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Keep your cool while exercising. March 31, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I’ve been reading how people can exercise longer and harder if they keep their hands cool. This is considered breaking news, based on a just-published study in which obese women were able to exercise longer and get impressively better results (as in, a 3-inch average waist reduction)  than a control group when they wore hi-tech cooling gloves. (I read a more compelling article about this in Yahoo! News, but you can get the gist of it in “Cool Hands May Help People Exercise Longer” on WebMD.)

Problem: The gloves, technically AVAcore CoreControl devices, which Yahoo noted had “long been used by elite athletes” (God help the poor non-”elite” athletes) to improve performance, cost a mere $3,000. Not exactly up there in most of us non-elite schmoes’ athletic budgets. All the articles suggest holding a frozen bottle of water as an alternative cooling device.

Well, I don’t know about you, but my coordination isn’t up to holding a couple of frozen water bottles (or even one) while trying to do aerobics, weight-lifting, or treadmill walking. In general, at 4 mph, I’m holding on to the treadmill for dear life. And yes, that death-grip does indeed heat up my hands after about a half-hour to the point of discomfort. So I wave them.

Say what? Strange but true, I’ve found that waving one hand, then the other (while clinging to the treadmill bar for dear life with the other hand) cools my hands off instantly, and for far longer than, say, wiping them on my tee-shirt. I do this whenever I feel my hands getting hot, and it does allow me to walk comfortably for an hour.

Try it next time you’re exercising and find yourself with hot hands! It may look a little odd, but if someone sees you doing it, maybe they’ll think you’re just trying to be friendly.

              ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

Slime is not fine. March 30, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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What’s the beef? Silence Dogood here. Like all of you, I’ve been following the uproar over “pink slime,” aka “lean finely textured beef,” aka the defatted, processed, finely minced beef tendon tissue and other scraps that have been routinely added to ground beef for the past 20 years.

The problem isn’t the content of the slime. For thousands of years, people the world over have, by necessity, found ways to eat “everything but the squeak” (or in this case, moo). High-profile offal-loving chefs like Tony Bourdain should be squealing with delight that these normally indigestible parts have been rendered edible, so nothing is wasted. (I have to wonder why they’re not ending up in pet food instead of people’s hamburgers, though.)

The problem is the way the slime is “sanitized”—by being sprayed with ammonium hydroxide to kill bacteria. I don’t know about you, but I can only sympathize with anyone who’d prefer not to eat ammonia-laced food. Just smelling ammonia is more than I can bear.

Someone blew the whistle on the ammonia treatment, and social media blew the whole pink slime issue sky-high. I say “someone” because The Wall Street Journal (“‘Pink Slime’ Defenders Line Up,” 3-29-12, www.wsj.com) says that the British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver “detailed how it is made in a TV special,” setting off the media feeding frenzy, while ABC News (“‘Dude, It’s Beef!’: Governors Tour Plant, Reject ‘Pink Slime’ Label,” 3-29-12, http://news.yahoo.com/) say it was scientists from the USDA, touring a plant where pink slime was made with ABC reporters, who blew the whistle. The ABC story refers to those scientists as “former” employees of the USDA, implying that they were fired for exposing the ammonia-spraying to the public, since the official USDA position is that pink slime, excuse me, lean finely textured beef, is perfectly safe.

No doubt. And there’s also no doubt, based on the ABC story, that pretty much everyone vouching for pink slime’s health qualities and safety is being bankrolled by the company that produces it, Beef Products Inc. I won’t go into the tawdry details, since they’re all there in the story, but the fact that, in The Wall Street Journal article, the governers of five beef-producing states toured a BFI plant in support of their constituents, and announced that they were actually willing to eat burgers prepared with the dreaded pink slime to show their support says it all, as far as I’m concerned.

Not because they toured a BPI plant. Not because they expressed support (especially since BPI supported so many of their campaigns). But because of the way they announced that they would actually be willing to publicly consume the product in question. “We’re going to consume it,” said Governor Terry Branstad of  Iowa, as if he were planning to snack on some alien fungus that had fallen to Earth. 

Governer Branstad, bless his heart, also spoke up on two other issues. He pointed out that adding the beef-fat-free pink slime would counter the obesity crisis, since the slime is low-fat, while consuming additive-free beef would contribute to the obesity crisis. Great news! And guess what: Not eating beef of any kind, ammonia-enhanced or otherwise, would counter the obesity crisis even more.

And then, apparently trying to reach tender-hearted meat-eaters, he pointed out that “You effectively need to kill 1.5 million more head of cattle in a year to replace the meat that would go off the market from this unwarranted, unmerited food scare.”

Yowie! Kill more cattle?! Folks who care about killing cattle wouldn’t eat them in the first place.

For everyone else, please, I beg you, buy beef that comes from organic, free-range, grass-fed steers and cows. Then you don’t need to worry about pink slime, and can enjoy your ammonia-free burgers.

                  ‘Til next time,

                               Silence

JABO: Recreated? March 29, 2012

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Sad news for marble lovers (like our friend Ben) everywhere: JABO, the world’s premier creator of machine-made marbles, is losing the creative geniuses who made these exceptional marbles possible. Find the details in today’s guest post, contributed by our marble buddy and JABO authority Steve Sturtz:

JABO is closed and will be reopening in the near future with a new glass maker. No longer will the three glass makers who made JABO famous be there: Richard, Ronnie, and David are gone.

I think of all the wonderful things that have happened… the wonderful marbles that have been made by David McCullough in the last 20 years and particularly the last five or six years with the Experimentals. I have documented the beginnings of these marbles in “David’s JABO Renaissance” and in “2008 JABO Classics: The Experimentals.” The rest of his great body of work will be documented in the near future. I believe the standards of excellence he has set in machine-made marble making will stand the test of time.

JABO no longer has a proven think tank so they begin anew with high hopes, great expectations, and a very curious marble-buying community. There are huge shoes to be filled and there will be many questions about their ability to do so. 

That said, whoever is lucky enough to run JABO Classics in the near future has a huge advantage. They will have the advantage of using the tank that David McCullough has designed, a tank that reflects his latest advancements in marble-making. So over the short-term, anyone who makes marbles in that tank should get reasonable West Virginia swirls. The only disadvantage for the new team at JABO is that they do not have 40 years of experience, 40 years of their blood, sweat and tears and 40 years of the McCullough magic.

