Monday, May 23, 2016

You're eating WHAT? A short guide to edible weeds

Everyone already knows that dandelions make for some good eating and some dandy wine, right? Whether you add the greens to your salads, saute the roots, or batter and fry the blooms, you're in for some tasty and nutritious treats that are absolutely free. While it's better to harvest and use dandelions than kill them off with toxic weedkillers like Roundup, it's good to also keep in mind that they are often the first real food for our beloved bees, so make sure you leave plenty behind for them!

Dandelions aren't the only yummy weeds sprouting up in yards across the country, however. Here are just a few harvest-worthy weeds to tempt your palate:

  • Purslane [Portulaca oleracea] -- The greens are a nice addition to a tossed salad and are packed full of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids (who knew, right?). And from what I understand, it's best to harvest this week early in the morning when it has 10x the malic acid content than later in the day. WARNING: Hairy-stemmed spurge looks quite similar to purslane, but is poisonous! Make sure you know the difference before you consume these greens. Click here for more information.
  •  Henbit or dead nettle [Lamium amplexicaule] -- Don't let the name scare you! The leaves boast a sweet, peppery flavor and can be eaten cooked or raw. Again, this weed is another great addition to a salad. Even though it's in the mint family, people tend to equate its taste to that of kale. Just make sure you snip 'em before they blossom! 
  • Common or ground plantain [Plantago major] -- If you harvest the leaves when they're young and tender, this weed is quite tasty. Older leaves tend to be tough, but are good for stews. Common or ground plantain is known around the world for its medicinal properties and nutritional benefits. The leaves contain a variety of minerals, including calcium, along with the same amount of vitamin A as a large carrot (100 grams of plantain).
  •  Lamb's quarters [Chenopodium album] -- The leaves of this weed, which often look dusty, are similar to spinach and can be eaten raw, sauteed, or steamed, although they are quite acidic, so cooking is recommended to eliminate the oxalic acid. Every part of this plant is edible, including the seeds, shoots, leaves, and flowers.

This probably goes without saying, but please, please thoroughly wash any and all weeds you harvest. All sorts of nasties, chemical and otherwise, could ruin a good thing!

Happy foraging!

Disclaimer: I am not a health professional or nutritionist. I'm just a blogging grandma. While I am providing pictures, many weeds have similar appearances and could be poisonous. Always seek more information for your own health and peace of mind.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

A bit of a derailment on the train

The legendary Horseshoe Curve in Altoona, PA

I'm on the train again this morning heading across Pennsylvania. It's a beautiful sunny day and I'm looking forward to another writers' conference. I've been on faculty for 4 conferences in the last 6 weeks and, while I'm looking forward to it, I'm also looking forward to a break. I'm not scheduled for another conference until early August.

For the Pennwriters Conference in Lancaster, I will be teaching 3 workshops -- The Business of Writing, From Blog to Book, and my popular Fictional Characters Anonymous. If you're somewhat local to Pittsburgh, I would love to present one of my workshops to your writers' group. Contact me for a list of my presentations. I also enjoy delivering talks about green living, particularly the ones based on my book, Vinegar Fridays.

My intention for this trip was to work on my book, Lincoln and Laura Celebrate Earth Day (available soon on, but I was sidetracked for awhile by another passenger who discovered I was a writer. She, too, was an aspiring writer and for over an hour, we shared stories about writing and tossed about names familiar to both of us. 

Life's like that sometimes, isn't it? We have our plans made and then something or someone derails them. I will admit, at first I was annoyed. People pick my brain about writing all.the.time. I wanted to be alone and ... gasp ... actually write. But is it so bad to step away from our plans and actually connect with people from time to time? Of course, it's not. The way I see it is that God has gifted me with the talents I have -- talents to write, to teach, to communicate. And I have to be ready to share those talents in numerous ways. I want to share those talents. This morning, that meant my plans had to be derailed (pun intended) for awhile. Big deal.

Another shot of the Horseshoe Curve

What about you mamas out there? Or you dads? Do you get impatient and frustrated when your children (young or old) distract you from your plans? Do you snap at them for disturbing you when you're in the middle of working? Do they get the feeling that your computer is more important to you than they are? Or your phone or tablet? Is what you are doing ever more important than your child when they want to talk to you? 

I admit, this is one area (and there are many) where I failed my children horribly. And I will always regret it. For more of the story, click here.

Now, I'm not saying your children should have free rein to interrupt you whenever they feel like it. There must be boundaries, particularly if you work from home. But I am asking you to evaluate the boundaries and your priorities. After all, I don't want you to have to live with the kind of guilt I live with. Because nothing, and I mean nothing, is as important to me as my family. And I'm sure you feel the same.

But for now, I think it's time to get back to work on my children's book. After all, deadlines are deadlines. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Vaping -- Is it really safer than smoking?

So what's with this whole vaping craze? Everywhere you look, new vapor stores are popping up, promising the best of the best. Best of what? Carcinogens? Toxins? I mean, seriously, is vaping any safer than smoking? Perhaps. But there are growing concerns. The fact is that e-cigarette generate toxins much like the ones found in tobacco. Studies out of Johns Hopkins University suggest vaping may be harmful not only to the lungs but to the immune system as well. 

Like many research studies, testing was done on mice and the findings were disturbing, especially in light of the fact that three years ago, an estimated 250,000 teens in the U.S. were using e-cigarettes, even though those same teenagers never smoked regular cigarettes.

According to Professor Shyam Biswai, who led the study (published in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE), the findings indicate that e-cigarettes negatively affect the lungs. 

"We have observed that they increase the susceptibility to respiratory infections in the mouse models," Professor Biswai said. "This warrants further study in susceptible individuals, such as COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder] patients who have switched from cigarettes to e-cigarettes, or to new users of e-cigarettes who may have never used cigarettes."

Dr. Thomas Sussan, co-author of the study at Johns Hopkins, added, "E-cigarette vapor alone produced mild effects on the lungs, including inflammation and protein damage. However, when this exposure was followed by a bacterial or viral infection, the harmful effects of e-cigarette exposure became even more pronounced. 

"The e-cigarette exposure inhibited the ability of mice to clear the bacteria from their lungs, and the viral infection led to increased weight loss and death, indicative of an impaired immune system."

Even though e-cigarettes do not produce combustion products, they still pose a possible risk to health. Additional research reveals a correlation of vaping to multiple health problems, including "asthma, lung inflammation, MRSA infection risk and exposure to harmful chemicals."

In case you're not familiar with e-cigarettes, here is an explanation from the American Lung Association: "The main component of e-cigarettes is the e-liquid contained in the cartridges. To create an e-liquid, nicotine is extracted from tobacco and mixed with a base (usually propylene glycol), and may also include flavorings, colorings and other chemicals. Because there is no government oversight of these products, nearly 500 brands and 7,700 flavors of e-cigarettes are on the market, all without an FDA evaluation determining what's in them. So there is no way for anyone -- healthcare professionals or consumers -- to know what chemicals are contained in 3-liquids, or how e-cigarette use might affect health, whether in the short term or in the long run."

Granted, I often have little use for the FDA, but the above statements are disturbing. If you're vaping, you have no idea what toxins you may be inhaling. Yikes.

And it's not just your lungs at risk, either. Additional research links vaping with mental health issues and heart disease. Not good.

Researchers at the UNC Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma and Lung Biology suggests vaping could be linked to suppressed immune genes, which actually is more harmful than cigarette smoke. The study was presented at the 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington, D.C. and included these findings:

E-cig users showed the same changes in immune genes as cigarette smokers. However, e-cig users also demonstrated suppression of several additional immune genes, suggesting even broader suppressive effects on respiratory mucosal immune responses as compared to cigarette smokers.

So, back to the original question. Is vaping really safer than smoking? And again, I say, perhaps. But the emerging concerns seem valid enough to stay away from it. Far, far away. 

What do you think?

Click here for more information on the health risks associated with vaping.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Sorting through your stuff . . . what do you do with it all?

Happy Friday! This is the time of year when lots of us are cleaning out our garages, attics, and basements. After all, it's not too hot and it's not too cold. But the question always arises -- what do I do with all this stuff? Here are your options:

  • Garage/yard sale -- Selling the stuff you no longer need or want is a great way to earn some money to pay for something you do need or want. It's also a nice way to save up for a vacation. My husband and I have a jar where we put the money for things we sell on . . .
  • Craigslist -- I love selling my stuff on Craigslist. You just have to be smart about it in order to stay safe. Click here for suggestions on how to protect yourself.
  • eBay -- There's a slight learning curve, but eBay is one of the most popular ways to unload your stuff for a buck (or more). I personally hate getting packages ready to be mailed, so I avoid selling to someone who lives too far away to pick up the item.
  • Consign -- Items in good condition or clothing not older than a couple of years can bring in some nice change, too.
  • Donate -- Sometimes the very thing you no longer like is something someone else will absolutely love. Why hold on to it when you know it just might bless another's life or be the perfect accent in their home? If you do long forms for your taxes, don't forget to list everything you donate and then use a program like It's Deductible to get the fair market value of every donation. It can add up to a considerable tax deduction!
  • Reuse -- Maybe that workshop table in the garage has outlived its usefulness there, but would be a great addition to your craft room. Rethink, reuse, and repurpose whenever possible. We're redoing our bathroom and I've been going from room to room trying to figure out if any of our furniture could be repurposed as a sink/vanity.
  • Recycle -- My husband is huge into recycling. He's been doing it since long before I met him. He absolutely hates throwing things away. But if you're like me, sometimes you struggle to find the right places to recycle your items. Well, I have good news -- there's an app for that! And it's received some great reviews! "Even when you think you're eco-savvy, sometimes you still find yourself asking, 'Can I recycle this? If so . . . who takes it?' Kinda cool your phone can now answer that for you." ~ And here's what Mother Nature News had to say, "Earth911 makes their fabulous recycling search feature into an iPhone app with some convenient features."  But it's not just for the iPhone. There's an app for Android users, too. Click here for iPhone and here for Android.
  • Store it -- If you absolutely cannot part with something right now or if you think your kids might need/want it for their first apartment someday, pack it up and store it out of view so you don't have to make a decision about it each and every year when you start your spring cleaning.
  • Toss it -- NOTE: This is a LAST resort! In most cases, you don't have to contribute to the growing landfill problem. But sometimes, it's just necessary. Like in the case where we had a perfectly good upholstered chair out in our kids' playhouse (It's a large structure with a loft and everything -- they used to sleep out there a lot when they were children). Apparently, the mice thought it was comfy, too, and made several nests in it throughout the years. As much as we don't want to throw it out, we have no choice. I mean, seriously . . . ewww.
That's my advice for today. I hope you found it helpful. Happy sorting!

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