Drug-free Poison Ivy Treatment

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Today we have a guest post from my cousin Abby!  I thought that some of you would find this tip to be very useful.  Abby and her husband Pete are editors of the literary magazine Prime Mincer.

I tell everyone this, and I usually get a gentle, reassuring, smile that suggests that it's not that they don't believe me, but do sincerely doubt what I'm saying. 

I am HIGHLY allergice to poison ivy. I get it every year, and stopped going in the woods altogether a long while ago. Even with tights, socks, boots, and everything tucked in together, I still get it just by being out of doors. The first year I got it bad I had to go to the doctors and get on steroids. It's bad. However, in a fifth grade science book I came across the treatment, but didn't test it until years later. I wish I had listened sooner, and I urge anyone who does get poison ivy to take heed.

Here's what you do: When the itching gets bad, go into the shower. Turn it on HOT, and then direct the spray to the affected area(s). Slowly turn up the heat. This will finally hit that "itch" where it lives and will be about the most pleasurable experience of your life. It's endorphines like no other. Eventually the relief will turn to numbness, and this is when the magic occurs. Turn off the water, get out, and you'll find that the place previously burnin
g with misery is numb and will stay that way for hours. If it begins itching again, jump back in the shower. There were times when I took up to four showers a night in order to sleep, but it worked. This will treat, but it also shortens the lifespan of the whole encounter. The patches are being drained of their poison and the skin gets dry. 

Whatever you do, do NOT take a hot bath. This will put the poison in the water and then it will spread everywhere. Look to the hot shower, and all will be well. Trust me!

Tuesday's Tip: Processing Strawberries

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

It's no secret that we use a lot of frozen berries here because of our delicious breakfast smoothie habit.  :)  Blueberries and strawberries are our most common berries of choice, though sometimes we use other fruits as well.  Seeing as how both strawberries and blueberries are on the Dirty Dozen list, it's pretty important to buy organic when possible.  However, for a long time I didn't feel like it was really affordable to do so.  Over time I've gradually gotten more and more of my berries organic (organically...? How say you? Como se...?) and I'm always keeping my eyes open for good deals.  Sometimes at my Kroger store they will mark down the organic berries to a very good price (anywhere from $1.79-$1.99/lb.), so I try to always walk past the berry section to see if I can pick up some good deals while I'm there.  Pretty regularly I get there when the lady has just done the mark downs, and I can get 10 or more pounds at a time!

I also found out about a strawberry patch about an hour away from me that, while not certified organic, does not use pesticides on their produce.  I didn't have time to go pick berries, but my mom was so awesome to drive down there to pick up already-picked berries for us!  We spent $12 per gallon of these freshly picked, essentially organic berries, and that was a price I thought was excellent considering that I spend more than that on bags of non-organic frozen strawberries already!  We bought 9 gallons of strawberries, and while that may sound like an awful lot of berries to take care of, we actually got through it pretty easily.  Let me tell you how:

1.  My husband gathered up our 4 younger boys and set them up with an assembly line to pull the green tops off the berries.  Normally I would have personally sliced each and every top off and wouldn't have thought of having them do it by hand.  It worked really well, they had fun doing it, and with all four of them working steadily, it was done in a short time.  I will say that the juvenile hand-pull method of de-stemming strawberries does not always yield perfect results.  For my purposes, this was good enough and that works for me!  :)

2.  After that I cleaned both sides of my kitchen sink and filled both sides with cool water and as many berries as could fit, plus added about a quarter-cup of hydrogen peroxide.  I swished it around with my hand a couple times, making sure the floating berries got dunked a few times.  I let that all soak for 20 minutes, then drained the water, and then refilled and added a quarter-cup of apple cider vinegar to each side and did another soak for 15-20 minutes, then drained the water and refilled once more for a rinse.  The hydrogen peroxide and apple cider vinegar work great to kill off any microbes, parasites, or other nasty germies that you don't want to eat.  This soaking method is very easy to do, though of course it monopolizes the sink and takes a little while to wait.  I usually do this method of cleaning produce while I do other things in the kitchen or around the house.  No problem!

