MM – May 30, 2014

Since the re-evaluation, today was my third time of having a Chemo treatment only once a week, combined with having a blood transfusion last Saturday, which went well, my side effects in general have been somewhat reduced. The weakness and lightheaded-ness is not as bad. I can stand to prepare food and do most light chores around the house now. The nausea still happens for about 3 days after chemo, but most of all the emotional roller coaster has slowed significantly. It gives me a chance to be me for a couple of days each week and not a drug induced zombie stumbling around, subject to however the latest drug combo affects my body and mind.

I realized that in my list of side effects there is mention of “feelings of anxiety” and because it was getting pretty bad, I started to see a Counselor at the clinic, who referred me to a Psychiatrist to be evaluated for depression and a recommendation of anti-depressants to be added to the list of drugs I am already taking. (So far they are not working out due to, Surprise!, more side effects, so I quit taking them, will follow up with the psychiatrist in a few days).

My Doctor then also called attention to the fact that some of the drugs I am on cause emotional swings but more importantly increased anxiety, along with sleep deprivation… so besides all the physical side effects I have discussed in previous posts, here I was feeling more anxious than ever, having tormented dreams of things long forgotten with restless, broken sleep on some nights, getting up in frustration after 3 or 4 hours or possibly no sleep at all, then toss and turn for 14 hours on other nights, followed by a 3 hour nap the following afternoon.

Combined with the stress caused by a load of government bureaucracy surrounding my poor financial circumstances, (which are very poor indeed, even before I was forced to stop working due to this disease and it’s treatment), causing more and more worry as time went by and it wasn’t getting resolved. I spent hours on the phone talking to social workers and gov representatives of one form or another, but mostly in the maze of answering phone trees and waiting to talk with a real person, without losing my cool. I have always paid my bills on time, I don’t like owing money and when I do, I take this responsibility very seriously. I had real concerns another rent was going to be due and not be able to pay it, so was going to face a 10 day eviction notice to move. Moving again is not something I want to do when I am this ill right now. I had very intense feelings that everything in my life is falling apart. This was not good nor did the stress of all this help my health.

Well, I must say things are comparably better today than this time last month. After waiting 9 weeks, (Yeah, you read that right, 9 weeks to process my claim), some government funds came through, (Yup, only a portion of the funds but it’s better than nothing), enough to pay a few bills, put food in the fridge and pay the rent at least. I still can’t afford to buy migraine meds, but the migraines have let up, so cross your fingers that continues to be the case, as I only have 1 of those pills left. And with the knowledge that some of the anxiety is caused by the chemo treatment drugs, then I can try to not give in to those feelings as much or at least recognize them for what they aren’t… they aren’t me.

Whew!

Happy Living!

Messy Shepherdess

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Gathering & Drying Herbs

Food was simple on the farm, plain flavours without a lot of seasonings beyond the basics like salt and pepper or an onion and maybe some garlic. So I was in my late teens when I discovered culinary herbs on my own. At that time there wasn’t much in the way of reference materials as there is now, so I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could about what was commonly available in culinary herbs, which eventually touched on some medicinal benefits of herbs and as the years went by I naturally gravitated to expanding my knowledge in both areas when opportunities arose.

As a result, I became quite proficient at growing herbs, rosemary was my nemesis for a long time but eventually I figured out what it liked and have since proudly grown immense trees/shrubs of rosemary. I even grew for gourmet kitchens for many years. I had one chef challenge me by saying I couldn’t possibly grow enough basil to overwhelm him and of course I couldn’t, because even though I brought it to him by the multiple garbage bags full, he would just as quickly make pesto out of it and sell it as fast as I could grow and he could make it!

Every garden I have ever installed or worked in has had a herb section as part of it. My own herb garden has always supplied me with sufficient dried herbs, seed and flowers to more than satisfy our own needs along with having lots to give as gifts to folks around me. One of the greatest benefits to my mind, is I can grow and preserve varieties that you wouldn’t normally get to have in abundance or even available to purchase from a store such as, a couple of my favourites, Lemon Thyme (try it sprinkled on a grilling steak), Siam Queen Basil (to sweeten a roast leg of lamb) or Chocolate Mint (for a lovely tea).

