Author Archives: Sara

About Sara

I practice permaculture on my homestead in southeast Louisiana.

Countdown to “Vaccines – Calling the Shots” on PBS

Originally posted on Shot of Prevention:

PBSCallingTheShotsAnother great vaccine documentary is set to air this month.  That’s right!  Mark your calendars and set your DVRs!

Vaccines – Calling the Shots will premiere on Wednesday, September 10th from 9-10 pm ET (8 pm CT) on PBS NOVA.

Vaccines – Calling the Shots” is a special production which examines the science behind vaccinations and takes viewers around the world to track epidemics.   The film explains why diseases, which were largely eradicated a generation ago, are returning to the United States.  It also explores the risks and consequences of opting out of vaccines, and identifies parents who are wrestling with vaccine-related questions.

This brief preview provides a glimpse of what this new documentary is all about:

Help Generate Awareness About this New Documentary

Vaccine hesitancy and refusal is often rooted in the proliferation of immunization misinformation.  However, educational films like “Vaccines- Calling the Shots” can help separate facts from fears.  Therefore, we ask for your support and participation in getting the word out about…

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Our first homeschooling year

We are registered to homeschool! In Louisiana, registration is simple. There are 2 options 1) Register as a non-public school not seeking approval or 2) Register for a home-study program. The first option is preferred among homeschoolers, especially those with younger kids (older kids have some benefits if the second option is chosen.) We went with the first option this year, although my son is still below the compulsory schooling age.

My plan with the curriculum this year is just to explore his abilities. We are using the Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, by Jessie Wise and Sara Buffington. This has been a great approach for us and I definitely recommend it as a starting point for phonics teaching. We had some trouble early on, so we took about a month break and came back to it. Now he is doing great and we’re able to get through the lessons rather quickly. He sounds out words on his own all the time and in some ways he is outpacing the lessons in the book. That is fine by me!

We are also reading McGuffey’s Eclectic Primer, which is an old teaching text used in the early 20th century and now available for free download. The pictures and reading are more interesting to me than modern early readers. I am using this as an intro into language arts. We plan to use another Jessie Wise book, First Language Lessons after we get through some of these other books.

For math, we’re doing Singapore Math Primary Level 1A and I like it enough that we’ll move on to 1B to finish this school year. There is memorization involved for basic addition and substraction, but it also introduces addition and subtraction tricks that will easily transition into algebraic concepts later on. He has done well with it so far, and is almost half-way through this 1st grade equivalent math program. 

Our fun homeschool/homestead science project this fall is a cover crop experiment that we are doing for Anna at Walden Effect. I have no garden plans of my own other than greens, as usual, so I’m excited to do a little project like this and hopefully gather some helpful info to contribute to the homesteading community. The project is for her book update Homegrown Humus. Thanks for the opportunity, Anna!

We’re not following a curriculum for the rest of his early subjects. Instead, we’re participating in a program this year called Classical Conversations. At the Foundations level, which is where my son is, kids are introduced to early music and art concepts, as well as memorization of timeline facts and a few historical events. Memory work is considered the foundation of the “grammar” stage classical teaching according to The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers. I know some modern educators detest the memorization approach, but classical instructors recommend it for younger kids because it gives them the vocabulary needed to weave concepts together later on.

So we’re doing all of this, and I’m taking a few university classes myself this year. Seth is pastoring at our small church and spends so much time studying the Bible. The little baby girl stays sweet and content, as long as her demands are met.  We’re hoping to make another trip to see my family in Virginia before the year is out.

I’m sure we will be busy.

The Wild Homestead

Oh yeah, another thing I want to do is come up with a more realistic name for my blog and homestead.

I created this blog with its off-the-cuff name in 2009. I was thinking something along the lines of incorporating homesteading with natural elements in the landscape, a basic permaculture practice, but the “Wild Homestead” sounds silly to me now. So that’s another thing I’m going to resolve by the end of this year.

Updating my ebook

There’s all kinds of drama going on in the ebook publishing world, so I feel like it’s a good day to think about writing projects.

I am going to be working on an update of my One Acre Homestead ebook soon. By December, it will be 2 years since I published it, so perhaps a 2-year anniversary book release would be appropriate. My gardening style has changed and I’ve incorporated a few new tricks into my practice to make the work easier for myself, since I’m working alone with not one but two kids now. I have a little bit of insight and a few more stories to tell that I think would be worth including.

