Saturday, April 30, 2011

Nobody Likes A Zealot: How To Help... and Keep Your Friends

Usually, when I attempt to explain why my family eats the way we do, I am met with blank stares, confusion or even disbelief. A rare few grasp that what I am talking about is a diet filled with fresh, delicious food, heavy on the fats and ferments, and groan with pleasure. Only when I am talking to those already in the know do they understand why. Why would I craft a diet that flies in the face of all we have been taught by doctors, nutritionists, media and government agencies? Why would I celebrate broth, sauerkraut and butter? Why is there no cereal in my home?

Today I read a fairly straightforward article that explains why. You could give it to your mom and she might begin to see what you have been getting at during all of those heated conversations. The author, Ari LeVaux, doesn't go into any depth, rather he gives a tour of various theories of how the microbes we live with affect our bodies, lives and minds. He gives a rough sketch of ways we have changed our relationship to those microbes since the industrialization of the food supply, and points to some research on ways to address our dwindling beneficial gut population.

The article even mentions GAPS! Which is fabulous for our efforts to help more people, no? Alternet is not totally mainstream, but, according to their "About us" page, they get 3 million monthly visitors. That's a lot of eyeballs potentially reading this article. So get ready, because the questions are going to fly...

Beyond articles that take a complex subject and break it down into simple nuggets that we can feed to the skeptics around us, what else can we do to help our friends and family find the health we are pushing toward? I wrestle with this a lot. I can't make anybody see "reason" the way I see it. I have come to this point through many health challenges, through much reading, conversation, and experimentation. It has been a years-long process. Why should I expect anyone else to care with the same passion about the odd information I am trying to pass along?

The Captain says it's a bit like proselytizing about religion. People either have none (and don't want any, thank you very much!) or they have one that suits them just fine. Why would they want the one that comes from some stranger? Or even from a friend? I mean, it's just too personal. You'd think I was telling people how to have sex sometimes, from the horror on people's faces when I suggest that the food they are about to put in their mouths is not really food at all. OK, I don't really do that (I don't want people to hate me--then they wouldn't listen at all). But talking about people's food is a lot like talking about how they relate to G-d or their partner.

Which means: tread very carefully. Be kind. Show a lot more than you tell.

The best way to help others, therefore, is to get healthy yourself. Take care of what you need, do the experimentation on your own self (and your family--they are fair game...) When you are radiant, or at least much healthier and happier than last year (or last week!) the skeptics may admit that it works. At least for you. Keep after it though, because there's nothing like a real live example to convince people that something has merit.

If you are far enough into your journey that you have energy, in addition to your enthusiasm, consider being part of a support group, online or in the flesh. Use your knowledge to help others who are looking for assistance. That's important! It's a really successful form of activism, because we can channel our zeal into a forum where it will be useful and productive. These people want to hear what you have to say, they are hungry for it. Many successful groups depend on mentors, anything from La Leche League to AA. If you feel strong--and grateful enough about the solution you have found-go be a mentor to someone in need.

You've got a friend or family member who is truly sick? How do you approach that? First, with respect (and a healthy dose of trepidation). Find out if they really want to change, if it's bad enough that they are willing to do some (temporarily) unpleasant things. It's no use forcing broth down Susie's throat if she won't do an enema if necessary.

I know that sounds harsh. How about we substitute a different scenario? In this one, we are helping an alcoholic friend whose life is devolving into a shambles. We help them arrange for time off, bring healthy meals and sit for long hours watching movies together. When we go home for the night, another friend brings a bottle to share. And this goes on... Even if we sleep over, somehow the alcohol shows up, is hidden or they drink the mouthwash.

Can you see what I mean? If it's my bright idea, there will be no follow through. It's like the old joke: "How many psychoanalysts does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but he really has to want to change..."  It's the same with diet. No one will change unless they want to. Really. Unless they are miserable, as when an alcoholic "hits bottom", they will not do what we suggest. And even then, they may do it half-heartedly, relapse, founder a bit, try again, and so on.

When I was in midwifery school, one of the things I learned was not to want an outcome more than the client wanted it. They might have said emphatically that they wanted a home-birth, but in the end, some women feel safer in the hospital. I might have been hired to help a woman breastfeed successfully, but if I pushed the issue, I might find to whole effort backfiring. I learned that the best midwives "sit on their hands". They watch, they wait, they support. They do not insinuate themselves into someone else's motives--yes, even though we are hired to help, we still must let the woman choose what she wants at each moment.

And so it is with diet. "Watchful waiting" is a great guideline. Observe, and support if the time is ripe. This is not to say that you can't share your personal successes. On the contrary, that may be the only thing that will help someone else--as I said above, personal example is the most compelling tool we have. Rather than trying to convince, just be you. Share your food: invite people over or bring your yummies to a potluck or the office.

I do want to add that if you are dealing with a sick small child, or possibly a family member who is so sick that drastic measures are about to be taken, well, then none of these guidelines apply. We must do what is necessary in extreme situations.

To summarize, help others taste the approach to food that has changed my/your life:

1. Do your own work: Take care of yourself, get healthy.

2. Share your success. (Tastefully) show it off a bit... Make a fabulous meal for friends.

3. Support the people who are clamoring for the help--become a mentor.

If, after following the above steps, you still want to tell the whole world, you could do what I am doing: start a blog, get a degree in nutrition, teach workshops.

But don't say I didn't warn you....


By the way (as she shares some success on Day 20),  I am starting stage 4 of Intro, though I skipped the nut butter part of the pancakes, owing to a bit of intuition that told me to wait a bit on nuts. So far, so good--no major reactions, and the vertigo seems to have cleared up. I never got the family cold beyond some congestion and a sore throat. Funny enough, as my sore throat cleared I noticed that my tonsils--always enormous, fleshy and nodular in appearance--have shrunken to almost normal! This is huge for me, something I have always seen as odd, and now I can see that my immune system was really always on high alert. I will be thrilled if I end up with normal tonsils--and a normal immune system, that can rest when it's not facing an acute illness. Amazing!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Hidden Treasure

The Captain and Mr. Chippy
My sweetheart came home! He was away for most of this week, and this is the second such trip in a month. Sigh....

When The Captain travels for business I always feel a bit at loose ends. He works from home (except for the travel) and I truly love having him here. We have a rhythm to our days. If he is gone long the days lose their natural order. I don't sleep as well either. And, there's more work to do (he does so much around here that I don't really have a grasp on), which means either I have to figure it out or I have to engage the kids to do the most necessary things (filling our water tank is high on the list!) (O.K., I can do those things, but I have enough else to do...)

As it happened, the kids were not around much this week either, what with school, work, sleepovers, etc. I did get The Bosun to top up the water yesterday so I could shower, but I haven't seen a lot of anyone in the last few days. I am a Moon Child through and through, so family and home are the center of my life. That makes weeks like this one unsettling. I get lonely.

I think, though, that blogging made a big difference this time. Planning my posts and talking with The Captain about them and the feedback I have been getting has given me something meaningful on which to focus. Thank you all! You have really kept me on an even keel, just knowing that you are interested. Please keep the conversation going, and if you haven't joined in yet, leave a comment below--it means so much.

What about my thesis, you ask? Ah, yes. Funnily enough, I also believe this regular blogging is helping me clarify my ideas for my thesis as well. It takes me a lot of rumination to get to the actual writing time, but then the writing usually flows. Giving myself the job of writing about new topics is a meditation in itself. I learn so much when I have to organize my thoughts coherently!

Along those lines, if there are topics of interest to you, or articles/books, etc that you would like me to review or address, do let me know, because I want this blog to be part of a larger community, not just me talking at people.

Back to The Captain... So, normally he is the one to sweep and do the tidying around the boat. He maintains the hottub, a finicky job because we use peroxide instead of bromine. He does any mechanical sort of care needed. I am in charge of the galley, the shopping and cooking, medical care, laundry, that sort of thing. We never made formal agreements, we just sort of claimed the jobs we cared about. Every Friday, when Blondina and I are at our homeschool group, The Captain makes a special effort to ready the boat for the weekend, shaking out rugs, filling the oil lamps, and so on. We often grill steaks and have a leisurely dinner.

Not only was today The Captain's homecoming, it was also Friday. So I cleaned: scrubbed the head (bathroom), the galley, (finally) cleared the winter boots/mittens/snow pants/heater off the aft deck, and yes, I swept and shook out the rugs. I took steaks out of the freezer, anticipating a family meal.

I met the little commuter plane and brought my sweetheart home. And wouldn't you know (I did, because I know him that well), he was absolutely thrilled! The sun was dancing on the water, shining on the little cafe table and chairs that replaced the kerosene heater on the enclosed aft deck. It was quiet on the boat, but it was filled with warmth and the gorgeous sun of a long-awaited Spring afternoon.

But no kids. They all went in different ways, to work and sleepovers and hanging out. With The Captain home, though, that was just fine. I braised a steak for me (with stock, onions and tomatoes I dried last summer) and pan fried his. I made vegetables for us to share, and a salad for him. And we sat face-to-face, talking about this and that, just being together. Even Mr. Chippy wanted to reconnect, looking for his favorite "daddy-rubs" (ever noticed that men interact differently with pets than women do? The Captain can somehow get away with literally rubbing the cat's fur the wrong way. I mean, the cat loves it, and comes back for more! If I did that, he would bite me.)

