Sunday, August 31, 2008

The End of the Road

Sorry, folks, but I've got to stop fooling myself. This blog endeavor is about over. For awhile it was nice to get my thoughts together on certain things and the responses I received were for the most part heartening. I laughed and learned and enjoyed all the blogs I read. You are friends to me and I will always remember you in my heart.

But life is too full for me to be spending lots of time on the Internet. And to be a good blogger, you ought to do your homework and offer something of value to your readers (I felt). But too much of my study was becoming "how to save a lot of money so the disaster won't affect you." And in the end I decided this was not the focus I wanted. I didn't want my focus to be too much on money and on the imminent [insert pet apocalyptic fear here], and not on God and my kids and making the best quality of life for my family.

I don't know what the turning point was. But reading Bud Macfarlane's novel Pierced by a Sword (available free from was a watershed for me. Here it was, all my worst fears--played out in a Midwest setting peopled with thoroughly Catholic characters. I lived my worst fears through that book, and I survived. I learned that what matters when the stuffin' hits the fan is not how much money you saved or how much food you hoarded, but how much you loved your family, and how much you loved and served God. And death is not the worst thing that can happen to us.

I love writing, and people have told me that I'm a good writer...but I'm still discerning how this gift of mine is to be used. I gave it to God with this blog, but maybe He's telling me it's time to shut it down and use it for something else. (and I will be trying to stay off the Internet for everything except e-mail, and the occasional urgent inquiry, so comments may not be responded to).

Sometimes you have to shut out the world, as much as you can, and just listen. I have been quiet enough to hear some things that seemed like maybe God was trying to tell me something. I'll share them with you:

1. Take every opportunity to empty yourself.
2. Fear sin more than any intruder.
3. You need never fear to place yourself entirely in my hands. I will always give you what you need to accomplish my will.

There's more--a little mission, if you will. I don't believe God is "talking" to me, exactly, but occasionally I feel my eyes opened to some truth that seems spiritually profitable. Always I am guided by what I hear at Mass, by what I read as the constant teaching of the Church, and the virtues. If I am ever in doubt, I reject the thought as soon as I can, and content myself with just listening.

We all have jobs to do for God. Some may not be very glorious, or notable (by human standards), but they are just as important to Jesus. Even our suffering (especially our suffering) bears the most spiritual potential and deserves a far more extensive treatment than I've been able to offer here. So here's to it--and discernment of our destinies. Thanks everyone and I love you.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Coin of the Realm

One of the things that makes being in the Midwest with my husband's family a pleasure is the ability to attend family events, such as the wedding we went to yesterday of cousin Jenny, the daughter of the last man in the family to own the family farm ("Did they get all the manure out from behind my ears?" she was heard to ask. She looked lovely.)

We went to church again today...and as I was looking up at the incredibly uglified high altar and trying to have these "deep thoughts" (which I kinda think might be as close as I can get to actually speaking with the Lord), I got this insight:

Some days I think I have it bad, sweating and swearing through the bad moments and then offering a quick Hail Mary and hoping I can get to confession soon. But I've never had to watch my child die. I've never been incapacitated by some illness or injury or been unable to feed or take care of my kids. Looking on the suffering of others, comforting pablum runs through my head--offer it up, offer it up--but never out of my mouth. I feel I cannot speak unless I have suffered much. We all suffer in various ways, large and small. The point I want to make is, suffering is not just some pitiful useless experience we have to endure.

In Catholic mysticism, suffering is the "coin of the realm" in heaven. So many people simply cry and curse their way through it. But we have the capacity to offer it to God and ask Him to use it for His will. The keys are, we have to accept it, we need to thank God for it, and eventually we will learn to praise Him and feel joy about it. I knew all this, but I didn't know what it looked like.

Now I know. We have these friends who live an hour or so away. They don't make much money, and they are used to living on a shoestring. Well, the four children in this family are--thin. Pitifully so. The mom is well-meaning, but she is trying to raise these kids on a diet with very little fat and meat. We went over there for the 4th of July and there was nothing prepared for lunch. Some confusion followed. We didn't want to impose. Should we run to the store? The answer: no. Our hostess began to rummage around in the fridge (no woman wants to receive company and not have something to put on the table). One of the girls asked, "Mom, what about the chicken?" "Daddy was hoping to get several more meals out of that," was the reply. Shocked, I stood stockstill and looked at DH, who only shrugged.

