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I.

Mom,” she said with the embarrassment of a pre-teen, “you shouldn’t say the s-word.”

I was muttering, placing one sneaker slowly before the next, inching into the lady’s locker room. Hattie flitted like a hummingbird, away and then back to check on me. I was barely aware of her, focused on a freckled tile, then the next one.

“Sorry, Honey,” I said. I paused while a spandexed woman sped past us.

Hattie took my hand and mocked physical therapist. “One step at a time, Mom.” She exaggerated her patient steps, her head barely clearing my elbow. “Tell me what happened.”

Photo by Liz Whiteacre“I had an accident on the treadmill.” It was all I could spit out between steps, my lips pressed tight. I know better. Seriously, Back? Now? Now’s when you go out? Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. I’d wiped the sweat from my forehead. The ear bud popped out, swung toward the machine, I grabbed across my body—I know better than this—the twist popped my spine. Such a simple gesture, and it stopped me in my tracks. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I remembered the pain as I inched towards the mat area, hoping to lay myself down until Kevin was done with his workout and could collect me.

“What happened?”

I opened my eyes, and he stood above me, hands on hips. Was it that obvious? Fortunately, we both know the drill by now. I cursed winter coats and purses—all the important stuff that had me inching into the locker room, my six-year-old therapist busy as a bee, hoisting my purse to her shoulder, her voice grave, “Mom, let me carry this.”

 

 

To be continued…

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Smug. That’s what I felt when I climbed the stairs, listening to a woman catalog all the foods she couldn’t eat. Her trainer nodded sympathetically as I made my way to workout. See, I used to be like her.

I’ve shared I’m not a health expert: I’ve just been desperate enough to try desperate things on my quest to shuck pain. I don’t recommend pregnancy to cure your hiatal hernia, and a gallbladder cleanse might not cure your lactose intolerance, as it did mine. But bro-knowledge, especially at the gym, has taught me that talking to other people about the “crazy things” they’ve done to solve health issues can be enlightening. This post is about how raising back-yard chickens presented a cure for my digestive system, allowing me to eat greens after over a decade of my body rejecting them. At nineteen, doctors couldn’t figure out why I would suddenly get really sick whenever I ate greens. It was a mystery treated with medications and eliminating a lot of usually-healthy things from my diet.

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For years, Kevin and I talked about getting hens. Once we moved to a property just less than a ½ acre, we started researching how we could make that happen in an urban landscape. We eventually found the right coop, the right set-up, the right chickens and got started. The hens settled into the backyard, and we continued to read and talk to people about care. As we figured out their winter diet, Kevin reread Patricia Foreman’s City Chicks. She talks about probiotics and the importance of including them in hens’ diets—it was then, Kevin made the leap. A Whiteacre hen.Maybe some of my digestive problems were at the bacterial level? Perhaps the hens and I weren’t so different?

This was a little before the big probiotic campaign in the food industry. Now, you can find lots of foods that advertise probiotics and their health benefits—just glance at the dairy section of your local market. When Kevin started to change our diets to include more probiotcs (he’s the chef in the family), we began with Kefir (a yogurt drink that retains many strains of bacteria in its processing). This helped immediately, and I found within 6 months of daily use, I was able to go off stomach medications that I’d been prescribed for years.

picklesWhat made the biggest difference (and has us out in the garden cutting spinach for smoothies every morning) was when I received the Perfect Pickler as a gift and we started pickling our own foods. We made homemade kimchi, salsa, pickles (you name it, we’ve probably pickled it—we went a little pickle-crazy), and as we integrated those fermented foods into our diet, we also started to add greens—both raw and cooked.

It’s been about three years, and I don’t have a list of can’t eats anymore. I stick to my probiotic regimen, and I’ve stayed off stomach medications too. Our family’s diet has evolved to include many more vegetables and whole grains, which helps improve everyone’s health.

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Probiotic. Beneficial to life. It’s incredible such a small helper can make such a big difference in my life. Maybe your’s too. It’s my hope we keep talking, blogging, researching our body’s health quirks. Conversation connects us, gives us hope, offers, sometimes, unusual solutions.

The hens help by foraging in the garden for an afternoon.

The hens help by foraging in the garden one afternoon.

Yesterday in Introduction to Creative Nonfiction, we took time to celebrate the National Day on Writing (coming this Sunday, 10/20, which is Ball State University’s fall break, so we’re celebrating early). We took forty minutes to freewrite after coming up with writing prompts for each other. I leaped from the question, why are writing classes important?

I thought I’d share my freewrite here, and I hope that you’ll take some time to write and share this week. Check out the National Council of Teachers of English’s web site for more information about how people are celebrating the National Day on Writing.

http://www.ncte.org/DAYONWRITING

Screen Shot of NCTE's Day on Writing

 On Sunday, you can also follow writers on Twitter (#write2connect, #dayonwriting, #bsuwrites).