That's it. Quiet married life (tonight, at least!) We support each other, miss each other when we are separated, share our load in unspoken but equitable ways. This makes everything else in life do-able. Remember, we have everything we need...  And if your life doesn't look at all like mine, I am certain that there are equal blessings, though you may have to find and celebrate them. Even in my troubled first marriage, there was hidden treasure. I had my precious children (whom I would not have had otherwise), supportive friends, relative health, sanity, my senses, and so on.

You could say I am blessed. I am not religious, but that seems to be the right word. It means I have received a precious gift, that I am content, that I am fortunate and joyous. And indeed,  all of that is true. I wish the same for you! Happy Friday!


What gifts are you celebrating?  Have you found the treasure in your challenges?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Process: Elaine Gottschall, Onions and Zebras

I have had many health issues over the years, some major but most pretty minor. Or so I thought. As I have worked through these symptoms one by one, though diet, herbs, chiropractic, and other approaches, I have learned that most of my issues, even the minor ones, are related. And therefore, they are not as insignificant as I had imagined (or had been told, by doctors, among others).

What's a concerning "minor" symptom? Really, they are legion, but let's start with heartburn (a sign of gut dysbiosis, food sensitivities and lack of--yes, you read that correctly--stomach acid). How about foot pain? Plantar fascitis is treated as a management problem, with the recommendation to change your footwear. But it can be a sign of metabolic disorders, like thyroid issues. Tinnitis? That super-annoying ringing in the ears can be a sign of allergies, which in turn are a product of both gut dysbiosis and adrenal insufficiency (and that pesky thyroid again).

I could go on, but I think the point is clear: minor problems are often (usually?) signs of something going wrong on a deeper level. I wish I had known that when each one of my kids developed eczema as a baby. Even my naturopath didn't seem all that concerned, suggesting things like borage oil, but no overall changes in our diets or other approaches (in retrospect, I don't think he had any idea what to do. He was a vegetarian, skinny with a bloated gut. That should have been a tip off--except those were my veggie days...) We were using Bandaids to fix trickles that were later to become hemorrhages...

Over the years, I have had to become educated about each issue we faced. Because no one practitioner seemed to have all the answers, and because some of the answers we were given were not only wrong, they were damaging. I learned about lung function when 3 kids developed asthma. I studied the blood when one developed ITP (a condition where the body destroys its own platelets). And I delved into digestive disorders when one developed ulcerative colitis.

A mom will do anything for her kids, right? So I stayed up at night researching--night after night. I tried different things (sometimes all at once, which I don't recommend--very complicating). And I eventually found a path that resonated: The SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet). At about the same time, I discovered Nourishing Traditions. Suddenly, and it really was like being hit by lightning, I got what was wrong: we were eating products. Processed food. Organic vegetarian junk food. And it was gonna kill us if we kept doing it for much longer.

So I dumped the junk (well, being a miser and a bit of a skeptic, I put it into our utility closet. I threw it out some years later when I found the bags full of cockroach-infested containers. Ugh.) And went whole hog into the world of grain-free grass-fed goodness. We did dabble with soaked grains and we drank our fair share of raw milk, but eventually we found our way to GAPS, where Dr. Natasha teaches the same marrying of the SCD and traditional diets, with emphasis on food quality, digestible preparations and ferments. That is what I had been trying to figure out myself! I was thrilled.

Well, now I should be writing about the Happily Ever After part, no?

Life is never that straightforward, though. The day I spoke on the phone with Elaine Gottschall I shook as she told me "your daughter is very sick. It took a long time for her to get that way and it will take some time to heal her." She was one tough cookie.  She wasn't going to waste a second allowing me to be emotional and indulgent. She wanted me to roll my sleeves up and dig in, for the duration. For my daughter. And as it turned out, for us all.

I wish I knew the date of that call. I'm going to guess it was in 2004 or 2005, not too long before she died. She shored me up when I was wavering---albeit in her gruff, no-nonsense style. When I asked her a specific question she barked, "didn't you read my book??" (yes, of course I had, but I was still confused, and scared, and...) G-d love her. She helped so many.

I started down this path to find answers for my kids. But I am the one who really benefited. I had had more years to get sick than any of my children, so I am still working it all out, but the changes have been enormous. I liken the whole process to peeling back the layers of an onion--the Health Onion. Each step gets us closer to the core, but you have to be patient. And, for sure, we will shed tears in the process.

As I have mentioned previously, to unravel these health mysteries we must be methodical and analytical, like scientists. Keeping good notes helps, taking baby steps helps, keeping the variables simple is essential. And yet, sometimes things are still murky. What to do then? Different situations call for different approaches. I read a lot, looking for clues (that's how I figured out I was hypothyroid). I talk to people about their experiences (always keeping an open mind and a grain of salt handy). I do things like Intro which give me a lot of insight, if done carefully.

And still things may be unclear. For example, in the last week my lower legs have been swelling every night, filled with fluid that goes away within a few hours after lying down. I have had this before, when pregnant and when my hypothyroidism was at its worst. But neither of those conditions apply now. So what's going on?

In midwifery school we were taught the common medical aphorism "when you hear hoof beats, don't look for zebras (look for horses)". Which means that the common explanation or diagnosis is more likely than the rare, odd, dramatic one. This is meant to keep med students from assigning the disease-of-the week to every patient they see. It's a useful guideline for us too.

I saw my chiropractor yesterday and asked her about my legs. She reads my blog (hi Dr. Jody!) and suggested that perhaps I am sitting for longer stretches of time than I had been accustomed to because I have been writing so regularly (and reading everyone else's blogs) She showed me a few stretches and recommended that I take frequent breaks to get my lymph flowing (by walking and doing the movements she showed me). I am writing this lying down, with my laptop propped on a pillow. I am also trying to create a standing workspace. Varying my movement has already improved the situation--tonight my legs feel pretty normal.

Learning what works is like that: use all of your resources, experiment with different approaches, go back and learn some more. Try it again. Each time you will dispatch another layer of that onion. And just when it seems too confusing, remember the zebras: they live in Africa, not in your backyard. What makes the most sense in your world? Look there, because there might be your answer.

What tools do you use to problem solve? How are you working on your "health onion?"

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Kids Are Allright

Yesterday's post seems to have stirred up a lot of memories, feelings, insights in my readers. I am loving the conversation that is starting to unfold in the comments every day! This is one of the things that I have been hoping to stimulate (and haven't even written about sex yet!)--who knew that GAPS Intro would do that, too?

The last part of Gina's comment made me think about a really common issue, and not just in GAPS families:

Another big change from "Grandmas way" that has happened is when Grandma cooked, you ate it. There was no requesting what to eat as kids. Nowadays, moms are always making what their kids want to eat. I'm trying to change that in our house also. My job is to put healthy food on the table, it's their job to eat it.

I couldn't agree more. 

And yet, I, too, struggle with this. Like many moms, I have had my moments of taking the easy way out, of catering to kids--just so I don't have to hear the complaints. Usually that means avoiding a certain ingredient or dishing up a slightly "edited" version of the family dish to a picky kid. As any mega-mom, or mom-of-many, will tell you, this is unsustainable for long. With 7, 8, 9 people at the table, I would go absolutely bonkers trying to keep everyone happy.

It's The Captain who shores me up in those moments, when the lips are curling and the whining starts. "More for us" he says. Cap'n Gary adds his two cents: "Mais fica" (Portuguese for "more for me"). Never mind that a mother is always worrying that her kid(s) will starve if they don't like the meal. The guys know what to do: Eat. 

Then let the kids eat or not. Don't struggle. Struggling, catering, worrying--these all create weird energy around the dinner table. And that's not conducive to a warm family meal, is it? Eventually, the consistency of family meals will set the tone, and the kids will try things. Maybe. If you can find it in you not to care to much about whether they do or not.

(Bribing creates strange energy at the table too, though it might be necessary in extreme situations, especially with non-verbal kids, or ones whose behavior is so out of control that the bribe is the lesser of evils. But it should be a temporary measure, until enough broth and probiotics have worked their magic).

I know. It feels like defeat to let the kids opt out of the meal (or parts of it). But catering to picky tastes is much worse. It creates a veritable monster, one where the kids are in charge (you've heard the one about the inmates running the asylum, right? Never a good idea!) This is one of those situations where we get to exercise our parental wisdom and stand fast. Make great food, offer it up, and let go of the ultimate result.

Which will be, from my experience: the kids will pick at the food, make every attempt to get out of the meal, and when they are teens they will arrange to eat their meals at friends' houses. You think I am kidding? This is the news from the trenches! My teens live for junk food. What's here in my kitchen, all of my grass-fed this, local that, and the organic other things? Yeah, right. My teens are in rebellion and junk food is the battle cry.