She brought out a scant pint of leftover baked beans, a bag of salad, and two fistfuls of grapes. There were six hungry kids sitting around the table, not including the adults. I put some beans in two bowls for my kids, and I realized I was taking food out of the mouths of her kids, so I tried to make the portions small. I even put a spoonful back (surreptitiously). At that point the baby was fussing so I took him upstairs. Getting down on my knees I held my well-fed baby and cried. "Lord, just get them some food. I will suffer for them. I offer my suffering. Just please get them some food." The day went on like everything was OK, but I felt like I was in an alternate universe.

We can't avoid suffering. It's all around us. Dean's grandparents birthed eight children on that farm and were dedicated Catholics to the end. But somewhere along the way (I realized) Anne must have lost a child. Whether through miscarriage or illness, that particular suffering has always been "baked into the cake" of womanhood. Hasn't it? I mean, every generation of women (with the exception, perhaps, of the last few generations in industrialized societies), in the absense of birth control, would have experenced a succession of births--most of which resulted in live offspring, most of which survived to maturity. However, the lost children would have haunted the souls of these mothers in every generation (today, abortion produces a parallel form of pain, but it is of a different stripe). My God, how did they endure the pain? I wondered.

I'm sure you know people like our friends, or they have other problems, and you can't say anything, and they live too far away for you to help. Now with these pictures in my head, the whole offering-your-suffering thing is very real to me. Of course, our souls are more important than our bodies, but bodies are very hard to ignore. It's clear now to me that the path ahead of us may be rocky...but God wills for us to be instruments for His will--if we are willing to accept the treasure of our suffering, not only with endurance but with joy.

Monday, June 30, 2008

In defense...part II

Nourishing Traditions is full of little gems. It is a big, thick book, rather like a telephone book in aspect, yet it is concisely (if not tersely) written. In an effort to save money, I went on the Weston A. Price Foundation web site and read the articles there, thinking that would be a substitute for buying the book. While some of the nutritional information is repeated, drawn from some very extensive articles which have been published on the web site and elsewhere, the web site is no substitute for the book. I actually went to a Barnes and Noble storefront and asked for this book so I could dive right in. Here are just a few fun facts you will learn:

1. Did you know that rats fed Puffed Wheat died in two weeks?

2. That mice who were fed corn flakes died sooner than mice who were offered only the box?

3. We drink skim milk in an attempt to lose weight, but farmers use skim milk to fatten hogs.

4. Children who are fed butter rather than margarine are smarter, better physically proportioned, and have fewer cavities.

5. "Vegetable oil"--the savior of western civilization--is rancid from the moment it is processed, and has to be steam-cleaned to get rid of the smell.

6. Did you know that, due to its highly unstable chemical composition, the fatty acid molecules in vegetable oil cause cascades of free radicals, which cause levels of cholesterol in the blood to rise?

7. And yet--rather than a destructive factor within the body, cholesterol is the white knight here--the true hero. It's like a tireless plugging and patching team that your body sends out in order to contain these free radicals. Cholesterol is an antioxidant!

8. Our body's cells are 50% saturated fat.

9. Saturated fat is the preferred food for the heart.

10. Unsoaked whole grains and unfermented soy products rob the body of minerals.

While the front matter in the book is pretty earth-shaking in terms of toppling most dietary shibboleths erected in recent years, the sidebar information as you go through the book is just as eye-opening. But let me deal with some objections I noted when reading Amazon reviews of this book. There are over 200 reviews, which says something about this book: it may not be on airport book racks, but people are reading it.

The NT way of eating is downright dangerous.
This is in the eye of the beholder. Most studies showing a decrease in heart disease deaths due to cholesterol-lowering drugs or diets show an increase in death rates from all causes. Which one are you going to take your chances with? Several well-done studies audited by independent researchers show no correlation between deaths related to heart disease or artheriosclerosis and the consumption of butter, eggs, and red meat. A few studies show that butter and saturated fats appear to have a protective effect.

