Back Where I Belong

I tried it. I gave it a shot. It just wasn’t working.

The thing I liked about blogging about diabetes and our family, and of which I found most helpful, was the sense that whatever I was writing about was mostly for my benefit, or to share with others close to me and my family, either directly or through this amazing community of moms and dads and people with diabetes who live with the very same struggles with resilience, optimism and love.

Writing was and still is a way for me as a parent to process the hurt, the frustration, and the endless worry that comes along with this outrageous, childhood-stealing disease. It has never been about the simple sharing of information. I tried recently to change that on Without Envy. It didn’t work for me, for whatever reason. Maybe some day it will, but not now. For the now I am back where I belong. A bare bones theme, writing simply without envy.

Already it feels better.

 

Note: there are and will continue to be some opportunity for me to just share outside of the blog with readers. Here are two recent articles I wrote for Diabetes Health.

 

 

Homemade Bread
(So Easy, Even I Can Do It)

I was born with no sense of smell, a fact I hardly notice (other than to regret having passed it on to one of my kids). Without fail though I am reminded of it when someone enters the house and if a loaf of bread is baking or just come out of the oven they comment on the wonderful aroma. While I may have no olfactory inkling of what they are talking about, I know joy when I hear and see it and that is enough to clue me in on just what I am missing.

To be sure, I’ve had plenty of time to get the picture. For fifteen years or more we have been baking our own bread at home. It began with disdain for the taste and nutrition lacking in store bought bread and blossomed into a full on and eventually successful war against sugar and especially High Fructose Corn Syrup. The bread, hands down, was the easiest of the many battles we waged in that fight to put good healthy food on our table. And the nicest part about it? Other than the cost and obvious health benefits, making homemade bread takes about as much time as it takes for a pot of coffee to brew. It’s so easy, Franca even taught me how to do it, and in a moment she’ll teach you, too.

But first, let’s talk about why you should be making your own bread. Like almost everything that is good for you, most of you will already know why, so I’ll just keep things simple and visual.

Here’s just a partial list of the “extras” that go into making that loaf of industrial bread:

soybean oil, sweet dairy whey, butter, maltodextrin, honey, high fructose corn syrup, calcium sulfate, soy flur, dough conditioners, such as: dicalcium phosphate, calcium dioxide, sodium stearoyl lactylate, ethoxylated mono and diglycerides, mono and diglycerides, and/or datem, yeast nutrients: ammonium sulfate, ammonium chloride, calcium carbonate, monocalcium phosphate, and/or ammonium phosphate, cornstarch, wheat starch, vinegar, natural flavor, beta carotene (color), enzymes, calcium propionate, soy lecithin.

In comparison, here’s what goes into our simple homemade bread:

oil, honey, flour, salt, yeast, water.

If you want to go the extra step–and we usually do–we add:

flax seeds, sunflower seeds, pepitas, and chia seeds, all usually ground but not necessary

‘Nuff said? Let’s move on.

How to Make a Loaf of Bread

The tools

the tools
We use a kitchen aid mixer, but it’s just as easy to mix it in bowl. Other than that all it takes is a couple of measuring cups and spoons, and a kitchen towel.

 

 

the ingredients

The ingredients

2 tbsp honey

2 tbsp olive oil

3 cups flour

3 tsp yeast

1½ tsp salt

1-1½ cups water

** if making wheat bread add 4 tbsp gluten
*** if desired, 2 tbsp each of ground sunflower seed, flaxseed, chia, pepitas

Now for the rest, here’s Franca–

(We had a good chuckle from the inferior audio our cheap, little camera provided — what’s with those S’s anyway–as  well as Franca’s double fist pump at the start. In the interest of full disclosure, she had to make three loaves to get this video so by the final cut she was ready to have this over with).

So that’s it. Baking bread at home. Stress free. And, if you’re lucky, scented.

Growing Old from the Inside Out

I’m not making any great leaps of the imagination in suggesting that sometimes dealing with diabetes makes me feel a bit like this lady:

We’ve all worn that ragged mask now and again, for any number of valid reasons. Blood Sugar. Work. Spouse. Family. Finances. Did I say blood sugar already? Stress is a part of life, especially so when you throw something as routinely uncooperative as diabetes into the fray. Suddenly, a weeping Picasso doesn’t look so bad. At least she’s not lost her mind completely and had the wherewithal to tie a pretty bow in her hair.

