Monday, February 18, 2019
I've been doing a lot of reading and research lately into sustainability and homesteading, mostly because, as a disabled stay-at-home mom, I am trying to find ways to cheaply feed and care for my family. I've watched many YouTube videos, read many blogs, read through several books on permaculture and homesteading, and I think I've come up with some good ideas on how to change our gardens this year and make them more prolific yet easier overall to manage (in particular, implementing the Ruth Stout method and square foot gardening).
One thing I have not seen in all my research is any kind of discussion on how to do this as a disabled person. I've seen a few videos and blog posts about homesteading in older age, but even those really did not discuss the elephant in the room: disability. How can we convince everyone to follow the permaculture philosophy or employ sustainable practices in their homes if we don't make sure everyone has a fair and equitable chance to do so?
I'm reminded of the plastic straw debate I saw raging on social media this last year. So many people exhorted one and all to give up plastic straws, some places even passed laws banning them, and everyone shared sad pictures of ocean creatures suffering from plastic straw debris. Thing is, the disabled community online argued against it. Some even wrote beautiful treatises explaining how there really were no good options for them and how they and others were treated online when they spoke up and said that they should be able to use what they need in a fair, equitable manner. While plastic straws aren't sustainable, they are desperately needed by many in the disabled community (not to mention children and people with dental issues). Shaming someone who needs a plastic straw because that's the only decent option available to them may make a sustainability advocate feel good, but all it does is make the other person arguing for accessibility feel like they don't matter.
I find myself dealing with this as I watch gardening videos and think of how I would be able to get around a particular garden, how I wouldn't be able to create that garden in the first place due to my particular disability issues, and how much physical labor is really involved for so many gardening practices. While I have found raised beds that work with wheelchairs, for example, they're horribly expensive, which means they're out of the reach of most disabled people.
I find myself wondering, as I watch homesteading and sustainability videos or read more blog posts and stuff on Pinterest, if I can even do some of the things I see. I know from personal experience that I cannot can food by myself. I don't care if it's a simple job or one that is more labor intensive (I'm looking at you, tomatoes and apple pie filling!), canning takes more than I have most days, which means I would only be able to do it on the weekend with my husband's help or maybe for a couple of hours with my mom or my son. Before I can even get to that point and put up the food, I have to harvest, often daily. That's often not easy for me, especially if a storm is coming, but I have to harvest or the food we've worked so hard to grow will go bad or be lost.
For example, just getting food ready for the week takes a lot of energy I don't always have. My stepson does better if I have after-school snack options already prepped and packaged for him every week. That means that I have to stand in the kitchen and cut and weigh and put in bags (that I've had to wash and dry so as to save the cost of new snack bags, not to mention the environment) first this thing, then that thing, every week. Some Sundays, I really struggle to make that happen. Buying foods in bulk is another example. Once we get the food home, I have to get the FoodSaver out, weigh out everything, put it in bags, seal each bag, and then carry it to the deep freezer (down a few steps). My husband is really good at helping me (or even just taking over and doing it), but I often end up going to the store during the day when he's at work and then am stuck back at home alone dividing, bagging, and getting everything to a usable level. Sure, it's all much cheaper than buying so-called convenience foods, and it's not like we have a ton of money lying around to burn, but there's still a cost in terms of time and personal energy.
I guess that's what I'd like to see from the sustainability/environmental movement: an acknowledgment that not everyone has the time or energy or health or whatever to do all of what they suggest. I know that, per permaculture and homesteading best practices, we should raise animals, but honestly, I grew up doing that and know just how hard it really is. I don't have it in me these days to wrangle a goat who doesn't want to go in the pen or chase after chickens to get them in the roost at night. So, what other options are there? What equitable, accessible options are there for those of us who need to do things more cheaply and better for the environment? Please think of us disabled people, too, when you come up with your practices and philosophies.
If you have any good ideas, please post them in the comments! Let's all help each other out!