What happens is that the government, the American Heart Association, the American Dietetic Association, and others (the Diet Dictocrats), cherry pick the studies they will publicize and which aspects of these studies the public will learn about--which the MSM then dutifully report to John Q. Public. Studies whose results seem to defy the diet-heart hypothesis are silenced, starved of funds, and ultimately shuttered. Hence you have people like my father-in-law who says he's not supposed to eat organ meats because they are high in cholesterol. There is absolutely no relationship between the amount of cholesterol in a food and the likelihood of it contributing to artheriosclerosis. The one exception is a form of oxidized cholesterol (present in powdered milk and powdered eggs, and in liquid lowfat milk), which did produce artheriosclerosis in rats. These are the foods we are supposed to eat to lower our cholesterol, and they actually contribute to heart disease!

Sally Fallon et al. have a thing against vegetarians.
This criticism was the most prevalent among the reviews. The reviewers were very emotional in their comments...but that should not be construed as reflecting an emotionalism (can I say that?) in the book. The book is unemotional. However, vegetarianism is the most deeply established alternate diet we have--many people are invested in it body, heart, and soul. I won't debate here whether vegetarianism is a good diet or not, but I will say that there are several points in the book where it's pointed out that pure vegetarian (vegan) diets are likely to contribute to a deficiency in fat-soluble vitamins (which come from animal products, primarily), some B vitamins and, if the grains/beans/legumes are unsoaked and unfermented, to the loss of minerals. Children in particular are profoundly affected by the lack of animal fat in the diet, and this is very sad to see.

On the other hand, a form of "vegetarianism" is followed in some cultures (more out of necessity than choice) which includes animal products in the form of eggs, raw and cultured dairy products, seafood, shrimp and fish eggs, and insects. These high-vitamin foods are sought-after commodities in these cultures, since they contain the all-important fat-soluble activators necessary for strength, long life, and healthy reproduction. The book notes that these more vegetarian cultures tend to suffer more from dental caries (as noted by Dr. Price) than others, but there are no diatribes against vegetarianism here.

The book is not well referenced.
I do not get this one at all. There are 63 footnoted pages of text explaining traditional foods, the role of certain substances in the diet (with an emphasis on fats), and the shortcomings of modern food processing and what can be done about it. There are 188 references listed in a separate section; most of these are research periodicals.

Sally Fallon is down on working moms.
"No one in modern America deserves more sympathy than the working parent on a limited budget....While it is not necessary to spend long hours in the kitchen in order to eat properly, it is necessary to spend some time in the kitchen. Simple, wholesome menus require careful planning rather than long hours of preparation...nutritious meals can be prepared very quickly when one lays the groundwork ahead of time. If your present schedule allows no time at all for food preparation, you would be wise to re-examine your priorities." There are two pages of simple hints and advice that anybody could follow.

Sally Fallon is down on moms who don't breastfeed.
"If, in spite of these measures, your milk supply is inadequate, don't feel guilty. Lack of adequate milk supply sometimes does occur, especially as baby grows and his appetite increases. You have done the best you could and your baby can still grow up healthy, strong and smart on a homemade, whole-food baby formula."

Soaked baked goods don't turn out.
There may be some credence to this criticism. I don't know all the recipes (there aren't many bread/baked goods recipes in the book). The one recipe I made produced some very decent sourdough bread. It turned out just as the book said--it was different, and boy was it sour! The good news is, you don't have to be a purist. Although refined flour is bad for the body, you don't have to eat it by the truckload. Making your own bread (even if it breaks the NT rules) is still better than buying stuff from the store; it's fresher, tastes better, and you can buy a bag of top-quality flour for the same price you'll pay for a loaf of the good stuff. If you do that, you will rely less on pre-made bread products for the foundation of your diet--lowering your overall intake of refined carbohydrates. Without all the flour-based products from the store, and with a few home-made loaves and a batch of cornbread or muffins now and then, your protective fats will take care of you.

Sally Fallon and Mary Enig reference their own works.
This is to be expected, after one has written a number of extended/scholarly works (which Mary Enig has done) and is now contributing to a book intended for a general audience.

The recommended foods/supplements are too expensive.
After reading The Maker's Diet, I had the same thought: how is everybody supposed to get a hold of raw milk and grass-fed meat? We don't all live in California and have Silicon Valley-sized incomes, bub. Don't even get me started on the supplements. This is not the case with NT. While it's true that if you want the ultimate cod-liver oil, it can get kinda spendy, the emphasis here is on putting the highest quality of food you can afford on the table. A philosophical shift might be helpful here. You will become convinced, reading this book, that the epidemic in degenerative disease afflicting Americans is due to our long-distance, highly processed mode of food production. A dollar spent today on high-quality food may save thousands in medical bills down the road. It is an investment, and you get to choose where you need to spend and where you can pull back. There are many, many simple ideas and techniques in the book that you can incorporate right now in your kitchen, lots of basic recipes and just a few key ingredients you can stock right away. Like lard.

