Check out my new book, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You, available from Amazon.

2012 Silver winner in the Health/Medicine/Nutrition Category of the Independent Publishers Book Awards

Saturday, January 12, 2013

What to expect when your loved one has cancer

As some of you know, my husband has a blood cancer. Multiple myeloma, to be exact. Over the last five years, he's undergone constant chemotherapy that has only been interrupted by a year of tandem stem cell transplants. A friend of mine's son was recently diagnosed with leukemia and I had a few words of advice for him but felt that it was worth posting it for everyone's use. As rates of cancer climb in some areas, it's something that will most likely touch your life as well.

So, if your spouse, child or parent has been recently diagnosed with cancer and you find yourself as the primary caregiver, I hope the following with help you deal with what you've been handed.

My Top 10 Tips for Cancer Caregivers:

1. Cancer is a full-time job. Depending on the cancer treatments, which can vary widely, your loved one is potentially looking at several years of various treatments. As the caregiver, you need to put your life on the back-burner to help out. Sometimes you'll need to show up in the morning and hang out all day until their treatment center decides you can go home. Expect a lot of waiting around and frustration. It comes with the territory.

2. Mourn the loss of your/their previous life. All the hopes, dreams and plans you had with your spouse or for your child are gone. The life you once knew is gone. I found this the hardest thing to recover from. You really are mourning for something that no longer can be, so take the time to mourn the loss. You have to adjust to what's generally called the "new normal". In other words, a precarious future. And that sucks.

3. Be their eyes and ears. Every cancer patient needs an advocate. Even if they are not dealing with chemo brain and a myriad of other drug side effects, you need to attend critical visits to the doctor to take notes, remember details and ask questions. The cancer patient, themselves, is often too much in a fog or stunned by what is happening to them to clearly remember what the doctor is telling them. This includes keeping on top of their medications, updating their physicians about their issues and not being afraid to speak up for them.

4. Accept support. Encourage your loved one to ask for and get the physical and emotional support they need. That includes medication to combat nausea from chemotherapy or any other drug they may need to be more comfortable. Cancer treatment is a heinous business and can cause a myriad of side effects. Make sure their palliative needs are being met.

Ensure that their emotional and mental needs are being met as well - encourage them to seek out psychological support from friends, family and professionals to talk about what they are going through. Nobody expects them to bear the burden on their own. Instead of asking them, "how are you feeling today?", ask them if they want to talk about how they are doing. Some days, they'll just want to focus on something else.

5. Accept help. When they are first diagnosed, people will come around asking what they can do to help. Don't turn them away! This was our big mistake. If someone offers to babysit, take them up on it. If someone asks if they can bring over dinner, say yes! My best advice is to create two lists - everyone wants to help so give them something. It makes them feel better and gives them a sense of control. They are hurting too.

Make one list for home - picking the kids up from school, mowing the lawn, doing laundry, making dinner, going food shopping are good places to start. For work - make a list of things that people can do for you like going to meetings and taking notes, whatever works in your environment. You'll need the extra time. Trust me.

6. Fair weather friends and family. Under duress is where your true friends come out. It's hard to deal with another person's sickness. Many can do it over the long haul, but it's not unusual for those you thought were true friends to disappear. Spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends of your loved one may fall away. Cancer is a stressful business and can create too much of a gulf. When faced with the choice of going out and having fun or sitting around with a depressed, vomiting friend or spouse for months on end, well, you know where this is going. Don't expect everyone to hang around.

7. People will say rude things. It's not their fault. They think they are helping. They oftentimes can't emotionally or mentally accept what's happening. They are in permanent denial. They've convinced themselves that it's not a big deal. So, when friends or family members tell you, "he'll be alright" or "she'll be just fine", try not to take it personally. It feels like they are discrediting or undermining the pain and hardship your family member is undergoing, but in reality, I think they just haven't gotten to the acceptance stage yet. And they may never get there.