I wish the new unproven team at JABO well, but they will be a new JABO. They will be using a tank that David McCullough designed with almost forty years of experience. It is a tank that can and should make great West Virginia swirls and flames. I hope the new group can make the tank sing the sweet music that David has built into its fiery core. The first run they make will be interesting and fun, but the real test of their mastery will come when they will eventually have to build their own tank. Their excellence can only begin to show when marbles are created out of a new JABO tank with a new JABO palette.

The contract runs are supposed to continue according to a statement by JABO’s accountant. These runs provided a way for JABO to generate incremental income to (reportedly) move from losses to becoming a profitable business again. 

One thing is very clear. Any marbles made in the future will not be the same. They will not be McCullough JABOs. In the past, all of the Experimentals that were made were JABO contract runs. They were contracted with JABO on the condition that David McCullough makes those marbles, not because of JABO, or the JABO name, but because of the art and skill of David McCullough. Anyone who comes in behind David is going to have a very steep learning curve. The new crew will also have to make improvements to what has already been made before them. I am not aware of anyone who has that much experience or such a strong supporting cast. So any marble that is made in the future will not be the same as those made in the past. They may be better. They may be worse. I wish anyone who makes marbles at JABO well. They are keeping one of the last marble companies still operating open.

No matter what happens, David McCullough is retired and JABO enters a new era. David will be missed for his kindness, knowledge, and beautiful marbles. 

Good luck to the new and very different JABO.

                                 —Steve Sturtz

                                     March 27, 2012

Better brown rice. March 28, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I guess I’m one of the lucky ones: I actually like brown rice. Even our friend Ben likes brown rice. And we all know by now that we should be eating brown rice, not white rice, which, like eating white bread, white pasta, and white sugar, is just asking for big bellies and type 2 diabetes somewhere in our future.

Or so they say. Asian cultures eat white rice routinely, but I haven’t heard about any obesity and diabetes epidemics in India, China, Japan, Pakistan, etc. Ditto for those white-pasta-eating Mediterranean types. Perhaps their active lifestyles, modest portions, and extremely moderate consumption of meats, processed foods, desserts, and fried foods might have something to do with this. But I digress.

In our own culture, eating these foods has been associated with empty carb/sugar calories, which we clearly can’t afford. It makes sense to switch off to whole grains whenever we can. The trick is to make sure the whole-grain foods taste delicious, so the specter of the leaden, brown, tasteless “health food” of the Seventies doesn’t rise up to choke you.

Here’s Silence’s 7th Rule: If it doesn’t taste good, it can’t be good for you. Real food tastes good, whether it’s an apple or a bowl of fresh raspberries or a baked sweet potato or a big, crunchy salad or a side of brown rice. Don’t be fooled by health claims if the food doesn’t taste good. Food should taste good. If it doesn’t taste good, it isn’t good. Period.

But let’s get back to that brown rice.  How can you make super-healthy brown rice that’s super-delicious, yummy enough to be a side dish on its own, yet mild enough to serve as a flavor-enhancing base for a stir-fry, curry, tofu dish, etc.? My go-to recipe is easy and oh so good. I add a lot of health-boosting ingredients, like hemp seeds, chia seeds, and black sesame seeds. But you don’t have to. Ignore the more exotic parts of this recipe, and it will still be delicious.

One last caveat: I’ve written this recipe for a rice cooker (available for $19.99 and up at all major department and cookware stores and online). Since I cook big batches of rice and want them to turn out well every time, I find a rice cooker indispensable. But I know plenty of people who cook their rice in a simple covered pot on the stove, so if you don’t want to use a rice cooker, don’t despair. Just do it.

               Silence’s Super Brown Rice

2 cups short-grain brown rice (again, these are rice-cooker cups, but the proportions remain stable for any method); can sub any brown rice for short-grain if desired

1 cup sweet brown rice, wild rice, barley, millet, red lentils, or wild rice mix

1/4 cup hemp seed

1/4 cup chia seed

1/8 cup black sesame seed

1/2 large or 1 small sweet onion, diced

1 leek, white part sliced, halved, and quartered

1 small carton mushrooms, or equivalent (any combination of button, shiitake, maitake, oyster, portabella, cremini, etc.), minced

veggie stock or broth

canola oil for sauteeing

sea salt or Trocomare

coarse-ground black pepper

toasted sesame oil

Rinse rice; add seeds and the requisite amount of water, using your rice cooker’s instructions. Let the mix soak for 20 minutes in the cooking water.

While it’s soaking, saute 1/2 large or 1 small diced sweet onion and the white portion of one leek, sliced, the slices halved, the halves quartered if the leek is large, in canola oil until the onion clarifies. Add sea salt or Trocamare and cracked black pepper to taste. Add a splash of veggie stock or broth as needed to prevent sticking. Add diced mushrooms, any combination: oyster, maitake, shiitake, button, cremini, portabello, etc. Add more veggie stock and/or a drizzle of toasted sesame oil as the mushrooms cook down.

When the saute has cooked down, pour it into the rice mixture, stirring well, then cook the rice as usual. Yum! It’s so simple, but so good. Try it, and you’ll be able to say sayonara to white rice and konnichiwa to better nutrition and better health.

Yow! I almost forgot. This makes a big pot of rice. I like to make a pot and use it all week (I’ll reheat what we need for each meal in our convection toaster oven, drizzling a little veggie stock or broth on top to keep the top from drying out). It’s ample for four hungry adults for a curry or stir-fry or base for Chinese food, or for a family of four plus extras for lunch, or for several meals for a couple. And note that, to make fried rice, all you need to do is saute veggies and tofu (or the meat of your choice) with shoyu (or your choice of tamari or soy sauce) and toss in the leftover rice, stir just ’til hot, voila! 

             ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

Organic Mechanics (plus). March 26, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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So far, today has been a banner day here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and Silence Dogood share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. First, our Buff Orpington hen, Stella, laid the first egg of the season. Our friend Ben heard the triumphant cackling from the greenhouse, and looking out, saw Stella doing the traditional victory lap around the henyard, announcing her triumph at top volume. Thanks, Stella! It’s a beautiful egg.

