WATERSHED is a reality at last. To order my second book of poems, please go to https://foldedword.bigcartel.com/product/watershed . I would write more, but I’m in Alaska, and it’s difficult on my phone.
I’ve been working for several months on a project that was at the head of my list of priorities and projects for this year. Before I could start on the big pass-through countertop juniper slab, I needed to refinish a set of dining room chairs that belonged to my mother-in-law, Virginia, and which go with the table presently in my kitchen. The table has been in continuous use in the house since it was moved here some twenty years ago, but the chairs had been languishing in the barn, getting ever more worn and decrepit with the years. I moved them to the barn twenty years ago because there was no room for them in the house, and by the time we cleaned out the barn in the fall of 2016 so that we could put a roof on it, the chairs were in bad shape. I decided that I had to try to restore them, and I put them on the deck, under the porch, where I intended to work on them during the winter of 2017. My plan was to begin sanding and stripping them after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
Flu intervened early in 2017, and then two more illnesses followed that took months to diagnose and treat, and it was October of 2017 before I was on the road to health again. Of course, by then there were all the “getting ready for winter” chores to do, the end of the garden harvest to deal with, and then the holidays again, and it took every ounce of energy I had to get through those things. The chairs had, at that point, been sitting on the deck for over a year. One had a split leg, one had a broken arm (side rail on the top of the frame), and one had severe joint arthritis, and all were weathered, dry, splintery, and looked as if a squirrel had been chewing on them in the barn. They all had my sympathy.
Finally, in January 2018, during the mildest winter we’ve had here in many years, I began to work on the chairs. Because of the arthritis in my hands, I was only able to spend a couple of hours a day sanding and stripping. But every day I could, I was out working on those chairs. They were so badly damaged, there were times I despaired of getting them smooth. I thought sometimes I was going to sand right through a piece of wood before I got to the point where I stopped raising splinters. The original finish, some kind of varnish, was worn, but stubborn, and had penetrated into the open grain of the wood. I sanded and sanded. I used a small palm sander when I could, hand-sanded when necessary, over and over and over. I got sick of those chairs, I can tell you. There were five of them, instead of the original six belonging to the set. One of the captain’s chairs went to a family member years ago and was disposed of when no longer needed. I wished at first for the full set, but by the time I finished the fifth chair, I was glad I didn’t have another one to do.
It took months to sand off the old varnish, strip the backs where the fine detail made sanding impossible, then fine sand again. All of this had to be done outside, so the worrisome dry winter was something of a blessing for this project. I worked on the lower deck, under a roof, bundled up when it was cold. I had to figure out ways to save my back while I was sanding, including sitting in patio chair, and balancing the dining chair on my thighs and shoulders.
I didn’t work when it was really windy or when the temperature dropped below freezing, but I was out there on lots of days when it was 35 degrees. Sanding is warm work. When it came time to strip the backs of the chairs, I had a problem. I don’t have a workshop, and you can’t use stripper outside at 35 or 40 degrees. It just doesn’t activate and loosen the finish. I needed a space I could heat to at least 60 degrees. I tried the pump house first, but with two freezers in it, it was too crowded and rather dark. Then I thought of my greenhouse. Even when it’s chilly outside, if there’s sun, the greenhouse warms up to at least 60, and I had an extension cord already out there, so I could plug in a small heater and warm it up a bit more. I ended up stripping four of the chairs in the greenhouse, and it worked out well. It was nice and bright out there, and since I could only work a couple of hours at a time, I was usually finished before the sun went behind the trees and I lost the good light.
When I finally had the chairs sanded and stripped and finish sanded, and we had completed some structural repairs on several of the chairs, mending what was broken with screws and glue, it was time to apply a new finish.
For the finish, I wanted to use a product I’d used before, years before, on some benches I bought unfinished. It was called Bartley Gel Varnish, a rub-on finish that was so easy to work with and has held up very well on my benches. Unfortunately, the company had been bought out some years back, and the finish went out of production for a while. I took a chair down to the local hardware store, The Woodsmith, to talk to Norm about it, since he was the one who’d turned me on to Bartley’s and sold me my first can of finish all those years ago. I wanted to ask his opinion of the wood in the chairs anyway. He thought the wood might be beech. He said definitely not oak, which I also knew. The grain and softness of the wood is all wrong for oak, we both believe. As for the finish, he said Bartley’s was being manufactured again by the company that bought Bartley’s, and I should be able to find it online, although he could not buy it for the shop because of California regulations.
I did find the finish online, now made by Seagrave and renamed Bartley’s Clear Coat Gel Stain (bizarre contradictory renaming, and it gave me some trouble figuring out it was the same varnish), but I couldn’t get it shipped to California. It’s difficult to get some kinds of chemical products here now because of state regulations, so paints, stripping products, even cleaning products are less effective than they used to be. I ordered two quarts of finish (thinking ahead to other projects and the cost of shipping) and had them sent to my daughter’s house in Reno. I picked them up about a week later. Then it was time to turn my living room into a woodshop.
The beauty of this finish is that it is a thick, wipe-on finish that gives a gorgeous, fairly hard, hand-rubbed glow to the wood. It doesn’t run or drip like polyurethane. Because of that feature, I could spread old sheets and towels on my oak floor in the living room and not worry about messing up the floor. The finish is also not terribly strong-smelling, so all I had to do was crack the living room door and open a window, and keep the air circulating. The other beautiful thing about the Bartley gel finish is that you do not have to sand between coats as you do with poly. It also dries very quickly, so you can do three coats in a day if you want to. I generally put on a coat in the middle of the day, and another one at night, or a coat at night, and another in the morning, whatever worked best with my schedule that day. It’s a rub on, rub in and off process, so it goes very quickly. I worked with one chair at a time, because by the time I was done bending to coat that chair, my back did not want me to bend any more for a while. I did plop a little finish onto my floor a couple of times, and it wiped right up and never left any hint it had been there. But the chairs took on a beautiful golden glow. I used two coats on most of them, but on a couple of the chairs, the ones with the most badly damaged wood, I used two coats to stabilize the wood, then lightly sanded the slightly rough spots and recoated a third time. They feel like satin to the touch now.
