The James Family Farm – Sherman, IL

Saturday morning I headed down to Sherman, Illinois, about an hour’s drive to check out the James Family Farm. A few weeks back, I found the farm’s listing on and emailed Andrea James, who runs the farm, to arrange a visit.

The farm is quite close to I-55, so it’s easy to get to. There is a gravel road that connects it to one of the main roads.

James Family Farm gravel road

I pulled up to the front gate at a little past 9am. It was still closed. But even from there I could see some of the animals and I jumped out of my car to take a couple of pictures.

James Family Farm cows at gate James Family Farm cows at gate

I called and left a message, saying I would be back and found a nice diner a couple miles south toward Springfield.

Ray’s Route 66 Family Diner Sherman IL

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In Praise of Matt Pack

I finally got on facebook. So far it’s been a great tool for me to reconnect with a lot of people that I lost track of the last couple of years. It’s very easy to feel isolated out here from all the great people I met in Chicago and New York. Facebook is a little more engaging than just emails to keep in touch. Plus they just added chat!

Matt Pack - this image linked without explicit permission from whimsicalfilm.comOne of the first people I had a nice chat with was Matt Pack. He mentioned the radio program he’s working on, Fair Game with Faith Salie. So I added the show to my podcaster and loaded 20 episodes to my mp3 player this morning.

What a great show. It’s mainly an interview format in the same category as say Fresh Air, which I also love, but younger and funnier with comedy bits sprinkled in. Faith Salie is a good interviewer and the show genuinely made me laugh. The first episode I listened to featured a sort of op-ed segment by Matt Pack. It was a nice surprise since Matt only said he was writing for the show. I didn’t realize he did on air segments as well.

I ended up thinking about Matt a lot today on my drive as I listened to the show, and I felt compelled to post something about him. He is one of those rare people who always makes you feel better. I can’t think of time that I’ve seen Matt Pack and haven’t felt happier because of it. He has an infectious smile and is just a great guy to hang out with. Hell, I feel better just thinking about Matt now.

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I Started a Book Club

Book Club IconI started a book club through If anyone has some recommendations for good contemporary fiction, please let me know. I’d like to work out my list for the first few months.

What are the requirements for inclusion on my list? Books must be in paperback and ubiquitous enough to be found in a local library. A big bonus if they are available for the Kindle (I may only use Kindle-available books for purely selfish reasons). Oh and they must be good books, hopefully with a bit of an edge.

I’m also considering doing some kind of virtual version of the book club. Perhaps I would do it in SecondLife, or via a group in Facebook or on my message board. Sounds like fun and not that much more work since we would read the same book in the different locations.

Did I Really Need to Tell You That?

I am not a private person. I like to talk about myself too much, not because my life is so fascinating, but because I have a compulsion to talk about whatever is currently on mind, no matter how mundane. If you give me the chance, I’ll bore you with details of my latest weight loss ideas, the electronic gadget I’m thinking about buying, what I just cooked for lunch or even what size underwear I bought at Wal-Mart.

Last summer I made a series of videos about such mundane aspects of my life as going to a movie or riding my bike. And it’s not like I’m able to spin it into some amazing anecdote. I’m sure if a random person comes across those videos, they will most likely watch it, shrug and say, “What was that?”

Sometimes I think I just never outgrew that stage in life when you come home from school and say, “Mommy, mommy, look at this picture I made at school!” as I hand over this pathetic still life made from shapes of colored paper, crayons and glue.

What’s most difficult about this now is that many of the details of my life revolve around illness and family. The details are mostly private and should be. Many of the things I do feel like sharing, should really be saved for personal conversations, not public postings on the web. But still I do want to share a few things. I can’t help myself.

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My Local Farmer’s Market

Recently, I’ve taken to the idea of buying locally grown foods. This idea has been bouncing around the zeitgeist for some time now and usually when I hear about it, the reasoning behind it is the environment. Local foods should supposedly reduce your diet’s carbon footprint, since it has a shorter distance to travel to you.

That may often be true (though in some cases it may actually have a smaller impact to buy products from the global market), but it’s not exactly the kind of reason that vaults it to the top of my priorities. There are so many ways in which our lives impact the local and global environment, it’s hard to know where to begin. I have more personal reasons for looking into local food sources.