In case you’re wondering, after their first year—when they mature and start laying eggs in the late summer, then continue through the fall and winter—hens raised without artificial light and heat stop laying for the year when the days get short in fall, and don’t start again until the daylight lengthens in spring. During the cold months, they use every calorie to stay warm. And people say chickens are stupid! But I digress.

The second great thing was that we discovered a new-to-us potting soil, Organic Mechanics, that we’d purchased at James Weaver’s Meadowview Farm in nearby Bowers. We needed more potting soil (shock surprise), and couldn’t resist a bag that boasted great ingredients, no peat (a natural resource that’s rapidly being depleted), and “Mom Approved.” When we opened it, we were wowed by the rich, beautiful soil. We could almost hear the plants we were potting up breathing a huge collective sigh of relief as their roots sank into this gorgeous soil.

Returning indoors, our friend Ben checked out the Organic Mechanics website (www.organicmechanicsoil.com). Apparently Silence and I aren’t the only folks who were wowed by this potting soil: It’s used by three of the most prestigious gardens in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Longwood Gardens, Chanticleer, and the Scott Arboretum, not to mention the U.S. National Arboretum, the U.S. National Park Service, and the British Embassy. I don’t know what pleases me and Silence more, that we’re supporting an excellent local PA product, the anticipation as we wait to see what it does for our container plants, or the thought that all these important gardens and arboretums (and even the Park Service!) are using organic potting soil. Kudos to them, and to Mark Highland, Organic Mechanics’ founder.

Fortunately, you don’t have to live in the Mid-Atlantic region to find this outstanding organic potting soil. The Organic Mechanics website is excellent and informative, and you can order direct. Thier product line is short and sweet: Seed Starting Blend Potting Soil, Planting Mix (for raised beds), Premium Blend Potting Soil (for veggies and other food plants), Container Blend Potting Soil (for perennials and woodies), and Worm Castings.

We have our own earthworm composter, so we can attest to the incredible richness of earthworm castings as a soil conditioner and fertilizer. And of course, you can also use them to make earthworm “tea.” Here’s how Mark makes “tea” from castings: “Mix 1 pound of castings in 1 gallon of water. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds, let castings settle to bottom, then pour off a fraction of the liquid solution. Stop before pouring out castings particles, and repeat until tea turns light brown in color, then pour out any remaining castings and use as mulch.” Of course, when he says “pour out,” he doesn’t mean “throw out.” Use the liquid you’re draining off as a foliar spray or soil drench.

The third great thing about today happened when our friend Ben called up our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, to post this, and saw that we now have over 400,000 total views. We promised when we hit 300,000 views that we wouldn’t go on about this again until we reached 500,000, so ’nuff said. But you can bet we’ll be inviting our friend and resident blog historian, Richard Saunders, and his girlfriend Bridget over for a celebratory supper!

Unfortunately, by tomorrow we may not be having so much to celebrate. After several weeks of daytime temperatures in the 70s (including several days that reached 78 degrees) and nighttime lows in the high 40s and low 50s, tonight the temperature is plunging down to 26. Brrrr!!! With apples, peaches, and pear trees in bud and our pluot in full flower—not to mention our bed of greens, just peeping up through the soil, our spinach, Swiss chard, and herb transplants, and our windowbox planters of violas—we are seriously concerned. Guess we’ll have to hope for the best and see what makes it through the night.

Meanwhile, happy gardening to you all. Thanks for visiting, and we hope you have things to celebrate today, too!

The exercise list. March 23, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Everyone knows that a desk job (such as mine and our friend Ben’s, writing and editing on computers) is bad for your waistline. But now, we’re told, it can literally be fatal.

I’ve just finished reading Dr. David Agus’s bestselling book, The End of Illness (Free Press, 2011). Dr. Agus, an eminent oncologist (cancer specialist) and medical pioneer (he founded two companies, in genomics and proteomics),was clearly shaken when he read a series of statistics from different studies showing that sitting for prolonged periods upped your risk of premature death by up to almost 40% from many causes, from heart disease, obesity, inflammation, and type 2 diabetes to, shockingly, any cause.

But the real shocker, Dr. Agus found, was that exercise—even 2 hours of vigorous exercise a day—didn’t compensate for the damage caused by sitting the rest of the time. Clearly, regular periods of exercise and rest (i.e., sitting) creates the balance our body craves for good health.

Since many of us spend significant portions of our day sitting at our desks, in our cars, and in front of our TVs, we need to take this advice to heart. (Dr. Agus did.) But you may find it challenging to add more exercise into your day. That’s where an exercise checklist can come in really handy. Here’s mine:

I write the boldfaced words and add a box to be checked off on my calendar every day. At the end of the day, I see how many boxes I’ve checked, look at the steps on my pedometer, and think about whether I’m happy with the day’s stats or whether I need to work harder. This is a clear, simple system, so I suggest that you try it and see how it works for you.

Check. Get on the scale. Put on your pedometer and make sure it’s set to zero. Think about your day and how to work in exercise opportunities (some of those will be shared below).

Walk. Experts recommend 10,000 steps (5 miles!) or more every day. This may sound like an impossible goal, but trust me, it’s not. It just takes rethinking all the step-saving strategies we’ve built into our busy schedules. A pedometer is vital to track your progress. It will inspire you to walk more, since you can see your progress (or lack thereof) in black and white.

I have a treadmill (bought for $35 at a local thrift store), and love using it to add 5-6,000 steps to my daily total in a single session while listening to my favorite CDs via a Walkman. But I manage to get in an additional 5-6,000 (or more) steps a day simply by doing my usual chores. How is that possible?

It’s possible because I consciously think about how I’m handling those chores and how to use each chore to add more steps to my total. Here are a few ideas that I use regularly:

* Turn your kitchen into a walking track while you’re waiting for the coffee machine to finish, the tea water to boil (or the tea to steep), the soup to heat up, etc. Anytime you don’t have to actually stand over the stove to cook, you can walk around and around the room, as if you were on a walking trail, while you wait for your food or beverage. My dog Shiloh enthusiastically participates in this exercise, which always makes me laugh and brightens my day.