How do I deal with this? I am learning to ignore it, for the most part. No junk is allowed on the boat. Which is not to say that it's never been here, because I have found disgusting things under bunks and in hanging lockers (closets) belonging to the kids. I pitch what I find, no comments necessary. And I go on making the food I believe in. If they want to buy their own food and cook it, well, I am not going to struggle anymore.

I have been there, with a sick kid. It was no fun to hear her comments to the effect that I was "ruining her life" when I was trying to adjust our diet to help her. She was sourcing the junk anyway, so I am not sure if I was accomplishing anything except bruising our relationship. In the end, she has become a healthy young woman, fairly sensitive to what she eats. Maybe not how I would be, but a big change from where she was in her younger teen years. And she's a fabulous cook.

And that's the way it has been with all of the older kids, six of whom are now adults (19-30+). They have found their way to healthier diets that probably owe a lot to the foundation they were given at home (two have never lived with me, but they have still learned from the way we eat, and often ask questions, share discoveries, etc). They are (spread among the six) gardening, fishing, wildcrafting herbs, experimenting with new preparations, fermenting, sourcing things like raw milk and duck eggs, and more. And they are becoming the Wise Ones in their communities! They relish sharing good food with others! They are not subsisting on Dairy Queen! They are all amazing cooks, and food is important to them (one even sports a tattoo to that effect!)

Will this work with all kids? I am not sure really. If I had a kid with an autism spectrum disorder, one who was not at all cooperative with the dietary changes, I might proceed differently (see above comment about bribes). Had I started earlier with these changes I might not have had issues at all, because it would have been all the kids knew.  All I know is that struggling over food is counter-productive (read any of Ellyn Satter's work to understand what I mean, though I don't agree with her dietary recommendations).

In general, kids are looking for guidance--despite all of their loud protests to the contrary--and this is another area where we can provide it. They will look back on family meals fondly if we can take the contention out of the eating part. One thing Ellyn Satter says that I do heartily agree with is to make sure there is one thing on the table we know they like. She gives bread as an example, but why be so uninspired? The choices are endless--just pick something that you know they accept and put it out with the iffier dishes. 

And make some meals they love! Food shouldn't be torture, even if it is healing. Tonight I made a dish inspired by something Baden mentioned, a sort of ratatouille with ground beef. Mine turned out like a mild chili so I marketed it that way--and it got eaten! I just didn't mention things like eggplant and zucchini... (shh! don't tell them!) Steak is a favorite around here, so we have it at least once a week. Soup goes over better if it doesn't show up every night (they are not doing Intro. And if you are, remember, Intro is temporary).

Ultimately, as Gina said, it's our job to serve good food and theirs to eat it. Satter's twist, and my suggestion as well, is to let them decide exactly what and how much they will eat. You may not have The Captain there to bolster your courage, but trust me, the kids will be all right.

 How are meals going at your house? Any tips to share with us about inspiring kids to eat (well)?


OK ladies, I did not know pheromones worked through blog posts, but I too have gotten my period today! It's a stealth attack, no forewarning--and that's saying something, because (as a perimenopausal woman) I haven't cycled in months! How odd. I really have no idea what to expect, but I can see that Intro is normalizing my hormones. I guess it's a good thing, though how long this will go on, I have no clue (I will be 50 in July).  Any older women want to give me the lay of the land?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bubbe Meises

The Shrink (my dad), loves to joke. He is witty and very able with a pun. But he is downright wicked when it comes to funny commentary on the habits of our forbears, all Eastern European Jews from Russia and Hungary. The food (think kugel and kasha varnishkes, shmaltz and chopped liver), the relationships ("how's your motha?" "my son the doctor" and so on), and the geeky intellectualism (Woody Allen meets Albert Einstein) are all fair game. Sometimes, though, I can hear a bit of childhood fear of the formidable bubbe (grandmother) coming through. As in the subject of enemas. Which are a favorite target of his brand of humor.

The enema was a useful threat of his (with a twinkle in his eye of course). If we weren't cooperating, he'd ask if we would like an enema at that moment... and when you put it that way, well, who would answer in the affirmative? Really, I mean, what 14 year old would respond well to such a bizarre notion? It must be really awful if The Shrink was using it to dissuade certain behaviors (not that we'd ever had one, or had any idea of what it really meant).

As strange as it seems, given the conditioning from my dad, one of the things that I so love about Dr. Natasha is that she reminds me of my grandmothers. She embraces liver, shmaltz, and yes, enemas. No joking about that, she knows what's good about the old ways. She is a scientist in her overall approach, using her medical training to evaluate each situation and choose a direction. More often than not, though, that direction owes more to the Bubbes than to medical school and pharmaceutical companies. As a first generation immigrant from Russia, she has not thrown over all of the wonderful practices that are handed down from mother to daughter. Instead, she is teaching them to us, so that we can heal ourselves and our families.

This is the approach I am drawn to over and over, the whole reason for The New Hunter Gatherer. The wisdom of The Grandmothers is precious, but it has been imperiled by the rise of industrial agriculture, industrial medicine, industrial education. I feel that I can change that with each decision I make at home. A pot of stock can make a difference. A batch of yoghurt or pickles. An herbal tea and a steam bath instead of an over-the-counter medicine. We are not perfect about this, and have been known to eat out or take a pain reliever on occasion. But with each successful food we forage or ear infection we treat at home, we are reclaiming the independence, the wisdom, inherent in traditional knowledge.

And so it is with Dr. Natasha. She has laid out a protocol of self-treatment she calls the GAPS program, but she acknowledges that her primary expertise has been in assembling age-old approaches and helping people figure out how to apply them to their baffling situations. She teaches, as I always mean to, that we can look to the ways that women have always used to keep their families healthy, and that we can wrest control of our health and happiness from corporations, supermarkets, and even doctors.

What does that have to do with enemas?  Well, we know from Dr. Natasha that it's super important to poop daily (sorry, but this is a subject that needs addressing). This is especially crucial on GAPS Intro, where you don't want go 36 hours without a bowel movement. When doing Intro (or even beginning full GAPS), we are inciting our bodies to detoxify naturally. That is, we are helping our bodies clear any pathogenic material that might have been making us feel like, well, crap. In whatever form that is for us (or our kids, if you are helping a kid through GAPS).

When we detox, we pull this junk from its storage places in the body and it all has to go somewhere. Sometimes when we shift our diets radically, as in Intro or full GAPS (depending on where you start), the elimination part of this process slows down. This yucky stuff is now loose and needs to be sent on its way. Like NOW. So we can't wait for our bodies to just get around to it, we have to help (until the situation has shifted enough to let our bodies take over).

I should add that everyone detoxifies all the time, without any additional help. This is a normal part of being alive. We eat, utilize what we can (hopefully what we need), and then eliminate the rest. Nowadays, though, many of our bodies are not functioning optimally, so this normal process doesn't work so well. This is especially common in people who have conditions that GAPS addresses.

The nitty gritty:  Feces are comprised not only of toxins and insoluble fiber, but in large part, of dead microbes. Gut bacteria, yeasts and viruses that have lived their useful lives and now serve to bulk up the stool. But most GAPS people don't have enough of that wonderful stuff. That's why we eat/drink/supplement with probiotics. We may still be at the stage where we are taking in tiny amounts of these helpers, so they aren't quite doing their full work yet.

All of this can equal constipation. Which definitely does not do the job of eliminating the baddies we weeded out! So what to do? Dr. Natasha recommends a few things: enemas, increasing fats, and juicing, primarily. She has several suggestions on her FAQ's page, which is useful for sorting out all sorts of other issues as well. Ultimately, the diet will resolve this situation, and it is temporary, so these remedies are coping tools to help us until the time when our bodies re-learn how to eliminate healthfully.

GAPS Guide and the GAPSHelp list both have great support and suggestions--Baden even has detailed enema directions in the book. Which is a good thing, because most of us have heard bubbe meises (old wives' tales) about how awful it is to do an enema. Come to think of it, most of us have negative opinions about chopped liver too. And fermented things (someone told me once that pickles are just rotten cucumbers...)

Let me reassure you: The Shrink knows a lot. But in some areas, I defer to the Bubbes. Chopped liver is delicious. Pickles (the real fermented kind) are not only yummy, they help your gut to be happy and healthy. Sour milk is food and medicine, not garbage. And enemas are, well, a relief. They are one more tool in the quest to be healthy, and therefore sane and happy.

I honestly could have called my blog "The Wisdom of the Grandmothers" (except that name was taken) because I think that everything I need to know I have learned from studying the Old Ways. I am still surprised when people react with fear or disgust at the thought of traditional foods and practices. I suppose I shouldn't be though, because most of us don't have a bubbe to pass on this knowledge.  So we have to dig it out of books, and look to other countries that have preserved traditions long forgotten in the west. We have to treasure people, like Dr. Natasha, who so ably marry the information of Science with practicality and effectiveness of Traditional Knowledge.

