies when ingested or touched. There are many types of marigold, and I suggest — if you really want to know the toxicity of your plant — you look it up by variety to be sure. Here’s a good place to start.

Fun Fact: There are some 50 species but most common marigolds come from just three: Agetes erecta, T. patula, and T. tenuifolia.


The Story

behind how these beauties found their home in my yard is interesting … that’s why I’m writing a blog about it.

This past spring I bought a huge bag (okay, I bought five bags) of mixed flower seeds. They’re “super easy to grow/throw and sow” seeds. Literally the package says to spread them out on top of your soil, rake them in, and watch them grow.


Insert me daydreaming of myself running through lush patches of wild flowers, wind blowing the sweet scent of a million flowers all around me as I skip merrily…

It’s like a fucking musical in my front yard.

In reality, I spread three, maybe four bags of seeds between my front and side yards. The plan was to create “flower patches” that in the above-mentioned fantasy would look natural and wild, untameable, just like me.

(Yeah, I can’t read it without a laughing either.)

My inspiration for the elaborate wonderland was the yard of our previous home, where my former landlady perfected the balance of wild and tame. Needless to say, I had grandiose dreams for my garden.

And like all great expectations, I was left a wee bit disappointed. Weeks ticked by, then a month, and nothing really sprouted. I saw some random weeds and then two more months passed and I was peeved that I didn’t have the 20 or 50 different types of the flowers the bag promised.

To be fair:

A. I didn’t know what plants to expect - because who has time to read the entire seed list on the back of a one pound bag of mixed seeds?

B. I had never grown most of those plants.

So when I realized the weeds I had been whacking were marigolds.... let’s just say I felt like a horrible person - and an idiot.

Yep, I still feel that way (But those negative thoughts aren't helpful).

So, I redirected my negative thought pattern: This is a learning experience and something good is going to come out of it aside from my Marigold Island (which, I love, and has brought me joy every day since I stopped whacking them).  I’m pretty sure these marigolds are the ones from that old saying, “only the strongest will survive.”

This idea that these are the strongest marigolds leads me here:

I’m writing this on a Monday and I’m feeling, we’ll say, not super motivated, to keeps things “positive.” Plus, it’s raining and I just want to go back to bed. But I made a commitment to myself to write this blog today. So, to show myself that I can be trusted (a very important aspect of my C-PTSD recovery) I’m honoring that promise. I Googled some articles on marigolds, hoping I would read something that inspired me. And, would you believe that the creative lightning every writer hopes for struck? I remembered why I was so excited to start blogging about plants.



I am a collector (sometimes an obsessive hoarder) of knowledge. Knowledge lets me feel like I have power over my life and situations (another important part of my recovery). I strive to know all the things … Did I mention I was a perfectionist, and a Virgo... If you’ve ever got me going on a round of “here’s a fun fact,” then you know I’ve got some pretty random info cataloged in my brain.

But we're gonna wrangle the fun facts in and focus on one of my favorite topics to study (hoard).


I love propagating plants for many reasons:

-Saves money

-More Plants

-Gratification of a job well done

-More plants

But there’s more to it than that. Propagation speaks to something few of us still understand and even fewer of us seek out. It’s primal and it connects me with the past. It feeds my need for self sufficiency and self-reliance.

Example: If I learn to propagate enough plants, I will not need to buy seeds or plants every year. If I collect enough seeds, I can start my farm or even my own nursery. I will have a never ending supply. Sounds enticing, non? Even profitable (always with the business mind).


This need

for self reliance was intensified when I visited Mount Vernon, AKA George Washington's family farm. It’s a magical place and I highly recommend you go.


While chasing my children, we wandered upon a small area of raised beds, most of them spent. But one had giant, I mean almost at my shoulders and as big as my head, purple blooms. They looked like Scottish Thistle, and my heart sang.

I found myself asking the gentleman tending them what they were while ferociously snapping photos.

“Artichokes,” he said. “These are the ones we grow to seed.

I must’ve looked very confused because he went on to explain that Mount Vernon was still an active farm, growing plants from seeds that were started way back in the day. They even sell seeds in the gift shop. I like to think of them as descendant seeds, maybe even from as far back as George himself. Now, I don’t know the specifics or how far back their seeds go, but I did read a few plaques. It’s a museum, after all.


This idea has changed me. I was left with a very black-and-white view of what a “real” farmer is, and my obsession with propagation was intensified… Perhaps Mr. Washington was a black and white thinker, too. Or maybe he just took that shit real serious (like, for serious).

Today, when I read how to collect the seeds of a marigold, I was brought back to Mount Vernon and my desire to be a real farmer in the eyes of George. And then the excitement for writing this blog returned. Now I have an excuse to sit down and learn how to collect marigold seeds! Last year, I learned how to harvest seeds from calendula. To which Mr. Washington would be proud to know I sowed and successfully grew again this year. The year before that, I learned how to harvest sunflower seeds and chamomile seeds.

This year will be the Year of the Marigold, because I don’t want to be a gardener who runs to the store and drops ridiculous amounts of money on seeds and sprouts. I want to be a farmer, a black and white, slightly unhealthy, perfection seeking farmer just like George Washington.


So the question your all asking if you made it this far, how do we harvest Marigold seeds?

I thought I read somewhere that marigolds are in the calendula family or are somehow related to them. It’s on the Internet, so it must be true… Real facts though, when reading this article I found out, the seed collection process is almost exactly the same for marigold and calendula.

  • Wait for the bloom the turn brown, long enough for the seed to fully form but not so long that rot sets in.

    It’s a delicate waiting game.

  • Then dry the plant on a paper towel or screen, or hang it upside down - if you fancy that method.

  • Then rip the petals off and collect the seeds.


My blooms are still, well, blooming so I’m not quite ready to harvest, but now I (and you) know what to look for. Stay tuned for the follow-up blog on whether or not I actually pull this off. If I am successful, I’ll be selling, “Only the strongest will survive” seeds next spring!

Here is a link to the specific garden at Mount Vernon that I got lost in. The description mentions George himself growing Artichokes! (I’m geekin’ out!)