Monday, July 30, 2012

Why I'm Thankful for Social Media

A lot of people rant about how we're all addicted to social media.  Usually in a holier-than-thou voice dripping with derision about how they have better things to do and they're much too busy to post status updates, tweet, and blog.  For me, social media has helped me stay sane when my world has been in chaos.  I've reconnected with friends who have helped me in many ways, whether they realized it or not.

In the spring of 2010, I began to experience painful uterine polyps and fibroids which resulted in me becoming borderline anemic, which then led to my previously very active life becoming a very sedentary life-it wasn't unusual for me to stay in bed all day or to have to sit down in the middle of the aisle at the grocery store and cry because of pain.  I crave physical activity for my own mental well-being and without my almost daily runs, I ate more.  Thirty pounds goes on fast when you go from logging 30 miles a week down to ZERO.  I've now lost 25 of that 30 pound weight gain, since surgery in November and am running again.

At the same time as my physical problems began, my oldest daughter's mental health began to spiral out of control.  She'd been diagnosed with Depression years earlier but this behavior was something new and not normal.  I quit my day job to focus on getting her well.  We'd dealt with past suicide attempts and cutting but now she was not responding to rules or structure or meds.  By May she had a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder 1.  It seemed as if every week from April until August she or I had at least one doctor's appointment, if not more.  It also became apparent that even psychiatrists don't know a lot about bipolar disorder, which meant I read EVERYTHING I could get my hands on about it.  My coping mechanism tends to be to study obsessively.

Thank god for social media.  I learned I have a lot of former high school friends who have severe mental illnesses that they don't ever mention.  They were a great support for navigating the system and for letting me know what was normal and what was not. Others had gone through the same uterine issues and surgeries (yep, plural) I had and gave me lots of helpful information.

I don't candy coat my life on the Internet. I don't pretend I have the smartest, happiest kids/husband/life.  I try to be real without being too depressing, though there have been times where I have been very low dealing with daily stress.  Every time, someone reaches out and it helps.

There'd be no Cougar Camp if there were no Facebook.  Those weekends are something that I and the rest of my group of friends look forward to several times each year. Thanks ladies!

Some of you have changed how I approach life.  For example, I'm crazy for yoga now.  Up until May of 2011, I did yoga sporadically, mostly from DVDs.  My friend, Todd, pushed me into a regular practice.  He would not shut up about yoga in our emails.  He was having himself a yoga love fest in New Hampshire and blathering on about time "on the mat" and how you apply "what you learn on the mat to life off the mat", blah, blah, blah.  Except, he got me thinking that maybe if I tried just "one more class" I'd click with the teacher.  Damned if I didn't.  I practice almost every day now.  Yoga (and now meditation) have become my medicine. 

I decided to write this blog post while I was running this morning.  I'm in the middle of a 30 day gratitude challenge to myself and when I run (a moving meditation) and my mind goes blank, that's when I have clarity.  I began to think about those people who have helped me in big ways and in small over the past couple of years and wanted to say "Thank You".

So thank you friends, for the tweets, comments, and messages that have helped me get through some tough days.  I am forever grateful and hope that when and if you need anything from me, that I can do the same for you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Prepping for Climate Change and Extreme Weather

From the ICJ Project website
Depending on where you live, climate change will have different effects on your family.  A world that is warming results in extreme weather.  Do not confuse weather with climate (watch this short video on trend and variation. by the Norwegian program Siffer).  In the Midwest (where I live), climate change could result in a blizzard (weather), worse than you've seen that knocks out power for days or weeks.  The following summer, climate change could mean you experience wave after wave of extreme heat and drought (weather).  Tornadoes, floods, these are all things that may happen on a larger and more frequent scale.  Here in southern Wisconsin we are experiencing our second year in a row of dry conditions, except it is a severe drought this year coupled with dangerously high temps in the 90s and 100s when our average high is 82F. Next year could be normal, more of the same, floods or cooler than normal.  Since I do not have a crystal ball, I'm just doing my best to prepare.  I'm a beginner to "prepping" and learning as I go but I do know the following:

1.  Keep a supply of drinking water on hand AT ALL TIMES.  If extreme weather hits your area (like it did out east this summer ) and the power goes off, you will need at least a few days worth of water for drinking and cooking.  I fill old 2L soda bottles and freeze them as part of my supply.  These would also help keep my freezer cold in a power outage. You can also fill bottles with water, add a couple of drops of bleach and keep in a cool dark place for long-term storage.

2.  You will need food.  The easier to prepare, the better.  If the power goes, stores cannot keep food cold or run their computerized registers (a good reason to keep some money on hand).  Beans and rice and spices can fill stomachs easily.  Make sure your family will actually eat what you have and work on getting them (especially children) used to eating foods that are different NOW.

3.  In case of heat and power going off in cold weather, you'll need an alternative SAFE heating source to cook on and keep everyone (and your house plumbing) warm.  We don't actually have a secondary heating source yet, but I hope to get a wood stove in the next few years.

