Monthly Archives: October 2010

Giddy (or, Plans for Cooking Day!)

Have you ever been shopping for Kinh Gioi?  Rau Ram?

No?

Neither had I, until last night.

Cross that one off on my Bucket List.

Just kidding.

I must say that I am absolutely giddy with anticipation of Cooking Day with my friend Kim.  We have never met in real life.  But, starting a couple of years ago, we began exchanging e-mails after “meeting” via a local Celiac listserv, and somehow we realized that we are both huge fans of natural birthing.  We both blog, too.  And, we’ve talked on the phone several times.

I’m not worried in the least about any awkwardness in real life.  We have great repoire every other way, and I expect the transition to be quite seamless.

Initially, I favored a Greek menu, but I’m glad that Kim rather steered us toward Vietnamese, her favorite ethnic food.  In many ways, Vietnamese is similar to Thai food, of which I’m a fan, and which I’ve cooked a number of times.  (With this fabulous and beautiful cookbook.)

Through a somewhat lengthy — and very fun! — process, we decided on this menu:

The kids — her two* and my five — will run wild as Kim and I work in the kitchen.  :)

Kinh Gioi (Vietnamese Mint)

While we were hunting for just the right combination of foods for our menu, I noticed that almost all the recipes on this Vietnamese Recipes site called for mint and/or cilantro.  I simply refused to believe that these were the “normal” herbs with which I was familiar.  I did a little Googling, and found out that Vietnamese Mint is also known as Kinh Gioi, which looks very similar to the darker green spearmint with which I’m familiar, but has a distinct lemony taste and flavor.  Vietnamese cilantro, Rau Ram, tastes similarly to “normal” cilantro, but looks very differently.

Vietnamese Cilantro, Rau Ram

So, there I was, at the Asian market, scanning for leaves that looked like the ones I’d seen on my computer.  I knew that Lee Lee had a whole host of herbs of which I was completely unfamiliar, and I was hoping to find the right kind.  I honed in on them, both in the “mint” section.  I pinched a few leaves, tasting and smelling.  Voila!

I felt immensely victorious, in a nerdy-cook sort of way.

I can’t wait for Cooking Day with Kim.  :D

——————–

*She has three children, but the oldest will be in school.

Ten things I have enjoyed in the last few days

In no particular order:

  1. Fiala’s second birthday.  Precious girl.  We have no pictures because my camera is totally broken now, and the grandparents forgot theirs.  We had a simple cookout party with family at the park on Saturday.  Between Friday (her actual birthday), and Saturday, she received a grand total of three presents, each simple and inexpensive… but her face is such a delight when she receives a present.  I think she really understands the heart of gift-giving, and she feels so special and thankful, no matter what the gift is, which makes it all the more delightful to give something to her.
  2. Receiving new earrings in the mail.  Ordered from Mom Potter’s Etsy shop:)
  3. The new Sherlock on PBS Masterpiece.  It was so wonderful!  I really enjoyed Benedict Cumberbatch (what a name!) on 2008’s The Last Enemy, aired on Masterpiece Contemporary last year, and he was even better as a 21st century Sherlock.  My husband wasn’t so convinced he’d like it — he’s a big fan of Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock portrayal.  But, about ten minutes into it, he said, “OK.  I’m hooked!”  Not giving too much away, but if you know the story of Sherlock Holmes, the one problem I had with the storyline/script is that it HIGHLY inferred that one character was so-and-so, but it turned out not to be the case, but another slightly lesser-known character.  I felt a tad manipulated, and I hate that in movies/TV shows.  Still.  It was really good.
  4. The cooler weather in Phoenix. Mornings in the 60s.  Days in the 80s or occasionally a bit lower.  ~sigh~  I’ve been waiting for this!!
  5. Getting a couple of bird mysteries solved, via a birding listserv I just joined.  Yes, that is a Eurasian Collared-Dove I saw;  as an introduced species, they are heading westward.  And, yes, Anna’s Hummingbirds can hybridize with Costa’s.
  6. Worship on Sunday.  It was so rich, both musically, and with the presence of God.  I couldn’t even sing, half the time.  Good thing I wasn’t on stage!  ;)
  7. The author of the book I ghost-wrote signed her contract. This was after long weeks of (slow) negotiations.  She got some things altered for her benefit.  Good for her!!  Expected publication date is August 1, 2011.
  8. Our “new” entertainment center.  Our TV barely fits, but it does fit!  My hubby and oldest son spent a good portion of Saturday setting it up.  :)
  9. The Jars of Clay Greatest Hits CD.  I have a couple of their CDs.  I’ve been a somewhat-fan over the years.  And, this CD is two years old, so I’m behind… (as always, with music)  But, what a great CD this is!!  I spied it at the library, and I’ve been greatly enjoying it.  All my kids like it, too.  I’ve been belting out the songs at the top of my lungs as we’ve traveled to and fro these last couple of weeks, as I’m familiar with all but three tracks on the CD.  It’s eminently singable.  I’m not normally a huge fan of retrospective type albums, but for someone like me, who enjoys Jars of Clay, but who does not own the whole collection of their discs, it’s perfect.
  10. My oldest son, Ethan.  He’s not a “thing”, but I have been so enjoying his growing-up.  He is 13.  In June, he stepped up to the youth group at our church, instead of the kids’ church…  He was unsure about the transition, but he’s really enjoying it now, and I think it has lent to his already-thoughtful nature, learning things and considering subjects that need some deeper maturity.  He’s a boy of few words, so it’s difficult to get a long conversation from him.  But, in our exchanges, I have been delighted in the evidence of his careful thought and kind consideration of those with whom (or of whom) he speaks.  He’s not perfect, of course, and there are a few things about him that make me wanna pull out my hair.  But — similar to my husband, of whom I have the same confidence — Ethan is faithful to work on the areas of his life’s garden which need weeding.  If you point out an error, he genuinely takes steps to improve, even if initially, he’s not all that receptive.  He’s a son to make a mother proud, and I love him so.

Keeping up

I homeschool my children.  I use a variety of curricula to do this, but at the heart of their education is curriculum from a company called Sonlight.  The company provides online forums for its members.  I used to practically live there, but a few things happened that soured me on them, and when I had gotten over being soured, I was out of the habit of frequenting them.  :)  Consequently, I don’t visit the Sonlight forums much.

Recently, though, I felt compelled to add my 2¢ to a post, where another homeschooling mother with a middle-schooler wanted to know how the rest of us fit it all in, in order to keep up with the curriculum’s schedule.  She specifically mentioned wanting to stay on course to allow her child to do some of Sonlight’s upper level courses (called Cores).

After I finished my lengthy reply, I thought it might make a good blog post.  :)  Part of it — testing — I’ve addressed here before.  But, I’m not sure if I’ve talked about child-centered education before, discarding my dreams and hopes for the education of my children, and opting, instead, for what works for them.  So, with a few edits, here goes:

My oldest is in eighth grade, and other than K, we’ve done Sonlight from the very beginning.  Over the years, it has been my goal to finish a Core in at least 18 months, but it has been closer to two years each.  We’re in the last few weeks of CORE FOUR.   On one hand, I’m embarrassed that we’re not where we “should” be.  On the other hand, he’s still learning a lot, enjoying school, and testing way past where he “should” be.  (This past spring, we did the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and, as a 7th grader, he tested, cumulatively, Past High School in all of the subjects, 23 of them, or something like that.)

I was afraid to have my children tested (we’d never done it before), but I felt like I needed to find where the gaping holes were in their education, and address them.  Likewise, if the results showed that they were doing well, I knew I needed to relax a bit, because I had become very uptight about finishing the Core, and feeling the weight of failure that we were so far “behind”.

With the test results in hand, I had to come to the humbling realization that all of my children were far excelling, and it was really just my pride that made it difficult to admit that my 8th grader was doing Core 4.  It wasn’t harming him in the least.

I, too, look at the catalog and part of me is crushed that we won’t get to many of the upper level studies, because we just won’t have time for it, given that he has just over 4.5 years of school left.   However, I think that he’s still going to end his schooling with an excellent education, even if it is not all that I hoped it would be.

I also came to the realization that it was important to go at a pace where they were REALLY LEARNING, and not just rush through so we could check the boxes.   I don’t want to tell them, “No, we don’t have time to really discuss this.  Time’s up.   Let’s go on to the next subject.”  And, unless you have an academically precocious child, each has his own needs that may need extra time to address.  For my oldest (the 8th grader), especially in the areas of science and writing, we just needed that extra time, which, by default, because of time, disallows other subjects. For instance, the Sonlight Instructor’s Guides have a student fly through a chapter (module) of Apologia science in two weeks.  My children were simply not retaining enough at that pace.  So, now, we do the module’s reading, questions, and experiments in two weeks, then devote a whole additional week to study questions and ensuring that they really understand.  Similarly, with writing, as I feel it is an essential life skill, and one which will stick with them for the rest of their life, no matter the field of their eventual career, I feel it’s important to devote “extra” time to it.

One more thing:  I have found that my children LOVE when I find extra books, both fiction and non-fiction, and even movies, which are set within the time period, or focus on the event which we are studying.  Again, this takes “extra” time, but they really learn and retain — and UNDERSTAND — the information when it is presented in a variety of ways, from a variety of perspectives.

Suffice it to say that, as long as your child is learning, PLEASE DON’T WORRY about completing a Core, so that you can get to later Cores.  While I understand that motivation (because part of it lives in my own heart!), please schedule your schooling (both the hours devoted, and the subject matter) according to your own child’s abilities and needs.

By the way, my oldest takes about 5-5.5 hours daily to complete his schooling, not counting any extra reading he chooses to do.

Buying things at really good prices or getting them for free makes me happy.

**NOTE** A while back, an acquaintance read a post of mine wherein I mentioned praying for some needs we had, and she came away with the impression that our family was entirely destitute, and went to my pastor about it, and suggested that she or he or someone should do a fundraiser of some sort for our family.  Um, please don’t do that. Yes, it can be trying, living on one income, and yes, we occasionally have needs that go unmet, but usually, it’s more like wants that go unmet, and I am — by no means — complaining about my lot in life.  God continually provides for our family.

Going over-budget depresses me.  O, groceries!  Why must thou be so expensive??

Offsetting the funk that grocery-shopping put me in, on Wednesday night, are these:

  • We have a hand-me-down of a hand-me-down for an entertainment center.  I do not know how old it is, but it has certainly outlived its life-expectancy.  We’ve had it for six or seven years, and we are the third owners.  The doors are falling off (we’ve repaired them countless times), the whole thing is made of particle board, and it’s a light maple color, unlike anything else in our home.  It is a veritable monstrosity.  Still.  It’s hard to say, “Yeah, I really need an entertainment center!”  We need things like kids’ shoes and to pay our electricity.  We don’t need an entertainment center.  I’ve had a search going, via RSS, on Craigslist, for over a year, hoping to find something that is just right and which costs about $50 or less, is a darker shade of wood, has at least some closing doors, and which will fit our TV, which is 30″ wide.  Not too surprisingly, I haven’t found anything.  A couple of weeks ago, though, I started praying for an entertainment center.  Hesitantly, I prayed thus:  “OK, Father.  I know that an entertainment center is not high on the

    Freecycle!!

    list of priorities, and I really feel like maybe it might even be… wrong, somehow, to pray for an entertainment center.  But I really need Your help finding one, because I’ve not been able to.”  Well, lemme tell you, I feel really cared-for by my God, because what should pop up on Freecycle yesterday???  The lady apologized for it being five years old and dusty.  Um, I don’t care.  It’s free.  It’ll fit our TV.  And, it’s a whole, whole lot nicer than the one we have.  BLESS GOD!!  And a friend of ours, a strong Phoenix policeman, lives right by the current owner’s house, and is going to help my hubby load it.  :)  I’m tickled.

  • There is a song that so resonates with me right now.  I sing it at the top of my lungs in the truck, whether or not anyone else is with me.  It’s called Your Love is Strong, and was originally done by Jon Forman (of Switchfoot), though I first heard it by the Robbie Seay Band.  The song is a summary of the Sermon on the Mount, and there’s a lyric in it that says “…the flowers, better dressed than any girl on her wedding day / So why do I worry?  Why do I freak out? / God knows what I need / He knows what I need…”  This song both ministers to me and convicts me.  Anyway.  So, another thing I recently prayed over, after initially freaking out, is for God’s provision for clothes for my five children for the winter.  Thankfully, we do get a LOT of hand-me-downs, but there are always one thing or another that needs to be purchased.  This year, among other things, we really needed pants and jeans for Audrey, as she had not one pair — lots of winter dresses, tops, tights, and about five jackets, but no long pants.  And, voila!  There was a Craigslist posting, and the lady happened to be literally a mile down the road from where I go to small group.  So, last night, I went and picked them up.  It wasn’t the cheapest Craigslist find, but I feel really good about what I got for the money I spent.  Four pairs of jeans and four pairs of corduroys.  Eight pairs, thirty dollars. And, they’re all nice brands, and in excellent condition.  Two of the jeans are Guess.  New, they’d be $25 each, at a minimum!  Of course, Audrey’s favorite are the hot pink sparkly corduroys from The Children’s Place.  (Same as these used ones on Ebay for $9.99 plus $3.85 shipping!)
  • I have begun a (slow) process of trying to eliminate more plastics from our home, especially for food storage.  Glass, how I love thee!  How I have always loved thee!  But, glass… did you know how expensive you are????  ~sigh~  Today, though, shopping at Ross for, among other things, Fiala’s birthday present — She is two years old, today!  Happy birthday to the sweetest member of our family! — I got sucked into the homegoods section.  Goodness.  I could easily have plunked down a couple hundred bucks on all the things that caught my eye!  I was looking, dreaming, yet keeping myself composed until I saw these refrigerator carafes, at right.  There were two of them on the shelf, one with a red cap, the other with blue.  $2.99 each.  They’re rather an odd size, 1300 cc, or 43.5 oz.  But, I’m very happy to have them.  I think they are wonderful.

Food! Again with the food! (A diet update, some great dressing, and a little recipe)

Hunter-gatherers, unite!

Just kidding.

Sort of.

So, my bloggy/e-mail/phone friend Kim and I are planning a Cooking Day together.  I’m so excited!*  We were discussing our diets and a menu, and as we are both gluten-free and mostly dairy-free, I think it’ll work really well.  I think we’re going to do Greek food, but that’s not decided.  Anyway.  She mentioned that she’s trying to go grain-free.  I scoffed a bit.  “What?  No grain??  What are you doing, the Paleo Diet?  I can’t imagine life without rice.  And corn.  And buckwheat and quinoa, even!  NO GRAIN??”

Well, here I am on my diet**, three and a half weeks into it, and what is working best?  A diet with meat, loads of veggies, a bit of fruit, legumes, nuts, and pretty much no grains.  In other words, what Kim eats.

For an example…

100 grams of carrots is a lot of carrots.  Not many net carbs (5 g), a fair portion of fiber (3 g).  And, tasty to boot, especially when dipped in Drew’s Smoked Tomato dressing (add another 2 g carbs!).  Yummo.

However, 100 grams of brown rice, which really is not a large serving of rice, has 22 net carbs and only 2 grams of fiber.

I’m finding myself just saying no to grains.  They’re just not worth it.  Same with potatoes, which has only 2 fewer grams of carbs than rice, per 100 g serving.

On a tangential note, I find it particularly frustrating that I have to be SO DARN CAREFUL with what I eat.  It’s my desire to have a diet that is more like a “diet”.  I want it to be long-term sustainable.  Thus, I won’t starve myself, nor do anything completely weird, just for the sake of a couple pounds.  And, I really don’t see measuring everything to be long-term sustainable.  But, it’s what works.  So, what’s a chubbish girl to do??  Measure, I guess.

In my first week, I was limiting myself to 150 net carbs daily, and I lost more than 4 pounds.  I can’t believe I found that discouraging.  Because here I am, in the middle of my fourth week, and I’ve only lost a total of 6.8 lbs.  After I didn’t lose anything the second week (doing the exact same thing I had done the first week), I had to change things up a bit, and lower my carb count to 125.

That pretty much eliminates all non-healthy snacks.  Tortilla chips and Stax are completely out the window.  :(

Oh, well.

Being 6.8 lbs lighter, though, my jeans are starting to be not-so-tight, and that gives me a little hope.

And, I suppose averaging about 2 lbs a week is fair, right?

I guess I had visions of it being a lot simpler than it has been.  I like simple.

However, I have a weird affinity for measuring and figuring, doing a wee bit of math (cross-multiplying, etc.) to figure out the carb count of a part of the total.  I’ll do something like make a whole pot of soup, and measuring out each and every ingredient, using this really handy, informative online nutrition info site, which gives every nutrient and micronutrient in a food…  Then, I add up all the ingredients, and find out what the average, per cup, or per 100 grams, would be.  That way, I can still eat from scratch and feed my family healthily, but be pinpoint on top of my own consumption.

Here’s a little recipe for an example:

Pan-Roasted Root Veggies (click for printable .pdf)

makes 6-8 servings

  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 small-medium parsnips (about 230 grams or 8 oz.), peeled and sliced 1/4″ thick
  • 6 small-medium carrots (about 290 grams or 10 oz.), peeled and sliced 1/4″ thick
  • 1 medium red bell pepper (about 200 grams, or 7 oz.), seeded and cored, in 1/4″ dice
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp dried parsley

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add parsnips and carrots.  Sauté until about half of them have noticeably brown edges (about 5-10 minutes).

Add red bell pepper, salt, and parsley.  Stir, and turn heat down very low.  Do not add any liquid.  Cook over very low heat for 30 minutes to an hour, stirring infrequently, until vegetables are very tender.

Enjoy!

Voila!  With my scale and the above-linked website, I was able to figure out that, on average, 100 grams of this mixture contained 13 net grams of carbs, and an additional five grams of fiber.  One hundred grams of this dish seems like a LOT when on the plate.  It is tasty, filling, beautiful, and more nutritious than rice.  (Plus, everyone liked it a lot!  Sauteeing and slow-cooking the veggies brings out the sweetness of the parsnips and carrots.  Scrumptious!)

————–

*We have agreed (with some giggling) to stick to our mutual interests (including food issues), and, oh!  Kim!  Natural birthing, too!  Birth and food.  :)  We will not talk politics or religion.  :D

**I hate that word.

Something really pretty (a jewelry giveaway!) and something really NOT (ammonia-treated beef)

  • A fellow homeschooling mom, much craftier than I, has a contest going until 10/22/10, a giveaway of two separate gift certificates — one for $25 and one for $10.  You can enter in a wide variety of ways.  She doesn’t require a purchase, but I went onto her Etsy shop (she has a second one, here), and I liked *EVERY SINGLE THING*.  I recently sold some curriculum, and used some of the PayPal balance to purchase three things.  I could easily have bought about fifty things, but I restrained myself.
  • On a totally different note, as I was researching the use of ammonia (for in my home), I read the Wikipedia entry on it.  Color me SHOCKED when I read a blurb about large fast-food chains using ammonia to disinfect beef for its burgers.  The meat (or should I say, “meat”)  is obtained using a process that liquefies the fat in fatty trimmings and then centrifuges it out.  The fine sludge that remains is then treated with ammonia to kill e-coli and other pathogens.  Now, it appears that only a portion of each patty from McDonald’s and

