Friday, March 4, 2016

Healthcare north of the border.

Since the goal of universal healthcare is a big one for progressives in this country, and the topic is firmly in the spotlight this political season, I wanted to share my experience with universal healthcare as an American living in Canada a decade ago.

Canada's system is similar to what we would have if we instituted Medicare for all, which is essentially what Bernie Sanders is calling for. It's a universal healthcare system paid for with taxes, with national standards administered by provincial governments (Canada has provinces, we have states), with care provided by private doctors billing on a fee-for-service basis. The overall cost is much lower than what we spend on healthcare in the US, with much better outcomes--longer life expectancy, lower infant mortality rate, etc. There are many myths surrounding the Canadian system and how it works, and I thought it would be helpful for other Americans to see a glimpse of how the system works through my personal experience. I can't find a date of publication for it, but this breakdown out of Harvard is a good summary of the details of the Canadian system.

As a bit of background, I arrived in Canada in 2006 as one of many uninsured Americans. Moving out of my parents' house at 18, I began working full-time to support myself while also going to junior college, and was soon faced with the prospect of needing to cover my own health insurance costs. Working as a nanny in a private household, I had no option for employer-provided insurance, and ended up paying out of pocket for a Kaiser HMO plan for several years until I just couldn't afford it anymore. I spent the next several years uninsured, relying on my local Planned Parenthood for basic care mostly relating to reproductive health (and never even once had an abortion--crazy, right?). By the time I arrived in Canada, I hadn't been to a dentist in eight years, and hadn't seen a doctor outside of the phenomenal staff of Planned Parenthood for 3-4 years. And I was, clearly, extremely fortunate no medical emergency arose during that time. Many Americans are tragically not as lucky.

My status in Canada was as the recognized domestic partner of a working foreigner, and with that came the same exact level of care that every other Canadian enjoys. And once I became a student at Concordia University in Montreal, most of my care was provided by the student clinic on campus. And as luck would have it, after several years of no major health issues while being uninsured, I was struck with two somewhat serious health conditions while living in Canada. I was slightly thankful to be living where I was at the time, although, to be fair, one of the conditions was exacerbated by the climate. When a California-born-and-raised girl moves to the Great Frozen North, there are bound to be some adjustments, I suppose.

So how would I characterize my experience with universal healthcare? Fucking AWESOME, that's how.

The first medical need that arose was my then-yearly Pap smear and re-up on my birth control. Now, when I first moved to Montreal, I lived in what's considered the ghetto. Literally. I lived in St-Charles, the old Irish working class neighbourhood of the city, totally cut off from the rest of the city by a canal. Prostitutes worked the corner one block over and a man was stabbed to death in the street in front of my house. The neighbourhood was in the early stages of being gentrified, so the quintessential brick row houses were being snatched up for cheap by younger, trendy counterculture types, as well as investors looking to fix up buildings and charge astronomical rents. This is, unfortunately, the situation I found myself in. My anglophone landlords found my post looking for housing on Montreal's craigslist, had just completely gutted and beautifully remodeled a two-story duplex, and because I think they liked the idea of renting to Californians (we're basically the holy grail of Americans to Canadians), they oversold the neighbourhood just a tad. Again, the neighbourhood was actually in a great location physically, close to Old Montreal, where my ex worked, not far from downtown, and the canal itself was a beautiful greenbelt for, you know, like two months a year (okay, okay...maybe three). And coming from Marin County, one of the absolute most expensive places to live in the States, the rent seemed cheap to me.

And I'm giving you a thorough description of the neighbourhood because when I first contacted health services to make an appointment for a Pap smear and birth control, I was given the name of a neighbourhood clinic literally around the corner from my house (on the same block favoured by the prostitutes). I called and was given an appointment within a few days. Not knowing what to expect in the slightest, I was pleasantly surprised by both the clinic and the care I received. It was clean without the totally sterile and impersonal feeling of so many clinics here in the States, and the whole process had a much more laid back and personal vibe in general, while still retaining a very professional level of care and interaction. Afterward, I was able to fill my prescription for birth control at the little pharmacy downstairs and that was that.

Oh, and I didn't pay for any of it.

My first full winter was when both of my other ailments cropped up. The first was an extreme exacerbation of the osteoarthritis I have in the base joint of both thumbs, combined with some tendonitis in my right hand. I am severely double-jointed and unfortunately as a child learned to use my thumbs in a way that puts the wrong kind of pressure on that joint. Before moving to Montreal, I had very occasional minor pain after doing things that overly stressed that joint, like the weird way I hold my chopsticks. But things got so bad in Montreal, my hands became almost useless as I lost strength in my thumbs. I couldn't pull up my pants without turning my hands palms out to grip the hem between my fingers and palms. I literally didn't have the strength to pull them up using my thumbs on the inside of the hem, and the pain when I tried was excruciating. I had to learn new ways to grip and use things like my toothbrush, hairbrush, and hair dryer, and was constantly dropping things, such as dishes as I attempted to hold them in one had and scrub with the other. You don't think about how much you depend on the strength of your thumbs until you don't have it anymore. And the most frustrating part was barely being able to write--and as a history major, that was a serious, serious issue.