It can be hard to sort the fact from the fiction when it comes to health and nutrition information. So many of these old ways that I am praising have been characterized as hopelessly old-fashioned in the push to embrace Science. Remember "Better Living Though Chemistry"? Now we are learning more and more about the complications that ensue from such a romantic image of industry. We are currently on alert for radiation poisoning,  plastics leaching into our foods, drug-resistant "super-bugs", manufactured fats (trans-fats) and so much more.

The upshot is that there's renewed interest in the Old Ways, the ways of The Grandmothers. I can only hope to channel a bit of that wisdom as I sit down each day to write for you. Maybe, just maybe, we can reclaim traditional knowledge from the label of "bubbe meise." Because we really need some Old Wives to tell us their tales right about now....

What Old Ways are you helping to revive? What skills would you like to hand down to your kids?

Dedicated to Gladys Sussman Robinson, 1904-1999 (The Shrink's mom)

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Day's Meals. With Pictures.

I survived Easter.  But....

I have a confession: I had a honey lollipop (which I made from honey. And lollipop sticks). Well I didn't eat it, I used it to stir my ginger tea. And I think it was about the same amount of honey I would have used anyway--it lasted for a few cups of tea--but I still feel guilty because it was "candy". It made me feel part of the festivities though, and kept me from thinking about truffles. Because chocolate is my downfall. I adore any dark chocolate. Even unsweetened. So I think that the honey-in-the-form-of-a-lollipop was a pretty good compromise.

For a smart brain, my mind is easily manipulated. Just sayin'. But it's good to know.

Anyway, what I wanted to share today is my day in meals. Because people ask "what do you eat for breakfast?" and "don't you get tired of soup?" and other things along those lines. I actually got told last night that my dinner (which was part of their dinner, a part they liked very much) wasn't as good as theirs. Sigh. It was wonderful, a rich geoduck chowder garnished with avocado, full of flavor and color and texture.

So this is my day, with notes. Be aware that I am on Stage 3, though I am not yet eating ghee or nut butters (this week, slowly, I will add them).

Breakfast: (preceded by lemon water) (left to right)

2 soft boiled pastured eggs
Leftover chicken stew with mushrooms
In the mug: ginger tea with lemon and honey (I am trying to ward off the resident sore throat/respiratory yuck)

Pancake (mashed cauliflower and egg, fried in meat drippings)
Toppings: avocado and sauerkraut
Gravlax (fermented salmon, tastes sort of like lox, but fresher!)
More ginger tea, throughout the day

Chicken Soup. And what wonderful chicken soup it was! Made with a stewing hen (an older, more exercised, bird is too tough to roast, but makes the best soup-- it's full of connective tissue and yellow fat--and flavor!), I broke the whole carcass into large pieces after it cooked, not bothering to separate the bones out, so I could gnaw on them later. I added carrots, a huge leek, kale raab and lots of fresh parsley, in addition to sea salt and pepper. I had some sauerkraut after I had two bowls of soup.

I am not sure there is a typical day for me, as far as meals go. Before this round of Intro, I was accustomed to eating four fried eggs with leftover salad or other vegetables, and tea, for breakfast. Lunch was leftovers (or a LaraBar, if out and about without food). Dinner was/is a sit down family meal with some meat dish and vegetables and/or salad. Somehow potatoes and corn tortillas had crept into our meals, once or twice a week. I made an effort to have a ferment at dinner, and usually had some with my breakfast.

Now, I don't really know what meals will look like. I have a renewed commitment to incorporating ferments, reducing nuts and sweets like dates. And chocolate. And starches. Intro has reminded me how much flavor and satisfaction come from simple foods, well-prepared. I see no reason not to continue eating this way, even when more foods are incorporated. 

It all tastes so good, is improving my health, and it's pretty easy to prepare. What's not to like? I hope the photos inspire, because I think the food is as lovely to look at as it was to eat...

Do you want more food photos and recipes? And I'd love to hear about your food...


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rituals--Small and Large

Today was a normal Saturday--mostly. The Captain and I went to the farmer's market as usual, but not before he had hauled The Bosun up the mast of Mother Goose (our sailboat, and she came to us with that name. It's fitting, isn't it?). We have been fixing it up so Grandad can sail it by himself--and he's so excited he makes the 30 minute trip into Port Angeles almost every day to check on the progress. The Bosun replaced a light and an antenna, and then we were off to see our farmers.

The spring veggies seem a bit slow in coming this year. There are a few greens like kale raab and some hothouse lettuce, and there are leeks (all of which I bought). And potatoes, lots of potatoes (I skipped those, natch!). I sometimes joke that I can get through the market without buying anything green, because ours is a full-service market. Today the haul was beef liver and steaks, local cheeses for The Captain and Blondina (who share a fondness for what he calls "psychedelic" cheese--the stinkier the better), eggs (soy and corn free! The feed is locally grown too...) I am missing our lamb farmer who injured himself badly recently. And there was no salmon yet, only cod, so we didn't get fish (we had cod last week and fish is a hard sell with the kids). Still, we are so very lucky to have a year-round market here, and we could live very well, if a bit monotonously, on the winter offerings.

I always feel so connected going to the market. The farmers have become friends, friends who point out something special, save things for us that they know we will like, who will discuss the finer points of chickweed preparation (oh, I got some of those too, because I don't have a good foraging spot for them yet).  It is rare for me to set foot in the local supermarket, something I do for things like charcoal and trash bags. Between the market, the health food store, foraging and gleaning we are covered. We usually buy meat by the side from a farmer, which goes into a chest freezer on our top deck. As I said yesterday, we (truly) have everything we need.

The Blogess and Blondina cutting and coating marshmallows
Still, I shopped for Easter basket fillers today: pencils, stickers, Silly Putty. I had already thrifted some adorable stuffed animals and a few other geegaws. Then I spent some time organizing the treats. I broke the nut brittle, shaped the truffles and cut out the marshmallows. We may have everything we need, but the kids do enjoy such small rituals--and they get so little that's special otherwise. We don't watch TV or go to amusement parks (but we do have the best County Fair ever!) We live a pretty simple life, which is why I feel o.k indulging them a bit on occasion.

I must admit that I did lick my fingers during Operation Marshmallow. The ingredients are all on Intro, but I still felt guilty. Kind of like following the letter of the law but not the spirit of it...

Otherwise, I am doing pretty well, now that it's what, Day 13? Wow. I seem to be back to a better pace after the confusion following the stomach bug. I wasn't sure if ghee was problematic, or the fermented fish, so I took a break from those two and added avocado several days ago. That's been fine--and a welcome addition. As the stews have been. So today I had a tiny piece of my gravlax. There's always the urge to have more, because it tastes (as Cap'n Gary would say) like "s'more"! But I reminded myself I can have that tomorrow if I am patient today.

I am not by nature a patient person. Just ask my kids. So this project of Intro, the Right Way, is testing my abilities. Self-control is a good thing, at least in some areas of life, so I am working on this. Who knew a "diet" would force me to analyze my values, personality and habits? This is one powerful path we are traveling together!

I may not post tomorrow, as we are having a feast with my in-laws: Salmon and cross-cut ribs, geoduck chowder, wild-rice (for them), veggies and salad. I get to eat the chowder--but I'll be with my family, so who's complaining? I also get to share my lovely salad, some GAPS-friendly cookies for Blondina, and some of our Easter treats.

Here's to your lovely Easter celebration, or at least a gentle relaxing Sunday. See you on Monday!

Friday, April 22, 2011

We Have Everything We Need (and another recipe)

One (small!)geoduck=Abundance!
I toyed with calling this post "Abundance" because that is what I have been receiving lately. 30 pounds of geoduck (pronounced "gooey-duck") and horseclams dropped into our laps yersteday, I have been harvesting and drying foraged nettles like crazy, and a friend met me at her door the other day with a huge bundle of rhubarb from her garden.

And then there's the people. The wonderful group of women blogging about doing GAPS Intro, my old friends on Facebook, my local friends, and my amazing family. Support comes in subtle as well as overt ways--a joke, a comment on my blog, the offer to take our youngest for a day. It all helps to smooth the rough edges in my days.

And then there's living in our own corner of Eden. Today was almost painfully sunny and clear, with the insistent energy of leaves and blossoms forcing their way into the world. Gorgeous. Surrounded by mountains yet covered with snow, evergreen forests and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Suffice it to say that people come here on vacation and we get to live here.  On a boat. With a hot tub. As the kids would say, for reals.

Still, I am one of those women who frets. I worry about the kids and their choices, my husband traveling, the economy, our health, earthquakes...  I can always find something to worry about.

Which is why, some years ago when things were tight, when we had six kids at home, one in college and the seemingly limited resources of one income, we created the mantra "we have everything we need." Because we do. We have love and creativity and even luck. We have essentially healthy, totally gifted kids. NINE of them. Who else is that lucky? We have skills and the smarts to use them. We have great siblings and parents who love us, despite our quirks.

We have everything we need. Truly. And with that, we have some responsibilities. We have to do the work to utilize what comes our way. As a matter of fact, we have to first recognize that which is coming to us. That's not always so easy, especially if I have a dour attitude.

