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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Real Beauty

I know it's been a while since my last post. Real life has kept me busy raising my daughter, Grace, and my pregnancy and birth of our second daughter, Elizabeth. I've not stopped asking big questions, though. Nor have I stopped collecting ideas, facts, and opinions.

I spent several months of my pregnancy living in a women's shelter - my hormonal surges were unmanageable, when coupled with the stress of daily living and first-world economic hardship. I needed help and support to keep from repeating the cycle of violence I was taught from an early age. I wanted to feel the beauty of life, and not the hardship, but I was completely imprisoned by imaginary chains. So, I ended up entering a different prison altogether - one where I had many fewer choices, but in other respects many more freedoms.

I learned so much from that experience, I could write a book about it. Maybe, one day, I will. I was surprised that I missed very little from my home. The things that I thought I had to have to be comfortable became completely irrelevant. The only thing I missed was cooking my own food. During my pregnancy I had to manage my Type 2 Diabetes with insulin, and had a difficult time maintaining my blood sugars. Without control over my daily diet, it was nearly impossible to keep from having spikes and plummets. One afternoon, I woke from a nap with a headache, and found myself with a blood sugar of 47. A few points lower, and I would have lost consciousness. There's no greater panic than knowing if I didn't act quickly, I could die. And believe this - finding even a piece of hard candy when living in a shelter is not an easy task.

Because I was living in a shelter, I minimized as much as I could from my daily routine. One thing you discover within the first few minutes of entering a shelter is that whatever you have with you is likely to be taken. You cannot turn your back for more than a minute, before whatever you'd had in your hand disappears. In a shelter, you're surrounded by people with different habits and lifestyles and values - many of whom learned the hard way that they had to take what they needed or wanted in order to survive. You can't take the thievery personally - because it's not about someone wanting to hurt you. More often than not, it's about fulfilling a chronic emptiness that is often grown from the abusive relationships that brought the women there.

I was fortunate that I was still able to go back to my house and get things I wanted. I didn't have to rely on whatever products were given to the residents. I lived with a single bar of Ivory soap the 5 months I called the shelter my home, and used organic shampoo and conditioner I'd bought on clearance at a local wholesale store. I'd been in the habit of washing my hair about once or twice per week and rinsing with my every-other-day shower anyway; once I lived in shelter, I discovered I could function just fine (without stinking) with washing my hair once per week, and showering twice a week. My scalp issues continued to clear up, and my skin didn't get it's typical dry, scaly, am-I-human-or-am-I-a-fish appearance I get every winter. I still was plagued with eczema-like patches on parts of my body, but otherwise I glowed. I wear pregnancy well.

I came home shortly after Elizabeth was born. It only took a night or two to realize that the shelter would make exclusively breastfeeding her nearly impossible. I also knew I would not get restful sleep, which I desperately needed. I wanted to go home, I was finally experiencing the "nesting" that happens to many women when they become mothers. I knew I was going to miss community living - I have not had as much love or support from others as I did when I lived in the shelter. The first two months back home were very hard and I did think about going back to the shelter several times. But I was most grateful to be able to return to my kitchen.

My recovery from the birth was much harder the second time around. One issue that plagued me during my time in the shelter was severe heartburn and digestive problems. Early on, I'd gotten ill with a virus with severe nausea and vomiting. My body had a hard time recovering from that, and I think I am still trying to recover. Any pregnant woman will tell you that the digestive system has a rough time with the hormones - and the physical changes to the anatomy help none either. Constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, flatulence - all are common during pregnancy and there's no one cure. Except, I was frustrated since I know that what I was eating was playing a huge role in my discomfort.

Since then, I'm thinking more and more about solutions. The time in shelter helped me clearly articulate what it is that I want for my daughters and myself. I want to feel good in my body. It's less about how I appear to others, and more about how I feel inside. As long as I can remember, I've felt ugly and disgusting - even when I was neither. My first "diet" for weight-loss happened when I was 7 years old. To think about that now, I am completely blown away. That is not a recipe for a beautiful woman. As a teen, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - and it's taken me over 20 years to figure out that the severe fatigue and pain I've had over those decades are a sign of toxicity and malnutrition. So, each day I ponder solutions to the problem, "How do I feel beautiful?"

