Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Simpler Life

In January of 2010, I made one New Year's Resolution:  Simplify.

It had been growing on me for some time.  Maybe you know the feeling... like there's never enough time to get everything done, and there's not enough room to put all the junk, and life seems just too danged complicated.  My life was out of control.  My Franklin Covey planner did not have sufficient magical powers to keep my life on track in spite of my carefully delineated "personal mission statement" and list of values.  My big rocks were getting buried by the small rocks, and everything in my daily task list was marked with arrows (move to tomorrow).

It was obvious a mere resolution wasn't going to be enough to get a handle on my life.  I needed help.  So when the opportunity presented itself, I enrolled in a "Career Track" seminar on organizing. Organizing being directly related to my job, I was allowed to expense the cost, and I actually did learn one or two useful skills to help me bring order to my messed up world.  Like...
   * If possible, never handle a piece of paper more than once
   * Use a tickler file 
   * Separate clutter into three piles (keep, give away, throw away)
   * When processing your inbox, if you can do it now, do it now
   * Store as many documents as possible electronically

So I came home and employed my new-found skills to tackle the clutter in my house, starting with my office/guest room. With great zeal and energy I gathered up all the papers and junk on the desk, in the drawers, in file folders-- everything.  And I made three piles-- well, two piles and a trash can.   Several hours later, exhausted, I found myself sitting in the middle of the floor surrounded by papers and mementos that I had spent the entire day reminiscing over instead of finding places for. Time to fix dinner -- pick up the piles and put them in a box.  Declutter session is over.

The problem with decluttering is the will to part with things-- or, more to the point, the lack thereof.  I have spent the last two years moving around my piles of junk -- mostly storing them in a box in the closet.  After all, you never know what you might need again some time.  (I would have loved to refer to that Career Track workbook about organizing...but I recently threw it away.)

This weekend I happened upon a book called THE POWER OF LESS: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential, by Leo Babauta. Amazon had a Kindle version for $3, so I thought... what the heck?  I'll buy it.  Hopefully there's at least three dollars worth of good advice in it that maybe I haven't heard before.  I'm usually a sucker for self-improvement books, and the desire to simplify my life has been running like an undercurrent in my mind for a long time.   Two days and 170 pages later, I was armed with some new ideas and ready to renew my quest for simplicity.

The book discusses three main themes:  (1) setting limitations, (2) choosing the essential, and (3) focusing. All seemingly common-sense intuitive concepts, right?  But Babauta takes the concepts a step farther and actually gives great tips on the how to.  He tackles everything from managing your e-mail to setting goals. He gives advice on forming habits, managing commitments, and generally getting rid of clutter.

While I learned a few new things (at least three dollar's worth), I was surprised to discover that I am already doing some of the things he recommends.  One of those is single-tasking.  As I get older,  I've noticed an increasing difficulty for multi-tasking. Perhaps I was better at this when I was younger, but these days I do too much dinner-burning, and appointment forgetting when I try to multitask. I find single-tasking a much more efficient way to get things done -- at home, and at the office.  Granted, not everyone is in a position where they can comfortably single-task -- mothers of small children come to mind.  But the principles this book promotes, if faithfully attempted, promise to help reduce the stress and anxiety by paring down what you do to the essential tasks--leaving less to multi-task, if you must do it.

But, getting back to the theme of a simpler life, these two things seem to be my recurring trouble spots, which The Power of Less addresses in simple easy ways:
  1. Minimize the stuff.  How do I choose what to keep and what to get rid of?  First I have to decide what my values are - what really matters.  Until I answer that question, I won't be able to let loose of anything!  What do I love?  What's important to me?  Those are the essential things.  The rest can be thrown out or given away.
  2. Manage the time.  How do I get the most out of the hours I have in the day?  In keeping with the "simple" theme, the answer is the same -- decide what tasks are essential and eliminate the rest.  How?  By answering the same questions as before:  What do I love? What's important to me? What activities will have the biggest or most long-term impact?  
Many of the tools he suggests are those I already know about. Like forming good habits and routines for things I do every day.  After all, the less time you spend thinking about what you're going to do next, the more time you have to actually do stuff. And like setting goals and writing down a daily plan of attack-- identifying my MITs (Most Important Tasks) to accomplish each day.  I know about these things -- it's just a matter of DOING them.

