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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What is that warning on the side of your Diet Coke?

And I quote your can of Diet Coke:

PHENYLKETONURICS: CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE

(I'm not yelling; the warning appears in all capital letters.)

What does it all mean, man? It goes back to babies' second day of life.

When very new to this earth, newborns endure a "heel stick" which provides a very small amount of blood used to test for a variety of genetic disorders. Exactly which disorders are assessed is state-specific, but phenylketonuria (abbreviated PKU) is universal.

If you're wondering why it is so completely necessary to "traumatize" newborns in this way, the answer is a pretty good one: The tested disorders often have no symptoms at birth, but can result in serious disabilities or even death if undetected.

Like blue eyes, PKU is a genetically "recessive" condition, meaning that both mom and dad need to contribute a the "PKU gene" in order for their child to have the disorder. This results in one in every 10,000-15,000 babies testing positive for PKU--a disorder than can lead to brain damage and mental retardation or worse if not managed appropriately.

Proteins are made up of amino acids. Classic phenylketonuria renders the body unable to break down one of the amino acids found in proteins, phenylalanine, causing it to build up in the body. We all have a small amount of phenylalanine in our bodies, but individuals with PKU accumulate toxic levels.

Signs of classic PKU appear at about six months of age (if untreated) and include irritability, seizures, eczema, musty body odor, pale hair and skin and developmental delays.

What's super tough about managing this disorder is phenylalanine's presence in all proteins, plus artificial sweeteners.

Yep, I said all.

Artificial sweeteners are easy enough to avoid, though it does require a lot of label reading, but how do you avoid protein?

It begins with by-prescription, phenylalanine-free formula and foods naturally or modified to be low in protein. A supplement that helps to break down phenylalanine may be added to handle whatever amount the child does encounter.

Handling the biological portion of this disorder is complicated, but think about having PKU and trying to attend a friend's birthday party or a fourth of July cookout.

How are these families supported? Through a handful of professionals.

Dietitians are intimately involved in the care of these individuals, knowing exactly how to balance the substances they need to avoid with gaining the necessary nutrients.

Support groups give the afflicted and their families methods of coping with the disorder practically and socially.

Genetic counselors may be utilized to gain understanding about the disorder and the chances of the same couple having another child affected, which ranges from 25 to 100-percent depending on the parents' genetic makeup.

A family physician is involved to orchestrate the findings from these specialists and monitor the physiological portion of the disease, at the very least.

How about that: There's something very important written on the side of your soda can.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Vegetarian and Pretty Darn Clean Corn and Potato Chowder

Your presence here is historic.

This marks my first original recipe. Fear not, however, I've eaten it, and I guarantee that this will be the best vegetarian potato, corn, chowdery thing you've ever eaten from a crock pot that was recommended by a blogger named Abby. (Okay, it's not a real guarantee, but I do think you'll enjoy it.)

Here it goes.




photo credit: whitneyinchicago via photopin cc

Vegetarian, Vegan and Pretty Darn Clean…
Corn and Potato Chowder...made in a crock pot

1 pound potatoes (I used red.)
12-16 oz bag frozen corn (or be really fancy and roast some on the cob and add…without the cob)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon thyme (I used fresh.)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1-1.5 teaspoons chopped rosemary (I used fresh.)
1/2 shallot
4 cups vegetable broth
2/3 cup heavy cream

Clean and cut potatoes (long-ways, then across…usually into 6-8 pieces, depending on the size of the potato). Yes, potatoes are the Dirty Dozen list of the most pesticide-ridden edibles. So, clean thoroughly and move on, or buy/grow organic.

Add cut potatoes, frozen corn and very thinly sliced shallots to crock pot.

Add flour and turn over ingredients with a spoon to coat them evenly.

Add all spices.
Since you've already added shallots, do you really need to add onion powder? Probably not, but I haven't tried it that way; so, I assume no responsibility for your potentially bland soup if you do not add it.

Add vegetable broth.

Cook until potatoes are soft enough to be speared with a knife.
Let's be honest. Recommending an amount of time to leave this soup in your crock pot is entirely dependent upon the size of your crock pot and how temperamental it may or may not be. And how often you lift the lid. And if you followed the recipe exactly. Bank on at least 4 hours on the low setting.

When the potatoes are soft enough, add the cream, and continue to cook until cream is warm.
You can leave it on "keep warm" for a few hours, if need be.

If you feel like impressing someone, garnish with some chopped, fresh parsley or a sprig of thyme.

Friday, October 3, 2014

5 reasons why you should be using dry beans


Photo credit: swong95765 via photopin cc

It's one of those grocery store autopilot moves. Push your cart. Grab a can of beans for the upcoming week's batch of chili.

I propose a different method: dry beans.

Purchased in bulk or from pre-portioned bags, the smaller, dry and hard versions of the beans to which you've become accustomed demand a little more attention up front with several benefits making the time investment worth your while.

1. They're cheap. Depending on variety and the size of the bean, one pound of dry beans yields about four cans of pre-prepared beans. The best part? That pound of dry beans costs less than $2.50, or about half of what you would spend on the canned version.

For those keeping track, that's half the price for twice as much.

2. Less waste Not only does that one pound of dried beans decrease your monetary cost, but it decreases cost to the environment and our collective resources by knocking out the use of four metal cans, paper labels and ink in favor of a very thin, small plastic or paper bag.

3. No BPA Bisphenol A (known as BPA) is an unsavory additive to many plastics, thermal paper (used for receipts) and is known to line the inside of cans so that the food is not in direct contact with the metal. It is also known to mimic estrogen, potentially causing a litany of health problems.

In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identified possible hazards to fetuses, infants and young children, which it then ignored in 2013 stating that BPA is safe at the very low levels found in some foods. (Other countries such as Canada, the European Union and Japan have more strict standards on this crappy little chemical.)

Seems to me that we should be doing our best to avoid BPA, which you can do easily by avoiding the use of canned beans.

4. Taste No need to bury the lede: Dry beans taste better. It sounds silly; I know. I didn't believe it myself until I ate my second helping of "homemade" great northern beans. Then, I tried black beans. Then, kidney beans. There is a subtlety to the flavor of these legumes that, to me (and my, potentially, unrefined palette), is undetectable with their canned counterparts.

5. Accessibility Rather than opening an entire can of beans when you wish to use a smaller amount, never knowing if you'll actually use the remainder of the can before it spoils, bags of prepared beans in the freezer allow you to use the magical fruit in any quantity without risk of waste. Not to mention, the ease of use may just inspire you to add the heart and gut-healthy little morsels to your meals far more often.

So, here's how you do it. Take your dry beans (as much as you want--don't feel pressured to make the whole pound at once) and rinse them in a colander. Place them in a bowl to soak in plenty of water for six-to-eight hours or overnight. They'll puff up, but they still aren't ready to eat in that they're still "raw". Add them to a pot with enough water to cover the beans, and bring them to a boil until they are soft enough to eat, which often takes 30-40 minutes.

What happens next is up to you. If you'll use them quickly enough, store them in the fridge. If not, store them in the freezer.

This super affordable food is backed with antioxidants, fiber, protein, B vitamins, iron, magnesium copper and zinc, and, not to mention, is a great way to get all of those nutrients without the saturated fat (and other undesirables) found in most animal proteins.

Whether you're searching for your next Meatless Monday recipe or to make your Mama's ham and bean soup, dried beans are an economical, tasty and satisfying way to truly cook from scratch.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mommy-and-me virgin no more: Tips and observations


Photo credit: Frisco Public Library via photopin cc
1. Pat-Pat-Clap...
...does not mean you're about to break into We Will Rock You. The time you spend lamenting this truth and singing the Queen super-hit in your head will completely distract you from whichever nursery rhyme you're suppose to be pat-pat-clapping to.

Similar, yet deserving of its own bullet…

2. Repeating "hush" twice in a "hushed" voice is not a tribute to Deep Purple. Again, very distracting from baby rhymingness.

3. Those short people are thieves.
My husband and I are only children, which means two things: (1) We don't have siblings, nor do we have nieces or nephews, and (2) we have the personalities of only children. So, our son hasn't had a lot of experience with other children.
His first? A toddler who stole the toy he was playing with. (This is merely an observation, not a complaint. Little Winona Ryder's mom handled the situation flawlessly.)

4. Do not overdress. No one will like you.
There were baseball hats, workout clothes, cardigans and jeans. By that measure, I fit right in. By another, however…

5. Makeup, the great divider
I spoke to one other mom at this slobbery shindig: the other mom who dared to line her eyes. She even wore--not gloss, not Chapstick--honest-to-God lipstick, IN PLUM. What a hussy.

6. Protect your crack.
I must credit my fellow make-up-wearer with this bit of advice.
"I found an extra-long tank top to tuck into my jeans because I knew I'd be doing this," as she reached out for her daughter from hands-and-knees.
Noted, wise one.

7. Book Babies is not puppy class.
When our Treeing Walker coonhound/beagle mix was a four-month-old wild man, we attended a puppy class that began with the dogs freely running around the room. It was social, spirited, energy-zapping and unbelievably entertaining, maybe even for the dogs.
Any thoughts I had about mommy and me being a similar event were quickly quashed.
The experience was completely sanitized by the moms' concern over toy stealing, accidental hitting and God knows what else.
Classify this behavior up there with peanut-free classrooms, sports where everyone makes the team and Gaylord Focker's 6th place trophy.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

When watching football becomes a parenting decision



Here's something I thought I'd never say: The NFL has left me with a lot to think about.

Growing up, football-watching was simple. Every Steeler football Sunday, Mom made a fresh batch of homemade spaghetti sauce; the aroma would taunt me for the entire day, but there was no eating until after the game. Sometimes we'd mute the TV and turn on the radio to listen to Myron Cope. The entire feeling of a chilly Sunday was soundtracked by the NFL jingle, Terry Bradshaw and the feeling of my worn-in sweatpants.

My son probably won't have the same memories.

With the proliferation of child abuse and domestic violence claims--not to mention the drug charges and weapons charges that have polka-dotted the past several years--a league that represented everything warm, family-oriented and pumpkin-spiced on a Sunday afternoon has become a series of negative examples, showing what not to do.

(Maybe there was something misguided in the first place about centering family activities around a sport which promotes aggression and the physical domination of other human beings. ESPN's Hannah Storm astutely pointed out that there's something fishy about encouraging player aggressiveness on the field and expecting the opposite in the rest of their lives.)

We don't own our children; they are only ours to care for. As a result, their (non-self-destructive) preferences are certainly not ours to dictate. However, it is becoming the case that we simply cannot run the risk of the Adrian Petersons of the world becoming idols of the most recent batch of human beings.

It is becoming the case that we cannot be football fans.

And the problem runs so much deeper than the quality of the individuals being drafted by NFL teams.

Roger Goodell--because of his vast experience as a battered woman, one can only assume--has decided that the first incident of domestic violence by an NFL player is aptly countered by a six game suspension.

Because the woman's emotional scars will only last that long? Certainly not.

Because the public will only care for that long? Well, maybe.

For some reason, we are quickly distracted when it comes to our athletes. There is emotion wrapped up in growing up a fan, the home team, the rivalries, the tradition of that Sunday afternoon.

Most people had negative feelings toward Ray Lewis, but calling him an expletive is maybe too often as much of a stand as any of us took.

The NFL is preying on our short attention spans and appealing to whatever emotion we have invested in our teams. Domestic violence earns a six week suspension because that's how little the NFL thinks of our integrity, our gusto, our ability to stick to our guns. And, maybe because that's all we've ever shown them.

It might be time to show them something new. Something with a little more guts. Something that is unpleasant for those raised to be football fans. Something that protects our sons and stands up for our daughters.