As I was preparing to finish the varnishing, Dennis and I contacted the local upholsterer, George. He’s retired now, but he still works on cars and does some furniture when he’s needed. George gave me two books of upholstery material to look at, but they all looked like car upholstery to me. That wasn’t what I wanted. I looked at various materials, and I really started to panic a bit, thinking I wasn’t going to find anything that was just right. Then George told me to go to Mill Ends in Reno. It’s what it sounds like, a warehouse of fabric mill ends. I’d been there before, years ago, for another project, but I’d forgotten about it. I found a piece I loved almost right away at Mill Ends, and it only cost $25!
These chairs were originally covered in a red plastic fabric you’d have seen on diner chairs and booth benches in the ’40s and ’50s (and into the ’60s because the stuff was tough). The pattern was called “ice,” we were told at Mill Ends. I wanted something deep red, because that’s the accent color in my kitchen, and it had to coordinate with my kitchen window valance, sewn for me years ago by my friend, Paula. I love the apple print, and I love how Paula crafted the valance, and so the chair seats needed to look good with that valance. The upholstery fabric I found was made of recycled leather with a vinyl top in a deep red diamond pattern, very retro looking, which is what I wanted, given the age of these mid-century modern style chairs, and most important, easy to clean. Food dropped on them will wipe right off with no staining. This was perfect for chairs that’ll be used in the kitchen by the family. After a short delay while we waited for foam padding, George got to work and recovered the seats beautifully. In the meantime, I cut out stick-on felt pads for the bottoms of the chair legs to protect the new floor in the kitchen. I was so happy the day Dennis brought the seats home from George’s shop, I sent him a jar of apple butter as an extra thank-you.
We had a bit of trouble getting the seats back on the chairs. Dennis had started to number them when he took them off, but then he got distracted and didn’t number three of them. We had a time figuring out which seats went on which chairs, and it was important because they were attached by several screws, and the holes had to line up. He also found several holes that had wallowed out and had to be repaired. George had a tip for that. You pour glue in the screw holes, then jam several matchsticks into the hole. When the glue dries, you can insert the screws, and they’ll be tight. When we matched the seats to the chairs, and after replacing some screws that were so long, they might have punctured the new upholstery, Dennis got the seats reattached, and the chairs were moved into the kitchen and placed around the table. Done! Success! Finally!
This project would probably have taken somebody who isn’t disabled no more than a couple of weeks, outside the time it took to find the fabric and have the seats recovered. Somebody with undamaged hands could probably have done the upholstering herself. The whole project took me about two months. During that two months, I had a lot of time to think about these chairs, and why I was putting so much time and energy into them. I love doing this kind of work, but it isn’t easy for me, and sometimes it is downright painful. So why do I bother? Why was I bothering with these particular chairs that were so badly damaged?
Part of the reason I bothered was because they belonged to my mother-in-law. I’ve written about this before. Virginia and I had a complicated relationship. I was never quite good enough for her only son, and I knew it because she made sure I knew it. It’s hard to like someone who makes you feel that way, but I respected her for many reasons, and I grieved for her when she died. She had a lot of courage, and I admired her for that. Widowed when Dennis was only seven years old, already diagnosed with a disease that would cause slow, but complete, physical deterioration over the course of her long lifetime, Virginia persevered. She never gave up on life. In that respect, she was a wonderful role model for me, and I have appreciated her example. Dennis and I naturally ended up with a lot of her things, and I’ve tried to honor her memory by preserving and displaying most of them.
Even though Virginia’s style was not to my taste, she had good taste, and the things she bought were of good quality. The mid-century modern style of her dining table and chairs is not my favorite style; although I do like it, I really prefer older pieces, true antiques, and I like rustic. But these pieces were well-made. Dennis, his sisters, and his niece and nephews grew up eating at that table while sitting in those chairs. I just couldn’t bring myself to send those chairs to the dump. Even though it would have been easier, I’d never have been easy in my mind about that. So the other part of the reason I bothered with these chairs is that I just can’t bear to throw away something I know I can restore and make useful and beautiful again. And the chairs were in such bad shape, I don’t even think I could have given them away as they were. I felt obliged, by some freak or fault in my own nature, to keep them and restore them and love them.
One day, when I was working on a chair, I said to Dennis, “These chairs better not end up at the dump after I’m gone!” He said, “Well, I won’t dump them.” And I said, “The kids better not either, after all the work I’ve put into them.” But I had a lot of time to think about that as I was sanding, stripping, and finishing the chairs. And what I’ve ended up thinking is that nobody should feel under any obligation to keep these chairs if they don’t like them. I know mid-mod is not my daughter’s style, nor is it my daughter-in-law’s style. Why should they have to live with a style that’s not what they like best just because I have made that choice? They shouldn’t. My choices are my own. I make the best of what I find and what I have, and I love these chairs now because I have made them beautiful again. But that doesn’t mean my kids need to make that same choice.
When I am gone, I won’t care about where these chairs end up. However, having put months of work into them, making them pretty and usable again, I’m pretty sure somebody will want them. I think they’re safe from the dump for many years. And that’s really all that matters.
