Sunday, January 31, 2010

Counting Blessings

As the song says, some days are diamonds, and some days are stones.  When you find yourself thinking you need a slingshot to get rid of the stones, it's time to sit down and polish them.  So instead of complaining, I decided to start a list of blessings.

I'm thankful that I have a curious child, who chooses complicated self-created (or adapted) science projects instead of the typical "model of a solar system" variety.  And that she at least tries to clean up after herself. 

I'm thankful I have another child who refuses to go with the crowd, read what other kids are reading or watch what other kids are watching simply because "everyone else is".  She needs a reason.  It's frustrating, but it's a good quality that might keep her out of trouble someday.  

I'm thankful for food allergies, that keep us from falling into the pizza practice, make us aware of the ingredients of our foods, and help us to focus on whole foods rather than fake "food like substances".

We have an opportunity to begin with new doctors and a new slate, not square one.  Maybe the new doctors will be more informed about corn allergies and gluten intolerance and migraines and all our myriad of issues.  And if not, this is a great opportunity to educate them.  Hopefully with a minimum of discomfort and expenditure.  (Note that I'm working hard on this diamonds out of stone theory.)

Our kids are blessed with people who love them enough to fill our house with toys, and our kids are grateful enough to appreciate these tokens of affection.  To play with them, love them, and use them often.

Even if my car did die, I'm blessed with the ability to borrow spare family cars until the time when I find a car that meets all my personal needs (will run for several years without needing major overhaul repairs, will seat at least 5 safely, decent gas mileage, and is within our low budget.)  

The rose Bumblebee helped me plant a few years ago is still alive and appears happy, if not bush like.

The library is chock full of books I've never read, and my body ensures I take the time to enjoy them.  (Or at least that I have time to read them)  I'm next on the waiting list for "Her Fearful Symmetry", and just returned "Graceling".

We may eat an awful lot of rice pasta, but we manage to gather around the table and eat as a family fairly regularly.

Chocolate.  I'm eternally grateful for chocolate, especially Enjoy Life chocolate chips which not only hit the spot on their own, but make a perfect addition to baked goods. 

Friday, January 15, 2010

Franken-food Revisited

We've long known that the unprocessed, unadorned food is most likely found on the outside aisles of the grocery store.  Produce, meats, bakery, deli, and refrigerated section are generally on the outside.  Work your way in to find cereals, snack bars, soda and the like. 

Dieticians caution their clients to stick to the outside aisles.  The slow food movement, overlaying a shift towards "real food" and "whole food" diets, encourages people to stick to the outside aisles, where "real" food is. 

But what you see isn't always what you get.  Pork, for instance, appears to be a slab of meat that was cut from the carcass of a pig.  Of course...most of us would rather not think of the logistics of how that slab of meat got from the field to our roasting pan, but we're pretty certain that we could trace it's journey if pressed to do so. 

Science is changing everything. 

With breaking new research, stem cells harvested from shoulder muscles can be used to grow pork.  No pig, no slaughter, no "Sooo-eeeey!"  required.  Excited researchers tell us that this technology will easily translate to other flesh foods, and potentially be used to design healthier meals.  Like burgers that unclog your arteries with "healthy" fish oil. 

The thing is...It's still frankenfood.  It's frankenfood taken to the limits of Mary Shelley (author of the original Frankenstein)'s wildest nightmares.  It stretches the margins of my nightmares.  And the worst part? 

Scientists are excited. 

The article claims that the environmental impact will be impressive.  Somehow, my gut tells me their vision isn't of the multitude of industrial waste involved in the chemical production of fake food.  Plastic petrie dishes (made either from biodegradable corn or chemical laden petroleum sources), latex gloves, masks, the building itself.  Too much can go wrong. 

I'm a life long animal lover.  A vegetarian who doesn't WANT to tumble.  (I'm eating ethically raised poultry but against my desires.)  I was once vegan, for the ethics surrounding the issues of animal consumption. 

But I say slaughter the poor creatures and be done with it.  We can't play G-d by creating new food out of cells and DNA and test tubes.  The idea that they're even contemplating it turns my stomach. 

Laboratory food is not the answer to world hunger.  World hunger is a political problem, causes of hunger are typically financially related rather than a lack of global calories.  It's cheaper to stick seeds in the ground, and anyone can do it, regardless of their educational status.  Besides, from what I understand the third world countries most in need of quick, convenient calories to save the masses would never accept some trumped up chemical soup.  They don't want to simply survive.  They want to thrive by their own hands, and they deserve that dignity. 

We need to get back in fields, we need to recreate the fields, and start supporting our local farmers.  Not just for produce, but for the meats and eggs and dairy products so many of us consume regularly.  Shop outside the the farmer's market, or the local co-op.  We need to fight franken food before our other options vanish.  We've already seen GMO corn, soy and canola quietly infiltrate the food supply.  High Fructose corn syrup avoiders are starting to put up a ruckus as they discover how limiting their diet can be.  (Much to the amusement of us uncornies, who can't tolerate the corn in artificial sweeteners, let alone the rest of the derivatives.)  America dropped the ball on the food dye issue (the bandwagon comes back every now and then, but no one seems to want to jump on.  We'd rather follow at a distance.) 

With genetically modified seeds running rampant, and foreign genes in our produce, it's not surprising that the meat is the next to go.  the question is where are we, as a society, going to put our foot down?  Does it have to have an immediate threat to get our attention?  If GMO's made our skin turn purple and our spleens explode within 24 hours, they'd get banned.  But it doesn't.  Like lead and melamine, it takes awhile before the devastating effects can be seen. 

Unfortunately, when our entire food supply is at risk (not to mention the potential of our future food supply) one has to wonder just how much more vital it is to be safe rather than sorry.  We're already overmedicating mild conditions not suffered by poorer nations.  Digestive disturbances, behavioral problems, and childhood epidemics like the 4-As are skyrocketing.  Do we need conclusive proof to use our brains and say there's something unnatural about growing food in environmentally controlled petrie dishes instead of ouside in the sun, soil and elements?  After all, that's where it was designed to grow.  Fruit on trees, veggies on plants, grains as grasses, and meat on animals. 

Exploding kids

I never would have labeled Bumblebee as explosive.  Could she have tantrums?  Yes.  They were doozys.  But, I could generally ward them off.

She was shy.  Is shy.  Tearful.  Sweet.  Explosive?  Not exactly.

However, when I was (tearfully) venting about her episodes and my frustration to a friend, she mentioned the book "The Explosive Child", and at my wits end I picked it up.  What a book!  While I still didn't think "Explosive" was the best label for Bumblebee, I could certainly identify with what the book had to say.  The best thing was that it helped validate many of my parenting choices.  Most obviously, the fact that she gets away with a whole lot more than I'd allow her sister to get away with simply because she seems to need it.

Fast forward a year or so.  I was looking up books on food additives, and the title "What your Explosive Child is Trying to Tell You" leapt off the shelf at me.  (Sidenote--why are books on emotionally difficult children and books on food additives and allergies and such so close together in the library?  They couldn't possibly be related, could they?)  I threw it in the bag.

Reading it, my mouth fell open.  It's not that explosive is the right term for Bumblebee.  It's not.  She's not a ticking time bomb.  She's never been as volatile as some of the cases referenced in these books.  However, I've had this description of her tearful tantrums.  That she doesn't seem to be fighting to be difficult.

In fact, there have been times when I get a good look in her eyes, and it felt as if she were caged animal fighting for her life.  We're talking a tantrum where she wanted the car parked in the driveway, and for some reason it had to be left on the street.  Or her sister sat on the right instead of the left.  Or I picked up Snowflake instead of Marigold when she asked for a stuffed animal.  Last straws that happen when she's already upset and we're on edge from her grumping.

I've told dh that it feels like she plans out her life, and when the slightest thing goes wrong, she seems to melt down.  "Take me home,"  "Fix it," "Squares!" (when the waffle has been inadvertently cut into triangles) etc.  Certain toys have a mysterious "magic" quality.  The quilt that brought great comfort is tainted from being spread on the wrong bed.

"Road map" tantrums, triggered by a child's internal "world road map" changing (and therefore "ending") describe this same observation.

They also reinforce that horrid habit I have, the one that draws the dirty looks and shaking heads at a grocery store.  The one that manages to procure one or two if not several "not my kid..."s under people's breath.  I don't immediately up and leave.  For her, this is rewarding the behavior.  It's good to read that I'm doing the right thing.  It's also good to read that it's okay to expose her to frequent routine changes, and that it's perfectly acceptable to quickly avoid an incident turning into a full blown tantrum.  She doesn't want to meltdown.  I don't want her to meltdown.  No one wants to be exposed to that.