8. Everyone else's lives will go on. While you are stuck in chemo mode and the roller-coaster of support and possible death, everyone else will be discussing their daily minutiae as if it were the end of the world. So, while your friends sit around discussing how difficult it is to decide what new sofa to buy or how expensive it is to fly to Europe for that 3 week vacation, try to stop yourself from punching them in the face. Yes, their problems aren't cancer, but it's a real concern to them.

9. Living with the unknown. For many cancers, it's never a done deal. There's never an "all clear" or remission. You just have to live life day-to-day. You need to relearn to live your life without planning the future more than a few years or even a few months out. You'll need to live with the pain of thinking that "this might be the last Christmas, or birthday, or summer vacation" that you have with your loved one. Life can become short-sighted, but you'll need to live like you, too, were dying.

10. Take care of yourself. This one is tough because you feel like you don't have the right to complain or say anything negative about what you are going through. You aren't the one with cancer. But you need to take care of your own physical and mental health. Make sure you exercise for stress relief and make sure you have people to talk to about what you are going through. You do have the right complain about what's happening to you. Because cancer sucks for everyone it touches.

If you are looking for more resources on how to help and how to advise others, I highly recommend The Etiquette of Illness: What to Say When You Can't Find the Words.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Personal cleaning habits?

Every couple of years I like to ask these personal hygiene questions since I'm always curious to see the answers. I do this because there is such a huge focus in our culture on bathing and bath products and sterilizing everything that I wonder how much that advertising infects our consciousness. And our pocketbooks.

One thing that always sticks in my mind is the commercials from the late 1970s for Mitchum antiperspirant. The ad's tagline was "so effective, you can even skip a day." Back then, the concept of not showering everyday wasn't such a big deal.

Well, there's no way in hell you'd see the same sort of ad campaign today. What has changed in the last 30 years that people are so averse to appearing not up to bathing "standards"? That is: showering, shaving, shampooing and getting all gussied up every single day?

So, with that in mind...

What are your personal cleaning habits?

1. How often do you shower/bathe?
2. How often do you wash your hair?
3. How often do you brush your teeth?
4. How often do you floss?
5. Do you use "natural" body cleansing products or conventional ones?
6. Do you use deodorant, antiperspirant or something else?
7. If you shave, how often do you shave?
8. Have any of these habits changed as you've tried to live a greener lifestyle? If so, which ones and how?
9. Where do you live?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Super Fast Chard Recipe

My brother, Mr. Seattle Foodies himself, came over for New Years dinner. He showed me how to cook down a huge amount of chard in a little amount of time. I have been doing it wrong all these years. The trick turned out to be that you cook it at high temperatures.

Here's the quickie rundown...

What you'll need:
chard (also works well with kale)
garlic
olive oil
lemon
salt and pepper
crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Here's the process:

1. Chop chard or kale into large pieces
2. Rinse thoroughly
3. Dry (I use a spinner contraption)
4. Slice a few garlic cloves up thinly
5. Heat pan to high (this is the critical part) and add some olive oil
6. Heat garlic until just brown
7. Add all of the chard into the pan even though it looks ridiculously high. As the chard cooks down quickly, you can start to turn it. My brother used chopsticks for the entire cooking process. When the chard is cooked to your liking, deglaze the pan with the juice of half a lemon and then add salt and pepper to taste. If you want a little more flavor, also add in crushed red pepper flakes.

That's it! Super tasty and done in a few minutes. Plus, the chard doesn't need additional liquids added to it and it won't turn into soup.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

What the Winter Garden Looks Like Right Now

I'm always fond of gardening voyeurism so I thought I'd share what mess our garden currently is in.


In the far back, against the fence (from left to right), there's lavender, oregano, mint, rosemary and chives. The spindly tree in the blue pot is a sweet bay. And off to the right (out of frame) is thyme and sage. Paco loves to poop in the thyme. Bad chihuahua.