Getting a little encouragement from sources like The Power of Less is always invigorating. Yesterday I decluttered my kitchen counter and set some rules about incoming mail.  Then I decluttered my home desk area, set up a more efficient file system for bills and receipts and got my scanner working again so I can save the paperwork I want to keep to PDF files.  Not only that, but Mark and I started on the garage decluttering project we've been talking about for a while.

Albert Einstein said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." I'm convinced he was right about that.  The simpler we can make our life, the more efficient it will be, the happier we will be, and the more focus we will place on the important things.

In all, it was a very productive long weekend and a jump-start to my quest for a simpler life.  Who knows how long I can stick with it...but that's tomorrow.  I'm not going to worry about that!

Leo Babuta has a blog called Zenhabits that you may find of value.  I've added the link to my sidebar.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Blueberry Project

When presented with a glorious spring day, what better to do than plant something?  Living in a townhome, however, can make planting things a challenge—outside, at least.  As with many townhomes, there’s a little community landscaping around my front door, but permission to plant anything in the ground is firmly denied.  My little spot of outdoor real estate (and I mean little) is a six foot square cement slab patio on which I have just enough room for a glider and small table … and, if desired, a few potted plants.  Add to that the fact that it faces north, and my gardening options more or less fizzle. 

But, I have decided this year (spurred by a warm sunny day) to take my chances with blueberries.  So I headed off to Bachman’s Garden Center and, with the assistance of their very helpful staff, I came away with two baby blueberry bushes, a large bag of organic soil, a block of peat moss, a giant pot, and a pH dirt tester.  In my short shopping trip, I learned that a blueberry plant should be planted with another variety for best fruit production, that blueberry plants prefer acidic soil and need a pH level above 6 (hence the peat moss), that they thrive in full sun (this may be a problem with their new north-facing home), and that they attract birds and butterflies (probably bugs, too, but maybe the birds will eat them).  Bachman’s has a great one-year warranty on their plants (two, if you’re an “e-member” – I became one) and will replace the plant on the unhappy chance that I kill it within that period.  Considering my sketchy success with plants, it was worth the extra price to buy it at a higher-end nursery rather than a Wal Mart or Home Depot type store.

There were about five or six varieties to choose from, and I selected “Polaris” and “Northsky”… probably more because I liked the pictures on the little cards that came with the plants than anything else (I’m a visual person, you know).  And once I got them home, I proceeded to tackle the task of repotting from the little root-bound pot they came in to the giant plastic pot that will sit on my patio this summer.


Blueberries are one of the healthiest fruits on God’s green earth.  An article on the WomenFitness.Net web site listed the following health benefits:
  • Highest anti-oxidant capacity of all fresh fruit
  • Rich in vitamins and minerals
  • May help reduce belly fat
  • Helps promote urinary tract health
  • Good for the eyes/vision
  • Good for brain health and memory
  • Improves digestion
  • Contains a compound (pterostilbene) that inhibits cancer
  • Good anti-depressants

Now for the downer… I probably won’t get a single blueberry this year.  And maybe not next year or the year after, either.  Blueberries don’t produce fully unit about their sixth year.  Bummer.  I guess I’ll have to rely on those Costco (supposedly) organic blueberries for a while longer. 

But, when they mature (if they live that long), they should give me about eight quarts of blueberries per bush in a growing season.  In my former (junk-food) life, they would have gone into muffins and scones … and pie.  I still may make a pie.  But mostly, they will go into my morning smoothie:  1 pastured egg, ½ cup unsweetened Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon raw honey, and a cup of frozen blueberries.  Yumm!  And, it turns out that freezing blueberries does NOT harm their nutritional value. How cool is that?!

Hmmm...I wonder how long it takes for raspberries to mature …

More about blueberries:


Monday, May 21, 2012

Why I no longer donate to cancer research

After my up close and personal experience with cancer in 2007, I became intimately aware of the reality of this disease.  Based on my family history and my low personal "risk" factor, I never concerned myself with the possibility that I would ever have to deal with cancer in any form.  But, as they say, life happens.  When the surgery was over and the dust settled, I decided it was time to give something to the cause of others.  My recovery was complete (more or less), but many are not so fortunate.  Their battle with cancer is long and rocky, and many never recover.  It was then I began to make donations to organizations like the Susan B. Koman Foundation and St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.  