The recipes/cooking methods take too much time.
This also would seem to be a criticism that sticks. But here again, we need to examine priorities. Do we really need to watch 3 hours of television a night? Do the kids really need to be trucking here and there to a different activity every afternoon/evening? Why can't Mom get some help in the kitchen? Perhaps the family needs to spend more time together, planting a square foot garden. Then everybody can get excited about eating food that tastes good and is good for you. And if all that Pollyannish stuff doesn't work out, Mom can just get sneaky. Pull out the margarine and substitute butter. Put liver in the tacos. Use brown rice pasta and less of it. More rice and potatoes and less bread. No more bottled salad dressing. Soak everything.

Personally, I used to stress about every meal when I first started using this book. Then I realized that if I just took 5 minutes every night to think through the next day's meals, everything went so much more smoothly. I could soak the oatmeal or the beans, get some stock going to simmer through the night, pull out meat from the freezer, or if all else fails, make a shopping list and figure out how I can procure the stuff I need. Sometimes it can be difficult to locate a crucial ingredient. NT has a Sources page that is invaluable, especially if you want to try making something exotic, like kombucha. The Internet, of course, offers a lot of different packaged goods. And then again, different areas of the country have access to different foodstuffs. I could go to Trader Joe's and Wild Oats in Washington but they don't have that here. On the other hand, I can buy meat and milk directly from a farm. And lard from local hogs.


This is long, and sometimes I wonder why I stay up to write about such things. Is a review of Nourishing Traditions really that important? I think it is, and I'll tell you why. Because when you read about Dr. Price and what he learned about the impact of nutrition on the body (not just the teeth), you will realize that being in the home, cooking fresh high-quality food for your family, is the most important thing you can do. All the things modernity has brought us, all the activities (for better or for worse) have tempted us away from the table and pushed us toward the TV tray. Fast, flash-frozen, microwaved meals and reheated pizza--no wonder we are all fat and exhausted. Cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke--they wait at the end of our lives for us and what can we do to protect ourselves? More immediately, when a child is born and the birth is difficult, or the child has physical problems, it is absolutely searing for the parents. When that child grows up and has allergies, learning disabilities, childhood diseases or cancer, everyone suffers. Poor nutrition in the parents is a death sentence for the next generation.

The health care crisis in this country has a lot of factors involved in it--but one of the most preventable causes, one over which we have the most control, is what we put on our table and what we put in our mouths. We have the power to heal ourselves and it is worth making it a priority. And, as housewives, we literally hold our family's health and well-being in our hands.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

In defense of lard

I was the Marion farmers' market this morning (which is about the size of two garages put together), and among the offerings, there was this lady selling antibiotic-free pork out of the back of a truck. While talking with her about the meat, I noticed she had a sign taped to her table. It said "LARD--$1.50 per pound--a natural, traditional fat". When I asked about it she said that somebody had once given her some red-and-white pamphlets and suggested that she sell the lard (which they were just throwing away). "I can't remember the group that it was for," she said. "The Weston Price Foundation," I supplied, being recently boned up on the subject. "Yeah, I think that was it," she said. Upon checking the cooler, she informed me that her son had left the lard at home. "Darn," I said. "It's like the Swiss Army Fat of the kitchen--I'll be back next week."

Lard keeps at room temperature, darn near indefinitely. It's cheap, it's chemically stable, won't rot your veins or your brain, you can fry anything in it and also use it in baked goods. And the taste is divine.

"But," you say. "It's LARD!"

Yes, this pantry staple of traditional kitchens has become something of a culinary curiosity in recent decades. Only your Aunt Patty and those Mexican people use lard anymore. A couple of grocery stores in our area (and there aren't many stores) don't even stock it. The version I eventually found includes hydrogenated lard, although it doesn't say how much. That kinda turned me off until I started cooking with it. I was so pleased that I moved the butter container over and placed it right on the counter. Still, I'd like to find a version from hormone-free hogs that didn't have that hydrogenated stuff in it. So I'll be going back.

