Friday, January 29, 2016

Introducing: Learn and Grow!

I am super excited to announce that I am starting a new blog!  I feel like the last few posts here were getting ridiculously Permaculture - oriented, and I'd like to have a dedicated place for that so it's not cluttering things up around here.  So the site is brand new and fairly empty and unexciting right now, but be sure to check out the intro post at Learn and Grow ( and keep and eye on the site as it develops in the upcoming weeks! Pin It

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Dirty Secret at the Heart of My Mommy Blog

People blog for many reasons:

  • To keep faraway family/friends updated on their lives
  • To share their brilliant ideas/recipes/methods/philosophies with others
  • To make some money to support their families
That's not an exhaustive list, but those are the big three, I'd guess.  I have, at various times, blogged for all of those reasons.  When I first started this blog, I thought that my unique contributions, i.e. the things I had an abundance of that I could supply to others, were a tendency to over-analyze, and a non-momish affection for all things math/science/nerd.  I thought I could take a unique stance on typical mom issues, or look at domestic issues from a nerdy point of view (the only one I had at the time).  This philosophy was fairly accurate, since my most-visited post of all time is a mathematical breakdown of the efficiency of crock pots versus other cooking methods.

However, I quickly realized that "the rest" of the blogs out there like mine were drawing traffic with recipes, gorgeous pictures of food, and DIY tutorials.  Big, fat, long posts full of numbers and mathematical symbols were not exactly a selling point.  So I started doing what everyone else was doing: taking food pictures of my new recipes, writing DIY "how-to's," and recording my new discoveries for the benefit of others.

But here's what I gradually learned: I found that (what?!) actually living my life, being fully immersed in it with no camera in my pocket, was so much  more fulfilling than constantly blogging about it.  I hate dragging a camera down to the garden all the time, and I especially hate making my family wait to eat dinner so I can take a picture of their food first!  I realize that some people are huge photographers, or take great joy in capturing all the beauty that they show on their blogs.  But I'll be honest, I am not one of those people.

But here's the truly new thing I discovered during those months: I was blogging because I felt like I was doing so much around the house that was of value, that was significant, and that I wanted SOMEONE, ANYONE to see and admire.  

Do you see the problem here?  I think this is secretly at the heart of so much of the current mommy blog obsession.  We work so hard in our homes, we pour out our hearts in the things we are doing, but who recognizes our hard work?  Do our kids stop and say, "Oh mom, thank so much for making me applesauce from the apples on our tree instead of buying some Mott's.  I appreciate that you took the extra time to do that."?  No way!  Do our dogs say, "Oh, mom, I appreciate you not using pesticides in the garden or chemicals in the house - I feel so much healthier, and I've noticed my tail wags more."?  Heck no.  Do our husbands say, "Thanks sweetheart, for washing my clothes in all-natural detergent instead of store-bought."?  Well, maybe, but not likely.  

So here we are, working our tails off (no matter what kind of oil we're cooking with or what kind of detergent we use!), and who is there to notice but God?  And I found myself thinking, "I better take a picture of this so it can go into a blog post, because otherwise, it's just extra work, unnoticed and wasted."  

This was my dirty secret: I felt unappreciated, unnoticed, unpraised.  And I wanted someone to tell me, "Great job!  You've done something that matters!  Your hard work will return a handsome reward someday in health or in savings."  Nobody in my home was telling me (as often as I wanted, at least).  Society's only message to me was, "you are of value only if you make money to buy nice things."  And so blogging became my source of recognition, of pride, of value.  

But that is not my true source of value.  My worth doesn't come from other people recognizing my hard work.  It doesn't come from doing the work.  It doesn't even come from the character that is gradually built up in me as I put my own desires on the shelf to provide for my family.  Nope.  My value is deeper than that.

I am loved, cherished, valued by the One who made me.  

Always, forever, and regardless of what I accomplish during the day. 

That is the truth I needed to fill up the empty discontent in my soul.  And when it is filled up, daily, by knowing who I am and Who He Is, then instead of striving and working to fill myself up, the things I do are an overflow of the love that is full to the top within me.

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Monday, October 7, 2013

Asthma Update - What Works for Me

When we moved from Oregon to Colorado 2 years ago, one of the first things I noticed was that my asthma started acting up.  Just because of eating traditional foods instead of the Standard American Diet, it had been under control for about 3 years without prescription meds, but when we got here, the humidity, pollen, whatever, made it really flare up again.

Especially during the spring and fall, even if I didn't have "classic" allergy symptoms like runny nose or itchy eyes, I would have shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and all the old asthma symptoms returned with a vengeance!

So, as I shared 2 years ago, I've been exploring different natural options to control my asthma without prescription medications.  