Sunday, February 17, 2019
Ever since the flu shot last December, I have had a hard time walking. I've gotten a little better in the months since, true, but when my fibro pain is bad, the walking thing and weak arms thing gets really bad.
Today, I could walk with my walking stick (that I use instead of a cane since it's a better height for me). When I helped with the Sunday School class, I was able to stand for a few minutes here and there. When I couldn't walk easily at all to get to the Communion rail, a lovely member of our church helped me get there and back. The little Girl Scout who sold me my cookies carried them to my car while I concentrated very hard on putting one foot down, then the other, over and over without falling.
I am grateful I can walk. My muscles burn now as I rest with my cat, Mr. Floofers, on my legs, holding me down so I can't go anywhere (he is a very needy cat). I feel like I ran a mile when in all reality, I probably didn't even walk that many steps yet today. The pain is rather overwhelming.
But at least I can walk. I am grateful that I can walk.
Saturday, February 16, 2019
Morning and Evening Routines Update:
While I got a little better, I still completely fall apart if my pain level is too high. I'm only getting my routines in about half the time, which I suppose is better than before, but it's still frustrating. I've decided to continue this as my monthly goal each month until it's a solid routine.
I managed to finish the shawl I'd set as my January WIP-to-finish project, but I'm still not done writing and editing the pattern, and the knit-along I'm running with it is coming up super fast. Must get that done asap!
My writing daily and book plans have been entirely put on the back burner as I try to heal from this mess.
February (so far):
I'm doing better on this, but I'm still not front-loading the day with enough water, which means I'm drinking way too much of my daily water not long before bedtime, which is not a good thing. Lol! So far, though, I'm doing better on this, so I just need to flip my daily intake amounts to make it better.
I've added a new project, but I'm also working on my WIPs planned for this month. I'm not sure I'll finish them, but I have a decent chance if I really work at them.
The new project is a pair of thicker socks for the women's shelter in town. This winter has been a cold one, and while I donated several hats, scarves, and mitts to the warming shelters during that extreme cold snap, socks are always needed. It's also an easier, more portable project than the two monthly WIPs.
I have not done any at all this month. That needs to change, but the fibro fog makes writing and keeping track of my writing very difficult.
New Project--Why Not? :)
Last month, I started learning more about herbs and trying to study herbalism. I still have a long way to go on this, but as a part of my education, I am adding in two new herb beds to the gardens this year in hopes of growing beneficial and medicinal herbs for us.
This has really gotten me thinking more about our gardens and sustainability, which has led to studying more about permaculture and ways to make our gardens both prolific due to building up the soil and easier for me to manage. We will be trying the Ruth Stout method in our gardens this year, which promises very little watering and weeding, both of which are tough for me to do. My husband is excited to try it, especially since we have a free source of hay (his mom has a hay field and lots of old hay she wants to get rid of!) and it could make for bigger yields than we had last year.
So, the current plan is to rip out the decorative perennials in the garden beds by the back porch, transplanting most of them elsewhere on the property or selling them, and then putting in a big veggie garden there. So, we will have the back garden (gets the most sun, has the most room for the big things like tomatoes, squash, peas, beans, and potatoes), the back garden beds (get decent shade, so those are for the brassica family, lettuce, some beans, and a few herbs), the beds by the pool (still mostly decorative and will need serious mulching this year with cardboard in some areas to kill an invasive trumpet vine), the Garden Tower (which I think I've figured out how to improve this year), and the two new herb beds (filled with herbs, aka weeds, so they should be not much work other than gathering). Um, that's a lot. I'm hoping to get more herbs and veggies put up this year, and I've been promised more help on that score.
