Super power

Not every part of having a chronic condition is bad. My condition has allowed me to grow a super power. Super powers aren’t just relegated to the comic heroes, every day people can have super powers too. People like you and me.

So what’s my super power? Empathy.

Let me explain:

CFS, Lyme, Fibro, and other chronic conditions all seem to come along with a plethora of what I call “side-dish symptoms.” Not the main symptoms, but those annoying, and often painful symptoms that cause you to change your lifestyle, but maybe not as drastically as the main symptoms. Things like food intolerance’s, headaches, rashes, joint pains, and more.

There are co-morbid conditions (conditions that modern medicine has noticed that tend to happen at the same time as your “main” chronic condition) like IBS, and, either because having a chronic condition puts you in the “unlucky” group or whether it can in and of itself trigger other responses in your body, having a chronic condition appears to make it more likely to have a lot of other symptoms and conditions too (modern medicine just hasn’t found the connections yet). For example:

When I was little I was diagnosed with dyslexia. It was mild and I learned how work around it. As a teen I learned being calm reduced it’s effects. But with the cognitive difficulties that have come up while having CFS flare ups, my dyslexia goes to a whole new level. I have a new found respect and deep understanding of those who live with dyslexia.

In 2013 I developed a chronic pain spot on my back (chronic pain is where you don’t actually have a cause for pain, the signals in your nerves are misfiring). The first summer I had it, the flare ups were so bad, that even just the light breeze from the fan touching my skin would send my into screams of agony. Thankfully it’s not as bad as it used to be (it flares at the same time as the other CFS symptoms). I know what it’s like to feel like your body is attacking you, like you can’t get away from pain or other sensations. I know pain that doesn’t go away and my heart breaks for all those still suffering.

I am full of these symptoms. Mark Hyman, a functional medicine practitioner, is known for saying he is a “wholistic doctor” because he sees patients with a “whole list” of symptoms. Many of these symptoms are common enough to have names, some have treatments, and the specialists I see are never surprised by them. What I have come to understand is that these common symptoms are not evenly spread throughout the population, but clustered in a smaller number of people; that there are people out there just like me with lists of symptoms. In some ways it feels unfair that we should hog all these beauties to ourselves. But if I think of them as a gift instead of a burden, I can see so clearly how they make up my super power. I don’t empathize with only one condition. That means I understand so many chronic condition sufferers (with lists of their own), and anyone who has any one of these “common” conditions. Do you have one of these conditions? I likely do too. I can empathize. That’s my super power. What’s yours?

Posted in Chronic conditions, Fair Share, Health and Wellness, Mind: Mindfulness and Awareness, People Care | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mourning Option A

Yesterday, Sheryl Sandberg wrote a moving piece (posted on her facebook page) about her loss. Sheryl’s husband passed away unexpectedly and suddenly one month ago. In her post she talks about her grieving process quite openly and movingly. While no two people grieve in the same way, other’s grief can also look surprisingly familiar. Sheryl so beautifully expresses her pain of a future different than the one she had envisioned; about mourning “option A”.

“I was talking to (a friend) about a father-child activity that Dave is not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, “But I want Dave. I want option A.” …

And even though sheloshim has ended, I still mourn for option A. I will always mourn for option A. As Bono sang, “There is no end to grief . . . and there is no end to love.” ”

While our grief is of a different nature, those of us living with chronic conditions all to well understand the despair of loosing “option A.” Some days are harder than others, and I have often wondered when I would learn acceptance; to be free of mourning option A. Today I realize I will never be free from that mourning, that loss. Time will ease the pain, as life brings new and unimagined options in it’s place, but there will always be moments when I think with anger, sadness, or even numbness about option A.

My heart goes out to Sheryl and her family. May the moments you find peace and happiness get you through the hard ones.

Posted in Health and Wellness, People Care | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


A couple of weekends ago, a classmate (from my Permaculture Design Certificate class last fall) hosted a get together for our class at his home. Eager to see everyone and to hang out with people who know a thing or two about growing things (and about issues close to my heart), I jumped on the opportunity. And indeed, I was rewarded, not just with good conversation, but also ideas taken from his property tour. Bonus? We went home with “extra” plants- from self seeded kale seedlings to horseradish roots to plant. I am also the proud new steward of a comfrey plant. She (can I call a plant a she?), though not entirely pleased with being so disturbed at first, seems to have pulled through (and now it’s time to get her into the ground!).

