The horse's pasture to the East...

Friday, May 27, 2016

FERMENTED FOODS 101 or How to Get a Happy Gut

Before we move on to week eight, let's talk about how to add some other healthy alternatives to your diet while you're in the process of eliminating highly processed sugars, grains and food. Before I go further, I am not an MD or certified nutritionist. I am a person who loves to eat good food.

Do you have a dog? A cat? How about a horse or donkey? Goat? One of the things you learn about when you live with other animals is the importance of the right diet for each of them as well as unlimited access to clean, clear water. And the end result, literally? You become a 'poopologist' , an expert in what healthy poop is like for each of the pets or animals you care for. 

Dogs and cats will poop at least three times a day. Horses create, on average, 75 pounds of manure every twenty four hours and heaven help them and you if they don't. A horse can sicken and die very quickly and painfully if they cease to move their bowels. 

We're the same. We need to poop at least once a day and preferably two or even three times a day to have be healthy. Keeping our gut happy and healthy with a diet high in fiber and at least eight cups of water or tea (or more in the heat depending on how much you exercise) is imperative . We have billions of bacteria living in our bowels alone. A healthy gut keeps us young, healthy and strong. You really do sleep better, have more energy during the day, think more clearly and have a stronger immune system when your inner flora is thriving. 

So, where do we go from here? Eat color. I love saying that. EAT COLOR. (Must be the artist in me.) You really do need vegetables and fruits in your diet every day. The more colorful your diet, the better. When you have a salad, mix your greens. Have spinach, a couple of kinds of lettuce including purple lettuce, and red vegetables and fruit, yellow and orange. 

In most grocery stores you can buy, year round, red and green peppers as well as yellow and orange peppers. You will almost certainly find zucchini and yellow squash, butternut squash, acorn squash and, well, the list is endless. If you can't find them fresh you need only look in the frozen foods section. Canned vegetables are OK but remember to read the labels. Stay away from cans that have preservatives, salt, sugar, food dyes or other additives. Again, I can't emphasis the importance of eating organic as often as possible. Canned vegetables and fruits will have less food value. Try to eat at least five servings of vegetables every day. And do your best to eat the same number of fruits too. DO NOT peal the fruit unless it's something like an orange. The peal is where a lot of the nutrients are located. 

If you want something, like bread or pasta, that contains grain stick with 100% whole grain. Better yet, if it's available, use 100% sprouted whole grain breads and pastas. It's higher in protein and more easily digested and accessible to your body as a food source. And if you're one of those folks who is sensitive to wheat, go with grain products made with whole grain brown rice, oatmeal or quinoa. 

Eat nuts (of course I'm assuming that you know what you might be allergic to) . I eat both peanuts (or peanut butter) as well as some other nut (pecans, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews) every day. I cook them in to stir fry, sprinkle them in to my salads or on top of a soup or stew. Or I have a handful for an afternoon snack. 

Eggs are one of nature's miracle foods. I eat them, yolk and all, several times a week. They're an excellent source of proteins, vitamins and minerals and very easily digested. 

If you are a meat eater, buy locally grown and processed meat such as grass fed beef or chicken. If you like fish, it's considered to be an excellent source of protein too. I'm vegetarian so none of these things are in my diet.

One of my favorite everyday foods to eat are fermented drinks and vegetables, fruits or grains. The list is huge and comes from nearly every culture. I've got a few recipes here for you to try, easy to make, tasty and very good for you. 

KOMBUCHA : A fermented drink made with tea, usually black or green tea, and some kind of sugar source. It's very easy to start your own batch and keep it going for as long as you like. You can even share out your SCOBY (the bacterial colony that makes the kombucha) with friends. It's a rich source of B vitamins and probiotics (probiotics are bacteria that help to keep your gut healthy. Remember, YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.) When my Scoby gets large I sometimes give some of it to my dogs to eat. They love it and it does the same thing for them that it does for us, adding in happy bacteria colonies to their already impressive gut. (It would be so easy if we all could eat like a dog!)

Start with a large,clean glass bottle or container. If you can find one, 1/2 gallon is nice. You'll need a bottle of raw, organic, unfiltered kombucha, preferably not flavored. Kombucha has it's own rich, yeasty flavor rather like a mild beer. 

To put on top of the bottle as your kombucha brews you'll need plain unbleached paper coffee filters, just one will do, and a rubber band to hold it in place.

You'll also need a large stainless steal soup pot with a lid, and organic tea bags in either black or green tea. I make mine with English Breakfast Tea. Sometimes I use a combination of plain green tea and black tea for a lighter colored and flavored kombucha.

And this is where you can use sugar, preferably organic sugar such as turbinado sugar. Honey, molasses or maple syrup will do also.

Fill your bottle with filtered water about 4/5ths full and then dump that water in to the stainless steel pot. Bring the water to a boil, turn it off and add the sugar (about 1 to 1/2 cup per half gallon. The bacteria will need the sugar to cause the fermentation process) and stir to melt the sugar, add tea bags and put a lid on to keep it clean while the tea brews. Go do your chores for an hour or two while it cools. You'll want it to come down below 100 degrees F, which should be just warm to your finger. (Wash your hands before sticking your finger in or use a candy thermometer.) Add your bottle of organic, raw, unfiltered kombucha or your scoby. Pour all of this, minus the tea bags, in to the clean glass bottle. Put the paper filter on top, holding it in place with your rubber band. Put it up in a cabinet and leave it alone for a couple of weeks the first time. 

When you make your next batch you will have your own scoby. Pour the finished kombucha in to a bottle and keep it in the fridge. You can also keep it at room temperature . I like it cold. Leave behind a cup or so of the first batch of kombucha as well as the scoby and make your next batch the same way in the stainless steal pot, pouring it in to the glass bottle and putting another paper filter on top. 