3.  After the washing, soaking, and rinsing, I just bagged up the berries whole, putting them into gallon-sized ziploc bags.  And this is the step that I most regret.  Why?  Because I have ended up with gallon-sized hunks of frozen berries that are not that nice to work with.  Generally speaking, nobody in my family likes to start their day with the background noise of me slamming frozen fruit around on the kitchen counter.  (strange, isn't it?!) I didn't think it would be quite so bad, and for that I will pay for awhile.  However, now you get to learn from my mistake!  Ways I could have avoided this would have been to either flash freeze the berries on a flat cookie sheet before adding them to the ziploc bags, (this option would not have been practical for me because of the amount of berries I've been processing), let all the berries sit out til they dried completely before bagging them up, or to simply use smaller ziploc bags for the freezing.  Today I had maybe 10 pounds of berries to process, and I used sandwich-sized bags to freeze them in.  Those will be the right size for the amount of berries I would use for smoothies in one day, so even if they chunk up a bit, it will be manageable since I can just peel the bag off and throw them into the blender.

Do you have any tips for getting great deals on organic berries?  Do tell!

My Juice Feast: The Aftermath

Saturday, May 19, 2012

It has been four months since I ended my 19-day juice fast/feast and I guess I'm finally ready to give my impressions of how I feel about having done it, and whether or not I would do it again.

Ending the fast was difficult. Although I thought I was prepared with plenty of good recipes for eating the way I wanted to go forward (which was mainly a high-raw, vegan diet), I found that this did not seem to work well for my body.  Although I thought I ended the fast gently and with wise food choices, my digestive system was a wreck.  Everything I ate, no matter how mild, how small a portion, or how healthy it was, gave me abdominal discomfort, gas (nice!), and general digestive and elimination misery.  I had expected a small amount of transition time, but nothing that I had read (including an entire book on juice fasting, and many web sites, and being in a support group) prepared me for anything like this.  It went on and on and on and on for days, weeks, and then well past the one month mark.  It was uncomfortable, embarrassing, and frustrating.  Eventually I decided to branch out of the "perfect" things I was eating, to see if other items could soothe my tummy.

Part of what I wanted to see with the juice fast was if I would notice any difference in my health/energy/body while cutting out so many non-beneficial items, plus some questionable ones.  I was particularly interested in seeing if I could pinpoint any adverse reactions to grains (and mainly wheat) because of a book that I had read which basically vilified wheat and all grains.  I was curious if what the author had to say would ring true for me.  (and if possibly I might learn something important that would be beneficial for my health)

For me, I did not experience any amazing energy, mental clarity, or general extraordinary wonderfulness either during my fast or after it.  When I eventually tried eating a little bread, I found that my tumultuous stomach calmed down a bit, which was a better reaction than I had experienced with anything else I had eaten since exiting the fast.  I didn't experience any adverse reactions that I could identify, and so wheat and brown rice and oatmeal have continued to be a regular part of my diet ever since.

It was really amazing and kind of disheartening to see that even a full two months after ending the fast, my stomach was still really "off."  Having never had problems with digestion, gas, bloating, etc., it really stunk (ha.  excuse the pun.) that this was my reward for all of my hard work and determination to do a juice fast.

I went to see a naturopath to discuss my health, my reasons for doing the juice fast, how my body was refusing to let go of fat even though I would eat no sugar, etc. etc. etc., and the way that despite all of my biggest and bestest efforts in eating healthfully, I still felt so so weary all the time.  She mentioned that in the case of a juice fast, when smooth digestion is interrupted in that way, it can take a long time for it to get back to being running well.  Certainly this has been true in my case.  I also found out that I apparently have some serious thyroid and adrenal issues that are probably the real cause of my low level of energy and the great difficulty with managing my weight successfully.  Juice fasting and healthy eating alone will not fix these problems for me.  Thankfully there are some supplements and other things that I can do to help my body heal and go forward.  I'm working on it.  (It is very humbling to be an overweight health and wellness educator!  And it is very difficult to be a wife, mom, home educator, and business owner when you feel like you are running on empty almost all the time.)