All of that has also lead to working out how to grow my own starter plants. Today, we went to Horrocks (an amazing small Michigan chain that's part farmers market and part nursery and part hipster store), and I got almost all the seeds we need for this year (and at least two more years if I store them right). I spent a good hour today reading through each packet and planning out what I'm starting when, so now I have that calendar set. Now I just need to measure all the beds once the snow melts again to figure out how many of each plant I need to start. This has led to some research on how many plants I need to feed our family of four-ish (with Anna off at college but Stephen now on the swim team, my food numbers have definitely changed).
So, long story short, I've been researching more lately because I can't be quite as active as the little bit I was before the flu shot, and I need to get a lot more done, not just on my goals but also around the home if we're going to try to feed and care for all of us better.
Monday, January 21, 2019
I tend to approach the new year that way, too. My overall goal for the year is to improve my health, and that starts with acting with intent (my word for the year). A lot of what I have been doing in the last few months is reactionary; I feel bad, so I do this, or this takes me by surprise, so I do that. This year, I'm trying to move more with intention and purpose, all in the effort to stop the worsening of my fibromyalgia or at least slow the progression of my disease.
To start, I have to be bluntly honest with myself: I am disabled, and I am worse in January 2019 than I was in 2018 or in 2016 when I went on medical leave. My average pain level has been creeping up so that, now, a six is a really good day, and good days don't come often enough. It is easy for me, after years of practice, to deny and ignore my pain levels, and while it's okay for me to do that for short periods to get something done, say, it isn't good for me to stay in that denial for long.
So, my annual overarching goal is simple: I need to either maintain or improve, even just a little. The time for researching and trying little changes (or even big changes for a month) is over. I know some of the things that work for me, and it is time to implement them with intention.
To do this, I've broken my objectives down into monthly units (see, teacher) that build on each other.
- January: Morning and evening routines.
- I have gotten into bad habits of not going to bed doing everything I should do to make sleep easier and better for me, and my morning routine is shot. This one has been difficult with worsening pain due to a flu shot1 right before Christmas, but I am improving and shall keep moving forward, day by day.
- February: Water.
- Over the fall, I stopped drinking as much water as I need, and while my kidney numbers in December were normal for the first time in ages (yayayayay!!!), I can tell that I'm not getting enough water for my kidney. So, my first objective is to see if my daily water intake goal is accurate (I'm thinking it might be low), and then my main objective for February is to drink enough water daily.
- March: Movement
- Starting in March, we hope, we will have a lot more to do in the yard and garden. I hope to have a seed propagation set-up going by then as well as the beginnings of the gardens. To be able to do that, I have to move (more than just the usual chores and walking at home) every day and get my body more willing to do the necessary garden work. That means daily yoga. While I've been trying to do this, I have not been doing it regularly with intention, so that's March's goal with the idea that I'll start working on it before then.
- April: Survive and Maintain Forward Progress
- To be honest, April is always a tough month for my fibro. I have an appointment with a neurologist then (regarding the flu shot thing), so there's that, but it's also about the weather. April is usually quite the rainy, stormy month here in Michigan, and that means pain.
- May: Diet and Lifestyle Check
- By May, I've often slipped into bad habits for me (due to rising pain levels from the weather), so May is for making sure I'm following my morning and evening routines, drinking enough water, moving with intention daily, and not hiding in denial. It's a month for solidifying good habits, not bad ones.
- June: Garden and Herbs
- I've dabbled in herbalism here and there over the years, but I've decided to get serious about it. I'm currently studying as much as I can, and while I'll start foraging for herbs before June, much of what I need for my stores either will need to be planted by June or start harvesting by then. I will also start drinking nettle tea daily to see if it helps with the pain, as some sources say it might.
- July: Lose weight
- My goal is to lose weight before July, but July is a good time to stop and evaluate what works and doesn't work for me. For years, I found that I had to take in fewer than 1300 calories per day in order to lose weight, but I think that number has changed. I track everything I eat, and by July, I should have enough solid data to re-evaluate my caloric intake goal and lose weight more effectively.
