Thursday, December 6, 2012

St. Nick's Dilemma

 One fine December 6, Saint Nicholas went on his annual trek, providing tidbits of good cheer to the down-trodden.  Whistling merrily as he worked, he thought to himself, “Everyone loves my ministry.  Surprises and sweets and all good things I bring!”

He whistled his way around the world, filling shoes set carefully by the door of each home with gold-foiled chocolate coins.  Just to be fair, his bag of treats included dairy-free, gluten-free, peanut-free, and sugar-free sweets.  Good old St. Nick, he kept his eye on modern nutritional issues:  He had covered it all.

Or so he thought, ‘til he reached the home of a teenage girl whose shoes remained firmly on her feet, even as she slept.

She awoke, howling in anger, as he untied her shoes.  “I want to fill them with candy,” he explained.  Her stubborn stare nearly deterred his benevolence.  “I have truly heavenly candy,” he extolled.  “I’ll give you the ones with peanut butter inside,” he enticed.  “What do you care about shoes!  You can’t walk anyway!” he exploded in exasperation.

The girl’s unwavering gaze sliced right through St. Nick’s merry grin.  “I like my shoes.  When I have my shoes on, I might get to go somewhere, to meet someone, to do something,” she told him.  “Even if I can’t walk there,” she added.

Then, as St. Nick’s face registered only confusion, she continued gently, “You never know when a miracle is going to happen.  You have to be watching and ready.”

“So,” St. Nick appraised, “You’d forego the certainty of shoes filled with treats to be ready for the uncertain adventures of life?”

“It’s a brief journey,” she explained, her bright blue eyes never leaving the gray, time-worn eyes of the Saint.  “I’m not about to miss a minute of it.”

The old Saint looked at his bag full of glittering foil-covered chocolate and simulated-chocolate-like-substitutes, and knew she was right.  “Peace be with you,” he said as he carefully re-tied her shoes, in double-knots.

Be watching. Be ready.  Be there.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

What Are You Waiting For?

Yesterday was my Kyra’s birthday.  Today is the 1st day of the Advent season.  I love that Kyra’s birthday coincides with the advent of Advent, the season of anticipation and hope.  God’s eloquence in action.

Today, Kyra and I placed the first ornament on our Advent calendar: a cloud slicing the moon in two.  What better way to start out the season of hope? Without a dark cloud looming, threatening our only light, what do you need hope for?

Our family fervently hopes that our dark cloud will dissipate with the miraculous healing of Kyra’s disabilities, and life will become as we expected it to be when Kyra was born, at 12:32pm, November 30, 1995.

But a small part of me wonders, do we really want that life?

Daily, I pray for, beg for, and anxiously await a quick and miraculous healing of Kyra’s disabilities.  Yet, while I anticipate that healing, I’m dubious of its value.  Just as she is, Kyra is a powerful force, welcoming everyone with a love and acceptance I am ashamed to admit that I do not exhibit myself.

Yesterday, I witnessed Kyra’s power in action as people honored her 17th birthday with gifts, phone calls, text messages, cross-country flower deliveries, and donations to Special Olympics Iowa.  At her bowling party at Perfect Games in Ames, Iowa, families, single mothers, empty-nesters, college students, disabled teens, middle-school students, and senior citizens cheered each other on, offered condolences for gutter balls, and generally celebrated life.  Together.

I know that Christmas shopping for someone with severe disabilities is difficult, so I'm offering few humble suggestions.  If in doubt, please ask parents/guardians for direction.
  • Nuts about Nuts: My Kyra LOVES peanuts, walnuts, almonds, any kind of nut (yes, I know peanuts are legumes… but humor me here…).  If your disabled loved one loves nuts, wrap up a jar of peanut butter (or almond butter… walnut butter… etc.), along with a note that you have sent a  donation to Project Peanut Butter, an organization working toward ending starvation and nutritional disease in mothers and children in Africa.
  • Sports Nuts: Does your family thrive on friendly competition? Special Olympics is a great social and competitive outlet.  My Kyra participates in a fall Bowling league, and spring Track & Field events.  Consider giving your disabled loved one tickets to a local sporting event (along with a ticket for a parent or caregiver), with a donation to the Special Olympics organization of your state.  (Kyra's "pennies for pins" birthday bowling bash raised over $140 for Special Olympics Iowa!)
  • More nutty ideas:  Special-needs equipment is obscenely expensive, and funding for essential items is often not covered by medical insurance, and out of reach for most families.  Find out what the family needs, and get creative with the delivery!  A few dollars toward a surveillance device for families dealing with severe autism, or an iPad for a non-verbal family member, or accessible home renovations for families with mobility issues, is greatly appreciated, but not much fun to give or receive.  So, get creative!   If the family needs a new bathroom, write a check to the parents, and wrap it up in some pretty holiday towels.  If a surveillance system is necessary, slip a check to the parents in the pages of a photo book you’ve created with  Is an iPad the ticket?  Give iTunes gift card along with a cheesy musical ornament.