What’s comfrey and what is so great about it? If you haven’t heard, it’s the it new thing in the greener end of the gardening/farming/homesteading world. And by new, I mean old but getting new attention. It’s great for your soil. That’s right, soil. As more and more people come to understand the importance of good soil, not just at the start of your gardens life but a constant to upkeep,  the more information spreads about composting, vermiculture, compost tea, non-tilling methods, and beneficial crops- from nitrogen fixing roots, to deep roots breaking up the soil, to cover crops.  Comfrey falls into the last category (a beneficial crop), but also makes a great tea, and has benefits in your compost heap too.

To learn more about comfrey, here are some articles on growing it and it’s uses, making comfrey fertiliser in a bucket, building a fertilizer tower, and more about it’s nutrients and benefits.

Posted in Earth Care, Grow: Gardening and Growing, Homesteading and the Environment | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spices & Dried Herbs: Must haves

I love spices and herbs. We have a whole cabinet of spices. And I use most of them. But there are a few I use most of the time.


Great for baking. It goes well with pumpkin/squash/sweet potato, and also with apple. A key ingredient in cinnamon rolls and most coffee cake recipes. It also is used in many middle eastern and Indian dishes.

Curry powder

There are so many kinds, and so many different purposes. But for general use, my go to mix is the Penzey’s Sweet Curry Spice mix because it doesn’t have garlic (which can be an issue for those on the low FODMAP diet like me).


An earthy, grounding spice. Usually paired with other spices in savory dishes from all over the world; but a must for Mexican.


My favorite spice (but don’t tell the others!). I just love the smell. This is a must in Thai and Southeast Asian cooking and curry paste (though the coriander root is often used in pastes). Found as a whole seed or powder. Many recipes that call for the whole seed have you toast it in a dry skillet before grinding it. You’ll know it’s ready when you can smell it- usually 30-60 seconds.

This one is easy to grow yourself- just let cilantro go to seed! But you will need a good sized space for it, you won’t get much from a small window box.

Ginger (powdered)

Not as potent as fresh ginger, it can be used in both baking (cookies, muffins, cakes, etc) and in savory dishes (anywhere from Indian to French).


Goes really well with cinnamon.


I don’t use “chili powder”, which is a mix of chili, garlic, and any number of other spices. Instead I use the single-chili kind. Like this brand which has lots of single-chili powder choices ranging from smokey flavor to lots of heat. A must for Mexican, but is also good paired with chocolate (seriously!).

Cayenne pepper

Its bright red color should be a warning- it’s all heat, little flavor. Use sparingly, and only when you want some heat.


It’s unmistakable fiery orange color is imparted into any dish it’s in. It’s a little bitter, but becomes earthy when cooked along with other spices. It brings a grounding to dishes. Used profusely in Indian cooking.


Useful in French cooking, and great in all kinds of soups.

An easy one to grow and store yourself. Cut off longish stems with leaves and either hang to dry or lay on a tray to dry. Once dry, pull the leaves off and store in an airtight container.


A must for Mexican cooking.

This is another easy one to grow and store yourself. Cut off longish stems with leaves and either hang to dry or lay on a tray to dry. Once dry, pull the leaves off and store in an airtight container.

What are your favorite go-to herbs and spices?

Posted in Earth Care, Food: Cooking Recipes and Preserving, Homesteading and the Environment | Leave a comment

Mindfulness: How to start

I may not be a mindfulness expert, but I do know this much: mindfulness is awareness. An awareness of thoughts, emotions, sensations, (or almost anything in the present moment) without judgment. It is not an action, deciding on a course of action, nor thinking about ways to correct the behavior, emotion, or thought. It is literally just to notice. In some way it’s like a narrator of your thoughts (thoughts on thoughts seems so “Inception” (the 2010 movie)).

This is what it looks like: Most of the time there are thoughts running through your head, forced or without direction, and mindfulness is just being aware of those thoughts. Like “huh, I’m thinking about this topic.” And that’s it. No judgment (“I should be thinking about something else”), nor corrective behavior (changing what you are thinking about).