No more.

Next month I will have my last appointment with my Oncologist.  It will have been five years since the gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) was removed from my small intestine.  My semi-annual visits since that event have shown no signs of recurrence, and I am cutting the proverbial umbilical cord to the cancer doctor.

GIST is a rare cancer affecting the digestive tract -- typically in the small or large intestines, stomach, or esophagus.  How rare?  Out of 1.4 million new cases of cancer that occur each year, only 4,000 are diagnosed as gastrointenstinal stromal tumors.  A stromal tumor is a sarcoma, which is different than a carcinoma.  Carcinomas derive from cells in the skin, whereas sarcomas grow from cells of the body's connective tissues such as bone, tendons, fat, nerves, muscle, or blood vessels.  Sarcomas do not respond to chemotherapy or other standard cancer treatments.  The only way out is courtesy of a surgeon's knife.

According to GSI Support International, there are no known environmental or behavioral risk factors that contribute to GIST.  "Therefore patients should not worry that their diet or lifestyle choices contributed to GIST."  Instead, they believe that GISTs are caused by random genetic mutations, which they attribute to identified mutations in cell-surface proteins called tyrosine kinase receptors that are found in the majority of stromal tumors.

At first, I accepted this assumption without question.  After all, it's quite self-assuring to be told that "it's not your fault."  I couldn't have changed the outcome by living a lifestyle any different than the one I chose.  Clean conscience prevails.
Then I began to read.  I read information by doctors such as Dr. Christine Horner, an MD and surgeon who after losing her own mother to cancer, discovered a tremendous amount of little know research proving that nutrition and lifestyle can lower one's risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.  I read about the work of Dr. Weston Price (the dentist) who discovered that primitive people groups who ate no modern (processed) foods had little or no incidence of dental disease, cancer, heart disease, or tuberculosis (which was prevalent during the 1940s when he was doing his research).  I read about the alterations in our food supply through genetic modification by scientists bought and paid for by chemical companies -- the biggest culprit being Monsanto.  I learned about the gross irresponsibility of the meat industry that raises farm animals in a most cruel and unusual way in order to get the most meat, milk, or eggs for the money--shoving them full of food they're not designed to eat and unnatural growth hormones, and then solving the resulting sickness problem with antibiotics.  I read about the chemicals that are routinely sprayed on our fruit and vegetable food supply and the chemical fertilizer that permeates the ground and water.  I read about chemicals added to processed foods we buy at the grocery store to make them palatable-- chemical flavors, chemical colors, chemical sweeteners.  I read about how we've been led to believe (and I sure did) that oil extruded from vegetables is healthier than naturally occurring fats in meat and butter (which, by the way, people have been eating for millenia), when in fact those vegetable and nut oils turn into carcinogens the minute you heat them up.  In short, I learned that for the last eighty to a hundred years, our food supply has been slowly poisoning us.  

So, with all that going on, how do they KNOW that all that garbage we're eating isn't interfering with tyrosine kinase receptors, causing cell disruptions or mutations?  Hmmm?

Now, back to the cancer research.  Strangely, the only research they're willing to do is that which involves drug development.  Not only are they not interested in researching the food factor, but they boldly denounce any possibility that food would have an impact, as though such an idea were somehow backward and uncivilized.  

The Susan B. Koman Foundation, when discussing diet, implicates fats, especially from red meat, without any differentiation regarding the quality of the food. In typical fashion, they state that "woman who live in countries like the United States where people tend to eat a high-fat diet with more meat tend to have higher rates of breast cancer" and say nothing of the other foods eaten by these same women that are more likely to be the culprits-- like white flour, trans fats and vegetable oils, processed foods sterilized of any nutritional value, and large amounts of sugar. 