Admittedly, I stopped reading reviews on Amazon a long time ago. I find it really distracting to read what people have to say, and really confusing in some ways. I have seen a few reviews that were stellar, but made me wonder did this person actually read my book? And then there are the really bad reviews that make me think this person definitely didn’t read my book. Then there are those that are honest, thoughtful, fairly critical and very helpful. At one point I wanted to be on Amazon commenting on all the reviews and revising my book in response to the critical comments. I realized there was no way I could be that kind of author, so I left it altogether.

I’m not a proliferative author. I simply can’t compete with some of my homesteading-author mentors in terms of how much finished product I can produce from year-to-year. There are people who do this job far better than I do, and I only hope that my occasional blog updates and my ebooks have served to inspire enough folks for it to matter.

So for the updated edition, here are a few considerations:

-I am thinking about leaving the current version available as-is and creating a 2-year progress report that will be published as an entirely new book, rather than updating the current book. I’m in favor of this option, actually, because in the world of self-published ebooks it just makes sense to have more content available. The drawback to this is that a lot of what I wrote in the original book, especially my personal philosophies about things, has evolved tremendously in the 2 years since I wrote it (although the most recent revision on the published version was around March 2013).

-I want to include a testimony about my family’s faith journey and our time with my brother here at the homestead and the tremendous loss that we’ve felt since his death.

-I want to make a general update on the growth of the gardens, the expansion of the self-sufficiency plan, and an honest review of what has and has not worked for us.

-Finally, I need to talk about homeschooling! I tipped my hat to this subject in the last book, but since we’re really launching in that direction this year and have already begun some instruction at home, I have a lot more to say on this subject.

So if you’re interested in the update, stay tuned.

Should I vaccinate my baby?

Should I vaccinate my baby?

Many parents have been asking this question lately, and the simple answer I have for you is YES! (Unless, of course, your child has a medical contraindication.)

Go ahead and watch the video, or jump below to see why I think vaccines are so important.

Here is an example of the typical childhood vaccine schedule according to CDC recommendations:

Birth – Hep B

2 mos- Rotavirus (oral), IPV (Polio ), DTaP (Diptheria, Tetanus, Pertussis), Hep B, Hib & PCV

4 mos- Rota, IPV DTaP, Hib, PCV

6 mos- Rota*, IPV, DTaP, PCV, Hep B

12 mos- MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) , Varicella (Chickenpox), Hep A

15 mos- DTaP, Hib*, PCV

18 mos- Hep A

4-6 years- DTaP, MMR, Varicella, IPV

*There are two Rotavirus vaccines, only one requires a 3rd dose at 6 mos. There are also two Hib vaccines, administered on slightly different schedules.

The schedule may vary depending on your pediatrician.

Here is the typical vaccine reaction: nothing happens.

Some children have a mild fever for a day or two. Some other reactions are mild and fairly common. The CDC provides information sheets for the common and uncommon side effects associated with all vaccines. You do not need to read the package insert to find the scary hidden risks of vaccines, because there are no hidden risks. The package insert is primarily a legal document consisting of mandatory language required by the FDA. The adverse reactions listed on the insert include all reported events that occurred during the trial period, gathered from the the tens of thousands of children who were in the trial. These may include things like car crashes, drownings and other events, including illnesses, with no relationship to the vaccine. These were things that simply coincided with the trial period.

Many of these vaccines are meant to protect infants specifically, and that is why they are recommended so early. All of these vaccines combined introduce much, much less antigen (the part that stimulates the immune system) than what newborns are exposed to on a daily basis. This is enough to prevent life-threatening illnesses. For those wary of conventional medicine, preventive vaccination is less invasive and carries fewer risks than treatments for even the mild complications of the diseases that vaccines prevent. These diseases may cause complications that require a long course of antibiotic treatments (either for the disease itself, or secondary infection) or hospitalization. Then, of course, there is the risk of the disease getting even worse.

Perhaps you have considered delaying vaccines, getting only some shots, or skipping them altogether. Did you know that delaying vaccines may slightly increase the risk of moderate side effects and doesn’t offer any benefits to the child? That’s what I did with my first child, because I didn’t have access to good information and there were people eager to take advantage of my initial hesitation about vaccines. I’ve since caught him up on his recommended vaccinations, and you know what? He’s fine. Now his newborn sister has a little more protection from these diseases until she can get her own shots.