I remember wanting a particular chair for our old boat. I was trying to accommodate our large family, but wasn't going to spend any money on this. I left the boat on an errand with the thought "today I am going to find the chair." Well, about 10 minutes later I saw a trash pile by the side of the road. Wouldn't you know, The Chair was sitting there, waiting for me. Along with a pair of vintage curtains with Moby Dick, Ahab and the crew--one of which I used to cover that chair's new cushion. The other is still with us, as the curtain for The Bosun's cabin.

I know that sounds a bit hokey, like The Secret or something. That's not what I mean though. The thing is, we pass by all sorts of opportunities every day. Making something happen is often as not a matter of just grabbing that thing/idea/situation that's flying by at light speed. That's why we have to stay focused, and also to remember to be grateful for what we have. Many is the day that I remind myself to give some things up in order to make room for the abundance that comes our way. That might mean donating clothes, helping someone out (that is, giving up time), or ceding my side of an argument (ok, that's hard, but I do try!) If I feel lacking, needy, grasping, well--I am stuck and nothing good will come from that (as The Captain is fond of reminding us).

I have spent the last two days working with our abundance. I canned stock, rhubarb and clams (both geoduck and horse). I made marshmallows, nut brittle and truffles.  I look into the hold and feel rich, secure, and appreciative of all we have. We have everything we need. I have the right tools to feed my family, to preserve what we forage, buy, receive. I have the skills to do that, and the wit to learn new ones as necessary.

I love holidays for the rituals, the joy, the fun they bring to our lives, the excuse to eat with friends and family. Passover is a thanksgiving of sorts, a time to be thank-ful for our situation, whatever it is. My ancestors took what little they had and fled tyranny. And yet, they had everything they needed--each other, divine protection and their freedom. Maybe we tell that story each year to remind ourselves to appreciate what we have, even in our more trying days.

Perhaps I need this reminder more often. We have everything we need. We just need to open our eyes.


I was asked to share my nut brittle recipe, so here it is, with the same note as yesterday: I have been making this so long that I can't trace its origins. If it's your recipe, do let me know.

Nut Brittle


3/4 lb unsalted butter (unless you want salted caramel, a legitimate choice)
1 cup of honey (doesn't need to be raw--you are making caramel!)
2 cups of chopped or slivered nuts, previously soaked and crisped (as in NT's crispy nuts)

Jelly roll or other flat pan, lined with parchment and buttered
Largish saucepan
Candy thermometer


~Measure the nuts and set aside.

~Put honey and butter in the pan, affix the thermometer, set over medium/high heat.
~Watch the caramel carefully, it goes slowly at first, but can burn easily toward the end. You may have to stir the bottom to avoid burning and sticking at that point.
~When the caramel reaches 300 degrees, take it off the heat, stir in the nuts, and pour into the prepared pan. Even it all out and set in a cool place or the refrigerator.
~When it is hard, crack it into small pieces (you can pick it up and smash it on the pan--great for those frustrating days--or whack it with a mallet a few times, or any combination you choose. Refrigerate the pieces, they will get sticky if left out.
~Save some for me!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Life Is Sweet, with a recipe

Such a full day!

With no kids around (except the last one to succumb to the tummy bug, who was tucked into her bunk and never made a peep) I took advantage of feeling soooo much better than yesterday. I am so grateful that simplifying my food, back to soup and eggs, made such a difference so quickly.

Projects! I had things to do: can the stock that had been simmering for a day and a half, make honey candy for the kids' Easter, clean the 30 pounds of geoducks that had shown up miraculously this morning. In addition to things like picking up the Blondie girlie from her friend's house, getting her to ballet, dropping her back for a "double sleepover". And hitting the health food store for the makings of horse clam chowder (Intro friendly!) for tonight's dinner. 

Somehow it all got pulled off gracefully and I never got tired until midway through dinner. The Professional had woken me at 4:30 am with her version of the tummy bug and I never got much more sleep, so it is catching up with me. I am looking forward to a lovely night, as the vertigo is improving. Not gone, but much better--like riding the Cups and Saucers instead of the Loop de Loop.

I only got a portion of the candy done, but it was the important part: the marshmallows, which have to set for a couple of days. Ever since we started the SCD, I have made honey candy for Easter. It's a GAPS compatible splurge, better than the Halloween binge I have no control over (not with two teens and a tween at home).  I won't be eating any--it's definitely not o.k. for Intro--but I may save a couple of pieces for later. I only make it once a year after all.

Blondina with the treat
The marshmallows get cut into chicks, eggs and bunnies with special marshmallow cutters. I tint coconut with turmeric and beet juice for yellow "peeps" and pink eggs. The bunnies get rolled gently in cocoa (I have locally-made raw organic cocoa this year! Thanks Denise!) and are the most adorable "chocolate" bunnies ever. This year I made them with amazing duck egg whites--they turned out so fluffy and white (thank you so much Christopher!)

In addition, I will make almond brittle (just honey, butter and soaked/toasted slivered almonds) and truffles (chocolate with cream or coconut milk, and flavors--we like chili!, rolled in nuts, coconut or cocoa). Yeah, I know cocoa is very advanced, but my family isn't doing GAPS. And all of this is a far sight better than the norm. The kids want me to try lollipops again. The one year I made them, I didn't cook the honey long enough and they stayed gooey--still yummy, but not lollipops. I have ideas to make them work this time.

In Longboat with the loot
In case you think all we do is gorge on sweets, the tradition for years has been to do a scavenger hunt where the clues take the pack of kids  --who have to work together to solve the rhyming riddles--- all over the marina, until they end up where the baskets are hidden. We always seem to have a guest or two--the more, the merrier. The baskets are candy-free, containing things like stuffed animals, stickers, little plants, and tiny toys. It gets harder with teenagers, but believe me, they still look forward to the whole ritual. When they have found the baskets, they come into the galley for the treats. 

Last Easter, Blondina and I took our homemade candy in a basket around the marina. We are the only family here with children, but there are older couples whose kids are gone and single men, none of whom have family around. You should have seen their faces! They were so surprised and thrilled that we had come visiting, bearing our tiny treats...

The Captain's parents live near us, having moved to the area last summer. We will have celebratory salmon dinner with Grandmom and Granddad, share the rest of our treats and watch Downton Abbey, a British serial that has been engrossing us all.  I will be bringing part of the offerings, including some geoduck chowder to share, that I can eat for my meal.

This is the essence of a holiday, no? Watching the kids have a blast together, sharing a meal with extended family, and sharing ourselves and our treats with others. This is pure joy, a necessity for life. The candy is optional.

Homemade Honey Marshmallows
(which I have been making so long I am not sure where I got the recipe--If you know, please tell me)


5 tsp (or 2 envelopes) gelatin--I use Bernard Jensen's
1/2 cup water
1.5 cups honey (lighter is better for a white candy,  each honey gives a different flavor and color)
1/3 cup water
one egg white
coconut flour (or other fine powder for coating the pan--cocoa works, so do almond flour and shredded coconut, it depends on how you want them to look when done)

Parchment or waxed paper
A 9 x 12 or similar pan (smaller= thicker marshmallows)
A candy thermometer
A mixer, stand or hand


~Line the pan with the paper, letting it extend up the sides. Make a fine layer of the flour.
~Put the 1/2 cup water into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it, being careful to avoid clumps
~Mix the honey and 1/3 cup water in a large-ish saucepan (the honey will foam) and heat until 240 degrees F (soft ball stage). Add gelatin mixture, stir. Let cool ten minutes.
~Toward the end of the syrup cooling time, beat the egg white just to stiff peaks (still moist, not dry)
~With the beaters on medium, add the syrup to the egg white slowly. Continue beating on high until stiff peaks. The volume will triple or quadruple--at least!
~Spread into prepared pan and set in a safe dry place for 24-48 hours.
~Cut into squares or shapes (use simple cookie cutters, if deep enough, dipped in coconut flour)
~Toss in shredded coconut, cocoa, coconut flour, etc. Your choice. If you want to tint the coconut (the flour doesn't tint well), use natural colorings or things you have around: turmeric for yellow, beet juice for pink, purple cabbage juice for blue (or blueberry juice), any juiced green for green. And so on.
~Don't forget to share these! People have never heard of homemade marshmallows--you will make their day!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Be A Scientist! Day 10 of GAPS Intro

Only ten days in and I have screwed up.

I started too many things on top of each other and lost any clarity I had. Oy. The reason I know is that karma smacked me again: Vertigo. Double oy. I haven't had it in ages, years maybe. So I am hoping this is a good thing, you know, like eczema reappearing in the process of healing it for good.

I had thought it was a reaction to one of several foods, but I didn't know which one. This is why Dr. Natasha and Baden recommend adding each new food or preparation separated by several days. But in today's wonderful post Baden suggested, almost insisted, that we all re-read GAPS Guide and Dr. Natasha's FAQ's to answer for ourselves the questions that have been popping up (and to be fair, to relieve poor Baden of having to answer each one repeatedly--it takes work folks! She is doing Intro too!)

And you know what? Dr. Natasha talks about vertigo! She says it's related to overall toxicity which reaches the brain, and to histamine produced by pathogenic microbes, which affects blood pressure. But the best news of all is that she says GAPS will change all that. So I suppose that Intro has stimulated a sort of "healing crisis", which is akin to die-off, and I should be happy for this opportunity.

