A Fungus Amongus

I have been working on this post for in my head for over a year. Not that it’s a complex topic, but the final paragraph took way longer than my impatient little self could tolerate.

Once upon a time, on a very rainy day in April 2014, some curious folks set out to grow shiitake mushrooms. At $14+/lb, this mushroom is not often what’s-for-dinner, but I love them almost as much as the elusive morel and want to invite it to my table on a regular basis.

The following is our virgin voyage into the mushroom world. If you’ve successfully grown them, feel free to advise. If you never have, pretend I’m the expert who totally knew what she was doing.

We bought our spores from Fungi Perfecti, a family-run company out of Olympia, WA. Picking a company was a crap shoot, I went with one that had solid reviews. This bag of 1,000 spores was about $30. Pretty cheap considering how much shiitake are:

20140315_092725

We set up operations at my sister’s house. She just loves big messes. She welcomed us with our battle cry: 20140412_131941

About a month prior, we (and when I say “we”, I mean my brother-in-law) cut some oak logs with dimensions recommended by most mushroom growing guidelines. I can’t remember what those dimensions were so you’ll have to look ’em up, but do give them 4-6 weeks to dry.

Oak logs are seriously heavy, so if you have soft arms-of-newt like I do, get yourself a burlier sort to lift them.

Oak logs are seriously heavy, so if you have soft arms-of-newt like I do, get yourself a burly sort to lift them.

Drill holes into the logs where you will plug the spores. We averaged about 70-80 holes per log:

20140412_152514

20140412_154449

After pounding the spores in until they are flush with the log, seal them with melted beeswax. I am fortunate to have access to cheap beeswax from my local honey source:

20140412_150705

Make sure it is pissing down rain so you are cold and clammy through the entire process:

20140412_160638

This is the outfit I wear when it is cold and clammy. I have three lumpy layers under that windbreaker.

This is the outfit I wear when I am cold and clammy.

Seal any open gashes in the log so unintended fungi doesn't enter.

Seal any open gashes in the log so unintended fungi stay out. “Unintended fungi” is also a name for a man who wants to crash your party.

Once you drill, pound and seal, stack the logs either “log-cabin” style…

20140412_174956

…or lean them “teepee” style. Get them off the ground so they don’t start to rot at the bottom. This is their final home on our property, under the shade of some invasive buckthorn (f-ing buckthorn) where they still get hit by the sun and rain.

20140507_180405

And then you wait. And wait. And wait. After 14 months, I felt immense joy seeing these fun guys:

These guys are

These guys are “intended guests”. They will party in my belly with some butter and salt.

What would I do differently? Water the logs regularly and pay attention to the type of mushroom I buy. There are cold weather strains that might grow more quickly in my zone (4b).  Keeping the logs wet is also key; I recently read logs need at least 30% moisture at all time for growth, which I didn’t do. Recent rain, much like what was surging down on the day of their inoculation, seems to have triggered some life force.

I did talk to the logs a few times. I told them how much I loved shiitakes and that I was really, REALLY looking forward to their arrival. I’m pretty sure that’s what finally did it.

There you have it…adventures in mushroom farming. Let me know if this inspires you to set forth yourself. Definitely share your story with us.

Trackers Lament

I have a love-hate,  on-again, off-again relationship with tracking. Counting calories, following macronutrients, weekly weigh-ins, measuring thigh circumference, medieval body fat pinchers…these are a few of our favorite things. I’ve  calorie counted “successfully” a few times in my life and “unsuccessfully” hundreds more. I’ve filled page after page with my scrawled little number columns with circled grand totals; 1340, 1760, 1056. More recently, MyFitnessPal hangs on to my food and exercise history, just in case I need to revisit my carb count for the second Tuesday in March.

What I like about tracking is it serves as an educational tool and a bit of a wake up call. It’s a great way to see if you are eating a nutritionally imbalanced diet. It reminds you how many empty crap calories really are in junk food and look, you haven’t had a lick of vegetables all damn day. It helps you see that those vegetables CAN be eaten all damn day without racking up your totals, if you can tolerate the gas. You become more aware of serving sizes and portion control.

What I hate about it is it sucks for me. It feels tedious, unrealistic to maintain for the REST OF MY LIFE and above all, it becomes another measure on which to judge myself for not staying “on track”. I have seen some people remain objective as calculating scientists while tracking. I am not one of those people. I am more like the majority of the women, and some men, who come into my office telling me they were “bad” or “good”, confessing their “misbehavior” over the weekend. And despite their increased energy, improved nutritional intake and hammering a new notch in their belt, they hang their head in defeat because my stupid scale didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear. All their efforts down the drain because apparently the scale is the only true Great Measure of Success. Of greater concern are the folks who weigh themselves multiple times a day or burst into my office excitedly shaking their little fists in celebration, “I’m down to 900 calories a day!!”