I finally contacted Concordia's student clinic and was almost immediately given an appointment with a specialist (who just happened to currently be studying the increasing rates of young women with osteoarthritis in that joint--what the hell, right?). They thoroughly tested the strength and flexibility of my hands and ordered x-rays to pinpoint the issue. Once the problem was established, they made not one, but three braces for me, totally molded to the exact shape of my hands and wrists--one resting brace for each wrist to wear in the evenings and overnight (super, super sexy, let me tell you), and one specialized brace to wear while I wrote to stabilize that joint. I also began physical therapy. Again, I didn't wait long for appointments, I received fantastic, comprehensive care, and I didn't pay for any of it. I can't tell you how many times I just stood there at a reception counter waiting for them to tell me how much I owed and the bizarre looks I received when I finally asked about it. The habit took a while to fade, as my brain just couldn't comprehend the fact that I was getting so much for literally nothing.

The other medical issue that arose for me while living in Montreal was sudden, severe, debilitating bouts of vertigo. Again, I contacted the university's clinic, was given an appointment immediately, was thoroughly examined, including having an EKG performed, was diagnosed with labyrinthitis, an inner ear condition, was given options for treatment, and followed up with. Efficient, comprehensive, compassionate, modern care for, again, nothing.

Now, I had more comprehensive care than some Canadians, as my ex's employer provided supplemental coverage for things like prescriptions, which are not covered under Canada's health plan, and I was able to receive wonderful care through Concordia University's clinic because of my status as a student (for which, I want to add, I was able to pay resident tuition because of my status, a laughable fraction of what a similar education would have cost me at home). But overall, universal healthcare in Canada works very, very well for most everyone for far less than what we spend on partial care for only a portion of our populace. And the reactions of Canadians to how we do things here can be summarized as various levels of horrification. I once stopped at a pharmacy with a Canadian friend to refill her prescription and asked her how long the wait would be. She looked at me quizzically and said, "Ummmmm, a minute or two? However long it takes them to grab it from the back?" My surprise at hearing this led to her asking how long it would take in the States, so I told her generally nothing less than 10-20min and it was not totally uncommon to wait hours or even days depending on your coverage and issues relating to communication and disagreements between your doctor, your insurance company, and the pharmacy. I will never forget the look of utter shock, disbelief, and indignation on her face.

That was 10 years ago. What is my current healthcare situation back in the States and now married with two kids? It's a bit lower starting this year, as we now qualify for help under Covered California, but for the past two years, we have paid roughly $1300 a month just for medical care--no dental, no vision--since the options provided by The Barbarian's company are even more expensive. In addition, we pay a $30 copay to see our regular doctor, and a $50 one to see specialists. We have fairly good coverage for prescriptions, but still pay well over $100 a month on prescriptions for the four of us. It's depressing and aggravating and doesn't have to be this way. Universal healthcare is not rocket science, and is provided by every other developed nation in the world, as well as some developing countries. This is a great look at universal healthcare in general, for those interested in reading more. Seriously, people--if Rwanda can make it work, I think the US can probably get its head out of its ass long enough to figure it out, no?

So there you have it. Universal healthcare does not equal death panels and bloated government programs. It is, in fact, a far more efficient system than what we have in the US with much better outcomes. However, insurance companies aren't able to ream people for basic medical care in a system like that, and that really is the crux of the issue in this country, isn't it? Because here in the US, we worship at the altar of our most venerated and holy Capitalism, and gosh darnit, corporations are people, too.

Or evil bastions of legal, institutionalized crime.

Depends on who you ask.          

Monday, February 1, 2016

Hard work.

Solo parenting is hard work.

(No, I will never not make the reference, even if just in my head.)

The Barbarian was out of town for three days the first full week of January, has been out of town for four days every week since, and leaves again today for another four-day stint before we finally get to have him home for more than a few days in a row.

As you can imagine, we're all pretty fucking over it.

But being that we're now two years into this venture (wtaf), there is certainly a bit of an old hat feeling to much of it. The wee folk sob for him less, I keep the house clean more. I send him fewer "FUCK ALL THIS SHIT I'M LEAVING" texts and have stopped hating him more each day he's gone. He used to joke that he could tell how many days he'd been gone based on the curtness of my texts. But these days I'm mostly nice up till the very last day. Mostly. I think we've all just learned to put our heads down and barrel through, honestly. Survival mechanism and all that.

