Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sweet Potato Enchilada Casserole

Oh Yummy! Here is an easy recipe to feed a crowd, like when our sons and their wives are home for the holidays. One of our daughters-in-law has food allergies so making delicious food for the group with her needs in mind keeps my mind active. When I make food ahead and put it in the freezer, some are tagged as "A+", which translates to "Anna-Friendly". :) Here is a winner!

Bonus with this recipe, which I modified from several I found on the web. I learned about the Ro*Tel brand of foods, a long-time family-owned company in Texas, of course now owned by a series of "big food" acquisitions, but there it was, right in my regular locally-owned grocery store (albeit on the tippy top shelf). With our summer abundance of tomatoes and hot peppers, I will likely play with this combination to freeze my own "Ro*Tel" items in the future, but that is for another day!

Here is what is now made and ready for the arrival of the "fam", (no photo yet), complete with my notes for making it next time.

Sweet Potato Enchilada Casserole

Ingredients (I buy seasonal, organically and locally grown foods where available):
• 2# sweet potatoes (makes 2 cups of sweet mashed sweet potatoes)
• 2 cups cooked black beans
• 10 ounce can Ro*Tel diced tomatoes w/green chilis, drained (save the liquid for soup stock later)
• 2 cups frozen corn, drain if needed (again, save any liquid for using in soup stock later) - my frozen corn comes from a local company called Locavorius that purchases locally-grown produce in the summer, does all the prep work, freezes it to sell during the winter months
• 1 bunch scallions, slice the whites and also slice the green tops to use in different parts of the recipe
• 1 chipotle pepper, chopped from a jar of them in adobo sauce (left over from one of our summer interns - adding 1 pepper to most dishes is "just right")
• 4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
• 1/2 cup salsa
• 6 Tbsp lime juice - or juice 2 limes and zest if they are organic limes
• 1 teaspoon chili powder - or to taste depending on how hot your chili powder is and of course how spicy your family likes its food!
• 18 corn tortillas - whole - I use an organic brand I find a Whole Foods Market
• 1 1/2 cup salsa
• 1 cup sliced pitted black olives (I buy pitted black Kalamata olives at a deli and then slice them - I stopped buying canned black olives years and years ago, which have no flavor, except salt!)

1) Preheat oven to 350ºF.  (or make this dish ahead, cover with foil, and heat later)
2) Cook sweet potatoes (I washed them and then just put them in my slow cooker overnight on low - they were perfectly done the next morning)
3) Peel sweet potatoes (cut in half, scoop out the potato, giving the peels to your dog or chickens - both are ecstatic recipients in our family)
4) Mash sweet potatoes, mix with lime juice, salt, pepper, and chili powder
5) In another bowl, mix together the drained beans, tomatoes/chili peppers, corn, chopped garlic, white section of the scallions, and 1/2 cup of the salsa
6) Spread a few tablespoons of salsa or other taco sauce on the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.
7) Layer 6 overlapping corn tortillas over the bottom of the baking dish.
8) Layer 1/2 of the sweet potato mixture, then layer 1/2 of the bean mixture, in each case spreading to cover the tortillas.
9) Cover with another layer of 6 corn tortillas then repeat #8.
10) Top with 6 more corn tortillas.
11) Now spread the final 1-1/2 cup of salsa over the top layer of tortillas, sprinkle the sliced green onions and olives over the salsa (of course you may add some shredded cheese here if you wish - we do not so my daughter in law can eat it)
12) Cover with foil, heat 20 minutes at 350ºF. or so (longer if this has been held in the refrigerator until needed) until fully heated through and bubbling on the edges.

Note: I bought one of those deep 9x13 aluminum baking dishes at the grocery store so I could make this ahead and still have our baking dishes to use for food tomorrow. The pan I bought was deep enough that I could easily have had a 4th layer, which I will do next time, increasing the filling ingredients by 50%.

Serve with a green vegetable, salad, and home-made guacamole (yes plan ahead to have avocados on hand and ready to make your own, which is easy, delicious, and so much cheaper than buying it ready made.

Note: No photo yet. I'll try to take one and post it up later this week (don't hold your breath). You can all imagine how beautiful this dish is, so colorful with several yellow, green, red, white, and black foods combined, and with so many textures, too. Delicious! The word "healthy" does not even need to be mentioned, but yes yes yes, it is. :)

PS - I suppose I should change the photo at the top of my blog, too, but on a cold, rainy Christmas Eve, it is actually nice to look at those gorgeous sunflowers!

Happy Holidays, Everyone! 

Diana Dyer, MS, RD
"Cultivate your life: You are what you grow, inch by inch, and row by row"

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Catching up!

