Category Archives: Natural Health

If it’s related to wellness, illness, or injury, you’re likely to find it here.

Horse Update

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I’ve been giving Saxton a specially mixed bottle of Bach Flower Remedies to balance his emotions and calm his fears for about three weeks now.  I must say that I am extremely impressed so far!  He is spooking less, and interestingly (to me anyhow), when something does spook him, it takes him about half a second of spooking, then he’s back to himself like he’d never spooked a day in his life – head low, which is a sign of calm.  Saxton has always been a “head up” kind of guy.  Always looking around to try to see what scary things were out there somewhere, possibly ready to pounce on him any minute!  No more.

We took him on the trail yesterday to gauge how he’ll do this afternoon when we show him to a prospective buyer.  My goodness he was amazing!  So calm!  All he was thinking about was snatching the next mouthful of leaves.  He wasn’t worried in the least!  It was great!  I didn’t expect even these good results.  He is, still, his same old personality.  If I walk up to the stall door he still jerks his head up for a second.  I don’t think you can change fundamental personality traits.  Most of our horses do that, actually.  But calm rules the day with him now, not fear.  I am satisfied with that!

Yes, I still have him on the market, though.  If he doesn’t sell this afternoon I may reevaluate, but I have my eye on a little paint mare that is more of a babysitter horse.  I’m going to look at her this weekend and perhaps bring her home.  Danny would like to keep Saxton for his horse, but I don’t think Saxton, while very smart, malleable, and willing, is quite sensible enough to be a child’s horse.  Still … I will remain open to the possibility of keeping him in our herd somehow if this buyer isn’t interested.

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Filed under Farm, Horses, Natural Health

Blooms and Blossoms

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We had a cold snap about ten days ago, with snow and winds.  I definitely lost some of the flower buds in my orchard, but I’m pleased to see some blossoms still well enough to open this week.  In fact, while most of the buds on my pear trees didn’t make it, some of them did, which is a thrill!  I haven’t had pear blossoms for several years, as my daughter we managed to kill some of the most mature branches on our pears when white-washing them (an overzealous attempt) to protect them from the winter sun.  It’s all a learning process!

Not nearly as many buds blossomed as were on the trees before the cold snap, but I'm so pleased that we did get some blooms!

Not nearly as many buds blossomed as were on the trees before the cold snap, but I’m so pleased that we did get some blooms!

I ran across an article about how to make your own flower essences – super easy, really.  Just place the flowers in pure water and steep in the sun as you would when making sun tea.  That’s it.  So I looked up some of my favorite flowers and some of the flowers I have available in my gardens, woods, and orchard and proceeded to steep a few jars.

Flower essences can be used as flavoring, in biscuits, baklava, on fresh strawberries, or in other foods.  They can be used as a light scent or for various properties, such as the toning quality in rose water, in homemade soaps and other beauty products.  If you’re a little more adventurous you can try adding a couple drops at a time to water and sip it throughout the day to take advantage of the individual healing properties of whichever flowers you’ve used.  For example, grape hyacinth essence restores balance after stressful situations, bringing new energy and hope.  And coneflower (echinacea) essence helps strengthen the body against colds and flu.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are some rather – for lack of a better word – different people out there who get into flower essences, and talk about them in terms of fairies, conversations with the flowers, and having goddesses visit them — rather other-worldly stuff.  Can’t say that’s really my thing, but I do appreciate the subtle balancing properties of various flower essences!   ‘Nuff said.

So this week I’m having fun choosing flowers and making flower essences for various uses around the home.  And as a bonus, they look pretty in their glass jars!

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Filed under Garden and Orchard, Natural Health

Using Homeopathics with Horses (or Other Animals)

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Quick rundown on what homeopathics are:  Do you remember learning in chemistry class that molecules vibrate?  And that molecules are different from each other and they vibrate at different speeds from each other?  (Molecular frequency.)  That’s part of what makes up your body.  The tissue in your body vibrates differently than the molecules in the tomatoes growing in your garden.  Similarly, a rock’s molecules will vibrate differently than those in bee venom.  Slightly odd sounding, perhaps, but true nonetheless.  There are plenty of “skeptics” who think homeopathy is just goofy nonsense and who, using non-molecular vibration-related tests, try to debunk it as quackery, and fine if they feel that way.  But you don’t really have to understand how something works for it to actually work.  And my personal experience (along with hundreds of thousands of other people’s) has been that, when chosen correctly, homeopathics absolutely do work.  They correct a slight imbalance in the vibrations in your body, bringing about physical and/or mental balance and healing.  The problem I find with homeopathics is that it is not easy in many cases to choose the correct remedy.  Sometimes it’s a no-brainer.  You get stung, as my daughter did this week, and you take apis mellifica.  The vibrational resonance of bee venom.  And it acts on the homeopathic principle that “like cures like.”  That’s all I’ll tell you.  If you want to know more there are a lot of resources out there with more information.  And no, you can’t just rub bee venom on your sting or take bee venom internally.  It has to be homeopathically prepared.  In fact, some of these substances in pure form could really harm you or even kill you.  But the vibrational resonance that they give off can affect the balance of your mind and body without the negative consequences of the actual substance.