The one part we still really struggle with, though, is his return home, as weird as that may sound. Like most couples, The Barbarian and I have different ways of doing things, but when he's gone, it's solely The Mama Show. ALL MAMA, ALL THE TIME, MY DARLINGS! My blessed and fortunate children, right? And I think it would be damn near impossible for me to run any sort of highly regimented operation at this point, so we're not talking hard and fast rules and schedules or anything, but the wee folk and I have a fairly good routine these days when it comes to at least the major points in our day--mostly the hourlong nonstop stream of demands from every corner known as first thing in the morning, the sit-down-and-shut-up period after lunch known as quiet time, and the for-the-love-of-the-gods-please-go-the-fuck-to-sleep-as-quickly-as-humanly-possible-so-I-can-breathe-for-a-fucking-minute chunk of the evening known as bedtime. I'm a bit of a task-master when it comes to those routines and the wee folk generally don't push back too much when it comes to cooperating (keeping in mind they're still three, of course), so these days, bedtime especially is a fairly well-oiled operation: jams, meds, teeth, books, rocking, tuck, kiss, go the fuck to sleep. BAM.

Now, The Barbarian is a bit of a stubborn, contrarian fucker, a personality trait we, for better or worse, share. So when he gets home from a trip, he understandably has a bit of a chip on his shoulder from being so left out, and comes in balls blazing, The Daddy Show geared up and raring to go.

And on the one hand, that's AWESOME. I have always touted the benefits and rightness of women, the primary caretakers in our culture (all cultures?), stepping back and letting men be their natural ol' menself when it comes to interacting with and caring for children. Yes, men are at times horrifyingly rough and tumble, often have a seemingly innate and insurmountable disregard for the schedules and routines we women so thoughtfully and painstakingly--through vast trial and error--establish, and have apparently all attained "mismatch clothes to the point of eyeball fatigue" level: master. But as difficult as these things are on our patience (and senses), they are inarguably GOOD for our kids. My kids are phenomenally strong and coordinated for their age. You know why? Because The Barbarian has been tossing them around, hanging them from things, letting them climb up his dreads, and balancing them on his palms since they were practically newborns, the circus act balancing tricks beginning at four months or so. He models patience and resilience for them way more often and more consistently than I do, and societal precepts about fashion can most definitely go fuck themselves (although there really is a consensus on multiple loud, bright patterns together within the same outfit, boys--just FYI).

Anyway, the point is that children need loving, devoted, engaged, empathetic adults of both genders to be part of their lives just as each of those individuals feels comfortable and sees fit being (and clearly I am working off a painfully stereotypical description of the roles men and women play in the lives of children, so the reality is, of course, happily more diverse and nuanced).


If bedtime is 6pm, bedtime is fucking 6pm FOR A REASON. A very GOOD reason, in fact, the proof of validity of which shouldn't be called into being ever again if at all possible. (Whatever, that technically makes sense...I think.)

I can't even fathom coming home from a trip and having my kids eschew my help and comfort and authority in favour of The Barbarian's. I have very little patience for anything uncooperative progeny as it is, and to have to almost start over after every trip? Fuck that. But children crave and thrive on routine, so when The Barbarian gets home and turns The Daddy Show up to 11, there's naturally some pushback, and I really do strive to be as empathetic as possible in those situations. But I must confess my empathy does, indeed, begin to wane with each minute that passes beyond the time at which bedtime should have been started. There is a criminally small window during which bedtime must be completed or all bets are off and good fucking luck getting that accomplished anytime soon and/or without very loud, very annoying, very much makes you want to throw things protestations from one or both of them.

So it all comes down to balance. Seriously, go crazy, my dear--put them in headache-inducing jams and do the probiotic gummies before the chewable allergy meds. Bedtime is your canvas. 



I, too, pull my own internal and external jackassery immediately after he comes home, of course. I especially seem to want to go out of my way to take offense to random things he's done as if they're some sort of passive-aggressive silent commentary on the results of my housekeeping while he's away. For instance, he let me read and nap during the late afternoon and early evening Saturday while he did dinner and bedtime with the kids, and I later found some produce from the fridge in the trash. Now, this is produce that has been in the fridge for weeks, is absolutely rotten, and are all things I have looked at and told myself to throw away several times recently. But of course I never did. And now he has.

THAT FUCKER. The very first full day he's home and already making underhanded statements about my laziness and wastefulness? What the FUCK? This is MY fucking kitchen, dude. You don't like the way I ignore rotten produce, you get the fuck out.

That instead of, you know, coming first to the far more rational explanation of The Barbarian just trying to be helpful now that he's home--especially knowing I have issues with cleaning in general the fridge out.

But anyway.

Transitions are hard work. You know what helps them, though? Open, respectful communication, and striving to give your partner the benefit of the doubt. So, like, I say, "Dude, calm the fuck down, I'm just trying to help you. HELP ME HELP YOU." And instead of getting all defensive and feeling oppressed, he says, "Yeah, yeah, I know. You're right. You're always right. I hate you." And I say, "I know."

And then we move on!

Well, at least until the next time he comes home. 'Cause we've been at this for two years, as I mentioned, and we are still struggling with this shit. And the home/away split of parental duties creates this challenge regardless of whether there's travel involved. It's hard to transition between The Mama Show and The Daddy Show, or vice versa. It just is. So even though I'm beyond overextended when he gets home, having done double-duty filling in for my very hands-on and involved, emotionally-giving powerhouse of a partner, and he's fucking beyond exhausted, having flown across country and back, working almost nonstop the entire time, in a sales and therefore very *ON* capacity no less, we both do what we can to dig a little (LOT) deeper for the patience to keep that dialogue open and respectful, and the compassion to give each other the benefit of the doubt before even opening our mouths.

So we dig. And digging, as you know, is...

Say it with me...


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

English muffins masquerading as Australian toaster biscuits.

Once upon a time, Oroweat produced and sold a product called Australian Toaster Biscuits, and they were fucking delicious. They were light and airy, yet dense and squishy at the same time, and essentially melted in your mouth, even, and especially, after toasting them. Top them with butter and jam and life was good, man.

However, at some point, in a fit of apparent insanity, they stopped making them. What the everliving fuck, Oroweat? You also used to make very decent breads that are now essentially all nearly tasteless and sliced so ridiculously thin, they turn to hard, crunchy wafers long before they're even properly toasted. For shame, Oroweat. FOR SHAME.

The other day I got a wild hair up my ass to find a copycat recipe and try them myself. Many references I found online compared them to crumpets. Now, clearly an American bread company is less likely to care about making an authentic Australian recipe, and hell, perhaps nothing akin to their product ever even existed in Australian cuisine. What I do know, though, is that Australian toaster biscuits ARE NOT CRUMPETS. Don't get me wrong--I love me some crumpets. And they're definitely on my list of things to try at home, with all those little tunnels for the butter and jam to hide in, and the juxtaposition of the crispy edging and squishy, buttery, jammy interior. Mmmhmmm. But if I wanted to make crumpets, I would just make crumpets, people. What I want is some godsdamn toaster biscuits. SHEESH.

So I eventually landed on this one and gave them a go. The verdict? SO FUCKING DELICIOUS. However? NOT FUCKING TOASTER BISCUITS. LIKE, AT ALL. And I've made the recipe three times now and the dough has never turned out thin enough to even need the baking rings she has you make, so, yeah. I'm pretty good at following recipes, but something doesn't translate with this one.

The good news? These are actually AMAZING English muffins! Who knew?! And seeing as we're big fans of English muffins around here and they were also on my list of things to try at home, I think of this recipe as a total win. Especially because the wee folk LOVE them. Like, so much. Like, King Toad Agooga will eat three of them toasted with butter in one sitting much. And they're perfect and super tasty toasted and used for little sandwiches. Hell, they're even delicious just eaten as is. And the measurements and method are easy to remember, too, which is something I always appreciate, not liking to have to refer to recipes all the time.

Let's do this, then, shall we?

1 cup warm water (110F)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons oil (mild-tasting, I like grapeseed)
3/4 cup warm milk (110F)

Dissolve sugar and yeast in water and set aside to activate for 10min. Whisk flour and salt together, then add oil, milk, and yeast water, mixing with a hand-mixer till smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and set somewhere warm to rise for an hour.

Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium-low heat and sprinkle fairly generously with corn meal. Give the dough a stir to deflate it a bit, then, working in batches, scoop out 1/4 cup at a time and drop into skillet. Cook for 10min, then flip and cook for another 8min. Add more corn meal between batches. Cool on wire rack at least 10min before slicing.

Makes roughly a baker's dozen and I have no idea how long they'll stay fresh because we've literally never had any last longer than the next day. I'm guessing they'll stay pretty tasty for at least a few days in an airtight container. Pre-slicing and freezing would also work well.


-My sister Auntie Fancy once recommended years ago using the oven with the light on as a good place to let dough rise and I still use this method, the light helping to achieve just the right ambient temperature.

-The second time I made them, I subbed 1 cup whole wheat flour and although they didn't rise nearly as much, they were also delicious.

-Definitely aim for the lower end of medium-low, as they need to cook long and low and will brown too quickly if set too high. Aim for even lower if using whole wheat flour.

-Since this is a yeast dough, it'll be airy and bubbly and tricky to scoop. I use my opposite finger as I'm scooping to help squish the dough into the measuring cup to make sure I'm getting the proper amount, and then wipe the excess off the sides/rim before scooping it all back out into the skillet with said finger.

And I always love being surprised while making new recipes, especially when it comes to a method I had never before considered, like how English muffins end up toasty on top and bottom but not around the sides. I literally never considered the fact that they aren't baked in an oven, they're toasted on a hot surface. Mind blown.

So there you have it! These do take some prep time, but since my wee Hobbits prefer many breakfasts, I like to start the dough first thing and then cook them a little later in the morning for second or third breakfast.

