Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Christmas Eve Eve

Today I woke up with a new sense of right--at least in my world. 

I spent most of last night researching the food that we consume, where it is made, how it is made, how the government designs and genetically alters our food for us, the pesticides used and antibiotics injected into our food supplies... it really turned me off about a lot of the foods I normally ingest. 

Last night's research coupled with yesterday's experience with Hacienda has given me a new outlook on our habits.  I got up this morning and I decided to put on my big girl pants (which is not the same thing as my fat pants) and buckle down on the kitchen.  I began by scouring my cookbooks for meals that I thought would be the easiest for me to make and convert to gluten free.  I made my list, checked it twice, and set off for the adventure that is shopping the day before Christmas Eve.  **This is the point where I thank my mother-in-law for keeping my boys while I stupidly braved the traffic...Thanks!!**

To say that traffic was a little bit bad would just be plain lying; traffic was the worst I have ever seen it!  I really believe that grown-ups should be forced to retake the driver's test every few years, and I'm now thinking that maybe they should take some nutrition classes also.

Anyway, back to topic.  I began at Elbert's with my list, looking for different products and really reading the labels for the first time ever.  There are a lot of products offered that are naturally gluten free, and I realize that it will take a while for me to be able to know the difference, but certain key words that I have found help make my searches so much easier.  After finding a product I think is gluten free, I then whip out my iphone and google search the product to double check.  Technology can really be used in so many goods ways these days (like using my coupon from my email even though I forgot to print it off!! Score!!).

After searching through Elbert's and finding wonderful new products and snackies for my boys, I went to Schnucks.  Schnucks has a good selection of gluten free products and really competitive prices.  Since I have frequented Schnucks and Elbert's about every other day the past few weeks, I am pretty good at knowing which store has the best deals now, which is really making this transition so much smoother. 

A few new items I invested in today that have gone over fairly well:  Annie's bunny snacks (sort of like the chewy fruit snacks that I use to buy for the boys, but with actual fruit juice in them) and Coconut milk.  Tonight the boys are having two friends from church spend the night and we are making homemade gluten free pizzas.  I found a box recipe for the dough and I have divided it into four small pizzas.  The boys are going to make their own pizzas with whatever ingredients that they want.  It is amazing how if you just let your children have a little helping hand in their meal preparation, it really does seem to help them ease into new foods and creations better.

Later on tonight's agenda I am planning on watching a movie that my friend let me borrow called "Food Inc."  I have heard a lot of about this movie but never actually seen it myself yet.  I am also going to continue researching about our food sources.  If you are ever wondering what you might be ingesting, start with some research about genetically modified food--it's how most of our soybeans and corn is grown anymore.  The soybeans basically are modified to withstand pesticide sprays (kinda of like a cockroach--you can spray it and it won't die) and can resist plant viruses and bacterias (so nothing basically can kill it).  Sounds appetizing eh?

Well, it's Christmas Eve Eve, we are having a sleepover, and the natives are getting restless so I better wrap this up for now.  Goodnight all and just for your knowledge, gluten free pizza is awesome!!!

A fall-back in the gluten ways

Every once in a while I get an opportunity to eat a wonderful lunch with my husband, and today was that day.  Both boys are out of school on Christmas vacation (Merry Christmas btw), so we decided to go out to eat with them.  We decided on Hacienda because truthfully I was craving some Mexican.  The boys have been doing so well on their new eating plan that I didn't really want to break their streak; but I kept thinking, how bad can a few fries and a few chicken strips be.  I should have know that my weak moment as a mother would come back and haunt me.

After leaving the restaurant, we dropped my husband off at work and went to finish up a little bit of our Christmas shopping.  Within an hour, Oliver and Parker were at full "crazy" mode.  They both would drop to the floor of the store and wiggle around, they would not listen, they could not focus on what I was saying...they were just completely unable to concentrate on anything.  I also noticed that Oliver's ears were red and hot feeling and Parker got suddenly very tired and irritable.

My weak moment and love for Mexican food had basically poisoned my children.  I sentenced my children to a wild day, and I had to keep reminding myself not to lose my temper with them.  It was not their fault, it was mine.  They didn't drive themselves to the restaurant, they didn't order their food, they didn't allow themselves to eat it...I did.  I am their mother, and that makes me ultimately responsible for everything about them.  It is hard to be so strict with their food, but today has shown me that I must stay strong for my children.  I have the best, most wonderful boys in the world, and I plan on showing the world their true potential, not what they are when they are "hopped up" on gluten.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The new beginning...(and chocolate cake!!)

So now you are up-to-date with my children's life stories.  The big question is what was I going to do about the problems we were having?  It's not like my children were dying or malnourished...there were just little markers here and there that I was noticing, things that I thought could be improved.

The new beginning has started already, we actually started it a few weeks ago.  We began easing into a gluten free diet, eliminating gluten from the products we were purchasing and trying to rid our house of the groceries we already had.