Wrong answer.

The biggest problem I see with tracking is a lot of us cannot be objective scientists about our weight and our bodies. For social, cultural and personal reasons, we attach a certain level of judgement or shame to our data. As a result, we restrict ourselves rather than use it to learn healthy eating patterns. If binging is what you want, restriction is the best trigger for that. Punishing yourself by withholding forbidden foods will lead to rewarding yourself with that food later. When we tightly control what and how to eat, we skip over the important why. We eat “points” and not because our stomachs are growling or simply because food can be absolute, delicious joy.

No one method works for everyone. Some people actually find tracking fun. If you can do it without self-judgment, then you’ve found an appropriate tool. I encourage most of my clients to track even for a few days for educational purposes and mostly to point out they’re not getting enough vegetables. No one gets enough vegetables.

But if you are someone who can’t track without beating yourself up, you might want to take a different approach. Intuitive or mindful eating is learning to trust your body’s hunger signals and paying attention to the why you eat. It pulls you out of the language of “behaving and misbehaving”. You notice how food affects your body and leads you to realize, “Hmmm…that doesn’t work for me” vs. “I’m a bad, bad monkey.”

Despite my optimism about the premise of intuitive eating I have my doubts that people would honestly embrace it, including myself, due to its promotion of well-being over weight loss. Call me cynical, but are we even capable of eating mindfully without that nagging “But…but…will this help me lose weight?!” itching away in the back of  our brains? Can we focus on well-being over weight loss as a society? Right now, I would emphatically say “no”. We’re not even close.

What do you think? Has tracking worked for you, in the long run? Do you have to track forever and ever to stay the course? Would you trust intuitive eating?

Are you eating all your vegetables?

 

Vicarious perspective

I have been meaning to type in this box for a long time. For a year, in fact.

I see that the last time I wrote, I asked 2014 for more quietness. I will not ask the same of 2015.

I started my New Year’s blog yesterday, carefully laying out the excuses valid reasons for my absence from writing. The theme of yesterday’s blog was intense, as in, 2014 did NOT deliver a more mundane year. It was a crazy chain of events, both self-inflicted and bestowed upon me, that has left me mentally exhausted. AND my feet hurt. In yesterday’s blog, I wanted wit, insight and yes, an ounce of sympathy for my weary soul, in 300-600 words.

During my whining musings, I got a Skype call from one of my closest friends. She recently returned from her Doctors without Borders assignment in South Sudan. Her husband is currently in Liberia. His only Christmas wish was that we pray for the lives of 4 children in the treatment center who fell sick after watching their father die.  Talk about dumping a truckload of perspective on my Christmas wishes; two uninterrupted days without plans or kitchen time; winter running tights, more coconut Lindt balls…

I reread my words through critical eyes. They tell me that despite mental exhaustion being relative, I’m barely scratching the surface.

I think back on 2014. To a year’s worth of conversations with tired, angry employees who kill their knees standing 8-10 hours on hard, cold concrete; pissed that their socioeconomic status clumps them into that category of “well, clearly you’re just not working hard enough”. …to conversations with quiet men who are watching the light quickly leave their wife’s eyes…with women who don’t know how to leave. Staring at nicotine-stained fingertips, wondering why they pick another carton over heating their house.

I see a picture on Facebook of an old friend with her sister, the one she lost two years ago today. What would that year be like? I stop my brain from going there…

Conversations, images that leave me numb. And humbled. Vicarious learning that prevents me from declaring, “Holy shit guys, have I had an INTENSE year!!”

I’ve had a busy year. I’ve had some incredible moments, chronic challenges and a few painful episodes. But I realize most of us (I am not alone in this) tend to exaggerate what is truly “intense” and ‘mentally exhausting” and what actually, really sucks. I look back on 2014 and know that I have a good life. I hit bumps in the road, but it’s fairly well-paved.

I will not ask 2015 to be gentle, I know better. I will ask myself  to stay open to perspectives that keep my self-induced chaos in check.

I end this year with a lesson in hope and prayer. My friend in Liberia got his Christmas wish. Statistically, this is miracle, but all four siblings are Ebola-free and with their mother.

May this new year find you healthier, happier and sometimes, humbled.