No End in Sight

There’s nothing I’ve seen to suggest that the battle for a worry-free life is about to end anytime soon. A recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that about half of all Americans will suffer from some form of mental distress at some point in their life, and if a 2010 list of the top therapeutic classes by sale of prescription drugs is any indication, I’d say they’re on to something. Psychotics and antidepressants take 2 of the top 10.

Like any other health issue, stress can be a result of, or at least aggravated by lifestyle. Positive relationships, good nutrition, plenty of sleep, and exercise can alleviate some or all of the symptoms (sadly not necessarily the source) associated with pushing ourselves past our limits. But what about when the worry is lasting and unavoidable and no amount of a “taking better care of ourselves” will make the dreaded feeling go away?

Wait, it get’s worse, sorta

I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve been missing what I’d hoped would have become an annual treat for me, a weekend away. After my fly fishing trip to the mountains, which came just a few months after Lia’s diagnosis, my mind felt refreshed, rejuvenated, and I was happy. I felt the same way without leaving the house when seven months later Franca and I underwent a nutritional liquid cleanse, at the conclusion of which we both would’ve sworn our bodies had grown younger. As it turns out, that could very well have been the case.

Bring in the Telomeres

In a study conducted in 2004, two scientists from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California-San Francisco, Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel, showed that chronic stress may actually make us grow older faster. Their work specifically targeted mothers caring for their chronically ill children and the conclusion they drew was that the chronic stress these women were feeling was actually shaving years of their lives. Big years. We’re talking a shorter lifespan by 9-17 years!

Here’s a short video explaining the telomere.

And also a wonderful blog post explaining it better than I ever could.

Is There Any Good News?

Well, yes, as a matter of fact there is. Exercise, nutrition, lifestyle, all those things I mentioned before, appear to be the answer to lengthening our telomeres and reverse–yes reverse–the aging process. For those of us treating and caring for a loved one with diabetes, we might have to work a bit harder, but the opportunity is there. I just need to stop wishing for that fishing trip and get out there and make it happen.

 

Reader Envy

As a writer I am moved by inspirational stories, interesting content, or just plain old fashion good writing, of which there is plenty to find coming from the growing community of D-bloggers. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t find myself envious of what someone else has written either because of their talent or the fact that I didn’t get to the subject matter first (happens all the time: you get a great idea for a story or post and then read where someone else beat you to the writing of it. How can an emotion be depressing and rewarding at the same time?)

I am not a voracious reader, that is, I don’t read a ton of books all the way through (see first sentence for requirements), but I am a writer and I do read a lot of books or articles and when friends ask for reading recommendations I find myself a bit flabbergasted that I can only come up with the most recent titles, or, more likely, just the one sitting on my desk at that very moment, a weakness I blame on second hand smoke, which, not surprisingly, another writer has already written about (see what I mean?).

Most of the books I read I get from the library, so I asked them for a rundown of what I’ve checked out, but unfortunately for me–and apparently criminals, too–they don’t keep historical records from worry of being asked to provide such a list by a court of law (honestly?). Almost as frustrating is going to the library to retrieve the books I’ve requested through their online catalog only to find some bizarre title that I can’t for the life of me recall why I’d ever wanted to check it out in the first place. I’d offer examples of this, but since I’m sure it is my recall and not my reasoning that is at fault here once again, It’s probably best if I leave those titles undisclosed–assuming of course I could remember them, which leads me back to…

I’ve also tried keeping up with a booklist on my computer, but according to the file’s last saved date, the most recent book worthy of mention I read on June 28, 2006; and I’ve also learned of websites that will not only keep track of the books you read but recommend others you might like based on the genre, style, and who knows what else. For some reason though I just can’t get into the knack of keeping an electronic list anymore than I’ve been able to use an Ereader to enjoy a book (I’m trying though, I’m trying).

Where does that leave me? Well, this blog has proven in the past (here and here) to be a pretty good outlet for sharing little bits of the reading I’ve done and I think it could stand a bit more. Books. Journals. Articles. Essays. Other blogs. Whatever sparks my interest, inspires or is just plain good old writing.

