A Research Project and the IIM Process

4-IIMThe girls and I are doing a group read of The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis, a story about a girl growing up in Afghanistan. The main character has a very different life than ‘A’ and ‘H’ – her home, her freedoms, her opportunities for education, are all foreign to my girls. They want to know more, so we are undertaking a group research project about girls in Afghanistan. We are following the IIM method for this project (we say “double eye m”), which is short for Independent Investigation Method. The IIM program encourages students to put together a systematic plan for conducting research before they even start. That sounds like no big deal, but it really is! If only I had been introduced to this method when I was in school… life would have been so much easier! Research projects can seem as though they are enormous and impossible to undertake, and the IIM process breaks it all down into small, manageable steps. Things like selecting a topic, choosing research tools, and writing out notes are all broken down into small steps with deadlines. Steps with deadlines are the key to completing a research project!

The part I like the best is the system for taking notes. You take simple notes (called notefacts) that sum up an idea, and mark each notefact with a number that corresponds to a source (a book, video, article, etc.). You write the whole bibliography for each source before even writing out the first notefact. That right there is brilliant. How many times was I up late writing out my bibliography? Too many to count. After all the notefacts are written out, you cut them up and organize them. This is the elementary-level system. I don’t know how it works for higher level research yet.

I know, it doesn’t sound like a revolutionary system, but it is when you compare it to how I was taught to do research projects (or should I say, how I was NOT taught to do them). This is coming from someone who has written a lot of research papers. My degree is in history – for a while, my entire life was about reading and writing. I think the IIM process is a great way to approach research projects.

Here is a video that shows you more about IIM: http://vimeo.com/jonmossedtech/tuss-iim. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of good IIM resources online. The website about IIM has links to books for sale, and there are some reproducible pages on another site I found. If you are teaching the method, I highly recommend getting a book with the reproducible pages. Making research as easy as possible is the key to success!

If you have any research project tips to share I would love to hear them!

 

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Little Changes…

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Goodbye October, Hello November… November, you are my least favorite month of the year, because you drag me, kicking and screaming, into the winter season. By the time this month is over, all the leaves will be off the trees, we’ll have seen our first snowfall, and it will be cold enough to warrant a coat and hat each time we leave the house. But here you are, November, so let’s get used to each other. Happy thoughts, right?

Our family life has been very full. Homeschooling is in full swing with lessons and assignments every day, punctuated by many field trips. I am having a lot of fun with the girls this year, and I think they are enjoying it too. Now that they’re in the 2nd and 4th grades, the type of work they can undertake has changed and increased. I expect a lot more from both of them and they don’t disappoint me. Here’s a flavor of the work they are involved in:

They begin every day by watching the NBC newscast from the night before – it gives them a glimpse of the major headlines and helps them to be well-informed students;

We are all reading The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis and will have a series of discussions when we finish the book;

The girls love history and geography, so we are cruising through the geography of the United States, complete with mapping projects, and they are learning about the history of New York State;

Next week we start our Project Feederwatch citizen science project, where we will spend 2 days each week observing and counting the birds at our feeders until next spring.

These are just some of the exciting things that are happening at our homeschool this fall.

While school life rolls along at a good clip, I am finding my inner personal life to be in a state of transition. I stopped working at the farmers market for the time being, and I am still adjusting to losing that part of my identity. In the past, when I left a job, I usually had a plan for what lay ahead. This time I’m not moving toward anything in particular. What I have gained by not working, though, is priceless and much needed: down time with my family. We are so busy during the week – all of us – and weekends have become a time for us to be together and relax in each other’s company. I’m welcoming some additional little changes in my life this fall: I’m picking up my first pair of BIFOCALS {gasp!} next week; I’ve stopped drinking wine {completely – another gasp!}; and I’ve been busy selling honey and herbal tinctures from my garden. I’m taking a class on herbal medicine through the Herbal Academy of New England and I have learned so much about how herbs work in the body. I am lucky to have a garden full of medicinal herbs, and I’ve spent the summer and fall harvesting, then tincturing or drying them. I can’t wait to experiment with even more mixtures this winter.

