Roots


Somehow, where a person grows up defines them. This seems to be a recurring theme in my life lately. 

At my recent checkup, my doctor asked whether I had made any trips to third world countries lately. I jokingly said “Indiana, to visit my sister”. He asked where I was originally from and when I said Minnesota, he seemed satisfied. “That makes sense, because why would she move to Indiana if you were from the East coast?” Then he apologized in a lighthearted way for his prejudicial view on what he considered a “downward” move. I laughed and said it was no big deal, my husband has felt the same way since I met him. He considered New England to be the proverbial promised land. 

New Englanders aren’t the only ones guilty of an inordinate pride based solely on geographic location.  On the highway which slithers northward along Lake Superior toward Canada, there stood a billboard blazing the words, “Tired of the rat race?” I discovered recently that piece of advertising shaped my entire view on where to live. I’ve always felt that the “smart ones” escape big city life to settle in some remote northern territory. A place paradisaic in beauty during the summer, but barely habitable in winter due to massive snow banks and deadly wind chills. These are the ones who were living their hamster wheel lives, but one day while fishing on a northern lake during their one week of vacation, they decide it’s not worth it.  They decide to quit fighting the traffic snarls on their way to a dog-eat-dog corporate job in the city. Why wait until retirement to enjoy nature every day?

I was not one of those “smart ones” trickling in from the nearest big city. I was lucky enough to have been born there. I didn’t have to learn my lesson the hard way. I was already in God’s country, and only I was going to choose where and when to leave. 

Researchers have pinpointed a connection between our sense of smell and our memory. A few years ago on a family road trip we drove through Wisconsin in summer. The smell of the wildflowers and fresh mown grass along the country highway took me instantly back to my childhood. It felt strange to have my senses supersede conscious thought and transport me bodily to a time and place I didn’t know I had forgotten. No gourmet dinner could smell better. No luscious perfume could have delighted me more. In that moment of recognition I became “me” in a way I hadn’t felt in decades. 

I feel enriched for having these realizations about my roots. Would I have had them without leaving? Maybe not. Each place I have moved has set off a new evolution of self within me. I first seek to understand and fit in with the locals. At some point I discover some fundamental way I differ. Unconsciously, I analyze whether this difference is something I like and agree with or not. At some still further point I inevitably find a difference between myself and my new abode that I refuse to assimilate. I then go through a rebellion of sorts, as I stubbornly assert my own identity shaped by my home. 

I’ve come to welcome this process. Even though some of it can be painful in the moment.  It’s part of what makes travel and moving so positive. It has helped me learn about myself in ways that would never have been possible. The only problem with this is people who understand my perspective have become fewer and farther between. 

The other day we were walking on a quiet street in Pawtucket and saw a home for sale. I wondered aloud what it might cost (this curiosity comes from having a builder husband). My friend asked whether we would consider buying a home there. I said probably not. We would be more likely to look for a place in a quieter area. She couldn’t understand what more I could be looking for. Only 2 cars had driven by on that street in 30 minutes. She said, “that’s only because you come from ultra wilderness.” I agreed. 

When I get near a lake, any lake, my whole being exhales and each muscle releases all accumulated tension. The waves greet the shore with a display of sound and reflected light that changes by the moment. The sky meets water like a friend and opens up to reveal it’s beauty, whether it be breathtaking sunsets or enigmatic cloud formations or pinpricks of star shine on a blanket of blackness. Each season displays it’s own shade of blue in sky and water. Each day has it’s own mood ranging from introspective stillness to raging froth. And when I slide into the water, it envelops me like a womb, and I am home. 

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Good morning, beautiful?

Beauty and diet, aaaagh!

This morning, when I woke up and looked at myself in the gigantic full-length bathroom mirror, I was pleased with what I saw for the first time in a long time. Ever since children happened to my body, I have felt self-conscious of a belly pooch that won’t go away. But today I feel like the belly area is acceptable. Not amazing, but acceptable. Because of this I find myself heading into the very unfamiliar territory of beauty and diet with this post. I can’t even believe this is happening to me, the one who has had one single salon manicure in her entire life. The one who is too lazy to make an appointment to get her hair done. The one who has literally spent approximately 2 1/2 hours for the entire year of 2017 so far clothes shopping for herself. The one who likes comfortable earrings that match everything so she can go 2 weeks without changing them. Well, here I go. Bear with me. Please don’t judge. But you may be surprised where this post ends up.

 

So, I’m wearing a skirt today. While showering I mull over the various basic black skirts I have in my closet, and I find myself settling on a full volume skirt I bought about 10 years ago. Way pre-child days. To spare you the trouble of trying to understand the descriptions of someone so fashion challenged, I’m adding selfies here. (The horror, I’m sorry. If you keep following my blog after all of this, you are a true friend.) And then I thought to myself, why is it that when I am comfortable with my body, I am comfortable wearing styles that add bulk, but when I’m not, I opt for more form fitting silhouettes? I wore the bulkier one, and I felt good.  It just goes to show, beauty is not necessarily in how you look, but also in how you feel.

