Saved By The Bell

Written by Lydia Benedict.

With school back in session, mothers let out a sigh of relief. For a home school mother like me, however, it's time to take a deep breath and plunge into another school year. It's a massive responsibility, but I'm happy to be in control of my kids' education.

Work: A Family Affair

Written by Lydia Benedict.

These days it's a challenge to teach kids to work. With after school sports, rehearsals, fundraisers, and homework, there's little time left for kids to help cook family meals, clean the house, bring in the firewood, care for the family pets, or other household chores.

Almost four years ago, my family and I moved from a beach community in southeastern Connecticut to the Shenandoah Valley. We now live on 20 acres with five cats and a dog, two horses, 30 chickens, and 36 guinea fowl, not to mention a handful of chicks and keets (baby guinea hens). Additionally, there are vegetable and flower gardens, berries patches, and fruit trees.

A Week Alone

Written by Lydia Benedict.

                                                                  
Dusk is falling as I jump on my bicycle and head for our mailbox.  It is a half-mile ride from our front door.  I pedal casually at first, looking at our horses grazing in the pasture alongside our driveway.  As I ride between the rows of pine trees, a warm breeze stirs their branches.  All I hear are birds twittering in the trees and the crunch of the gravel beneath my bicycle tires.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

The Whole Cow—Part 2

Written by Lydia Benedict.

The first thing to understand about a cow is that her stomach—called a rumen—is not meant to be acidic. Unlike the human stomach that uses acid to digest food, a cow relies on rumen bacteria. (By the way, a cow has four stomachs, but the rumen is her main stomach). When a cow is fed large amounts of rapidly digestible carbohydrates—such as corn or other grains—the rumen pH changes from alkaline to acidic. These changes to the rumen flora allow acid-producing and acid-loving bacteria to take over. E.coli 0157:H7 is one such bacterium. And distiller grains, an ethanol by-product, have been shown to further increase the presence of E.coli in the cow's hindgut even more than regular corn.

The Whole Cow—Part 1

Written by Lydia Benedict.

Chances are you're going to barbeque this weekend. Before you do, read this.

With thousands sickened by an E.coli outbreak in Germany, food poisoning is on our minds. And it should be. Certain strains of E.coli can kill. This latest European outbreak has taken 48 lives and hundreds of others have suffered complications that can lead to kidney failure. I recently had the opportunity to meet Stephanie Smith , a young dancer who had everything to look forward to. That is –until one day when she ate an E.coli contaminated hamburger. That was nearly four years ago. Now she is 24 and confined to a wheelchair. She also sustained a brain injury and her speech is compromised. To go from walking, talking and dancing to wheelchair confinement and an inability to carry on a normal conversation as a result of something she ate is unfathomable. Yet it happens.

Prints of Dad

Written by Lydia Benedict.

Still Strong

Two and a half years ago, my dad suffered a major stroke. One day he was working in the garden, and the next day he couldn’t walk or talk. Having retired two months earlier, he and my mother (who was to retire in just two more months), had plans for the quality time together that they struggled to find while raising nine children. After more than forty years of marriage, they were finally empty-nesters and looking forward to the little things: a walk together, uninterrupted conversation, or a peaceful, quiet meal together. All that has changed now.

For this blog, I’m posting something I wrote for my dad while I was still in high school. (I’ve wanted to write ever since I could form words and this piece was among my earliest attempts). I like to remember my dad the way I described him in this tribute—strong. Disabled today, my dad may not appear strong anymore, but when he smiles at me and squeezes my hand—with his only working hand—I can still feel his strength.

So Dad…this one’s for you. Happy Father’s Day.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lydia Benedict.

I grew up in a big family of nine children. We religiously planted a large garden every summer to supplement our food. The ritual began with my dad making the necessary repairs to the old rototiller. Then he walked slowly from one side of the garden to the other, gripping the handles of the machine like the reins of spirited horse kicking up dirt in its wake. The musty smell of freshly tilled soil called to me and like a new military recruit, I stepped in line behind my dad, marching to the rhythm of the earth.

Today, with my own children, I mark the beginning of summer with strawberry season. Since my strawberry patch is not large enough to supply my family needs, we gather our buckets and head to a nearby farm to pick. Upon reaching the strawberry field, I study the patch momentarily. Bright, red berries peek out from under their umbrella of green foliage. Runners creep out from their mother plants, obscuring what were once neat rows.

