Sunday, July 31, 2011

New and Improved

All summer long I have been on a mission to totally rework my habits, clean the house, and establish a stay at home mama/allergen free cooking routine.  I am pleased to say that Mike and I have officially combed though and organized every shelf, drawer, closet and cabinet in the air-conditioned portion of our house.  The garage has just a small section left with boxes of stuff that needs to be gone through, but I am hopeful that with one week left before Mike returns to work we will be able to fit that in the schedule as well.  My plan is to take my precious hour in the evening, when the girls are sleeping, to go through one box a night until it is all finished.  Mike is super proud of his new and improved wife who is no longer a hoarder but thoroughly downsized and organized.

At Naomi’s 2 month appointment her pediatrician couldn’t believe this darling, smiling, cooing baby was the same one that was covered in pimples and howling through her 1 month check up.  She noted how perfectly clear her skin is now, and when I explained that it began to clear up the 2nd day I started the MSPI diet she said that just shows what a very sensitive allergy she has and what a great job I am doing. (with Elvis accent: Thank you! Thank you very much! )

Naomi, it seems, does not only have milk/soy protein intolerance, but a gluten one as well.  The newest food sensitivity was discovered when I took communion a couple Sundays ago (just the Host, not the communion wine) and she was miserable all day. I’ve purchased only gluten free flour and bread from that moment on and since then she’s been right as rain.

This whole experience has been a good thing because I have IBS (irritable bowl syndrome) and I wasn’t supposed to be indulging in milk products anyway-a habit that I had due to my love of Italian cheesy things and pizza. Allergen free meal planning has forced me to cook everything nearly from scratch and super fresh. Mike is in his glory with home cooked meals 2-3 times a day with the exception of corn or rice cereal with rice milk, fruit, and rice or coconut yogurt for breakfast during the weekdays. (I only have energy to cook hot breakfasts on the weekends.)  

The cookbooks I ordered (The Milk Soy Protein Intolerance (MSPI) Guidebook/Cookbook by Tamara Field and Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook by Cybele Pascal) have provided us with a way to enjoy some fantastic baked goods like Mike’s Vanilla birthday cake with vegan chocolate icing, pumpkin bread, and chocolate cupcakes.  The brown sugar cookies are Jenna’s favorites to make because she get to play with the dough which she calls hot potato, but I can’t figure out why! J

Technology is an amazing and wondrous thing because I was able to find a support group for kids with allergies and they recommended some online grocery distributors.  I ordered gluten, soy & dairy free items from Navan Foods gluten free sample kit and bread sample kit from Ener-g  We also have a store about 40 minutes away that offers a lot of great products called Nature’s Market and we made a trip to Fresh Market after the airport drop off in Orlando to pick up some new products there too. As promised, I have documented the results of our taste testing:

Brand &  Type of food
1 to 10
Ener-g White Rice Bread
Tastes like stale cardboard or “Yucky-poopy bread” as Jenna puts it.
Udi’s Gluetn Free Foods White Sandwich Bread

White Rice Bread
They can be found in the frozen foods section of Publix and actually tastes really delicious when toasted. If Jenna eats it you know it is yummy. J
Ener-g ginger snap cookies
Really yummy, you almost forget they are butter free.
Enjoy Life ginger spice soft baked cookies
Ok but not great.
Enjoy Life snicker doodle soft baked cookies
Tolerable but not great according to Mike and I but Jenna ate two so I couldn’t give them a 1.
Enjoy Life caramel apple snack bars
Jenna: “This tastes like it has boogers in it. I no like it!” Mindy (the dog) finished it.
Enjoy Life very berry snack bars
Mike and I ate them because they were expensive. Jenna wouldn’t touch it.
Glutino Blueberry Breakfast Bar
These are Delicious! I was very impressed and actually ate a whole box (minus one for Mike).  They are pricey but worth it to have a snack to carry around.
Daiya: Deliciously Dairy Free cheddar style shreds Cheddar “cheese”
Gross eaten cold but not bad melted on a burger or mixed in scrambled eggs. 
Daiya: Deliciously Dairy Free Mozzarella
The product advertises that you can finally enjoy pizza but I thought it tasted horrid.  Mike ate the remaining slices.
So Delicious Coconut Water Mango Sorbet
Smooth and super yummy!
So Delicious Coconut Milk
Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Everything this company makes has been a HUGE hit! You can really taste the coconut in this.
So Delicious Organic Mini Fudge Bar
By far Jenna and my favorite! They are amazingly chocolately and only 70 calories (30 from fat) a bar so people who want a treat without over indulging would love these.
So Delicious Coconut Milk Yogurt
We’ve tried blueberry, chocolate, and vanilla and they are all fabulous.  A great way to get those probiotics without having to take pills.
So Delicious Coconut Milk
I use this in baking but don’t really like the taste all that much as a milk alone. I describe it as soapy tasting water with coconut extract. Mike loves it though. 
Rice Dream Rice Milk
Best of the milks aside from almond milk to drink.  Great on cereal and I use it in baking all the time.
Silk Rice Milk
My second favorite brand for rice milk.
Whole Foods Rice Milk
This has a bit of a chalky burnt rice flavor to me. I could take it or leave it.
Blue Diamond
Almond Breeze
Almond Milk
If I could drink this I would but Naomi seemed to have a hard time after several attempts so I eliminated it from my diet.  Great tasting though! Nutty, slightly sweet, and delicious.  
Through all of our experimenting we’ve made some very valuable discoveries about healthy foods. 

1)      Ingredients are misleading. Just because it has caramel or chocolate doesn't mean it tastes good.

2)      Don’t let your child sample the items unattended. I found more gluten free breakfast bars and cookies smashed in between the couch cushions or in the car seat than I care to document- and those are just the ones that Mindy didn’t get to before me.
            Just because it is healthier and less calories doesn’t mean you can eat double the amount-(YES, Michael I’m talking to YOU!)
            Most importantly, don’t buy products with labels that advertise the flavor has been enhanced. 
New and Improved Taste Translation: Our product used to be unfit for human consumption and most likely still is, but with FDA approval.
Now Even Tastier    Translation: Used to taste like sawdust, now we added fruit!
Great New Flavor     Translation:  Your dog will love it!

Other than that, everything seems to be going great. Mike has lost 16 pounds and Jenna cleans her plate most evenings without much of a struggle. When I had to add gluten to the list of no-no’s I really started to worry that I wasn’t going to find enough food to eat to continue to stay healthy, curb my hunger, and continue to breast feed.  But I feel better now that I’m not having stomach pains after each meal (which was a former 2x + a week occurrence).  It’s amazing how you don’t realize you were feeling poorly until you feel better. The house is in order, our diet is running smoothly, and Naomi is glowing; things are all around super-de-duper.  As the summer comes to an end I realize that the new and improved me wasn’t as painful a transition as I thought it would be and life is pretty near close to perfect. Now, if only there was a non dairy, no soy, no gluten pizza out there that actually tasted good too! Then we’d really be living the life J

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Gut Feeling

My parents and brother have abandoned me for three weeks to take a “family” vacation to my father’s homeland of Idaho.  It’s weird that even though I am a married woman with two children, I still see myself as part of that family unit of four. I wasn't at all happy about my mom/best friend being 2728 miles away (Yes, I looked it up).  

Left out and left behind, I was feeling pretty bummed that Mike and the girls and I were too poor to join in on the Idaho fun. So I decided to formulate what I thought was a brilliant plan to take advantage of our two annual passes to Sea World.  Sea World is a smaller park (as far as theme parks go), and my plan was to only spend a couple hours there in the indoor exhibits and then go back to a hotel for a swim and relaxation. We had to drop my parents off at the airport in Orlando anyway. It could be a happy poor man’s mini vacation-sort of a consolation prize for staying behind from Idaho.

I booked a hotel a ½ mile from the theme park that had a ½ price special, and used some consignment shop money to pay for the room. We packed a lunch box of hard boiled eggs and other gluten, soy, dairy free items for us to snack on, and crammed everyone into the car at 3:45 a.m.  I had pretty much everything well budgeted and mapped out. What I didn’t plan on was that Jenna was so excited she decided to stay up and not go back to sleep during the 1 ½ hour trip getting there. When we had 2 + hours to kill before the park opened she did as well as any overly exhausted and excited 2 ½ year olds could. 

I started having reservations that this trip wasn’t a great idea the night before but dismissed the gnawing feeling in my stomach to nerves. Now as I watched my child running back and forth across the van seats trying to entertain herself, they started to rise again. Suddenly, Jenna announced to me that she had poopied.  (We still haven’t mastered that part of potty training).  I called for her to be changed only to find that not only had she done a most stinky #2 but that it was runny and had soaked through her shorts and was now dripping down both legs into her socks.
“EEWWW!” “That’s disgusting!” (Yes, Jenna, that is pretty foul!) I cleaned her up, floor up, seat up, clothes up, changed everything, and because she seemed normal and happy 1 hour later, we headed to Sea World and got there at the parks opening. Short lines, slight morning breeze, it looked like the makings of a great day. Naomi was smiling and cooing in our fancy double stroller, so we hit the Elmo show first, saw some sea lions and seals, penguins, and dolphins. Then at 10:45 on the dot, both girls were sleeping. As we sat in the air-conditioning of the Nautilus Theater waiting for the next show to begin, I smiled to myself at the genius of this idea. Everything was going according to plan. We even found a super awesome chef in the Voyagers Smokehouse to make me a sauce free rib rack so I could eat a great lunch too.  Jenna woke up just in time to enjoy Alure: The Call of the Ocean (sort of a Circ De Sole with acrobats dressed as sea creatures).  She was so impressed she had to meet the performers up close which is interesting because she had no interest in meeting Elmo at all.

After a total of four hours we went to leave and that’s when things got stressful.  Jenna and Naomi had had enough.  It was after 12 and was growing hotter.  They were tired and so were Mike and I.  We headed for the exit, got turned around and ended up walking the entire long way around the park.  In the stress of trying to keep Jenna from running away that morning I had forgotten to mark our parking spot on our map and couldn’t find the car.  At this point Naomi is wailing and Jenna is trying to out-scream her.  Mike and I gently poured water over both girls’ heads which helped for the moment but I started to feel like the stupidest mother of the year for taking two small children to a theme park in July.  Panicked I start praying and finally flagged down a parking attendant on a golf cart. He helped me find our van just 10 cars from where we were looking. I jumped in and backing out glance up at the temperature gage: 104 degrees.  Air conditioning turned full up and blasting, I raced down the road, leaped out and frantically straped the kids in, threw the stroller in the back and headed to the hotel.  I didn’t know I was cursing but apparently I was because Jenna shouted out from the back, “We don’t say that! Say only nice words Mommy!”

At the hotel, our room wasn’t ready at 3 as promised so by the time we got to sit down I was near tears.  I tried desperately to comfort myself. I’ve had migraines this excruciating before. Aside from the stink of the carpet the room really wasn’t all that bad. So what if there are creepy construction crew men all along the halls-trying to watch my family and I swim?
“I want to leave now!!!” I sobbed to Mike when we got back to the room from the pool. “If you really want to leave, we can leave.” I smiled through my blood shot eyes-my husband, my hero! “But we will have to eat the $50 for the hotel. It is almost night and we are all pretty tired.” “But whatever you decide is alright with me.”

This made me sober.  $50 was a lot of money for us. I just couldn’t waste that, could I? And what about the girls? I looked at Jenna who was happily trying to fight sleep as she watched Clifford on TV. Naomi was stripped down to her diaper, snoring softly in her travel cradle. Mike was right. Instead of bailing I formulated a new plan that I could live with.  Promises were made that everyone would wear socks while walking around the room and no one would touch the quilts that I stripped off the beds and threw into the corner.  I installed a stick-able alarm on the door so that in the event the deadbolt gave out it would provide some added protection. After showers and food the girls and Mike fell fast asleep, I joined themed at around 1 a.m., at least that’s the last time I remembered looking.  

The next day turned out to be more challenging than the first.  Apparently Jenna’s diaper explosion wasn’t just a freak event because Mike and I took turns rushing to the toilet every 10 minutes or so that morning. Not so fun when you are trying to drive through Orlando and make your way home.  Then the car kept getting overheated and we had to pull into a Wal-Mart Auto Department and wait 3 hours for them to fix the problem. All the while Mike and I were still rushing to the bathroom despite the 3 Imodium AD’s we had taken when we stopped at a CVS the hour before. I have to say that Jenna was a trooper and very good considering all the calamity and Naomi (praise God) slept through most of it.  In the end our 1 ½ hour trip home took around 8 hours.

When we pulled in the drive way a silent Hallelujah chorus broke out in my head.  Drained, and sleep deprived I reached for my cell phone to call my mom and them remembered she’s not home. If my mom wasn’t 2728 miles away I’m sure she would have some wisdom to offer in a moment like this. “Think of how much you will have grown from this experience.” “If you saw your trials like God saw them, you would eat them as bread.” To this I would have to reply, “I think I am just about full.”

It was two days before Mike and I were back to normal again. My grandmother chewed me out for being stupid taking little kids to a place like that during a heat wave like this, “A person like you should have more sense!” In hindsight I would have more sense and stayed home. Who knew the weather would break records that day.  Who knew the great rate I got was because the hotel was under construction?  Who knew the van had a temperature gage problem that cost $97 to fix? Who knew the gnawing feeling in my stomach was the beginnings of a most disgusting intestinal virus? Not many could have known.  But Mike and I have firmly decided that the next time I get a “gut” feeling like that, we’re not going anywhere. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Great Aunt Estelle's "Curse"

As a child my grandpa had strong beliefs about children being present yet silent, and obeying without question.  He was quoted for saying, “If I ask you to jump, you ask how high and how far!” When I was little I would have asked curiously “But Grandpa, why do you want me to jump in the first place?” Such a personality was not welcomed with the elder generation in the family, or with many of its younger members for that matter, so it’s a miracle I ever ended up on my grandfather good side. I can’t recall what I did that afternoon at the lunch table but grandpa responded with his famous, “What the hell’s the matter with you?” and I responded jokingly, “I don’t know Grandpa-what the hell IS the matter with me?” I expected a butt beating, but instead he burst out laughing- half from surprise, half from being impressed that I had stood up to him.  From that moment on we were kindred spirits.

My grandfather’s sister never got to the point of being amused with anything I did. I can remember Great Aunt Estelle pointing her gnarled arthritic finger at me and sending curses from its tip, “One day I hope you get your payback and have a child just like you when you’re grown up.” Aunt Estelle was bad-tempered, miserable in general, and under the belief that little girls should sit motionless and smile sweetly with their hands folded in their laps.   She made it quite clear on multiple family occasions that I was her least favorite person in the world and when I got my arm stuck through a golden ring on her tacky white vinyl couch she was less than impressed at my imagining it was a fancy bracelet.  

So I was a busy kid, but what’s so wrong with having a child like me one day? Growing up, I was always different. I wrote my first book at the age of three (with my dad’s help) and spent Saturdays cooking in my Easy Bake Oven and making “stained glass” window ornaments for gifts. Other little girls played with baby dolls, I preferred building huge castles with my knighted Lego men and acting out movie scripts I wrote with my Barbie Dolls. Mom often opened the freezer to see a Ken doll, frozen in a salad bowl of water because he had to cross the arctic to save an Alaskan town from an epidemic. Skipper would be found dressed in a ficus leaves & scotch tape bikini with a shoelace tied to her waist and the ceiling fan so she could swing through the jungle like Jane at super speed.  A ballerina/cheerleader type I was not. I’d play outside most of the day, building forts and climbing trees, but then happily dress up in pretty ruffles and bows for church on Sunday.
At a young age I had a knack at entertaining others and would burst into short performances on the tiny stages at the Elk’s lodge or church dinner/dances and convinced my friends to sell lemonade on the corner for $0.50 a cup, $.075 for a drink and a song.

 I was a well behaved child overall, but If I had to choose a rebellious moment the closest thing would be getting into the Church communion wine. My little friend and I imagined ourselves queens at a great medieval feast drinking from our plastic Champaign glasses, dinning on banana nut muffins we had just bought at the rummage/bake sale. Shocking? The wine wasn’t blessed yet so Father Joe only made me do two Hail Mary’s at the next week’s confession. Oh, and I may have used the lighting sticks for the prayer candles to practice writing JAMIE in cursive charcoal letters on the bottom of the offering box. And there was that time that I took that starfish from the jewelry store to use as a beach prop for my Barbie’s- but I cried like crazy and totally took it back when my mom explained that it was stealing NOT borrowing.  I suppose I wasn’t perfect, but I had an endless imagination and a heart that wanted to please my parents.  All my mother had to do was say, “Jamie, I am so very disappointed in you,” and I’d fall to pieces and try terribly hard not to do it again.

Fast forward 20+ years later and I stare in wonder at the bubbly preschooler before me.  Her blond curls bounce happily as she tears down the grocery aisle, squealing with delight that she just got loose from my hand and now wants me to “Chase me mamma, come and get me!” She thinks it’s a game of tag. I sprint after her, give a quick swat, and then I hear my own mother’s voice in mine as I explain to Jenna through her soft sniffles how much I love her, that I want her to be safe and that’s why she has to hold my hand.  “But why mommy? The strangers might take me away?” We’ve had this conversation before. “Yes, Jenna, and then mommy will be very sad not to get to see you so you need to hold my hand, OK?” “Oh, alright mommy,” She sighs, but understanding she takes my hand and looks up at me hugging my leg, “I love you very much mommy!” “I love you very much too, Jenna.”

My first born Jenna is not the shy princess type. Jenna is more, an Elizabeth Bennett/ Anne of Green Gables type, her own thinker, adventurous, and stubborn. Her books are her favorite toys. She loves to cook and has picked up her baby dolls she got for Christmas only a handful of times.  Jenna watches movies and then acts out the plots and character’s lines with her toys. But most surprising of all is her love for musicals. Andrew Lloyd Webbers’ Cats, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, and Hairspray are some of her favorites.  She belts out the lyrics in the car and our living room, adding her own spins and leaps to the dances. 

Spirited, yes, willful, you bet, hyperactive and mischievous-most definitely.  But at the same time my first born is very sensitive, compassionate, and loving.  At times she may be exhausting but the next day she’s quite delightful, adorable, and endearing. She has an inventive mind and a creative play that makes me smile remembering a little blond girl just like her. Aunt Estelle’s hope for me came true but I would call it a blessing not a curse.  Jenna is her own person, a leader-not a follower. I was too.

Looking back it saddens me that Aunt Estelle couldn’t have been more tolerant. If only she could have seen past the hyper activity and focused more on the loving & creative soul behind it. I’ve always mourned that missed opportunity. Great Aunt Estelle missed out on a potentially wonderful relationship, one like my grandfather and I got to share when he opened his eyes and heart to the good in me. I wonder how many of us could have the same, if we only stopped long enough to take a deeper look.  

Sunday, July 3, 2011

MSPI Lifestyle

Our little Naomi has been suffering for the last month. Every time she eats it results in horrific gas and cramping so much so that she wails to the point that I want to cry right along with her.  You know those moments when kids cry so hard that no sound comes out, they just open their tiny mouths and vibrate-that is my baby girl-simply heartbreaking to watch. We've tried everything possible to lesson if not eliminate what the doctors tell me is colic.  They say it will go away in three months but I just can’t watch her in agony without try to help.  My parents taught me that if something doesn't work you research, pray, and problem solve. You don’t just sit there in helpless acceptance.

So, Mike and I have dutifully done that.  There is a plethora of information on the internet about curing colic.  As far as I can see we have tried just about everything:
Equate Infants’ Gas Relief
Little Tummy’s Gripe Water
Little Tummy’s Gas Relief Drops
Highland’s Homeopathic Colic Tablets
Fennel Tea
Chamomile Tea
Ginger Tea
Peppermint Tea
Warm Water
Enfamil Nutramingen Colic Formula
Similac Almentium Colic Formula
Levsin Prescription Drops
Car Rides
8 different burping holds
Walking, bee-bopping, strollering
Breastfeeding elimination diet for me getting rid of all obvious dairy, soy, tomato, onions, and garlic.

Eventually we came down to the conclusion that the Levsin Drops and the Little Tummy’s Gripe Water help sometimes. Nursing Naomi while leaning back helps too and we have to hold her sitting straight up or put her in the car seat for 30 minutes after each feeding.  Even with all that she still would have parts of the day that were horrid.
So one night, while I had a particularly emotional day and had cried at least 6 different times, I did a Google search for Soy and Milk free recipes. I came across another blog, and that mother was going through almost the exact same thing as me! He child was colicky and they told her to eliminate dairy and soy to make her breast milk easier for her to digest.  But like me she was only doing the obvious stuff like cream, butter, drinking milk, cheese and so on.  She didn’t look at the ingredients in her food very closely. 

As I read this a light bulb went on in my head! I ran to the fridge and started to look at the things I was eating and I couldn’t believe the stuff that was in everything I hadn’t noticed. I knew I was slacking a bit on milk because I was still eating bread and I knew good and well that the kind we had probably had milk in it.  But I was shocked by the soy.  Soy oil in my tortilla chips, Soy in my Jiff Peanut Butter, Soy in my salad dressing.
This was something new I hadn’t tried and was doable. The scientist in me smiled, an experiment was in order.  I ate nothing but fresh vegetables and fruit and meat all day, and used the Levsin Drops to head off the three worst fits of Naomi’s day.  And BUMM-Dada-BUMMMM! To my delight Naomi did better. So much better she slept from 9:30 p.m. until 3:00 a.m. in the morning and it is now 1:17 p.m. in the afternoon and we are still major fit free. (Feel free to applaud) (I totally did!) (Dorky… I know! J)

Enter new food revolution in our household: The MSPI Lifestyle! I went on and found two books, The Milk Soy Protein Intolerance (MSPI) Guidebook/Cookbook by Tamara Field and Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook by
Cybele Pascal
.  After Church, for the first time in six weeks, we swung by the Fresh Market and bought Almond milk, Rice Milk, three types of coconut milk ice cream and Daiya: Deliciously Dairy Free cheddar style shreds (a shredded cheese substance)-all of which are soy and dairy free.  I’ll keep you posted on how it all tastes. 

Mike is for the new foods because he needs to lose 35 pounds and this lifestyle diet is pretty much what all the health food experts prescribe anyway-fresh and homemade everything with as much organic stuff as possible.  I know it will be a challenge.  Most of the foods out there have ingredients that prevent us from eating them. That means I will have to cook almost everything fresh and from scratch. But right now I don’t mind at all! If it helps out our baby girl and makes this family healthier it will be more than worth it. For the first time in weeks I have some hope and I’m just tickled to my fingertips! J