Then we snack on them all day.

Because why not?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Making sense of my messy mind.

Okay, fuck it. Let's talk about my new mental health diagnosis. It'll be a gas. I promise.

I started therapy for depression when I was 11, and was eventually diagnosed with clinical depression (also known as major depression or major depressive disorder), leading eventually to hospitalization and a short but fairly horrible go with an early antidepressant. A diagnosis and experience like that becomes part of your identity going forward, especially, I think, when experienced so young. But apart from the diagnosis and whatever coping skills I clearly learned during my months of therapy and weeks of hospitalization, I don't remember much about it (which may be a coping mechanism in and of itself). And I certainly never thought to track down my records or any other info relating to that time in my life--that is, until I found myself dealing with postpartum depression while also fully realizing the implications of being a parent now and having potentially passed some of my mental health issues on to my children. However, it's been 25 years (holy fuck) since all that went down and there is essentially zero reason to believe my records even exist anymore--not to mention the fact that the hospital I was a patient in closed within a decade of my stay. I would love nothing more than to be able to delve into my childhood mind, but alas. 

Beginning therapy last summer, I didn't expect any sort of new diagnosis, as clinical depression is, you know, plenty to deal with. But it turns out there has been something else going on in my mind that, in reality, has and continues to affect my behaviour and inner dialogue and sense of self far more, I think, than depression. And who knows if it was diagnosed as well all those years ago, but it is extraordinarily clear now that I have been dealing with this other mental shadow my entire life, and its effects have morphed in bizarre ways over the years. 

The diagnosis? Oppositional defiant disorder, or ODD. And let's please just take a moment to appreciate the fact that I have been professionally diagnosed as ODD, shall we? I mean, right? So great. 

Okay, so what is this special brand of ODD? It's generally an adolescent diagnosis focusing on a child or teen's issues with authority and the behaviour that comes with it. Clearly essentially all young people go through a period of questioning authority, and many adults, of course, retain that badge their whole lives. But ODD is something different than the basic stick-it-to-the-man attitude held by some, and is often a more common issue of highly intelligent folk, as the focus becomes one of defying those you believe hold misplaced authority. And the defiant bit is important, as there's very much an active element to the disorder.

I want to stop here and toss something out that, in all honesty, makes me uncomfortable, as there is no way to discuss my mental health issues without referring to it. I am a highly intelligent, and consequently highly creative, person, and I am forcing myself to come to terms with being able to say that and not feel like I sound like an utterly arrogant bastard. The creative bit I hadn't ever really considered until recently (this shocked my therapist), but I've clearly known about the intelligent factor my whole life. So even though I've been conditioned by society to not flaunt my intelligence in general (us smart kids learn that lesson early--less bullying that way), I'm beginning to learn how it's affected my mental health over the years, and how important a factor it's been in me becoming, well, me. So I will be referring to my intelligence during my discussions of my mental health out of necessity, not because I really (want to admit I) am an utterly arrogant bastard.

Glad we got that settled.

So, why was I given a typically adolescent diagnosis at 35? Well, because the shit's insidious and long-lasting for some of us apparently. After just a couple sessions with my therapist, I had a revelation that I become stressed and fussy and often downright paralyzed in the face of expectations, regardless of size or import. And this is really the crux of my ODD because this issue with expectations has ginormous consequences in terms of my life path thus far, as well as just my basic interactions with people and the world around me. And it was bringing this idea up that made my therapist reach for the DSM-5 for a diagnosis that day. 

A mental health diagnosis is not always a panacea or even particularly helpful to a patient in a practical way. However, this one blew my fucking mind, and honestly, continues to, as it touches on the core of who I am and how I self-identify. There's so much there, it's hard to know where to start, and is why I've hesitated to write about it before now. I'm sure there will be followup posts, but for now, we'll just dive in somewhere and see where it takes us.

I had a lot of expectations placed on me starting at a very young age, and not in a harsh, disciplinarian way, but they were expectations nonetheless. And honestly, I was already defying expectations in utero, seeing as I was four days shy of being a month late. I held my head up immediately in the hospital, sat at three months, crawled at four months, and walked at seven months. I was without question the smartest kid in every class, in all subjects, and was one of the very best at everything I did, whether dance, gymnastics, singing, theatre, sports, instruments, you name it. And on top of it all, I was ridiculously mature for my age, gregarious, funny, confident, pretty, etc., etc. 