Maybe Sundays aren't for football anymore.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Crying it out, both of us: Night #1



 Photo credit: _Nezemnaya_ via photopin cc

The so-called crying-it-out method of training a child to soothe and put themselves to sleep is as hotly debated a topic as it comes. It's Saharan. It's a topic on a hot tin roof.

The concept can be traced back to a book published by Dr. Emmett Holt in 1895, but was popularized by Dr. Richard Ferber in 1985.

"Ferberizing" involves leaving your infant (four months of age or older) safely in their crib and returning to the room after increasing amounts of time until the child is asleep. For example, let him cry for three minutes, return (but don't pick up), five minutes, return, ten minutes, etc. Theoretically, the child is crying because they don't have the ability to soothe themselves--because they've always used some "crutch" such as cuddling, nursing, a bottle, etc.--something which the method strives to teach. Three-to-seven nights crying-until-he's-sleeping is supposed to deliver a child who is able to lay down at bedtime and fall asleep, sans drama.

Someone opposed to Ferberizing might argue that the method works not because of a profound psychological discovery, but because you are pushing the child to the point of sheer exhaustion.

Other fears surround long-lasting effects of not responding to the child when they need you.

If you listen to Erik Erikson, this point of a child's life strives to resolve "trust vs. mistrust": Either the child will learn to trust based on having their needs met (are fed when they cry, for example) or the opposite.

This last little tidbit echoed in my mind and rattled my soul for the better part of my son's first year. Then, circumstances changed.

The following is stream-of-consciousness writing that occurred during the first night of my son's cry-it-out training.


It was the night when we both cried it out.
My son is currently screaming his face off, standing up in his crib while "learning to put himself to sleep".

How did we get here?

There was no way, no how I was ever going to employ the methods of "cry it out" (or CIO on mothering message boards)…until two weeks ago.

For 7 1/2 months, we had a so-so sleeper.

He's never slept through the night. (Thank you, Facebook friends, for bragging about your alien newborns who sleep for seven hour stretches, by the way.) He would wake one-to-three times per night, and I was okay with that. My body rhythms had adjusted to these wake ups, and anything seemed better than CIO.

Then came the eight month sleep regression. Regression is, in fact, a misnomer. Regression implies that his sleep returned to some former degraded level. No. It sank to an all-time low. He woke up with every sleep cycle (every 90 minutes) all night, every night.

The only remedy for a quick return to sleep each night was bedsharing.

Don't get me wrong. I am deeply connected to our son, and bedsharing only added to that mother-son intimacy; however, it woke my husband more than was acceptable for what his job requires, which landed me and baby in bed and my first love on the couch.

The first week was cute. It was warm, cuddly and everything I'll probably look back fondly upon when our beautiful son and his hormones are rolling his eyes at me.

And then, it wasn't quite as adorable.

The novelty had worn off for both of us, and his previously deep, comforted levels of sleep were replaced by tossing, turning, head-flipping, kicking and hair-pulling, waking both of us up all too frequently. Not to mention, my 6'5" husband on our 6'3" couch.

Some mornings I was an utter zombie, or, at the very least, was using huge amounts of energy to keep my crabbiness to a minimum and my patience at nearly normal levels.

Plus, husband time had taken a serious hit. Our two nightly hours of time to ourselves was replaced by entertaining an over-tired eight-month-old, and nights of cuddling my head into my husband's chest were a distant memory.

The benefits I thought I was giving our son by not "teaching him to soothe himself" (by crying it out) were now far outweighed by his need for sleep, my need for sleep and his parents need to…not always be parents.

I was doing him absolutely no favors with the current set-up.

So, here I sit. Night number one of crying it out.

He was "drowsy and awake". He ate a fat-kid helping of organic vanilla yogurt with homemade pureed pears.

I can't even write that sentence without second-guessing myself.

My child is (still) screaming, nearly 45 minutes into this "method", while I sit idly by, but I bother with organic yogurt and homemade baby food because I'm paranoid about BPA, pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones? Should I just throw in the towel entirely and feed him Mac 'n Cheese tomorrow?

What a fraud.

No, Abby, you aren't a fraud. You're teaching him to get a much better night sleep than he has been getting. Your Montessori lessons won't do much good to a fussy and tired child, and you'll be the best mother you can be if you're well-rested. Oh, and you'll have a full conversation with your husband again.

Yeah. That's it. That's why I'm doing this.

My body feels like it's shaking a bit. It's not (I checked), but it feels like it. I can feel my heart beating against my rib cage.

My phone is vibrating with 42 alerts from all the Facebook cloth diapering co-ops to which I belong, which is nothing other than irksome.

Again, cloth diapering. I'm bothering to use cloth diapers to avoid the chemicals that otherwise rub against my little angel's skin, to help the environment (and to save a few bucks)…and my baby is screami…

Wait a second. It's quiet. HE'S quiet. Fifty minutes. We survived.

Now, if he doesn't hate me in the morning…

For the record, he didn't.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Effects of chickenpox vaccine on development of shingles yet to be seen

As published in the Washington Observer-Reporter

As though chickenpox isn't enough of a scourge on its own, the virus (varicella-zoster virus) that causes the itchy blisters also gifts humanity with pox's daughter, shingles.

Commercials, brought to Americans by trusty pharmaceutical companies, have taught that one must have had chicken pox in order to be at risk for shingles later in life. The virus that causes both illnesses takes up residence inside nerves until a chance to reemerge later, such as times of increased stress, trauma or immune system compromise.

While this is true, the effect of the chickenpox vaccine, which was first recommended for routine use in 1995, on the incidence of shingles is a slightly more complicated topic. These individuals' immune systems never actually fight the virus but are exposed to it just enough to develop antibodies capable of preventing an actual infection in the future. But, is this low-grade exposure to the varicella-zoster virus enough to cause shingles?

An informal poll of physicians yielded conflicting answers to this question, with many siting the "promise" of shingles prevention as a part of the presumed value of the chickenpox vaccine when it was first promoted.

On the other hand, a recent study discusses a six-fold increase of shingles across all age groups, including children.

The answer seems to lay in the somewhat unpredictable behavior of live attenuated (or weakened) vaccines.

"Since the (chickenpox) vaccine is a live virus, it's possible that the attenuated virus lives in your nerves just like the real varicella-zoster virus," said Dr. Marc Yester, a pediatrician at Peters Township's Pediatrics South. "That makes it possible to reactivate like the real virus; although, it would be a lot less likely to, and, if it did, it should be a much, much milder version."

The "would" and "should" are the result of timing.

"We're just now seeing how the varicella vaccine works as kids grow up," said Dr. Yester, noting that those first vaccinated are around only 20 years old.

A complete answer to the question may not come for quite some time as the number one risk factor for shingles is increasing age. It is estimated that 50-percent of those living to age 85 will have an episode of shingles with 32-percent of Americans expected to have an episode during their lifetimes.

Varicella-zoster virus may cause both chickenpox and shingles, but their rashes have personalities all their own differing in both distribution on the body and pain.

"The location (of shingles) is going to follow one nerve and show up only in the area the the nerve covers," said Dr. Yester. "But, the standout feature is the pain; Very few rashes come with this kind of pain."

Pain that is preventable up to 50-percent of the time by the shingles vaccine, available to those 50 years old or older. Not only does the vaccine prevent these unpleasant episodes, but they also work to decrease the incidence of the chicken pox since shingles, too, is contagious with direct contact--an improvement upon the chickenpox which is also communicated when the individual coughs or sneezes, sending the virus into the air.

While society and scientists wait to witness the effects of the chickenpox vaccine on developing shingles, we can speak in terms of odds.

"It does not surprise me that people can get shingles even if they've been vaccinated," said Dr. Yester. "The vaccine doesn't put up a force-field around us, but having the vaccine should lower the risk."