I am going to do my best to remember that when the bed spins as I turn over tonight. Because of all my various symptoms, this is the one that freaks me out the most. It's positively frightening when my whole world goes topsy turvy (not to mention quite unfair, since I did nothing remotely fun to deserve these bed spins!)

So, time to back up and start anew--back to the point where I know I was feeling well and having minimal die-off, back to soup with eggs--and limited probiotic liquid. Because now I know that I really have to be a scientist, as my dad, The Shrink says, and study my reactions as if they were under a microscope.

As a slightly nit-picky person, I already keep notes about my health process (both brief narrative in a journal and temperature and weight on a graph. OK, maybe that's more than slightly...), so you would think I am already doing that. Being a Scientist. But when I got sick, I got lazy about noting what things I had added and what reactions I was having. And I wasn't looking at the patterns.

Now that there is a concern, you can bet I pored over those notes. And there it was: dropping temperature, rising weight, poor sleep. Ignored until, bam, the world was spinning. For sure, that got my attention. And that is just what my dad meant for me to avoid when he said to be a Scientist: respond, don't react. You be in charge. Don't let things just happen to you.

The Shrink is always right.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Breaking Bread

After dinner tonight, The Captain shared that he had looked over during the meal and was surprised that I was eating something different from everyone else. He seemed to have forgotten that I was doing the GAPS Intro. So soon? Maybe it's because I made yesterday's meal something we could all eat.

The funny thing is, I was not at all interested in the tacos they were all eating. Not even one tiny bit. I had made a really rich soup of chicken bone broth, marrow bones, leeks and well-cooked snap peas. And was it ever delicious! Really, what more do I need?

Which is not to say that I never have cravings. I have had a few, for brief moments. Oddly enough, most of my cravings are for more ferments. I really miss kombucha, but the ACV in water seems to fill the same niche--for now. I have started on sauerkraut, but still in small amounts--I am used to helpings that rival the cooked vegetables on the plate.

It is a bit lonely being the only one in the house doing the Intro diet. There I am, sitting over my bowl of soup, while everyone else is helping themselves to the different dishes on the table. I value family meals--it's really important to me. And I don't like it when a kid won't eat what everyone else is eating. I think we should all eat basically the same meal. So it's pretty weird for me to be the odd one out. They look at my food with a sort of disdain (the kids, not The Captain, though, to be honest... he wouldn't eat soup all day, every day the way I can and do).

The desire then, is to be with my family, eating fully with them. It's not for crunchy, sweet, or other tastes and textures.  It's a desire for communion with my loved ones. Where we sit and savor the same food.

Because food is at the center of a social time for us. We sit and talk about our days. Cap'n Gary might tell a joke, or sing a sea chanty (if prompted). Something political or philosophical might arise and send us off in another direction. And, though we might not notice it, food is like the glue that holds us all there, with something in common. The food might even be a topic of conversation (though I don't let the kids get negative about the food, appreciation and thoughtful comments are always welcome!).

Do you see where I am going? The temptation is really emotional, rarely physical. My mind and heart are speaking, not my gut. It's not a tummy hunger, or even "bad bugs" asking to be fed. What it is, is  me not wanting to be separated from my family, because this is one of the threads that binds us.

I know there are those that object to the emotional connection with food, people who feel that food is just nourishment or fuel. But I was raised in a family where meals were (and still are) events, where we brought our better selves to the table and shared a nourishing--in all ways--time together. My father, The Shrink, loves to cook, but more than that, he loves to preside at the table, to knit the group together into one entity. This could be a collection of single folk with no family to join for a holiday. No matter, for everyone is welcome, and again, the food is the glue. By the end of the meal, we are all helping to clean up as if we had grown up together.

This is what I prize, the joy in breaking bread together. The Captain reassured me that whatever I eat, I am still connected when we sit down at the table as a family, and deep down I do know that is true.  Now we just need to come up with a better term. "Breaking soup" just doesn't work for me.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Weighty Matters (and Day 8 of GAPS Intro)

I am pondering weighty matters.

In the last few days, between Intro and the tummy bug we all had, I have lost weight. Perhaps more weight than is good for me. In fact, the Captain noted "you look so skinny"--a statement of concern, not a compliment. Don't get me wrong, I am not at all emaciated. But a few pounds less on my curvy body makes me look and feel a bit odd. Too many more will make me look ill.

No-one really likes to talk about weight. And I know that talking about unplanned weight loss negatively, in some circles, will make enemies. Somehow, it's become culturally acceptable to bemoan weight gain (and I've been there, believe me), but not weight loss.

We need to come to a place where we can talk about weight as another physical sign, like stools, skin health and mood.  Where we can figure out what is healthy for each of us, not from a table, not in a doctor's opinion, but in how we feel, how it affects our energy and overall well-being.

I struggled with this especially leading up to beginning my thyroid treatment. I have used weight as a measure of how my metabolism is functioning. It's not the only measure, but it's a useful one.  I don't want to dwell on thinness as some sort of Holy Grail, the same as I don't want to demonize extra weight.

I have read some of the "Fat Positive" or "Health At Any Size" blogs and books, and while there are things that I find absolutely right on in their philosophy. I am concerned that they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, we should stop discriminating against people because of their size. Yes, we need to love who we are, not what size we are. Yes, health, not size should be our goal. But no, I don't think being obese is healthy, just as I don't believe that being overly thin is healthy. These are signs that something is out of whack in our bodies.

The attitude that we should just accept obesity and concentrate on being healthy is just as jarring as those parents, who have kids on the autism spectrum, who just want to celebrate their kids and will not use the tools available to help them live healthier lives.

Yes. there are people who want us to ignore the tantrums, the illness, the inability to cope. They want the kids to be accepted as differently-abled, not disabled.  OK, if the situation were irreversable, I would buy that. I hate labels, and I don't want any kid, any person, to feel they are lesser because of their health condition. But there are very effective things to be done, things that improve these kids' lives and health--why would anyone reject that? I am still trying to figure that one out.

The GAPS  (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet is one of those tools. Most of you already know that, but I thought I'd state it clearly for any newcomers. I am not doing GAPS because I am on the spectrum, but for health. But you know what? It's all the same! We do it for our kids' health too--physical and mental. That's the beauty of GAPS.

And the weight? Well, I know GAPS to be very balancing. In the end, after I have reintroduced foods and am on full GAPS, I trust I will be at a healthy weight for me. Weight gain, for me is a sign that I am eating the wrong foods, just as this weight loss is a sign that I am in a restricted stage right now.

Today, Day 8 of the Intro diet, I am up to eating fermented fish (ooh, my gravlax and brine-cured salmon both came out so well) and stew-y/ casserole-y things. So I had a solid food lunch! That's progress: two boiled eggs with gravlax. How elegant.  And did I ever love it!

For dinner, I made a more stew-like version of Dr. Natasha's recipe "liver in a clay pot", which is actually a liver and heart dish. I had to change a couple of ingredients (I used goose fat where she recommends butter, skipped the prunes, added some stock), but it came out well, if a bit bland. The meat was tender, and there was lots of yummy sauce to go over the cauliflower puree I made. Boy, I feel like a toddler who graduated out of mushy food (but don't worry, there are more soups in the offing and a huge pot of stock simmering on the stove.)

I have stopped measuring spoonsful of kvass (my probiotic liquid of choice) and started adding a tiny bit of very soft sauerkraut (you could say it's a "failed" batch, but it tastes great and is soft enough not to offend with too much fiber, so it works for me.) That's another great step, because I love my kraut!

If it seems I am moving swiftly, remember that I have done Intro twice before, and have been on full GAPS or SCD for over five years. I am doing this as a tune-up of sorts, because I had made enough exceptions that I had kind of lost the thread of what had been working. I had a few symptoms I wanted to clear up, but I do already have a pretty good idea of which things I am sensitive to (dairy, sadly) and which things my body loves (Kraut! Kombucha!)  This program is to be totally individualized for each person, going at the pace that works for them and using supplements, baths, etc, that are personally effective--as it should be.

I am looking forward to adding more food to my diet over the next few weeks, and even, then, to adding a few pounds!  Your ideal weight will be different from mine, as indeed mine is different at almost 50 from when I was younger (ideally, a menopausal woman will gain 10 pounds over 10 years, producing weak estrogen from the extra fat, which helps in the transition and protects the heart). My goals are my own, and my sense of what is healthy is my own, it's what works for me.

So here's what I propose: we talk about weight openly, but take away the stigma. No one looks at me cross-eyed if I mention that my skin is oily or dry. That's just me. The changes mean something to me, and me only. And that is the way I see it with weight. Let's use the ups and downs as one more piece of information, and get back to taking care of our health. Because that's a really weighty matter.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ferments, Food and Refrigeration

OK, I am back, much improved, thank you!

I just had some broth with an egg poached in it (my lazy "soft-boiled" egg) and feel on the road to health. Which is a good thing, because everything goes to pot around here when either the Captain or I are out of commission, and this week it's been both of us. Much to do...