As tomorrow is September 8th and I have not posted anything since late April, I want you to know I am still here, still standing, still doing well, still overcommitted (again, LOL, what else is new?), and thus going to share just a very brief update.

Highlights since my last posting?

(1) Actually going through the organic certification process and coming out the other side with that USDA Organic Certification!! Finally!! It is not an exaggeration to say that we are still very excited about finally having our farm officially certified. We chose our farm name (Dyer Family Organic Farm) very intentionally back in 2009. We never dreamed that our process would take so much time (for so many reasons), but here we are, five years later. We proudly hang the USDA Organic symbol from our market tent. At some point over the winter months, we'll do a better job of having it inserted into our farm website, market banner, business cards, and other materials.

(2) Having the pleasure and privilege of both sons and their wives live with us for many weeks during this past summer, as they were between chapters in their life, between leases, and we welcomed them with both open arms and an open heart. We put them to work on our farm, of course, and we were busy beyond busy, but having them here was enormously helpful and enjoyable for us (and I believe for them, too). Again, I repeat, having our grown sons and their wives live with us was both a pleasure and privilege that I could not have seen in my future as I struggled through the various times I was undergoing chemotherapy and/or recovering to rebuild my life after all cancer therapy was completed.

Gratitude. Pure. And. Simple. 

(3) Although I don't have time to post on any of my blogs at the present time, I am still writing our farm's newsletter, which is weekly when we are in the marketing season. If you wish to subscribe, that is easy to do on our farm's website, and if you only wish to browse previous archived newsletters (there are lots of photos), you may do so at this link. In addition, if you want to follow daily updates for our farm, you may do so two ways via Facebook: a) Facebook feeds are visible at the bottom of our farm website's homepage without joining Facebook, and b) on Facebook itself (find and Like The Dyer Family Organic Farm/Dick's Pretty Good Garlic). Many customers stop by our table at the markets to say how much they enjoy reading the newsletter, even if they do not need garlic or honey that day! Awww…….I confess that I enjoy hearing how much they enjoy the newsletter. I look forward to writing it, just as I always have looked forward to writing on my blogs! :)

I don't know that there is any one photo that captures the summer perfectly. So I will include one of the first sunflowers we have had on the farm (planted by one of our summer interns). I have enjoyed looking forward to seeing them finally bloom, which only happened this week. And only this week did I first read a quote by Helen Keller that fits with my happy sunflowers:

"Keep your face to the sunshine, and you cannot see the shadows. 
It's what the sunflowers do."

I know that each of us has challenges, and shadows, but I hope your summer has had some healing R&R, some happiness, and some sunflowers. I hope you are looking forward to fall. And I also hope that you can keep life's shadows behind you. Addendum: The wind during a recent ferocious storm flattened these sunflowers after I took this photo but before I got it posted. A few days later, they are now doing their best to stand back up, with their faces still facing the sun. I'll just bet that the vast majority of my blog readers can relate. :)

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Morning Memories

It's almost time for me to give up reading what I follow on Facebook (I'll still be posting up on the farm's Facebook page) with even less frequent blogging, too, until we are done planting garlic in November. My long-time readers know to expect this by now! However, I don't know if I can give up my morning visit to The Writer's Almanac. I would miss hearing Garrison Keillor read Mary Oliver, and other poets, and really miss learning that today is the anniversary of the the publication of Roger Tory Peterson's Field Guide to Birds. 

Hearing Roger Tory Peterson speak at the University of Wisconsin during the mid-70's has been one of the highlights of my life. I was too naive at the time to know I should have brought my first copy of his book Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America (bought in the early 60's) to have him autograph it. In any case, I can still recall much from that evening, just as he remembers his experience of having a flicker explode into life with his touch. 

One of my friends and I were recently talking about how much we love our professional work (she's a physician, close to my age, with no plans for retiring), and wondering if either of the two of us had 'hobbies'. I'm not sure if my love for birds is a hobby, as I cannot really 'set it down', versus a foundation that drives my passion and advocacy for healthy food systems because healthy food systems and healthy ecosystems that support diverse and thriving bird populations are mutually dependent. 

Lovely morning memories of my past that have shaped who I am today - plus a bonus gift, a male wood duck on our pond this morning (photo and comment on our farm's FB page). 

The blessings in my life as a multiple-time cancer survivor are simply uncountable, but I give thanks every morning for what I have and what I can share. As Mary Oliver finishes her poem The Place I Want To Get Back To, "I live in the house near the corner, which I have named Gratitude." :)

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Friday, April 25, 2014

Winter is over, really!

Because my last post about headlines has gone a little 'viral', I thought I should finally change the upper photo on my blog which showed Phoebe walking the paths in our snowy garlic fields last December, with her ears blowing up and back from the strong wind. Yes, it nearly the end of April and our snow is finally gone, frogs are singing, and the garlic is coming up through the mulch in all the fields. So spring is clearly here, even if we may still get one more quick snow storm before spring fully settles in.

