Saturday, April 30, 2011

New Directions

In which our Lady espouses the Natural. 

To me, the most beloved of seasons are spring and autumn.  As the times of planting and harvesting, they have such potential.  Because of this potentiality, I believe that spring is the best time to make resolutions.  Not that I didn’t try back in January—but those resolutions have usually been forgotten by the time April and May roll around.  Besides, the real beginning of the year for me is spring.  Today proved to be one of those dreamy goal-making days, a time to gather ideas, buy strange items to put them into practice, and generally make my life just a little more complicated by branching out into a thousand new directions (I have a problem with this... it’s kind of an addiction with new ideas via book-perusal and list-making). 
You’ve already heard about my adventures in greenery.  Below you’ll find some photos of houseplants and seedlings.  Then there are a few examples of some excellent library books.  The Natural Alternatives text is one of those I-can’t quite-believe-I’m-reading-this books that you find strangely interesting, and wish you could feasibly do with a minimal investment of time.  Maybe someday…  Ahem.  The second book, Garden Anywhere is awesome.  It teaches the urban gardener all the basics about gardening, whether in containers or in the actual ground.  (If you live in the Anchorage area, please refrain from putting this on hold at the library.  I need it for a few more renewals, okay?  So, back away, Skippy.)  The third book, Nourishing Traditions, is borrowed from my friend.  It’s a gold mine of traditional cooking knowledge.  I love that it gives me information to help me understand a food’s characteristics so I can use it correctly. 
This brings us to the last photo, where you see that I’ve put beans and wheat berries in jars filled with water.  It turns out that all that fresh ground wheat flour I’ve been using actually has a natural substance called phytic acid still intact in the seed/berry that blocks enzymes from acting to my benefit in the body, gets rid of carcinogens, and inhibits absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc.  Phytic acid also makes it difficult to digest beans and whole grains (yes, I am talking about flatulence).  To counteract this phytic acid thing, I will soak my stuff in water for a couple of days before using it in hot cereals, soups, etc...  Soaking my beans and wheat berries in water will cause them to sprout.  Germination brings out the best in seedlings—they produce more vitamins (C and B’s, carotene), and get rid of that phytic acid, a protector of plants in nature, but a digestive nightmare in my kitchen.  Warning: do not eat alfalfa sprouts, because they are bad for you.
The other thing I will do to neutralize phytic acid in my already ground wheat is to use my friend Cari’s traditional bread recipe found at  It’s the established way to make bread by soaking.  It uses less yeast and involves no kneading of dough.  (Industrialized breads have done so much damage to the once well-known art of bread-baking.)  You can also stick your extra dough in the fridge and use it throughout the week for fresh homemade loaves of chow-down goodness.  How cool is that?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My Childhood Home

In which our Heroine grants the Title of Maven of all Growing Things to Another. 