Here we are at approximately the 4-month mark and my stomach issues are still not fully resolved, though slowly things are improving.  Between what seems to work for my stomach, and what seems to work for my life, my diet now is vegetarian, with a large percentage of what I eat being veggies and fruits.  I do not want to eat meat and I do not find it difficult to go without it.  Although I do keep dairy products to a smaller amount, I am eating them for now.  Ideally I would prefer not to, but ideals are not serving me well these days, and so I am continuing to humbly walk along, open to learn, and giving myself permission to live without pressure to be perfect.

For me, I do not think I would be willing to do a juice fast again, unless I thought it was necessary as a matter of life and death.  19 days of hard work and sacrifice has turned into months of discomfort and embarrassment that I would not want to repeat ever.  I do think that juicing can be a great thing for the body, and I think that eating well and including fresh fruit and veggie juices is a great idea.  If your health is in really dire straights, it may be that a long juice fast is the right answer for you.  In my case, I do not believe it was overly beneficial.

Nutty Granola

Friday, May 18, 2012

Any of you that have taken my class have already seen my standard, super-easy granola recipe that I've enjoyed since my childhood.  I've also shared a Cranberry-Walnut Granola recipe that was pretty good, and a gRAWnola (raw granola) recipe here.  You'd think I would be satisfied with those, but no.  The other day I saw a recipe for a crock pot granola that was supposedly so good, so I decided I'd like to give it a try.  The first challenge was to find a block of 3 hours when I was going to be home and available to tend to the stuff.  I think it took three days before that happened.  (sigh)  Then I made the stuff, and proceeded to be a slave to it's stirring schedule (every half an hour for the first hour, and then every 15 minutes for the last two hours, or some such).  By the time I was done tending to it, I was thinking that it sure would be disappointing if it didn't turn out that great.  Sure enough, it wasn't.  It burned a little, sealing it's fate as a recipe Not Worth Repeating.  And while I was doing 3 hours of tending and stirring I was finding it kinda puzzling that anyone would think it would be worth it to make granola in the crock pot when you can make it in 10 or 20 minutes while you clean the kitchen and then GET ON WITH YOUR LIFE!  :)

I remembered a very yummy granola recipe that was shared with me by a Mennonite lady that I once knew, and I was inspired to try to make a healthified version of it, because I now have wonderful and versatile Coconut Sugar that I thought would work well in it.  Woe and alas, I looked all through my tattered binder of personal recipes and *could not find that one granola recipe anywhere!*  :(  Sob.  (Don't worry. If I find it I'll do my experiment and see what happens.)

So I turned to the internet, poked around looking for something that looked like what I remembered, couldn't find anything quite right, but found some ideas that I thought were worth stirring together, healthifying, and seeing what magic might happen.  And this is what I got:

8 cups old fashioned oats
1.5 cups wheat germ (one and a half...not fifteen!)
1.5 cups shredded coconut (ditto.  NOT 15!)  Unsweetened would be healthiest.
1 cup chopped almonds
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup chopped walnuts
1.5 teaspoons salt (see that decimal?!  NOT 15)
half cup coconut sugar
quarter-cup maple syrup
three-quarter cup honey
1 cup coconut oil
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Mix up all the ingredients in a big bowl.  Stir well to combine.  Spray two 9x13 pans with non-stick spray and then put half the granola mixture into each pan.  Bake for 20 minutes, stirring once at the 10 minute mark.  Easy!  Delicious.  Flavorful.  Good texture. Satisfying.  :)

I Need Your Feedback on This

Thursday, May 17, 2012

When I started my business years ago I decided to offer a few products that I found difficult to find locally but felt were the best in quality and price.  SweetLeaf stevia was one of those items.  I strongly believe in the quality and value of the product, and I enjoy using it in my home regularly.  What I've noticed more and more is that SweetLeaf Stevia has gotten a lot more mainstream.  I now see it at Kroger and Walmart, and you can also get it from amazon for a lower price than I can normally sell it for, plus free shipping!

