Influenza – Drama and Science


I rarely look at my Facebook feed, but last night as I was scrolling through I came across a post by a Pharmacist where she provided a “Public Service Announcement” in which she warned readers of the ineffectiveness of some natural remedies for the flu.  One of those remedies was elderberry (Sambucus nigra), which she claimed only shortened the duration of illness by a day or two.  She did not list any of the sources she reported researching, but assured the trustworthiness of the information shared by reinforcing her credentials as a pharmacist.  This is not uncommon amongst allopathically trained medical professionals (though this is changing!), many of whom deny a layperson’s ability to critically consider various perspectives and to form opinions for themselves. 

I responded with links to studies that are critical of the Influenza vaccine and Tamiflu (conventional flu treatment), as well as links supporting the effectiveness of elderberry in treatment of the flu.  Also included were the package inserts for Tamiflu and flu vaccines that list some serious adverse events to be aware of, as well as the CDC link to the ingredients in various flu vaccines.  All of this was taken from mainstream sources.

Though my comments were both civil and well referenced, they were marked as spam and deleted.  Prior to that I received a reply or two with Simpsons cartoon gifs, a comment that indicated the reader did not actually go to my linked references, and a man linking his own study claiming it came to a different conclusion than it actually did, strongly suggesting he didn’t actually read the evidence supporting his own argument.  These are also fairly common tactics in these discussions – making jokes and accusations, name calling, throwing out theories as if they are facts and outright evasion of debate by strategies such as marking a legitimate comment as spam or deleting it.  None of these involve actual evidence or critical thought, much less respect for others as human beings. 

Science isn’t everything.  It is limited as it is constructed and carried out by flawed human beings.  Studies can even be deliberately designed to ensure an advantageous result, conclusions can be drawn that are inconsistent with the data acquired and studies can be altogether hidden away when research results are undesirable.  Therefore an abundance of science claiming to support something doesn’t necessarily, while a lack of research doesn’t always indicate that a given option doesn’t have therapeutic value.  The latter is particularly the case in natural medicine, where products of nature are un-patentable and therefore don’t provide the large profit margins/funding that pharmaceuticals are afforded.  The former is perhaps especially relevant with regard to vaccine safety, where the standard is to not even use a real placebo (like a saline injection) in control groups, but a different vaccine or injection of other preparations that are anything but inert.  Nonetheless, all types of evidence have strengths and weaknesses, including scientific, historical and experiential, among others. 

Elderberry is primarily discussed here to keep things simple.  A few other natural strategies/options to research for immune system support during flu season are supporting fever rather than suppressing it, minimizing sugar intake, eating whole foods, getting enough sleep, vitamin D3, vitamin C, Homeopathic Oscillococcinum,  Bone Broth, Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, and Thieves and oregano essential oils.

Overall, remember that it isn’t the pathogen that determines the degree of illness a person experiences when they are exposed to it, but the state of that person’s immune system;  and a well supported immune system can overcome just about anything.

Below you’ll find links to some science on elderberry, flu medications and flu shots for those interested in views that differ from what is currently prominent in the media.


Here is a study on elderberry that shows it relieved flu symptom duration by 4 days compared to placebo:

Elderberry has an inhibitory effect on flu virus propagation and possesses antimicrobial activity against bacteria that can cause secondary infections:

This one says the elderberry showed “relatively strong defense” against influenza infection in mice:

Tamiflu and Relenza (conventional flu treatments)

Tamiflu and Relenza shortened the duration of the flu by less than a day (16.8 hours):

Tamiflu use could induce sudden deterioration leading to death, especially within 12 hours of prescription:

Tamiflu package insert including adverse events:

Included events are neuropsychiatric events such as hallucinations, delirium, and abnormal behavior, in some cases resulting in fatal outcomes. Others mentioned are anaphylaxis and toxic epidermal necrolysis.…/lab…/2012/021087s062lbl.pdf

Flu Vaccines

Flu vaccination not found to decrease incidence of influenza infection, but was associated with significantly increased risk of non influenza respiratory infections:

Children who get the flu vaccine are more at risk for hospitalization than their peers who do not get the vaccine, especially asthmatic children:…/2009/…/090519172045.htm

The available evidence for people aged 65 years or older with regard to the safety, efficacy or effectiveness of influenza vaccines is of poor quality and provides no guidance:

Influenza Vaccine Ingredients (there are several different vaccines) provided by the CDC:

Included are squalene, polysorbate 80, thimerosal, formaldehyde, monosodium glutamate and Madin Darby Canine Kidney (MDCK) cell protein among others. Keep in mind these are injected, not ingested therefore not subject to the protection of digestive processes.

Influenza vaccine package inserts (provided by the FDA):

There are several vaccines and many adverse events.  A few included adverse events are “Influenza-like” illness, convulsions (including febrile seizures), encephalomyelitis, encephalopathy, anaphylactic shock, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, facial or cranial nerve paralysis and limb paralysis.

The pharmacist I mentioned earlier did not link to her sources but even if she is correct in claiming that elderberry only shortens flu duration by 1-2 days, that is better than Tamiflu, minus the potential for neuropsychiatric events and toxic epidermal necrolysis.

What is a Doula?

“As a new member of the maternity care team,                                        the doula is able to mediate between science and humanity.”

from Childbirth Education-Practice, Research and Theory, by Francine H. Nichols, PHD, RNC, FAAN and Sharron Smith Humenick, PHD, RN, FAAN

Main Entry:  doula                                                                                                              Pronunciation:  dou·la  \ ˈdü-lə \                                                                                Function:  noun                                                                                                                    Definition:  a woman experienced in childbirth who provides information, emotional support, and physical comfort to a mother before, during and after childbirth

What a doula is:

A doula is a professional who provides physical, emotional and informational support to families in the childbearing/early adoption period and may or may not hold formal certifications.  There are different types of doulas to serve women during pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, and even during times of infertility or loss

Labor and Birth Doulas are trained in a variety of comfort measures that can ease pain and support the natural processes of labor and birth as an alternative to pharmaceutical pain management, or up until it is available.  Emotions play a significant role in the health of pregnancy and childbirth, and doulas encourage and empower both mothers and their partners on this level as well, providing continuous, focused support throughout the childbirth process.  Doulas are knowledgeable about a wide range of pregnancy and birth related topics and thus are a valuable informational resource, providing the full range of maternity care options that the expectant family may not otherwise be aware of.  Doulas help families to become knowledgeable about all of their options and then encourage them to make their own educated decisions about care based on their unique situations and preferences.

What a doula is not:

A doula is not a medical professional.  She doesn’t perform clinical duties such as vaginal exams or blood pressure monitoring.  These sorts of tasks are performed by obstetricians, midwives and other medical personnel.  A doula does not give medical advice or make decisions for the expectant family.  While many doulas have strong opinions and personal preferences when it comes to birth, their job is not to promote a particular agenda or pressure mothers to make the choices that they might make for themselves;  rather, doulas empower mothers and their partners with the information and support necessary to form opinions and make decisions for themselves. A doula does not replace the partner, but helps support all members of the expectant family according to the unique needs and roles of each person.

A 2017 update of a Cochrane review has shown the following benefits for women who have continuous one on one support during childbirth vs. those who do not:

  • more likely to have a spontaneous vaginal birth
  • less likely to have intrapartum analgesia
  • less likely to report dissatisfaction
  • shorter labors 
  • less likely to have a caesarean or instrumental vaginal birth
  • less likely to have regional analgesia 
  • less likely to have a baby with a low five-minute Apgar score

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jul 15;7:CD003766. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub5.


Beauty – Part 2

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I struggle with body image sometimes, just like most women.

In my head I know that being healthy is what’s important – that if I am eating and moving and resting well, the physical manifestation of that is my personal “healthy,” and healthy is more important than skinny.

I don’t even like the word skinny.  People are created in different shapes and sizes and  women who are healthy can vary greatly in their outward appearances.  For some naturally curvy women like myself, being “skinny” would reflect malnourishment and not health. For others who have exceptionally lean body types, the word can be hurled at them with disdain as somewhat of an accusation by women who are hurting and grappling with their own negative body images.