So that being out of the way, one set of homeopathics that I really do like and find easy to diagnose and use is the Bach Flower Remedies.  These flower remedies affect primarily mental symptoms.  If you are burned out and tired from overwork and overcare, such as when taking care of an ill loved one, you take Olive, several drops in a glass of water, all day long for a week or a month or even several months depending on the severity.  That’s one example.  Sometimes the flower remedies do also affect physical symptoms you may be having in a positive way, but primarily they are used for mental symptoms.

I’ve used them on myself – Centaury to help me learn, after some 38 years, that I don’t have to let people walk all over me, tell me what to do, or make me feel guilty.  I’ve used them on my children – Vine to take pushy, bossy characteristics and turn them into their positive form – great leadership!  Or Water Violet to help my once very aloof, independent, and private daughter to open up and let the rest of us into her private world.  I’ve used Willow on another child who tends to become very self-pitying from time to time and evades responsibility.  A few doses and he’s back to himself, accepting the blame for things he’s responsible for without feeling sorry for himself.  And on friends – a dear friend who lived in daily despair, wishing she could die and join her baby son who had died suddenly two years before tried Star of Bethlehem on my insistence (that’s what friends are for – to push you when you need a push, right?)  The flower remedy took hold and brought her back to the land of the living.  The change was so amazing and obvious in her that some of her teenaged children spent some of their own money to buy themselves flower remedies they thought would help with whatever aches and pains they had in their own hearts at the time.  And I’ve experimented with them as often as possible.  You can take half a dozen at time if needed, but by focusing on your top three complaints, you can get those out of the way and see if you really need any others or if you’re simply out of balance due to the few things that are bothering you the most.

My first introduction to using flower remedies with horses or other animals came last spring when we brought our haflinger Sophie home from Whispering Hope Ranch where she’d been staying for about a year and a half.  We had temporarily traded her for Betsy’s mare Lacy, as we did not want to keep five horses at the time – our facilities were only half the size we have now.  Lacy is one of the sweetest, best horses a little girl could have… patient, kind, totally calm.  Sophie, on the other hand, was anti-social, resistant to training and leadership, scared, and stubborn.  We hoped they could use Sophie as part of their string, but she was a little too bouncy for the older riders and too stubborn for the younger ones.  So finally they sent her back to us.  As I was thinking about how on earth I could help her to become more friendly and more malleable for training, it occurred to me I ought to give her some Walnut remedy in her water to help her adjust to the change of leaving the herd at the Ranch and returning to our home.  And as I thought about that, I realized I could give her other remedies as well, so I looked up which ones would help with her particular personality challenges.  Water Violet was a definite yes.  Most horses, being herd animals, need to be around other horses.  Not Sophie.  She wanted everyone – people and horses – to go away and leave her alone.  Being intolerant of her human handlers called for Beech, being resistent to training and learning new exercises called for Chestnut Bud, her resignation and apathy needed Wild Rose and Gentian would be for depression and discouragement.  Not being able to talk to her, obviously, I had to observe her behavior and guess that she was discouraged and depressed (she didn’t want to be around anyone – that was either Water Violet or Gentian, so I tried both since the wrong choice can’t harm you – it just won’t help.)  With animals it’s a bit of a guessing game sometimes, since we can’t ask them questions.  It’s much like working with children, actually, who may not be able to articulate what they are feeling.

The upshot of this Bach Remedy Cocktail was very, very positive!  I was thrilled to see Sophie settle into our home, and within a week she went from being her same morose self that she had been before we ever took her to The Ranch and after we brought her home to being almost a completely different horse.  She is still stubborn, which Danny absolutely loves (silly boy!), but she is friendly – always hanging out with Saxton and the first one to the stall door to get her face rubbed.  Yes, this is amazing to me.  She would walk away from us if we approached her before the remedies.  Now she wants treats and petting?  Wow!  She had no trouble adjusting to the change, is now what I would consider a “happy” personality instead of morose and discouraged, and while I would never consider her a fast learner, she can concentrate on her lessons and make progress now instead of just being a lunatic!  LOL!

I won’t give you every instance where I’ve used homeopathics with animals and people, though I’d love to.  It would become a little e-book and we just don’t want to go there!  LOL!  But our elderly mare Lacy was having such a hard time eating hay or grass because her teeth hurt.  It just hurt to chew.  She’s ancient.  My teeth would hurt, too!  So we give her constitutional doses of Calcarea Carbonica (calc. carb.) for “teeth problems” – which we’ve had great success with in our humans here, too, healing tooth abscesses (Who knew!) and helping new teeth come in and such.  So I thought it would work for her and it has.  She has no trouble eating hay or grass now.  Calc Carb is not a Bach remedy, by the way.

