Monday, December 20, 2010

Beautiful stories to end a week

This past Friday I happened across two completely unrelated stories that were just the perfect way to end a week (or start a week since you won't be reading this until the beginning of the week!). Both were uplifting, perhaps because they were in such stark contrast to the often overwhelming troubles and sadness in the world. They each spoke of the pure joy that comes by helping others, by understanding that all people have troubles, that all of us are dying even if we have not received a "terminal" diagnosis, and therefore we should not be waiting to live our life until ________ whatever, fill in the blank for yourself, but to make the most of today.

First, I learned from an oncology dietitian colleague about an organization called The Ceres Community Project in Sonoma County California that provides healing foods, actually entire meals, made with locally-grown organic foods to individuals (and their family) with a life-threatening illness completely free of charge for three months. Although it will take a few minutes of your time, I think you will find watching the video on their website explaining their mission to be both heart-warming and inspiring. The model this non-profit organization has developed by having teens prepare the meals provides love and hope for the future throughout their community in many different ways. Does anyone know of other communities that have a non-profit organization like this?

Second, during the 10 minutes in the car Friday evening between our farm and home, I was lucky enough to hear the following interview on NPR with Gordon Murray, author of the book The Investment Answer. The "hook" to this piece for me was not the investment advice per se, but the fact that the author chose to write the book after his diagnosis with glioblastoma, a brain tumor with the shortest prognosis.  I'll be frank, I had already read about Mr. Murray and his book earlier in the week in the New York Times, and that article did not stay with me in the same way as this live interview on NPR did.  In fact, even the written synopsis of the interview at the NPR link does not convey the full depth of empathy and compassion or the lasting connection I felt when listening to Mr. Murray speak. He speaks candidly and honestly about his cancer diagnosis and the choices he has made of how to live those unknown but certainly short number of days after his diagnosis.

One of the recipients for the Ceres Community Project states in the video that the healthy and lovingly-prepared meals certainly has very likely added "years to her life". Although not stating so in these exact words, my guess is that working so deliberately and lovingly to get this book to print before his death has also added time to Mr. Murray's life, with the bonus that intentionally working on this book to help others may have also added "life to his years".

I only recently read a quote attributed to Anne Frank, author of A Diary of a Young Girl, the classic book that is up-lifting but also heart-breaking:

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment 
before starting to improve the world.”
~~ Anne Frank (1929-1945)

Being aware of her uncertain outcome while in hiding during World War II because her family was Jewish had to be similar to living with a cancer diagnosis, being confronted with and coming to understand and accept the unfairness, suffering, and fragility of life plus also actively choosing to see  life's beauty while looking forward with hope to the day that she could re-join the world. However, the truly inspiring aspect of Anne's life is that she did not wait to re-join the world to start 'improving it'. She only had today to live and to write. She would never know how her writing would spread the ripples from her spirit and her dreams throughout the world over the next several generations.

All of these people are shining examples of the quotation that I used to begin this blog back in June 2007:

"No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing 
because he could only do a little"

~~ Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

My husband and I finally need to put down the hammers and paintbrushes to start baking, finish shopping, wrapping gifts, get our tree, oh dear, the list of things to do is very long! I'll come back to blogging in 2011. Until then, I send all my readers best wishes for a joyful holiday season, a hopeful new year, along with hope that you will find these stories as inspirational as I have. 

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

W is for Winter

Winter may not have officially arrived yet but you'd never know that by what we are seeing and feeling. Snowy, snowy weather, ice, power-outages, enough wind that we easily found where air was leaking in around an incorrectly installed new window (grrrr), and cold, cold, cold (brrrr) - time to bring out my long underwear for everyday use!

I'm sorry you cannot see the beautiful red roof on our barn, but I love our large wreath on the upper door.  We moved our candle lights out to the farm, and we'll have our Christmas tree out there, too. However, there have just been too many delays to get everything finished up so that we could move before all our family and friends come to stay with us over the holidays. So we'll split our time somehow to enjoy both places.

