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This blog is all about all the things that make me up. I am a Mother, I am a Pagan Witch, I am a Wife, I am a homemaker, I am a student, I am Spiritual, I am a Teacher, I am Liberal Hippie, I am a Voter, and I am extremely opinionated! Plan to see it all! If you don't like what you see, feel free to leave! However, chances are, if you stick around, you'll find more to love than hate!


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Is Baby Formula Poison?

I breastfed all three of my children. And through the years I've been on all sides of the "Formula is Poison" argument.  But I thought it was important to really approach the issue of whether or not "formula is poison" logically once and for all...

It's important for you to know, too, that although I did nurse all three of my children, I supplemented my oldest with formula.  If I were to try and answer "why" there would be many answers. Most of them all boiled down to one thing though, I didn't know better.  I had PPD, my son was over 10lbs by the time he was a month old (9lbs 5oz at birth) and he nursed constantly!  While normal babies are supposedly on a 2 hours nursing schedule - or at least that's what they say is average - he nursed for an hour at a time and only took 30-45 minute breaks between them.  Plus I was dealing with sever dehydration and my body just couldn't keep up.  Of course the doctors aren't going to tell you to get human milk, and at that time (8 years ago) I didn't have the resources I do today, so I didn't even know that was an option.  Nor did I know how to make my own.  So I went to WIC and got their formula checks and bought whatever brand they were using at the time (I believe it was Similac).  Of course the formula usually bothered his stomach and added to his crying, which didn't help the PPD... Vicious cycle.  But like I said, I didn't know better.

When my second son was born (14mos later) I was determined not to put him on the formula the way I did with my first.  And since I wasn't working at all with this one (I was p/t with the first) and he was MUCH smaller (8lb 4oz at birth) he didn't need to nurse as often, so it wasn't an issue. The few times we did attempt to give him a bottle - either water or breastmilk - he would refuse it.  He didn't even take a pacifier. He refused everything but the breast. In fact the one time I did leave him for any amount of time and left him a bottle of milk, he went 6 hours without eating (he was around 2mos), so I guess I didn't really have a choice.

Then my daughter came along, by this time I was a vet when it came to motherhood, and I had a much better support system (online) better resources and a good deal of research and practice behind me.  I knew with her formula was just not an option.  I never even considered it.

Of course I have found that I am the minority here.  The vast majority of mothers are still giving their children baby formula rather than breastfeeding.  That is changing! But slowly.  Too slowly in my opinion.

Anyways, lets talk about formula.  What IS baby formula?  Well, it's highly processed and powdered milk solids (usually cow's and/or soy milk) mixed with a few dozen chemicals in an effort to mimic breast milk... But as usual, the imitations don't come close to the real thing...

While each baby formula has a different formulation, here's an idea of what you'll find listed on the back of the average formula can:
"Enzymatically hydrolyzed reduced minerals, whey protein concentrate, palm olein, soy, coconut, high-oleic safflower oils, lactose, maltodextrin, patoassium citrate, calcium phosphate, calcium chloride, salt, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, ferrous sulfate, zinc sulfate, copper sulfate, manganese sulfate, potassium iodide, soy lecithin, mono and diglycerides, inositol, choline bitartrate sodium ascorbate, alpha tocophyeryl acetate, naicinamide, calcum pantothenate, riboflavin, pyridoxine hydrochloride, thiamine mononitrate, folic acid, phylloquinone, biotin, vitamin D3, vitamin B12, taurine, L-carnitine"
You may read through those ingredients and think "Hmm, that's not so bad.  I see words like Calcium and Potassium... That's good stuff!"  And you'd not be entirely wrong.  Calcium is great from newly growing bones.  But Calcium Chloride, which happens to be the same salt used for icy sidewalks, is mildly toxic and known to cause digestive issues. Now, there's the argument that there is such a small amount of Calcium Chloride used in formula (and other foods) that it's not dangerous.  But salts - ALL SALTS - including Calcium Chloride, collect in the body over time.  Add to that the fact that an infant's body is more susceptible than an adults and you can see how any one of these chemicals, small doses or not, can easily affect them in ways they wouldn't affect an adults.

Similar warnings can be given for nearly every other ingredient listed above.  More than that, it's important to know that while these chemicals often exist in natural foods - like fruits & vegetables - there is a difference between lab created chemicals and naturally occurring ones. It's the same reason a bottle of store bought aspirin comes with a warning label and White Willow Bark, an all natural aspirin, doesn't.

All of that sounds pretty bad, right?!?  Well, it's not "good." Of course most of these same chemicals can be found in everything from breakfast cereals to prepackaged pasta dishes (like Hamburger Helper).  So even though these ingredients are less than "healthy" whether or not they are actually "poison" or whether or not they, when combined, make a "poison" product, it debatable. The definition of poison, according to Dictionary.com is "a substance with an inherent property that tends to destroy life or impair health."  Do these ingredients "destroy life or impair health?"  Technically, yes.  With prolonged exposure they lower the immune system, damage organs and inhibit healthy growth of the brain and nervous system. Which is why any physician worth half his pay will tell you processed foods are dangerous and should be avoided.  My thinking is, if it should be avoided as an adult, it shouldn't even be considered for infants.

But how does formula compare to breastmilk?  In my mind, it doesn't.  There is simply no comparing them. Breastmilk is not just natural. It's actually the perfect food. Even mothers who have less than perfect nutrition produce milk which is full of minerals, vitamins and nutrition tailored specifically to their babies needs.  Of course, in the effort of full disclosure, there are those on medications, with HIV or other illnesses, or who are dealing with sever malnutrition who shouldn't breastfeed.  Their milk could either be dangerous to their infant, or in cases of malnutrition it may lack the proper nutrition for a growing infant.  That said, malnutrition to those extents are extremely rare in the developed world.

Mature milk contains water, fat, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals, amino acids, enzymes, and white cells. Over the course of a feeding, breast milk changes from foremilk, high in water and lactose, to hindmilk, high in fat and calories. After the first few weeks of nursing, your breast milk will contain fewer white cells and more of another antibacterial enzyme, lysozyme, the level of which stays high as long as breastfeeding continues. In fact, breastmilk contains more than 200 beneficial elements, with more being discovered all the time!  In fact, with the exception of those who nurse while on medications, after drinking a large amount of alcohol or with certain transmittable illnesses, there is nothing inside breastmilk which could be dangerous for baby.

SO it's clear why breast is best.  Aside from the possible convenience of having someone else feed your baby when you're asleep or away, there aren't many benefits of choosing formula over breastmilk.  But is it really poison?  Well, like I said above, it could easily be classified that way.  But so can a million other things on store shelves today.  Formula is no more "poisonous" than Pringles potato chips or Pepsi cola.  So while I can't endorse baby formula, and can't imagine myself doing so any time soon, I can honestly say I wouldn't necessarily classify it as "Poison."  I would, however, classify it as "infant junk food!"  Yes, it's better than starvation, but if the idea of a baby bottle filled with soda makes you cringe (the way it does me every time I see it) then so should a bottle filled with baby formula.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

My Personal Journey Through BiPolar Depression and Where You Can Get Help

On August 11th the world lost beloved Actor & Comedian, Robin Williams to suicide.  This came as a shock to many who had loved the seemingly upbeat and happy-go-lucky man throughout his career. Williams had suffered with depression as well as addiction throughout recent years and although he had been generally honest with his fans about his issues, most did not feel it was something he would not recover from.  They were, unfortunately, wrong in their thinking.

Within a day of the news of his death my inbox was flooded with petitions asking for the job of one Fox News "reporter" who made the needless and senseless comment that Williams was a "coward" for taking his life.  This statement is being called, at best, insensitive and offensive.  But I'm calling it down right dangerous!

