Saturday, June 17, 2017

My Initial Foray into Kefir Culturing

I am inordinately pleased with myself, and I haven't even done anything that would justify being so smug.

I bought some kefir grains two days ago from a lady in The Big City, and I made my first batch of kefir. Here's what I did:

  1. Bring kefir grains home.
  2. Put them in a glass quart jar (I used a pickle jar that I had thoroughly washed out with filtered water).
  3. Fill the jar with whole milk.
  4. Let the jar sit on the counter for 24 hours.
  5. Strain the fermented result into another jar, put the kefir grains back into the first jar, and fill with milk again.
  6. Drink the first batch of kefir while a new batch is brewing.
I basically filled a jar with milk and kefir grains and let it sit for a day before drinking the results. So easy. No reason to feel so pleased with myself, right? It's not like I did much.

And, yet, I am pleased with myself. Making and drinking kefir is one step closer to gut health. 

Here are the facts:
  • While yogurt contains 2 -- 7 types of live cultures that help heal the gut, kefir contains 10 -- 30 (or more). 
  • Kefir contains 100% mesophilic strains, which culture at room temperature. Yogurt contains mostly thermophilic strains, which require heat to culture.
  • Kefir cultures eat the lactose in dairy milk. When the kefir is fully fermented, even people with lactose intolerance are able to stomach dairy kefir because all the lactose has been consumed, making the result very digestible.
  • Kefir grains are hard to kill. As long as you feed them and don't expose them to extremes in temperature, they'll thrive. The best way to feed them is to keep making kefir. You can even store them in the fridge when you don't want to make kefir so the grains will go dormant but won't die (just feed them a little new milk once a week).
  • Kefir grains multiply. Your initial supply will grow so you can make larger quantities of kefir or give some of the grains away to friends and family. 
  • You can also use nut milks or coconut milk to make kefir, though you'll need to make dairy kefir every two or three ferments to fully feed the grains (they need the lactose).
  • Making kefir is so easy you'll wonder why you never tried it before.
  • Kefir grains contain no actual grain and are naturally gluten-free. They kind of look like blobs of tapioca pudding.
  • The beneficial bacteria cultures in kefir stick to the lining of the alimentary canal (your digestive system) and help heal leaky gut syndrome and repair the gut lining. Yogurt cultures also help heal the gut lining, but they only stay in the system for about a day. 
Why Drink Kefir?

Kefir cultures produce the kind of beneficial bacteria and yeast that your gut needs to be healthy. A healthy gut is able to absorb nutrients from the foods you eat and correctly distribute those nutrients to the rest of your body. The more diverse your microbiome is (the microbiome is the ~3 1/2-pound collection of beneficial bacteria and yeasts that live in your gut), the healthier your gut will be. The healthier your gut is, the healthier you will be overall. You'll be able to absorb nutrients for energy, all your body processes will be working at optimal levels, and you'll even think more clearly and feel more optimistic.

Think of your gut lining as a shag carpet. The pile of the carpet is the villi, little fingers that increase the surface area of your gut lining. When the balance of beneficial bacteria and yeast in your gut gets upset, flora like candida yeast begin to flourish. The pile of the shag carpet gets cut down, and the backing of the carpet begins to crack, allowing small bits of improperly digested food to get into the bloodstream. These particles of food alert your immune system, which rushes to deal with the intruders. This immune response causes inflammation in the body, and that's a good when it is needed to heal a wound on a temporary basis; but constant inflammation from an immune system always on high alert causes a grocery list of chronic and serious illnesses. The doctor who wrote Gut and Psychology Syndrome blames leaky gut for everything from asthma to schizophrenia. 

When your gut flora is imbalanced, the thugs of the bacterial and yeast world take over. They make you crave sugar and processed foods because that's what the thugs need to survive and thrive. They also make you feel tired and depressed. 

A healthy gut, on the other hand, loves healthy foods like plants. When your gut is healthy, the ruling culture is one of calmness and happy productivity. The thugs are held in check and are forced to be good citizens.

Kefir alone won't heal a leaky gut and reduce body inflammation--especially if you haven't changed your bad eating habits--but it's one great weapon in the battle to a healthy microbiome. It packs a powerful probiotic punch. If you're drinking kefir while eating a diet very high in vegetables (raw and cooked), fruits, and some quality protein from meat sources, and with little to no processed foods or junk foods, you'll be able to heal the gut and keep it healthy.