Here are just a few pictures to show you that W = winter and wonderful. :-)

 (Photo: Garlic Field Under Snow)

 (Photo: Kaya enjoying an easy walk on the plowed driveway - the deep snow is too hard for her now, as is an icy driveway or steps)

(Photo: Deer running across our driveway - yes more followed!)

(Photo: Sunset at the farm)

(Photo: American tree sparrow, a winter visitor to our feeders at the farm)

The birds are racing through seed with this cold snap and first snow cover. I have a heated bird bath for them, too, and all the American tree sparrows (I've seen 5 at one time) lined up for drinks today. 

We can't wait to move and be at our farm full-time!!! Step, step, step.......... :-)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cancer and Nutrition Tidbits

I'm clearing out my file of articles (and even some draft posts) saved that had information I thought would be of interest to cancer survivors.  I see that each article is about breast cancer research, however, for my readers with other types of cancer, the information is very likely to be applicable to you, too. So here is the round-up of these tidbits of newsworthy information:

1) Scientists decode many mechanisms by which olive oil reduces breast tumors - some of the cell studies done showed a clear difference between the protective effect of olive oil versus corn oil, which made tumors more aggressive.
Special Note: When I was in graduate school, the recommendation that people use corn oil was all the rage based on research at that time showing benefits for reducing heart disease. However, I threw my last bottle of corn oil away as soon as I really started reading the research focused on nutrition and cancer. Horror of horrors though, I have recently found many restaurants in my area that serve Middle Eastern food use corn oil for their frying because it has a high smoke point and it's cheap.

Take home lessons: (a) Ask, ask, ask, and ask some more questions when you are eating away from home. (b) If you are still using corn oil, replace it with extra-virgin olive oil where ever possible and appropriate (yes, I use it sparingly due to the cost, even where I would love to pour it on!)

2) Postdiagnosis diet quality is inversely related to a biomarker of inflammation among breast cancer survivors
In a nutshell, the higher the quality of diet (i.e. more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans), the lower the blood level of a molecule called c-reactive protein (CRP) found in the blood of breast cancer survivors, which is a marker for inflammation and has been observed to be inversely related to breast cancer survival (i.e., lower levels are associated with longer survival). The benefits were most pronounced in those women who were not engaging in any recreational exercise.

Take home lesson: Ask to have your CRP level checked at your next check-up. Eat well and also exercise on a daily basis to improve your odds for long-term survival and also improved quality of life!

3) Stress before cancer therapy could help deadly cells survive treatment, lead to disease recurrence
Researchers at Ohio State University have done extensive cell culture studies showing a clear indication that breast cancer cells have found a way to adapt and resist both radiation and chemotherapy due to a stress-inducible protein, with this protein being produced by both psychological stress and physical stress such as rigorous exercise. While these are very preliminary studies, the researchers have made the cautionary recommendation that cancer patients do their best to avoid or reduce stress (including vigorous exercise) during the days leading up to their cancer treatments.

Take home lesson: Wow - I know in my case, I only felt well enough to do anything (exercise, grocery shop, cook, run errands, you name it) during the one or two days prior to my treatments so I tried like crazy to get it all done, cram it all in, do any exercise at all, which of course was stressful! So DON'T do what I did - continue to have others help you as much as possible all the way through treatments in order to optimize their effectiveness. Further research will help define guidelines (or even a drug that blocks this stress-induced protein) but you can take action now as these researchers have recommended to actively avoid or reduce situations that your body perceives as stressful (even if you enjoy and are capable of vigorous exercise). Find a stress-reducing practice such as mild yoga, meditation, etc that you enjoy and make time for this part of your own cancer-fighting plan.