The American Cancer Society's shopping list for a "healthy kitchen" may as well be the shopping list of the average American.  No changes required.  The only thing missing is a sack of candy bars.  What are the cancer treatments available to you and me?  At the top of the list:  surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.  You won't find "healthy eating" anywhere in the treatment plan.  And yet there is clear evidence that in some cases (perhaps many cases) it works.  Take the case of young Jacob Stieler, a Michigan child whose parents are currently battling the system because they have refused to follow the "standard of care" treatment for his bone cancer, without which he will surely die... except his past three PET scans have shown no sign whatever of cancer.  The Pediatric Oncology Tumor Board at Children's Hospital have decided that Jacob needs six more months of chemo and six weeks of radiation, even though he has no cancer.  Chemotherapy and radiation treatment are poisonous to the body.  Why would a group of doctors insist upon poisoning a boy with no cancer?  

This one tops them all.  From the National Cancer Institute, a government organization, the following "have been proven not to be risk factors" (or the risk is unknown) for breast cancer:  Abortion, oral contraceptive, environment, diet, cigarette smoking, statin drugs.  In other words, don't worry about your lifestyle.  It certainly can't be THAT.  

Even organizations that promote diet as a key component to cancer prevention and treatment, such as the Cancer Nutrition Center of America, rely upon the “conventional wisdom” that touts a low-fat diet, tells us soy is wonderful, and neglects to address the impact of carbohydrates on cancer.

Cancer research organizations -- every last one of them -- have lost their way.  They are no longer honestly looking for a cure to cancer.  Instead, they seem to be working hand-in-hand with pharmaceutical companies to help fund drug research.  And drug companies aren't looking for cures either.  They seek only to mediate our health and keep us from dying long enough to buy as many of their products as possible.  

So can food really cure cancer?  Probably not.  Food cannot cure.  That's not its job.  Food feeds our bodies and provides the necessary building blocks the body needs to cure itself.  God designed us to be self-healing, and food is the body's enabler.  When we keep that food as pure as possible, we will be healthier.  When we continually saturate the body with things it can't metabolize, we get sick and we stay sick...and sometimes we die before we should.  Dr. Max Gerson, long a proponent of natural healing, has demonstrated the power of the body to heal when it is properly cared for.  Recently his methods were highlighted in a documentary called, The Beautiful Truth.  Dr. Gerson can cite thousands of examples of persons healed of their cancer and heart disease through diet.  Can't be proved?  What, exactly, constitutes "proof?"

The establishment cancer machine will suppress any doctor or organization that goes against its doctrine of drug therapy in order to perpetuate its own survival.  It will make examples of parents who seek another way and charge them with child neglect and endangerment.  The truth cannot be allowed to surface.  If people discover there are natural cancer fighting solutions, before you know it, all that funding for cancer research will dry up.  That's no good!  For them.

So... until cancer organizations return to an honest search for the cure, they won't see another dime of my money.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Day At The Farm – My New CSA Adventure

The natural progression of every foodie is the eventual transition to the CSA, which stands for “Community Supported Agriculture.”  Once we learn the truth about food, we begin in our local grocery store by shopping the organic section only.  Then at some point we move to a natural food market, or co-op, where just about everything is organic.  And finally, we skip all the middle-men altogether and go straight to the farmer.  

A CSA, for the uninitiated, is a partnership whereby the consumer (me, in this case) buys a share in the crop of a local farm.  The farmer uses the buyer’s money to help with the cost of planting, weeding, watering, and eventual harvesting of the food and in return provides a share of the crop on a weekly basis during the course of the growing season – usually about six weeks. 

Yesterday was “Open House” at the farm.  We arrived at 10:00 in the morning and started the day with a tour.  The weather was cool enough, and the wind was blowing like a gale for the first hour or so but eventually calmed down to a manageable breeze, and the morning turned out to be quite pleasant.  We looked at the goats and talked about the chickens and the horses, but the stars of the show were the two resident turkeys who insisted upon being included in all the activities – Tom and Smeagol (named for his attraction to rings).  Smeagol is the shaggy one in the picture.
After the tour, our hosts treated us to fresh goat cheese (made from milk obtained directly from the goat that morning), rhubarb treats and lemonade.  Once we were sufficiently refreshed, we headed to the garden to pick our own fresh lettuce, onion, and tiny little broccoli heads to take home with us.  To top off the day’s haul, we were given a bag of rhubarb.  I’ve never liked rhubarb…but the rhubarb bars they served were “to die for,” and I asked for the recipe.  I expect I’ll be trying a LOT of new recipes this summer, as the list of vegetables that will be coming to me on a weekly basis includes things I’ve never even heard of before, much less tried to cook.  It will, indeed, be an adventure.

