Lisa Brunette

My 30-Year Battle with a Disease I Couldn't Name

Lisa Brunette 1989
High school, 1989.

By Lisa Brunette

In my early 20s I wrote for a fledgling arts newspaper here in St. Louis called Intermission Magazine, and one of the columnists was a New Age devotee named Jeannie Breeze. I don't know if 'Breeze' was her real name or a pen name chosen for its metaphorical quality, but my legal last name is Brunette, which is a family name, so anything's possible. Jeannie was a real character; she always wore a purple knit beanie (yes, even in summer), and she fluffed auras for a living when she wasn't penning columns.

Lisa B&W1995
On a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, 1995.

Jeannie once pulled me aside to say she "sensed" the physical pain I was in, and that surprised me because I didn't think I showed any outward signs. Maybe I did and didn't realize it (I'm not known for my poker face), or maybe Jeannie really was "in tune" with this kind of thing. But either way, she did me a real kindness: She gave me a poem called "Putting the Pain to Sleep." In it the speaker sang a lullaby to her pain, as if singing a child to sleep. It was maybe a little hokey for the edgy youth I was at the time, or at least fancied I was, but it helped.  

I've thought about that poem a lot over the years, and I've tried to put to sleep many a pain.

Back then I had two diagnoses for the symptoms I'd experienced since high school: 1) endometriosis and 2) interstitial cystitis (IC). Neither is very easy to talk about. Both center on inherently "embarrassing" parts of the body. The quest for the diagnoses themselves was painful and invasive, involving catheters and laparoscopic cameras and sample pieces of my internal tissue removed for examination. During one particularly painful procedure, a nurse assistant said:

"You just have to ask yourself, Why me? The answer? Because you can take it."  

I did not punch her in the face, but maybe I should have.

Lisa 1997
In 1997.

When a doctor wanted to put me on a drug that would essentially throw my body into 'fake menopause' in my early 20s, I got a second opinion. The new MD tossed out the endometriosis diagnosis but doubled down on IC. There's no cure for it, but we tried all of the available treatments. None of them worked.

Now I'd like to cue a montage sequence spanning more than a decade. It shows me living, laughing, and loving while simultaneously struggling with discomfort and at times acute pain (because that's what we do, right?) I want you to imagine the last UTI you had, how that SUPER sucked for you. Now imagine that's your life. There's no antibiotic for it, no moment of relief, just persistent pain and a blur of time spent in the bathroom.

Which is not to say I didn't have some nice periods of decreased symptoms, and even for brief spells, total remission. A good diet and exercise seemed to help, as well as stress-reduction. Exercise and diet were always easier to control than stress, though. Ya feel me?

Lisa_2002
On a beach in the Florida Keys, 2002.

Complicating the quest for a cure were some other health issues in the form of "allergies." Throughout childhood, I had awful hay fever, and I also often reacted to food with severe heartburn and systemic digestive distress. Attempts to control the reactions through diet were met with little success, though I tried a wheat-free diet for a time. I was also a vegetarian for 13 years and a vegan for a good portion of that, but I was miserable pretty much the whole time on a diet high in beans, nuts, and soy.

Prone to hives and rashes, it was often difficult to pinpoint a trigger for the reaction. Unlike other people I know with distinct food allergies, I didn't react to any food consistently enough to rule out the offenders. I was diagnosed with asthma and given an inhaler for the wheezing and chest congestion and told to take antihistamines for the rhinitis, but there wasn't anything anyone could think to do about the food.

By the time I'd migrated to the Pacific Northwest in my early 30s, my allergies were deemed severe enough to finally get me in to see an allergist. He prescribed an epinephrine pen and put me on a diet of only meat, vegetables, and white rice. But I was still a vegetarian, left with only white rice and vegetables. After developing walking pneumonia, I broke the 13-year meat fast.

Lisa2007
On a Washington state beach, 2007.

At this time I also began to make changes in my environment to reduce allergens. I zipped up the whole bed, box spring and mattress, in a plastic covering; donated rugs, down comforters, and other sneeze-inducing items; and washed all my bedding and towels in hot water. But I swear to this day it was hot yoga that got me out of the allergy loop. After a year of regular Bikram yoga practice, I felt better in all ways, head to toe. 

However, yoga only kept the wolves at bay for so long. After a few years, the allergies resumed even worse than before, despite a regular, committed yoga practice. With them came a new level of digestive distress, along with extreme night sweats, severe insomnia, a crazy amount of ringing in the ears, perceived hearing loss, benign cysts, joint pain, and inflammation.  It's a party all the time when you're giving blood, urine, and stool samples, undergoing procedures like colonoscopy and mammography before you're old enough to warrant them, and then being diagnosed with some third-world, parasitic disease.

Yeah, that's right. I had hookworm.

My MD had missed it; I'd finally resorted to paying out-of-pocket for the services of an irritable bowel disease clinic, which my insurance wouldn't cover. Not even after the hookworm discovery. It's so rare in the States, I had to travel to three different pharmacies to piece together enough of the drug meant to eradicate it. It wasn't that the hookworm infestation caused the other symptoms, though. It was just part of it. The theory was that since my system is always inflamed and reacting to foods, the hookworm somehow took hold and stuck around - for how long was anybody's guess. Hookworm isn't even supposed to survive in cool climates like the Pacific Northwest, and I'd left the tropics of Florida a full decade before this.

Lisa 2013
In 2013.

By my 40s I had to give up fruit juice, I could barely tolerate alcohol, and soy was a huge problem. There seemed to be nothing I could do for the insomnia and night sweats, and I wondered if I were heading into the great 'pause a bit early. The IC roared back with tremendous severity, and a catheter scope (now with video!) found landscapes of scar tissue lining my bladder, including one particularly gnarly beast that looked like the boss at the end of a video game.

Worst for me, the digestive symptoms went into overdrive, and my eyes became increasingly sensitive. Somewhat desperate by this point and not finding a whit of relief though traditional medicine, I tried vitamins and supplements, acupuncture, cleanse diets, the Whole 30, wheat-free/gluten-free/dairy-free/soy-free/egg-free/taste-free/satisfaction-free diets. I took up Pilates and dance. I flirted with meditation, joined a spiritual center, and even went to see someone calling himself the "bone whisperer." But things continued to get worse. 

Lisa2016
In 2016, because life's a merry-go-round.

Flash-forward to just two years ago, when I made a last-ditch effort to treat with two things I hadn't yet tried: medicinal herbs and Maya abdominal therapy

You might remember a couple of articles posted this year on the blog from Amanda Jokerst of Forest + Meadow Apothecary and Clinic. She shared her thoughts on how to foster a healthy immune system and how to support your immune system with herbs. I met her at a farmer's market, of all places. The final clue to my lifelong health mystery came from her.

By now you're likely wondering how all of these painful, annoying (though thankfully not life-threatening) symptoms relate to each other. Or maybe you've sussed out that they're all part of the same autoimmune disease. Good job, detective!

After Amanda and I went through - over the course of a year - absolutely every known cause and treatment for what might ail me, she proposed a couple of possible diagnoses:

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).

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Last year.

But of course Amanda will be the first to tell you she isn't a medical doctor. She referred me to a gastroenterologist whose specialty includes both MCAS and SIBO. 

It took me a year to get in because Dr. Leonard Weinstock has a loooong waiting list, and also COVID-19 happened. In the meantime, I tried another, more available general allergist, who was only helpful in a small way, switching my at this point regular antihistamine from Zyrtec to Allegra, which has fewer side effects for me because it doesn't cross the blood/brain barrier. Otherwise, though, I could do nothing but wait.

During that wait, my symptoms worsened further, to the point where I now react to a wide range of health and beauty products and household allergens. Eating in restaurants has become so difficult for me that I don't miss them as much in these lockdowns. 

When I finally got in to see Weinstock, I gained answers to questions I'd had for 30 years. 

Apparently, I'm a "poster child" for MCAS, in his words. After blood and urine tests, as well as a comprehensive review of my medical history, I now have a definitive diagnosis of MCAS. My condition is "clinically significant," and I've been placed in a research study. MCAS is a "spectrum" disorder; we all have mast cells. They're pretty useful for snuffing out foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. Mine just behave as if there's always a war going on, and everything that enters is the enemy.

Every one of the symptoms and conditions I've mentioned above, from IC to the food, inhalant, and contact allergies, and including a nasty bout of colic I had as a baby, fall under the MCAS umbrella. 

Lisa 2020
On a Missouri river, 2020.

