The Little Darlings

Dick2Hey, remember how I was blogging about my diet? Yeah, that got boring really fast. There’s only so much to say about a cranky housewife on a diet, so Sally went on a sabbatical and waited around for life to get interesting.

Oh, have I mentioned that I have children? Well, that’s where things get interesting.

I have two kids:  five-year-old “Dick”, who seems intent on wreaking havoc on my house and my eardrums, and two-year-old “Jane” who rules said house with an adorable iron fist. Between the two of them there is a lot of screaming, whining, crashing and bizarre food demands. They will probably drive me to my early grave.

I love them to pieces.

I love how they think it’s endlessly funny to run around with boxes on their heads, and their inscrutable but earnest crayon drawings -“I made it for you!”- and Dick’s unfathomable jokes. (Before Dick, I had never heard a riddle where the question was the punch line and there was no answer. It’s post-modern humor. He’s decades ahead of his time.) And of course I love the moments when they snuggle up close to my heart where I can breathe in their sweet, beautiful, profoundly incomprehensible being. That’s when I remember that I love them just as they are, tantrums and snotty faces and all.

janeWe weren’t really surprised when, at the end of his final year in preschool, Dick’s teacher told us that although he was academically prepared to start kindergarten in the fall, he was not socially ready: He was still refusing to follow instructions, wasn’t playing with the other children, and had frequent, inexplicable tantrums. We registered him for kindergarten anyway and reluctantly agreed to have him assessed.

“Maybe he just doesn’t like the other kids in his class”, my friend said. “Maybe he’s bored in school” his aunt said. “He moves to the beat of his own drum”, my mother said.

But then the specialist said, “Your son is on the autism spectrum.”

Wait, what?

But he talks. He’s affectionate. He likes other kids, even if he doesn’t know how to play with them. But he’s our perfect, beautiful child. But . . . We drove home stunned.

Later on, I told my friend that I didn’t know why I was so sad about the diagnosis. I thought I’d be relieved just to know what to do for him. “You’re grieving the child you thought you had,” she said. But that wasn’t quite it: I was grieving for the future that I thought he had, the life I had seen laid out before him in my private dreams.

The more we read about autism spectrum disorders, the more we came to see how well it fit Dick and his odd behaviors: the way he paced and made repetitive noises, the way he could monologue for half an hour about his latest favorite TV show, how he seemed more interested in the wheels on his toy cars than in the cars themselves, and how he didn’t seem to notice when he was bothering other children. It explained the puzzling and incessant meltdowns and the way he always acted out during music time at school.

It was hard to accept that our beautiful, sweet child had a developmental disability, that he would always struggle with his social skills and with the sensory issues that so often come with autism. He would not outgrow his socially inappropriate behaviors; he would have to outlearn each and every one of them, and that would be very a long, hard road.

What has surprised me in the months that followed -and I cannot speak for the entire autism population when I say this- is that for Dick, autism is turning out to be a gift as well as a challenge. His intense focus and his fascination with mechanics have led to some truly remarkable constructions that inhabit our house like cardboard-and-masking tape prototypes for future technological breakthroughs. An almost obsessively inquisitive mind drives Dick to run “experiments” on everything from what happens when you mix toothpaste and paper and tap water in the sink (Mama throws a fit), to what happens to various items when dropped down Grandma’s laundry chute. This was the child who, with the help of a length of ribbon and a very cooperative stuffed rabbit, reinvented the pulley when he was two years old.

Dick doesn’t think like other people and that is his gift. His is a precise, inquisitive and inventive mind, a mind that seems built to introduce and implement new and strange and previously unimaginable ideas. If we are constantly surprised now by his contraptions and his fantastical theories, what surprises will he have for the world decades from now?

dickandjane2At the end of the day, I’m proud of my little boy and I always will be. I know that he’s going to be fine; it’s just a different fine, or maybe a more remarkable fine, than I was expecting. His dogged determination and his quirky humor will serve him well and our close-knit extended family will always be there to support him when times get rough.

Dick will make a way for himself in this world that so often confuses and overwhelms him. It will never be easy for him, but we are raising him to work hard and to take pride in his gifts. And above all, my son will always, always know that he is adored; gifts, challenges and all.