However, sorting through photos, I saw one I could not resist sharing. Instead of a spring fling, it is like Phoebe's final winter fling as she is throwing herself into the air to chase something, which surely seems like a better way to chase a critter than plowing or trudging through the snow (we all got tired of doing that this winter!). 

This photo won't stay up there long. I'll get some spring photos taken and share one at the top of the blog soon. But in the meantime, here is one photo that shows it's hard to keep a good dog down (I got lucky with this shot)! 

One of those exceptional, gorgeous mornings when the hoarfrost covers everything. 

Ok, now it's time to download the camera of recent photos and take some more new ones, showing spring. That would include showing our chicks now full-grown, our rooster also being full-grown but with a modified comb due to frostbite (still quite handsome, just different), our garlic on its way up through the mulch, asparagus peeking up, spring beauties and other wild flowers, our thriving bee hives that (shock of shock) made it through this past winter (with uncountable polar vortexes and a record amount of snow), geese and ducks on the pond, bluebirds flitting through the farm, and on and on. 

I hope you all have an enjoyable weekend, with your hands in the soil, helping spring along as you get something cleaned up or planted. 

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Don't always believe the headline or the bottom line

I was thrust into the world of "the media" when the Detroit Free Press wrote an article about my cancer recovery way back in 1997, an article that was well written overall but contained a deliberately constructed "headline" within the article that was a "hook" to create interest and controversy (i.e. readership) about the content and path of my recovery. (The internal headline was "No time for chemotherapy". Yes, I probably said that, as an off-hand comment, like who does???, but yes, I underwent both chemo and surgery. I did not 'cure' myself only with diet, etc.) 

Sigh……..welcome to the real world……...

Recently an article has been published in the New York Times (link below) that essentially says "diet doesn't matter" for cancer prevention. This article is now making the rounds within other newspapers and all over the internet. 

Sigh………don't believe everything you read, anywhere, not just the New York Times, not just "the internet". 

I have asked a colleague for permission to add her comments to my blog, for my readers to see a well-reasoned response to this article and the reactions you may be seeing or reading (thank you, Karen). Please also read the links she has included, both the original article and the response from The American Institute for Cancer Research, where I donate proceeds from my book.)



I want to give you a head's-up about a column appearing today in the New York Times Science section.

In giving a commentary on the recent Amer. Assoc. for Cancer Research conference, the article, "An Apple a Day, and Other Myths" provides a limited quote from a presentation there by Walter Willett (distinguished researcher from Harvard involved in the Nurses' Health Study and many others; and one of the panel of scientists on the panel responsible for the AICR Expert Report that is the source of the AICR Recommendations to Reduce Cancer Risk).

Headlines, as this article is shooting all over the media, are referring to diet and cancer as a "mess". You may be getting questions about it (or hearing from patients or colleagues repeating this article's findings as fact without asking you a question).

So you may want to read the NY Times column yourself:

I also strongly encourage you to read a post from AICR that attempts to put the article in perspective:

We all know the research on diet and cancer is becoming more and more complex -- but it's unfortunate if that gets misinterpreted as meaning that the two are unrelated, rather than what is actually happening, as we are finding that the complexity means that cancer is not all the same, people are not all the same (genetic differences may make some more vulnerable to certain aspects of diet than others), and foods are not all the same (different forms of fiber have different effects, carotenoids differ from each other, grains differ from each other, etc., etc.). The emphasis in recent years on eating pattern rather than specific foods or nutrients, and diet's interaction with physical activity and body composition, indeed make this complex. But that's very different than the message portrayed in the NY Times article.

I hope this is of help to you all in being ready to respond to your patients and colleagues.

Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN

Taking nutrition from daunting to doable SM 
Speaker, Writer, Consultant
Nutrition Advisor, American Institute for Cancer Research
Co-Director, Wellness and Cardiovascular Nutrition subunit, SCAN dietetic practice group


In addition, I would also add that most diet and cancer studies have many major short-comings, not the least of which but maybe one of the most important, is that most people are likely not eating enough fruits and vegetables to see potential benefits (i.e., even the "high" intakes in these studies are still low, which is why I have set my personal goal of eating 9+ servings/day, every day, every week, rain or shine, winter or summer, traveling or home, etc, etc).

Please don't fall for the conclusion in this article that diet does not matter, for either cancer prevention (or cancer survival). This article appears to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, I can only guess for the sake of "readership" (i.e. advertising dollars). 