I considered putting myself on the GAPS diet, which is a gut-healing regimen that basically (as I understand it) tries to repair micro-holes in the large intestine by only allowing foods which digest in the small intestine.  This means most starchy foods are eliminated, like grains, uncultured/pasteurized dairy, most beans, all refined sugar.  And probiotics are gradually introduced, so that good bacteria can replace bad bacteria in the gut, further healing any damage.

There are many things I love about the idea of the GAPS diet:

  • It is all real food.  Made in your own kitchen.  
  • It emphasizes healthy fats (saturated from pastured animals).
  • It uses traditional cooking methods, like long simmering of bones to make nutrient-rich broth.
  • It eliminates many of the "problem foods" that I had noticed were aggravating to my asthma, like pasteurized milk and wheat.
However, since the GAPS diet has been so widely used in the past few years, I started finding many testimonials from people who had tried it and had issues with it.  According to these people, it really is amazing at doing what it claims - improving those "Leak Gut Syndrome" symptoms.  But it can also lead to fatigue, thyroid issues, and low body temperatures for some people.  In particular, one of my favorite bloggers, Sarah at Nourished and Nurtured, recorded her family's GAPS journey in detail.  She eventually decided that if she could do it over again, she would not have started the GAPS diet with her family, partly because of the problems it caused, and partly because it is just so much work for what it accomplishes.  

So, my next question was, "If not GAPS, then what?"  I gradually stumbled across Matt Stone and Chris Kresser and their "revolutionary" advice to listen to your body, experiment, and see what works for you and what your body is really craving (from more carbs to more sleep to less exercise!).  I also have really enjoyed the Perfect Health Diet, which is kind of a Paleo spin-off (like Chris Kresser) that encourages eating plenty of "safe starches."

So, with the advice of all these smart people in mind, here is what works for me:

  • A foundation of healthy fats.  They keep me full and drastically reduce blood-sugar swings.  By healthy, I mean fats from real foods, like butter, coconut oil, lard, olive oil, fatty fish.  I absolutely avoid ALL cheap, processed oils like canola, soy, vegetable, sunflower, etc.  These oils come from factories, not food!
  • Plenty of (safe) starches and carbs.  For me, this means potatoes, white rice, sweet potatoes, starchy/carby vegetables, and occasional non-gluten grains.  If I don't eat them, I don't feel full, and I have low energy.  But I make sure I eat them with plenty of fat, or else they do spike my blood sugar. 
  • Avoiding (most) gluten.  Some people do fine with a little wheat.  I generally don't, and many other asthmatics are in the same boat.  If I eat it, I have asthma symptoms, period.  I still occasionally do, like in social settings where it would be rude or awkward to refuse (after all, it doesn't make me hurt...just wheeze), or on a special occasion, like my kid's birthday cake (give me a break, those bean cakes on Pinterest are NOT good enough to give to guests).  I have noticed that good sourdough white bread bothers me the least of all wheat products, so if we do have wheat, we try to have it in that form.
  • Avoiding pasteurized dairy.  We still drink raw milk and eat yogurt, cheese, kefir, and sour cream with no problems.  Also, I have no trouble at all with pasteurized heavy whipping cream - I drink it in my tea every morning.  But milk from the store is out, as are ice cream, hot cocoa mixes, etc.  If I do have to eat these things, or just really, really need a little scoop of ice cream to make me feel human, I try to eat it with some raw milk or fermented dairy to help it digest more easily.  For me, this is almost as big a trigger as gluten. 
  • Plenty of Fat Soluble Vitamins.  We take Cod Liver Oil somewhat regularly (a molecularly distilled type with synthetic Vitamins A and D added), eat high-vitamin foods like egg yolks, liver and oily fish, and I've started taking a D3 supplement.  I know some experts are against supplementing, but, honestly, I just can't feed my kids sardines at every meal when we go to a play date and they are offered PB&J's.  We already eat weird food, I don't want them to have complexes.  So we supplement a little bit to help cover those dietary gaps that come from being socially graceful.  For me, I've noticed a pretty big improvement in my asthma since adding in the Vitamin D supplement.  
  • Good Bacteria.  I try pretty hard to eat something fermented every day, whether that is yogurt or kombucha or homemade fermented veggies or Bubbie's pickles, or whatever.  Also, we spend a TON of time outside playing in the dirt, working in the garden, petting the filthy dog even after he swims in the muddy pond, mucking the chicken coop, and we are NOT fastidious about washing our hands.  My 1-year-old has eaten more dirt than I thought possible this summer.  Permaculture has reminded me (sorry, I had to throw in at least one reference to it), that the microbial health of the soil is what supports the health of plants, and in turn, of bugs and larger animals that eat those plants.  The closer we are to our healthy soil, eating produce from it and exposing ourselves directly to it, I think the healthier we will be.
  • Careful Exercise.  When I was younger and had time to jog, I noticed that regular running helped my asthma stay under control.  Basically, if my cardiovascular health was good, then "normal" life exercise didn't make me breath hard, so didn't bother me.  However, going for an hour run everyday made me tired and really made one of my hips hurt.  So my exercise now consists of working hard around the yard, doing jobs around the house, hefting kids/feed bags/tools around, and doing body-weight exercise like squats, push-ups, core, and yoga poses.  And if I feel like sprinting after my kids, dashing up to the garage to grab a shovel, or flying down a particularly tempting hill, I go for it.  When I listen to my body and run when it feels like running, I get some great sprints in, I have no trouble with my asthma, plus I enjoy every minute!  I feel invigorated and think, "I love sprinting places!" instead of feeling like a dead dog and thinking "Jogging is necessary torture."  Mark Sisson's 5 Essential Movements and Primal Blueprint Fitness E-book gave me a good start, although I take it more easy than he suggests, since I'm still nursing and notice a milk shortage when I overdo it.  
  • Natural Remedies.  I will preface this by saying, I still use my albuterol (rescue inhaler) occasionally, sometimes in the thick of allergy season when working in the garden or if I have a bad cold.  Also, if I have eaten dairy or wheat, I tend to be wheezy by evening.  Breathing is important, not something to mess around with, and you don't want to end up in the emergency room or morgue, so don't hesitate to take action if you (or your kid!) are about to asphyxiate!  However, when I'm just feeling a little wheezy or tight in my lungs, I often try some natural remedies instead of reaching for the inhaler.  A hot shower with plenty of steam helps relax my lungs.  Also, if I have annoying wheezing and can't sleep, but it's not bad enough to really cause distress, often a cup of hot tea helps ease the wheezing enough for me to drift off.  Along with that, eating cold foods sometimes makes wheezing worse, so I try to avoid that if I'm having a rough time of it.  I have heard everything from garlic to ginger to turmeric to lemon juice can help ease symptoms, but if you are eating tons of trigger foods and filling your body with inflammation-causing crud, a spoonful of turmeric is not an adequate long-term solution!  These remedies work best if you are already doing the hard work of changing your diet and improving your health.
So, that's the run-down of what has helped me, every day, to control my asthma naturally, without prescription medicine.  I still keep a rescue inhaler handy, but I have been able to avoid using preventative prescription medicines for 5 years now and counting!