While I have been open with my own diagnosis of BiPolar Disorder in posts both here and through my various social media pages, I have only rarely discussed my illness in any detail.  I have decided though, that in wake of the recent comments made by Fox News as well as all those now angry about it, that it's time to do just that.

Before I begin however, I want to make a few things very clear.  First, I am very much aware of my condition, as is my husband.  We know the signs to watch for and we have agreed that when my symptoms crop up - and they inevitably will - that we will face them together and get outside help when needed.  Second, I am NOT currently taking medication, nor do I plan to.  I have, for years now, controlled my illness through other means, as I have found most medications to do more harm than good.  Lastly, I am not going to explore every single portion of my life or even every dark detail about my illness. I'm not doing this to satisfy the many internet voyeurs out there who wish to delve into the deepest desires and thoughts of complete strangers.  And I am not doing this in an attempt to mooch off of the publicity of Mr. Williams passing.  Instead I am doing this in an effort to hopefully share some enlightenment and possibly open some eyes.  For many this may be painful to read, and I am sorry for that.  Please be responsible and read with caution.  If you have been touched personally by depression or suicide, you may wish to forgo reading this. My hope that this will find it's way into the hands and hearts of those who need to read it most, those who have not yet been touched by mental illness and those who have no clear understanding of living with mental illness.

When I was 18 I was diagnosed by a doctor as having BiPolar Disorder Type 2.  For those who do not know what that is, BiPolar Disorder is a mental illness classified by extreme highs (manic episodes) and lows (depressive episodes).  There are FOUR types of BiPolar Disorder, each type has levels on intensity and each person may go through multiple levels - or types - as they age and mature.  As I said, I am a type 2.  This means that I am mostly depressive, but have, or can have, the occasional manic episode. My case is not "sever," in fact from all the others I've talked to I would say my case is in the "mild" category.  That said, when I was a teenager my doctors often told my mother I would be unable to hold down a job, live on my own or support myself, so they must have felt that my case was sever enough to warrant that type of warning.  Of course, I do live on my own, I've held down many jobs and supported myself since I was 18.  I'm not sure if that means I cope well or my case is simply not as bad as they all believed it was, either way, I prove the doctors wrong every day - well, nearly every day.

Being "depressive" does NOT mean that I am constantly in a state of depression.  It means that I am more prone to depression than I am manic episodes, and that depression is common for me.  But I have both good and bad times.  Sometimes days, sometimes weeks.  As I've learned to manage my condition(s) I have noticed less severity to my episodes, longer times between them and shorter durations.  But I have not, and never will, conquer my illness, which is something I feel is extremely important to point out - and to remember myself.

I'm not going to give you a full history or day by day blow. Nor am I going to blame this, that or the other for my condition.  Frankly why I have my condition and/or where it came from don't matter. Yes, I believe I could pin point the causes for my illness, and even point to a "turning point" in my life that triggered it, but it would help neither you nor I to do so as I'm here to discuss how my condition has affect me and what it's like, not what caused it.  What is important to point out is that there are MANY triggers for depression, BiPolar conditions and every other mental illness out there.  There are also what I like to call "mental sickness" which is a temporary condition that one experiences after trauma.  But it's important to remember I am NOT discussing temporary issues here. My illness is something which I will have until the day I die, hopefully at the ripe old age of 113 sitting on my back porch drinking lemonade with my great-great-great grandchildren...

Anyways, I promised you my story, and so far all I've done is talk about specifics... So here goes.  When I was 7 years old I started to exhibit early signs of depression.  My grades fell, I became generally anti-social (for a 7yr old) and stopped caring about nearly every aspect of my life.  This prompted my parents to seek help from a local therapist and psychiatrist, both of whom felt I was in need of medication.  The first medication I was on was Prozac.  It generally didn't help.  I never changed mood wise, but it did cause sleeplessness - sometimes I would go days without sleeping - chest pains and extreme anxiety (again for a 7yr old).  Next came Zoloft, then Calonapin, I believe. Both had similar side effects to the Prozac.

Then I took Efexor for ONE DAY!  Within 8 hours of that first pill, I was nearly dead.  And no, I'm not exaggerating.  I was probably around 11 at that point.  I took the pill in the morning before school.  I started feeling sick in school but there was no one to come get me. At my grandmothers that afternoon I just laid down and by the time my mother came to pick me up around 8 that evening my skin had changed color.  If you've ever seen someone dealing with liver failure you know the color I mean, it's kinda a green tinge.  But that's what happens when your liver fails, and that's what mine had done. I never took another pill! On a side note, I've talked to other people since who have taken the same medication and had just as sever side effects - everything from liver failure to hallucinations to psychosis...  The stuff is just bad!

I don't have much memory of my child hood, which is common with conditions like mine, so I can not provide many specifics on how I felt or what it was like as a child dealing with depression.  I do remember things which, at the time, seemed normal, that I now know were more than likely side effects of either the illness or the medications.  Most of what I remember are things like my mother "forcing" us to go out and play and me just laying in the grass for hours because I didn't have the energy or the drive to play - even when my friends came over.  I didn't care what my grades were like, I didn't care if I was grounded.  I would happily just sit in my room all day and night and look out the window or stare at the wall.

As I got older, into puberty and the teen years, my manic states got more common, but they were generally "depressive manic" which means that I was depressed, but my brain was racing... This meant that while normal teens make poor choices because they're teens, I made some extreme - and poor - choices, partly because I was a teenager, but mostly because I had a very obscured view of the world.  While most teens feel like their parents "hate" them or their teachers "hate" them or they have "no friends," at the end of the day they know, deep down, that isn't true.  I often went through periods where I felt like my parents hated me, my teachers hated me and I had no friends - like the world was against me.  The difference was, deep down, I didn't know it wasn't true.  Reading through my old journals tells the tale, more than I would like in most cases.  From around 11 or 12 on, nearly every journal entry at least mentions the idea of suicide.  I talked about all the different ways I could do it.  All my plans for doing it. How I knew no one would even know I was gone.

My journals tell another story too, one of drugs and sex.  It's a story similar to something you'd expect to read in journals kept by Rolling Stones members!  I would sneak out, get high, screw some random guy and sneak back in... Sleep off some of the high, get up for school, steal my mom's whiskey or rum to mix in my morning soda and head off to the bus stop with a joint & a couple of pills.  Anything to feel numb I guess.  Looking back it's probably a wonder I survived at all.  More than that, it's a wonder that I survived as healthy as I did... NO teen pregnancy, NO HIV or STDs...  I honestly got much luckier than many others have.

I didn't survive completely unscathed though. When I was 15 I was dating a guy from school.  He apparently (according to the other guy) owed his dealer quite a bit of cash.  He decided to take me in trade.  It's not as bad as it could have been, but rape isn't exactly a day in the park either.  Of course being in that place where I truly believed that no one cared, and a complete paranoid fear of what would happen if I told anyone, I made the choice not to tell anyone.  This only threw me deeper down the pit.  I believe this was when I really started to seriously consider suicide.  I attempted a few times - I'd read every pill bottle I could get my hands on, if it said overdose held a risk of death, I took the whole bottle.  Thankfully for me I was stupid, like most teens, and didn't realize that I had a better chance of getting really really sick from taking 250 Ibuprofen than I did of dying...  I remember one really bad day when my friend and I both took an entire "Sam's Club" bottle of them.  Oh, lord I thought I was dying, but I never did.  I lost consciousness a few times, chasing too many pain pills with liquor, but I never really came close to death.  I attempted to hang myself a few times too.  The first time I tied a rope to a branch on our pine tree - the branch broke.  The second time, the rope broke... Both times hurt like hell, but beyond a big goose egg on my head where I got hit with the branch, nothing really happened.

I'm not sure when but I started cutting myself.  It must have been young because I remember being in middle school trying to hide the slices under my shirt.  I would bite myself too.  The pain was the same as cutting, sometimes worse, and it didn't leave any long term marks.  I knew if I got caught with the slices my mother would kick my ass.  Cutting, is greatly misunderstood by most people.  It's not uncommon among girls though so I'm going to briefly talk about it.

It's important to know that cutting is NOT about suicide, it's about control.  It's common in adolescent and young adult women, but can be found in older women and males as well.  Mostly it's found in those who are dealing with depression, anxiety or high ongoing levels of stress.  While it starts differently for each person it is nearly always an outlet for someone who feels they lack control in their own life.  It gives them not just something all to themselves, but something they control completely.  In addition there is an addiction factor because the pain causes the brain to release endorphins, much in the same way as it does during drug use or orgasm. In most cases it allows the individual to feel a general sense of relief and ease...  From personal experience the only way I know to describe that feeling is to say it feels like a balloon pop.  Like the moment I felt the pain, I had a release of all the anxiety, stress, anger, sadness, self loathing... All of it, all at once.  It was complete, yet momentary, relief. I felt calm, relaxed, warm... Just good. I felt good.  Which was very rare.

When friends or family of a cutter find the scars or marks they usually fear suicide was attempted.  In most cases, that wasn't the case. But those who cut are at a high risk for drug and alcohol use and could be at risk for suicide depending on why they started cutting in the first place.

So, back to me, I was a cutter... And a biter.  Few people knew, but there were a few that did too. In all honesty, it's hard to say who knew. I feel I mostly cut when I was depressed.  But looking back I think it was just another vice.  When I was depressed I cut, when I was manic it was drugs & sex. LOTS of drugs. Lots of sex...

But that wasn't all. When I was manic, I was usually in trouble.  In fact, it tended to be the only time I got caught doing anything because I got sloppy. I don't know if that was a good thing or not. Maybe it's the only thing that kept me in check enough to keep me out of bigger trouble. Who knows.

But there was the time I got caught taking Makeup from Hills (a dept. store), and the time I tried to steal $1500 from my aunts neighbor.  And then there's the time I ran away. The plan was to take some stuff to my "boyfriend's" house and leave it with him, call my other boyfriend and have him come get me. Then I was going to spend a few nights at his place and move on.  But I ended up never making the phone call for a ride. Instead I ended up screwing around with the first guy and being invited to his grandmother's for dinner... It was kinda weird. At one point my mother actually showed up looking for me and I was hiding behind the door.  In the end the "boyfriend's" mom called mine and told her where I was.  Yeah, my manic episodes were never my best decision making moments.  I'd be here forever if I were actually going to type it all out.  So lets just say I wasn't always the brightest when I was manic.

At one point I really screwed up.  A friend of mine and I thought it would be a good idea to sell nude pictures of ourselves to guys on the internet.  Now, mind you, this was 1999. And we were a couple of highschool girls with no home computers. So we were taking the photos while at school, sending the film away for development and getting the pictures on disc. Then we would use the school's computers and upload the photos and send them to guys who would wire us money.  In all honesty the reason we got caught was her fault, not mine. But the point is, we did.

Needless to say I was in some deep shit for that one.  In a vent, I wrote a note to a friend of mine where I said I was going to kill myself. She had known that I had tried in the past, in fact she was the one who had taken the Ibuprophen with me, so she went to the guidance counselor and showed them the note. They called my mother and forced her to put me in the hospital.  I was only there for a few days, they put me on new meds, I made a few "friends" and met a really great guy - who I actually stayed in contact with for quite a few years.

Anyways, as you can see, I had some really crazy times and some REALLY crazy times growing up.  My lows were SUPER LOW and my highs were FLIGHTS! There was rarely an in between time for me.

When I was 18 I left home and moved in with a boyfriend.  He was quite a few years younger than I was, but his mother was an addict, so she was okay with me living there. His father, not so much. But his father worked out of state and so long as he went to visit when his father was in town, he left me alone. While I lived there I worked for a local restaurant, I'd actually worked there since I was 16. And I became a "dancer" a few nights a week for a short time.  Over the next few years I did a little "apartment hopping" where I lived with this guy or that guy or with a friend or on my own. Sometimes I would just stay with someone for a day or two, sometimes I actually had a "home" to go to.  Sometimes I slept on a bench down by the river.

For the most part I was usually stoned. The only real constant in my life was my job.  I worked nearly every night and generally enjoyed what I did. I've never been afraid of hard work, and the busier the restaurant was the better I seemed to be able to focus and get my work done.  I fed on the stress in a way. Maybe it just kept me to busy to think about anything else.

When I wasn't working though, I was generally a mess! I kept myself pretty high because it meant I didn't have to worry about feeling to much.  Sometime when I was 19 I ended up back in the hospital. This time just over night.  A doctor looked through my file, listened to what I had to say and told me he felt I had been misdiagnosed when I would younger.  He felt that a proper diagnoses was BiPolar disorder. I had previously been diagnosed simply as "depressed."  This was why he believed the medications they put me on didn't work.  Anti-depressants only help the depression. They don't help the mania, and in fact they can cause it.  He put me on Lithium. Which I was only on very temporarily.  For that short time though, it did seem to work. Unfortunately I wasn't able to take it long term because of a laps in my health insurance.

By the time I was 21 I had mostly gotten through my "manic" episodes.  I reached a point in my life where I was finally feeling like I was "evening" out a bit. My manic episodes seemed to thin greatly and they rarely lead me to do anything too stupid.  I'd cut off all my hair or take a weekend bender...  But it became less and less likely that I would do something illegal or too dangerous.  Today my mania tends to lead to me going organization crazy or start super nesting and I find myself scrubbing walls at 2a.m. Of course if you ask my husband he'd tell you when I get manic I also tend to turn into a super controlling bitch... Thankfully we're secure enough in our marriage that he just tends to brush it off as par for the course.

My ongoing battle with depression however, is not always as easy to deal with as my mania is.  While my mania tends to crop up around once a year or so, the depression is much more common, and much longer lasting.

During and after pregnancy was the worst.  When I found out I was pregnant with my oldest I expected to be like every other mom-to-be out there. I expected that I would lay in bed and imagine what he would look like and dream about holding him.  But I really didn't. I tried. I wanted to. But I just couldn't. It never really felt real. I never felt like I was in any way bonded to him. In fact I would surf the web for hours looking at adoption agencies and thinking about how someone else could raise him.  When he was born things got worse. Many mothers deal with the "baby blues" but I had full blown Postpartum Depression. And it didn't help that my son nursed every 45 minutes and then screamed til it was time to eat again.  He was mildly colic and big - 9lbs 5oz at birth.  So he was always nursing. I had a supply issue and ended up supplementing with formula, which then made his poor little belly hurt...  He would cry and I would cry...  Sometimes I just put him in his bouncy chair and let him cry while I lay on the couch. I didn't know what else to do.  Occasionally my mother or sister would come over for a few hours and I could sleep, but most of the time I was alone with him.  My husband was always at work - or otherwise busy - so I felt trapped... And the worse I felt, the worse the PPD got.

Of course being my first child and me not knowing all that I know now, I didn't know what PPD was. When I went in for my 6-week check up the doctors asked me how I was feeling. I told them I was always depressed and often just cried.  They told me that was normal for first time mothers and I shouldn't worry.  Turns out, I should have worried.  Around month 3 I hit bottom. My PPD, I believe, became a mild case of Postpartum Psychosis.  I started to sit up at night and plan how I was going to kill my husband, my son and myself.  I started cutting again.  And I rarely ate.  It was pure misery.  It was rare that I got out of bed unless I had to.  I worked a few nights a week, but beyond that, I didn't leave the house...  I just laid in bed, did the minimum for my son and thought about killing us all.  Looking back I don't believe I really bonded with my son at all in those first months.  The time when mother and baby are meant to bond most, I lost to mental illness.

I thought it was something all new moms went through. I didn't realize how bad I got til later. I didn't realize I wasn't just dealing with Baby Blues til years down the road. One of the very few things I regret in life is not getting help back then. I know I could have hurt my son and that terrifies me. I never did, not really. I left him cry longer than I should have from time to time. I gave him formula when I should have nursed. But I never actually harmed him or abused him... I don't think I could forgive myself today if I had.

When my son was 4 months old, I got pregnant again.  In my belief, that's the only thing that saved me. I believe I was weeks, maybe days, from hitting the point of no return. The point where I would have done something there is no coming back from.  But once I got pregnant again, the Psychosis seemed to lift.  I began, again, to feel like I could function.

But in some ways it was like the cycle was just starting over. Although my second pregnancy was in some ways easier than the first - I knew what to expect and the depression wasn't as bad.  But during this pregnancy there was A LOT of upheaval in my life. My husband was having some personal issues and ended up in a hospital for 6 weeks out of state. We moved. And my oldest son began exhibiting some anxiety issues. He quit speaking, started having panic attacks and even started to pull his hair out.  So even though my pregnancy was a little easier mentally, other parts of my life were more stressful than ever. It's a wonder to me how I survived.

But as always, I thrive under pressure, and I got through it.  And even though the pregnancy was easier in some ways, in other ways it was much worse. My second son was smaller, but I carried him very differently and due to long term damage to my back and hip, the last few months were extremely painful.  When I was about 6 months along, I had to quit my job and ended up pretty much stuck on the couch or in bed most of the time.

After my second son was born I, again, had some pretty bad PPD.  I never got as bad as I did with my first.  But I don't believe I bonded properly with him either.  I often felt overwhelmed and stressed.  Which I guess is how most young moms with two babies under 18 months would feel, but with me, I felt something more than just stressed... I felt like I couldn't understand why I was even doing this... I just went through the motions.  When they cried I changed and fed them. When they slept, I slept.  I put them down for naps, I went to bed.  My husband came home, I handed him two babies and went back to bed.  I'd cook dinner and go back to bed... And that was it. Most of my day was spent in bed.  My house looked like a tornado went through it because I never cleaned. Most days I didn't even do the dishes.

I want to say this lasted 6 or 8 months.  My husband says it felt like it lasted years, but I wasn't that bad.  I didn't have the option. Someone had to take care of my children. No one else was going to do it and they were rapidly outgrowing the idea of "lay here and play while mom lays down." So I plugged through.

It eventually got better. In 2009 my husband lost his job and I went back to work.  I got a job for a local Starbucks and lasted all of 4 days. On June 25, Michael Jackson died.  I've been a fan for my whole life and often found comfort in his music on my worst days.  So when I heard he passed away it greatly affected me.  For someone who already teetered on the edge of depression most times, it was kinda hard to keep a clear head.  Maybe, if you weren't a fan, that doesn't make much sense. But I'm sort of comforted by the fact that millions of others shared my pain that day.  When I showed up for my shift that night however, I was clearly depressed.  I had been crying earlier in the day and was far from the "smiling and chipper" attitude Starbucks wanted it's employees to have.  My manager said she hired me because she thought I was a happy person - where she got that impression I'm not sure.  We decided that ultimately this job wasn't the best fit for me.

I didn't find something right away, but I started working for Macy's a few months later. Christmas rush time.  It was the best job. I seriously loved it! Of all the jobs I've had, Macy's was by far my favorite! I got pregnant again in February. This time the depression set in pretty early. I considered aborting but couldn't figure out how to afford it. The only time I got out of bed, was to go to work. But, when my boss found out I was not only pregnant but due right before Christmas, she took me off the schedule and never put me back on. They mailed me my last paycheck.  At that point, I simply quit getting out of bed. My husband was still out of work, so he took care of the boys.  There were whole days when we didn't speak to one another. I just closed the door and ignored the world quite a few days.

My husband has always been supportive. But he didn't know what to do. So he did nothing, he took the boys and left me alone. I'm in no way blaming him. He did the best he could. But that isolation only meant that I slipped further into the hole.

In August my husband took my boys for a weekend camping trip with his family. I stayed home. My mania kicked in while they were gone. Thankfully I was home alone with no money or vehicle and the only thing I could do was clean.  I cleaned our house from top to bottom and filled the entire porch with trash.  I completely purged the house of anything and everything that I didn't think we needed.  This might sound like a good thing, and in some ways it was, my house was never so clean. But in the process I threw away quite a few needful things.  Photos, paperwork, books... You name it, I tossed it.  Although I don't think we really lost anything life changing, we did lose many things that we later missed - more than a few with sentimental value.  While I was manic, nothing had value. When I came back, much of it did.

After the mania ended, I fell into an even deeper depression than before. I pretty much cut everyone out. Stopped talking to friends, stopped talking to my husband...  I went days without eating, then I would binge eat, often til I was sick.  I did my best to hide the symptoms from everyone but my husband.  But even him I wouldn't cry around if I could help it.  There were days I would be crying uncontrollably, just sobbing into my pillow... So I would put on some sad movie to hide the fact that I couldn't control myself, that I was that bad.

The last month or so of my pregnancy was the worst.  I wanted to die. I would pray that I just wouldn't wake up.  I even dreamed about dying. In truth, I'm not sure how I made it through.  I'm really not sure how my husband made it through.  Without him, I'm not sure I would have.

Through all our ups and downs I have to say my husband has been my saving grace, over and over again.  He listens to me cry, supports all my crazy manic moments, and even though he's not always happy about the choices I make he at least tries to support me in everything I do.

In the end I got some reprieve when my daughter was born.  Unlike the boys, I had nearly no PPD with her.  For the first time I felt the way I thought a new mother was supposed to feel.  I wanted to play with her, I held her for hours, and I honestly loved being a new mom.  Yes, I went through the normal exhaustion that comes with having an infant and two small children, but over all, I felt good.

My daughter is 3 1/2 now.  My boys are 7 & 8.  Most days aren't too bad. But at least a few times a year, usually during mid summer and again around mid winter I deal with some depression issues.  Pain, exhaustion, migraines, insomnia, short temper, and a complete lack of motivation.

As I've aged and worked to create a more natural lifestyle for my family and myself I've noticed some major changes in my health - mental and physical.  In addition to my BiPolar diagnosis I also carry diagnoses for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, Arthritis, Labyrnthitis, and damage to my left hip.  I have done my best to limit my exposure to any and all chemicals.  While I've not been completely successful, I am still working on it.  My home no longer has chemical cleaners, all my gardening & yard work is organic and I no longer use personal products - soaps, cosmetics, etc - which contain preservatives or chemicals.  The "cleaner" my life has gotten, the less symptoms I've had.  Less depression, less anxiety, less pain.  But I'm far from "cured." And although my symptoms are lessened now, they're not gone. I still deal with depression, at least off and on throughout the month. The better my diet, the better I feel. But when I eat crap food, I find myself feeling worse and struggle with the same old symptoms.  Weather, seasonal changes, hormones, moon cycles... All of it affects my emotional and mental states. Some days, weeks... even months... I feel okay.  I get up, clean my home, play with my kids, make good food, garden.. I do all the things that make my life and the lives of my family good.  Others I struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Struggle to do even the most basic things in life - eat, drink, sleep...

Unfortunately, depression tends to be a self sustaining beast.  In a way it's a parasite that feeds on the life force of those who have it.  Once depression takes hold, it feeds itself.  It takes a way the want and drive to eat the healthy food which will stop it's progression.  It takes the ability to think straight and leads to self loathing and anger which only encourage it's growth.  It makes you lazy, sleepless and unmotivated, knowing that exercise, a good night's sleep and the motivation to get up and get moving are some of the best things to get rid of depression quickly.

This is why depression is, perhaps, one of the most dangerous illnesses.  It sneaks in when you least expect it. It causes one to alienate and cut off friends and family who would encourage them to get help, or who would support them through their worst moments. Unlike other mental illnesses which lend themselves to outward activities or visible signs of illness, depression is silent.

Worst of all, even those who have dealt with depression first hand rarely understand what Chronic Depression is all about.  We all deal with times of darkness. "The Blues" as they're known, strike just about everyone after times of disaster or times of great stress.  Loss of a loved one, great loss of property - like a flood or fire, - natural disaster, loss of a job, end of a relationship, so on and on and on...  There are a million different reasons for depression to onset. But most of these types of depression come and go. Chronic depression, a mental illness, is a different beast.  It needs no catalyst, no introduction, no reason to strike.  The first bout of depression nearly always happens after a trauma, just like other non-illness related depression. But then it gets worse, deeper, longer... And it comes back again and again... Every time a person thinks they've got it under control, it rears it's head again.

There are as many medications and treatments out there for depression as there are causes for it.  Some have found them to be helpful, others have not. Each individual is different, and each case is different. What worked last year may not work this year. The best defense against depression, as I discussed above, is a good offense, an active healthy lifestyle with little to no chemical exposure.  Whole grains, whole foods and a low intake of processed foods.  Herbal supplements, light therapy, yoga, and meditation are all shown to help stave off depression and shorten it's hold on a person once it awakens. None of these methods, however, are fool proof. But they are all worth long term experimentation for anyone with a history of ongoing or chronic depression.

While I have not personally had a good tract record with medications and over all I believe a more natural, holistic approach is better, I do NOT encourage anyone to forgo medication if it's their best option.  The fact is, I have seen medication go bad, many times. And while I don't feel it should be the first, or last option, in sever situations it's important not to ignore the possibility that it could be of some benefit.

My goal with this post, as I said above, is hopefully to open some eyes.  I own my past and with the exception of not getting help after my oldest was born, I regret nothing.  All of what I have been through, all of what I have done, all of my past has made me who I am today.  Some of you may see some of the things I've done as mistakes. And it's possible they were. But without those experiences I would not be me today.  I do not mean for this post to come across as me whining about how hard my life is.  All of our lives are hard. We all have moments which we think we can't come back from.  I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm not really even looking for support.  Instead, I'm looking to hopefully reach out beyond this screen and help someone else out there. If you're the one facing depression, or BiPolar as I am, I hope this helps you to realize that you're not alone, there is help and there are ways to get the help you need. If you love someone who's having such problems, I hope this helps you to see what they're going through, what they're dealing with.

There is no cure out there for depression. There is no answer. And for some, like Mr. Williams, it seems the only clear way out is death.  It's is often heart breaking for those left behind. But the fact is, as I hope I've expressed, a depressed mind, a BiPolar mind, an ill mind, is not rational, it's not able to fully see the picture ahead of them.  It dwells on the negative, on that which brings us down, that which damages and stops us from seeing any good.

For those left behind it's often difficult to understand why someone would take their own life. For those living on the side lines it's difficult to understand why a sick individual doesn't just "shake it off" or "buck up."  Ultimately what needs to be understood is that those with a rational, healthy mind can not understand an irrational and ill mind. You simply can't do it.  You can never truly see things they way those dealing with mental illness do and all the rational thought in the world will never make sense to the irrational mind.

We live in a society where terms like "crazy" and "insane" are tossed around as if they are harmless. We talk about forced medication and want to institutionalize those who we term broken.  There is little that our current society does to help the mentally ill, and even less we do to work towards public understanding or support for those will mental illnesses.  In recent years there has been a growing movement to change this, but as of this moment the vast majority of people still have no clear view of mental illnesses as a whole.  From the simple to the complex mental illnesses take all forms and affect nearly every person on Earth either directly or indirectly. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all have people in our lives who are dealing with mental illness. If it's not us or our family members, it's our friends, or even our coworkers.  It's those in our neighborhood, those in our children's schools, postal workers, paper boy...  Teachers, doctors, waitresses, art gallery directors, police... You name it, mental illness affects people of all walks of life, all races, all sexuality, all religions and of course all gender types.  No one is beyond the reaches of mental illness, and no one is immune.  Some seem to handle it better than others, but all can be taken on a moment's notice.

Before I hang up for the day I want to leave you with some resources. I wouldn't be doing my deed if I didn't.

The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) website has a good deal of information on depression as well as other forms of mental illness.  The sites purpose is to help educate the public on mental illnesses and related treatments.

Below is a list of national hotlines that provide anonymous, confidential information to callers. They can answer questions and help you in times of need.

Above all please remember this... Mental illness isn't a choice, any more than cancer is.  It can not be cured, but it can be helped and those suffering need your support.  Reach out to them and stand by their side.  They may push you away, over and over. But if you love them, understand that is their illness, not them.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My mythology is better than yours... Or is it?

I was watching some program on History Channel about Norse Myth and started thinking.  I view mythology - all mythology - in the same way.  It's a great mix of history, spiritual stories (by which I mean stories that have been given to humanity from spirit beings through direct contact) and outright fiction.  ALL mythology reads this way in my opinion.  Yes, some of it is historically accurate.  Yes, some of it is divinely (or spiritually) gifted through Otherworldly communications.  And Yes, some of it is completely fictional, man made, in order to fill in the blanks, create explanations or even divide & control the people within the communities which the myths were originally meant for.  Some cultures were heavier on spirit, others on the control aspects and still others on the history...   But in the end, regardless of their exact composition, all mythology is essentially the same. And then of course we have to take in to account that not only is mythology not a pure historical account, but that what we know of any cultural myths has been tainted by time, translation and quite often, propaganda & ignorance.

But that is, of course, my view of mythology, and not one that is shared by all.  Even many within the Pagan community would argue over what mythology truly is.  Of course arguments would also be made by just about every non-Pagan out there too.  And that's fine. No one has to agree with me, no skin off my back.

But as I sit and watched this program, what occurred to me was that if you give credence to one form of mythology, logic dictates that you also give similar honor to other forms.  Now, as an Eclectic Pagan, this is a great part of my religious views.  I find truth in all paths, all myths and all faiths.  I think, for the most part, very few Pagans view ANY form of myth as a literal account and therefore see one cultures myths as different, but ultimately equal, to those of other cultures.

The same can not be said of those outside the Pagan community.  Although I have found those few who will admit that their religious myths are equal to others, it's extremely rare.  What's more common is the idea that, even if their own religious myths are meant to be literal, that myths outside of theirs are simply wrong.  It is this view which I have come across more than once through the years. Although I have found it in non-Christians as well, I've most crossed it when speaking with a Christian.

I want to note that from here on I will be speaking in the context of Christianity, merely because that is where I have encountered this type of thinking most.  I am in no way saying this is something which is limited to Christianity, nor do I mean to single out a single faith.  Instead, I am simplifying for argument sake.  Where Christianity is mentioned it would be equally possible to insert any other faith or religious who's believers (or believer as the case may be) believe their own mythology to be somehow superior to others. 

I am the type of person whom doesn't shy away from religious conversations.  I find the idea of getting to know another persons beliefs as fascinating and have no qualms of standing up for my own faith or the faith of others when the need arises. Because of this, I have often found myself in some rather in depth religious conversations - both on and off line.  I think it's the online conversations which tend to be most telling - simply because people aren't as worried about being nice or hurting someone's feelings on line as they are off.

Conversations on a great number of subjects (from welfare to breastfeeding to hair styles) have landed me in positions where I am hearing religious arguments for the position of the other person.  Personally, I do my best to support my political & lifestyle choices with practical arguments rather than religiously based ones.  Of course in most cases I do my best to support my religious beliefs with practical argument as well, so I guess that already sets me apart. But there are a great many out there who prefer to base their political or lifestyle choices or beliefs on their religious beliefs.  Which to a point is just fine, but when we start attempting to dictate the lives and choices of others based on our religious views, we step out of the realm of "freedom" which - at least on a political front - is not appropriate.

But I've gotten quite a few arguments over the years which clearly come from a religious or mythological point of view.  For example (these are just a few):  Homosexuality is unnatural because God made Adam & Eve (which is usually followed by "Not Adam & Steve.)  Women are not equal to men, God made them lesser. The body is a temple and should not be destroyed by tattoos & piercings.  Yadda Yadda Yadda... Some, as you hopefully saw in the tattoo example, are a little "extreme" in most people's views, but attitudes like that are not uncommon.  I've been given religiously backed arguments against alcohol, piercings & tattoos, makeup, jewelry, medical care, blood transfusions, birthday celebrations, holiday celebrations, horror movies, certain kinds of music, sex, masturbation, abortion, birthcontrol and at least a hundred other subjects.

For the most part, I don't answer these arguments with religiously based arguments. Mostly because I've found that the people who use them tend not to see my "religion" on equal ground with theirs. But once in a while I have done just that. I have used the fact that the Ancient Greeks and Romans often had homosexual encounters and that the Ancient Celts were rather adept at preforming herbal abortion with concoctions it's said were given to them by their Gods.

In the cases where I have provided such arguments I've been met with counters such as "But I follow the REAL God."  Or "but that's just myth."  Or "You do understand those Gods aren't real?"  Again, I could list a hundred more...

So this is what I sit here and ponder...  By it's very nature, mythology is not something which can ever be proven.  So no matter how you spin it, no one can prove that their myths are better or more "correct" than anyone elses.  Yet there is, by some, this idea that because many Pagan myths have been proven to be fake or false simply because the cultures which they tend to belong to are Ancient or now otherwise gone...  replaced by more "modern" cultures.  These same individuals have the audacity to flaunt their own mythology as a way of backing their political and social opinions.

I completely understand that when someone's belief in their mythology and believe in their religious are one and the same, seeing the myths of another religion as equal would essentially destroy any religious conviction or belief which the individual holds.  So as much as I believe that everyone should be able to see other faiths as equal to their own, I understand why most people don't.  If you have a religion which teaches they are the only right way, seeing others as equals would destroy that vision.  But is it really so much to ask that people understand that people of others faiths hold their myths as important just as "you" do.

More than that, stop using your myths to dictate how others should behave or live.  Your myths hold as little sway over their lives as theirs do yours. Myths are not a valid basis for political or social action in a country with religious freedom.  If you want to live in a theocracy, move to Iran, otherwise, give others the same respect you would want from them.

A religions mythology has a great influence on, or is the basis for, it's beliefs and practices.  So it's no wonder that so many cling to it so hard.  But that's not an excuse to put someone elses down, or to assume they are any more real or false than your own.  And since you expect respect from others toward your myths, it's about damn time you had some for others!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Plants to be Aware of...

This summer I've been focusing more and more on wildcrafting near my home.  I'm working to learn more about the plants native to my back yard and local parks.  And since August began, I have posted a few posts here about drying herbs... So I thought this would be a great time to create a list of herbs you should be aware of.  Print it out and stick it in your BOS because many of these plants are used in magickal ways but are toxic if ingested, so you certainly don't want to forget what they are.

It should be noted that SOME of these plants are and have been used for medicinal purposes, or are common plants in gardens, some (like tomato) even have eatable parts, so it's important to know what parts you're using and ensure to know the dosage for any herbal usages before experimenting!

It's also important to note that this list is in no way complete. Thousands of plants in the US alone are dangerous in one way or another.  This list simply touches on those which are generally considered to be "common" depending on where you live.

These ornamental plants grow low to the ground with many branches. The leaves and unripe fruit are poison.

The berries of these ornamental plants are poison and especially dangerous for small children. Symptoms: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea.

All parts of this common shade tree and shrub are poison and may be fatal. Symptoms: Twitching, weakness, dilated pupils, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, paralysis, and stupor. Can be fatal.

Large flower clusters grow on this deciduous shrub of vines. The leaves, branches and buds are poison. Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rapid breathing, staggering, convulsions and death.

This very popular garden or wild perennial produces leaves and rhizomes that are poison. Symptoms: Severe but not serious stomach upset. The root causes dermatitis.

All parts of these common annual weeds are poison, especially seeds and leaves. Symptoms: Abnormal thirst, dilated pupils, nausea, hallucinations, convulsions, rapid pulse, high blood pressure, coma. Leaves and flowers cause dermatitis.

The leaves of these very common evergreen trees can cause skin irritation.

Found in forests, and wooded orchards, the leaves and stems cause skin irritation.

All parts of this fruit bearing southern perennial ornamental shrub are poisonous. Symptoms: Vomiting, diarrhea, muscular weakness, rapid heartbeat, circulatory collapse, kidney damage and difficulty in breathing.

Most parts of this very fragrant blooming perennial are poison, including roots, leaves, flowers and berries. Symptoms: Large amounts can cause mental confusion, circulatory collapse, and death.

All parts of this herbaceous perennial and annuals are poisonous, especially the unripe seeds. Symptoms: Labored breathing, convulsions and coma.

The green fruit, roots and foliage of this herbaceous perennial are poisonous. Symptoms: Vomiting and diarrhea. The fruit of this plant is edible.

This erect, coarse perennial plant is found in fields and damp roadside areas. Its leaves, stems and sap are poison. Symptoms: Stomach upset. Could be dangerous to children if eaten in quantity. The immature seed pod of some species is edible if cooked.

Found in many types of trees, the berries of this woody, semi-parasitic evergreen are poisonous. Symptoms: Acute stomach and intestinal irritation, diarrhea and slow pulse. Can be fatal.

All parts of these pretty perennial wildflowers are poison, especially the root, and seeds. Symptoms: Vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, spasms, respiratory paralysis and convulsions. Can be fatal.

This colorful vine is a common ornamental plant with seeds that are poisonous. Seeds have a hallucinogenic effect. Symptoms: Digestive upset, stupor, coma and death.

All parts of these very common perennial garden flowers are poisonous, especially the bulbs. One bulb can cause death. Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. Severe cases result in stupor, convulsions and possible death.

Great care must be taken when harvesting these tall annual or perennial bristle weeds for cooking. The nettle hairs cause severe itching, burning and skin inflammation.

All parts of this woody shrub-like plant are poisonous, especially the unripe berries. Symptoms: Dilated pupils, Intense digestive upset, rapid heartbeat, depression of the central nervous system and may be fatal.

All pats of this ornamental evergreen tree or shrub are poisonous, especially the fruit. Symptoms: Dilated pupils, digestive upset, bloody diarrhea, weak pulse, dizziness, drowsiness, paralysis of the lungs, coma and death.

