Saturday, March 18, 2017

Living Large (Revise and Repost from 6/22/12)

I've been thinking a lot lately about my family members and the different things going on as we all get older. I wanted to repost an updated version of this just because it was one of my favorite Slices.

To most people a family gathering might be a weekly or monthly activity, but for me, a family get-together is an Event.

I come from a large family (12 of us kids plus Mom and Dad).  Since there are so many of us, it's hard to get everyone together at the same time. Our last big family Event was for our summer Christmas party.  Years ago, my mom used to host three Christmas dinners so that she had a chance to see everyone. In later years this took a toll on her health, so since then we've taken turns hosting Christmas. It's now been our family tradition for over twenty years. Usually there are 40-50 people which includes my immediate siblings, their spouses, their children, and a growing number of grandchildren.  If you don't have a large enough house, you rent a hall or a church basement for an evening.  The past couple of years we've held summer parties so that more family members can attend without the hassles of winter travel.

Getting together with my family reminds me of the rich support system I have that I often take for granted.  Our get togethers are more like touch-base times.  Everyone brings food, you eat, you talk, you make your rounds to catch up with people you don't see very often yet you're related to all of them.  Over grilled hamburgers, crock pot beans, 7-layer salad, roasted potatoes, and homemade desserts you have short, intense conversations about new babies, career ventures, ongoing struggles, health issues, and humorous anecdotes from day-to-day life.

After an event like this my spouse and I go home and compare notes.  "Did you hear about so-and-so's new job?"  "Did you know that your niece is pregnant?" and "I didn't know so-and-so had surgery a few weeks ago, did you?"  And then if you want to have a deeper conversation with someone, you write an e-mail, pick up the phone, or get together at another time for coffee or dinner.  (Or you go hunting for them on Facebook and make comments on their wall.)

People often ask me what it was like to grow up in a large family.  I guess I never thought much about it because it was just the way we did things. I also imagine my experiences as the youngest child were different from my oldest siblings or the ones in the middle.

So, what was it like?

I remember when I was young, there were always people around.  We had bunk beds and shared bedrooms, dressers and closets.  Privacy became a valued thing.  If you got your own room, it was a very big deal.  (Being the last one to leave home, I had the whole upstairs to myself!)

Being in large family is like a living in a small town.  If you tell something to one person, it usually gets spread through the sibling-vine and everyone ends up knowing about it.  So, be careful what you share!

There were major illnesses like the flu, whooping cough, mumps, measles and chickenpox.  When one person got sick, it became a household epidemic.

I always had lots of hand-me-downs, and once in a while I received hand-me-ups from some of my oldest nieces.

There was always something happening.  I wouldn't exactly call it "drama" but there was usually some major event—a car accident, a difference of opinion, a broken dish washer, or a violated curfew—that took priority over small everyday activities.

Sometimes people ask - were you one big happy family?  No, we were more like about four different families that overlapped.  And yes, we were dysfunctional even before the word became popular.

In a large family you learn how to listen to five conversations at the same time, and there are at least two that you're directly involved with.  I became very much aware of this after I got married.  My spouse comes from a small family, and for holidays we would to go lunch at his parents' house and go to my parents' house later for dinner.  At my spouse's family gathering, only one person talked at a time.  There were very few interruptions, and when you went to the bathroom, everyone knew about it.  At my parents' house everyone talked in pairs or little groups or announced things across the room.  You listened to one person but also kept your ears open to the sound bytes across the table.  People would come and go.  If you disappeared for an hour and came back, you might not be missed.  The speed of talking is fast because time is limited, and there are a lot of people to talk to.

Being in a large family you learned creative survival tactics.  If you skinned your knee, you found your own bandage, or you asked someone bigger than you for help.  You learned, on your own or by observation, how to deal with leaky winter boots, neighborhood bullies, puberty, bad relationships and stray cats.  You learned how to be thrifty, knew where to find the best bargains in town and did much of your shopping at rummage sales, estate sales and consignment shops. Or if you couldn't afford something, you learned to either wait until it went on sale or lived without it.

You learned to think outside the box and to never take things at face value.

You learned that God and Jesus were important, but you didn't find out why until later when no one else was around to listen.

In a large family you're expected to be independent, but you also know that if you need anything, all you have to do is ask.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Writing, Dance and Politics

May I please have your attention?