If you have no back-up heat, cannot leave your home, and must shelter in place, you can "winter camp".  In the warmest, most sheltered room (ours is in the basement), put up a tent.  Line the floor with blankets, sleeping bags and pillows and use everyone's body heat to keep a smaller area warm.  The room will insulate you from the outside walls of the house, which will insulate your room from frigid temps. For added warmth, heat large stones in that bonfire you hopefully built outside to cook on and at night, wrap the stones in thick towels and bring them inside your tent to radiate heat all night. 

4.  Install insulated window coverings on all of your windows.  Buy them or make them.  Aluminum foil on cardboard does a remarkable job of reflecting the suns rays away from your windows.  Thick curtains keep out sun in the summer and keep in heat in the winter.

5.  If you do not have AC during a heat wave, plan to take several showers or sponge baths during the day-especially before sleeping.  Sleep outside or in front of a window with a breeze when there is no power, otherwise USE A FAN.  Healthy people can handle very high temps every day if they can cool off at night while they sleep.  Mist your sheets and/or pajamas before bed-your body will cool off as the water evaporates.  Stay indoors or in the shade during the heat of the day, rest a lot, drink lots of water and eat lightly (digesting food uses up water).

There are lots of other things to keep on hand for emergencies (medicines, legal documents, phone numbers...) and plenty of web resources and books on what to do in case of longer emergencies or needing to leave your home. Here, I wanted to address what you can do, for your family, in your home, for short term extreme weather events.  I left out weather events that my area does not experience as I have no experience with those and there are other resources.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Harvesting Wheat By Hand

Last fall, I planted some winter wheat berries that I got at a local food co-op in a 4x8 foot raised bed and yesterday we harvested wheat.

As you can see, this is a human powered endeavor. Later, I learned how much those wheat stalks cut into your skin.  Next time I'll wear long sleeves and pants and avoid the abrasions!

Here, my husband is threshing the wheat or beating the snot out of the seed heads.  This tub didn't work as well and I ended up finishing the threshing in the orange 5 gallon bucket in the first picture.  I also ended up spraining/straining the ligament in my right rotator cuff because of the hard repetitive motion.  Now I have matching rotator cuff injuries.  Yay....

When I was done threshing, we were left with berries, chaff and some stalks.

Then we had to winnow the wheat.  Luckily it was a very breezy day.  Basically, you pour the berries and chaff from one container to another.  The breeze/wind will blow the chaff off and the berries will drop straight down.  We did this about a dozen times before deciding we had gotten all the possible chaff off.

What we were left with was about 3 pounds of wheat berries.  Before I use them, I'll need to rinse them and let them dry.  Skipping the rinse can result in a more bitter tasting product.  I don't have a flour mill, I'll just use my food processor for the wheat berries.  You could use a coffee grinder (but that's very tedious).

Growing and harvesting your own wheat is time consuming and a lot of physical work.  I've got a sore shoulder and my husband managed to remove a chunk of skin off of his hand with the machete while harvesting the wheat. Hopefully it'll all be worth it to eat a batch of biscuits and muffins made from our very own wheat.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Homemade Bread

I'm the baker in the house and my husband is the "cooker".  We each do what we enjoy.  Here's my recipe for bread loaves.  I bake 2 loaves each week at minimum.  Sometimes the 2nd loaf becomes the dough for cinnamon rolls.  All I know is, nothing beats the smell and taste of freshly baked homemade bread (and it's not that hard or time consuming-do it in the evening while you watch tv).  Plus, it's an excellent upper body work-out.
While loaves slice easier when cool-they taste best while warm.

2 pkg active dry yeast (or 4 1/2 tsp. of the stuff in the jar)
2 T. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
5 1/2 to 6+ cups of flour (use white, not whole wheat if you want loaves that look like loaves)
1 c. skim milk
1 c. water
2 T. shortening (relax, that's 1 T. a loaf )

Step 1:  In a large bowl, stir together the yeast, sugar, salt, and 2 c. of the flour.  Set aside.

Step 2:  In a 2-qt saucepan over low heat, heat milk, water and shortening until very warm (think hot bathwater). The shortening won't be completely melted and that's okay. The temp has to be hot enough to dissolve the yeast but not too hot (if it hurts your finger it's too hot) or it will kill the yeast and then you've got crappy looking bread loaves.

Step 3:  Use a mixer on low and beat the milk mixture into the yeast mixture until it's well-blended (about 30 seconds).  Increase the speed to medium for 2 minutes.

Step 4:  Add 1 c. flour.  Increase the speed to high and beat 2 more minutes.  This develops the gluten which forms the structure of the bread so DO NOT skip this step.

Step 5:  Stir in enough additional flour to make a soft dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl and can be handled. Depending on the humidity, I've added 4 1/2-5 cups at this point.

Step 6:  Dump the dough onto a floured surface-I use my giant wooden cutting board but you could use your counter.  Shape it into a ball and now you're ready to start kneading.

*KNEADING IS NOT HARD.  Ignore what your mom said.  She still makes Hamburger Helper and adds Cream of Mushroom to everything.  She has NO IDEA.

