Tuesday, August 26, 2014

One step backwards...

Those antibiotics there? Those are mine. *Sigh* The day we went to the fair, I woke up not feeling very well. I had gone to bed the night before with a small hard spot in the breast, one which I rightly assumed was a blocked duct. I was trying to my seventeen month old baby to drink from a cup and I bought her a transitional glass bottle and it went far too well. She went from running to me every time she was thirsty to asking for drinks. The older children helped by teaching her how to use the Berkey. In the warm August, she had been nursing a great deal and suddenly, she didn't need me as much. I was miserable but I was going to avoid medical doctors (of whom I have a deep and abiding distrust after being injured by a surgical error).

The first full day at the fair, with decorating the 4-H booth (they got another Blue Ribbon) and all the practices and performances for the Finnish Folk Dance group, I knew I would be busy I decided I was too busy to be sick. I was going to muscle through the whole thing. In the afternoon, between event times, I nursed the baby a little bit and took a nap. I was hitting hard using all the natural techniques I knew, I even asked some friends and garnered some I had never heard of (potato slices, anyone?). I was starting to feel worse so I pulled out the Advil (something I do very, very seldom) and went to the fair. As the evening events were winding down, I was trembling and had developed a fever despite taking the OTC meds. I had a sore neck and a headache. By the time we piled the tired performers and cranky little ones into the van, I was getting confused and clumsy. No good.

So Ben dropped me at the emergency department, drove all the way out to the farm to leave the kids, and then came back for me. Poor guy, he worries so much and he did not like leaving me there, but really, we had no choice. I was pretty sick after all. I had a fever of 103 and the infection from the blocked duct in the breast had spread to the lymph nodes in the neck and the armpit. There was no way I was getting away from the doctors and the dreaded antibiotics. I also needed to get a quick check for clots since I have a clotting disorder and infections increase the risks, but I was fine. In the end, I got a shot of antibiotics and a morning dose and a prescription for the rest of my course. There are no 24 hour pharmacies here, so I needed to be able to get through until the they opened. The told me that it was clearly an aggressive bacteria and so they used an aggressive antibiotic. I was so sick and miserable that I do not even remember what it was. Ben came back for me and took me home. I crawled right into bed so sore, I could not sleep on my right side or turn my head.

But in the morning, I felt amazingly better. I had agreed to stay off my feet for the day, so I sat in bed all day. We live far from a hospital so Ben made sure that I was medically compliant and that the signs of infections were abating, and they did. Fast and furious. I was able to knit and work on my Erin Condren teacher's planner and start planning the school year, fortunately it came while I was bed. By Saturday morning, I was running at 90%. I hate doctors, I hate antibiotics even more, but I was clearly better. Allopathic medicine is good sometimes.

So now I am hitting the probiotics hard and trying to keep up on my fluid intake to keep flushing out my system. I know that I will need to reset my system again after I get done with this course. I wish I did not need to worry about it but I am sincerely glad that I went to the E/R. A hundred years ago, people just died after developing infections. Today we can recover and move on. I know that some of you will disagree and think that I should have refused them. I am not going to risk dying for anything. I have been there (see HERE) and I am not going back.

On a brighter note, my knitted shawl took second at the fair in the lace category. The winner was a very lovely shawl so I am not disappointed. It was a fair fight. Now I am mailing it to a very dear friend who is also moving from Colorado. This week is going to be hard for her. Now she will have something bright and cheerful and warm (it is merino wool, after all) so that when she misses home, she can feel all the love that is going with her to North Carolina.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Fair's fair...

The fair is always the highlight of the year in rural area. People line up with their best creations and produce and animals and proudly show their skills. Children, and even adults, can learn a lot of lessons from working towards their fair entries but there are also a lot of lessons to be learned at the fair itself. Competition can suck. It can suck all your time, all your joy, and even your pride. My family had a total of twenty entries and we had a one best of show and twelve blue ribbons; we should be very proud. But it is not the blues that teach us, we learn far more when we don't get the blue.

