Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy Resilient New Year!

Greetings from sea level!

I'm in Houston this week, visiting family. Signs that we're at sea level are everywhere, mainly in the form of damage left by Hurricane Ike back in September. Wooden fences are still lying where they blew over. Blue tarps still cover hundreds of roofs. A storage unit complex nearby is still in shambles. No conversation goes on without some reference to Ike.

Counting blessings is easier when you see what other people had to live through.

But, as always, life goes on and people pick up the pieces and keep moving forward. Our relatives lost part of their roof, and water caved in their second floor ceilings. They've got a new roof now and a new fence, but they're still waiting for a drywall repairman to finish the upstairs rooms.

But they cheerfully welcomed us into their home for the holidays anyway. So here we are, enjoying ourselves thoroughly, spending wonderful holiday moments with folks we love.

I'm taking advantage of being at sea level, too. I've been baking a few of my milk-free, egg-free, and nut-free recipes here, to see what sea level changes I need to make. So far, it's gone well -- the biggest difference I've noticed is that breads take less time to bake here. I almost burned the pumpkin bread because I wasn't used to how fast it would cook here, and my apple muffins didn't rise as much as I thought, so they were kind of flat. But other than that, they tasted good and had the right texture, so I must be on the right track.

Recipes are tricky sometimes, but I have no patience for tricky. If a recipe is too fussy, I throw it away. My recipes, like my houseplants, have to be hearty and forgiving. They have to be adaptable to a busy household, where I'm usually throwing muffins in the oven and watching the clock because I have to have my son at his next sporting or social engagement in exactly 23 minutes, and the muffins will take exactly 17 to bake, 1 to slap onto the cooling rack, leaving 5 to drive to the appointment. You know. Your life is probably a lot like mine. Most people's are, I guess. I forget that sometimes, until I'm face to face with proof that my life is actually pretty darn easy, compared to what others are going through.

So I'm baking at sea level, thinking about life with allergies, and life with hurricanes, and life with all the trials it throws at us. And I'm thinking that we're an awfully resilient species. As 2008 winds to a close, I'm looking ahead to 2009 with more optimism than I have in a while. Part of it is from seeing how people down here are moving ahead despite blue tarps flapping over their heads. Part of it is from being surrounded by loving friends and family, and remembering that they care about us no matter what happens. And part of it is simply seeing that my pumpkin bread turns out no matter where I bake it or even if I nearly burn it. It's a resilient recipe. If my recipe can survive change, so can I, right?

Here's to a resilient New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hope for This Season of Light

The season of light is upon us.

Today is the beginning of Chanukah, when Jews light the candles on their menorahs to celebrate the miracle of a sacred lamp burning steadily in the reclaimed temple for eight days on only a single day’s worth of oil. Christmas is on Thursday, when candles everywhere will be lit to welcome the newborn Prince of Peace to earth. Kwanzaa starts on Friday, with candles for Kwanzaa’s seven guiding principles. Yesterday was the winter solstice, and drum circles and candles said good-bye to the shortest day of the year and welcomed the lengthening hours of sunlight. In another week, the New Year will arrive in a shower of booming fireworks.

In the middle of our darkest times of winter, we use candles and fireworks to restore light and remind us that the darkness will not last. The cold will give way to warmth. The ice will thaw. The spring will come. Leaves will bud and flowers will bloom. And we light candles to show we remember, we believe, and we will persevere until light spreads around us once again.

Last week, I was outside at my mailbox when I heard a flock of geese approaching. We live near a bird refuge, so geese are forever flying overhead, even in the winter. I stopped and waited to see them as they came up over the house across the street. It was a small flock. There were nine geese.

And one seagull.

The seagull was white and shining in the sun, almost glowing beside the darker, larger bodies of the geese. But the seagull appeared to be a welcome member of the flock. He soared and glided in the middle of the others, keeping perfect time and formation with them. As one the entire flock, including the seagull, curved into a turn, and they headed for the mountains, finally disappearing in the distance. There was no honking protest. There were no missed wing beats. There seemed to be nothing but comfortable acceptance. The seagull was simply a member of the flock – whether temporary or permanent, I don’t know, but it was clear he was welcome. Adding the seagull didn’t diminish the flock – it enhanced it, adding a quiet splash of sunlight to a routine flight of noisy shadows.