I keep two bottles brewing in the cabinet, two bottles in the fridge. Both John and I drink it daily. The second batch taste test it at around 8 to 10 days. It gets closer to vinegar in taste the longer you brew it. Some folks like it like that. I like it at around 8 to 10 days. It's a bit less bitey. 

Your scoby is going to look like a floating island that is a soft grey beige color. If it turns black, throw it out and start again. The kombucha in the fridge is still good and has an active bacterial colony in it. The only reason it goes bad is if you've left the paper off and bacteria from your environment has added itself to it. I've never had any go bad myself. I've kept my batch going for three years now. You can share it with friends by pealing layers off and putting it in a clean bottle with a bit of kombucha. Share it with the recipe. Makes a nice gift.

YOGURT : I love NANCY'S ORGANIC YOGURT. (No, not my company. Wish it was!) but you can also make it. Start with either some of Nancy's plain organic yogurt or a yogurt culture you buy on line. Stay away from the commercial yogurts that have sugar and gelatin in them. Your yogurt is going to be tasty with fruit, in a smoothie, with a wee bit of honey or nuts, as a floating island on top of soup or stew (in the place of sour cream) or in a dressing for your salad, either greens or fruit.

You'll need a large stainless steel pot, whole milk (cow or goat), a glass container large enough to hold the milk/culture and a warm place to put it. Some old style stoves have a warm place on top where the flame is, that lights the gas. Or set your oven at it's lowest setting, preferably around 110 degrees F or a bit more with the door open. Or a heating pad, a cabinet on a warm day, a warm bath of water to set the yogurt container in (keep it inside the oven so it stays warm) or even a cooler with a container of warm water for the yogurt container to sit in. Or you can use a yogurt maker. There are several different kinds on the market. Go with the best you can afford.

Heat your milk up to about 100 degrees F. It will just begin to bubble, NOT BOIL. Cool it down to about 80 degrees F, about finger warmth, like a baby bottle. Add your yogurt, about a 1/4 cup, and stir. Put it in the clean bottle with a lid or a paper filter and rubber band on top, place it in your warm place. The next day you will have yogurt. Love the way that works!

KEFIR : Same as the yogurt but you can put it inside a cabinet. Keeping it warm isn't as crucial. It will be kefir the next day. Use kefir bacteria you buy or a bottle of plain, organic kefir as your colony.

Apple Cider Vinegar (You'll want the raw, unfiltered, organic vinegar)
Pickles ( look for the word fermented on the label)
Wine (dark red is best)
Beer (We're lucky here. There's a brewery downtown that makes some of the best beers in the Midwest.)
Fermented Vegetables

Each of these fermented foods or drinks brings a different kind of bacteria colony, all of which are good for you. The more of these foods you can add to your daily or weekly diet the stronger your immune system will be. This Spring was my first cold in years and, between you and me, I think that was emotion related. I've been letting myself get more angry than needed about our challenging neighbors. When that happens my body slaps me, makes me slow down and think instead of react. It was gone 24 hours later. I usually get well very quickly.

You're going to find a whole new set of food sources that bring interest to your diet and happy bacteria to ride the wave with you. 

I am, ever yours, Nancy, living with more animals than I should probably have, weeds in the gardens, wild flowers in the fields and tornados on the horizon, laughing at the way things go.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

DINOSAURS AT THE TABLE or How I Dumped White Flour

On with the show! Everyone has different ideas on how to let go of your sugar cravings. I need to let you know (and probably will repeat this every time I write  about diet and nutrition) that I am not an MD, or even a Nutritionist by trade or education, at least not a formal education. I'm someone's Mom, Grandma, Wife, Sister, Aunt, Friend, Artist, me. And I pay attention to my inner voice. It's directed me for all of these years and, so far so good. That being said...

We're getting ready to move in to your 7th week of leaving sugar and highly processed foods behind. At this point you've almost certainly snuck in to your best friend's kitchen (because I didn't say anything about your "best friend's kitchen" and, at this point, you're an 'attorney' of sorts who is finding every grey spot there is so you can justify eating glorious, rich, sweet, gooey, sexy SUGAR.) to eat some cake and ice cream, cookies or to have a cup of cocoa. Damn, damn, double damn! It tasted good didn't it? You're an addict and you just took a hit! 

So now what? There are things that mimic sugar. I prefer raw, unfiltered, organic honey myself but there is also stevia. It's so popular as a sugar substitute that you can find it in regular grocery stores and it even looks like white sugar. Sigh... DON'T USE THAT. It's highly processed. If you're going to use stevia go to the health food store nearest you or the section of your store that sells bulk spices and herbs and buy the real stevia. It's green, an herb. And it will probably come in the form of something that resembles ground oregano. And it really does taste sweet. Buy the organic stuff and learn how to use it. It's stronger than sugar so 1/2 tsp will be sweeter than a tsp of sugar. Cooking with it? That's another subject. 

How about 100 % organic Maple Syrup? Organic Molasses? Each of these sweeteners is natural and brings it's own set of flavors and nutritional essence to your table without being highly processed. 

Your 7th week is going to begin the process of letting go of highly processed grains ie. white flour. We'll also start learning how to let go of those oh so easy boxed and frozen meals. Yikes! Teeth chattering thrills and spills! 

Week 7. 1. Go to your pantry (you know what's coming here so put on your Big Girl Panties and get to it!), freezer, basement and garage storage and find your bags of white flour, bleached or unbleached, and THROW IT OUT. 

This step is in two parts. 2. While you're pulling out the flour, get rid of the white bread, tortilla's, pasta and(except the 100 % whole grain pasta), crackers (most of which have sugar in them unless you went head blind and forgot to notice that when you culled this stuff out before...sigh. Believe me, I know all about it. I make excuses too.) 