I have stretch marks from my earlier pregnancies that have aged over the years into silvery ribbons.  My pregnancy in my thirties didn’t yield those scars, but skin that has been stretched more than usual and gathers in ruffles around my navel and lower abdomen.  I have decided that my ideal weight is evolving as I mature into womanhood, and I am giving myself grace to grow into my life and be changed by the seasons I walk through.


I struggled deeply with all of the body changes that motherhood ushered in when I was only in my early twenties.  I don’t dwell on it as much now and there are certainly times when I feel strong and empowered by the marks of my life’s journey;  but I’d be lying if I denied that there are moments when I feel insufficient and wonder what it would be like if my skin was smoother or tighter or if I weighed what I did before I had children, especially when I see other women openly self-loath and do everything in their power to erase or alter what they consider to be their own imperfections.  And sadly I have been that person who has complained about her body in front of other women, likely on some level reinforcing their own self consciousness and shame.

I want to overcome this for myself, for my daughters and my son and husband (it affects them too).  I want to vanquish this, bone-deep in me, for the sake of a humanity obsessed with both the superficial esteem and the degradation that comprise the two-sided coin of our obsessive pursuit of perfection and our consequent objectification of our mothers, sisters, daughters and ourselves.  I want to believe, with more than just my head, that I am good enough – that I am beautiful the way God made me, that life changes us inside and out and that that’s okay, even really good.  I want my every cell to reverberate the truth that real health, and that includes peace with oneself,  is more important than numbers on a scale and the unrealistic expectations of strangers.

When my third child was three days old I looked at her and then at my fresh postpartum self, and in a moment of profound love and revelation I was inspired to photograph her alongside the belly that carried her.



This is the body that enveloped her and the womb that swelled with love for her, the skin that’s silver scars whisper reminders of how I brought my older children earth-side, the marks that echo the story of my flesh and blood and entire intangible being  growing and birthing all those beloved souls.  

When I look at these photographs I cannot help but love my body.  

It is frail in many ways because I am only human, but I was created with exquisite love and incredible purpose.  And regardless of your story and whatever lies you find yourself tempted to believe, so were you.


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*Photographs by Cristina Howell

Embryo Adoption – My Story

My people.

Updated on January 29, 2018

Some families plan pregnancies and their bodies cooperate flawlessly. Others struggle for years to have children and the sadness, frustration and financial considerations that often go along with infertility can be burdensome and relentless.  Then there are also mothers and families who find themselves having babies before they’re prepared and they may feel afraid, lost or even angry. Pain hurts regardless of the circumstances surrounding our unique situations and I think it’s good to know that whatever your story is, you are not alone.

Here is a bit about my own journey:

11  years ago I was 23 and overwhelmed with a mortgage, two naturally-conceived children, postpartum depression and a husband with a fresh vasectomy scar.  9 years ago, after I began to catch my breath with life and I’d learned to support the hormones that had sent me into a downward emotional  spiral, I began to regret our decision to stop having babies.

I began to learn about adoption in the bible and in modern times, and of how the bible describes God adopting Gentiles and grafting them into his family through salvation.  Moses was adopted and Exodus tells of his selfless, courageous birthmother as well as his compassionate adoptive mother. Jesus, was adopted by Joseph, who became his earthly father.  Earthly adoption is not for everyone, but the story of earthly and spiritual adoption is woven throughout scripture and it’s beautiful.

One night, in what turned out to be a long season of yearning for more children, I dreamed that I found a baby near the woods in a carseat. She was cold and blueish, as if dead.   I instinctively took her out of the carseat, unbuttoned my shirt and placed her skin to skin against my chest.  Gradually she turned pink and warm.  She was alive!  And somehow I knew that she was mine.  Though I did not entirely understand that dream or whether it was even much more than my rambling subconscious, I woke up with a powerful desire to adopt.  Years later when I was still waiting and aching for a baby I made an “art journal” entry about the dream.

This is the journal entry I created in anguished longing for a child almost 3 months before we adopted embryos for the first time.

It was 2 years from the time I first began to desire more children that my husband agreed, and for a variety of reasons we decided it was best to adopt rather than pursue a vasectomy reversal.  We wanted to be part of an open domestic adoption where we could love a child as well as his or her birth mother.  We were honored to have the opportunity for a child to come into our family through the love and sacrifice of a birth mother who had decided that adoption was the best choice for her baby. And we waited. We waited for 3 years with an agency that we chose very carefully because it not only placed babies into adoptive families, but respected and genuinely cared for birth families as well.  But the agency was small and the fact that we already had two children did not make us desirable in the eyes of the average birth mother.

Then one day our social worker mentioned something called “embryo adoption”.  When families do IVF (in vitro fertilization), usually because they have trouble conceiving naturally, they often have excess embryos after they’ve decided for whatever reason that their families are complete.  These embryos can be frozen at slightly different times, but freezing usually occurs after the egg and sperm have been fertilized and the embryos have grown in a petri dish for 5 days.  Every embryo is unique and genetically complete (besides epigenetic factors that will come into play in the womb and throughout life) and at 5 days post-conception they are generally known as blastocysts. When a family has extra frozen embryos their options are to discard them, donate them to science where they will be destroyed, freeze them indefinitely or allow/choose a family to adopt them.  In embryo adoption the embryo is transferred into the adoptive mother’s womb and she is able to carry and give birth to her child.

I was astonished that such a thing was possible, and I remembered my dream from years earlier about the cold, blue baby that became warm and pink and mine when I tucked her into my shirt!  After publishing a profile on an embryo adoption matching site, we were quickly contacted by several families.  We found a family that was a great match and they actually saw the fact that we already had children as a benefit, since we were experienced as parents and the babies would have parents and siblings to love them!  Several months later we adopted 3 embryos from them in an open adoption.  I was able to do an unmedicated cycle with just the support of some supplements and we transferred (a procedure where they place the thawed embryo into the uterus) one embryo that was lost early on in a chemical pregnancy.  Another died in the thawing process. The third embryo implanted, thrived and, after the shock wore off, I treasured that pregnancy like I never knew was possible before.

Our first embryo transfer. Even though this little one and one other embryo didn’t make it, I know that they were unique individuals with genetic codes that never existed before and will never be repeated. I believe that I will see them again someday and I will always be grateful for the honor of having a role in giving them a chance at life.
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Our daughter Rosemary as an embryo.
The big kids were so excited! Jocelynn wrote “It’s Alive” on the pregnancy test!
Pregnant with Rosemary.

About a year after adopting the embryos, and after a total of 6 years of waiting, our daughter Rosemary Elizabeth was born.  She recently turned 3 and she still takes my breath away.  I am just so humbled and honored that that her genetic family chose us and that God allowed us to be her parents.  We just could not love her more and we believe that her story is unique, special and to be celebrated.  I could sob right where I sit just thinking about it all.

Moments after Rosemary’s birth.
Version 2
Daddy and Baby Rose.

When Rosie was about 6 months old we started looking for more embryos to adopt.  There is a large age gap between our genetically conceived kids and Rosie and it has been very important to us that she has a sibling close in age that comes to us through adoption, like she did.  After a year of searching for another private embryo adoption match we were chosen to adopt 4 embryos from a wonderful family with whom we have another open adoption.  After the first single embryo transfer I became pregnant and Noah Sage is now 8 months old. 

Laboring with Noah.
This is the Tiffany infinity necklace that Rosemary’s genetic mother gave me to represent our eternal connection and love through adoption. Now she, I and Noah’s genetic mom all have a piece of jewelry from this collection.
Just after the birth of Noah.

We were prepared for some bonding challenges when we were pursuing infant adoption, but we have not experienced any with embryo adoption.  It has actually been easier to bond with our younger two children initially, I imagine because we’d waited so long and worked so hard to get them, I wasn’t experiencing postpartum depression and were were just overall in a different place in life.  We are currently in the process of placing our remaining embryos with two families who have become our friends and will also share in open adoptions. 

Some of our children came to us in an unusual way.  We are blessed beyond description to have these kids in our family and that we are able to stay connected with their genetic families – the souls who gave them their genetic heritage, did everything in their power to give them a chance at life and who love them endlessly. I am so incredibly thankful that I can tell our children where their eye colors came from, laugh at the resemblance of certain facial expressions (so far there’s a lot of “nature and nurture” influence here!) and most of all, see them assured in a unique way that they are cherished by all of the people who took part in their origins.  There are many types of  adoption arrangements out there from completely anonymous to every shade of semi-open and open.  People cite various pros and cons for each option and it is a very personal choice.  Adoption is not for everyone.  Open adoption is not for everyone.  But I am so glad that it’s part of our story.  I do not feel threatened by or in competition with the families we are connected with through adoption.   My husband and I are mom and dad.  But I consider our kids’ genetic moms my sisters and their families our extended families. I just feel that we all have more love and support in our lives now, and my heart is radiant with joy and gratitude.

Rosemary Elizabeth on her third birthday.
Noah Sage at about 7 months old.

*Legally the process described above is considered “donation” rather than adoption, as governments tend not recognize the personhood of embryos in this context (though in others such as inheritance and certain violent crimes some seem to) and therefore  generally it is legally deemed a transfer of property.  I define it as very early adoption because to our family and to the families we have adopted from that’s what it is, even without a law to validate that for us.  Thoughts and beliefs about when life begins, the motivations of families involved and other factors may influence whether a person distinguishes this process as adoption or donation.  

All my babies.

More on Adoption:

Adopted For Life, by Russell D. Moore

More on Embryo Adoption:

Informational Resources:

Embryo Adoption Awareness Center

Platforms for Private Embryo Adoption Matches:

National Registry for Adoption

Miracles Waiting

Embryo Adoption and Donation Facebook Group

Facilitated Embryo Adoptions:

Snowflakes Adoptions

Embryo Adoption Services of Cedar Park

National Embryo Donation Center

Embryos Alive


Pregnancy and Parenting After Embryo Adoption Facebook Group

*Some fertility clinics offer embryo donation programs.  These are usually anonymous.

*Photographs by Cristina Howell, Brandon Howell and Danielle Mason-Hogan


Caprese Sticks


While it’s still summer I want to post one of my favorite easy appetizers.  I call them Caprese Sticks and they are just a portable twist on Caprese salad.  They make great snacks too!


  1.   Grape or cherry tomatoes

2.  Fresh basil

3.  Fresh or smoked mozzarella cheese, cubed (smoked mozzarella is what’s pictured here but you can also get fresh, convenient marble-sized balls)

4.  Extra virgin olive oil

5.  Sea salt (Himalayan is my favorite but smoked sea salt is also a nice option)

6.  Freshly cracked black pepper

7.  Red pepper flakes and/or Bird’s Eye Chili powder (optional)

8.  Toothpicks


  1.  On each toothpick alternate skewering a cube or ball of mozzarella, a whole basil leaf and a tomato.

2.  Arrange the Caprese Sticks on a platter.

3.  Drizzle all over with olive oil until each stick is lightly coated.

4.  Sprinkle sea salt to taste.

5.  Add freshly cracked black pepper and red chili, if desired.

*Avocado chunks can be used as a substitution for the cheese as a satisfying, dairy-free option.


*Photographs by Cristina Howell




The Drug Industry and Western Medicine

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).”

Mark Twain

Drugs and medicine

Did you know that the pharmaceutical industry is a significant funder of primary and continuing medical education, mainstream media outlets (via advertising), medical research, and that they spend enormous amounts of money lobbying the government ?  Are you aware that 9 of the top 10 drug companies spend more money on marketing to doctors and consumers than they do on research and development of their products?  Did you know that the very drug companies that stand to profit from their synthetic, patentable creations also design and conduct the research they present to the FDA attesting to those drugs’ safety and effectiveness? Did you know that legal loopholes allow the FDA  to receive funds from the drug industry they are purposed to regulate and that there is a figurative revolving door of employment between the FDA and pharmaceutical companies?  Are you aware that even “independent” non-profit organizations frequently receive money that originated with the pharmaceutical industry?

The implications of these facts are profound.  The drug industry is incredibly influential over Western medicine philosophy, practice and policy for the reasons mentioned.   That influence affects:

  • what doctors learn and don’t learn in medical school
  • what those physicians read in medical journals throughout their careers and how they practice medicine
  • what university researchers devote their time to
  • the “angle” of media outlets that shape public opinion
  • the laws passed in our country regarding our healthcare options and freedoms

Currently, healthcare in the United States is inextricably bound to pharmaceutical medicine – a type of medicine that primarily utilizes drugs and surgery to suppress symptoms of disease rather than uncovering and addressing root causes so that symptoms can resolve themselves to reflect true healing.  The United States does not embrace our modern conventional system of medicine because the aforementioned professionals and entities have fairly evaluated all options and deemed pharmaceutical medicine the best option.  They do so because virtually every influential organization involved with healthcare in the US has conflicting interests with the drug industry.

I am not saying that there is never a need for pharmaceuticals or that they’re all bad all the time as some can be lifesaving, especially following emergency situations such as a car crash.  I am not suggesting that the average medical doctor is not sincere or well intended as he or she may very well be.  I am  asserting that, if you want to be responsible for your health and your family’s health, you should develop informed opinions on health and on your options based on all available information – absolutely including those resources not sanctioned by the mainstream system which, again, is highly influenced by drug companies and is also often biased against natural and holistic approaches. 

And when you do critically consider all available resources you may be surprised and/or horrified at the benefits and risks related to many common Western healthcare practices that are not openly and honestly acknowledged or are even suppressed.  You may be astonished at the safe, effective and comparatively affordable alternatives to mainstream treatments that are available to you, and your life may be changed by all the things you learn and the opinions you develop in the process.  Maybe not and that’s your business.  But if you want to truly be an educated consumer you have to make that journey for yourself with an open mind and heart and just see where you land.

Related Resources:

The One Hundred Year Lie, by Randall Fitzgerald

Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About, by Kevin Trudeau

Dissolving Illusions: Disease, Vaccines, and The Forgotten History, by Suzanne Humphries

Bought Documentary

War on Health Documentary

Associate Professor of Medicine at UC San Diego, Beatrice Golomb discusses rampant conflicting interests and corruption amongst pharmaceutical companies and mainstream medical publications.

How Big Pharma and the Media Sell Junk Science

Covid-19: politicisation, “corruption,” and suppression of science

Photo Copyright: <a href=’’>zerbor / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Beauty – Part 1

To date, this is my favorite photograph.  I took it as a senior in high school on a Nikon 35 mm SLR.  These are the hands and feet of my late grandmother, Myra Lee Pullis.  

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We called her “Granny” and I have the sweetest memories of her and the pure and simple love that she lavished on me.  I remember spending the night at her house and eating canned chicken soup for lunch (Granny did not care much for cooking) on old bronze and wood veneer TV trays, picking ripe blackberries on our neighborhood walks, and savoring the nectar of the honeysuckle that climbed the back of her chainlink fence.  I remember curling up in her soft, thin lap in the evenings while she sank into in her cushy, brown, ribbed fabric recliner watching Wheel of Fortune and scratching my back, then bathing in rose scented bubble bath in her turquoise tub, and sleeping in her cozy full-sized bed with her and my little sister while a box fan whirred all night on a nearby dresser.  She didn’t have a lot of money and our activities were rarely extravagant, but she cherished us and always made time for us.  I will never forget that.  Or her.

She thought I was a certified pistachio when I asked her to take her shoes off in my mom’s backyard so that I could photograph her hands and feet for art class.  But this was not a novel sentiment for her to express or for me to inspire, and though I attempted to reason with her about the beauty that I saw in her aged appearance, she did not understand or require such explanations and proceeded to comply in trust and good humor.

But the beauty I see in this image still makes my heart ache.

I see wisdom and the marks of a long life granted to a sweet soul.  I see the wear of grief, joy, worry, work, accomplishment…of life.  I see skin stretched thin with toil, bones that protrude slightly in remembrance of all the long walks she’d liked to take, the heads full of curls she’d taken such pains to brush gently.  Her blood vessels, swelling in reflection of their long use and faithful service to a woman who’d spent herself caring for others.

That is beauty.  To love.  To spend yourself loving God and people.  To know and to see the gift in a life well-lived, however lengthy or brief it unfolds to be.  And all the scars, wrinkles, imperfections  and reflections of our journeys – to embrace that they represent the opportunity we’ve been given to live and to love at all.

*Photograph by Cristina Howell


Opt Out of the Drama

It seems like there are constantly new sensationalist blog posts, videos and articles going viral online and igniting very real frenzies of fear, anger and disunity.  This happens in politics, medicine and virtually any field of thought in which heated controversy tends to find it’s way and stamp out all reason and good will in favor of hysteria.   