    Beef Products Inc.'s ammonia-treated beef

    Burger King uses the low-quality ammonia-treated beef, but that doesn’t make me feel any better.  I can honestly say that it has been…  I think… two years since I’ve had any beef from either of those two places, but suffice it to say that — IF YOU HAVE TO pH TEST THE LEVEL OF YOUR MEAT TO MAKE SURE IT’S NOT DANGEROUSLY ALKALINE FROM HAVING IT TREATED WITH AMMONIA, then it’s not really anything I want to eat.  Ever again.  EVER.  Sounds too crazy to be true, right?  Too gross??  Sadly, no.  Do read the whole October 2009 New York Times exposé — it’s really interesting.  The focus of the article was primarily on the SAFETY of the meat, and all I could think about was, “THEY’RE TREATING FOOD WITH AMMONIA AND DISCUSSING THE SAFETY AND THE ODOR!!!  THIS IS NOT RIGHT!!!!!!”  Lordy.  Maybe this is one reason why Americans are having such trouble with food pH that is too high, too alkaline…  That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms, I guess.  :(

    • By the way, on the rare occasions when I have a burger, I really like In-N-Out.  I visited their website, and sent in an e-mail, asking about ammonia in their beef.  They replied, asking me to call their toll-free number, which I did.  Turns out, they do all of their butchering in-house (they have one butcherhouse which is the lone supplier of their meat), and they do not use ammonia in their beef.
    • Beef Products, Inc., the primary producer of this ammonia-treated beef also is a MAJOR supplier for public school cafeteria lunches.  (Add that to the ever-growing list of reasons why I’m happy we homeschool.)

Regurgitation (or The American System of Education)

Luke at Sonlight Blog had a great post entitled Questions with Answers are Easy, postulating that understanding is more important than regurgitating.

My comment got so long and it’s about something that’s close to my heart, so I thought I’d… cheat a little, and just copy and paste my comment, and have it be my whole post for the day!!  (I did add a bit…)

To Luke, I wrote:

I’m (mostly) with you [on the importance of real learning vs. parroting responses]. I really enjoy reading history and even science with my children, and pointing out things like author bias when the semantics are steering us one way or another. I love discussions about this sort of thing.

We had one this morning, in fact, revisiting the Lusitania.   I saw a Military Channel documentary on it, and contrary to the Usborne World Wars book, it inferred that evidence shows that Churchill, who was part of the Admiralty, perhaps ordered the Lusitania to stay on course, even knowing that a German U-boat was in its way.   The thinking was that, if Britain sacrificed the Lusitania, perhaps it would compel the Americans to engage in WWI.

Heady stuff.  Troubling stuff, actually, for 11 and 13yos.

But, my point was that, in history, oftentimes, it’s difficult to tell who was right and who was wrong.  And that the “right” sides can make the wrong decisions.  And do the ends justify the means?   And what about unintended consequences???

Etc.

Not that I’m saying the Germans were right in WWI.  It’s just that even the “good guys” can make life-altering, history-altering decisions, and investigating them can leave one queasy at times.

I GREATLY want my children to be able to think, not just regurgitate. I think the biggest failing of the American education system right now is that it is spitting out millions of children who only know how to regurgitate, and I might even be so brash to think that the generation of homeschooled American children may save the future generations of their publicly schooled compatriots.  Or, at least lead them.*

However, there are other things at which I draw the line, and say, “You need to remember this term.”   For instance, my 9yo, Wesley, does really well in grammar — understanding grammar.  But, he has trouble with the terms.  He will forever ask me, “What is an imperative?” or, “What does compound mean?”   (He knows what an object of the preposition is, or what the direct object of a verb is… and can even find more than one of them.  But the fact that more than one makes it compound, he can’t remember.) Now, it might be that he only encounters such questions on a standardized test.  But, is it important that he remembers it?  I think it is.

Sometimes, etymology and semantics are what make conversation and communication with others possible.   Standards of education are important, at least to an extent.  It’s great that Wesley understands grammar.   But if he can’t explain it to others, can’t explain what it is he knows, that can send him astray in a multitude of directions (not speaking just of grammar here).

———-

*I realize that this is inflammatory.  However, I truly believe, both for better and for worse, that homeschooled children are more likely to be the sort who go against the status quo.  The best and most effective leaders are the ones who are able to communicate something new, and/or to see old information in a new light, and/or to think and speak things that go against the flow of current culture.  American schools do not encourage this sort of inventiveness.  American schools encourage assimilation, cooperation at all costs, not rocking the boat, “fitting in”, homogenization.  The product of American schools are largely akin to fish sticks, whilst most homeschooled children are wild-caught salmon.  Both end up on someone’s plate, but fish sticks are a pale approximation of what is genuine.  At its best, homeschooling produces GENUINE education:  LEARNING, not just memorizing.  THINKING, not just remembering.  ANALYZING, not just synthesizing.  Stimulating DISCUSSION, not just being lectured at.  Etc.

 

 

I’m (mostly) with you. I really enjoy reading history and even science with my children, and pointing out things like author bias when the semantics are steering us one way or another. I *love* discussions about this sort of thing.

We had one this morning, in fact, revisiting the Lusitania. I saw a Military Channel documentary on it, and contrary to the Usborne World Wars book, it inferred that evidence shows that Churchill, who was part of the Admiralty, perhaps ordered the Lusitania to stay on course, even knowing that a German U-boat was in its way. The thinking was that, if Britain sacrificed the Lusitania, perhaps it would compel the Americans to engage in WWI.

Heady stuff. Troubling stuff, actually, for 11 and 13yos.

But, my point was that, in history, oftentimes, it’s difficult to tell who was right and who was wrong. And that the “right” sides can make the wrong decisions. And do the ends justify the means? And what about unintended consequences???

Etc.

Not that I’m saying the Germans were right in WWI. It’s just that even the “good guys” can make life-altering, history-altering decisions, and investigating them can leave one queasy at times.

I *GREATLY* want my children to be able to think, not just regurgitate. I think the biggest failing of the American education system right now is that it is spitting out millions of children who only know how to regurgitate, and I might even be so brash to think that the generation of homeschooled American children may save the future generations of their publicly schooled compatriots. Or, at least lead them.

However, there are other things with which I draw the line, and say, “You need to remember this term.” For instance, my 9yo, Wesley, does really well in grammar — understanding grammar. But, he has trouble with the terms. He will forever ask me, “What is an imperative?” or, “What does compound mean?” (He knows what an object of the preposition is, or what the direct object of a verb is… and can even find more than one of them. But the fact that more than one makes it compound, he can’t remember.) Now, it might be that he only encounters such questions on a standardized test. But, is it important that he remembers it? I think it is.

Sometimes, etymology and semantics are what make conversation and communication with others possible. Standards of education are important, at least to an extent. It’s great that Wesley understands grammar. But if he can’t explain it to others, can’t explain what it is he knows, that can send him astray in a multitude of directions (not speaking just of grammar here).

Why celiac disease is so confusing.

A childhood friend sent me a message, describing symptoms, and asked me about my history with a “gluten allergy” and asked if I thought she might have a gluten allergy as well.  My response to her ended up being quite long… and I thought that it might serve well as a blog post, though I have surely talked about these things before:

OK… I will do my best to answer without confusing the issue even more!

First… I don’t have a gluten allergy. I have celiac disease (as do two of my five kids), which is an autoimmune disorder — like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus — but unlike most autoimmune disorders, the trigger (the thing that starts symptoms) is known. It is gluten. A small portion of the gluten (protein) molecule, called a peptide, does two things: It triggers a self-destruct response in the villi of the small intestine. And, it bonds to neurons in the brain, causing an opiate effect.

Thus, the two biggest symptoms with celiac disease is digestive problems (often diarrhea) and neurological problems (from as “innocuous” as depression to as severe as schizophrenia).

Here’s where it gets weird, though. There are three additional problems:

1) Since the villi in the small intestine are destroyed, many nutrients that should get in the body are not absorbed. This leads to a host of increasing health problems/symptoms that are actually secondary to celiac disease, as they are started from malnourishment of one (or usually more than one) nutrient. For instance, premature osteoporosis from malabsorption of calcium. Lack of calcium can also lead to heart problems — weird palpitations and electrical problems in the heart, because the body need calcium in order for its nervous/electrical system to work properly. There are many, many, many other secondary symptoms of celiac, which makes it particularly hard to diagnose, since the symptoms are actually spokes, and celiac disease is the hub. Often, these secondary symptoms will compound, increase, “develop” as a person ages, because the body has gone longer and longer w/o certain nutrients, and at some point it reaches a critical stage, and causes an illness in the body. Also… since CD is an autoimmune disorder, oftentimes, the body will just start spitting out antibodies to just about everything, in a “last ditch” effort to rid the body of invaders. (Often, when a person with severe, multiple allergies starts a gluten-free diet, secondary allergies and many other secondary health problems, including chronic illnesses, start healing or disappearing.)

2) Usually, even though celiac disease is not an allergy, someone with celiac disease ALSO develops T-cell antibodies to gluten, because the body recognizes gluten as a cause of the problem. IOW, if a blood draw is done, a person with celiac disease will, a vast majority of the time, show an “allergy” to gluten. So, a person can show a gluten allergy, when in reality, the *root* of the problem is celiac disease. Compounding this difficulty, although this a matter of hot debate among scientists and doctors, some people do seem to have “just” a gluten allergy, and not full-blown celiac disease. This is under debate, though, because the body’s response to having the gene that causes celiac disease is so widely varied, and many doctors think that if a person has a gluten allergy, whether or not other celiac symptoms are present, that person likely has latent celiac disease.

3) Adding even more to the confusion is the fact that some people with celiac disease are symptomatic from birth, and some people’s symptoms are triggered by a physically or emotionally difficult situation — like pregnancy, or a death in the family, or divorce, etc. Additionally, some people show symptoms in early childhood, then go into symptomatic remission (for reasons that are not at all understood) during the teen years. Then, symptoms come back later in the teen years, or even much later in life. So, it can appear that a person “develops” celiac disease at a later point in life, when in actuality, that person had CD all along, but for unknown reasons, was asymptomatic.

SO!

That was probably more than you care to know.

Suffice it to say, it’s a very confusing disease. Until recently (about five years ago), doctors used to think it was incredibly rare. It was thought that about 1 in 10,000 people have celiac disease. Then, a major, major medical study came out (Dr. Alessio Fasano, at U. of Maryland, if you care to look into it) that showed that on average, about 1 in 130 people in America test positive for CD.

Even diagnosis can be difficult, though… Some people who have the gene do not have symptoms. Genetic testing is expensive, and it is generally not done. However, the blood tests for CD often show false negatives, partly because they look (among other things) for antibodies to gluten, and not every celiac develops antibodies.

HOWEVER…. if you already have allergies, it may be wise to ask your doctor for a celiac panel blood test.

Though this is by no means exhaustive, below is a list of potential celiac symptoms.

I am MORE THAN HAPPY to answer any questions you may have, to the very best of my ability.

P.S. I do understand that I answered in a very roundabout way. What I’m trying to say is that you *could* be having trouble with gluten, and it *could* be an allergy, or it *could* be celiac disease. Without a doctor taking a look at your blood, it’s hard to say, one way or another.
P.P.S. I was diagnosed “presumed celiac” eight years ago, but have had a lifetime of symptoms that went into remission from ages 12-17. “Presumed” because my doctor knew my health history well, and all the trouble I’d had, and all my secondary diagnoses, but I had been on a gluten-free diet for a number of weeks before my bloodwork, so it was inconclusive. However, because a vast majority of my symptoms disappeared whilst on the g.f. diet, he called it “presumed celiac.” That, and at that point, one of my sons had been dx’ed with it. Nowadays, some doctors will accept simply alleviation of symptoms, via a g.f. diet, as enough indication for the presence of celiac disease. Some rely on bloodwork. Some rely on a small intestinal scope (to sample/view the villi). Some rely on a combination. The diagnosis standards are changing and varied.

Interesting things: My own mini blog carnival.

Too many compelling blogs, too little time….

Here is a mini-roundup of bloggy thoughts I’ve found interesting in the last few days.

Hey, also, if you have a blog, or know of a blog that you think might interest me, leave a comment with a link!  (I’m always looking for interesting blogs, even as I sigh about there not being enough time to read them.)

  1. Joy writes an amusing post, a retrospective on her eighth wedding anniversary, of all the anniversary camping trips she and her husband have taken.  She also posts other thoughts, both beautiful and heart-wrenching on the ups and downs of their eight years together…  I’m trying to figure out if I find these posts particularly compelling because I know (knew?) Joy in real life…  They’re worth a read, even if you don’t know Joy.  :)
  2. Really compelling thoughts by Amy Romano at Science & Sensibility, regarding the nature and value of research (stemming from thoughts on the connection between endometriosis and c-sections).  As always on that blog, the ideas presented are quite learned and heady, and I’m always hesitant to comment.  I couldn’t resist this time, though.
  3. A thought-provoking post from Luke Holzmann questioning that specialization automatically equals better science.  He relates it, sort of, to education.  I think my comments, collectively, are longer than his original post.  Thank you, Luke, for your tolerance of my verbosity.
  4. I WAS JUST THINKING ABOUT THIS!  And along comes a blog post, on my reader, as if reading my thoughts.  From Pacific NW Birder, a discussion on changes in common and scientific names of creatures, notably the Rock Dove, Columba livia, whose name has recently been changed to Rock Pigeon.
  5. A “report”, via blog, by my neighbor, friend, and fellow homeschooler, Jeanne on the cranberry.  Entitled Pearls of Crimson, it’s a compact treatise on the cranberry’s history as well as some current scientific findings.
  6. A post, entitled Why I Don’t Watch Glee, by my friend Nicole, on not being a trend-follower.  I could relate with so much of what she said!
  7. Beautiful story by Daja of champagne and cigars on the banks of the Seine with a homeless man… echoes of Matthew 25:37-40 (truly!).