OK. You're kind of shaky at this point. And you probably need some new ideas on what to fix for dinner when you have crazy kids to feed and the day has been 107 hours long. (My sons grew up eating like this and they did rebel and eat junky crap for a while. But they also did it with money they earned and figured out pretty soon that not only was it expensive but brought on pimples, a tire around the middle and cavities. Not bad lessons to learn by themselves.)

How about fixing some 100% whole grain spaghetti and serving it with your own home made sauce? You can make a sauce by buying a large can of organic tomatoes, blending it in to a creamy texture, adding things like a pinch of oregano and rosemary, some freshly ground pink sea salt and black pepper, a tsp or two of organic first press olive oil and heating it up while the water comes to a boil and the pasta cooks. (My Italian friends are cringing at this point. I apologize. This is my version of 'fast food'.) Serve with grated parmesan cheese (the real deal, not Kraft) and a nice side salad with fresh greens, chopped sweet red pepper, chopped or sliced radishes and a handful of organic, dried cranberries. All kinds of colors and textures. Make your own dressing with olive oil, basalmic vinegar, pink sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss it and serve.

Want variations on a theme? How about adding fresh sugar snap peas and fresh pears cut in to thin slices, to the salad? Toss in a handful of nuts to either the salad or the sauce. Mushrooms cut up in chunks and cooked in to the sauce are tasty. Or add some chopped up tomatoes to the sauce for texture; celery, green pepper, sweet peas. Use your imagination! 

If everyone is still craving grains, buy some really good, crusty, 100% whole grain artisan bread and lightly butter the slices and toast them just before you serve dinner. 

If you eat meat, add grass fed, local hamburger, cooked well, to the sauce. (I'm vegetarian. And, yes, not even bacon!)

This meal will take you thirty minutes, tops, to fix. It takes less time if you don't eat meat. Get your children involved in the process too. They can clean and tear the lettuce, slice the radishes and red peppers, or even add in their own ideas. You'd be surprised how creative and willing to eat unusual combinations kids are if they are part of the process. Bonus: Your children grow up learning how to cook. Major life skill there!

Need more ideas? Invite a dinosaur to dinner. They always liven up the meal.

OK. Definitely getting silly here. But laughter always helps while you're letting go of easy, crappy, over processed food. 

How about making a Frittata? You'll need :

A large, preferably iron, frying pan. If you don't have an iron pan (really good for you to cook in, by the way. Wee, tiny bits of iron become part of your diet...microscopic of course. I use the pan my Grandmother cooked in. A good iron pan becomes a family heirloom!) than use a large stainless steal pan with a stainless steal handle. Stay away from wooden or plastic handles. This goes in to the oven as part of the recipe. You don't want to ruin your cook ware.

Olive oil (preferably first press, virgin, organic)

All kinds of veggies, chopped. I like to use combinations of onions, green and/or red sweet pepper, mushrooms of any variety, a sweet potato and/or baking potato chopped in small pieces, zucchini and yellow squash sliced or chopped thinly, fresh radishes from the garden, sliced thin or any other vegetable combination you come up with. Sometimes I throw in some sliced pear, cranberries or apple.

A cup or two of shredded cheese, any kind you prefer. Organic, made from raw milk is best if you can find it. But any kind of cheese will do. Variations on a theme are nice here because your frittata will be different every time. Same goes for the veggies too, by the way. Make those as simple or complex as you like. 

Six to eight eggs, beaten as if you were going to be making an omelet.

Pink sea salt and pepper, freshly ground. A tiny pinch of dried, ground hot peppers is nice. Or add a drop of rosemary essential oil. Or a crushed or chopped clove of garlic. You get the picture. Variations on a theme.

Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. 

On top of the oven put your chopped veggies etc in to your hot pan with the olive oil and cook just until the veggies are in that between place ie. not crunchy, not soft. Pour your eggs flavored with whatever you're using that night over the veggies and evenly sprinkle the cheese(s) on top.

Put your whole pan in to the oven for fifteen minutes. 

Serve with a fresh fruit salad on the side and maybe some nice, dense, 100% whole grain bread with real butter. We usually eat this meal without the bread. It's very filling. But if you have children who are growing and hungry, add the bread. Better yet, make your own! But that's another article.

This meal, again, takes 20 or 30 minutes to prepare. Nice way to relax at the end of the day, cooking. One of my places to meditate. And, yes, both of my sons learned how to cook like this. Make teaching your children how to cook with real food a game. I promise, they'll love it especially if you crank up some good tunes and dance in the kitchen!

Week 8 on the next post. I'll write down some of my all time easy, peasy recipes for you too. You are going to have so much fun!

In the meantime, start keeping a journal. Write about your frustration, your excitement, recipes, funny stories, all of it. You are making some major changes in your life. It's worth noting! Who knows. Maybe you'll end up writing a book!

I am, ever yours, Nancy, head back and laughing at the way things go!

And here's Apple meeting her first tree frog, in case you need to laugh again.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


You are what you eat. It's as simple as that. This isn't preaching. It isn't propaganda. Heck, it's exactly what your Grandparents told you all those years ago. You are what you eat.

Let me take you back in time via my 'Way Back' machine (also known as personal history) to 1968. My Mom was morbidly obese. She was only 5' 2" tall and weighed nearly three hundred pounds. She was well on her way to an early death. She was also a brilliant, successful person. She'd been an Analytical Chemist for Midwest Research, wrote post Doc text books in advanced mathematical theory, and taught. She was such a good teacher that, when she died, the church was full out on to the sidewalk. I stood in the receiving line for hours listening to former students tell me about how she had inspired them, given them new directions in their lives.

And she was desperately unhappy in her marriage. Her belief system did not allow her to leave so she ate, trying to fill a hollow place with food. When her doctor told her she was hurting herself, she made a decision to change. There was a fairly new system available for dieters called WEIGHT WATCHERS. It had started five years before, in 1963. It was based on the simple phrase, " You are what you eat. " 

Here's a simple "Can You..." challenge. Go trolling on the internet and find images from the nineteenth century. Very few fat people out there, right? We'll come back to that.

