Thursday, August 30, 2012

My favorite reaction

People joke that if they eat too much junk food it goes straight to their hips.  For M, it goes straight to his eyes.
That isn't his eyelid that's swollen, it's the eyeball itself.

Though I hate all his additive reactions, this is one I also secretly appreciate.  People don't always believe me that many processed foods make it hard for M to manage his behavior.  You can see it in their faces: "My kid ate the same thing, and you don't see her bouncing off the walls."  Plus, behavior is so hard to quantify... How do you measure how hard your kid is to handle?  Handsful-of-hair ripped out per hour? 

That jelly-like substance in his eyelid?  That's
his eyeball, swollen beyond all recognition.  I think
it's described as conjunctival chemosis.
But who is going to argue with this?  I wish I knew exactly which food additive gives him this reaction, but we haven't pinpointed it yet.  It's happened several times, most recently when he ate "five spice duck" (Pbet pa-lo) at Yaya's house a few weeks ago.

We drove back to the vendor the next day to ask what was in the soup that might have caused his reaction.  It had MSG, which we already avoid, and a bottled sweet, thick soya sauce- which, depending on the brand, has all kinds of food additives from colors, to preservatives, to flavor enhancers.

I love this reaction because it makes the doubters eat their words.  Yaya is likely to feed him what we pack for him from now on, after seeing his face swell up within minutes of eating the lunch that she figured was "probably good enough".  The downside- I don't know if this extreme swelling is harmful to his eyes, but it seems likely that it is.

At the very least, this reaction gives me something that I can explain easily when we're turning down food with additives, without launching into a huge explanation of our food choices.  He's allergic*.  Want to see what he looks like when he eats it?

*The doctor insisted this was not an allergic reaction despite all symptoms pointing to an allergic reaction to food or medicine, because, "You can't be allergic to food additives."   For the record, he does not agree with our additive-free lifestyle.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The initial brush off

I wrote about L's first seizure here.    I'd wanted to rush straight to the hospital immediately afterward, but we called and the nurse told us wasn't necessary - we could follow up during the next few days.

Could you accuse this darling of throwing a tantrum?
Two days later I was describing the scene for the doctor.  Even though I was rattled, it was easy.  Every detail was seared into my memory.  After listening impatiently for about 2 minutes, she told me patronizingly, "This is what we call a 'temper tantrum' and is very normal among toddlers.   I could have had a temper tantrum right there in that office.  I told her I knew what a temper tantrum was, and this was not a tantrum.  It was a seizure.  With tears I re-explained every detail.  His eyes unfocusing, the robotic movement, his jaw, his arched back, his collapse afterward.   I told how he had gone without oxygen for a long time before finally going into the seizure, because of the strange way he had been crying.  At the time, I didn't even think to point out that L was only 10 months old. If she thought he was throwing a tantrum already at that age, she must have considered him very precocious.

Her next words were worse. "The thing is - how would you even know what a seizure is?  You are not a medical professional."  I'm actually grateful for my stunned silence.  Who knows what I might have said?  How do you even answer that?  When I finally got my voice back, I informed the doctor that I knew plenty about seizures since my niece had suffered non-epileptic seizures for years.    The truth is, I'd never seen one of her seizures.  But she didn't need to know that.  Who could mistake a seizure when they saw one?  It's asinine.

Finally she relented that L may have had "a seizure"  (she always referred to it as "a seizure," just to make sure I knew she didn't believe me) but that there was no need for any follow up.  She assured me that a fluke seizure is nothing, and that she'd be willing to order any tests that we wanted in order to appease us, but that "the epilepsy test is reliable only 40% of the time, so even if we did test, there would be nothing we could do with the information."

Obviously, we didn't order any tests.  She said to come back if he ever had another 'seizure'.  Two seizures without known triggers would signal epilepsy.  She would even encourage testing at that point.  We went home and waited.  He had near-misses constantly, and I feared every one would end up as a seizure.  About a month later, he had his second seizure.  But that didn't get us any closer to a diagnosis.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

freezer truffles

I guess if you had company you might
worry a little more about presentation!

Additive free freezer truffles

5 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons coconut milk
2 tablespoons honey

Stir, stir, stir*

Spoon into muffin liners and freeze.  (Candy molds would obviously also be ideal.)

Voila!  Chocolate in minutes.  Next time you have unexpected guests, you could excuse yourself for 1 minute, whip these up, and then offer them casually a few minutes later.  

This recipe is an amalgam of several homemade and raw chocolate recipes I found online, and was improved with the delicious addition of coconut milk.  The coconut milk makes it creamier and not so bitter.  It does lose the chocolate bar feel and becomes a truffle, but no complaints here.

I just made a batch of sunbutter cups using this chocolate - thinned down a little with extra coconut milk- as the base.  I'm curious how they turned out, but I am too stuffed from eating the leftover spoonsful of homemade sunbutter while I was cooking to try one.   

Remember to eat them right from the freezer - coconut oil melts at room temperature!

*If the whole mixture seizes up and the oil runs out at the bottom of the bowl, just put it in the freezer for a minute.  When it begins to harden, quickly stir it all together.  Good as new!

I want to be so happy

When M was about 2-1/2 or 3, his catchphrase was, "I want to be so happy."  He must've wailed it 50 times a day.  We'd know we were up for a hard day when M would meltdown over his bedroom door in the morning.  Either he wanted it to be opened a crack before he woke up, or else opening his door for him was the most terrible betrayal ever experienced by a small boy.  It was 50/50.

So every couple of mornings or so, he'd burst into our room in the morning (carrying Mr. Hanson, Buzz, Big Guy Buzz, Albert, blue blanket and the elephant pillow) crying about how he wanted to be so happy.  At the time, we'd comfort him and smile at his childish language.  Everyone knows toddlers don't even understand their own emotions.

Since we started the diet, M has said, "I want to be so happy" exactly one time.  It was during an additive-induced meltdown.  I hadn't heard it in so long, I had almost forgotten.

He was right.  All those times.  He did want to be so happy, and when he was on his additive-filled diet, his happiness was outside his control.  Imagine crying out of frustration that you can't be happy when you want to be.  And we wondered why he was so wild.  He was distracting himself from his own frustrating mind.

Our children know more than we give them credit for.  What are they trying to tell us?

Monday, August 27, 2012

45 days

Today marks 45 days since L's last seizure.

Road trip entertainment - stripping!

We took a trip to Trang during summer vacation, and Whim convinced me to let the boys go off the diet, just until we got home.  He said he wanted to relax and not have to worry about it for a while.  Against my better judgment, I acquiesced.   We didn't knowingly give them anything with additives, but we ate out like normal people without asking the waiter a million questions.

By the second day off the diet, M was a mess- constantly throwing fits and having meltdowns, but Whim still wasn't ready to go back.  Add in late bedtimes, missed naps, and bad weather, and you can imagine just how fun this vacation was turning out.  Finally after about a week of 'carefree' eating, L had a terrible seizure. He fell and hit his head on the cement floor, and his tears were tinged with blood.

I didn't care what Whim said, we were back on the diet that night.  L didn't have any more seizures, but it took a few days for the effects of all those additives to wear off.

I know there will be seizure days ahead.  But there will never be another one because I decided to let things slide. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012


I've said before how I was never really a health nut until my kids forced me into it.

Case in point: Flowerfood brand sunflower seed bars.  These are everywhere here in Thailand.  I have seen them in the store a million times and never bothered to pick one up.  Actually, that's not true.  I picked one up once, looked at the ingredient list with a raised eyebrow, and then put it back because I assumed it would be bland and boring.  Their additive free stance actually turned me off!  And I like sunflower seeds!  Have I mentioned how lucky I am that these boys opened my eyes?

Whim bought one of these last week during a rare out-of-the-house snack emergency.  This time I looked at it with new eyes - it's additive-free, portable, and look at all that honey.  The kids will love it!  Although I want them to be comfortable eating foods that are different from their peers, there's nothing wrong with letting them have a snack that looks like their friends' from time to time.

The funny thing is, I've had my eyes peeled for these since then and haven't seen them once.  Isn't that how it is? 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Only Joni gets it

People say they want organic produce but shudder at the thought of finding a worm in their salad.

And most people will naturally reach for the shiny red apple over the spotted pale one.  Joni warned us...

I'll be the first to admit that bugs in my food gross me out.  But at least they're supposed to be there.  They're part of the natural order - a food chain that doesn't revolve around us.  We should be more freaked out about the petrochemicals that have no business being in our food in the first place. 

According to this article, when surveyed, people claimed that dye-free food samples tasted duller than their traditionally colored counterparts, even when the ingredients were identical.  It's so unfair that the food companies are in our heads and use this information to market to us - tricking us into seeing their products as fresh, healthy, and appealing. 

We see bright green pickles and know they're going to be sour and delicious, even before we taste them.   We have to train ourselves to taste again, without outside influences like color.  If all you'd ever had were greyish pickles, just the sight of one would make your mouth water.

In homage to Joni

Put away that Green No. 3, now
Give me pale green pickles
But don't sell that garbage to me

Chocolate chip cookie dough dip

We love Chocolate Covered Katie's chocolate chip cookie dough dip.

Every health-conscious blogger has probably heard of it because it is that good.  I have already made this four times because it is awesome.  Garbanzo beans, sunflower seed butter, honey, a splash of vanilla, salt, baking soda, and chocolate chips.

We've had it on apple slices, straight off the spoon, our fingers (shhh!) but the best by far is on my favorite Thai snack - Khao Tan (better known as circle snacks around these parts.)
 It's a little gloppy in the circle snack picture, but still tastes 100% exactly like cookie dough. If you dry the beans carefully and don't add any oil or extra honey when you make your sunflower butter, it comes out like this.  Moldable.  Biteable.  Slightly salty, just like cookie dough.

The truth is, the sticky one was easier for spreading/dipping, but I loved the perfect texture of this batch.  It was so exciting to see it shaping up, in large part because it meant I was going to be sharing cookie dough memories with my sons.  It's funny to try to guess what they'll look back on with fondness.  For me, there was something so indulgent about getting to lick the beater whenever we were baking.  My husband tried the dip and said it was good, but there was no magic there.  He didn't grow up sneaking tastes of chocolate chip cookie dough.   Thanks to Chocolate Covered Katie, my sons will.

M's first friend

I know the exact moment that M first made a friend.  Most people can probably point to a handful of children who are their children's oldest friends - children of their close friends, they've been friends since they were in diapers, grew up together, always had playedates etc etc.  Not us.

At three years old, M didn't have a single friend.  He just couldn't connect with other kids.  We'd hang out with our friends who had kids and call our kids "best buds" but they weren't.  At best, they'd play side by side without interacting.  At worst, M would inevitably make them cry.  He was not malicious, but he was too rough, too loud, too impulsive, and wasn't a great sharer.

Our good friends the Heils came to visit last spring.  They taught at ICS with me several years ago, and though we were casual friends at the time, Malia has become very dear to me since then.  We connected through our pregnancies and sharing motherhood stories, and we always find time to connect whenever they visit Thailand.

This trip, M and Mika really hit it off.  We spent an afternoon together and M did not leave Mika's side.  They sat reading books together at the bookstore, he held her hand and asked her questions, she smiled and reciprocated.  Whim and I couldn't stop marveling at how sweet he was being to her.  He had literally never treated another child that way before.  We must have at least 50 pictures of that outing because we were so amazed.

At that point M had been additive free for just a few weeks, and I didn't immediately realize that the specialness of the day had anything to do with his diet.  But now, looking back, it's easy to see how much his life changed when we changed the way we were eating.   He has plenty of friends now, and I'd say our friends' children really are his friends, too.

And that's much sweeter than any brightly-dyed lollypop.

L's first seizure

I will never forget L's first seizure.

We were taking the boys into the city, and Whim had stopped for drinks at a rest area on the way.  L, about 10 months old, was strapped into a carseat alongside his brother, drinking a bottle of water.  Whim was taking a while, and L was getting restless.  He started waving the bottle around, making a mess with the water.  I sharply told him "No!" and took the bottle away.  He was mad, and started to cry.

He did his signature cry - one 'starter' noise, then the long pause leading up to the real wail.   He cried like this all the time, and I'm sure I've heard other parents talking about it, too.  "The longer the pause between the injury and the scream, the louder it's going to be."

At first, I didn't turn around.  I didn't even feel bad for him.  Sorry bud.  Next time don't make a mess with the bottle and you won't be in this position.   The pause was getting uncomfortably long, so I looked back.  L looked terrible.  His face was contorted into a cry, but he was silent.  He was obviously fighting to get the cry out, but he couldn't.  He was getting paler by the second, except that he was blue all around his mouth.  He was frantically clawing at his carseat straps.  I shouted his name, and turned around in my seat to try to unbuckle him.  His eyes were filled with sheer terror.  It's really hard to gauge the timing, but I guess at this point, it had probably been almost a minute since I took the bottle. 