We all take enormous pride in our work and feel like the blue was just given at the fair but earned well before which makes it so much harder when we don't win. I will be honest with you, I don't like losing. I'll be more honest with you, I feel like a second place ribbon is losing. I can swallow the bitter disappointment so much better if I lose to someone who's work was beautifully and excellently executed, but when it is for reasons that simply aren't clear, then I am mad. I know I have a competitive streak and it is my Achilles heel but the challenge is really seeing this trait in my children. My oldest daughter worked for months on her fondant skills and made a grand total of six dozen cupcakes before settling on her final recipe for rosewater and cardamom cupcakes with pistachios. They were gorgeous, they were elegant, they smelled so fragrant and so beautiful and all my friends and relatives oooh'ed and ahhhh'ed over them. They also came in second place to a very simply decorated plain chocolate cupcake. Adding insult to injury was that it also received the best of show award. I can't say what the judges were thinking and how the discussion went, I have no idea what their impressions were. I do know that we were a little worried that she would be accused of cheating when we saw what the other entries were, and we told ourselves if she was disqualified that we would bring her extensive fondant tools to the fair and show them how she makes her things. The stand alone fondant won a blue ribbon so they must have seen what else she did.

I can't tell her anything other than taste is subjective and that aesthetic varies by region. The cheddar-jalapeno bread I make was wildly popular in Denver but people won't touch it here. It does not matter how beautiful it looks or how marvelous we think it tastes, people here won't touch it and don't like it. If I make it for a potluck, I will have to bring the whole thing home. It is very hard for me to swallow my pride and accept that what is popular here just isn't my taste. The palate here is accustomed to simple, lightly seasoned food that is not spicy and does not have other seasoning and is not considered "fancy". What is even harder is to tell my one of my children that her take on classic Iranian flavors is both refined and elegant as well s having perfect technical execution. She could get a job with the skills she has been honing using books and videos and online classes. I love her treats and in the big city, they would be exceedingly popular. They are still good, fantastic even, though here they like shortening and vinegar in their cakes.

In the end it is not about the ribbon, it is about the improvement in your execution, your widening skill set and the mastery that you demonstrate. The fair is an opportunity to display your work and it doesn't take away from your work, nor does it add to it, to have it recognized. In the end it is not about the ribbon, in the end it is about her. I love her and I loved her cupcakes, and gosh darn, that is enough.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Online grocery shopping...

Ben bought the kids a bubble machine. Totally not
about shopping but totally fun. I love this photo!
My super nice UPS driver thinks it is crazy that I grocery shop on the internet, it just seems weird to him, but the truth is that there are things that are not otherwise available here. Like at all. When I moved here, I remember my mother and I discussed an article I had read (I believe it was in National Geographic) about families who live at the research facility on Antarctica. One of the women they spoke to said that she orders things that she needs from Amazon. I told my mom that if Amazon can deliver to Antarctica, they can surely deliver to the Keweenaw!

To be honest, I have options that they do not have. There is a small Mennonite feed and salvaged food shop 22 miles away but they are limited in terms of what they carry for people though they have a lot of animal feed. There is a few smaller family owned stores (all owned by just three families) and the closest is exactly 21 miles from here. The best options for variety of food and miscellaneous household needs is Walmart (whose door I never darkened until I moved here) and it is across the highway from the Walmart. But while it is more than anyone in Antarctica has, it is definitely far less than most Americans. Sometimes we have to travel pretty far, or what I consider far. The folks here just think of it it as routine trips. There is a Lowe's and a Michael's about 110 miles to the east and a Home Depot about 125 miles to the south and the closest big box store is Costco about 230 miles from here. The store I miss most is Ikea and I used to go have lunch and window shop at but the closest one to here (and people go all the time) is 356 miles from my house.

The hardest thing to come by in isolated rural areas is produce. Since we are not near any large cities and not on the way to anywhere, that makes this place an intentional destination. Food prices are high here and most people I know try to grow and hunt as much as they can to stretch their budgets. My grocery bill went up 32% when we moved here and the bulk of that is produce cost. In the long winters here (honestly there is snow on the ground seven months of the year), buying produce is the only option. This means that I have to pinch pennies elsewhere to accommodate produce. This means that I buy shelf stable food online.