Last night, I made my own shampoo after a two-week stretch of not washing my hair. I didn't go without the washing to clarify or detox or any noble reason like that. I just haven't figured out how to squeeze it in to my schedule - or, in other words, I've been lazy. My hair isn't dry yet, but so far it looks and feels soft and shiny. Hopefully it will stay soft, shiny and manageable, and I can forever say goodbye to one of the last remaining beauty products I use - shampoo. It's one small step towards my goal of sustainability.

I'm also reading more about the things in our food supply that make what most Americans eat not just bad for health, but disastrous. I'm making a commitment to stop buying products with the chemicals, sweeteners, stabilizers, enhancers and returning to nature. For me, it means not looking for "All-Natural" on a label. It means going out into my yard and looking at the plants I have there.

We have fig trees, I don't know if the leaves are edible, but I aim to find out.

For more reading on "Real Beauty" I've been digging through these blogs:

I'm also writing a cookbook. As the recipes are tried, I'll post them here. It's all about REAL FOOD. Real life. Real beauty. Real love.

Peace, my friends.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Real Life

There's something about being a parent that changes the world. Everything takes on a slightly different shape and color. The world becomes bigger than you can imagine - yet - everything boils down into some very small things:

1) life is dangerous
2) life is full of very simple joys.

As I watch my daughter, Grace, explore the world around her, the things that used to get me all riled up barely phase me anymore. It's my job to make sure she's able to do one thing in life - learn how to survive without killing herself or someone else. Simple enough, right?

I'm more careful now than I ever have been before. Honestly, I've lived my life pretty recklessly; I'm lucky indeed to be alive at age 38. In the vast history of humankind, I get to count myself as one of the lucky ones to have lived past 30. The health problems I have are largely due to the effects of luxurious living. From a historical perspective, I have lived a life of relative luxury.

Yet, I have spent a lifetime bathing in petroleum products. I've continuously assaulted my body with petrochemicals, organic chemicals, and inorganic compounds. I've hurled my body at high rates of speed and then crashed it into objects - while driving my car. All that rapid transit sure does hurt the body when it comes to a sudden halt. I never used to think about that until I became a mother.

I want my child to bathe in a future full of purity. I would rather my daughter grow up in a world where she sees only the love, and none of the pain. I know that I can't keep her from ever getting a scrape, but I'd like to do whatever I can to make sure she has softer landings.

The thing that is hardest for me is realizing that there are still too many who do evil. Some people would hurt my child - just because they can. They feed upon the power it brings them to take from her. That's what I get about the Occupy movement; it's a bunch of folks standing up and saying, "Stop feeding on us."

The trouble is, though, that it all starts within. You can't get rid of the garbage until you see it. It's a hard thing to do - learning how to identify garbage. Looking at my daughter, it gets easier. All I have to ask myself is this: "Is this something I want her to think is normal?"

What do I want her to think "normal" is? In the way we treat each other, in the way we live - day by day. Is living a life of affluence really what I want her to have? Or is it possible to have both simplicity and affluence at the same time?

I'm not sure what the answers are, but I'm certain that the answers are NOT in petroleum. I'm thinking there might be some good answers in the Bible, the Torah, the Quran, the Bhagavad-Gita, and in the myths of the Tribal elders. Even the Greek gods taught us not to take what wasn't ours, and to not let ourselves think that we are gods. Pride goeth, etcetera.

I'm in search of a real life, one that's not coated in plastic, fake, materialistic, empty-calorie sludge. I want my daughter to know the sense of accomplishment of creating something beautiful from her own mind - rather than following a pattern printed on a kit made in China. I want her to continue to find joy every time she explores her world.

God gave us Eden. We screwed that one up big time. When Christ came, he gave us Earth.

Now what?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Real Water?

I'm watching Frontline: Poisoned Waters on Netflix Watch Instantly. [Nowadays, outside of written material, it's the only contact I have with "The Media." I stopped actively watching television in 2001, following my cancellation to cable services.]  The first 40 minutes have been devoted to large-scale industrial/commercial chicken farming, and the effect the pollution from livestock waste has on Chesapeake Bay. For those of you who don't know where that is, it is the largest estuary in the United States and borders Maryland and Virginia. [Chesapeake Bay Map] There's a lot of industrial waste that comes from as far north as New York and Pennsylvania, and most of it is from livestock. It has poisoned the waters of the bay, hence the chilling title.