Sweet Baby New Year

To say 2013 was a banner year is an understatement. In the span of 365 days I started a new job where I coached and consulted over 700 employees, saw my son hit double digits, lost my most loyal companion, moved into a new home, got a new kitten, had multiple visitors from afar, ran a million miles, covered 15% of my body in poison ivy hives and walked the Vegas strip. (yes, walked… not worked.) It is not with quiet reflection that I look on this past year, but with a chaotic, hit upside the head sense of what-the-hell-was-that?!

So baby new year has some pretty big boots to fill. Actually, I’d much prefer 2014 slide into a pair of slippers and let us settle in a bit. I’m actually hoping for more mundane this year.

That said, I should set some underwhelming resolutions. Heed the warnings to be realistic…specific. I will clean one junk drawer by April. I will reduce my sugar intake by 2%. I will channel my impatience with slow, repetitive conversations into constructive, positive suggestion 2 out of 5 times, thus reducing heaving sighs by the end of October.

But who am I kidding. I am a sucker for that Day One, fresh-start mentality. I can tell you how realistic I’ll be. I will even encourage you to do the same. Be gentle on yourself when setting goals. Focus on one area and break it down into small, manageable steps. But in the dark recesses of my brain, I am so very lofty. In this little monkey mind, I will be BETTER, STRONGER, VIBRANT, ORGANIZED AND SMASHINGLY BRIGHT in 2014. I will finally, for the first time in my life, achieve both athletic prowess AND effective communication in all relationships. I will completely overhaul my physical body, mental clarity, the ability to both relax yet maintain energy AND CLEAN ALL JUNK DRAWERS.

I know it ain’t all happening. Especially not those junk drawers. But if I’m going to be a realist, this IS my reality. I think big in the beginning. Why deny this is what I do? It’s about learning how to edit and bend during the year when those lofty goals start to dim.

Day One. Go nuts. Go big, be realistic, be what you want. But take advantage of that fresh-start feeling. It is so fleeting but it is so refreshing. See how long you can make it last.

Happy New Year!!!

463a634a734ed450f8b469288822d3ac

Run

In the spring of 2012 I started having dreams that I was running. They were fun and floaty and definitely recurring.  One cold day that spring, after feeling particularly pissy, I strapped on some weathered tennis shoes, long johns under faded yoga pants, a heavy winter coat and I ran. I hadn’t run since 2001 when I fell in love with (and bought) a wedding dress that was 2 sizes too small for me.

I think I only made it a mile that day. Actually, I may have only made it 500 yards before walking. But since then, I run. I run haphazardly. I run messy. I do not train properly. I do not run for weight loss or muscle gain. I run for stress relief. I run to music because it makes me feel like I’m in a music video. I don’t call myself a runner. But I run enough to say I run.

20131002_182223

I find myself signing up for a few organized runs. They hold me accountable and help me set goals. They give me a sense of team I was never on before. I never thought myself competitive, but I find myself pushing to pass the person in front of me. To shake the one breathing behind me. Of course, this all goes down in the mid-to-back section of the pack. The winner is already calmly eating orange slices and shooting the shit with race organizers by the time I plan my big move to overtake the elderly woman in Converse high tops. But oh, it’s on Converse High Tops, it’s on. You best shuffle aside.

Actually, it always amazes me who I can pass. And it amazes me who passes me. Incidentally, weight, body shape and amount of shiny, expensive gear are not always true indicators of genuine fitness.

20130831_091356

A temporary RAD tattoo and a rainbow tutu are actually the sign of genuine fitness.

I find myself, for the first time in our lives, running with my sister. I still feel the one-sided sibling rivalry (created completely by me) as my sister yaps away chirpily on our trail runs while I silently question if she’d finish her run before calling Medflight to lift me out of her back forty after my imminent cardiac arrest. Why I’m even surprised she’s doing so well after a long running hiatus surprises me. She did, after all, go to state with the high school track team. I was in it for the gossip and the Jello powder straight out of the packet for “quick energy”. Needless to say, I lasted one season.

ILTR

The fierce trio proudly displays their brawn and the free coffee mug giveaway.

I have never been disciplined at any sport. Even now, I do not often feel like I am actually running. Most of the times I feel like I am heaving, lurching, plodding, clodhopping, huffing, puffing and truly struggling. Most of the time I am reminding myself that the sensation I seek comes after the run, not during it.

But there’s always the moment. A sense of flying. A moment, even more, of crystal clear focus on the road or scenery or my breath, and I feel IT.  A runner’s high, a sense of pride, a physiological reaction, I don’t care to analyze IT.  IT is why I run. IT brings me back. IT makes me a better mom, wife, sister, co-worker. IT makes me a better human being.

A better human being.

A better human being.

Cliche, I know, but true. Take it from someone who used to run solely for Jello powder. I’ve never had IT before and now I do.