Starting with the back row:

Left: I've got about a million garlic cloves planted in there. Yes, there are a lot of weeds setting up shop so I'll need to clear those out so they don't compete.

Right: This is the leftover crazy from the previous winter. I had planted a bunch of cabbage and fava beans and let them go to town over the summer. I didn't get around to clearing out the bed this fall.

Second row from the back:

Left: That's the kids strawberry bed, year two. This summer will be year three. It needs some trimming, but for the most part it is a pretty prolific producer, except the slugs or other critters tend to get there first.

Right: I replanted the entire bed in the fall with cabbage and lettuces. It's not looking too fabulous right now, but once early spring kicks in, it will pick up and, hopefully, we'll have a good crop of overwintered stuff.

Third row from the back:

Left: Yes, you guessed it. That bed is full of grass. It's been non-productive for almost two years, so I'll need to clear it out and start new. It used to be full of carrots, beets and chard. Paco dug up all the carrots and ate them. Bad chihuahua.

Right: I cleared out and replanted this entire bed in the fall as well. It, too, has some broccoli, Swiss chard, cabbages, lettuce and herbs.

Front row:

Left: This bed is brand new. I just put this together in the fall and filled it with a combo of purchased compost and composted chicken poop to mellow over the winter. I'll do some soil analysis and add whatever it needs and plant it in the early spring. This bed will get the most sun of all of them, so I have high hopes for it. I think it will take a few years to mature since I didn't dig up the sod underneath it.

These raised beds represent all the current space I have for growing vegetables (except for an asparagus experiment in a container) and a few potato bags. What you don't see are the grape vines,  fig tree, cherry trees (2), plum tree, blueberries (2), peach trees (2), apple trees (2), blackberries (4) and pear trees (2) planted throughout the rest of the backyard that aren't doing much right now.

I'm obviously not using the hoops but will with a spring planting.

How's your winter garden looking?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Urban Homesteading with the Neighbors

We live in an area of Seattle that is not known for its urban homesteading. It's known for its manicured lawns, manicured shrubbery (think Edward Scissorhands), lack of trees and covenants.

Out of a community of roughly 360 homes, there are only a handful of us doing any kind of reasonable food gardening. There are a few homes that have solar panels, but we are routinely warned that if we want to get them, they have to be approved by the board. In other words, we don't have a whole lot of control over what we do on our own property. We knew this going in, but that was before I became the Crunchy Chicken.

Getting our chickens approved was a year long project and I had quite the disagreement with the previous board president. He was extremely rude to me about it and, even though he was overruled by Seattle City laws, he made it clear that he wouldn't want to be my immediate neighbor. Now, several years later, most of our neighbors don't even know we have chickens.  And those that do help out when we are out of town.

Well, a few months ago our next door neighbors moved out and new neighbors moved in. I wasn't sure if our chickens were going to be a problem, but it was quite the contrary. About a month ago one of our new neighbors stopped me to say that he'd love to talk to us about our chickens because they were planning on getting some themselves.

They were also planning on ripping out all the rose bushes in their backyard and putting in tons of raised beds, a greenhouse and planting fruit trees. They were newbies at all of it and I let him know what we were up to over on this side of the fence. I chatted with him for a while and I think he realized he'd moved in next door to the urban homesteading jackpot. I later dropped off a veritable library of books, some to keep and others to borrow.

I haven't had a chance to check in with them yet, but I can't tell you how excited I am to have neighbors just over the fence pursuing the same urban homesteading dreams that I have. It's been so lonely around here, but now I don't feel so much like an outcast. Now I feel like a valuable expert.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Environmental Slip N Slide

Since I haven't posted much in the last six months, I thought I'd keep you up-to-date on what I have and have not continued doing when it comes to my environmental and toxin-avoidance pursuits.