So on to my present-day adventure.  Saxton is my fabulous, gorgeous, amazing gelding.  He’s smart, he loves to learn new things (which is great because I love to teach him new stuff – tricks, useful exercises, groundwork, to work at liberty (meaning that he is essentially free and can come and go as he pleases, but he chooses to stay with me and do what I ask of him.)  When I first got him in 2009 he’d sat, unused, for four years.  So he bucked me off the first few times I asked him to work.  Reflecting on it, I think it was more that he was afraid than anything, but there was definitely an element of simply not wanting to do what I asked.  So I began putting him through Clinton Anderson’s “Groundwork for Respect” series, and I got hooked.  I love Anderson’s exercises, and I love teaching Saxton new things.  He enjoys it, too, and responds very well to learning new things.  But from that first year when he bucked me off repeatedly, I got to be very timid about riding.  Saxton is a spooky horse.  We go out on the trail and he is looking everywhere in an “I’m kinda freaked out – what is that noise” kind of way.  And it scares the bejeebers out of me.  I’m afraid he’s going to buck or bolt or do something stupid.  He hasn’t.  Not since he was new here, before the groundwork series.  He has, however, spooked.  I just expect him to spook once almost every time I ride.  He usually spooks in place, I lose my balance a little, then collect him and we move on.  But last year, if you remember, he spooked, and before I could regain my balance he spooked again.  And I fell off.  And hurt myself.  Badly.

I haven’t ridden since then because I’ve been afraid to.  Oh, I’ve taken Mimulus – the remedy for “fear of known things” but in spite of no longer being terrified, I just have this certain, peaceful knowledge that getting on that horse is a bad idea for me.  I’m not confident, I don’t have a good seat, and the older I get, the harder it is for me to recover from injury – which is no fun in the first place.   In fact, I had given Saxton the Mimulus remedy last year as well, hoping it would help him in the spooking department.  Nope.

I adore Lacy, who is a million years old, because I know that she wouldn’t spook or buck or take off in a million years.  But she’s also little and old and can’t carry my 125-pound carcass along with a 30-pound saddle.  So this spring I finally, reluctantly, sadly, put Saxton up for sale.  He’s a gaited Missouri Foxtrotter, which is an attractive feature, but he’s 19.  And whoever rides him would have to be totally confident and have a good seat, because when he spooks, they need to be able to keep their balance.  But I hate, hate, hate to lose him.  He’s perfect for me in every way except the spooky horse/timid rider combination.

Saxton:  Regal, gorgeous, smart, malleable, respectful ... and spooky!

Saxton: Regal, gorgeous, smart, malleable, respectful … and spooky!  (And slightly goofy looking wearing hay on his head – but Hey!  He loves his food!)

Then it occurred to me.  Mimulus had never been the right remedy for Saxton.  I was afraid of something I know.  Riding a spooky horse that could hurt me.  He is afraid of everything he doesn’t know.  Spooky noises, fluttery objects, movement in the trees, noises in the distance.  And he gets panicky when he gets afraid of all those things.  Aha!  That indicates Aspen for “fear of unknown things” and “Rock Rose” for terror.  So early this week I put an online order in at my favorite Bach Remedy supplier feelbach.com, where the remedies are inexpensive and their partner site bachflower.org has fantastic, pretty thorough descriptions of each of the 38 remedies to help me decide which is the right choice.

My two remedies arrived in the mail last night.  I realize that they may not work.  Horses are prey animals and are designed to flee from danger.  That’s their defense mechanism.  But some horses have a more highly attuned flight mechanism.  I may end up replacing Saxton with this little paint mare I’m looking at that belonged to a pre-teen and is a lot like our Lacy – calm, steady, dependable – but younger, stronger, and able to carry my weight just fine.  But with all the success I’ve had with Bach remedies in the past, I can’t let Saxton go to a new home without at least giving him a chance at finding the right remedy if it will help him.  And who’s to say that even if he does calm down and become steady and unafraid, that I won’t still be too timid to ride him?  But I won’t at least give him up without a fight!

Sometimes we take the long way around through training/education, trying physical remedies such as chiropractic and such, resort to allopathic drugs with potential negative side-effects, or just put up with undesirable characteristics.  It may be that sometimes taking a little time to look into an inexpensive, albeit alternative remedy that may not be as widely accepted as we are comfortable with, nor as familiar as other solutions may be – can be just the ticket to an easy, practically painless solution to whatever ails us – or our horses, dogs, cats, or other animals or loved ones.  If this sounds interesting or promising, I suggest you check out Philip M. Chancellor’s book “Illustrated Handbook of the Bach Flower Remedies” and the descriptions of each of the 38 Bach Remedies at bachflower.org.

