Friday, March 28, 2014

It's Time to Garden!

Actually, it's a little past time to start my garden, but whatever. My philosophy is throw it in the ground and see what happens, and that's just what I've done. I have 7 cherry tomato plants going (the only kind I have any luck with), 5 kale plants, 2 collard plants plus some collard seeds I planted just today, 2 green bean seedlings plus 2 different kinds of green beans I planted today as well, and a few onion sprouty things. And some marigolds to keep the tomatoes company. Pretty good for the little tiny plot I have in my little tiny backyard, I think!

So far I've lost one collard seedling, several of the onion sprouts, (I planted about 6 or 7), and a bunch of the green bean seeds when a critter dug them up. (Which is why I only have 2 green bean seedlings; there should have been more!!) The tomatoes, kale, and collards were all seedlings purchased from Home Depot. The onions weren't seedlings; they were in a dried bunch. I don't have much experience with bulbs, but I'm guessing that's what they were. I had about 6 to 8 each of the kale and collard seedlings but I took way too long to get them in the ground so I was lucky any of them survived! I didn't have room for all of them by a long shot, but of the ones I planted I am shocked I only lost one, and the survivors look great! We can harvest from them right now but only a few leaves so I'm leaving them alone for a bit longer. They are both such hardy plants, and tasty, too! They grow like crazy; we'll be over run with kale in a few more weeks. The 2 collard plants might not be enough; I'm hoping the seeds I put in the ground today will sprout for me. We'll see!

I love growing my own food; I wish we had a bigger back yard so I could get a larger garden going, but this one is a great learning experience. I've learned a few things over the past several years of gardening that have made my previously black thumb a little greenish, things like you can't plant tomatoes in the same spot 2 years in a row; the dead leaves falling off the trees in my neighborhood make a great mulch; I can't grow large tomatoes to save my life, or lettuce, or spinach; tomato hornworms and cabbage worms are all horrid little creatures; and most importantly, home grown food is the absolute best!!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Why I'm a Prepper

I belong to a prepper group for women on Facebook. Today a member asked for some encouragement and said prepping is a very stressful thing for her, especially when she hears about people going off grid and doing so much more than she's capable of doing at this point. I started typing in a long elaborate comment, but then thought why not post it here? So here it is, my advice to a stressed out prepper.

First of all, look at the likely disasters in your area. Where I live it's hurricanes and I've lived through a few of them. I rode out Hurricane Andrew at my grandmother's home in Dade County and spoke with my mom on the phone while the storm trashed her house south of us. Further south still the homes were flattened; I saw those a few months later when I went down into that area on an errand. I saw what people went through in the aftermath just trying to get back to some semblance of normal life again.

I know that should my home be flattened all of my preps could very well be flattened along with them so I try to be realistic, secondly. (I get really irritated when people in the prepper community can't show compassion for disaster victims. "They should have prepared so it's their own fault", they say. Yeah, well, maybe they did but the disaster wiped them out, including all of their preps!) The most likely scenario after a hurricane, however, is roof damage and losing power for an extended time, possibly as long as a couple of months, so that's what I prepare for.

Here's what I've learned to expect. In the immediate aftermath roads are impassable, both due to debris and damaged stop lights, phones (cell definitely, land lines if it's really severe) can stop working and you can lose water. (Although make sure you have a land line with a corded phone, which will work without power. Cordless phones need power and cell phones need intact cell towers, both in scarce supply after a hurricane blows through, but sometimes the land lines will still be OK.)

The question I ask myself is this- if that were to happen again, how can I survive and keep my family fed and clean and reasonably comfortable? That's where I come from when I think about prepping. I'm not an "end of the world" prepper, I'm a "temporary disruption of my world" prepper. My family got through Andrew (although my mom knew a child who was killed in the storm, so not everyone made it) and managed to get themselves settled, housed at my grandmother's home (which sustained minor damage), fed, and taken care of. It was absolutely horrific, but we got through. (Once she got her house fixed up my mom moved several states away so she'll never have to go through a hurricane ever again!!) A strong family network was invaluable; my husband and I went down (this was before our first child) and pitched in with the clean up at my mom's house. My brother and his wife were there, my grandmother helped as much as she was able, and we did what had to be done. No one talked about prepping at that time but my parents had storm shutters that probably saved their lives. They had non-perishable food they were able to salvage and take to my grandmother's. My grandmother lost power but she was from an era where that was a normal thing and she pulled out her kerosene hurricane lanterns and her sterno stove and kept right on going.

My grandmother was from a generation that knew how to function without our modern conveniences because they didn't have those conveniences growing up, especially country kids. She grew up on a farm in rural Alabama and knew how to do all of those things we are trying, as preppers, to re-learn in today's world. She had a garden (just a few tomato plants by the time I came along) and raised chickens and cows with my grandfather when my mom was a child. She told me all sorts of stories about her childhood, how her mom would make a huge lunch including homemade biscuits every day, wash their clothes by hand on wash day, butcher chickens, and thump misbehaving kids on the head with her sewing thimble, how her dad was a jack of all trades including a bus driver, an untrained yet very competent vet, a farmer, and in later years a builder, in order to take care of his family, and how they all had to go and pick cotton in the family fields when she was just a kid. They were "off grid" for the most part, but it was just the way they lived!

Now that I've walked down memory lane a bit I'll get back to the point I'm trying to make, which is preparing for disasters shouldn't get you stressed out. Take it one step at a time, beginning with defining what you are prepping for. Learn skills as you can. Volunteering with Girl Scouts provided me with excellent opportunities to learn new skills such as camping and first aid, for instance. Learn by doing, too. Say you aren't very good with plants, the only way you'll get better is if you try! If you throw some plants in the ground to start with you'll quickly learn what works and what doesn't, especially if you do your research as you go. I'm not good at researching in advance when it comes to gardening, it's too abstract, but give me a plant that's all wilty when I know I've watered it enough and I'll research the heck out of that little problem!

So that's how I've approached prepping. I plan for hurricanes so I've prepared my house as much as possible with storm shutters and roof straps and, as soon as we could afford them, impact windows, I've learned about other steps I need to take such as yearly pruning of the trees on my property, (and I had a few trees cut down that were too close to the house for comfort), and I've prepared for an extended time without electricity. I've planned for having to live in a tent if my house is damaged by learning to camp. (And now that my husband and I are older we've been able to purchase a second home with retirement savings so the bug out location isn't a tent anymore!) I've taken first aid classes. I can cook without electricity or gas. I can grow food, sort of. Not enough to go live off the grid, but I'm pretty sure I could get through the aftermath of a nasty storm or two. It's taken a bit to get here, I am 50 after all, but I just keep plugging away!


Friday, January 3, 2014

A Quote and Thanksgiving

I'm not much of one for quotes but sometimes things stand out, like this one from A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness:

"Marthe belonged to the sustenance school of crisis management", location 5379-5385, Kindle version.

I love that!! It stands out because I can relate. When a crisis comes along, if I'm not the primary sufferer then my job is to make sure everyone is fed. That doesn't mean I necessarily cook, sometimes I do, but sometimes I orchestrate things, like sending someone out for take out, or calling for the pizza. I also grocery shop; I'm really good at grocery shopping. Whatever it takes, I make sure there's food for everyone because if you're going through a stressful event you need to eat. (Just don't send me to pick up the take out; I HATE getting take out orders.)

Now here's a picture of a very special meal, our Thanksgiving dinner. It was delicious! I didn't cook all of it like my grandmother used to do, or even close to all of it, but I coordinated our efforts so no one person had to do too much yet we all contributed and had a fantastic meal. (And yes, those are my silly little white Corelle bowls, which I love, on the red stoneware. I never bought bowls to go with the plates so I had to make do! Well, at least the white and red look pretty together.)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

It's Like Magic!!

I've written a couple of posts about having anemia. What a pain in the neck it's been!! I don't know how long my iron levels were low, but when the blood work came back the doctor said she didn't know how I was able to keep going. (I was really, really anemic.) It got really bad in the few months before I was diagnosed. One of the many difficult aspects had to do with my weight. After losing 40 pounds in 2007, I very successfully kept the weight off for a long time. Recently, hmmm, corresponding to the anemia, perhaps, I found that I would gain weight at the drop of a hat, and then I could NOT lose it again. It was so frustrating!! I kept resolving to cut back, to weigh and measure, to keep a food journal, to go to a nutritionist, to work out more, and NOTHING seemed to work. I failed at everything, especially increasing my work outs, because my body was SCREAMING at me that I needed something I wasn't giving it. I had no energy for work outs. I couldn't get a handle on my portions because my body wanted me to eat more because it was in search of iron. And the scale just kept creeping up. I slowly regained 25 pounds. Seriously discouraging.

But then I went to the doctor. I told her I had no energy and I couldn't lose weight. She said these magic words... "let's do a little digging", and sent me for blood work. I got my diagnosis. After some trial and error (including a round of hives, the worst itch I've ever known in my life, caused by the sulfa in the iron tablets I started out with) I found iron supplements I could handle.

After a few months on the supplements I went back for more blood tests to see how I'm doing and my iron levels have just managed to squeak over the line to normal- hooray!!! Guess what else is happening. No really, guess. Guess, guess!! OK, I'll tell you. I'm losing weight again!!! I'm walking more often and with more vigor. My appetite is more in line with a normal human being's. I can portion control with some success again. I mean, it's still a challenge, don't get me wrong, but it's a challenge I can handle. My body isn't screaming at me anymore!!