I'm wondering if the time has come for me to liquidate my current inventory of SweetLeaf Stevia and stop offering it through the store.  What do you think?  I don't know if others are also finding these products in local stores, or if you have any issues with shopping at amazon.

My goal with what I offer isn't to try to wrangle you into buying everything from me.  The idea was always to help you conveniently get items that are really good, and not necessarily easy to find in your local area.  I will continue to recommend SweetLeaf Stevia regardless of whether or not I personally sell it.  I just don't know that it is continuing to serve you for me to keep it on the shelves.

Your thoughts?

Amazon Deal: Nature's Path Heritage O's Cereal

Heritage O's is one of my favorite healthy cereals. I've never been a fan of Cheerios, but I love these crunchy, flavorful o's that don't get soggy two minutes after they get wet!  I normally spend almost $10 for this same size bag when I buy them at Whole Foods, so I was really excited to see this great price from amazon!  You get *six* of the big 32 ounce bags of Heritage O's for $38.40 when you use the subscribe and save option, PLUS you get free shipping!  That's only $6.40 per bag, which is a much better price than I've ever gotten it at, even on sale in stores.

To use subscribe and save, it's very easy:  Over on the right side you choose the Subscribe and Save option (instead of One-Time Delivery) and you indicate how often you would want to receive an automatic shipment of the item.  If you aren't sure you even want to get it again, that's ok!  Choose the 6 months option to give yourself some time.  Later you can cancel your order, adjust it to come sooner or later, skip a shipment, or have an extra shipment come sooner if you need it.  There is no obligation to continue to get subscribe and save options, so if you aren't sure, don't worry, and get that extra percentage off and the free shipping!  I get great deals this way on amazon all the time, and it saves me a lot of time.

Q & A: How much do you spend on food?

I received this question from one of my customers and thought others would appreciate it as well:

Hi Erica!

I was just wondering what your weekly or monthly budget for food is for your family?  (If you don't mind divulging that information that is...)  This is one of the biggest struggles my husband and I have regarding a healthier eating lifestyle.   He doesn't want to pay for it!  We live in rural upstate NY.  We raise chickens for eggs and meat.  We barter for raw milk with my uncle who owns an organic dairy farm.  Jason hunts so we have turkey and venison.  Still--for a family of six......it is expensive at the grocery store.   Our budget is around $240 a week, but I  have been known to go over this and that is not even everything organic.  I would love to know how/where you shop and how you manage it.  We have four kids- you have six?    I do order some bulk foods and have also ordered from vitacost....but still I wonder how all these people (on the blogs I follow) manage to do it .  Funny they never say what their food budget is (at least that I've seen).....

Hi Heidi!
Good to hear from you.  It sounds like you guys have a lot of good healthy-living resources available to you!

I feel like a shmuck to say that I don't even know anymore how much I spend on food.  (My husband handles all of the account stuff, so I never even look to see how it all adds up.)  It seems to vary quite a bit.  Some weeks either because I'm already well-stocked, or because money is a little tight and I'm doing more super-cheap meals, I may spend well under $100 (Or even buy nothing some weeks).  Some weeks I have to stock up on stuff or we are having company or someone is having a birthday or whatever, and I might spend $300 or more.  Plus, we do stock up on stuff, like today I am buying a bunch of honey from a friend who just harvested last week, I spent $100 two weeks ago on 9 gallons of freshly-pickled organic strawberries and now all of those are in the freezer for months worth of morning smoothies.  In the fall I stock up on raw almonds, pecans, walnuts, and cashews and have that for the year.  I buy 50 lb. bags of wheat and use that for bread and baked goods for months.  Heck--we still have a 5 gallon bucket of organic rice from Y2K preparations that we are eating (and yes, it still tastes good!).  My husband does hunt some, so there is a hot-or-miss factor in what venison is available for the year.  Also, I spend around $100 monthly for some Thrive freeze dried foods from Shelf Reliance as a way to both stock up on items for emergency food storage, plus I use a lot of that in everyday cooking. We are gardening this year, so of course once that food comes in, we'll spend less at the grocery store.  I sporadically do super couponing, so sometimes that gets us a lot of goodies for way cheap (even healthy stuff), but there are plenty of months in the year that I just can't keep up on it.