Mom chose Weight Watchers as her system to begin her change. She knew it wasn't going to be an easy journey. Loosing weight is more than a physical process. It's an emotional roller coaster ride too. You're changing habits that have brought you a kind of comfort, like drugs. It's a place you've gone to because at least the cake tasted good even if you did have two pieces to many. You could count on that momentary pleasure of one more bite. She needed a group to help her through her life style change, a circle of new friends who were taking steps to change themselves inside and out.

I loved my Mom. No one else in the family was interested in what she was trying to accomplish so I decided to walk by her side and do what she was doing. I didn't need to. I was a dancer, weighed about 105 lbs soaking wet, but I also ate junk food. It was a quick fix of energy but did nothing to add to the stamina I needed to be a dancer. It was an easy choice for me. 

I'm not going to wax poetic about Weight Watchers as opposed to any other system of weight loss. That isn't what this post is about. I am not a certified nutritionist, doctor or PHD. But you don't need to have credentials to learn how to care for your body. It's a lifestyle choice that anyone can do if you put your mind to it. YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.

I am 65. My skin is wrinkling. I take extra biotin to keep my hair from thinning. But I still fit in to the same jeans I wore when I was 40. More of that comes from the way I eat than any specific exercise program. It's a life style choice.

And my habits started when I supported my Mom by eating the way she was being encouraged to eat through her weight loss program. It involved measuring with scales and tools, an easy choice for a Chemist and Mathematician. But, again, that isn't what I'm promoting. What I am talking about is making lifestyle choices. And I'm going to break the rules of good writing by making the same statement over and over again. IT'S A LIFESTYLE CHOICE.

I'm a huge fan of TED TALKS. Expect to see more of them on this subject, posted here by me. I'll do the search. All you have to do is take the time it takes to watch them, maybe take some notes and figure out what you want to do.

When my Mom stuck to her guns, walked her walk, she lost ninety pounds in one year. By the second year she was down to a very healthy size 10 (in American sizes) and 135 lbs. She looked like she had lost years as well as weight. She even started riding a bicycle with me! My Mom, the sedentary scientist, would get on her three speed bike and ride over to meet me so we could ride bikes or go for long walks together. She even started to dance with me! I will always treasure those wonderful, silly days when she taught me how to Boogie Woogie and I taught her how to slide and glide. IT WAS A LIFE STYLE CHANGE.

Her metamorphosis started with a different approach to eating. I am still using some of her methods. Since I've been doing this for, gulp, almost fifty years it's a habit for me now. And, surprisingly, it's one I am still laughed at and teased for. In fact there are more people who are aghast at how I eat now than there were fifty years ago. The big food industries, fast food culture, farm industries, and so on and so on and scooby dooby do on have had their way in the media for a very long time. And, like the cancer they are on the earth, they have metastasized and grown in to other countries now. 

So, where do you start if you want to make your own changes? With one step at a time. When you have a diet heavy in sugar, processed flour, packaged food and fast food, you are an addict. It's as simple as that. YOU ARE ADDICTED. So, like any addiction, you need to find an effective way to withdraw for the long haul. 

There is the full cold turkey method. Cut that drug off and deal with everything all at once. In my opinion I'm not sure that will work with poor eating habits. It's so easy to give in to that late night " Gimme, gimme! Got to have ice cream now!" feeling. (Don't get me wrong here. I eat ice cream. I just don't eat it late at night or when a craving hits. Ice cream is a treat. It tastes that much better because it's rare for me to indulge.) Once you gobble you end up feeling like a failure and then you do the, " F@(k it! I'm going to eat it anyway. SO THERE!" thing. You're way back behind square one then and it's that much harder to keep taking those baby steps forward. 

For most of you learning how to eat real food is going to be outside your comfort zone. Take it in wee tiny steps instead of blowing through those thresholds. Be as kind to yourself as you might be with your horse (if you're a horseman) or your dog or child. Teach yourself with one step at a time, one level at a time. It's a fascinating subject that branches out in to gardening, organic living (or as close as you can get to it in a world floating in chemicals), rediscovering new energy levels, and even recovery from serious medical conditions. When your gut is happy inside, your body along with your emotional state and athleticism follows suit.

So, first steps. Ready? If you want to grab this post and save it, write notes, whatever you want. I am paying it forward here to honor my Mom and all of the other people I love. I'm going to SUGGEST slow and easy first steps. They're kind of cathartic too. Every time you make it through one more event you are going to feel like Rocky Balboa at the top of those steps. You'll want to dance where everyone can see you!

1. First week. Go through your kitchen, all of the cabinets, refrigerator, the basement where you store extras, and THROW AWAY ALL OF THE SODA POP. I want you to pitch it, ALL OF IT INCLUDING THE DIET CRAP. Get rid of every, single sugary drink, including those icky juice packs. Put it in trash bags and boxes and GET RID OF IT! 

You are going to find this hard to do. That junk costs money! Don't give it to anyone. Encouraging them to drink what you are giving up? Really? You don't want to do that. It's bad for them too. 

Side effects: You are going to crave the stuff, might even get headaches. All of it is loaded with high levels of sugar and caffeine, additives and preservatives. And all of that stuff hits every pleasure button there is in your brain. (Now you know why I'm suggesting doing this one step at a time.)

2. Second week. STOP BUYING SODA POP AND SUGARY COFFEE DRINKS at the drive through places. Yeah. I know what's happening. You threw the stuff out and then said, " But she didn't say I couldn't buy it a MacD's or the Quick Trip. " Believe me, I know the mind of an addict. Easy to become our own 'attorney' and start making excuses because it wasn't written down. 

DON'T BUY IT at any quick stop place, movie house, restaurant, friend's house, or machine in the hallway across from your office. 

