Don’t poke my wheat belly — the gluten-free question

Philosophically, I love the concept of a holistic doctor. As human beings are complex systems of interrelated parts, it makes sense to treat the whole person. We specifically chose our doctor because of her homeopathic, holistic bend. However, I am not sure we really belong with this type of doctor. It’s kind of like Mac computers. We like the image associated with the product more than actually using the product itself.

Our doctor believes in half hour, hands-on office sessions. There is no nurse who ushers you into a room and takes your vitals. She does everything herself. Like my doctor, I believe that diet and exercise are the best medicine. The exception, of course, is when I am sick. Then I want a clear diagnosis and course of action.

Today I went in due to hernia-like symptoms and additional digestive problems, which I thought could be related. While she listened sympathetically, she also listened with an agenda, which is to promote a gluten-free lifestyle. Over the past two years, she has tried to convince me that my health could be vastly improved by cutting out gluten. It would help with my digestive issues, regulate my moods, and help me think more clearly. She even went as far as ordering an expensive blood test to determine whether or not I had gluten sensitivity. The test showed that gluten and I are very compatible. Still, I did try to go gluten-free for about a week. I gained two pounds and quit out of frustration.

Just because cutting out gluten helped the doctor and some of her patients, it does not mean it will help out everyone. She does have some good research to support her, such as Wheat Belly and Grain Brain. However, not everyone agrees that going gluten-free is beneficial. The New Yorker has a fascinating article on the gluten-free trend. The most compelling piece of evidence given is a study that showed that a gluten-free diet eliminated symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome.

I do not believe cutting gluten will be a cure-all. However, I cannot say for sure unless I try it for thirty days. According to my doctor, it has to be cold turkey. Even one bite of gluten and I will have to start over. I will only be able to say with certainty that I have an issue with gluten if I abstain totally for 30 days. If I do this and feel no health improvements, I will be finding a new doctor.

38… I’m going to own it

My friends and I, who are all in our late 30s/early 40s, have experienced the same phenomenon regarding old pictures of ourselves — the phenomenon is called “damn girl.” Damn girl, look at that body. Damn girl, you are cute. We remember ourselves in our teens and twenties and wonder, why were we not more confident? Why were we nitpicking our thighs and fretting about a pimple? We ask this, yet still continue the same behaviors of our youth, hiding behind someone in a group photo and stuffing ourselves into shapewear. Why do we not appreciate what we look like in the moment?

Earlier this week a student asked me how old I am. I did not demur or offer a ballpark figure (mid-30s). I proudly proclaimed myself to be 37 years old. For a moment, I felt I had finally reached a higher state of enlightenment and self acceptance. I was owning it. Then came the follow up question, when is your birthday? This class is an annoyingly curious bunch. I less enthusiastically answered July. I am not ready to own 38. In this moment I realized I only love my age about two months of the year, when I realize it is fleeting and soon to be replaced with a higher number.

Luckily, studies show that with age comes greater self acceptance, so this will get easier.

How do you raise spiritual, moral children without religion?

Both my children were baptized Catholic in a beautiful ceremony full of rituals and blessings, as my husband and I were decades earlier. However, this initiation full of both traditions and superstitions, felt more like a placeholder than a forever commitment. While I believe in the communal benefits of a church, I do not believe in organized religion.

Growing up, I enjoyed Catechism classes and devotionally read my grandfather’s old prayer book. I never enjoyed, though, sitting in church. It seemed more of an hour of mental discipline than spiritual awakening. For one hour each Sunday, I would try to contain my natural propensity to fidget and roam and to stave off boredom. It seemed so passive.

As I grew older, I became more resentful of the role of women, the discrimination of homosexuals, and the history of corruption and violence. I remember my first college philosophy class and how existentialism spoke to me, how we can self-create and regulate our own reality and find eternal life through the legacy of our actions. Every action becomes weighed then and no slate can be wiped clean simply by asking for forgiveness.

I feel every step of my spiritual journey, which continues, was important. So how do I start off my own children in a way that feels honest? Inevitability, as citizens of a predominantly Christian culture, they are already aware of the concepts of God, Jesus, heaven, and hell. However, they do not all quite make sense and they have endless questions. Today, my son asked why the devil is evil? I had no ready answer. I ended up explaining how the world is full of opposing forces. However, my six year old was not ready for an epistemological discussion of dualisms. I then, and I regret this, discussed how you could not have superheroes without villains. Is it blasphemous to discuss God as the ultimate superhero?