I do buy quite a few things through amazon's subscribe and save option when they have good sale prices.  I take advantage of great deals at places like VitaCost and Tropical Traditions.  I usually have enough wiggle room in the budget to stock up on good deals when they come along, and then of course I'm set on that item for months, at least.

We don't do all organic.  We don't even do 100% perfectly healthy.  (True confessions:  My children really like Little Caesar's Hot and Ready pizzas.)  I am constantly flexing what I'm buying according to finances, my ability to make things from scratch vs. needing to cut corners on my time, how much time we are away from home and may have to pick up food while we're out and about, sometimes the kids want to learn how to cook certain things, my various personal health goals/things I'm trying/bees in my bonnet, and also trying to make stuff that guests and extended family members will enjoy.

Cooking from scratch definitely saves money when doing healthy food.  I have learned how to make my own almond milk and other nut milks.  Most treats we have are homemade.  However, there is always the reality of the trade off between your time/energy and your money.  Sometimes I have noticeably more or less of one or the other, and I flex in the direction that needs it the most.  Sometimes I am short on time, money, AND fortitude, and on those days you might find us going through the Little Caesar's drive thru window or buying bakery cookies at Kroger, and I just try to do better the next day!

I have found that some people can get away with more flexibility (health-wise) in their diet, other people really feel the health effects one way or another.  I tend to get sick easily if I eat junk, and I really feel it in my energy levels if I eat poorly.  (Sadly, I do not experience great energy even when I'm eating really, really healthfully.  At this point I'm more teetering between somewhat low energy and completely pitiful.  Working on my thyroid and adrenal issues these days!)  For a family of 8, we need to go to the doctor very, very rarely.  This is partially because we do not get sick very much, and partially because I have learned enough over the years to handle most ordinary sicknesses at home.  For families that find doctor's visits and illness to be a regular feature of life, eating a healthier diet can be a really good investment and trade-off.  For families with children struggling with behavior issues, concentration issues, etc. they may also find helpful solutions when changing dietary standards for their family. (I know that's not true for everybody.)  I don't know what specific "side effects" (pro or con) your family may be experiencing from how you eat, but I do take that into consideration when making choices about what we're going to eat.  Enjoying good health, modeling good choices and developing good taste buds and cooking skills for our children, getting older with fewer health issues, etc. are all very worthy side benefits of choosing to eat as healthfully as you can realistically manage.

I have some serious limits for our diet that generally I will not break.  These include MSG, aspartame, and processed meats (deli meat, hot dogs, ham), and anything GMO.  Those are items that I would not put on the table even if they were free.  The next level of stuff I avoid includes High Fructose Corn Syrup, non-organic corn in all forms, non-organic soy, and soda.  Those I avoid very strongly, but realize that sometimes they sneak in, usually during special occasions like birthday parties, etc.  I do my best to buy organic for the "dirty dozen" items, and flex more on the "clean 15" items.  I have found really good mark downs at my Kroger produce dept., and I understand how their pricing and sales work, so I can do pretty well even with buying organic produce a lot.  Some items I just can't find organically in my area (kale comes to mind) so I just buy it and enjoy eating it anyhow, and try not to worry too much.  We can't do everything perfectly, and it isn't going to do anybody any good to beat ourselves up about that.  :)

This was a great question that has now turned into a blog post.  (Thanks!  I needed some inspiration!)  I am sorry that I don't have a more direct answer for you as far as a number.  We do have six kids, though the oldest hardly ever eats here any more.  Let me know if you have any more questions.  :)