More fun with science and a book review

As I was saying a week ago -before I was so rudely interrupted by science- there is an experiment brewing in my house. Starting on Monday last week, I have been testing out one Mystery Ingredient at a time. Mystery Ingredient #1 went off without a hitch; #2 has gone well, too, although in the interest of full disclosure, I’m pretty sure it was soy protein powder.  I could taste that one.

nancy-drewAll I know about these first four Mystery Batches is that each contains either egg yolk, soy, ghee or nothing (the last one’s the control). These were selected based on Mickey’s advice to reintroduce foods in stages, starting with the least likely to cause reactions. After I’ve tested out these first four ingredients, I’ll find out which was which and then move onto the next four. If all goes well, I’ll be eating egg yolks, ghee and soy by the middle of next week.

Speaking of Mickey, I may or may not have written a shamelessly gushy fan letter to a certain cookbook author who has made this all possible; and she might have written back and asked me to review her new hardcover book.

Yes, Mickey mailed me a hard copy of The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook before it was available for sale. My own copy. To quote my two-year-old: Mine. I want to say neener neener neener you can’t get one, but you actually can buy your own copy if you click here.

And you should. The hardcover version is similar to the ebook, only better, stronger and prettier. The reasons you need this book instead of the ebook are as follows:

1) If you’re stingy like me, then you’ll want to avoid cooking with the ereader that you don’t have, and will resort to printing out recipes from the ebook on scratch paper in black and white, and you’ll do your best to keep them organized and then fail; and your feeble but well-intending printer will desecrate all that beautiful photography. If you’re like me.

2) The ebook gives the basics of the primal diet, but the hardcover explains the principles further.

3) Micky shares her own amazing story in this edition, and

4) offers a guide to reintroducing foods, as described above. Most importantly,

5) there are even more awesome recipes in the hardcover edition than in the ebook.  Curried chicken and vegetable soup? Yes, please! Ooh, and lamb meat patties for breakfast! I also love the beef-butternut stew and the curry chicken salad and the clam chowder . . . Dang it, now I want to go eat instead of finishing this post.


MickeyWhat’s that? No, I totally did not just run off to have a little snack of leftover stew. If you’re done with the rude questions, can we continue, please? Thank you.

6) Even more beautiful photography -in full color on fancy, glossy paper instead of on the backs of ancient receipts- that makes me kind of want to eat the book. No, I swear I have not tried.

The only con is that the typos are gone. Mickey did, it turns out, mean to call for 24 ounces of salmon, and not 24 hours. I think I’m going to eat a full day of salmon anyway in honor of the release of the new book.

Regardless of which edition you decide you need, The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook is an invaluable resource for people whose immune systems are making them sick or crazy or both. Mickey’s straightforward advice, meal plans and shopping lists cut through the brain fog and the baffling complexity of the diet, and helps you heal your body sooner. Mickey helped me get well.

And I have her book. And you probably don’t. Neener.

Science is fun!

My Long Suffering Husband is something of a skeptic. One of his pet peeves -ironically- is alternative medicine, and especially medical advice from the internet. To hear him tell it, the internet is a bastion of frauds and whack jobs who will sabotage your health or rob you blind, or both.

If you want a good show, tell him you found a cure for cancer on the internet for only $24.95. Then before he can start hollering, tell him the reason he hasn’t heard about it before is that the pharmaceutical industry “doesn’t want us to know”. Then take a step back because he may start flailing and frothing at the mouth.

No, he’s not having a seizure; it’s anaphylactic shock. The poor dear is severely allergic to fake science.

All of that being said, my Long Suffering Husband has been very supportive of this whole experiment; tolerating bizarre theories about leaky gut and bad bacteria, taking over cooking when I’m sick, and not even complaining (well, maybe just a little bit) about the amount of coconut oil I put in everything. I think he likes having a healthy, happy wife.

So when I mentioned that I was going to start reintroducing foods to figure out my sensitivities,  my ever supportive science fanatic suggested a double blind study. Yes, he did say “double blind”. Be still my beating heart!

We put our dorky heads together and came up with a little procedure that would hopefully eliminate the placebo effect. It involves hiding ingredients in my daily doses of AIP Breakfast Porridgedivinely simple and delicious recipe that is so thick and rich and amazing that you could hide just about anything in it and I wouldn’t notice.

love robots

Anyway, our little experiment goes something like this: My Long Suffering Husband makes up several batches of amazing breakfast porridge and hides a different secret ingredient in all but one of the lots and labels each with a letter. For example, lot A might have egg yolks and lot B might have nothing added, but the labels will just say A or B.