As many of you know, the loss of my friend, Leslie Jordan Clary, in September has hit me very hard. Writing was so much a part of our relationship, and it’s been difficult for me to write without dissolving into tears as I think of how much I miss my friend, every single day. But life does go on, and I know Leslie would want me to keep writing.
I thank all of you who expressed your love and support for me in this loss. It took me months to respond because I had a hard time coming back to this site that Leslie helped me create. But writing here also helps me remember good times with Leslie as she taught me how to set this thing up.
Life does not stop for grief. Work helps us get through grief, and I have been working at many things I want to share, eventually, with those who want to see and hear. So I will be back, soon.
After the unexpected death of my dear friend, Leslie Jordan Clary, on September 7th of this year, I had to withdraw from Facebook and the online world for a time. I tried to let my friends and family know how to reach me, but it was impossible to let everyone know. I appreciate all those who reached out to me via email or Messenger. The love you shared was palpable.
I have lost other loved ones before, my mother, aunts and uncles, grandparents. But never a close friend. And never before have I lost a loved one so shockingly, just out of the blue. Leslie suffered an aneurysm and never regained consciousness. I did not know of her passing until I read about it on Facebook a day after life support was terminated.
Leslie and I met at the University of Nevada, Reno, when I was in the second year of my Master’s program in English, and she was just starting hers. We hit it off instantly. We discovered that we both lived in Lassen County, only 14 miles apart, and we began to car pool the 150-mile round-trip to UNR as often as our schedules allowed. We were both 30-something mothers with kids close in age. We were aspiring writers. We were nature lovers who enjoyed hikes in the desert and the mountains together. We had very different backgrounds and belief systems, but that didn’t matter in the least. We became the closest of friends and writing buddies. We read and commented on nearly everything the other wrote for many years. Leslie helped me set up the website on which this blog appears. I’d never have done it without her, but she helped me, encouraged me, led me, taught me how to make it happen.
Leslie was a restless spirit with itchy feet. She liked to move around, live in new places, experience other cultures. When her family moved to San Diego, we stayed in touch via email and occasional phone calls, sending each other poems, stories, and essays to read, but we didn’t see each other during that time. Then her parents passed away one after the other within a very short time, and she decided that she needed to get away from her present life. She spent three years in China, teaching English part of the time, free-lance writing for various gemstone and jewelry and travel magazines part of the time, traveling to different parts of Asia for free-lance assignments. She also traveled in Mongolia with her then-husband, Bob Clary. She’d also developed photography skills for her assignments, and she took many beautiful photographs during her journeys. When she came back to the states, she started teaching more classes online for National University and developing curriculum for them. Eventually, she and Bob separated, and Leslie returned to live in Lassen County. She worked for a time at the local college, won a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Northern India, and stayed there for several months. She wrote quite a bit about that experience in her blog, “Cloud and Mountain.” Many pieces of writing came out of that Indian trip, and she began to think about a book project, which we discussed many times.
After leaving Lassen College in what were shameful circumstances on the part of the college administration, Leslie worked at the local paper as a reporter and began to develop a stronger free-lance presence in the magazine industry. Eventually, she quit the newspaper and began to free-lance full time while continuing to teach online for National University. At the same time, Leslie began to deal with some events and memories from childhood which had shaped her life in ways she was only beginning to understand. In an effort to gain clarity, she began to study Buddhism and eventually took the Buddhist precepts. Buddhist practice gave her an unprecedented calm and focus, and she began to write about those troubling experiences from childhood.
About that same time, while still teaching online and free-lancing, Leslie began a new business. She had become interested in making topical cannabis products for health purposes, particularly for people suffering from arthritis. She went through all the legal processes to license and register her business and began making and selling salves through cannabis dispensaries and to those who had a valid California medical marijuana card. She believed in the efficacy of her products and knew that they helped people in pain, and she felt so good about her business, Leafy Botanicals, and put a tremendous amount of effort into making it grow. Just this summer, Leslie told me that she felt she’d finally found her purpose and calling in life.
I remember that moment so clearly. We were sitting in the sun on the front brick steps of her house, with our feet on the wooden deck where we’d practiced tai chi together when she first taught me. We were looking at the herb garden she was creating in the rock pile that formed her front yard. I’d given her many of those plants from my herb garden, and in fact I’d stopped by that day to bring her some Johnny Jump-up seeds. She was exploring ways to incorporate many different healing herbs into her cannabis salves and oils. Earlier that spring, we’d both gathered dandelion blossoms, I to make a tincture to use in I wasn’t sure what, she to incorporate into her salves. “I love what I’m doing,” she said on that bright July day. “It just feels right, like I’ve come home in myself.” That was the last time I saw her.
Only a couple of months later, Leslie was gone. I could not believe it at first, and then I was thrown into a maelstrom of grief and loss. Leslie was my closest friend in Lassen County. She was someone I could talk with about anything, and we did talk about everything: our men, our kids, our faiths, our politics, our worries, our joys. We didn’t always share the same point of view about everything, but it didn’t matter because we loved each other, and there was never any rancor if we disagreed about something. We appreciated the differences of our viewpoints. Leslie also had a great sense of humor and a strong perception of irony, so we laughed about everything. There were many times we laughed so hard we cried.
I cried a lot the first few weeks after Leslie’s death. I’m weeping as I write these words because I miss her so much, and I know I always will. A few weeks ago, Leslie’s stepdaughter, Alia, contacted me and asked me if I wanted one of Leslie’s houseplants. Alia and her dad were at Leslie’s house, cleaning and removing the last of Leslie’s possessions, getting the house ready to rent. I drove up the next day and sat on the deck for a while with Alia and Bob, talking about memories of Leslie. It was a bittersweet time, but I’m so glad I got to know Alia a little bit and see Bob again.