The condition of the world's water supply is alarming. Much of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians boils down to a desperate need for water. Most of the water on the earth's surface is locked up - undrinkable - in its oceans.  Even that is becoming alarmingly polluted as evidenced by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the garbage patches that exist in the Atlantic and Indian oceans. Thousands of people die each year due to polluted waters - as in the 2008-2009 Zimbabwean cholera outbreak. Oh, but is it more than thousands of people dying?

What's the real cost of the way we're living? As I sat here watching this program, I had the thought that we should be able to go outside and get clean water. For free. We've sacrificed a basic human right - the right to one of our most basic needs - clean drinking water. I can't get clean drinking water without making a purchase, either through fees paid to the city for water treatment for the water that comes from my faucet, or through the fee directly paid to a retailer for the water they have bought from somewhere else.

I think back to the books I read and loved as a child - all penned by Laura Ingalls Wilder - and think of the manner of living in her life. Water was important for those early settlers, but even they were able to collect rainwater for bathing, cleaning, and drinking. Would you want to bathe in rainwater you collected today? Or how about drinking from water that you collect from a river or a stream? No?

Would you go take a sip of the Big Muddy?

I'd pass on that one, too. That's not real water.

There are sustainable solutions for our water problems. Solutions that don't require massive amounts of chemical processing. Mechanical filtration with activated carbon, for instance, goes a long way to solving some of the safety concerns with tainted water. I heard about a man in Africa, he makes ceramic vessels that filter the water, they're dipped in colloidal silver solution which serves as a disinfectant. The water that comes out is 98% free of contaminants.

Better still, isn't it a more valuable solution to stop polluting the water supply?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Rosedale Farmer's Market

Every Sunday, rain or shine, from noon until 3PM (at the corner of SW Boulevard and Rainbow) there is the fantastic Rosedale Community Farmer's Market.

Oh, the sights. Oh, the smells! I was immediately attacked by the smell of fresh basil. There are few things in this world better than fresh basil... but wait, there are organic peaches? They're from Georgia, but hey... Oh My Goodness! There's a couple over here, Ariel and Robin - they're making local organic sourdough bread... they don't add yeast, they air-ferment their bread. That was one of the best pieces of toast (with fresh butter) I've tasted in years!

I met the delightful Joe - who appears to be one of the RFM organizers, he immediately frisked me off into the kitchen to taste turnips and peas. They've got cooking demonstrations every week - so that the shoppers at the market can taste some of the best fresh local green cuisine in the world. I've been recruited to be one of the green "chefs" to cook and teach in August. This is one step closer to my dream restaurant.

Channel 5 news was out with their reporter and camera crew. I wonder what they're saying about the Rosedale Farmer's Market? Good things, I hope. These folks are passionate and friendly!

The best part of the Rosedale Farmer's Market, though, were all the people walking around in these bright green and orange t-shirts which say, "Beans and Greens." What's that all about? The Kansas City Star's press release explains it all. You can use your food stamps (now called SNAP - supplemental nutrition food program) to buy produce at select farmer's markets across town. Not only that, but users get a two-fer with their purchase! So, buying fresh organic food doesn't have to cost you - not if you're going to the farmer's markets who will take your Vision Card (Kansas) or Quest Card (Missouri).

Someone somewhere realized what I figured out the first week I worked as a social work intern - there's no way for poor people to live a "healthy" life when what they get from the food bank is not real food! They get food that's highly processed, loaded with sodium, chemical preservatives, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and more additives than silly-putty. A man with chronic high blood pressure is given in his monthly commodity bag: 2 packages hot dogs, 2 lbs. bologna, American cheese food product slices, a dozen cans of canned beans, corn and peas, white hot dog buns, white bread, crispy rice cereal, a bag of tortilla chips and a jar of salsa. *blink* You're kidding, right? That's supposed to be food?

Not to mention, food prices at the market in poor neighborhoods are often higher than in the suburbs, while the quality of the produce and "fresh" foods is much lower. In fact, I used to know a man who delivered food to the supermarkets on the big refrigerated trucks. He told me what I'd wondered for years - they deliberately put the worst, most rotten foods on the trucks going to the worst neighborhoods. He said, "The companies know where that food is going. They know that if we send the wilted lettuce to the 'burbs, the store will reject it and send it back. So we put that stuff on the truck headed for the projects. They never turn back the food there. They take what they get."