Lard, butter, beef tallow, coconut oil, palm oil...these fair fats are so much fun to cook with, that if you get nothing else out of Nourishing Traditions, at least you will not believe those who attempt to demonize these fats. Cooking requires fat, OK? It doesn't matter what kind of diet you follow, but if you cook anything at home, you probably have some kind of fat on your shelves, whether it be Crisco, Imperial margarine, or "vegetable oil" (soybean oil). And--get this--our cells require fat. Yep. A dim memory surfaces...oh yeah...high school chemistry class in 1993, Nirvana all over the airwaves (and the clothes in the stores really sucked). The teacher was explaining how our cell walls are composed of "phospholipids" and only fat-soluble vitamins can get across that barrier. our cells are 50% saturated fat, says Mrs. Fallon and Ms. Enig. So the one thing we are not supposed to eat is--saturated fat! OK...but we're supposed to eat a lot of vitamins! Especially synthetic ones. Oh, and eat lots and lots of vegetables...for the vitamins! But don't eat very much fat. Not.Much.At.All. OK. What's the downside here? Well, for one thing, people don't eat vegetables like that. It gives us gas (did you sit behind us in chemistry class??). But here's the kicker: YOU CAN'T ASSIMILATE THE VITAMINS WITHOUT ADEQUATE AMOUNTS OF SATURATED FATS!

To be continued...

Monday, June 16, 2008

If you're going to panic...Part II

I love that line. That's what Mish says when he talks about the economic deflation we are all going to experience, like it or not. Whatever your flavor of paranoia (be it economic, religious, or political) now is the time to panic--lay in your supplies and order your self-sufficiency manuals. Because by the time everybody else panics, it will almost certainly be too late.

That sounds like hyberbole, but after the month I've had, the very air seems to drip with drama. And yet the very ordinary tasks of a household grind on. Nursing, diapers, fixing food, doing dishes, dressing little limbs and wiping little faces and hands--while trying to keep a grip on my own psyche--has become almost a tunnel of claustrophobic proportions. Back in Vancouver, it was OK. I had a full pantry. I had all the supplies. I had my routine, and I had my friends and neighbors to help. Here, I don't know anybody. I know few places to get things. Now the downtown and city services of our nearest sizeable civilization are paralyzed. My phone doesn't work. And if it wasn't for the Internet, I would be mad mad mad.

Wall-to-wall news coverage on the flood has ceased, for the most part. We can use our water freely again, at least here in Marion. I had to keep telling Carl to turn off "The Bachelorette" during dinner, just because he's used to having the TV on all day now. "That's garbage television," I kept telling him. "Aw, come on ducky," is his rejoinder, cribbed from the old version of 101 Dalmations. Since I can't think of an age-appropriate way to explain that people tongue-kissing in a hot tub is not good viewing material for prime time, I just told him that the emergency was over. Not true. In a very real sense, the emergency is just beginning.

How to explain? As if the recession/oil crisis wasn't bad enough (leaving religious theories of the end times completely least for the moment), I believe the next major crises to play out in America will be the declining health of our population--punctuated by hurricanes, fires, flooding, increasing violence and the occasional bridge collapse.

The health angle is one people are used to hearing about...usually in the context of the health care system. "The health care system is too expensive," say the pundits. "Too many people lack access to affordable health care insurance." Various theories are proposed to explain why this is so, from ballooning malpractice lawsuits and insurance costs, skyrocketing disease stats, and the explosion in the use of prescriptions drugs (not to mention that the largest demographic group in the history of the world--the Baby Boomers--are about to retire into a not-so-golden gloaming of economic uncertainty and mounting degenerative disease). What they fail to put their finger on is that people are sick.

The next big crisis, or "long emergency", is the lack of health. Not "health care", or access to health care "insurance," but just plain being able to get up in the morning, gather your thoughts, get out the door, work a job and live a life. You can't do that when you're sick. And people are getting sick in more ways and in greater numbers than ever before.

Imagine you are at a brand-spanking new Super Wal-Mart, and you're in the back receiving your first load of inventory. Five trucks are waiting before you. The first truck contains all the candy and sugary confections a child could dream of--everything from molasses to Peeps. The second truck looks familiar as contains refined white flour in all its forms, from Roman Meal Butter-Top Bread to Little Debbie Snack cakes to hundreds of boxes of cold cereal. The third truck is full of glistening gallons of pasteurized and homogenized lowfat white milk, and all the products created from it, tubs and tubs of cottage cheese, yogurt, sour cream, bricks of cheese. The fourth truck is entirely full of butter substitutes. The fifth truck is full of vegetable oil. That's it, just vegetable oil.