The book did catch me by surprise with it's chapter on none-other than food related triggers.  They identify food colorings, preservatives, and CORN as top triggers.  Corn!  Corn allergy!  In a book!  Published recently!  I was nearly giddy.

I'm not sure the book provided any new tips, other than to reassure me that my instincts are right, and that we're on the right path (even if it feels bumpy, slow and indirect at times)  But I'm happy to see corn in a mainstream publication, and food triggered reactions getting more attention.  This book was not aimed at the homeopathic, granola crunching, yoga-class going moms.  Which means we're breaking into the mainstream.

Bumblebee's input?  She caught me reading the book.  Looked at the title, broke out in a huge grin and crushed it between us as she gave me a huge bear hug.  "Mommy!  You're going to understand me!" 

Thursday, January 07, 2010

"I want a new sister!"

Fed up with migraines, and longer homework assignments, and the tweenager attitude, Bumblebee has decided that she needs a new sister.  She complains.  She whines.  She points out that a new model would be less work all around.  And wouldn't cost a thing, since we're all set for Penguin. 

Unfortunately, she's been informed that a new sister is completely out of the question. 

So she devised a new plan.  She'd like her best friend C to trade places with Penguin.  Penguin likes C's sisters.  C's mom could probably use Penguin's help babysitting.  C does not like her sisters and is too young to babysit. 

Penguin could sleep in the bottom bunk at C's house, and C could sleep in the top bunk here, eliminating the "top bunk is too scary" bedtime battle we have nightly.  (Their bedtime battle is apparently over the fact that the bottom bunk is too boring.)  C would play good games with Bumblebee.  They would go to the same school, together, at the same time.  This would be easier for everyone.  They could share clothes. 
She saves her best argument for last.  "AND, C doesn't even like cheese, so she won't mind not eating any if she's my sister."  (I guess if they switch places, allergies are automatically reallocated?) 

"Hmmm,"  I answer, "But what about gluten?  She might miss crackers, and sunny butter sandwiches." 

Bumblebee freezes.  She cocks her head only for a moment before saying, "Well, she can't have everything you know!  She'll just have to get used to it!" 

And she storms off to sulk in her room.  

Later both kids come running out to inform me that I'm having another baby. 
In 3 years. 
It's going to be a girl. 
Blinking eyes really fast.
And, it won't have migraines or food allergies. 
Bumblebee grins. 
I look hopelessly from one face to the other. 
"We asked the magic 8 ball." 
Oh.  Well, of course.  

At least they're on speaking terms again.  And it looks like Penguin can stay. 

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Adults don't have food allergies.

Mythbuster alert.

Adults get food allergies.  Adults have food restrictions.  Even worse, adults are more likely to have dietary needs than children.  It's just more emotional for the onlookers when kids are involved.

I recently brought Bumblebee to a birthday party.  This was a new kid in her class, and I felt very motivated by the fact that she paused, sighed, suppressed a smile and said "Well, I think it would be nice to go because it would make her happy, but I'm scared to go, but maybe I'll go if you think I should."

It was progress for her.  She was going. 

Fast forward to the front door.  We're invited inside, where a few other parents are sitting, and Bumblebee is absorbed by the party-goers.  I sit, as urged, and smile at the other parents whom I recognize, and a plate is presented to me.

With a sinking heart I say "It looks delicious, but I can't.  Allergies."
There's a crestfallen look as the poor hostess begins to explain that she knows it looks strange...
And I attempt to reassure her that it really is allergies.  Serious allergies.  Others break in. 
"Really?  It might be okay, what are you allergic to?"
Cornstarch, corn syrup, gluten...
"Oh, maybe not then..."

No, probably not.
I'm falling into the vortex, now.  You have food allergies?  (yes)  So you didn't outgrow them? (No.)  I couldn't deal with it, (Wanna bet?) Is it really bad?  I mean, do you really need to be careful?  (Yes.  Thats why I'm being careful.) 

I'm later offered the 'normal looking' pizza, and answer a few more questions.  Politely.  Changing the topic, or attempting to.  Suppressing the urge to scream "Yes, I'm an adult with food allergies.  Get over it already!" 

At this point, I'm wishing I shoved Bumblebee through the door and ran away. 