          My adventures in horticulture have me thinking back to my childhood days of wonder and greenery.  You know, I look back and can only now see that we had a gorgeous house and yard, all due to my parent’s hard work.  The vegetable garden alone was a wonder of production.  I also took my mother’s skills and her ability to teach for granted.  For awhile here in Anchorage, I searched for a local elder teacher, wise in the knowledge of Alaskan ways.  I would stop old ladies in their yard and ask them questions about their flowers, etc.  Once, I met a woman out walking her dog.  After engaging her in conversation, Eva and I had the temerity to follow her home to see her little patch out back.  (We did have to follow her through her whole house to get to the back yard).  We talked shop, and I was disappointed to find that I knew at least as much as she did—it turned out my mother already had the grand title of maven of all growing things, and unbeknownst to me, had already taught me a considerable amount.  All the names of the plants were familiar, and I already knew the intimate details of how to grow a potato.  This is when I first learned that most of what will grow in Idaho will flourish in Alaska (except for tomatoes, sadly).  Fortunately, the conversation still yielded fruit despite its lack of fresh encyclopedic knowledge—I found this dear lady at church a few Sundays later.  It turns out she’s in my Ward. 
          Lest you disbelieve my assertions of descending from the very glorious line of greenest of all thumbs, I have included some photos of my childhood home as it looked when it was sold 5 or 6 years ago.  Upon parting from her home of two and a half decades, my mother snapped 30 or so shots of the inside of the house, and over a hundred of the yard.  You can see where our priorities lie as a family.  Do please remember that this was nothing but a patch of gravel and sagebrush when my family first moved here years ago.  Sadly, the vegetable garden hadn’t been used in a few years, and the flowers were all but gone, but I think you’ll get the point: 
          The House, Front Door: the brick walk I set down twice in back in high school, dogwood, tiger lillies, and bishop’s weed (actually a weed anywhere else).  Also, a hose because there are no sprinkler systems here.
          The Russian Olive, with various flowers, asparagus, and goose berries somewhere underneath.
          Trees permanently leaning due to ill effects of the wind.  Fruit trees and large spruce: home to the robin family.  This tree used to be small enough for the cats to get into and steal those sky blue eggs.  My great grandmother's white French Lilac is somewhere over there too (transplanted).  Note: the fence is 6 feet tall.
          Side of house: Virginia Creeper (weed in other locales), and sweeping branches of the sweetest Crabapple tree.  At lower left, you can just see the flower box that used to hold chives and marigolds (to keep away pests).  Sweet peas belong to the left, by the basement window.  Once I planted Chinese Lanterns in the flower bed as an experiment (super weed).  Oops.
          Things my step-dad used to tinker around with, made out of cheap scrap wood.  Turns out he had an artistic bent, and no one knew it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maven of Propagation

In which our Heroine desires to become the Maven of all Growing Things. 

                The people in my family tend to be natural green thumbs.  I am used to back yard havens filled with a million kinds and colors of green, domestic places that are an oasis for both human and animal.  Of course, my apartment lifestyle has steeply hindered my progress at becoming the maven of all growing things (an ambition held close to my heart), but nevertheless I have tried my utmost to continue this legacy with houseplants, at least.  With the exception of my nemesis-plant the geranium (a plant with an innately pretty-princess attitude that apparently clashes somehow with my green persona), I have had considerable success with other objects of leaf and petal.
                Perhaps due to my farming childhood, I often take it for granted that everyone would naturally feel this compulsion to lay down roots, so to speak.  Oddly, this is not the case, even in an age of successful urban gardening.  Gardens are few and far between in the South Anchorage suburb—and by the way, Alaska has a fantastic growing season because of the impossibly long daylight hours in the spring.  Strangely, I lack all empathy toward this deficiency of gardening zeal.  I know it’s a lot of hard work, but how can all these people resist?  Can they not feel the pull of the earth beneath them?  Do they not wish to lay their fingers at the base of a swiftly growing plant?  Do they not get sucked into standing aimlessly in front of seed displays at the grocery store?  Have they not seen the green shoots of grass fighting their way through thick thatches of brown?  Why?  How?
Alaska gardening is not that hard.  You just have to start seeds indoors and choose plants that prefer cooler rather than warmer weather.  Berries, pumpkins, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, lettuce—these make a successful gardening plan.  I am doing a container garden this year, because I am easily overwhelmed by the state of my decrepit yard.  Basically, I think the chickweed is stronger than I am.  Except for when I decide to harvest it because it is highly edible.  (I can’t help it—I have a gardening gene somewhere deep within). 
Last night I used 50 or so Dixie cups and some dirt to start some seeds in my kitchen.  I chose all Alaska growing plants, and then added a few tomatoes into the mix.  These do not grow well in Alaska without a green house.  But I am convinced that my last three summers here were but half-shadows of the season partly due to the lack of fresh tomato—they just smell so green—and without them, it is just not summer.  I would really like these tomatoes to work more than any other plant.  In fact, back in January, I specially ordered a Siberian tomato named Sasha’s Altai .  This, with Yellow Pear and Oregon Spring, will be my great experiment this summer.  Also, I plan on doubling the number of my houseplants (3 so far—they’re expensive, okay?) Yep, its spring, and I feel the need to propagate—you know, with green stuff.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Toddler's Birthday Dream

In which Eva turns Two. 