It's not that I don't care about what's going on in the world, but my hope has never been in whoever is running the country for the moment, because, ultimately, I believe that each of us has to answer to the God of the Universe for his or her actions.  The daily news:  I'm appalled, but I'm not surprised.  I think it's going to get worse so I'm saving my energy.

For my part I will continue doing what I do:

Attempt to listen more than speak.
Be grateful.
Avoid swearing while driving.  (That's a hard one!)
Keep writing for sanity and clarity but also to provide glimpses of things larger than ourselves.
Keep dancing to inspire others and give glory to my Creator.
Keep doing my humble projects and believe that somewhere along the line they are making a difference.
As a one-on-one tutor, continue to teach others to understand our language and culture.
Focus on unity rather than division.
Always have hope.

I've experienced plenty of losses, rejection, poverty, grief and humiliation in my relatively short existence on earth. I've been bullied and made to feel inferior by many. Maybe not in the extreme and tangible ways that my fellow human beings from other cultures have experienced them, but my tangled and rugged paths can not be dismissed.

But I think the saddest and hardest thing to forgive is when my beliefs and what I love get misrepresented. Daily.  If I say that I love Jesus, I get put into a box and it's assumed that I'm old fashioned, don't touch alcohol, never swear, that I voted a certain way, belong to a designated political party, am expected to do everything right, should have been a nun.  (Not dissing any specific lifestyle choices here.)

Believe me, I understand why some say they don't like Christians and what they represent.  I don't like it, but I understand.

I don't like being the monkey in the middle, but here I am. I'm grateful for my friends who accept me for what I believe even if they don't follow it.  I'm also grateful for my friends who share my faith, prayers and common worship. And all those in between. It would be nice if all of my friends and acquaintances could someday be in the same room together, share stories, laugh, and listen to each other.  That's my hope.

That said, the slice I can offer you today is to focus on what you still have and what you hold dear. Hang onto it, be grateful for it, but be willing to let go of it if you need to because, really, nothing belongs to us in the first place.  Take nothing for granted - your relationships, your time, resources, the air you breathe, privacy, safety, the health you have that earns your living - because one day, it may no longer be available to you.

But these will always remain - faith, hope, love.  Love being the greatest.

Thanks for your time.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

New Challenges, Part 2

Wow, yes, it's been a long time. I really haven't blogged much this year because my food issues took over my life. (See New Year, New Challenges, Part 1). Why write about fun restaurants when you can't eat the food? Why travel when every trip becomes a culinary challenge?

Gluten, dairy, egg and soy free. So should I be pursuing the paleo diet?

While I still haven't quite figured everything out, I can say that the steps I've taken have greatly improved my health.  During the spring I went from feeling good about once every other day to feeling good about 4 or 5 days at a time.  With help from the warmer weather during the summer, I was able to do almost a month of feeling good with only a few minor setbacks.

So, I'll save the struggles and whining for another time. For now, I'm going to share some of the breakthroughs and solutions that I've come up with over the past several months.


Here's a good one:  Eating Paleo and Gluten Free in the Twin Cities

Food Allergy Gourmet

Choosing Voluntary Simplicity

I was happy to find several restaurants that were already on my list of favorites.

French Meadow
Located on Lyndale in Minneapolis and Grand Ave. in St. Paul.  This was the first restaurant that I went to after I discovered my soy allergy. Instead of olive oil, they use sunflower oil. This is one of my favorite places for breakfast because I always get their gluten free corn pancakes. For our anniversary we went to the adjoining Bluestem Bar in the Minneapolis location which has a similar menu.  After a dinner of seafood curry we split a GF vegan fruit tart.  It was amazing.

Caribbean Food. Located in NE Minneapolis and Grand Ave. in St. Paul.  They use corn oil for cooking.  Their Yucca has a dedicated fryer.  Beans and yellow rice are fine.  They suggested I stick to the pulled chicken or beef and avoid the pulled pork.  And at the St. Paul location - deep fried catfish!  No problems here.

Sassy Spoon
This is a nifty place in S. Minneapolis that's completely gluten free.  They originated from a food truck and became so popular that they opened a restaurant.  If you go on weekends you can get the sweet potato hash made with chicken sausage, but if you have problems with dairy or eggs be sure to tell them because so they can cook with lard instead of butter and leave off the egg on top.

Ask about their GF bread.  They also use Zen pizza crusts which I used to find in the co-ops but now they only sell them to restaurants.  Trotter's has the best GF chocolate chip cookies. They do have eggs, but for these I will make an exception.

Next door to the St. Paul French Meadow is Shish.  I haven't been back here yet, but I called and they said that they use good quality olive oil with no soy.  My favorite menu item (from earlier visits) is the lamb shish kabob with rice. It comes with a side salad and saut├ęd vegetables. Yum.

Anyway, that's about it for today, but I'll be adding more go to options in future posts.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Birds

"Enough is enough!"

I was on my fourth dryer cycle, and my clothes were still damp.  I was tired of the bird poop on the front step, so I made my decision:  The bird's nest in the outside dryer vent had to go.  We'd been more than patient. The nest had been there since early spring. We left it alone throughout May and June because we heard lots cheeping.  But after a while the cheeping stopped. Surely, by now, they'd be gone.

I couldn't use our regular ladder because the space under the overhang was too low, and and the ground was uneven on the grass beneath the vent.  So, I decided to use the kitchen step ladder.

Then, I look around for an extraction tool.  Just for the record, I am not a handi-woman.  I'm sure that somewhere there's a dedicated tool, some he-man device, designed specifically for doing this job. It ranks right up there with adult things you're supposed to know and be responsible for, even though no one ever taught you.

So, lacking this mysterious tool, I had to be creative.

My first choice was a long-handled tongs that we use for outdoor grilling (about once every three years), so I started with that. The step ladder, I found, was a little too short, so I added a cement block on top as a booster.

Well, the tongs kept locking, and I had a hard time maneuvering it in the narrow space under the vent flap.  I needed something different.  So, I thrashed around in the garage for a while and thought about using a discarded snow brush.  I also considered constructing a tool from a broom handle and one of the ceiling bicycle hooks. (Years ago the hooks installed by the previous owners failed, and one of the bikes came crashing down.  The bike was damaged and almost damaged my spouse as well!)

Back to task.  Finally, I settled on the multi-purpose coat hanger.  (Can also be used for cooking s'mores or hotdogs, opening locked car doors (with engines running), and as a duct-taped extension for a feather duster.)  From my closet I located the most pathetic-looking hanger, untwisted the hook end, and bent the rest of it into an L shape.

Climbing up onto my step stool, I perched on the cement block in some unnamed modern dance pose:  Core tight, lower body grounded, upper body spiraled, off center, and lengthened.  (Thank God for modern dance.)

I rattled my hanger around in the vent, yanked on the tightly-woven nest and extracted a few strands.  As things go, the angle of my reach and the direction of the wind caused dirt and several loose particles to fall into my right eye.  So, I stopped and climbed down to take care of that.

In the bathroom I grabbed a bottle of natural tears - too late - found out it was contact solution.  After rinsing several times until it stopped stinging, I went back and moved the step ladder so that I was now upwind of the nest with my one red eye.

The coat hanger went in deep and, OMG, there's someone still living here!  The inhabitant left in a flurry. I sent my apologies but figured there were plenty of feathered friends nearby that could take in an evicted bird.

So then I was using both tools, the hanger and the tongs, alternately.  The nest came out in chunks - pieces of twigs, bits of insulation, feathers, dirt.  Not just a nest, but an extra long condo, complete with a built-in sauna.  No wonder they didn't want to move out.

When I was done, I looked down at the ground, and among all the bird droppings I saw half of a bloody egg.  OMG, OMG, I just aborted a bird egg! With a coat hanger and BBQ tongs!  I suddenly had visions of avian rights protesters showing up at my door with picket signs. Or worse, I'd become the subject of some weird movie:  Revenge of the Birds or the classic Hitchcock horror (You know the one - with the famous attic scene.  My family watched the movie every year, and being a kid,
I always got sent out of the room when that scene came up. Years later, I saw the entire movie and remembered everything except that one part. Of course, now, I would never forget it.)  Ackkkk!

So, after many deep breaths, I put my tools away, stowed my step ladder, and washed off the front step.

My clothes are dry now.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

New Year, New Challenges, Part 1

On January 2nd of this year, I woke up with vertigo.

As a older than average dancer and a person with multiple food issues, it's not unusual for me to wake up with odd stuff going on in my body - headaches, stomach aches, stiffness, or sore muscles. I've accepted all of that.  But vertigo was a new one for me.

In case you haven't read earlier posts, my top three food allergies include gluten, dairy and eggs.  (BTW - I call them allergies rather than intolerances because allergies are more widely understood. In reality, for allergies, the reactions are visible, outward and life threatening. What I have are more like severe intolerances - invisible, internal, and not immediately life-threatening, but they can wreak daily havoc on your system and over time, cause all kinds of internal damage.)