But why should I hide?  And thinking about this experience, no wonder people feel awkward with their restrictions.  Of course they want answers, cures, pills.  No wonder it's so hard to track down an allergen.  And i realize, too, why exactly I've withdrawn so much from social situations.  Not that the socializing itself is tough (although it can be, when my stomach threatens) but because I'm in a spotlight.  I like being a wallflower.  I like blending into the background now and then. 

This is also why I wear my allergy awareness shirts sometimes.  They draw attention, they draw questions, but they fend off certain awkward situations.  Thank heaven I am a parent and have excuses to force myself into a social situation, however uncomfortable.  Otherwise I'd probably stop hanging out, period, after a few of these episodes. 

I'm not sure if people are in denial about the extent of their own food intolerances (many times they confide that they ignore doctor advice to give up gluten, or dairy, and live with the consequences.) or if they suffer the symptoms as a badge of courage.  "I'm an adult.  I can suffer heartburn, and indigestion, and break out in rashes, and still make it to the hockey game after a full day of work."   Or maybe they really don't realize that food and health are as intricately connected as food and socializing. 

I'm dreaming of a day when someone puts up a hand and says "food allergies" and everyone else just shrugs and keeps talking, while the hostess maybe, possibly, politely asks if there is any easy accommodation and the allergic individual can partake of safe refreshments or simply be satisfied with pleasant company.  For as long or as short as they feel like staying. 

Of course, I'm also dreaming of a day when I wake up and realize I've felt great for weeks and am actually caught up on housework (or close to it) and almost bored.  What can I say?  I'm a dreamer. 

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Happy New Years!

It's that time again.
Another year has been and gone.  Time to reflect upon the lessons from the past, and contemplate the future.

2009 was Mr. Violet's first full year working away from retail and he loves it.  But his job is still influenced greatly by economic spending so we enter 2010 with a certain degree of uncertainty.  We also get new health insurance, which means brand new doctors.  A potentially mixed blessing, given our palette of  health concerns and informed choices.

Penguin graduated Elementary school, and is growing into a lovely tween (even if I do say so as her mother.)  So far, I'm liking choices she makes and the reasons she makes them.  Although sometimes she also leaves me utterly baffled.  I'm told that tweens are notorious for befuddling their parents.

Bumblebee gave up food dyes.  Not sure what the greater impact of this decision is yet, but I don't really want petrochemicals in her body regardless of their obvious effects.

And me?  I'm hanging in there.  One New Years Resolution will have to be to get my gut back under control, since for the last several months it seems more like it's dictating plans rather than occasionally reminding me it's there.  (The new doctors, fresh outlook, thing might help that.  I'm planning to keep an open mind.)

As a family, we're doing good.  Last year's resolutions went well.
Although we didn't find 3 full meals that we ALL can and will eat, we did find time to sit together as a family several times a week.  Lots of meals that will feed 3, and the fourth will either eat what's safe, or get a snack afterward.  We're eating too much rice.  But, well, at least it has fiber. 
I've read more this year, although I didn't quite make it through the alphabet.  I read multiple books in each letter I covered...surely that counts for something?  I'm looking forward to continuing the reading in the new year...especially nonfiction. And the girls talked me into starting a reading blog, which we'll hopefully update in the new year.
I didn't gain the weight I need to.  The summer-long stomach flu didn't help.   But I did reintroduce chicken, tuna, wasabi, and nutmeg to the dietary repertoire.  In fact, we've tried a new food every other month, failing only soy and raw stuff.  :) 
Our spending has been much more thoughtful.  Not that we were ever big on buying throw away toys, but it does get challenging when birthdays come to balance fun affordability with environmentally responsible options.  (We use real plates, our trash can is rarely overflowing on trash day, but we've room for improvement.  Party favors are tempting, even if they'll only last ten minutes.)

We do have some resolutions for the new year.  Well, we've been working on them for awhile.  The calendar change gives us good motivation to stop talking and act.
  • The most important, I think, is the only one I'll share.  This will involve less chocolate, more meal planning.  Set in stone: Every weekend we'll make a platter of cut fruit or veggies for after school snacks and to add a handful of to lunches.  It won't last the week, but it'll get more easily available nutrients into the kids and dh.  (I'll strive to eat something nourishing, and not pine for the raw stuff I can't digest.)  It will also involve more walks.  Hopefully once a week, at least.  Depending on Penguin's migraines and Mr. Violet's knee, of course.  This may be good motivation to resurrect our park parades.  Or maybe just walk around the block now and again.