    Whatever you choose, be aware of where your dollars go:   Write checks to parents, guardians, or a special needs trust, if there is one, to avoid jeopardizing government eligibility of financial and medical aid.  If in doubt, ask!

Do not fear; though light may grow dim through anxious, sleep-deprived eyes, it can never be extinguished.
Peace be with you.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Soul Color

This week, we celebrated All Souls Day and All Saints Day.  I hope that wherever you are, the changing seasons encouraged the trees around you to expose their own soul color.  For most of the year, a tree’s true leaf color is hidden behind hard-working chlorophyll as the tree diligently converts carbon dioxide and sunshine into the life-sustaining oxygen we tend to take for granted.

Then, for a few short weeks, or days, or even hours, the tree stops working long enough to show its true color.  If you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss it.

I believe the beauty of autumn is made even more exquisite by the urgency that accompanies it.  As your childish senses are thrilled by the crisp, crackly, flame-colored leaves, your grown-up wisdom reminds you that frosty wind and shortened daylight hours will soon turn the crispy flames to a dull, limp brown.

We recently experienced the height of Iowa in autumn during a 2-hour train ride through my favorite scenic landscape, the 30-mile round-trip between Boone and Fraser, Iowa.  The muted autumn colors and “cha-chink, cha-chink” of the rail car provided eye-and-ear soothing escape. The unplugged venue provided opportunity for conversation and reminiscing. Yet, it wasn’t the trees or the leaves or the decaying vintage cars or the flock of wild turkeys or the dried-up Des Moines River bed that stirred us.  It was the soul color.

When we arrived at the depot, we discovered that the only wheelchair-accessible train car was in the shop for repairs. But that could not stop our adventure! Someone found a 12-foot long, 150-pound, 100-year-old ramp that could get Kyra’s wheelchair up to the level of the train car entrance. Others helped us lift her wheelchair off the platform and across a set of tracks.  Then, the conductor, tour guide, and engineer fussed over us during the journey, making sure we had plenty of room, plenty of assistance, plenty of anything we could have wanted.

All of these beautiful, colorful souls were volunteers.  All were at least 60 years old.  As we enjoyed their fussing and pampering, I wondered if their younger selves had ever slowed down enough to show off their vibrant soul color, or if they had been a passing blur on the landscape.

This fall, warm the souls in your family from the inside out with one of our favorite recipes.  It's a lot of fun to make together on a crisp Sunday afternoon, using any color of apple you choose.

Baked Apple Sunday
  •  5 apples, washed, quartered and cored (no need to peel)
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup Shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 325 degrees (f) Spray 8x8 inch baking dish with cooking spray.  Mix together sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Dip apple quarters in butter, then roll in sugar mixture. Place in baking dish. Top with walnuts. Bake about 20 min, until apples are soft.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with cheese while still warm.

To turn this recipe into a yummy g-tube friendly baked apple smoothie, blend about 1 cup Bake Apple Sunday with about 1/4 cup apple or orange juice.  Be sure to strain before g-tube feeding.

For more information about our scenic excursion, visit Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Speak Now

A year or so ago, a friend told us a story about how he was enjoying an evening in his orchard with his 4-year-old grandson.  As night began to fall, he invited the young boy to wish upon the first star he saw.  So, that 4-year-old, offering his first star-guided wish, said, "I wish I knew what Kyra was saying."

The fact that the boy spent his wish on someone else is exceptional.  The fact that he knew, at 4 years of age, that Kyra's inability to speak does not mean she has nothing to say is extraordinary.  The fact that he understood that Kyra is indeed communicating, but we "normal" folks aren't smart enough to understand it, is prophetic.