4) Insulin Levels Found to Affect Breast Cancer Survival
Breast cancer survivors with amounts of an insulin marker known as C-peptide greater than 1.7 ng/mL were at a two-fold higher risk of breast cancer death compared with women with C-peptide levels lower than that. In addition, women with type 2 diabetes had an even greater risk of breast cancer death compared with women without type 2 diabetes. These findings suggest that treatment strategies that reduce C-peptide levels in women treated for breast cancer—which could include dietary-induced weight loss, increased physical activity and insulin-lowering medications—should be explored, according to Melinda L. Irwin, PhD, the study’s lead author.

Take home lessons: Don't wait for further research to confirm these results to be initiated or completed if you are a cancer survivor who is overweight and/or does not exercise on a daily basis. Don't wait for the years and years it will take to produce the research that will force the insurance companies into paying for "cancer rehab" that is similar to the lifestyle counseling shown to be beneficial for people with cardiovascular disease, i.e. "cardiac rehab", or diabetes in order to optimize your odds for both extension of life and increased quality of life after cancer. Ask your primary care physician and/or oncology team NOW for a referral to an oncology Registered Dietitian who can help you define beneficial diet and exercise goals that will help you achieve meaningful results. In addition, be sure to speak up about costs, so that she will help you find the changes and resources available to use in the most cost-effective way possible.

5) Improving outcome of chemotherapy of metastatic breast cancer by docosahexanoic acid (DHA): a phase II trial
This open-label single-arm phase II study (i.e., no placebo or blinded group) evaluated the safety and efficacy (response rate), as primary end points, of the addition of 1.8 g DHA daily to an anthracycline-based chemotherapy (FEC) regimen in breast cancer patients (n=25) all of whom had rapidly progressing visceral metastases. The secondary end points were time to progression (TTP) and overall survival (OS). Median OS was 22 months and reached 34 months in the sub-population of patients (n=12) with the highest plasma DHA incorporation. The most common grade 3 or 4 toxicity was neutropaenia (80%).

Take Home Lesson: Regretfully, stage IV breast cancer is still considered incurable yet this very small study was able to show that adding a substantial amount of DHA (a type of omega-3 fatty acid) to the regime of chemotherapy chosen increased length of life without additional adverse effects in the subgroup of patients who achieved the highest blood levels of DHA. These researchers are NOT (nor am I) recommending that you try this approach on your own, but if you have stage IV breast cancer, I do think these data merit a frank and serious discussion with your oncologist and the registered dietitian at your cancer center about the potential benefit of incorporating more DHA, either through oily fish, algae, or dietary supplements, into your cancer-fighting plan.

Just as an FYI, the past several times that my CRP level has been checked by my cardiologist, it has been less than 1.0, so in light of the research highlighted above in #2, I take those consistent results as an encouraging sign that the foods I eat (all the recipes on this blog, my kale blog, and my website) plus the amount of exercise I do is giving my body the best type of fuels possible to reduce one risk factor that promotes recurrence along with further types of chronic disease.

We have no power at the farm and are still digging out here at home, but I hope you are all safe and can stay warm this morning wherever you live and can use some of the information I posted above.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Monday, December 13, 2010

Garlic Galore!

Finally! Our locally published Edible WOW Magazine has put a link to the article they wrote about our garlic farm in their Fall 2010 issue. It is a great article with great photos that nicely captures the spirit of what my husband and I are doing by starting this farm as our "encore careers".

Just one small error (hardly worth quibbling about) was where the article mentioned that I am starting a School to Farm Program for the American Dietetic Association (accurate) to supplement their Farm to School Program (sorry I was not clear during the interview - Farm to School is not ADA's program but a compendium of local, state, and national efforts to bring more locally-grown farm produce into school food programs).

I hope your locality has its own Edible Communities Magazine. In our case, WOW stands for Wayne, Oakland, and Washtenaw Counties in SE Michigan, but in reality, Edible WOW Magazine covers local food in all of SE Michigan! In fact, if you like what you see in this issue, and your community does not have its own magazine, maybe starting a local edition of Edible Magazine will be your way of highlighting, advocating, and contributing to the development of a local/regional food system for your part of the country.

