Monday, April 30, 2012

Confession: I'm Starting To Love Raw Beets

When I was little, my mom decided that the best way to deal with our family's low income was not to get my dad more career training, but for her to start working at cheap daycare centers. Of course that meant that while she was babysitting other people's kids, someone had to babysit my brother and sister and me. Thus, my siblings and I spent a good portion of our childhoods at the cheap daycare centers. It was in these shacks full of unhappy children and impatient women that I was first introduced to beets. Canned beets are a cheap food, so they were found in abundance at meal times, even though no one wanted to eat them and the bright red, denatured vegetables always ended up in a bucket with unwanted milk and peas. They smelled gross, looked gross, and tasted gross. I thought I would hate beets for the rest of my life.

Then Malamute started eating raw when I was pregnant and he brought beets home from the grocery store and started putting them into smoothies. I thought beets tasted like dirt. It wasn't until after Duckling was born and I tried Agi's Raw Foods Ginger Beet Flaxseed Crackers that I found anything with beets that I thought tasted good. Slowly, I began to like roasted beets with spices. Then a couple of months ago, we started drinking Green Smoothie Girl's Hot Pink Breakfast Smoothie. Those Hot Pink Smoothies were good. Last week, I found myself craving Hot Pink Breakfast Smoothies and especially looking forward to the raw beets. Then, I found a recipe for a "traffic light" smoothie wherein the red light consisted of raspberries and half a beet. I had to make it. Had to. And it was soooo good! I made a Hot Pink Breakfast Smoothie that day too and I had one today. I think I'm getting addicted to these beet smoothies.

As much as I hate to admit it, Dwight Schrute and I have one thing in common: a love of raw beets.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Food in Your Backyard

You may not know it, but there is probably food growing in your backyard already. All those pesky "weeds" are actually good sources of food! For example:

Dandelion: Monsanto (the creators of Round-up) don't want you to know this, but dandelions are highly edible, nutritious, and of course, easy to grow! All parts of the dandelion are edible: the leaves, stalks, roots and even the flowers. We all know what dandelions look like and they are very easy to find. Sometimes people mistake cat's ear and dandelion because they are very similar looking (the difference is the leaves; cat's ear has leaves with rounded teeth), but not to worry because cat's ear is also very edible and nutritious. Just about everything from the dandelion family is edible.

Shepherd's purse: Another easy to find "weed". Again everything is edible on shepherd's purse, though I've read that the heart-ish shaped seed pods are tough and hard to do much with, they won't hurt you. Tincture of shepherd's purse is actually great for controlling internal and external bleeding, even hemorrhaging. Though the tincture and extract should not be consumed by pregnant or lactating women, for actual eating purposes, the leaves, roots, stalks, etc. are fine.

Mallow: This is a plant you have probably seen all over the place. And all of it is edible! Through a rather labor intensive process, you can even make marshmallows from it.

Those suffering from nature paranoia are quick to say that eating wild plants is dangerous because there are some plants that look so much alike that even experts can't tell them apart and that you will eat something poisonous and DIE. Not true. There are always differentiating factors among plants. For example, let's take chickweed (edible) and scarlet pimpernel (poisonous, odds fish!) Initially, they look very much alike, maybe even identical to the untrained eye, but when you turn them over, you'll see that scarlet pimpernel has black spots on  the underside of its leaves and no fine hairs, unlike chickweed which has fine hairs and no black spots.

Let me also take a moment to address the John Krakauer/Into the Wild issue. No one has done more to slander wild foods and foraging than John Krakauer. In his book Into the Wild, Krakauer relates what he calls the true story of Christopher McCandless, a disillusioned rich kid who decided to head off into the Alaska wilderness and live off the land. According to Krakauer, McCandless mistook a poisonous plant for an edible one and dies. The over dramatic drivel was made into a movie by Sean Penn which has since perpetuated the myth of dangerous foraging. It should be noted though that a) the autopsy of McCandless's body showed that he died of starvation, not poisoning, b) McCandless was not an expert forager, and c) John Krakauer is full of crap. After seeing the way he represented Mormons as dangerous, backward, benighted cultists in his book Under the Banner of Heaven, I didn't hold out much hope for an accurate picture of wild foods in Into the Wild. And unfortunately Mr. Krakauer delivered.