Online grocery prices fluctuate a good deal so I am not going to include links. What works today or was a super buy yesterday could be insanely expensive tomorrow. I keep a list of the regular things that I buy and the price I paid for it the last time that I bought it. Amazon has a subscribe and save feature which is great in that it comes regularly but you should really know just how often you are using a product before you sign up. I would write down (or go through your recent orders online) to see how often you are buying it and if it is pretty regular, then sign up. If it is sporadic, just watch the prices.

For example, we use Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds, diluted with water, as a general all purpose cleaner. We don't need to buy it very often so the subscribe and save feature would not be the best deal. But since we go through a gallon of regular liquid Dr Bronner's every month, that is the way to go for us. There are somethings that we go through irregularly, for instance during a month long fasting period we will go through a half gallon of Cholula hot sauce. Ordinarily, this will last us two months. Because there is not a regular pattern to how we use it, we need to buy as we use it. So here is the list of things that I buy through Amazon and I keep track of the prices for:

Food Items:
  • Organic rolled oats
  • Organic steel cut oats
  • Organic brown rice
  • Organic full fat coconut milk
  • Organic mushroom broth
  • Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste
  • Pomona's Pectin (I can hundreds of pounds of produce a year and only use this brand)
  • Kamut wheat berries
  • Cholula hot sauce
  • Nutritional yeast

Cleaning Supplies:
  • Sal Suds
  • Dr Bronner
  • Country Save laundry soap
  • LemiShine dishwasher booster (we have hard water)
  • LemiShine machine cleaner (we need to clean all the machines because of the hard water)
  • Biodegradable kitchen garbage bags
  • Scott Naturals Tube Free toilet paper
  • Construction bags (for the things that need to be hauled out)
  • Earth Friendly Oxo Brite laundry booster
  • Earth Friendly Zainz! (the world's best laundry strain treatment!!)

I know toilet paper seems like a weird thing but since it can be ordered on subscribe and save, it can be a real deal. We are using the tube free variety. I know, sounds weird. Ben thought so, too. But they are not individually wrapped and they do not have a cardboard tube in the middle which cuts down on the waste. Since we have to handle our waste here very carefully, we think twice before we bring anything out here. We have three options: compost it, burn it, or haul it out to the transfer station. We prefer the first two. In order to be ecologically responsible, we are careful about what we burn which means only paper and cardboard, no plastics.

I really like Earth Friendly products and I like their dish detergent for either machines or for using in the sink and I keep an eye on the price of all their products. It makes a huge difference since we have a gray water system and a septic and I do not want to risk the bacterial balance. We use LemiShine as the rinse agent in the dishwasher because it keeps the glasses really clean and it prevents too much build up from all the minerals without being toxic. In case you did not know, LemiShine machine cleaner makes an awesome and totally safe drain cleaner. We just empty a package down into the drains that are slow and it keep them running. We also run it through the dishwasher and the clothes washer once a month to prevent any mineral build up.

Do you grocery shop online? What do you buy? What are your best tips?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Rural grocery shopping...

Active kids are hungry kids. 
I have a very good friend who will be moving to the western slope in Colorado. She is right now just outside of Denver (and by outside, I mean mere blocks) and is used to having great places to shop close by including two different health food stores, two large farmer's markets (one is year round and indoors) and Costco minutes from her door. Her parents live in a more rural area on the east coast but even the rural areas out there are no where near as rural as the western states get (her parents are 100 miles from D.C.), the wild west is pretty darn wild. The town she will be living in is very small, a little over 500 people, but she will be just over 30 miles from Grand Junction. While it is not a big town, Grand Junction is almost 60,000 and is the biggest population center on the western slope.

Like most small towns, there are not many options in towns and the ones available usually have little selection and high prices. Being just over half an hour from a health food store and just ninety minutes from a big box store is not terribly convenient when you consider her situation right now but it is not really that bad for a rural community. I have a friend in Wisconsin, almost directly south of me, and her town of 700 is more than an hour away from anything comparable. I am more than four hours from anything that size so it seems like a good deal to me! But the point is, that it is different and it means making some changes in the way that she plans her shopping. Her whole married life has been spent minutes from stores and now she will trying to cart four children for half and hour back and forth at a minimum.