More than anything I want my children to understand that people hold a variety of beliefs and that anything is possible. I want them to believe in something, but I do not want to dictate, or have a specific book or religion dictate, the tenets of that belief. How do we begin?

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Pinning My Ideal Self

We all know that through social media we create a veneer we want the world to see. Here is the gorgeous sunset from my last vacation, here is the perfectly plated dinner I made, and here are my stylish, well-mannered kids smiling with their arms around each other. We take fifty selfies in order to pick one we like. And even that it is not good enough—we then need to apply most flattering Instagram filter before presenting this “based-on reality” version of ourselves to the world.

Social media is also how we pursue our ideal or future self. For me, this is done most notably through Pinterest. I am convinced that one day I will make my own soap, become an accomplished chef, and travel to Japanese gardens. I even have a board for my ideal husband called “honey to-do list.” It has little resemblance to the scribbled Post-It notes or random texts I actually send my real life husband.

Today, though, I briefly lived my Pinned life. I found myself with a rare gift this morning, a spare 10 minutes, and I completed the recipe I have meant to try for the past two weeks, a Greek Chickpea Salad. Of course, by this point, red onions I bought had already gone bad and my children ate all the cucumbers. I discovered the Kalamata olives I bought had pits. Still, I soldiered on with sweet onions, green olives, and celery in place of cucumbers. I stared at the can of chickapeas unsure whether or not they were recipe ready. To be safe, I rinsed and microwaved them.

Overall I was pleased with the end result, though I will lower the amount of salt and tahini the next time I make it.

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Mr. Sketch and the Morning of Doom

The final fifteen minutes before it is time to leave the house I feel like Indiana Jones, navigating a booby-trapped cave. Every moment is fraught with peril: the serving of breakfast, the selecting of clothes, the powering down of electronics. Today, the rolling boulder coming towards me goes by the name of Mr. Sketch. The scented Mr. Sketch markers are the Air Jordans of first grade, an aromatic status symbol that comes in an array of twelve colors. For weeks, my son begged for these markers, going as far as putting them into my Amazon shopping cart.

When they arrived in the mail, it was a celebration of rainbows. For the next week, my son and daughter both sported Mr. Sketch mustaches from all the aggressive sniffing. However, there was one blemish in my son’s happiness. The markers were for home use only, to be shared with his little sister. Every morning he would try to sneak them into his backpack, and every morning I would remove them. Today he caught on to me catching on to him and checked his bag that I dutifully packed with his lunch and homework and found no Mr. Sketch. It was 8:25 a.m., time to leave the house. Let loose the boulder.

In the face of a tantrum, rationalizing only does so much. However, I still tried, calling to mind every parenting book and calmly explaining we had already told him “no.” He countered with, “I only want to take them today.” We countered with, “This is a privilege that you need to earn. We can discuss how you can earn this privilege after school so that you can take them tomorrow.” Delayed gratification is not in his wheelhouse. I try not to think of the Marshmallow Test and what this means for his future. The tantrum escalates. It is now 8:30 a.m.

If I had a time machine, I probably would have hopped in and took away my “no.” Because, honestly, I did not care that much about the ink levels or potential disappearance of a marker. However, once a negative answer has been issued, I believe it cannot be taken back. A no cannot be made into a yes by whining or crying. I am a stressed, heartsick woman of my word.

In a situation such as this, where reasoning is not an option, I believe the experts would recommend I remove the child from the situation. So I carried my son into the vehicle, squirming and crying and shoeless. To my credit, I did not raise my voice. I simply grabbed our coats, our bags, and his shoes and threw them in the vehicle and let him kick the back of my seat all the way to the elementary school. Tonight on Amazon, I believe I am going to order an Indiana Jones style whip.

When Yes Became No

When I began my professional journey applying for internships as an undergraduate journalism student, my mantra was to always say yes. Whenever an opportunity arose, I took it. By the time I graduated from college, I had completed five internships for a variety of nonprofit organizations, an advertising agency, and a newspaper. At the age of 22, I became the head of cable company marketing department. At 23, I was the editor of an alumni magazine for a liberal arts college and running my own freelance business. I took graduate classes simply on a whim, because I could. Now I am a college professor.

