Thursday, July 22, 2010

Last Minute Update- Raven Radio Show Moved to Next Week

I was just contacted by one of the hosts at Raven Radio, and they have to move the show until next Thursday. 

Live better, a little every day.

I will be a guest on Raven Radio tonight!

I will be a guest on Raven Radio tonight talking about preparedness.  The show will air live at 10PM Eastern Time.  Check it out at  Older episodes can be heard at

Live better, a little every day.

Forgotten Foods- Linden

During our recent trip to Maine, our friend and local guru, Leif, pointed out that we have a linden tree behind our cabin.  And... that the linden produced edible fruits that have a flavor somewhat akin to chocolate.  Chocolate?  I say, let's move into the cabin right now! 

Ok, we can't relocate just yet.  When we got home, however, you bet I went on line to learn more about this chocolate-like linden fruit.  As it turns out, it's not just the fruits, but also the flowers and leaves that are edible as well.  Cooking with linden is part of older, traditional recipes in places like England, Germany, and France where the linden is abundant.  Thankfully, it grows well in New England.

The young fruits contain a nut-like seed that when ground tastes similar to cocoa powder.  However, older fruits produce seed that taste more like coffee.  Yes, that's right, coffee!  Actually, the description is a coffee-like flavor with a hint of chocolate.  Yum!  Hot mocha in the morning!  That's when my husband said, "Ok, so where do we buy more of these linden trees?"  Since I don't drink coffee, I was happy to learn that the blossoms can be used for tea, and that the blossoms would have a gentle, calming effect.

Of course, the trick is to be able to collect enough of the linden seeds to make either the cocoa powder or coffee grind substitutes.  You need a lot, so unless you have a lot of linden trees, you may only get a few bites of chocolate or a few cups of mocha.  And yes, we have already sourced out a local supplier of linden trees. 

Store the seeds as seeds, not ground up.  Once ground, it doesn't hold its flavor well.  Once blended with the blossoms and grape seed oil to make linden chocolate, it does not store well.  It will last only a few days in the freezer.  Thankfully, the nut-like seeds store well and they can be ground as needed. 

Perhaps the most practical use of linden, however, is using the leaves to make flour.  Linden leaf flour can be used in combination with other flours and grains to bake breads, cakes, and porridge, or be used as a thickener for soups.  I found a few web sites with information on using linden in cooking, but this one had the most, and it's just a cool site overall.  Check out Celtnet Recipes.  Click here to go directly to their linden recipe page.

Live better, a little every day.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Building a Small Cabin Update

Building a small cabin shouldn't take long.  However, when you live about a five hour drive away (or longer if you have small children that need longer stops for diaper changes and bottle feedings), things can take a bit longer than expected.

Last week, we made a four-day trip up to Maine to work on our little cabin.  After being left without work for almost a year, everything was exactly as it was left.  Some birds had made a nest, and a bit of a mess on the second floor, and there was a field of dead lady bugs on the first floor.  Considering that the second floor was not fully enclosed last fall, and there are still a few gaps that needed sealing in the outer walls, this was no problem at all compared to what we could have found.

The first day was spent travelling, trimming down the overgrowth, and setting up camp.  We had one snake in the camper this time, which is a massive improvement from the 10-15 that had taken up residence that last time our camper had been left for the winter.  There was also a hornet nest and a yellow jacket nest discovered in various vents, and both were destroyed by my very brave, beekeeper husband!

The second day, friends arrived to help.  The men got right into mowing the tall grass for a larger camp, and then set to work on the cabin. The doors framed and hung, and the remaining windows were installed.  We also set up a screen house for the little ones to play in, keep the bugs out, and provide some shade.

Speaking of bugs, the infamous Maine black flies were there in numbers to greet us.  The mosquitoes were also present in unusually large numbers due to the massive amounts of rain and flooding this past spring.  Not wanting to use DEET with small children, we used an essential oil based insect repellent from Burt's Bees.  On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, I'd give is a 9 for it's effect on the black flies, and about a 7 for it's effect on the mosquitoes.  The blood suckers kept buzzing us, but didn't land to bite, making them more of an annoyance than a real problem.

On the third day, the second floor exterior was finished.  We had originally planned to put up the roofing shingles as well.  With the temperature topping 90 degrees and humid, the idea of working on black roofing paper with black, asphalt shingles wasn't very appealing to anyone.  So, it was time for some play.  Most everyone took rides on the dirt bike and ATV.  Work hard, play harder!

The last day was bright, sunny, and we hated to leave.  But, we should be able to actually sleep in the cabin during our next trip up to our developing homestead.

Live better, a little every day.

Monday, June 28, 2010

An Evening With Celery

If you think you like celery, but have only tried it from the grocery store, you don't know jack about celery!  We grew "tango" celery from organic seed, and wow is it different.  The store bought stuff has crunch, but flavor?  Not compared to this.  The grocery store celery is more like water compared to the homegrown celery.

The more I grow food, the more I realize that for most of my life, I've been eating poor immitations of food.  It is no wonder that children don't like vegetables.  When varieties are grown for flavor, instead of how they hold up through long shipping and storage conditions, and when food is allowed to fully ripen before being picked, a whole new world of flavor emerges. 

I have many more bunches than I could use in the next week, so I've pulled them, washed them, and was in the middle of chopping them to put in the freezer when the baby decided she wants to be held.  At least I can type one-handed!

Why not dehydrate the celery?  Dehydrating would certainly preserve the celery well, and take up a lot less space.  However, it is extremely humid, we just had a thunderstorm pass through, and the weather is just not cooperating enough for us to use a solar dehydrator.  You really need a dry day to make the best use of one.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Grass-Fed Bison, It's What's For Dinner

What a weekend!  Between the two of us, Eddie and I worked three farmers' markets.  It has been hot, sticky, and exhausting.  Hard work was rewarded, as we made a decent chunk of change to show for it. 

At the final market of the weekend, another vendor was selling bison.  We spoiled ourselves a little, and picked up a pair of grass-fed, bison-meat rib eye steaks.  Thick, beautiful bison steaks, raised without all the hormones or antibiotics, free to graze on grass all day long.  Paired with a stir fry of onion, pok choi, swiss chard, and garlic scapes, this was a well-deserved reward at the end of a gruelling weekend.

Our display is very basic, easy to set up and take down.  We only have one product- honey.  A canopy, card table, a sign, and a few bottles on display, and we're done.  The poduce growers and crafts people take a lot of time setting up all their baskets and handmade items.  There are always a few good-natured comments along the lines of "I'm so jealous!  You're set up is so easy."  To which Eddie always says, "Ah yes, but do you want to go work the bees?"  Then the lightbulb clicks, and they don't feel so badly about having so much to set up.

Due to impending thunderstorms (Hail Thor!), this afternoon's market closed a half hour early. Our stuff was packed up quick, so Eddie, being the helpful guy that he is, assisted the bison folks in packing up their freezer.  They gave us a few packages of bison jerky in return.  What a treat.  Needless to say, the jerky (and the rib eyes) have already been consumed!

Live better, a little every day.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Long Week

It's been a long week with the kids, the heat, and the baby has already started teething.  Our living room ceiling fan has bit the dust, and the hottest day of the year so far is slated for tomorrow.  At least the garden is kicking butt!

Live better, a little every day.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Podcast Update

This week's schedule for the podcast is up! 

06/14/2010, Monday- No Show Today
06/15/2010, Tuesday- Off-Grid Living 101
06/16/2010, Wednesday- Peak Oil, What You Need To Know
06/17/2010, Thursday- Reducing Dependence on Oil
06/18/2010, Friday- How To Set Up An Off-Grid Kitchen

Live better, a little every day.