                I am overwhelmingly glad to still be around for my child’s birthday.  As of a few days ago, she turned two.  I decided that since it was her birthday, she could do pretty much whatever she wanted and I would try not to lose my patience.  So… I guess you could say that what I gave her for her birthday was a gift-wrapped box of (somewhat inadequate) patience.  Here is my photo-documentary of the special day:
First, there was the hour long bath… without hair-washing because she dislikes getting her head wet.
Then Eva got to mix her own pancakes.  This is her defending her whisk.  Get away from my bowl, Mom!

Unfortunately, I did have to steal a little pancake mix so I could cook a pancake for her.  She’s hurt to the core by this utter betrayal.
So I placated her with excess syrup.
Then she got to do the dishes,
And sweep the floor. 

Playing in the backyard was fun.  Look!  No coat!  I sat in a lawn chair nearby.
My friend Sharlene dropped by with some birthday cupcakes.  Eva spent some time distributing lunch (ahem, cupcake crumbs) across my kitchen with her friend Katie.
Then she opened a present from Grandmama (my mom).  Eva is now the proud owner of an entire band.  Well, except for the harmonica, which I have now appropriated for my own use.
Instead of taking a nap, Eva got to go play in a mud puddle.  After that I lost my patience and quit taking pictures.  There’s a reason why toddlers take naps!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Forbidden

In which our Heroine solves a Great Mystery. 

I have a confession.  Sometimes I dream about green tea.  I have vivid dreams.  In my midnight delusions I can see its lovely green color.  The tea’s smell permeates every whiff of air I take into my lungs.  It’s delicious aroma tickles the inside of my nostrils and moves up into the sense area in curling puffs of tempting flavor.  I know, of all things to dream about, why this?  Well, a little background info first:
Mormons (ahem—members of the LDS church) don’t drink coffee or tea—at least, they shouldn’t if they plan on following all the Prophet’s advise, which is what we strive to do.  When my doctors heard that I didn’t drink either of these, they were relieved.  I took it to mean that daily doses of caffeine are bad for the health (especially the brain).  This is something I understood as true before, but it was interesting to see men and women who probably drink the stuff every morning agree with me. 
And then I started reading up on foods that are supposed to help against cancer.  One of the most potent sources of anti-cancer activity in the edible universe is green tea.  Of course, green tea is high in caffeine.  It is not one of your average, lightweight, herbal teas because it possesses powerful reactors against cancerous activity called catechins.  These little guys have “antifungal and antibacterial properties that allow the plant to successfully resist invasion by a large number of pathogens.” (Foods to Fight Cancer, Beliveau and Gingras, 112) And what enables plants to fight their pests, will also help humans to fight theirs.  Green tea prevents angiogenesis: the swelling in the body that allows cancer cells to reproduce.  Said wonderful tea may be one of the chief reasons why certain cancers that plague the West are nearly absent in the East. 
Once, while still living in Provo, Utah and attending the LDS University there (BYU) my husband and I ate at an excellent restaurant called Touch of Seoul.  Our young waitress clearly didn’t know English.  She had to demonstrate a few things with her hands for us and whenever we asked a question, she would answer in the affirmative with polite nods: “Yes, yes.”  After the meal was over, she brought us two cups of a mystery drink.  We guessed it was a tea and asked if it was herbal.  Guess what she said?  I know we should have known better, but we drank it down anyway. 
What followed was the best date night ever.  I remember feeling better than I had in a long time—maybe years.  (At this point, 5 or so years ago, I was already suffering from a loss of vitality.  There’s a good chance my tumor was already manifesting itself).  I felt so alive that night.  And I don’t think it was just the caffeine.  We ended up at Barnes and Noble later, and the books fairly danced before my eyes.  For once, it took so little effort to read.  And I felt really, really happy—like all the cares of the world had just dropped out of my life.  (Have I mentioned yet that my tumor was located in the personality inhabiting part of my mind?)
It may be that I will never taste anything so delicious ever again.  Once I’d begun read about it in my cancer books, I began to suspect that the mysterious substance was green tea.  And yes, I had a few dreams about it—dreams filled with longing and desire of the forbidden.  Then on Saturday I visited a local tea shop here in Anchorage with a friend to buy some herbal tea.  Picturesque canisters line one whole wall of the shop.  I was busy sniffing herbal teas and asking about specific ingredients when the woman who was helping us picked up a nearby green canister and held it out to me.  “Oh, yeees!”  I said in ecstasies, “This is what I want…”  A truly devastating thought bumped its way meanly into my head, “Wait—it’s not herbal, is it?”  Of course not.  But the great mystery is solved.  Yes, Mystery Drink No. 1 was definitely green tea.   