One of my favorite garden herbs is catnip. Yes, the same catnip that makes cats go crazy! I grow a few plants in the garden and it is wonderful in a hot tea blend when you want to relax and sleep well. It’s the best herb I’ve ever used for soothing upset stomachs and minimizing gas pain. It works beautifully for both children and adults… we drink a lot of catnip tea at our house! Grace enjoys catnip too, of course.

Speaking of Grace, she turned 15 a few weeks ago and she’s definitely showing her age. Here she is relaxing on ‘H’s drawings…

Hello November!

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Preparing honey for sale (I’m excited!)

25-honey-labelsI’m excited! My honey is officially for sale. I’m labeling it today and am now taking orders for local sales. The honey is packaged in 1 lb. jars and is available for $6/jar. If you’re in the Galway/Saratoga area, click here to send me an email and we can discuss delivery arrangements.

I have plastic bottles available for shipping and will price out shipping options for all of you who live a bit further away.

I’m looking forward to preparing all the wonderful fall foods we love that are sweetened with honey… roasted vegetables, braised carrots, wheat breads and more.

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Honey!

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The bees filled in empty space in the honey super with their own comb.

We harvested honey last week. I am amazed at how much we got – just about 100 lbs. The goldenrod season was really good this year, and half of the honey was produced in the two weeks before we extracted it. HALF. Those bees are very busy!

Getting the honey supers off the hive on extraction day was not as easy as I had hoped it would be. Jeff and I had put a triangle escape board under four full supers and I had planned to give the bees two days to evacuate. My beekeeper friend Erika was going to come over and help me lift the supers off the hive the day of the planned extraction. The supers were heavy this year because I used 9 frames in each box instead of 10, so the bees drew deeper comb and packed more honey into each cell. I needed help lifting the supers that were up higher than my shoulders.

A little while before Erika was scheduled to arrive, I was outside and glanced over at the hive. I expected to see bees flying in and out of the front entrance and not much else. What I saw instead horrified me – hundreds of bees going in and out of the top cover. Without ever witnessing it before, I knew right away that these bees were robbers, coming from another hive to steal this honey. They had easy access because my bees had vacated the upper supers and weren’t there to defend their honey supply. The robbers were getting in because I had used an inner cover that came with the beekeeping equipment I was given years ago, but had never put to use. It didn’t fit right, apparently, and left a few cracks where robber bees could slide in.

I didn’t have time to wait for Erika. Robbers can devastate a hive very quickly. I suited up, lit the smoker, and started taking the heavy supers off the top. I was worried and really mad, and my adrenaline gave me the strength to lift the boxes with no problem. Robber bees were coming from all over by now and a few thousand swarmed around me, trying to get to the honey. They were eating so fast, and it was disappearing as I watched.

At that point, I had an open hive and all these robbers around. Working quickly, I put an outer cover on the ground, upside down, and an empty super on it. A triangle escape board went on top of that, upside down so that any bees in the empty super could go out but couldn’t get in. I put a full super box on the ground next to the empty box and frame by frame, cleared the robber bees off and put each frame in the empty box. I kept going with more boxes stacked under the triangle board.

I cleared the robber bees off each frame by smoking them heavily. I used only pine shavings in the smoker, so they burned fast but produced heavy, thick warm smoke. The bees hated the smoke. I had to work fast because they were determined to get as much honey as they could and they did their best to fly into the empty super each time I slid back the triangle board and added a new frame.

Erika arrived, and we continued the work of smoking the bees off each frame and adding the frame to the super under the triangle board. When they were all done, we realized there was no way we could bring the honey supers into the house for extraction as long as the robber bees were still flying all around us. I would have to let the supers sit out, protected by the triangle board, until dark when the bees stopped flying.

I did get the supers in that night and started extracting honey the next day. The robber bees came back the next day, and stayed for the week until they all died. They took up residence in our garage, where they flew around and sometimes clustered on the windows. I felt badly about the mass die-off but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. They came from another hive, had no queen with them, and they didn’t go back home on their own. I couldn’t save them.

I took no photos of the robbing situation because I was working too fast to stop and document it. It was certainly one of the more memorable beekeeping experiences I have had and I learned a lot in the process. One thing I wondered about was the effect of all the heavy smoke on the honey harvest. Would my honey taste smoky? All of it that I bottled tastes like sweet honey, and the small amount that sat in the wax cappings overnight after I extracted did take on a flavor that I am assuming is from the smoke on the cappings. That honey has a delicious earthy, savory taste and I can’t wait to use it. I’m not selling or sharing that small batch of honey – it’s too good to let go!

