Sunday, August 30, 2009

It's Not Me, It's You

I think.

I think that Lola's the grumpy one. I'm pretty sure that her nonstop sarcasm, dirty looks, and recent lack of tolerance for anything that isn't absolutely perfect is what is driving the rest of us nuts. 

She can't practice piano for five minutes without growling and smashing her forehead down on the keyboard.  She's grinding her teeth in her sleep (I know because sometime around 2:30AM every single night since we got home from Alaska a week ago I have discovered her sharing my pillow).  She has to have the last word in every conversation.  Case in point:

"Hey, Lola, knock it off!"

"What am I doing?" (here you should imagine the snottiest, most sarcastic tone of voice possible).

"I can see and hear you kicking your sister's seat. Quit it!"

"She didn't tell me to stop. Why is it bugging you?"

"Because I know it will only take one more minute for her head to explode and a major fight to start."

"You don't know that. She might not care at all."

Eve is wisely sitting quietly on the way to her meet-and-greet at her new school. Although her eyes are getting wider and wider with each exchange.

"Lola. You're on thin ice here, girlfriend. Do me a favor and just quit kicking the chair, okay?"

"No. I don't want to."

"Hon? You also need to learn the art of keeping your mouth shut. No matter how badly you want to, sometimes it's wiser to just stop talking."

"I don't care."

By now I'm sure my blood is actually, literally boiling. I know that if there was ever a time when I understood the phrase "itching to smack you," it's now. My palms are itching. I can't see straight. I laugh instead of screaming.

"Stop. Speaking. Now."

"I don't want to."

HONESTLY? ARGHHH! What kind of human being doesn't understand that it's time to shut up after this particular exchange? 

One that is as stubborn as her mother, I think.

Suffice it to say that nearly every verbal encounter I have had with this child over the past week has been similar (if not exactly the same) as this one.  I am so done.  She is so irritated and irritable and irritating. My lovely, funny, sweet little Lola.  She has lost her mind and there are no consequences or lectures that can seem to penetrate her dark mood.

It occurred to me this morning that it may not all be her.

I dismissed the thought pretty rapidly after witnessing yet another meltdown with Eve.

But I am officially off of my antidepressants.

And I am officially in menopause.

But I'm pretty sure it's not me, it's her.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Gone Fishin'

Well, okay, probably not fishing, but as Bubba said in a text message he sent to me yesterday,

"Roses are red,
Violets are blue, 
I'm going cruisin',
How about you?"

Off to Alaska with the girls and my in-laws. Scheduled excursions to see sled dogs and whales and bears. I can't wait to see what else we'll experience that isn't "scheduled."

Saturday, August 08, 2009


Stricken as I was this past week by acute gluten poisoning (my term, not an accepted medical notion that I am aware of), I got to wondering why my body never had such a violent reaction to gluten before.

For most of my life, I went along blissfully eating wheat and wheat products (indeed, I was what many considered to be a carb-junkie) without incident. Or so I thought. Unknown to me, my immune system was mounting attack after attack on my intestines in an attempt to rid my system of the offending proteins. Some thirty-plus years of this resulted in relatively few stomach aches or bouts of indigestion but reduced the lining of my small intestine to mincemeat. It wasn't until I visited a naturopath in an attempt to address some nagging, albeit fairly benign, issues I had (severe dandruff, eczema, slight hair loss and depression) that she began putting together some of the other issues in my past medical history and ultimately I was found to be seriously gluten-intolerant.

Stopping gluten consumption cold-turkey was tremendous for me and Lola. Lola's stomach aches disappeared overnight. I suddenly had energy after 2:30pm and didn't come home desperate for a power nap before cooking dinner every night. My dandruff eased and the hair loss completely stopped. I have been able to wean myself SLOWLY off of the antidepressants I have taken for the past four years. Wahoo!

Unfortunately, navigating restaurant food (or any food purchased and prepared outside my own home, for that matter) has become a bit like walking barefoot through a china shop after a hurricane while blindfolded. I'm never quite sure where my enemies are but I know that I'll be stepping on broken glass somewhere in my journey. It puts a bit of a damper on vacationing.

Last week I had the luxury of spending two entire days on my own in one of my favorite cities in the Northwest. The girls were off camping with their grandparents and Bubba was working in California. I had lunch with a beautiful friend, took long walks with the dog, perused bookstores for hours on end, slept in and poisoned myself inadvertently. Yup. Despite efforts to avoid gluten in all its manifestations, somehow I managed to get some into my system. The first clue was the metallic burning sensation in my esophagus when I awoke Tuesday morning. I have only had heartburn two times in my life: pregnancy #1 and pregnancy #2. Since pregnancy is clearly not possible at this point in my life for multiple reasons, I figured I could just flush the pesky gluten out with loads of water.