According to this book I've been reading, Nourishing Traditions, it's this food--this fake, "ersatz," steam-cleaned, extruded, rancid, processed-to-death food--that is killing us. Granted, we are slowly poisoning the earth. We are breathing chemicals, and eating chemicals. We are stripping our soil and loading it up with toxins. But nothing affects us as directly as what we put in our mouths. And while this might sound like a lot of other harum-skarum muckraking stuff you read, Sally Fallon and Mary Enig and their compatriots at the Weston A. Price Foundation seem to put it all together in an intelligible, not-overbearing and common-sense way.

I mean, Nourishing Traditions isn't a tell-all whistleblowing sensationalist barnburner. It's a cookbook. It shows you how to make soaked porridge and ketchup the old-fashioned way. It would never have been published without charitable contributions from family and friends. And Mary Enig herself, the scientist half of the equation, has grown old fighting the margarine conglomerates and food cartels, the government officials and American Heart Associations of the world to get the word out that not only are trans fats bad, they are in EVERYTHING, and people are eating a whole lot more of them than they think. This is finally getting out, as food manufacturers are forced to admit concessions (although they do this in as inconsistent and opaque a way as humanly possible). Sally Fallon, a former housewife, has taken up the crusade and does the bulk of the PR work, or so it seems.

Their message: Saturated fat is good for you! People have been eating animals for eons, but man has only recently discovered how to get "oil" from soybeans, and then "hydrogenate" it. When people ate 18 pounds of butter per person per year, we had a very low incidence of coronary heart disease, and zero myocardial infarctions. Now our consumption of vegetable fats has increased 400% and butter consumption has fallen to 4 pounds per person. Coronary heart disease now leads the list of causes of death in America, followed by cancer.

Saturated fat causes heart disease? The scientific evidence just is not there. The proof? The entities responsible for pushing the idea that saturated fat causes heart disease still have to put qualifiers on their messages: "A lowfat diet rich in whole grains and low in saturated fat and cholesterol may help reduce the risk of heart disease." Translation: there's a risk of heart disease but nobody knows what that is. The risk can be reduced, but nobody knows by how much. Adopting a spartan diet devoid of butter, animal products, nuts, natural oils, and meats may drive you insane with cravings but it "may help" reduce the nebulous "risk" that is out there. That one single statement has four qualifiers in it!

"Here she goes, she's on her bandwagon again!!" go the people who know me best. I know, I know, I must be depressed. All this diaper-changin' and news-watchin' has addled my brain. OK, OK, if you really don't want to hear this, punch the snooze button. Think Polly-annish thoughts and go on consuming this stuff. I do, mostly because it's impossible to avoid all of it. But people who come here deserve to hear something different from the MSM, don't they? That's why we have blogs and YouTube and stuff, right? I mostly became interested in this angle because of my poor allergic little guy, Tom. I really do think people make much ado about diet. But after my urgent care episode, I'm really concerned that I don't get sick again. So I continue to search for that ultimate reference, the unified field theory of food, if you will, that will explain so many perplexing questions.

Oh, I promised to get back to religion. "I really think Obama could be the Antichrist," my dad said when I called him last Sunday.

Heh. You thought I was paranoid.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

If you're going to panic, panic before everyone else does's been quite a month. On May 14, we were still in our house in Vancouver, Washington, preparing for a cross-country move to the Cedar Rapids area. We left the evening of the 18th. The neighbors threw us a barbeque and even gave us a card, signed by all the families we knew. I didn't find the card and read it until we were in Iowa, surrounded by the chaos of half-unpacked boxes and family and friends coming and going. I wanted to cry, but after a four-day trip across country, I had no emotions left.

Then the tornadoes hit. Our new house (which I love, by the way) was surrounded by crashing lightning, booming thunder, and wailing sirens. There was a couple of nights where we could hardly sleep for the noise and light. It looked like a strobe light was going off outside our house. Then we discovered two cracks in our basement (which turned out to be very minor, thank God--but it was still unnerving to move into a house and discover any need for immediate repairs). Dean rushed out and bought a weather radio so we could keep informed while huddling in our cold, unfinished basement. "Welcome to the Midwest," our friends joked. The damage reports from the tornadoes, while they did not hit our immediate area, were of course not funny.