Before I left with Leslie’s plant (now sitting by my big living room window), I picked some juniper berries from the trees around her house. Last fall, Leslie and I made soap together with bear fat, juniper-infused olive oil, and ground juniper berries. It came out great, and we gave a lot of it away last Christmas as gifts to our families. We’d planned to make another couple of batches this fall. She won’t be here to do it with me, but I will do it in her memory and with the memory of our laughter as we made our first batch together ringing in my ears.
We sure know how to stretch out a renovation! As some may or may not remember, we started working on the kitchen at the end of January 2016. We had so many delays with the countertops, the kitchen wasn’t usable until May 2016. By then, we were busy with the garden, the spring raking and burning of pine needles, and all the other maintenance jobs involved with a three-acre property with lots of trees and old buildings on it. (Dennis and Joel put a metal roof on the old house we call the barn last fall.) So the kitchen went on hold as soon as it was usable, and the backsplash tile, mastic, and grout sat in a corner for the rest of the summer, the fall, and the winter. I really thought we’d get to it before Spring 2017, but best-laid plans and all that.
Just after Easter, Dennis finished laying the backsplash tile. I wanted to share what we learned about laying backsplash with the kind of tile we used.
The only tiling Dennis has ever done was on our hearth a decade or more ago. He used big slate tiles on that job, and it came out quite nicely. He was nervous about tiling such a large area in the kitchen: two long walls and two short end walls. I don’t have pictures of all of it because I can’t keep it all clean enough at the same time to take a picture, but I will when the entire project is finally finished. (We still have to finish the pass-through slab and install it, and repair the wall where we cut it.) This is what I call my baking station. All my flours, sugars, and other baking paraphernalia are stored in the cabinets above and below, and my vintage canisters, bread board, and stand mixer can stay here on the counter. I love my baking counter!
Because Dennis was nervous about the tile job, he thought using those 12’X12’ mosaic squares, with the tiles attached to a web backing, would be easier than laying the subway tile I wanted. He thought it would be less work and there’d be less chance of messing up the lines. Just the opposite turned out to be true. This is the small subway tile I liked.
We talked it over and decided that the best approach would be to tackle one section at a time, get the tile up and grouted, before moving on to the next section. That way, not all the counter space would be out of commission at the same time, and it would help to avoid having all the kitchen counter paraphernalia (canisters, toaster, bread board, coffee maker—you know, all that stuff you keep on your counters) in a pile in the living room. (The living room has enough piles already.)
So Dennis started on my baking station. It’s about a six-foot long section of counter. He covered the counter top and started applying mastic to a small section. We’d been advised to use mastic rather than thin-set because we were going over a painted surface instead of tile board. Mastic dries out faster than thin-set, so you have to work quickly or work in small sections. Dennis soon found out he wasn’t going to be working quickly.
The tile we chose, once subway tiles were off the board, was a 12’X12’ mat of small 2” square tiles. They were reasonably priced at Floor and Décor, and they looked good with the granite countertop, a classic, plain backdrop for a rather busy stone counter.
Dennis was happy. He thought he could put up a mat, put the tile spacers at each corner of the mat, and then put up another mat, and so on, keeping the lines straight with the spacers around the mats. He thought it would go pretty fast. He got all that first section up, painstakingly slowly (a whole day of labor), trying to get it right, let it dry the required time, and then grouted it. And that’s when all the mistakes showed up.
Lines between mats were crooked, lines within the mats were differing widths. There were places so bad, he had to remove tiles and mats and redo it. He re-tiled about a third of that first section. He learned that when working with mats of tiles that will eventually have grout lines between them, you have to put a spacer in between every single tile. You can’t depend on the mat to space the tiles evenly. (It might be different with glass strip mosaic tiles. I don’t know. I didn’t like any of those with my busy countertops.) As you can see in the picture above of the mat, the tiles are not necessarily perfectly applied to the mat. Each mat contains 36 tiles. I can’t even remember how many bags of spacers he went through before, near the end, our son came over and said, “Oh, Dad, you’re supposed to take those out. They make a little hook thingy to pull them with.” By that time, all but the section behind the stove and the short wall under the pass-through were done. Grouted over. I said, “Heck with it. Leave them in. You have enough to finish, and they are small enough to grout over.” We couldn’t see them at all after the grout was applied. Here is the worst part of the baking station after the repairs were made and the tile grouted. I’m happy with it.
Dennis finally admitted that laying subway tile would probably have been easier and less time-consuming. I think it took him two weeks to completely finish the job with caulk in the seam between the tile and the edge finishing product we used. (It’s nice that all this stuff, grout and caulk, comes color-matched.) The edging strip is made of PVC and creates a finished edge for tiles which don’t come with bullnose or tapered edge pieces. (We thought of edging after we’d purchased ten boxes of tiles for which bullnose was not available!) This edging is made by Schluter Systems, and it was fairly easy to use, Dennis said. It gives a finished look to the backsplash and was inexpensive compared to bullnose tile. The edging goes up on the mastic and the last row of tiles goes over the bottom of the edging.
In general, I really like the way the backsplash tile and dark grout look against the granite countertops and the light oak cabinets with their dark hardware. The tile job isn’t perfect, but the tile in my daughter’s brand-new house, which was laid by professionals, isn’t perfect either. In the end, Dennis took the time to fix his worst mistakes, and the kitchen walls look very nice. More importantly, when I start making jam this summer, I’m going to be able to clean that backsplash easily instead of scrubbing paint (along with jam) off the walls.