Gathering herbs is very simple. For drying, pick them around mid morning when any dew has evaporated and wait til the herbs are at their peek of growth, preferably before they go to flower. With scissors cut them where the leaves are thickest, leaving the woodier bits with fewer leaves behind. Don’t cut them all though, grow enough to leave some to mature! With Bay, Rosemary, Oregano, Thyme, Lemon Verbena, Parsley, Summer Savory, Marjoram, Tarragons, Basil, Mints, Lemon Balm, usually if you cut them just above a growth node they will grow back again, so you can later collect their flowers or seeds if you want. Shake the leaves prior to placing them in the bag, to dislodge any possible insects that might be hanging about.

I have always used a brown paper bag such as they provide in grocery stores, loosely filled with a herb to dry my herbs in. I have never found it necessary to use a dehydrator or microwave or any other appliance to to do the job. Lightly fold the top of the bag closed, leave lots of room for air to circulate around the herbs in the bag and give it a couple of weeks sitting in a cool, dry place. I then check on them to see how they are progressing and maybe shake them up a bit or strip the leaves off the heavier stems and leave them sit for a little longer if necessary, especially the herbs with a higher moisture content such as Basil and Mint. Otherwise, if they crumble easily when I crush them in my hand, I then dispose of any discoloured leaves and any thick stems I may have missed before and put the dried leaves in mason/canning jars with appropriate labels. Simple as that! Fresh. flavourful, potent and colourful, dried herbs to use all winter long.

Dried Herbs in Mason Jars

Dried Herbs in Mason Jars

Keep containers out of the sunlight, a dark kitchen cupboard usually works well. Don’t forget dried herbs are more potent than fresh because the oils are more concentrated, usually 1 tsp dried is equivalent to 1 tablespoon of fresh. If they start to loose their colour then they are also loosing flavour. Normally, I keep the leaves whole and only crush them when I am ready to use them but recently I reduced the amount of jars I had by using a blender to crush the herbs allowing me to put more into a jar and taking up less, much needed, cupboard space and it worked well.

Chives tend to loose their flavour once dried so freezing them in small amounts seems to work best. Although, I find Garlic chives and French Tarragon are still much better fresh.

Herb flowers need to be harvested as soon as they open or within a day or two and they can also be dried in a paper bag and stored in jars same as above.

Collecting herb seeds is addressed in my post about “Seed Collecting” here at  https://messyshepherdess.wordpress.com/2014/05/11/seed-collecting/

Happy Living!

Messy Shepherdess

Homemade Soups

When I was growing up on the farm, most of the evening main meals consisted of meat and potatoes. Breakfast was whatever you could grab before heading to the barn, but once chores were done, there was usually a big pot of strong coffee (kids weren’t allowed to have coffee) and maybe some fresh eggs with thick slices of buttered toast waiting (margarine wasn’t allowed on the table if you lived in dairy country). Lunch was usually left overs from the meal the night before, along with some homemade soup that had been simmering on the stove since morning chores. I love soups and stews.084

I often make soup stock from the pan drippings of whatever meat I have put in the roaster and then save that stock in the freezer for another day. I can’t count how many times a quickly made chicken or duck soup has made a child who is feeling ill, feel so much better.

After a dinner of roast, I transfer the bones of the meat from the roaster to a large pot about a third full of water and set the pot to boil on the stove top. Once it’s come to a boil I turn it down to a slow simmer with the lid on. While I’m waiting for the pot to boil, I add a couple cups of water to the bottom of the roaster pan and use a spatula to scrape all the little brown bits from the sides and bottom of the pan to collect in the water, adding that to the pot as well.098

I leave it all to simmer for about an hour and then I use a strainer to separate the bones from the liquid stock. I let the bones cool for a few minutes then pick out any nice bits of meat and put them back into the stock. At which point the stock can be left to cool, put into containers and into the freezer for another day or I can begin to make a finished soup by adding vegetables, herbs and perhaps a packet of bouillon.