With the help of an iPad and a communication app, my daughter Kyra is beginning to "speak" in a manner that more people are able to understand.  As more and more people learn about her success, more and more parents and caregivers ask me how she does it.  "What app does she use?"  "Why did you choose that one?"  "How do you set it up?"  "How do you transition from a dedicated communication device to an iPad app?" "Where do I start"?

It seems that among all the medical, behavioral, social, and emotional difficulties families with disabilities face, the ability to communicate strikes closest to our human hearts. Maybe prophets still speak truth.

Click here for my list of must-have iPad communication app features.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Chicken Salad

We love chicken salad! In fact, Kyra and I make fresh, yummy chicken salad nearly every day… but ours is a little different than the recipe in your favorite cookbook. In fact, we should probably call our concoction “Salade Pour Des Poulets” instead, since it’s not about us eating chickens, but rather about our chickens eating salad.

For years, we have taken in hens that a neighboring egg farmer has classified as “past their prime” (i.e. headed for slaughter).  While these feisty hens don’t lay as regularly or vigorously as their youthful counterparts, it is enough to supply us, our neighbors, our friends, and our extended family with plenty of bright, fresh, free-range eggs.

And, Kyra and I have found that supplementing our hens’ diet with our special Chicken Salad improves the health of the chicken as well as the taste of the egg.  So, what is this Chicken Salad recipe?  In a word (or rather two) “veggie scraps".

We prepare lots and lots of fresh veggies for our family meals every day.  This means that we have lots and lots of ends, peels, and not-so-fresh vegetable pieces to dispose of every day, particularly at the end of the gardening season in Iowa.  Since I abhor wasting nutrient-rich foods, what could we do with those scraps?  Feed our chickens!

The first time Kyra and I tossed veggie-scrap “Chicken Salad” toward our flock, we were met with suspicion and fear.  The chickens dispersed quickly, afraid of Kyra’s wheelchair and my checkerboard garden boots.  But Kyra and I persisted, collecting our veggie scraps and tossing them to our hens, day after day after day.

Slowly, our hens began to accept us as allies in the pursuit of good nutrition.  They began to take notice, cluck happily, and scurry toward us when the wheelchair and checkerboard boots came strolling their way.

Today, we have 30-something “post-prime” hens that follow us around the yard, waiting expectantly for their daily ration of Chicken Salad, helping us harvest over-due veggies,  scritching and scratching to prepare our garden for next spring, and generally being under-foot and amusing.

Caring for my chickens reminds me of bringing up small children.  I wouldn’t trade either experience for the world.

If you don’t have chickens available to eat your own veggie-scrap Chicken Salad, I recommend you thoroughly wash all vegetables before preparing them.  Then freeze the ends, peels, pieces, and scraps in zippered baggies or air-tight containers.  When the freezer container is full, empty it into a simmering kettle of water, along with a bit of basil, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper (or your favorite herb combo).  An hour or two later, strain the mixture into jars or other containers, and refrigerate or freeze to use in broth or vegetable stock recipes.

  • Feeding somebody with a g-tube? Check out our G-Tube Minute Meals for a quick & healthy recipe that uses whatever you have in your 'fridge.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Run Your Own Race

This week, Kyra and I attended our first cross-country meet to watch my 7th grade niece, Mali, run (and run, and run, and run).  We had a bit of a cross-country workout ourselves getting to the course, pushing Kyra’s wheelchair down the soggy ISU dairy barn driveway (Yes! We finally had enough rain to make mud!), dodging traffic to cross Mortensen Drive, popping wheelies over street curbs, and jarring our way across the course and up a hill to the finish line.

About 20 minutes later, we clapped and cheered for nearly 250 young ladies running, jogging, walking, and stumbling over that finish line. Then we made the return trip, trudging across the wheelchair-jarring course, over the street curbs, through the mud, and finally, slogging our way down the gravel driveway to our van.

As I consider the challenges we all face every day, I realize it’s not the difficulty of the course that’s important: It’s being there for the whole race.

Because Kyra and I made the effort to be there, I saw the joy on my niece’s face when she saw us at the course before her race began. Because I was there, I could hug her sweaty body and tell her how proud I was after her run. Because she was there, Kyra could offer a high-five to her cousin, and meet some of her friends.

Because we’ve been there, supporting and loving her, Mali chose to expend some of her valuable energy during the race to encourage another runner from an opposing team as they struggled up a difficult hill.