I don’t think people read enough–I know I didn’t use to. Maybe that’s because so much of what we read doesn’t go deep enough into the type of emotional terrain that can move us. I’m not talking earthshattering content, but enough to make us think or explain or relate in some way to what’s going on in our own lives. Something that speaks to the heart: You’re not alone.

If nothing else, sharing it on Without Envy will give me a place to go to the next time a friends asks, What have you read lately?

Next week on Reader Envy, something light: Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, by David Eagleman.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Envy is often the fountainhead of unhappiness. We’ve all experienced it. A neighbor’s shiny new car. Their figure, the clothes they wear. What they get paid for the wonderful work they do. It starts on the playground as children and continues, I suppose, until dementia or death. It’s so prevalent and part of who we are it is the steam that propels even many fairy tales.

Mirror, Mirror upon the wall, Who’s the fairest of them all

Soon I’ll have that little mermaid, and the ocean will be mine

And someday, I’m gonna be a real boy!

While not all bad–think positive motivation: envy can encourage us to reach for the sky–overcoming a desire for a thing we don’t have (or in the case of malicious envy, wishing that someone else simply didn’t have it) is not easy. It is part of the human condition and ingrained in our nature to feel this way, as much as is self-preservation or procreation, or as Charles Darwin famously put it: our struggle for existence.

Coping with the green-eyed monster involves altering our perception of what happiness is. It helps if every now and then a thought or antidote comes along that makes reshaping our attitude easier to do, some reminder perhaps that acceptance of who we are is more important than our possessions or appearance or achievements. Unfortunately, such outside influences don’t come along very often. We usually have to find them for ourselves.

But not always.

This personally works for me. To fully appreciate the clip you could use some background if you haven’t seen it, but I’ll spare you. Watch the movie. It is one of the best ones ever.

Embrace. Kiss. Love.

How Can I Tell What I Think Till I See What I Say

I have mentioned before a particular fondness for a quote by the British writer E.M. Forster (and of which assumes the title of this post). It comes from his book on writing, Aspects of the Novel, which he penned in 1927. In this particular chapter, Forster is concerned with the subject of plotting and begins the section with a quote from a well-known Greek philosopher:

Character, says Aristotle, gives us qualities, but it is in actions–what we do–that we are happy or the reverse.

Forster then goes on to argue against Aristotle’s position, at least in terms of how it relates to what a novelist is charged with doing: illuminating the subconscious. Instead, he contends, happiness and misery exist inside the individual, a sort of a secret life of which there is no “external evidence”. He suggests that for a novelist to do this well, he must have command over all emotion and know in what direction the story is heading, what to leave in and what to take out.

I believe that, but to get to the point of why I think this is worth sharing on a blog that deals mostly with diabetes and raising a family, I should explain the context from which Forster drew his now famous line. In the chapter, he highlights the plot found in Les Faux Monneyuers, by André Gide, in which one of the characters, Edouard, a novelist, expresses his intent to write a character story about the struggle between reality and what we make of it, or as he puts it, a “slice of life” that leaves nothing out. A story about everything.

“My poor man, you will bore your readers to death,” a friend responds. “And what is the subject?”

“There is none,” Edourdo retorts.

“Have you planned out this book?’

“Of course not…I am waiting for reality to dictate to me.”

If this scene sounds similar you might recall the Seinfeld episode where George proposes to pitch a show about nothing. In Aspects of the Novel, Forster — and to some extent George — uses the moment as a means of suggesting that artists should become mixed up in their work, let it move them along, subdue them and tote them away, as it should the observer. The problem that Jerry points out, as does Edouard’s companion, is that truth in life and truth in art are not identical. All that is prearranged, Forster suggests, is false.

It’s a fact that he finally illustrates with the anecdote of an old lady who stood accused of being illogical. “Logic? Good gracious! What rubbish!” the lady exclaimed. “How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?”

This is, of course, at the center of what many of us who write about living with diabetes are after. To cut open, peel back and lay bare the truth of what life is like for us, to make sense of it and embrace it. To not let it hold us back. After all, to quote E.M. Forster once more, We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

Food Envy

We recently had the pleasure of having my mother in for a long weekend. She is an interesting case, one you will read more about one day soon as the story she is writing for herself of her golden years is one every adult, young and old, should hear and if, possible, embrace. My only wish is that she hadn’t taken so long to get to it, but as I said, that’s for later. This post is about food, or, I should say, it’s about love, happiness and taking care, and mostly it’s about pleasure.