I took all of yesterday to just lay around like a lump. In the process I lost 3 pounds, was very whiny, and re-read all of GAPS Guide and Gut and Psychology Syndrome. I kept a mental list of all the people who have to read both books right now! So much for that, though. I wish I could just send them everywhere like Christmas cards and save the world's inhabitants from self destruction, but I know better. Maybe just for my kids--they ignore what I say anyway, so won't be offended.

In my endless hours of languishing I thought a bit about something that bothers me: our fear of things not refrigerated. Where did this come from? Many of the foods we keep in the 'fridge are fermented, which is a method of preservation. People even keep things like apples and lemons in the fridge! How odd.  I think we are so enamored of technology that we have stopped thinking and using common sense.

When I was 12, I lived in Italy, in a small apartment. Our refrigerator was smaller than the (small-ish) one we have on our boat. We shopped almost daily, and only things like fresh meat, milk and leftovers were stored in the fridge. In many places around the world, there is no refrigeration, and the sanitation is not up to 1st world standards--and people not only survive, they thrive! The food is fresh, local and vibrant, something most in the West have not seen in a long time.

Here on Whale Song we have a hold, like a basement or root cellar. In it, I keep home-canned and dried foods, our home-made wine and (grain-free) beers, sometimes a 50 pound bag of onions. On the counter in the salon (it's a bit like a great room, only not so big, and serves as living and dining area, next to the galley, our kitchen) I keep bowls of fruit, onions and garlic, lemons, squash, and so on. I often will keep root veg there too, or on the aft deck, where it is cool and protected, at least until the weather warms up.

In the hold, sorting apple, strawberry and dandelion wines, nettle and fir-tip beers
Now, this may sound controversial, but when I make a pot of soup, that will be eaten from daily--as in Intro, I don't refrigerate it. Really. I bring it to a boil daily, and happily consume what I need. There are times I have to store pots of food on the aft deck (again, when it's cool) because I have no room left in the fridge. There are five of us living on the boat--and we usually have 1-2 or more others eating with us (Cap'n Gary  eats with us every evening, for starters) I don't shop daily, more like 2-3 times a week, so I have to fit it all into an apartment-sized unit.

The only way to do that is to only refrigerate what is truly necessary. My ferments sit on the counter (extras are in the hold--sometimes for months, as long as they are covered in brine),  though one that's threatening to go mushy will get stashed in the fridge. Fish ferments I do chill when done fermenting. I have a huge basket of nettles sitting on the aft deck. I was going to blanch and freeze them for the dull winter days when cabbage is the only "green", but they are starting to dry out, so I think I'll make nettle beer with them. If they get really dry before I get to it, they'll go in a jar for nettle tea/infusion. Kind of like raw milk, they don't go bad, they just change--and then I change what I do with them.

I have a wonderful book, Keeping Food Fresh, that has taught me a lot about the way our forbears kept their food. The Amazon blurb marginalizes the book because it doesn't meed USDA safety standards--which makes me feel the same way as I do when people diss herbs, homeopathy or diet as being some some of quackery. They claim that the book is some sort of historical curiosity (not).

Go ahead, mock me Amazon! I am getting strong and healthy ignoring the USDA, and you might too. I suppose this is where I am supposed to add a disclaimer: "check with your doctor" (snort!) or "the author does not intend to diagnose, treat or otherwise dispense medical advice".  Obviously, I cannot assume responsibility for what anyone else does. I can't even do that with my kids (see above comment). Use common sense, and experiment slowly. The world is, in some ways, not as dangerous as it's made out to be. If food spoils, you will know it. It smells bad, has mold or is discolored. You won't want to eat it. Yes, home-canned low-acid foods can have issues, which is why it has to be done right. It's all about information and self-sufficiency. YOU get to decide. Not the USDA.

And speaking of ferments, I have to share my newest success. I know that nettle infusion is wonderful, and it's especially great for someone with adrenal issues and allergies. I try to drink it, but it smells so strongly grassy that I can't stomach it. A few weeks ago I thought to ferment it somehow. I was intending to make beet kvass anyway, so I used a nettle infusion for the water in my recipe. I tasted it after four or five days and it was pretty gross, not really tart, still strongly smelling of nettle infusion. (Aside: I love love love the taste and smell of fresh nettles. It's just the concentrated smell of the dried in infusion that puts me off. Sorry Susun Weed...) I put it back on the counter and ignored it. Today I revisited it, looking for some fresh kvass for my broth.  Guess what? It was amazing! SO happy!

One more thing, whenever an "expert" tells you something, me included, check and see if it works for you. Play with it. Is there truth, even a little? I started making ferments after reading Nourishing Traditions and Wild Fermentation. Those two books differ greatly in how they approach ferments--sometimes almost opposing each other. I had to work out for myself what methods work for me. I leave my kvass out for weeks, months--often in the cool hold. It gets rich and tangy, just the way I like it. If I had been afraid, I would never have discovered how good kvass could really be. 

And yes, I have had those moments of looking at a ferment with trepidation. Is it really ok? Will it make me sick? Is this stuff on top mold? I have thrown a few out without tasting, or spit out what I suspected was bad if I had dared to taste. I am here, and I know more now because of the experimentation. Very few things on this Earth will make you sick with one taste!

Be bold! Try new foods, new preparations and methods of preservation. Observe--become a scientist.  And enjoy owning your knowledge.

P. S. I just went (literally, after I had posted this) to make myself some broth/egg. When I opened the jar of my home-canned broth I noticed a bit of mold on the lid--benign, like bread mold. That means the seal failed, so I tossed the whole jar. No big deal. I am hungry, but fine, using common sense. Happy experimenting!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

We Interrupt Our Regular Programming...

With an important message:

The Blogess is currently having an intimate moment with Karma. It seems that now she will have to be the butt of her own strange humor, after capitalizing on the suffering of her loved ones.  While she has not yet vomited, the resident stomach flu has reached her with a vengeance. She is languishing on her bunk with Mr. Chippy, the ship's cat, when she is not on the commode.

We hope that this is not an inconvenience, and expect to resume our regular content shortly.

Or maybe it was the squash...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Let The Good Times Roll...

I feel great!

I just wanted to get that out of the way, because there's more. Much more.

Last night, all hell broke loose around here.  At least it seemed that way, as I was nursing The Bosun (14) who was wailing so persistently with an earache that I thought I might well have to take him to the hospital, as he had tearfully requested. I threw every remedy in the book at him, and then finally gave him some very  strong painkiller so we could all sleep.

Or so I thought. Because at 1 am The Captain started vomiting. He purged all night long, getting up basically each time I had fallen back to sleep. I suppose he got Blondina's bug, though he rarely gets sick. When he does, though, watch out! Because he embraces it with the same gusto that he eats, plays, whatever. He is a passionate man. I love him for it, you know, in sickness and in health.

The most disconcerting thing was that every time he was hanging over the commode I became suddenly ravenous. So sue me! I am not one of those people who gets queasy from blood, retching, gross photos or talk. I couldn't be a midwife, or a mom of many for that matter, if I was one of those. I can talk about placentas at the dinner table, oblivious to the blanched faces, and I can analyze poop as necessary. And Intro is making my body beg for food, like a baby that digests mama milk and needs more a couple of hours later.

So he'd get up and go to the head for another round. I'd wait a decent amount of time, then slip into the galley (kitchen) quietly, dip a mug into the waiting tongue broth, drink up, and head back to bed. When he returned, I murmured appropriate consoling words, snuggled up and went back to sleep. We repeated this several times. Finally, him empty and me almost full, we fell back to sleep.

Today was the first day during Intro I slept in. Some of you might argue that what I did couldn't be the same as truly sleeping late, and you might be right, but my temperature was way higher than yesterday's, so my body was evidently satisfied.

I think I will escape the Sick Boat for a few hours. Go do laundry. Yeah, it's a chore, but I'll be by myself, with time to contemplate. I'll take a thermos of tongue soup (which came out amazingly) and take it slow.

How about you? How is it going for you? Is your Spring Cleaning going well or did you have it foisted upon you, as did The Captain? How can I support you?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why Am I Doing This To Myself?

Another slow day. Really Slow.

I woke early again, with no possibility of resettling into sleep, so I set out to "use" the day well. As Baden mentioned in her post this morning, I have been starting the day by checking out what the rest of the group doing Intro has posted, either on her blog or on their own. [By the way, Baden had lovely things to say about my post from yesterday--I am honored!] After breakfast I had to run The Professional to Culinary School and make a quick stop at our town's sweet health food store.

After all of that, I was hungry again! I have read that people become ravenous in Intro, but never experienced it before. Well, you'd have thought I hadn't eaten in days, the way I attacked my soup. And then I had to eat more! And then...

And then I was so exhausted I could barely move. So much for making use of the day.

Blondina wanted me to watch Alton Brown with her, a favorite pastime, so I suggested she bring her (tiny) laptop, with headphones, to my cabin and snuggle with me while I rested. She happily watched Serious Eats while I drifted in an out of sleep for about and hour and a half. I caught enough of the show to satisfy the girlie, and enough sleep to mollify my tired body.