Because she’s still learning to run the course of life, we still need to be there. We’re all still learning. So please, wherever your course may take you, run with patience the race. It will be worth it.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


How was your August?  August didn’t go, or for that matter, grow, so well for us.  This summer’s heat and drought seemed to dry up my energy as well as my garden.  The leaves on crops and trees alike are either brown and crispy, or dull and drooping with dust.  And my Kyra quit smiling.

When someone is non-verbal and cannot write or sign or point or use other conventional communication methods, body language and facial expressions become your only true glimpse into their thoughts, hopes, fears, hurts, and joys.

So, when my Kyra doesn't smile, it's a big deal around here.

Come to find out, her lack of expression and frequent coughing episodes, which I attributed to exposure to new allergens during a several-state road trip, were caused instead by pneumonia.  And when we returned from our adventure, we discovered that our dog Anya was not lethargic due to the record-breaking heat, but Lyme disease.

With her antibiotic treatments completed, and Anya's antibiotic treatments underway, Kyra and I ventured back outside this week to care for our sadly neglected gardens.  As I listlessly swung the garden hose to and fro across a parched and cracked flower bed, a bit of white caught my eye.  One of our shallow-rooted strawberry plants had survived, and was blooming.  Now, if this plant had done the smart thing, it would have hunkered down and conserved its energy for next spring.  Instead, it had chosen to expend its meager August energy to bloom for us.  While that single bloom will never produce a luscious red strawberry, it did produce a smile on my face, giving us an unexpected bit of hope amid the heat.

Today, Kyra is smiling ear to ear, happy to be back at school.  Anya has started to play with her toys and chase the cats again, and I found a 3-foot long zucchini and a 20-pound pumpkin happily defying the drought.  Life is good again.  For now.

Undoubtedly, life will bring hot, dry, and listless days that zap your energy and cloud your purpose.  May I suggest that when those days occur, instead of hunkering down, you think of that strawberry plant and bloom wherever you are, in any way you can.

p.s. “Bloomability”, a young-adult novel by Sharon Creech, tells the story of growing and blooming wherever you’re planted.  It is highly recommended by all of my daughters and me.  Check it out at your local library, or check out for more information.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Scorching Summer Salad

This summer’s record-breaking heat and drought have taken a toll on our chickens, our pond, and our garden. I have given up watering my hanging flower baskets, reserving water instead for the herbs, the tomatoes and our outdoor animals.  Several times a day, our dog, Anya, appears at the door a scummy mess after taking a disappointing “swim” in our evaporating pond. Our heat-stressed chickens have nearly stopped laying eggs.

When it’s this hot outside, I can’t bring myself to heat up the inside of the house with my crock pot or oven. So how can I prepare a balanced meal for my family? How about a favorite summer-time staple: bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches! Add some fresh blueberries topped with plain yogurt, honey, and cinnamon for dessert, and you have a cool, refreshing, and satisfying meal for a scorching summer day. Better yet, the BLT Salad recipe below blends well for feeding through a g-tube so your entire family can enjoy this summery meal together.

BLT Salad

Makes one salad or g-tube serving; about 226 calories, 14.1 g fat, 16.8 g carbohydrates, 21.9 g protein (, and loads of vitamins and micro-nutrients.
  • A few handfuls of spinach, torn in small pieces.
  • Several fresh basil leaves, chopped.
  • ½ cup chopped tomato.
  • ¼ cup firm tofu, broken into pieces.
  • 2 slices crisp bacon, crumbled.
  • ½ cup plain yogurt.
Toss the spinach and basil in a bowl. Add tomato, bacon and tofu. Top with plain yogurt. For your g-tube tummy, blend all ingredients and strain through a fine-mesh strainer.  Enjoy your cool, summery meal!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summer Squash Surplus

My garden has entered into its annual summer squash surplus.  While my spinach and lettuce have bolted and my cucumbers have wilted in the heat and drought, my garden is overrun with sunny yellow summer squash.

Last April, those tiny squash plants didn’t look like much.  They certainly didn’t look capable of producing a continuous supply of full-sized fruits nearly overnight! Now, at the height of the season, I find us eating a rather one-dimensional diet: Squash.  We eat squash in salads, squash in stews, and squash in smoothies.  I fry, bake, and saute squash.  I substitute squash for pasta, and hide squash in muffins and cookies.  I try to pass squash off to unsuspecting neighbors and acquaintances, and offer squash as a treat to our chickens. By the middle of July, I’m about squashed out. 