I once had an oncologist (not my own) ask me if I really thought all the work involved with my cancer recovery journey (as I describe in my book) was really worth it if I only increased my odds for survival by 2% (a number he pulled out of the air). I was standing in front of 600+ people as the invited keynote speaker at a huge cancer survivor day event when he asked me that question. 

I let the question sink in, for both me and the audience. I am serious when I say I could have heard a pin drop in that auditorium during that moment.

Here is how I responded. "Let's see. Let's play with those hypothetical numbers a bit. Only 2%……….let's say I increased my odds from 1% survival to 3% survival. Those are not great odds, either way, but one way to look at that change is it being a 200% increase. Another example, let's say I increased my odds of survival from 49% to 51%. Again, on the surface, the increase does not look like much, but now I have taken myself out of the minority and put myself into the majority odds for long-term survival, which is where I much prefer to be."

There was another full moment of silence in the room. I suppose people were digesting what I had just said or maybe they were waiting for either that oncologist to say something else or maybe for me to follow-up with additional thoughts. When neither of us spoke, the audience jumped to their feet and roared with applause. I was stunned and embarrassed by all the hooting and hollering and foot stamping. I guess what I said (totally unplanned) sank in and resonated with this group of survivors. 

Afterward, both cancer survivors and other health care professional came up to me to thank me for "standing up for patients". 

I guess what I am reacting to in this New York Times article is the negativity that is being projected on to people (both those concerned enough about their health to make changes and the health care professionals trying to guide them).

Believe me, I am not tossing my diet changes out the window, but I may stop reading the New York Times, let alone counting on it for "news". 

Ok - enough disgruntlement from me. Now let's all go out and enjoy spring! It's that time of year when we should all smell like soil at the end of a day, :) :) and oh yes, enjoy eating your vegetables knowing you are nourishing health in your body and soul, and hopefully also nourishing your local farmers. :) :)

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

PS - the formatting may look weird, at least it does for me with a preview version. I don't know why (something to do with cut and paste I suppose) but I don't have time to sort this out. Apologies for the vagaries of blogging. :)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Backing up finds loss and happiness

I have wondered if I am blogging less because I have less to say, at least less to say that is 'new'. I think that might be true. 

I am finally backing up my years of blog posts, working backwards by starting in 2014, one by one, re-reading them and enjoying the photos I posted. I just spent an hour backing up and re-reading all my posts from March 2012. Oh my, oh my. I think it would hard to top the range of feelings I had that month and clearly felt were beneficial (at least to me) to put into words. Only one post that month was a great recipe. The rest were either deep epic emotional outpourings or short posts about happiness, gratitude, and joy. 

I have not read the April 2012 posts yet, but seriously, after reading the March 2012 posts, I cannot imagine what I could add that would be new. However, it is informative to re-read a bit of one's life to both remember and reflect on how yesterday has shaped where you are today. Moving forward feels good. :)

I have a young friend struggling within a very difficult phase of her own cancer survivorship journey, finished with therapy but still trying to find a peaceful path forward with her young, vitally important life. I have always disliked the term "new normal" that is commonly used by oncology professionals. I have also been uncomfortable with the term "survivor", as each conveys to me a reminder of significant loss and struggle and a sense of unfairness. 

I don't have a better substitute, however maybe some of my readers do. I would like to hear what words you choose. Some use the term "cancer thriver" which perhaps shows more optimism, more determination than the more commonly-used term "survivor". 

I do know that I flat-out reject the term "remission" because of the near-expectation of "reappearance" that is associated with that word remission. So if someone asks if my cancer is "in remission", I politely tell them that instead, I prefer to consider myself "cancer-free" until I'm told otherwise. :)

I know one thing I have learned, truly viscerally learned, from my last cancer experience and its recovery journey is that words are powerful, i.e., "the pen is mightier than the sword" type of powerful. I also learned that I find it helpful to me to find words that may be helpful to others in their own life's journey for recovery and growth. The phrase "your new normal" can only be meaningful if somehow your new life after cancer (or after ___________ - fill in the blank) is even better than before. 

Somehow, somewhere, I realized first that helping others with their cancer recovery would help me be better than before cancer and secondly, helping others never have cancer in the first place led to starting our organic farm. Thus re-reading a phrase I found in a Feb 2012 post was a lovely 'find'. 

"Your calling is found where your deepest joy(s) and
the world's desperate need(s)

~ Melinda Hemmelgarn, MS, RD at the 2012 MOSES Organic Farming Conference 
(paraphrasing theologian Frederich Buechner)

All of us struggle with something. No one escapes life's unfairnesses and losses. However, I hope that each of us finds a calling, something that keeps us going forward in spite of cancer (or even because of our cancer), in spite of sadness, in spite of loss. To do that, I also hope that each of us finds something that consistently gives us joy and happiness each day, sometimes in unexpected places, at unexpected times, like re-reading old blog posts, knowing that we have moved forward within our lives, "tasting the sweetness where we each had the chance" (~Diana, paraphrasing author Louise Erdrich from another of my March 2012 posts). :)

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

National Dietitian Day - 2014 - the future is now

Another year has rolled by, and as hard as it is to believe, I have now been a Registered Dietitian (RD) for 36 years. 