By Wednesday the heartburn had morphed into a smoldering campfire worthy of hot dogs and marshmallows on sticks that refused to bow to water, milk, ice cream (hey, it was worth a try!), and being ignored. That afternoon I decided a roll of TUMS was in order, still firmly believing that I had the situation under control. (Can you see the seasoned viewers shaking their heads? I wish I had).

For the three-hour drive home on Thursday, I enlisted Bubba to do all the work while I slept fitfully in the passenger seat trying desperately not to hurl - my least favorite of all things to do. By the time we finally reached home, I was ready to poke my fingers down my throat to induce vomiting just so that I wouldn't have to endure the nausea and burning anymore.

By Thursday evening, a light bulb appeared in my brain. A Google (well, okay, actually "Bing") search yielded a great big thwack on the head. TUMS contain gluten. Why? Don't ask me. They're not the only ones. Most antacids do. In fact, when I'm feeling sufficiently put-upon and pouty about my food intolerance, it seems to me that everyf**kingthing contains gluten.

So, now we come to the pondering part of this blog post. I know. I embrace my long-windedness and call it "providing appropriate background information."

Why, when for 30+ years did my body not react so violently to gluten, does it choose to do so now? Now that I've eradicated most of the vestiges of this nasty stuff from my system, when I get the tiniest smidgen of it, why does my body throw such a fit? I don't know. But I do know that the same thing happened when I quit smoking cold-turkey. Within three months of being "clean" I couldn't stand to be in the presence of anyone who was smoking. The stench of cigarette smoke on someone's clothing or hair was enough to make me gag. Funny, considering that back when I smoked I could stand to put my butt out in an overflowing ashtray or, worse yet, a Wild Turkey bottle half-full of water and other cigarette butts.

Is it that once I wrap my mind around the fact that I'm "done" with something my body follows suit? There must be some physiological basis for the gut-reaction (literally) I get, so if anyone has any answers, please share!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Better Living Through Chemistry?

As part of the Pop Tart Generation (previous post), we benefitted a great deal from advances in chemistry. Vaccines, food preservatives, fertilizers, antibacterial soaps, cosmetics, you name it, we found a way to add it to our lives.  

In doing so, we have tricked ourselves into believing that we could overcome any obstacle by applying our imagination.  Hunger and malnutrition? Add some vitamins to your milk/rice/cereal. Chemicals are cheap.

Turns out that while these foods do offer some benefits, they've become overused and are poor substitutes for the original sources of vitamins that are right under our noses.  If you need calcium, milk works but dark green leafy veggies are a much better alternative.  Here's hoping that the new revolution toward eating more locally and seasonally will begin to remedy that.

In sad news, I saw an item in a local newspaper yesterday that celebrated the accomplishments of food scientists who have discovered how to give fish fillets a longer shelf life.  Apparently freezing isn't good enough.  My issues with this are many:
1.  "food scientists" - just sounds nefarious. A little Batman-villianish.
2.  Typically shopping for fish is an exercise in freshness. I don't really want to look at the packing date and see that it was sometime last week.
3.  The "all natural" treatment that these fish fillets are dipped in is derived from crustacean shells. For people who are allergic to shellfish this could be deadly.

'Nuff said.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Pop Tart Generation

I am part of the Pop Tart Generation. Forget GenX, Baby Boomers, and Gen Y. I came from Pop Tarts. 

My mother grew up in a large Catholic family. Her grandmother lived on a hazelnut farm in rural Oregon, raising (and beheading) her own poultry, canning fruit, making her own jam and pickles, and partaking of the American Dream.

By the time my mom had kids, the American Dream was changing. The dream had evolved into dual college-educated families, even though most mothers remained at home taking care of their children.  Until the divorce. It is my generation whose parents represent the spike in divorce rates and resulted in mothers going to work in droves. It is my generation that desperately needed convenience foods because mothers had moved away from their mothers and relied on after school clubs to watch their kids until they could get home from work.  When they got home, they needed a way to quickly prepare dinner for their kids.

My brother and I were responsible for packing our own lunches. I vaguely remember hot lunch as an option, but it was too expensive to even consider for a single mother with four children.  Thankfully, there was prepackaged, thinly (think opaque) sliced lunchmeat, pre-sliced "American" cheese, and single-serving variety packs of potato chips. The last to go were always the plain potato chips. We had elaborate strategies to ensure that the Nacho Cheese Doritos and Ruffles ended up in our lunch sacks instead of our siblings'.  Breakfasts consisted of sugary cereals, also packaged in single-serving variety packs, and Pop-Tarts. Nary a protein in sight.

The food industry had provided a valuable service to our busy parents - instant gratification. And we loved the flavor. I can remember the first bite I ever took of a freshly toasted raspberry Pop Tart. The sugary sweet filling scalded my tongue, but the pastry portion was flaky and buttery-tasting and the frosting was slightly crunchy in my mouth.  The lunchmeat, regardless of its designation as 'turkey' or 'pastrami' was salty and slightly slick, but it stuck to the cheese in my sandwich and if I tucked the chips inside, the salt quotient was amped up just enough to make me especially thirsty for my chocolate milk.  It's a wonder I didn't die of a sugar-coma by P.E.  I guess the three Double Stuff Oreos I included in every sack lunch guarded against that.