Next, we have to start cutting and finishing the pass-through countertop and shelves. That’s going to be a big job, because it’s a big juniper slab. We may be working on that for several months. Wish us luck!
It has been some time since I’ve written a post for this blog. That’s partly because winter is hard on my body, and partly because again this year, I was hit by the flu, and it took me down pretty hard for more than a month. The flu and other logistical problems wreaked havoc with my plan to have my daughter give me a series of laser bio-stimulation treatments on my arthritic joints. I have only been able to have four treatments starting in February, two in the week before I got sick, and two in the last two weeks since I’ve been well enough to go to Reno for them.
For those who are interested in alternative treatments to arthritis, I’m going to go into more detail about how these laser bio-stim treatments have worked for me, and I’ll end with an account of the dietary things I’ve been doing to reduce inflammation.
First, a bit more about the laser itself. It is a garnet laser made by Periolase, used primarily for micro-surgery in my daughter’s periodontal practice. But with the proper settings and held at the right distance, the laser is capable of stimulating tissue. “Low level laser therapy (LLLT) is typically used for therapeutic and/or stimulating skin treatments and involves lower laser power doses than those generally used in surgical operations. In surgery, lasers are used to cut, coagulate and vaporize. Various types of lasers and pulse energies are used based on the absorption properties of the target tissue” (https://www.modulight.com/applications-medical). My daughter has been carefully monitoring the amount of energy, measured in joules, which the laser puts into my joints. She’s been putting about 2000 joules into my larger joints, like my neck, shoulder, elbow, and knee, and between 750 and 1000 joules into my thumb, finger, and toe joints, and the area around my heel affected by plantar fasciitis.
I noticed that after the first two treatments, done with a day’s rest in between, my hands were very sore for two days. Then, after two days of rest, they improved quite dramatically. The joints that are already badly damaged did not feel much different, but the joints in my index fingers that had just begun to show inflammatory changes over the winter were pain-free for two weeks following the first two treatments. This confirmed my hunch that the laser bio-stim treatment would be most effective at stopping or retarding the inflammatory process at the beginning, before it had a chance to do much damage. (Once the joint has developed bone spurs and the cartilage has broken down, I don’t think anything can restore it.) The same was true for my big toe joints, which had just begun to hurt this winter. They felt much better after the two day rest period. As for my neck and shoulder, there was quite a bit of improvement almost immediately, and neither neck nor shoulder has been as painful since the treatment. My elbow has been painful since my right shoulder surgery three years ago. Having to keep my arm bent in a sling for 8 weeks post-surgery caused inflammation to set into my elbow. My knowledge of anatomy is insufficient to name the joint, but it is the lower or inside joint that is painful, and the inflammation sometimes spreads along the tendons and muscles for an inch or more. The laser treatment each time has made this joint significantly more tender at first, but then has provided significant relief after the rest period. While the treatment also seems to relieve some pain in my knee, my heel did not respond as well to the laser bio-stim. By that, I mean I saw little difference in pain levels after the treatment. Whether this is because inflammation is of long standing there (going on ten years now) and has already done its damage, or for some other reason, I don’t know. I expected it to help more than it did, because as I believe I reported before, the moxa treatment my massage therapist gave me a few months ago helped tremendously for quite a while. I think it might be time for another moxa treatment.
The plan now is for me to try to get in at least one laser treatment a week, if possible. We’ll see if a long-term approach has more cumulative effect. But for now, I feel hopeful that the laser offers a chance to stop inflammation from damaging more of my joints, particularly in my hands and feet. It’s very frightening to contemplate more loss of movement in my hands. It also seems to provide some pain relief and greater ease of movement in the larger joints, so maybe in time, I’ll see more improvement there also.
I’ve also been doing some dietary things to counter inflammation. Last fall, I had an EGD (Esophagogastroduodenoscopy) to see why I had so much acid reflux and stomach spasms, even while taking Nexium to counter the symptoms of GERD. The doctor said that Nexium was keeping me from developing ulcers again, but that my stomach was very inflamed. He said it would be best for my stomach to stop taking all anti-inflammatory drugs. I was at that time on a low dose of Celebrex, but I could only take it once or twice a week because of how much it bothered my stomach. I didn’t think I’d be able to stand the increased arthritis pain, but I decided I had to try stopping Celebrex. It’s been years since I’ve been able to take ibuprofen or any other anti-inflammatory medication (after taking them all for decades), and I thought Celebrex was my last stop-gap measure to keep all my joints from breaking down completely from inflammation, the resulting bones spurs, and the subsequent tearing and breakdown of cartilage. But I thought I had to try for my stomach’s sake, so I did stop taking Celebrex completely in late December or January.
At the same time, I decided to start drinking tart red cherry juice daily. It’s good for gout, and while I don’t have it, gout is an inflammatory condition similar to arthritis. (By the way, after extensive testing, my rheumatologist called what I have erosive osteoarthritis because it is eroding my joints all over my body at the same time the way rheumatoid arthritis does.) I really didn’t know if cherry juice would help, but I knew it wouldn’t hurt. And to my surprise, it does help. I drink at least ½ cup of tart red cherry juice every day, and it really helps my knee and shoulder. I am able to move these joints better and with less pain. If I run out of juice or skip a couple of days, I can really tell the difference, especially in my knee.