- August: Survive and Maintain
- August is another tough month for me. My asthma gets worse, the gardens need more work, the kids start getting busy again, and my husband always ends up working more hours. My hope is that I will have my new, better habits ingrained by then, but it will definitely be a test.
- September: Put Up All the Herbs and Veggies
- Most of my culinary herbs need to be put up in September, but that's hard due to kids back at school and such. My goal is to put up more this year and also put up all the medicinal herbs. Get the dried herbs into tinctures and oils, get the tomatoes canned, get it all done. In the last few years, I really haven't done enough here, so it's a major goal.
- October: Diet
- Before the holidays hit, I want to make sure that I'm eating my best diet so that it's a solid habit. I've already implemented monthly meal planning (works better for us than weekly, go figure), but I want to make sure that, by the end of October, I'm eating the most optimal diet for me.
- November and December: Survive and Maintain
- November is a rough month, weather-wise, here in Michigan, and then there's the extra stress of holidays and family whatever in December. My goal is to keep doing what I've found works every day and not to let any of my habits slip.
- At the end of December, I want to be able to figure out what helps me maintain my fibromyalgia levels and be able to point to solid changes that have worked.
1 In December, I got a flu shot finally after much discussion with my doctor, and it was different from the injection on. I can taste injections and IV drugs, and this one tasted really odd for a flu shot with almost a floral taste in the back of my mouth instead of the rotten metallic egg taste. The day after the shot, I started having serious trouble walking and almost fell several times. My grip strength in my hands is worse, my arms are weaker, and my legs don't work right still. That said, I am slowly improving, but it's definitely been scary. Physical therapy seems to help a little, as do my own exercises at home. We'll see if I'm better by April or not.↩
Wednesday, December 26, 2018
This means that the current crop of ELA teachers have little experience with poetry compared to prose except, perhaps, on a personal level in their own writing. In many conference sessions and conversations, I heard teacher after teacher confess that they feel uncomfortable in teaching poetry and consider it a weak area. This shows in some of the lesson plans and curriculum ideas available on TeachersPayTeachers.com as well as in many teaching texts. Formulaic plans with emphases on easy-to-grade areas like rhyme scheme and figurative language (one of the few areas of poetry in the Common Core) abound, and they are wrong.
I am a huge believer in and proponent of Baron Wormer's and David Capella's Poetry Centered Classroom Method. I personally used that method with various age levels and English classes with great success. First of all, every time I used it, test scores went up. Secondly, students of different ages and ability levels all agreed that it taught them how to read closely and think critically. If you can get a copy of Teaching the Art of Poetry, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Their follow-up text, A Surge of Language, is also very helpful in seeing how to implement the method in an actual classroom.
There are great methods and ideas in those books, but I would add a few here for when you incorporate poetry as your curriculum currently dictates.
1. Have students write poetry more than just during April.
One of my favorite tricks was to pull out acrostic poems when we were all getting quite tired of the usual vocabulary quizzes. Instead of having to write sentences on all ten words, I had students write three acrostic poems (their choice of which vocabulary words to write about); the word got spelled down the side of the poem, and the definition of the word had to be in one of the lines. The rest of the poem was up to each student. The first time I would use it with each class, it would take a bit of explaining what an acrostic poem even was, as many had never been exposed to that poetic form at all. Once they got it, creativity would flow, and amazing poetry was written as a result.
For differentiated instruction, put the writing of poetry on menu choice boards or include it as an option for reactions to novels or explaining important concepts. While the CCSS and the AP curricula emphasize essay writing above all others, students whose minds are more poetic struggle with writing essays and should be allowed to shine from time to time.
Pick a poetic form to go with each unit. Use that form to help students better see how figurative language is really used. When I taught a class of 8th graders The Outsiders, we watched many slam poetry performances, and the students had to write and perform their own, one of the more powerful experiences in my career. Students wrote of their struggles, successes, pain, and love in powerful, phenomenal ways, ways they could not have if we had done yet another essay. Think outside the box, pantoums for Brave New World, sonnets for Jane Austen, fitting the form to the themes or topics.