If you are new to my blog (especially if you are a new or aspiring RD), you may be interested in reading the blog posts that I have written for the past National Dietitian Days (links included below). Some are quite reflective, so set aside some dedicated time and make yourself a cup of tea to enjoy while reading. They might be interesting to read from 2008 - forward. I re-read them that way last year myself!  

I confess that I think a lot about the future, the future of my profession, the future of our communities, the future of our planet, and how these all intersect. This blog post is just a very short attempt to tie these concepts together for the students who are now taking up the torch for my profession. 

I am proud of everything I have done during my career, which has spanned the spectrum of health care, from being one of the first dietitians to work in the intensive care units to now educating and feeding my community the healthy, delicious food grown on the organic farm that my husband and I established in 2009. In other words, I started my professional career at one far extreme end of health care where we worked to "salvage" our patients after some type of catastrophic event (or slow deterioration) to their health. However, after working in the ICU's for several decades, for a wide variety of reasons that I do discuss in previous blog posts, I slowly and intentionally began transitioning to the far other end of the health care spectrum to focus on wellness and health creation with organic farming, foods, and cooking. 

So, when people ask me if I have now retired from being a registered dietitian (RD) because I became a farmer, I tell them that nothing could be further from the truth! Not only do I see all organic farmers who grow food to sell locally as the true front-line health care providers in their own communities (and I am very proud to be among them in this role), as an organic farmer growing food for my community who is also a registered dietitian, I see an additional role for myself as (and ENJOY the opportunity to be) a food, cooking, and health educator, for which I have the additional education, credentials, and skill sets to do. 

Thus, I just had to smile when reading (and want to share) the following article published in the February 2014 issue of the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics entitled "Bringing Cooking Back: Food and Culinary Expertise as a Key to Dietitians' Future Success", the Lenna Frances Cooper Memorial Award Lecture delivered by Ellie Krieger, MS, RD, host of the Food Network's show Healthy Appetite and one of my profession's 'super-stars'. (Regrettably, it is likely that this article is not accessible by the public, but only available to AND members who have access to the on-line version of our professional journal.)

"Bringing cooking back"………..what a shame that an emphasis on cooking ever left our profession, but yes it did. It is still rare that student dietitians get extensive experience, training, and confidence for doing cooking demonstrations (I got none of this and still have a lack of confidence here).  Yes, it is past time to bring back the pleasures of cooking, to bring back the practice and pleasures of eating together again (versus the grab-n-go and/or eating solo in the car or your desk habit), to bring back the pleasure and skills for growing some of our own food (in fact, I tell my students that "we are what we grow!" is a more appropriate starting point for health than the more traditional phrase "we are what we eat").  

One line from the article stood out for me: 

"We work in nutrition and our currency is food. We have to have a passion for food if we want to be successful," Chef Todd Seyfarth, MS, RD, CSSD, the department Chair and Program Director at Johnson and Wales University

And what better way to express a love and passion for food than with an apron (versus emphasizing nutrients with a lab coat)? Ellie shows her favorite apron during this presentation and talks about how meaningful and enjoyable wearing that apron is for her. As she so eloquently states in this article (and Michael Pollan has also written about), cooking should not be just a spectator sport, and as I have written about in several previous blog posts, cooking certainly should not be viewed as drudgery. 

It's time to dedicate time to cooking, it's time to get dusted up a bit, to knead the dough, to find a little spray of fresh beet or lemon juice on your glasses, to get some dirt under your fingernails, in fact, it's time to get your apron dirty! It's also time to eat together, to express gratitude for our food and those people who grow, raise, or catch our food, and to enjoy the flavors of a delicious meal that you have prepared! 

So my wish for all RDs (and RDs2B, i.e., students and interns) on this 2014 National Registered Dietitian Day? Share your passion for food with your patients, your clients, your customers, your friends, neighbors, and relatives, indeed the world. Look around, find an opportunity to put on your apron (or your gardening gloves) in order to share that passion, your vision, and your tools for creating and nourishing a healthy community. The opportunities are endless - due warning here, you may need to create them yourself - but, I repeat, the opportunities are endless, and the need is urgent.

In addition, and maybe most important, all RDs are now needed to help educate the public to become food and health literate, to think beyond and behind our plates (quoting another super-star RD, my friend Melinda Hemmelgarn, MS, RD, aka Food Sleuth) so together we all can connect the dots between the food we eat (and recommend), how that food was grown or processed, plus our collective soil, water, and air qualities to our personal, community, and planetary health. 