Here's a nice alternative (you were waiting for this, right?) Mix sparkling, filtered, mineral water with a teaspoon or two of lemon or lime juice (the real deal. Buy some lemons or limes and squeeze them yourself. Going through the actual physical process helps to keep you moving when the cravings hit.) and add another teaspoon or two of raw, unfiltered, organic honey. Blend it in a blender or stir, stir, stir. I'm a fan of the stir it yourself part. If I have to work for it I think twice before I fix it. You can also do it in one of those martini shakers, make believe you're in a James Bond movie. "Shaken, not stirred. " , said in your best James Bond voice. Better yet, imagine Sean Connery fixing it for you. Oh yeah. Fun!

Another nice alternative : take out your favorite coffee mug and fill it 1/4 full of filtered water, 1/4 full of TAZO CHAI, the organic kind, and 1/2 full with soy milk. I like the vanilla flavored. Complements the spices in the chai. Heat it up in a pot (don't boil it. Just heat it.), pour it back in to your mug and enjoy. Very rich and satisfying. Gives you a tiny pick me up too.

3. Week three. WHEW! This is hard work, isn't it? But you've made it this far. And if you've slipped a little, don't beat yourself up. Just keep trying. Ditching your processed sugar addiction is no easy task.

Here's a pretty picture of Willow to help you through. Ready for the next part? OK.

GO THROUGH YOUR PANTRY, KITCHEN CABINETS, BASEMENT AND GARAGE AND... GULP! ... THROW OUT ALL OF THE SUGAR. Get rid of it, even the little bit hiding in the sugar bowl. Put it in a heavy duty trash bag and set it out on the curb on the day the trash collectors come. It's OK to cry while you do this. Sugar is so much fun! THROW IT ALL OUT ANYWAY. Later, when you've made your full transition, you can buy a 5 lb bag at Christmas and make cookies to give away. But for now, THROW ALL OF THE SUGAR AWAY. 

You're breaking a habit here, an addiction. If it isn't in your home environment it's going to be harder to get to when the cravings hit. If you can't do without something sweet, you probably still have cookies and candy in your stash. We still haven't reached that step. But try as hard as you can not to eat them. 

4. Week 4. NOW IS WHEN YOU THROW OUT ALL OF THE COOKIES AND CANDY. I mean it. Again this isn't going to be easy. They've been your secret stash while you end the soda pop and throw out the sugar. Processed sugar is your enemy. It's insidious because it's so easy, so tasty, so innocent looking in all of it's forms. But NOW IS THE TIME TO THROW ALL COOKIES AND CANDY, including the fat free crap and diet, no sugar crap. NO SUGAR AND NO FAKE SUGAR. 

5. Week 5. Stop and catch your breath here for a moment. You are making huge strides here disguised as tiny baby steps. Reward yourself for every try. You can do this and you can keep trying even if you're back sliding. BREATH. You're doing fine.

Now, another hard part to do but so necessary. This week is a two step week. You're strong enough now to do this. Ready? 1. NO MORE COOKIES OR CANDY OR SWEET CELEBRATORY GUNK left out at the office, none! You are going to find ways to politely decline. Sing Happy Birthday but NO CANDY OR COOKIES, BROWNIES OR CAKE. Go through the drawers you have a stash in and empty them. Throw them out. If one of your co workers wants to embarrass themselves by digging it out of the trash, no worries. Let them. And let be. And NO STOPPING AT FAST FOOD PLACES, RESTAURANTS, COFFEE SHOPS OR CANDY MACHINES anymore. This is a big/small step. Dividend? You're saving a significant amount of money at this point by not buying this stuff. And no fair buying rich, gooey, over sugared coffee drinks either. 

Sugar is going to try to creep back in to your life. It's insidious, sneaky, loves the game. You decide to win. Play it back. Start reading the labels and stop buying sugar or fake sugar stuff. 

Alternative? Buy an apple, organic of course, or an orange and slice them up in to tiny slivers. Make the presentation pretty on the plate. Savor the flavors and textures, colors and smell. Fruit is going to start looking pretty doggone good to you at this point! Bananas are particularly satisfying. BUY ORGANIC. You're also in the process of letting go of all GMO, processed and packaged foods. 

Here's a pretty picture of Apache. Imagine laying down in a clean, sweet smelling stall with my Big Kahuna and relaxing. You're doing fine. Keep going. each step is taking you to a new life style. Ready for the second step this week?

Step 2. (This one's gonna hurt. Prepare yourself.) Take out your heavy duty trash bag and go through your entire kitchen, pantry, basement stash, garage goodies and THROW AWAY EVERYTHING YOU HAVE IN A PACKAGE THAT HAS SUGAR IN IT. This is going to take some time because it involves reading labels. But learning how to be informed about your food choices is a good habit to form, so count this as part of your learning curve. Again, do this on trash collection day. THROW IT ALL AWAY! 

You're going to be breathing hard, cussing, maybe even panicking. But it's time, so DO IT! I know. You're thinking about how expensive this stuff is. Why do you think the food corporations have been flooding the media with clever advertising? They've been making a poop load of money off of you. Well, end that too. THROW THE STUFF OUT.

At this point your kitchen is beginning to look empty and you're probably beginning to panic. What in the world are you going to eat now? YIKES!

Week 6. STOP THE PRESSES! Do you know what you've just done? You have just eliminated processed sugar and sugar substitutes from your diet. THAT IS HUGE! You've done it. CONGRATULATIONS! If you are a follower of Parelli I would be rewarding you your Level One Red String. It's a biggie people. HUGE! And it's the foundation of everything you do after this point. And you've done it in a fairly short time too. 

Notice I haven't suggested that you weigh yourself. But my guess is that you've probably begun to loose weight too. One more big advantage : Your teeth are going to love you! Cavities will be fewer, your gums healthier. But that's another post.