Please don't think I will ever give up olive oil or spices as just two examples of foods that are not grown in Michigan and can only be grown in warmer climates or other parts of the world. My point is that where we can grow and produce food locally, we should be doing do, and where we do, we should be buying it locally (i.e., not importing apple juice from China to serve in schools in Michigan when our state ranks right up there near the top of apple production in the US!).

Anyhow, enjoy the article about our garlic farm and perusing the other articles in this issue and back issues, too. Then hopefully you will find an edition that is closer to where you live and you can also enjoy exploring and supporting the food, farms, and farmers in your neck of the woods.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What's New? New Category - Birds

I don't know why I had not added "birds" as a category to the wide-range of topics I write about (or at least mention) on my blog.  Writing about my recent uplifting experience seeing what was most likely a very late migrating ruby-crowned kinglet at my farm this week (and my on-line community of birding friends in SE Michigan concur with my best guess), I have now gone back to find previous times I have written about birds, and 10 past posts are now ear-marked 'birds'. So if you are interested in my observations and rambles about this topic, you may click on the 'birds' category on the left side of my blog to read what I have previously written.

I have been a 'birder' since age 10. It is difficult to actually recollect what inspired me, but whatever it was 'hooked me' with a life-long hobby and enjoyment, with the emphasis on 'joy', wherever I have lived or traveled. My first birding guide is the classic Field Guide to Eastern Birds by Roger Tory Peterson, a 1960 edition. I have numerous other ones also, and once when friends were discussing "the latest best-seller book", they finally realized I was not participating in the discussion and asked what I was reading. They did not know quite what to say when I answered "I read field guides". :-)

I know that I am the person Aldo Leopold wrote about in the first sentence of the foreword to his  book A Sand County Almanac where he said,

"There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot." 

I cannot. Yet birds were just my entry point into learning about, appreciating, and caring for a much larger world, indeed a 'system' where everything is connected. In addition and perhaps more importantly, the other sentence in the foreword that has been my inspiration, indeed one of my life's touchstones, is

"When we see land as a community to which we belong, 
then we may begin to use it with love and respect."

By starting our farm, rehabilitating our land, both producing delicious food and providing a refuge for this tardy (or hardy!?) kinglet, we hope to contribute to both the joy and the health of our community. Everything about this process is life-giving. Yes, we have set backs and days of discouragement (like being told this week that we have two collapsing foundations - arghhhh!), but they are minor blips in the big system. We are not retreating to this farm to create a private sanctuary for ourselves. Instead, we are intentionally changing our little corner of the planet, with not just hopes, but a belief that we are one building block in a new system.

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
~~ Buckminster Fuller 

My husband is at the farm today, plowing us out from our first snowstorm, and I am at our home doing snow-blowing and shoveling duty here. Our old dog Kaya is still with us. She can hardly walk, but she is still enjoying eating the snow and having a snowy nose.

(Photo: Kaya, our snow eater!)

 (Photo: Kaya with her snowy nose and back)

As I said in a previous post, my kinglet's visit was my tonic to get me through the cold snowy winter.  I really do hope it found enough sustenance at our farm to have the energy (and good sense!) to now be at least two days farther south. 

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD 

Friday, December 10, 2010

With a little help from my friends

Here is my best "mood-lifter" - wild birds. So yes, I was finally able to shake the sadness I have felt this week with a little help from my feathered friends, and one in particular.

As painting an upstairs bedroom at the farm, I kept glancing out of the window down at our newly installed backyard bird feeders. I was watching a tufted titmouse on the platform feeder, when (with the sun at just the right angle) I saw a flash of brilliant red, honestly like a diamond glinting in the light only red. Turning and expecting to see a male downy woodpecker with its little red spot on the back of its head having landed in the tree next to the feeder (and wondering how I missed something that big flying past me), instead I saw a teeny-tiny grayish bird fluttering through the branches of the tree that again clearly showed its small spot of ruby red feathers on the top of its head.