I’d like to be able to look my farmer in the eye. I want to find out how she raises her food. I want to know how she treats her animals and what she feeds them. I want to know whether her animals get to wander a pasture and graze or whether they spend time in a feed lot. And I’d like to be welcome to visit her farm. Do her animals eat the kinds of foods that they would eat if left to their own devices, or are they force fed whatever fattens them up the cheapest, even if it makes them sick. It’s nice to know that your lettuce has been grown without chemicals, but I’m more concerned with whether the cows I eat spend their days covered in their own filth and pumped full of antibiotics.

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When Gallbladders Attack

It starts as a faint feeling of discomfort in my abdomen, a deep ache or tightness, and then begins to spread. At the outset, I’ve mistaken it for hunger, but as it progresses, the pain increases. It becomes very clear what is happening. My gallbladder is malfunctioning. The ducts from the gallbladder are blocked, and the pain will soon become quite unbearable.

The most common symptom of biliary sludge — when it causes symptoms — is pain in the abdomen often associated with nausea and vomiting. This occurs when the particles obstruct the ducts leading from the gallbladder to the intestine.

Now, it’s not the worst pain I’ve felt in my life. I can certainly imagine pains that are deeper and more acute. However, it’s a very frustrating pain. My first few attacks, I didn’t even know what it was. I thought it was food poisoning. The nausea that accompanied it made me feel like vomiting might help, but it never did.

I tried a variety of products to lessen the symptoms. Alka Seltzer seemed to be the only one that had any effect.

When I finally talked to a doctor about it, he suggested that a pain reliever like Advil might help. “Take a few Advil when you feel the pain coming on.” So that is what I do now. When that pain starts to come on, I take a few Advil and/or some Alka Seltzer and lie down. Surprisingly it does the trick.

Now these attacks are infrequent. I had several last fall, but I think I’ve only had two this year. The hypothesis that I’m currently working under is that starches in my diet aggravate it. The first few attacks I had were after large meals with lots of rice. I also noticed that the lignans that accompany flax seed oil also irritate it, as do ground flax seeds themselves (the oil without lignans seems to be fine).

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Pollan vs. Taubes

I find it interesting that in the book Omnivore’s Dilemma, the author Michael Pollan takes, not one but two jabs Gary Taubes and his 2002 article, “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?” The first is in the introduction, and the second is here:

It remains to be seen whether the current Atkins school theory of ketosis—the process by which the body resorts to burning its own fat when starved of carbohydrates—will someday seem as quaintly quackish as Kellogg’s theory of colonic autointoxication. What is striking is just how little it takes to set off one of these applecart-toppling nutritional swings in America; a scientific study, a new government guideline, a lone crackpot with a medical degree can alter this nation’s diet overnight. One article in the New York Times Magazine in 2002 almost single-handedly set off the recent spasm of carbophobia in America.

I wonder if Pollan has read Taubes book. I’d be shocked if he hadn’t. To me there is much that they agree on. For instance, I bet they both would agree that we would be more healthy if we ate like our great grandparents did, and that traditional cuisines lead to healthier people than modern processed diets. They both see the large amount of processed carbohydrates like high fructose corn syrup as harmful to those that eat it. Furthermore, Taubes goes to great lengths to establish that cutting carbs to lose weight is not a late 20th century fad. It’s the accumulated wisdom of doctors and patients going back at least two centuries, precisely the kind of cultural wisdom that Pollan so admires in traditional cuisines.

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Would you send your kids to a school where you didn’t know the teachers?

Would you ever send your kids to a school where you didn’t know the teachers and you had no chance of ever meeting or interacting with the teachers?

Of course not.

So why do we accept a food system where we have little chance of meeting the farmer who grows our food?

There is an alternative, or rather alternatives.

Life is a pattern game

Last Spring, I listened to Freakonomics on CD as I drove from Illinois to Arizona. In the appendix, the authors have a short article on Seth Roberts and his strange idea that drinking sugar water can lead to weight loss.

A month or two later, frustrated with my inability to lose weight on my own, I looked up Seth’s scientific paper online about what makes food fattening and tried his method. It worked! I started losing weight again.

After a few weeks of sipping sugar water and drinking olive oil, I spent a week in New York for the Del Close Marathon. I was explaining it to a friend and he responded, “Oh you mean the Shangri-la Diet.”

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