This is long enough, so I'll stop. I'm just so happy that something so healthful is so simple and easy to make and produces so many good results. 

If you want to learn how to make kefir, this is where I bought my kefir grains and learned the simple process of making kefir. Just do a search on making kefir, and you'll find plenty of resources. 

Hubby's Happy Place

The art show was going on at the city park. One of Husband's favorite flute makers had a booth, so we decided to go check it out.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Feral Post-Apocalyptic Children, TCM, and Wedding Plans: a Normal Summer So Far

I had a dream last night that involved an absolutely fantastic old-fashioned mansion--the kind with acres of polished mahogany paneling and lots of stone lintels.

In my dream, it was a post-apocalyptic world, and I was leading a group of survivors to find shelter when we stumbled upon this gorgeous and massive house in the woods (not the one above. I was just giving you something to imagine). We set up shop in the house, and we kept finding new and amazing parts of it, including a sort of fourth-dimensional storage system with clever, interlocking cylinders that made perfect sense in my dream but obviously makes no sense now that I'm awake.

After some time had passed, groups of feral children and teenagers started appearing and attempting to get into the house. I kept trying to warn the others that opening the doors and letting them in would lead to our doom, but they laughed and threw open the doors to invite them in. The intruders were in the process of totally wrecking the house, and no matter how much I tried to warn my friends, they just kept laughing at me. I woke up with a terrific lack of self confidence. I just felt stupid.

The feeling of stupidity lasted for a good 20 minutes while I contemplated my tasks for the day. I had one more article to write from a long list of titles, and it had kind of stymied me for a bit. But as I got busy with the research, the feeling of stupidity dissipated, which was a relief. Nobody enjoys prolonged feelings of stupidity--especially when it seems to be your subconscious taunting you.

I've been writing and thinking about TCM lately. In my writing, Traditional Chinese Medicine has been heavily featured by the guy who gives me the titles of the articles I write. I know a lot more about yin/yang, qigong, and wu xing than I used to, for what it's worth. I finished up the last article today, which went pretty smoothly once I'd completed the research and made myself an outline.

What's really exciting is that I suggested the topic of gut health for future articles, and my liaison was very enthusiastic about it. He told me to go ahead and invoice for three 1000-word articles on any gut health topics I choose.

Getting paid to write exactly what I want to write about? Priceless!

In family news, all my daughters have found gainful employment, so there's a lot of juggling of schedules going on. Sian and Elannah work at restaurants (Sian works at Dickey's, and she always comes home smelling wonderfully of hickory smoke; and Elannah works at McDonald's, which is good because now she can't stand to eat any of it anymore), and Sophia landed a position at a beauty supply store, where she gets samples to try out every month. Gabrielle doesn't live at home, of course, but she is also doing well where she works at a credit union.

Joseph and Little Gary are occasionally feeling the effects of the summer boredoms, but they've quit complaining about it to me because I kept telling them that if I was forced to entertain them, they would get extra chores that I would require them to complete. Now they keep themselves entertained. Joseph is catching up in math, and he has to do 10 pages in his workbook every day. Not his favorite.

Husband and Sian and I went wedding dress shopping, and we found the perfect dress after only a few hours of looking. It's simple but elegant, which is exactly what Sian wanted. What's more, it is a thrift store find of $35. The dress was about $1200 new, so Sian feels like she got an incredible deal (which, of course, she did, because the dress is in pristine condition). We're having a seamstress sew an adorable jacket to go with it, as the dress is strapless, and Sian is going to be the most beautiful bride ever.

It's been hard on Sian having her fiance gone until just a few days before the wedding in August. It's been on Sian's shoulders to make some of the big decisions that couples usually get to make together: what apartment to rent, registering for gifts, making plans for the reception, etc. I'm helping her as much as I can, but she misses her fiance so much. He's off making lots of sales commissions to pay for their future lives, and they talk every night, but they miss each other terribly. Sian has a plane ticket to Washington, D.C., for early July so she can visit him for a weekend, and they're counting down the days.

Husband has been perfecting his flute-making skills. He set up a tidy little workshop area in the garage, and he's produced several really good flutes out of PVC pipe. He's toying with the idea of offering them to teachers for classrooms. He's also taking a few classes over the summer as he works toward getting sufficient tech credits to bump him up a bit in pay.