Okay, onto...

Step 7:  To knead, flatten that ball and fold it in half away from you and push/smush it down and away from you.  give it a quarter turn and repeat for 5-10 minutes (I usually just do 5).  Add flour by dusting your hands and the board and the dough as it gets too sticky.  After about 5 minutes, it's ready when it becomes smooth and blisters begin to appear just below the surface.

Step 8:  Grease a large bowl and put the dough ball into it, turning the dough once so that a crust doesn't form as it rises.  Cover it with a dish towel and let it rise until double, about 45 minutes.

Step 9:  Punch that dough in the center.  This releases the CO2 belched out by the yeast.  When the dough does it's second rise, it'll have a much finer texture than if you skipped the 1st rise and put it directly into loaf pans.

Step 10:  Gather the edges of the dough and make another ball.

Step 11:  On a lightly floured surface, cut the ball in half, form those halves into balls, cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

Step 12: For each ball, roll out into about a 12"x8" rectangle.

Step 13:  Tightly roll up the narrow sides, seal the seams and ends (and tuck the sealed ends under the dough log.

Step 14:  Put the dough, seam side down, into greased loaf pans and let rise another 45 minutes.

Step 15:  Bake in a 400 degree oven for 25-35 minutes.  They'll be done once they are browned and make a hollow sound when you knock on them.

Step 16:  IMMEDIATELY turn the finished loaves onto a cooling rack sideways.  You can rub some butter on top for a smoother crust.


Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins

Deliciousness and only 162 calories

These are my go-to muffins for any type of berry.  My sister brought me a container of blueberries and this is how I am using them:

1 T. soft butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup sour milk (just add 1 T. of vinegar)
1 egg
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup blueberries (or any berry or fruit)

Beat the sugar and butter with an electric mixer, about 2 minutes.  Add the egg and milk and mix well.  In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients and add the dry mixture to the wet but don't over stir.  Fold in your berries, fill your muffin cups, sprinkle a tiny bit of sugar on top of each muffin and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

Makes 1 dozen cupcakes with 162 calories each.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Thirty Days of Gratitude

I am oddly fond of personal challenges. I like having to hold myself accountable.  Structure and planning are good things in my life and I crave them.  I am a rule follower by nature.  My husband and many friends say that's my German Lutheran upbringing.  Or it's because I was raised in a house of order and structure. Whatever the reason, doing various challenges is comforting to me.

My next personal challenge is Thirty Days of Gratitude.  I am easily prone to bouts of "funks" as I like to call them.  Not clinical depression...while in my funks, I still do a ton of work and hobbies.  I'm still productive in a funk, but I'm not happy, I'm not relaxed, and I'm definitely not someone you'd want to be around.  I get like an angry Eeyore and that's no fun for anyone, least of all me.  It's my hope that by being regimented about my thinking, I'll be able to stop that self-defeating inner dialogue that I so easily slip into on a too frequent basis.  I want to be more mindful. 

What I believe gratitude is, at it's core, is being thankful for all experiences, both good and bad.  Gratitude reminds you of what's important.

Gratitude is NOT ignoring or downplaying problems in your life because others have it worse.  That is distraction and denial and that is not what gratitude is about, ever. 
What I hope to accomplish in these next 30 days is a chance to "rewire" my brain.  I'll spend the next month doing a lot of reading and meditating and I will try very hard during rough times to find something for which I can be grateful before letting negative thoughts intrude.

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”
–Meister Eckhart

Monday, July 9, 2012

Gardening in a Drought

In my part of Wisconsin, we are officially in a "moderate drought".  We've not had any significant rain since May (only .31 inches) and even my weeds are wilting and turning brown because of the drought and because of the obscenely high temps in the 90s and 100s.  The grass breaks when I step on it and large cracks can be seen in the soil, even in the lawn.  All of my fruits and vegetables are hanging on, barely.  They aren't producing much, but they aren't dying, either.  In order to keep them alive while I wait for rain, I am forced to water early in the morning or in the evening. All shower water is saved for watering my container plants. 

The importance of compost in my raised vegetable beds cannot be overstated.  Having soil with rich organic matter is the main reason why my plants are not dying and why I have only had to water every 2-3 days, even during high temps with very high winds.  I only wish I had more compost to put into my beds this fall.

Because this is the second summer of dry conditions in my gardens, it will be more important than ever to plant a green manure/cover crop on all of my garden beds this fall.  I want the soil that is there to stay there and I want the soil to get the added benefit of nutrients that come from the green manures.

The electric fence's timer was off earlier this week which means I lost all of my pole beans and salad greens to deer.  When everything in the large park next door is brown, they would logically want to eat my food.  Drought stunted plants don't recover from being nibbled to the ground by hungry deer.  It is beyond depressing to put so much blood, sweat and tears into a months long project to then have no rain for weeks and deer eat what's left.  I'm a depressing person to be around these days.

So this winter, I will be studying up on growing food in drought conditions, and hoping that next year will be better.