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What’s Age Got to Do with It?

by Liz Whiteacre

Sometimes, I forget I’m aging. I’ve spent the last nineteen years on college campuses, surrounded by perpetual youth. That’s what’s done it: a hundred young faces every term, then a new batch, then another. Each class is distinct. I get to know these people very well through their writing for a few months, but then they move on, grow, age (parts I don’t get to witness), and they eventually send me their siblings, then their children. The campus’ kinetic energy of discovery buoys me. I learn something new from composition and creative writing pieces every day. There’s nothing stagnant, nothing too repetitive. Though some days my mind feels dull, I can usually write that off to a cold, lack of sleep, worry about fitting all my tasks into a day.

When I wash my face and look hard in the mirror, I can see new lines, scars, freckles, maybe a white eyebrow hair (I’m blonde, so I can choose ignore it…sun bleached it is, if I’m in the mood). My hands look like my mother’s did when I was a child. I respect the ache in my lower back when I squat by a desk to offer guidance to a writer. But my mind, it’s easily distracted, so I might not pay attention to how old I am until I get an invitation to a reunion or notice my daughter’s cheek now touches my belly when she hugs me. I stopped paying attention at thirty, I think, when my daughter was born. Distracted by both the learning of parenthood and professorship, it’s easy to ignore the aging bit. My collective years’ experience isn’t tracked by birthdays anymore like it was when I was a kid; instead landmarks or events mark it. Oh, that was before or after the accident, or about the time when my daughter lost her first tooth, or the time the ball bearing went in the car’s back wheel, or that trip to Belize. It’s never, oh, when I was thirty-three such and such happened. The calendar’s good for keeping me early to appointments, not for marking things significant to me.

I celebrate my birthday now, I think, because my daughter so loves balloons and icing (the pageantry of it) and my husband loves that I’m (still) here. I’ve begun to wonder when “you’re as old as you feel” was first said and why, as folks barrel towards ninety, it echoes—a mantra to keep us focused on what’s in front of us, not how close we’ve crept towards death? And, when we get to mid-life, does it really matter what our number of years is? Does age determine our ability to spot significant things to write about? I’ve read lots of amazingly wise stories written by young people. I’m stumped. So, I stop paying attention. I’ve got things to do.

I treasure my profession. I get to work with writers on and off campus of all ages who are trying to figure out the best way to communicate something significant in life they’ve witnessed and understood. Sure, minutes tick and our time on task is limited to our work periods, but during these deliberate, focused moments where we talk about craft and product and dissemination, time seems to be shaped less linearly. It’s a precious thing to point to something that’s happened in our lives and say, I think that’s significant, and I think this is why. It’s even more precious to be able to take that moment and shape it and share it with others in such a way that they understand the significance too. I have no doubt I’ll soon be curious about recording the stories of that old lady in the mirror, but I’m pretty sure, my mind will still be oblivious to how old that face appears when it walks away from the mirror. It will be focused on the next story, the right here and now, ignoring the clock, trying to capture something important to share with you.

Greetings! I invite you to listen to my interview with Alec Cicak, fiction writer and host of KMSU’s Weekly Reader program. We talk about writing poems (about accident and healing), my chapbook Hit the Ground, and more. Listen at:

http://english.mnsu.edu/weeklyreader/author_pages/whiteacreliz.html

IMG_20130524_174401_177 Hattie and I have been making secret plans to celebrate her dad tomorrow. I’ve got fathers on the brain and recognize I am fortunate to have grandfathers, a father, and a husband whom I admire for infinite reasons. Over the years, I’ve witnessed these men recover from health crises like heart surgery, knee surgery, or back injury, sweat through therapy session after therapy session, change how they live because they didn’t want to settle, and teach me much about the powers to heal and forgive. They inspire me to be the best person I can be—the healthiest person I can be.

I’d like to thank these and all the other dads who are healthy role models (especially those who’ve just joined the ranks this spring!). I hope you get to spend father’s day with the people who adore you and appreciate every hard decision you make. Thank you for teaching us ways to conquer challenges that at times seem insurmountable. Thank you for giving us so many good reasons to keep going.

“Why are you doing that?” Hattie asks.

I’m sewing a button onto her dad’s shorts. “Because it’s Daddy’s favorite pair.”

“Oh.” Hattie leaves and comes back dragging a big, very old green blanket. “Can you fix this? It’s my favorite.”

All of us love this blanket.

All of us love this blanket.