And the SIBO? Yeah, I have that, too. It often accompanies MCAS and is responsible for the severe bloating I've had (so much fun when people actually think you're pregnant, but you're not). This diagnosis was confirmed through a lactulose breath test. Fortunately, there's a cure for SIBO. It meant taking the same drug used to treat E. coli, a prescription that cost me close to $700 out of pocket. Without insurance, that price tag would've been $2 grand, and that's with a hefty pharmacy discount. Hopefully, SIBO's gone for good.

I'm not happy at all to tell you that MCAS has no cure. The only thing we can do is decrease the symptoms. So I'm trying a medication that works by triggering your body's endorphins as well as supplying a few of its own. Endorphins, those feel-good hormones that give runners a high, tend to get suppressed under MCAS, which is why my reactions often hit extreme on the pain scale. Let's hope that this drug works, and the side effects are minimal.

Because lately, it's been a lot harder to sing the pain to sleep, and that lullaby is sure wearing thin.

Note: Please do not take the information presented here as a cue to self-diagnose. As described above, my diagnosis was arrived at through testing and determination by a medical doctor with a specialty in gastroenterology. It's best to consult your physician with any concerns you might have. That said, be tenacious if you aren't seeing improvement. Medical science is quickly evolving, with new discoveries and answers turning over established ideas all the time. MCAS wasn't really a thing back in the 90s when my own journey began.

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Our Year without Social Media (During a Pandemic)

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Image by William Iven from Pixabay

By Lisa Brunette and Anthony Valterra

In September 2019, we made the choice to ditch social media, and after a year without it, neither of us plans to go back. Here's why.

First, some background. We closed all social media accounts we held both individually and for this blog across all platforms late last summer, and we haven't been back even so much as to peep at a notification once. This includes Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, the three platforms we used. There's only one small exception: Out of business necessity, we kept our individual and company pages for Brunette Games active on LinkedIn.

To illustrate our decision to forgo social media, we'll break this down according to the prevailing reasons people give for participating in the first place.

To Stay in Touch with Family and Friends

Over the past year, we've returned to our pre-social media modes of keeping in touch with our people, which is to say in a much more meaningful, concentrated manner. We both find that one-on-one conversations in person or on the phone, or chats during family gatherings, are much higher quality engagements than anything that transpires online. Without Facebook to give you the illusion that you're really "in touch," you're apt to make more authentic gestures toward fostering those relationships. 

These conversations are also done with the express purpose of talking with the friend or family member rather than on display for a public audience. When Anthony talks to his pal Doug on the phone or Lisa's hiking in the woods with her brother, those dialogues feel more genuine; we're talking to the other person, and the conversation is just that, not something filtered and curated for public consumption.

About half-way through our yearlong social media hiatus, the pandemic hit, making in-person gatherings much more difficult, if not outright impossible. But we weren't tempted at all to return to the social media fray. We had more phone conversations than social engagements and didn't see that Facebook or any of the other platforms had anything to offer that would somehow make that better. Lisa even took the opportunity to strike up a handwritten letter penpal exchange with an old friend from high school, and that alone has been a much more powerful reconnection than her previous 11 years of social media participation, all total.

For Anthony, these phone conversations are broader, richer, and deeper than social media activity, as he gets the full story from beginning to end, not some snippet crafted for a general audience. For Lisa, sharing is much more satisfying one-on-one because she gets to share her news herself instead of guessing or hoping at who's going to see it in their Facebook feed, or feeling oddly caught-off-guard when someone mentions something they saw on Facebook.

Social media wasn't really built to keep people in touch, and it massively fails at it. It's a thousand times more satisfying for Lisa to connect with her nieces in person than to simply look at pictures of them online. The former is intimate, specific, and based on a human give and take; the latter is a catalogue stream meant for "everyone," yet satisfying few.

To those who say, "But I have to keep track of all 567 friends, and I can't have phone calls with all of them," we counter with this: Do you really need to keep track of that many people? Folks used to lose touch with each other naturally, and for good reason: You drift apart, find different interests, grow and change. And that's OK.

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Image by William Iven from Pixabay

To Connect with Likeminded Strangers

This is one we often hear, that you can't leave social media because of your essential involvement in XYZ group dedicated to rare lichens or commiserating on what it's like to be the only knitter in your family. Our observation on this point is twofold. First, good luck making that into a real connection. Facebook, for example, will thwart your attempts, driving you toward what monetizes best for Facebook, which leads us to point two. In our experience, that tends to be the lowest common denominator post or comment thread, the one everyone's jumping on because someone was offended. We've seen even the best-moderated groups, such as one devoted to native plant gardening, devolve into toxicity.

The caveat here is that if you're like Lisa's sister, who spends her days wrangling other people's children as a child care provider, you might welcome the time to connect quietly online, to other adults talking about adult things. We get that. But if you're a desk jockey like us, your life is already full of online interaction, so the last thing you need is more of it.

COVID-19 has definitely made it more difficult to meet people in real life, but we've persevered with affiliations such as our local Chamber of Commerce or small groups who gather outdoors, social distancing, to discuss a particular topic (for us, life after Peak Oil). Lisa recently instituted "walk and talks" with our employees at Brunette Games to get face time with a little fresh air and exercise.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

To Network or Advertise

In our experience, outside of LinkedIn, social media actually has low value as a networking tool. It's mainly used for rather covert investigations prior to a job search/hire, or in Anthony's case, to learn all he could about a person in a decision-making capacity on a grant. As far as networking goes, there's no substitute for in-person experience working on a team, or remote collaborative work made possible through shared documents, video calls, and chats, done over a length of time. None of this occurs via social media.

Social media advertising is fraught with difficulty as you might amass thousands of followers only to find that none of them will see your post unless you pay to "boost" it. Outlinks from the platforms to your blog or website are aggressively punished by the alogrithms. Studies show people are more likely to act on something they read on a blog than via social media anyway, so increasingly, smart people are asking, "Why bother?"

Now for Some of the 'Real' Reasons People Can't Leave Social Media

Besides the evil evilness of the platforms themselves, there are unstated but very real reasons people (including ourselves at various times in the past) participate: validation, reward, and the ability to act out.

It's been shown that human beings get a dopamine hit whenever we see a 'like' or comment on our posts. Taking that a step further, social media fosters a false sense of validation, teaching us to seek reinforcement of our thoughts and beliefs, the algorithm built to cater to them rather than challenge them. Social media platforms are a steady stream of virtue signaling and armchair activism, rewarding users for these rather empty activities. But the fact is that changing your profile photo is not the same thing as getting yourself into a position to hire a diverse team of workers and then doing it, or reducing the amount of fossil fuels you consume on an annual basis, or taking a refugee into your own home, just to give a few examples of real social change. 

Possibly the darkest aspect to social media is the way it encourages acting out. We've both witnessed friends of ours say things to each other in comments that they would never utter in person. The veil of online 'unrealness' provides tacit permission for bad behavior.

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Image by Mediamodifier from Pixabay

A Side of Evil Sauce to Go with Your Evil Evilness

Social media provides an escape, true - you can focus on other people's lives if you want, voyeuristically going along as they eat, sleep, and play. But what you're experiencing is often an idealized version of their lives, and who can compete with that? You see only your very real, messy life, not any of their very real, messy lives. It's a comparathon that's destined to end badly. Some of us tend to over-identify with those other lives on the screen, and this is more common than you think; Anthony and Lisa have both either been guilty of this or the target of this at different points in our social media lives. It's a negative feedback loop that monetizes for the platforms: We feel lonely, so we log on, we see other people living fantastic lives, and we feel bad about ourselves, and Facebook is collecting tons of information about us, so they know exactly what to try to sell us on the promise that we will feel better. That vicious cycle then repeats endlessly. 

'[Insert Platform] Doesn't Take That Much Time'

This is something we both assumed prior to leaving social media, and it's deceptively easy to think it's true, as you tell yourself you're checking in only short bursts throughout the day. However, those short bits add up significantly. In the five months after exiting social media, in the time she recovered by not checking Facebook and Instagram every day, Lisa read not one Jane Austen novel, not two, but the classic British author's entire oeuvre. And this was before the pandemic. Anthony estimates he's tripled the number of books that he would normally read over a year's time.

The two of us never tell anyone they should get off social media or judge others for staying on or even say a word about it, yet when people hear we've left it, they immediately get defensive. Kind of like a junkie about his need for a fix. "It's totally fine as long as you moderate it," people say, apropos to nothing we've said. This makes us think it's really, really hard for many people to even contemplate a life without it, and that's... not... good. So for that reason, we're putting social media in the same category as cigarettes. Sure, smoking a cigarette feels good and cool and fun and all those things, and it used to be true that "everyone" was doing it. But now we all know it can kill you. And not just you, but the people around you, inhaling your fumes.

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A Three-Year Transformation: Dragon Flower Farm 2017-2020

July 2020 2
Dragon Flower Farm, July 2020.

By Lisa Brunette

This fall marks three years since we purchased our home - a 1904 World's Fair-era house on 1/4-acre just outside the St. Louis city limits. Those of you who've followed this blog since then - or even before that time - have witnessed a series of trials and triumphs as we've worked incredibly hard and enjoyed the fruits of our labors. While the to-do list continues, and with gardening it seems the work is never done, we feel we've already achieved much toward our vision: a productive, wildlife- and pollinator-friendly garden bursting with native plants, beneficial non-natives, and edibles.

When we bought the property in fall 2017, we got a great deal, likely in part because the backyard was what you might call a problem situation.

August 2017 1
August 2017.

To the left you can see the zigzagging chainlink fence and the way the whole property butts up against the neighboring apartment building parking lot. Bonus: A view of the dumpsters! The yard was a relic of mid-century landscaping values, with big fat circles of day lilies, hostas, and euphorbias, at that point overgrown with weeds and spilling into the grassy areas, which were also mostly weeds. I think a lot of potential buyers took one look at this yard and saw themselves having to do a lot of awkward mowing, not to mention constantly hacking away at nuisance foliage. Here's the view straight out the back door.

August 2017 2
August 2017.

That first year, we didn't do anything radical to the yard, or the house, for that matter, as we were still getting to know the place. It's a good idea to sit with a big project property like this, if you're living in it yourself, to come to understand it fully before diving in with major fixes. It was a chore, but we mowed the lawn and beat back the invasive overgrowth as best we could.

August 2018 1
August 2018.

Our first step in the fall of 2018 was to invite experts from the St. Louis Audubon Society's Bring Conservation Home program to conduct a site visit. Based on their recommendations, we chose to remove our serious problem plants first, which at that time comprised the majority of the greenery. The chainlink fence was overgrown on every single side with noxious invasive plants, and these were taking over the 1/4-acre. The three culprits were: 1) winter creeper, 2) Japanese honeysuckle, and 3) sweet autumn clematis. These have been eradicated, though we continue to remove seedlings of all three to this day.

August 2018 2
August 2018.

Next we installed a 6-foot cedar fence around the entire backyard, to provide privacy and security, as well as screen the view of the parking lot full of cars next door (and the dumpsters). The fence turns out to have had the added benefit of protecting our plantings from deer. You wouldn't have thought there'd be a deer issue in suburban St. Louis, but I've spotted them at a nearby pocket park. Not that we would mind deer, but without the fence we would have had to devise another strategy to keep deer from the edibles and other plants.

That fall we also put in the first set of trees and shrubs and began the long process of sheet-mulching the turf grass, as it was our intention to convert the entire grounds to mixed plantings, with little to no grass. We used a layer of cardboard with a generous helping of mulch on top. We scavenged most of the cardboard from our neighbors' recycling bins the night before pickup day and ordered the mulch in bulk for the cost savings. In process, sheet-mulching looks like this.

April 2019
April 2019.

See my how-to on sheet-mulching, which is really easy, especially if you're talking about a small plot of land. But here's a glimpse of what it entails for a project of this scale. To mulch a 1/4-acre, you need a lot.

May 2019
May 2019.

We continued to sheet-mulch the lawn throughout the fall, winter, spring, and summer of 2018-19, so that by August of 2019, we had more than half the ground covered. Here's a panoramic image showing the wraparound fence, newly installed trees and other plants, and the sheet mulch.

August 2019 1
August 2019.

While laying cardboard and shoveling mulch on top of it, especially over this much area, was a lot of hard work, we have no regrets about the decision. This summer Anthony (who won't let me mow, not that I insist) didn't have to mow the backyard at all, and he didn't miss it. (He's not one of those guys who likes to mow grass.) Besides, without the grass to compete with, our native violet ground cover took over on its own, and we like it a lot better than grass.

During this time, we also added a long list of native trees, shrubs, and flowers, using thrifty resources provided by programs like the Missouri Department of Conservation's seedlings program, Grow Native! sales, and the free offerings of our local Wild Ones chapter. These plants filled out the landscape, taking the place of the invasives and attracting wildlife and pollinators in droves. 

Bees on monarda
Eastern carpenter bees on monarda.

Our first official edible from the garden? Wild cleavers, which I harvested in spring 2019 for tea (it's an awesome tonic for reducing swelling and water retention). Next came basil that summer.

By winter 2019, we had all but one small back strip converted from turf. This spring, we let it go wild while we focused on sowing food plants in those sheet-mulched areas, which by that point were ready for more tender plantings. We also built a squash tunnel, a rain garden, two hugelkultur mounds, and a wooden trellis. The trellis supports two varieties of our native passionflower, which spoiled the bees all summer and has already yielded edible fruit. It grew by leaps and bounds, too, from a slip of a seedling to a full-grown vine in one season. Here's a pic I took last week from the second floor of our house so you can see the vine already topping the trellis.

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This year we made great use of our spring ephemerals, turning them into everything from tea to infused vinegar, and we had a decent harvest of veggies and herbs, bringing in potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, cucumbers, horseradish, asparagus, chervil, basil, sage, marjoram, oregano, arugula, kale, borage, cilantro, coriander, turnips, lettuce, carrots, and at least a few tomatoes all total across the early spring, summer, and late summer growing seasons. We learned a lot through the process and look forward to a better 2021.

Pickles 2020
Homemade pickles, summer 2020.

Even people who were skeptical about our project are amazed by what we've already achieved, using words like "oasis" and "sanctuary" to describe the feeling of being in our garden. But in case that's not enough endorsement for you, here it is, by the numbers:

  • Invasive plants removed: 5 species
  • 'Statue' plants removed: 3 species (statues, while not invasive, provide little benefit to humans, animals, or pollinators)
  • Turf removed: 95% of backyard, comprising most of the 1/4-acre
  • Native plants saved or encouraged: 15 species
  • Non-native beneficials saved or encouraged: 4 species
  • Native trees and shrubs planted as seedlings: 23 species
  • Native flowers and grasses planted as seedlings: 29 species
  • Native flowers and grasses sown as direct seeds: 9 species
  • Bees counted: 25+ species
  • Birds counted: 30+ species
  • Butterflies counted: 20+ species
  • Wildlife counted: 7+ species
July 2020 3
July 2020.

We've done a good job of remaking the space as a beneficial habitat, but there's still so much we can do to improve. Only about 5% of our overall food intake comes from Dragon Flower Farm. While we know it's unrealistic to think we could ever achieve total sustainability, we know we can do better than that. We've thought about adding chickens, guinea fowl, or even rabbits to the mix since we are meat eaters. Currently, we get our meat from local ranchers we've met at a farmer's market, and that's a good source for us as we don't have the time to devote to animal caretaking.

October 2020 1
A view from above, taken last week, October 2020.

So the mission for next year is to increase the space we devote to annual vegetables, as well as our own skill and proficiency at growing them. While native plants are incredibly easy to take care of, annual food crops are much more involved. I'll end by asking you to wish us well with the perennial onions and garlic we just planted here in fall. May they yield a bumper crop of food next June.

Onion planting 2020

October 2020 2
Finishing up the onion bed.

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Get 20% Off Lindsey's 'Food Medicine' Videos - Expires Nov. 1

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Lindsey Thompson, demonstrating how to make congee.

By Lisa Brunette

It's cold, overcast fall day here in the River City, and we've got congee slow-cooking in the crockpot. The recipe for this gentle, satisfying Asian rice porridge comes from my sister-in-law's awesome video series on Chinese food therapy. It was great to stumble across Lindsey's recipe for congee; I've been a fan ever since trying it for the first time years ago in a restaurant in Seattle's International District. It's just one of many excellent "food medicine" cooking demonstrations in Lindsey's series on Chinese medicine food therapy.

Congee is part of her course on autumn food medicine, along with chicken soup and an Asian-inspired pork bowl. Congee fits well with autumn because white foods correspond to this season in Chinese medicine. It might feel strange at first to associate food color with the seasons, but if you think about the vibrant orange and yellow hues of the squashes you harvest in late summer, you're already part of the way there, as those colors correspond to the season known as late summer. 

For me, it's very similar to the ancient herbalist tradition's "doctrine of signatures," which argues that what a plant looks like is an indication of its use. For example, I've written previously about the doctrine of signatures when I made a heart-healthy tea combining rose petals and the heart-shaped leaves of our violet ground cover. (It works really well to check the heart palpitations I often get with MCAS.) So it made sense to me when Lindsey wrote here on the blog last spring about how to counteract a depressed, sinking condition with baby greens for an uplifting mood shift, as those greens are the first to push up out of the newly thawed earth in springtime, and their color is vibrant against the muted hues of dead, rotting plant matter. Nature communicates its wisdom without words.

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Photo courtesy Lindsey Thompson.

Meant to help keep your body strong and healthy each season, Lindsey's offering her six-part nutrition video series at a 20% discount exclusively to Cat in the Flock readers. The series - comprising more than four hours of content - will show you how to incorporate this ancient, time-tested theory into food choices and cooking styles for each season. It will teach you how to listen to your own body in order to recognize the subtle signs that our bodies use to tell us we are drifting away from optimal health. It will then teach you how to use real food, common kitchen herbs, vegetables, fruit, spices, and proteins to bring your body back to optimal health.

I've personally gained a tremendous benefit from the series. In late summer here when things felt out-of-whack, we began eating roasted root vegetables in those lovely colors of bright yellow and pumpkin orange, and it really helped us reset. I bought a set of microplaners on Lindsey's suggestion in the series - what a great kitchen tool! And I can't wait to explore more black-hued foods this winter. I highly recommend the series, and not just because Lindsey's family. I'd buy this excellent, high-quality video series even if I didn't already know what an awesome person the star of the show is!

CITF DISCOUNT: Use coupon code "The Flock" to get a 20% discount at checkout, good until midnight Nov 1.

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Lindsey Thompson holds a master's in acupuncture and East Asian medicine from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine (OCOM) in Portland, OR, with extra training in the Dr. Shen Pulse Analysis system, an 18-month internship in Five Element Acupuncture, and advanced cupping training from the International Cupping Therapy Association. After graduating from OCOM in 2012, Lindsey volunteered with the Acupuncture Relief Project in Nepal to hone her clinical skills at their high-volume clinic in rural Nepal. She now owns Thompson Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, Wash.

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Easy DIY Rehab on a FREE Vintage Glider Set

Gliders_DIY7

By Lisa Brunette

I'm of the opinion that few of the things manufactured since, oh, let's say 1975, are of sturdy, high-quality construction. You know what I'm taking about, right? A major reason we love antiques is because truly, they don't make 'em like this anymore. Take the above glider chair as an example. The structure is heavy-duty steel, and the slats are real wood, each one fastened with a steel bolt. It's called a "glider" because it gives you a smooth, rocking-chair motion as the seat glides forward and back.

I picked up a set of 3 for 100 percent FREE more than a year ago. Here's what they looked like when I got 'em, with the addition of some new bolts where several were missing or too-far-gone to be salvaged.

Gliders_Before

As you can see, they were pretty weathered and beat up, but I saw good bones, and if I were willing to put in the effort, something I just can't buy new these days. I don't honestly know if these gliders were made in the 50s, 60s, or even early 70s, as I haven't been able to find a perfect match with provenance noted in my online research. If you have an idea, please tell me in the comments below. I'm dying to find out. But suffice to say, they've been around a while, and as far as outdoor furniture goes, I think they've stood the test of not just time but the elements as well.

Now I could have cut new wooden slats to replace these, as they are definitely warped. I thought about it, and my brother tried to convince me to do it. But I'm not that handy with a saw, possess few woodworking tools, and didn't like the idea of scrapping the wood, from an economic and eco standpoint. Besides, the warped curves give it a bit of charm, and the weathered patina, in my view, add to the whole look.

So, the wood would have to be part of the rehab process. I wanted the chairs to be as eco-friendly as possible - not just out of obligation to be kind to the environment but because I planned to spend a good amount of time sitting in these chairs, and as someone with autoimmune sensitivities, I have to think about the chemicals in my world more than the average person. That led me to tung oil for the wooden slats.

Gliders_DIY3

Ah... tung oil. Where have you been all my life? It's obtained from the pressed seed of the tung tree and is a safe, fume-free alternative to the prevailing wood sealant available in most hardware stores, a noxious substance containing petroleum distillates. Please note that many products for sale are labeled "tung oil" or "Dutch oil," and they might even contain some actual oil from the seed of the tung tree, but they are NOT pure tung oil. If there's one thing I've learned over 30+ years of trying not to come in contact with things that make me sick, it's to ALWAYS READ THE LABELS. What you see in the photo above is pure tung oil. What you're likely to find in your box hardware store shelves is, frankly, a lot of GICK: toxic chemicals and extracted byproducts from the petroleum industry. I couldn't actually find pure tung oil in these stores and ended up purchasing it online from Woodcraft. This is not a sponsored endorsement; we don't take any commissions for the products we mention so that you're assured to get an unbiased take. But this stuff is liquid gold, trust me.

Gliders_DIY1

I heavily sanded the wooden slats first, and then wiped any remaining sawdust with a dry cloth. Then it was time to apply the tung oil. Pure tung oil feels amazing to use - it glides on easily and smells pleasant, and a little bit goes a long way. I finished 3 chairs using that 1-gallon jug above, and I still have more than half a gallon left! It was a hot day, and I didn't like sweating inside plastic gloves, so I worked barehanded, and it was fine. In fact, the oil moisturized my hands, for a bonus benefit, and washed off with no problem. Tung oil hardens as it dries, giving the wood a deep, wet look, and the result is a protective sheen. I rehabbed the first chair, the orange one you see in the photo at the top of this post, all by my lonesome, handling the whole process in the space of two afternoons. Here you can see the slats drying in the sun behind the chair frame. Oo, look at how the green patina pops out! Look at that deepened woodgrain!

Gliders_DIY2

Now that I've soapboxed on the topic of eco-friendly wood preservation techniques, lemme get to the issue of the chair frame. I researched around and could not find an alternative to spray paint for metal surfaces. I feel like an eco-failure in this regard, and maybe I've missed something. If you know of a better substance than your standard can of gicky spray paint, please enlighten me in the comments below. 

I had a leftover can of pumpkin spice hue from another project, and I thought that would look cool on the chair, so there you go. My Cinderella chair turned into a pumpkin coach, all set for the ball.

I don't mind telling you I had a bit of a bad time, though, on that first chair. I'd made the mistake of replacing a few rusted-out screws in the glider mechanism. At first I felt like a genius, as this fixed a wobble and brought the frame into better alignment. HOWEVER, the wooden slats had warped to that wobble shape, and I had a devil of a time getting them back onto the chair frame after I'd "fixed" it. Lesson learned. For the other two chairs, I decided not to mess with imperfection. I also had Anthony to help, and he was only too happy to take on spray-paint duty so I could concentrate on wood restoration. For these, I opted to go aqua, of course. Do you not know about my obsession with aqua?!

Gliders_DIY4

The process went faster with a second pair of hands. We finished the other two chairs in one day, with enough time left to admire them in the setting sun.

Gliders_DIY6

If you come across a trio of these beauties, or even a duet or solo, I recommend snapping 'em up. Now restored, I'm sure we'll get many more years out of them. Here's the process in a nutshell.

Step-by-Step DIY Glider Re-Do

  1. Remove wooden slats from chair frame. You can do this by hand, most likely - ours were screwed on with bolts and washers. We just unscrewed the washers in the back, and lifted the slats off. Keep the bolts and washers in a bucket for later. Replace any rusty or broken bolts/washers with new ones.
  2. Wipe the metal frame, making sure it's clean and dry. Spray paint the frame, keeping the can moving to avoid drips and globs. We wore a mask and gloves for this.
  3. At the same time or while you're waiting for the frame to dry, you can sand the wooden slats. Note you'll want to place the slats on your sanding surface IN THE SAME ORDER THEY APPEAR ON THE CHAIR. This is to make sure the wood gets placed back in the same spot. Otherwise you'll have trouble re-bolting the slats to the frame. I used a heavy-duty sanding sponge, and I went through two of them on all of the slats, but you can use sheets of sandpaper instead. Wipe the slats clean.
  4. Check to see if the frame needs another coat. You might also need to paint the frame in two stages, propping it at different angles to get the undersides of the frame tubes.
  5. Pour tung oil on a clean, dry cloth and spread it onto the wooden slats. Coat until the oil penetrates all surfaces of the wood. I really put in some elbow grease here, rubbing to make sure the oil got into every crack. Let the oil dry on the wood.
  6. Bolt the slats back onto the frame. The wooden slats don't have to be 100 percent dry; in fact, the oil will continue to dry and harden as time goes on.
  7. Dispose of the oil rags properly, following the instructions on the tung oil container and your local guidelines/ordinances.

Now... the stunning before and after comparison!

Gliders_DIY5

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