* Park your car farther from the stores you want to visit so you’ll add those extra steps. You’ve heard this a million times, but with a pedometer, you’ll quickly see why everyone recommends it. And it’s easy! I like to park once at our local strip-mall complex and walk to all the stores I need to visit, which can actually be a pretty hefty hike, especially since I return to the car to stash each bag or set of bags before heading to the next store. In our little town of Kutztown, I’ll park as far from my destination as is practical and walk up the street to meet a friend for lunch or whatever. You’re gaining steps, toning your legs, and saving gas each time you choose to use this tip.  

* Scatter chores rather than—as we all do, it’s both intuitive and culture-driven—trying to compress them to make the best use of your time. Walking back into a room five times to get things is far less logical than gathering them up and making one trip, but it racks up steps on your pedometer, and that racks up health for you. With three longhaired cats and a dog, I’m always bending to pick up yet another clump of fur and take it to the trash. I figure the bending is as good for me as the walking.

Weights. When I see the “weights” check box, it reminds me that I need to lift weights and get in my 50 reps/day. This may sound like I’m aiming to be the female Arnold Schwarzenegger, but trust me, it’s nothing of the kind. I use 8-pound hand weights and do 15 bicep curls, 5 overhead presses, 10 upright rows, 5 side raises, and a final 15 bicep curls. Nothing to write home about, but those simple steps and reps keep both my lower and my upper arms toned and fit and increase hand and wrist strength.

Breaks. This box reminds me that I want to get up from my office chair every 15 minutes or so and move. No big deal, like remembering to blink every few minutes if you wear contact lenses. I’ll get a cup or tea or a glass of water, take our dog outside, take a bathroom break, find a reference book I need for my work, see if the mail’s arrived, head to the kitchen to see if I have everything I need for supper, visit with our cats, dog, and birds, water the plants, or just wander around and enjoy our yard and garden.

Stairs. Climbing stairs is fantastic aerobic exercise, strengthening the lungs, heart, and the leg muscles you never use walking on a flat surface. This is also the box I most often fail to check off, since I live in a one-storey house (the two deck steps don’t count) and seldom have access to a building with stairs. When I do (as in a parking deck), I make sure to take advantage of them.

Stand. Apparently, standing can balance sitting as well as anything else. I stand when I’m on the phone. If you use a cellphone or headset, you can walk while you talk. Think about other ways you can stand instead of sitting as you go through your day.

Cycle. Cycling is easy on the joints, but it can give you a good workout. I have a stationary bike, and aim for a half-hour of cycling a day. You won’t see the results on your pedometer (at least, not on my pedometer, dammit! it only measures forward movement, no ups and downs), but you’ll definitely see it in your shape and weight. It’s a nice way to balance treadmill time or power walking.

Play. This is easiest if you have a kids or a dog. Dogs love it if you run around with their toys and let them participate in a game. Our dog Shiloh even loves hide and seek, if we pretend to be hiding. Try dancing (jumping or hopping around while you sing along with your secret favorite CDs) with your dog. No one will see you, the dog will love it, and you’ll get a workout. Don’t forget to smile!

Hike. Say what? This sounds extreme, and brings up images of serious, scrawny guys with about 200 pounds of gear on their backs. But there’s another way to hike. Find an area that excites you—like Hawk Mountain here in our part of PA—and just go and wander around. This is a bonus, so I don’t include it on my daily checklist, but I feel like I’ve been on vacation every time I make the space and time to head out to that beautiful site.

If I had access to a pool, I’d add swimming to the list. Ditto for tennis or any other aerobic activity (in my case, ping-pong). You could add yoga, qigong, tai chi, ballet, ballroom dance, zhumba, bellydance, Bollywood dance, fencing, archery, golf, or more active martial arts if you enjoy them. Whatever works!

The important thing is to make the checklist and check it off every day. No need to beat yourself up if you didn’t check off every box. Instead, think of how you could do better tomorrow. Remembering that, ultimately, each and every step will bring you closer to your goal.

               ‘Til next time,

                        Silence

Top ten ways to stop wasting food. March 22, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, pets, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I was shocked and appalled this morning by an article in The Wall Street Journal with the innocuous title of “Leftovers: Tasty or Trash?” (check it out at www.wsj.com). The article turned out not to be about food preferences, as I’d assumed (though there were plenty of comments from men who hate leftovers, including one who said he’d rather eat a spoonful of peanut butter than leftovers).

Instead, it was about the massive amount of wasted food that’s thrown out in America’s home kitchens. Take a look at these stats: vegetables comprise 25% of trash in a typical home; fruit and juices, 16%; grains (presumably including breads), 14%; and milk and yogurt, 13%. Do the math, and it looks like 68% of a typical home’s trashcan is filled with food! In a world where even one person goes hungry, this is a sin and a disgrace. And this doesn’t even touch the food waste produced by restaurants, groceries, and the like. Yikes! 

Mind you, as anyone who’s taken a statistics course knows, statistics often aren’t what they seem, and this proved true in this case: “Trash refers to avoidable waste” was printed in tiny type under the stats. And what they considered “unavoidable” waste wasn’t defined.

There’s not much I consider to be unavoidable waste. It just kills me to see perfectly good furniture at the curb, waiting for the trash as it’s ruined by a downpour. Would it have killed people to call Goodwill or even—gasp—find the nearest thrift store and drop it off themselves?!

People need your old clothes, shoes and accessories. Even clothes that are worn out can be made into rags for rugs, etc. (that’s what they do with the clothing donated to those big dumpster-like bins you see around town). And here’s a tip: Buy clothes, shoes and accessories you actually like, that are flattering, comfortable, and easy-care, not clothes that fashion designers and stores want to sell you so you’ll have to constantly replace them to stay on-trend. If you buy stuff you enjoy wearing, you’ll wear it ’til it wears out (and then just be sorry you didn’t buy two).

Appliances can be donated or recycled. Plastic bags can be recycled at any grocery, paper bags can be used to hold papers for recycling or shredded and composted, and you can always buy earth-friendly grocery bags for 99 cents at the checkout and use those. (Even liquor stores now sell special compartmentalized bags for 99 cents!) You can cut down on plastic waste by purchasing water, milk, detergent, etc. in reusable containers. (Some companies deliver and pick up, you return the containers to other farms and stores, and you buy refills in your original container at others.)

