Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa, Please don't pass us by! (We have gluten free goodies)

It's Christmas Eve.  To me, this is the most magical time of the year. 

Tonight is the night of magic.  I treasure memories of candlelight services, and our new tradition of a Pajama Ride to help calm the kids before they need to curl up in bed (Although this year it was hard to convince them we needed to wait until dark before setting off.  The lights look better in the dark, and it's closer to bedtime.)  We were disappointed to see that our favorite house was toned down a lot.  I suppose after 10 years of awards, they deserve a rest! 

But I suppose the best part, at least for some of us, is the baking.  This year we attempted to resurrect one of my very favorite childhood memories and create a variety of treats.  (Quite the challenge when you're working with rice flour, oil, applesauce, and eggs.  With sugar.  And that's about it.)  But we managed.  And surprisingly, we even had a delicious surprise with the pinwheel cookies. 

Santa is going to be one happy man!  Although we have it on good authority that he has a few gluten free elves, which Mrs. Santa busily prepares allergy friendly goodies for.  We think these look good enough that he might, just might, slip a few in his pocket to bring home.  :-) 

After 4 years on the gluten free bandwagon, maybe I'm starting to get this thing down? 
Merry Christmas everyone! 

Saturday, December 12, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like...

After begging, pleading, beguiling, and wheedling, Ms, Bumblebee has gotten her wish.  We set up our Christmas tree, decorated it and have begun tucking little remembrances underneath of it.

I've been reading a lot about the evils of plastic, paint, and outdated chemicals (Not to mention the questionable current ones) lately,  So as we pulled out dusty boxes and started our decorating process, my thoughts slid from logistics and Christmas carols to lead paint and BPA.

I let my mind wander to the ongoing debate of a green Christmas.  Which is more environmentally friendly?  A fake tree, or a "real" pine tree?  When a living one just isn't feasible, anyways?

Most arguments seem to surround the length of usable time we get out of the average artificial tree.  I've seen estimates ranging from 3 to 10 years.  And since plastics take forever (yes, forever...I'm not hyperbolizing.)   to break down in landfills, often ending up in a huge plastic island in the middle of the ocean, the cost just doesn't seem worth the benefit. takes nearly as long for a tree to grow.  Even under the best of responsible farming practices. 

There are also allergies, bugs, sap, etc to contend with.  Not to mention potential pesticides and other treatments used on affordable trees.

My tree is artificial.  It's also not entirely plastic, and probably covered in lead based paint.  You see, it once belonged to my grandparents, circa the late 60's.  Well before I was born (and no, it's not glittery or pink.  It may have been crafted before technicolor trees were in vogue, I'm not actually sure.  The box itself disintegrated and the instructions have long since vanished.  But it's faux pine, intended to look realistic.)  When my parents moved, their lovely tall tree no longer fit in the living room.  They had to choose between cutting a hole in the ceiling, and replacing the Christmas tree. The ceiling won, their tree went to my Grandpa's church and my Grandma's old tree went into my parent's living room.  I have fond memories of helping my dad sort through multicolored branch tips as we spread everything out in the living room and crawled around trying to remember which color came first.  Eventually my parents tired of the stress, and we tried chopping our own, or shopping at a corner lot, but I still vividly remember "our" tree.

So when I had kids, and decided it was time for a full sized tree on a pint sized budget, I called up my parents and asked if they happened to still have the pieces in their garage.

"You don't want that old thing," they said.
But I did.

And now it just wouldn't be Christmas without a tangle of branches to ease into pre-drilled holes, a tumble of "fuzzies" to hide the wooden dowel trunk (Does anyone know how I can replace these?  We seem to lose a few every year)  and the kids teetering between "The tree, the tree!" and "I don't think it's going to work, Mommy..." and "It's looking right!  It's looking right!"

My tree is artificial.  Putting it up might be a hassle, and taking it down twice as bad, but in the end, it's our tradition.  We'll keep it in our garage, instead of the landfill, lead based paint and all.  We'll wash our hands, and avoid chewing on fake pine needles. If I were to stop using it, it would stop being "green" and end up in a landfill.

So we'll sit in front of the twinkling lights, letting our thoughts go.  And enjoy our "real" tree.

(And before anyone mentions it's bedraggled state, once it's decorated, I get plenty of comments on it looking real!)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Stress vs Snow

"I can't even go skiing!" 

"Uh, Hm, huh, wha?"  I watch as a range of emotions parade across my husbands face, not one of them shock, horror, or even righteous indignition.  He finally settles on a confused "Um, Hon?  You don't want to ski.  You'd freeze." 

My husband must have thought I'd lost my mind.  After a long day at work, followed by a long day in the hobby shop (working with metal), this was how I greet him at the door.

With indignation at the idea that ski slopes are off limits to me.
He's right, I don't even want to go skiing.  Or tobogganing.  And it's not like I can sit by a toasty fireplace sipping hot cocoa while watching everyone else build snowmen (I'd probably lose my feet and most of my fingers to frostbite just trying to help unload the car.  My fingers turn a lovely shade of blue when I drop Bumblebee off at school each morning.  Which isn't as disturbing as their lack of sensation.)
But I don't think that the idea of placing corn-seeded artificial snow on the slopes is really all that hot of a plan either.  What about other uncornies?  (The ones who don't turn blue?)  What about the environment (Not that hundreds of visitors whizzing by on skis is all that hot for a mountaintop)?  What about common sense?

Where's that corn going to end up?

Oh, right.  It's environmentally friendly.

That's why artificial snow displays which include plastic snow also include corn.  And if it will be in a relatively dry area, corny soap flakes.

I'd post more links but the act of ice freezing and refreezing creates something known as "corn snow"  This has nothing to do with real corn.  Artificial snow, on the other hand, is made using real corn.  Regardless of whether it creates corn snow.  Please note that the microcrystalline cellulose referenced in one of the above articles is a corn derivative that many, if not most, uncornies react to.  It's used in a variety of medical applications due to it's otherwise apparently innocuous effects.  There's no protein, and it's inactive, so most doctors will tell you it can't possibly be the culprit. 

So if you're uncorny...don't de-stress on the slopes without thoroughly checking out their usage of artificial snow and the nucleating agent used if they do seed the slopes.  Vacations should make you feel better.  Not put you in bed. 

I hope the microcrystalline cellulose doesn't make it into the water supply. 

Friday, December 04, 2009

"Mommy, I'm scared," says a small voice beside me as I peruse websites. She's supposed to be doing her own homework, namely reading the book in her hand. Instead? She's reading over my shoulder.

I'm not reading about nuclear weapons, American troops being deployed, violent crimes or even natural disasters. The terrifying topic of my research?


Number 5 plastic, specifically. And the fact that it can be bonded with corn polymers, and coated with corny residues.

"Corn's taking over the world," she whispers. "What's going to happen to you?"

I haven't gotten that far. I joke about it of course. "There's corn in that. There's corn in that, too." But the reality...well, the reality is just too big. I know that the problem is bigger than corn. And yet, corn also makes a pretty good summary of the problem. It's everywhere, we (society) almost fail to see it even when clearly listed.  We think of it as a necessary evil or a beneficial addition or a useful but benign filler. It's environmentally "friendly", at least compared to petrochemicals.  And it's simply there, ready to be used.  So of course certain sectors seek new and ingenious ways for our throw-away society to use more corn. 

Not everyone thinks corn is all it's cracked up to be.  And it's not just the uncornies of the world who are disillusioned.  Although corn plastic is biodegradable, there's not enough space in the landfills to allow it to properly degrade.  Which taxes our resources, however allows us to think that by using a surplus of corn we're somehow doing something good.  Oh, and of course, the process of producing corn plastic and transporting it around takes it's toll on the Earth's resources, too.

Then there are Michael Pollan's followers.  These are the people who see the inherent dangers on depending on one single crop for so many uses.  The same people are concerned about the lack of variery in our apparently diverse diets (Here in CA, it's not uncommon to eat a meal from a different country every day of the week.  What do Chow Mein, linguini, Pho, Miso Soup, Pad Thai, and Hamburger Helper have in common?  Corn and wheat and soy...depending on the ingredients used, of course, there are ways to make them safe.  But chemically, commercial dishes all look pretty much the same to your body.  Regardless of what your eyes and tastebuds think.)

I'm not sure what the best course of action is.  Do we fight it?  Do we all boycott corn?  We can't simply accept it and wait for "someone, somewhere, to do something."

For now, I hugged her, and told her that corn is not taking over the world.  Good always wins, doesn't it?  Even when it's not really a battle.  And when the "evil" is an amber wave of grain. 

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Holidays, food and allergies

It's that time of year again. The dreaded, *ahem* I mean Much Anticipated holidays. Complete with holiday parties, potlucks, cookie exchanges, and other winter celebrations.

Every one of them seem to involve food.

And again, support boards are filling with questions. They run along the lines of "I want to make this particular kind of recipe for my child's class/neighbor/church group. But, we have a very strict no (insert allergen list here) because so and so has a severe allergy. I really want to include so and so. Will this be safe?" Sometimes there are addendums about overprotective parents. Sometimes there are addendums about being knowledgeable because of personal experience. But it all boils down to the exact same firm answer.


First things first: Don't assume that someone is overprotective or overcautious. Only the intolerant individual (or their parents) really know the extent of their personal risk. And if you've ever seen an anaphylactic reaction, especially in a young child, you will do anything at all to prevent it. (From banning peanut butter to chopping down walnut orchards.) Worst case scenario in the case of anaphylactic allergies really is death. It may not be likely to happen, but it certainly spoils the holidays for the unlucky few. And for those who simply experience food "intolerances", shall we say that some believe in fates worse than death and leave it at that? Their holidays might not be much fun even if they DO survive buttered muffin tins.

The point I'm trying to make is that even if you do go the extra mile to ensure that your food offering is safe, accept the possibility that the recipient will still politely decline it. After all, they are the ones who will deal with any consequences.

The less severe the potential reaction is, the more likely a person is to risk "other people's food". Especially in classrooms. (everyone wants to feed kids sugary treats.) And the younger the kids, the more important the difference is.

Before going the extra mile, it's important to know how "allergic" the potential reactor is. There are 3 general levels of food avoiders. Level 1...Will break out in hives and need benedryl if someone opens a jar of peanut butter in the same building. (Okay, I'm exaggerating. A lot. But Level 1 has a severe allergy, and will not be allowed to eat your cookies no matter how safe you think your kitchen is. Mom will need to actually supervise any food prep. Bring fruit if you really want them to be safe, unless they're anaphylactic to it, too.) Level 2 has an allergy, may carry an epi, but can tolerate low levels of cross contamination. This means they might eat a box of crackers that carries the statement "Made in a facility that also processes: XYZ" but can't eat a cracker off the same platter that has cheese slices on it, even if the cheese slices aren't touching. Level 3 is the tricky gray area of intolerance and potential allergens. Usually these parents have been advised to avoid the offending foods for a variety of reasons, and left to decide how cautious they need to be. Some will make exceptions for special occasions and deal with the ensuing reactions. Others will be super vigilant. Most will permit food that doesn't contain the allergen (or obviously contain the allergen)

The best thing you can do is talk to the parent or the sufferer ahead of time. Ask what their comfort zone is, and see if you both are comfortable accomodating their needs. Of course, this isn't always feasible, and sometimes you get vague answers. Hopefully the vague answers will lead you to an approximate reaction level (1, 2 or 3) and you can proceed with the following in mind.

For a level 1 reactor, make sure to avoid their allergen in the actual food product, bring recipe or product labels just in case, but make your peace wit the fact that the kid in question probably will skip it. Your part is to avoid putting them in the hospital just by being in the same room.

For a level 2 reactor, start with safe ingredients (preferably from a new package, since it's easy to cross things like flour and sugar by using the same measuring cup) And make sure your tools are all doubly clean. Avoid wooden spoons, which have deep crevices that may not grow bacteria but certainly make good hiding places for allergenic substances. Keep all of the potential allergens covered and put away during the prep process. (In other words, don't let your husband scramble eggs while you're carefully preparing eggless cupcake mix. The chances of cross contamination are slight, but they disappear when the eggs stay in their shell.) Think out each step of the process. It won't do to grease the pans with an allergen after you've carefully avoided it. Consider decorations, too. Powdered sugar can have wheat or cornstarch. Sprinkles, chocolate chips, frosting...all have potential red flags. Bring ingredient lists with you. Cut them out or take a picture with your phone/digital camera just in case there are questions later.

For a level 3 can relax. Read ingredients. Bring labels if you can, and try to remember brand names. But don't gnaw your nails off worrying about the cup of milk your son was sipping as he watched you whip up those top 8 free brownies. Knowing your kitchen isn't allergy friendly, but that the brownies are (and having the ingredient list) is all the level 3 person needs to make a decision. (I wish we were all level 3's)

Of course, the best thing you can do for allergy families is take the focus off of food. Bring stickers, boxes of crayons, or junk jewelry. Or jump on the healthy food bandwagon and look for healthy alternatives. Fruit skewers, veggie platters, meat and cheese platters will all help to avoid the mystery ingredient issues and they lower everyone's stress levels. No one worries if veggie trays will crumble without the egg, if fruit skewers will taste wrong without real butter, or if the crackers will fall in the middle. There's also the benefit of having "real" food available. Most kids are too excited to eat before parties...but will happily devour anything that ends up on their plate and looks appealing. Even if it's healthy. And when you've had 4 other class parties in the past week, anything that isn't covered in frosting will appeal to all the parents.

Everyone wants their goodies to get rave reviews. Everyone wants to be "That Mom". They want to provide the eye popping experience, the awesome dish that gets raved about for weeks to come. But food really does add stress to the lives of allergy sufferers in ways that "normal" people can't imagine. Kids have to be trusted to have willpower beyond their ears. Adults have to walk a fine line between precaution and courtesy. And everyone wants to sit back and enjoy the holidays.

So if you really want to do something nice for someone with allergies...relax. Make your favorite signature dish, taking reasonable precautions. Give details of the ingredients in minute detail. (Even cooking spray has potential allergens) And then turn a blind eye to those who choose not to partake. They aren't trying to spite you. And they are just trying to enjoy the holidays as much as you.

Maybe it would help if we think of it this way. Allergy sufferers aren't just trying to avoid a nasty reaction. They're also protecting the baker from the guilt of causing one, and the other guests from witnessing it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I only have a moment tonight. But I want to post a tidbit from a current read: "Our Stolen Future" by Colborn, Dumanoski and Myers.
On pg 191-192, they are discussing the potential effects of PCBs in contaminated fish on children whose parents ate said fish. A psychologist named Helen Daly has been studying behavioral changes in rats fed Lake Ontario fish. The expected results of her test (which involved feeding a small group of rats a diet 30% fish) was that the diet would turn them into dummies. It would affect their brains and intelligence level. This seems a plausible expectation for the consumption of toxic chemicals.
However, they found behavioral changes that were unexpected. While there were no signs of learning deficits, indicating that intelligence levels were not adversely effected, the rats showed distinct behavioral changes. Standard testing showed decreased activity.
This behavioral change has been demonstrated repeatedly.
Rats fed a diet of 30% contaminated fish (fish that have been raised in Lake Ontario) over react to even mildly negative situations. Daly describes them as "Hyper-reactive". When comparing hteir reactions to humans, Daly is quoted as stating "Every little stress will be magnified."
Some studies done on children with high known levels of exposure have indicated a possible correlation to human experience.

Does this remind anyone else of Sensory Processing/Integration Disorders? Or Highly Sensitive Children?

PCBs aren't only found in fish. They were used as plasticizing agents in paint, flexible plastic coating for electrical wires, caulking agents, dusting products, flame retardants, adhesives and pesticide extenders. They do not degrade readily, so are still present in our environment. They tend to accumulate in lakes and rivers, where they bind with plant life and are consumed by sea life. The higher the animal on the food chain, the higher the concentration of PCBs and other chemical contaminants. (Interesting side note: PCB production was taken over in 1929 by non other than our beloved Mons*nto, the GM corn giants.)

One of Daly's most disturbing findings is that pcb effects are seen in second generation rats. So if rat generation A eats PCB laden fish, generation B is affected, but fed only a carefully monitored diet of PCB free fish, the researchers are still seeing abnormal reactions in generation C.

In other words, what scientists unleashed on our grandparents is haunting us today. What we do with our bodies, wittingly or unwittingly, will continue to affect our grandchildren regardless of whether we are here to play a part in it.

Of course, this has nothing to do with corn. But it's interesting all the same.
In the end it's still just stress. Stress on our environment, stress on our bodies, stress on our children. However, these studies show that somehow we may be inhibiting their inborn ability to handle stressful situations.

This isn't an answer. But it sure seems like a significant piece of many puzzles our society faces.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What's in a label?

My daughter Bumblebee is...intense.

She's always been exceptional. Exceptionally sweet. Exceptionally loud. Exceptionally shy. Exceptionally quiet. Exceptionally precious.

When she was 2 ish, we went to the doctor for some run of the mill cold. She was terrified, and turned off. I was irritated with her. He suggested an evaluation for autism.

I struggled with the thought, the number for First 5 California in my hand. But as I snuggled her close and held a 2 sided conversation with her about the incident, I felt that autism was way too extreme. Out of the question.

My child was shy, that's all.

When she buried her head in my lap after racing off the playground with a high pitched scream because 2 other kids appeared on the monkey bars, I felt a fluttering of concern. But a label?
Our next discussion with the doctor left me thinking she was just special. Shy.

Yes, shy. Shy was a good label.

When she collapsed in the middle of a new gymnastics class, carefully covering her head so she couldn't make eye contact with the coaches or the helpers (who promptly chased me down in the parking lot, to return and sit through the next 8 "No parents allowed under any circumstances" classes) I shook my head. She's exceptionally shy. But special, we all agreed. There's something about her.

Discussion with the doctor left us reassured. Sure, there's something. There's something about everyone. She's shy, obviously. We could look for another label. But is it worth it? Labels tend to follow children. They set them up for expectations in school. They can leave the kids giving up on themselves. Labels lead to medication. What did we want in a label? What we were doing was obviously working. And she was sure to outgrow it.

When she started Kindergarten, our hearts soared. She came home grinning and full of stories (we later learned her part was played much differently than the version we heard from her, but hey...they were great stories)
They plummeted as soon as she tired out and began crying. When she'd cried for a week straight questions arose.

We ruled out bullying, abuse (I'm still smarting from the inquisition of my older daughter, although she didn't know what the implications were. Of course, we had the same questions to rule out about school personnel, so how offended can I be?) and physical issues. Her teacher was a saint who'd loved her since her sister was in Kindergarten 4 years previously. That left...something. Our combined patience would have impressed Job himself.

Again, the doctor's "We should think about evaluating her, have we talked about autism?" comment haunted me. Millions of teen-mom talks returned to replay themselves in my head (and I wasn't quite a teen mom. More of a college mom. I was 24 when Bumblebee made her appearance. But around here, that's early.) All those red flags I'd been ignoring jumped out and flapped in my face. Something was WRONG.

By May, she needed to be restrained so I could leave the premises. However, we all agreed that giving in and keeping her home was not the right course of action. She's bright. She reads ahead of her age level, her math skills are excellent, her comprehension on track or above. She had friends. She was grinning after school each day. Her only complaint about school was that it was too long and didn't have enough learning. But she'd cry in anticipation of my leaving.
Starting the night before.

The only diagnosis we could get was anxiety, with a question mark. It was out of her pediatrician's comfort zone, our insurance sucks and we waited for our last hope...the school counselor.
She agrees. There's...something.

But labels follow a child.
Labels set a child up for preconceived notions.
What would we really want from a label? What could it offer that we aren't getting now?
Although she's struggling, whatever we're doing is definitely working. She's doing "better". She's just...crying sometimes. And screaming. Melting down on occasion. Without a reward. We're doing the "right things".
A label might tell us why they don't work the way we want. But it isn't going to help the right things work any better.
And do we really want to resort to medication? Because that's where labels lead.


No we don't want to resort to meds. No we don't think they're necessary. No, we don't need a label.

We thought we'd hit on something after reading "The Unhealthy Truth" and eliminated food dyes. And yes, food dye definitely impacts her anxiety. A candy cane recently set off the entire "You hate me, you hate me, you hate me! Stop hating me! Stop yelling!" routine when I said a simple "Hey sleepy head, it's time for school!" They handed them out in girl scouts the night before, and I wasn't thinking.

But the fussing, the morning foot-dragging, the begging after school for a quiet day with no play dates and no carpool driving, the insistence on "Please let me stay home, I can call you. I know how to dial the phone, and I can call the police, too, if the house burns down or somebody breaks in." The refusal to go to a park, or the toy store, sometimes even a birthday party. It's wearing on me. And making me think again, there's something missing.

I don't want to label her.

But as our neighbor child watches with wide eyes and asks me in a stage whisper "What is wrong with her? That's not normal." I have to think again about labels.

They may set kids up.
But they also let parents off the hook.

A normal child would never get away with the fits Bumblebee throws. But I have to balance the screaming with the fact that she holds my hand and hasn't thrown herself into the street or the fact that she's aiming her feet at her mattress, not her sister, not her friends, not her mom, not even the window. She isn't pulling things off the shelves. And if I reprimand her, she will. Not because she wants to be destructive, but because she's out of control. She's out of control, and scared. My job is to reassure her, protect her from herself as well as the people in the area who are judging and offering their two cents, or worse--intervening.

Labels are answers. Even if they don't mean anything, if I could explain the tantrum with a roll of my eyes, an apologetic smile and "Generalized Anxiety Disorder" or "Sensory processing issues" or even if she were "on the spectrum," No one would even have to know what I meant. They'd just accept it and nod knowingly, walk away.

It's not even something that happens very often, but when it does...I realize that labels do have a place. Even if it's just for parental piece of mind.
Sometimes I wish we'd gone that route.
But when it comes to parenting, I won't have the answers for another 20 years. And even then, I'll only know I took the right path if my kids decide to tell me I did. I can only hope I don't look back and know it was the wrong one.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Online Safety

I have an 11 year old dd. She is not allowed free realm on the computer. I monitor her email, her surfing, her homework site, her online gaming site (which is protected so that kids can't inadvertently share any identifying information)

However, she has a life outside of electronics.

After school, she went to an activity as usual. During this activity, there is lots of downtime for homework or reading. She reads. An acquaintance was playing with their DS. Penguin was called over when said acquaintance hissed "Hey, Penguin, what school do you go to?"

She answered. Then was told that "this guy" in a chat room "knows her".

The chat went something like "OMG, so do you guys know (insert popular nickname)"
"You mean (insert last name)"
"Yeah, I went to like preschool with her. Where does she go now?"

They exchanged the names of several kids in the activity, and clarified when it ended in case he wanted to meet them. He didn't show up.

She has been informed that she is to remain glued to the instructor until an adult she knows (carpool driver) arrives to pick her up, regardless of anyone knowing her name. She isn't even to go to the bathroom alone after this.

But what bothers me most is that the instructors aren't concerned. The other parents I know at first were amused until I pointed out that mystery-kid didn't share any identifying info. He just claimed to know the other kids, by using common first names and nicknames. He was given first and last names of class participants, schools attended and the time frame they are least supervised. And everyone, including the parents, think it's cool. (Put this way, they no longer think it's cute and a whole lot of other kids are getting a talk about online safety, and how it extends to any text message setting.)

Most likely it was a real kid. Sitting, waiting for a parent or sibling, bored out of his mind.

But what if it wasn't?

It's frightening to think how easily all this info was gleaned from kids. How anxious they were to share. Penguin has been given a quick, prettied up (but scary enough for her to listen) lesson in reality. There are bad people out there. If you can't see someone, you don't know if they're boy, girl woman or man. And you don't know how old they are. In the words of an old online friend, I'd much rather hug my child as I tell her a story I don't want her to hear, than hold her (or worse, not hold her) while I listen to a real life nightmare unfold.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Is Gluten Free really Healthier?

The new "fad diet"; Gluten free! Is it really healthier?

There seems to be a lot of confusion. Whole foods offers healthy options. Whole foods offers organic produce. Whole foods offers eco friendly products. Whole Foods also offers Gluten Free goodies. Therefore; gluten free is healthy for everyone, right?

Well, maybe. But simply eating gluten free products isn't necessarily healthy for anyone (Celiac patients included!)

As we've covered before, gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats. For people with Celiac Disease, it causes an immune response which damages the intestines. This is serious...without the little villi in your intestinal walls, you don't digest your food properly. Which means, you can get malnourished.

Some people are simple sensitive to gluten. And with all the research going on, some people wonder if gluten is good for anyone. Others are concerned because a gluten free diet appears limiting. Could it possibly be safe to give up wheat?

The thing is, our society relies too heavily on grains. It's not unusual for the typical American to eat a bowl of wheat cereal with some toast, snack on a bagel, eat a sandwich for lunch, some pizza and salad with croutons for dinner, wash it down with a handful of cookies and call it a relatively rounded diet. In fact, they just ate several days' worth of gluten (and corn) with a bit of veggie and meat thrown in for flavor.

If you eat the typical American fare, and simply substitute your bread for a gluten free variety your pocketbook is going to take a serious hit. Your body won't thank you much, either. Gluten free baking relies on a variety of starches and sugars to create an acceptable mouthfeel, and please our tastebuds. In some ways, a slice of gluten free white bread isn't nearly as healthy as a slice of whole grain wheat. (Unless you have Celiac Disease, of course, in which case the whole grain wheat is equivalent to eating arsenic. Don't do it.)

However, a healthy diet can be gluten free. Vegetables are gluten free. Potatoes, meats, eggs and fruit are gluten free. You can eat a varied diet, a rainbow of nutrients, without touching a grain of gluten. A gluten free diet that involves a variety of nutrients, from a plethora of sources, is perfectly healthy.

However, like most diets, its easy to follow an unhealthy version. And too many people look for the easy way out. Eating gluten free convenience items, which have been altered to be gluten free, is no different than eating regular convenience foods all the time. Except that most gluten free foods aren't enriched with synthetic vitamins to make them look a little healthier.

In other words, turning a dish gluten free doesn't "healthy it up". Leaving an ingredient out of a meal does not improve it's health content in and of itself. But there are a myriad of healthy, whole food menus that don't include gluten (Or dairy, or corn. At least, in their natural state). Since grains are a relatively recent addition to the human diet, real food can naturally be gluten free. And tasty too.

I know my diet is far from ideal. My goal is simply healthIER. Not genuinely healthy. In this society, it would be pretty difficult to reach that lofty ambition.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Surviving, with no regrets.

I think we're going to make it.

After 6 days of fever (the first 3 spent entirely in bed) for one, 2 days of very high fever for another, and Mommy trying to lose count of her own fever daze; I think we're on the mend. Mr. Violets is still managing to pick up the household chores, and going to work, too. (3 cheers!)

I also have no regrets about not getting the H1N1 vaccine.

Sure, I felt awful. And watching my kids suffer only increased this feeling of guilt. What if I could have stopped it? Good heavens, if I can suffer instead I will. (Especially as my baby girl just laid there with a fever of 104 that wouldn't budge, sipping at water and occasionally asking if I thought she'd be better in time to do her timeline at school. What could I say? "Not today, kiddo." Checked with the dr. No breathing difficulty, I wasn't really concerned about anything other than the heat that radiated from her tiny body. And the occasional tremors that started whenever she'd start to cool off, her body's way of increasing heat to bring her core temperature up to it's desired temp. 104. I've learned from her sister that 107 is now considered the "not compatible with survival" red flag. But most people stick with 104 since it makes you feel rotten enough to look scary and as far as germs are concerned there's not much difference between a 101 fever and a 106 one. Both will kill off invaders.)

What's wrong with me? Has the fever cooked my brains? (Maybe, I was having some pretty interesting dreams about Percy Jackson...But only because the final book finally came in at the library, just in time for flu season.) A simple shot, a pinprick, a magic bullet could have prevented the past week's suffering.

No, seriously. We had it. We're on the mend. We missed a week of school, for which I feel bad. I know that the school desperately needs the money it loses each day a student stays home, whether it's due to illness, funerals, vacations, lice, spinning to fast on the playground, or a bee sting. I know the that each day is important to academic success. I know that the routine of going to school daily is vital for the kids to learn, and respect, and accept.

I also know that the flu happens. It's mother nature. It's life. It's a long lived cycle. Illnesses, epidemics, occur repeatedly throughout history. In fighting the flu, I felt like we were fighting a known enemy. Maybe the pathogen was more difficult to recognize. Maybe our powers of prediction were tested in this particular case. But in the end, it was us versus a virus. It felt like a fair fight.

Vaccines carry a lot of risks. Maybe it's just because I personally experienced a potentially life threatening reaction of partial paralysis (considered to be only a theoretical risk) but I'm wary of using medical science to try and outsmart nature. I feel like when we accept a vaccine, we're still playing a part in a massive double blind study.

They are predicting that the risk of serious adverse reactions are less than 1 per 100,000. That means that if everyone in the US were to stick their arms out for a vaccine, 30,000 would theoretically be damaged. Sacrificed for the good of the rest of the population.

Out of over 300 million people, 30 thousand really doesn't sound like so many. However, if you are the one in 100,000 your opinion will probably change significantly. The CDC admits that the vaccine was rushed. The multi-dose vials do contain thimerosol (an additive that's been linked to all sorts of nasty side effects.) For those who the vaccine takes effectiveness in (It's not 100% effective) it can take 10 days for immunity to take hold. Kids require 2 vaccines, spread 2 weeks apart. And vaccine clinics are just starting.

Quite frankly, this is early in flu season. Even if we'd jumped on the bandwagon, odds are that we'd have been hit anyways.

I'm not saying that vaccines are bad. They are one of many important tools we can use to protect those who are particularly susceptible. Infants, people with immune disorders, the elderly. (Although, the elderly seem to be pretty resilient against the current threat) I am saying that I felt much more at ease fighting off an infection using my own defenses than I'd feel watching my children rally against a reaction to an unknown agent. Is it a preservative allergy? A reaction to the vaccine itself? A different virus? Will there be permanent damage? And of course the haunting questions yet to come...Did I cause, or even contribute to, this (insert medical condition here) by pinning down my baby to inject her with something, just because everybody else was doing it?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

It's NOT just in your head...

For years doctors have claimed that the vast majority of gut complaints are the direct result of emotional stability. Stress. Anxiety. Control issues.

Elaine Gottschal watched a diet prescribed by Dr. Haas heal her daughter. She went on to write a book, now published as "Breaking the Viscious Cycle," which embraced the theory that gut bacteria were intrinsically linked to whole health. Especially gastrointestinal health.

Elaine went on to explain that the bad bugs crave essence causing the human host to crave sugar. (Try and explain this to the typical MD, and he'll try very hard not to laugh directly at you.) She also explained how obesity can be caused by starvation...the bad bugs "stealing" all those yummy carbs and sugars.

After only 60 years or so, medical science has begun to wake up and agree. Those carb cravings may not be just in our heads (and tastebuds). Neither are they a product of our genes. Nope, studies have proven that people who eat chocolate have different intestinal bacteria than people who do not eat chocolate, leading to a difference in various metabolic byproducts in the blood and urine of test subjects.

Studies have also proven that intestinal flora changes after a change in weight.

Scientists feel this is exciting because if we can find ways to manipulate the bacteria, we can nudge it in the right direction for people trying to meet specific goals.

I wonder what far reaching research could lead to? They're already experimenting with certain parasites to treat Crohns disease, acknowledging that probiotics are vital for intestinal health, and begrudgingly admitting that natural vitamins might serve humans better than synthetic ones. What can gut bacteria teach us about allergies and autoimmune disorders?

What else is "all in our head", but really tied to the gut?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Out of the mouths of...well, kids and tweens?

I love chatting with my kids. They say the funniest things. They may not be toddlers still exploring their world, but as big kids they still are learning, discovering, and discovering their own identities. This means they can say some really amusing things. And I like to share my stories. A blog seems like the ideal spot to do that. Here are a few favorites from this week:

--Penguin explained that they were talking about flying cars earlier. And she thought it would be funny in the future when they thought that those weird things on wheels in the museum were labeled "Cars" pronouncing it "Sarz", because of the C. Even more confusing because it's short for Automobile.
Wait. That really doesn't make sense. Huh. Why do they call cars, 'cars'?
I don't know.

--(After a rough afternoon) Me "Hey, we don't kick even if we are mad at someone."
Bumblebee: "I wasn't kicking. I was putting my feet on you HARD."

--Penguin (While shopping earlier this week) "Oh, look, they're building something! I hope they don't take down that really old pretty dead tree. It's so pretty! But I think it's dead. It looks dead. It's pretty, though."

--Bumblebee "I wonder why we give out candy for Halloween. The real spirit of Halloween is to remember dead people and scare away bad spirits. What does that have to do with dressing like Hannah Montana?"

--Bumblebee, on hearing her sister has a fever the morning of Halloween: "Why does Penguin have to be sick on holidays? It's not fun to be sick on Holidays. Except Christmas. Because on Christmas you still can have fun even when you're sick. You just give people their presents late."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Give that girl a gold star

"What?!? I don't get it," Bumblebee was snuggled up in my lap and is now scrunching up her eyebrows at my book.
Don't worry, it's an adult book, but not adult content! I'm reading "The Hundred Year Lie" and have hit the chapter on vitamins. I think I need to refrain from commenting out loud and reading random passages to my husband, at least in the hearing of little ears.

"At the level of molecules seen under an electron microscope, synthetic and natural vitamins may look similar to some chemists, but they don't assimilate the same way in the human body."

The above sentence is a direct quote from the page she's scratching her head over.

"What do they mean?" Bumblebee asks again. Hmm. How do I put that in seven year old speak?

"Well," I try, looking over the preceding paragraphs for guidance, "they take cornstarch and corn sugar and mix it up with chemicals until it looks like vitamin c under the microscope. And that's called synthetic, or fake, vitamin c. They did a study that says even though some synthetic, or fake, vitamins look the same under a microscope, they don't work the way vitamins in our food work."

She sits and thinks for awhile.
"So, they use a bunch of chemicals and make things that look like vitamins and smell like vitamins and taste like vitamins and feel like vitamins and sound like vitamins?"
"Um, yeah, essentially."
"And then they are surprised that they don't work like vitamins?"
"Yup, that's pretty much what that page is saying."
"But don't they know they're still chemicals? They aren't vitamins!"
"I know, but they look like vitamins under a microscope. So the scientists thought they'd be close enough."
"But they aren't."
"No," I acknowledge, "No, they aren't."
"I knew that," she says, "They're still chemicals. Only our food has real vitamins."
I agree with her.
"I'm seven and I'm smarter than a scientist," she ponders, "Maybe I can be a scientist when I grow up."
"That'd be nice," I tell her.
"And I'll draw my studies," she says, as if suddenly a problem is solved and everything has fallen into place.
"Okay," I smile at her. It is her life's ambition to be a "kid" artist so she won't have to grow up.
"Because an artist," she explains, "Is so busy all the time. Everyone wants pictures. Of themselves, and of pretty things. For like their windows, and their fridge, and everything! That's a lot of work. If I'm a scientist, I can still draw fun things and just maybe sell them for money."
Okay. This is priceless.
"And I can just do scientist stuff the rest of the time. Because no one wants anything from scientists. So, they aren't very busy. They just like, write books about their study and stuff. And maybe I'll draw pictures, because I'm good at drawing pictures."

I think that's a great idea.
I tell her that I hope she also remembers to think things through.

"Well, duh. I'm not going to forget that chemicals are NOT vitamins, even if I make them look like vitamins in a microscope." She tells me disparagingly.

That's my girl.
If anyone can take on the world and win, it's Bumblebee in righteous whirlwind mode.

((There was more to the conversation, and I may have gotten some of the wording slightly wrong. But I guarantee the heart of the matter is captured here.))

Scene from the bedroom...

Penguin's at rehearsal. Bumblebee is quietly coloring in her room. Occasionally I hear her low voice, speaking quietly to our next door neighbor through the window.

I'm folding laundry.

Suddenly I hear a thunk, a screech, and a wild cry that does not belong to my child. I pause.
Bumblebees voice shouts "I'm sorry, okay,"
Another voice screeches "You hit me, you hit me, you hit me, it hurts!"

I drop the laundry.

Bumblebee is sitting wide eyed on her bed.
Neighbor child is standing outside the window, clutching her head with both hands and screeching "Bumblebee hit me, it hurts, it hurts!"

The window is intact.

So is the screen.
A quick investigation reveals no way for me to quickly or effectively reach injured neighbor child.

I look from one to the other, raise an eyebrow, sit back on my heels and ask Bumblebee what exactly happened.

"The stepstool I was coloring on flipped over and hit the window," she says, looking me right in the eye, "Apparently it hit Ms neighbor."

I look at the still-keening neighbor child.
"Um, Neighbor, Hon? Are you okay?" I ask through the screen.

"No, I was just sitting here playing and she hit me on purpose! It hurts so bad!" she wails.
"Okay," I say, still studying the intact screen and window frame, "Whose in charge today? Your sister? Do you need us to bring you an ice pack, or do you have one in the fridge?"

Suddenly the sobs stop. Her hands slowly drop away from her head. Wheels turn behind those eyes, but I have no idea what she's thinking.
"Um, I'm okay," she says, sniffing back the remnants of tears.

I study her for a moment.
"If you just got hit in the head with a stepstool, we should tell another adult about it," I tell her, imagining goose egg lumps and concussions. The stepstool is a nice, sturdy wooden one. "Do you need me to come explain what happened to whoever's in charge?"

The child is 6. I've seen the tag teams trade places. I hear voices speak to her on a regular basis. I know there's an adult over there somewhere.

Eyes widen. Head shakes quickly.

"No, that's okay. I'm okay. She did hit me, but um, I'm okay now. It didn't really hurt."

I give both girls another Look. Neighbor girl forces a nervous laugh. There are tear stains on her cheeks.

"How did she hit you in the head with a step stool without breaking the window?" I ask in exasperation.
"I don't know!" Bumblebee wails, "Stop yelling at me!"
"On purpose!" neighbor girl says, and flounces off.

Bumblebee flops down on the pillows and sobs broken heartedly.

Those two are up to something. I just can't figure out what, exactly.
But I'm buying Bumblebee a cheap plastic lapdesk, just in case.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Getting creative

Well, trying to get creative, anyways.

I have figured out my problem. The real trouble is quite simply the vast number of intolerances I'm juggling. Lets see...The sum total of everyone's current avoidances?

Corn (and all of it's derivatives)
Squash/gourds (Includes cucumber and melon)
Cruciferous vegetables (broccolli etc)
Soy (lecithin okay)
Refined sugar
pecans (and possibly other nuts)
Artificial dyes and preservatives
sesame (including oil)
kidney beans
Olives (including oil)
green beans

It seems like I'm forgetting something...Hmmm...

Plus all foods need to be carefully washed, peeled, and thoroughly cooked. Even fruit.
Avocados are the exception. Maybe overly ripe bananas.
Still crunchy onion in scrambled egg? Yum, but bad. Stuffing with nice, thick chunks of celery for crunch? Delish, but bad.
And there are foods that are good, but only in moderation. Sauteed spinach. Guar gum/xanthan gum (not good on any of our tummies) Quinoa. Beans. Artichokes. Sweet potatoes.
And foods that we're supposed to try under controlled conditions. Nuts/nut butters, tomatoes, anything "new".

And then there's the whole clueless-when-it-comes-to-meat issue.
It's hard to find food we all can eat!
Then you have to take into account food preferences. Bumblebee won't touch beans. Or chicken. Or sweet potatoes. Or...well, she's picky. It's better if her foods don't touch too much. And if they aren't soup. Or saucy. And if she can dip them in parmesan.
Penguin will experiment a bit. But she draws the line at fish. And you can never second guess her. Serve eggs at the wrong moment, and you hear for an hour about how they're "okay, except that they are just disgusting."
And if she doesn't eat, she gets a migraine and misses 2 days of school. (I'm not exaggerating. I can send her, but they send her right back.)

Tonight I was pondering the options. Penguin requested spaghetti (Tinkyada rice pasta) and I was obliging. Since I was craving beans and cheese, I made that on the side for dh and I.
It occurred to me that it wouldn't seem like spaghetti every day, if I could do more with it.

Perhaps stir in some tomato sauce. No, wait.
Maybe just veggies and cheese for a, wait.
Well, I could do chow mein for all, sautee onions, garlic, peppers and scramble in some eggs. Drizzle with soy...oh, wait.

Dh and I like the soy-less chow mein. But Penguin prefers the soy cooked in. That takes an extra pot.
We'd like any of the cheese creations, too. But they're blends, so bumblebee will only look. And Penguin can't touch. 2 pots, again.
And Penguin and dh would enjoy the tomato bake, especially with olives. But me? Um, I'd like the taste. Tomorrow I'd regret it. And the next day. And the next. Maybe even next week.

We get back into the question of "what will I serve the rest of us?"

Roasted sweet potatoes and eggs for 3
Spagghetti with a variety of toppings feeds all
Rice feeds 3 (we can add beans, or fry it sans soy)
Chicken (with leftover starchy foods) feeds 2-3 of us
3 can eat dinner salads (or side salads made dinner size for those not partaking of the full meal) But the pots and stress of preventing cross contamination drive me batty.

I want to make the kitchen safe for all.

First, I need more options to play with...

Keep your fingers crossed that we pass the wasabi test this weekend. (hopefully this weekend, I reserve the right to back out at any moment.)
I'm not sure it will increase our options any, but I want something spicy!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Emotional Impact

I've now been gluten free for 4 years. And corn free for 6. Active in the food allergy cyber world for a little longer, as I began to delve into the world of food mediated reactions. After all, it takes a lot of courage to admit that something as benign and emotionally charged as food (especially so-called 'health food') could possibly be the root of physical pain. Especially when people are telling you the real problem is located a wee bit above the digestive organs.
In this time, I've seen plenty of other patients come and go along the food avoidance forums. And they all seem to share distinct traits, in shock, indignation, anger and feelings of being overwhelmed. There appears to be a cycle of grief involved in the process of food allergy diagnosis.
To that end, I've put together the following based solely on my observations as someome with no medical training, just a patient who reads and thinks. :-)

They say that there are 7 stages of grief that one must go through whenever they experience a loss. Usually this is discussed in terms of death or divorce. The process is often applied to people who live through disasters, such as fire or severe floods.
Food allergies don't exactly compare to fire, famine, or the loss of a loved one.
But they do constitute a major life change.
When you are diagnosed with food allergies or intolerances past infancy, they become a learning process. Life as you know it has changed, and favorite comfort foods may be lost. There is a grieving process to be gone through.
Few studies have been undertaken to truly study this process. And most professionals are still struggling to separate the emotional complications of medically restricted diets from those of eating disorders. Although the fundamental fear of food is the same, one side has a rational reason and the other (theoretically) has a somewhat irrational fear.
A few publications have dared to publish the deepest, darkest fears of food allergy sufferers. Most stick to the safe surface area. Wow, what do you eat? Wow, how would you survive? And of course, the heartfelt "Hurray, my life is different but it rocks, just the same."
But support groups know the truth. Newbies join online forums and dare to ask, in the safety of anonymity, 'Is this normal?'


The stages of grief, as identified by grief counselors are as follows:

1. Shock and Denial. In the world of food allergies, this may mean not wanting to admit that the identified food really is the cause of reactions. Or that the reactions aren't "that bad". Or "Oh, well, at least I can take tomorrow off," and then take a risk. After all they "aren't as bad as some have it..."

2. Pain and Guilt. When the reality of a new style of eating starts to set in, there is a moment (or repeated moments) of panic. We think of pizza, ice cream, coffee creamer, doughnuts and other treats as necessities. How will we live without our favorite comfort foods? What will we do when we "have to" eat out?
For parents, the guilt sets in. What did we do wrong? Surely we should have been able to protect our beloved kids from the pain of exclusion. They deserve a "normal" life. At this stage, we aren't ready to reevaluate the meaning of normal. That process comes with acceptance.

3. Anger and Bargaining. We get angry at ourselves, our doctors, our bodies, even mother nature. Why should we have to suffer? Maybe we make bargains with ourselves. "If we let ourselves/our child cheat just this once, next time we'll be good." The consequences are usually enough to keep that phase from lasting very long. But if allergies are lie threatening, it can be a dangerous phase. And when it overlaps with the denial phase, or different caregivers hit different phases at the same time, it can be dangerous.

Some parents and siblings may also feel anger towards a child whose restrictions make a major impact on family life. While these feelings are normal, they should be short lived and should not cause any backlash against the child. Spouses, likewise, may feel anger towards the afflicted spouse. Again, the feelings are normal, but if they cause any retalliation against the afflicted one, outside help is needed.

4. Depression/loneliness. This phase tends to represent acceptance of the restrictions. It can be overwhelming. This is the phase where a patient, or an allergy patient's family, may withdraw. Its easier. It's safer. It's also when they need the most support.

5. The Upward Turn. At this point, there is some small success. A cake that tastes good, a compliment on some potluck dish, or the end of a successful evening out. I'll list it as separate, although it often is looped with the next two phases, and for many the first 5 appear to be relived repeatedly.

6. Reconstructing and Working Through: Depending on the food restriction,

7. Acceptance and Hope. This phase never ends. Although there will be backsliding, and occasional slips back to stages 3 and 4, on occasion as far as 2 or even back to denial (especially after feeling really well for a long period of time), once one has reached a point of acceptance, reachieving this stage seems easier and quicker each time.

Using and accepting these phases is vital to reaching a healthy balance in living with food restrictions, not just for the person affected by the restriction personally but for their close family members. There are separations and even incidents of divorce when one family member has trouble getting past feelings of denial or anger. Of course, this can increase feelings of guilt (especially for children) and depression or isolation (especially for parents dealing with nontraditional allergies and delayed reactions). A support system is vital.

Symptoms are not caused by stress. And simply eliminating a single offending food or group of foods is not always enough to alleviate all symptoms. There are remaining physical ailments (from digestive damage and malnutrion caused by years of eating the wrong foods) and there will be a variety of emotional stages. Acknowledging the grieving process is part of the road to complete healing. A wide variety of emotional feelings are normal in the course of diagnosis and learning to live with an allergy. And setbacks are normal, too.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Beauty is...

Every year, our school participates in the National PTA contest called "Reflections". Each child is encouraged to create a work of art; literary, visual, or photographic; share it with their classroom and submit it for judging.
We're always on the lookout for inspiration and excuses to get creative. So we eagerly anticipate the theme's unveiling, and then we spend September brainstorming ideas.
This year, we started working as soon as the signs proclaiming "Beauty is..." went up at the school. And by we, I mean that Ms. Bumblebee sat down to color and I tried not to complain about the crayons left on the floor, or the scraps of paper strewn across the living room for a week.

Then she said she wanted to take a picture.
Wonderful, I said, and took her to a park.
She frowned and said she meant a picture of the sign at the gas station.

Not just the sign, the hinge that holds the sign.

It makes a letter, she told me, it's awesome.
My thoughts were along the lines of a rusty hinge not being the epitome of beauty. However, out loud I told her that was fine. But, maybe we could just look around the park and see if maybe there was something beautiful there.
You might be inspired. You don't even have to plan it, I told her. Play with the camera settings, lets see if you can do black and white, or that cool color swap thing. Penguin wished out loud that her school was participating.
Bumblebee just rolled her eyes at me. And then she found an "R" hidden in tree roots.
Okay. I want to be encouraging, tree roots are definitely a step up from a rusty hinge. Penguin pointed out a knot hole "o". I mentioned that the gorgeous fountains formed an "i".
She took a picture of a crack in the sidewalk.
And a single, fallen leaf.
That was laying on a litter-strewn ground.
With a piece torn off.
Beauty is?
"We need to go to the gas station," she grumbled.
Shall we say I was a bit disconcerted and more than a bit frustrated?

But this was her project. So I encouraged her to keep snapping pictures. I didn't let her see me shudder when she tried a close up of our trash can. "The theme is 'beauty is'" I reminded her.
"I know," she calmly stated, playing with the focus as she trained the camera on the bricks of our fireplace.
"Um, at least use an uncracked brick," I said unhelpfully. She just shook her head then cocked it to the side, grinned and clicked the button.
I quietly thanked the powers that be for digital cameras and (almost) limitless exposures.

Dutifully, I helped her hook up the camera to the computer and upload (download?) photos. I opened adobe for her. I helped her figure out how to open whichever picture she wanted to for editing. And then I stepped back and tried not to think about the trash can photo.

At any rate, I consoled myself, it's unique.

She carefully edited each photo, playing with tools I didn't know we had. She smudged up backgrounds until I could hardly recognize them. She used funky cutters to trim the photos down and focus on the letter she saw.

Her vision began to manifest.In the end, she had an alphabet of hidden letters. Including the rusty hinge of the local gas station sign, her friend's leg in flamingo-pose, a variety of rocks and tree branches and bushes. Not to mention that sidewalk crack. All lovely, viewed in the right perspective.

I discovered that beauty isn't confined to the big picture. Beauty is letting go. It's a 7 year old creating her personal vision. Beauty is listening to laughter and plotting and 'Yes!' as she discovers a letter hidden in an unexpected place. Beauty isn't simply found in the things poets write of. It isn't bigger or better. Sometimes its smaller, subtler. (Sometimes, much subtler.)

As Bumblebee said as we filled out the paperwork together, "With your imagination you can see anything, anywhere."

As I look at the images she created from the bits of real life most of us overlook, either intentionally or unintentionally, I also realize that like the old adage says, beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.
Beauty is everywhere, if you look through a child's eyes.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Lessons from corn

Although I'd like to say that corn is pure evil, my sensible side keeps intervening.
It isn't corn that's inherently evil. It's what we're doing with corn, nature and everything else.

To paraphrase St. someone: The love of money is the root of all evil. And hence, the quest for money is at the root of all corn. That's what it all boils down to. Money talks.
Right now, money appears to grow in cornfields across the United States.

I've learned more than I wanted to about our food system. I've discovered that the FDA is a business, much like any other. And it's run by humans.

FAAN may have made a difference for thousands, but with all their knowledge and power, they still have an awful lot to learn. I'm only one of many learning from their mistakes.

Safety nets are often made of red tape.

I've learned that there are things I don't want to know or learn. Food was supposed to be easy. You browse the grocery store, you choose new items. It doesn't bite back. You don't worry about what it's doing to your child's hormones or brain development. That's what the FDA is there for...right? Right? RIGHT???

I've learned that experts have tunnel vision. Not only do they have tunnel vision, but it's rewarded with money. And they want to stay in the dark as desperately as I do.

I've learned that women are slightly more prone to food intolerance...or maybe they just admit it more readily than men do.

And I've learned how easy, and satisfying, it is to live outside the box.

Friday, October 09, 2009

As Halloween approaches, a reason to be Thankful...

Halloween is always tough around here.
For oldest, no dye, no dairy, no gluten. Not much sense in trick or treating!
For youngest, it used to be no nuts, but this year it's no dye (and she passed the peanut challenge! Yay! Although she claims they still smell disgusting.)
Really, there aren't all THAT many options out there.

Of course, the kids made do. And adore our yearly ritual of sorting out the candy into safe piles, and then into piles by type. Then we trade in the junk for safe candy and cheap part favors. This year, they even want to use it in experiments. (As in, how long does it take a skittle to dissolve? An M&M? Jolly Rancher?)

We even have a yearly outing to a local zoo, where various local businesses set up stations and give out non-candy items. (Flower seeds are always a big hit, and they actively seek out the Apple Juice booth. No candy, please, just the juice!)

Anyways, despite the fun it's still hard to go to school and see kids gorge on multicolored confections on the beloved sugar fest we call "Halloween". We know in our heads that junk food tastes good to your tongue, and real food tastes good to your tummy, but in practice, it's hard to pass up sprinkles and gummies and frosting. (even if you have your own delicious treat waiting.)

My oldest even watched a woman bribing her son with skittles in the library, "Just be good. Here, what color? Any color. Good boy. Now be good. Fine, another color. Any color. Come on, yummy. Choose a color. Now be good, stay with...No, come back, fine. Look. Candy! Yummy!" And thanked me for not being that kind of mom. (Thankfully, not many of us are. The kid wasn't even misbehaving, just looking at the books on the shelf.)

But when 'everyone else' is eating something that looks good, smells good, and you know tastes good; and they keep tempting you to just take a tiny taste; it's hard to say no. And it's hard to watch your kids struggle with that self control. Self control that many adults have failed to master. (Just ask anyone whose ever tried a fad diet how often they cheated.)

However, there is a reason to be grateful for forced moderation. British studies show that kids who eat an excess of sugar in their formative years actually may be at increased risk for arrest due to violent crimes. Of course, the next question is why those kids ate so many sweets to begin with. Was it a parenting issue? A chemical imbalance? Were the sweets a cause or a symptom? And was it sugar itself or the rise in the use of petrochemicals in sweets over the past 20 or 30 years? (This is purely my speculation, but clearly an avenue investigators will have to explore further, as you can see in the article.)

At any rate, maybe it will be easier to ignore those naysayers who 'tsk, tsk" and tell me that my poor kids are so terribly deprived. Not only are they missing out on sugar highs, migraines, stomach aches and mood swings, their risk of acquiring a violent criminal record is dropping.

Maybe we should celebrate.
Candy, anyone?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Sick (?) Kids

The day started out like any other. The kids grumbling after staying up late reading and giggling. Mom and Dad grumbling because we stayed up late saying "Okay, girls, get some rest."
Penguin has missed a few days of school, and was feeling better. The plan was to push her to just give it a try. She hasn't been running a fever, which is the gold standard, you're-a-bad-parent-who-is-spreading-pandemic-flu criteria for staying home.
"I know, I can make it, I think I'm okay. I just don't really feel good."
"Fine. We can take your temperature,"
"That sounds fair,"
"...and then you are getting up from under that blanket, brushing your hair and putting socks on. Got it? Good."
3 minutes later, I'm staring a silver line that hits 102*
"Really? Really? But I don't feel that...but I'm so cold!"
Right. Cold. Fever. Go back to bed, kiddo. And Bumblebee, get UP! You're going to be late!
"Why is my sister laying down? Isn't she going to be late?"
She's running a fever. Now for the last time, get up! Get dressed! No more dilly dallying, how many times did I have to come in and tell you to settle down and sleep last night?
"But, she doesn't have to go to school? That's not fair! She always stays home. My head hurts, my throat hurts a lot and I still have to go to school this week. It's not fair!"
I hesitate, blanket still in my hand. She did mention a headache yesterday. And her eyes are a little glassy.
"Um, wait a second. Your head still hurts? Your throat hurts?"
She's getting dressed, now.
"Yes, and you still make me go to school! You don't love me, you only love Penguin!"
I have a sinking feeling something isn't quite right here.
"Should we take your temperature?"
"Okay." Shrug. "But it won't be a fever and you're still going to make me go to school and it isn't fair!" She flops resignedly on the bed, dramatically throwing an arm over her eyes as she waits for the thermometer to do it's stuff.
A few minutes later I'm wondering if there's something wrong with our thermometer. It reads 100*
"Really? Really, really? I have a fever?" She takes a moment to process. Then breaks out in a huge grin.
And sits straight up in bed. "No school!" she squeals.

"Hey, hon," dh says from the doorway, as he tries to hide a smile, "I think I'm going to go ahead and just head in to work now. Um, have fun." Thanks.
He better not be working too late tonight.

2 hours later, both kids are up, and I hear the violin being practiced for the first time in...oh, ages. A year, I think. It probably needs to be tuned. And I don't even want to know what they did to all the stuff that used to be piled on top of it. (Wasn't it at the back of the hall closet?) But for now, I'm going back to bed. I've got a bit of a cold.
I just hope the house is still here when I wake up.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Pot of Gold...the Leprechauns can Keep it!

Here's a pot of gold that I'd rather skip.

But it does give a good picture of what we're up against. Those of us who are uncorny by choice, or necessity. Can it really be safe to depend on one crop for such a diversity of things? Sure, it's great that we *can* use it for a variety of options. But really, there needs to be a variety of sources. And they need to be disclosed.

No wonder the dietician took a look at my list, and told me to give up. Some days I'm tempted, but I have 2 amazing kids to raise. And I just can't do it from bed, nor do I want anyone else doing it. There's already too much that I forgo for the sake of the damage corn and gluten have wreaked on my body.

"Life is Like a Box of Chocolates". Full of corn.