It's amazing to me that such a seemingly small thing as how much iron is in my body can make such a huge difference in how I look and feel. And iron, of all things! I've always thought the stereotype of someone anemic was a thin, pale person. Not so much! I'm definitely not pale (I have rosacea, I'm always a little red, and sometimes a lot red depending on the circumstances) and the anemia was making me absolutely hefty.

It's a lesson learned. My mom, a retired nurse, is always fussing that weight is much more than a calories in, calories out kind of deal. She says there must be more to it, and in this case I found that to be oh, so true. While my calories in were definitely too high, and my calories out were too low since I didn't have the energy to exercise properly, (I could barely get through my days at the worst of it) there were driving factors behind it. I had a nutrient deficiency so my body was driving me to eat in order to make up what I was missing. I had cravings (although not for dirt or ice or clay or anything, which I understand is common with anemia) and I felt like I was starving all the time. (I kind of went nuts for peanuts, actually. They have some iron in them, go figure.)

I think that's why a balanced diet is the best diet of all. In the absence of any other medical issues, if you are giving your body what it needs, not in terms of calories but in terms of all of the vitamins and minerals it has to have to function properly, then you should be able to maintain a healthy weight. Michael Pollen sums it up the best for me: "Eat food, mostly plants, not too much". Then, of course, he goes on to define FOOD, which means real stuff, not processed food product that you find in the supermarkets nowadays. If you eat empty calories you will be hungry and you will crave more food due to your body's attempts to get those nutrients, and you will gain weight, which will make it harder to move and burn calories, and so forth. So if you are having trouble with your weight even though you are doing everything you can, have some blood work done and hope for a wonderful doctor who listens to you and says "let's do a little digging".

Thursday, October 3, 2013

New Recipe- Lentil, Carrot, and Kale Soup

DH is on a low iodine diet for a couple of weeks so he can undergo some screening tests. The diet is kind of a good thing, even though he's having fits for cheese, in that it shakes us out of our food rut for a little while. I've had to find new recipes that are completely devoid of any processed food that might contain iodized salt, plus no dairy and no egg yolks. He's also vegetarian, so no meat. We've gone totally whole foods!

One of his favorite things to eat on the low iodine diet (this is his second round) is homemade salsa- yum. I found no salt organic corn chips for him and so he'll make huge batches of his salsa, then we all pig out on it. Salads, stir fries, and roasted veggie packets are also yummy.

Today we tried a new recipe from Deliciously Organic for Lentil, Carrot, and Kale Soup with Creme Fraiche and Dill, only we altered it a bit. (DH and I made it together.) First of all DH halved it- it serves 8 to 10!! Even halving it made a lot of stew. (It was more stew-y than soup-y.) DH also made a batch of rice to serve with it, and we left out the creme fraiche and dill. (He can't have the creme fraiche since it's a dairy product. We would have liked the dill, we just forgot it.) We also used a vegetarian, no salt bouillon cube to make the broth instead of the chicken stock called for in the recipe, and substituted olive oil for the butter. We also left off the wine, and DH meant to put in a splash of a fancy vinegar instead, but we both forgot. We used an immersion blender instead of a regular blender, and some of the kale was blended up by mistake, but kale blends nicely so that was OK. (I started throwing the kale in the pot then remembered it was supposed to go in AFTER the blender step, drat it all.) Oh, and kosher salt instead of sea salt, since kosher salt doesn't have iodine in it and sea salt does.

The next time we'll make it with A LOT MORE CARROTS!!! My family LOVES carrots so we should've put more in the recipe today. DH also fussed about the lemon, but the rest of us liked it. (He doesn't generally like citrus in cooked foods- it's a thing with him.)

The consensus? 4 out of 5 of us want it added to our regular menu rotation. As for the 5th, he wouldn't even try it; he made a hamburger. (But that's typical- we don't let it bother us.)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Advice to a Beginning Cook

Someone asked for cooking advice on Facebook today. The person is a beginning cook and wanted help with finding recipes, cook book recommendations, etc. A few people recommended Alton Brown; here's what I had to say, and it was long enough that I decided to post it here:

I love Alton Brown too but I think he's probably too complicated for a beginner. (I bought one of his cookbooks but wound up donating it to the library- the recipes were way too hard/time consuming and I have decent cooking skills. I've learned a LOT from watching "Good Eats", though!) The old classics- Betty Crocker, for instance, would probably be better, or Taste of Home magazines, which I believe are fairly basic. You can also check out cook books from the library to see which ones you like without having to buy them right away. It's disheartening to spend money on a cook book then find out the recipes don't work for you for whatever reason.