This is no small charge for our profession's future. 

Indeed, our profession's knowledge and skills are needed more than ever, and the time is now to make sure we get in the game and then step up to the plate to create healthy communities that are based on sustainable food and agriculture systems. We cannot wait for someone else to hit a grand slam home-run in the bottom of the 9th inning to win this game. Society urgently needs each member of our profession to hit a single, catch the pop-up, stop a passed ball, tag the runner, etc. etc. You get the idea. Jump in! 

Here is where I want to reassure you. I know you are excited about becoming/being an RD or you would not have read this far. However, if you look around and are beginning to see  the overwhelming number of ways that our current agriculture and food systems are creating unhealthy people and unhealthy communities, know that you have both good eyes and a good heart. If you look around and feel like the odds are long against winning, i.e., creating healthy, sustainable communities, please don't give up now. Instead, know that you can join up with the growing team of registered dietitians within the Hunger & Environmental Dietetic Practice Group who are committed to going the distance within our professional organization and will be very willing to help you along your professional path of helping to create healthy and sustainable food systems. 

Nothing that you have done to become an RD has been easy. I know that. Nothing you ever do as an RD will be easy. I know that, too. In fact, anything meaningful is almost always both difficult and time-consuming to accomplish. However, and this is important, I want you to know that your career can also be fun in addition to being meaningful. I'm certainly having fun and find enjoyment being a dietitian who is also an organic farmer and food educator. Find the fun (no matter what specialty area of practice you choose), find your enjoyment, and share it within the various sectors of your community. 

And here are my words of wisdom, after 36 years as an RD, I have finally learned that fun comes from real food, not nutrients.  :)

Thank you for choosing to become an RD. The world needs you, and the world needs you now. I send you all my best wishes for a long, meaningful, and yes, fun career. :)

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Crows or Eagles: Which Will You Choose?

While (finally) starting the process of backing up my blog entries for the past 7 years (my bad,  I know, but I am getting it done), I found an essay on my computer that I had submitted to the book Chicken Soup for the Survivor's Soul. It was not chosen for inclusion (I never heard back), but as I re-read what I wrote, I could still see everything about that moment, along with remembering my subsequent thoughts and feelings. I also remember the enjoyment of writing the article. I enjoyed reading it again last night, and I think it deserves 'flight', so to speak. 

So I hope my blog readers also enjoy reading it, if you are a cancer survivor or not. The experience can be had anywhere by anyone, and the insight is applicable to each and every one of us. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Crows or Eagles: Which Will You Choose?

Sitting in a Utah canyon during January 2003, I saw a magnificent and memorable sight, a mixed flock of approximately 50 crows and three Bald eagles flying in a thermal updraft from the warm canyon rocks. As i viewed the swirling acrobatic birds through my binoculars, I could see individual crows pestering the eagles, who put up with this annoyance for a while. Eventually, however, each eagle turned as if to say to the crows, "You are only a crow. I am an eagle!" Each eagle then flew on its own separate way. 

I was struck by how this real-life observation in nature resembles not only our own real-life patterns, but also our opportunities. How often do we find ourselves staying within the comfort of the group or the ease of the updraft without moving on to new experiences or opportunities? How often do we find ourselves slowed down, bothered by, or worse, resigned to the myriad of life's distractions, or our own poor choices, when we really do have the desire, strength, or ability within us to follow the better path? Healing our own cancer-weary spirit or helping someone else are just two examples of the better path; a path with more happiness, more joy, or a more meaningful purpose. 

This recent experience also has given me a new perspective about my own cancer recovery journey. I have always called myself an "accidental" author since writing the first edition of my book, A Dietitian's Cancer Story, in 1997. Writing and oral presentations were very difficult for me during my high school and college years, and I truly doubt that any of my past teachers would have selected me as a potential future author or public speaker. However, after viewing these eagles purposely fly away from the crows, I no longer see this aspect of my cancer recovery journey as accidental. Instead, I realize I made a choice to fly with the eagles; a choice to share my professional knowledge about nutrition and cancer along with my personal experiences through a book.

I did much more soul-searching after my most recent cancer diagnosis than I had done previously. I finally understood that my heart was being pulled to help others have an easier cancer recovery journey than I have had. I took a deep breath and chose to say "yes" to that pull in my heart' "yes" to leaving the comfort of a job I loved; "yes" to sharing my personal experience and professional knowledge with the hope that I could provide "information and inspiration" for other cancer survivors. 

It was a risky choice, indeed I was terrified to know I would need to fly into new territory. I could have let the fact that I knew nothing about using a computer or nothing about the internet keep my flying inside my comfort circle with the crows. In addition to knowing nothing doubt writing a book, I knew nothing about book publishing or methods of book promotion, let alone how to run a home-based business. It certainly would have been easier to hang back with the crows, even with their occasional annoying pestering! 

However, the Chinese proverb "When the student is ready, the teacher appears" immediately became true for me. As soon as I said, "Yes, I will write a book", people appeared to help me with every aspect of this daunting project. I now envision their teaching and helping to be just like the updraft that kept those eagles afloat until they were ready to fly alone. Writing, self-publishing, and marketing my book, creating my web site, and public speaking are all examples of ways that I broke away from my group of crows to soar with the eagles. 

Is flying with the eagles always smooth or easy? In a word, no. Do I have days when I am back with the crows, days when I do not feel like I can reach out to help other cancer survivors by soaring on my own? Yes, of course. However, I have two favorite verses that I keep close to me at all times for both comfort and inspiration. For those days when I just don't feel like I can keep soaring with the eagles, I take comfort in this verse:

"He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge." (Psalm 91:4)

For days when I am ready to try soaring again:

"They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." (Isaiah 40:31)

Over time, many details from my recent trip certainly will fade. However, I know I will hold the gift and power of this sign forever. Anytime I ever see a crow or Bald eagle in the future, I will remember that I have choices in life; a choice to either hang out with the crowd of crows or a choice to soar with the eagles. In addition, I frequently find myself visualizing the crows and eagles swirling together in that updraft; seeing the eagles in my mind as I choose how to spend my precious time and energy on a daily basis. 

My wish is that you will also find the courage to choose a risk; the courage to say "yes" to some meaningful aspect of your life where you can help make a difference. It does not need to be cancer-related or even something "big" like writing a book or running a marathon. It just should be something uniquely important to you; something that will bring meaning, happiness, or joy into your life. 

If you are not yet ready to soar by yourself, look for teachers to help you first stay aloft and then move outside your current comfort zone. You also can rise above the "I can't….." and the "If only………." type of statements so common when we surround ourselves with the crows in life to "I did it!" when we risk flying with the eagles. 

I hope you experience the joy of soaring with the eagles during your life's journey!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My computer file says my final draft was 2.28.2003, nearly 11 years ago, and I don't think I have re-read that article since then, as life moves along quickly. 

However, I can still clearly see those crows and 3 eagles in the blue sky, the rock outcroppings where I was sitting plus the general terrain of winter in the southwest desert canyons, along with feeling both the wind and sun on my face that day. 

I can also clearly remember the shaky feeling of risk as I took flight on a journey in which I became an advocate, a spokesperson, for cancer survivors on many fronts. 

Life is not easy, and it certainly is not fair (whatever that might be), but we do have choices, and we will have support. The Universe is abundant, and yes, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear". Teachers have come to me over and over and over again since my cancer experience in 1995. 

So I will dedicate this blog post to all my teachers during the past 19 years, some of whom are now dear friends, others flew with me for a short time within my flight path and then kept going. I would not be here, and I would not be who I am today, without all of you. Very simply, I thank you all. 

And to all of my blog readers, I'll end this post exactly where I ended that article. 

I hope you also experience the joy of soaring with the eagles during your life's journey!

Cultivate your life - You are what you grow (and who you choose to fly with) - Inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

PS - Please don't think I don't like crows. I do! In fact, I love them, look for them, and even count them twice each day as they fly over our farm in their flock (called a murder). Besides actually counting their numbers, I count them as friends and was as tickled as could be to actually see one close-up, really close-up for the first time, while it was scooping up scattered sunflower seeds under our bird feeders one day last week. 

PPS - Guess what I am going to do right now.  Back up this post? Yes……… :)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Yes! It's Official!

Life begins the day one plants a garden.

~~ Chinese Proverb

I have waited almost six months to be able to share this exciting news with my blog readers. Good things often take time to work, to emerge, or to fully develop, rather like rising bread, planting seeds, etc., and are well worth the wait.  

The brief backstory. A friend visited our farm last summer, telling me of her recent research focused on gardening therapy for cancer survivors. As I listened, I had one of those proverbial "light bulb" moments with racing thoughts that translated to: 

1. Wow - What a great project! 
2. Why didn't I think of that? 
3. How can I help her get as much data as possible from this study?

We talked a bit, I made some inquiries, and long story short, the 2014 distribution from my endowment at The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) will be able to provide the additional funds this researcher needs to do the critical biochemical analyses that were included with the original grant proposal but left unfunded. (Note: My endowment at AICR is funded by individual donations - thank you! - plus the amount I annually contribute from the sale of my book A Dietitian's Cancer Story.

For this study (called "Harvest for Health")University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) cancer researchers plan to introduce 100 breast cancer survivors in a 5-county area in Alabama (see below) to a new kind of therapy — gardening, while pairing the breast cancer survivors with a Master Gardener from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

“Studies have shown a link between diet and cancer, and between physical activity and cancer. We want to see how cancer survivors respond to this gardening intervention, how it affects their diet and exercise behaviors, and their health-related quality of life and physical health status,” said Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, Ph.D., R.D., professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences and associate director for Cancer Prevention and Control at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center

“Harvest for Health” builds on a successful pilot study conducted by Dr. Demark-Wahnefried at UAB where Master Gardeners worked with a smaller group of cancer survivors over the course of a year to establish a vegetable garden.  At the end of that study, the published results showed that many survivors not only improved their diet and exercise behaviors, but 90% of the participants also demonstrated significant improvement in objective measures of their strength, agility, and endurance

This larger study had hoped to expand those findings by not only having a larger study group, but also by measuring several biochemical parameters that are frequently used as biomarkers of successful aging, i.e., telomerase, sVCAM, and d-dimer, at baseline, the 1-year mark, and the 2-year mark after the start of the study. While The Women’s Breast Health Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham has generously provided the bulk of the Harvest for Health research grant, my endowment at AICR will fund the last piece to complete the study with as much data collection and analysis as possible. 

Dr. Demark-Wahnefried (who has led several previous pioneering research studies on cancer survivorship) has noted, "With advances in early detection and treatment, many cancers are now being cured; however, it is the side effects of cancer and its treatment that are often more of a problem than the cancer itself. Thus these biomarkers are important to measure because they tie into longevity and improved physical functioning much more so than cancer itself."

UAB provides tools and seedlings and will either prepare a raised bed in the yard of a survivor’s home or provide EarthBoxes® — large gardening containers on wheels — that can be kept on a porch or patio. Master Gardeners visit with the survivors twice a month for one year, offering advice, expertise and suggestions, while answering the questions new gardeners have. 

The Master Gardeners, who have completed a rigorous certification process from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, are all volunteers. “They are very excited to be making a difference in the lives of cancer survivors and their families,” Demark-Wahnefried said.

If the larger study shows the same improvements in healthy eating, increased exercise, and physical functioning, plus the biochemical signs of successful aging, it is hoped that the program can be offered to cancer survivors throughout Alabama. 

Special Note: The Harvest for Health study is still actively recruiting participants. If any of my readers are breast cancer survivors from (or know someone from) the following five Alabama counties (Cullman, Mobile, Blount, St. Clair or Walker) and are interested in participating in this study, you may call the following telephone # 205.996.7367 for more information. 

Dr. Demark-Wahnefried is a gardener herself. I asked when she had her original inspiration for this innovative research approach for cancer survivors. She told me it happened a while ago during her previous years as a researcher at Duke University's Cancer Center while she was conducting research - the Black Churches United for Better Health Project - in which Master Gardeners helped the churches establish Victory Gardens as a way to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among their members. 

That project was successful, so fast forward to 2014, hoping the same will be true for cancer survivors.  I'm not sure if my friend's great idea happened in a "flash" like mine did during our talk this past summer, but in any case, here is another example of a great idea that needed time to develop, to be nurtured, to grow, before finally blossoming. 

Thank you, Wendy, for your decades of high quality, pioneering nutrition and cancer research, for your dedication to the needs of cancer survivors, looking for nutritional and lifestyle strategies that will optimize their odds for both the extension and quality of life after cancer. 

I have been honored to contribute to each research project that my endowment at AICR has funded since 2001. However, I must confess that funding Harvest for Health in 2014 also gives me deep happiness, I suppose because this study brings together so many of my long-standing professional interests, friendships, and deeply-held personal values. 

As a long-time gardener myself, I have always loved the following quotation:

A garden is the best alternative therapy. 

~~ Germaine Greer

Now here's another great idea - let's change the quote above to simply say that a garden is the best therapy period, without being "alternative", providing multiple, far-reaching benefits for all cancer survivors, no matter the individual diagnosis, no matter where one lives, in fact for everyone, cancer diagnosis or not. :) 

And another great idea, i.e., words of advice, which my long-time blog readers have heard me say many times before - don't wait, don't wait, don't wait for this study to be done  to _________________ (fill in the blank); in this case, don't wait to get your garden started. Why? I'll repeat the quote I used to open up this blog post:

Life begins the day one plants a garden.

~~ Chinese Proverb

Ready to start? It's not too early to start dreaming, planning, or even planting some seeds indoors. Need help? Find a gardening friend, find a Master Gardener in your county (yes, they are everywhere, not just in Alabama), find, cultivate, and begin a new life. Yes, you are what you grow. :)

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD