Friday, May 28, 2010

This Moment: Prom

No words, just a moment from the past week that I will forever cherish. Inspired by SouleMama (thank you, Amanda!).

Dancing shoes

Friday, May 21, 2010

This Moment: Empty Cocoon

No words, just a moment from the week, held close to my heart. Many special moments being shared over at SouleMama this morning.

Empty cocoon

Monday, May 17, 2010

Combating Illness With Food

Many of us eat with healthfulness in mind, choosing foods to nourish our bodies and promote our good health. But have you ever tried to use your diet to actually fight a disease? I have, and despite my extreme skepticism, it worked. So I now feel compelled to share this experience, in case anyone else out there is hitting the same brick wall I was in battling a chronic condition, and wants to try a new strategy.

Nourishing food

A little background: I have psoriasis. Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition where inflammation of the skin often results in raised white "plaques". Basically your skin keeps thinking you have an injury and starts making new skin cells like crazy to repair it, but since there is no injury, the skin cells just pile on top of each other. If the plaques cover a large area, they can be extremely uncomfortable, and sometimes painful. They are also frequently itchy. And, let's face it, they're unsightly. Having large patches of white skin, usually on an inflamed red background... yeah, not the look most of us are going for.

Some people with psoriasis also develop a form of arthritis called psoriatic arthritis. (Lucky me!) The symptoms are similar to rheumatoid arthritis -- joint pain, swelling, and stiffness that flares up and subsides in cycles. I have it in my hands, my shoulders, and my feet. Most of the time, it doesn't affect my life that much, except when I get a bad flare and can't use an arm for a week or two. And the fact that I can no longer open jars. Handwork (knitting, embroidery), which I very much enjoy, is now routinely painful -- but I work through it.

About a year ago, I had a really bad flare-up in my shoulder that was agony. I couldn't use that arm at all, and the pain was excruciating. I went in to see my doctor for a stronger anti-inflammatory medication, and during the course of the conversation, she suggested an anti-inflammatory diet.

I did a little research on anti-inflammatory diets, and, while there are many approaches, the basic formula seemed to be a diet of whole foods including whole grains, cutting out chemicals and processed food as much as possible. Hey, it couldn't hurt, I thought. Seriously, this isn't some "eat only watermelon for a week" goofy diet, this is a pretty non-contraversial healthful approach. So I took it one step at a time, and slowly started changing my eating habits.


Step #1: Cut out aspartame. I was drinking a fair amount of this, not just in diet soda, but in a diet iced tea I really liked and bought in bulk. I cut it out cold turkey and have not had any aspartame in almost a year. And those headaches I used to get all time? Gone. Just sayin'. I know a lot of people who have discovered they have a sensitivity to this stuff. Cutting it out was easy and I saw almost immediate benefits.

Step #2: Cut out high fructose corn syrup. OK, this one was harder. Way harder. Do you know how much stuff has HFCS in it? Did you know it was in peanut butter? Jam? Maple syrup? Ketchup? Every single processed food in the grocery store??? But I did it. I'd say I've cut out 99% of the HFCS in my diet, because every once in a while I still do have a little soda, and it's very hard to find soda with neither aspartame or HFCS. But for the most part, when out at a restaurant, I drink unsweetened iced tea. And over time, I've lost some of my taste for sweetness. When I do have a sip of a regular soda, it seems so overpoweringly sweet to me that I can't believe I used to drink that stuff all the time.

Step #3: Cut out processed food, especially refined grains. This is where I am right now; this is my current work-in-progress. I have cut out much of the processed food from my diet, and am eating whole grains more often than not. I see it as a continuum, and I am moving in the right direction, so I'm not going to beat myself up about eating a processed cracker or store-bought granola.

So, since I embarked on this journey almost a year ago, where has it gotten me?

A year ago, my knees were covered with psoriasis, as were my elbows. I had a large noticeable patch on my forearm, and I had recently developed a large patch on my leg. I had tried all manner of prescription creams, and never found much success from any of them. When I started this whole diet thing, I stopped using prescription medication for my skin at all. All I did was moisturize heavily twice a day, every day.

Cleared psoriasis

Today, you can see an outline of paler skin where the psoriasis used to be, and a few tiny dots of remaining plaques. In some areas, the pale outline is the only evidence that there used to be psoriasis there. In the past year, 95% of the areas that had been affected by psoriasis cleared up completely. And people, I've been dealing with this condition for 16 years.