The lots then go in the freezer and when I’m ready to introduce a new food, I take out lot A or B or C without telling LSH which one I’m eating (That’s what makes it double blind, you see), thaw it, and eat that lot twice a day over two days. I keep track of how I feel and if nothing bad happens, I wait three days and try another lot. After I’ve finished all of the labeled lots, I share my results with LSH, who gives me a passionate kiss and declares that I grow more beautiful every day . . .

Ahem. Excuse me. I’m fantasizing again. Sometimes science has that effect on me. 

Now where were we? Oh, yes. My Long Suffering Husband and I are going to do some science together. There’s more to the procedure, but oh my, I’m suddenly feeling very hot and distracted. . . You’ll excuse me, won’t you?

Day . . . Oh, I don’t know. I lost count.

Here’s an exercise in empathy: Draw a frowny face on a piece of paper or the wall or -I don’t care- someone else’s car. Then look at it hard. That was my face last week. I was discouraged.

Very soon after I wrote my last post, I crashed very hard; as in depressed, constantly confused, where-is-my-phone-oh-I’m-talking-on-it, what’s the point of living, yadda yadda yadda. I won’t bore you with the details, but it sucked.

adam and eve

And what caused my fall from grace? It was fruit; forbidden, luscious, nasty fruit.  I had been loading up my casseroles and my breakfast smoothies with apples and handfuls of berries and whole bananas; I cringe now at the thought of it. 

It turns out that I’m very sensitive to fructose. That and fruit is a total jerk. Oh, look at me! I’m fruit and I’m super delicious and healthy! Haha now you hate life. Seriously, who acts like that? I’ll tell you who: fruit. 

Fruit and I are no longer friends. Please tell fruit for me that it sucks. Oh, and that the 80’s called and they want their tacky color scheme back.

So, long story short, I quit eating smoothies and then promptly came down with an intestinal bug that laid me flat for days. (No, it was not heartbreak. I don’t miss fruit at all. . . Why? Has it asked about me?) I lived on gluten free oatmeal for days, and may or may not have resorted to drowning my discomfort in Gatorade. 

Things had gotten very, very bad.

But the only way from the bottom is up, and so the slow ascent began. Back to meat and veggies and the occasional spoonful of coconut cream when I can’t stand the austerity any longer; and already I’m getting better. I am so over fruit, and who needs it anyway? The sneaky, lying, (sob) delicious . . . little beast ( runs out of room crying).

Day 35: In which Sally offers advice

Dear readers, your response to my last post was overwhelming! I cannot begin to say how much I appreciate your support and enthusiasm. I knew that all of my Facebook friends were kind and generous people, but you have surprised me nonetheless. Thank you all.

Several of you have written or spoken to me about wanting to try the elimination diet, so I thought I’d use this post to impose some unsolicited advice:

thinking1) The elimination diet I’ve been using is called the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), as described in Mickey’s book and in the Paleo Mom blog, among others. The point is to eliminate foods that are known to trigger inflammation and/or leaky gut, and then reintroduce them one at a time. It is an unpleasant and expensive way to eat and the sort of diet that will only work for you if you’re very, very motivated; such as if you happen to have an autoimmune disorder that is making your life difficult.

2) If you don’t have, or don’t suspect you might have, an inflammatory issue and you just want to lose some water weight or get rid of brain fog, you might try giving up just one or two things like sugar or gluten, and see if that helps. If you just like to torture yourself, then by all means carry on with the AIP program. I’m not here to judge.

 3) Dr. Blum’s dietary restrictions are a little different from the AIP. There are some negligible differences in what’s allowed and not allowed, and she divides the program into two separate diets, presumably for ease of use. I’ve been following the AIP for efficiency’s sake, and because I like to torture myself.

4) Mickey’s Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook can be a comforting companion for nervous AIP newbies. The 4-week meal plans and shopping lists make the overwhelming doable, and there are useful tips to boot. It won’t be available in hardback until March 31st, but the ebook is already available here. UPDATE: The hard copy is available now! Click here to check it out.

Laurel_Wreath_Salmon_Wall_ClockI should add that the ebook has some entertaining typos (Just how do you measure 24 hours of salmon? It might have been meant  to say ounces instead of hours, but who knows? Are we meant to put in as much salmon as we can eat in a day? Is it a salmon that’s 24 hours old? Given that a salmon occupies both space and time . . . Oh, never mind. My head hurts). Also, Mickey is very fond of salt. I halved, quartered, or even eliminated the salt in almost all of her recipes that I’ve used.