So here’s how to start: Be aware of your thoughts without judgment. Don’t go farther, don’t analyze, or force your thoughts or change course, just be aware. That’s it. It sounds stupid, easy, and pointless. But it will also be difficult. For me there were two big hurdles, which I’m sure are quite common ones. First is remembering to be aware, and second is leaving judgments aside.

Trying to be more aware of your thoughts, without a reminder or cue to do so, is not easy. Keep trying. You can start small by creating your own cues like eating or showering- allow your taste buds or the sound of running water to be your reminder to observe your thoughts. Think of this like any other good habit you have added to your life (making better food choices, getting more exercise, etc) and reuse tricks that worked for you.

Putting aside your judgments can be tricky. For me it was like switching to a different part of my brain. Allowing my “analytical” side of my brain to make the observations, and leaving the part I call “bad parent” (who criticizes or comments on everything you do) out of the conversation all together. “Bad parent” will badly want in on the conversation, but don’t engage in a battle, just brush the criticism aside with out taking it in, or give it one simple “that’s not true or helpful” and put “bad parent” in time out. Do not engage in a conversation or argument. It will take a lot of practice, and a lot of failing.

The trick is getting back up after you fall. It’s as simple, and difficult as that. You will try mindfulness and fail. Guaranteed. That’s part of the lesson: learning to get back up again after you fail, after you want to give up, after you throw in the towel. Learning that you can get back in the ring, that you have what it takes to try again is as meaningful as any of the other lessons learned in taking up mindfulness.

What do you hope to gain from learning to be mindful?

Posted in Health and Wellness, Mind: Mindfulness and Awareness, People Care | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spring seeds

Crocuses are just starting to appear, and all but the biggest snow piles have melted completely, leaving only a few, tiny, dirty piles of snow in the back of big parking lots. Can spring finally be here? I hate to jinx it by saying so. But looking out my window, in perfect synchronicity, my neighbor is erecting another raised bed in her back garden. So I must not be the only one declaring it so.

In honor of Spring’s (late) arrival, I started some seeds. Without a greenhouse or heating pad, I have waited (longer than I thought possible) to start seeds. Wary of the temperature, I have started with veggies and herbs that don’t mind a little coolness. My basement set up, while warmer than outside, still isn’t warm enough for those seeds that like it really warm.

I started cilantro, kale, and three kinds of lettuces. This year I opted for a greener planting method- using toilet paper (loo roll) tubes as containers. It’s free, easy, green because I’m reusing and repurposing, and less plastic means less worry.

I am also hoping it will reduce work in the long run. When it comes time to plant them outside, just pop them into place without even removing the cardboard tubes. I’m hoping they will rot in place without falling apart on me before I plant them out (fingers crossed).

If you like to start from seed too, what are your favorite methods? Have you tried the toilet roll tube method?

Posted in Earth Care, Grow: Gardening and Growing, Homesteading and the Environment | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding connection: Nature-Deficit

Emotionally, we need to have a connection: to other people, a place in society, a quiet place in nature to listen to the birds, or even time with our own breath. We all have a type of connection that speaks to us, that we desire or even crave. Other types of connection we can shun, ignore, or mean to cultivate but never seem to have the time.

I have been thinking recently, that we should spend more time seeking out all kinds of connection, including more of what we know we love and new kinds of connections.

It turns out that not taking time to connect with nature even has a name: nature-deficit disorder. Did you know that we, Americans, spend 80% to 99% of our time indoors? (I read that in this fun piece where I first heard of nature-deficit disorder)

Honestly, that feels a bit shameful. To be fair, it’s hard this time of year in the north- with snow covering almost every inch of earth- to find time to connect to the outdoors. Which is why it is important to make it a conscious priority whenever a chance comes a long. This weekend I am traveling to visit my grandmother in Florida. It may not seem like much of a burden to promise to spend as much time on the beach with my feet in the sand enjoying the sound of the waves, because it isn’t. Nature is a wonderful place to spend some down time. If you can learn to cultivate a love for the nature around where you live, you’ll be able to find a connection every time you step outside. We just need to make it a priority.