It was a lovely thing to see. If nature can make acceptance look that easy and beautiful, perhaps all hope is not lost for us human beings after all.

So my wish in this season of light is this – that we all find, somewhere in our hearts, the capacity to welcome each other’s light into our little shadowed worlds, because there is strength in numbers and beauty in new colors. And strength and beauty are good things to keep close as we push through the cold months ahead.

May the lights of the season be yours. Merry everything!


Monday, December 15, 2008

Best Intentions

Last week, at our Davis County chapter meeting, I brought the free samples provided by Enjoy Life! Foods, which are free of the top 8 allergens. A member let her children try the cookies and snack bars, excited that they didn’t have the allergens she knew her kids would react to.

Within minutes, two of her kids were breaking out in hives. We don’t know what caused it yet (she’s going to the doctor to have them retested), but my guess is it might be the sunflower or flaxseed in the snack bars, because those – while not in the “big 8” – are foods that some nut-allergic people are also allergic to.

It was scary. But the only way most of us discover a food allergies is when we actually eat the food. So it could have happened to her and her children anywhere. The only silver lining I could see was that it happened when she was with other moms who understood, and who were all armed with medicine. We didn’t have to use any of the EpiPens in our possession, but she did use Benadryl.

Of course, the irony was obvious – the point of a food allergy support group is to prevent this kind of thing from happening, not to make it happen! So we left feeling terrible that such a thing could happen in our group.

But we did learn several lessons. First, a reaction can happen at any time, and with foods we don’t even know we’re allergic to yet. Second, we need to have our EpiPens and Benadryl within reach, no matter where we go. Third, surrounding yourself with people who understand and can help goes a long way towards keeping the panic level down. And fourth, even the best intentions can go awry.

So check the expiration date on your EpiPens and make sure your Benadryl is ready. Before you go to those holiday gatherings or even out gift-shopping, be sure you’ve got that medicine with you. You just never know.

All our best thoughts are with the mom and her kids who have to add a new item to their list of allergies now. That’s not what they wanted for Christmas at all. But hopefully now that they know, they’ll be able to avoid an accidental reaction in a more inconvenient place or time.

Let’s all ask Santa for a cure for food allergies this year, shall we?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Holiday Shopping

“Got your holiday shopping done yet?” everyone keeps asking.

Yeah, right. Christmas is still two and a half weeks away. What’s the rush? I’m still washing sand out of my swimsuit from my Thanksgiving trip. I’m still wearing tank tops because I haven’t had time to swap my summer shirts out of the closet and move the winter sweaters in. (It takes a lot of tank tops to stay warm.)

What’s worse is I’m hosting a holiday party tonight, and I still haven’t decorated my tree, hung a wreath, or figured out if I still have paper plates lying around somewhere I can use. I also haven’t cleaned the bathrooms, run the vacuum, or dusted. (Those shelves are supposed to be gray and fuzzy, right? Can I pretend it’s artificial snow and not dust?)

Procrastination seems to be my official vocabulary word for December.

I don’t have any idea what to get my son yet for the holidays. He seems to change his mind every other minute. Now he wants a Wii (fat chance). Yesterday he wanted a Nerf shoot-em-up assault something-or-other (mommy doesn’t do guns, remember dear?). The day before that, it was a PSP (but you already have a Nintendo DS!). Last week, there was something about Guitar Hero, or maybe a real electric guitar. And a boy-sized jeep that really runs (right, keep dreaming). Or a pet (ack!), or a giant Legos city, complete with working plumbing, a functioning government, and trade deals with Japan.

I think I’ll get him a rock. It always worked for Charlie Brown. Or maybe that was Halloween. I can’t keep anything straight these days.

Anyway, while I was flipping desperately through store ads in the paper last week, I came across the Girl Gourmet Cupcake Maker. Seems that’s the popular item for girls this year. It looks kind of cool, but the pink would definitely not go over well with my son, despite the obvious cupcake appeal. I think the manufacturers shot themselves in the foot by making it pink. I know a lot of cupcake-eating boys, myself. Oh well. So far, it’s the only thing NOT on his list.

The really interesting thing about the Girl Gourmet Cupcake Maker, however, is that the cupcake mixes are gluten-free. Who knew? It’s not really advertised anywhere that way – but it’s making the rounds in the food allergy network. The year’s “must have” toy for girls, and it’s gluten-free? That’s pretty remarkable.

Now, if I could just find something remarkable that’s on my son’s list and that doesn’t cost the equivalent of a college education. (Sorry, son, we would have sent you to college, but we got you that “starter” pack of Bakugan cards and figurines when you were 10 instead, remember?)

Good luck with your shopping! And let me know if you find Guitar Hero on sale, for like $1.98.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Caribbean Dreams

Re-entry is hard.

I love vacations, and I hate coming home. Coming home means piles of laundry, stacks of mail, a to-do list a mile long, looming work deadlines, and cold weather.

Sure, it’s nice to sleep in my own bed. I guess. Oh, who am I kidding? I much preferred sleeping on the 43-foot catamaran we just spent a week on while sailing through St. Lucia and the Grenadines in the Caribbean. Endless miles of turquoise water. Coral reefs teeming with fish in every color of the rainbow. Millions of stars in an unspoiled sky. Steel drum music wafting over the water from the nearby beach bar. Flippers and masks piled in the corner, ready for the next snorkeling foray. Rum punches. Conch fritters. Fish on the grill, freshly pulled from the water off the back of our boat.

I traded all this for gloomy skies, a messy house, and Christmas sale commercials?


I’m a traveler at heart, and there’s no way around it. Right now, I’m sitting here with a handful of exotic coins in my pocket – they have scalloped edges and an old-fashion sailing ship on them. A giant conch shell, its inside pink and pearly, sits drying on my kitchen counter. My passport is lying open in front of me, its latest stamp a testament to my wanderlust.

I’m addicted to travel, and my addiction is apparently hereditary. My son has it, too. He got his first passport when he was 4 months old, when we went to Holland. At 2, he went to Hawaii and Sint Maarten in the Caribbean. He’s been to Mexico a couple of times, the British Virgin Islands, Belize, and now St. Lucia and the Grenadines. His wish list includes places like Pompeii, Japan, London, and Paris. Not bad for a kid who just turned 10. He’s gone through two passports now, and we’re about to order his third.

With his food allergies, we have to be a little more cautious and a lot more prepared than some when we travel. I carry a ton of food with me whenever we travel – lots of Enjoy Life! Foods granola bars, fruit snacks, and boxes and cans of things he can eat if we get stuck.

But the real life-saver is that since we chartered our own sailboat, we cooked most of our meals ourselves. Chartering a sailboat for a week is like renting a condo for a week – you have your own kitchen, so you can cook all of your own meals. The big difference is that you can’t usually sail your condo to another island when the mood strikes you!

Another good part about this trip was that our airline experience was positive – we discovered a benefit to the airlines’ recent cost-cutting measures! We flew American Airlines this time, and apparently they’ve done away with free snacks. No little packets of peanuts or trail mix! Instead, they have “food for purchase” on some of the flights. You can purchase snacks like chips, a cheese plate, or even a sandwich, but because they’re pretty expensive ($6), few people did. Personally, I felt a lot more relaxed on the flight because there simply weren’t as many wrappers floating around the plane.

Being able to control the food my son comes into contact with means my luggage is heavier, my planning is a little more complicated, and our meals might not be as spontaneous, but it does mean that we can still succumb to that wanderlust in our hearts.

Now if only I could feel as good about my return to reality. Where did all these bills come from, anyway?