This very common perennial ornamental plant produces leaves and stems that are poisonous. Symptoms: Stomach upset, nervousness and depression. Can be fatal if consumed in large quantities.

All parts of this tall biennial, carrot or parsley look-alike plant are poisonous, especially the seeds and roots. Symptoms: Dilated pupils, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, trembling, slow pulse, respiratory failure, coma and death.

All parts of these are very common woody vines, shrubs or trees are poison, especially the leaves. Smoke from burning these plants can cause poisoning.
Symptoms: Itching, skin rash. Can be fatal if ingested.

The cooked young shoots of this plant are edible, but the raw leaves and berries can cause a severe reaction. Symptoms: Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hard breathing, weakness, spasms, convulsions and death.

All parts of this popular erect annual herb are poisonous. The unripe fruit causes stupor, shallow breath and coma. Other parts cause digestive upset and nervous tics.

As a common garden vegetable, the sprouts, leaves, shoots and green tubers are poisonous. Symptoms: Dilated pupils, digestive upset, numbness, paralysis, circulatory and respiratory depression. Can be fatal.

All parts of this wood evergreen and deciduous shrub are poisonous, especially the foliage. Symptoms: Increased saliva and nasal discharge, digestive upset, depression of the heart and nervous system, paralysis, and stupor. May be fatal.

Grown for its edible leave stock, the leaves and roots of this perennial garden plant are poison. Symptoms: Burning and irritation of the mouth and tongue. May be fatal if the tongue and throat swell blocking air passage. Other symptoms include nausea and vomiting.

These woody perennial vines produce colorful seeds used for making jewelry and decorations. The seeds are poisonous. Symptoms: nausea, weakness, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, cold sweats, drowsiness, circulatory and respiratory failure, coma and death. One single seed can be fatal.

The seeds of this brushy type deciduous shrub are poison and effect the central nervous system causing nervousness, excitability and stomach upset.

The milky sap of the leaves and stems of numerous varieties of this herb or shrub causing severe blistering and burning of the eyes and skin. Ingestion may result in acute irritation of the mouth, throat and stomach. Can be fatal.

The seeds of this common annual are poison. They can cause bone deformation, paralysis, shallow breathing and convulsions. Can be fatal in large amounts.

The vines and leaves of this common plant are poison. Symptoms: Stomach upset, nervous and cardiac depression and dermatitis. Fatal in large amounts.

The seed pods of this common ornamental tree or shrub are poison. Symptoms: Digestive upset. Children may be poisoned by one seed.

All parts of this popular tall, woody evergreen vine are poisonous. Symptoms: Profuse sweating, muscular weakness, shallow breathing, depression, convulsions and paralysis. Can be fatal. The leaves, flowers and roots can cause dermatitis.

Even though the berry pulp is edible, all other parts of this evergreen tree or shrub are poison, especially the seeds. Symptoms: Dilated pupils, vomiting, diarrhea, trembling, labored breathing, convulsions and coma. It can be fatal if taken in quantities.

Indian Medicine Sources:
Millspaugh, Charles F. American Medicinal Plants. NY: Dover Publications, 1974.
Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. Nashville TN: Charles and Randy Elders, Publishers, 1982.
Moore, Lee Standing Bear, Indian Remedies. Hot Springs, AR, 1990.
Weiner, Michael. Earth Medicine Earth Food. NY: Fawcett Columbine, 1980.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My 50 Favorite Stupid Statements People Make To Pagans

I originally posted this list on my One Witch's Wonderland blog, which I have since closed. But recently I was sent a YouTube video which, jokingly, went through some of the things the creator has heard said over the years to Pagans, Witches & the like. But in my opinion, she missed a few!  So here are my:

50 Favorite Stupid Statements
People Make To Pagans!

  1. You should read the Bible.
  2. So you don't believe in God?
  3. You do know you're going to Hell, right?
  4. Why would you do that to your kids?
  5. Witches aren't real!
  6. Even if you don't believe in him, Jesus believes in you!
  7. I'll pray for you!
  8. Why can't you just be normal?
  9. Have you ever met the Devil?
  10. Do you want to go to church?
  11. You're just lost, try praying!
  12. The Bible says Witch's are evil!
  13. So you're in to all that spooky stuff then, aren't you?!?
  14. Please tell me you aren't forcing your kids to do that too!
  15. But you look so normal!
  16. You're just looking for attention.
  17. You don't really believe that, you just want to be different.
  18. Someone should take your children!
  19. If you're Pagan why do you have a Christmas tree?
  20. Please turn back to God!
  21. Is that a sex thing?
  22. Oh, how sad!
  23. So why don't you just cast a spell to win the lottery?
  24. The Bible says there is only One True God!
  25. So you cast spells, right?!?
  26. Easter is about Jesus!
  27. How can you believe in Gods that aren't real?
  28. You believe in Jesus though, don't you?
  29. Where's your black cat?
  30. Are you a good witch, or a bad witch? 
  31. Do you have orgies?
  32. Paganism isn't a real religion.
  33. Will you catch fire in a church?
  34. Why don't you want to go to Heaven?
  35. What went wrong in your life?
  36. Why did you turn away from God?
  37. You don't hurt animals do you?
  38. Do you want to study the Bible with me?
  39. Does that mean you have to wear black all the time?
  40. Can you make someone fall in love with me?
  41. Can you pull a rabbit out of a hat?
  42. You do know your Gods are really just Demons!
  43. You just need more Jesus in your life!
  44. Christmas is all about Jesus, no matter where it came from!
  45. Stop trying to make Christmas Pagan!
  46. Pagans are what's wrong with this country!
  47. Are you possessed or something?
  48. Do you hate Christians?
  49. I thought that was illegal!
  50. You're Gods aren't real, only Jesus is real!
HA! And yes, I could come up with more if I thought about it! I've had so many stupid things said to me for the last 15+ years, I can't even remember them all!  From time to time, they piss me off, but for the most part, they just make me laugh, shake my head and wish people had a clue!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Drying Herbs - Part 2

Earlier in the week I talked about air drying herbs by hanging.  That post was originally posted on my One Witch's Wonderland Blog, which I have closed and combined with this one.  When I wrote that post, I only knew of one way to dry herbs, and of course that is what I had wrote about.  But since then, I have found and experimented with a few different methods like drying racks and an electric dryer.  So I wanted to "update" the original post by sharing those methods as well...

Air drying methods date back most likely into pre-history, at least as long as herbs have been used for medicine and consumption.  And they are all fairly simple to master.  If you stick with the hanging method which I discussed earlier this week, the only real "equipment" you need is some string and a dry place to hang them.  But not all herbs do well when hung, so other methods have been developed to enable simple air drying for those herbs which have a fine plant structure or high moisture content...

The first of these methods which I would like to discuss is a "rack" system.  These racks can be purchased, or they can be homemade (such as the one pictured).  I will explore how to make these racks in a future post, today however I would like to simply discuss how to use them.

There are many different types of "drying rack" out there.  Racks may be stand alone, in a "drawer" system or hanging.  All of them however, are simply layers of screen stacked or hung a few inches apart.  This allows air flow to reach herbs from all angles and helps to prevent mold by keeping the herbs separated.
To use ANY of these systems simply clean your herbs (if needed), surface dry them using a salad spinner (or by swinging them in a towel) and laying them in a single layer on the screen.  Do not allow your herbs to touch one another.  And place your rack in a warm, dry area.  Check your herbs often and remove them from the rack as soon as they are dry.  As with the hanging method, thinner herbs such as dill, will dry very quickly, while thicker, hardier herbs like sage or borage will take extra time.

Another "air dry" method which I have seen growing in popularity is solar dehydration, which uses the heat of the sun to dry the herbs.  Solar drying has some benefits, and can be as simple as simply placing your herbs outside under a layer of cheese cloth in the heat of the summer sun. The cheese cloth is needed to prevent herbs from being "burned" by the sun - bleached of color and stripped of their essential oils.  BUT if you live in a moist area or if your herbs/foods have a high moisture content, this method can just as easily lead to mold.  So this isn't generally a great idea for most things and the added work of bringing your herbs inside at night and/or moving them to follow the sun around your property doesn't make this method as simply as it may sound.  If you're one of the few who live in a desert climate and have a property where herbs/foods can be placed in the sun without needing moved, this MAY be a good method for you to try.

However, just because you aren't able to get the simplest method to work for you doesn't mean you have to give up.  Although I have not personally built one, I have come across numerous solar dehydrator plans online, some of which are extremely simple.  All of which allow the heat from the sun's light to be captured and used to accelerate the drying process while protecting herbs from moisture and direct light which may burn them.

As much as I love the idea of being eco-friendly and relying on the sun and air to do the job, I have come to the point where I am finding myself using my electric dehydrator more than anything.   I do this mostly because it's faster than air drying and it allows me to dry large amounts of plant material in a small space.  I DO still hang herbs and flowers from time to time, but whenever I have large bunches, I prefer my dehydrator.

I use the Nesco American Harvest Snackmaster Express but all dehydrators work essentially the same.  Using a fan and a heating element, they pump a continuous flow of hot air in over your herbs.  Each dehydrator is different as far as how to use it, how to set temperatures and how much they can hold.  I suggest, if you do not have a dehydrator, that you do some research before your purchase.  Mine is extremely easy to use, has multiple temperature settings, has inserts for "fine" foods and for making "fruit leather"  and each layer is independent of the rest so you can add or remove them as needed. BUT it has a large foot print and takes up a large amount of space on the counter and cupboards, which is something to consider if you already have limited space.

Using these dehydrators is extremely simple.  You can dry herbs, fruits, vegetables, meats (to make jerky) and even to dry clay.  Simply place your items on/in the internal racks, set the temperature and walk away.  Make sure to check them often and, just like solar and air drying methods, remove them once they are dry to prevent excess loss of essential oils.

The final method I have tried is oven drying.  Like the dehydrator, oven drying uses heat to dry the herbs quickly. But like the dehydrator, it uses energy (electricity or gas) to do so. Unlike the dehydrator though it will heat your home up - which in the winter can be a good thing.  To use your oven for drying you just need some wire "cooling racks" and baking sheets or shallow pans.  Clean your herbs as normal, and place herbs on cooling racks atop or in baking sheets. Ensure your herbs are not over lapping. Turn your oven on low, around 140*F but not higher than 175*F, and place baking sheets in oven until all herbs are dried. Leave the oven door slightly ajar (1-3 inches) to allow proper air flow. Most herbs will dry in 3-4 hours, but it's good to keep an eye on them as (again) thin or fragile herbs dry faster and hardy moist herbs take longer.  You do not want your herbs to remain in the heat any longer than needed as they will become over dry as their essential oils deplete.

With ALL these methods, and any others, you'll want to place dried herbs in air tight containers, with labels, as soon as possible.  If you're using a drying method which uses heat, allow them to cool first.  Then place sealed containers in a cool, dry and dark area (kitchen cupboards are usually good) until used.

All of these drying methods have their pros and cons.  So you may wish to explore more than one method depending on what you're drying, how much and how fast you need it.  I suggest that everyone get comfortable with air drying methods, as you never know if you will be in a position without electricity for a period of time.

Below are some of of what I see as pros and cons for each of the drying methods I've discussed, I hope these help to give you a better view of all your options:

Air Drying - Hanging:
Pros:  Easy to do, Requires NO investment, No Cost, No Energy Use
Cons:  Slowest of the methods (some herbs take 6-8 wks), Mold, Mildew & Insects are a Risk

Air Drying - Rack:
Pros:  Easy to do, Small Investment, No Energy Use
Cons: Slow (some herbs take weeks), Mold, Mildew & Insects are a Risk, Racks Require Space for Use & Storage

Solar Drying:
Pros:  Relatively Quick (drying can take as little as a day), No Energy Use
Cons:  Requires Investment & Assembly, Requires Space for Use & Storage, Insects & Mold may be an issue.

Pros:  Easy to use, Easy to clean, Quick (drying can take hours or days)
Cons:  Requires electricity, Investment, Requires Space for Use & Storage, May cause over drying

Pros:  Fastest of the Methods, Little investment (none if you already have baking sheets & wire racks)
Cons:  Heats Home, Requires Energy (electricity or gas), Requires monitoring, Can easily over dry or burn herbs

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How to Dry Herbs

The first harvest celebration of the year was last week (Aug. 1) but harvesting of herbs and other early plants will continue from now until the first frost.  If you are growing indoor herbs, "harvest season" never really ends.  So it's a good idea to know how to "process" those herbs which you wish to keep for use over the winter or until your next bunch comes in.

Most herb gardens produce much more than you can use right away without your family getting tired of the same flavor. And for those of us who want to have herbs around all year for dinner or medicinal uses drying is definitely the best way to do this.

Air drying is the easiest and cheapest way to dry fresh herbs. However, this method is best for herbs that don't have a high moisture content such as Bay, Dill, Oregano, Rosemary and Thyme. Herbs with high moisture contents will not become completely dry this way and can mold.

How to Harvest

  • You want to harvest prior to flowering. Once they start to flower their quality will start to decline slightly.  
  • Harvest in the mid-morning. After the morning dew drys and before the afternoon sun.
  • If you MUST harvest during another time, aim for morning and simply lay them between paper towels or towels to dry up the last of the dew.

How To Dry (without an electric dryer)

  1. Snip mature and healthy branches of herbs from your plants.
  2. Remove any dry or diseased leaves.
  3. Shake gently to remove any insects.
  4. You may wash or rinse herbs if you used a fertilizer or bug sprays (which I hope you didn't). However wet herbs will mold, so use a towel to fully dry the leaves and branches prior to continuing. 
  5. Remove the lower leaves along the bottom inch or so of the branch.
  6. Bundle 4 - 6 branches together and tie as a bunch. String is best, but rubber bands or even twist ties work as well. However, rubber bands and twist ties will loosen as the herbs dry and shrink. So make sure to check that through drying.
    *The higher the moisture content, the smaller your bundle should be.
  7. Punch or cut several holes in a paper bag. Label the bag with the name of the herb you are drying.
    **You do not HAVE to use the bag method, you can simply hang them. HOWEVER, the bag helps to wick moisture away faster, allows for a better label system AND stops falling leaves or pollen (depending on the plant) from making a mess on your floor or shelf.
  8. Place the herb bundle upside down into the bag.
  9. Gather the ends of the bag around the bundle and tie closed. Make sure the herbs are not crowded inside the bag.
  10. Hang the bag in a warm, airy room, by the bundle stem.
  11. Check in about two weeks to see how things are progressing. Keep checking weekly until your herbs are dry and ready to store.

How to Store

  1. I find canning or mason jars to be the best way to store herbs. But any "Zip Bag" or tightly sealing food container will work
  2. Make sure to both label and date your jars.
  3. Crushing your herbs will deplete the remaining essential oils and weaken flavor. So it's best to store the whole leaves and crush when it's time to use them.
  4. Store in cool dry place and out of sunlight. 
  5. If you see signs of mold, pitch them! Usually this means they were either not dried all the way, there is moisture in the container or place of storage.
  6. Dried herbs are best used within a year. 
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