It is important to note, however, that the Bach remedies are not a cure-all.  Sometimes other issues need to be addressed, such as poor saddle fit, the need for chiropractic adjustment, possible hoof imbalance issues, and so forth.  But they can be a valuable addition in even such instances, to a holistic approach to horse care.

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Filed under Horses, Natural Health

Elderberry-Echinacea Syrup for Colds

Photo by Mark Robinson.

Photo by Mark Robinson.

Ugh.  My kids have been sharing a nasty, nasty cold these past two weeks – and I’ve run out of my favorite herbal remedies to help!  My poor kids are sniffling and sneezing and coughing and doing their darnedest to keep breathing through their stuffed up noses.  And here I am – unprepared.  Not a drop of honey left in the house, not one elderberry, not a vial of oscillococcinum.  I have a tincture of echinacea, but as a standalone it’s not helping much.  It being Sunday, the bulk store that sells herbs and raw honey is closed and I’m a bit at a loss.

One of the kids finished the last drop of elderberry syrup, and another finished the last bit of honey.  But *if* you have these ingredients at home, you can actually make your own herbal cold remedy (which I don’t believe I can legally claim as a cold remedy.  Let us say it is a “folk remedy.”  And you’ll have to try it yourself to see if it makes a difference to you at all.)  Why on earth would you want to make your own instead of just buying it?  I don’t know.  I just like to do things myself. Just find a good herbal syrup and buy it if it doesn’t sound like fun.  But if you like the feeling of making something useful all by yourself – give this a try.

My kids are terribly inconsistent about taking anything for their colds until they’re so miserable they can’t stand it.  Not the best idea.  These things definitely work best when you catch something as it’s coming on.  But once the kids are good and miserable, they’ll try to get it over with quickly by swallowing just about whatever I throw their way.

So – folk remedy it may be, but I, with a rather sincere respect for a lot of tried-and-true herbal “folk” remedies, grow echinacea (purple coneflower) and elderberries as part of my herbal medicinal repertoire.  And although I no longer keep hives, we do have local honey available to us – raw is best if you can find some, as it still has all the good enzymes in it.  Strained honey is also good if you are squeamish about ingesting bee parts – legs and wings and so forth.  I’m a little squeamish, so I’m all about raw, strained honey.  Regular off-the-shelf honey will still do if that’s all you can get.

“Folk” Remedy for a cold:

1/4 c. fresh or frozen elderberries

2 tsp. dried echinacea root

1 tsp. cinnamon (or one cinnamon stick)

3/4 c. water

1/4 c. honey

Put first four ingredients in a small saucepan on medium-high heat.  Stir occasionally, watching constantly until it begins to simmer.  Mash gently with a potato masher to squish the berries.  Turn down to low and put a simmer mat underneath your pan – or just keep a tight watch on it, stirring as needed to keep from burning.  Let moisture simmer off by about half the volume (may take 30 or more minutes).

Next, strain through a fine sieve or a cheesecloth to get most of the particles out.  Let cool until just hot enough to touch without burning your skin, then add honey and stir to dissolve honey in the herbal mixture.

Take as needed.  I usually take herbal remedies about four times a day when there is sickness.  This can keep just fine in the fridge for a couple months, but this is a small enough batch that it probably won’t hang around that long.

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Natural Health: BIG Secrets to Weight Management!

Are you one of the folks who have struggled to maintain a healthy weight?  I’m going to share with you the *BIG* Secrets to Weight Management you’ve been looking for all your life!  I say that tongue in cheek, because as you’ll see, they’re not necessarily (not all, anyway) *big secrets*.  Many are just common sense.  But there is so much confusing and contradicting information out there that it can be hard to know what you’re really supposed to do.  Like me, you may have wondered what really works, what doesn’t, and what can actually harm your attempts to manage your weight?

Web-md.com cites statistics that over 63% of American adults are overweight.  Wow!  That’s two out of three people reading this article are not within their target weight range!  That means that most of us could use a little help learning how to balance our weight!

I think my own struggle with the insidious ten pounds of winter creep started back in Junior High.  I really had no guidance – from teachers, parents, the media, or anywhere else – on what a healthy diet looked like.  Oh sure, I remember the Four Food Groups, which morphed into the Food Pyramid, then whatever government graphic of the yearcame next.  I remember all the low-fat hype.  But how much help was all that?  Very little. The first time anything started to click with me, dietarily, was when the Produce for Better Health Foundation came up with the slogan and the posters “Five a Day the Color Way”  which gave me some rudimentary knowledge of how to incorporate healthy foods into my diet.

You may disagree with what I’ve found to be tried and true, since there are so many opinions out there – many of them actually detrimental to good weight management.  But after much research, many attempts at keeping those ten pounds at bay, and a lot of trial and error, I’ve finally found some basic guidelines that really work to help manage weight, aren’t difficult to incorporate into a lifestyle, and don’t make me feel like a food martyr!