So, now we begin to learn how to shop. You are going to have so much fun doing this! Things to do in the grocery store : 1. Spend extra time in the fresh produce section. I prefer you shop organically but you have to start somewhere so just stop and look at the produce, at the colors, shapes and textures. Pretty isn't it? Good fruit will smell sweet to you now. Go ahead and buy some. Start with the things you recognize and each week try something you haven't bought before, like a grapefruit or watermelon, raspberries, strawberries, black berries, cherries. Take baby steps. Don't break the bank. Just try a few things you know and one that you don't. Ever eaten a fresh apricot? How about a fresh peach? Pear? You are in for such a treat!

1A. And vegetables. Buy fresh vegetables. Buy some of the things you know like lettuce and tomatoes, but also try just one you haven't. Buy a small cabbage and some carrots, grate them up and make a cole slaw. Or stir fry the cabbage and carrots together, put a wee bit of real butter or olive oil on them along with pink sea salt and pepper. Just cook them until they're still a bit crunchy. Add some onion if you want to. Num, num, num! So simple, filling and such an easy way to eat three vegetables at once! 

One week try some fresh green beans, the next some fresh asparagus. The secret to eating fresh produce is keeping it simple and combining colors and textures. Buy a red pepper to add to the greens.

I'll get to recipes in the next post. The focus here is learning how to buy more fresh food. An alternative? Buy frozen organic fruits and vegetables. You can add them to soups, salads, bean dishes, pasta. I've been doing this a long time now and have fifty years of boo boo's to pass up and success to pass on.

YOU ARE AWESOME! See yourself at the head of the parade people. You're leading yourselves in to a new life style and all you did was start with eliminating processed sugar and sugar substitutes! WOOHOO!

I am, ever yours, Nancy, smiling at the way things go!

PS. Remember when I said we would "come back to that", about the challenge to find fat people in the nineteenth century? No fast food joints and sugar was expensive. Most people grew their own food and ate what was available. Only the very wealthy were fat. Everyone else worked too hard and ate only vegetables and fruit they grew or traded for, whole grains they grew or traded for and meat they hunted or traded or grew and processed themselves. End of story on that one. 

Monday, May 23, 2016


We live next to the "neighbors from hell". Over the months they've been here I've tried to laugh at their behaviors, use descriptive language like " challenging" and "an opportunity to learn" and so on and so on and scooby dooby do on. But I am now ready to lay it out there. They are major league asshats. I can't even use an exclamation point. It's an honest statement that needs no other description.

I've tried everything I have in my repertoire, things I've learned over the years to smooth the waters. I've taken them cookies, stopped to chat, used gentle suggestions like, " I hope Apple and Miniver aren't bothering you when we go out for last check, to hay the horses. Sometimes the deer in the yard are just so exciting. Let me know if that's the case. We'll do our best to solve it." (We're never out for more than ten minutes and the dogs bark a few times, but you get my drift here. It's a hint. What I really want to say is, " Would you just stop with the ATV and cross country motorcycles and rap music and country music cranked up so high the walls shake! Please, stop shooting your guns. " And so on and so on and scooby, dooby do on.)

This past weekend was exhausting. I think there is a real possibility their 14 year old teenager may be hyper active. 'It' was out on the ATV flying around in circles, tearing things up and driving on two wheels, at one point on one wheel and then airborne! 'It' went on all day long while they had another one of their parties, endless parties, with people drinking, music cranked up, yelling at each other and no one, not one adult paying attention to this out of control kid who had other little kids on the back of his ATV holding on to nothing and being thrown all over the place. 

It's so bad now that we have tools laid out in the carport where we can get to them in seconds, a pile of clean towels set up to stop blood flow and have 911 on speed dial and keep our blue tooth thing a ma bobs in our ears, connected at all times. I've practiced my red cross revival skills, caught up on the newest information and we've done simulations. Both of us are that certain that sooner or later there will be a terrible accident. 

Yesterday I decided to mow. Rain is coming all this next week. I don't usually mow on Sundays. I don't want the noise to bother people but the noise next door was already so loud I was pretty sure my attention to detail was meaningless and the grass was turning in to a meadow. I have good earphones, the kind that block noise. It was actually a relief to put them on and mow!

Except, except I found myself mowing and crying. The kid flying around and around tearing up the ground and driving on one or two wheels kept speeding past me. They were all so oblivious! All I could think about was how much I enjoy caring for the land, listening to the quiet, drinking up the quiet, touching and living in the quiet and how I have friends who still have things to do, stories to tell, gardens to plant and they're dying. And these disconnected people next door are so cavalier with their children's lives! It doesn't compute. 

I kept chanting to myself, " It's not my rodeo. It's not my rodeo. It's not my rodeo." Except, when it's so in my face, something I can't get away from, it becomes my rodeo. I do not want to see a child injured while the adults responsible for their safety, party. Talk about self centered and thoughtless...

I've been keeping track of events; taking photos of the car chassis and parts piling up on the yard, videos of the ATV racing and music, parties and shooting. But basically it's been made clear that the new landlords, an endowment of a local university, are going to do nothing. And the sheriff has been clear too. They haven't technically broken any laws ... YET. Unless one of us or the animals are hurt and we have proof, nothing can be done. 

For the first time in all of the years we've been living here we are treated with distain. Because we are the ones who are quiet, who care for the land, live without bothering anyone, we are on our own until something bad happens.

Let me make this clear here (this has become part of my record keeping too), these people have broken their contract over and over. They have animals they have not paid deposits on, living there. There are way more people than the original person who signed the contract, living there. They are shooting on a preserve and destroying the land with ATV and motor cycle traffic. They smoke and litter and no one says or does anything while we live with them in our backyard. And during the year that it took for the land to change hands we were told, over and over, that we are liabilities. The university does not rent to people with animals. (We were lucky in that the former owners did go to bat for us, made our long term lease part of the contract for sale without our having to pay more rent or the outlandish fees for liability insurance they insisted we get. We already have insurance. No reason to buy more. But endowments are beasts of their own class focused on one thing : MONEY.)