My mother starts it off because she was the one visiting and sitting at our kitchen table and asked, “So, what’s for dinner?”

From America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook

It was a simple enough question, one posed every day of the week, I dare say, in most traditional households. In fact the answer, my mother most probably knew and had already read for herself, was written on the whiteboard menu we keep on the door of the fridge (in this case, Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps from one of our favorite cookbooks, America’s Test Kitchen).

But dinner at our house is not just about sustenance, you can get that anywhere, especially if you’re willing to push health, taste and sustainability aside. At our house food is a centerpiece, as much as any artsy heirloom or family artifact passed down through generations. It is the meal, or the experience of eating real food, that has become our handiwork and our pleasure to create — thanks entirely to Franca, who embodies the ancestral spirit of cooking that can transform a kitchen into a blank canvas and beg of a visitor to ask, What’s for dinner?

Next week on Food Envy: Baking bread. It’s easier than you think..

Science Envy

I love science, I always have. I can remember as a little kid sitting glued to the television watching episodes of Nova or Carl Sagan’s, Cosmos, or reading works by Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, and being enthralled with the notion of exploration, discovery, and observation. Then, anything was possible.

 

 

Like so many others though, as I got older I drifted away from science, or rather, what the playwright George Bernard Shaw once fondly wrote is the venture that “never solves a problem without creating ten more.” Sadly, perhaps that’s the commentary of adulthood, the limits of time, space and attention subjecting the study of science to the status of just one more mind-boggling, homework-laden course the kids were taking in school. And the years went by.

Strangely enough, in the months leading up to Lia’s diagnosis for type 1 diabetes I was enjoying a resurgence of interest in science, brought on perhaps by my reading of the book by Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, or more likely a result of my writing and a literary desire to be accurate and precise with details (it sounds better anyway, than just saying I wanted to know the answer the next time one of my kids asked me a question about the relationship between particle movement and temperature. Still not sure I could explain that one).

Either way, as a writer and now as a father of a child with a chronic illness, I spend a good bit of time reading books and browsing journals with a dedicated science flavor to them. Some I come across go over my head and it’s those presenters and authors who, like Sagan, have a talent for bringing the topic alive and in terms I can understand that bring me the most benefit and also the most pleasure.

But the wheres and whys and how-comes and this-and-thats of diabetes take my interest in a science to a new, intriguing level, where it’s not just for enjoyment or enlightenment that I read and follow the research surrounding the treatment, prevention and cure. It has in our home a real and hopeful application.

Science and a real world connection. Envy, indeed. Granted, there’s more that a father might wish, but what more could a little boy ask for?

Born in an Ambulance

“Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ve done this before.”

I looked skeptically at her–this superhero, who had in her life done many brave things–where she stood very pregnant near the bottom of the stairs of our house, the keys and the phone in my hand, ready as the faithful sidekick.

“Really,” she went on, one arm cupping her rotund belly, “they just started.”

I followed her into the kitchen, where she poured herself a glass of water. “How long then?”

“A couple of hours at least.” Her answer did little to relax me, deep down or on the surface. “Listen,” she went on, “if it’ll make you happy, I’ll call my sister and let her know what’s happening so she can be prepared to come get Krista. Later, we’ll call the doctor.”

I nodded okay, after all she had done this before.

And honestly, I had too. But Krista’s birth was different. For starters, she had come in the middle of the night, where middle of the night was for sleeping, which meant driving to the hospital then, but especially all these years later in my memory, was like being in a dream. Ethereal. Illusive. Following that, the labor had lasted only four hours, which meant if my math was correct now, we were wasting precious time.

So we waited.

An hour later, Franca came outside where Krista and I were playing and sat down on the steps of the porch. I came over. “Everything okay?”

She looked at me. “I think we need to go.”

“But you said we had hours.”

She flashed a look at me: Don’t.

“All right,” I said. I nodded up the drive where Krista was merrily pedaling her tricycle around. “What about her?”

Franca groaned.

“How far apart are they?”

“Three minutes.”

“What happened to four through nine? Never mind. How long before your brother-in-law gets here?”