I grab a bucket, bend over, and begin working from one side of the patch, my son Tennyson working from the opposite side. I step gingerly, searching for a foothold free of berries. The musical sound of the berries being pulled from the stem is like a single harp string plucked... and then another and another. I pick a perfect berry and—removing its hull—pop it in my mouth. I have missed its light, sweetness for a year and it nearly seduces me to sit down in the middle of the strawberry patch and make a meal solely of strawberries.

Sadly, in the conventional food industry, strawberries top the list of pesticide-sprayed produce. And while we may condemn the overuse of pesticides, how often do we as consumers expect our strawberries (and other produce) to have a blemish-free appearance? We need to understand that perfect produce comes with a price tag. Though the jury is still out regarding the effect of pesticides on our food, increasingly the research points to a link between pesticides and cancer. With the stakes so high, I don't wait for the jury deliberation to end. I pick my own strawberries where I know they haven't been sprayed, even if that means harvesting berries that appear less perfect than their conventional counterparts.

Hours later, Tennyson and I arrive home with boxes heaped with strawberries, hands stained red, and faces satisfied that we had found gold. But gold or not, these berries would begin to mold and rot in a matter of hours. In order to preserve our treasure, we make our berries into jam.

And so our assembly line begins: wash each berry, remove the hull and drop the berry into a big pot. Hours later, the boxes are empty...but the pot is full. Examining the beauty of the berry-filled pot, I hesitate a moment before mashing the fruit. Taking caution not to burn it, Tennyson and then take turns stirring the pot of strawberry puree until it reaches a boil. We watch as the sugar and pectin disappear into the pot with each stir of the wooden spoon. Finally we are ready for the jars. Carefully removing a hot jar from the oven, my son spoons in the strawberry mixture. I wipe down the rim, fish a canning lid from a boiling pan of water, and place it on the rim of the jar, snugly screwing down a canning ring. Once seven jars are filled, they are lowered into the water boiler for the final step.

At the end of the day, row after row of jam-filled jars cool on the countertop. The ping of the sealing lids is music to my ears—like a xylophone lightly tapped at the end of a Concerto—its tone lingering in my mind long after the note has ended. It has been a magnificent production: strawberry fields forever...or at least until next year.

A Book Worth Reading

Written by Lydia Benedict.

Over two years ago I started down a path to clean up my diet and my family’s.  I had thought that mine was a healthy one: full of fresh fruits and vegetables, a little lean meat, and plenty of grains.  But that was before I had an appreciation for how our national food system showers our food with pesticides, bathes it in chlorine, or injects it with antibiotics and growth hormones.  And what is fresh anyway?  Fresh off the boat from Costa Rica or fresh off the truck from California is not my idea of fresh.

Is There a Doctor in the House?

Written by Lydia Benedict.

Is There a Doctor in the House?

hscomplex

I recently had an appointment for a routine eye exam. I arrived at a sprawling medical complex and weaved through a maze of Jersey barriers that took me through a construction zone. When I finally reached a multi-level parking garage, I spent another 15 minutes finding a parking space on the top level. Upon reaching the ground level again, I stopped to ask directions to the clinic. I was informed that there was a shuttle bus, but that it didn't come for another 20 minutes. Instead, I started walking.

You Get What You Pay For

Written by Lydia Benedict.

You Get What You Pay For   A couple weeks ago, I spoke to a class of college students about the benefits of organic food.  They all seemed to get it.  Still, they insisted that organic food is too expensive.  It’s the same thing I hear from family and friends: the price of eating healthier is too high.

Indeed organic food costs more—at least in the short run.  But cheap food is expensive in the long run.   I’ll explain.

Fresh Start

Written by Lydia Benedict.

Three years ago, my family and I left the hustle and bustle of the Northeast for the slower-paced south. We traded in our half-acre lot a half mile from Long Island Sound for 20 acres amongst the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Since then, I have hired a builder and helped design a school house. I teach my four children full-time and have hired tutors to assist. I have created my own school curriculum and schedule for each child. I am the teacher, the principal, and the curriculum coordinator all in one.