This blanket, it has history. It used to comfort me when I was Hattie’s age and visiting my grandmother’s farmhouse. When I was in college, I would travel north to visit Grandma after she’d been placed in hospice at a local nursing home. I’d stay at her house by myself, and after a day visiting with her, I’d wrap up in the blanket. On one of my last visits, she told me to take it home—out of the blue—“I’d like to know it’s getting good use” is what she said. What I heard was, I’d like to know you have something of mine for comfort. I took it, and it’s covered my bed all these years until I got married and leveled up to king-size. Hattie has it on her bed now, and she shows me how the satin is tearing away at the seams.

I go to the closet and rummage until I find my sewing machine. “You know how to sew this?” Hattie says. It feels good to surprise her. She thinks she knows me so well. “Will you teach me?”

“Yes.” I promise. As I pin, then run the soft material through the machine, I can’t help but think about the power to repair. Three generations now and this blanket still sheppards sweet dreams. As I explain my steps, I’m teaching Hattie how to care for it when I can’t (providing the synthetic fabric doesn’t finally give out). It makes me appreciate taking care of our bodies too, taking time to repair the scraped knee, the strained back, the stomach’s acid, the head’s ache…even though it takes time. Time I’d rather be doing something else. (Seriously. Therapy can get booooring.) But we’re fragile, like this fuzzy, green blanket, and without attention, knowing when and where we’re fraying, and patience, taking time to figure out what needs to be done to repair it, things can get out of hand. Things can deteriorate so much they become beyond repair. My motto? Always darn it. Let’s keep things in good working order for as long as we can.


Let’s face it. Sometimes when you’re injured and laid-up for a while, nothing sounds better than a cupcake—a moment of sweetness that could make you forget your pain. But when we indulge, we have to be careful. I looked up the nutritional information for a cupcakery about ten minutes from our house and picked a cupcake at random: “serving size: 1 cupcake, Calories: 780, Fat 50 g, Carbs 19g, Protein 0g” (myfitnesspal). When we’re laid-up and can’t exercise because of our pain, we don’t need guilt-bombs like that, which can add pounds and problems as we’re doing therapy.

I’m NOT a baking professional, but I am someone prone to re-injury and a mom who enjoys time in the kitchen with her kindergartner. We did some searching and found a healthier cupcake recipe that everyone in the family enjoyed.  It even has protein AND fiber!

We started with Baker on the Rise’s recipe and then continued to modify it to our needs and tastes. See what we’ve come up with below, and check out Baker on the Rise’s excellent recipe blog and original recipe at http://bakerontherise.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/white-bean-cupcakes-with-fruit-glaze-2/.

 

White Bean Lemon Cupcakes

Source: Adapted from Baker on the Rise (& Everyday Food Magazine)

What you’ll need:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 can (15.5 ounces) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (navy beans have worked OK too)

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

2 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs, plus 2 large egg whites

1 cup skim milk + 3 TBSP powdered buttermilk (or you can use the real thing—I just never seem to have it around)

1 tablespoon lemon extract

Let’s bake cupcakes, Baby:

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line 24 standard muffin cups with funky paper liners (funky definitely improves the mood). (And, mini-muffin cups make this a great treat on-the-go.)

In a large bowl, whisk together 3 C flour, 1 TBSP baking powder, 1 tea baking soda, and ½ tea salt. Set aside.

In a food processor, combine the can of beans, ½ stick soft butter (I’ll microwave mine for 10-15 seconds to soften it, if I haven’t planned ahead), and 2 C granulated sugar. Process until it’s super smooth. Seriously, take the time. You shouldn’t be able to see any bean parts at all (this will make the cupcake less chewy…go ahead and give it an extra pulse or two)—it will end up like the “liquid” part of a traditional cake batter.

In a stand mixer, add 2 eggs + 2 egg whites and mix with the whisk attachment. Then add in the bean mixture and mix until incorporated. (The original recipe called for doing this step in the food processor, but it makes mine leak, so I dirty the extra bowl and attachment to avoid a big mess.) Slowly add flour mixture on Stir (or Low) until well combined. Mix in the 1 C buttermilk (reconstituted or real—your choice) and 1 TBSP lemon. When the batter looks delicious and smells lemony, you’re done.

Divide the batter among muffin cups and bake until puffed and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 17 minutes (Baker on the Rise recommends rotating pans halfway through—she’s a better baker than me).

Transfer cupcakes to wire racks and let cool completely. Then, they’re ready to eat!

According to Everyday Food Magazine, each white bean cupcake with fruit glaze has 200 calories, 4 grams of protein, and 1 gram of fiber” (Baker on the Rise). This version of the recipe is less because we’re not adding the fruit glaze, but I’m not sure how less.

The consistency is different than a box mix—the cupcakes are moist, dense and a little chewier. But, for a less-guilty treat, they’re awesome. Next time you make them, revise—let us know what flavor is your favorite.

White Bean Birthday Cupcakes

My daughter requested the white bean cupcakes. We added cotton candy frosting and went with vanilla extract, since it was a special occasion…her birthday!

PS: A special thanks to my sister for encouraging me to share this recipe with others.

On the Road

Road trip, plane trip, bike trip, canoe trip…any time we travel (and so break our daily rituals), we are at risk of straining or reinjuring our “bad backs.” It might happen when we forget to lift heavy luggage with our knees, when we wake up with a crick in our necks after sleeping on pancake pillows, when we have to sit hours on end, frozen in poor posture—the moments are limitless. Frankly, travel can be downright hazardous to our health… But, oh so rewarding! So, those of us with “bad backs” must take precautions, if we don’t want to miss out on anything.

I am NOT a medical professional—just a chick with twelve-years experience traveling with back pain. Here are some things I make sure are in my suitcase, if I run into trouble:

  • Biofreeze: works like other hot/cold gels
  • Arnicare: soothes pain and inflammation (but use with caution—read the directions)
  • Tiger Balm Patches: like a hot/cold gel, but you can put it on a specific spot where it hurts and it will last for several hours
  • Ibuprofen/Acetaminophen: traditional remedies for swelling and pain
  • Valerian Root: this herbal remedy can help relax your muscles and help you sleep—try it in the evening your first go
  • Zip-top Gallon Bags: great for making an ice-pack on the go if you’re not staying with a host or hostess who can help you out
  • Pillow!: it can be bulky, but provides the support and comfort you need to sleep healthy on the road
  • Towel: a thin, old beach towel you can layout and stretch on can help keep back pain at bay if you’re not staying with a host or hostess who can help you out with a clean floor

It’s also important to set ourselves up for success. Just because we’re traveling doesn’t mean we stop working out or stretching—it’s even more important to stay active and flexible. Take time before your trip to scope out options: does your hotel have a workout room or pool? Is there a YMCA or other gym you could visit while staying with family? Even a brisk walk around a neighborhood or through a mall can help—do what you can, and you will reap the rewards…

I just couldn’t do it. I set my sights on a slow jog for 30 minutes, and it didn’t seem like too much to ask of myself—I’d done it last time I was at Lifetime. But ten minutes in an ache between my shoulders nagged me; by fifteen minutes, the flash of lightening between my right hip and knee came quicker and quicker…1 elephant, 2 elephants. I was done. I hit the down button to a swift limp up hill until the Cool Down warning flashed.

It’s rare I get angry with my body, but I was still a little ticked off when that evening I sat in a row of chairs watching my daughter practice with her class in a warehouse filled with dozens of young gymnasts. I know it’s an effort—I see their progress every week—I but they make it look so easy when they flip their bodies in the air on the beam. Barely visible past the mats and horses and trampolines, I could see Hattie working on round offs, hand stands, and back flips.

In the car she startled me with complaints. She couldn’t do the round off—the one she had just done last class. A flash of pleasure hit me when I realized that we shared a frustration with our bodies. Maybe it’s not that I’m aging and broken, maybe it’s just an off day?

The words of Tricia Fiske (a wonderful yoga teacher in the suburbs of Chicago who worked with me while I was pregnant) came to me, and I shared her sentiments with Hattie: every day is a new day for our bodies; we must listen to them to learn what they are capable of; we must forgive them when our minds feel they fail us; we must push them to try again tomorrow. It was good advice for both of us. We clinked our water bottles and made a promise to each other not to give up.

Hattie makes it up to the top of the net rope after weeks of trying.

Hattie makes it up to the top of the net rope after weeks of trying.

In creative writing class this morning, we responded to Rita Dove’s “10-Minute Spill Prompt” (found in The Practice of Poetry, p. 13). The “rules” are to write a ten-line poem that uses one adage/proverb/familiar phrase that we must change in some way, and uses five words from a list she provides–in just ten minutes (Dove). I chose the words “needle, whir, mother, clouds, and blackberries” and the saying, “don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched.” Here’s the rough draft of the poem I came up with—inspired by Dove’s prompt and our family’s chickens.

Curious Hen

Improving Egg Production

Just hatch your chicks before you needle
them with your finger, ticking off in a whir
how much meat you’ll bring to mother’s table.
Go pick the clouds of blackberries straining
their thick vines. Lick the dark juice
before it runs to your wrist and stains
your starched cotton. Quietly take your basket
to the hen house and share your spoils
with the brown, brooding hens—
it will sweeten their yolks.

Happy poetry month! I hope you might try Dove’s prompt today too.

And, just a reminder—today’s the last day Finishing Line Press is offering a shipping discount for my new collection of poems, Hit the Ground. Don’t miss out! Click here to get your copy.