Note: I'm not a doctor or nutritionist or anything licensed.  Please don't interpret my personal experiences to be medical advice, and check with your doctor before discontinuing any medicine, blah blah blah legal jargon.

Do you know anyone who suffers from asthma?  Have they had any luck trying to control it with natural methods?  What has been helpful for them?  Leave a comment and share your experiences and thoughts!

Posted at Small Footprint Friday and Fat Tuesday Pin It

Friday, September 27, 2013

Easy Garden Changes Tip #7: Use More Layers

This post is part of a series of Easy Changes to Make Your Garden Act More Like Nature.  For the full story, start at the beginning with Tip #1, Get Rid of Bare Earth.

Tip #7: Use More Layers

This gorgeous cherry tree "guild," which here means
"a bunch of things planted together to their mutual benefit"

This one is pretty self-explanatory.  I think the average veggie garden uses three layers: the "herb" layer, or typical veggie-sized plants, the vine layer (climbing beans or squash), and the root layer, like potatoes, carrots, and turnips.  But thinking outside the "veggie garden" box allows you to grow in all plant sizes, and use trees, shrubs, "herb" sized-plants, ground covers, roots, and vines together.  I am just getting started with this in my own garden, but I dream happily of the day when my strawberries grow in the part-shade of a zucchini plant, which has a bean vine growing up it, while blackberries happily clamber up the trunk of an apple tree.  You get the idea.  If you don't get the idea, here is a great visual at the Permaculture Research Institute website.

This type of gardening is idyllically called a "forest garden" by many permaculture-type people.  It also extends into silviculture where forests are managed for their produce, or in conjunction with raising animals.

My favorite example of using multiple layers is Mark Sheppard's book "Restoration Agriculture," which describes his savannah-type farm, where productive nut trees grow between fertile grassy areas, and cows, chickens, and hogs range, living entirely off the produce of the forests.  It is like a Joel Salatin style grass-based farm, plus huge, awesome trees to create shade for animals and food for both animals and people.

So, those are all the incredible, life-changing tips I have to offer you at this time.  I hope at least one of them has been as helpful to you as it has to me!