  1. Flour is like a time-bomb.  Treat it carefully.  For all the hype about trying to eat such a large percentage of your diet as carbohydrates, I sure wish all those “experts” would put flour products into their own category and treat them with gravity.  Whole grains, especially oats, barley, rye and such; and fruits and vegetables are the portion of carbs that really are good to eat plenty of.  If half of your entire food consumption is whole fruits and vegetables, you are spot on!  It seems like a lot, doesn’t it?  But what if, every day, one of your meals is a Salad Meal?  I mean green salad with chicken breast on it, or something like that?  Or even a vegetable soup or stew that is really packed with veggies?  And if you add a fruit and/or a vegetable to every meal and snack, you’ll hit “Five A Day The Color Way” no problem!  But get really serious about strictly limiting your intake of flour products:  Bread, buns, rolls, biscuits, cookies, pasta, cake, doughnuts, or anything else cut from the same cloth.  Does this mean you can’t eat flour?  Actually, not at all!  I eat something with flour in it just about every day.  I love burgers, and I don’t really want to eat one without a bun if I can help it, though I have been known to wrap my burger in a lettuce leaf when I’ve already passed my “flour limit” for the day, or am saving my portion for something else – say birthday cake or chocolate chip cookies.  This is really about  making thoughtful choices instead of eating whatever, whenever.  Think about what flour options are available to you each day, and plan enough ahead to limit your intake to roughly two servings a day for weight management.  You’ll have to experiment because some people can actually handle three, or even four servings of flour products a day.  (One serving is equal to one slice of bread, half a hamburger bun, a fist-sized portion of pasta, etc…)  If your weight goes up, scale it back until you know how much you can safely consume without gaining weight.  If you are trying to lose weight, omit flour products from your eating plan until you have reached your desired weight.
  2. Weigh yourself every day.  It’s not really an option.  It’s not just a good idea.  It’s absolutely vital to weight management.  Take your scale with you when you travel.  If you go even 1/10th of a pound more than two pounds above your low weight even one day, eat nothing but protein foods (meat, eggs, etc…) until dinner, when you can add a small green salad with low-calorie, low-carb dressing (flavored vinegar is a safe option – some people do fine with dairy as part of their high-protein day and could eat blue cheese or something similar – some people find they can’t have dairy on those days), some sliced cucumbers, a raw apple or a raw tomato.  By the next day your weight should be back within range.  If it’s not, you probably either cheated, you’re eating something such as dairy, which your body doesn’t like to include on a high-protein day, or you went too many days being up over your acceptable weight limit!  Do another high protein day.  This practice can actually help you identify problem foods that seem to pack the weight on.
  3. Don’t eat after 6 or 7:00 at night.  I know exactly where you stand on this one.  Well, if you’re anything like me….  It sounds like a good idea, but you’re not exactly sure if it really matters.  And it probably won’t matter if you just eat late once in a while… although “once in a while” can quickly become “regularly!”  If you’re following #2 above, you will quickly see that it really does matter!  Eating late really does make your weight go up the next day.  I challenge you to try it and see for yourself!  Weigh yourself every single day.  Don’t eat after 6 or 7 every day for a week, then go ahead and do it one day.  Then don’t do it for a few days and do it again.  Watch how the scale jumps when you eat in the evening!  This is a surprising factor in weight gain!  If you can’t avoid eating late on occasion for whatever reason, and your weight goes up, it’s really not a big deal, you simply pay the piper by doing a high-protein day as described above.  If you, like me, get the munchies at night, make it a point to enjoy a no-calorie beverage instead. In addition, when you are going to eat “no-no” foods like breads, pasta, doughnuts, sugary foods, etc… eat them earlier in the day.  For example, with lunch or as an early afternoon snack.  That way you will actually have time to wear it off some later in the day!  Feel free to experiment with it and see if it makes a difference to you.  You might actually be able to have three portions of flour in your day instead of just two, for example, if you make certain to eat them in the first half of your day!
  4. Eat plenty of protein.  I had no idea I wasn’t eating enough protein until a long bout with water retention.  I tried all kinds of things to manage it, but it wasn’t until I happily stumbled onto the idea that edema can be caused by too little protein (protein edema) and played around with it that I started to manage both the edema and the resultant weight gain (even if it was just water, my weight could fluctuate wildly, and of course I looked bigger with several extra pounds of swelling on my body!)  30 grams of protein a day is not enough.
  5. Eat a high protein breakfast.  Don’t have time for breakfast?  Not hungry?  You’re just hurting yourself.  One of my health-nut friends suggested I whip up a whey protein breakfast shake and throw a handful of spinach in there.  I thought she was insane and I only agreed to try it to humor her.  But she was spot on.  Not only do I get a serving of a very healthy, vitamin-packed dark, leafy greens out of the way early in the day (without noticing or feeling like I’m being force-fed something nasty so early in the day), it actually lends an added complexity of taste to my chocolate protein shake that ups the enjoyment factor.  You really don’t taste any spinach.  Add a dash of your favorite baking extract (mine is real hazelnut extract), blend the dickens out of it in your blender, and it’s actually a pleasant, quick dose of high protein to start the day.  I add something solid (usually an egg or something similar) to my breakfast because just the liquid drink doesn’t have “staying power” to hold me until lunch.  Although some folks can eat a four-egg omelet with meat, veggies and cheese in it (gasp!), thus getting a lot of protein in, first thing, I’d opt for a good balance of whole foods vs. protein additives.  Real oatmeal or a small handful of almonds or pecans might be a great choice, too.  In fact, my husband often mixes a scoop of protein powder right into his oatmeal, or mixes it with half cottage cheese and half yogurt.  Get creative about eating a high protein breakfast to get you going, keep you satisfied during the day, and keep you from being so quick to overindulge later in the day.  As for protein drinks, they’re relatively cost-effective and if you are eating egg protein or whey protein, are a great option.  Try to avoid soy, which is a plant-based estrogen.  Most of us already eat a lot of soy in pre-made and convenience foods and too much estrogen can wreak havoc on your system.
  6. Savor your food and practice portion control.  I vividly remember attending a potluck dinner with a gentleman who was noticeably quite overweight.  I knew that most severely overweight people don’t really eat a lot more than people who aren’t.  Their bodies go through some trauma, or some maladjustment of the pituitary gland through stress, regular (but not extreme) overeating, or some change in routine, like an athlete with an injury who ends up couch bound for eight weeks, but doesn’t decrease their food intake to account for the abrupt change in energy expenditure/activity.  But I was stunned to see this gentleman literally wolf down two completely full plates of food (it was a potluck dinner), including a full hamburger and several side dishes per plate.  Afterward, he continued to “pick” from the buffet, “picking” two additional hamburgers, some potato chips, an extra helping or three of dessert.  In the end, he had eaten as much as four grown men would eat during the course of a normal meal.  It was not because he was starved and needed that much to feel physically full.  It was because he hadn’t paid attention to what he was eating, and didn’t feel like he had received full pleasure from his course of food.  He needed to keep “adding” tastes of this and that until he was mentally satisfied.  I think you’ll be amazed to find that, if you are very purposeful in paying attention to the food you are eating, fully tasting it and savoring the experience of eating it, you will need far less food than you would otherwise eat mindlessly.  And a thrilling added bonus is that you’ll actually get more pleasure from your food experience than eating a larger quantity!  And of course, pay close attention and stop eating when you are satisfied – not when you’re full – when you are no longer hungry and you feel satisfied.
  7. Make substitutions.  There will certainly be times and places when you have the option between eating something that will be worse for your weight management, or better.  That could mean choosing the green beans over the mashed potatoes with gravy.  It could mean using a natural sweetener such as agave nectar or stevia instead of sugar.  It might mean drinking unsweetened iced tea instead of sugary pop, juice, or power drinks.  When it doesn’t make a big difference to you, choose the option that’s better for your waistline.  And when it does matter a lot, cut back somewhere else so you can really enjoy your special treats!  And if you are careful to savor that treat and fully pay attention as you consume it, you may actually find you can stop part of the way through instead of needing to eat the entire thing!  If I can have real, sugar-laden hazelnut flavoring in my latte’, I will happily give up eating some ice cream later in the day, or having a burger with a bun.  Obviously what really gives you pleasure and satisfaction will be very individual.  Just pay attention and make good choices!
  8. Get regular exercise.  Seriously?  How cliche!  Yes, but it’s the one mantra the “experts” repeat that is true, true, true.  Do you have to be an exercise buff?  Not really.  I firmly believe that everyone can find a sport or an exercise or two or three that they enjoy which they can participate in regularly (meaning 3-4 times a week).  But really and truly, taking one or even two brisk walks every day will get your blood pumping and your muscles moving.  And if you can only take your walk every other day, it’s still better than being entirely sedentary!
  9. Make these things part of your every day life routine.  These aren’t some special rules to follow for a month, then resume your “eat whatever, whenever” habits.