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Correction: There's Nothing "Proportional" About It

In which our Heroine corrects Herself. 

My most popular blog post ever is the one from soon after surgery on Sept 14, 2010 entitled In Proportion: Some Spiritual Truths About Burning Brightly.  Feeling curious, I decided to read it again tonight.  After all, my memory is bad and I needed a refresher.  Here’s a little reminder for you:
“…After the surgery, and during a short time when I was re-establishing my faith, I felt I’d lost my ability to burn brightly.  (Though truthfully, it may not be possible to do this when on opiates.)  I wondered if I would ever be able to burn like that again.  I’m happy to say that I feel I can.  In fact, I feel that I can do it even better or more brightly now.  It is possible that I have learned a new universal truth: that when a covenant-keeping person loses a physical health, the Father will generously compensate by offering spiritual strength, even in proportion to that which was lost.  Would a loving Heavenly Father leave us one-armed (so to speak) in a trying situation that frankly requires two arms?  No. He is not a small or a mean God.  As far as the "in proportion" idea, I have no quotes from any general authorities to support this—it is just what I feel about my particular situation.  I invite you to do the research for me if you feel so inclined. 
“At one point in my struggles, I was also wondering why my honoring my covenants and following the word of wisdom had not protected my physical health more.  Of course, wisdom dictates that trials still come, but I wondered how I would ever be able to sit in a Young Women class and learn about the Word of Wisdom without scoffing a little about its simplistic a+b=c equation.  Well, along with a few other truths which I plan to share along the way, the above-mentioned idea is key to answering my spiritual dilemma.” 
I have two thoughts.
1.       I was wrong about the in proportion idea.  I recognize now that the blessings Heavenly Father gives to those who suffer are far greater than the idea of equality as I expressed in the phrase “in proportion.”  As I look back and see how much I’ve gained from this terrifying experience, I recognize that a “proportionate” amount of blessings is feeble in contrast to what I’ve actually received.  After regaining at least 95% of my physical health back so far, plus a wealth of spiritual blessings in things like gratitude, faith, wisdom, and patience, I now know that God gives an unquantifiable amount back before, during, and after the ordeal.  All I had to do was ask Him, and he did it—though admittedly on his own time schedule. 
2.       Looking back, I am struck with the revelation that my life up until this year was too easy.  There is an important truth here in this simple comment.  How can we ever hope to grow to be better people without some sort of trial?  It makes sense if you think of gaining a talent at something like running.  At first, the warm-up laps alone seem tortuous.  Then they become easier.  Sometimes you get sore, sometimes your muscles will even feel like they're burning.  You get thirsty, and uncomfortable in your own sweat and possibly body odor.  It is not a pretty picture, really.  And there is some pain involved in the conditioning.  However, when all is said and done, there’s the good chance that you’ll be in better shape.  And the perk is that you can enjoy yourself more on a hike or a bike-ride, or even significantly improve your health.   If you never have to feel the burn, then you’ll never get to the point where you can reap the benefits.  Everything was so easy for me—nearly perfect home and family life growing up, good health, easy times with schooling and my social life over all.  It seems that I hardly even had small trials that made small bumps in my life—and I think Heavenly Father must have given me a great deal of help through even those small bumps in the road.  I’m a lazy person, so when things get easy, I just stop trying as hard and let life pass me by.  As I learned at church from my Stake President (church leader) today: Going through tough times allows us to gain certain attributes that will in turn lead us to reap great blessings.  During hard times, we should seek out teaching moments to allow for growth.  If you have to go through it anyway, then may it at least end up being worth-while.  Trials will happen no matter what.  That’s life.  It is up to us to decide how we will grow from them. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Inspiration from a Paperback

In which our Heroine avails herself of the Soapbox. 

