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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Mindful New Years Eve

Well in advance, I knew New Years Eve would be a day largely without my hardworking husband.

There wouldn't be new recipes for hors d'oeuvres that we all could thank Pinterest for or craft beers in champagne glasses (because we don't really like champagne, anyway.)

It was going to be a day with my gorgeous son, like almost any other, except for the knowledge that we would be on the edge of a relatively imaginary cliff, with a new 50%-off calendar on the other side.

Okay, I'll play ball.

If today is to set a precedent for the new year--if it's supposed to set an example--what should it look like?

This year's need for "example" has even more importance, since I and we are now responsible for another human being. Yes, he was here last year. But, he was days old, and I was still afraid of my newly postpartum body.

A few major categories began to emerge: reading something spectacular, nature, art, cooking, undivided attention, exercise, yoga/meditation.

The day was going to begin with a trip to a museum, there was going to be a walk through the park, but then life started to happen.

The new baby human places more emphasis on tradition; so, there is shopping to be done for the New Years Day meal. We need dog food. My husband hates our deodorant. We're almost out of toothpaste. I need to go to the post office.

Add in time for meals and tiny human naps, and there was no time for Andy Warhol at all.

There was a need to keep the spirit of the intended day in the day that was.

It became clear that the precedent to be set had nothing to do with categories and everything to do with what the categories represented: mindfulness.

The post office didn't open until 15 minutes after we arrived. (For those who don't know, 15 minutes of "nothing" is an eternity for a 1-year-old…and his mom.) We didn't meet this news with frustration, but saw an opportunity to walk together.

We didn't go into the pet store on autopilot, purchasing the same brand of food as last time. We read; we didn't rush, and we found a variety formulated to protect the joints of our pup who endured two knee surgeries last year.

There was scarcely a parking spot at the grocery store. Before entering, I talked to my son about anticipating the nuttiness of what we were about to walk into, and "we" took a slow deep breath. Inside, we moved at the pace of the crowd without foot-tapping or white knuckles, and we took the time to ooh and ahh at the orchids that stood as impulse buys between the produce and the deli.

We made a meal of fresh vegetables and a-few-day-old noodles that I was determined not to waste.

We played, and read poetry.

I exercised. I meditated.

The meal was purchased. Dog food, deodorant and toothpaste were bought. We mailed our packages.

Tomorrow will include time outside with no buildings in sight and wiping handfuls of paint across canvas.

We didn't live the day we set out to; we lived the day that came to us to the best of our ability, which is probably the only example that matters.

photo credit: riptheskull via photopin cc

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Vegetarian chili for those who hate rules

For those who read my previous Tweet and thought, "Mmm, vegetarian chili sounds good," I thought I'd share my dandy little recipe.

Honestly, I have no intention of telling you exactly how much of each item to include because A. I don't measure and B. the taste and spiciness of chili is extremely individual; so, grab some ground cayenne, and do your worst...or add the tiniest amount and still feel like a rebel.

Yet another perk of a meatless chili: You can taste as you go without risk of food borne illness from undercooked meat!

Gather these:
Olive oil
Peppers of any variety
Scallions (or other onion of choice)
1 can tomato paste
Bean(s) of choice
Diced tomatoes (2 canned or a boatload of fresh)
Spices of choice (chili powder, black pepper, cumin, cayenne pepper, garlic powder)
Zucchini and/or summer squash
Elbow macaroni-like noodle (optional)
Sour cream (optional)
Shredded cheese (optional)
Fresh cilantro (optional)

(Recommended amounts below serve 4-ish rather hungry people.)

Think of your grandmother's soup pot (you know, the one she had to store in the basement because no kitchen cabinet on earth is that big) and divide in half in order to select the correct sized pot. Grab the olive oil, take the cap off, flip it over and squiggle it around making pretty designs in the bottom of the pot until it's coated with a thin layer. Turn the heat on low.

Add 5-7 chopped scallions, 1.5-2 chopped bell peppers and 3-4 stalks chopped celery.

Have fun with the peppers: Any color or member of the pepper family is welcome.

Sidenote: If carrots, celery and onion is a mirepoix, what is the holy trinity of onion, celery and bell pepper called?


Let the menage-a-veggie sweat a little. (So, let them soften a bit.)

Add in one mini-can of tomato paste and mix. (Go lycopene!)

Spice it up: chili powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper, cumin and garlic powder are my go-to flavors.

Bring on the protein! All of the beans I use are prepared from dry then frozen.

According to my dosha, I should eat black beans, and I often do. (No, I'm not kidding.) Also, there's the whole undercooked-kidney-beans-can-make-you-really-sick thing that I'm too paranoid to tempt.

Two bean varieties add visual appeal, like black and great northern, for example.

How much? I add beans until the distribution looks like I'd get at least one bean per bite. Pretty scientific, eh?

Next, 1-1.5 small-to-medium zucchini and/or summer squash. (Remember that summer squash is a bit tougher and will take longer to cook. Also remember that summer squash adds a gorgeous splash of golden yellow to your dish.)

Last, add two large cans of diced tomatoes or a whole bunch of fresh or a mixture.

Served with elbow macaroni, sour cream, some shredded cheddar and fresh cilantro is kiss-your-fingertips fantastic.

This recipe's free-to-be-you-and-me lack of rigidity allows you to empty your fridge, use the veggies that are about to go limp and show some gratitude by using up all of what you already have. (Not to mention, it means you get every penny out of your last grocery store trip.)

Great. I made myself hungry.

photo credit: I Believe I Can Fry via photopin cc

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

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

And I quote your can of Diet Coke:


(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.