2. Encourage students to use the writing process on their poems just as they do on other writings.
It is not usual to hear of teachers having students write shape poems for Valentine's Day or poems for special occasions, but it is less usual to hear of those assignments following the writing process. Students write one draft, and it is expected to meet the standards, and then they move on to the next assignment, never to revisit that poem again. We might do that with short essay answers or even other short prose writings, but we rarely do that with essays. To show that all writing follows the writing process, please plan enough time for rough drafts and peer editing, just like you would for any other important writing assignment. Show students rough drafts of famous poems so they can see how it can look.
3. If you have students read their poems to the class, treat that as a sacred moment.
Requiring students to read their work out loud to their classmates is in the CCSS, sure, but it is also a difficult thing for most students. It's scary. Don't bully them or guilt them into it. Instead, set down strict rules for those listening, that any mocking or mean comment results in being sent from the room or something as severe depending on your school's policies. Make it clear that all students will be safe in reading their poems aloud. For those who still don't feel safe to read aloud, offer other options, like recording themselves for just you or for the class to read or reading their poems just to you in the hallway. Respect their fears.
One thing that seems to help students in reading their works aloud is practice. If you can find time for them to practice reading their pieces to others, it is very helpful. Starting them on reading to just a partner, then groups helps prepare them for the whole class.
4. Sneak poetry into your curriculum whenever you can.
Don't just use it for teaching metaphor and simile or during your Shakespeare unit. Use poetry for teaching all the things! If you find the right poem, you have a great, short mentor text that is easier for students to grasp than a huge novel or pages long article. That short text is less intimidating for students to practice close reading on, learn how to cite quotes properly, and even use for learning new vocabulary. For those thinking that poetry is less accessible, try it first with popular song lyrics the students volunteer. Those are poetry, as are the popular slam poetry performances on YouTube (a great way to cover the CCSS critical analysis of video texts!). Any time you're working on a new concept, introduce it with a poem, and see how much easier that works for so many students.
Poetry is the oldest form of human creative writing, older than writing itself. There is no reason to cut it from the curriculum, other than it's difficult to write test questions for and isn't as easily monetized as fiction.
I'll leave you with a story:
Years ago, I was asked to do a guest teaching spot in a 6th grade classroom. I was a new stay-at-home mom and desperately missed teaching, so I jumped at the chance. It was in a private evangelical Christian K-12 school, and in talking with the teacher, it became clear that she had not covered any of the metaphorical language standards or covered poetry at all, so I devised a fairly simple, safe lesson on metaphor and simile.
I will never forget that day: bright faces, interested and engaged learners, and sighs. Oh, the sighs. In the two sections, each time I finished reading the poem out loud that was on the overhead, there was a huge collective sigh like they were finally breathing oxygen for the first time. They gasped as we went through the poem again, splitting apart the metaphors, finding each one together, and some even cried. It wasn't even a great poem. I remember one little boy raising his hand afterward, asking, "What is that? It isn't like anything I have ever read before." So many agreed with him, and I had to back up and explain what poetry even was.
When it came time for them to try writing their own, each section was crammed with students who thought they knew all the rules for writing. I was asked how many sentences their poems had to be, how many paragraphs, and more questions focused on the editing side. You should have heard their gasps when I explained that poetry does not have to follow any of those rules, that they did not even have to capitalize if they did not want to or even use a single period. They turned in some pretty rough free verse that day, but they smiled, breathed easier, and left class chattering about their poems, sharing them with each other, and saying they wanted to write more.
Poetry is part of what makes us human. Don't deny your students that experience. Let them gasp and breathe it in.
Wednesday, October 31, 2018
End results for me:
My asthma is worse, my allergies are worse, and I definitely have my GI allergy symptoms (stool change, stool color change, some abdominal cramping) going strong now with no other possible cause since this is the only new thing I've introduced.
The first few days, I had less pain, more energy, and I really thought it was something I could take that would help. The rebound headache when it wore off, though, was definitely a problem, as were the sleep issues. I felt more rested when I took it at night, but the tracker said I had absolutely no deep sleep those nights, and it was a lot harder to fall asleep (when it already is difficult). Switching to taking it in the morning helped a lot for a couple of days. In trying to ease up the bad headache in the evening (well, worse headache since I always have a headache), I split the pills to stagger dosing, and it didn't seem as effective that way. Going back to taking a whole pill in the morning did not help my pain like it had before, and my allergy symptoms definitely started getting worse.
Another side effect for me was massive lack of appetite. I've been forcing myself to eat even a little and finding that my appetite comes back when it wears off in the evening, which is not a good thing for my weight or metabolism at all. I just didn't want to eat, didn't even think of food as something good (which is weird for me). I do wonder if, for people on medications that make them hungry all the time, it would help counteract any of those symptoms. That isn't the case with me, though, and while it helped me stay in a better calorie range for me, it didn't help with weight loss because of when I was finally hungry and able to eat.
Conclusion: I'm allergic to it, and I'm stopping taking it as of today.
End results for my husband:
He stopped taking it a couple of days ago, mostly due to the bad headaches he was starting to get. We aren't sure if those are due to the ashwagandha, actually, so it's more that he's put it on pause to see if, after this weather system goes through and he tries it again, it works better for him.
He definitely was having GI symptoms, too, though. Worse gas, some abdominal pain from gas cramping, and his gas smelled much worse. We're not exactly sure what it was doing to our gut biomes, but it was doing something. He hasn't had the lack of appetite to the same degree I've had, but he definitely has not been as hungry until it wears off.
Conclusion: My husband thinks he needs a smaller dose than the 600 mg we've been taking (Garden of Life) and a different formulation. He's going to try taking it again in a few days and see if he has the same symptoms, and he possibly will be taking half pills instead.
Monday, October 29, 2018
Thing 1: It really helps to take it in the morning for us.
Taking it at night made it so I didn't get any deep sleep and took forever to fall asleep. I did feel like I had slept really well, but the tracker says I didn't, and the brain fog says I didn't. We both take it in the morning, though we have found it helps to take it a bit later in the morning due to Thing 2.
Thing 2: It is not fun when it wears off.
I tried doing a divided dose for a few days in hopes that it would make the evening easier when it wears off, but instead, it just made it not work as well overall with the headache still hitting hard in the evening. My husband didn't take one yesterday (as part of his experiment), and his headache was bad all day. We're both starting to question taking this at all due to the almost-rebound-like headaches when it wears off.
Thing 3: Divided doses did not help, but taking the one pill didn't help with a bad weather/rainy day, either.
In other words, it definitely is no miracle worker for me. Yesterday, it stormed and rained all day, and I had zero energy and really bad pain. The ashwagandha did nothing to help with that at all despite going back on a full dose. Honestly, the longer I'm on it, the less effective it seems to be, which is weird. I'm going to stay on it the full month to see if that changes.
Thing 4: Both of us are finding that our allergies and GI issues are worse on it.
I've been starting to wonder if I'm mildly allergic to it, especially since my allergies and asthma are worse and my GI symptoms are starting to look more and more like they did with soybean oil (which I've become allergic to). I'm not quite there yet, and it is fall (and a usually bad time of year allergy-wise for me), but if my asthma keeps acting up, I will have to stop taking it entirely. If my husband keeps having the GI issues he is, he's going to stop taking it, too.
In conclusion, over a week later, and I'm not seeing the benefits I did at first. There is the possibility that it's the dosage or the configuration we're taking, but if I'm really allergic to it, then it doesn't matter in the end at all if it works or not. So, I'm going to continue on it and watch everything carefully. If the allergic symptoms continue or worsen, I will have to stop taking it and then see what happens.