The farm also has two calves being raised for slaughter in the fall.  They will be fed on grass and goat milk, and the meat is promised to be as tender as veal.  My chances of securing a quarter or a half are slim (as they will be offering the meat to their regular buyers first), but I intend to put in my order and hope for the best. 

This year, my vegetables will be truly farm-fresh.  Farm to market (my front door) is about 25 miles, traveled by pickup truck in a standard picnic cooler.  You can’t get much more local than that.  Cost?  $25 a week, and—I trust—well worth it.

What will I get?  Things like “royal purple” and “red noodle” beans, edible flowers, purslane, crème brule peppers, and kohlrabi… as well as all the standards—beets, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, onions, potatoes, peas, turnips, squash, tomatoes, herbs, strawberries, raspberries, and apples. 

Much has been planted, but in farming, nothing is certain.  Weather can change the outcome of every harvest.  Our farmer put it something like this, “God worked it out so that some plants do better in dry hot weather, and others in cool damp weather…no matter what weather we get, something will grow well, and there will be food.”  She’s quite right.  God takes care of us in all kinds of weather!

So this year, the crop may be different than it was last year – and next year, it could be different still.  But doesn’t that add to the adventure?

(My apologies to the natural food store…I’ll see you again in the winter.)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Flared Up!

One of my current pet peeves is the ease at which the establishment health “experts” repeat the dubious claims – what's good or bad for us – that have become mainstream in society… even “settled science,” which in itself is an oxymoron.  Science is the study of natural phenomena.  If it’s settled, who needs to study it anymore?  Well, apparently, once the FDA approves it -- nobody.

The example that flared me up is an article in the June 2012 edition of the magazine, Eating Well, entitled Inflammation Nation, by Holly Pevzner.  The teaser on the cover of the magazine is “Live Longer With 10 Easy Changes."  (If only it were that easy!)  She lists ten solutions “to help you stave off – or tamp down – inflammation.”  Among those ten solutions was this gem:  

Up Your Soy.  The Food and Drug Administration has indicated that eating 25 grams of soy protein daily helps to reduce your risk of inflammation-driven cardiovascular disease.”  

Later in the paragraph she quotes associate professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana, Elvira deMejia, Ph.D., who proclaimed, “We saw a reduction in inflammation after drinking just two [12-ounce] glasses of soymilk a day for three months.”  Twenty-four ounces of soy milk every day for three months?!  Is she crazy?  Dr. de Mejia is also studying the health benefits of tea.  Perhaps she has something to do with the soy protein isolate that’s showing up in teabags all over the place these days!  Yes, read your labels.

The good doctor has done a great deal of research in the area of food toxicology – how does she not know about the natural toxicity of soy beans?  If it's toxic in its natural state, why in heaven's name would anyone want to try to turn it into a food substance?  Unless of course you wanted to sell a bunch of it.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm all about the free market.  But I'm also about truth in advertising.

  • has been linked to growth and fertility problems and thyroid disease (high in plant estrogens)
  • interferes with protein digestion (protease inhibitors)
  • is linked to “leaky gut syndrome” and other gastrointestinal disorders and immune problems (lectins and saponins)
  • blocks mineral absorption causing deficiencies (phytates)
  • causes gas (oligosaccharides)

Perhaps the doctor is getting her soy information from the soy industry.  After all, they seem to know all the FACTS about soy.  At least that’s what they say on their web page, Soy Nutrition (sponsored by Silk).  These “facts” will counter every negative claim above.  Case closed.

How can we tell the truth from the fiction?  This is the big question.  Who do we believe?