I do not deal well with unexpressed emotions or with doing nothing when something so clearly needs to be done. And, basically, we've become hostages to these people. It's a reflection of the chaos in the world, on a tiny scale. My horses are out there, easy targets. (I've already lost Buddy to an accident at the top of the drive, where the ATV is being driven day and night. I can't prove who hit him but I know. Not even a , "Sorry Mrs. Ness. I didn't mean to kill your cat." ) 

Here's the odd part. When I walk over with yet another idea to try, another way to peacefully resolve a situation that will only be fixed when either we move or they do but here I am, Nancy the Optimist, still trying... when I talk with them, they aren't bad people. They're just oblivious to the chaos they live in and cause around them. I don't honestly think they know  they are making everyone who lives across or up and down the hill from them crazy with the constant noise, commotion or filth. (I won't say dirt. I like good dirt. I'm a Master Gardener. It's been a love of mine for most of my life.)

So today I am genuinely tired, frustrated, exhausted and dumbfounded at how easily things can change. Aging I expect. I'm kind of enjoying the process, am fascinated with it. But this  thoughtless behavior from a well known institute of education and the people they've brought in, the lack of empathy and consideration or respect, appalls me. 

I will not name anyone here. Being sued for possible liable is not my goal. But I will tell you Orcs are in the Shire and I am past worried and moving on to joining Frodo and his band. I'm ready to form my own "army" of elves, hobbits and white wizards to deal with the Evil Eye on the land, sending it's horrible scope across the home I've loved. 

It's not my rodeo. But then again, it is! One more thing. My other solution is to keep building gardens, more and more flowers and herbs and vegetables and fruit. I am making this place sing with color. Color as a weapon ... not a bad response. 

I am, ever yours, with dark circles around my eyes, and flower magic under my belt, ready for action and smiling. Well, action after a nap but still, willing. I am, ever yours, Miss Nancy, Wizard hat in place and standing my ground...sighing.

Friday, May 20, 2016

THEY TALK TO ME or How I Let the Cat Out of the Bag

They talk to me. Always have. And I never tell anyone about it. 

I remember telling my Grandmother about a cat talking to me, one of hers. It was a barn cat, one of those busy, independent creatures you see in the background at nearly every working farm. They have a job and like to be left to it. But this particular cat, a black and white tabby with long hair that she was very proud of, walked past me, stopped to look at me and said, very distinctly, " Have you seen my baby? I'm worried." 

I didn't think anything of it. I was four years old. Everything in the world makes sense when you're that age because no one has said otherwise. So I went in to the kitchen to find my Grandma, to ask her if she had seen a kitten. She had. She was cleaning a tiny wound on it's leg. I told her Mama Cat was looking for her baby, needed to have her back in the nest with the others.

Grandma was one tough cookie. She wasn't prone to smiling or even being particularly affectionate, except with her cats. She smiled at me and took the kitten back out to Mama Cat. She never asked me how I knew Mama Cat was worried.

Later that Summer (I was wearing my same favorite pair of fading, patched overalls. That's how I know it was the same year. I wasn't allowed to wear my dresses when working.) I was sitting at the breakfast table in the kitchen, the one with the red formica top, and eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The peanut butter kept sticking to the roof of my mouth so I had to drink lots of milk too. Grandma did have her ways of getting tiny, "bird girls" to eat. That was her nickname for me, Birdgirl. 

I sat there, banging my legs against the chair, jelly on my chin and I said, " Grandma, Penny says that her hips hurt today. She wants to go lay outside in the sun. Makes her feel better." Animals talked more in images than words. I was four. It was just another part of my day. And I spent more time with the four legged creatures than two legs anyway. I was just having a lunch time conversation with my Grandma. No big deal. " She likes that place in the garden, next to the fence."

Whoa! Stop the horses. She looked at me like I had leaves growing out the top of my head and there were big bugs on those leaves. It wasn't easy to have Grandma look at me like that. She could be a bit scary, she was so big and strong and direct. I stopped chewing on that sticky sandwich and swallowed with a big GULP! I had somehow crossed over a line I didn't know was there.

"What do you mean Birdgirl? How do you know that?" She pretty much had me pinned to my chair with those eyes, looking at me. 

" She told me, Grandma." I'd been taught to always be honest. It was much easier to tell the truth than to try to remember the lies. My legs weren't bouncing against the chair anymore. Mostly I just wanted to go outside, maybe climb a tree or hide in the tall pasture grass. I was not used to being on Grandma's radar like this.

"Show me where Penny likes to sleep. Outside, right now!" Uh oh. I needed to get up but her eyes had me pinned to the chair. The peanut butter didn't taste so good now. " NOW! Up and out of that chair." I could feel the tears coming. I wasn't used to anyone raising their voice to me. I was in serious trouble and had no idea why. I needed to move but my legs just did not seem to want to work. I'd gone tharn, like a deer in the headlights at night. I ... could ... not ... move.

And then she softened her eyes, leaned over and picked me up, something she hadn't done in a very long time, and hugged me. She whispered in to my ear, " I'm sorry Baby Bird. I didn't mean to frighten you. I am so sorry. " I rested there for a moment, listening to her heartbeat. It was easier to hide close up than to try to get away. I was that frightened. And she was bigger than I was, stronger. Freeze. Very still. Wait.

She sat me back down in my chair, wiped the tears away from her face and mine. Grandma was crying too! What was going on? Grandma never cried. And she sat there for a moment looking down. (I should stop and tell you here that moments to a four year old can seem like centuries. Schedules and deadlines, goals and clocks are not part of the vocabulary of most four year olds. There is no reference for time or how it flows.) 