Farmers' Market Season Has Begun

The Farmers' Markets we participate in started this past weekend.  In spite of cloudy skies and scattered thunderstorms, each market had plenty of foot traffic.  Eddie worked the markets, while I kept the little ones home out of the weather.  We moved a lot of honey this weekend.  Next weekend, when the largest market we do begins, it should be even better!

At the end of the market on Saturday, one of the other vendors gifted us with 12 plum tomato plants.  They went into the ground immediately.  Seeing how much further along those tomato plants were than my tomato plants made me wish that we had a greenhouse.  Yes, I could have started some seeds in my As we will most likely still be living here as our primary residence next year, we may look for a small greenhouse for this winter to grow a winter garden and get a jump on next year.

Beyond honey, we planted pie pumkins and mini melons to sell at the markets later in the season.  I just took a quick inventory of them.  They are ready to move up to bigger pots, as are my own tomato plants.  Two more weeks, and everything should be in the ground. 

Live better, a little every day.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Honey Sweet, Yummy Beets

Yesterday was spent mostly on the computer and getting caught up on administrative tasks.  I put up a listing on local harvest for our beekeeping operation and honey sales.  Relaunched the podcast, finalized show notes for the next couple of podcasts, and added our beekeeping operation to Local Harvest.  If you would like to check out the listing, it should be searchable in their database by the end of the day, or you can click here.

Eddie was out at the hives yesterday, and our bees are doing very well.  They will need additional room very soon to store more honey.  If the weather these past couple of months is any indication, things are shaping up to be a very good honey year.

For a couple of months each year, my kitchen is overrun with seedlings and larger veggie plants in containers.  Something came by and ate half of the cucumber plants.   This is exactly why I start so many seeds!  Thankfully, I have several more cucumber plants to get in the ground.  They will be put in cages until they get well established.  That should give at least one layer of defence against whatever came a'nibbling in the night.

Most of my plants are still doing very well in their containers, but it is absolutely time to get more in the ground. My back has had a few days now to rest, and I need to get back outside to dig in the dirt again. After Eddie gets home from work this evening, the weather should be cooperative enough for me to get my summer squash outside. The beets are doing very well.  I can't wait to pick them, but they aren't quite ready yet.  I've been dying to try my hand at making beet sugar to compare it in baking to store-bought white sugar. Beet greens are rather tasty, and the beets themselves are quite a favorite in our household.  It will soon be time to can the excess beets and start stocking up for the winter.

Other than gardening and continuing work on my guide to reducing petoleum consumption, today's plans are to research the ins and out of building log cabins and log homes.

Live better, a little every day.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Podcast Relaunch Today

Today is the Better Living Daily Podcast Relaunch!  There is a new episode up on the site, Homesteading as a Strategy for Freedom.  Please check it out and let me know what you think!

Live better, a little every day.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Alternatives to Oil in Plastics

I had originally planned on getting the majority of our plants in the ground over the past few days.  I have, however, been sidelined with back pain from overdoing it in the garden and reorganizing the house.  To move forward with our pledge to do something every day to live better, I spent many hours researching ways to reduce our dependence on oil, and I ordered a new cell phone.  That may sound incongruous, as most new phones would represent market demand for new oil, but wait...

I'm not a techo-gadgety type, but it was finally time to upgrade my cell phone.  I've been avoiding getting a new one because each new phone represents more oil-based plastics.  With the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, I was expecting to feel some guilt in contributing to market demand for petroleum. 

My carrier offers a couple of cell phone models at no cost to customers, and the offers change every couple of months.  This time, their free offerings included the Samsung Reclaim, a phone that boasts 80% recycled materials, and 40% of new plastic used as corn-based bioplastic.  Of course, I would be happier if the phone were manufactured in the USA, and if there were no components made from new petroleum, but is a step away from oil dependency. 

In order to prevent another disaster, we need to reduce our overall consumption of petroleum.  But, can we do this when we are so accustomed to our conveniences and gadgets which are often made of plastics?  One emerging option is bioplastic.  Bioplastic made from corn is already used to make plastic containers for organic and natural cosmetics and in water bottles. 

Walmart, in its efforts to do damage control and revamp its image, has given bioplastics its largest market boost by agreeing to package some of its produce in bioplastics.  I'm not suggesting that people now shop at Walmart, but the fact that the largest retailer in the US is now using some bioplastics funnels more resources to the bioplastics industry. 

Of course, there is a catch.  We could easily be trading Big Oil for Big Agribusiness.  While bioplastics can be made from the starch of many different soures, much of it comes from corn.  Also, some bioplastics are being designed to come from genetically modified sources.  If we opt to continue producing corn on gigantic farms requiring large amounts of petroleum-based agricultural chemicals and petroleum-based fuels to run the extra-large farm equipment, there will be a tipping point where we will not be saving on petroleum consumption. 

The issue that would hit consumers more immediately, however, is that bioplastics cost about twice what petroleum plastics cost.  That may change, however, as petroleum costs continue to rise and newer, more efficient ways to manufacture bioplastics are developed.

As alluded to in my last blog entry, I'm putting together a comprehensive guide to reducing oil dependency.  I will be adding a section on bioplastics where their application seems appropriate.  I will let everyone know when it's completed.

Live better, a little every day.

Supporting links:
USA Today Article on Biodegradable Plastic
BioBag, 100% Biodegradable & Compostable Plastic (made from non-GMO plant starch)
Corn Plastic To The Rescue (Bioplastics get a boost from Walmart)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Podcast Update

It is official.  The Better Living Daily Podcast will relaunch on Monday, June 7, 2010! 

Here is the show schedule for the week of 6/7/2010

  1. 06/07/2010, Monday- ***Relaunch Episode*** Homesteading as a trategy for Freedom
  2. 06/08/2010,Tuesday- Debt, Why You Should Never Carry It, and How to Get Out of It
  3. 06/09/2010, Wednesday- Buy Land and Build a House Without a Mortgage
  4. 06/10/2010, Thursday- Homesteading as an Investment Strategy and Retirement Plan
  5. 06/11/2010, Friday- Off-Grid Living 101
Please tune in, leave comments, and get involved!

Live better, a little every day.

Driven By Oil (Leak)

Earlier today while listening to The Survival Podcast, I was shocked (though I probably shouldn't have been) to learn that there has been another oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico identical to the one in the gulf right now.  In 1979, the Ixtoc oil spill dumped 30,000 barrells of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico after a the blowout preventer failed to stop a blowout.  Sound familiar?  The exact same methods to stop the leak were tried, and they failed.  Remember the "Top Hat" strategy?  Well, 30 years ago it was called the "Sombrero" strategy.  And, guess what... it didn't work then either.  Oh, and the rig was owned by a company called Sedco, which is known today as Transocean.

In the past thirty years, nothing has been done by either our government or the oil industry to improve safety or prevent this kind of leak from happening again, which it so disasterously has.  However, our government knew this has happened before, what worked to fix the leak, and what did not.  Pretending to go along with BP's attempts to fix the leak using failed techniques from thrity years ago is irresponsible.  Why not just come out and say, "Look the only way to fix this kind of leak is to drill a relief well, but that will take many months?" 

I'll tell you why.  No one wants to give the public that kind of bad news.  Our government, along with BP, would like everyone to believe they are doing all that they can with the most current technology to stop the leak.  So, they distract us with failed attempt after failed attempt, rather than deliver the bad news that this leak is going to be active for a long time coming.

I've seen a lot of groups pop up and circulating emails focused on boycotting BP.  That's a start, but the problem is so much deeper than boycotting one company.  These disasters have happened because we have an addiction to cheap oil.  Our oil addiction has made oil companies very rich, and they will go to any length to feed our addiction and ensure that profits keep rolling in. 

Since our government has had 30 years to prevent a problem like the leak in the gulf, and hasn't done so yet, we are on our own if we want to prevent oil leaks in the future.  The only way we will prevent future accidents from risky oil drilling is to reduce the demand for oil. 