 

 

Duck Soup
        Ingredients

  • 1 litre homemade duck soup stock with meat105
  • 1 diced large onion
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 thin sliced carrots
  • 1 sliced celery stock
  • 3 small potatoes cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1/3 cup diced winter squash (acorn or butternut or dumpling)
  • salt & pepper to taste

       Directions

  1. Place frozen soup stock into a medium sized pot on the stove over medium heat to thaw, bring to a boil and then turn down to low heat.
  2. First add the vegetables, potatoes, celery, carrots, squash, onion to the pot and then the garlic and herbs, basil, thyme. salt & pepper and let simmer until the potatoes are tender, usually about 30 minutes or so.
  3. At which time it can be served right away or left on the lowest heat setting to simmer while the flavours meld even more for a couple of hours and then serve.
  • can also add or substitute for any other vegetables you may have to hand, such as beets, yams, peas, corn, etc.
  • or add 1 cup of precooked rice instead of potatoes.
  • or use 1/2 tsp of dried sage instead of basil.

 

Happy Living!

Messy Shepherdess

MM – May 15, 2014

Blood work was first thing this morning and then waiting for the lab to do their magic before I saw the specialist.
Re-evaluation is significant as I have been having so many side effects but understandable given how aggressively they were giving me the Chemo meds. The good news is all of this has made a difference and there is definitely a reduction in bad cells! Yay!

However, I am anemic and will require a blood transfusion, which will be scheduled for next week. My kidneys show signs of improvement but not enough. The Kidney specialist will be asked to arrange for an injection of a super drug, sorry I didn’t catch the name of it, to help increase hemoglobin production. It wasn’t clear if I would have to pay for this drug out of pocket or not, yet… more to come on that subject.

It’s still important that we pursue treatment as aggressively as possible, but my treatment with Bortezomib will be reduced to once a week and done by an injection into the abdomen, with Dexamethasone as 1 dose a week (instead of 4) and other meds adjusted accordingly. Hopefully, it will be enough to keep hitting all these bad buggers but allow me to feel somewhat human at the same time.

All MM cancers are not the same and present differently in different people. So the results are in from testing the cancer gene cells and shows that my MM has an abnormality that causes it to be more aggressive. In other words, it’s going to be harder control. On that note, I will need to consult with another set of specialists at Vancouver General Hospital next month, to determine if my kidneys are stable enough or not, in order to start gathering stem cells for a future transplant.

All in all though, I must say having been off the big drugs for most of this week has improved my mental state, (it’s amazing how they mess with the emotions) and I feel better about life in general.

Stage 3 – Chemo starts tomorrow, Friday.

Happy Living!

Messy Shepherdess

A Sheep Farmer!

After I left the Ontario family farm, my working career eventually went in the direction of providing property maintenance services and operating a small business, which eventually lead to me learning, not only about landscaping and design, but more and more about the benefits of organic growing.2013-01-08_22.28.53

Not that we used a lot of chemicals on the old farm but there were a couple of times when, as a youth, I witnessed first hand the damage caused by chemical spills on neighbouring farms. One case in particular, was a spill that ended up in the stream that ran through the middle of our farm and devastated the entire stream bed of life, all the minnows, tadpoles, etc. along with the vegetation for about a 10 foot swath on either side of the water was dead.

It wasn’t until I moved my family to British Columbia and we randomly ended up on one of the small Gulf Islands that I was exposed to sheep and poultry as livestock on a small farm. Our first sheep was an orphaned lamb from one of the older farming families on the island. The lamb was given to my eldest daughter to raise as a 4-H project. And if you’ve never had a lamb romping around in your house you’re not living!

Of course, we all fell in love with this lamb and when she became the Champion Lamb at the local fall fair that year, well, there was no turning back, for me or my children. 4-H and sheep took over our lives for many years after that. Eventually, we outgrew 4-H but the sheep had turned into a flock of purebred registered sheep, that were being produce for gene stock across the country.