Then, suddenly, his eyes unfocused and rolled to the upper right and his head turned robotically the same direction.  He arched his back so tightly I couldn't manage his carseat straps.  His arms and legs were jerking and his whole body was rigid.  As far as I remember, with that first seizure he didn't make any noise, but I was screaming and could have missed it.  Though it seemed like the most terrifying thing anyone could ever experience, when the seizure ended, it was worse.  He slumped down in his carseat, and as far as I could tell, he was dead.

I pulled him out and ran with him to the convenience store where Whim had just finished checking out.  I was too scared and fumbly to even think about rescue breathing or checking his pulse. The only thing I could think of was getting to Whim.  I was frantically trying to describe what happened when Lennon suddenly came around.  He was clingy and wanted to be snuggled for about 5 minutes, and then it was as if the whole thing had never happened.  He was back to normal almost immediately. 

I wanted to rush him straight to the hospital, but at Whim's suggestion we called the hospital first. The hospital's response deserves its own post, but in a nutshell they assured us that if there is no fever and that if he came around normally afterward, there was no reason to rush in, but that we should schedule an appointment for him in the next couple of days.  And that's a post for another day.

What do you eat?

For my boys' health and my own sanity, we follow a pretty natural diet.  No artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners.  Limited preservatives (we do still eat things like salt, sugar).  No MSG.  No matter what.
I haven't actually tried Equal Exchange yet, but I like the logo!

It's easy enough dealing with well-intentioned people who don't understand why we won't let them eat a treat they offer them.  But I don't like when people ask, "Well, what DO you eat?", insinuating that we've cut out so much that there's nothing left.  We eat food.  Real food!  Rice, eggs, meat, fruit, vegetables, fish, whole grains, healthy fats, coconut, seeds, beans, milk, cheese, honey, cereal, bread, and even desserts like ice cream and chocolate.  It's true that a lot of convenience food is out for us, but the boys still have a lot of variety.  Probably more than typical two- and three-year-olds, who seem survive on cheerios, goldfish, and pb&j sambos.

M turns down junk food without a second glance.  It makes me proud to hear him say, "No thank you, that has additives" and "Color makes me grouchy!" Even L points to packaged treats and shouts, "Junk!" (We're working on the manners!)

But what I love the most is when M says to me, "You know, we can make that at home."  We've made all kids of goodies in the last 6 months: ice cream, cookies and brownies, cake, and chocolates. They aren't being deprived of childhood treats, and since we make them ourselves, they're sort of naturally limited in quantity.  There's not always time to make treats, even healthy ones.   

 Here's a recipe we love, from Healthy Indulgences.  It's the same one I made for L's birthday. 
We dolloped on some whipped coconut milk cream and called it delicious.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Little Eagle

Just like that, he's a preschooler.

Sure, it's just a co-op of friends' families, and yeah it's only once a week.  But milestones are milestones, and once you become a school-kid, you never go back.  Whim said he spoke with confidence as he show-and-telled his giant seashell from our trip this summer.

He brought the animal pencils he picked out for his classmates and Whim got him on video, sweetly passing them to all his friends and making sure no one was overlooked.  And the thing I feared the most - the 'circle time'?  He nailed it.
Moptop in the back row

He sang his heart out to the Mexican Hat Dance introduction song, came to the carpet when the teacher called them, and made shapes with fingers like it was his job.   Someone meeting him for the first time yesterday wouldn't consider him anything but a typical three-year-old.  And that's the most amazing part - he really is.

Just in case he's starting to sound a little too grown up: yeah, that's a spiderman mask he's wearing. 

super preschooler

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My morning looked like this

Guest post at Die, Food Dye

Several months ago, I started reading Die, Food Dye for inspiration as I began making changes in our boys' diets.  Last summer, I submitted our story, in hopes that it could reach someone struggling to manage their own child's seizures or behavior.  Die Food Dye published our story here.

Now that I've started my own blog, I feel like I finally deserve the title, "guest blogger"!

My deprived two-year-old

Poor, deprived L.

We started letting M have the occasional treat after he turned two - jelly beans on Easter and chocolate kisses around Christmastime, a couple of m&ms if I was having a treat.  Not often, but every once in a while.  Moderation in everything, right?

I figured we'd do things about the same way with L.  Then we discovered the link between his seizures and processed foods last spring- about three months before his second birthday.