Discouragement, encouragement, and food. Lots of food.

  • A few days ago, I was looking in my spice cupboard, and thought, “If anyone were to ask me what my top three spices and herbs are, I’d tell them:  rosemary, sage, and cumin.”  Not that anyone is asking.  :)  But, as if in confirmation of my seasoning choices, the food section of yesterday’s Arizona Republic had a nifty article on the top four spices that are great for brain health:  turmeric, rosemary, sage, and cumin.  I have a big pouch of turmeric, but I must admit that I have used it for medicinal purposes, as I’m not really fond of the taste.  But, I use the other three liberally and frequently.  (Fresh rosemary, rubbed sage, and powdered cumin.)
  • After a recent, horrible, rather discouraging reaction to apples — who is allergic to apples??? — it appears that Fiala can tolerate carrots.  It doesn’t appear to be exacerbating any skin problems, and doesn’t seem to affect her digestive system or otherwise seem to put her out of sorts.  Bless God!  Seriously.  If she can do carrots — which are healthy, portable, and easy to prepare — that would be such a huge blessing.  As we quickly approach her 2nd birthday, I’ve been getting a lot of questions recently, inquiring if Fiala is growing out of any of her allergies.  It doesn’t really appear so, though the very good news is that I am managing her skin much better.  She used to get infected once every 6-8 weeks, but it’s been since late June that she had an infection.  So, she’s still reacting badly to all but a very few foods, but she’s in good health, and I am very slowly making discoveries about things she can well-tolerate.  (She can do pineapple, too.  Did I mention that any time in recent weeks?)
  • I don’t typically do all that well with surprises.  I woke yesterday in a funk, sad and discouraged over a number of things.  My hubby — of course — noticed, and wrenched out of me a little conversation about what was the matter…  Later in the day, he called me to tell me he had obtained a babysitter and he was taking me out.  That made me cry, and for all the wrong reasons.  I got stressed out — instantly! — over the fact that I had a mere three hours to prepare myself, my home, and my five children for us being gone that evening.  And I had planned to go grocery shopping that night, so I was struck with thoughts of, “Is there enough food in the pantry?  In the fridge?  Freezer?” for two more days, as I have small group tonight, and won’t be able to shop until Friday.  PLUS, I thought, “This is so NOT what I need.”  And though I didn’t want to pass up the too-rare opportunity for a night out with my hubby, of the things that were troubling me, I just didn’t think an impromptu date night would be any kind of answer.  HOWEVER…  I was able to get my act together, prepare dinner for the kids (braised lamb and turnips with rosemary for Fiala, leftover soup for the other four children, and fresh farinata for all), get myself showered and ready, tidy up our home, and find a place for us to go, within my allotted three hours of prep time.  We went to a restaurant called the White Chocolate Grill, chosen because of its gluten-free menu.  It’s a lot pricier than any place to which we would normally (or even abnormally) go, but my hubby had suggested we try something new, and after we fired up the Phoenix Celiac website, we decided upon the WCG.  The WCG has worked extensively with a local celiac, Nina Spitzer, and her company, Gluten-Free Absolutely! to craft a terrific g.f. menu.  My husband and I ordered off of their special “Date Night” menu (about $28pp, one appetizer, two salads, two entrees, and one dessert), which had ample g.f. choices. We split a delicious grilled artichoke, each had a field greens salad (with goat cheese — yum!), he had a grilled filet mignon with marinated mushrooms and the most amazing roasted carrots (a huge mound of them!).  I had a delicious balsamic rib eye with fresh tomato and mashed potatoes, which were semi-rustic and tasted faintly of nutmeg.  And, we had warm, heavenly, chocolate souffle cake.  Plus, delicious coffee, which surely must be fresh-brewed, per cup.  IT WAS ALL AMAZING.  They had a glitch in their computer system, and my husband’s dish came out about ten minutes after mine. For our “trouble”, the management comped us my husband’s dinner, even though we said it was no problem at all.  Wow!!  So, anyways.  It turned out that I did, most certainly, need a night of my dear husband’s company.  We talked about everything but the kids, minus a small conversation about Fiala’s very expressive face.  :D  And, actually, though I have no idea what the carb-count was of my dinner, I didn’t blow my diet too badly, as my husband ate most of my mashed potatoes, and I had hardly eaten anything up until dinnertime (I tend to eat less when I’m troubled).  :)  Not that that was the point, but it was lagniappe to an already wonderful night.  I woke up this morning, refreshed, thinking, “What a difference a day makes!”  Cliché, but true.  I feel much better about life in general.
  • Edited to add:  Click to read an expanded version of my review of the White Chocolate Grill on the Gluten-Free Travel Site.
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