None of these weight management strategies are actually horrible or difficult to incorporate.  And in fact, even your overall health should really improve just from increasing your activity and your intake of fruits and vegetables.  Concentrate more on what you can add to your diet and your routine and don’t dwell on what you must be careful to reduce or eliminate.  How you choose to think about the changes you make will influence how happy you are with the tweaks you make to your lifestyle and whether or not they become the quick fix that doesn’t last, or a happy new way living!

Bon appetit and bien vivre!

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I Am an Athlete…

Goofing around before a race: My father-in-law, Marty, came to watch us run. My girls are behind me, but my youngest son Danny is tucked under my arm.

This morning was the third Friday in a row I’ve been able to get back to the gym to lift weights.  Last Sunday I finally went for a 2.5 mile run with my sister-in-law, Chelsea.  That may not sound exciting to you, but it’s been a great blessing to me.  The week before Christmas I injured my back and was, literally, sitting on a couch with a hot water bottle, my back thrown into spasms any time I so much as got off the couch to walk to another room.  It was hard to sleep, I couldn’t do the regular farm chores, and about once a week I’d be feeling well enough to try exercising … a slow walk on the treadmill.  Invariably, the next day I was back on the couch in significant pain.  I won’t bore you with the details any longer, but it was a disheartening six weeks of sitting on the couch, the pounds creeping onto my body in places I didn’t want them, my muscles wasting away.

I am an athlete.  Not a high-mileage, hard-driving athlete, but an athlete.  My kids and I run 5k’s together, and my oldest son and husband do triathlons and half-marathons together.  The family that plays together stays together, you know.  Cecily, JJ, Jesse and I also work out at the gym together once a week to build the strength that helps us be better athletes.  Cecily has been my running and aerobics partner for the past two years.

I guess the whole point here is this:  I was not an athlete, until I started to think of myself as an athlete.  And it took an injury to help me realize how integral that part of me is.  Some time ago I heard that if you think of yourself as an athlete, it will change the choices you make.  You will train (exercise) and make better food choices, because that’s what athletes do.  Are you an athlete?  Do you wish you were?  Than think of yourself as an athlete!  Go get ’em, Tiger!

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Fall Harvest – Tomatoes and More

I have been so blessed this year …  For the first time ever, I have canned enough diced tomatoes to keep me in chili and homemade salsa all winter long.  I’ve never been able to grow a crop up here that could supply the pantry all year.  After four years of trial and error and a little bit of improvement each year, the combination I’ve settled on that has worked well for me is

  • a hybrid paste tomato (though my slicing tomatoes have done fine, too)
  • brown plastic laid on the soil before planting.
  • Regular watering
  • Inter-planting garlic with the tomatoes (one clove between plants in the following pattern worked fine for me: g-t-t-g-t-t-g-t-t-g)

I’ve tried heirlooms, and I have a special, soft spot in my heart for heirlooms.  But I haven’t yet found one that had all the qualities I need up here.  So I picked a somewhat larger (4-5 oz) hybrid paste tomato.  The brown plastic has been a crucial part of my success.  These heat-loving plants just get hit every night that the temperature drops.  It is certainly prone to do that this far north.  They get stunted and it takes so long to recover that it’s difficult for the plants to set and ripen fruit early enough to avoid the early frosts we face.  The brown plastic absorbs heat from the sun all day and keeps the soil nice and warm all night, radiating heat back up to keep the plants warmer.  I’ve also planted my tomatoes along the south side of our metal pole barn, which radiates heat back to the plants during the day at least.  But the brown plastic has been very important in this year’s success.  We had our first hard freeze about two weeks ago.  I was sure everything would freeze and die, in spite of being covered with sheets all night. But my heat-loving peppers and tomatoes, interestingly enough, survived.  Their tops did freeze and die, but along the underneath of the plants where the heat from the ground under the brown plastic mulch was radiated back up to the undersides, they stayed alive.  I am still harvesting from many of those plants.  Even many of my Amish and Mennonite neighbors, whom I figured must surely know all the tricks of the trade, lost much of their gardens when the freeze hit.

Regular watering seems like a no-brainer, but we have *fought* with hoses and sprinklers and watering wands here at Aspendale Farm until I didn’t think it was even worth trying to water anymore.  For my birthday this year, I asked for, and received (thanks, Honey!) a commercial nursery sprinkler on a stand.  It was not expensive.  In fact, it cost less by itself than I usually spend annually on worthless, junky sprinklers and watering wands from Wal-mart or the local hardware stores.  Rrrrgh.  I hooked it up to a double length of hose that reaches from the side of the house, and have been able to ensure a steady supply of moisture, so critical in our sandy soil.

http://www.harrisseeds.com/storefront/s-736-brown-plastic-mulch.aspx

http://www.harrisseeds.com/storefront/p-9836-watering-superstand-sprinkler.aspx

Last, if you’ve followed my blog, you’ll know of my endless awe and appreciation for the wonders of garlic in the garden and orchard.  I truly don’t understand why there is not some sort of loud hoopla in the organic gardening world about garlic.  This stuff is just shy of being a miracle.  I won’t wax eloquent about all of the times it has saved my fruits, vegetables, and seedlings from viruses, molds, mildews, and other funguses.  But if you have a problem with any of your growing things and haven’t tried planting garlic in among the plants, or watering with a solution of water mixed with chopped garlic you simply must give it a try!  Last year some of the tomatoes had blight, so this year I went ahead and interplanted the garlic.