5) UPDATED: The companies that package and sell quinoa will have you believe that it is a “gluten-free grain,” and thus a safe bet on the AIP or Paleo diets. In fact, the part you eat is actually the seed, and as a seed, it is a no-no.  It’s also been suggested that some people have a hard time digesting quinoa, in the same way that they have trouble with gluten. I reintroduced quinoa after 3 weeks on the elimination diet, not realizing it was not allowed, and it’s worked great for me. But definitely wait to introduce it. Thanks to my cousin over at Shooting Yarn for the clarification!

Finally, I have discovered another lovely source for AIP recipes: Jessica Flanigan’s blog, AIP Lifestyle. Her recipes are less intimidating than some and her writing is lovely. I can personally vouch for the Sweet Potato Casserole, which we had for dinner tonight and which will make a nice accompaniment to my quinoa tomorrow morning.

There are also some naughty-looking but completely compliant dessert recipes. Will get back to you on those.

Thank you all again for your support. What a mad romp this is turning out to be!

Day 31: Out of the fog

There are a lot of things I love about raising small children, like their cute little diaper butts or how you can make them fall over laughing just by peeking at them from behind the furniture. What I don’t like is their way of acquiring germs everywhere they go and then bringing them home to deposit them directly in my face.

Yes, I’m sick again. All colds are annoying and I’m just as annoyed as ever that the Little Darlings have brought home another obnoxious bug, but this time is different. This cold is actually a little extraordinary because for once, being sick is manageable. When your brain is intact, things that used to seem unbearable, like a bout of sickness, become a mere nuisance; and there is something exhilarating about watching once unbearable things crumble into nothing, and then getting on with your life.

sadBrain fog made it hard to handle things as trivial as a minor cold because it made my brain burn out so easily. Any activity that required energy, such as fighting a cold or concentrating hard or just getting through a day, would drain my brain’s batteries until some point in the day when the whole system would just collapse. If I happened to be reading at the moment when my mind quit, the words would start swimming around on the page and become senseless. With some effort I could pick out individual words, but I couldn’t get them to cooperate with the other words on the page to make coherent sentences.

Social interaction became impossible. Conversations were hard to follow and I’d embarrass myself by forgetting common words or friends’ names. I couldn’t articulate my thoughts and wound up feeling stupid and resentful. Once in college I found myself sitting across from a friend in the dining hall. He was looking at me expectantly as if he had just asked me a question, but I had no idea what he’d asked me and it took me several moments to remember how I’d even gotten there.

But the worst thing about brain fog was the utter loss of will. Most people don’t notice that it takes will just to get out of bed in the morning and to go about one’s day. Most people don’t notice it because they have it in ample supply; but whenever my energy ran out, all sense of purpose or motivation would evaporate. I could not get myself to care about whatever I was doing or whomever was in front of me. Homework would go unfinished, commitments broken, friendships compromised. All I wanted then was for everything and everyone to go away and let me rest.

As a result, brain fog also made me irritable. It made me mad at myself for not having more control over my mind, mad at the people around me who didn’t understand, and mad at the world that had let me become so weak and feeble-minded.

clock-homemakerYesterday I woke up and realized I had a cold. Then I cleaned my kitchen, took my son to preschool, ran errands, worked on a fundraiser for said preschool, picked up my son, played a board game with him, helped him put together a puzzle, made an elaborate dinner, and then ran off to a meeting, again at said preschool, that lasted until 10 pm. I fell into bed exhausted and happy.

. . . and happy!

I can’t remember the last time I felt both of those at the same time; when exhaustion wasn’t a crisis; when I made it through a busy, productive day without burning out, getting confused, or yelling at anyone. I have not enjoyed life this much in a very long time.

So yes, I have a cold. But it’s a glorious cold because as long as my brain is intact, the cold can’t break me.

A functioning brain is a beautiful, glorious thing.

Day 24: This is your brain off drugs

This is not at all what I was expecting.

I went on this silly diet because I thought it might give me some energy. I wanted to be able to get through holidays and vacations without crashing, spend more quality time with my kids, maybe establish a career and hold down a full time job. I wasn’t looking for anything dramatic, I swear. I just wanted some energy.

But things are not working out that way at all. The weirdest things are happening around here; and by “around here” I mean, “in my brain.”


I woke up the other morning with the oddest sensation, as if I was breathing deeply for the first time in a very long time, or as if I had just dropped heavy shackles from my ankles. Everything seemed clearer, brighter, and I just felt … well, good.

Things got weirder later in the day when, upon realizing that I had a long to-do list, I didn’t panic. The tasks didn’t tangle themselves into a confused mess in my head and I didn’t even cry. I just sort of watched as thingsfell into a list in my mind and then rearranged themselves into a schedule.

I have never, ever been able to do that before.

And then I got it: The fog has lifted. I can think.

Brain fog, for many people, is a way of life. It’s not well studied because it’s hard to quantify the odd feeling of being vaguely confused all the time. It makes it difficult to concentrate, recall information and to organize one’s thoughts. Some people with brain fog have episodes when they can’t even read. It’s weird stuff, it’s common among people with autoimmune disease, and it has no explanation.

For all of my adult life, brain fog has been a constant source of frustration, discouragement, anxiety and depression. It forced me to compromise my career ambitions because I couldn’t keep up with college classes that required a lot of memorization. I felt so stupid and helpless, and yet I knew that I wasn’t just an idiot.

And now, somehow, it’s gone; along with the anxiety that comes from constantly feeling lost. It seems as if even my vision is sharper, words are clearer, people make more sense. It’s like I’ve been sleep walking all these years and now, suddenly, I’m awake.

What in heaven’s name is happening to me?


What’s happening is my brain off gluten and sugar. It turns out that both of these delicious little monsters love to fog up brains, and especially autoimmune brains. Why and how no one seems to know, and frankly I don’t care. I just know that I feel good, really good. If you want to know how good I feel, go ask James Brown how he feels. He gets it. 

But I’m still tired.

Day 14: This is where it gets ugly

So the other day I flipped a little ahead in the book and discovered that the diet in Stage 4 of Dr. Blum’s program is almost identical to the Stage 1 elimination diet. I couldn’t stand the idea of going through this same expensive and arduous diet more than once, so I decided to overlap the two and just have one five-week nutritional torture blitz. 

Stage 4 is all about protecting our bodies from environmental toxins through, among other things, a very strict detox diet that forbids almost everything on the Phase 1 list, plus several more things.

The only new restrictions that will affect me are beef and caffeine. Beef is no big deal. I eat it a lot but I could live without it. But caffeine . . .

Caffeine is a problem.

screamingI started tapering off caffeine this weekend and the process of going from two cups of black tea a day to no caffeine at all has turned me into a useless puddle of emotion. Compared to me, my tantrumtastic two-year-old looks like a blissed out Zen master.

But it’s getting easier every day. Yesterday I only cried for five minutes, and that was because the sunset was so pretty and not because life is tragic and unbearable.

For some of us that’s emotional restrain. John Wayne, eat your heart out.

In Memoriam

My heart goes out this week to the many, many people who are grieving for Philip Scholz, an extraordinary, courageous, and very kind man. 

Phil passed away on Martin Luther King, Jr. day. At the time, the only details being released were that he had been struck by a train and that there had been another man with him, who had survived. My husband and I were perplexed by the news: We had known Phil only a little in college, just enough to know that the story didn’t make sense. Phil was a responsible person, safety conscious even at his most exuberant. So how had he gotten stuck on the train tracks? 

It occurred to me later that night: He must have been trying to help that other man. It was the only explanation that would fit the little I’d known of Phil. My husband said, “If that’s true, the story will be on the front page of the paper.” And there he was the next day, in a cover story that described him as the brave Nvidia employee who died saving a stranger.

In the days following the tragic event, countless news stories and a Facebook page dedicated to his memory have told of his heroic act; and of  his generosity, his devotion to his wife and his zest for life. This was a man who knew how to live: generously, courageously, and with deep joy.

I’m remembering today how Phil and his friend Jon used to stake out a table in the dining hall alongside of the sorority recruiters and the club fundraisers, and would hang a banner that declared it The Compliment Table. Everyone who walked by, whether they knew them or not, got a compliment from Phil and Jon. Years later I asked Phil what the Compliment Table was all about. He told me that people at our school always seemed so grumpy and he just wanted to make them smile.  

Once on a camping trip years ago, I declared that I’d rather take a nap than join the others on a hike. Phil told me, “You can sleep when you’re dead.” Now the words bring tears to my eyes. I didn’t take his advice that day. I took a nap instead and missed a chance to go adventuring with Phil and the others. I have missed too many adventures and I have slept too much; and now Phil, who was trying to teach me to live that day, is asleep forever.

You weren’t supposed to sleep yet, Phil. Not yet, when you still had so many adventures left in you. You will be missed, and celebrated, by more people than you ever could have imagined.