 On New Year's Day my spouse's family traditionally celebrates with Japanese food - sushi, monjus, teriyaki chicken wings, gyosas - yummy stuff.  But because of my allergies, for the last several years, I've had to be very careful - bringing my own food, putting it in a separate place to avoid cross-contamination, avoiding wheat based noodles and regular soy sauce (which contains wheat).  I did that again this year, but the next day I still got sick.

I laid low for a few days and eventually got better, but over the next few weeks I had several odd and seemingly unrelated symptoms. Fatigue. Brain fog - not disoriented, but hard to concentrate.  Previous pain in my right foot (plantar fasciitis) became minor as the pain crawled up to my knee and took residence in my lower back. Then came the day when my right arm and leg went numb and I had shortness of breath. A few healthcare people, when I told them my symptoms, told me to go to the ER.

So, long story short, I went to the doc, had some tests done, and they found I was low on Vitamin D and had a slight thyroid issue.  An x-ray to my knee revealed a bone spur which I knew about, but now I also had some arthritis.  Doctor's advice:  Take 1000 IUs of Vitamin D everyday, get PT for the knee, and if the thyroid is still a problem down the road, he'd prescribe medication.

Really?  I was already taking 1000 IUs of D, I've already had PT for that knee and I'm too tired to think about doing it again, and I don't want to take meds - for anything. The symptoms from any medications have always been worse than the symptoms from the problem itself.

Yes, I am a child of my mother and my father, and because of this, I don't take anything at face value.  My mother always questioned traditional medicine and antibiotics, and would often turn to vitamins, home remedies or nutrition in response to her health issues.  My father had a very critical eye; he usually questioned people like repairmen and car mechanics, and in general, would question anyone, even his own children, regarding the underlying motives of their actions. My parents knew how to question authorities long before the idea became popular in the 1960s.

Anyway, I decided to do my own research.

I figured - my thyroid levels from the previous year were normal; if it only took a year to get them out of whack, then what was I doing that was different and why couldn't I get them back to normal?  And I also had prayers and praying friends involved in the process, asking God for help, because this is what I do.

So, I looked up causes for low vitamin D and talked to other people. Besides the obvious fact that I live in Minnesota where the sun can be elusive, I needed to take more vitamin D.  Don't ask me how much; every answer was different, anywhere from 1000 - 10,000 IUs.  I've settled on somewhere in between depending on if the sun is out or not that day.

For hypo-thyroid (and worn out adrenals) - more exercise (i.e. keep walking, dancing, stretching), avoid stress, get rest, avoid foods like brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, etc.  (Really? Wow.)

And then a few epiphanies: Both Vitamin D deficiency and hypo thyroid pointed to soy.  Another clue: I had a gluten free waffle one day and felt fine; a few hours later I had a second waffle with soy cream cheese and afterwards I wanted to take a nap!  

Ok, so let's see what happens when I eliminate soy. No tofu, no soy milk, no soy/tamari sauce or liquid amino acids.

In just two days I felt better.  My headaches went away, pain in my knee and low back was gone, and I could think more clearly.

Initially, I was relieved.  I was glad it wasn't something more serious or life-threatening. Years ago when I figured out my gluten allergy, it was a blessing in disguise.  Since I was already being vigilant about eating healthy and avoiding cross contamination, how hard would it be to eliminate one more thing?  My new mission:  Destroy the Soy!

Well, then, reality crashed in.  I had forgotten about those early days of panic when you first discover a food allergy and you're standing in the middle of your kitchen surrounded by food, and you have no idea what's safe anymore.

I thought avoiding gluten was hard.  In fact, I thought a gluten, dairy, egg-free diet was difficult. But soy is insidious. Previously seen as a health food, it's been put into a lot of different foods, including some of my favorite allergy-free go-to items.  And there are different multi-syllable words on ingredient lists that may or may not contain soy:  mono and diglycerides, tocopherols, lecithin, natural flavors, guar gum.

Here are some links:

Maya's Happy Place:

Prevention Magazine:

Besides tofu, soy sauce, and soy milk, I gathered a whole box of items that contained soy - gluten free pasta, cereals, crackers, Mojo bars (!! @,@ !!), bread, vitamins. These are on hold until I can confirm that I truly do have a soy issue.

Imported olive oils, unless they are certified USDA organic, can often contain soybean oil in the mix.  I've always used olive oil for cooking, which meant, I had to get some new pans and utensils because I was getting ill from the residual oils in my old equipment.