I've been very newsy lately, I know. It's not that I don't think about things, but I'm not sure I want to share what I've been mulling over quite yet. I've got a couple projects I hope to report on soon.

Oh, we went and saw Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2, last week, and I had so much fun. We went to the theater's $5 Tuesday on a whim, and the boys and Sian came with us to the 9:55 pm show. We all loved it. I'd pay to see that movie on the big screen again, and I only say that about once every five years or so. We saw the Batman Lego Movie earlier this year, and I laughed so hard then, too.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Kyrie by Stephan Carlson

I just found that someone posted a video of the high school show choir women's ensemble piece that they performed at state competitions. They won the highest marks for this piece. They performed it again at the end-of-year concert in the high school auditorium, and did even better, with the girls singing high soprano hitting those notes so perfectly dead on that it rang like a bell. It was so beautiful that it made me teary.

Sophia is the one who announces it at the beginning.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Picture Pages

 Here are some of the photos that have been lurking on my phone.

Gabrielle texted last week and asked for the recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I always keep notes in my recipe books, so it is easy to find. When Sian makes these, she makes her own brown sugar using molasses and white sugar, and it gives the cookies an incredible depth and richness. But Gabrielle made them from this recipe and said they were a hit with all her roommates and friends. I always use this recipe, and, so far, absolutely no one has complained.

In case you can't quite read it, here's the recipe:

1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup margarine (I use butter, and it makes the cookies slightly flatter and a little crisper. I just hate margarine)
3 beaten eggs
12 oz. chocolate chips
3 3/4 cup flour
2 tsp baking soda
3 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt

Cream the sugars and margarine. Add the eggs, chocolate chips, and all of the sifted-together dry ingredients. Mix well. Bake at 350 deg. F for 10 to 12 minutes. Cookies are very moist. If you have an electric stove, lower it to 325 deg. F [which is what I do]. Very delicious.

Sophia had a lead role in the high school's production of Oklahoma, her last play before she graduates from high school this Thursday. She was Laury, and a very nice young man named Robert played Curly.

Elannah and Sophia worked together to choreograph all the dancing, and they did a right fine job of it, if'n I do say so myself.

In April, one of Husband's sisters-in-law came to town with her twins. We all spent the day together, including going to a thrift store. Elannah, Sophia, and their cousins all managed to find floral shirts, which, I guess, are a thing right now. My girls wear theirs all the time.

During that day, we took a tour of the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City, which the boys had never done before and which the girls were too young to remember doing. Here's Little Gary in the main hall that seats about 20,000, with the iconic organ pipes behind him.

I've been lucky enough to sing in a conference choir here. Who knew how many back hallways and tunnels this place has to keep things going smoothly?

Here are Little Gary and Marmite, perching on a stack of chairs in the kitchen. I think we'd had my family and Sian's future fiance over during General Conference, which is why the chairs were stacked after being used at the table.

Little Gary happily announced today that he made the honor roll at his elementary school--the first time that's happened. I'm just relieved that about halfway through the year he started doing his homework on his own with me having to nag him. I guess he's growing up. He'll be a fifth grader next year.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Adventures in School Bus Driving

In the early dark, the school buses at the bus garage start rumbling through their pre-trip inspections. Drivers must check the lights, horns, tires, and gauges before roaring out into the surrounding neighborhoods and towns to pick up happy, alert children and drop them at their schools.

I am one of them.

No, I don't have my own route yet. Since the end of the school year is fast approaching, I might not even be subbing all that often--though I have been driving nearly every day for the last two weeks. But next school year, there's some hope that I may get my own route.

Being a substitute bus driver is exciting, of course. Sometimes, it's a little too exciting. As a sub, you're just hoping that you'll manage to hit all the right stops on all the right streets in a town or neighborhood you aren't all that familiar with, and you hope you won't neglect to pick up some poor elementary school kid whose parents have already left for work and now the door to their house is locked and they have nowhere to go.

I mean, I don't care about the junior high and high school kids, cuz they can figure it out. They've got phones.

But what wakes me up in the wee hours before a run is my brain deciding to stew and stew over a new route, reminding me every three minutes from 3 A.M. on about what time I need to get to the bus garage (even though I remind my brain that I have set my alarm), and going over all possible negative outcomes.

So far, I haven't made any major mistakes. Minor ones, yes. Major, dangerous ones, no. Knock on wood...