I was THAT kid. And I was expected to do great things. Except I didn't. Starting at age nine, which also happens to be the age I started my period (I was already developing breasts by age seven), fulfilling the expectations of the doting, loving, excited adults around me lost its luster apparently. Again, I was defying expectations off the bat, but it began taking a different track at that point, and instead of simply not caring if I was meeting expectations, I began getting off on the act of purposely choosing to act in a way contrary to what was expected of me. My 4th grade teacher was on the committee developing new GATE (gifted and talented education) curriculum for the district, and to keep me, the classic highly intelligent yet bored student, engaged in school, she asked and received permission from my parents to test out new lesson plans on me. In addition, a small group of us from class would get to meet separately with a parent or teacher's aid weekly to work on our current GATE curriculum. One of the other GATE students was a boy who lived down the street from me, and his mom often oversaw our GATE work. I remember vividly walking home from the bus stop with him one day and having him sheepishly admit that his mom didn't like me, something I had already gleaned, always having been a good reader of people. Why didn't she like me? Because I didn't do my work. It bored me and I didn't see the point, so I didn't do it. And she couldn't stand me for it. 

Was I upset by this information? Fuck no. I LOVED it. I felt fucking fantastic. I couldn't give a shit about being liked by someone's mom, and got off on the fact that I could elicit such strong emotions from an adult just by simply not doing what was expected of me. And there began the beginning of the end of my promising educational career. You would expect someone as bright and talented as me to go far in the world of education and careers, right? Perfect, then I'm not gonna. I'm gonna eek by, not do any of my homework yet ace every test, end up on independent study in junior high, skip 8th grade entirely, barely make it through my freshman year, and finish up high school at a small, alternative high school--and that was accomplished only barely. Then off to college because that's what you do apparently, only to drop far more classes than I ever finished, most dropped at the end of the semester, too, after kicking ass and placing myself at the top of the class from day one. Even though I love learning, the bullshit hoops you're forced to go through to prove you know something in school is something I find incredibly obnoxious. And even though deep down inside, I hated letting my professors down (at least the ones I liked and respected), part of me got off on being privately told by more than one professor that I was one of the best students they had ever had and they hated seeing me give up at the end of the semester, when the expectations really came down to the wire. I literally had professors beg me to just give them something, anything they could log and grade me on so I didn't end up with yet another unfinished class. 

But, you know, meh. That's not who I am, you see. I like to keep people guessing. I'm rarely if ever into the latest trend, and often am not into it simply because it's the latest trend. Oh, everyone's doing that? Well, I'm not gonna. Imma have a sandwich. I like dichotomies. I like being the unexpected. I like going against the grain, even if the only person it really negatively affects is myself. Because here's the thing about ODD that really fucking sucks: The common thread is defining yourself not by what you are, but by what you're not. And that, friends, is the epitome of self-sabotage. Because who are you saying no to in that instance? Who are you really defying?

The answer? Yourself. Most decisions come to be made in the negative, not informed necessarily by what you want, but by what you don't want. Your whole sense of self and identity becomes informed by a reaction to and pushback of what other people are and do and like and think, and especially what they expect of you. And although the process can lead you to really great, out of the norm things, it's an existence full of nots and don'ts and aren'ts. 

And it's criminally, hurtfully self-defeating.

Okay, wow, there is so, so much more I want to (and will eventually) say on this topic, as there are several more ways in which it has seriously affected my life and especially my interactions with others. 

But we'll stop here for today. Because perhaps this didn't turn out as gassy as I promised, eh?

I'll work on that for next time. 

But don't expect too much.      

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Low-FODMAP cooking hacks.

I could really get used to these rainy mornings. Especially when I get to write. Writing and rain just go together, don't they? (I'm fighting the urge to insert some sort of "write as rain" pun here...wait, did I just lose?) Add in some Joshua Tree, coffee, and a little pit ball of love cuddled next to me, and it's like something out of dream. Ahhhhhhhhhh...

You know what's not like something out of a dream, though? Cooking sans onions and garlic. That resides squarely in nightmare territory, friends. I mean, seriously, right? They're basically their own food group to cooks and finding out they're potentially one of the culprits of IBS was really fucking depressing. Not to mention the fact that they're hidden in many of my go-to snacks (I'm looking at you, various delicious Triscuit varieties like Rosemary and Olive Oil and Dill and Sea Salt), and condiments (damn you, Worcestershire and Stubb's Original BBQ Sauce).

But you know what? I love a fucking challenge--especially in the kitchen. So I turned, of course, to the wisdom of the interwebs and have discovered some fabulous workarounds. So much so, that, if I'm being completely honest here...wait for it...I find myself not really missing garlic and onions. I know, I know. What the fuck did I just say, right? This coming from the woman who thinks more is always better when it comes to both onions and garlic. And I'm not even talking about sissy caramelized onions, which I actually don't even really care for. I'm talking raw, baby. I will eat ALL the raw onions. I literally cannot get enough. And oh, that recipe calls for one clove of garlic? Let's add five and call it good. This is the way I'm used to cooking and eating, so when I say challenge, I really mean it.

The first product I happened upon as a substitute for both onions AND garlic is a Persian spice called asafoetida powder, and I cannot sing its praises enough. For reals. The root word there is "fetid," and yes, it is ridiculously strong (the guy at the shop The Barbarian stopped by to pick some up for me made him swear he'd emphatically warn me how strong it is) and doesn't necessarily smell great upon first sniff. However, I am continually amazed and impressed how well it adds that ubiquitous pungent flavour at the heart of both onions and garlic. I now use it in basically everything savoury, from my homemade condiments (because that's what you're left with when eating low-FODMAP) like pasta sauce and salad dressing, to things like meatloaf and casseroles, and sprinkled with various other herbs and spices on things like roasted chicken and vegetables. Hell, I even make my damn garlic bread with it now. It's that amazing and versatile and, above all, delicious. Hard to find, however. It's most often used in Indian cooking, so if you have a local Indian/Pakistani market, that may be your best bet. Or online, of course. Our local shop is a franchise of a larger company, who also sell online, and I am very happy with their quality.

Another substitute that has become a regular in my kitchen is freeze dried chives, as chives are okay on a low-FODMAP diet (the green portion of scallion is also acceptable, but I'm lazy and find myself not really using them because chopping). I use these from Litehouse that I just get from Safeway (in the produce section with the fresh herbs) and they fucking rock. I put them in everything. They're especially delicious in breakfast potatoes. Mmmmmmmm...breakfast potatoes... And damn handy, as they don't need to be refrigerated, but can be tossed in water and rehydrated if you're looking for fresh chives, or just poured from the bottles into whatever you're cooking. Done and done.

I was stumped as to how to replace my beloved Worcestershire in meat-based things like meatloaf, burgers, and cottage pie (fun fact: shepherds herd sheep, not cows, so unless you're using mutton, you're making cottage pie, not shepherd's pie--you're welcome), as well as dressings and sauces, until I looked into it and realized its umami flavour is really at the heart of what it imparts to food. A good substitute, then, is soy sauce or tamari (I use tamari, not for its GF property, but because I like the flavour better). Combine it with some asafoetida powder and you're really winning.

The other condiment I desperately needed to find a replacement for was BBQ sauce because pulled pork (Costco has amazing pork shoulder at a ridiculously awesome price, so pulled pork, carnitas, country ribs, et al. are in regular rotation at our house). I tried a couple of recipes found on various IBS blogs, and at least one was downright horrid (seriously, question any recipe that calls for an entire CUP of red wine vinegar--and I fucking LOVE vinegar). But then I found this one and it's so damn good, I could easily see using it even if I didn't need a special sauce (giggle...).

Two other ingredients I find myself using a lot are maple syrup and spicy brown mustard. Maple syrup is a low-FODMAP sweetener (along with regular ol' sugar, believe it or not, but not honey and molasses, sadly) and as I am a very ginormous fan of maple syrup as it is, I happily use it in everything now. In addition to drowning things like pancakes, waffles, and French toast in it, I have used it in place of sugar 1:1 for years now (add it to your wet ingredients, naturally), and drizzle it over the wee folk's plain yogurt and plain oatmeal to keep their sugar intake down (there is an unconscionable amount of sugar in things like flavoured yogurts and oatmeal, especially those aimed at children, if you hadn't noticed). It's a staple in many of my dressings and sauces as well now, often along with spicy brown mustard, such as the grilling sauce I came up with over the summer (spicy brown mustard, tamari, and maple syrup), or my Asian dressing (grapeseed or avocado oil, toasted sesame oil, rice vinegar, tamari, spicy brown mustard, maple syrup, lime juice, ginger, asafoetida, and whatever the hell else I happen to toss in that day).

Seriously, I dig me some mustard, so being able to at least still have that has really helped in this often crap endeavour. I had to come up with a substitute for my mom's very basic, yet gold standard (in my opinion), potato salad recipe over the summer because of the onions and ended up going in a totally different, delicious direction using red potatoes, hard boiled eggs, and chopped Bubbies pickles mixed with mayo, spicy brown mustard, asafoetida powder, and s/p. Potato salad without the crunch and tang of red onions is heresy in my book, so the chopped pickles were added in an attempt to make up for them and do so wonderfully. And seriously, if you're not eating Bubbies pickles, please do yourself a favour and remedy that, stat.

So, yeah. With a little ingenuity, eating a low-FODMAP diet does not have to equal full-blown hell. Just maybe quasi hell. Except, of course, for when I do things like use half-and-half in my mashed potatoes instead of milk, which I do now, without exception.

And you should, too.                  

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Stormy morn.

Just the way I like it.

We Californians have been teased for months about this apparent monster El NiƱo forming over the Pacific, and while it all sounded very promising, we've been so dry for so long, none of us were really getting our hopes up. But surprise! It's here! With a veritable conveyor belt of storms just waiting off the coast, according to one quoted NOAA meteorologist. And although it will lead to disastrous flooding and mudslides, no doubt, we'll fucking take it. Beggars can't be choosers and all that.