When I had rested sufficiently, the hunger returned. I wolfed down some of the oxtail/nettle soup from yesterday, with a huge oxtail and two helpings of the broth and vegetables. I had some ginger tea and pondered the situation. Fatigue and hunger are both possibly caused by die-off. But could the egg yolks be causing such insistent feelings? I had two today, but opted not to start whole eggs yet, which I think was a good decision. I believe it is just transitional, because eggs have been fine for me in the past. So what else to do?

Oddly enough, we have a hot tub on our boat. We didn't put it in. In fact, we thought it was kind of ridiculous--who puts a hot tub on a 43 foot boat? Around here, that's reserved for mega-yachts. Our opinion changed after we moved aboard full time and experienced the rainy, cool winters of the Pacific Northwest (NorthWET, to some). But I was very unhappy with the chemicals it took to maintain the water, until a friend dug up some obscure information about using 35% hydrogen peroxide instead. We switched over a year ago and have been thrilled with our one big luxury, the opportunity to soak in lovely warm water that has no noxious smell or negative effect on us.

So that's what I did. I got the Captain to join me for a late afternoon soak. I think we spent 45 pleasant minutes talking, watching the boats come and go, and letting the drizzle hit our faces. Renewed, I fixed dinner for the family and only suffered momentary feelings of desire when I saw the golden crisp skin on the roast chicken. I actually really enjoyed my chicken soup with garlic and extra fat-- finally feeling full and, while not energetic, I felt more normal than I had all day. Yay for that!

Some of you may be wondering why I would do this to myself. Some (who shall remain nameless) have even dared to ask. Why, after doing GAPS and other therapies--and experiencing healing--would I subject myself to such upheaval? 

The quick answer is similar to Baden's: I had slipped into more and more exceptions to the diet and was starting to experience the return of some symptoms from the past.

The more involved explanation includes the above, but also that I suspect that I never dealt fully with all of my issues, at least not in the way I wanted to--naturally, through diet. I had never done Intro strictly, so perhaps there was more to learn. I wanted to find out.

After doing the SCD and then GAPS for some time, prompted originally by our 19 year old, The Writer's, digestive issues, I experienced amazing changes. The sinus infections, allergies, hypoglycemia, vertigo, foot pain, "arthritic" hands and more, completely disappeared. I had many fewer migraines and tension headaches. My adrenals got stronger, reducing the anxiety that weak adrenals can produce. I did a few targeted things for the remaining symptoms, such as supplemental magnesium and "salt loading" which helped my adrenals and my headaches some.

But after moving to Port Angeles, the hypothyroid symptoms I had had for years got worse (I had maybe 35 off this list ). Or maybe they just got to take center stage when the other stuff cleared out...

After our first gray winter, full of exhaustion, anxiety, weepiness, crazy (for me) weight gain, and constantly being cold--with ice-cubes for hands and feet, I went to see a naturopath. I went armed with temperature and weight charts, with symptom inventories and photographs of the "old me". And I went with a request: please, please, please give me natural thyroid hormone, because no one should have to live this way. He agreed. He saw all the work I had done, so he knew that this was for real.

The thyroid hormone changed everything. I got warmer. I could walk from the boat to the parking lot (1/8 mile) without my heart pounding and getting winded. The puffiness started to abate, and I finally, slowly, started to lose weight. And because I finally knew I wasn't crazy, I felt lighter, happier.

I also went back to really caring for my adrenals--taking supplements and sleeping more, and clearly identifying any anxiety as physically-induced (which helps by taking away the self-blame). 

As it turns out, many of the symptoms I had had for years are, or may be, related to thyroid and adrenal issues--things as diverse as constipation, tinnitus, hypoglycemia and gluten intolerance. Heart palpitations.  Depression. Hair loss. And foot pain! I could hardly believe it as I read book after book and found websites and discussion groups where other people had experienced the exact same things!

What I am left with now are a few stubborn issues: occasional migraines (usually triggered by inadvertent chemical exposure), tinnitus (maddening!), some acne (at almost 50, this is irritating too), improved but unstable temperatures. Before I started Intro this week, I had seen the recurrence of nasal congestion, mild swelling in my legs and hands, constipation and some anxiety.

So that's why I try to sleep in in the mornings. And why I take thyroid hormone. And why I am doing Intro again. Because maybe, just maybe, I can experience more healing. Maybe the remaining symptoms can join the others in my distant memory.  And that is worth all of the temporary upheaval Intro can throw at me.


After reading this to the Captain, who is New England born and bred--which means he is a bit stoic and possessing a bit of the Puritan in his demeanor, and therefore cannot understand why on Earth anyone would talk about such private matters publicly--I decided to explain why I would bare this laundry list to the world. It's simple really: I found help through others having the courage to share their painful stories. I want to return the favor.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Intro, Day 3: Finding My Groove

I am now getting into the rhythm of Intro. I love rhythm, whether it's the seasonal cycle of weather and plants or Middle Eastern music that makes me want to dance. I think it might be my Cancerian self, ruled by the moon and her phases, that makes me so. Whatever it is, when I hit my stride, it makes me feel confident and more energetic, full of ideas and ready to take on a challenge--or at least to keep moving forward (those of you doing Intro may understand how hard it can be to just keep at it at times).

Today I felt truly in my GAPS goove. I woke early (for me) and was fully awake--there was no way I was going back to sleep, as I usually might. I got up with energy, had my lemon water and started a new soup. I heated some ginger tea to hold me until breakfast (because of the thyroid medicine timing--I'll write about that in one of my next posts), heated my breakfast soup, organized supplies for the day.

Each Wednesday Blondina (our youngest), who is homeschooling, goes to Tribal Edge, a primal arts training center about 40 minutes from our home. We carpool with friends and today it was my turn to drive, so I planned to spend the day on the land, five acres surrounded by national forest and tribal lands. Usually I would run errands in the closest town, but today I thought I might enjoy four hours with nothing I must do--pure luxury!

Previously, when I have stayed the whole day, I brought sketchbooks or reading and kept mostly to myself, allowing the kids to interact with Ben (Tribal Edge's director), the land, themselves. Today was different, and very sweet. I toted my big dutch oven with the oxtails and neck bones that had been cooking since the early morning to the land, along with thermoses of ginger tea and chicken soup, an onion and some salt. I would finish the soup in the outdoor kitchen on the land, with some foraged greens and fresh air.

Part of the outdoor kitchen
I opted to start the soup on the propane burner and go gathering, instead of having the kids build a fire--they had other things to do at the moment. I felt like someone out of another time, traipsing past the woodpile and compost pile toward the edge of the woods with my basket and clippers. I noted the blackberry canes leafing out (promising fruit in August), abundant vanilla leaf, lush dandelions in the clearing, vibrant nettles all around. Dandelions and nettles were what I was after, and I quickly filled my basket to the brim with the pungent fresh greens (nettles smell almost peppery when freshly cut).

I should interrupt this narrative with an aside: yesterday I was flipping through Gut and Psychology Syndrome and excitedly noted that Dr. Natasha had included a recipe for nettle soup! How had I missed that during earlier readings? She even includes nettles on the list of therapeutic ingredients for juicing! Oh man! I have to tell you, I have an almost romantic relationship with nettles. I crave them, adore them, they feed and energize me, and every so often, if I am not gentle and mindful, they lash out. Just like a lover. Somehow, having Dr. Natasha's approval is almost like my mom telling me my guy is o.k. with her.

Nettles may be the ideal spring food. As if having fresh greens after months of cabbage were not enough, add to that the incredible nutrition and tonic attributes, the delicious taste, the emerald green, the aroma (mmm, sorry--I mentioned that already!). How can I explain the healing, whole-ing, experience of gathering the perfect food and preparing it for myself and to share? I get to wander in the dampness at edge of the woods, in the sun and the drizzle, in fresh air, listening to the eagles, crows and other birds rejoicing in the Spring. The plants, the air, the creatures all communicate, and I have the time to listen. I do get stung on occasion, which is a great reminder of where I am--and that I am.

Ah! Nettle Soup...
Into the bubbling soup go the nettles. When they wilt, I retrieve them and chop them finely. I add the chopped dandelions and taste for salt. And then I do what I do best: feed us all. Mmmmmmmmm.

P.S. Greens are actually hard on some people's guts, so, as with most vegetables on Intro, each of us has to decide whether we are ready for them. I have been eating nettles for weeks, have no diarrhea, and cooked the greens well, so for me this worked. It might not be o.k. for everyone on the third day of Intro!

And speaking of the nitty gritty of Intro, I added an egg yolk today, so I am on Stage 2. (See Baden's blog for a very thoughtful discussion) No issues that I detected, though I did get a bit irritated when my 16 year old daughter (The [cooking] Professional) monopolized the head (our bathroom) for so long that we all got off to a late start this morning. Some irritations are for cause!

All in all, a lovely day! Aside from nourishing food, it was filled with much laughter, companionship, and fresh air. What more do I need?
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