Posted in Health and Wellness, Heart: Connection, People Care | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

In this moment: Self expression and brain fog

I have made it a goal to write a blog entry a week. Some weeks are easy, some it’s difficult to make my goal. Sometimes I can’t focus due to brain fog, others I can’t think of what to write. This week its more of a focus problem- I can think of lots of ideas, but don’t have the mental stamina to see an idea through, nor the big-picture clarity to choose just one.

In the end I chose write about that very predicament. In a way, writing about “this moment” will highlight ways in which CFS affects my daily life.

Many around me think I express myself, thoughts, ideas well- either in person on in writing. My boss goes as far as to say I’m a good writer. My high school english teachers would laugh, but honestly, these days I am pretty good at expressing myself- only because at times it is so difficult. It takes so much more effort to craft just the right way to express myself. I also know what its like to be confused by an ill-crafted statement. Having brain fog means you get both sides- being confused by what you are taking in, and unable to fully express what you want to want to in a cohesive manner. Leaving me with a greater understanding of how to write or craft an idea in a less confusing way. And in the days and moments of clarity, I use these powers to the fullest- knowing there are times when I cannot express myself, when words escape, when I cannot remember what I was saying (mid sentence), or days when even cohesive thoughts/self-talk are illusive.

The word ‘fatigue’ in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome elicits thoughts of physical fatigue. Rarely do people think about mental fatigue. I never knew what it was even like to be mentally fatigued until I had CFS. It’s nearly impossible to describe, and unbearably frustrating to live with. In a way you feel you are loosing yourself, your essence. But I cannot deny that while CFS brings new and exasperating challenges, it also has come with the chance to grow. Using the challenges as a jumping point for self-improvement; from becoming a better writer, to being more empathetic and understanding. Sometimes a loss can also be a win.

“A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

Posted in CFS/CFIDS, Chronic Conditions, Feelings and thoughts, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Warming lamb with rice

This is one of those made-up-on-the-spot recipes I came up with last year, and was good enough to write down and repeat. Made with lamb and cinnamon, this dish is warming- particularly good for the cold days we’ve been having.

Did I mention it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, low FODMAP, and oh so easy?

Here are the ingredients:

1 lb ground lamb (minced lamb)

1 really big carrot, peeled and shredded

1 tsp powdered cinnamon

1 tsp ground cumin

1 cup of leftover rice *

*Using leftover rice (basmati preferably) is what makes this a relatively quick dish, but if you don’t have any, you’ll have to wait for the rice to cook. (And remember in the future to make extra rice- it’s great in things like this and fried rice)

In a deep fry pan, heat some oil/fat of your choosing. Fry up the lamb, stirring to brown and break up the pieces. Once browned, remove any extra meat juices carefully and discard (or use in something else).

Add a little more fat and then the carrot and cook for 5 minutes (until carrots are sauteed), stirring to keep from any one part from burning. Add the spices and stir in. Once spices are fragrant add the leftover rice, stirring to break up any clumps and to get an even mixture. Cook long enough to heat the rice through. Voila! Now serve with toasted pine nuts.

This dish would also be good with chopped up, cooked spinach, or even dried fruit like golden raisins (marinate them in some water or orange juice before adding them last minute to the pan for extra juiciness and flavor). And one last note- if you like full flavor- go ahead and up the spices to 2 tsp each- mmm mmm!

Posted in Earth Care, Food: Cooking Recipes and Preserving, Homesteading and the Environment | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Holy swear-word batman! Gluten-free, vegan (dairy and egg free), oh and did I mention low FODMAP and corn, potato, soy, and bean/pea free too?

Happy pancake day to me! And to all of you ;)

ps. The first few were terrible, so I tweaked the batter and voila! I also added un-sweetened shredded (desiccated) coconut to the batter too- to give a nice sweetness as well as texture. These were good-without-anything-on-them pancakes; so no one has to choose sides (maple syrup like in the US or lemon and powdered sugar like in the UK). When I am sure I have perfected the recipe, I’ll post it. Until then, keep experimenting- you never know what you might come up with!

Posted in Earth Care, Food: Cooking Recipes and Preserving, Homesteading and the Environment | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment