Bug’s Triumph!

I wanted to update you, reader, on Bug’s quest for health.  After Bug gained so much weight last summer, I had to buy his jeans and shorts in the men’s department and then hem them to fit.  It was terrifying me that my 9 year old couldn’t wear a size 9 or even a size 16 in boys!  After years of worrying about his weight and watching it increase despite, what I felt, were healthy changes we sought out a professional nutritionist.

It’s a delicate thing.  It can be damaging to a child’s psyche to put them on a diet.  I wanted to be sure we did this right.  Or maybe he didn’t need to diet at all.  Maybe he’ll grow out of it, as so many friends and family thought.

The last I blogged Bug had taken blood tests with the Dr. revealing that his body was fighting some sort of inflammation.  Bug’s numbers were reportedly higher than the Dr. had seen in a patient in a very long time and never in a child.  The she said, most often when they see these sorts of results it’s due to a gluten intolerance.  Bug was also becoming insulin resistant and showed high levels of a hormone called Leptin that caused him to feel hungry all of the time.

I’ve already blogged on how annoying that whole concept is to me and how gluten is not really the problem but that the seeds of the food grown in America is tampered with to carry pesticide so that when the plant grows it can fend off pests on its own.  The whole “gluten intolerance” trend is due to our bodies being unable to process these mutant foods.  No other country in the world is experimenting with their food like this.  Those who are gluten intolerant in America can travel to other countries and have no problems with the foods there because it’s real food.  (Though I’ve heard Italy has started shipping in flour even from America so…ugh.)

For 10 weeks Bug was gluten free and then we went back in March to take the blood tests again to see if there was any improvement.  The changes we saw were that Bug’s appetite was more manageable; he was not constantly seeking food.  His perpetual stuffy nose was cleared and he had less bloody noses.  He had more energy and he said that his stomach wasn’t cramping any more, something he didn’t know was abnormal until it quit.

In March they drew more blood and weighed Bug again.  He had actually gained weight.  Some of his numbers improved but they were still in the inflammation zone.  We were very discouraged.  The Dr. suggested Bug go low dairy and completely grain free.  When he had dairy she suggested that it be unpasteurized.  The pasteurization process changes the food and how the body breaks it down.  Since his gut was damaged by the gluten, it could be that it was not handling pasteurized dairies as well as it could in a healthy gut.  He was also prescribed a probiotic and GI Revive to help heal his damaged innards.

Bug was devastated.  He silently cried in the back seat on the way home.  Very unlike him, he spoke not a word.  I tried to be encouraging but it was hard as I was discouraged as well, annoyed in fact, because Bug’s new diet was hard for both of us and we tried so hard.  When we got home he silently marched off to his room, slammed the door, and locked it.

After picking the lock…I let myself into his room, sat on the edge of his bed and rubbed his back.

“I’m not doing it,”  Bug spat.

“That’s not an option.”

“Yes it is.  This is my body and I control my body.”

K.  He had me there.

“I don’t care that I’m fat.  I think I’m perfectly fine the way I am,” he said through clenched teeth.

“Oh Bug!  I do too!  I love your chubby cheeks and snuggly belly!  The thing is though, extra fat on the body can be indicative of problems on the INSIDE.  That’s what the blood tests showed too.  Do you know what could happen if the insulin resistance becomes diabetes?  It’s not good!  It can be very dangerous.”

“I have a friend at school who has diabetes and he just takes a shot.  I’ll just do that.”

“Bug.  It’s not like that.  That’s a different type of diabetes.  You told me you feel better.  Is that true?”

“Yes.”

“And you don’t have a snotty nose all of the time now.  Right?”

“Yes.”

“I know this is really hard.  I know this is even more restrictive, but I really feel like this is what we need to do to heal your body.”

“Can’t we just move to Scotland?”

“I wish!  Let’s talk about all of the foods you CAN have!  You can have beef, chicken, pork, fish, strawberries, bananas…” and on we went, naming favorite fruits and veggies.

So we began a whole new way of living…again.

The tricksy part about going grain free as opposed to gluten free is that a lot of gluten free substitute foods are made with rice, quinoa or corn.  I’ve always been careful about things containing corn syrup anyway but that was completely eliminated as was anything with corn starch.  We supplemented milk with almond or coconut milk.  Those labels had to be carefully read as some of them contain corn syrup.  We cook with olive oil (already did) and coconut oil.

We eschewed pasta and ate spaghetti squash instead and cauliflower pizza crusts.  We bake with almond flour or cassava flour.  These baked goods turn out very dense.  I made Bug a BRICK of grain free banana bread.  He absolutely loved it but it’s not the same.   The reason is that it’s the gluten that makes bread fluffy and puts the air pockets in cake, bread, and the like.  Also, everyone who’s gluten free says it tastes the same but that is a lie from hell itself.  It tastes good but not like bread of flour.

Bug handled it all in his usual way, finding the silver linings and being his own little cheerleader.

“I’m going to feel so GREAT!  One day my insides will be healed and I’ll be able to add some treats back.  I can still eat cake and bread in the rest of the world!  When I’m a chef, I’m going to have all sorts of yummy gluten free and grain free foods in my restaurant!”

I still encouraged Bug to keep it on the DL.  There’s no reason to be obnoxious about it.  We squashed walking into restaurants and making the announcement that he was so special and needed special foods!  Instead we would look at the menu and see what was already available that was grain free and cheese free.  Salad, steak, chicken, eggs, bacon, etc.

When he orders food he often has to ask how the food is prepared.  If it’s fried in corn oil, it’s a no go.  Technically, french fries are gluten and grain free.  HOWEVER, a lot of restaurant fries are coated in flour first and are fried in corn oil.  Bug cannot even have grain free food if it was cooked in he same oil as the restaurant fries.  He has been amazing about learning these things and advocating for himself at restaurants.

On a school field trip to a baseball game, Bug ordered himself a hot dog (sans bun) and cotton candy.  For three days his stomach gave him grief and he had a stuffy nose.

“I was glutenized,” he said sadly.

One sad event happened when he was voted Student of the Year.  There was a special meal that the SOY’s of the district attended with their teachers.  When the food was served it was salad and spaghetti.  He couldn’t even just have a plate of meat sauce because it was already mixed into the pasta and had cheese melted all over it.  Bug blushed red but graciously ate his salad.  Afterward, we took him out to a Mexican restaurant that he likes where he can have fajita meat served in bib lettuce instead of tortillas.

At parties, Bug still hovers about the food tables.  He’ll linger particularly long at dessert tables.  He never eats it but sometimes he’ll fix a plate and then he brings it to Buddy, Man or I and offers it to us.  If he can’t have it, he still wants to see others enjoy it.  He’s become a little bit of a pusher in that way!  I had to start remembering to bring food for Bug to have at parties.

Again, Bug has had tremendous support from friends, family and even strangers!  Our dear neighbor, Caren, made Bug crepes and in doing so found that they were more like tortillas.  Stacks of crepetillas were made so Bug could enjoy breakfast burritos and carnitas.  My friend, Cindy who has celiacs, has been a great source of recipes and products we can use.  When Bug went to away camp last month I was bowled over when the chef called and worked on a menu just or him!

The day we arrived at camp she asked that he come to the kitchen so he can meet the servers and they’ll know who the kid with the special meals were.

“I won’t be there because I’m making him potato chips right now,” said the camp chef.

“Oh no!  Please!  You don’t need to do that!  He can have a veggie or fruit on the side instead of chips.”

“He will have enough foods that are different from every one else.  If there’s something I can do to make his plate look more similar then I want to do that.”

And so Bug had his own home made potato chips and one night she called me to let me know that she had made him cauliflower pizza crust for pizza night.  Turns out her daughter had also had to go grain free and dairy free for awhile and so she was pretty savvy to how to cook for him!

How good is God to put the right people in our life at the right time?!

When school let out and warm weather arrived (sort of…Colorado problems) I was thrilled to find that Bug’s man shorts from last summer were too big!  I went to Target and bought him multiple pairs of size 16 boy shorts!!!  I cried.  I couldn’t help it.  I was so proud of him and so relieved that we were making progress this time!  My little boy can wear little boy shorts!

Today we went back for the results of new blood tests we took a few weeks ago.  Before we walked into the office Bug yelled over his shoulder to Buddy, “Here we are, Buddy!  This is the doctor’s office that changes lives!”

I cried again.

Bug was measured and weighed.  He has grown an inch since March and in 4 months….Bug has lost 16 POUNDS!!!  You better believe that this boy was BEAMING!  As thrilled as I am for that, what I really wanted to know was how were his INSIDES?

While Bug’s numbers have improved even more, many are still in the red indicating that there is still some sort of inflammation.

“There are all kinds of preservatives in things…you just would be surprised,” the Dr. said.

“But he hardly ever has any packaged foods…”

“Well, that’s good!  That’s really good!  What I want you to do is to sit with our nutritionist and really comb through it all.  She’ll be able to get him a more specific plan.  Don’t be discouraged.  He has made HUGE progress.  The numbers in November, when we started this journey, were terribly alarming.  There’s a lot less red on the charts now.”

Bug was hoping he could at least return dairy to his diet but he is happy with how far he has come and knows that, whatever other changes are recommended, he can do it!

“The first two or three weeks of this is pretty hard,” he told his Nana who is doing the Whole 30 diet, similar to Bug’s.  “after that…meh!  It’s not so bad!”

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Those “Gluten Free” People…*rolls eyes*

My regular readers know of my struggle/quest to help my son, Bug, with his weight. It has been an on going concern since a pediatrician commented that he was on the heavy side back in 2008. Bug was 4. Looking back at old pictures of Bug, he looked just fine. He looked healthy! He was bigger than other kids his age though. He also had an obsession with food.

As a boy who loves to cook, there was a passion for culinary arts anyway but Bug’s obsession was beyond that. He was always wondering about the next meal and seemed to never be full. Older adults loved this! So many kids have food aversions and small appetites and so they enjoyed seeing a child who liked to eat. They would rave about how wonderful it was as they catered to his requests for 2nds, 3rds and even 4ths on foods like hot dogs and pancakes.

It wasn’t just junk food that Bug would devour. He’d been known to inhale a bag of baby carrots or nosh on a bundle of celery.

As Bug grew, so did his belly and my worry. I felt like a bad mom. His diet and health are my responsibility and he was looking less and less healthy. He had a few comments regarding his bulging belly from classmates and he was becoming self conscious about it. My family is by no means a bunch of health nuts but we are not habitual junk food or instant meal eaters either. It just didn’t seem to make sense to me that Bug was gaining weight when the rest of us weren’t.

There was various speculation and advice from friends and family as to how to help Bug eat healthier and lose some weight. There were also those in the camp “he’ll grow into it.” They are of the thinking that as he grows he’ll thin out. My concern was that, even if it were true that he would lean out as he grew, his insatiable appetite may not. I worried that he was fostering a life long habit of bad eating.

I consulted a dietician who gave me great literature on children’s eating habits and how are attitude and language towards weight and diet can cause life long effects. I agree whole heartedly with this theory. When body, weight and food are given lots of attention they become warped and can cause huge problems in our children’s adult lives. Even seemingly positive focus on food, diet and body can create issues. The best way to prevent that is by not putting focus on those things. Yes, we encourage healthy eating but it’s no big deal to have non-healthy foods every now and then. In fact, banning foods can cause over eating of those foods because it increases their desirability. The book strongly discouraged putting children on diets (that includes high schoolers) as it has negative emotional, mental and physical effects in the long run.

My family quit talking about what’s healthy and what’s not and just continued to eat the food instead of discussing it. There was no more, “Now, is that the healthy food to choose?” Or “hey, I like that you are eating your vegetables. They are so good for you!” Seemingly helpful comments. What they say though is that there are foods that are bad and you are bad for eating them. It says, you’re not healthy or don’t look healthy.

Bug seemed more relaxed and eventually stopped talking about it so much as well.

He did keep eating though. He was still obsessed with food and his next meal and he still was gaining weight.

I called the dietician again. He had gained a pound a month! Despite swim team and lacrosse and the defocus on food and body. She recommended we had some blood work done.

The blood work showed that Bug’s body was responding to some sort of inflammation. He had numbers in various areas that were higher than she had seen in a long time and had never seen in a child. When the body has an inflammation it produces more insulin which is a sugar. The unused sugar turns to fat. Bug also had elevated numbers in Leptin, which is a hormone that can cause an increased appetite. (This is where everyone who struggles with diets says, “oh! That’s what I have!” Haha!) I wish I could remember how or why the increased Leptin is also a sign of the body fighting inflammation…

So what is causing this inflammation?

“Gluten,” said the dietician.

Oh boy…here we go…, I thought.

“There are proteins added to our wheat now that used to not be there. Not everyone’s body can process it. According to Bug’s numbers, I imagine that he’s been experiencing a lot of discomfort most all of the time. Children are not very vocal about it because they don’t know that it’s not normal. What are you thinking?”
she asked as I’m sure my expression said it all.

“I am not a fan of the gluten free craze. I believe it’s a fad and I’m not a supporter of fad diets.”

“I understand and, in a way, it is a fad. That’s only because it wasn’t something that was in our foods before. GMO’s are a fairly new thing so it does seem very much a ‘fad.'”

“How do you know it’s gluten? What if there is something else causing an inflammation?”

“We can run another test to be sure but I can tell you that in my experience, when there’s this sort of inflammation, the culprit is gluten.”

We decided to put Bug on a Gluten Free diet and to return in 4 months to re-evaluate everything. We also went ahead and ordered the other test that would tell us if it was for sure gluten.

It is with great regret that I tell you…it’s gluten. Argh! We’re one of THOSE people now!!!

-In a matter of a week, Bug’s appetite changed. He was finding himself satisfied after meals and was not constantly asking for more or planning the next snack or meal. I wondered….could that just be an influenced effect from hearing the doctors explanations?

-Bug has more energy. Bug is the family whiner. He would complain about hikes or most any kind of active play. He’d tire of it quickly and would encourage friends to watch TV or play a video game instead. I thought that was a sign of the times or because he was just lazy or because he was overweight but after being GF we saw a new Bug. He would often ask if the family could go for a hike. He would go with a friend to the sledding hill and never complain about the hike back up the hill. In fact he spent over an hour sliding down and hiking up and only left because I was tired of standing in the cold.

-His belly is not as big and is no longer distended. The boy’s a chunk and he still is but you can see that he’s slimmed down. I wondered again if it was just in my head but friends and family have noticed it as well. One day Bug said that at school they were playing basketball. He was wearing a red penny to differentiate teams. One of his friends lifted the penny off of Bug’s belly and said, “Hey! You’re really slimming down. I think your new GF diet is working!”

-An unexpected effect has been that Bug’s sinuses have cleared up and he’s had less bloody noses. We have always been on him to blow his nose and he would get huge boogies that would block his nostrils. It never even occurred to us that there was some sort of food allergy causing the trouble. Bug still gets a stuffy nose from time to time but it’s MUCH less! In fact when he does get one he says, “Uh oh mom…I think I’ve been glutenized.”

Today we went back for his re-evaluation. They took blood again to compare the numbers from the first visit. We’ll get those results in about a month. His test result for gluten sensitivity came back positive. This can cause damage to the lining of his intestines. He has an increase of white blood cells that try to fight off the gluten. It is not Celiacs. With Celiacs, if I get this right, the body starts to attack the intestines itself. This sounds very similar but that is not what’s happening with Bug, though damage to the intestine is a side effect of having a gluten sensitivity. We caught it early enough that Bug’s damage is minimal and the body can repair itself.