Plus remember the old adage- practice, practice, practice. The more you cook, the better you'll get.

Also- when trying a recipe for the first time follow it to the letter. After that feel free to experiment and change things up, mix up the seasonings, make substitutions. Don't try that with baking, though- you have to be more precise with following the recipe when you bake, especially when it comes to proportions of one ingredient to another. Look for the websites where you can plug in the items you want to cook with, then it generates a list of recipes for you. There's also MyRecipes.com and AllRecipes.com. Cooking Light magazine and Southern Living both link to... myrecipes.com, I think, and their recipes are fantastic.

Cooking magazines are wonderful- I have a bit of an addiction to them! Finally- focus on the style of cooking you want to pursue- if you want healthy recipes, then Cooking Light or Eating Well would be fantastic, for instance. Vegetarian, then go for Vegetarian Times, etc. Then there's all the cooking shows out there- I actually prefer good old PBS for cooking shows. Julia Child re-runs and Martha Stewart's current show, along with America's Test Kitchen. Even if they are making things too complicated for where you are right now, you'll still learn techniques that will help you out in the long run. And don't forget about Pinterest!! There are about a bazillion recipes on there. Good luck!!!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Summer Summary

I wrote about my summers not too long ago, how they all seem to take on themes. I like it best when the theme is TRAVEL, but not much of that happened this summer. What did happen was lots and lots of doctor visits to try and figure out why I'm so drained all the time, more than just the fibromyalgia can explain. My instincts, that there was something more going on, turned out to be accurate- I have anemia. The big question is figuring out why I'm anemic, and the big task is to get my iron levels back up, which has proven trickier than anticipated since I found out that I'm allergic to sulfa, which is what ALL of the prescription iron tablets are mixed with. It's been a lot of tests and a lot of appointments and a lot of phone calls to various medical offices and a lot of label reading to find OTC supplements without sulfa, but yet with enough mgs of iron to make a difference without taking 10 pills a day. There's still more to go, too- another test to check for internal bleeding, a few more tests to see if my iron levels are improving, and tests to follow up on the tests that revealed some minor issues that need to be watched. And a few weeks of physical therapy for my sore knee at the beginning of summer, which actually didn't help much. (Maybe if I did the follow up exercises...)

And then there's DH. He's also had some medical issues this summer, including physical therapy. We got to work out together for a couple of appointments; it was almost like a date!! Good times, good times.

So it's been a medically themed summer; that's my least favorite. :( But I'm perking along taking my over the counter iron supplements, and boosting the iron in my diet since the OTCs aren't quite strong enough. I gave up being vegetarian for now; if I can get my iron levels up to where they should be I'll cut back on meat again. I still don't eat meat every day, mind you, but I will buy a steak from Whole Foods, level 4 on their animal welfare rating program, once or twice a week. I'm also eating... gulp... chicken liver. Chicken liver is about the most iron rich food you can eat, so eat it I am. It's palatable, shall we say, when it's made up as chopped liver with lots of hard boiled egg and sauteed onion. I eat it on matzoh crackers with some tomato to top it off, and it's not too horrible. Oh, almost forgot, OJ on the side since citrus helps with iron absorption.

I bought a new cast iron skillet too, and I'm trying to cook in that as often as possible. Which actually isn't very often since DH usually cooks the meals that require a skillet and he doesn't like it, but I've cooked the chicken livers in it.

With all the iron I've felt a little better so I've gone out a few times to ride my bike to try to get more exercise. I love riding my bike- it always makes me feel like a kid again. That and a 15 minute daily walk for the dogs is the extent of my exercise program, but it's better than nothing. I still get so wiped out I can barely move, especially at the end of a busy day, and the day after a busy day. I cut back on most of the activities for the kids for the summer, but now that the school year has started again that's picking right up.

I hate giving in to it, but sometimes I have to. Back in May/June, when I first really started feeling poorly, I was blaming it on fibro flare ups but they were so much worse and much more frequent than usual. It really started affecting my friendships because I was always making excuses for why I couldn't do things, or why I was late, or unprepared, or whatever, since I was always too wiped out to do things properly. It's gotten to where I hate for friends to ask me how I am, because I don't know what to say. Do I lie and say I'm fine, when I'm really not? Does anyone actually want to hear it if I do tell them I feel like crap? Or do I brush it off with "I'm hanging in there", or something equally non-committal? Or just go ahead and go with the socially gracious option and lie, saying "I'm fine"? Or am I completely over thinking this? (Yeah, probably that last thing.) ;)

Blech- even I don't want to read this post, but it's how my summer went so I'm journaling about it for posterity. Here's hoping it's the last "medical summer" for a long, long time!!