IT is that moment where I am pleased at what I CAN do. IT brings me confidence. It brings me pride, not envy, when my sister breaks away on the trail run to challenge herself. I don’t want her to hold my hand. I want her to place in her age group. She is not my competition, she is my role model.

And what’s this? Trail running? Fear of hills, tree roots and holes instead of speeding cars and icky, rusty vans with tinted windows? Running in nature, the only place where I actually feel religion? I feel more trail running in my future.

Asphalt or trail. You decide.

Asphalt or trail. You decide.

I’d like to hear if you ever feel IT with any activity. How do you keep IT going?

The Next Chapter

Where in the hell have YOU been, Local Bites? You post in January and then we have to wait six fricking months for a new blog? You never call. You never WRITE!?

What kind of writer are you?

I’ve got fistfuls of excuses.  Good ones, too.

First and foremost, family goals trump personal ones, and I have packed my freelance bags. It was a nice trip. I learned a few things. But not as much as this person is going to learn.

coach

whistle around my neck…Badger fight songs pumping out of my office

Seriously, I am grateful to have landed a health coach position in a large manufacturing plant as part of their employee wellness program.  It’s an amazing opportunity to marry my professional skills with personal interests to preach beyond the choir. GMO labeling awareness flies straight out the window during that 4:45 a.m. cup of joe with a third-shift employee who’s dogs are seriously barking. I am truly learning more than I am teaching.

And a new job helped lead to this welcome upheaval:

SAMSUNG

I don’t just love my new home. I am IN love with my new home. Like, can’t-stop-thinking-about-you-don’t-ever-go- away- love.

new yard

Like, how-much-potential-do-we-have-to-GROW-together love.

future garden

I-want-to-be-a-better-person-for-you-love.

yay!

Big dreams for this property. Growing herbs, vegetables, fruit…chickens?

chicken coop

My one lament from the past few months is that she didn’t make it here.

my sweet girl Sophie, you would have loved it here

We leave her memory at the last home. I get a lump in my throat just thinking about how many balls she would have gladly chased on these acres. This should have been her yard.

But I toot my own horn loudly from the new Local Bites ranch. I am so proud of us. I am so happy for us. We finally have a comfortable space for family and friends. A kitchen that invites serious creation. Land that can, and will, nourish us.

Oh, the writing may trickle in more slowly these days, but I’ve got inspiration up the yin yang. The potential for stories of health, growth, challenges…and poison ivy remedies…almost overwhelms me.

Stay tuned for the next chapter.

Eating like Elves

We have officially moved from the Harry Potter stage to full-on Lord of the Rings here at the Local Bites ranch. I have been reading Tolkien to my son for over a year now, methodically trudging through Middle Earth, tripping through impossibly detailed descriptions of family lineage, unpronounceable names for swords and dwarf drinking songs. If there is a bumper sticker for those who complete a marathon, there should certainly be one for those who succeed in reading The Hobbit and remaining trilogy out loud to a nine-year old. Perhaps a picture of me, fists raised, on top of Mount Doom.

So you can imagine our unbridled excitement for The Hobbit movie.  We loved every single one hundred and seventy minutes of it. As you can also imagine, I particularly liked the scene where the elves invite the dwarves to dine in Rivendell.

If you haven’t seen the movie, it is a witty scene. Hungry dwarves, expecting meat and potatoes after a long, hard journey, are served vegetarian fare. “What is this? It’s…it’s green!”  The looks on their faces were classic…the sad attempt to roast a Swiss chard leaf over the campfire. I’ve seen those looks before, like there’s something stinky on the upper lip.

It delivers a not-so-subtle message about food choices and the attitude that accompanies healthier fare. Elves are the healthiest race in Middle Earth. They are slender, graceful and strong. They have the longest life expectancy. They approach food in a dignified manner and create nourishment, like lembas, that fortifies the soul, not just the body. Their food elevates the spirit AND leaves one feeling satisfied long after the food is consumed.

Dwarves, on the other hand, are gluttonous. They are short, squat, irritable and impulsive. And they are so very stubborn about their meat and potatoes.

See the connection? A strong message that did not go unnoticed by my impressionable son. He returned this weekend from my mothers, normally a treat-laden couple of days, to proudly report that he declined a soda, pieces of candy and dessert at the restaurant. “I want to eat more like the elves”. He listens intently as we classify the food on his plate…this is dwarf food…this is elf food…

We should all take a few lessons from the elves.

Me? I’m a hobbit at heart. Produce from the green garden, bubbling stews with roots, fruit tarts, fresh-baked loaves and a good brown ale. And small, frequent meals. Elevenses, anyone?

If you had a sword, what would you name it?