Thursday, October 10, 2013

Behind Closed Doors

We’re growing something under indoor plant lights behind the closed door of an unused bedroom in our house. It’s green and leafy, can be used in a variety of ways, and drives the kittens wild (thus the closed door). It’s also completely legal in all 50 states… as far as I know.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pureed vs. Strained

Dad and Kyra enjoy the hospital's rooftop garden.
About a week after Kyra’s spinal fusion surgery at Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, she was given the o.k. to start a diet of clear liquids, then build up to her regular diet.   At that point, I gathered my courage and reminded her medical team that her regular diet was blended foods, and she should not have any canned g-tube formula.

“Of course,” they responded, “When she’s off clear liquids, we’ll order her a pureed diet.”

I then let out my breath, assured and somewhat amazed that Kyra’s unconventional g-tube meals would be honored by the hospital without us putting up a fight.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Friendly Strawberry Surprise

This morning, Anya (the dog) and I were the first ones up.  With a cup of coffee in my hand and Kyra's video monitor clipped to my waistband, we headed out to survey the myriad of weeds growing in my gardens.  We've had a record number of soggy days, and we've  been a bit preoccupied with getting ready for Kyra's spinal surgery, so the gardens haven't been cared for very well this spring. As we set off, I was prepared to embrace the philosophy that all plants are created equal, and a weed is only a plant with non-conformist tendencies.

As I rounded the corner of the garage, with the mantra, "Pigweed is my friend.  Pigweed is my friend" ringing through my head,  I saw the bright red of ripe strawberries dotting my front garden.  Elated, I rushed back into the house as quietly as I could to get a bowl. Then, with Anya and the four cats that survived the winter and the coyotes and the mink and the owls, we gathered my breakfast.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Joyful in Hope

Christa, Kyra, Dad
We're not surprised.  We're very grateful, but not surprised that the fundraising benefit hosted by Gilbert Lutheran Church, in Kyra's honor, was so uplifting.

Kyra, grinning and giggling, loved being the center of attention.  Oblivious to the fact that the people surrounding her didn't know each other, she greeted everyone with joyful abandon.
The Wire Frames
People from Gilbert Lutheran Church came to the event in great numbers, as did people from Gilbert Community Schools.
Silent Auction / Bake Sale
People that Kyra knows through social service agencies, horseback riding lessons, Special Olympics, and mom and dad's work came.
Pony rides

People from other churches, no church at all, her sisters' friends, their families, our rural neighborhood, and relatives she hasn't seen for many, many years came, too.
Pulled pork, lemonade, homemade ice cream
The people that came didn't know they were connected in one great circle.  Now they do.  Because that's what Kyra does.

Bouncy house

If you'd like to follow Kyra's journey through her upcoming spinal surgery, go to

Musical Misfits
(Photos by Deb Gray.)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

True Fast Food

As a kid growing up on the edge of a tiny town in rural Iowa (population 423, if everyone was home), fast food had a much different connotation than it does for most people. The essence of fast food, grabbing something while you’re on the go, isn’t a bad idea. In fact, from the time school let out for the summer until it started up again in the fall, we kids lived on fast food. It just happened to be true food as well.

We snapped off earthy asparagus spears growing in roadside ditches as we sped down the highway on bicycles. We chewed sour rhubarb stems and fanned ourselves with the thick, broad leaves. And for dessert, we sucked the sweetness out of wild honeysuckle. Fast food, indeed. True food, too.

Even if you no longer spend your summer on bicycle adventures as magical as your imagination, you can still enjoy true fast food. Most vegetables and fruits don’t need any preparation beyond washing, and possibly peeling, before they’re eaten. How much faster can you get? Instead of filling your cupboards with bags of chips and cans of soda, fill your fridge (and that pretty bowl on your kitchen table) with carrots, broccoli, apples, pears, cherries, seedless grapes, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and whatever else you find in your neighborhood farmers’ market.

In the Midwest, asparagus is at its prime in May and June. If you’re not ready to just snap off spears of ditch asparagus and eat them raw, you have several quick, easy ways to prepare this vegetable, which is said to be abundant in phytonutrients and prebiotics that are particularly helpful in decreasing inflammation and aiding the digestive tract.

  • Flash boil – Bring a saucepan of cold water to a rolling boil; add asparagus; cook uncovered for 3 minutes; remove asparagus with a slotted spoon. (Freeze the cooking water for a future vegetable broth base.)
  • Steam – Place asparagus in a steamer basket that you’ve put into a saucepan, or place in a microwave safe bowl; add about ¼ cup water; cover and bring to boil; remove from heat; let sit, covered, for 3 minutes or so. (Again, freeze the cooking liquid for a future vegetable broth.)
  • Roast/Grill – Set oven to 350 degrees, or start your grill; Drizzle about 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large bowl; Toss asparagus in oil until evenly coated; Place asparagus on cookie sheet or grill basket; Roast or grill for about 10 minutes, turning every 3 minutes or so.
  • Top – If plain veggies are a little too plain for you, grace your asparagus with one more of these tasty toppings: herb salt; lemon pepper, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, crushed lemon balm leaves, or 1 Tablespoon plain yogurt mixed with 1 Tablespoon mayonnaise and 1 teaspoon grated horseradish. Yum!
G-Tube Tip – You may find it easier to blend asparagus into your g-tube meals if the vegetable is boiled or steamed just a bit longer. For a quick g-tube meal (about 250 calories), blend about ½ cup cooked asparagus, ½ cup almond milk (more or less as needed to blend), ½ cup chopped cooked chicken or a scrambled egg, 4 medium button mushrooms, chopped, and 2 Tablespoons ripe avocado. Strain, and enjoy!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

It's Wick!

Nearly 60 degrees!  Finally!  For the first time in a long time, we could enjoy being outside, sloshing through mud, reacquainting ourselves with gardens and groves, and beginning one of my favorite springtime chores: Clearing the deadwood to encourage new life.

Kyra squeals, Anya sprints for the pond, and I plunge into the center of a clump of shrubs, reappearing with an armful of broken, dead, and disconnected limbs and twigs.  My pile of deadwood grows.

It’s hard work, separating the dead from the living.   It’s heavy work, leaving splinters in your fingers and soreness in muscles long unused.

It’s heavy work, leaving splinters in your dreams, and soreness in your heart.

But with deadwood gone, new light shines, new life appears.

Clear out the dead belief that eating must be done with a fork and spoon! Clear out the dead belief that communication comes only from vocal cords! Clear out the deadwood, invite new life!

Before we return to the house for more (and more and more) therapy, I gently bend a thin, gray branch near the outer circle of the old mock orange, scratching the surface with my grimy thumbnail, looking for the pale yellow-green of life.  It’s wick!  Alive!  This willowy shrub, five feet around and twice as tall, started out as a single slip, dug from the base of the mock orange that lives in the backyard where I grew up.  That single slip has long since been removed.


Yet, like many things, it’s the dying that brings about new life.   It’s wick!  Alleluia!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Breakfast, Unplugged

At the time we were considering g-tube surgery for Kyra, I read an article by a mom whose young daughter used a g-tube.  The mom’s favorite reason for having the g-tube was that in the morning, she could “plug her daughter in for breakfast” while she and her other children were  getting ready for work and school.  In my mind, saw a busy, bustling mom rushing around with her healthy, energetic children, while a little girl sat strapped in her wheelchair in a corner of the kitchen, a can of g-tube formula being mechanically pumped into her stomach.  I empathize with that mom’s attempt at morning multi-tasking, but I don’t agree with her methods.

Preparing Kyra’s g-tube meals from scratch, and feeding her by hand rather than an electric pump help keep her healthy, and keep us connected.  It also takes time.  It takes more time to shop for, prepare, blend, strain, and clean up home-cooked g-tube meals than it takes to pop open a can of formula, pour it in a bag, and toss the can in the garbage.  It takes a more time and attention to feed Kyra by hand than it does to plug a pump into a wall and flip a switch.  But what would I be doing with all that extra time anyway?  Scrolling through my Facebook news feed?  Finishing up last night's dishes?  Staring at my knee? (Well, maybe that  one’s worth some of my time.)

While I understand that we are all pressed for time, especially in the morning, I can’t think of a better way to spend my time than caring for my precious daughter and family.  To help make mornings (and especially unplugged g-tube mornings) easier, set up your breakfast before you go to bed.  Set up the coffee maker.  Set out your bowl, spoon, and packet of oatmeal.  Put the loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter on the counter.  Measure your smoothie ingredients into your blender jar and put it in the 'fridge.  Whatever you’re having for breakfast, get it ready before bed.

If you have a family member with a g-tube, always keep a blended and strained meal in the refrigerator or freezer, ready to go. (Who says breakfast has to be oatmeal or eggs?  I blend and strain enough for two meals at supper time, saving one portion for breakfast the next morning.)  Set a g-tube extension tube, syringe, and spoon on a dinner plate, cover it with a clean dish towel, and leave it on your kitchen counter overnight.  

With a little forethought, everyone can have a healthy breakfast ready in a cinch.  Maybe you’ll even have a minute or two left over for knee-staring or other equally important activities.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Brushing Away Winter

One by one, the herbs that Kyra and I were trying to over-winter in the house grew spindly, then started to dry up, no matter how diligently we cared for them. 

At first, I was sad that we had failed.  Then I saw the opportunities that failing opened up to us.

Before returning the dormant (I hope) herbs to the back deck, I snipped off stems, 5 – 7 inches long, and tossed them onto a cookie sheet.  Kyra and I bundled the stems into groups of 4 or 5, and tied the bundles with thread.  Depending upon which stems Kyra grabbed from the cookie sheet, a bundle may have only one kind of herb, or it may have any combination of oregano, thyme, rosemary, and mint.  Finally, I tied a loop in the end of the threads, and hung the bundles upside down to dry.

We hadn’t failed after all!  A week or so later, we had several varieties of “herb brooms” that were ready to give as gifts, decorate our kitchen, and use in winter stews.  It wasn’t what we’d expected, but our winter herb adventure was a success after all.

If the dreariness of winter is starting to get you down, try some of these out-of-season sensory activities to put the spring back in your step.

  • Buy a tiny potted herb or two from your local grocery store or nursery.  Slip the pot into an oversized coffee mug, and keep it on your kitchen window or countertop.  At least once daily, gently brush your hand over the leaves, and breathe deeply.  (Our local Dahl’s food store keeps a variety of potted herbs available year-round for about $3 each.)
  • Instead of using the dried, pulverized herbs that come in those tiny plastic cylinders, choose a few fresh-cut herbs from the organic produce section of your grocery store, and arrange them in a small flower vase.  (The handmade vases I bought at Alewine Pottery in Gatlinburg, Tennessee are perfect for this.) Add a flower or two, if you like, and place it on your kitchen table for a beautiful and fragrant centerpiece.  While dining with your family, snip bits of herb into your soup or stew, or sprinkle on chicken, fish, meat, and veggies.   If you change the water in the vase daily, the herbs should last at least a week (unless you eat them all first!) Then, simply purchase a few new packages of herbs, and add a brand-new taste, and maybe some brand-new conversation, to your family meals.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Popping Up a New Year

Kyra and I love to garden so much that even the cold, snowy, sun-deprived Iowa winter doesn’t stop us.  We enjoy making our daily rounds to care for our pampered houseplants, as well as the geraniums, Gerbera daisies, and herbs that we’re trying to baby through the winter so they can be re-planted outside next spring.  We also enjoy the results of last year’s garden, brewing our dried herbs for tea, crushing our dried hot peppers into soup, and popping corn in the microwave.

Last summer, Kyra and I grew a 4-foot by 8-foot plot of popcorn.  We loved watching the corn grow taller and taller and taller, waving above our heads, and providing a forested hide-away for the cats.  Unfortunately, the plants struggled through the summer drought and beetle infestation, producing skimpy tassels, few ears, and tiny kernels.  We thought our entire crop was lost when a violent wind storm blew through, flattening the entire plot.  Yet later that fall, we were able to glean a few miniature ears of corn from the stalks.

Popcorn is a great crop for someone with disabilities to grow.  The large seed kernels are easy to see and handle.  The plants are sturdy and grow quickly, with ears sprouting from the stalks just at wheelchair height.  The wind blowing through mature corn leaves makes a pleasant shuffling sound.  Harvesting popcorn is easy, too.  You have a large window of time to pick  the dried ears, and they cannot be crushed by clutching fingers, or damaged by being dropped on the ground.  Husking and shelling harvested popcorn are activities that can be shared among people with a wide range of manual dexterity.  Finally, un-popped kernels provide enjoyable visual, auditory, and tactile sensations, and the popped corn smells and tastes great!  Best of all, when it seems winter will never end, you can pop a few of your home-grown ears in the microwave… and dream of next year’s crop.

Kyra’s Microwave Popcorn Recipe

Print the pictures and instructions below, and glue them to index cards to create a picture cookbook or a fun sequencing game.  Be sure to have a bowl of popcorn ready to share as you cook and play together!

1. Put the ear of popcorn in a bowl.

2. Cover the bowl with a microwave lid.

3. Pop for 70 seconds.

4. WAIT until the popcorn cools... the corn cob is HOT!

5. Twist the cob in your palms to shell the popped corn.

Enjoy your popcorn, and your dreams of Spring!