Beginning this past week, we actually began serving gluten free food for all meals, completely gluten free.  It really hasn't been as hard as I thought it would be when cooking meals.  I am fairly handy around the kitchen and finding substitutions isn't that difficult.  The hardest part of the diet change so far?  No snackies.  My children are extremely picky eaters so most of the gluten free snacks they don't like yet.  So what do I do when my boys start yelling that they are hungry?  I grill a chicken breast on the foreman grill usually.  After about a week of chicken every few hours, my boys and myself were tired of chicken.  I realized pretty fast that something was going to have to change in order to be successful on this new adventure.

This is the point where chocolate cake comes back into my life. YEAH!!

My friend from school recommended an awesome book to help me with my shopping.  While researching where to purchase the book, I found two interesting cookbooks at my local Borders bookstore.  I purchased both, make my grocery list, and off I went.  My first dessert was a chocolate cake with marshmallow icing (not real marshmallow of course). 

I make cakes on the side for friends and family a lot, so when I pulled out a flat, unappetizing cake from the oven I was very disappointed.  However, I went ahead and made the icing and finished the cake.  Being the wonderful mother I am, I had my boys try it first (seriously I thought it was going to taste like cardboard).  Results were:  They loved it!!  I have even got my in-laws, hubby and friends to try it and it has passed the test with everyone so far.  Score another one for the diet!!

Monday, December 20, 2010

A note about Parker

As Oliver is by far the most hyperactive child in our home, I have not mentioned Parker a great deal yet.  Parker has a speech impairment that has required therapy for most of his life.

When Parker was little, his allergies would get so bad that it would seem to cause a list of problems, including frequent ear infections.  For a few years, he had over 70% hearing loss in his right ear.  This hearing loss affected his speech greatly.  For a great deal of time, no one could understand him, not even me.  He would have to point to things he wanted.  For took three months of speech therapy for him to be able to voice a word for chocolate milk--coconess. 

When his pediatrician recommended tubes, I immediately said no.  One of my stepdaughters had tubes when she was younger, and after they were removed she still had frequent infections.  She had to complete hearing tests numerous times because of the amount of scar tissue in her ears.  Luckily, she had no permanent damage, but with Parker's hearing loss already so profound, I wouldn't take any chances.

I took Parker to a local chiropractor and within one week, his ear infections was gone--without antibiotics!!  I continued having him adjusted every two to three weeks at first, and he has never had an ear infection since.  Also, at his next hearing test, he passed with flying colors. 

Parker still has perfect hearing, no infections, and is well on his way to being able to speak clearly enough for all the world to understand him.  Recently his speech has improved so much that he is learning to sound out words.  Although he still has trouble saying a lot of word, he is able to sound out all letters now!!  He also recently learned to say his name correctly...he use to call himself "tartar".

Next step is...I don't know -- Oliver's Story

My quest for finding the source(s) of my children's allergies has been a long one.  We have started and stopped two other times in trying to find out what works for them.  Twice we switched to all organic/natural foods and cleaners and they did get better.  However both times, shortly after starting, my husband lost his job and we had to refocus our plans.

Eating healthy and organic is very expensive.  When you are surviving on help from parents to get you through for a few weeks or months till you find another job, any food will work.  In our brief trials, though, we found the boys really did seem to improve.  Their allergies symptoms got better.

Fast forward another year...the boys are 4 and 3.  Driving to our inlaws one day, we find a foreclosure home that is the ugliest thing we have ever seen; however, we are ambitious (or stupid) enough to think we can fix it up.  It is very cheap, and both my husband and myself have fixed up houses before, so we make a plan of it.  We decide to use allergy-friendly insulation in the house, so we completely tear down the existing walls...all of them.  We rebuild the rooms and walls how we want them, replacing the old drywall and flooring in every square inch of the house.  What we end up with is a home for our boys that is free of mold and pet dander and anything else that may exacerbate their allergies.

And guess what?  For the first time, they are able to breathe when they sleep.  They can even play outside and be fairly snuffley free.  With the "new" home, my boys are finally off of medications and the breathing machine that I have come to loathe.  I officially start doing to happy-mom-dance.

The following year, Oliver starts kindergarten and I am so excited for him.  Although he had already completed preschool and prek, he was very excited about beginning a "big boy" school like his cousin who is a few years older than him.  I pack his lunch, dress him in his best, and send him off to school with a big kiss and confidence that he will do wonderful.

I was so sure he was going to shine in his class.  Oliver could already read fairly well and he knew all single number addition and subtraction.  He could tell time, understand the hours and minutes; he had such a wonderful ability to pick up on concepts very quickly.

It only took one week for me to be crushed...our first phone call from his teacher.  Oliver's teacher phoned me to inform me that he was not behaving in school, he was not listening, and he was not going to thrive unless something changed.  I was floored and upset and at a loss for words.  This continued for the first few months of school.  I would either get a letter or a phone call about every week, and when I spoke to Oliver, he would continually say that he was trying, but his mind wouldn't slow down.  Having two brothers with ADHD-hyperactivity/impulsetivity, I know the symptoms.  I knew what this meant; but I would not condemn my child to taking medicines again, not if I could help it. 