The arthritis is still there. Better, but still there. And that's what motivates me to keep going with this. The psoriasis is so easy to see... it is such a dramatic demonstration of the power of diet in controlling a chronic, inflammatory condition. And it has spurred me on to continue with this project and see if I can get the joint pain under the same kind of control. Because now, I actually believe it can happen.

Have you used diet to battle disease? How has it worked for you? I'd love you to share your experience in the comments. In the past year I have gone from skeptic to true believer, and it all just keeps driving home the same point that I keep coming back to everywhere I turn:

What we eat matters.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Letter Writing Week: May 16-22

Letter Writing Week

Are you ready? Have you collected some addresses? Find your stamps? Flexed your out-of-shape writing hand?

This week I have challenged myself to write one letter every day. Would you like to join in the challenge? You could just write a single letter if a letter a day seems too daunting. The point is to revive the seemingly-archaic art of writing a letter. I miss letters. So instead of sulking, I'm going to write some.

Maybe I'll even get some back.

Ready? Go!

Friday, May 14, 2010

This Moment: At the Beach

No words, just a moment from this past week that I want to pause, savor, and remember. Many lovely moments being shared over at SouleMama this morning.

Beach combers

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Arugula and Gruyere Pizza

Today we picked up our first CSA share -- so exciting! In our basket were such goodies as Swiss chard, radishes, strawberries, and armfuls of greens. The Swiss chard went into a frittata, the strawberries were quickly gobbled, and of course I made a huge salad with the greens. But I decided that a single frittata and a salad was simply not going to feed us all, so I whipped up this pizza at the last minute, and ohhh man.

So without further ado, I bring you...

Arugula and Gruyere Pizza

Arugula and Gruyere Pizza

pizza dough
olive oil
2-3 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
a handful of baby arugula
about 1/4 of a small yellow onion, thinly sliced
a dash of Borsari seasoning (or just sea salt and pepper)
cornmeal for the pizza peel

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. While the oven is preheating, saute the onions in olive oil over medium heat, until soft and just starting to brown. Take off heat and set aside.

Roll out pizza dough (I use the olive oil dough from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, but any pizza dough will do) into a large circle. Dust a pizza peel liberally with corn meal. Put the pizza crust on the peel and quickly add the toppings (wait until the oven is preheated to start assembling the pizza).

Brush the crust with olive oil, then add a layer of the grated cheese. Arrange the arugula leaves around the pizza, and then add the onions as evenly as possible. Top with the rest of the cheese, and a dash of Borsari seasoning (or just sea salt and pepper). Slide onto a baking stone in the preheated oven, and bake for about 8 minutes. (If you don't have a baking stone, you can just make the pizza on a cookie sheet -- with either parchment paper or a silicon mat underneath -- and dispense with the pizza peel and cornmeal.)


Heavenly. Not your typical pizza at all, but absolutely delicious.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Let's Start a Letter-Writing Campaign

When was the last time you received a letter? Not a bill, not a catalog, not even a birthday card or thank you note, but a letter. A personal letter, written just to you.

When was the last time you wrote one?

The thing is, I used to write letters all the time. Long letters. Sometimes to people on the other side of the globe, and sometimes to people I knew I would see in school the next day. I loved writing letters almost as much as I loved receiving them.

Of course, now we have email. And texting. And Twitter, and blogging, and a million ways in which to communicate. So what's so great about a letter? Isn't it just an outdated mode of communication?

Today's letter

I could go on and on about why I think letters are so great, and how they fulfill a purpose that all our modern technology simply doesn't, but off the top of my head:

1. A letter takes effort. Some might say this is the drawback, but the whole reason why a letter carries more meaning than an email is because an email is too easy. It just doesn't mean as much to fire off an email to your grandmother as it does to sit down and write her a letter, even if the content were exactly the same.

2. A letter is tangible. Again, this might be seen as a drawback in our digital age. (I know the last thing I need is more paper clutter in my home!) But a personal letter isn't clutter. It is exactly the sort of thing that you want to hold in your hand, find in a drawer and read again. Recently I found a letter my grandmother had written me when I was getting married. I held it in my hands and knew that she had touched that paper, I saw her gorgeous penmanship, so much a representation of her elegant self. There is no way an email could have communicated that.

Old letter

3. Most letters are handwritten. When you see someone's handwriting, it is so much more an extension of themselves than their typing. And when we write by hand, somehow we seem to tap into more of our emotional interior than we can with a keyboard. Maybe because it reminds us of journaling, maybe because of the way the brain is wired, but I know that when I am writing by hand I am writing from a more personal place.

4. Letters are part of a long history and tradition. From the time human beings could read and write, they wrote letters to one another. They are their own literary form. Our modern methods of communication tend to truncate and dumb down our language and expression, whereas a letter allows us the time and space to step it up a notch. There are whole oceans of vocabulary that would sound ridiculous in a tweet, but that can make themselves right at home in a nice, long, reflective letter.

Book of letters

5. Writing a letter takes time, and uses your whole brain. This is one of the reasons we don't do it anymore, right? I mean, we're so busy these days, who has time to sit down and write a letter? Especially since you can't do it while multitasking. But this, to me, is a good thing. This is the sort of thing that we should take time to do. Turn off the TV, put aside the cell phone, and focus your thoughts on a single person and what you'd like to communicate with them. It doesn't have to be the deepest secrets of your heart, it could just be a recounting of your day or your week. But I can guarantee you that the quality of what you are communicating will be vastly different than what you would have texted them.

In this spirit, I'm launching a challenge. Letter-Writing Week! Next week, I commit to writing a letter every day. To my mother, to my old friend from grade school, to that English teacher I always meant to thank.

Want to play along? Who would you like to write a letter to? Whose day could you make? While you're at it, get your kids in on the action! There isn't a grandparent on the planet who wouldn't absolutely adore a letter from their grandchild.

So find your stamps, collect your addresses, and get ready! I hereby declare May 16-22 Letter-Writing Week! Are you with me?

And if you're in, please spread the word! Let's bring back letter-writing, before the postal service decides we don't need them anymore.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day = Planting Day

In my climate, the old-fashioned wisdom is that Mother's Day is the safe-to-go-in-the-ground date. (Also the day to put out hummingbird feeders!) I happen to know that many people ignore this guideline and plant things when it starts to get warm, which could be as early as mid-March. And some years, you'd be fine and have a nice long growing season. But some years, you'd lose it all with a late hard frost, and I'm just not that much of a risk-taker.

So yesterday was planting day! And since I am a mama and I got to do whatever I wanted yesterday, I spent much of the day in the garden.

These plants look pathetically tiny in their huge beds, but they will grow. They will grow.
I will it to be so.







Leeks. Are you kidding me? They look like tiny blades of grass, and they were started like a million weeks ago. This is not looking promising:


Broccoli. Oh man, please survive. These got heat-damaged a few weeks back. They're hanging on valiantly, but I dunno:


The pumpkin patch:

Pumpkin patch

And now for my favorite thing: the fairy fort. The bamboo poles and trellis form a kind of teepee, and planted all around are cucumbers and green beans. The idea is for them to grow up over the teepee, covering it and creating a leafy play house. We'll see if it works!

Fairy fort

Still need to plant my peppers in my front flower beds, and find a sunny spot for my sunflowers, but I ran out of steam yesterday. All in all, though, a perfect Mother's Day, and it is awfully exciting to see the raised beds full of plants and seeds. (Also direct-seeded yesterday were carrots, parsnips, and marigolds.)

So, how is your garden growing?

Friday, May 7, 2010

This Moment: Making a Froggy Friend

No words, just a moment from the past week that I want to stop and savor. Check out the other moments being shared this morning over at SouleMama.

Making a Froggy Friend

(Can you see the frog?)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Under Quarantine

I think I need a large BIOHAZARD sign for my front door. Between the evil pestilence of a stomach virus that just won't quit, a freak injury that has the eldest child hobbling around in a walking cast, and the crushing pressure of auditions and AP tests, I feel like we are under siege.

At times like this, it's important to keep things in perspective. I put on the following video the other day when I was trying to remind myself that, indeed, this too shall pass, and it's become the two-year-old's Favorite Thing In The Universe. How can marbles rolling down a wooden train track fail to make you smile? I think we've been watching this at least twenty times a day.

Meanwhile, I was over at SortaCrunchy today, whipping up a simple, thoughtful gift. Head on over to see more.

Ready to go