If I had seen this bird in the spring I would have confidently called it a ruby-crowned kinglet. I have seen one many times in the past. This small bird made the titmouse look like a giant by comparison.  However, kinglets are insect-eating birds, and I have never seen one this late in the year. I ran around to the trees in the front of the house when it flew off in that direction, but of course, did not find it again today.

However, that did it.  I always keep my eyes and ears open and "expectant" for life. It is perhaps why I just love being outside, whether walking or weeding. I am always on the look-out for birds (even without binoculars) and this unexpected bird was just what I needed to get my heart racing, my blood flowing, my brain clear again, essentially kick-started back into normal gear. :-)

I cannot guess about the likelihood of seeing that bird again tomorrow to really make a clear and confident ID, but I saw enough to be reasonably sure of what I saw, a bird mostly out of place for the time of year, which illustrates perfectly what I recently told one of my sons - "any bird can be seen anywhere at anytime"!

In addition, I ran to my library of bird books as soon as I got home from the farm to find my copy of The Birds of Washtenaw County, Michigan to see what it said about the latest dates recorded for sighting a ruby-crowned kinglet in our county.  Ahhhhhh, on page 159 it says they have been found on 6 of the last 15 Ann Arbor Christmas Bird Counts (CBC), with a maximum of two birds.  I know this is an older edition, but I'm happy to see mention of the distinct possibility that I saw this kinglet today.

I don't have a photo of this bird myself, but I will link you to a page that does have a good photo, a recording of its song, a map of where to see this bird, and a little description about the ruby-crowned kinglet. This bird is the size of a ping-pong ball with wings and never sits still. I hope you live somewhere you can see it now during the winter or better yet during the spring migration where it will often flit in shrubbery right before your eyes.

Seeing this bird during the spring migration is happiness enough, but seeing a kinglet in December is a tonic that will help me last until spring!

OK - back to being myself, with a sigh of relief and also a few tears of gratitude to my little Kinglet. Thank you, thank you for coming to our farm today and showing me your beautiful ruby feathers. I will remember that "flash" forever. It's not important that I see you again tomorrow. It was enough to see you today. I hope you stay safe and find enough insects to sustain yourself so you can fly south to a warmer winter.  I'll look for you at our farm next April (surely we will finally be moved there completely by then!) as you stop to eat and rest on your way back north to your nesting area in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  :-)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sadness and Serenity

The death earlier this week of Elizabeth Edwards from breast cancer at the young age of 61 has left me with a deep sense of sadness that is hard to shake. I didn't know her of course, she was not a personal friend. However I feel a sense of hope and connection to all people with a cancer diagnosis and appreciated the energy she used to put a personal face on her cancer survivorship journey that showed both grace and grit.

I admit that I sometimes find myself overwhelmed with the woes of the world (and also the step, step, step process of repairing the house at the farm). It is easier to find myself in that state when there is no longer outside work to be done with planting, weeding, or harvesting. When I know that I need a "change in attitude" before I head to bed, I go to two different blogs I love for an uplifting view of our world.

Both are listed on the left side of my blog, but I am going to give them each a specific "shout-out" because I find them enjoyable and even necessary to keep a sense of balance and serenity in my life. I no longer remember exactly how I found each one of these blogs, but I truly enjoy coming back to read and look at the new postings on each one.

I hope each of my readers (and each member of the Edwards family) has or finds your unique way of overcoming personal sadness, along with your view of the world's woes, that lead to both a "change in attitude" and also good health, wellness, and sense of serenity.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Still time to order 2011 Cancer Victory Garden™ Calendar!

There is still time to order copies of the beautiful 2011 Cancer Victory Garden™ calendar published by The Oncology Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group of The American Dietetic Association. This gorgeous 2011 calendar was inspired by my blog at and will make delightful holiday gifts for almost everyone you know, including cancer survivors, gardeners, friends, family members, teachers, day care providers, and professional colleagues.

Each month features a beautiful picture of a different cancer fighting vegetable or fruit, along with helpful information that discusses its health benefits plus strategies for growing the produce in a home garden.