I’ll be selling the honey this fall, so look for a link on this blog soon.

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Jeff smokes the bees before lifting the honey super off the hive.

 

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Climate March 2014

Our family went to New York yesterday to join 400,000 other activists at the People’s Climate March. We wanted to show our children what it was like to take part in a substantial social action movement. At home we learn about social change and we sign petitions; we show up at small demonstrations and talk about ways of making a difference. This march in New York was bigger than anything we had ever witnessed as a family.

With this significant social action experience under their belts, ‘A’ and ‘H’ are now learning about the UN Climate Summit that takes place on Tuesday 9/23; the importance of the big players who attended the march (UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Al Gore and Bill McKibben); and the different ways people are making change, as well as how our family can play a role in climate justice solutions.

My girls are 7 and 9 years old. I have always wrestled with how much to tell them about climate change and how to say it. Years ago when they were very young, I read that it’s important to foster a love for nature before introducing too much information about how we are hurting it. That made sense. I have made space in our family life for ‘A’ and ‘H’ to develop an appreciation for our earth. Over the past year I have told them quite a bit about the human impact on the environment in a factual and simple way. Now I am at the point where I’m opening up the discussion and sharing real-time information that helps to move the discussion along. We need real answers about what we can do to make a difference, and stories about other people who are doing the same.

When I talk about making a difference, I don’t mean that I want to know more about things my family can do at home. We know about that stuff. Turn off lights, switch lightbulbs to LED bulbs, stop driving so much, turn the heat down. Got it. I will even add my own points to the list: stop eating factory farmed meat, GMOs and food grown using chemical pesticides and fertilizers. It bothers me when I see so many educator resources that focus on the few things kids can actually do at home. They usually have a PDF coloring sheet of a honeybee or an activity such as planting a seed to go along with the lesson. Those kinds of lessons don’t help. Children know that their small effort to turn off the lights when they leave the room isn’t making a dent in the issue of global climate change because if it was, wouldn’t the problem be solved by now? Residential energy waste and emissions accounts for a small part of the climate change problem. Real change will happen when our government enacts laws that will change the way energy is produced, and when we reduce the amount of waste and garbage we create. I’m not talking about families turning the thermostat down a degree, bringing canvas shopping bags to the store, or recycling plastic toys. That’s good practice, but we need corporations to get on board and dramatically change the way business is done.

Here are a few good places to start:

our family at the climate march

 

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Waking up, coming back

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It really stunk when Coco died two months ago. It was all YUCK, every way I looked at it. She was only a year old and was turning out to be a really great cat. Before her injury, I said to Jeff, “She’s becoming the perfect cat – I’ve never had a cat like her. She is so affectionate, she comes in at night or when she’s called, and she’s learning how to be gentle to the house when she’s inside.” I felt horrible saying that aloud, because I didn’t want to offend Grace, who is also an awesome cat. But Coco was different. She was a great cat.

It hurt to lose her. And the way she went – was she hit by a car? All signs point to yes, but we’ll never know for sure. Here’s something freaky to think about – a week after she died (at the end she died of heart failure, if you want to get clinical about it), her litter mate, who has been living at a different place died of heart failure. He was totally healthy until the day he got sick and died. Crazy, right? That just adds to the yuckiness. Back to the car theory: we live on a busy road. Our home is in a small village and the speed limit is 35 mph, but still, it’s a busy road. When we moved here the neighbors said they don’t let their cats out anymore because too many have been hit on the road. I knew it was a possibility, but I’m such a purist when it comes to my animals that I took the chance. I talked about it with the girls – Coco is going out, I would say. She might get hit and killed on the road. We need to understand the risks.

And so she did, and she is gone. And it was all YUCK for a while as I picked up the pieces. I am still sad when I think about it.