As a working single mother, my mom didn't have the luxury of growing a summer vegetable garden or canning her own peaches.  She didn't have time. And, frankly, the local grocery store made it obsolete.  We could get grapes and kiwi Summer, Spring, or Fall - not that we ate them. The sticky, cellophane-wrapped fruit-flavored "rolls" were cheaper than an actual piece of fruit and my mother's generation naively believed that there was actual fruit used in the crafting of these products, so they had to be healthy, right?

Although, I'm not sure my mother's generation truly understood the role food played in our health, anyway.  Or maybe it was just that they trusted that American food manufacturers had our best interests at heart. Maybe it was the food manufacturers themselves that didn't understand the vital importance of food as long-term fuel versus instant gratification.

In any case, looking back, I can't muster up any sort of surprise that it is my generation that spawned such astonishing prevalence of food allergies.  We grew up using food in ways it wasn't meant to be used and calling things "food" that had no business being known that way.  The struggle to re-train myself is proving difficult but I hope that my girls' generation will be known for something other than food allergies...

Saturday, August 01, 2009


There are three kinds of people who are vacuuming their cars today. Parked in two of the spots are people who just got a screaming deal on a new car. The water from the car wash is still drying on the shiny paint and I'm betting they sprung for the extra wax option. One of the guys is carefully wiping the windows to prevent any water spots and the other one has actually removed the floor mats from his new car to vacuum them even more thoroughly.

One space is taken up by someone just like me. As she opens the back door of her minivan, granola bar wrappers flutter out. I can hear her inner voice contemplating whether or not her four quarters will buy her enough time to vacuum under the car seats or if she just ought to leave them buckled in and leave that for another time. Of course, there is the prospect that what she might find underneath the car seat just isn't worth it. If it's too sticky or smelly you just wish you hadn't gone there.

The last guy's car is older but it's spotless. The paint's finish has become dull and the hubcaps don't match. I doubt he is the first owner of this car, but he is working hard to keep it clean. He has even removed the carpet from the trunk. That's what tips me off that he must be a serial killer getting rid of all the evidence. If he does it right nobody will know. Maybe he has staked out this car wash and figured out exactly what day they empty the industrial vacuum canisters into the dumpster. He's sucking up the DNA evidence right now. Why else would he be so meticulous with his 20 year old sedan? Really?

And then there is me. The only evidence I'm getting rid of is the crap that has collected after a week of shuttling three girls to camp and back. I am not typically the kind of mother who picks the kids up and lets them loose in the closest 7-11 for a treat on the way home, but this week was an exception. Not only was it over 100 degrees almost every day, but camp went from 9:00-4:00 and the ride home had me navigating three different freeways during rush hour traffic. I had to do something to keep them happy. You can see that I got more desperate as the week wore on and the days got hotter. We progressed from frozen fruit bars to popsicles and finally sticky, chocolatey ice-cream treats. The wrappers are all here. I find myself cursing the skinny little attachment on the end of the vacuum hose. I love that it gets into the cracks between the seats, but it's too small to suck up the caramel popcorn lurking under the third row seat.

By Thursday morning, packing lunches for gluten-intolerant children who were spending their days outside running around found me scrambling for options. I'd exhausted most of the supplies of protein I could normally pack and they were complaining that fruit and veggies just didn't stick to their ribs the way they needed them to all day long. I succumbed to the gluten-free protein bars. Tons of people eat them, right? They can't be that bad.

Or, maybe they are. You know those pockets they put on the back of the front seats in a minivan? Like the ones on the airplane seats? I'm not sure what the automobile designers meant them to be used for, but in my car they are garbage cans for the children. And when a protein bar falls short of a child's expectations apparently they are the perfect receptacle. Unfortunately after sitting in my van for two days in 100 degree temperatures they essentially glue the pocket closed. And begin to smell. And not even the massive sucking power of an industrial vacuum cleaner can overcome that.

I went through three cycles of the vacuum cleaner.
The pile of things that the vacuum picked up but couldn't completely suck in was up to my knees.

As I turned to put the foul pile of trash into the can next to the vacuum cleaners I found evidence that I'm not the only one. The trash can was already overflowing with crap from the car next to me. A saturated (with God-knows-what) stuffed animal, a sour-milky-smelling water bottle, individual cracker packages, a pacifier and 4,000 tissues sprouted out, leaving me with a billiard-ball-sized hole in which to stuff my treasures.

Suddenly, I began to wish I was the serial killer. I'm pretty sure his victim didn't make as much of a mess in his car as my kids did this week.
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