Most recently an embarrassingly unsubstantiated news article made it’s rounds, purporting that essential oils caused some negative reactions in children, the most significant of which (dilated pupils) has never been recorded as a side effect of the use or misuse of any essential oil.  The evidence in support of the article’s claim was shamefully lacking.  It was a textbook example of the reckless journalistic mistake of equating correlation to causation, but you would never know it for the times the link to the article was shared on social media or for the emotional uproar left in the wake of the story.  There were certainly people who approached the information objectively but many simply reacted – instantly becoming afraid, angry, confused, and often never so much as questioning the evidence,  lack of evidence or discussing whether or not the assertions made were even true.   In fact the opposite occurred – many of those same individuals reposted the link, further spreading the groundless story and the madness.   Some who seemed to share the article more sober-mindedly were perhaps attempting to use it as an opportunity to teach that essential oils should be used with wisdom, an honorable goal;  however, fear is a monstrous teacher and inciting anger tends to fuel resentment and compel the receiver of the message to run to whatever conclusions can found at the opposite extreme.

Information is good and disagreement isn’t bad;  it can even be beneficial.    Respectful, openminded discussion gives us all a chance to share – to hear and to be heard, to learn and to grow regardless of whether or not we agree on a particular matter in the end.   And we can share resources, discuss and even disagree with honor and grace.  We can promote these principles in our social media and in-person communities and we can discourage the mania, disrespect and strife that make them unsafe and that actually cause people to become closed off and defensive rather than open to the ideas being shared.  We can learn to recognize and reject “information” that can be more accurately defined as tabloid journalism, fear mongering or propaganda.

I am very emotional by nature myself, so keeping my composure and sticking to facts when discussing something that I feel strongly about is something that I have to make a continual and conscious effort to do – and apologize for my not-so-infrequent failures to do!  I hope never to convey that I am “above” all of this.  I care so very much about this topic and reference it so frequently partly because it is something that I wrestle with myself everyday.

I encourage you to distance yourself as much as is reasonably possible from ANYTHING – resources (like articles and blog posts), groups, people, organizations, etc. that regularly promotes sensationalism, hostility and other ugly and toxic suppressors of intellect.  Don’t “share” on social media the evidence-sparse, hype-heavy stories and support the ratings that irresponsible journalists and bloggers so desperately crave.  Don’t participate in conversations at work where others speak hostilely or condescendingly of those with whom they disagree.  There are some mean-spirited Face Book groups out there that do a great deal more harm than good spewing hatred and negativity about what they don’t believe rather than rationally presenting arguments and peacefully sharing what they do believe – consider removing yourself from those groups!  Connect with those who value people more than making a point, being “right” or stirring the pot. 

No matter what our opinions or how we differ it is kindness and reasonableness, not irrationality and disdain, that nourish atmospheres of teaching, learning, growth and true community. 


opt out of the drama 9

The Spice of Life – Bird’s Eye Chili



Our’s is a house of foodies.

From the youngest to the senior resident (my husband, 12 days older than me), we all love to eat.  And we crave big, bold flavors. Food flavors are known to permeate amniotic fluid and breastmilk, so from their earliest days my children have known and loved spicy food.  In fact, I’ve caught my middle child adding red pepper sauce to his scrambled eggs since toddlerhood.


I grew up about an hour outside of New Orleans, Louisiana and we added ground Cayenne Pepper or chili flakes to food the way that the rest of the country uses black pepper.  Bird’s Eye Chili has since replaced Cayenne as my favorite source of heat and flavor and I dust it subtly (it’s pretty intense) atop just about everything from eggs cooked over medium to bone broth and Chicken Parmesan.   It’s a staple-spice in our home, along with smoked sea salt and Real Salt®.  We also keep whole peppercorns and coarse Himalayan Sea Salt in grinders and use them everyday.  


But back to Bird’s Eye.  We buy it, along with other herbs and spices, by the pound from Mountain Rose Herbs.   According to their website Bird’s Eye Chili, Capsicum frutescens L.contains a number of notable chemical constituents, many which are used in Allopathic (conventional) medicine.  They also note that red chilis have been used as both food and medicine for over 9,000 years by Native Americans.

Berkeley Wellness boasts that red peppers like Bird’s Eye are also rich in flavor, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and minerals like potassium and magnesium. 

Bird's Eye Chili

There’s more information out there and I encourage you to do some research and critically assess that information for yourself.

And in spite of the fact that I have not done any randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled studies on my household, I do think that it’s immune supportive qualities are benefitting us and I actually crave it when I feel a sore throat coming on.  In any case, Bird’s Eye Chili is a flavorful addition to savory dishes (and some sweet) that our family thoroughly enjoys and I highly recommend it!

*Top 3 Photographs by Cristina Howell

*Bottom Photograph by Elena Moiseeva

Healthcare – Another Way

I posted this on Facebook a year ago, when I was in the midst of our second appeal to Cigna (my husband’s insurance provider through work) to compensate for services which I was told in advance that we had coverage for:

“My husband fell off of a ladder and sprained his ankle while painting the house on Labor day. I called Cigna before we settled on a facility for emergency care.  I tend to be fairly thorough in matters regarding finances and I asked 3 times if a specific location would be covered and what the cost would be.  I was assured 3 times that everything would be taken care of with a nominal copay.  Later, fine print revealed that services rendered by the location we’d chosen were not covered as I’d been told.  The recorded call confirmed what I’d been told by the representative I’d taken the time to call and that I’d been given incorrect information.  I explained that I found it unreasonable for a person to be expected to review fine print or to consult a lawyer under the sorts of circumstances that necessitate a trip to an emergency care facility, especially when a representative of the insurance company advises upfront that care will be covered.   And I understand that the phone representative was mistaken and that we all make mistakes; however that advice is what motivated me to choose one facility over another.  And under the circumstances, I think it’s reasonable for Cigna to own that mistake on behalf of their employee, honor what I was told and pay my bill as I was expecting.

We’ve also had bills we’ve submitted to Samaritan Ministries, a Health Sharing Organization that we use as an alternative to insurance for the rest of the family since adding us to my husband’s insurance would have cost around $1,000 per month. Two recent, substantial sets of medical expenses we’ve accrued are considered “unpublishable” as they are related to pre-existing conditions and have been submitted as “Special Prayer Needs” rather than in the usual way that needs are shared in this program. Pictured is the stack of over 40 cards that accompanied a comparably sized stack of checks sent over the last 3 weeks by Samaritan members – Christians who chose to give above and beyond the monthly shares they have committed to, in order that they might ease the burden of our otherwise unpublishable (“uncovered” would be the insurance term) medical bills.


In the first scenario described above I am arguing with a huge, lucrative company looking for loopholes to justify denying an arguably valid claim. In the second situation, strangers-made-family-through-faith are joyfully, generously and voluntarily pouring out love in the form of cards that are balm to the soul and money for our practical needs. The contrast here is hitting me on so many levels and I don’t think I can come out of this epiphany the same.”

Cigna never did pay that bill and I ended up submitting our expenses to Samaritan Ministries.  All of the bills were shared by Samaritan members without so much as a grumble or likely a thought as to what loopholes might legally justify not doing so.  In fact, we received cards and letters again, along with the checks!  Those cards, once again, were filled with love and prayers that humbled and served as vehicles of healing to hearts wearied by the physical injury as well as by the apathy we’d received from the Insurance Industry.  

I absolutely believe that businesses have a right to make money and that in itself is not wrong, in my opinion. I can also see that legally, Cigna had it’s pretext to deny our claim. However I did not and do not feel that our family was regarded as a unit of people with legitimate needs and rights that the company had any pledge to meet or to uphold.  I do not feel that we were treated with integrity or compassion and I feel that the drive for profit was put over our family members as human beings.  I can’t even say that we experienced regular, old fashioned, good customer service.  Cigna satisfied the letter of their complexly written legal documents and yet missed the spirit of caring for the sick and wounded.   Perhaps it’s naive to think that spirit was ever a motivating  concept for the health insurance industry at large.   In any case, our family has found another way in Samaritan Ministries and I don’t think that we’ll ever look back.

*Photograph by Cristina Howell