Admittedly, some things do fall into the “unavoidable waste” category. I’d put used bandages, kitty litter, past-wearing athletic shoes, and toothpaste tubes in that category, though used toothbrushes can enjoy a second life cleaning grout, jewelry, or your rock collection. Here at Hawk’s Haven, our friend Ben and I shred waste paper to put in our chicken nest boxes and mix with soaked coir for our earthworm composter. We burn boxes and cardboard in our fire pit, recycle everything we can, and wear our carefully-chosen and much-loved clothes ’til they’re literally unwearable, then part with these old friends with huge regret. We save bubble wrap for winterizing the house and mailing gifts; we return plastic flats and pots to the nurseries where we bought the plants.  

But I digress. Let me give you one more stat from the article before I move on to saving food. It notes that the average U.S. household spends between $500 and $2000 each year on food that ends up in the trash. I imagine that seeing 5 to 20 Benjamins in a trash can would turn most people into dumpster-divers. Just think what you could do with that money! You could put it toward painting the house, paying the mortgage, dental care, health insurance, car repair, college expenses, a family vacation. Think about this as you plan your family’s weekly meals. Did I say plan your family’s meals?! I guess it’s time to move on to those tips.

1. Look at what you have. Make some time this weekend to go through your kitchen cabinets, fridge, freezer, pantry, and anyplace else you store food, to see exactly what’s in there. Check out all the cans, boxes, packages, and bottles. This is a good time to think about whether you’ll really use everything you have, or whether you should donate some less-popular items to a food bank or soup kitchen. Our local bank (as in money, not food) has bags in their foyer for donated food, another reason we love them. It will also remind you that you have ten jars of jelly or mustard and don’t need to buy more until all of them are used. And of course, I hope it will inspire you to think about how you can plan meals that use the food you already have.

2. Make a weekly plan. Because OFB and I subscribe to our local paper, each week we get circulars from the local groceries and pharmacies with their discounted items for the week, as well as at least two circulars with discount coupons. Because I shop at local health food stores, I also pick up sales circulars for them. So every weekend, I compare the prices in the circulars, see if anything I want is on sale, see if there are coupons for anything I want, and then make my grocery list based on what I plan to cook that week and where I should look for ingredients. To avoid food waste, you must be absolutely realistic: How many meals will you make at home, and how many will you and yours eat at school, at restaurants, at the company cafeteria, order in, or grab at the fast-food line? This is probably a fairly set schedule, so thinking it through once will probably give you a good idea about how many meals you’ll really cook at home. Use that estimate to decide which meals you’ll need to plan for, and then what ingredients you’ll need to make those meals.

3. Rotate. This means two things, both of which are helpful: First, it means that you should plan for variety. Even if you’ve made big pots of delicious chili, spaghetti sauce, or soup, you should serve them on alternate nights or every third night, not every single night until you’ve used them up. Variety is, after all, the spice of life. And second, you should keep an eye on the use-by dates of your canned, frozen, bottled, packaged, and fresh food. This sounds like a pain, and is one for about 10 minutes, but every time you buy replacements for your go-to foods, you should move the oldest cans, boxes, packages, bottles, and etc. to the front and put the newest ones in the back. Tedious? Sure. But it will not only remind you of what’s available for this week’s meals, but make sure you use what you have with no waste.

4. Share. If you find you’ve cooked too much of any one dish, and you can’t think of a way to incorporate it into something else, consider sharing it. Perhaps your neighbor would enjoy a dish. (And please, perhaps they’d enjoy it even more if you invited them to share it with you!) Perhaps your friends might appreciate a care package. But don’t overlook your pets. Our dog, parrot and chickens love fresh veggie and fruit scraps, nuts, and grains.

5. Morph those meals. Today’s beans and rice can be tomorrow’s refried bean and rice burrito. Or they can be added to a soup or stew. Todays’ side-dish greens like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard can be added to tomorrow’s soup or quiche or omelette or spanakopita or lasagna. Leftover rice, veggies and greens can make a delicious fried rice. Curries use any quantity of mixed veggies. So do salads and stir-fries. I’ve found that homemade spaghetti sauce is endlessly forgiving, so you can toss in that last bit of fresh salsa or a few tomatoes or anything you need to clean out your fridge, and it will blend and taste great. (It also makes a great sauce for lasagna and pizza. Just ask OFB!)

6. Make good food. I have to wonder if the reason so many people apparently hate leftovers is because the food isn’t that great to begin with, and is even worse when it’s nuked as leftovers. (Of course, some folks may hate leftovers because their parents insisted that leftovers were only fit for pigs. Shame on them!) If your meals are luscious and flavorful, and you warm up made-from-scratch leftovers in the oven rather than nuking leftover convenience foods in the microwave, everyone will want more. Why? Because it tastes so good!   

7. Compost.* OFB and I have a simple 3-bin composter out back made from free pallets. We also have an earthworm composter. Anything that starts to go bad before we can eat it, or our chickens can eat it, goes in our kitchen compost bucket to make rich, luscious soil for our garden beds.

8. Learn the art of food preservation. It’s really not hard to learn how to freeze, can, pickle, dry, and otherwise preserve extra food. Yes, it sounds scary, but even I can do it. And if I can do it, you can do it, I promise! It’s incredibly satisfying to preserve your homegrown harvest, whether you’re drying herbs and hot peppers, making your own applesauce or marinara sauce, or making pickles.

9. Talk first, then eat.  That amazing three-for-one deal on collards isn’t going to save you money if your family refuses to eat cooked greens. You know it’s super-nutritious. It will provide essential nutrients for everyone in the family. But nobody wants to eat them. Even I wouldn’t eat a serving of plain steamed collards (or kale, Swiss chard, or even spinach). Tell everybody you’re making a super-delicious dish. Then stir-fry those greens in extra-virgin olive oil with diced sweet onion, sea salt, black pepper, and balsamic vinegar, with some raisins tossed in for added complexity, though, and your family won’t be able to get enough!

10. Be grateful. Slow down a minute, and think what you’re putting in your shopping basket or cart. Look at the beautiful fresh fruits, greens, and veggies. Take some time to savor the cheeses and cut flowers you’re adding to your cart. Take a minute to thank everyone and everything who made your choices possible: the earth, the plants, the people who grew and harvested them, the people who painstakingly bred the varieties you’re enjoying, the processors, truckers and grocers who put them into your hands. If you train yourself to be grateful for every stalk of celery you put in your grocery cart or slice for your family’s evening salad, you’ll be much less likely to waste food.

Be a hero—save the planet. We all want to, but it can often be so overwhelming. A good, manageable place to start is in your own kitchen. Just a look at your family’s food use can start a revolution!

              ‘Til next time,

                          Silence

Early spring, exhausted gardener. March 20, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading.
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Happy spring, everyone! Our friend Ben read a cartoon in today’s paper with this quote from Robin Williams: “Spring is nature’s way of saying ‘Let’s party!’”

Ha. Robin Williams clearly is no gardener. Our friend Ben would put it quite differently: Spring is nature’s way of saying “Hurry up and get your lazy butt out here and start cleaning up and planting before you have weeds up to your neck, a full-on case of poison-ivy, and your visitors are all saying ‘Garden? What garden?!!’”

An early spring is certainly a beautiful thing. In our yard, the forsythia and daffodils add their cheerful sunny hues to the last of the snowdrops and crocuses, while the hellebores are in full bloom and our island bed is a sea of blue Siberian squill. Silence Dogood and I are very aware of them, and everything else that’s pushing through the soil (not to mention the budswell on the trees, shrubs and vines) as we frantically try to compress what should be a couple of months’ cleanup chores into a couple of weeks.

As everyone with a yard knows, if you wait too long to clean away last season’s debris, it takes twenty times as long to do the cleanup, since you’re desperately trying to avoid hurting the plants’ new growth. Many people take everything back to the ground in fall to avoid the spring rush, but Silence and I prefer to leave the plants up until spring to provide winter shelter and food for birds and overwintering beneficial insects.

We do clean out our veggie garden in the fall. But if your garden is like ours, you’ll know that, try as you might to eradicate them, lawn grass and weeds have an amazing way of not just sneaking back into your raised beds but coming up and spreading before you know it (and sneaking back and sneaking back and…). So in addition to clearing out all our ornamental beds, shrub and tree borders, and Cultivated Wild Meadow, we’ve been frantically weeding the veggie beds. And conditioning the soil. And sowing cold-tolerant greens, onions and radishes.

And the fun is just beginning. There’s also the little matter of what’s dead and what’s alive in terms of our rose and raspberry canes. The need to prune fruit trees and vines before the sap really starts running (good luck with that this year!). And the need to get any new fruit trees, shrubs and vines ordered and planted ASAP so they can get a decent start on the growing season.

There’s also the little matter of our 100-odd container plants. Most of them spend the winter in our greenhouse, but Silence insists on keeping a couple dozen or so in the house at all times for our visual pleasure and the oxygen they add to our indoor air. Our friend Ben and Silence have noticed that most of these plants fail to appreciate the low-light winter conditions coupled with our warm and welcoming 50-degree winter thermostat setting. (We can only sympathize.)

So now Silence is adding to the spring-gardening chaos by rushing these valiant but depleted plants out to the greenhouse and replacing them with stout, hardy specimens that will brighten the house and clean our indoor air. (Our friend Ben suspects that this is just a scheme to buy new plants, but Silence has such an eye for gorgeous container combinations, and selecting the plants makes her so happy, I figure the better part of valor is to just shut up and enjoy the results.)

We’re still facing the Herculean task of hauling all the plants that have spent the winter in our greenhouse out to the deck, but even Silence and I aren’t such optimists that we’d dare to do that in march here in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 6! And then we’ll give the greenhouse a thorough going-over, and maybe plant some crops in its in-ground bed.

Just thinking about it all (plus several hours of early-morning yardwork) have yours truly craving a nice, long nap. But before I fall over, let me mention one of my favorite cheap, dual-purpose tips for adding spring color to your home and landscape: Buy pots of “Tete-a-Tete’ mini-daffodils (available here now for as little as $2.50 a pot). These little yellow daffs are guaranteed to brighten any winter-weary home. Once the blooms fade, plant them out where you’d enjoy their color each spring. We buy two pots each spring for our kitchen table, so our early-spring landscape display now boasts many bursts of sunny yellow blooms. It’s the best $5 investment our friend Ben can think of, since returns are guaranteed!

 

 

Get up and grow! March 18, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading.
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With gorgeous sunny blue skies and daytime temps edging into the 70s, you can bet our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have been outside getting our gardens ready to grow. We’ve been weeding our raised veggie beds and amending them with our own rich compost and composted cow manure from one of our favorite nurseries, James Weaver’s Meadowview Farm in nearby Bowers, PA. We’ve been cleaning out the greenhouse in anticipation of moving the endless container plants that spend each winter there onto our deck for the season. And of course, we’ve been checking our stash of seeds and planning what we’ll plant in each bed.

Mind you, there’s plenty already going on in our two perennial vegetable and herb beds. In the allium/herb bed, the walking onions, garlic, garlic chives, chives and shallots (all perennial crops with us) are coming on strong, along with thyme, peppermint and cilantro. We’ll be adding more herbs once we feel we can trust the weather to stay mild. (Usually we wait until May, but given our mild winter, we’re very tempted to move that up to mid-April. We shall see.)

Horseradish, rhubarb and comfrey are breaking ground in our perennial vegetable bed; no sign of the asparagus yet, but we’re watching. And Silence is planning to add Jerusalem artichokes to the bed this year, maybe even today; she has some nice, fat organic tubers. (Jerusalem artichokes are in the sunflower family and produce cheerful sunflowers, but it’s their tubers that are harvested for eating raw in salads or cooked.) This is also our catnip bed; we hope the minty catnip repels (or at least confuses) pests, and even if it doesn’t, we have three cats and they thank us.

Rain has been surprisingly scarce the past two weeks, but is predicted for tomorrow, so Silence is eager to sow cold-hardy greens and the like in our biggest bed this afternoon. Because this bed is now shaded by two of our apple trees, which turned out not to be nearly as “super dwarf” as their labels claimed and somebody’s (not, of course, to mention Silence by name) optimism warranted, we’ve devoted it to the production of shade-tolerant greens, plus early-spring salad crops like radishes, bunching onions, and snow and snap peas. We love greens raw and cooked, and usually include them in at least two meals a day (in soup and/or a sandwich for lunch, and as a cooked side and a salad at supper). And many are cold-tolerant, a definite bonus when trying one’s luck by seeding them in early spring.

Before moving on to what we’ll be sowing in the shaded bed, our friend Ben would like to point up an aspect of climate change, global warming, and weather in general that is really disturbing. It also shows us that the interactions in our gardens are far from simple, and could go some way toward explaining why simplistic “solutions” to garden problems often don’t work, backfire, or work less well than expected.

So, for a minute, let’s get back to those apple trees—and our pear trees, peach tree, pluot, elderberries, blueberries, strawberries, grapes and other fruits whose buds are now swelling in preparation to bloom. Orchardists hate early bloom, since the flowers and developing fruit are subject to late frosts. If a frost hits while flowers are open, the result is frozen flowers and no fruit. If a frost hits the developing fruit, the result is usually dead fruit. And since fruit trees flower only once a year, if the flowers or fruit are killed, the whole year’s crop is lost.

This would be depressing enough for backyard gardeners like us. But what about orchardists who make their living growing fruit? Unlike vegetable gardeners, who can simply replant, the fruit grower’s harvest and income is lost for the year. (Yet another argument for diversification.) This may result in an even more horrific situation: orchards being sold off to make yet more McMansion-packed “house farms.”

And there’s another factor to consider: pollination. Unlike nuts, which are wind-pollinated, fruits are bee-pollinated. Honeybees, our chief pollinators, are already under attack from parasites and fungal disease, and their numbers have dropped dramatically. But what if unusually warm winters and springs wake up the plants before the bees?

Certainly, Silence and I haven’t seen any bees buzzing around here, yet our fruit trees are in bud and their flowers will open within a week or two. If they bloom before the bees emerge, we won’t get fruit; and if the bees emerge after bloom, they won’t get food. And what if the warmer weather favors the proliferation of the mites and fungi that attack bee colonies? This is a lose-lose situation for all concerned. Much as we love a mild winter and early spring, it’s not worth losing our bees, fruit, and many of our bee-pollinated vegetable crops. 

But let’s get back to seed-sowing. Silence and I believe in patronizing as many seed companies and local seed-selling businesses as possible, since our goal is to keep local businesses carrying seed and as many seed companies as possible in business. This particular batch, for example, includes seed packs from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed, Rohrer Seeds, Renee’s Garden, The Cook’s Garden, Burpee, The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Botanical Interests, Seeds of Change, Agway, Shepherd’s Garden Seeds, and Happy Cat Farm.

Our technique is simply to scatter the seeds randomly over the bed, with the exception of the snow and sugar snap peas, which we plant in a row along a trellis we push into the soil along one end and part of the back of the bed. Then we drag the back of a raking fork over the bed to lightly cover the seeds with soil and to make sure they’re in good contact with the soil so they don’t try to root into thin air. When the seeds come up, since all the greens are edible—even the pea shoots—if some are too close, as they inevitably will be, we thin them and use the thinnings as microgreens and, later, mesclun mix in our salads. We’ll also transplant as needed to fill any bare spots.

Ready for our seed list? It’s pretty sizeable, but remember, we’re talking about a 4-by-16-foot bed. And we do eat a lot of greens! Here you go: ‘Ruby Streaks’ mustard greens, ‘Mizuna’ mustard greens, ‘Southern Giant Curled’ mustard greens, ‘Buttercrunch’ lettuce, ‘Grand Rapids’ lettuce, ‘Royal Oak Leaf’ lettuce, ‘Salad Bowl’ lettuce, ‘Red Salad Bowl’ lettuce, ‘Ruby’ lettuce, ‘Black Seeded Simpson’ lettuce, ‘Lollo Rossa’ lettuce, ‘Troutback’ lettuce, ‘Blush Butter Cox’ lettuce, ‘Red Ruffled Oak’ lettuce, ‘Red Devil’s Tongue’ lettuce, ‘Sucrine’ lettuce,  ‘Mammoth Melting Sugar’ snow peas, ‘Super Snappy’ sugar snap peas, curly endive, arugula, wild arugula (roquette), corn salad (mache), French sorrel, ‘Merlo Nero’ spinach,’Long Standing Bloomsdale’ spinach, ‘Rossi di Verona a Palla’ (‘Dragon’) radicchio, ‘Red Verona’ radicchio, ‘Komatsuma Tendergreen’ oriental greens, ‘Tatsoi’ oriental greens, ‘China Rose’ winter radish, ‘White Icicle’ radish, ‘Cherry Belle’ radish,  ‘Crimson Forest’ bunching onion, and ‘Tokyo Long White’ bunching onion.

Wow! Our friend Ben hopes that reading that list didn’t wear you out. It’s only the beginning of our vegetable-gardening adventures this season, and, we hope, of yours! Tomorrow, we’ll share a few fun garden-resource sites we’ve found this season.

Radical home dental care. March 16, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben gets a weekly finance e-newsletter that can be pretty eccentric. But I thought the author had really gone off the rails week before last when he wrote about dental care. Specifically, he was talking about a dentist’s radical system of home dental care that he had discovered and endorsed. What did that have to do with finance?

Well, plenty. Our friend Ben hastily revised my initial impression when our friend Rob revealed the size of his latest dental bill for his 23-year-old son, who is still in school but no longer covered by Rob’s dental insurance, which cuts off coverage based on age, not earning status. Ouch!

Our friend Ben’s and Silence Dogood’s health insurance doesn’t cover our own dental care, either, and as you doubtless know, a cleaning and X-rays—much less a filling or, God forbid, orthodontic surgery—can really add up. If your home dental care can make a dent in your dental bills, you’re definitely saving money, so it’s a financial issue after all.

Intrigued, I clicked on the link in the financial newsletter and found myself at the website of Dr. Ellie Phillips, DDS (www.drellie.com), author of the book Kiss Your Dentist Goodbye. Here’s the home-care system that Dr. Ellie, as she prefers to be called, recommends: 

* Rinse your mouth before brushing for 60 seconds with CloSYS, which neutralizes the acidity that makes teeth soft and vulnerable to pitting from abrasive toothpaste when we brush. (Don’t add the flavor packet that comes with the bottle of CloSYS; Dr. Ellie says it reduces the mouthwash’s effectiveness.) Note: Silence and I didn’t find the non-flavor of the CloSYS bad at all; it’s not much more intense than water.

* Brush your teeth, gums and tongue with a medium-soft brush and a basic sodium fluoride toothpaste (she recommends Crest Original Paste). Do not use toothpastes with whiteners, tartar control additives, stannous fluoride, triclosan, or sodium monofluorophosphate, which can harm your teeth, making them vulnerable to decay organisms. Dr. Ellie points out that many people don’t brush the gums in the front of their mouths, so make sure you don’t skip them.

* Disinfect your toothbrush after brushing by dipping it in Listerine, rinsing, and air-drying. Note: A great—and obvious—idea; of course, Silence and I had never thought to do this before.

* Rinse your mouth for 30 seconds with Listerine (Original, Cool Mint, and Vanilla Mint flavors only; make sure the bottle has the ADA—American Dental Association—shield of acceptance and has no ads for whitening, plaque, or tartar control) to disinfect. Note: We chose to try the Original flavor because I have fond childhood memories of it from my beloved maternal grandparents’ home. Whew! Is that strong stuff! The distinctive flavor and smell aren’t bad, but it fizzes in the mouth something fierce. Takes some getting used to, let me tell you.

* Finally, rinse your mouth for 30-60 seconds with ACT Anticavity Fluoride (again, look for the ADA shield, and choose Mint or Cinnamon flavors; avoid ACT Restore). Do not rinse off; the fluoride strengthens your teeth and should stay on the tooth surface as long as possible. Note: Silence and I are both cinnamon-lovers, so we chose the cinnamon flavor and liked it.

Dr. Ellie recommends brushing twice a day or, as she puts it, every 12 hours, since “Brushing every 12 hours is important because bacteria that grow on teeth become tubular or worm-like after this time.” She goes on to explain that this is when they start damaging your teeth, but frankly, the worm image is enough for us. Yucko.

Note: Obviously—we hope it’s obvious, anyway—you’re not supposed to swallow any of these rinses, or the toothpaste, for that matter. Just swish the rinses vigorously around in your mouth so you’re sure they come in contact with all surfaces of your teeth and (for the CloSYS and Listerine) gums and tongue.

Why no whitening, tartar control, or plaque control, you might be asking (as we did)? Apparently these all are abrasive enough to damage the enamel, leaving it vulnerable to decay-causing bacteria. (Remember those worms!) Dr. Ellie says that, using her system, your teeth will become whiter naturally, and to our astonishment, after only two weeks we’ve found that to be true.

There’s a final component to this system: xylitol. Dr. Ellie recommends eating 6-10 grams (2-3 teaspoons) of this birch-derived natural sweetener every day to combat acidity in the mouth (you’ll recall that acidity softens teeth, leaving them more vulnerable to decay-causing organisms) and remove harmful germs from plaque on your teeth. You can buy xylitol powder to add to beverages or foods in health food stores, but we think it’s easier to simply enjoy 100% xylitol mints. (We love the cinnamon and peppermint Spry xylitol mints we found at our local health food stores; Dr. Ellie also markets her own 100% xylitol mints, Zellies, which we haven’t tried.) She recommends eating 3-4 mints 5 times a day, after meals and snacks, so you’re spreading out the benefits of xylitol throughout the day.

As you know if you chew gum or look at the candy displays at any checkout counter, xylitol gum (like Trident and Dentyne) is big business, and our friend Ben isn’t dissing the cavity-fighting effectiveness of gum; I just can’t imagine why anybody would want to look the way people look when they chew gum (think cow/cud). Ever looked at anybody (including yourself) chewing gum? Not a pretty picture, to say the least. Doesn’t add much to the perception of intelligence quotient, either. D’oh! Not to mention the impact of repeatedly pulling on an adhesive substance if you have fillings. I’ll bet lots of dentists love gum (at least, as long as you’re chewing it and loosening your fillings)!  

The good thing about gum (and mints, and sugar-free liquids like water and unsweetened tea and herb tea) is that it keeps the mouth environment moist. A dry mouth is apparently an open invitation to tooth decay, gum disease, and inflammation (now recognized as the cause of all non-alien diseases, from arthritis and heart disease to cancer).

But our friend Ben doesn’t think this is enough to offset the grossness factor of chewing gum. Frankly, I’d rather see somebody smoking: It smells worse, but is less revolting-looking. Drinking a little water, coconut water, or herb tea throughout the day (and by “little,” I mean a couple of swallows each time) will keep your mouth hydrated; a glass of room-temp water on the bedside table, also consumed in two-swallow portions, will keep you hydrated at night.            

But I digress. Getting back to the dental-care routine, as you’ve seen, Silence and I decided to try it.  You can buy everything you need to get started on Dr. Ellie’s website, but the newsletter guy said he found it all for much less at Wal*Mart. So we headed to our local pharmacy (CVS) and health food store (after not finding 100% xylitol mints at the pharmacy), and were able to acquire at least a 3-month supply of everything we needed for about $40. (A 6-month supply for one person.)

Yowie zowie! Compared to one trip to the dentist’s office, $40 isn’t bad. And to our amazement (astonishment, shock), we could feel a huge difference in our mouths after one trial. After 2 weeks, reddened, irritated gums have vanished, flossing (which we do before Dr. Ellie’s cleaning routine, despite the lack of mention on her site) now causes no bleeding, our tongues and gums look healthy, our teeth look vibrantly white, and our breath is always super-fresh. We couldn’t be more thrilled. (And, scofflaws that we are, we only brush our teeth and follow this regimen in the morning, and have a maximum of 6 xylitol mints a day, but we eat no sweets, sweetened drinks, and junk foods.)

No, we’re (sadly) not being paid to endorse this system, we’re just stunned by how well and how quickly it works. And Dr. Ellie, despite her book’s title, actually recommends heading to your dentist’s office for a thorough cleaning every six months. We couldn’t agree more; your teeth, like your eyes, are one of your most precious assets. But hey, wouldn’t it be great to never have to endure anything worse than a good cleaning? No drills, no Novocaine, no nothin’. Our friend Ben’s all for that.

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