Sunday, January 23, 2011

I Discovered That Healthy Eating Can Actually Make a 1st Grader Gag

In September, I declared to the three people who read this blog that I was on the path to Real Food Righteousness. This decision came after being scared straight over my seriously unhealthy, pre-packaged diet. I repented for every highly processed slice of white bread in my pantry and swore on a container of extra firm tofu that I would be a better parent and Citizen of the World by shunning food with ingredients I couldn’t pronounce and by breaking up with Betty Crocker for good. (I miss you, babe!) Even though I felt a strong conviction to make better choices while perusing the grocery shelves, I knew the ever present slacker in me would be wistfully pining away for Marie Callender and her Dinner-In-Five-Minutes-Or-Less ilk. So, after several months of alternately stumbling, fist pumping, whining, and, sometimes succeeding, I thought it would be a good time to take a step back and evaluate my effort thus far. My conclusion: I suck a little less than I thought I would.

I went about this mission entirely the wrong way. I have been accused of rushing into every little whim that breezes through my hard head, and this time it was the same story. The smart path would have been to gently wean my family from their Pop-Tarts and Cheetos into a world where words like “organic” and “locally grown” are uttered daily. It’s a supposedly happy land of home made granola, seasonal vegetable-centered meals, and pretend meat between a couple of slices of bread so fresh that you have to eat it within 3 days or it’s stale. (And, your eight bucks goes down the drain.) However, I went about this transition in the same style as Hitler when he decided to rule the world. It wasn’t pretty. I scoured the pantry, fridge, and freezer, throwing away any food I considered a threat to my our new lifestyle. Once the rampage was finished, I declared that we had a “Clean House”, and set about to make myself better than everyone else.

I found out some things about myself and the people in my house during this experiment. First of all, children tend to have a negative reaction when they are allowed to have Popsicles and Goldfish one day, and the next, they are offered toasted pumpkin seeds and soy cheese for a snack. Second, if you aren’t allowed to buy dinner in a brightly colored box, plan on spending lots of time in the kitchen, my second least favorite room in the house. (First belongs to my son…chalk it up to his smelly shoes.) I also discovered that I could no longer shop for groceries in one store. I would have to visit one store for organics, another for non-food items, a farmer's market for local produce, and a butcher shop if I wanted to get grass-fed, chemical-free meat from area farms for the carnivores in the house.  It seemed as though I was spending 60 hours a week behind the steering wheel of my car and the handle of a shopping cart.  Since the food was so fresh, I had to be sure to only buy what would we need so that I didn't end up tossing it in the trash. This healthy lifestyle was becoming a stressed out, full time job.

I couldn't argue with the fruits of my labor, though.  By using only the freshest ingredients from the Earth, I awakened taste buds that had been in a chemically-induced coma for years.  I never knew that an egg that went straight from the hen house to my frying pan would look and taste so differently than the store bought variety.  After drinking organic milk, I will never go back to the gallon jugs from Wal-Mart because the difference in taste is almost palpable. It was a labor-intensive treat to take this manna from heaven and magically create dishes that looked good, tasted great, and made me feel like I was doing better for my family. (Well, at least when my daughter wasn't gagging on a spinach/tofu/burrito concoction.)

But (and there is always a but), I am lazy.  It's a four letter word that defines many aspects of my life.  You can't be a slacker and successfully execute a healthy, whole foods diet.  It takes vigilance, planning, researching, and - don't hate me for saying it - sacrifice.  You absolutely have to give up the convenience of popping a meal into the microwave or stopping off for fast food after a busy day on the job, school, homework, exercise, house cleaning, and extracurricular activities.  Many, MANY nights, the last thing I want to do is stand in the kitchen chopping vegetables and waiting for stock to reduce for homemade soup.  (Attention Facebook Friends:  If you wonder why I never read your notes, watch your videos, or engage in friendly banter any more, it's because I caramelizing freakin' onions again.)

Even though I stumble almost daily, I haven't completely given up.  I decided that vegan was a little too harsh for this milk and cheese lover, but I do still try to avoid meat in my diet. (I also found out that soy yogurt can make a forty-two year old gag.)  I celebrate the little victories like the fact that I haven't bought any packaged sweets since I began this project.  We must make from scratch any  cookies, cakes or confections because it's better for you and, being lazy, it means that we won't have as many in the house.  Also, my home made salsa and hummus are better than any commercial brand I've tried.  Another plus is that the kids actually enjoy making pizza from scratch and prefer it to take-out.

The down side to this lifestyle is that if I have to eat one more veggie burger,  I'm going to start getting stabby.  Also, either I have developed a bionic nose or my neighbors are cooking steaks on the grill every night of the week.  The smell of those dead cow parts wafting through my energy inefficient windows makes grilled peppers and couscous seem a little empty.  And lastly, I just want to sit down for a while.

So, I plan to carry on in my Slacker Mom kind of way, knowing that at least my attempt at better living makes a difference.  I would write more, but I'm off to prepare a dinner of whole wheat spaghetti and fake meatballs with organic lemon bars made from scratch while pretending that I'm not having naughty, naughty thoughts about a Meat Lover's Supreme Pizza...


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Crapper's Delight

I have done a stellar job of striking terror in the heart of my fifth grade son when it comes to using a public restroom. He has come to understand, as we all should, that toilet seats, sink handles, and door knobs in communal bathrooms are all harboring Dengue Fever, the Ebola Virus, the Black Death, or possibly a toxic cocktail of all three. If I felt I wouldn’t draw the attention of the psychiatric community, I would go so far as to wear a gas mask and rubber gloves whenever Mother Nature leaves me no alternative but to use one. (Don’t even get me started on the deadly-bacteria-filled menace to society known as the Porta-John.) 

My son usually avoids the restroom at school, opting instead to hold it all day in order to use his own toilet at home. I can’t say that I blame him because let’s face it – ten year old boys are nasty little creatures by design. If I didn’t ride him every day to keep his bathroom clean, it, too, would smell like a crusty urinal from a seedy biker bar. (Just curious…at what point does good aim kick in for boys?)

When I pick him up from school, it's a given that I can not run errands afterward because nature’s call has been ignored for at least two to three hours by this point in the day. I can always tell how much water he has had to drink since breakfast by how deeply his brow is furrowed and how quickly he walks to the car. However, a couple of days ago, he hopped in with an unusually bright-eyed look on his face. As he threw his backpack onto the floor and buckled his seatbelt, he said excitedly, “You’ll never guess what just happened!”

As the students were nearing the end of their school day, the assistant principal buzzed into the classroom and asked for all of the boys to report to the cafeteria. Puzzled, they filed out into the hallway and realized that boys - and only boys - from every fourth and fifth grade class were making their way down to this mysterious meeting. There were hushed whispers between them as they tried to understand what had gotten the whole lot of them in trouble. However, as my son and the other kids entered the cafeteria, he understood immediately what this impromptu gathering was about because at the front of the room stood the unhappy assistant principal flanked by an entourage of equally unhappy janitors. The shit had hit the fan. Literally.

My son vaguely mentioned from time to time that restrooms for the older boys were the stuff of nightmares. Being a female who is thirty-two years removed from fifth grade, I didn’t ask for details, opting instead to believe that “disgusting” meant paper towels on the floor or maybe a toilet was left full of tissue paper because the bell rang, and it simply slipped the mind of the user to flush. He told me a story once of walking into the restroom and witnessing a kid peeing into the drain on the floor instead of the urinal.  I laughed it off, thinking that this was just another one of his many tall tales.  Apparently, this was only the tip of the putrid iceberg, and I wasn’t even close to understanding the excrement-smeared stinkhole behind that boys’ room door. 

It seems as though this small-town elementary school has a Mad Crapper walking the halls (and missing the commode completely).  I happen to believe that it's more likely a Band of Fiber-ful Brothers working together (or possibly apart) to inflict this smelly mayhem on their classmates because there is no way one tween can be so full of poop.  Pre-teen fecal matter is not only left in the unflushed toilets (mere child's play), but it has also found its way to the urinals, the restroom floor and, according to my son, the walls. The WALLS.  I can only say, as a hyper-germophobic mother, that I sincerely hope this person: A. Remembered to bring the latex gloves when he decided to reach into the toilet and use his poop as a Sharpie,  and B. Finds a new hobby that doesn't include direct contact with e coli and last night's corn.  It's no wonder my son would rather risk a bladder infection than pee at school.
While the custodians gave the Stink Eye to the crowd, the boys were read the Riot Act and told that swift punishment would befall any kid who decided to forego their potty training and do their business on the floor.  There is to be no loyalty amongst Mad Crappers as anyone found withholding knowledge of the identity of these rogue poopers will be on their hands and knees cleaning up the pee puddles as well.

Needless to say, I will no longer chastise him for making me late for after-school eye appointments because of the need for a pit stop on the way.  I'll be sure to fill his cup only half full of milk at breakfast, and there will be no more haranguing him for not finishing his water bottle from lunch.  But, as if my own visions of this elementary cess pool aren't enough to keep me awake at night, he said something that sent chills down my spine. "Mom, it's even worse than the Port-a-Potty at the Renaissance Festival." 

Oh, the humanity!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

What if the snow makes me want to eat people?

I sat down at my computer and began composing a lovely little essay about a menacing Mad Crapper who is on the loose in my town.  As I was typing, I kept shifting in my seat and losing my train of thought.  I found myself staring alternately out the window and at a blank wall without giving any effort to putting coherent sentences together.  I could feel the anxiety building inside me, and it wasn't just the idea of someone spreading poop like a demented Johnny Appleseed that was fueling my worry. (Although it does make me throw up in my mouth a little to think of someone using their feces as a writing instrument, but that blog will have to wait.)  No, something else was raising my ire, and I realized that it had to do with that annoying/chilling buzzer sound that kept going off and interrupting my digital music channel, the one set on spa music to help soothe my frazzled nerves.  It was the National Weather Service, and they were screaming at me, "Snow is coming! Snow is coming!" My cold weather-induced panic attack had begun, and all stories about poop flingers would just have to wait.

 Folks get mad at me when I say that I hate snow.  It's funny how snow bunnies think I need to embrace being indefinitely home bound with my pantry fat from frenzy-driven bread purchases and a couple of cows worth of milk, but I live in the South, the glorious, sunny, humid, balmy, tropical (intolerant, politically-challenged) South.  When the threat of snow is imminent below the Mason-Dixon line, the Earth suddenly stops spinning on its axis, and all of us sandlappers truly believe that we will never again grace the aisles of Wal-Mart until Easter.  It's a mad dash to the grocery store because apparently, instead of sledding and building snowmen, we are all going to be in the kitchen making toast and scrambled eggs...lots of it.

For me, it goes deeper than simply hating to be inconvenienced, cold and wet.  I fear snow.  There is actually a name for it: Chionophobia.  I have completely irrational thoughts when snow is in the forecast.  Even though I've spent weekends without changing out of my pajamas or leaving the house, the idea that that I can't leave the house if I want to makes my heart pound.  Despite the fact that I have never in my forty-two years been trapped by snowdrifts, I suddenly believe that a once in a lifetime blizzard will pile snow up to my roof, and I'll be stuck in the house with three incontinent dogs until spring.

Snow has a way of stirring up my overactive imagination in ways that might be considered unhealthy.  What if my tooth suddenly abcesses, and my face swells to an unrecognizable size, and enroute to the ER we crash the car into a ditch, and then we have to walk to the hospital, and I lose all sensation in the lower part of my body on the way, and then I become delirious, and I begin to look at my husband and wonder how good he would taste cooked up with all the eggs we bought then smeared between a couple of those slices of bread, and then I realize I'm going all Donner party on him, and my worst  fears are confirmed?  Snow makes me just a little crazy.

So, don't chastise me for for not jumping on the I Love Snow bandwagon.  I don't care how beautiful it is as it slowly lands on the fencepost.  Snow kills.  Do not try to bully me into proclaiming that I ADORE having on wet jeans and stripping the partially frozen clothing off a crying six-year-old who stayed out too long and is now the color and texture of a grape popsicle.  I'll be sitting in front of the TV with my eyes glued to the Weather Channel and praying for a return to more traditional southern temperatures.  Or maybe I'll watch that marathon of "My Strange Addiction" on TLC.  Now, those people are messed up....

Sunday, January 2, 2011

An open letter to Oprah

Dear Ms. Winfrey,

I would like to preface this letter by disclosing the fact that I have never once in my life watched an episode of your show.  It’s not that I am opposed to the premise of what you have tried to accomplish through the magic of this medium. It’s just that as the exercise-obsessed/clean-freak working mother of two children and three dogs, I have found it nearly impossible to string together sixty minutes in a row to sit in a chair and watch as a retired school teacher from Ohio asks Dr. Oz about the color of her bowel movements or listen to the Celebrity of the Week discuss how tough it is being rich and famous while you nod your head in agreement.  However, I must say that the fact that you have been charitable with your two billion dollar fortune is not lost on me, and you totally rocked it when you held your own against the cattle ranchers out in Texas. (Insert fist pump.) 

I have chugged along through my life outside of the influence of the Harpo Productions Empire.  I buy books not because you suggest them, but because they appeal to some part of me.  I decide on Presidential candidates using my own brain instead of letting your very capable brain do the work for me. Your favorite things are not always my favorite things, and that is why I am writing to you today because on January 1st 2011, you took away one of my favorite things: the Discovery Health Channel.

Ms. Winfrey, I don’t get out much.  And when I say I don’t get out much, I mean I don’t get out at all.  Strangely enough, there are rarely black tie events in my small, Southern town, and even when they do occur, I have somehow not managed to make the guest list.  A big day for me would be going to Target to peruse the clearance rack or maybe hitting the mall to drool over the latest Yankee Candle offerings before grocery shopping.  The closest thing to a vacation home for me is a room with a parking lot view at the Holiday Inn at Myrtle Beach, so you can see how I might like to escape every now and then through the comfort of digital cable.

It’s hard to deny that television these days is a virtual cesspool of B list celebrity reality shows, dance contests featuring floundering stars, and formulaic sitcoms whose only laughs are recorded far away from where the acting is actually being performed.  Despite the slim pickings, I found a haven in Discovery Health.  I adore Dr. G and her no nonsense approach to cutting open the dearly departed and getting to the bottom of what actually did them in, and daily I hear her voice in my head saying, “A blood clot in the lungs is one of the few things where you’re laughing and talking one minute and dead on the floor the next.”  (This might explain my clot phobia to my husband.)

What about “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant”?  As a woman who gave birth twice sans pharmaceutical intervention, this show causes me to suspend belief like no other since “Fantasy Island”.  (“I just thought I had an unusually bad case of gas. Really.”) I love how they always end up on the toilet, but I digress.

I know you are only trying to do what is best for me (and the world, for that matter).  We are just a nation of slackers, and you and your crack team of experts finally have a network dedicated to making something of the whole unworthy lot of us, and I thank you for that.  You failed to take into consideration, however, that there are some folks who can do without Suze Orman badgering them into a healthier fiscal state of being, and would rather sit back with a glass of wine every now and then to watch animal hoarders have the feces cleaned from their kitchen counters.  I understand that Dr. Phil will help me with my anger management issues, but sometimes a good dose of watching innocent victims being saved on “Untold Stories of the ER” does wonders for making a person grateful for what they have been given in this life.  And, quite frankly, I have no desire to witness the behind the scenes goings-on of your talk show or to be a voyeur as Dr. Laura Berman counsels couples with problems in the bedroom.  (Honestly? Is fifteen minutes of pseudo-fame worth spilling the most intimate secrets on air?  Do these people want to go to Chicago that desperately?)

I’m afraid to say that I will not be watching your network, on principle if nothing else.  Don’t get me wrong.  I know that I, like most people, could use some work in the I-Should-Carry-Less-Baggage department, but I would rather not have it crammed down my throat by your hand-picked band of celebrity do-gooders.  Rather, I think I would benefit more by witnessing the compassion of an ER nurse as she comforts a child who has been injured in a car accident.  I know that personally I may feel the need to re-examine my own good fortune when I watch a documentary on a child born with a rare disease and know that I should be thanking my lucky stars for my healthy children.

Lastly, I do have one question for you.  Why, oh, why didn’t you take over Nickelodeon?  This world would be a much better place without “iCarly” and “SpongeBob SquarePants”.