Good Day to All of You,
I recently finished reading Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt.  It wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, but it did get me thinking about the importance of rules of etiquette, politeness, and hospitality in our society.  Set first in Ohio, then in Savannah, Georgia, the author compares southern manners to the northern several times.  The contrast was striking.  At one point, I found myself thinking about a Greek mythology class I took at BYU.  We’d been studying Odysseus, and the professor spent days talking about the importance of hospitality and the guest/host relationship in the text.  Oddly enough, I remember that many of the other students had trouble understanding this obscure idea.  I didn’t get it either until I remembered my mother’s habit of cleaning the house from top to bottom and carefully laying out sheets on all the extra beds when guests were coming—even if only for my older brothers as they visited.  Of course, I was turned out of the comfortable warmth of my bed every time.  Before I was very old, I knew what to expect when guests came calling: a preparatory flurry of activity added to some seriously inconvenient sacrifices on my part.
Of course, sleeping on the couch back then was less than ideal, but the rest of the visit was more than worth it.  While my mother was busy putting our lives on hold, the meals were delicious and filled with fun conversation.  The real perk today is that I finally get the coveted guest treatment when I visit home now.  There is nothing better than finding my mother’s newest and fluffiest towels, complete with washcloth, artfully arranged on the bathroom counter in the morning.  It always makes me feel so special to be treated with such care and enthusiastic love—not that she doesn’t expect me to cook a meal or two and help with the dishes, which is of course my way of being a good guest.
Not to be a stickler for the rules, but I do appreciate it when others treat me with respect and courteously—and I’m sure they appreciate the same from me.  I had an experience recently where another person assumed that I had nothing better to do with my afternoon than wait around for them.  I felt as if they didn’t respect me as I’d made sure to explain that I only had a few hours available.  It is really needless to say that I lost my patience quickly and the experience stood in stark contrast to the little politeness’s that, according to a paperback book, apparently happen all the time in Savannah, Georgia. 
I worry that our society is losing its ability to recognize polite custom.  In our haste to make things more efficient and productive, we are losing the niceties about us.  We no longer know many of our neighbors.  We show up late to events, and cancel an appointment at a moment’s notice without good reason.  RSVP’s are a thing of the past.  I see—no, I feel an increasing burden on the host when no one lets you know whether they’ll actually show up or offer to help with a side-dish or with cleaning up afterward.  I realize things happen to disrupt the perfection of a gathering sometimes.  For instance, in the before-mentioned book, a wonderfully extravagant party is planned at the end where two neighbors break into a very un-lady-like scuffle and end up breaking a platter that had been in the host’s family for years.  The host was “white about the lips,” but graciously approached the ladies and suggested that they go on home and clean up before coming back.  An impressive degree of patience and charity, yes?
Not that I’m the best example of good manners.  I have done all the previously mentioned impoliteness’s.  That’s why I know about them.  But the one thing that the book did show well was that those who followed the rules of etiquette were usually those characters that respected others and were capable of the greatest kindnesses.  I’d like to be more like that.  Too bad that being polite often means keeping your mouth shut about things that bug you.
Discourteously yours,

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Day my Food Forgery Failed

In which our Lady engages in Burger Forgery. 

Happy late April Fool’s Day.  My ward had a party that night and one of the activities was that the Primary children would vote on the best April Fool’s side dish or dessert.  With great anticipation, I made these:

I did not win the competition.  Apparently, small attention deficit (and therefore disordered) children do not like dark chocolate mints for their burgers.  They prefer watermelon carved to look like a brain.  In a failed attempt to retake my competitive pride, I also endeavored to build the highest tower/building with crackers and cheez whiz.  Sadly, I cannot add the cheez whiz tower to my list of undercover talents.