Suffolk Purebred Sheep

Suffolk Purebred Sheep

It didn’t take me long to realize though, that sheep and gardens just go together… I mean it’s one of those “Win Win” situations. The best, well balanced, garden requires a good quality healthy soil in order to produce the best of plants, be it flowers or vegetables. In order to get that good soil most gardens require copious amounts of compost, aka black gold, and one of the best ingredients for a high nitrogen base in your compost/gardens is to add animal manures and sheep manure is one of the best.

Invariably though, at some point, the gardener questions where all this compost goodness is coming from and especially when it comes to adding manures to the mix. Concerns begin to arise about the potential for harmful bacteria being introduced via animal waste products, what’s the animal eating and is that being passed through to the end product, etc. All good questions, especially this day and age when who knows what is being fed without having a lab do a feed analysis first, right at the feed trough.

The list of advantages to having sheep is long but for me what tops the list, is that they are exclusively herbivores and they have 4 stomachs! Why does this matter you ask? Well, they only eat vegetation or plant material, green food as the children would say, and once that has been processed through their extensive digestive system, there is nothing left but a mild, weed seed free, brown pellet of nitrogen rich goodness coming out the other end. Perfect for the garden.

I had enough fresh but mild, (meaning not overly saturated with urine causing there to be too much ammonia) sheep manure mixed with spent hay from the barn that I would often skip the composting part and apply it directly on the garden beds, as a mulch in the fall and early spring, without experiencing any problems associated with burning or die off or fungus, etc.

Rabbit droppings are good too, but with only one stomach they will often pass along weed seeds, same with horses, cows have almost too much in concentrated amounts to offer and definitely should be composted first, also because of their bulk they naturally require a larger amount of land to keep them on and chickens are nearly liquid with a high concentration of ammonia and thus a high potential for burning.

Winning fleeces at a Fleece competition!

Winning fleeces at a Fleece competition!

Sheep also have a lovely fleece/wool that needs to be sheared off annually and often there is not much of a market for their fleece (although I hope that will change, as it’s an undervalued commodity in Canada). But their fleece makes a great weed suppressor in the garden when spread as a mulch on dormant garden beds or around the base of fruit trees and I have used it as substitute for moss in ‘moss’ hanging baskets. I’ve also given it away to be used as insulation in eco friendly housing. So if you don’t have a spinner or knitter in your household, there are still lots of practical uses for their wool.

And then of course, there is the perspective of self sustainability, where knowing what you are eating by raising your own meat for the table is, in my opinion, one of the most satisfying experiences you can ever have. Of course, there is no comparison between store bought and home-grown meat that is free of radicals with no hormones added and provides an ample supply despite rising costs commercially in all markets. Not only do you know how it lived, how it died and the role YOU played in all of it, that knowledge brings comfort, respect and gratitude for the role these animals play in nourishing you and your family.

I know, I know, not everyone can have a flock of sheep in the backyard. But hopefully this will inspire you to seek out your local shepherd (they are usually a quiet bunch so you might have to make inquiries far and wide to find one) and beg them for a portion of their manure supply. Even if it means you have to stock pile some in a corner somewhere. Believe me, it is well worth the effort and I have found it has a natural, earthy smell to it, in most cases.
Happy Living!

Messy Shepherdess

————————————————————————————————————————-
Internationally recognized rights for animals under human control…
The Five Freedoms
1. Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour
2. Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
4. Freedom to express (most) normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind
5. Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering
— Compendium of Animal Health and Welfare in Organic Farming, Organic Livestock Research Group, The University of Reading, UK

The Farming Lifestyle

Hampshire Sow with crossbred piglets

Hampshire Sow with crossbred piglets

My roots come from the farming community in South Western Ontario, where my family owned a 100 hundred acre farm that was on some of the best soil in the Great Lakes basin. We had what was called a mixed farm. Meaning the farm was suitable for raising a variety of livestock on pasture, as well as, producing a sufficient amount of hay, grain and corn to support those livestock year round. So we raised a few beef, mostly crossed Hereford or Charolais, along with some Hampshire pigs.