Well, this is my strategy: 
  1. Follow the money.  If the researcher is paid by the industry making the health claim, there’s a really good chance the results will be biased toward the industry. 
  2. Is it endorsed by the FDA?  As we should all know by now, the FDA is the friend of industry, not the consumer.  The FDA directors have an interesting pattern of swapping jobs with industry CEOs. 
  3. Is it government funded research (includes research universities)?  Government funds research it deems valuable—research, that is, that promotes its entrenched scientific assumptions.  (Example:  "People have been eating soy beans for almost 5,000 years,"  from University of Maryland Medical Center.  Not remotely true.)
  4. Do the researcher’s claims make sense on a basic level?  Are they logical?  (Sometimes this one trips me up, but I still try to rely on it for the most part because I consider myself a pretty common-sense person.)
  5. Is the theory supported by evidence?  Let’s face it—most things can’t be proven 100%, but is there compelling evidence to support the conclusion?  And was the study well-defined?  Like a bad poll questionnaire, a study can be manipulated to bring about any result one wishes to obtain.
  6. Are they selling something?  … particularly the “something” they’re promoting as the newest fad?
  7. And finally… get a rounded education, as it were.  When I learn about something I didn't know before, I try to read as broadly as I can on the topic.  Never stop with one opinion. 

Will “uping” my soy really help me live longer?  I highly doubt it--as a matter of fact, it might shorten my life significantly.  It is, after all, a known toxin.  But, there are some great cherry recipes in the magazine.  And I’ve heard some good things about the nutritional value of cherries.  For one, they’re not toxic.  And then there are the “39 Fresh and Fast Healthy Recipes,” some of which may actually be healthy.  So I’ll glean what I can out of the magazine before it joins its friends in the recycle dumpster.

Perhaps the day will come when the nutritional mainstream once again challenges the status quo and begins to question why the “settled science” of nutrition isn’t doing anything to improve our health.   Wouldn’t it be grand to see an article in Eating Well praising the virtues of raw milk?  Or butter? … or (gasp!) beef tallow?

It could happen…

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sweet Potato Hash

At a recent dinner out, I was served a very delicious dish that included a "sweet potato hash," and I thought I'd try my hand with my own version.  You can use yams or sweet potatoes in this recipe, and we'll look at the differences below.


  • 1 Large organic sweet potato (or yam), about two pounds, diced
  • 1 Tblsp coconut oil
  • 2 Tblsp chopped fresh organic parsley
  • 1/4 Tsp ground ginger
  • 1 Tblsp butter (from pastured cows)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup organic asparagus
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste

Heat a cast iron or stainless steel frying pan over a medium heat.  Before it starts to smoke, add the coconut oil to melt.  When it's hot enough to sizzle one of those sweet potato cubes, add the sweet potatoes (or yams), and parsley.  Saute about ten minutes, then add the butter, asparagus and ginger.  Saute another five minutes or until sweet potatoes are easy to pierce with a fork.  Remove from heat and serve.  (This recipe will serve two to four people depending on how hungry they are and how much other food you serve.)

Additional note:  If I wasn't accommodating my dear husband, I would also chop up about a half an onion and add it at the beginning with the sweet potatoes (yams).  The restaurant version had onion and was delicious.  

Now, lets talk about the difference between yams and sweet potatoes.  

Sweet Potatoes:  Rich in vitamin A, providing about 769% of your RDA (recommended daily allowance).  Allowance?  Who came up with that term?  It almost sounds like you're allowed so much and no more -- people all over the world are eating foods with no vitamin A, and you're eating 769% of your allowance?!  How about we call it RDV, instead ...recommended daily value.   So, in addition to vitamin A, you're getting about 69% of your RDV of vitamin C and 29% of your vitamin B6.  For minerals, you're getting 50% of your manganese and 30% of your potassium.  Not bad for a one cup serving of vegetables.

Yams:  Less of a nutritional punch, but not too bad.  Yams give you only 6% of your vitamin A, 27% of your vitamin C, and 16% of your vitamin B6 in a one cup serving.  For minerals, you're getting 30% of potassium and 25% of your RDV of manganese.

Overall, sweet potatoes win the nutritional match, also providing significantly more magnesium, phosphorus, and copper.  However, a big part of eating is the taste, and your taste preference may trump the vitamins.  Either way you win because you're eating minimally processed whole foods designed to nourish.

(The picture shown above shows the recipe using yams.)