M's 2-year birthday cake - his first taste of sweets
L's 2-year birthday - fruit and veggie train

L actually did have a birthday cake at his train party- it was a honey-sweetened, black bean and cocoa cake with no icing.  It looked like all the kids liked it, though a friend told me he saw another mother sneak her piece into the trash.  I admit, it does take some getting used to.

Though most people are fairly supportive of our diet, there are always going to be those people who say the boys are deprived because they don't get to eat junk food.  That childhood is synonymous with fruit snacks and freezer pops, and that if they can't have them, then what's the point of being a little boy?

There's a million ways to answer that: That L's never even tasted those foods, so he doesn't know what he's missing. That M-the one who had his share of treats before we changed our eating habits- turns down junk food voluntarily, even if we aren't around to prompt him.  That surely missing parties and playdates because of meltdowns and seizures is worse than skipping the treats while we are there.  But I think this picture says it best.
L's first "chocolate bar".
He doesn't look deprived to me.  We made these amazing and simple "peanut butter cups" with (safe) chocolate chips, pumpkin seeds, and honey.  L didn't take much convincing.

I intended to make these with sunflower seeds but I couldn't wait.  I did try them again a few days later with homemade chocolate and they were good, too, but very melty.  I want to perfect the recipe before I share, but I sure don't mind eating the rejects!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

don't blink

M - around 3 months
You look away for one minute and suddenly your tiny baby is going to preschool.

I'm so proud of you M! 

Tomorrow, M and Whim are joining a gang of ICS families to be a part of the preschool Co-op.  M will get a taste of what school is like (one morning a week) with other three- and four-year-olds, and Whim will be teaching Thai and music every couple of weeks.

Six months ago, I was wondering if M would ever be ready for preschool.  I knew he needed to spend time with kids his own age, but he was so rough that every time he met up with his friends, it was only a matter of time before someone was crying.  And I could just see him bouncing off the walls and dumping out crates of Legos while other children sat quietly on the mat.

He's come so far!  I can't wait to see what the next six months will bring.

Monday, August 20, 2012

better late than never

It seems to me that 2012 is ridiculously late to be starting a blog... Every 'new' blog I discover has years of archives, and even elementary school students have their own blogs now.  I've often thought about starting one of my own, but I never have, because I like starting things from the beginning.  I get so much satisfaction from completing something that if I miss the beginning, I'll often skip the whole thing.

If I realize I'm going to be late for an event, I might just stay in.  It's hard to settle in and enjoy a movie if I've missed the first few minutes.  And I admit to forgoing Lent more than once because it snuck up on me and I didn't have anything planned by the first day.  So I can't just start up a blog about my kids one day when they're already 2 and 3.

But every time I read another mother's blog, I had this twinge of regret.  I'd love to have an online scrapbook of our family's special moments.  And every time, I'd think, "If I had just started one the last time I thought about this..."

Today, I'm putting aside my all-or-nothing mentality.  Surely a wonderful book with a few missing pages is better than no book at all?    I hate to think of all the memories I've missed out on because it seemed "too late" to start something.  And this could be just the start.  This Christmas, I could introduce something new and special and call it a tradition!   Better late than never.

I wonder what is greater: the satisfaction of completing something fully, or the joy of jumping into something brand new, even if you may have missed the beginning?

the inspiration

I have never been a health nut.  At almost-thirty, I've never counted calories or fat grams.  I've never tried flax or chia or goji berries.  When I head to the health-food section of the grocery store, I grab my gluten-free cereal and keep moving.

I've never been one of those lucky, eat-anything-and-still-be-amazingly-thin-and-lovely people, but I'm not unhealthy or overweight, either.  I just had never thought much about what I ate beyond the obvious: eat enough fruits and vegetables, drink plenty of water, keep junk food reasonable.  I ate what everyone ate, without much concern about what was hidden inside.  And I fed my boys much the same way.

Thankfully, I was stricter with my boys' diet than I was with my own: no fast food, no junk food, no sweets until age 2.  But I still had no idea how much junk they were really consuming. 

If anyone had tried to convince me that I needed to change our diets, I would have thought they were some kind of conspiracy theorist.  Really, the only ones that could have convinced me were the ones who finally did.

My boys' reactions to typical food forced me to open my eyes to the truth about food additives, whole food, and what it means to be healthy.

I've never been a foodie.  Now, I'm a reluctant health-food fanatic.