He has not lost any weight but he has not gained weight either. This was my hope! He is still growing and you gain weight as you grow taller. Bug has grown 2 inches since his last appointment but gained no weight. Considering he was gaining about a pound a month…this is FANTASTIC!!

Bug reported that his stomach feels better and that he is full sooner. He told her that he’s not enjoying being GF. He prays every night that he won’t have to be GF anymore. Bug has also noticed that though some restaurants will say their burger bun is GF or their toast is GF, he ends up getting “glutenized” anyway. For a long time he wouldn’t order burgers with out a bun (“It’s the principle of it!” he says.) but he’s given in a few times and has just removed the bun.

I try to help him to not be obnoxious about it. He would walk into a restaurant and immediately announce that he’s GF and do they have a special menu. “Bug, lots of foods are GF naturally. Fruit, veggies, meat, cheese…order accordingly.” I bought a few GF cupcakes from the bakery and stock them in the fridge so when he’s invited to a party he can bring his own treat. Though I must say, Bug is so loved by his classmates, just last week a young man brought cookies for his birthday treat and he told Bug, “I had my mom get GF cookies so you can have them too!” SWEETNESS! The boy apparently noticed that Bug had to turn down the birthday treats at school because of his new diet. That’s been a blessing in a way though.

I’m the room mom for Bug’s class but I never request or ask that GF foods be brought to the school parties. The less options he has, the less he eats. There are always fruit and veggie trays and I try to remember to send him in with a cupcake. Sometimes I forget though and…oh well! He just gets the fruits and veggies!

The dietician reminded me that in Europe this is not an issue. They don’t allow GMO’s in their food and so if we travel abroad, Bug is welcome to enjoy their pasta and bread and cakes. “Can we go to Scotland again this summer?” Bug asked. Um…no. We’re not going to Europe for a baked goods feast. I do think though that if more people become more aware of the problem with GMOs that we can vote accordingly and get our government to ban them from our foods. Bug’s prayers could be answered and he won’t have to be GF anymore! I don’t like to even say that he has a gluten intolerance. He has a poison intolerance.

According to our doctor, she believes that everyone has some sensitivity to it but there are some, like Bug, whose bodies have a harder time with it. Some symptoms known to be associated with gluten sensitivity are abdominal symptoms – pain, cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea and/or constipation, chronic headaches, chronic sinus congestion, depression, arthritis, chronic skin problems/rashes, fibromyalgia and/or chronic fatigue. Some of those things are fairly new problems in our society. Makes sense that the new GMOs on our wheat and other foods would be the cause of it. If you experience these sort of things you might look into it. Or just experiment by becoming one of THOSE people with Bug and cutting gluten from your diet.

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What Are You?

I’ve been thinking of writing this for a long time and I think the best place to start is with the question, “What are you?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this question. I most specifically remember being in high school when a guy asked me, “What exactly are you?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean…are you Italian…Jewish, maybe? What are you?”

“Oh! You mean what’s my ethnicity?”

And then when I tell them that I’m Mexican they say, “But you don’t speak Spanish.” or “But you don’t LOOK Mexican.”

How many Irish Americans out there are speaking Gaelic? Just…curious…

The other question white folks like to ask me is, “What generation American are you?” You know, like, when did my family cross the boarder? When did we swim the river and crawl over into the USA?

One time a guy was completely baffled to learn that not only was I Hispanic but that I’m not a democrat and I’m not Catholic either. Apparently these are prerequisites.

White people love to tease me about being white. They actually tell me that I’m not a Mexican because I don’t speak Spanish. They tell me that they are more Mexican then I am (I mean A LOT of people tell me this) because they took Spanish in high school and college. My foreign language in high school and college was sign language. Does that make me deaf?

I know they are teasing. I know that they are just poking fun.

Hispanics don’t like it either; my not speaking Spanish. It’s funny that white people can’t tell my race but Hispanics can. I remember when I used to work at Home Depot it would happen a lot. A Hispanic would walk up to me and start speaking to me in Spanish. It did not take them long to see that I did not understand them.

“No habla Española?”

“MUY poquito.” I’d tell them. VERY little.

With a look of disgust, annoyance and exasperation they’d try again to speak to me in English this time.

In a sociology class I took in college the definition of race and ethnicity were being clarified. Race is based on appearance and your ethnicity is based on your culture. I struggled with that because so many people think I’m white (based on my appearance). Not only that but there are blonde haired-blue eyed Hispanics and black Hispanics besides the cocoa skinned-dark haired Hispanics. When I questioned it the class said I was white.

“But I’m not,” I argued. “No one ever thinks my brother and sister are white because their hair and eyes are near black. How can they be Hispanic but I’m white?”

The Hispanic girl in front of me turned around and said, “Well, you don’t even dress Mexican.”

“Excuse me?”

“You know you don’t wear baggy jeans and…” and she went on to describe how a proper chola should dress. See here for what a chola is:

My ethnicity and race are flippantly dismissed in a joke mostly due to the fact that I don’t speak Spanish. Many white families now have tacos, burritos and enchiladas as a regular part of their dinner menu but most of you don’t make tamales, empanadas, biscochitos, natillas and rellenos. Most white families didn’t grow up calling their belly a panza, a booger a moco. Their moms didn’t pinch their little nalgas and their grandmother didn’t call them “mi jita, mi corazon.” Their daddy’s didn’t yell “VAMANOS” every time he tried to get the family out the door.

So here it is for you. Here is the answer to all of your questions. My family has lived in America for more generations than your white family. My family lived in areas of New Mexico and Colorado long before they were states of America. They lived there when it was still Mexico. We never crossed a border. The border crossed us. My grandparents didn’t teach their children Spanish because, like all immigrants who didn’t speak English in America, they were punished in school or lost job opportunities because of their language and/or their accent. (See that? Right there is when I magically turned into a white girl.)

I’m sorry I’m not sorry that I didn’t have a quinceanera, that I don’t speak Spanish, that I’m not Catholic or a Democrat. I’m sorry I’m not sorry that my hair and eyes are not dark enough for you. I’m sorry I’m not sorry that I don’t know how to Salsa dance. (OK. That last part is true. I really hate that I don’t know how to Salsa.) It is not cute or funny when either white or brown (or any other race for that matter) jokes about me being white. It is not ok to tell me that I’m not a “real” Mexican when Lopez, Sanchez, Prieto and Gallegos blood are pumping through my veins.

What am I? I’m absolutely NOT WHITE. I am also NOT “really” Mexican. I’m AMERICAN!!! Comprende?

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Festivus For The Rest Of Us

A couple of years ago my friends and I got the idea to have a Festivus party. We were in Estes Park for the Highland Games and, I’m not sure how Festivus came up…maybe because the Highland Games are a great display of Feats of Strength….but we thought it would be fun to do. After returning home and sobering up the idea dissolved and nothing came of it.

Many of my readers (disappointingly so) don’t know what Festivus is and so I’ll take some time to explain.

Remember the 90’s? Remember that awesome show, Seinfeld? In season 9, episode 10 (I think) there was a show called The Strike. The Strike, like all Seinfeld episodes, was about a lot of nothing but one of those little bits was about Festivus. In the show, it was a holiday made up by George Castanza’s father. According to his father it began when, one year he was buying a doll for George and there was one left. He reached for it at the same time as another man. As he “rained blows down on the man” he thought, “There must be a better way…” The doll was destroyed but Festivus was created.

It’s a holiday that shuns the commercialism of Christmas and Hanukkah and does not revolve around any religious beliefs. It begins with the Airing of the Grievances. This is when you tell everyone gathered at the Festivus meal “all the ways they’ve disappointed you throughout the year.” You know, like what happens at family holiday meals anyway but Festivus makes it an official tradition. The festivities end with the Feats Of Strength and the head of the house is pinned. There are no real decorations for Festivus as that feeds the monster of commercialism. There is only the Festivus Pole. This is an unadorned aluminum pole. That’s it.

Many people believe Seinfeld started Festivus and that it was created in the 90’s but the real Festivus began earlier than that by the O’Keefe family. Dan O’Keefe was a writer for Seinfeld and that’s how it got into the show. While the Seinfeld Festivus is celebrated on December 23rd the original Festivus began in the 1960’s and had no set date. It could be any time. There was no pole. Instead, Dan O’Keefe’s father would put a clock in a bag and nail it to the wall. There was no explanation for what this symbolized. His father would just say, “It’s not for you to know!” For more details of the original Festivus go here: http://festivusweb.com/origin-of-festivus.htm To watch the Seinfeld episode with Festivus go here: http://www.crackle.com/c/seinfeld/the-strike/2483688

This year I decided to finally make it happen. We were going to have a Festivus party and although, those who know of Festivus recognize it on the 23rd, in the true spirit of the holiday it can be held whenever you dang well please. My Mountain People typically have our weekly-sometimes-monthly Pizza Night on Thursday nights and so this Thursday, instead of Pizza Night we celebrated Festivus.

Caren found Festivus Chai!

Caren found Festivus Chai!

For our Festivus meal we went potluck and I asked everyone to bring a re-gift for the re-gift exchange. I bought an aluminum pole at Home Depot for $3 and stuck it into a flower pot. Voila! Festivus was set.

One afternoon I picked up the Jr. High carpool kids and Festivus came up.

“What is that?” they asked. I explained and then was surprised at how excited the kids got.

“I’m going to start my list of grievances for my brother as soon as I get home!” one of my little girls announced.

“Well…we won’t have time to hear an actual year’s worth of grievances and…it’s all in fun, we don’t want to hurt his feelings,” I said.

“Oh, he’s used to it!” she said flippantly.

The others in the car began plotting and scheming about what gift they would re-gift.

I had not expected this. I thought the kids would go play in the basement while the adults partied upstairs, per usual. It seems Festivus would indeed be a family affair.

Last night we had our party. Each family brought their offering of nourishment to the table and, after all had arrived and everyone had eaten, we began the Airing Of The Grievances. It is important that, if you host a Festivus party yourself, you invite people of good humor and thick skin. Folks must come with the right attitude and I mentioned this to my friends in their invitations (which were done via email and text because you don’t purchase things for Festivus.) To save time, each guest was allowed to air one grievance. I put everyone’s name in a hat and then I aired my grievance first to demonstrate. I donned a black cape and held the symbolic Club Of Grievance in my right hand and a candle in my left. These things had no actual meaning. We just did it to kick it up a notch, sort of an “I have the conch” thing. (If you don’t know that reference I’m ashamed for you.)

“Welcome newcomers, Festivus begins with the Airing of the Grievances,” I began as Mr. Castanza did in the Seinfeld episode. “I have a lot of problems with you people! And you’re gonna hear about it!”

My actual grievance was regarding carpool: “Buddy, Mimi, and E-cat, I pick the three of you up everyday. You load into my car and you bring with you….the most AWFUL smell! It’s the Jr. High stink. It smells like dirty socks and locker rooms. Please attend to this problem. Grievance aired.”

I then drew a name from a hat. When I read the name, everyone began to chant until said person was cloaked in the Cape of Grievance and handed the club and candle. Then the party goers all said, ‘Shhhhh!” and the grievance began. After they had made their official complaint we all said, “Grievance aired!” It was absolute silliness and we were on a loop of laughter!

My Man’s grievance was for all of our friends: “Stop entertaining my wife’s every whim for a party. Just don’t open your emails!”

Caren’s grievance was for Robby’s Man: “We have all celebrated a lot of holidays together but I’ve not once been invited to one of your Jewish holiday celebrations. It’s not just you. None of my Jewish friends have ever invited me and I want to go and experience that.”

“Grievance Aired!”

“Tonight is the 3rd night of Hanukkah,” Robby’s Man began when it was his turn. He explained the menorah and lighting the candles from right to left each night, “and we say this prayer.” He used the club to pretend lighting the candle and recited the prayer of lights. It was a very moving moment. I will tell you, I was a little verklempt. This is what Festivus is all about, Charlie Brown.

Another well done and rather sweet grievance was Robby’s: “My grievance is with our Canadian family. I don’t think you are trying hard enough to figure out how to stay here in the states. Instead of moving back to Canada this summer you could stay here has undocumented immigrants!” It was also funny how hard it was for the Canadians to come up with a grievance. So polite.

After the Airing Of The Grievances we moved on to the Re-gift Exchange.

All gathered 'round the Festivus Pole!

All gathered ’round the Festivus Pole!

We did this like the White Elephant game. I drew a name from the hat and the chosen one picked a gift and opened it. The next person chosen could steal the gift or pick one to open. After a gift was stolen 2 times it was done and could never be taken again. If your gift was stolen you opened a new gift. Our Festivus gifts ran the full gamut. One lucky guest got a CDRom from the 90’s on Climate Change. If his computer is equipped with Windows ’95 he’ll get to learn how the ice caps will be completely melted by 2010. Another guest received deodorant. I just wish it had been one of my carpool kids…

“Festivus ends when the head of the house is pinned,” I announced after the Re-gift Exchange. In the Seinfeld episode, George had to wrestle his father. “…and so the party does not end until Buddy and Bug pin My Man. To the basement! Let’s rumble!”

It was a very fun night and I’m so glad we included the children. It made things go a little long (the whole thing was over in 2 hours) but it was really fun to see them be silly with us. I gave each guest a parting gift, a certificate stating that a donation to the Human Fund was made in their name. (Once you watch the episode of Seinfeld, The Strike…you will get it.)

Money for people.

Money for people.


“Great party, Michal!”

“Yes, this was a wonderful First Annual Festivus Party,” said a guest as she parted.

“Did you hear that?” a friend poked My Man, “It’s going to be annual!”

My Man hung his head and rubbed his brow. Clearly, no one cared to do anything about his grievance.

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To Each His Own

I love Christmas! I used to REALLY love Christmas! I used to start playing Christmas CDs in my car in August and started Christmas shopping about the same time too. I love the decorations! I love the music! I love the special foods we make just for this time of year! I love the special movies and, above all, I love the spirit of the Holiday and what we are celebrating!

Also, I love Jesus! I don’t care who that offends or annoys. Christ is a huge part of my life and has been for 30 years.

I don’t enjoy this time of year as much anymore. Here’s why:

PEOPLE! People are ruining it.

I love people. I love lots of different people. Not all of my people celebrate Christmas and those who do don’t all celebrate it the way that I do for the reason that I do. THAT does not bother me. What bothers me is that people get so bent out of shape about how everyone is choosing to celebrate their holiday.

Elf on the Shelf: I personally, can’t stand this little guy. I’ve said it before but I’ve flat out told my kids he is not real and if he was real, I wouldn’t let him in my house. He’s a jerk tattle tale who has ravers with Barbie and TPs Christmas trees. No, no, no. I don’t have time for that.

Recently, a friend told me his kids had been acting up a lot the last few weeks.

“So I got the Elf on the Shelf. They were naughty so I went out and bought a $30 doll.”

“That’ll show em.” I said.

And because he’s good natured, we both laughed.

If you have an Elf On The Shelf, I will give you a hard time about it but I think my friends know that I’m joking. You know now.

A friend recently posted something about her Elf On The Shelf and one of her friends commented that she shouldn’t lie to her children. She should tell them the truth about Santa and the Elf. She had some scriptures to back it up too.

Seriously, lady? Seriously?

Another friend told me that she does not put Merry Christmas on her Christmas cards because she doesn’t want to offend her friends who don’t celebrate Christmas as Christ’s birthday.

“Really? I didn’t even notice,” I looked at her card again and it said “Joy to the World!” A beautiful wish for all!

“Yeah, but then I know it just irks some of my conservative friends,” she responded.

“It will only offend Republicans,” I jokingly assured her. I JOKED! OK! If you do not have a sense of humor please never read my blogs again. Kthanks.

The thing is, she’s right. We can’t win. We’re damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t. I’m not going to send different cards to one group of friends than I do to another.

My neighbor finally was able to put her life sized nativity up in her yard. It was her father’s and was in her yard as a child. She was finally able to convince her family to set it up. It embarrassed her daughters and one worried that it would be shoving their faith in their neighbors face. This year it is up.

“Oh! It’s great!” I exclaimed to the girls as I was dropping them off one day. “Mary looks beautiful!”

The girls were happy and proud of their nativity.

“It is the reason we are celebrating Christmas,” one said.

And then, even in my own house…

The day after Thanksgiving we got out all of the decorations and got the tree up and all of the Christmas books out and our nativity set up. It’s time I get a new nativity. Sweet Baby Jesus had a foot amputated, an ox is missing a horn and an ear, and Joseph lost a hand. A carpentry accident? I can’t say. I asked my sons but no one seems to know what happened to my nativity set. I put up other décor and then My Man joined us.

“Hey, do you know what happened to the nativity?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Many parts are broken. Look…” I took him over to see. “…and now it appears, several pieces are missing. Where are the wise men? I know I set them out!”

“Oh! I hid them away,” Buddy confessed.

“Where? Why?” I asked.

“Because it’s historically inaccurate. The wise men were not there at the birth of Christ. They came much later,” explained Buddy.

*SIGH*

“Buddy, that’s…great…to know but we are not splitting hairs here. My nativity has wise men and I want them there. This is a symbol, a memorial, it’s not a historical reenactment. It’s just a reminder of why our family is celebrating Christmas.”

My first Christmas Eve here was spent with new friends and new neighbors and the conversation went to why we were celebrating Christmas. No one but my family was celebrating it for the birth of Christ. That did not surprise or hurt me. What did hurt me was when they started to mock my faith. But not saying Merry Christmas is not mockery. Having an Elf on the Shelf or believing in Santa has not damned ones children to hell. Somehow my children have managed to keep Christ the center of our celebration while still believing and celebrating with Santa. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a Christmas miracle or something.

I also know there are Christians who don’t celebrate Christmas at all because that’s not when Christ was actually born and Christmas is a spin off of a pagan Holiday. They don’t want Jesus getting offended because we’re mixing him into the Winter Solstice mix.

Come one people.

I think I said this at Easter as well but it doesn’t matter when you remember someone or some day. Christmas is what you make it and when. My birthday is August 4th (please mark your calendars) but I have celebrated it on other days. I know that may cause heads to spin for some people. It’s a crazy thing! It doesn’t mean my birthday didn’t happen or that it didn’t happen on the 4th, it just means we recognized it on a different day(s) (sometimes I like my birthday to last a whole week).

We can’t make everyone happy. We just can’t. I’m not offended if you don’t celebrate my way and I’m not offended by how you celebrate. What this holiday is about, above all, is love. Christ’s love, brotherly love, love your neighbors kind of love.

I have a friend, Robert Wren, who gives me grief whenever I see him. He can’t say a thing to me that is not disparaging my height or intelligence or…whatever else he can find to poke fun of. I told him once, “Oh Rob! You just keep on with that. With every jab you give all I hear is “I love you.””

He laughed and said, “You get me. And that’s exactly why I love you.”

I’m still giving you Elf on the Shelf people a hard time. It’s become a part of how I celebrate Christmas. Each time I do, know that it’s my way of saying “I love you.”

I’m now terribly home sick for the Wren family. Have been all year… You people are on the top of my list for 2015. You have been warned.

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Flight Of The Navigator

Late this afternoon, a young friend asked for a ride to the hospital to visit her brother. When I picked her up, I asked for directions. She immediately pulled the information up on her phone and I obediently followed The Voice as it helped me to maneuver out of the mountains and into the city.

“Call me if you have a hard time finding your way home,” my friend said when I dropped her off.

I sat in my parked car and decided to do something I had never done before. I used the navigation on my own phone!

“Head left toward Bannock, then turn left onto Bannock,” the feminine, though emotionless voice from the phone directed.

I obeyed her orders. Things still looked very unfamiliar…and sketchy… I locked my doors.

“Turn left onto Speer,” she instructed.

After a few more turns I started to get a feel for where I was.

Look at me! I’m getting around in the city! Using technology! I feel so modern! I was really starting to feel proud of myself! A few more directions and I was confronted by construction. The Lady Voice told me to do something but I couldn’t remember what because I was busy trying to read the road construction signs.

Poop… What did *she* say? Oh wait! There’s 25. I know that one… 25 to Colorado Springs. Yeah…I feel like I’ve gone that way before… I thought to myself. Myself sounded right and so, despite what the Lady Voice had said to do (or was it?), I exited onto 25 for Colorado Springs.

I immediately could tell that was the wrong thing to do. It could get me home but not as directly.

I waited for the navigation to reroute me.

Come on, Siri…get me out of here… Wait…is her name Siri? I don’t think that’s the same thing. Ugh. I’m hungry. I’m hungry and I’m kind of lost. This is what I get for thinking for myself. Let’s see…Santa Fe…I kind of think that would take me to 285…no…Broadway…no…

The Lady Voice stayed silent. I decided that maybe she was too lost to help.

