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Serenity for Spoonies #4

This is the fourth installment of photographs that help me relax. By publishing them I hope to give a bit of serenity to the lives of spoonies everywhere. If you don’t know what a spoonie is, here’s a brief article that explains it.

Photographed by Rich Jones
Waterfalls always calm me. Must be the supercharged oxygen they give off when you stand near them.
Stylized landscape photographed by Paxson Woelber

Let me know if there are particular themes you would like to see in these photos.


Farmers market

How Eating Locally & Seasonally Helps My Chronic Illness

Equations were never my strength. Even before ME/CFS I couldn’t remember the common ones, like how to find an area of something. If someone looked at me funny because of it, I reminded them that Albert Einstein never memorized his phone number. He didn’t want to crowd his brain with information that could easily be found. That usually shut them up. 😉

Anyhow, here’s an equation that even I can remember.

Saving Money=Sustainable Nutrition=Healthier Body

It’s not news that we are living in a nation of quick and easy meals from a box, freezer or the bag handed through a drive-up. fast-food-pickup

It isn’t easy to eat healthily and sustainably, especially on a budget. Here’s how I manage it.

Starting with produce, I check organic prices and if there is a good conventional produce sale. Most of the time the loss-leaders are on the Dirty Dozen list, so I don’t buy them. Once in while I can snap up a great bargain–like a couple of months ago when organic avocados were selling 2/$1 because they were all ripening too fast.

You don’t know about the Dirty Dozen list (not the Steve McQueen movie)? Each year the Environmental Working Group looks at all the pesticides applied to all the crops grown for sale in the US and assigns each fruit or vegetable a rank in comparison to each other. The top 12 “winners” are called the Dirty Dozen.

Farmers market
Local Farmers Markets are the best for purchasing local produce.

Summer fruit and veggies I don’t grow myself are bought at one or more of the local Farmers Markets. Here I can talk directly with the grower and be certain no pesticides were used–especially glyphosate (RoundUp®).

While I’m at the Market, I also buy pastured pork products from a family farm where the pigs roam about and don’t receive antibiotics to grow faster. My beef is grass-fed and raised on a friend’s farm where the cattle receive excellent care.

I used to do public relations for the top crop seed breeder in the US. As part of this, we spent time in Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska where a whole lot of feedlots hold a whole lot of cattle. These steers spend the final months of their lives, sometimes up to their knees in manure, in a crowded feedlot with cattle they never met before. No wonder grass-fed tastes better. Just think of the stress those feedlot animals are under!

If you want to eat better for less, these are good ways to cut your food budget:


Even when bought in bulk, meat from animals that have the freedom to wander pastures is expensive. Organic is not as necessary to purchase as beef that is 100% grass fed. Why is this important? First, grass-fed cattle are on pastures all spring, summer, and fall here in Wisconsin. They can remain outdoors even during winter in many other areas of the country so you know they are as close to having a good life as it’s possible for cattle to have.

cows on meadow
Grass-fed beef is superior to conventionally raised.

Second, grass-fed beef has a very good nutritional profile compared to conventionally raised steers. This meat has less total fat, more omega-3 fatty acids, more conjugated linoleic acid and more antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamin E (Source).

Although my freezer is still full of freezer paper wrapped roasts, steaks, hamburger, we don’t have meat at every meal. You could try observing a Meatless Monday for a few weeks. Then look at the difference in your grocery budget. There are lots of vegetarian main dishes you can find online

If you are interested in some of my recipes, let me know in the comments. I was a good cook when I was working. However, I didn’t really have time for something that couldn’t go in the crockpot or on the table in less than an hour.

When I started getting better I began to change my eating habits. This inevitably leads to learning how to cook all over again. I love that I now know the most nutritious ways to prepare meals and snacks, but I know I would find it more difficult if I were still working. Soaking beans and grains, making sourdough bread, and accounting for the time my Instant Pot needs to naturally release before opening all take more planning than I was up to when working.

The obvious solution is a multi-generational home. Grandparents would be the traditional cooks and childcare providers for their children’s families. Sadly, I don’t see that happening much around me or with me. Sometimes I dream about what it would be like living with my daughter and her family (husband, 2 girls, dog) and it’s all good. Until I remember they live in the Washington DC/Baltimore Metroplex. 

Now, where was I?

Ah, yes. Here it is.


Grocery stores are offering more and more healthy choices. Frequently, they will have a bulk foods department that may or may not contain organics. Conventional granola, trail mix and sesame sticks bought in bulk are an environmentally responsible choice even if they aren’t all that healthy. If you want to be super PC, buy from the local health food cooperative, natural foods store or buyers club. pexels-photo-458796.jpeg

I buy in bulk whenever possible because of things like steel cut oats at half the price of the imported can. For example, splitting a quarter of a cow. I have a small chest freezer, but my friend who split the purchase with me got everything from her half of a quarter into her side-by-side freezer.


Out-of-season fruits and vegetables are more expensive, not to mention less sustainable, because of the fuel and other resources used in transport from other areas with different growing seasons. Buying local is, by definition, buying seasonally. It’s good for you in several areas. Traditional medicine, like Ayurveda from India and Chinese Medicine, stresses eating seasonally because of the way our bodies have evolved. When we are in tune with the environment, we can heal and then maintain our wellbeing. Most importantly, eating locally grown food in season is much less expensive at both ends of the marketplace transaction.

For example, my friend, Mary, who milks cows and raises grass-fed beef and pork, has few to no marketing expenses.  I see her at the Farmers Market where I and many others buy individual cuts and put in orders for bulk beef. Before selling directly to the consumer, Mary had to settle for what cattle futures were the day she shipped steers to the feedlot. Now she can sell at a price that keeps her profitable. Would you believe Mary sold bulk beef for the same per pound price this fall as in the autumn of 2015? (No special favors. The price was the same for everyone buying her beef.) What other food has remained the same price over the same period? pexels-photo-709817.jpeg

Fruits and vegetables reach their nutritional peak at the same time they are harvested. This, conveniently, is also when they taste best. According to the University of California-Davis, as a bell pepper progresses from green to red it gains 11 times more beta-carotene and one and a half times more vitamin C.

Once a fruit or vegetable is harvested it begins to lose nutrients and taste within the first hour. The USDA’s Table of Nutrient Retention Factors shows frozen fruit, in most cases, is more nutritious than fresh fruit that was picked before ripening and transported from who knows how far away.

If you’re not familiar with Farmers Markets, call the local reference librarian and ask. If your community has 211 phone service you can use them, too. Most often, you’ll find something if you ask around. Local Harvest is a clearinghouse for small farms raising healthy plants and animals. You pop in your zip code and nearby farmers who register with them pop back at you.

With all the new things in the produce department these days it can be hard to tell if a certain fruit or vegetable is in season. You can find a produce person at the store and ask them. And don’t forget to make room in your budget to purchase organic produce on the Dirty Dozen list. I’ve read you can break down some pesticide residue with a brief (10 min) soaking in a sink full of cold water and about a quarter cup of white vinegar.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Recipe requests? Let me know below.

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What Have We Done to the Earth

IF my memory serves, this was a line from a Doors song. I was the first Earth Day (April 22, 1970) coordinator at my high school and used The Doors as a soundtrack to illustrate a slide show of pollution throughout my hometown, Eau Claire, Wisconsin. My interest in all things environmental began then and continues to this day.

That’s why I was very interested in an article written by Patricia Espinosa and Richard Horton and published on October 31, 2017, by TIME magazine: Study: Climate Change is Damaging the Health of Millions of PeopleEspinosa is the executive secretary of UN Climate Change and Horton is editor-in-chief of The Lancet, the widely respected British medical journal.  Going to the primary sourceThe Lancet Countdown: tracking progress on health and climate change, brings up 14 dense pages of commentary and facts on how climate change is impacting every living being on Earth. It’s sobering reading, my friends.

Climate change is adversely affecting the health of millions worldwide through drought, Photo by Alex Gindin on Unsplashwildfires, flooding, extreme heat waves and extreme cold. We have seen how that impacts people and animals in our own country through coverage of flooding from Texas through Florida, and the many wildfires in the far West. Other nations are also hit hard by climate change, but we don’t usually hear about them from US-centric media.

Many other climate-related effects are potentially lethal, too. Changing weather patterns also spread disease as mosquitoes and ticks expand their habitat farther and farther north. Allergies are more common, severe and last longer than when I was young. Unpredictable weather patterns–too much or too little precipitation and heat waves–reduce crop yields across the world, leading to nutritional deficiencies and famines. As always, the greatest burden falls on the sick, the elderly and children.

I must say that I’m feeling pretty good about where I live right now. (OK, maybe a bit smug.) Major storm tracks that tear from the Rockies through the Great Plains miss us by hundreds of miles. We are far away from potential earthquakes and massive flooding. Summers are warmer for longer periods than when I was young; the gardener in me loves that I harvest tomatoes into October. However, northern Wisconsin gets caught in a cold dip in upper air currents coming down from Canada that keep us chillier than most of the country in winter, so it evens out.

We all know what needs to be done to keep our tiny blue marble in space hospitable so our grandchildren can thrive–reduce fossil fuel use and reuse/recycle everything we can, among others. That reuse/recycle thing can be problematic if your chronic illness involves something that has to be landfilled, though. Anyone have uses for my hubby’s discarded oxygen tubing? (Don’t get me started on how much plastic, one-use medical waste goes into landfills.)

Perhaps you are too sick or disabled to do much at all. Remember growing a bean, sprouting a sweet potato or growing an avocado in a plastic cup when you were in elementary school? You can do it again, no matter how sick you are. Send your caregiver (so what if you are your caregiver) to a big box store and buy a small indoor plant. Start a garden next spring, even if it is just one tiny tomato in a pot on your fire escape. Healing happens when connecting to nature, no matter how tiny your effort.