A lot of parents have been led astray by people like Joe Mercola (, Sherri Tenpenny, Mike Adams of, Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccination Information Center (NVIC) (an anti-vaccination advocacy group funded by Mercola and formerly known as Dissatisfied Parents Together), and the many autism groups that have invested their efforts in finding a link between vaccines and autism. They raise funds in order to promote this deception. Most of these people and organizations generate substantial incomes from perpetuating the myths of vaccine harm.

Many independent bloggers have also jumped in to speak on the issue, including a particularly vocal stay-at-home-mom called “Megan” at Megan has argued that God opposes vaccines (with very bad exegesis), but advises you to disregard your pastor if he disagrees with her ill-informed opinion– because, she says, he’s been paid off. There are also parents who have banded together to form blogging communities, like the Thinking Mom’s Revolution, who are willing to consider information from sources with no credibility in order to try to promote and normalize their personal decisions not to vaccinate.

Is it really profitable to promote an anti-vaccine agenda? Absolutely! Millions of dollars have been made selling alternative treatments for autism based on myths that vaccines were the cause. Alternative practitioners and businessmen like Mike Adams make money selling herbal and vitamin concoctions to treat illnesses supposedly caused by vaccines. Sherri Tenpenny refers to a lab company, for which she is “Medical Director,” that sells titer tests that costs hundreds of dollars, are not reimbursable by insurance, and  parents typically have to interpret the results on their own. Dr. Bob Sears has sold millions of copies of his book featuring an alternative vaccine schedule that has never been studied, and answers questions (presumably for a fee) as an expert in several web forums, but he does not check the validity of his statements and recommendations. None of these doctors or practitioners will take personal responsibility for the decisions you make based on their disinformation.

So yes, websites that promote “news” and “science” stories that buck the system are often selling something. Unfortunately, these claims aren’t based on real science but creative, nonscientific reasoning that may be convincing but lacks a true understanding of human immunology. Often there is a spiritual component to these therapies and explanations of disease. Most are based on new-age philosophy or even on the hallucinations of a single man, like Rudolf Steiner, who views illness as an essential part of childhood. From these philosophies emerges the idea that vaccination interferes with nature, and that disease strengthens the immune system. A study in the Phillipines, where these diseases are endemic has suggested that vaccinated children have better test scores. Avoiding disease, not catching it, appears to have a protective effect on children’s development.

Some honest parents have attributed vaccines to their children’s illnesses, or have had these suspicions confirmed by practitioners and doctors who have devoted themselves to the anti-vaccine cause. Such stories of “vaccine injury” can be disturbing, heartbreaking, and can definitely lead parents to questions their choices. However, these stories should always be considered with skepticism because many illnesses that occur during childhood coincide with the vaccine schedule by chance, and sometimes parents fears lead them to suspect vaccines simply because of the timing.

What is known for certain is that the diseases these vaccines are made to prevent do cause serious harm and even death, especially in vulnerable groups. For example, half of babies under 1 year old who catch whooping cough are hospitalized, and of those babies 1-2 in 100 dies, and up to 1 in 4 will have pneumonia requiring intensive care. Measles infection causes pneumonia (the most common cause of measles death), encephalitis and a fatal, late-onset condition called Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis (SSPE). SSPE kills children who have gotten measles up to 10 or more years after the infection. These illnesses are deadly. That’s why we have a vaccine.

What’s worse, these illnesses are resurging after a period of time in which they were nearly eradicated in the US.  In 2014 California declared a whooping cough (pertussis) epidemic with 3 infant deaths so far, and there are outbreaks all over the US. Measles has reached a 20-year record level this year, with nearly 600 people infected and outbreaks in 20 states– all associated with unvaccinated individuals bringing measles into the US from overseas. Those are two diseases that have been controlled by vaccines and are still fairly uncommon compared to the time period before the vaccines. Some vaccines are fairly new, and the diseases have not yet been well-controlled. For example, skipping PCV (the vaccine for a bacteria that causes sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia in infants and young children) will most certainly leave your child exposed to disease.

Vaccines work

The pertussis vaccine works well, protecting about 80-90 children for every 100 children vaccinated for at least 5 years, although it is one of the least effective vaccines we have. If you catch whooping cough, immunity from the infection will not be lifelong, and that is true for the vaccine also. This is called waning immunity. Concerns have been raised that vaccinated people may be able to carry the bacteria without showing symptoms and spread it to others. This has not been shown in human studies. However, for this to happen in theory, they must be exposed to the bacteria. They cannot get it from the vaccine. The vaccine still protects most vaccinated individuals from the illness. So the best way to protect infants is to vaccinate them! Mothers can safely get this vaccine in the third trimester of pregnancy to help protect newborns too young to be vaccinated.

You may be worried that vaccines have been linked to autism. They haven’t. An incredible amount of research has been done on this issue, and there is one consistent answer that the evidence points to: vaccines do not cause autism.

Vaccines also do not cause SIDS. In fact, the incidence of SIDs is reduced among vaccinated babies, but possibly for reasons other than the vaccines.

Vaccines are safe medicine. Because of the level of regulatory oversight and ongoing use by nearly every pediatrician in the USA, vaccines could very well be our safest medicine. A comprehensive review of adverse events caused by vaccines shows that vaccines are linked to a few common reactions, like fever and temporary pain, and uncommonly to more serious reactions like a high fever or fever-induced seizure (which is also fairly common with any illness causing a fever in children under 5, and does not increase the lifelong risk of seizure disorders).

You may have heard about all of the nasty ingredients in vaccines. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has a page addressing the reason for each of the ingredients in your vaccines: Vaccine Ingredients. (They have lots of other good resources about vaccines, too, if you care to look around.) You may be worried about the mercury-based preservative thimerosal specifically because you have read that it is associated with autism. It isn’t. The rise in autism had nothing to do with the introduction of thimerosal. Mercury had been used in medicine long before the 1930’s and its excessive use caused mercury poisoning, not the developmental differences observed in people with autism. The removal of thimerosal from childhood vaccines has done nothing to reduce the rate of autism, which continues to rise. It was removed as a precaution because of the controversy, but it has never been shown to cause harm to children.

The important issue is that these chemicals are either present in trace (almost nondetectable) quantities, or quantities so low that they pose no risk of harm. Somewhat related to vaccines, science writer Tara Haelle has gone into detail about chemophobia– or the fear of mostly harmless chemicals in everything from cosmetics, to vaccines, to food products.

Perhaps you have heard that vaccine injuries are under reported. That is based on a misunderstanding of the VAERS passive surveillance system. The vaccine side effects that are listed on vaccine information statements are gathered from carefully designed research, not from the VAERS system. VAERS is designed only to recommend investigation of new, unforeseen side effects of vaccines. So the “1 in 10 will experience fever” and the very low risk of more severe side effects are accurately based on studies, not on self-reported VAERS reports.

VAERS is not intended for research, although unscrupulous organizations/people have tried to use VAERS to show things like increased risk of miscarriage from the flu vaccine. The flu shot does not increase the risk of miscarriage. Catching the flu during pregnancy is linked to an increased rate of miscarriage and stillbirth.

If you are worried, consider the sources of information that have helped inform your fears in vaccines. Are these sources reliable? Where do they get their information from? Many anti-vaccine advocates rely on data from legitimate sources like the CDC, but then they present the data in a way that serves their own causes, usually by cherry picking things that show vaccines to be harmful, and obscuring the real harms of diseases or information that shows vaccines to be safe. The CDC and nearly every respected researcher in the fields of immunology, pediatrics and epidemiology agree that vaccines are safe and effective. Information from these sources that seems to show otherwise should be thoroughly checked, because often it is just being misused to promote an anti-vaccine agenda.

It’s National Immunization Awareness Month, so check back for more!

An early arrival

After a relatively easy, problem-free pregnancy, I developed signs of preeclampsia around 36 weeks and the doctors recommended induction at 37 weeks (term) because that’s the typical course of care for pre-e (it doesn’t get better until the baby is delivered, and in the meantime some pretty nasty problems can arise.) After talking with my midwife about the risks and possible complications, and whether or not an induction was likely to be successful, I agreed that it was the best way to go. So nearly two weeks ago our wonderful little girl was born. Despite the horror stories I’ve heard about inductions, it wasn’t really much different than my first spontaneous natural labor except that I was hooked up to an IV the whole time. The pain was about the same (intense!) and nothing awful resulted.

IMG_0507It’s pretty easy to stay positive during pregnancy and enjoy it when everything is going well, but to be perfectly honest, it’s even better to have the whole thing come to an end and to begin life with a healthy new little baby. That’s where I am right now. I’m ready to start doing everything I was doing before I ended up on bed rest at the end of June, but I feel like I’m in that stage of partial recovery where I might do too much and set myself back. So I’m just taking it easy. I should be ready when time comes to start the fall garden cleanup and planting.

For now, I have a lovely crop of figs. Going out and picking them is a perfectly easy chore for postpartum recovery.