When we were preparing for the freeze, my friend Laura Brewster of Barn Swallow Farm in Grand Rapids, Ohio reminded me of some tips her granny uses when the big freeze comes and it would, typically, mean the end of fresh garden produce.  This was what she told me:

“You can … pick all your green tomatoes, wrap each in a sheet of newspaper and store them in a box in the basement. Keep an eye on them and pull them out as they start to ripen, or pull them out as you want to ripen them. My grandma always saves her last one to put on a salad at Thanksgiving. I had to look it up to be sure I wasn’t going crazy, because it seems doubtful even to me – and I’ve done it! …The hardest, greenest tomatoes will rot [so] choose the lighter green tomatoes. I haven’t done it in a few years, but I remember taking all of them, and I don’t remember any rotting.Grandma…said she doesn’t take the hardest, smallest ones. She also said you can just cut the whole plant and hang it up in the garage, harvesting tomatoes as the ripen!”

 

Now, I have tried picking green tomatoes that were just starting to change color in the past and ripening them on the counter.  I’ve also picked the larger green tomatoes and wrapped them in paper, but they mostly rotted.  So after hearing from Laura I did a little further research myself.  It turns out that, like picking fruit for storage, you must make sure there is a little bit of stem attached to the tomato.  If you pull the stem off, the little soft spot where the stem used to be will rot.  Also, do not picked cracked or otherwise imperfect tomatoes (or imperfect fruit if you are applying this tip to your orchard fruits).  So I tried her tips … I picked all the tomatoes on them with any color, and also the large green tomatoes.  I’ve had a few start to rot – ones that were split or bruised or whose stem had come off.  The others have ripened nicely and I’ve gotten more than a dozen more quarts of canned tomatoes out of those tomatoes.  Granted, my counters were absolutely overflowing with tomatoes for nearly two weeks, but I’m not complaining!

I also, for kicks because it sounded interesting, pulled up one tomato plant by the roots and hung it upside down in the storm cellar stairwell.  The tomatoes have continued to ripen on that plant because it is still warm in the stairwell.  The trick to keeping green tomatoes from ripening too quickly, I believe, is to hang the plant upside down where it is quite cool.  The colder the better as long as they aren’t actually freezing.

Now, since so many of my plants survived after we’d harvested as many tomatoes as we possibly could before the big freeze, the smaller green tomatoes on the plants have continued to grow and ripen.  It’s going to get quite cold this weekend, possibly another deep freeze.  So we will bring in yet another batch of tomatoes, perhaps pull up another plant or two, and see if we can get still another dozen quarts of canned tomatoes yet!

Last year (2010) I started our tomato plants waaaay too early and they were huge and sprawling by the time we got them planted.  Danny harvested more tomatoes than he knew what to do with, though the season was cut short by an early frost (no surprise up here – we are blessed if we do not have an early frost).  So we determined to start them at the proper time.  I think I can get an extra couple weeks of harvesting if we go ahead and start them ten weeks early instead of eight weeks early.  So we will try that this next spring.

Other than that, here are some fun things happening in the kitchen this week:  We have made watermelon rind pickles out of the rinds of the first-ever successful watermelon grown here at Aspendale Farm.  I grew my melons up a trellis with brown plastic.  I’m still in awe that we ripened melons here in the northwoods!  We are also about to pickle some banana peppers generously given to us by my father-in-law.  He planted his own garden this year and it looks great!  His tomatoes must be close to eight feet tall!  I did not try to grow any banana peppers this year, but am looking forward to canning our own pickled banana peppers for topping homemade pizzas and sandwiches.  Lastly, this is also the first year we have gotten a decent elderberry crop off our bushes.  We will be harvesting all the elderberries tomorrow and making a batch of elderberry jelly!  I’m super excited about that!

Four years ago we cleared our spot for the orchard and planted, over the course of the next eighteen months, the six apples, two pears, and the cherry tree that now grace our orchard.  They range from the more common Bartlett and Red Bartlett pears, to Gala and Fuji apples, to more specialty and heirloom varieties like Honeycrisp and Fireside.  I was chirked up all summer watching the first apples ripen on our Gala tree.  It is the oldest and most mature.  Frost withstanding, I expect to harvest more than six apples next year!  Again, garlic to the rescue in an IPM home orchard!  By planting garlic around the apple trees I have been able to withstand apple scab and other mildew and fungus diseases.

The following spring we began our first northwoods garden.  And I have learned a little more each year, getting a little larger crop each year.  Sometimes I have wanted to throw in the towel, certain I was miserably destined to have a black thumb.  But I can happily say that insofar as I love to learn and explore new things and tweak until things are just right, I seem to be doing alright!  God is good!

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