It's a good day when I hear that someone, somewhere is paying attention. Poor people don't deserve rotten food. They should have the same freedom you or I have to select fresh, ripe, wholesome foods that are grown by people and not by chemicals. Poor people deserve real food, and they deserve to know that they can grow their own real food. They don't have to swallow the poison we try to feed them - and now local programs are working together to make good nutrition more possible for the most disenfranchised people out there.

So, spread the word: take your food stamps to the farmer's market. Buy real food.

I'm off to roast some turnips and crookneck squash, seasoned with fresh basil and onion.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Real Food?

What's this all about? What do I mean when I say "real food"? Why would I start another blog?

I was at BadSeed Farmer's Market visiting with Paul and Judy Miller of PJ's Emporium Inc. (they grow oyster and shitake mushrooms and raise free-range organic brown eggs), and I was asking about their chickens. I commented, "Oh, so you have real chickens." Judy, understandably, looked confused. I went on to explain that from my point-of-view, commercially-raised chickens are not "real" chickens. Real chickens prance around a farmyard and pick at insects, grains, and foodstuffs from the ground. They cluck. They have (to some extent) personalities.

It's the difference between this:
And this:

Hopefully, you can see what I mean when I say "real chickens."

Human beings cannot survive without eating food. Sadly, we have not yet evolved to be as plants are,  with the ability to photosynthesize and obtain energy directly from the sun. We must eat fruits, plants, and animals. There's no way around that. I tell my students, "If it doesn't look like a fruit, plant, or animal, then it is NOT REAL FOOD."

Real food does not come in a box or a bag or a bottle.

Real food comes from the ground, from a tree, from a living and breathing organism.

Real food does not need to be processed. Real food needs to be prepared. That means you clean it, you cook it, you eat it. Sometimes it means you have to crack a shell or two - like on nuts and eggs. It's not rocket science! Real food is easy. Tasty, too, when you know how to cook.

I stopped for a snack from the gas station, and I was trying to find something that had ingredients that I knew what they were without a lot of thought. I found three things there that qualified: kettle cooked potato chips (potatoes, oil, salt), fresh fruit, and milk. That's all I found. Everything else I looked at was full of mystery ingredients: disodium inosinate, sodium orthophosphate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), disodium guanylate. Huh? That seems like a lot of sodium - but it's not salt (NaCl). Whatever is in those products is not real food.

Not only is that stuff not real food, I don't know where it comes from or how it's made. The best meals of my life were eaten as I sat at the rickety formica table on my Great-Aunt Olive's farm in southern Indiana - where each vegetable came out of her garden, and the meat came from my Great-Uncle Charles' farm. Yes, I had known Fric and Frac when they were but young calves; I'd even fed them a bottle of milk or two. We had some delicious steaks and pot roasts as a result of those two heifers. I know exactly from where that food came. I know who picked the vegetables. I know who slaughtered the cows. I know how my food was prepared, and who cooked it. It was REAL FOOD.

With many people's minds on the seemingly endless stream of petroleum pouring into the world's waters, people are starting to talk about the environment. Many experts say it is too late.

The use of pesticides and herbicides is rampant in commercial agriculture. We've developed a dependence on monoculture, rather than diversity in our food crops. In fact, it is almost impossible to buy seed corn without having to purchase GM corn that can only be grown in conjunction with the use of pesticides! When you take a look at how pervasive the use of corn is in modern foodstuffs, that should be somewhat alarming. GM corn is not real food.

I am on a mission. I want to eventually wean myself off of any and all processed "food" - which,  frankly, isn't food. Food has flavor that's not added or enhanced by chemicals. Food provides nutrition and not just empty calories. Food has enzymes which help us digest, nourishes us, and (surprisingly) makes us perform better. I want to know where every morsel of food that goes into my body comes from.

I have dreams of an all-organic farm community, where life revolves around the seasons and weather. Where we eat often and well, and delight in sharing the gifts of the earth's bounty with others. I have visions of an organic restaurant/café where the patrons regularly boast, "That's the best food I've ever eaten!" I will simply smile and say, "Of course it is. It's real food."

Some people might call me crazy, impractical, or quixotic. Maybe I am.

But I'm not wrong. Our future as a species hinges on our relationship to food. Until we've mastered that pesky photosynthesis issue - we should focus our energies on eating more real food - putting the power back in our hands, and returning to the origin of all we are.