I saw the tagline "recreating agriculture in nature's image" somewhere, and I like it so much, especially as opposed to the opposite, which would be, I guess, "recreating nature into our plan for agriculture."  Even better, I find that the more I follow nature's example, instead of fighting it, the less work I have to do! Pin It

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Easy Garden Changes Tip #6: Rethink Tilling

This post is part of a series of Easy Changes to Make Your Garden Act More Like Nature.  For the full story, start at the beginning with Tip #1, Get Rid of Bare Earth.

Tip #6: Rethink Tilling

Garden Tilling Service

Why do we till the ground?  To break up hard soil clumps, to displace weeds or grass, to give the soil a flush of nitrogen from the air to encourage rapid plant growth, or to establish nice, straight lines to plant?  Or maybe just because that's what most of the garden books say to do, and that's what "everybody" does in the spring.  After all, if you can rent a rototiller, you should, right?

Interestingly, nature doesn't generally till.  Sure, some pigs root around in the forest, some birds scratch at the surface, but in general, the surface of the earth doesn't get overturned once or twice a year, and yet it does a mighty fine job of growing plants.  It also does a mighty fine job of building soil, while modern agriculture is destroying soil at a remarkable pace.

There are many smarter and more experienced people than me who think that tilling should be a thing of the past, so I won't reinvent the wheel.  Instead, check out this summary statement of why tilling is harmful to the soil, or this how-to for reducing weeds by eliminating tilling.

Besides saving me plenty of time, not tilling has helped me to reduce weeds, keep my soil biome healthy, and keep my mulch on the surface, where it belongs!

One more tip left: #7: Use More Layers Pin It

Monday, September 23, 2013

Homemade Hash Browns in 20 Minutes

I am so excited with how popular my old post "How to Make Homemade Frozen Hashbrowns" has been!  Wow - Pinterest is an amazing thing for bloggers!

Here is the original post, in case you missed it the first time around:

But what if you haven't planned way ahead to have frozen hashbrowns in the freezer, ready to go?

I want to make sure everyone has a chance to enjoy the crispy, safe-starchy goodness of real hash browns, so here is how I prepare hash brown potatoes when I have NOT planned ahead!  This method takes about 20 minutes from start to finish, so it's perfect for dinner when I've forgotten to plan a side dish.

Whole raw potatoes (3 average potatoes fit well in my medium skillet)
Butter (at least 2 Tbsp.)

1. Shred potatoes.  I use a box grater, but a food processor is even quicker.
2. Put shredded potatoes in a clean kitchen towel and firmly squeeze out any extra moisture into the sink.  This is like wringing out a washcloth - you have to squeeze the potatoes pretty hard.
3. Melt 1 Tbsp. of butter in the skillet over medium heat.
4. Place potatoes in skillet and cover tightly with lid.
5. Allow potatoes to steam for about 10 minutes with the lid on (check after 5 to make sure they're not browning too fast on the bottom)
6. Carefully flip potatoes (I usually divide them into a few sections in the pan to flip them one half at a time)  As you flip, put the rest of the butter in the bottom of the pan.
7. Cook potatoes an additional 5-10 minutes, with the lid OFF the pan.  Potatoes should not steam, but should get cooked and crispy on the bottom.
8. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Remove from pan as soon as bottom of hash browns reach desired crispness.  Serve immediately.

Do you eat potatoes regularly?  What's your favorite way to prepare them?  Do you have any quick go-to sides that you can whip up in a pinch?  Leave a comment and share your ideas!

Posted at Fat Tuesday Pin It

Easy Garden Changes Tip #5: Create Some Edge

This post is part of a series of Easy Changes to Make Your Garden Act More Like Nature.  For the full story, start at the beginning with Tip #1, Get Rid of Bare Earth.

Tip #5: Create some edge 

This is something I never would have thought of on my own.  We are so used to planting things in nice, straight lines, just because that's how it's always been.  But you can fit more in a smaller space with more creative planting arrangements, and the plants also have more "edge" space that way.  For example, check out these two different ways you can plant 10 plants:


When plantings are staggered, plants still have the room they need, but space is conserved, there is less bare dirt to cover in between rows, and those little plants in back get to peek at the sun between the heads of the plants in front of them.

Also, "ecological gardening" type smarties tell us that the edge, between two different types of environments, is where the most biological activity is concentrated.  For example, more tigers live in the "edge" area between the jungle and the river banks, because there is food and water in one area, shelter and protection in another.  In the same way, little things like birds, spiders, pollinators, even earthworms or good bacteria, tend to gather at the edges between different areas in a garden.

So instead of a basically straight line between dirt and garden plants, or grass and garden plants, or pond and garden plants, like in the first set, if you stagger your plantings, you can create a much longer, wavy line of "edge space."  The more edge space, the more nature's little beneficial creatures will be able to help your garden along.

Next up is Tip #6: Rethink Tilling

Posted at Small Footprint Friday and Homestead Barn Hop Pin It
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