One or more calendars can be shipped to your home or work address.

Each calendar costs $10.00, plus a flat rate shipping charge of $5.00 (for 1 or more calendars).

To order calendars, make your check out to: ON DPG #20
(Check total = no. of calendars x $10/each + $5.00 shipping)

Mail the check to:
Maureen Leser
56 Boston Drive
Berlin, MD 21811

Calendars will be mailed to the address on your check, or to another address as requested.

Special note: ON DPG is making a donation to the Diana Dyer Cancer Survivors’ Nutrition Research Endowment at the American Institute of Cancer Research, which has provided research funds from proceeds of the sale of my book A Dietitian's Cancer Story since 2001 for AICR funded research projects that focus on defining nutritional strategies for cancer survivors to optimize the odds of long-term survival and increased quality of life.

If you have questions about the calendars, please contact Maureen Leser, MS, RD, CSO, LD, at mgoreleser (at) or call her at 240-994-0533.

If you are a member of the ON DPG you can preview the calendar at the ON DPG website:

If you are not a member of the ON DPG but would like to preview the calendar, please contact Maureen at mgoreleser (at) She will promptly email a pdf that gives you a preview of the calendar.

I have already purchased several copies for my own use and also to give away as gifts. I hope you consider purchasing one or more - you will love them!

I'll end with how the calendar begins!

"Life begins the day you plant a garden"

~~ Chinese Proverb

Truer words could not be spoken!

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What's New - Food Sleuth Radio Interview

I know I have mentioned several times in the past that I find the radio program Food Sleuth, very informative. It is hosted weekly by Melinda Hemmelgarn, MS, RD on radio station KOPN in Columbia, MO where Melinda interviews "leading experts on food, health and agriculture to help people to see beyond their plates".

Melinda did interview me recently and aired our conversation on Thanksgiving Day.  Thankfully, I really did feel that I was having a conversation with a friend, not an "interview" for which I needed to prepare with a sense of worry. 

Worry? Why worry? You see, I don't think of myself as a "leading expert" but a voice of a single Registered Dietitian (RD), who is also a long-time cancer survivor and now an organic farmer. However, I am an RD who has developed a very large viewpoint by having had the good fortune to have had professional career opportunities to work at both ends plus in-between the health care spectrum (i.e., starting in the ICU's, then 15 years focused on nutrition for cancer survivors, and now pure prevention of disease as an organic farmer).  

In addition, and perhaps, more importantly I am also a single concerned citizen advocating for access to affordable and healthier foods on many levels and for many reasons; (1) for improving the odds of preventing cancer everywhere as well as improving the overall health of all cancer survivors plus all people in my local community, (2) for the economic benefits that production and consumption of local organic foods brings to my community and State as well as how moving more of our country's agriculture's practices to be both local and sustainable will improve the health of our collective society, (3) how being personally involved with having your hands in the soil and growing food in any amount (a farm or a window garden) is healing for the soul. 

I love talking with Melinda, and I think we talked about many of these ideas and concerns during her interview. However, I don't really know or remember. I have not listened to the interview myself (available to listen to on the link provided above). Why not? Because I know I would "nitpick" what I said, how I said it, or what I could have said instead (sigh.........a very bad habit of mine, I know).  So much different than writing for this blog where I can edit, edit, edit!

Now tonight, right now, I also am picking a color for the inside of the mudroom door at the farm. How do these colors sound to you? Rock Garden, Basil, Courtyard, Greenfield, Evergreens, Arugula, Shamrock, Cilantro, isle of Pines, Kale Green. Even though Isle of Pines is the darkest and therefore will hide most of the dirty hand-prints to come, it is very very hard for me to pass up "Kale Green".  So I'm trying very hard to follow advice I've heard twice recently "Don't over-think it!".  :-)

I hope my interview was ok. It is easy to re-paint but not so easy to change words once spoken.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

PS - "Kale Green" is the choice. Are you surprised? No? Haha - me neither.  See how powerful words are? :-)