She got up, practical and very Grandma, took down the little plate she used for cookies and piled some ginger snaps up for me, filled my glass with more milk and didn't even tell me to finish my sandwich! This was all new to me, a true revelation. Something big was coming, something worthy of more cookies than she usually gave me, a pile so high that the top one fell off right on to the table! And then she poured herself a glass of milk and sat down across from me. " Now, tell me how you know about Penny's hips and her favorite place next to the fence. Be honest. You aren't going to get in to trouble. I promise." Grandma never lied either. So I told her how Penny had showed me "pictures in my head".

We sat there, eating our cookies, while she asked questions and I told her about how the milk cows were always sad because their babies were taken away. And the pigs were mean because they knew what was coming and were willing to fight to the end to save their babies. I told her about Grandpa's horses and how much they loved him because he let them live in a big, green pasture and knew where all of the itchy places were but one of them had a front left hoof that hurt. 

And I was surprised when Grandma told me that other people couldn't hear them too. In that four year old way I had just assumed it was normal to "hear/see" what cats and dogs, cows, horses and, well, all of them had to say. I even told her that the wrens nesting over the front porch light were glad she didn't turn on the light and told people to come to the back door instead. 

She sat there, watching and listening to me chatter. The cookies were really good, fresh and right from the cooling rack on the counter. And she hadn't separated the milk either. It still had cream floating in it, almost like ice cream in a glass. Being afraid was in the past. I'd forgotten about her voice being so loud. And I took her outside to show her where Penny liked to be, next to the iris where she could lean against the fence. 

She sat down next to me, right there in the garden, and said, " Nancy, I want you to make me a promise. This is important and you can never break it ever. " I sat there, solemn. This was a bit like making "swears" with my cousins when they didn't want me to tell on them. Serious stuff. 

" Promise me that you will never tell other people about this thing you can do, this talking with animals. Never tell anyone you can hear them. They won't understand and will try to take you away. Promise now. Please, Baby Bird. Promise me this one promise. It's a really big girl, important promise. " She was so intense, so certain and genuinely afraid. So, of course, I made my promise. And for years and years I kept it too. It's the only thing she had ever asked me to do. It was that important to her, so I kept it.

The years rolled along, the way they always do for all of us. I grew up. Grandma and Grandpa, my parents and other people I loved left this world. I always had animals around me though; hamsters and guinea pigs, mice, ducks and dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, horses and donkeys. I'd stop along the road to meet a cow or two when I was out driving by myself, put out bird feeders so I could listen to the "chatter" between cardinals and robins. And I never said anything except in the form of an on going story about Archimedes, the talking dog, to my children. I told them, in a sideways kind of way that never, technically, broke Grandma's promise, what I could do.

And John knew, but he is my heart. Telling him just happened one day and he never doubted me. It wasn't a big deal. Just something that happened. Love has no boundaries, thankfully.

And then yesterday happened.( gulp, she said in a teeny, tiny voice. ) I went to visit a local rescue with a friend. She's taking one of the horses, a four year old gelding. His new name is going to be Tucker, which he "told me" he approves of. Likes it much better than his present moniker, Cocoa. 

We walked around visiting horses, dogs, cats, chickens and even a very cool garden pond full of fat, happy carp. Fish dreams are always from below, looking up. It's a weird perspective from my point of view. They loved the moving water (from a pump that made a water fall).

I met an aging, sad thoroughbred mare who was standing in the corner of her open stall, staring at a wall. I stood quietly at the door, waiting for permission to enter her bedroom space. (I really liked this place. The animals all had ways to come and go freely. It was tidy, organized and had a friendly energy to it.)

She turned and stretched her head out to touch my hand, giving me the permission I was waiting for. And then she began to "talk/send" to me. It was so important to her that someone hear her. She was sorry, sad, lonely and her front legs hurt. All of her children were "away" and she couldn't hear them. She was thankful but sad and very tired. 

Without thinking about what I was doing, I told her story out loud. I broke my promise to my Grandma. I didn't think about what I was doing until I got home. She needed so much for someone to know what she felt! I never thought about what the other two leggeds there with us would think of me. Her sadness was overwhelming. And I wasn't thinking. I was feeling and reacting.

And then the others began to come up, horses and dogs, cats. I was mobbed! We "talked", all of us. I only translated for a couple of the other horses. And I just never thought what the other people there might feel about me. I was so completely in my element and they were all having so much fun "sending" to me. Even the sad ones were happy to be there, glad they could rest a spell.

I was pretty tired by the time we left. They were all so adamant and excited. And I never thought about the promise I was breaking. 

When my friend and I got back home, she hugged me and said, " I didn't know you were psychic!" Uh oh. I froze. I'd forgotten. In the excitement of having so many new friends who needed to talk, to say thank you and "tell" me about their stories I had completely slipped. I'd let someone I'm only just forming a friendship with see my real self. Oh man.

So I said, " Please, don't tell anyone. People freak out when they know about this. I really don't like to let people know about this. " 

I don't think she will. But I forgot to ask the person who owns the rescue not to say anything. And she didn't seem upset when I told her what I was "seeing/hearing" from her horses. I'm afraid the cat is out of the bag, so to speak. And last night I slept better than I have in a long, long time. I was completely myself yesterday, no filters. It was such a relief! And I never thought twice about it either. Didn't notice until we got home and my friend called me psychic. 

Oh my. Now what? Again, I am licking and chewing and, MAJOR HUGE GULP HERE!, writing this all down and getting ready to hit that scary, hairy publish button. I have to admit my stomach is rolling around and my hands are sweaty. I'm liable to loose some friends over this one. Oh my.

I am, ever yours, Nancy, almost smiling and kind of shaky here (but, oh, how deeply and well I slept last night! That means something, right? I was just me yesterday, no hiding. I went to bed relaxed and comfortable in my "own shoes".)

I'm sorry Grandma ... but then, again, I guess I'm not.