So today, I spent the time to compile a comprehensive list of things that individuals can do to reduce their oil dependence.  So far, I have a list of over 85 things that are easy to do that also reduce our individual oil consumptionl  There isn't room here to list all of these, so here are the top 7:
  1. Grow a garden.  Oil used to power large farm equipment, in the fuel from shipping around the country and around the world, the powering of food processing equipment, food packaging, and of course, the fuel used in each vehicle used to go to the grocery store.  Gardens also reduce the amount of grass that needs to be cut, so you use your lawn mower less.
  2. Whenever possible, walk, ride a bike, or take a bus.  Leave the car at home unless absolutely necessary.
  3. Wear clothes made of natural fibers.  Not only do they feel better and breathe better, synthetics are made from petroluem products.
  4. Source out natural personal care products.  This includes hair care, cosmetics, deodorants, skin lotions, and perfumes.  Personal care products that contain petroleum-based and synthetic ingredients are linked to health problems, including cancer.  Artificial fragrances are some of the most toxic concoctions ever invented.  Stick to products with natural ingredients, and fragranced with essential oils.
  5. Use cloth shopping bags instead of plastic ones.  Besides, do you really need so many bags collecting in your home.  At the very least, bring your plastic bags to be recycled.  Some grocery stores have a recycling recepticle at their entrances for plastic bags.
  6. Recycle.  Most towns and cities now have some kind of recycling program, and they will take your plastic water bottles, milk jugs, and other plastics, reducing the need for newer plastics and additional petroluem.  
  7. Buy used.  Shop at consignment stores, yard sales, craigslist, and good will stores.  This is another form of recycling.
Live better, a little every day.

Supporting links:
Rachel Maddow, The More Spills change, the More They Stay the Same
Wikipedia, Ixtoc I Oil Spill

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lightening the Load

I missed getting a blog post in the past couple of days, but with good reason.  We have been turning our apartment upside-down- cleaning, organizing, gifting items, sorting other items for sale, separating items to donate to good will, and bagging items for the trash and recycling.  It has been go-go-go from rising in the morning to my head hitting the pillow at night.  And... we're not even close to being done.

I've been itching to reorganize, and here's why:
  • What if there were an emergency and we had to leave our home in a hurry? 
  • Can we access our important papers and belongings quickly? 
  • What if there were a flood and our basement storage unit turned into an indoor pond?  
  • When we move, do we really want to wait until the last minute to shed our extra stuff? 
  • We could use the cash from selling some of our things to make an extra payment to get rid of the last remaining credit card faster. 
We cleaned and organized all of the closets, moved some furniture, repacked the clothes we had in storage in water-proof, vacuum sealed bags.  The clothes were originally stored in boxes, which have now been broken down and stored flat, and can be used to pack our belongings when we move.  Between the change to the storage bags, and flattening the boxes, we gained a ton of space.  And when you live in an apartment, space is always at a premium.

After we attend a Memorial Day remembrance tomorrow morning, we still have more work to do.  We have many more plants to get in the ground, which will give all of us a chance to get outdoors.  That still leaves me the task of purging old documents and revamping the filing system.  At least, we have access to a commercial shredder.

We will do a purging like this once a month from now on.  This will help us raise funds and get us ready to move.  Moving can be a real pain in the neck.  There's no need to make it more of a pain by having to purge items at the last minute.

Live better, a little every day.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Small Amounts Add Up

Today was a long, dull day, full of chores and chasing kids around.  I'm not even sure how many sinkfulls of dishes I did today.  Every muscle in my body is sore, but in a good way.  Spent the evening planning out projects for the weekend.  It's going to be a busy weekend.

I did a couple hours of bookkeeping for some extra money, deposited it, and sent it immediately to our last remaining credit card.  It was only $20, but it was little amounts like this, chipping away at the principal balance paid off our other credit cards quickly.  Never underestimate the single, small, extra payment!

The day has taken it's toll, and we needed a moment to unwind and reprogram our minds with something more positive and inspiring.  We watched the documentary, Alone In The Wilderness which follows a 51 year old man who moves out to a remote part of Alaska, builds a log cabin and furniture by himself and with just hand tools. Just the kind of movie to feed the spirit.

Much more to post tomorrow.

Live better, a little every day

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Garden Report 5/25/2010

Here is the first official Garden Report of 2010.  We are a little late getting some plants in the ground.  That was dictated, like so many things this year, by our daughter's birth in early April. Certain plants really should have been replants outdoors before now, and we will just have to wait and see how things pan out.

So far this season, we have:
  • dug an additional garden bed
  • expanded the size of the existing garden bed from last year
  • 8 rows of 10 plants each of onions, carrots, and beets in the ground
We have the following plants ready to go in the ground:
  • 15 plants each of green beans (bush), summer squash, and cucumbers
  • 20 swiss chard plants
  • 5 melon plants
The following are ready to be repotted into larger pots
  • 15 slicing tomato plants
  • 15 paste tomato plants
  • 5 mini pie pumpking plants (variety specific for container gardening)
We are still waiting for 15 bell pepper plants and 15 sweet pepper plants to germinate

Live better, a little every day.

Blog Updates and Companion Podcast

We are approaching the Better Living Daily blog's first birthday! 

Some of you may have noticed that I've made a few changes to the description of my blog.  I'm trying out a few things to improve the blog's look and clarity.  The purpose of the blog, however, is still the same: to record those things we do on a daily basis to improve our independence, level of self-sufficiency, and quality of life. 

Last autumn, I had started a companion podcast to this blog.  This was to help keep blog posts focused on documenting our daily actions towards living a more independent life, while leaving the longer and more opinionated topics for the podcast.  Sadly, the podcast was left fallow for many months mostly due to medical problems.  For the same reasons, I have not made daily entries here to my blog consistently.  It has also meant that some of these longer, opinionated, and politically charged topics have ended up here on this blog again. 

The podcast will be relaunched in the next couple of weeks.  I have some updating to do to the podcast site, but will announce the official relaunch here within the next few days.

Thanks to everyone for reading my blog and listening to the podcast. 

Live better, a little every day.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Scouting Meets Homeland Security

In keeping with both our family's pledge to do something every day to better our family's circumstances and independence, and my midwife's orders to take things easy for an extra two weeks, my project today was to research a few homeschooling links and topics online.  Our biggest hurdle with homeschooling is likely to come from family, and their fear that our kids won't have opportunities to socialize, I figured I'd explore a few organizanations that would provide both skills and socialization.  First stop, the Boy and Girl Scouts of America.

I was surprised to learn there was a co-ed program in the Boy Scouts, the Explorer Program.  It has also been called Learning for Life, the Exploring Program, and the Venturing Program.  I had never heard about the program  before, so I did a search and found the New York Times article, "Explorer- Scouts Train to Fight Terrorists, and More".

The article details how Homeland Security has partnered with the Explorer Program to teach children how to take down terrorists.  According to the director for Learning for Life, John Anthony, "Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many posts (in the Explorer Program) have taken on an emphasis of fighting terrorism and other less conventional threats."

Less conventional threats?  That line in the article brought me back up to the very first paragraph where teenagers were being trained to take down a gun-toting, murderous, disgruntled, Iraq War Veteran.  I have to ask the question, is Homeland Security expecting so many of our Iraq War vets to come home mentally unstable that even our children need to be recruited to subdue them?  And if so, why?  (Ok, conspiracy theory moment over.)

We should not be teaching our kids that veterans are a "less conventional threat." We should be honoring them for their service and sacrifice, regardless of the policies that send them to war.

Do I think these kids will be called in if there is a disgruntled Iraq War veteran emergency?  No.  Professionals would be called in to deal with such a situation.  I am, however, concerned that these drills of American children battling American Veterans even exist.  It has the potential to predispose these young adults into thinking of Veterans as unstable, violent, and a threat. I think it is a dangerous message to send to our impressionable youth.  I also find it a slick bit of spin that the "disgruntled veteran" stereotype is being pushed along side of criminals, such as illegal border crossings and drug traffickers in this training. 