Meat - If cows, pigs, or chickens have been fed soy, that can come through in the meat that you buy.  I've done some research into grass-fed beef and organic farm practices and found some viable solutions.

Fruits and veggies - Sometimes they can be covered with a soy-based wax. I had been trying to save money by buying cheaper produce at the big box stores, but I've gone back to mostly organic.  It costs more, but I've noticed a difference.

Fish - Canned fish can sometimes use soy in the preservation process. (I was wondering why I was having problems with canned tuna and sardines.)  I've been told that fresh, farm raised fish can be questionable. It's best to go with wild caught.

I haven't even looked at household products and fabrics yet:  soaps, shampoos, cleaning products, lotions, clothing.

It's been a rough couple of months, to say the least. Too tired. Too overwhelmed. I had to drop out of a show that I was in.  I had to cancel a tutoring client whose lessons required too much prep time. I've had to skip out on some of my more challenging dance classes because I had fog brain which affected my balance and concentration. And obviously, I haven't been writing my blog very much.

This post is getting long-winded, so I'll take a break here. In future posts I hope to cover some of my favorite discoveries and solutions. Thankfully, life is bigger than these new challenges, and I look forward to writing about some the more pleasant slices of this Minneapple. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sliced and Diced But Refusing to Choose

Eight months later, and I'm back.  Where have I been?  Mainly, just doing life—many different slices of life.  But the problem with taking an extended hiatus from a blog is that it's really hard to pick it back up and go on.  Do I give an overview of what I've been doing, or do I start from today and move forward?  I guess a little of both would be in order.

Back in April a fellow writer mentioned a book called Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher.  Sher describes people who have many interests or more than one career path as "Scanners." Scanners have a hard time focusing on one interest, and Sher argues that they shouldn't. Although Scanners sometimes can't finish their projects or they have trouble excelling in one area because the other areas clamor for attention, the best thing for Scanners to do is to pursue all of their interests.  The book offers different tools for doing what you love but showing you how to move forward. There are different types of Scanners. Some rotate their interests seasonally; some set aside different sections of their day or week for different careers; some might work in one field for a few years and then try something totally different.

This makes a lot of sense to me.  I had a friend ask me once, "If you had to choose between writing or dance, which would you pick?"  I tried, but I absolutely could not answer that question.  So, taking the advice of the book, I decided that I was a Sybil Scanner - someone who has 3 or 4 interests that they devote their time to equally.  Looking at the patterns of my life, I figured out that I tend to do things seasonally, writing for one part of the year, and then maybe tutoring, performing or choreographing at other times. And of course, there's always overlap.

So, over the summer I thought I'd focus on writing and tutoring since I had spent most of the previous seasons on dance projects. But, the best laid plans... usually get foiled.  I applied for writing and tutoring jobs but nothing panned out. I even tried to focus back on dance, but that didn't work either. The one project that worked out and was a huge success was the big family reunion that I hosted in August. This was one of the highlights of my summer, and with everything else going on I concluded for the umpteenth time that my life is not my own, and my steps and activities are dictated by the God of the Universe.

After a frustrating summer (which I may or may not go into for future blogs), I decided to expand my tutoring skills by enrolling in the Adult ESL certificate program at Hamline. As soon as I did that, life exploded:

Tutoring - 3 new students in ESL and technical writing
Dance - Access Chautauqua Performance in September, partnering with mixed ability dancers
Freelance Writing - newspaper article deadline
Marketing & Creative Writing - prepping my novels for the Loft Pitch Conference
Choreography - A group dance for the Zenon Zone Show in December
Faith - changes and challenges to my church situation
Personal - my cat died

Feast or famine.  Sliced and diced in many directions!  But, even though it was busy and challenging on many levels, it was very rewarding.  I worked with a a lot of different people and my activities fed each other and overlapped in many ways.  The holidays were quiet, and I was able to take time to grieve some of my losses and disappointments.

2016 has brought new opportunities and challenges. I make no promises on how often I will write, but I still enjoy this blog and will make it one of my goals to continue writing.

Happy New Year

Happy Chinese New Year - Year of the Monkey

Happy President's Day

Happy Valentine's Day

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mouth Choreography

Mouth Choreography makes me smile.  It's a term I came up with this past spring while I was tutoring Simone.  Simone was my adult ESL student from Munich, Germany, and though her English writing and grammar skills were fairly advanced, she wanted to work on pronunciation and speaking.