Thinking about the summer squash surplus got me to thinking about how many American diets, and especially g-tube diets, are frequently one-dimensional.  A commercially-processed g-tube formula is definitely one-dimensional.  In addition, if you honestly evaluate your family’s meals, you may find yourself using the same recipes and the same ingredients over and over, creating one-dimensional food that lacks the variety needed for a balanced, healthy diet.

So how do you turn one-dimensional food into a fabulous 3D diet? Feed what’s missing!  Start by adding colors and flavors that aren’t normally found on your table and in your g-tube meals.  Try different proteins (eggs, meats, nuts, beans, tofu), colorful vegetables (bell peppers, sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, squash), handfuls of leafy greens (spinach, Swiss chard, kale), healthy fats (olive oil, smashed avocado, coconut milk), and tasty liquids (tomato juice, broth, soy milk, plain yogurt). 

If you have a g-tube user that also eats by mouth, select foods for your g-tube recipes that are often lacking in other meals.  My daughter, Kyra, likes to eat peanut butter and bananas, so I don’t include these ingredients in her g-tube recipes.  However, she has a hard time eating meats, so I blend a lot of meat for her g-tube.  In general, you can blend 1- ½  cups of chopped proteins and vegetables with about ½ cup liquid and 1 Tablespoon of oil to prepare a g-tube meal that contains about 250-350 calories.  (Remember to strain g-tube food before feeding.)

Experiment with what’s missing, and serve your entire family a more satisfying 3D diet!

Summer Squash Pizza

I’d like to share this Summer Squash Pizza recipe with you.  In addition to helping out the summer squash surplus, this pizza crust is easier to eat than regular crust, and blends well for g-tube meals.
  • 3.5 cups grated summer squash / zucchini.
  • 1/3 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded.
  • 1/3 cup flour.
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese.
  • 3 eggs.
  • 1 Tablespoon basil.
  • Salt & Pepper.
  • 1/4 cup pizza or spaghetti sauce.
  • Your favorite pizza toppings.
 Mix crust ingredients together (everything except the sauce and toppings), and spread onto a greased pizza pan or cookie sheet.  Bake the crust at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until slightly brown on top.  Cool 5 minutes.  Spread the crust with about ¼ cup pizza or spaghetti sauce, and add your favorite  toppings.  Bake about 10 minutes more.  Cool pizza 5 minutes before cutting.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Dog Talk

Our yellow Laborador Retriever, Anastasia Ophelia Maxine (Anya), is 5 years old today.  An Almost-Independence-Day dog, she wears pride and honor quite well.  However, her high-bred self-importance dissolves around children, especially children in distress.

Among all of her disabilities, my daughter Kyra’s inability to speak is often the most distressing.  For the past 16 years, we have tried countless communication methods and devices.  Because of Kyra’s lack of fine motor skills, she cannot use sign language.  Her inability to grasp small objects prevents her from using a picture-exchange system, or turning the pages of a communication book. Her inaccurate arm and finger movements make typing and pointing ineffective.  Her head and neck instability make eye gaze difficult to interpret.  Her impatience and poor motor planning make switch-scanning a frustrating chore.

But none of that matters to Anya.  She understands Kyra’s body language perfectly.   Anya’s favorite place to be is wherever Kyra happens to be.  She doesn’t flinch when uncontrolled arm movements result in a smack to the head, and patiently endures Kyra’s stiff fist grasping an ear a bit tightly.  Anya sits and waits politely for Kyra to swipe a doggy treat off her lap, even when that treat is inches from her nose.

More importantly, Anya topples social walls built by wheelchairs and disabilities by riding to school with Kyra almost every day.  Each morning, her ears perk up when we put our shoes on, and she dances in front of the wheelchair when it’s “time to go!”  In the school parking lot, Anya wiggles her rear end in joy, trying desperately (but rarely succeeding) to obey my “sit” command as I transfer Kyra from our van to her wheelchair.  So many kids to greet!  So many doggy hugs to relish!  So many pats on the head to enjoy!
With Anya’s help, Kyra is not someone to ignore or pity, but someone to envy and engage in conversation.