Then that spate of storms passed, and everything seemed OK again. We continued to unpack, and took a couple of day trips to visit Dean's parents and old friends. I was hitting all the garage sales I could, seeking replacements for all the items we had had to leave behind (thank you Joe and Angie for putting up with that!). We made arrangements to repair the basement and were busy getting digital phone services hooked up. The day after the basement was fixed, rain poured down again. There was a flash flood warning for Cedar Rapids.

Then everything kind of went quiet. The rain came down. The thunder boomed and the lightning flashed. No sirens. I flipped on the TV halfway through that Thursday looking for weather updates, and I didn't see anything but ordinary TV. We don't live in CR, by the way. We live in Marion, a small town to the NE of Cedar Rapids, with its own history and its own services, and its own life.

We had seen some sandbagging going on downtown on Tuesday. We swung through the area to file for our Homestead exemption and to pick up a bundle of meat from Polehna's Meat Market, in the Czech village, a block-long string of shops capped off by the Czech and Slovak Heritage Museum. We drove back across the bridge and took a wrong turn, upsetting some people who were assisting a sandbagging effort in a neighborhood close to the river. We must have looked like utter cads, with our maps and sunglasses, carelessly barrelling around an area that people were very concerned about.

But by the evening it was obvious that things were going south real fast. The water was rising, and it didn't stop until--and this shocked me the most--the island upon which our government buildings sit, the building in which we filed our exemption, the little meat market, and that unfortunate neighborhood was completely covered with water.

More to come...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Much Ado about Diet

[I think I'll dispense with the original title of this post, which was "Wacky Way to Save Money #7: Eating Cat Food" (Betcha thought I'd have abandoned this whole wacky way thing back in November...nope...I'm way too stodgy and Germanic for that...I've also had my sense of humor surgically removed without my knowledge, says my husband. Oh, no, it was bred out, says I...long about the time the Reformation hit).

The post in a nutshell was going to say, go read the ingredients in your pet's food bag, realize that those are actually the cheapest and healthiest things in the market, and stock your pantry with those. Well, I was wrong, so let's move on (Whew! Dodged that one!).
So--on with the actual post!]

Our cat is fat.

So fat, in fact, that every person to visit our house in the last year, be they friend or family member, has remarked, almost without variation in diction, "That is one fat cat." My response is usually something like, "Oh, we've tried to put her on a diet..." to which one friend of the family deadpanned, "Too late." Well...what is she eating?

I checked the bag: Chicken, chicken by-product meal (yum), corn meal, corn grits, chicken meal, dried beet pulp, dried egg product, natural chicken flavor, sodium bisulfate, potassium chloride, fish oil, DL-Methionine, brewer's dried yeast, choline chloride, calcium carbonate, vitamins [list of vitamins]. Yeah, that's the reaction I had. Not much of an article. Then the whole idea got shelved for awhile, 'cuz life got busy (as it always does). But there's nothing like chronic pain to get your attention.

I thought it was just the typical late-winter cold. Heck, I might even have had the flu. I certainly wouldn't have noticed the difference. I just felt old. Stiff, sore, creaky, cranky, perpetually fatigued, with sore places in my teeth, back, and knees. Now granted I wasn't doing anything to help my health. I was staying up late on the Internet, eating all the calories I could get my hands on (to feed the baby), and just trying to get my work done around the house. And while I'm not overweight, I sure felt bloated, even after a BM. Constipation had become my constant companion, and with the onset of seasonal allergies, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. Then one day the chest pain hit. Oh, crap, I thought. What the heck is this pain?

It bothered me so much, I parked the kids with sweet Rachel (who is surely some angel sent from God, in the form of a friend), and went to urgent care. They took blood, did a chest x-ray and EKG. Everything turned out normal. We discussed gall bladder disease (since my husband had had that, and the pain didn't start until I ate a loaded-with-hydrogenated-fat turnover from the store), which tends to hit women after they've had a few kids.. But I can't say I was convinced. Perhaps this was some kind of stealth angina. It surely wasn't in my head. I felt like I had a box on my chest, and the feeling didn't go away in a few hours or a few days.