Luckily, I'm selective with my chocolates. :P

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Overheard from the yard:

"I'm tired of playing at your house. We can only play outside. Your mom spies on us. The snails crawl on us. The sun shines on us. I want to play at my house. Where we can go anywhere and do anything we want. And nobody will even care."

Any guesses as to why they're in MY yard?
Penguin: "Mommy, where's the Taj Mahal?"
Me "Um, India, I'm pretty sure."
Penguin: "Yeah, that sounds right. It's where they bury people, right?"
Me "I thought it was more of a Cathedral."
Penguin: "Whatever. It's one of those grave thingys."

Apparently she was trying to describe the Sistene Chapel to her sister. It's like the Taj Mahal. You know, a Grave Thingy.

We don't get out enough.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Go Judge White!

This article came through my inbox. And I must say, I'm proud of my native San Francisco Bay Area heritage today, as apparently it is in the SF BA that common sense regarding genetically modified seeds seems to be actually happening.

I don't want GM sugar beets. Or alfalfa.
And I don't think anyone else does either. Remember that beets can be used to make white sugar. Which, although my husband is currently avoiding, is a very tasty part of our otherwise limited diet.

Genetic modifications have been linked to the rise in corn allergies in the 80's. (Think Starlink scandal.) It hasn't been mainstream long enough for true long term affects to be documented and studied. However, we do know that once it's out there, it's impossible to withdraw due to drift and pollination issues. Now that GM plants have been introduced to the world, they are infiltrating the rest of the crops.

It's like a bad science fiction movie. Except we're actually living the intro.

Monday, September 21, 2009


It's something you take for granted.
You know, especially when you have a working dishwasher. Sure, it's a pain. But, you rinse off the worst of those dishes, fill up the little cache, and close the door. Push the econo setting, and you're good to go. By the time you're done with the days errands, or have a good night's sleep, the dishwasher will be full of clean shiny dishes.
And all of them will be safe for you to eat off of.

They won't make you sick.

Unless you have a corn allergy.

If you do have a corn allergy (or other unique situation), that steam that erupts from a freshly finished dishwasher when the door is opened is misleading. Sure, the dishes are sterile. But a fine residue remains. This residue leaves the dishes spotless, without little water marks. Makes them easier to clean later. Is perfectly harmless to humans.

Unless, of course, you happen to have the aforementioned corn allergy.

I had found a safe dishwashing detergent. I'd argued my way through a few manufacturers, with that whole "Well, you aren't supposed to eat it..." discussion, and settled on Kirkland signature powdered dishwasher detergent. The Costco guy was very helpful. Very kind. He called and checked on everything, taking a list of suspect ingredients.

And then, 2 years later, they simply stopped making it. And the new "Environmentally friendly" version lists citric acid as a key ingredient. Citric Acid, as many of you know, is notoriously connected to corn allergy reactions (regardless of whether or not any protein remains.)

I don't know about you, but eating is enough of a gamble for me. I don't need to be afraid of the soap I stick in my dishwasher, too.

So I'm off to seek a safer alternative. Especially since we're now completely out of the "old" detergent. And the friendly Costco guy has yet to respond to me emails about the new stuff...
Hey, maybe it is "Just Stress". Stressing about coming in contact with surprise corn (and the subsequent surprise 6 week recovery period) certainly doesn't help.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Life with a corn allergy has opened my eyes to a lot of things in this world. I knew that the food supply was less than perfect, and that the Standard American Diet really was a bit SAD. However, I thought it was "normal". There were government agencies in place to take care of us.

In the end, it really couldn't be that bad.

But now...Well, now I wonder. There's corn in this, and that, and yes, even that. Eggs, still in the shell, aren't even safe if they've been washed in a corny solution or if the chickens they came from were fed xanthophylls. And yet the FAAN still says that they are not advocating for the corn allergic community because the FDA does not consider corn a true allergen.

My daughter's migraines have introduced me to the world of area I'd like to keep my head in the sand regarding. The doctors caution that there aren't a lot of studies to back up what they, and I, are seeing. But there's no doubt that blue dye makes my daughter pale, pained and nausous. And there's no doubt in my mind that artificial coloring may play a part in the increased 4 A epidemics.

Anyways, while I've always known there were problems in the world, now I'm forced to do something about them. And I thought I'd make a list for those who have it in the back of their mind that they'd like to do the ubiquitous something, they just feel too overwhelmed to know where to start.

Of course the most important step is to simply make a choice. Where are your values? What do you want to change? The second is to look at where your money goes.

The fact of the matter is, if you agree that there is too much corn in our food supply, the only way that it's going to change is if you stop buying corn. You don't have to do it like I do. You don't have to be corn Kosher. But you can choose the bread without high fructose corn syrup, or corn starch, or cornmeal.

Avoiding petrochemicals is even easier, and you won't run into a corn growers association's PSA trying to convince you that petrochemicals are not only safe, but actually nourishing. Most people will be on your side. They either find food colorings to be harmless but probably not good, or they think they're a necessary evil. Something you can't do anything about.

But we can do something. In Europe, parents refused to buy food for their kids that had been colored with questionable additives. And guess what? Companies like Walmart and Kraft did something. They took the additives out of the food.

If they can do it for European kids, they can do it for Americans.
If they can do it for petrochemicals, they can do it for corn. (It might take a little bit more work, and a bit more economic adjustment, though. There's a dietary revolution coming, whether we like it or not. For our grandparents, the revolution took society into the world of "clean" processed, industrialized canned food. For our children or grandchildren, it will be a return to gardening and local farming. There's just no way that our world can survive if we continue this lopsided industrial farming approach.)

So, choose the better brand even when it costs a small amount more. And write to your favorite brands to tell them why you did or didn't choose to buy them. They will probably respond with a form letter and coupons (Which is a good enough reason to write, sometimes) but if they get enough feedback asking for change, they'll change.

There you go. Two semi painless steps. Buy what you, the consumer, want to have available. Merchandisers follow Darwin's laws...Use it (buy it) or lose it.

What do I think is the most important goal?
Full disclosure. I want to know what's in everything I put in my body, from farm fresh produce to the excipients used in blood pressure medication. Chemical breakdowns are nice, but they don't tell me sources and they don't give the American people the info they need to make informed choices. In a world where we can't logistically each farm our own land, slaughter our own meats, and grind our own grain, I don't think knowing whats in the products we buy is too much to ask.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

It appears I'm not the only one who feels overwhelmed by the concept of cooking from scratch, preparing meals (namely meat) and planning around ingredients.
It's a cultural thing.
Americans have slowly allowed the "cooking culture" to die out. Through a generation (or two) of Cathy comics (I made my favorite thing for dinner, Reservations!) and latchkey kids with TV dinners and microwave meals, Julia Child has become a household legend...and fallen from the ranks of female empowerment to the unachievable Martha Stewart or Donna Reed.
According to this article by Michael Pollan (who first revealed the corn controversy to the masses in Omnivore's Nation) We, as a nation, don't cook anymore.
The 8 pages are a lot to wade through on screen, however, it's an interesting read.
I still think my meat eating husband could give the vegetarian a hand in planning meals that involve flesh foods (and their leftovers) But I also think that much of the country is in the same boat we are.
Although, I must seems like it would be easier if I didn't have to worry so much about corn in every new potential ingredient.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New Rule: No more diets!

Seriously. New restrictions for new people is getting old.
My dear husband was bemoaning his inability to lose weight. His knowledge of the need to diet, but not knowing where to start. He craves carbs like a fiend. He gets migraines, he feels fatigued. And hungry. He joked about tapeworms.
I bantered along, and then I went and threw out an ominous single word.
He wanted more info. I directed him to the infamous spit test. (Which I always seem to pass, though many people I know have failed and I've read claims that it's impossible to pass. More proof that I'm weird?)
The next morning he began his morning routine before I was up. Then he slunk back to bed and pulled the covers over his head.
"I'm hungry," came a muffled voice.
"Mmmm," I groggily replied, thinking I'd just gone to the store and the shelves and fridge are bursting at the seams.
"I don't know what to eat," his voice was very low.
I tried to pull myself free from the last dregs of sleep to put these pieces together. Oh. "You tried the spit test?" Uh, huh. "You fail?" Uh, huh. "And now you want to go yeast free?" Uh, huh. Help me?

Of course, I said yes. I told him to choose a plan of attack. There's "Feast without Yeast" (Potato heavy, otherwise similar to the famous Anti Candida Diet), "Anti Candida Diet" originally devised by William Crook, or the SCD. His eyes grew wide.
Okay. We'll just sort of do what most people do in the beginning, and focus on cutting out refined sugar and trying to eat real food.
So we sat down to make up a list of safe meals. Eggs. Sauteed veggies. Salads. Brown rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes and grains in moderation, nut butters in moderation. What about meats?
Okay, hon. You're the meat eater. I don't know what all is out there. Chicken?
Um, beef?
Sounds good.
What kind?
Well, what are we going to do with it?
Whatever you want.

Now we don't fight often. We may disagree, we each take walks (or drives) alone and we wait until the kids are in bed to discuss bigger issues. However, this response produced a small argument. Which I feel bad about.
I wanted to know what kind of meat he'd like, and how to prepare it. He doesn't know. I tried to be patient, and asked for dishes he liked, maybe they were safe or we could make them sugar free/gluten free. He didn't know. I asked him to describe how to prepare the meat, at least.
He told me that was my department.

I'm the vegetarian of the household! I'm second generation vegetarian, in fact. Third, if you count my great grandma, but my grandma (her daughter) ate plenty of flesh foods. Just not really on my day to visit. Since I was vegetarian and all. (Do you get that I was raised vegetarian?) I was even spared turkey prep at Thanksgiving time. (I helped with the rest of the meal.) Not only do I not eat it, I was never around others preparing it to learn from osmosis.