Stupid navigation! Why won’t she tell me where to go?! I’m not really lost. I mean, I’ve never been to this area but I know this road will eventually get me to a familiar place. I’m hungry. I should’ve let the soothing Lady Voice have complete control.

At last I saw a sign for a highway I know well: 285! 285 runs straight to the foothills and into the mountains. 285 takes me HOME! I expected the Lady Voice to confirm that my decision to exit onto 285 was correct but she still remained silent.

You’re bitter. You’re mad because I’m finding my way home with out you. Dumb. Oh my gosh, Broadway again! Siri! Speak to me! Is this the right way or not?!

After quite some time of stop and go traffic on 285 I was finally in familiar surroundings.

Santa Fe! All roads lead to Santa Fe. OK. I’m officially un-lost. I know EXACTLY where I am! No thanks to you, stupid Siri.

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful and then about 1 minute from the house…

“Turn right onto This Street. Your destination is on the left.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Your destination is on the left. You have arrived at your destination.”

Moral of the story:

Never think for yourself, especially when you’re hungry.

And…

If you do not follow a woman’s directions, virtual or real, she will give you the silent treatment.

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Eat Mor Chikin (Too Soon?)

Around 4 a.m. this morning, the dogs were barking to go out.  Man, groggily shuffled to the door and released the hounds.  Once they hit the yard, there was a complete change in their barks and howls.

“Crap,”  Man said as he ran back into the bedroom and grabbed his flashlight off the night stand.

“What is it?” I asked through sleep.

“There’s something out in the chicken coop.”

I bolted from bed.  Not too long ago we had a skunk in there that ate one of our chickens and sprayed our dogs.  I contemplated filling the tub and getting it ready to dip the dogs.

“It’s a bear!” Man announced.  I joined him at the open window and followed the beam of the flashlight to see a big ol’ bear stand up on her hind legs.  Drake was barking at her and on his hind legs at the fence.  She was on the other side.

“DRAKE!!!”  I hollered to him.  “LEAVE IT!  NO!”  and then to Man, “Get the gun.”

While Man went to get the gun and our non-lethal shotgun shells (don’t worry, it only spanks ’em.  Doesn’t break the skin) I went out onto the deck with the flash light and continued to call for the dogs to come in.

My stupidly courageous dog kept barking and growling at the bear, though he did back away from the fence.  Sasha, our Golden, ran inside.  The bear went back on all fours.  Man showed up about then.

“Where is she?”  he asked as his eyes adjusted to the night again.

“Right there, can you see her eyes?  She’s not in the coop.”  She was just on the other side of the fence of the hen yard.

I suppose because she had gone back to all fours, Drake charged the fence again and the bear went back on her hind legs.  Her top half rose above the fence.  One swipe and Drake would be done for.  I kept the flashlight on her and Man popped her right in the chest.  The bear backed off but did not leave.  We got Drake inside.

Man and I tried to get another shot at her so she would hopefully find our chickens unappetizing.  Without the dogs barking we could now hear…crunching.  Then we heard one of our dear feathered ladies scream.  I turned the flashlight to the coop.

“There’s a cub in the coop!”  I said.

“Two cubs,” Man sighed in defeat.  “She’s not going to leave her cubs and we sure can’t do anything to get them out.”

The Mama Bear snuffled and puffed at us in her triumph.

“My chickens…”  I whimpered.

“Sorry babe.”

I knew he was right.  We returned to our room and snuggled as we listened to the crunch, munch of the bears and the scream of our last chicken.

“Oh honey…” I cried briefly.

“Sorry, babe.”

“Honestly, I’m glad it was bears instead of a skunk again.”

“Yeah.”

“We’re a pretty good team, huh?”

“We are.”

We talked about whether or not to restore the flock.  Definitely not now but maybe in the Spring.  The coop will need repair and renovation.

Neither of us slept and it was not long until Man’s alarm went off.  It was still dark, only 5 a.m., so I went to the window and shined the flashlight out at the coop.  I could still hear the cubs scratching around in the coop.

“Be careful when you leave for the car,” I warned Man.  They’re still out there.”

I checked again around 5:30.  The cubs were out of the hen yard and were sleeping under a tree, big round bellies under their chins and Mama Bear standing guard.  I wished it was not too dark for a picture!

As bummed as I was about losing our chickens, I was pretty proud of that Mama.  She knew how to pick her battles.  Just a show of size and flex of muscle was enough to scare off the dogs and she didn’t let a pop from a the rubber shells chase her too far from her cubs.  Didn’t have a bite herself but her cubs are fat and happy!

The boys woke about this time and I showed them the sleeping cubs and broke the sad news.  Bug was very sad but also understanding.

“You can always buy new chickens but you can’t buy children and those cubs are the bear’s children,” he said.

“Very true, Love Bug.”

“Don’t worry, Bug,” Buddy piped in, “we can get new chicks in the Spring!”

Both boys wanted to go out (after the bears left) to see if anyone happened to make it.  One of our chickens in particular  has managed to escape the (literal) jaws of death three times.  Her name was Easter and was the only chicken we had left from our original flock.  Sadly, her luck had run out.  She had a good run.

And…now I’m crying a little.  Over chickens.  *sigh*

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