Lots of people swear by turmeric. A couple of years back, I tried some caplets from Costco with curcumin and black pepper extract (which activates the curcumin extracted from turmeric), but they bothered my stomach, so I stopped taking them. I try to include turmeric in my diet whenever possible, although it is hard to say whether those small amounts help. Golden milk, a hot drink made with the milk of your choice, turmeric, honey, and other spices, is one way to get turmeric daily, but I don’t do it daily. I usually don’t want to drink something hot and sweet before bed. However, my stomach has improved so much in the past four months without anti-inflammatory drugs, I am about ready to try the curcumin compound again and see if I have better luck with it this time.
I have also started taking collagen in powdered and tablet form. Cartilage is composed of several types of collagen. Some folks believe that ingesting collagen can help strengthen cartilage. (Some don’t—there are believers and non-believers for everything!) Some people regularly make and drink bone broths for the collagen component. (That meat jelly you get after you’ve cooked down a chicken carcass for soup or boiled any kind of bones or meat with cartilage, then cooled it, is gelatin, which is cooked collagen. And if chicken soup is curative, gelatin/collagen is probably the reason.) Collagen is also supposed to improve the condition of skin, hair, and nails. In addition, according to some doctors, ingesting collagen can help with “leaky gut syndrome.” Yep, that’s exactly what it sounds like, and I can only be grateful I don’t have those symptoms! I have only been taking collagen for a couple of weeks, so I can’t say whether or not it has helped my joints. My guess is that if it does, it’ll take some time. But again, taking collagen won’t hurt, so why not try it? If I lose a few wrinkles in the trying, I won’t complain about that! I found powdered collagen at our health food store, the Health Nut in Susanville, and I found collagen tablets at Costco in Reno.
The other thing I have done is to start drinking an anti-inflammatory tea every night. The arthritis tea contains nettle, alfalfa, horsetail, and gotu kola. I get these herbs in bulk at our health food store (and boy, am I grateful we have such a good store in our little town), and mix equal parts with a pinch or two of mint to offset the grass-flavor. You can drink 3-4 cups a day of this mix for a month, according to my nurse/herbalist friend who gave me the ingredients list, then evaluate progress. I can’t drink that much of anything a day except water, so I have started adding a tea ball full of this mix with the sage tea mix I use to keep those nasty hot flashes and night sweats manageable. I brew up a big pot of this menopause/anti-inflammatory tea each week and keep it in a glass jug in the fridge. I like to drink it cold just before bed.
I cannot tell if this tea mix helps anything but hot flashes (and it does help with those if anyone is interested in learning more about sage for hot flashes), but it cannot hurt, and maybe, in addition to the laser treatments, the cherry juice, the curcumin compound, and the collagen, it will be another weapon in my fight against arthritic inflammation.
Although it has been about 4 months since I last took a Celebrex, I can say, and this is a biggie, that my arthritic pain and inflammation is no worse than it was while I was taking Celebrex, and at times, it is better than it was when I was on Celebrex. And my stomach is so much better now, I can even drink a glass of wine in the evenings now if I want to, without ill effect. So overall, I feel better. I hope this recounting helps those of you who also want to try alternative methods of combating arthritis. If you have questions or if there are other things you’ve tried that help, please do leave a comment.
I wish I could say I haven’t been writing because I’ve been gone fishing, but that’s not the case. I haven’t been writing because winter is so hard on my arthritic hands. I got through Christmas, but I’ve been in a lot of pain since. I kneaded a batch of sourdough bread last week, and my hands were numb for hours afterwards.
I’m going to be trying a new treatment on my hands pretty soon, so hopefully it’ll help, and I’ll be able to post a positive report for those who also suffer such problems. The treatment is a laser bio-stimulation, and my daughter, the periodontist, will be doing it for me. She uses a laser in her practice for gum surgery, but it also has bio-stimulation applications. Recently, I had an experience that made me even more eager to try an extended bio-stim treatment program.
I’ve been getting regular medical massages for a couple of months from a therapeutic masseur, Bob Tripp, in my hometown, and these treatments have helped tremendously with my TMJ and head pain from clenching because of all the other pain. Jaw, head, shoulders, and heel pain is all much, much better. Interestingly, the treatment that helped the most on my heel pain was moxa. Moxa is a method or technique of heating the tissue to stimulate the body’s ability to heal itself. I don’t know much about it other than what Bob told me. He said it is used with acupuncture sometimes, but he does it with a small butane or propane applicance that heats up the tissue as he works it. I was in such pain in my feet after Christmas, I could barely walk, and I couldn’t put any weight on my right heel. One moxa treatment, and my heel was so much better I really was astounded. I had been considering seeing a podiatrist, but now I feel no need!
The laser Amy, my daughter, uses does something similar in the bio-stim application. It heats the tissue deep down, and the heat continues to radiate for hours, even as much as day, after treatment. Amy has done it for me a few times before, but we’ve never done an extended period of treatment as we intend to start at the end of the month. I have hopes it will help my hands and other joints that are being affected by chronic and systemic erosive arthritis.
In the meantime, even writing these few short paragraphs has my thumb joints protesting and my little fingers going numb. Here’s hoping I have something positive to report the next time I check in. Later, friends.
Some of you will think I’m crazy. But I’ve tested my theory several times, and each time I’ve found it to be true. When I give my chickens a little kombucha several times a week, their eggs are almost completely clean. When the kombucha is withheld for several days, the eggs get poopy.
First off, some folks might not know what kombucha is. Kombucha is fermented tea. It’s fermented with some particular strains of bacteria. You can make kombucha at home using raw, unflavored kombucha purchased in a health food store or obtained from someone who makes her own kombucha. If you are interested in doing that, here’s the link I used to start my kombucha and SCOBY. (The SCOBY is what grows in the kombucha. The kombucha is the fermented tea that you drink.) Kombucha is probiotic, very good for your gut. And presumably, for a chicken’s gut. Did you know they actually make probiotics for chickens? Yeah, that’s a thing. Some people buy probiotics for their chickens. Some people feed them yogurt regularly. I feed mine a little kombucha several times a week. And they love it.