What we have here is a battle for our childrens' minds being played out through Homeland Security sanctioned role playing.  And, I find that disturbing.
While this is just one program associated with Boy Scouts of America, I think we'll just keep looking for other socialization opportunities.
Live better, a little every day.

Monday, May 17, 2010

NAIS Threat Not Gone

Please read NAIS Not Dead? and Ding Dong NAIS Is (Not) Dead!

When I first heard that the National NAIS was defeated a few months back, I breathed a sigh of relief.  NAIS has got to be the prime example of a government program designed to destroy the small, local farm in favor of large, factory farms. 

It is also a great example of people taking part in the political process and saying "NO!" to Big Government, Big Agribusiness, and their unholy union.  David bested Goliath, and NAIS got squashed.  Unfortunately, NAIS is like one of those horror movie villains- you think they are dead, but they always manage to survive and come back for the sequel.  In this case, NAIS is being resurrected under a "new" program that looks remarkably like the old one, just with a more updated look.

Part of the NAIS diguise, ehem... makeover, is a brand new name.  NAIS will now be known as the Federal Animal Disease Traceability System.   Under the old NAIS, participates registered their operation as "premises".  Under the new system, they are called "unique locations".  The new system will still use the same ID tags.  Again, animals are tracked from birth to death, with every life event in between requiring forms to be submitted.  And, it still does nothing to prevent disease.

The new program will run pretty much the way NAIS was intended to operate, but with one big difference: participation in the program would be mandatory for anyone who sells livestock across state lines.  NAIS was voluntary (though it probably would have become mandatory).  That may not sound like a big deal, except that most auctions and livestock sales include out-of-state buyers.  This makes participation in the program mandatory for just about everyone.  The problem here, again, is that the program raises expenses for the small producer.  Even the individual who keeps a few laying hens will pay higher prices for chicks, due to the added expense the supplier is forced to bear.

At the same time, big breaks in fees are given to the large factory farms.  They would only have to have a single cow tagged to represent the entire lot.  The small farmer must tag and pay the fee for each individual animal.  This would put a lot of small producers out of business.  Why would the USDA do such a thing?  To help the factory farms sell their meat in the international market.

Here's the part that's so infuriating.  Factory farms treat their animals in the most inhumane, disgusting, filthy manner.  Their animals live in pens so small they can barely move, sometimes sharing pens with other animals who become sick and die in the same shared, small space.  These pens are often filled with the animal's feces.  Paying someone to come in and clean these undersized pens would result in higher labor costs, and it's much cheaper just to pump high doses of antibiotics into the animal, which remain in the flesh and are consumed by humans. (Anyone wondering why we are so resist to antibiotics?)  This doesn't even scratch the surface on the animal abuse that is typical of factory farms. 

Stressful, filthy living conditions, however, lead to disease.  In order to make US beef marketable to international markets requiring disease controls, NAIS was created.  It did not, however, make our beef any safer, but gave the illusion of safety because it was part of a "program".   So, NAIS provided a false sense of security in order to sell meat abroad, but would have financially devastated small, family farms which produce a superior product in cleaner, more humane environment if it had been mandatory. 

Let's just go and reward producers for treating their animals like the feces they are forced to live in, while punishing a small, traditional farmer who treats his animals well and gets a superior product for his or her efforts.  Brilliant. 

This program was defeated once before.  It can be done again.  If you agree with me that this is a program that should never come to pass, then I urge you to contact your elected representatives.  Find out where they stand on the issue, and then let them know that you are an informed constituent, and let them know how YOU feel about this new program. 

One more thought... I'd like to see them force us to tag the thousands upon thousands of honeybees in our beeyard.  Good luck!

Live better, a little every day.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Government Can Tell Us What To Eat?

I couldn't wait to post this, as I just found it too disturbing.  Please check out the article, Feds Tell Court They Can Decide What You Eat.  Yes, that's right.  Our government has officially taken the position that we citizens do not have the right to choose the food we put in our bodies! 

In a nutshell, the lawsuit in question is about the sale of raw dairy.  The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund claims that we have a "fundamental right to (our) own bodily and physical health".   As health is largely influenced by what foods we eat, this means we have a right to choose what we consume.  Seems logical enough. 

Our government, however, says, "no", we citizens do not have a "fundamental right" to obtain what food we choose.  The government cites safety concerns as the basis for this position.  In fact, there is legislation pending to allow the government to take even more control over the food and beverages we consume.  Thanks.  That's just what we need.  More government meddling.

S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 is another lengthy, disasterous piece of legislation that sounds good (supposedly promotes food safety), but will ultimately have the opposite effect.  It is legislation that, yet again, seeks to undermine the small, independent farmer, while supporting the large, corporate, agri-businessness farms.  It is the mass-produced, giant farms that are putting our food supply at risk in the first place!  Further legislation regulating the small farmer isn't going to help make our food supply any safer.  It will only cause more family farms to suffer.  But, that is what the larger food producers what, so that's what our politicians give them.

In this specific case dealing with raw dairy, most of the general population in the US would be horrified to drink unpasturized milk.  When you take a step back and think about it, pasturization is a relatively new process when considering the entirety of human history, and our practice of drinking the milk of other mammals (cows, goats, sheep, etc.).  Somehow, we managed as a species to survive drinking raw milk. 

The purpose of pasturizing milk is to prevent pathogens developing in the milk and making us sick.  These pathogens thrive in the filthy, dirty, feces-infested conditions common to commercial cattle operations.  For most people with common sense (and a sense of decency to the animal), the answer would be to prevent the problem from existing in the first place.  CLEAN UP THESE COMMERCIAL DAIRIES!  Give the cows a healthy place to exist.  Cleanliness prevents disease.  But, these dairies are just so large that they don't want to pay for the labor that would be necessary to keep their facilities clean, and they simply don't care about the wellfare of their livestock.

Small dairy farms, on the other hand, have a much easier time maintaining the cleanliness of their facility.  They take pride in their operation, and both the animals and the product reflect this.  The only dairy licensed to sell raw dairy in Massachusetts is only a couple of towns away.  There is just no comparison in taste between raw and pasturized dairy.  They offer a superior product, from an inspected clean facility.  I feel much safer drinking this local raw milk than I do eating prepackaged foods that are increasingly being recalled for salmonella contamination from their factory-farm packaging and shipping methods.

The product is sold directly from the farm to consumer.  No middle men.  No shipping, warehousing, minimal packaging, etc.  This sounds like a good thing, right?  Less fuel and waste consumed in getting product to market is ecologically sound.  Everyone, including the government, is supposedly going green these days.  This seems like the perfect arrangement.  So, what's the problem?

A very important point to consider: the government loses a ton of money in taxes when farmers sell direct to consumers.  While there is no sales tax on food, there is tax on the fuel used to ship food, taxes on the income of the truck driver delivering the product, taxes on the energy used to pasturize and to keep the milk cold in storage, and so on.  Every time another hand gets involved, there's another tax. 

By cutting out the middle men, we also cut out income through taxation, and that's not good for the government.  This may not seem like a big deal, but when you consider the increasing number of people growing their own food these days to help stretch the budget a bit further, and the growing number of people who join the push for fresh, local foods every day, it adds up to a big deal.

This isn't just about raw dairy.  The more disturbing aspect is that the federal government is claiming that we do not have a right to chose what we put in our own bodies.  If this line of thinking is accepted and becomes legal precedent, we will then have a very dangerous situation.  The government could take it a step further and then argue that citizens have no right to grow our own fruits and veggies in our backyards.  Will this be used to confiscate, or (more likely) tax us, for each chicken or duck that we keep? 

This is simply too much power and control for our government to have.  We do not need more government meddling and power-grabbing.  If we want better, safer, more sustainable food, we need to encourage the local farmer- not stifle him or her.  I urge you to contact your representatives, and object to this proposed legislation.  But even more than that, I urge to plant something edible- even if it's a single basil plant in a window sill, more if you can.

Live better, a little every day.

Herbal Remedy- Sunburn Treatment

This is what I make each year as summer approached.  As someone who has suffered through serious sunburns, on one occasion requiring medical treatment, I can attest to just how effective this sunburn remedy is.  I used it after a serious burn.  I was caught unprepared, outdoors with no shade, for many hours.  It was the kind of sunburn that should have left some scarring, but my skin healed fast and with no scarring at all.

2 cups aloe vera gel
1 tablespoon vitamin E oil
20 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops Ylang Ylang oil

Mix all ingredients together and store in the refrigerator.  The aloe, Vitamin E, and lavender all help to heal burned skin and prevent scarring. The lavender and ylang ylang oils help manage the pain of the sunburn.You don't have to put it in the fridge, but the coolness will feel good on sunburned skin.  Make sure to order your aloe vera gel from a good source, and not just buy it at the drug store.  Most of those brands have alcohol, which will just make matters worse. 

I have ordered aloe vera gel from Camden-Grey in the past, but they now only sell in a bulk quantity.  I have been growing aloe plants at home now for a few years and harvest my own gel.  However, Camden-Grey now has another cool aloe option: aloe butter.  It's a mix of both aloe vera gel and fractionated coconut.  That would also work for a sunburn treatment, but the texture would be more like a lotion than a gel.  They also have decent prices on containers.

Live better, a little every day.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Herbal Remedy- Ear Ache Treatment

Few things are more painful and upsetting to children as an ear infection.  Like clockwork, ear aches seem to start on the weekend- when the pediatrician's office is closed!  No one wants to spend hours in an emergency room with an inconsolable child, especially when ERs are filled with contagious people and more worrisome possibilities (like MRSA). 

Caring for the discomfort of an ear infection at home until you can get a doctor's appointment is easy.  Take a cotton ball, and dip it in garlic-infused olive oil.  (Dip, not soak.  It should be damp, not dripping.)  Add 3-4 drops of lavendar essential oil.  Frangrance/perfume oil will not do, as they lack the plant's natural chemical constituents.  Work the cotton ball to fit in the outer part of the ear in the same way an ear plug would fit.  Leave the cotton ball in place for 30-60 minutes at a time.

Both garlic and lavender have antibiotic properties, and lavender helps provide pain relief.  The olive oil provides the medium to apply the garlic and helps prevent the lavender oil from drying out the skin. 

To make garlic-infused olive oil, add to a crock pot chopped fresh garlic and cover with olive oil.  Warm on the lowest setting for at least 2 hours, longer if possible.  Strain out the garlic, bottle, and store in the fridge.  Let the oil return to room temp before using.

Another step one could try would be to add the herb mullein.  I know several people who have used mullein for their ear drops, but I, as yet, have not.  In the past, I haven't had much need for mullein, so I never kept it in my herb stocks.  Now with two small children, that may change.  Any way to make a more effective ear drop is a good thing.  To make a mullein-infused oil, take a glass jar, fill with mullein and pour in olive oil to cover.  Try to leave very little air space at the top.  Secure the jar closed and leave it in a sunny window all day, shaking the jar every few hours.  Or, use the crockpot method if you don't have all day, or it's raining on the day you need to make the oil.  You can put the garlic and the mullein in the oil to infuse at the same time. 

Keep these oils in the fridge to prevent spoilage.  Infused oils should be viable for one week if kept in the fridge.  Longer than that, and you run the risk of botulism developing.  Lavender essential oil, however, does not have these storage concerns.  Just store it in th bottle it came in (usually a dark, amber, glass bottle).

If you already have a source for herbal supplies, that's great.  If you need one, I recommend Mountain Rose Herbs.  This is where I get my herbal supplies.

Live better, a little every day.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Home Remedy Project

Something like, "the best laid plans of mice and men..." keeps repeating in my head.  Just as I was getting back on my feet after giving birth, our household got hit by a nasty respiratory bug.  Everyone has weathered it fairly well.  I, on the other hand, have been run down from being up with the baby all night and the toddler all day.  Nursing takes a bit of energy as well.  So, I was hit the hardest.  My head was too foggy to read, write, or do much else for the past week.

There is no time, however, to be under the weather when there are two little ones to care for.  While we wait for seeds to sprout and plants to get established, I've decided to revamp my first aid kit and my herbal medicine supplies.  The next few blog entries will focus on this project.

Live better, a little everyday.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Homeschooling And Socializing

Today, my mom stopped by to spend some time with her grandkids.  We see the world very differently, and she was less than enthusiastic when I gave her the news that we are going to homeschool our children.  "Children need to have socialization!"

Who ever said that homeschooling would prevent them from socializing?  The way I see it, there is more time and opportunity for socialization with homeschooling than in public school.  The typical school day lasts about seven hours.  The only time children have during these seven hours to socialize are during lunch (about 30 minutes), moving from class to class (only a couple of minutes), during recess (two 15-minute sessions, for younger kids),

That means that students are sitting at their desks for just under six hours a day, and longer for older students.  When they get home, they get to spend 1-4 hours a day (depending on age) doing homework.  All told, children are spending between 7-11 hours each day on school work.  How much time does that really leave for socializing? 

And what are our kids getting in return for sitting dutifully at their desks for those 7-11 hours a day?  Are they receiving an education that inspires them, stimulates critical thinking, and encourages creativity?  The answer, in most cases, is a big, resounding, "NO".  They primarily are taught to take standardized tests.

It doesn't take much effort to locate email lists, groups, or forums that can put you in touch with other local homeschoolers.  Homeschooling parents can coordinate museum trips, concerts, science fairs, visits to the zoo, and basically any other field-trip that kids mights attend through their school.  Parents can divide up the various subjects based on each parent's skills and specialized knowledge to teach the children in a group environment.  There are so many other outlets- 4H clubs, scouting, little league, etc., that socialization (or lack there of) should not be a reason to avoid homeschooling.

Our children are still very young.  Before they are old enough to attend kindergarten, I'm sure my mom will overthink this issue and come up with a dozen other reasons why homeschooling is a bad idea.  My husband and I, however, believe we can do a better job of educating our children at home than in a crowded public school with underappreciated teachers where high scores on standardized tests are the only real goal (and rarely acheived).

And now, it's up to me to network, research, and prep for homeschooling our children.  While Karl has been a bit of a late talker, he's now saying lots of words, letters, numbers, and it is exciting to watch him learn, especially since we were part of it. 

Live better, a little every day.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Back Home With Baby

As many of you already know, and as many others may have suspected, I haven't been updating this blog for a few weeks because our beautiful baby girl was born.  While we were trying for a VBAC this time, we ended up with another c-section.  Labor was going along well.  Pain was being well managed with accupressure, music, breathing, and vocalizations.  Labor felt more like an intense trance.  Unfortunately, there was clear evidence the baby was in distress.  The heart rate monitor showed her heart rate to be too high early in labor. 

The midwife (who has a low c-section recommendation percentage) recommended the c-section, and remained with us during the surgery.  When our daughter was born, we found out she had swallowed meconium.  This is one of those complications with no real way to prevent it.  Thankfully, she did not develop .She needed to be monitored for her respiration's oxygen saturation, as well as blood sugar levels, which were low due to her glucose stores being used up while under stress in labor.  On a positive note, the midwife, nurses and doctors were all amazing- nothing like the hospital staff we encountered during the birth of our son.  It is comforting to know that there are some facilities that actually put the patient first.

Regular blog entries will resume again tomorrow.

Live better, a little every day.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Planting Time Begins

Even though I'm still waiting for labor to start (any day now), it's time to get planting.  The sun has chased away the clouds that brought historic floods to our area.  We have a much bigger garden planned this year than last year, divided into three shares.  The first is for our consumption throughout the season, the second is for preserving for the winter, and the third is for sale or barter.  We also have several new additions to our gardening efforts, and that has us very excited.

Today was a great opportunity for Eddie to get outside and prep one of our beds for planting, and he Onions, carrots, and beets are going in this week.  We have flats of sauce and slicing tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers, along with swiss chard is repurposed yogurt cups, just doing their thing in the windows. They will get transplanted to containers and hardened off on our balcony before finding their home in the back yard. 

This year's seed purchase total was a mere $35.  While we have more edible varieties planned, the ones that I'm particularly excited about are the melons and pie pumpkins.  But, those are still some time away.

And now, back to hoping that labor will start soon!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Are Any Baby Items Made In The USA Anymore?

In general, I try to avoid purchasing foreign made goods.  I see no long-term financial benefit from transfering our nation's wealth to another nation.  This is especially true when the other nation involved is China.  Unless you've been living under a rock, you're probably aware of China's civil rights violations, as well as the many international safety recalls involving Chinese-made products, including those imported to the US.  Melamine-tainted pet food and lead-loaded children's toys attack us where it hurts the most, by injuring those most precious to us.  Yet, our government doesn't do a whole heck of a lot to intervene.  Perhaps that is because we owe China a boatload of money?

Over the past couple of weeks, I've spent a good amount of time putting clothes away that friends and family have given us in expectation of our daughter's birth.  Almost without fail, each item has originated in China (the few exceptions being items made in Korea, Cambodia, and Thailand).  It was the same thing when our son was born.  In order to find baby items made in the USA, the only option was shopping online.  No local store, whether discount, specialty, or department, carried baby clothes or toys made in the USA. 

Even if one wanted to make their own baby clothes, blankets, sweaters, etc., just try to find yarn or fabric made in the USA without shopping online.  If you're like me, you'd probably either learn to make these yourself from local sources, or find someone who does and keep the money local.  As a backup, the internet is your next best bet.

For many things that, for one reason or another, I cannot produce myself (lack of skill, time, etc.), I prefer to shop online and have it sent to my home.  It saves me a trip, often there is free shipping on orders over certain amounts, and delivery services (such as UPS) are switching to more fuel efficient vehicles.  But, when it comes to clothes, yarn, and material, I'd like to be able to be able to see and feel it.

For many people, their older relatives still do not shop online.  My mom doesn't.  My parents still don't have a computer in their house!  However, she did tell me that several times when she went shopping for baby items for my son, she was just one of many grandma's looking for items made in the USA.  No one could find anything made in the USA.  Just about everything came from China.

What this tells me is that there is a market demand for baby items made in the USA available beyond the internet.  I do understand that would probably translate into more expensive baby products, as we cannot compete with companies that cut costs with the slave wages paid to Chinese workers.  It can be hard to justify spending a lot of money on baby items, especially when most infants will grow out of outfits after only wearing them a few times. 

From a patriotic-financial point of view, however, I would prefer to see people give away their old baby items to new mothers or bring them to consignment stores.  This would reduce the amount of money spent on new purchases of Chinese imports, while reducing the amount of money spent overall our of the ever-shrinking American Wallet.

If you know of any sources of baby clothes, items, toys, etc., that are made here in the USA, please pass them along here in the comments section.  Also, for those that know a bit more about raising livestock for fiber than I do, any info on good breeds for baby fibers/fabrics, please pass that along as well!

Live better, a little every day.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

VBACs, C-Sections, and Pregnant Patient's Rights, Part Three

This is the third and final installment of my series on VBACs, C-Sections and patient rights.  This blog post will focus on whether or not hospital bans on VBACs is legally enforceable or not, and what you can do if your hospital has a ban on VBACs.

First and foremost, bans on VBACs are policies, not laws.  I recall the way my former ob-gyn explained things to me just before I was backed into having a c-section.  She made it sound as if it were the law in Massachusetts that all future deliveries would be mandated to be c-sections.  She didn't come out and specifically say that, but she implied it.  When I was training to specialize in Prenatal Massage, Labor Support Massage, and Postpartum Massage, many other Massage Therapists in my class were also under the impression that our state had made VBACs illegal.  Thankfully, we had several midwives taking the course that set the record straight.

Here's the bottom line: hospital bans on VBACs are NOT legally enforceable.  No hospital can lawfully force you to have any treatment or procedure that you do not want to have!  As a patient, you have the right to refuse treatment.  If your healthcare provider or any medical facility claims that you are required to have a c-section, or any other procedure for that matter, they are violating the law. 

That does not mean that hospital staff and ob-gyns won't try to convince you that they do have the right to enforce the policy banning VBACs.  Dealing with authority figures, and doctors often play that role, can result in a perceived imbalance of power unfavorable to the patient.  This is where it pays to be properly informed about your rights as a patient. 

Hospitals are also required by law to treat any woman who comes to their facility in active labor.  If that hospital has banned VBACs, you may NOT be turned away for refusing a c-section.  You are protected by the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA).  A common response for hospitals with a ban on VBACs is to attempt to transfer you to a different hospital by ambulance.  However, the hospital must get your consent to move you.  Understand that they are trying to skirt the law, and stand your ground.  They are in the wrong- not you!

For a step-by-step guide to protect your rights, check out the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) web site, specifically this page where you will find instructions on how to file a grievance with the hospital's Chief Compliance Officer, what to do if they dismiss your complaint, how to document your refusal to an automatic repeat c-section, how to report EMTALA violations, and information on filing lawsuits. 

As a reminder, my posts are referring to repeat c-sections that are not medically necessary, but repeat c-sections to accomodate policy only.  The first surgery was risky enough, even in those cases where they were necessary. 

Live better, a little every day.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

VBACs, C-Sections, and Pregnant Patient's Rights, Part Two

Welcome to part two of my series on VBACs, c-sections, and pregnant patient's rights.  This entry will focus on why I'm covering this topic here on this blog, and why some hospitals have a policy banning VBACs.

Some readers may be wondering how this topic fits into the blog's focus, which is doing something every day to make our lives better through prepping, homesteading, and building our level of self-sufficiency, please consider this: c-sections are the most common surgery performed on women in the US.  We're talking half of the population who are at risk for having a major surgery, necessary or not.  This comes with the risk of severe complications, including death, not only at the time of surgery, but for the rest of the woman's life. 

Almost everyone will either know a woman or be a woman who has to face the choice of whether to have this kind of surgery.  Sometimes, it will truly be a lifesaving, necessary proceedure.  The mother's ob-gyn can absolutely provide all the reasons for having one.  As someone who was not provided ALL the facts in order to make an informed decision about medical interventions during my son's birth which forced a c-section to become necessary, I feel it is better to have all the information, both pros and cons.  An ob-gyn isn't going to give you all the cons, and the cons they do discuss, they will gloss over.

The decision to have a c-section can have implications for the rest of a woman's life.  It is something that can effect one's preparations, family size, and so much more.  And that is why I'm spending so much time covering the topic here.

Why ban VBACs?
There are three primary reasons hospitals ban VBACs:
  1. Their decision is based on severely outdated and manipulated information.
  2. They are attempting to protect the hospital from litigation.
  3. C-sections are more profitable.
The mindset that "once a c-section, always a c-section" is about 100 years old.  More recently, studies showed that the primary risk of a VBAC, a uterine rupture, only occurs about 1% of the time.  However, a study was conducted by Mona Lydon-Rochelle et al, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in July 2001 that has been used by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) to scare women out of attempting VBACs. 

Even though the study does not show any real statistical change from other recent studies showing VBACs to be a safe alternative for 99% of women, it has been cited by media and doctors as proving sgnificant risk to laboring women who have already had a prior c-section and their babies.  Unfortunately, there are issues with the accuracy of how the data was collected, and in some cases not enough data was collected for it to be statistically significant enough for any conclusion to be drawn.  What it did show was that an increased risk of uterine rupture is actually linked to common medical interventions, such as inducing and augmenting labor.

The study is further limited to information gathered through insurance records of hospital births only.  No data was collected from VBACs from homebirths or birthing centers.  The problem with using insurance codes to collect data for analysis is that the codes cover several conditions and ultimately do not represent only women who experienced a uterine tear during an attempted VBAC, thus skewing the results to look like this complication occurred more often than it did.  For a more thorough critique of this study, please check out the article found here.

The misuse of this study often leads to hospitals banning VBACs in order to protect themselves from lawsuits.  As this study does not actually show any increased risk over 1%, which was the same risk level used for years as evidence of how safe VBACs statistically are, one should really question, "why the change in policy?"  How can a 1% risk mean "safe" one day, and "too risky" the next? 

Hospitals often base their decisions on recommedations for laboring patients from ACOG.  The purpose of the ACOG is not to protect the health care of women, but to protect and further the careers of their membership.  ACOG is an organization that makes its decisions by consensus. This consensus is of doctors who's livelihoods depend on women giving birth in a hospital setting and plugging into the hospital and medical insurance system.  This often includes recommendations of induction with the use of Pitocin, a synthetic form of oxytocin.  The use of Pitocin results in far more intense and painful contractions than with the body's natural oxytocin.  The use of Pitocin is specifically what the Lydon-Rochelle study linked to an increased risk of uterine rupture in VBACs.

As for cost, the cost of a vaginal delivery is significantly less than a c-section.  According to an article at CostHelper, in 2008, the average cost of a vaginal birth ranged from $9K-$17K, while a c-section ranged from $14K-$25K or more, depending on location.  Labor induction (which is most always Pitocin) is at an extra cost. 

Care from a midwife, however, costs about 1/3 less than care from an ob-gyn, and is statiscally more likely to result in a lesser expensive, vaginal delivery.  Midwives often advocate for VBACs for their patients who have had prior c-sections, providing that the scar is a low, transverse scar with no jagged edges (as sometimes happens when a tear happens during the c-section).  Such a delivery is generally healthier for both mom and baby, but does not generate as much income for the hospital.  And that is, quite literally, the bottome line.

Live better, a little every day.

Friday, March 19, 2010

VBACs, C-Sections, and Pregnant Patient's Rights, Part One

As we get closer to our daughter's due date, medical appointments, tests, and filling out hospital policy forms are kicking into high gear.  This is especially true since this birth is a planned as a vaginal birth after cesarean, or VBAC. 

On one hand, we're lucky to have a hospital within a workable distance of our home that permits VBACs.  On the other, the hospital is an hour away.  There are four other hospitals less than half that distance from our home.  However, they each have a ban on VBACs.  In order to deliver at this more enlightened hospital, I had to switch midwife practices, and accept driving an hour each way for each prenatal appointment, test and ultrasound.  This also meant lots of extra time and fuel, and some extra nerves trying to make sure I'd be back home in time for my husband to get to work on time.  There were several times, involving tests and ultrasounds, that he had to request time off because there was no way to get there and back in time.

Of course, I did have the option of sticking with my first choice midwife, and either going in for a sceduled c-section with her back-up surgeon, or to fight the policy while in labor.  After dealing with a cruel and sadistic hospital staff (probably the result of the nurses being understaffed and undervalued, and a doctor who did not provide me with enough information to make a truly informed decision) during the birth of our son, I wasn't up for another patient rights fight in the middle of labor again.  Perhaps, if I were 10 years younger, I may have taken on the fight.  This time around, I just want a supportive hospital staff without all the tension.

Some folks may ask what the big deal is about a hospital policy that requires a woman that has had a prior c-section to deliver all future babies by c-section.  The reason often cited for repeat c-sections is to prevent a uterine rupture, which could result in severe trauma to both mom and baby, including death. 

That sounds pretty scary, until you look at the frequency of such complications.  For women with a low, transverse scar, a uterine rupture occurs in fewer than 1% of women attempted a VBAC.  This means the risk of a uterine tear is about the same as it is for a woman with an untested uterus- in otherwords, all first-time moms!  And, we certainly do not require all first-time moms to deliver by c-section.

C-sections are common.  But, just because they are common, "common" doesn't equal "safe".   A c-section is a major abdominal surgery.  The manner in which the placenta separates from the uterus is different than in a vaginal birth.  In a c-section, the placenta separating leaves scarring that can endanger future pregnancies.  That same scar tissue also increases the mother's risk for uterine cancer later on.  In a vaginal birth, the placenta seperates leaving no scar tissue.

The risks do not end there.  There can be complications from anesthesia, including paralysis and death.  There is a risk of the surgeon accidentally cutting unintended organs and tissue.  The risk for hemmorhage increases the likelihood of a hysterectomy.  There is also added risk of major infection, pulmonary embolism, and stroke.  Any of these c-section risks may lead to death.

Of course, there are times when c-sections are life-saving procedures.  I am not referring to those kinds of emergency c-sections.  All too often, unfortunately, they are performed for convenience or out of fear.  Some women, who only have media images of birth for their prior birth experience, are afraid of the pain of a vaginal birth.  Television and movies show a completely distorted image of birth, usually of a woman who goes from saying "my water just broke" to saying "the baby is coming" in 2.2 seconds.  Usually she screams through the ever so brief labor, looking completely out of control, and then deliviers in the back of a taxi, or in the best of circumstances, barely makes it into the hospital.  If it is a hospital scene from the beginning, the woman will still be depicted as out of control and screaming, but this time screaming for pain medication. 

That simply isn't how labor is.  While there will always be an exception to every rule, and a precious few women will have a labor that is too quick to get to the hospital, that really only happens on tv or in the movies.  Labor typically lasts for hours, and most of that time, the contractions are very manageable.  For those women who schedule c-sections out of fear, please know this: recovery from a c-section is much longer and more painful than a vaginal birth.

Some women may schedule c-sections because they want to plan exactly when the baby will be born to accomodate a work schedule, vacation plans, or some other event.  This is a case of a major elective surgery that is totally unnecessary.  Perhaps this is born out of the "common" equals "safe" misunderstanding.  But very often, ob-gyns do not adequately explain the risks associated with c-sections.  When a woman expresses her desire to have a c-section, it isn't questioned.  Of course, the c-section will result in a higher fee for both the doctor and the hospital, so why would it be questioned?

There is another circumstance where c-sections happen for convenience, and this is the most reprehensible circumstance- convenience for the surgeon.  Unfortunately, pregnant women are often seen as unreasonable, written off as being "hormonal", and are forced to advocate for themselves while in the middle of labor, which is next to impossible.  If the birth is not a sceduled c-section, the mom has no guarantee that she will have her own ob-gyn attend the delivery.  Usually, she will be at the mercy of whoever is on call at the time she goes into labor.  All too often, doctors are quick to recommend c-sections, especially if the patient is perceived as "difficult", just so that the doctor doesn't have to deal with a mother who actually insists on being treated like a human being with respect.

Clearly, some c-sections are absolutely necessary.  C-sections, however, are the most common surgery women receive in this country, with the percentages climbing every year.  Many hospitals have c-section rates as high as 35-40%.  Compared to deliveries with midwives (either at home or in a hospital/birth center environment) of closer to 5-10% resulting in a c-section. 

This is a highly-charged subject. As such, it will be handled in multiple blog entries. There is much more to cover, including why some hospitals ban VBACs, are such bans enforceable, homebirths, and the quality of women's health care in general in the US. 

Live better, a little every day.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Recipe- Karl's Favorite Oatmeal

Karl may only be two years old, but he knows how he likes his oatmeal.  Forget the instant stuff.  He can't be fooled into thinking that microwavable, artificially flavored mush is acceptable.  It's either old fashion or quick-cooking for our little man.  Also, that better be real maple syrup.  It must be genetic, but the fake stuff drives us both over the edge into the realm of "how dare you!"

Karl's Favorite Oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking rolled oats
  • 1 cup water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Real maple syrup to taste
In a small pot, combine oats, water, salt, and vanilla extract.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer.  As the oatmeal simmers, it will thicken.  Add the ground cinnamon and stir to mix well into the oatmeal.  Stir frequently as it should only take a minute or two longer to cook.  When you have just about reached the desired consistency.  Pour into bowl and allow to cool.  Oatmeal will continue to thicken as it cools.  Add maple syrup to taste.

Consistency may not be a major issue for most folks.  When you're teaching a toddler to feed himself, however, the more that the food sticks to the spoon instead of sliding off the spoon the better!

Live better, a little every day.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Easiest Homemade Chicken Soup

This post was supposed to be published yesterday, but we had kind of a crazy day.  My husband and our 2 year old were rear-ended in a hit and run (luckily, the police caught the offender).  The little one wasn't phased at all, but the 40 year old dad is a little worse for wear.  He's got a bit of whiplash, and the muscle relaxers are not helping.  On the bright side, he has a chiropractic treatment this morning, so healing is on the way! 

Back to chicken soup... if you check the labels on most store bought chicken soup or chicken broth or stock, you'll be startled by the amount of sodium.  Even the low-sodium varieties are a cause for concern.  Labelling can be misleading.  For istance, "reduced-sodium" doesn't mean "low-sodium".  It just means that version has less sodium than the company's standard product.  To make matters worse, many companies substitute MSG which works on brain cells to trick the brain into thinking the food item has more flavor. 

Normally, I make my own chicken stock from a roasted chicken carcass and drippings.  Being pregnant, I cannot handle extra heat- even in winter- and haven't wanted to get the oven going until late in the evening when the brownie cravings outweigh the heat aversion.  This weekend, we had a defrosted chicken in the fridge slated to satisfy a chicken salad craving, so I put the bird, breast-side-down, in the crockpot on low for 7 hours.

When I took the chicken out of the slow cooker, there was a substantial amount of juice at the bottom of the crockpot.  I added 6 cups of water, one quartered onion, a chopped celery stalk, a sprinkle of pepper, a pinch of dried sage, and the picked clean chicken bones to the chicken juice, and cooked in the crockpot overnight (about 6 hours for me these days). 

The next morning, I strained the contents into a plastic container, let it cool on the counter, and then put it in the refrigerator.  When the fat rose to the top, it was removed, and the broth put on the stove top to simmer for about 30 minutes with garlic powder, onion powder, carrots, celery, green beans, peas, and left-over chicken.   I added a handful of rotini, and cooked until al dente.

The soup made about 5 servings.  It wasn't fast, but it was mostly slow-cooking-and-walk-away prepping.  The only thing that could have made this better would have been some warm, buttered, crusty bread.  But, then we're getting back to the whole hot oven vs. pregnant woman thing.

Live better, a little every day.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Russian Honeybees

From reading some of the trade magazines, it seems that a lot of beekeepers are having a hard time with wintering over their honeybees.  Whether the hives are starving out, or some other problem, beekeepers have noticed that overwintering hives has been getting harder year after year.

We've had a few losses over the years, but have been relatively lucky.  That doesn't make it any less heartbreaking to open a hive in the spring only to find a cluster of dead bees, when just two frames away there is plenty of honey.  After some research and discussion, we've decided to switch from raising Italian to Russian honeybees.

For most types of honeybees, when the temperature starts to warm up, the hive comes alive.  The queen increases laying eggs, and workers get busy cleaning out the hive from the winter, as well as searching for pollen and nectar sources. 

But, what happens when, after a warming trend, you get a late frost?  What happens if, like last year, we get a long, cold, wet spring?  Not only did it cause a blight that attacked potatoes and tomatoes, but bees cannot fly in rain.  The bees will have increased their numbers when their honey stores are at the lowest point of the year, and will not have access to forage to replace what they consumed over the winter.

These conditions put honeybees at great risk for starvation, increasing the need for the beekeeper to provide supplement feed, commonly in the form of sugar syrup, sugar candy, corn syrup, or high fructose corn syrup.  Pollen packs (usually a pollen-like supplement, not true pollen) are another form of supplementation, but they stimulate a hive to increase its numbers- not something you want if the weather isn't cooperating and/or there are no natural forage sources available.

While these supplements can keep a hive from starving, none of them are their ideal winter food, honey.  A steady diet of such supplements will result in nutritionally-deficient bees.  Weaker bees are less able to fight off disease and pests, like varroa and small hive beetle.  It also results in more work and more expense for the beekeeper.

In addition to spring food sources, honeybees are still struggling to cope with mites- tracheal mites and varroa mites.  Many tracheal mite problems can be handled with the application of natural remedies, like menthol.  But varroa mites are still the number one problem facing honeybee populations in the US. 

We didn't have a bad varroa problem last year.  We used a method that encouraged the bees to build wax comb for drone brood (varroa grow in drone brood chambers, not worker bee chambers) by replacing a deep frame with a medium frame.  The bees built comb downward from the underside of the frame.  We were then able to remove it from the hive, removing both the drone brood and the varroa mites.  However, it takes three pounds of honey to provide the energy to make one pound of wax.  While it cut down on varroa, and we got quite a bit of extra beeswax, it also cut into our honey production.

Wintering over may not be such a problem in the south where weather is warmer and the winters milder.  The northeast, however, faces cold, wet winters, often with heavy snow and winds.  So, what is a beekeeper in the Northeast to do in order to cut down on the starve-outs and mite infestations? 

This year, we're going to try keeping Russian honeybees.  According to the Russian Honey Bee Breeders Association, Russians have excellent wintering-over abilities, are much less susceptable to tracheal mites, and significantly lower varroa populations combined with greater varroa tolerance.  It is possible that they are genetically disposed to more hygenic behavior and clean the mites off better than other other types of honeybees.  They have a similar honey production and pollination abilities to Italians, the standard for many beekeepers, both professional and hobbiest.

There are two primary differences that accounts for the Russian honeybee's ability to better handle a long, cold winter as compared to the Italian honeybee:
  1. Because they are more cold-hardy, Russians are able to reduce their numbers more so than Italians before the winter.  During the winter, honeybees form a cluster around the queen and flap their wings to keep the hive warm.  The more bees, the more wings to flap, the warmer the hive.  However, the more honey is required to keep the cluster alive all winter.  Since Russians can get by with fewer bees in a smaller cluster, their honey stores last longer.
  2. Instead of looking for a temperature cue to build up numbers in the spring, Russians begin building up the size of their colony when pollen sources indicate there is enough pollen available to support a larger colony.  This further extends the honey reserves into the spring, one of the most dangerous times of years for bees to starve.
However, Russian honeybees do require some adjustments in management.  Once they start to build up their numbers, it happens fast, and they have a tendency to swarm.  They can be more curious, and have a tendency to buzz around the beekeeper a bit more than Italians.  This has given them a reputation of being more aggressive.  Aggressive, however, is not the same as curious.  It can be more challenging to requeen an Italian hive with a Russian queen, which is what we will have to do. 

We will also have to keep track of our queens carefully.  If a hive makes a new queen for any reason, she may well be a hybrid, and not a true Russian.  The problem with a Russian hybrid is that they tend to lose their beneficial traits against varroa in a few generations. 

As long as it goes well with the requeening and management of the Russian bees, especially wintering over next year, this may be the better choice for us as colder region, sustainable beekeepers.

Live better, a little every day.