I grew up knowing all the successes and failures that are an integral part of a farming lifestyle. I knew there were barn chores to do morning and night, and that the animals in our care depended on us to be there every day of the year, no matter what. That not all the animals born on the farm thrived or survived for a multitude of reasons, many of which were beyond our control and some were destined to feed us or the neighbours. That some years the crops gave an abundance and other years not all the crops made it to harvest.

There were always more things to repair and jobs to do than a month of Sundays could hope to make a dent in. And you had to figure out how to fix most of it yourself, cause if it was important, you couldn’t wait around for some repair person to show up, go away to order parts and then charge you for taking a week or two getting around to the job. No Siree, it was faster and easier to just do it yourself. In the end, as a kid, you couldn’t help but learn a lot of every day practical and useful basic life skills.

Old Stone Farmhouse

Old Stone Farmhouse

Everyone worked the half acre garden plot behind the old stone farm house, from the beginning of April through to the end of October, producing as much fruit and vegetables as possible for the family table and to store and preserve for use over the winter months. We didn’t have a greenhouse and just started seeds in a couple of flats on a window sill or sowed them directly in the garden rows. I think a good third of the garden was potatoes, seeded from left overs kept in the basement from the season before.

The fruit trees were in the next field over. It was always the first field the moms with their new borns got to graze in the spring. We didn’t have a lot of fruit trees but what we had looked like real trees, not all stumpy with chopped up limbs and they produced tons of apples, pears, cherries, and peaches. Of course there was always a question of who got more of the fruit… us or the birds and other wildlife.

My father and his brothers were hunters and fishermen, too. So if demands on the farm weren’t too immediate, I could count on spending most spring and summer weekends on the boat with my Dad, on one of the Great Lakes, fishing for small mouthed bass, trout or perch. And in the late fall when it was deer season, the men would make the journey north to bring home some venison, which I would help to skin and prep before the carcass went to the local butcher to be cut & wrapped.

It was hard work but it was good work, rewarding on so many levels, even if you would never make a lot of money. No one ever went away hungry that came to our door. I’ve tried to continue that lifestyle with my family, instilling the same sense of reward for hard work, along with a connection to the natural world around us and respect for where the food on our table comes from. Given the chaos I’m seeing the children of today experiencing, many of them are going hungry for real food to nourish their bodies and minds. Sadly, most of them think their food comes from the grocery store.

Happy Living!

Messy Shepherdess

MM – May 02, 2014

Stage 2

I am constantly thirsty. I guess that is a good thing, as I suppose it helps my kidneys to drink a lot. But most of the time my food & drink tastes stale and old, as the drugs affect my sense of taste and smell. I drink about 10 glasses of water and juice daily, often way more, but even the water tastes blah. I have found I like things that tend to have a bitter or acidic flavour such as grapefruits or orange juice poured over tons of ice!

At this time my Chemo treatment involves having blood work done every week prior to a clinic visit, taking a series of pills at home, Dexamethasone, for 4 days on and then 4 days off, that overlaps with going to the clinic and having an IV inserted temporarily so the nurse can inject, Bortezomib, twice a week, plus more pills, Cyclisphosphamid, about once a week. Because I am so susceptible to skin rashes, I also take Valacyclovir, daily.
In addition to prescriptions of Pantoprazole, Metoclopramide, Rizatriptan and over the counter meds such as, Loratadine, Ranitidine, Gravol, Imodium, plus others, to help control the nausea and other side effects. These are the things I have to pay for out of pocket.

Side effects so far – taste alteration, mild skin rash, headaches/migraines, tingling in extremities, joint & muscle aches, shaking, trouble sleeping and sleeping too much due to extreme fatigue, feelings of anxiety, light-headedness, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting.

After the past 2 days of utter exhaustion and other nasty things, the Doctor is re-evaluating my tolerance. However, I’m feeling better after treatment today…back on the big drugs for the weekend… treatment again on Monday… So frustrating to be on this medical merry-go-round!

I find lately I am reluctant to sign off with my usual ” Happy Living! ”

Messy Shepherdess