Oliver is very very very energetic.  He never is still, not even when he sleeps.  He sometimes gets so hyper that he shakes, sweats, and his eyes start twitching.  Oliver has always been special to us though; when he listens to certain songs he can see colors and he can spin in circles for minutes and he never gets dizzy, ever.  His mind doesn't work like his friends.  He views the world in a special way, and as his mother, I fully encourage him to continue to see things differently.  I cannot though, continue to let him be discouraged and saddened because of his performance in school.  Many times when he gets of the bus, he is so sad because he wasn't a "good boy".  When tested however, he tests well ahead of the other students, but he won't continue to grow in a school environment if he keeps getting in trouble for not sitting still.

And so begins another round of research.  I work at an area preschool, and there enrolled is a very wonderful young boy.  This young boy is autistic, and his mother is one of the most wonderful, caring, patient mothers I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.  She has invested countless hours of research into her son and really tries to give him the best possible life that she is able.  This boy has never been in my class, but I have had the opportunity to observe him quite a few times.  A few years ago, I would not have given him a chance at all to live a fairly normal life.  He could not listen to basic instructions, he was almost impossible to understand, he was always angry it seemed, he would not even let me near him when I subbed. 

Then his mother began changing their whole lives; she began a strict gluten free diet and invested in a new specialist who works with him.  The changes in this young boy are amazing!  To watch him sit at a table with his classmates and do his work (even though he still needs some help staying focused) is completely awe-inspiring.  His whole life has been transformed: his verbal and social skills are improving daily and his overall quality of life seems to have improved exponentially.  He lets me interact with him anytime I see him and when he is happy, his laughter will make your whole heart swell.  I have spoken with his mother on numerous occasions, and she contributes a huge part of his success to his diet changes.  She says that although it is hard to be so strict when she goes out or leaves him with a sitter, it is so well worth it that she cannot imagine any other way.

Back to Oliver....knowing that his pediatrician has already suggested putting him on ADHD medication numerous times before, my husband and I decide to begin a newer, stricter diet for him.  And so begins this Evansville mom's quest for a gluten free lifestyle for my family.

In the beginning...

In the beginning, I didn't even know what gluten was.  I didn't care.  I was so happy, so wonderfully excited that I had two perfectly healthy boys.  What started our family's quest to healthier, happier lifestyle was some minor bumps throughout our children's early childhood periods.

Our boys are Oliver, who just turned 6 a week ago, and Parker, who is 4 1/2.  Our boys are rowdy, crazy, fun-loving, active boys.  They enjoy exploring, learning, getting dirty, and mostly, creating anything they can get their little hands on. 

Shortly after Parker was born was when we first found out about his "food sensitivities".  I nursed both my boys when they were born and at about two months old, Parker began having temporary breathing problems, allergy symptoms, and he would sometimes break out into hives.  Nothing too serious, but as he had not started any foods yet, his pediatrician suggested that I go on a restrictive diet.  It seemed to help as his rashes and hives disappeared and his breathing got better; however, when it was time to start baby foods, it began all over again. 

He did not tolerate the mixed grains cereal, any baby food that I did not personally make, or dairy well.  He wasn't what the doctor's considered "allergic" to it though; they just kept insisting he would probably grow out of it so I should limit it for awhile and try again later.  I was so relieved...I didn't want to have one of "those" kids that needed special foods and that couldn't enjoy their friend's birthday cake because they were allergic.

Fast forward a few years...Parker was on all regular foods, including dairy.  Both boys are thriving and happy.  The only downside thus far is their constant allergies.  They both seem to always be on breathing treatments, they constantly have these bumps on their upper arms and cheeks, and they would sometimes gets little eczema patches on their skin.  My pediatrician decides to do some testing on them, beginning with allergy tests.

For any parent that has experienced allergy testing, it is a horrible, tear-inducing (for both my boys and myself) process.  The biggest shock was the test results though...both boys were allergic to almost everything they tested them for.  Oliver even tested positive for chocolate...and he loved chocolate!  Cauliflower??  Who is allergic to cauliflower I asked?!?  We completed some more testing and the allergist explained that all though they were not life-threatening allergies, the boys were "sensitive" to the allergens.  She recommended three (3!!) different types of allergy medicine in addition to the two kinds of breathing treatments they were already on. 

Now, I am not a big fan of medicines.  I believe that most of us take too much medicine as it is, and so to put my children on five types of medication daily so that they could breathe properly and quit wheezing, well, I was very upset.  I just couldn't imagine having to make my children swallow this pill and that pill everyday...but I didn't know what else to do.

Then after a few months, I was cleaning my kitchen counters with some fairly gentle cleanser.  My youngest, Parker, climbed up on a stool and leaned his arm on the counter.  Within a few moments, his arm was red, hot, and splotchy looking.  All of sudden I had this thought...we are doing something wrong with our children.  Something is making them sick, and I decided right then we were going to find out what...