I didn’t appreciate dealing with the unpleasant unexpectedness of her death, so I spent the summer trying to gain some control over my life. I like things to be planned out and certain, so after she died I focused on the things I could be sure of. Closets have been cleaned. School curriculum has been selected and mapped out for the year. Halloween costumes were ordered and now hang in the closet. The boiler was cleaned. It sounds crazy, but those tasks kept me on track. On the periphery I dealt with the things that are uncertain and in constant flux – the garden, the chickens, the bees. I usually embrace them but this summer I couldn’t because I needed to find my footing first.

The garden was planted but not tended as well as it should have been. So many tomato volunteers came up this year where last summer’s ripe tomatoes, full of seeds, fell. They took over the lettuce and swiss chard beds. They grew up on the pathways. I didn’t have the heart to pull them – I had experienced too much loss already. Those tomatoes looked like they needed a chance. So now my garden is full of tomato plants that seem to grow wherever they choose.

The chickens have been tended but not fawned over, not by me anyway. ‘A’ always takes her time to be with them. We started the summer with 9 hens and a number of pullets and roosters. Most of the roosters, along with Peg, our injured chick, and Carrie, our mean hen, went to a better life. Carrie is living on a farm with other hens, and the roosters and Peg were processed for dinner. We now have 8 hens, 10 pullets and 2 little bantam roosters. The chicks all have names now, except for the two that are headed off to live with a friend once they start laying eggs. There are 10 that we’ll keep, and their names are: Fred and George (our silkie roosters who look exactly alike, and have white feathers), Hedwig, Narcissa, Sunshine, Mrs. Crouch, Eliza Jane, Alice, Aunt Docia, and the last has four names, one of which will eventually stick – Buffy, Mocha, Annie, and Ellie.

I make it sound so depressing here. It’s really not like that. These are just my feelings, and for the most part they stay where they belong (until I’m talking to Jeff about them as he drifts off to sleep…). This summer has been filled with activity for our family. The girls went to stay with my mother in July (on the Cape), and they enjoyed attending theater camp there. They also loved swimming every day and liked eating dessert every night after dinner (thanks Mom). It was so nice for me to have a week on my own while they were away. The girls were safe and were having fun; Jeff was at work. I had a chance to live life on my own terms. To linger. To breathe. To be me again. I brought them there and Jeff and I picked them up at the end of the visit. We went kayaking as a family, and did some light hiking too.

We went to visit my dad in Maine and the girls experienced the Atlantic surf as never before. The tide goes way, way out each day and when it does, the small waves roll in. It was perfect for children. No undertow, no steep drop-off. Just wave after wave of fun.

This is the year of babies in our family – we have a new niece and soon we’ll have a new nephew. Babies are sure a ton of work (and a ton of adjustment) but they bring such goodness to the world, and it’s worth every moment of effort.

The land around us continues to produce an amazing bounty. I harvested and braided garlic from our garden, picked blueberries from the farm down the street, and I cook up sweet corn, green beans, tomatoes and cucumbers on an almost daily basis. Herbs are all in now. I haven’t even mentioned my herbal medicine class. That will wait for another day.

It is time now for me to get back in the saddle. When Coco died, the rug was ripped out from under me, and I’ve spent a number of weeks getting my bearings. I’m okay. I’ve been reading and knitting. I’ve been parenting with a gentle heart. I’ve been crafting and homesteading. I’ve been healing in the way I know how to heal when I feel vulnerable – by reining it all in as tightly as I can. I feel better now. It’s time for me to live life in the way I know how – by writing and documenting my time, by observing my children at work and play, by creating something new every day, by laughing with friends, and by showing love to my family.

It’s the ups and downs that make life what it is… but those ups and downs are tough to get through. I’m looking ahead.

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Coco

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Well, we certainly didn’t expect this to happen. ‘A’ woke me up this morning and informed me that Coco didn’t “look right”. Coco has been paralyzed for a month, ever since the day she was hit by a car and hurt her spine. There have been ups and downs over the past month and I truly thought she was on the path to recovery. It might be a long one, but it would come.

Alas, this is not the case. Coco died in the night.