I have an idea that there are giblets stuffed inside a store bought turkey. I know that these should be removed before preparing. And that you need to thoroughly scrub everything raw meat touches. (and cooked meat, for that matter) He claims this is more than he knows, or knew before meeting me.
I don't know what it's supposed to look like! (Raw or cooked. "Good," he says, "When it looks good you know it's done." I've never seen anyone eat beef that looked appealing. Even in our dating days when it was presented on a lovely platter by trained chefs.) I don't know what you're supposed to do with it, or if there are more bits and pieces to trim off before preparing.

And he shrugs and says "I guess we'll find out."

I just hope I don't hurt him in the process. (accidentally, of course)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Avoiding GMOs

Handy trick I just learned from America's Test Kitchen : To find out how fresh produce was grown look at the sticker. The one that has little numbers on it (Penguin likes to decorate her lunchbox with them) It also happens to have a secret code.

In brief: 4 digits indicate conventional produce and usually start with a 3 or a 4. 5 letter digits beginning with a 9 are the sought after "organically grown" fruits and veggies. And 5 letter digits beginning with the number 8 should be avoided at all costs, since they stand for genetically modified organisms.

I suppose you can purchase number 8 if you like...but personally I find the concept of designer DNA disturbing. I'll stick to organics, thank you. Or conventional. Even if there is the very real potential of "drift" from GMO fields. I want my money to say NO to GMO. And support the farmers who are struggling to agree.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lunch time woes

Back to school time is fast approaching. We're squeezing in the last few activities of summer, picking up back to school shopping lists and trying to create a lunchtime plan. The one child who can eat hot lunch, won't. And Mr. Violets needs a bag lunch, too.

Luckily, this time of year there is no shortage of articles available for inspiration. I found in my inbox earlier an ezine from Family Fun that included the recipe for a cream cheese and strawberry sandwich. I described it to my picky Bumblebee, asking if she thought it might be something worth trying. (She said Maybe. Yay!)

Penguin piped up with "I'd rather have cream cheese and tomato roll up."
"Oh," I asked, mentally making a note, "Would you eat that in a lunch?"
"No," she answered, "I tried it once and it tasted horrible."

"Well, it sounds good..." she said in response to my look, "I should have liked it."

Thursday, August 06, 2009

After a particularly hard morning, Bumblebee is curled up in my lap.
"I'm never going to have kids," she says with a sniffle.
"I don't like listening to crying," she explains, "I just want to go and turn the TV on when people are crying or being too silly."
I see. Does she expect her kids to cry a lot?
"Uh, huh. I cry when you make me do things I don't want to do, and my kids will have to do even more things."
Oh. Okay...
I just can't let it go, though. Sorry, kid, I really need more info here...What things????
Eyes roll.
"Like chores. I don't like doing chores so I cry."
Yes. I've noticed. But what does that have to do with your kids?
"They're going to cry because I make them do all the chores! So I'm not going to have any kids!"

She's not in my lap anymore. I'm clearly clueless.
But she relents when I repeat what she just said back to me. She doesn't like picking up after herself, and it makes her cry when I tell her to. So she can't have kids because she'll have to listen to them cry when they have to pick up after themselves.
"Yes. And the other stuff."
Other stuff?
Shrug. "You know, like the laundry. I don't want to do laundry. It's too hard."
Oh. So your kids will have to do all your chores, too?
"Uh huh!" she brightens. I get it.
And that will make them cry, so you can't have kids, ever?
She nods and snuggles back into my side.

So, hon, who is going to do the chores when you grow up?
"Huh? Hmmm..." She taps her cheek thoughtfully.
"Mommy, can I live with you forever?"
You'll still have to do your chores.

She thinks some more.
"I know! I can live with you, and you can hug my kids when they cry!"

The child worries me. But man, do I ever love her!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Slow Food

There was a time prior to the allergy diagnosis when we ate "normal" processed foods, and yearned for something more. A return to "old" cooking. I quickly learned that this meant different things to my husband and I.

One year, I wanted to do something special for his birthday. I was still trying to wrack my brain when he commented idly how much he missed butterscotch pudding.


Yes, pudding. But not just any pudding. Not the little plastic cups that you get at the store, and not the instant boxes. Real pudding. Old fashioned pudding. His eyes closed as he broke into a fond reminiscence...He conjured for me an image of his mother, with a frilly apron, slaving for hours over a hot stove, stirring a pot full of bubbling butterscotch pudding. She'd always have to make a double batch, and there were never leftovers.

The next time I saw his mom I asked about her recipe. She was vague. Pudding is pudding. She suggested I just buy some and tell him it was homemade.

Undaunted, I called her. I asked again, seeking specifics. Again, she was vague. It was a long time ago, she said, you don't want to go through all that trouble. Its all the same anyways.

But the trouble was going to be part of the gift. This confirmed to me it was real, old fashioned pudding she used to make. The good stuff I'd read about pioneer day books. I perused cookbooks. I looked online. Finally, I found something that looked promising. I carefully gauged the grocery bill that week to allow for real butter and actual cream. I measured, poured, and pot-watched. I stirred until my shoulders screamed for mercy. I entreated the toddler to entertain the baby. I almost cried when bits of scrambled egg appeared, but quickly grabbed a sieve and scooped most of them out.

At last, we proudly, albeit nervously, presented the concoction to my surprised husband. Who took a bite, and tried to conceal his disappointment. Shrugged and while I can't remember everything he said, I do remember one sentence. "Maybe she used a different brand. We could call her and ask."

Brand? Brand? Brand of what? Vanilla? Did she use real scotch? (I'd opted against that recipe) This had become a vendetta for me. I wanted to get it right. Was it the bit of egg that scrambled? WHAT?!?

He gave me a funny look.
Later his mom confirmed that "old fashioned" pudding was the famous comes in a box. (Eventually the enormity of my cooking fiasco was also made clear to my beloved husband, and he apologized for not being more grateful. He'd never fathomed the possibility that one could make pudding out of brown sugar, eggs and cream; let alone that it could take any more time or effort than baking muffins, which I did regularly.)

I think of this story with a chuckle whenever the concept of cooking from scratch is brought up. Because it seems that every generation over the past 100 years has it's own new idea of fast food, and it's own brand of nostalgic "from scratch" cooking. First those lucky town ladies who could waltz into the corner butcher shop for steak, or veal or chicken parts rather than keeping and slaughtering their own. Then the canned soup revelution. As soon as freezers became a household staple, there were TV dinners. And we've progressed.

My daughter pleaded for a cookbook at the last school bookfair, and when I leafed through it we found that not one of the recipes called for any fresh ingredients. They were all branded products. A woman at a Girl Scout meeting asked about our food allergies, and mentioned that while it seems hard for kids it also doesn't seem like a very big lifestyle change. She makes everything from scratch.

Of course I was interested...But very quickly learned that "from scratch" means using prepackaged ingredients along with some fresh herbs and prepackaged spice mixes to create a new dish. My vision was fresh baked bread, dicing veggies, and canning fruit. I suppose the dicing veggie part was accurate. She was offended that I consider sliced bread "packaged". Let alone her canned tomatoes.

Scratch cooking is a lost art. People don't know what a rhubarb is, much less what to do with one. Do you cook radishes? Are onions supposed to be this papery? How do you carve a Turkey? And what is this weird packet inside it? The term "cooking from scratch" has come a long way in the past hundred years ago. In fact, a hundred years ago, I doubt the term even existed.

There was a point in time when cooking a meal meant beginning with the decision of which chicken was next to slaughter. Meal planning was automatic. You went to your pantry, you put together what was there. There were signature dishes, of course, but as authors who try to create period style recipe books tell us, the expected results may vary significantly from today's standards.

My peers look with trepidation at an artichoke. My husband asks if he can toss the parsnips, assuming some carrots have gone bad. A woman in the store complains about the dirt left clinging to a potato, which makes me laugh. With a corn allergy, I look for dirt on my produce. Dirt means it's real. It's fresh. It hasn't been polished with corn derived wax, or rinsed with special germ fighting corny solution. Corn allergy has resurrected an understanding of "scratch".

It's also brought about an appreciation of simple food. Pasta with oil and a few veggies is delicious, elegant, and easy. Bread is a luxury, not a daily right. Rice is versatile. It goes well with beans, or eggs, or veggies or soup. And it's easy...rinse, glance through for stones (Which are hard on the teeth, but gluten, corn and casein free) and cook. Eggs are the ultimate fast food. If you want to enhance a vegetable, roast it with onions. The scent of caramelized onion will improve any meal and spark almost anyone's appetite.

I'm still struggling to come to terms with using meat, too. I can see the beauty in the simplicity. A roast chicken, a vegetable, a starch and you're done. However, there's a huge hole in my meal planning history that never included meat to begin with. I was raised vegetarian in the Seven Talents post-seventies granola era. Grains were high priority, although our doctors encouraged a heavy hand with the cheese. Until recently, we were encouraged to simply combine grains well. Eat a variety of supermarket and restaurant offerings. Too much thinking is discouraged. Look for an explosion of flavors, pour mixes and boxes together. Voila! A taste sensation.

Even the medical community, who is supposed to be supporting the slow food revolution, is slow to accept the movement. "And try to cut back on the fast food," the pediatrician always admonishes as we leave the office. I give him a withering look, but our lifestyle, our real, honest to goodness eating at home every night lifestyle, is beyond comprehension.

However, I'm still struggling to master the art of June Cleaver style cooking, and balance the pyramid.