And, I figured it just would be easier to just go ahead and list them:

1. We turned the heat up. After 5 years of Freezing My Buns off, I decided that turning the heat up a notch wasn't going to make anyone complain in our house. So, instead of chilling out at 62 degrees, we're rocking it more around 68 during the day. We still keep it at a bone chilling 55 at night, but during the awake hours, I'm toasty. Now, this doesn't mean that I'm walking around in my skivvies. I'm still wearing wool sweaters and blankets, so don't think this is too much of an indulgence. It's only a couple hours during the day, the dog stays more comfy and we have less problems with mold.

2. We switched back to a petroleum-based laundry detergent. I just couldn't stand the stink. Our front-loading washer, combined with eco-friendly detergent, was just making our clothes smell absolutely disgusting. Granted, we are using a Free & Clear sort of detergent, but it's made all the difference in the world and I don't have to burn my clothes.

3. I ditched the homemade deodorant. If you have no sweat glands, then consider yourself lucky. I, on the other hand, was born on the Isle of Ripe and no amount of plain old deodorant is going to combat that. If I had no stress in my life, and no job to go to, then I would rethink this decision but since I ain't and I don't, it's back to the aluminum. It's the only questionable thing I put on my body, however.

4. I don't worry as much about organics. Usually it's a result of availability, cost and looks, but sometimes I reach for the conventionally grown fruits and hope a good scrubbing goes a long way. I still try to avoid the dirty dozen but sometimes it's better to eat what's available/appetizing and try again next time. We almost always buy organic vegetables. I'm not sure why.

5. I don't let it mellow. We have super low water toilets and I'm not sure how much in toto we were actually saving by not flushing the toilet. Plus, now I have to clean it less often and the lack of smell is delightful.

That's about the bulk of it. I'm sure I'll get an earful, but everything in moderation? 

Photo courtesy of TonTonJohn.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year 2013!

You may have noticed a serious dearth in blogging going on around here. I can't say that I'm going to pick it up yet again, but I thought I'd post since I'm on vacation and have a bunch of free time on my hands. I recently shut down the blog for a spell, in order to remove some of the more personal posts, in case you noticed. I'm not sure if I got them all, but I felt a little too much like my panties were hanging out in the wind. So, if you go looking for anything family related on this blog and can't find it, there's the reason why.

What am I up to these days? Hanging out with the kids, working and squeezing in a little urban homesteading when possible. I'm still following the lifestyle I've discussed on the blog over the last 6 years, except for a few things I've gone back to. I'll post about the slippage later. But the big thing for 2013 for me is that I'm going to graduate school. Oh, and we are down to one vehicle (due to an irrecoverable car accident), which has proven a little challenging but we are persevering.

So, here's what's happening in 2013 in our place:

1. Graduate school - That ought to absorb most of my not-so-abundant spare time. I won't go into details because it's not pertinent to this blog, but suffice it to say, it's very technical.

2. Get some gardening help - I've had two bouts of serious back outages in 2012 and I'm not sure I'll be healed enough in time this year to do what I want. So, rather than injure myself again, I'm going to get some help digging up a few beds so I can plant on time. That much I can handle.

3. Get rid of the rats - For whatever reason, our chicken coop is attracting rats and we are finding them on the chicken coop roof and in our grill (WTF?). There's no external food source and they aren't getting inside the coop. I think it's the food scraps and poop that's causing the love affair.

4. Go in on a cow share - Our pig share in 2012 was a resounding success and, as we are on the last bits of piggy, I'm thinking forward to an organic, pastured cow.

5. Don't over-plan or over-commit - Since I'll be busy with school, I'm not going to over think too much this year with the garden. We have new neighbors who are planning on getting chickens and are doing some serious garden overhauling in their yard, so I'll have someone to share the insanity with. But, at this point, the new bed I put in before the fall will be about the only extension to the backyard. Primarily, though, this year I hope to actually plant some things. Last year was a big bust in that area.

One more thing. I asked Google to un-index my blog. So if you try searching this blog for something or on Google, it may come up empty. I suspect it will take a while to re-index all the posts that are left.

Happy new year! And, as always, you can find me on Facebook!

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