Recently, Kyra started using an iPad with the GoTalkNow communication app.  The slim, lightweight iPad slips into her backpack easily, and slips out just as easily whenever she’s ready to use it.  After researching over one hundred communication apps, I chose GoTalkNow, by Attainment CompanyAttainment Company has been providing communication devices and other products for special needs populations for many years.  Their GoTalkNow app has the blend of features I was looking for: It has both recorded and text-to-speech voice options; grid or scene page setup; integrated graphics, personal photos, and Internet graphics search support; an optional sentence bar; gesture control options; switch-scanning capabilities; media/video playback; unlimited number of users/books/pages; local or iCloud backup; PDF output options, and book/page sharing among other GoTalkNow users.

While Kyra is extremely motivated to use her iPad, we have not yet found the perfect gesture controls and positioning, so her efforts are often met with fatigue and frustration.  At those times I wonder if all that work to learn to speak will be worth it. After all, if the relationship between Kyra and Anya is any indication, communication is essential to any relationship.  But words? Maybe not so much.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Feeding Honey

Honey is a cat, one of our (currently 11) barn cats. Life on our acreage has taught us a lot about cats. Cats are fiercely loyal to feline family members. Cats develop complex social networks, and genuinely feel superior to dogs. Cats can be born with disabilities, just like children.

Over the past 16 years, we have had a deaf cat, a mute cat,and a male calico cat.  We had a cat with seasonal allergies so severe that she would shed ALL of her fur each spring.  And we have Honey.

Honey was born last summer with severe neurological deficits. Her third eyelids cannot retract, so she is functionally blind. Her claws also cannot retract, so she cannot climb. Her jaw is underdeveloped, so she has difficulty eating. At 10 months old,she weighs less than three pounds, and her collar wraps around her tiny neck twice. Her vestibular issues prevent her from cuddling.  I have never heard her meow.

But you should see her in person. Like many people with severe disabilities, Honey sounds like a hopeless case on paper. Her medical history and black-and-white fact sheet make her life appear to be dreadful. Yet, she is a bright, happy, fully-accepted member of our society of cats. She has even been “adopted” (and thus guided and protected) by a pair of brothers from another mother. Honey, who shouldn't have survived her first few weeks, is just one of the miracles we’ve witnessed on our acreage. And I believe she owes my daughter, Kyra, her miraculous life.

You see, I hate to waste food. Whenever I prepare a meal for Kyra, there is always a bit of food that does not pass through the strainer, and cannot be fed through the g-tube. Dumping this nutrient-rich mash into the garbage felt like washing gold dust down the drain. So, I started feeding the mash to Honey. And Honey survived, and thrived, and purrs at the sound of the blender.

We recently returned home from a visit to the Cerebral Palsy Center at Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. Dr. Brunstrom-Hernandez, the director of the center, believes in real food. She supports feeding real food through Kyra’s g-tube, and encouraged us to develop a process that makes real food accessible to any family with a g-tube.

While I love my 14-speed all-metal drive Osterizer blender for big jobs, the Cuisinart Compact Portable SmartPower Blender with single-serving travel cups that Dr. Brunstrom recommended is even better at preparing a g-tube meal in one minute or less. The two drawbacks I have found to the Cuisinart are the placement of the gasket, which is more difficult to remove and clean than my Osterizer, and the Cuisinart’s too-thorough blending: There is not enough left in the strainer to satisfy Honey’s appetite.

I guess I’ll just have to start making another blended meal especially for Honey. After all, it only takes a minute to feed a miracle.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Snip of Taste

When you take the time to cook for your family, you want your efforts to be rewarded with a fresh, tasty, and healthy meal.  An easy way to brighten up any dish is to snip an herb or two into the skillet.

Herbs added to your meal add up to more than a great-smelling kitchen and great-tasting food:  Great nutrition also bursts from every leaf.  Common herbs such as basil, oregano, and thyme contain a bunch of vitamins (such as A, C, E, K, and B-Complex), minerals (such as potassium, manganese, and iron), antioxidants, essential oils, and fiber.  And they add practically no calories.

We grow basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, mint, and lemon balm in big pots on our back deck. Besides providing a cool, aromatic playground for our cats, they are just an arm’s reach from our kitchen door.  Snip! Snip! Toss a few basil and oregano leaves into the salad.  Snip!  Snip!  Rub rosemary and thyme onto a roast.  Snip! Snip!  Brew refreshing mint into iced tea.  Snip! Snip! Steam leaves of lemon balm with your cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts & kale).  And, a home-cooked stew containing herbs blends easily for feeding through a g-tube, and is much tastier than a can of formula.

“So what?” you scoff, “you can’t taste anything when you have a g-tube.”  Oh, really?  After feeding Kyra with a g-tube for twelve years, I am convinced that she indeed tastes her meals.  I renewed this belief recently when another daughter, who went to the emergency room for an extremely painful medical event, told me that she could “taste” the saline and pain medicine dripping through the IV and into her arm.  (Yuck!) If you can taste fluids being pumped into you as you struggle to hang onto consciousness, I’m betting that you can taste lovingly prepared g-tube meals, too.  So tell me, what do you want your family, including that precious g-tube tummy, to taste?

Here’s a “2-speed” recipe that calls for my favorite herbs.  (“2-speed” recipes can be tossed into your slow cooker in the morning so everyone’s taste buds water when they walk in your door for dinner, or stir-fried in a hurry for a hungry crowd.)
2-Speed Herbed Chicken
Chop all ingredients into bite-sized pieces. Then toss into your slow-cooker or skillet, whichever speed works for you today! Don’t worry if you don’t have all the veggies listed below: Use whatever you have in your garden or your fridge. (You DO have fresh veggies in your home, right?) 
·         About 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts and/or thighs.
·         4 tomatoes (or a can of diced tomatoes).
·         1 zucchini or summer squash (if it’s small enough, don’t bother to peel it.  The skin will cook up tender enough to eat & to blend).
·         1 onion.
·         1 avocado (an avocado should be slightly soft when you buy it).
·         1 bell pepper (red, orange, or yellow if at all possible).
·         1/2 package mushrooms (about 1 cup or so).
·         1 - 2 Tablespoons basil.
·         1 - 2 teaspoons oregano.
·         ½ - 1 teaspoon thyme.
·         Salt & pepper to taste.
·         Chicken broth to “soup” it up, if you like.
Serve topped with mozzarella or parmesan cheese, or a dollop of plain yogurt or humus, with raw broccoli and cauliflower florets on the side (steam them a bit before blending for a g-tube meal).  Yummy for everybody’s tummy!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tube-Fed Tummy Buddies

Each spring, a hummingbird trio returns to our yard.  At the first sighting of these tube-fed buddies, Kyra and I are quick to clean up our feeder and whip up a batch of hummingbird food.  Then we sit on the deck.  And wait.

If we’re still enough, and patient enough, the hummingbirds will greet us with a quick fly-by.  First we hear a warm buzzing.  Then, if we’re lucky, we catch sight of a shimmer as the tiny birds dart around us and toward the feeder.

As I watch a hummingbird’s tube-like beak slurping nectar, it occurs to me that the general attitude toward feeding hummingbirds is remarkably similar to the general attitude toward feeding through a g-tube.  During the spring and summer, grocery and garden stores stock special “Hummingbird Nectar” in ready-to-feed bottles or instant-mix packets.  Seriously?  Do they really expect me to purchase a tiny packet of sugar for twice the price of an entire bag of sugar?  We know from experience that hummingbirds fill their tummies quite happily with our less expensive homemade mixture.  Similarly, medical supply stores sell sugar-laden, artificially-flavored, preservative-packed g-tube formula in powdered and canned forms for prices that far exceed the cost of fresh meats, veggies, nuts, and fruits.  Which, do you believe, is a better buy?  What do you choose to feed your tube-fed tummy?

If you’re interested in attracting hummingbirds to your yard, try this recipe:
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
Heat the water and sugar in a saucepan until it begins to boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar.  Allow the mixture to cool, then fill your hummingbird feeder. You can use a purchased feeder, or make your own out of soda or water bottles.  One of my favorite youtube videos shows you how:

To increase your chances of hummingbird visits, add a bit of red near the site.  Tie a red ribbon nearby, or plant a few red flowers near your feeder.  Nothing special.  Nothing fancy.  Nothing artificial.

Finally, sit quietly near your feeder in the early morning and late afternoon, and wait patiently.  If the hummingbirds choose not to visit you, perhaps peace will.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Berried" Treasure

 Searching for strawberries in the spring is a garden adventure I love to share with my daughter Kyra.  From her wheelchair seat high above the ground, she examines the berry patch, kicking her feet at every bright spot she sees.  Sometimes it’s a ripe strawberry.  Sometimes a bug.  Sometimes a dead leaf.  It’s a new adventure every day.  Kyra’s job during berry-hunting is holding the produce bowl while I pick.  Now, this is no small feat, with her arms in constant motion, her fingers reaching for the warm, bright berries I toss into the bowl, and a cat constantly repositioning himself on her lap.

It’s great fun to hunt for these tasty treasures.  But, after discovering the nutritional benefits of the strawberry, you might enjoy your hunt even more.  According to, strawberries are “… among the top 20 fruits in antioxidant capacity and are a good source of manganese and potassium. Just one serving -- about eight strawberries -- provides more vitamin C than an orange.”

That tiny berry packs a punch!  You might find that strawberries grown at home, or those you find at your local farmers’ market, aren’t as large and perfectly-formed as those you find in a Styrofoam box covered in cellophane in your grocer’s produce aisle.  Even though the home-grown variety may be paltry in size, the taste makes up for it.  And, unlike the raspberry, whose seeds cause tube trouble, strawberries adapt easily to g-tube feedings.

We have successfully grown a mix of June-bearing and ever-bearing strawberries along the southern side of our house, under shrubs facing the east, in hanging pots, in raised beds, and in Kyra’s window-box garden (so you know they withstand a fair amount of “yanking”).  Strawberry plants, once fruiting is complete, make an attractive ground cover that fills a space quickly, chokes out weeds and withstands frigid Iowa winters.  

For best production, the strawberry bed should be allowed to “rest” the first year of planting, and ploughed under and replanted after the fourth year. (However, procrastinators should not be discouraged.  We maintained a highly productive strawberry bed for 7 years before beginning our rotation process.)

Finally, since the strawberry is a member of the rose family, Shakespeare might well have said, “A strawberry by any other name would taste as sweet.”

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sow With Abandon

Sprouted radishes! Yum! About 2 weeks ago, my daughter Kyra and I planted the “greens space” in our garden.  We used baling twine and bamboo kabob skewers to mark off the space in our garden.  I then stretched Kyra’s stiff wrist and fingers open, filled her palm with seeds, and she sowed with abandon.  She giggled wildly as the seeds blew through the air, stuck in the cervices of her wheelchair, made her cat sneeze, and fell to the ground. Some even fell into our marked-off garden space. 

About a week later, we could see a bit of green poking through the ground in great bunches. Radishes! Spinach! Swiss chard! Beets!

After another week, we started to thin the bunched radish seedlings so that some of them could grow and swell and become, well, radishes.

Just a little tug plucks a baby radish from its crowded location in the garden. A tiny tap knocks away chunks of soil from the slim root. A quick swish of water, if you think it’s necessary, finishes the prep work. Then pop the seedling into your mouth, your salad, and definitely your g-tube meals, for a bite of fresh, spicy spring.
Radishes, and especially radish greens, are chock-full of vitamin C and calcium. As one of the cruciferous veggies (that’s veggies with lots of sulphur-based chemicals, like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and brussel sprouts), they contain properties that help fight off cancer, maintain liver function, and aid digestion (

Radishes grow nearly anywhere, and their quick germination and growth provide the closest thing to immediate gratification as a gardener can get.  You can grow radishes outside your back door, or indoors in a flower pot, an old sauce pan, or an empty cottage cheese container placed in a sunny window or near your desk lamp.  Even if ready-to-feed, nutritionally-complete, g-tube formulas happen to include all the micro-nutrients of a radish, it certainly does not include the joy that comes from sowing seeds with abandon, and harvesting the results.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Have you seen my roof?

We got a phone call this morning from our neighbor who lives about half a mile to the west of us. She asked if we had seen the roof of her barn in our timber, among the trees that had twisted and splintered and crashed to the ground during this week's storm.

No one was hurt in the storm, and none of the trees (or sections of barn roof) brought down a power line. Still, I was comforted by the knowledge that I had enough bottled water, seizure medicine, and g-tube meals to last us several days. Preparation = peace.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Getting Started

Welcome to Free Wheeling' Farm, all about life on an acreage with horses, cats, dogs, chickens, and a teenager with a wheelchair.

The beautiful young ladies in the photo are sisters, my 3 daughters, 23, 21 and 16 years old. Their patience and passion for each other defies natural sibling rivalry.

The youngest (the one in the middle) was born with profound cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder.  But in our family,she is not special because of her disabilities: She is special in spite of them.