I make my kombucha with green or white tea, mostly. I have not ever given my chickens any kombucha made with black tea, because I want to keep the caffeine levels as low as possible. Kombucha generally contains about a third of the caffeine in the tea it’s made from. Green or white tea contains less caffeine than black tea, thus the kombucha made from green or white tea contains less caffeine too.
Now, I’ve done a little research, and caffeine is apparently toxic to chickens (as it is to dogs). You’re not supposed to give them chocolate, tea bags, or coffee beans (I don’t know why anybody would, but nevertheless, you shouldn’t.) However, many people do allow their chickens access to freshly brewed coffee grounds dumped in the compost pile, and these folks report no ill effects from the chickens eating the coffee grounds. From what I understand from my reading, minute amounts of caffeine in things like spent coffee grounds doesn’t seem to hurt them. I think small amounts of kombucha is probably the same. (You’re also not supposed to let chickens eat apple seeds, but mine ate windfall apples in the orchard all last fall. And when they eat an apple, they don’t leave anything but the stem.) So I think we can use an ounce of common sense here along with the kombucha.
I don’t give my four chickens a lot of kombucha at any one time, and I give it to them mixed with some scratch grains. I put the scratch, about 1/3 cup or so, in an old pan, and pour on about a tablespoon of kombucha, or enough to just moisten the scratch. I swirl and toss that around to coat all the scratch in the kombucha, and I let it sit for a minute to absorb the kombucha while I’m getting out their laying pellets. I feed those separately. They get the scratch/kombucha supplement about every other day.
How was it that I began giving kombucha to my chickens in the first place? In the summer of 2015, I was trying fermented feed for the chickens, for the probiotic effect, and I was using kombucha as a starter, mixing it in with their pellets and scratch and letting it ferment for 3 or 4 days before I gave it to them. But with colder fall temps, fermenting the feed in the unheated pumphouse wasn’t working. And it was another task when I really didn’t need another task. Then I thought, why bother with all that? I have lots of kombucha, and it is easy to make more if I need it. I could just keep a jar of it with their feed to mix with their scratch.
I did a little reading, noticing that many people reported giving their excess kombucha SCOBYs to their chickens, and I’ve done that too. The chickens eat them like worms. No one reported any problems, and the SCOBYs retain quite a bit of kombucha in their layers. So I figured, why not?
I started noticing, a week or so after I began the kombucha regimen, that the eggs were clean. Not just cleaner, but clean. Rarely did I even get a little streak or smear of poop on an egg. The majority of my eggs were pristine, like they’d been washed. The change was noticeable, because they were pretty poopy before. So I had nice, clean eggs all fall and into the winter.
In late winter, I came down with a bad case of influenza. The old-fashioned stuff. I was sick, really sick, for over a month. During that time, Dennis took over feeding the chickens, and I hadn’t told him about the kombucha. Didn’t even think about it until I was well enough to scramble myself an egg. And then I noticed that the eggs were poopy again.
I told Dennis about the kombucha/scratch combo, and he started doing it. Within a couple of days, the eggs were clean again. No fooling.
Since then, we’ve had chicken minders for a week or so, at least three times, while we were gone on vacation. I never tell them about the kombucha or ask them to do it because I don’t want the chickens getting too much kombucha. You never know how well people are actually listening when you tell them how to do something. Each time when we’ve returned, the eggs are poopy. And each time, after a few days back on the booch, the eggs are clean again when I gather them.
The last time we left, the neighbor boy who was minding the chickens put a half-pan of dry scratch in the run for the hens so they had 24/7 access to it, something I never do, but it proved one thing to me. It’s definitely the kombucha, not the scratch, that’s keeping those eggs clean. I’d had a slight, niggling doubt about that, but this time was the clincher. I had poopy eggs for two days after we got back, until those chickens got some kombucha back in their systems.
In the first picture below, you can see that the eggs are very clean. I don’t wash my eggs until I use them, if I need to wash them. (If you have backyard chickens, you know why, but for those who don’t: the reason you don’t wash eggs until you want to use them is that when the chicken lays the egg, it comes out with a protective coating that seals the shell and prolongs the life of the egg inside. Store-bought eggs are washed, and they have shorter shelf lives than unwashed backyard eggs.) In the second photo, I’ve tried to take a close-up of the only egg in this carton (gathered over about a week’s time) that has any sign of poop on it. It’s just a faint dark smear (not the reddish speckles–that is just pigment in the shell), and might not even be poop. It could just be a smear of dirt from a chicken foot. This is typical for my eggs when the chickens are getting kombucha at least three times a week.
Kombucha for chickens makes cleaner eggs. I don’t know why. I could speculate, but I don’t know enough about the anatomy or digestive system of a chicken. I just know it works.
Farro, also known as emmer wheat, is an ancient grain. I bought some organic farro a while back, and have been developing the recipe for this salad through trial but not error—all iterations were delicious. Farro is high in fiber, protein, some minerals, and B vitamins. While it is lower in gluten than other types of wheat, it does still contain some gluten. (If you want to try a gluten-free version, I think quinoa would work nicely with the salad ingredients. Brown rice would probably also be delicious.) Farro is nutty, with a firm, slightly chewy texture. For more about farro’s nutritional value, here’s a link: https://draxe.com/farro.