My mantra began to change after I had children. Instead of pursuing endless opportunities, I needed to set boundaries between my work and personal life. It took many meltdowns of mother and child, an endless stream of late night grading, and many disgruntled meetings where I wondered, why am I here?, before I arrived to this moment.  And this moment is not perfect.

Whenever an opportunity arises now, I realize I am not simply saying yes or no. Every time I say yes to something I am saying no to something else. When I said “yes” to the gym this morning, I said “no” to vacuuming. When I decided to sit in on a podcasting class, I was no longer able to join a book circle. It is for moments like these that the hashtag #firstworldproblems was born. My cross to bear is too many opportunities.

The benefit of too many opportunities is that is has forced me to reflect on what it is that I really what to do. It should be a simple task to do what you truly want, but often we are trying to do what we think we should want to do or what some nonexistent version of ourselves would do. Right now, I just want to go to sleep, even though it is only 10 p.m. and the cool kids stay up until at least midnight 🙂

Carrot Cake is not my Madeleine

“An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?” – Marcel Proust

Ever since I discovered the meaning of a Proustian Moment, I have wanted to experience one. When I stumbled upon my old carrot cake recipe, I thought perhaps I hit paydirt. About ten years ago I went on a quest to make the best carrot cake possible for my husband’s 30th birthday. Through an amalgamation of recipes, I came up with what I believed to be the best. I remembered it as gooey and sweet, an ambrosia of carrots, pineapple, and coconut under a thick blanket of cream cheese frosting.

When I bit into the cake, no memories rushed back to me. The rich, sensory overload of early love did not infuse my mind. I did not remember the unencumbered, pre-children days where I could be eating cake at two in the morning with a group of friends with nothing on my horizon but a lazy Saturday and Sunday. Instead, I bit into the cake and thought, too much carrot.

The recipe calls for three cups of carrots and usually I used the Bolthouse Sweet Petites to grind up in my food processor. Instead, I was seduced by the sale price of some organic matchstick carrots at Meijer’s. Lesson one: you cannot get the same cake with different ingredients. Yes, there is a metaphor embedded here.

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I had also forgot the extravagance of the ingredients: two cups of white flour, two cups of granulated sugar, one and a half cups of vegetable oil, and four eggs. It seemed treasonous to cover and soak my organic carrots in this. Oh, to have the metabolism of my 20s again!

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Clearly, Proust was not worried about his waistline when he was dipping the infamous madeleine in his tea. He certainly did not practice moderation in his sentence lengths:

“And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.”

What decadent syntax!

Back to my unproustian moment: I remember that the cake took a full hour to bake at my old house before the toothpick would come out cleanly. Here, at 40 minutes, it showed signs of being overdone.

The best cake moment came not when I tried to reproduce the past but to improve upon it. I found cream cheese frosting recipe, so good, eating it could be called a religious experience: http://realhousemoms.com/best-cream-cheese-frosting/

My taste buds sang like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

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“But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”

In conclusion, even if I used the same carrots and baked the cake in the same oven, I do not believe I would have experienced a Proustian moment. I suppose the years altered me in such a way that not even tastes arouse the same visceral actions.

My unproustian carrot cake recipe:

  • 3 cups grated carrots (I recommend sweet petite baby carrots)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs

  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple with juice
  • 1 cup shredded sweetened coconut

Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

The Superhero Workout – Fasten Your Capes

The number one rule of App selection is know thyself — how do you like to work, study, cook, read, etc. Apps should augment your lifestyle and productions, in short make it easier to be the awesome person you were meant to be. As a working mom, I find it difficult to make time to go to the gym. I discovered, though, that I can do workouts with my children if there is a novelty involved. We each have our own stability ball and often roll around the floor trying to imitate the moves on Youtube workout videos. So when I stumbled upon the app Superhero Workout, I thought it could be another workout we could do as a family.

It also indicated some level of novelty, which I thought would intrigue me enough to engage in activities I do not enjoy, such as jumping jacks, mountain climbers, and other moves designed to torture my body. For $4.99, it delivers some level of novelty, though not as much as I would like. It delivers the “super-hero” feel through overlaying standard exercise animations with an audio storyline. However, when you are panting through high knee jogs, it is hard to follow along with the mission details. The app designers, though, did a decent job coordinating the plot with the exercise sequence. For instance, when you are defeating whatever enemy is upon you in the story, you are also doing boxing moves. When it is nearing the end of the 25-minute workout, the mission shouts words of encouragement, asking that you not give up. Still, I find standard workout music (think Rocky soundtrack) is a better motivator than imagining I am “clearing out spores.”

While I did not have high expectations for the camera tracking feature, as this is an Ipad app not an Xbox Kinect game, the workout design made tracking even more difficult. For the standard workout, you needed to be able to use a wall, a chair, and stairs. Unless I constantly repositioned the IPad, and subsequently missed a few reps of the workout, some of my moves wouldn’t be tracked. This wasn’t a big issue for me, though, as I was doing the workout moves with a five year old and three year old at times, so I had already discounted the possibility of accurate rep and calorie count. Still, I think the tracking feature is a nice one to include in a fitness application. Tracking works well as a motivator. You feel watched in a way that you do not when you are going through a workout DVD. It’s not the same social pressure as not keeping up in a face-to-face physical fitness class, but it is something.

I like that the game has set up a series of short workouts to choose from in addition to their “missions.” Times vary from 7-11 minutes, so you can do a quick general workout or several target area workouts. The mission workouts range from 16-25 minutes. My children could not keep up physically or mentally with a workout that long. Midway through our second mission workout, as we began jumping jack squats, my three year old stopped and said she couldn’t go on because she “lost her powers.” Later in the workout, amazed that I was still doing the moves, my five year old chanted, “Mama’s a superhero! Mama’s a superhero!” I found this to be the most motivating moment of the workout, as honestly, nothing makes me feel less superhero-like than a push up. The best part for our little family is the workouts that end with the superman move, where you lay on the floor and simultaneously hold up your arms and legs, probably because this is the most superhero-like move.

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Overall, this app motivated me to do exercise moves that I usually avoid. I like it doesn’t make me do a lot of repetitions of one move but constantly changes, usually switching moves every 30-60 seconds. This keeps me from getting bored or giving up when there is a move I particularly hate, such as burpees. I do like that there are 20 different missions and 46 different achievements you can obtain. It makes it as much a game as a workout. If I were to improve upon this game, I would add some graphical interludes during the missions instead of having it simply be an audio story. This would help orient me in the mission and make the experience more immersive. Something for Six to Start, the game designers, to consider as they work on their next game/exercise app.

Defining and Inspiring 30-day Challenges

Today, I am inviting you into my classroom. Our goal is to create a life experiment to potentially form a new habit. For inspiration, I played two different TED talks in class. The first, “Try something new for 30 day” by Matt Cutts, is essentially a three-minute commercial on why people should embark on a 30-day challenge. For the second video, I gave my class the choice of two A.J. Jacobs talks, one about his year living Biblically and one about his quest to live as healthily as possible. Both illustrate a writer who sets out on a quest for knowledge by asking one key question, what if?

A.J. Jacobs’ work is a great model for the famous Ken Macrorie assignment, the I-Search essay, which is essentially a research narrative told in the first person. The added bonus is of course the reality TV-esque component, where we get to read about A.J. taking all advice to the extreme. It’s the print version of Morgan Spurlock’s 30 days. I also find his work more every-man, than the less accessible, but still highly entertaining life experiment guru Tim Ferriss.

If anyone wants to follow along at home, we are reading an excerpt from My Life as an Experiment, “The Unitasker.” Here A.J. Jacobs seriously pursues the concept of mindfulness, a big buzz word in our multitasking digital age.

My Crazy Klimtian Dream

Have you ever had a weirdly specific vision you wanted to turn into a reality? I have had many of those since I was a small child. Every now and again a fancy would seize me, an inspiration fever. I remember at the age of four shoplifting smurf tissue paper from a shoe box in Norman’s because I knew it would make the perfect wallpaper for my dollhouse. Unfortunately, my mother did not agree with my method of procurement and marched me back into the store. Many such visions have struck me since with varying levels of success.

My latest vision, which has haunted since the fall, is a Gustav Klimt inspired mixed media rendering of the Queen of Hearts. Oddly specific, right? Tonight, I finally put some lines on a large blank canvas. It’s important to note that I have owned this large canvas for several months and have been rendered impotent by its white yawning expanse. Also, I am not an artist, but an English professor. So this was a momentous first stroke. I don’t know where it will lead, but it is now going somewhere.

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