Finding good quality plants is easiest up in the mountains where there are fewer pollutants and toxins. Last year, Malamute, Duckling, the dogs and I all went to up to Sundance and picked some of the most delightful dandelions I have ever tasted. It's possible to find good edible weeds in urbanized areas, but you have to look for places like abandoned lots that are away from busy roads. (Unfortunately, a lot of edible plants grow off of freeways and busy roads. Don't eat them unless you are starving because they have been sucking up car exhaust for months.) Make sure the land hasn't been sprayed either. Sprayed dandelions are shriveled, shrunken, gnarled looking things. Don't eat them. They don't look appetizing anyway. The area where I live has exploded in development over the past 15 years, so it's been a challenge finding places to forage. However, I found a housing development with several vacant, unsold lots off of the road (thank you 2008 housing downturn for giving me places to forage!) The weeds are growing beautifully with no indications of spraying, so I will be heading there to forage.

It is crucial to find good information on edible plants before foraging. I highly suggest John Kallas's Edible Wild Plants as a superb place to start. If you've ever wondered how to make pizza, omelets, soup, salads and tostadas with chickweed, wild spinach, nipplewort, and curly dock, this will teach you.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Moon Landing: It Happened

Apparently more and more Americans are starting to believe that the moon landing was a hoax. It wasn't. It's a subject I've researched extensively and to be honest I find most of the people out there crowing about Apollo 11 being a hoax to be insufferable kill-joys. No matter the evidence to the contrary, they insist that mankind's most wondrous technological achievement could never have happened. I find it sad. There are a number of great articles (and a Mythbusters episode) out there refuting the arguments of the hoax proponents, but the funny thing is how much common sense evidence is right in front of Americans' faces:
  • Real conspiracies don't stay quiet- People can't keep their mouths shut when there is a juicy secret. For example, the FDA has not been able to keep its former employees from telling the world about the dangers of MSG and artificial sweeteners. The cattle barons couldn't keep Oprah from doing a whole show devoted to their mistreatment of animals and people with footage obtained through secret cameras and willing slaughterhouse workers. And while Bernie Madoff committed ultra-secret fraud for decades, even he was caught. There's always a whistleblower, an investigative reporter, witnesses, victims, and inconvenient photographs. Most of the conspiracy theorists seem to think that the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs were made up of a few government types, a few scientists and the astronauts. The reality is that it was a massive undertaking that required thousands and thousands of people. (Take note, that means thousands and thousands of jobs. Forget the stimulus, let's head to Mars.) There were rocket scientists and engineers in Huntsville, NASA controllers in Houston, staff at Cape Canaveral who actually did the launches, engineers and factory workers from various contractors and subcontractors like Grumman Aerospace, Pratt and Whitney, Beech Aircraft and North American Rockwell to assemble the massive amounts of necessary equipment, the astronauts who crewed the missions, back up crews, doctors and medical staff, families who lived on base, and then maintenance staff to keep the whole thing running.   In the fifty-some-odd years since the space program first got going, none of those people have come forward purporting to have any credible evidence that the moon landing was a hoax. Which means that all the "evidence" of a hoax comes from people who have no first hand experience or involvement whatsoever with the space program.
  • Qualifications? And along those lines it should be noted that among the conspiracy theorists there are few experts in film, photography, physics, or engineering. Which means that the "evidence" for arguments in favor of a moon landing hoax comes from people who are not qualified in the fields in which they are claiming special knowledge.
  • Kaput! And finally, if the moon landing really was a hoax, the stories of the space program would be a whole lot slicker without as many mistakes. Like we would have faked footage of the Apollo 12 landing to keep us peasants happy and believing in the government's awesome power. But we don't have any footage from the Apollo 12 landing beyond a big white flash and then blackness because astronaut Alan Bean accidentally pointed the camera at the sun during the live broadcast. (This was a big disappointment for my dad. He was crazy about the space program and was over the moon- no pun intended- when the Apollo 12 landing was set to take place on his birthday. He got up early to watch it and was subsequently disappointed when the camera was fried and the news media had to ad lib the rest of the broadcast.) If the moon landing were a hoax, the Apollo 13 disaster would not have been broadcast for the whole world. When you are trying to pull the wool over people's eyes and impress them with their government's supposed awesome power, you never, ever, ever release stories of weakness and disaster. You only tell the good parts. Case in point, the Soviet space program started out with a bang, but couldn't keep up with the US. Rather than tell their people that the Americans had superior technology (and quality control), they simply hushed up a lot of mistakes and deaths as best they could. The deaths of some cosmonauts weren't actually confirmed until the information leaked out after the Cold War ended. In contrast, every mistake of the US space program was broadcast for the world to see. Washington was so infuriated with the fatal Apollo 1 fire that they almost pulled the plug on the space program right then and there.
So have a look at the original footage of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon and take a moment to enjoy the "Wow!" factor. =)

Friday, April 20, 2012


I feel that it's only fair that if I'm going to go around telling people about how to take toxic things out of their diet that I give them a warning about detox. When you start eliminating harmful substances from your body, your body will go through a period of detox- similar to a drug addict. Most people find that when they change their diet to eat more raw and whole foods that they still crave junk food for a little while after. The good news is that when you stick with eating well, the junk no longer tastes as good. But for a while, you will feel pretty crummy. Expect it. Embrace it. It's OK because your body is eliminating years of accumulated junk. So, here it is: (almost) everything you ever wanted to know about detox, but were afraid to ask. (I've been nice enough not to get too gory here, for those of you with sensitive stomachs.) =)

  • What are the symptoms of detox? It will feel a little different for everyone, but you can expect to have some gastrointestinal upset (diarrhea/constipation), maybe a little queasiness, lightheadedness, fatigue, junk food cravings, a little weakness, and feeling a little extra cold. Many people will feel more emotional and edgy than usual. You will probably want to drink lots of water too. Usually, you can tell it's detox because it doesn't quite feel like a flu, but you're definitely not feeling your best. However, I will warn you that if you have had a history of taking lots of junk into your body, detox may occur over and over again as you hit a new plateau and it may be very uncomfortable. Malamute ate really badly all through his growing up and young adult years. Add to that supplements, energy drinks, chemical laden whey powders and he has had a lot of junk stored up. He has detoxed several times as we have added new elements to our diet and taken out others. I think the worst was when he kicked dairy. He said he felt like an addict in rehab. He was used to having dairy all the time and when it wasn't in his system, his body started freaking out. He was irritable, tired, had stomach issues and if he had been feeling up to it, he would have probably held up the local pizza parlor. Frankly, he was just plain ornery to be around. But, the good news is that it passed and he feels phenomenal since going off dairy. As for me, I have been undergoing detox this week after adding more of those strange foods to my diet, and it has been an annoyance, but nothing too serious. It's felt like what the first day of my period used to feel like combined with a mild flu. However, the morning sickness I had when I was pregnant with Duckling (pre-mostly raw, mostly vegan diet) was very much like detox and was terrible. I craved junk food non-stop. I was too nauseated to eat. I felt awful. (Personally, I think morning sickness is the body's way of trying to cleanse itself to provide a healthy environment for the baby.)
  • What am I detoxing? Chemicals from personal care products, excess mucus that may have accumulated from consuming foods that you are sensitive to, chemicals and heavy metals in the water, soil and air, chemicals from processed foods, chemicals from pesticide-rich produce, yeast overgrowth from antibiotics, partially digested food matter, maybe some radiation from cell phones/microwaves/computers/TV's/x-rays, etc., and even intestinal parasites. (Oh yes, they are here in America. And they are probably living in your gut. We've had some experience with this and it was not pretty.)
  • How does my body detox? Our bodies are designed to eliminate toxins. Excretion, urination, sweating, coughing/hacking/sneezing/runny nose, fevers, watery eyes, and vomiting (a great metaphor for detox- it's awful when it happens, but necessary and you feel so much better afterwards).
  • What causes detox? Consuming more foods that help your body flush out toxins like parsley, cilantro, raw beets and dandelion. Consuming more raw foods, period. Consuming more foods that help your colon move things along like chia seeds, green smoothies, and slippery elm bark powder. Adding fermented (read naturally occurring probiotic) foods to your diet. Going on a juice, green smoothie or water fast. (When your body isn't busy digesting food, it gets to work on eliminating junk.) Fasting is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways of detoxing. It is absolutely phenomenal! Here is an incredible website on fasting. I really can't recommend strongly enough that you read at least a few of their articles on the spiritual side of fasting. All you Mormons out there are probably familiar with the detox-fasting phenomenon and don't know it. The reason why everyone feels so awful on Fast Sunday is because their bodies are eliminating junk.
  • What should I do about the symptoms? You may have heard that doctors are now saying that for low-grade, normally occurring fevers you should not give anything to try and lower it. (Chiropractors have been saying this forever.) When you're grieving over something, you have to face the feelings openly and deal with them. Detox is the same way. You need to let it run its course. Don't rush back to junk food, no matter how badly you are craving it. If you are married, hopefully your spouse is supportive and doesn't come home with a pizza or tub of Ben and Jerry's. Make yourself as comfortable as possible. Drink some herbal tea, rest as much as you can, and eat less. I found that eating less stopped a lot of the GI tract issues I was having and made me feel more energized and happier. Yesterday I had three smoothies and not much else and I felt so much better. Today, I have my appetite back and I've been eating a little more, but still taking it easy.
The great thing about the natural detox that occurs from eating well is that it is fairly gentle and slow, so if you are still breastfeeding, it doesn't release a whole bunch of toxins into your baby/toddler. (Yes, I am still nursing. No, I didn't plan to. But that is a post for another day.) =) 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Asking For Cookies

Mormons have some rather interesting views on the family. Most non-Mormons have a hard time understanding why we are such prudes. Frankly, I think most Mormons don't understand either. If you want to understand LDS views on the family, you need to first understand that to Mormons marriage is literally a training ground for developing God-like qualities. This doesn't just mean developing patience and love, it's a chance for us to understand how God works. For Latter Day Saints, marriage is a partnership with God in which He allows us to take on some godly responsibilities like the creation of and care for life.

It is because of this that we hold marriage and parenthood so sacred. This is why our weddings are performed in temples where only members in good standing can attend. It's why we embrace traditional marriage. It's why we encourage marriage and child-bearing. It's why infidelity and abuse are subject to the stiffest penalties the Church can give. Marriage is the most sacred and solemn institution to us because it allows a man and a woman to take on the responsibilities of godhood. I don't mean to be overly light-hearted, but that line Yoda says in The Empire Strikes Back comes to mind: "A Jedi must have the deepest commitment; the most serious mind." And honestly, we're not communicating that to our young people. We tell them to abstain from sex until marriage and expect that everything else will happily fall into place. But that's a post for another day...

Nothing has taught me more about God than raising a two year old. Two of Duckling's very favorite things are eating Annie's Bunny Cookies that Grandma gives him (there's a can of worms...) and watching Winnie-the-Pooh on Disney Junior- especially with Grandma. But I have to say no to him a lot on those. Sometimes it's too early in the day for cookies, or sometimes he's had too many. Sometimes Grandma is busy or tired and can't watch Winnie-the-Pooh with him. Sometimes he wants to watch Pooh on my laptop when I'm busy. Whatever it is, he gets unhappy because I don't give him what he wants. He can't understand why I'm saying no to something that would give him so much pleasure. But i can see a bigger picture. I can see that it's not good for him to have too many cookies. Or that Grandma is tired or busy (or maybe not even around), or that the work I have to do on the laptop is more important than watching Pooh. Duckling can't see those things, but I can. And the bigger picture I see is something better for him, like not being hopped up on sugar or turning into a spoiled brat. And some day he'll appreciate that I gave him those things instead of more cookies or Winnie-the-Pooh.

I've come to realize after 27 years that I don't know more than God. (Yeah, I know, Duh.) He sees a bigger picture than I can. And He sees better things than I can possibly imagine. Sometimes when we're praying and we're asking intently for something and the answer is "no", maybe it's not that God is a vivisectionist in a laboratory testing us to see how far He can push us, maybe it's that we have been asking for a cookie. And as a loving parent, He tells us "no" and tries to steer us to something better.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Strange Things I Have Been Eating

Eating for health has led me down interesting paths and I have found myself eating things that I wouldn't have dreamed of eating a few years ago. A few of the interesting things I have started adding to my diet:

  • Chia seed gel- "Ch-ch-ch-chia!" It's good for more than just growing curly leaves on a ceramic sheep. Chia seed is very nutrient dense and very filling. They are a good source of protein,  iron, omega fatty acids, potassium, and calcium. The best way to consume them is to soak them for 20+ minutes to make a gel. You can add them to smoothies or just take a couple of spoonfuls of it straight up.
  • Aloe- The gel from the plant NOT Solarcaine from the supermarket. If you've ever rubbed Solarcaine on a sunburn though, you know how soothing aloe can be to inflammation. Many people (like my Malamute) have intestinal inflammation and aloe is a big help for this. Aloe is controversial and many people think it's poisonous. It's actually not. The FDA has determined that when taken in highly concentrated doses, aloin (a naturally occurring compound in aloe vera plants) is toxic. Consuming an inch or two once a day in a smoothie has never been shown to have any poisonous effects. 
  • Whole apples- This is another one people sometimes mistake for being poisonous. While apple seeds do contain cyanide, it's not the same type of cyanide referenced in murder mysteries. The cyanide in apple seeds is an organic nitrile which has very low toxicity because it doesn't release cyanide ions easily. Cyanide gas and poison pills, etc. are actually cyanide compounds, meaning other elements have been added. Curiously enough, apple seeds actually contain amygdalin, and the cancer treatment drug laetrile is a semi-synthetic derivative of amygdalin. Go figure. Every once in a while, I throw a whole apple into a smoothie. I don't like eating apple cores because the tough parts get stuck in my teeth.
  • Parsley- I'm not talking about adding teaspoons of the herb here. I found a couple of recipes for parsley green smoothies and I've been trying them out. They are quite the energy boost. With the right amounts of fruit, it's actually not too bad.
  • Cilantro- I know a lot of people gag over cilantro, but I like it in salsa. I never thought I could handle a smoothie with it, but I did find a recipe that I like. It's definitely a very hard core green smoothie though. There has been some evidence that cilantro is good at pulling mercury and other heavy metals out of the body, so I figured, why not? The first time I tried a smoothie with cilantro, I thought I would pass out drinking it down. Afterwards, I felt AMAZING. It helps to blend it up extra. When properly blended, it's not so thick and tough.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

War And Peace

When US forces pulled out of Vietnam in 1975 I think many Americans breathed a sigh of relief and looked forward to what they assumed would be peace. The story of the Vietnam War that we see on TV and in movies gives the impression that the people of Vietnam were living happy carefree lives then America intervened, messed things up and when we left everyone was happy again. The reality is that after America pulled out of Vietnam in 1975, life was anything but peaceful for the Vietnamese people. Ho Chi Minh ruled with an iron fist. People worried about being reported to the secret police and being sent to "re-education" camps where they were starved and tortured. (An incredibly inspiring account of one man's ability to rise above such an experience can be found in the book When Faith Endures by The Van Nguyen. It's a short read and well worth it.) When American forces rushed to evacuate Saigon as Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Cong advanced on the city, the people of Saigon weren't standing by happily waiting, they were thronging the embassy begging for the Americans to take them or their children away. Thousands of people headed for the docks trying to take any boat they could to get away. That's not peace.

Today, we face a similar story with Iraq. Michael Moore (who has yet to present any accurate information to the American public) spins a story of happy Iraqi people whose lives were horribly interrupted when American forces came in and deposed their benign leader. When I was in college, an Iraqi speaker came and described what life was like in Iraq under Saddam Hussein and it was nothing like the picture Michael Moore painted. This man described atrocities so violent and despicable I'm not going to detail them here. I watched an Oprah episode where she brought in Iraqi citizens who had escaped and they told more stories of unspeakable atrocities. There are a few Iraqi refugees living here in Utah. The local paper did an article on them and they described more unspeakable atrocities. A little known fact to most Americans is that Saddam Hussein also had a genocide policy in place to rid Iraq of an ethnic group called the Kurds. Yet, it's more comforting to believe that that kind of evil couldn't possible exist, and someone like Michael Moore can make millions off of telling that story.

Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge reigned in Cambodia during 1975-1979, that "peaceful" era when America wasn't involved in any major wars. But life for the people of Cambodia at this time was anything but peaceful. These four years were a massacre the likes of which rivaled the Holocaust. The Khmer Rouge was deposed without any real help from Americans, but this begs the question, should a million (or more) Cambodians have had to die during those four years when other countries like the US could have committed forces and deposed the oppressive regime? What about Rwanda? In 1994, an estimated 80,000 people were killed in the most gruesome ways imaginable over a period of three months and the international community did nothing. Then there was Uganda under Idi Amin. The list could go on.

On the other hand, America has gotten involved in international politics and made things worse, as when President Carter refused to help the Shah of Iran (an ally) during the Iranian revolution of 1979. Things were really bad under the Shah, but no one could have imagined how much worse things would get under the Ayatollah Khomeini. (For a great introduction to post-revolution Iran, I recommend watching the movie Persepolis. How a movie about life in post-revolution Iran can make you both laugh and cry, I don't know. But this one does.) The Carter, Reagan, and first Bush administrations all sent billions of dollars in foreign aid to the government of El Salvador to fight Salvadorean revolutionaries. Unfortunately, the Salvadorean government was committing unspeakable crimes against its people.

This is really heavy stuff. I don't want to just go around depressing everyone and saying that "Look what the world has come to!" Evil has always existed. And for every story of evil, there are stories of good and courageous people. Parents who walked from El Salvador to the United States or Canada to protect their children, people who battled against the odds to depose violent regimes, and also US soldiers who get their family and friends back home to organize toy and school supply drives for Afghani families. I guess the point of all this is that I think that we as Americans need to be aware and educated about how our efforts can impact people other nations- for good or bad. And when we ask for peace, we need to know what we're asking for.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

How To Solve World Hunger

Well, part of the solution at least. Jamie, a Beverly Hills mom behind I Am Not The Babysitter (one of my favorite blogs), recently wrote about the Food Network's special on hunger in America. It brought back a lot of memories for me since I went hungry a lot when I was in junior high and high school. I rarely think about all the summers I would have killed for an over ripe banana just to have something besides ancient Bisquick to eat. But I think those memories have been subconsciously haunting me for my entire adult life and have been a big part of my fear of money. The urge to provide the body sustenance is one of the most basic of all instincts. Deprivation can do strange things to a person's brain.

Anyway, it got me thinking about solutions and I came up with some different ideas. It's not enough to just have food banks and SNAP and the Bishop's Storehouse. People go hungry mostly because they don't have enough money to buy food. Financial planning resources for parents would be helpful, as would career resources for parents and working age teens. But the thing that would make the biggest difference (in my humble opinion) is urban homesteading.

This urban homestead in Pasadena, CA yields 6,000 lbs. of food every year!

Urban homesteading is growing your own food off the land- in the city or suburbs. Some people grow all of their food- grains, meat, eggs, milk, fruits and vegetables all on a 1/4 acre! It sounds unusual, but it's actually the safest and healthiest way to get your food. For example, e. coli contamination is a problem caused by feeding cows corn, keeping them knee deep in their own manure, and the manure washing downstream into spinach farms. (Cows' intestines are meant to handle grass, and when the cows are fed grass, their guts are able to fight off the e. coli bacteria. But when they're fed corn, the e. coli flourishes in their guts and spreads to all the other cattle and then contaminates the water.) If you grow your own spinach, you should be just fine (unless you live downstream from a feedlot, which you wouldn't want to do anyway). It's also a lot cheaper than buying food from the grocery store. Imagine how much financial pressure would be taken off families if they didn't have to buy most of their food!

The beautiful thing about urban homesteading is that it can be done just about anywhere. One of the most prominent books on modern homesteading is called The Four Season Harvest and is written by a homesteader who lives in Maine. He uses cold frames to grow food even in the dead of the harsh Maine winters. One winter Malamute grew a winter greens garden for us and even without well made cold frames and with especially cold temperatures, we had an abundant harvest of cold hardy greens. We would have had more, but we took the advice of Malamute's mom and brought some of the greens in one night. They got too warm and died. Yeah; won't make that mistake again. Even in extreme environments like Alaska, you can grow your own food for a good portion of the year. (And with the loooong days during the summer, Alaskan produce gets HUGE.) Hurricane, Utah isn't exactly known for being a mecca of agriculture, but Ali of Ali's Organics grows 48 fruit trees (3 of them nuts), 17 grape vines, berry patches, a greenhouse of vegetables, and keeps goats, chickens, and honeybees... on a 1/4 acre in a residential neighborhood!!!!! Even in the searing desert heat of Phoenix, Arizona the Valley Permaculture Alliance has resources for helping people to grow their own food. In apartment buildings people are container gardening and using their balconies to grow climbing plants like beans. So many possibilities!

Some good books on urban homesteading:
Food Not Lawns- H.C. Flores
The Four Season Harvest- Eliot Coleman
The Winter Harvest Handbook- Eliot Coleman
Mini-Farming: Self Sufficiency on a 1/4 Acre- Brett L. Markham
and many more...

Friday, April 13, 2012

Easter Treats

Every year since we got married Malamute and I have been saying, "Next year when we move out, we'll do something really fun for Christmas/ Easter/ Anniversary/ Birthdays..." Well, this year I decided to make Easter fun anyway, and a big part of that was making delicious, healthier Easter treats. If I hadn't found Chocolate Covered Katie, none of this would have been possible.

The night before Easter, I made a carrot cake. Carrot cake is one of those desserts that has always intimidated me because my previous attempts never turned out, but CCK's Bugs Bunny Carrot Cake was very easy and delicious. I didn't bother with frosting because it was late by the time I got around to making it.

In the morning I made CCK's Chocolate Chip Blondies (using cacao nibs instead of chocolate chips because that was what I had on hand. An OK substitute, but not a great one.) I also made her Copycat Reese's Eggs, substituting almond butter for peanut butter for Malamute. Mine didn't look as pretty, but they did taste sooooo good! I have a pretty low tolerance for caffeine though, so I was feeling pretty buzzed from all this chocolate. I'm back to carob for desserts now.

The one thing I did make that ended up cute were the coconut macaroon bunnies.

I used CCK's Raw Macaroons recipe (subbing unrefined coconut oil for coconut butter and adding in coconut). I also soaked the dates overnight so that they blended up easily in the Blendtec without any added water. Instead of just rolling the macaroons into little balls, I rolled a bigger ball for the bunny body and then put a smaller one on top for the head and added pecan pieces for the ears and cacao nibs for the eyes. (Yes, I ate the ears first on these bunnies!) So easy. And you get fiber from the coconut, potassium from the dates and lauric acid from the coconut oil. The only thing I would do differently is to use the shredded coconut instead of flaked, but these bunnies kind of just happened that morning and I didn't do a lot of planning for them.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Why I Love Star Trek: Voyager

 "The only question I thought was hard, was do I like Kirk or do I like Picard?"- Weird Al Yankovic, White and Nerdy

For me, the answer is neither. I have seen both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager all the way through. In my book TNG is a 3 1/2 out of 5 stars, whereas Voyager is a solid 5. Seriously, Voyager is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. That puts me in something of a minority as it seems that most people prefer TNG.  

Voyager definitely had its down episodes for me. Like the one in Season One where Neelix forgives the scientist who created the weapon that destroyed his home. It was pretty obvious that this was supposed to be a commentary on the atomic bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the writers knowledge of World War II politics was abysmally sub par and the parable didn't work at all. Then there was one my favorite episodes "Demon" where the crew gives their DNA to combine with biomimetic silver goo to create intelligent life on a Class Y planet. I absolutely loved this episode until "Course: Oblivion" came along and senselessly negated life on the Demon planet.

Over all though, I have LOVED Star Trek: Voyager and in no particular order are my reasons:

  • Captain Janeway- Captain Janeway rocks. She is my favorite Star Fleet captain ever. This isn't just because she is a woman. She leads her crew with a firm, but loving hand. She cares deeply for them, with almost a maternal love, but never for a moment do you question who is responsible for Voyager. Captain Janeway ends up in a lot of tight spots, but she always takes an attitude of problem solving and finds a way out. Voyager isn't powered by its warp core so much as by sheer force of Capt. Janeway's will. She's a TV character, but she is an excellent example of good leadership. I always felt like Picard was kind of a flat character. It often felt like the producers wanted him to be too many things, and be all of them perfectly. They wanted him to be a starship captain, a scholar, a ladies' man, and a faithful lover and I don't feel like he ever did any of them very well. It's not that his character was badly written, it's just that he wasn't that well-written either. Let's face it, Janeway did more with fewer resources in the Star Trek universe than Picard ever did.
  • Main characters who grow up-   Personal growth, marriage and children were things that mostly happened to minor characters like Miles O'Brien and Keiko on TNG, though we must give credit for Worf bringing Alexander to live with him. Most of the TNG characters remained static, while most of Voyager's grew over the course of the series. Tom grows into a responsible family man, B'elanna begins to accept her Klingon side, the Doctor learns social skills, Seven embraces her emotional side, Harry becomes more sure of himself, Neelix stops behaving like a jealous teenager, and through it all, Janeway and Chakotay keep getting pushed to the limit over and over again as they shepherd their crew home. That's life.
  • The crap hits the fan- Most of TNG's plots seemed to go like this: problem presents itself, Wesley or Data find a solution and save the day, everyone goes back to their quarters happy. On the other hand, Voyager's plots seemed to go something like this: problem presents itself, crew conferences about a solution, implements plan, plan fails or someone messes up big time, everyone heads back to the drawing board again, picks up the pieces as best they can and keep moving on towards Earth. And everyone gets a chance to mess up big time. Janeway left a guy to be preyed upon by interdimensional beings in order to get him to talk in the Equinox episodes, Seska made Chakotay look pretty naive and stupid a few times, B'elanna tried to change her baby's DNA, Tom got demoted to ensign, Harry was almost suckered into being killed for his DNA by the beautiful sirens of a Delta Quadrant planet, and the Doctor flips out over the death of a patient. And life goes on. I've made some pretty big mistakes in my life (which is why I am where I am in life), and it was refreshing for me to see this on a TV show.
 News flash! Wesley Crusher is not needed to provide a solution to every problem!
So, TNG fans will disagree, but this is why Voyager is the starship for me. =)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Resources For Better Living

Two are books that have been absolutely pivotal for me:

The Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale- I can't tell you how important a book this is to read. Wow! This book is powerful. If you will read this book and start applying the steps in it, you will see the world, God, and your problems in a new light. This is a practical guide to positive thinking, so if you know you need to think positively but don't know where to start, this is the book for you.

Your Best Life Now, by Joel Osteen- I think it was this book that really finally convinced me that God wants good things for me. I have read a whole lot of success books, and this one has resonated with me perhaps more than any other.

Reading these two books together has helped me immensely. I can't recommend them highly enough.

The other resource for better living is a blog. It's called Chocolate Covered Katie. This is a blog of vegan, healthier-than-average desserts. I have big plans since finding this blog. Ooooohhhh, such big plans! Blond brownies, ice cream, pie, dessert dips, oh yes, very big plans. Nothing makes living better than guilt-free dessert... except maybe positive thinking. =)