My initial reaction was to wonder what I did to cause her death. What did I do, and what could I have done differently? That’s pretty egotistic to think I could have caused or prevented her death, but it’s where I go when I am faced with an emergency. I have been giving her St. John’s Wort tincture for a few days, and although it seemed to help with her discomfort, she also went downhill in the past few days. Was it the tincture that caused her death? Deep down I don’t think so. It’s safe for cats and even if the dose was too high, it wouldn’t have caused the symptoms I saw during her last two days. A vet friend who administered acupuncture to Coco a few weeks ago wondered if her spinal injury was moving up her spine, ultimately causing her death. That could fit. Whatever the cause, she was in considerable pain at the end of her life. Yesterday when I tried to move her to change her blanket, she bit me hard. She did it out of pain. I feel badly that she ended her life this way. I don’t feel bad that we kept her alive all this time. There were times when she was making progress, and I had hoped her injury would heal. If we had put her to sleep, I would always wonder if she would have recovered.

I have done so much crying in the past month. When I saw that Coco was not breathing this morning, I experienced the same feelings I had when Erma died. I had cried so much while both of these beautiful cats were alive but at the end of their life, and when the moment of death came, I was at peace. Maybe my ego lets go at that point, because there is clearly nothing I can do to alter the situation. ‘A’ handled it in her own gracious way. She was sad and upset, and wanted to spend time petting and talking to Coco. It didn’t matter to her that Coco was cool and lifeless at this point. She spent time with her. ‘H’ initially freaked out, as she does with everything, but quickly moved on. She doesn’t really care. It’s not a bad thing, just that she doesn’t form attachments the way ‘A’ does.

Coco will be cremated, and her urn will join Erma’s on the shelf in our parlor.

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Life here continues to go on. Grace came in yesterday evening with a leg injury, so she is under observation here at home. Another limping cat! I don’t know how much of these legs injuries I can handle. She was not hit by a car. I found a clump of her fur outside, so I am assuming she was in a fight with another cat. She might have a bite on her leg or a sprain. My own cat bite on my finger is not infected but it is tender and swollen, so if she does have a bite, it would affect her gait.

Today is a mental health day for us. We went strawberry picking, the girls had piano lessons, and we’ll meet friends for a movie later today, but the in between moments are spent doing whatever we wish to do, and I’m not holding anyone accountable for anything today. No school work or chores for the girls, and I’m not feeling badly about how little I’ve done to process the strawberries. I might make pancakes for dinner, or just feed the girls popcorn at the movie theater and call it a day. I should clean out the room where Coco has been living this past month and wash the blankets and towels she used. Or I can do it tomorrow.

Tomorrow is another day.

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Our animals

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Every year at this time our activity level speeds up. All winter there was much to do every day, and now in the late spring there is so much to do. The gardens are alive! As of yesterday, I have planted everything I want in the ground. The cucumbers and wax beans are starting to sprout, the pac choi and lettuce are ready for a salad harvest, the tomato transplants are growing every day, and the many tomato volunteers I found in the garden this year are getting bigger and stronger. I love flowers and we have planters around the yard filled with color, accompanied by seeds in the ground that will come up soon. Already I am harvesting and processing some of the bounty: dandelion roots, which are good in cleansing teas, are pulled and awaiting a good scrub in the sink. We have quite a few mint plants that are fast becoming accents in our juices (raw) and iced tea (heated in simple syrup). The plantain in the yard is coming up nice and large now and I will add it to oil to steep for a few weeks before turning it into salves and lotions.

Now that the plants are in the ground and do not need more than water and light weeding at the moment, I am enjoying that one week of the growing season when it all seems to be under control, easy to manage, and a delight to the eyes. This is good, because I have plenty of other things to focus on.

Coco has still not recovered from her accident. She was limping, then paralyzed, then moving her legs, then paralyzed again. At this point I am not seeing signs of improvement in her. It’s discouraging, but I am happy to give her some time to see what develops. I am well aware that we may have to put her to sleep. I’ve cried a lot about it. Just when I think my tears are all used up, they start to flow again. Part of what is so hard is that she is so young. And she’s mentally and emotionally here with us. I know that spinal injuries can take a long while to heal, if they heal at all, so I am going to wait a bit longer before making any decisions about her life.

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Out in the yard the chickens are in need of some special attention. Ticker, one of our nicest laying hens, looked sick the other day. She was standing alone, sort of hunched up. Her eyelids kept closing and she looked uncomfortable. I have come to recognize the stance of the uncomfortable hen, and I first chalked it up to a stuck egg that needed some time to work its way out. That happens sometimes. However, I soon knew it was more than that because she smelled bad. The whole coop smelled bad. “Bad” doesn’t even describe it. It smelled like death. We couldn’t breathe through our noses while we were near the coop, it was that bad. A quick search on the internet led to a diagnosis of Sour Crop. Sour Crop is essentially a yeast infection in the chicken’s crop. The crop gets big and mushy, full of fermented food, and it smells. The chicken isn’t digesting the food and getting the nutrients she needs to be healthy, so she starts to look sick. I am treating Ticker by keeping her isolated during the day, away from food and water, and I am feeding her kefir. She has a bowl of kefir in her pen for snacks, and I feed her directly via syringe twice a day. Kefir has live cultures in it much like yogurt, and it stops the overgrowth of yeast. I also emptied her crop a few times, which was one of the most unpleasant tasks I have ever undertaken in my life. Overall, Ticker is recovering pretty quickly from Sour Crop, and I attribute her quick recovery to the kefir. It has kept the yeast at bay. Today the coop smelled significantly better, and she looks as though her crop isn’t swollen anymore. What’s crazy is that the coop smelled so bad because her crop was infected. All that smell came out of one little chicken. I find that really strange.

Ticker also has some wing feathers that look eaten up, and I am thinking she might have scaly leg mites. If she has them, chances are the other chickens have them too, so I will have to treat the whole flock and clean out the coop. I’ll treat by bathing the chickens and then smearing vaseline all over their legs to smother the mites. This sounds like a recipe for disaster. I can’t wait to see how much dirt gets stuck to their legs. I’ll have to put the vaseline on Ticker’s wing feathers too, if that is what is eating them. Since this is a slow week in the garden, it seems like a good time to bathe and lubricate all the hens.

‘A’ and ‘H’ are good. They are both sad that Coco is injured, but they don’t focus on it which is probably a good thing. The spend time with her everyday but they seem able to disconnect when they aren’t with her. ‘A’ has been very helpful with the care of Ticker. Both girls are just about done with the school year. They are so antsy and eager to play as much as possible. We don’t homeschool through the summer. I’m finding that it’s easier for our family to stick to the public school calendar. It gives us the rhythm of regular school days, with short breaks throughout the year and a refreshing longer break over the summer. ‘A’ will be taking a writing workshop this summer and we’ll keep the skills polished a bit, but nothing too strenuous.

So, the girls are doing well, Jeff and I are also well. Grace, who turns 15 this year, appears athletic and energetic compared to Coco. Funny how perspective changes everything. I’ll have more news about her condition as the week goes on.

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Time for an update!

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I realize it’s been almost a week since ‘A’s egg challenge and I have been absent. The news is all good: she passed! She had to eat the equivalent of one large egg, so we prepared a scrambled egg, a few pieces of french toast, and a bowl of matzo brei. She chose to eat the matzo brei, and was given four portions to eat over the course of 90 minutes. The first bowl had the smallest amount of food and they got progressively larger. I was wondering if she would not eat the egg dish because of the new flavor or texture, but she did a great job. At no point did she have hives or any reaction. At the end, we were told she can now eat eggs “without restriction” – what beautiful words to hear!

There’s more than just the news about ‘A’ in this update. When we arrived home after the egg challenge, Coco our kitten was outside limping. By the time she was seen at the vet the next day, her limp had progressed to paralysis of her hind legs and tail. An X-ray showed no breaks, bites or dislocated limbs. The two possibilities that fit are that she has toxoplasmosis or she narrowly escaped being hit by a car, and the wheel ran over her tail as she was pulling away. She is on antibiotics to treat the toxoplasmosis (although I am not sure that theory really fits well), and she is on pain medication and steroid shots to address the car accident theory. Over the past five days she has shown steady improvement. She’s still not walking, but she’s able to move her legs, and just yesterday she started to be able to lift her tail. I spend a lot of time with her, as the human contact seems to help her. In this situation, time is our friend. Hopefully she will heal if we wait patiently.

Around the homestead, things are good. I’ve been slow to put in my vegetables and flowers this year, but they will eventually go in the ground. I’m making lists of salves, teas and tinctures I want to make with the plants I grow. Plantain is coming up strong now, and it’s a wonderful plant to use in healing creams. The Lungwort is looking good this year, so I’ll dry some for tea, and steep some in vodka for a tincture. Lungwort is a good herb for clearing the lungs. Many varieties of mint are grown here, and I will turn some of them into mint-flavored simple syrup for iced tea. In the poultry yard, the new chicks are growing quickly. I am still not ready to say which are pullets or roos. The batch I hatched are just over seven weeks old, and the ones I purchased are five weeks old. I’ll know for sure in a month.

Keep Coco in your thoughts, if you would. I believe in the power of positive healing thoughts. She needs all the help she can get. Thank you.

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Grace

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Plantain. Great for healing skin.

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Lungwort. Excellent as a tea or tincture for cough, colds and asthma.

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Food Allergies

Our family lives with food allergies every single day of the year. ‘A’ has been allergic to a number of foods since she was born. Some of her allergies are life threatening, some are not. A few of the less-severe allergies presented as she entered toddlerhood and began to eat a wider variety of foods, then subsided a few years later. For a while she was allergic to corn, peas, chickpeas and sesame. She would get a repetitive cough when she ate them.

Other food allergies have been with her since she was born, and they have hung around since. She’s been allergic to milk since day one, literally. I hesitate to go back to the memory of her first reaction because in hindsight, those days were so confusing and painful. When ‘A’ was born the pediatrician told me her blood type was different than mine and as a result, her bilirubin count was high and she needed to spend time under the bililights in the hospital nursery. While she was in the nursery, the nurses gave her formula to drink. Although I am a “breast is best” advocate, I was okay with a bottle of formula at the time, and truth be told I would still be okay with giving a baby with high bilirubin a bottle of formula today. The more they poop, the faster they recover, and formula certainly makes a baby “go”. The problem in ‘A’s case was that the formula was straight-up milk formula and she was allergic to it. Who would have known? It didn’t register on my radar, because I had barely heard about food allergies. This was in 2005, when food allergies were just beginning to be seen in high numbers of children across the country. It wasn’t talked about back then the way it is now. When the nurses gave ‘A’ the formula and wheeled her back into my room, she had hives all over her body. I didn’t know what the hives were. I wasn’t accustomed to seeing newborns, and I figured it was a side-effect of the bililights. Wouldn’t the nurses know if something was wrong? Wouldn’t they say something to me?

‘A’s milk allergy started out severe and is still very severe. It is one of her life-threatening allergies. We know this not only because of blood and skin testing, but because she has eaten food containing milk and has needed epinephrine to recover. Tree nuts are another one of her life-threatening allergies, and they scare me so much more than dairy does. Reactions to dairy respond pretty well to the epi-pen; on the other hand, tree nuts are a whole other ball of wax. They take on a life of their own, and if a reaction occurs you use the epi-pen, keep your second one at the ready, administer albuterol and oxygen and steroids, and you pray. All of this while you are on the way to the hospital.

Two of her allergies which are the most misunderstood in our house are eggs and peanuts. Both are severe enough that we don’t serve her scrambled eggs or a peanut butter sandwich with meals. Unlike dairy and tree nuts though, I haven’t always been able to predict her reaction to eggs and peanuts. She first ate eggs in a baby biscuit when she was 9 months old and got hives around her mouth. For many years after, she tested as highly allergic to eggs, so we avoided serving them to her altogether. She has tested allergic to peanut. At this point I can’t even remember if she has eaten any peanut in her life. I don’t think she has. I would have to look back through her medical file to see, and it is a big, fat file. All I know is that she tested positive for peanut and all the doctors told me to stay away from it, so I did.

Life with food allergies stinks, I’ll tell you that. It stunk when she was 1 because I was so confused about what to feed her and I wondered about the nutrition profile of her diet. It stunk when she was 2 because she played with kids who ran around with cheesy fingers and I worried she would have a reaction because of cross-contamination. It stunk when she was 4 because the classes and parties and play times were all so food-based. Everyone had snack time everywhere we went. Snack time meant cheese or goldfish or healthy milk-egg muffins. And cheesy pizza. Life with food allergies stunk when she was 6 because by then I was sick and tired of cooking 1,095 meals and 730 snacks for her every year, plus separate dairy and egg-filled meals for the rest of the family. Day in and day out. By the time 7 rolled around, I was done. I was ready to move on to better doctors who knew more about the future of food allergies and could help us.

We started going to Children’s Hospital in Boston to see what was happening with the research. The information we received there was helpful and took us to a good place. Her doctor recommended a baked egg challenge, where she would eat a muffin with egg as one of the ingredients. She passed that challenge and began eating muffins, cakes and breads with egg. Can I tell you how wonderful it was to finally bake cakes that contained eggs? Cakes like to be held together with a binding ingredient while also baking up light and fluffy. Eggs are the perfect solution. I was overjoyed. It was like we had hit the jackpot. After a year she was able to eat cupcakes, which are baked for a shorter amount of time (18 minutes to be exact). Then I fed her a cookie, baked 11 minutes, and the next day her stomach hurt. Shortly after, we saw her doctor in Boston and he urged me to press on and work through it, so I did. She quickly progressed from cookies to pancakes and waffles, both cooked for just a few minutes. We went back to her doctor. What now? I asked. French toast? He said no. He didn’t think she was ready.

Amid all of this, I cooked a batch of muffins at home that contained milk. I had seen what baked egg therapy did for ‘A’, and I knew a baked dairy therapy was on her horizon. It was the standard muffin recipe from the Joy of Cooking: 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of milk, 1/2 cup of oil, and some other ingredients. I made 12 muffins, and ‘A’ ate 2 of them. She was okay until an hour after she ate them. At that point the hives and “intestinal distress” came on. No epinephrine was needed, and she was fine in the end, but it was a sign for me that she wasn’t ready for baked milk (you think?). At the same time, it was a sign that she might be able to tolerate a lower level of baked milk. She didn’t go into anaphylaxis. That is positive.

In addition to seeing the allergist in Boston, ‘A’ sees a local allergist for asthma and seasonal allergy issues. Her local allergist listened to me describe the muffin incident, and heard my plea for a low-dose baked dairy therapy. He couldn’t help me, but said (snarkily perhaps?) that I should take her to Mount Sinai in New York because they are better equipped to deal with “people like me.” So off we went.

Her doctor at Mount Sinai immediately addressed the allergy of least concern, the egg. She believes ‘A’ has outgrown her egg allergy and is doing a scrambled egg challenge with ‘A’ this week. I also believe ‘A’ has outgrown the allergy and I’m happy to challenge her and cross it off the list. Next she addressed the peanut allergy by doing an advanced blood test that will determine just how allergic to peanuts ‘A’ really is. The results are pending. Finally she suggested doing a dairy challenge using a baby formula made of hydrolyzed whey protein. The idea is if ‘A’ can drink the formula without reacting, she can use it in a daily therapy and will most likely outgrow her dairy allergy faster. I purchased the formula and sampled it, and it is downright disgusting. So we will see what happens in this department.

I want ‘A’ to outgrow her allergies so that she can eat whatever she wants without fear. I want her to be able to eat anything without the risk of reacting or dying. I want to be able to cook a meal without keeping every cooking utensil separate, without washing my hands twenty five times, without remembering to put the non-allergenic foods on the top shelf in the oven so that the dairy food won’t drip and spill into ‘A’s dinner. I want to be able to go out to eat as a family and order off the menu. I want to be able to travel with my children. This spring my girls are learning French, and tonight ‘A’ said she wants to study abroad in another country when she is in college. Inside I cried, but on the outside I smiled and encouraged her. How is she going to live in another country with these food allergies? As a college student, no less?

I do believe she will outgrow her dairy allergy. I do believe there will be a desensitization therapy for tree nuts by the time she goes to college. I believe in science and research, and I see a bright future for ‘A’ and the other children who have food allergies. When I look back at the past I wonder why so many kids have them now. It is not the hygiene hypothesis, at least in our case. ‘A’ was born with her dairy allergy, she didn’t acquire it as she got older. It is something Jeff and I gave to her. Why? What happened in the past 40 years that changed the DNA of today’s parent? So much could be to blame – processed foods, pollution and more. I would love to know the answer. It is time to stop food allergies from forming, instead of treating them when they have already developed.

** Thursday is the scrambled egg challenge. We are excited! ‘A’ is nervous, as is expected. I am confident she’ll pass.

 

 

 

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