For instance, I ended up sitting on the side of a road with a bus full of junior high school kids while we waited for the mechanics to come and fix my battery box door, which wouldn't stay latched (I didn't kick the battery tray hard enough, it turns out. In my defense, I had no idea I could kick it!).

Because I didn't enunciate my location clearly enough on the radio, the mechanics ended up in the wrong neighborhood and took even longer to find me. Meanwhile, I had to keep the kids from going all Lord of the Flies (which is a very real possibility when children that age don't have access to wi-fi for too long) by playing "School Bus Trivia," a game I made up on the spot. We all had a good laugh, and now they know how drivers get out of the doors after the bus is turned off.

And they STILL made it to school in time, much to their disappointment.

Last week, I was driving a route that takes me into a new street with only one entrance/exit. The street is lined with multiple new houses all under construction at once, so there's always cement trucks and other construction vehicles scattered around. This particular route takes me into this street three times a day in order to pick up or drop off a total of three kids.

On Thursday, I was able to thread my way through in order to turn around at the end of the street and get back out. Barely. On Friday, however, the road was entirely blocked--and even if I had been able to get through to the turnaround at the end, the turnaround was littered with the parked cars of the construction workers, making it impossible for me to get the bus turned around.

So there I am: a load of elementary kids are already on the bus, and two cement trucks pouring a new foundation are completely blocking my way forward. Then, when I look in the mirror, I see a guy double-parking a pickup truck with a trailer, completely blocking my ability to reverse out. What?? Does it seem normal to him that a big yellow school bus full of students is just going to sit and idle in the middle of the road for the indefinite future?

I'm now locked in. Dilemma.

I can't leave the bus to talk to the construction workers (there are kids on board), the construction workers can't hear my air horn over all the noise (not that they can move until the foundation is poured, anyway), and I'm not supposed to reverse--not that I can at the moment.

Obviously, I must reverse or I'm never getting out of there, so I radio the bus garage to let them know what's up. I tell them I'm backing up all the way to the entrance of the street. They are nervous. They request that I at least put an older child in the back window to give me directions. I comply by assigning a sixth grader to tell me if I'm going to hit anyone or anything (not that I can hear anything she says because of the construction noise).

So I put the bus in reverse and watch the pickup truck driver scramble to re-park his vehicle as soon as he hears my reverse alarm (miracle!). Then, dear reader, I backed that big bus straight through all the parked cars, pivoted perfectly into the the dead end to get myself facing out to the highway, and got those kids to school on time and with no other problems. My palms were sweaty, yes, but I felt a certain thrill of triumph.

Substitute bus driving = living on the edge. I'm just a crazy kind of gal!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Let Me Brag about My Kids a Bit

Each of my children have very specific interests. In the case of Sian and Gabrielle, their interests were very different. Sian is a musician and composer and has written many amazing voice and piano pieces. She was also her high school's newspaper editor-in-chief because she enjoys writing.

Gabrielle realized she loved to draw at an early age, and she's never stopped.

Sophia and Elannah share interests in drama, voice, and dance, but each of them have their own individual style.

The boys are still figuring out what they want to pursue, but I see a native talent for drawing showing up in Little Gary, and Joseph has been trying to figure out the concept of humor and comedy since he was old enough to talk. He would also be very good at dance if he cared to pursue it, but it's much less socially acceptable for a boy to do that than a girl, I think. Especially when you are junior high age. While I've never discouraged the idea, he would be horrified if I signed him up for dance classes.

As you know, Gabrielle is taking a digital media course as part of her game design degree. She had to create a YouTube channel on which to display her completed assignments, and I thought you'd like to see one of her videos. This is a speedpaint video of a picture concept she first created when she was a young teen. Right at the end, she shows the original drawing so you can compare it to her updated drawing. It's quick, so you have to pause the video in order to really appreciate how much she's improved. I am amazed at the progress she's made.

Oh, FYI, Sian is now engaged to be married! The wedding is set for August 31st. After I hyperventilated a bit at the thought of my baby becoming a wife (and, eventually, a mother), I'm very happy about the whole thing. As is her dad. She's marrying a great guy. He's intelligent (Applied Physics major) without being condescending. He's spiritual without being self-righteous. And he absolutely adores my daughter (and she adores him, of course). He's the kind of great kid who just gets better with age.