“I don’t know.”

I looked up the drive. It was Sunday and a pretty Labor Day weekend. “Should we just take her with us?” With a comment reminiscent of her earlier false assurance, Franca said to give him a few more minutes.

The few minutes passed with no sign of Krista’s caretaker for the next several hours so I helped Franca to her feet and got her to the van and was on my way to reign the little one in when my brother-in-law showed up. I handed him Krista before he’d fully stepped out of the car. “We’ll call.“

We left the house and I called the doctor. “I’m not sure we’re going to make it,” I said. The hospital was across the county, a thirty minute drive in good traffic. On a Sunday afternoon in which every mall between here and there was hosting A Sale to End All Sales, it could take twice that long (naive me was still trying to do historical math). The doctor was very calm and nonchalant, like we were just friends lost on the way to their house for the holiday bar-b-que. “Just buzz me if you stop at one of the other hospitals and let me know which one.”

In the passenger seat, Franca was groaning, saying Oh, Oh, over and over again. I kept my eyes on the road. A minute later, hardly two miles from the house, I dialed 911. The 911 operator patched me through to a State Trooper. “Where are you now?” he asked after I explained the situation.

I told him.

“Which hospital?”I gave him the name and he said to me: “Well, sir, I don’t know what to tell you. I can’t give you permission to speed.”

I glanced at the speedometer. It read somewhere between 90 and a gazillion. “Listen,” I said as I pulled up to an intersection and using the turning lane inched up to the red light far enough to see in both directions, then pulled on through, “unless you know something about delivering a baby, I need somebody who does.”

The Trooper replied, “Hold on.”

The next voice I heard identified himself only by name, which I found out is not very reassuring in the midst of a looming crisis. “Is this a paramedic?”

“You’ve reached the rescue squad.”

“Where, which one?”

He gave me the location. Only another five or six miles further down the highway. “What do you want to do?” he asked. “Pullover on the side of the road?”

“No, I’ll meet you.” I thought about where. I wanted to get as close to them as possible without having to deliver the baby myself, or worse, Franca delivering while I was navigating holiday traffic in a miserable old mini-van traveling a hundred miles an hour. “Do you know the new Ruby Tuesdays?” I asked.

“The one just up the road?”

“I’ll meet you in the parking lot.” I hung up the phone and looked over at Franca. All the while I’d been keeping my eyes off her, afraid of what I might see. “Just a bit further,” I said.

A mile from the restaurant her water broke. I didn’t know what to say. What could I say? Hold on. Lay back. Be steady. All of these things sounded appropriate for a normal delivery, but for this, I don’t know. They sounded just beyond that. So I said what I learned in Lamaze class when she was carrying Krista. “Breathe. Okay. Breathe.”

We pulled into the Ruby Tuesdays and parked in an empty lot beneath a tree along the adjacent strip mall. I got out of the van. There was no ambulance in sight. I came around and opened Franca’s door. She looked at me and I looked at her.

It is moments like these, just two people struggling against odds they can’t even begin to imagine that make life so interesting.

“I think I should take off my shorts,” Franca said.

I looked down at the only thing of any substance between that baby and the rest of the world. “Do you think that’s a good idea?”

“It’s the only idea.”

I looked across the lot and down the road for the ambulance. Still nothing. I opened the sliding door, wondering even as I did how I’d move her from the front seat to the back without introducing gravity to the situation. Then I heard the siren. Franca had heard it too and fallen quiet either from relief that help was arriving or her acceptance of the fact that she was about to deliver a child right there, in the next few minutes, in a parking lot.

The ambulance pulled up and two men stepped out. One of them checked her out. “Okay,” he said. “We better hurry.” The other brought over a gurney and they lifted her out of the van and rolled her into the back of the ambulance. She looked up as they shut the door. Neither of us spoke.

Inside the ambulance was a scene like you hear others only joke about. For everyone’s sake I’ll spare the details but to say: when it was over, and it was over very quickly, I got to cut the umbilical cord. And afterwards there was Franca, fully reclined in the back of the ambulance, clutching our daughter to her chest, looking exhausted but at the same time calm and composed, like any veteran superhero.

Happy Birthday, Lia Rosa!

9.2.01, 6:51 pm, in the back of an ambulance