Trauma and the Harmonic Series

The harmonic series is a really good metaphor for the way trauma gets stored in our brain.

Stick with me! I am a music nerd but I will explain.

Many guitarists will be familiar with the concept of harmonic overtones, or if you’ve ever played a loud note on a piano you may have heard very soft higher notes if you listen closely.

When you sound a pitch, it has a frequency length. Within that sound, different wavelengths can be observed in a specific order going up in pitch. Within the “fundamental” note, all these other notes are contained.

If you want to read up on that a little more, here’s a good introduction. Also here’s Andrew Huang being very excited to explain in this video if that’s more your learning style. I really like the way he explains it.

The thing that I’ve noticed recently is that in addition to the fundamental of “what is happening right now” the way I process it is that all these other events resonate at the same time. Sometimes, the fundamental will sound a harmonic that is traumatic for me, and that’s all I can hear. When my husband doesn’t feel well, sometimes I get caught up and don’t even realize I’m reacting to times we spent in the hospital, worrying about dying, wondering what was wrong, etc. That harmonic is so loud that I can’t even find the fundamental note any more.

The way to address this is different each time. Sometimes there’s nothing to do and no way to make it better, but at least noticing what’s happening can let us forgive ourselves for being traumatized instead of punishing ourselves for “being weird” or whatever. Sometimes noticing the overloud harmonics can let us get back to focusing on the fundamental of what’s happening in front of us. Sometimes we can even make a shift of some kind and then the harmonics resonate differently.

I don’t have any advice for how you should handle this, or whether it will be useful in what anybody else is processing during these strange times. Just…I hope that whatever is happening for you, that the harmonics would be friendly-sounding sometimes.

Choose Your Own Adventure No-cheese Sauce

People ask me for the recipe for my no-cheese sauce all the time, and this is about as close as I can come. Feel free to experiment with this master list of potential ingredients to create your own flavor combinations! We made a big batch of this today. I’ll try to post on Instagram (@spiritfiredew) what I’m making with it the rest of the week, so you can get an idea of how we use it. Please let me know if you make this, so I can get ideas too. For reference, today’s no-cheese sauce was made with navy beans, roasted onions, a raw carrot, a couple tablespoons of nutritional yeast, and some seasonings.

When I’m in a hurry I don’t want to scroll to the bottom for the recipe. For any additional delightful* musings feel free to read to the end. đŸ™‚

Potential Ingredients:

Roasted onions (we tend to keep these on hand all the time because we add them to lots of things)

Roasted peppers (we get the kind that are jarred in water, not oil, because that matters to us, in case that matters to you too)

cooked or raw carrot

roasted squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, etc.

baked or boiled regular potatoes

cooked cauliflower

Cooked white beans like navy or cannelini

nutritional yeast (a tablespoon or a cup! You know your taste buds. Nutritional yeast has a very specific flavor that some people enjoy in vegan cheesy things)


baba ghanouj (smoky! Tasty! Exclamation point!)

salsa (this can also be added at the end to create a no-queso kind of situation)

lemon juice, rice vinegar, or red wine vinegar (go easy on this and add a little at a time because it’s hard to adjust for too much acidity once you’ve added it)

almonds, sunflower seeds, tahini, cashews, etc. (we use these very sparingly if at all due to the high fat content–the kiddos need the fat but the husband following the Ornish plan doesn’t).

dried seasonings of your choice (today I used black pepper, smoked paprika, and a little salt to taste at the end)



In a blender, combine whatever ingredients you decide to use. Make sure you have enough liquid to make a thick sauce (I usually start with a cup or so of water or bean cooking liquid) Blend on high until very creamy, then adjust seasonings as needed.


Delightful* Musings:

This cheese sauce looks a lot like the stuff we used to get at Steak n Shake when I was in high school. They brought it out liquidy, and then five minutes later our french fries would stand up straight in them. I have *no idea* what was in that. Probably some sort of “processed cheese food” or something. However similar it looks though, the flavor is pretty different and highly adaptable depending on what you have on hand and decide to use. Sometimes my kids are very excited and eat it all very quickly. Sometimes (especially at the beginning!) they say politely “thank you for the work you put into making this.” Not every dish can be the best one we ever made. đŸ˜€

*Delightful is in the eye of the beholder and not everyone wants read an essay before the recipe so that’s why I’ve put extra thoughts at the end. If you read them anyway, then thanks! That’s delightful.

Privilege as Currency

Ijeoma Oluo writes ‘Every time you go through something, and it’s easy for you, look around and say, “Who is it not easy for? And what can I do to dismantle that system?”‘

While I would not classify the last couple of years as “easy,” Jason and I have identified that it’s in large part a function of our privilege that he’s still alive. Privilege doesn’t necessarily mean everything is easy, or everything is handed to you…my friend Robert Caldwell of Answer Poverty gives this definition of privilege which I think is super useful:

Privilege is your access to the resources and opportunities necessary for achieving success in our socio-economic system AND…insulation from the impacts of systemic injustices that work against success in our socio-economic system because of your social location.

Social Location is your place or position in society (and history) as defined by your gender, race, social class, age, ability, religion, sexual orientation, and geographic location.

For my family dealing with heart disease that looks like (among other things):
~Having the time to call doctors over and over until someone listened
~Having good health insurance so they could fight with the hospital about cost of treatment, and so he could receive treatment in the first place
~Having money to pay for medical costs
~Having time to figure out this whole food plant based thing (which is NOT easy at first, no matter what some blogger told you)
~Having money to buy good quality food
~not living in a food desert so we had access to nutritious foods
~other factors I didn’t even think of right now because they were not obstacles for us, and anyhow you get the point

I’ve been advised recently to think of privilege as a currency to spend. The question I keep hearing is “What do I do?”
Critical thinking is needed.
Shortly after the election a friend of mine came over. We sat at the dining room table and ate tacos (remember when everyone was sad there wouldn’t be a taco truck on every street corner?) and he asked me, “What do I do? I want to do racial justice work but I don’t know how to begin.”
“You should find a homeschooling co-op that is run by a black woman, and do the best you can to support her leadership.”
“Crap! I better find some kids to homeschool then!”
The thing is (as the snarky example above shows), I don’t know exactly how every person should engage with the work of dismantling white supremacy. When you have stage 4 metastatic cancer you don’t usually do one thing. You do all the things. You see an oncologist and a radiologist and a primary care doctor and you eat special food and you take care of your mental health however you can. Racial justice work in America is like that. We have to specialize, with the bigger picture in mind.

Critical thinking is needed.

There are common threads for sure, and if someone’s social location is similar to yours you may be able to glean from them. If someone’s social location is different from yours that can and should also inform your work. There are a lot of people writing about this. Try to find and read the work of people whose social location is different from yours (this is especially and incredibly important if you are a dominant paradigm person). Part of the way I’ve chosen to spend my privilege is to help make a way for others to tell their stories and be believed. That won’t fix everything, but it’s a necessary step.

The more privilege we have, the more opportunity we have to spend it to effect a change. Or not.

Critical thinking is needed.


New measure of thought quality: Thoughts Per Minute (TPM’S). Thinking a lot isn’t always bad. I like the way my brain works most of the time. But as my brain revs up when I get stressed, I think about something until I get stuck and can’t figure it out, then jump tracks and think about something else. The more the stress, the quicker my brain switches from item to item, without really ever finishing a thought. Too many TPM’S.

There are a variety of ways to address this, I think. Part of the solution is to do the work of thinking about hard things past the point that feels comfortable. I should probably come up with a list of the more productive…what’s that? Sure, I’ll get you a glass of water. Drinking a whole glass of water is good for refocusing, theoretically. Yes, and a snack. Yes, we can play Chutes and Ladders. Goodness the living room’s a mess. Are those bobby pins on the floor? My hair itches. I’m hungry. What are we having for dinner? Hey, groups of people cook dinner at the Ronald MacDonald House. That’s so cool. Wait, what was I doing…?

p.s.- I’ve been told by someone whose opinion I trust that this doesn’t even cover the half of it. “More isn’t always better Linus. Sometimes it’s just more.”

A Princess Worth Mentioning: Irene

An excerpt from The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald.

“She ran for some distance, turned several times, and then began to be afraid. Very soon she was sure that she had lost the way back. Rooms everywhere, and no stair! Her little heart beat as fast as her little feet ran, and a lump of tears was growing in her throat. But she was too eager and perhaps too frightened to cry for some time. At last her hope failed her. Nothing but passages and doors everywhere! She threw herself on the floor, and burst into a wailing cry broken by sobs.   She did not cry long, however, for she was as brave as could be expected of a princess of her age. After a good cry, she got up, and brushed the dust from her frock. Oh, what old dust it was! Then she wiped her eyes with her hands, for princesses don’t always have their handkerchiefs in their pockets, any more than some other little girls I know of. Next, like a true princess, she resolved on going wisely to work to find her way back: she would walk through the passages, and look in every direction for the stair. This she did, but without success. She went over the same ground again an again without knowing it, for the passages and doors were all alike. At last, in a corner, through a half-open door, she did see a stair. But alas! it went the wrong way: instead of going down, it went up. Frightened as she was, however, she could not help wishing to see where yet further the stair could lead. It was very narrow, and so steep that she went on like a four-legged creature on her hands and feet.”

Thanksgiving Recipe Link Roundup

I like things a certain way. And every year, if I find a recipe for a Thanksgiving staple that I really like, I tend to want to keep it in mind. But for some reason, I’ve not catalogued them all in one place, so I end up googling them over and over during this week.

So I submit for your convenience (but mostly for mine):

My favorite Thanksgiving recipes.

I will try to faithfully note modifications to each recipe, as I rarely make a recipe just exactly as it’s written. I’m not a rule-follower all the time. Things like “All-purpose” usually translate to “whole spelt” in my kitchen. and “shortening” really means “butter” or very occasionally “lard”. You’ll probably also notice that many of these recipes are Alton Brown. He’s a genius. Even if I change some of the ingredients, or even use a different cookbook entirely, I usually use his methods. He’s our science teacher too…is there a better way to teach a four year old about chemical reactions than to make brownies while listening to Alton Brown describe the reaction that’s happening?! You know you were successful because of, you know, the deliciousness. But I digress. Without further ado,

Turkey Brine-by Alton Brown or Turkey Brine– The Pioneer Woman- I haven’t entirely settled on a brine recipe yet. But I know I don’t want candied ginger, and I do want apple cider, peppercorns, and lots of salt. I’ll update if I make one this year and love it. You know, for posterity. It should also be noted that I fundamentally disagree with Alton Brown about the usefulness of stuffing in to mankind.

Tart Cranberry Dipping Sauce-though the version I make is simpler- a package of fresh cranberries, a couple of bottles of all-natural ginger ale, some maple syrup and some dried orange zest.

Green Bean Casserole– didn’t know this could be delicious, or made without a lot of crap ingredients. Turns out greenbeans don’t have to be mushy.

Potato Refrigerator Rolls (or these self-proclaimed “southern” ones)- I usually use some mix of the recipes and use freshly ground spelt flour for ours.

Viv’s Stuffing- This woman named Viv lived here for a bit a few years back, and she made us a Thanksgiving meal. Her stuffing was very simple, and I loved the big chunks of bread. I have to say, it feels a bit heretical to be admitting publicly that I like another stuffing besides my mom’s. I think, to be fair, that my tastes changed and I like most stuffing now, and I’ve since had my mom’s and it is very delicious too (we will be having both this weekend at some point), but this is the first time I remember eating stuffing and liking it, so it’s what I make. You make a broth with the giblets, saute up some onions and celery, season with a mix of poultry-type spices like parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Then you can sing that song. But use whatever you want. Moisten the bread (not too much…if you’ve brined you’ll have a juicy bird anyway!)  and stuff. That’s it!

Candied Yams-My mom’s recipe. Until I got married I didn’t know that Thanksgiving sweet potatoes came without marshmallows. Huh. If you like that, then good for you. But this recipe is really important to me so I tend to make it no matter where we end up on or around Thanksgiving.- bake the sweet potatoes (apparently ‘yams’ are what grow primarily in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, while ‘sweet potatoes’ are what grow here. The more you know) until a fork goes in easily. Peel, cut up into chunks, top with chunks of butter, sugar, cinnamon or whatever spices you like, and marshmallows. If you have a four-year-old, do not let her eat all the marshmallows. But let her eat some of them. ‘Cause you’re not a big meanie or a Thanksgiving bah-humbug. Or save the sugar consumption for pie. You’re smart. I know you’ll do the right thing for your kid.

Apple Pie and Pumpkin Pie- no link for this one….my mom recently switched to an all-butter crust. This feels like a really big deal to me as I’ve never really felt confident making pie crust, despite having several friends who make really delicious ones. There’s this mental disconnect because I didn’t want to use Crisco and figured I wouldn’t be able to duplicate her crust so why bother? Anyway she has promised to teach me this weekend so maybe after that I’ll finally be able to get my head around it. All the other teachers in the world are great, but this is My. Mom. and I have super high hopes that it’ll sink in after this. No pressure, Mom. đŸ˜‰




My kitchen goes green (not like that. Okay, kind of like that. I used voc-free paint)

I painted my kitchen and dining room today. Real, grown-up colors. It’s kinda freaking me out.

When we first moved into the house, there were four different colors of beige in the kitchen. No joke. It was awful.


See? So, we kind of over-compensated with color, and made some mistakes tinting our own glaze, and ended up with this:


Whoops. Aaand…now my kitchen looks like a taco bell. I certainly don’t have anything against Mexican restaurants (some of my favorite food comes from them!) but that yellow was…uh…not what I was going for. I really, really liked that color green, though. These bold, vibrant colors were a sort of reflection of how I interacted with the world. Nothing to hide, a little (or a lot) too brash for comfort, doesn’t really match, but warm and capable of a lot of fun if given the chance. It was my Katie kitchen.

But honestly, I never liked that orange. So when I heard there was a sale and a lovely friend offered to watch my kids while I painted today, I jumped at the chance to find a calmer color to allow the purple cabinets to really stand out. It turns out that sometimes letting certain things be quiet so that when something is loud people know it’s worth some attention can be a good thing. Who knew? (I know. Lots of people. It’s a thing.)

I feel sad, in a way, to lose the bold colors. More than I thought I would. I know they are still there, underneath that great grey-green (Rudyard Kipling, anyone? My parents read the Just So Stories to me when I was a kid and I always loved that phrase), and that makes me smile. The fact that the saturation changes a little as I mature does not devalue the passionate colors I gravitated toward before. It’s just, now my kitchen goes by Kate. But you can still call it Katie, you know, if you want to. It doesn’t mind.

This is my friend, Audrey.

She likes asparagus. And asparagus likes her. đŸ™‚

She has a blog. It’s called The Idea Girl. Because of…well…the ideas.

Occasionally my name or some activity I have participated in is mentioned on there, because we have many of the same ideas about certain things and live close by each other and our kids are friends.

It’s really cool. And if you follow that link up there, there are even some pictures of me and my kids mixed in with her kids and some blueberries.