She asked for my perspective on shopping and having lived in a very rural and isolated area, I have some suggestions for her.  Laura, my supes awesome farming friend from the eastern plains in Colorado chipped in with some more advice. Laura has recently been dealing with narrowing resources in her area and food is on her mind. You can read more about her thoughts on rural food availability HERE.

Together, this is the best ten tips list that we came up with for those living in rural areas.

1. Keep two running lists in the kitchen. You will need to have a list of grocery items that are needed to which you can add everything that comes up over the course of a week. As you look over the week and see what things are coming up, make notes of what you might need to have on hand. You will need a second list of errands to run in town while you are there; this is place to write down things like "mail Bob's gift" and "return library books" and "get gas for the tractors" and other things like that. I take a photo of the list with my phone so that I can consult it when I am in town. Never run into town without checking the list to see what you need.

2. Keep a large milk crate or basket with all those town errand items contained in it. This way the gift that needs to be mailed, library books to go back, the checks to deposit at the bank or anything else are already together and ready to go. If you are heavy library users, get a separate one for just the library books. This can also be a good place to keep all those reusable grocery bags so that they are ready to go. I need to go almost all the way to town on Thursdays to get my raw milk so that is the day I run all the errands,

3. Have a cooler that is specifically for the car. I keep my yogurt/cheese making cooler (see how I make yogurt HERE) ready to go in my kitchen and I can easily put it in the van when it is time to go to town. This way, you never have to worry about the cold items when you are running errands. In the summer, you might want to grab some cool packs.

4. Do not leave for town without a water bottle for everyone going. It is amazing how many times you grab some water while running errands simply because you are thirsty and underestimated how long it would take. If you are a breastfeeding mom, you need to make sure that you have two bottles just for you.

5. Long days need to have meals. If you will be out all day long (a trip to the city of 20,000 for me always turns into an eight hour expedition because it is a 110 miles from here), then you need sandwiches, crackers, drinks, fruit, anything that you can eat while you are out so that you do not stop for food. Before you go to bed the night before, get the Crock-Pot meal planned and make sure to start it in the morning. You will need something to eat as soon as you walk in the door and when there are no restaurants around (I am actually 19 miles from any restaurant), this is what you need to do. Plan it. Laura has some more fabulous tips about this on her blog HERE.

6. Keep an emergency diaper and feminine needs stash in your vehicle. You already know why, because it super sucks to be without.

8. Establish a monthly budget for online purchases. It can be easy to get carried away and not keep track of how often you order and then spend a crapton of money. Bad idea. I buy beans, grains, hot sauce, and gallons of Dr. Bronner's online and to keep a lid on purchases, I only buy the grocery items once a month. If I run out of Cholula hot sauce (and we buy two half gallons at at time), then we weep until the next time I order. Suck it up, cupcake. Also, keep a record of what you paid for things online because the price changes frequently. When it is as its low ebb, stock up on two month's worth. Laura uses the website HERE to keep alerted to things that go on-sale on Amazon. Keep a price list and when the Amazon things are on-sale, you will know how it compares to other area stores and you can jump on it.

9. Have a system of at least one in reserve. When you use up the last of the ketchup, take out the spare and list it on the running grocery list. When you open the last carton of mushroom broth, write it on the list. Do not find yourself without. This is hard because most people just throw things into storage but really, if you hate finding out that you are out of dish detergent at ten at night, then make the effort to know.

10. Laura offers the best advice when she says, "Always have enough gas to get to a real hospital." My friend will not be as far out as either Laura or myself but this is a critically important lesson to learn. I am 30 miles from a hospital has a helicopter that can get us to a large facility in a city of 100,000. I cannot drive 300 miles faster than a helicopter so we keep in mind that 30 miles. Laura needs to get to Denver, which is just over a 100 miles. In an emergency, don't bother going to a small local emergency room so that they can transfer you later. Just go the distance. She never allows the gas gauge in any vehicle to get below the point that they cannot make that distance. Our closest gas station is 17 miles away, door to door, and I have trained the kids to yell out every time we pass. In the winter, we fill at a half tank and in the summer we fill at a third but we keep about 30 gallons of gas here.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Diets, social events, and freak flags...

Ben snapped this pic of Eli waiting
for his dinner while camping.
I have yet to figure this out. There is really no easy answer as to what to do. This week my children are camping out with the local 4-H group and our desire and need for a solid diet stands in stark contrast with what most people eat, especially here. The ethic of food is strikingly different here.

Colorado has a different food culture, not that bad food does not exist but that there is a great acceptance of the need for real food and slow food and the farmer's markets abound--even in winter. The organic and natural foods are on the shelves right next to the conventional counterparts and most of the time the produce is next to each other, too. I like this because I stick to the EWG  Dirty Dozen and choose from the Clean 15 when there is a substantial price difference. If there is not, I go organic. I made a point to go every three or four weeks to the farmer's market but shopped at health food stores and Costco at other times. The Denver Urban Homestead Market is an indoor market that is open even in the winter. In the cold months it features fresh and dried pasta, fresh baked goods, eggs, raw milk, spice blends, and homemade ice cream (sooo good!).

I can't do that here.

The organic produce (when not at the co-op) is very hard to come by and is a separate area. In fact, all the organic and natural food is in a completely different section. I need to go back and forth and back and forth. The farmer's market here is more of a craft fair and it is outdoors. In the early spring, there are not even dried herb blends or pasta and a smattering of baked goods. Largely there are handmade aprons and bags and a few acrylic knitted and crocheted items and copious amounts of lapidary (engraved rocks) which are a big deal here though I am not a fan. There are a lot of items but nothing to eat. How many decorated rocks and aprons will a person need? It is no wonder that there are seldom crowds there except the few weeks when berries are in season. People here go wild for local strawberries here. I have tried to like the farmer's market but there is no reason to even bother to go. The only time I have been this year was when my children's Finnish folk dance troupe performed there.

The ethic here is combinations of packaged spices, canned soups, seasoned rice, and preseasoned meats. There are piles of boxes and cans and mixes in the grocery carts and the recipes passed around by housewives and grandmothers involve canned pie filling, instant pudding, flavored and colored gelatin mixes, and non-dairy whipped topping. The menu this week at the camp out is very much what another transplant here calls typical "Yooper Fare", pale watered down coffee, pancakes mix, margarine, sodas, artificial fruit flavored "punch", mechanically separated meat based hot dogs, Velveeta, "wham" biscuits, and canned pie filling. It is easy to prepare. It is pretty cheap to buy. It is popular with children. It is rife with soy. My husband gets terribly ill after eating soy, he can tell within 90 minutes and he is miserable. This means that the pancake mix and margarine are out, as well as the prepared biscuits, the bread, the tortillas, and even the peanut butter. He has watched what he ate like a hawk but we decided to let the kids eat some of what the other children are eating.

We don't want to be difficult or be snobs. We just don't want to be sick. We set some boundaries, for instance this is the Dormition Fast so the children are still meatless this week but we (as our priest advised) relaxed on the eggs and dairy. But, since the 4-H leader is used to buying the food (a single buyer and planner makes things a bit more organized) we tried to work with her as much as possible. I provided bread, peanut butter and some gluten based chicken and hot dog like products. But it was a hassle for her to plan out her menus and meals with me providing substitutes for some some items, as well as for me to decide just how much to push our dietary choices. In the end, I don't think anyone was happy.

One of my kids vomited profuse amounts of cherry filling and this morning had to come home to me and the the littles. Then, just before the park closed, I had to meet Ben at the highway with another child with diarrhea. Both of these children have "sensitives stomachs" though only one has a diagnosed food allergy (tomatoes). What do you do? You want to be fun loving and roll with the punches but when someone is puking up red filling, the whole thing kinda loses its shine.

So, so much vomit. It was super bad. You are really glad that you did not have to witness it.

But we need to figure this out for next time. We need to figure out just need to figure out just what our tolerance is for freakiness versus the tolerance for stomach ailments. Right now I am leaning more to just let the freak all hang out.

What do you guys do?
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