The one person I hadn't talked with yet was my midwife (the one who says I gave Tom the milk allergy. Why's she always telling me things I don't want to hear? Like..."Push!"). She said my labs had always been normal, and poo-poohed the idea of gallbladder disease. "With all the allergies in your family, you might have a wheat allergy," she said. What? She then went on to describe how she and her epileptic husband had felt soooo much better on a wheat-free diet and he had even stopped seizing. Yeah, right, I thought. We had a good conversation, but I didn't give any credence to the wheat idea until the next time I sat at my computer and Googled "gall bladder disease." I read for about an hour but nothing clicked. The next day, I thought about how Mary had been right about the whole allergy thing and felt like a heel for doubting her. So I googled "wheat allergy," and then narrowed it to "food intolerance". What I found blasted my socks off, but as usual if I post all my newfangled ideas in one breath, as it were, I might phrase it the wrong way, or sound too credulous. So I'll think about it a bit more while I brew up my findings.


So now I've had time to think and, while I would prefer to get my thoughts down in a traditional, organized, scholarly fashion, I do most things on the fly nowadays, so here goes...

Food is important. I think everybody agrees on that. I mean, people in third world countries are starving because rice (and wheat) is so expensive now. And I think it safe to say that we rely on grains more than any other food source. After all, it doesn't take much space to plant a bountiful vegetable garden (at least, a square foot garden). And we would all benefit from having a fruit or nut tree in our yards. But who can grow wheat by themselves? I mean, don't we need wheat (and corn, rice, dairy cows, and soybeans) to live? Well, it's an open question.

Alert readers may have noticed me touting a three-to-six month emergency food pantry to economize on grocery bills. And while this all seemed like common sense to me, I didn't take into account varied diets and the importance to health of a variety of fresh food. I really don't want the lawsuits of people who've followed my advice and lived on shelf-stable canned food and flour that was at least three month old. There's more to this issue than saving money--however that might go against the (tightwad) grain.

After I had my pain episode described above, I found a particular diet on the Internet that helped me. And while I don't want to tout the benefits of one diet guru or philosophy over another, I found a high likelihood that food allergies were causing problems for more people in our family than just my son Tom. This particular diet requires the consumption of more fresh, whole foods, as do others that endorse whole foods, raw foods, sprouting/fermentation along with the shunning of all processed (read: shelf-stable) food that you buy at the grocery store. Which presents us with a problem.

What do you stock your pantry with, if you're dependent on whole/fresh/raw/otherwise perishable foods? My aim here is not only to minimize cost, but to maximize nutrition, as well as to provide a measure of security in tough times. Can any of these foods be stored? For how long?(This is just brainstorming here, so if you have experience in this area, please give me your suggestions):

1. Dried fruits, vegetables, and meat: Many whole natural foods can be successfully preserved by dehydration. Consider buying a dehydrator if you have abundant garden produce or a fruit tree.

2. Pickled or canned preserves and vegetable relishes (home canned, store-bought if necessary): Look for low/no sugar and no preservatives. Includes sauerkraut or other pickled greens. Organic would be great.

3. Whole grains: brown rice, wheat berries, whole oats, barley, lentils, and beans may be stored in a cool, dark, dry place, such as a root cellar. Soak overnight in warm water, then cook gently.

4. Frozen meats and stocks: Assuming you have an extra freezer, you can preserve many kinds of food, including raw nuts and seeds, extra loaves of bread, or specialty flours.

5. Certain fresh vegetables of the winter/root variety can be stored in the ground or in a cool, dark cellar: Such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, squash. I read somewhere that you can pack them in sand as well (A root cellar can be a waterproof garbage can half-buried in the ground and covered with leaves).

6. Specialty products: Such as powdered goat/cow milk, soy/rice milks in shelf-stable containers, baking mixes, spices and seasonings, chocolate, sweeteners, tea and coffee, etc.

Whew! That's a longer list than I expected. It seems that building a food pantry makes sense no matter what diet you're on.

One more thought about the higher cost of "healthy" food. Nobody wants to pay less for their food than me, I assure you. I've spent four years creating the ultimate tightwad-from-scratch kitchen. But are potential health problems worth it in the long haul? Were my food policies harming my family? Perhaps. By buying only what was on sale, clearance, or markdown, I was always buying the oldest of the old. I thought it couldn't be unhealthy because I was always cooking from scratch (or because I grew up on processed cheese and canned tomato soup). But since then I've widened my makes more sense to pay a little more now for the highest quality food you can find, rather than risk ill health, reduced quality of life, and higher medical bills later.