I really like this salad for several reasons. It’s one of those dishes that’s really versatile and can be served cold or at room temperature, so it’s perfect for potlucks and outdoor summer suppers. The recipe below has Greek influences, but I’ve also made it with Italian flavors, and it’s equally delicious that way. I also like the fact that it is can be a cold, main vegetarian dish or a side dish. This variation is meatless, but it would be easy to add some cold roasted chicken or lamb, or even a bit of grilled flank steak to increase the protein (in which case you’d want to chill it and keep it cold until serving). Add some baby spinach for more veggie content. Or how about some grilled or roasted marinated eggplant? Fresh zucchini cubes or slices? Grilled zucchini planks, ribboned? So many possibilities!
And now, to the recipe/s!
Mediterranean Farro Salad
3-4 cups cooked farro (approximately)
1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced
1 red, yellow, or orange pepper, diced (or a combination of all three colors is pretty)
¼ cup red onion, diced
½ cup sliced Kalamata olives
½ cup diced sun-dried tomatoes (or fresh grape tomatoes, halved, or diced Romas)
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint (optional)
1/3 cup Greek salad dressing (see link below)
First, cook the farro. What follows are the package directions for the farro I bought. There are different varieties of farro, so be sure to follow the directions on your package if they are different than these.
1 cup farro grains (makes 3-4 cups of cooked farro)
3 cups lightly salted water (1/2 teaspoon sea salt is what I used)
Bring water to a boil, add the farro, bring back to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, and partially cover with a lid. Cook farro, stirring frequently, for approximately 30 minutes, or until all water has been absorbed. (At my altitude, it takes 40 minutes.) Remove from heat and allow to cool. Stir occasionally while cooling. While the farro is cooling, prepare salad dressing and salad vegetables.
I used this simple recipe for Greek salad dressing, and I really liked it: http://www.simplyscratch.com/2010/11/my-big-fat-greek-dressing.html. You’ll probably have all the ingredients you need already in your pantry. A garlic clove, dried oregano, salt, pepper, lemon juice, olive oil. Delicious!
Combine the cooled farro (it doesn’t have to be completely cool, just cool enough to avoid wilting or cooking the veggies), vegetables, feta, herbs, and salad dressing. Mix thoroughly, cover, and cool completely in fridge.
Before serving, stir salad up from bottom to redistribute any dressing that might have drained to the bottom of the bowl and taste. If you want, you can add more salad dressing, but you don’t want your salad to be oily, so don’t go overboard.
For an Italian variation:
*Omit cucumber. Add a cup of roasted or grilled eggplant cubes. (This can be marinated in Italian salad dressing after cooking for more flavor.)
*Omit feta cheese. Substitute cubed fresh mozzarella.
*Omit mint. Add a bit of fresh snipped basil instead.
*Omit Greek salad dressing. Use Italian salad dressing instead. My Italian dressing is essentially the same as the Greek dressing, except for acid I use red wine vinegar instead of lemon juice, and I use dried basil along with the oregano, and pinch of dried thyme.
*Omit sun-dried tomatoes and use fresh grape or cherry tomatoes, halved, or seeded and diced Roma or Italian tomatoes. Any fresh tomato would be fine.
*Omit Kalamata olives. Substitute sliced or halved ripe black olives.
*Add a sprinkle of parmesan cheese for that quintessentially Italian flavor.
Happy summertime eating! If you come up with any variations of your own, I would love to hear about them.
As you may know if you read my last kitchen renovation update, we asked The Home Depot for a partial refund on our countertops, because of all the mistakes made by U.S. Granite, the company contracted with Home Depot to cut and install the countertops. I asked for a 50% refund. I didn’t think I’d get that much, but I didn’t figure they’d give me what I asked for, no matter what the amount was.
My letter to The Home Depot detailing all the mistakes and delays in the installation process went first to the customer complaints person at the Northtowne Home Depot in Reno. She forwarded it to her store manager, who didn’t have the authority to grant such a large refund. (The refund would have amounted to about $1900 if they had given us 50%.) She had to bump it up to the district office.
At that point, everybody went on vacation. And after we got home from vacation, the district manager went on vacation. We finally called after two more weeks and were told we should have an answer in a few days.
It was pretty plain they were stringing the thing out, hoping we’d get tired of it and settle. And that’s what basically happened. After a month of waiting, the district office manager said she’d refund us $1000. If we refused that offer, we’d have to deal with corporate.
Dennis didn’t want to deal with corporate. I didn’t want to deal with corporate. Neither of us wanted to bring a small claims court case. We just wanted to be done. And they knew it.
We decided to accept the refund offer of $1000. It’s a little less than 30%, if my math is correct, which is unlikely. But it’s enough.
I have to add that all the people we actually spoke to at the Northtowne Home Depot were polite and sympathetic and took our complaint seriously. Nobody tried to brush us off or deny what happened to us. I appreciate that.
That concludes the Home Depot/U.S. Granite ordeal. The kitchen renovation isn’t finished yet. Because of the months of delay, we weren’t able to move on to installing the microwave or backsplash or finishing the wall in our proposed timeline. All that stuff was supposed to be done by spring, so we could move on to other things that need doing outside. And now it’s summer, and we’re involved in all the big summertime projects that have to get done outside in dry weather, like renovating the old house on our property that we call “the barn.” It has to be re-roofed and re-sided and critter-proofed this summer. But we’ll get back to the kitchen in the fall.
There’s nothing quite like DIY, is there? But at least when you do it yourself, you know the quality of your own work, and if it’s not right, you’ve got nobody else to blame, and nobody else to resent. I’d rather be in that situation than fighting with so-called professionals to do a job right after I’ve already paid them.