As for us, our new year is off to a mixed start, much like our holidays ended up. The Barbarian is out of town the bulk of this week (and next week...and the week after that...and the week after that), and the poor wee folk are sick...again. They do this back-to-back virus thing a lot, it seems. I always anticipate a secondary infection in the first one to come down with a fever so soon after being sick, but within a couple of days, the other is inevitably also running a fever and so we just assume it's yet another random virus. Yay, winter. I was so impressed shortly after we moved into the new house last May that they seemed to be so healthy for so long, then promptly realized the healthy spell was probably due to it being the summer months. Not surprisingly, then, as soon as the season began to turn, we were back to it. Oh, well. Immune systems of steel, right?

But we disassembled Yulemas (my preferred term for our blend of Solstice/Yule and Christmas) on the 2nd of January and that was huge for us. I normally wait weeks and weeks until the tree is brown and beyond pathetic and I'm fresh out of energy to even properly pack it all away. More than once, I've been tempted to just tip it over a huge box and shake. Maybe next year. For this year, we still have a few random strands of lights here and there (that I'm actually contemplating keeping in various places, as my cousin and sister always have twinkly lights decorating their houses year-round and I kind of like the effect--and am letting go of the misplaced idea that they're not my style, dammit) and a few things the wee folk had secreted away to various places and so were neglected in the main sweep. They'll probably stay out till next time, too. Not because I'd like to make them part of my year-round style, of course, but because this is me. Who knows, though. New year and all, eh? And the wee folk reeled in quite the haul this time, including some larger family heirloom pieces we were fortunate enough to be gifted, so in addition to the holidays being packed away, their room and the family room were cleaned, rearranged, and organized, and everything found a home. I can't tell you how good it feels to begin the year like this. Remind me I said this next January, would you?

Speaking of the new year, The Barbarian and I haven't technically made resolutions, per se, but we are starting the year with a dry January, meaning zero alcohol for the entirety of the month. We've done famously so far and I am very proud of us, especially The Barbarian, as it's much harder to stay sober when one's job is to schmooze. However, it's not like being housebound with sick children sans spouse makes it easy to stay sober either, so, you know. We're both winning. And honestly, it's not been that challenging, really. My poor system is beyond fucked from my laissez-faire attitude towards eating over the past month or two and it is begging for a break. So along with a dry month, I am back on the elimination phase of the low-FODMAP diet recommended for those suffering from IBS. The idea is that those with IBS can't properly digest certain starches and sugars, so they stay in the digestive track and ferment and become extra food for our gut microbes, whose colonies grow out of control, causing gas and bloating and pain and funky craps and all the rest of it. I did this over the summer last year and it made an enormous difference, but when it came to adding things back in one at a time to see what's really causing my issues, I got lazy and added some back in together and therefore don't have a super clear picture of which foods precisely can be labeled as culprits. I know gluten is okay and lactose and artificial sweeteners are not. I'm fairly certain beans and legumes are okay and onions and garlic are not, but again, this is where things got a bit muddled. So, I won't sadden you with a list of all the things I am currently not eating, but for those interested, you can read more about it here.

My therapist and I chatted this week about the new year and changes and all that, and when I told him I hadn't really set any resolutions, per se, he suggested, if I wanted, just finding one or two things that are important to me and will have a noticeable impact. It made me realize I had essentially already done that by deciding that I would write every day (which I have), and by also deciding I really like a clean(ish) house. The whole idea of your environment affecting your thoughts and emotions is so, so spot on for me, and I've been doing a bit better about keeping up with things the past few weeks and realize how much better it makes me feel. Just coming out of the bathroom after a shower and seeing a clean bedroom floor is huge (we'll get to making the bed daily It's so refreshing and motivating. And I remember once reading a mom's number one cleaning tip that blew my mind a bit and has totally stuck with me (not that I've put it into practice, of course, but at least it's in there somewhere). The tip was so simple--clean it right away. BOOM. Do you know what happens to Rice Krippies (my children's pronunciation) when they're left to dry, sticking to the side of a bowl? They essentially become cement and no tool known to man can pry or scrub them off (seriously, out of glue? Mash some Krippies with milk and craft away!). But do you know what happens when you rinse the bowl right away? THEY SLIDE RIGHT FUCKING OFF. Insanity, right? The wee folk are getting involved as well, remembering to bring their dishes to the sink after they eat and putting their dirty clothes in the hamper when they change (you know, like from last night's jams to tonight's jams before bed). And having a puppy (did I mention we have a puppy?) has been a huge motivating factor for keeping toys up off the floor because, you know, chewing.

Is my house perfectly clean? Fuck no. And it never will be, I'm sure. It's just not who we are. But there is certainly something to be said for some daily maintenance to preempt the paralyzing feeling that comes with being completely overwhelmed by housework. I literally don't know where to start when it gets bad and end up just...not. So, you know, fuck that. And model good habits for our children in the process? We'll take it.

So there you have it. A post for the new year because new year.

Hopefully it's not the only one.