I’m not counting calories or dieting. I haven’t been exercising more than usual. By that I mean chasing my girls around or carrying laundry baskets and groceries up and down the stairs. This is not because I’m satisfied with my body. It’s pure laziness, *please see my previous explanation of my beauty philosophy. So, while showering I also started wondering why my belly blob seems to have gone away, finally. This is when the swirl of thoughts and recent conversations rolled together in my mind to come up with the substance of this blog post. I believe this miracle of belly fat disappearance is because I recently pinpointed a food allergy I have, and enough time has gone by for my body to regain it’s health since I started strictly cutting my allergens out of my diet.

Allergies and intolerances

Now here’s something I know more about. I feel entirely comfortable with this subject, because I have had food allergies all my life. I have a severe tree nut allergy, and as a child I was also allergic to eggs, dairy products, legumes, and coconut. My parents once dreamed of being vegetarian. Then I was born. Try getting any plant protein into a kid who can’t have nuts or legumes. Oh, that’s OK, just give her cottage cheese or eggs. Nope, never mind. She just threw up. Legume allergy meant no soy. I challenge you to find a pre-made salad dressing, non-dairy spread, pasta sauce, or store bought loaf of bread with no soybean products in it!

My mom was amazing! She made homemade whole wheat bread the entire time I was growing up. She taught me words like whey and lecithin. Ingredient label speak for milk and soy products. Even when I was 3 years old, an adult could read me a label and I could tell them if I could eat that food or not. She became an expert at adjusting recipes to be allergy friendly. Keep in mind, this was the 70’s. I was still the weird allergic kid that everyone was afraid to inadvertently poison. Allergy awareness was not a thing. There were no rice, soy, or almond milks in the section next to dairy. (Weirdly again, I am not allergic to almonds or peanuts.) So my mom made almond milk for me with a blender and a cheesecloth. She made me peanut butter and carob balls as a substitute for chocolates.

Of course, I took this all for granted as a kid. I knew, eat that, you may end up in the ER, so don’t even go there kiddo. My favorite food on pizza night was Dinty Moore Beef Stew. (anyone?? I thought not, lol) dinty-moore-stewAnd I didn’t feel deprived. I was the kid eating fruit leather from the Whole Foods store before that was the cool thing to do. Looking back, I realize how wonderful it is to have a mom like that who was able to roll with the punches. She kept me fed, healthy, and even happy with what I could eat.

Once in my volunteer work I met a mom who’s infant had just been diagnosed with several food allergies, and she was distraught. Her mind was zooming ahead through her baby boy’s life, and she was envisioning all kinds of issues and problems. Like a gift from God, I appeared at her door. A living specimen of a functioning, normal adult with food allergies. My tips about how my mom dealt with it as well as my reassurances that I had a truly happy childhood calmed her fears. That was the first time I had thought about this subject from a parent’s perspective.

So if you are a parent of a child with food allergies, take heart. I survived. So did my mom.

In my adult years my dairy and legume allergy went away. I was able to eat any dairy products I wanted for about 15 years until I started experiencing sudden digestion and fatigue issues. A couple of years went by before I connected them with dairy. I know, duh, right? Just wait. I quit eating yogurt and cottage cheese, stopped adding milk or cream to my coffee. I felt much better. Fast forward to earlier this year, another 7 years later. Once again, digestive issues and other mystery symptoms were plaguing me. Things like clenching my teeth in my sleep, wheeziness, sinus headaches. I was a little baffled. So I went into battle mode, allergy sleuth style. I decided to do an elimination diet of all potential culprits. I gathered my tools: a bullet journal, a couple of allergy cookbooks, a calendar for scheduling when to reintroduce certain foods. I went all out. I cut out things I never had an issue with in the past, because I was going to get to the bottom of this.

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My bullet journal. Not pretty, I know. Nothing glamorous is happening in this post 😛

Five weeks later after many baffled evenings contemplating my growing pile of conflicting evidence, there was an epiphany, a light bulb! I read the label on the English muffins I usually eat for breakfast and guess what? Yep, dairy! Duh! I had forgotten about breads, cereals, granola bars, crackers, dressings, sauces. I spent five weeks sleuthing out what I already knew I was allergic too. Grr, (eye roll) whew! I dusted off my ingredient label skills and I have now weeded out all hidden dairy (and soy was causing the wheeziness, so I’ve also gotten stricter with that). Good morning to a day of poochlessness. Yay!

Do you have unexplained fatigue, headaches, digestion issues, bloating, sinus problems, etc, etc? I highly recommend doing a little detective work yourself. I suspect many, many people would feel much healthier (plus happier) if they were able to pinpoint hidden food allergies or intolerances. It is much simpler than it seems. I felt overwhelmed too, even with my extensive food allergy experience, when I started my elimination diet. But it has been so worth it. It’s not just the belly. It’s your mood, your well being, your pain level.

Here are some suggestions that may help you get started.

  1. Do you have any health conditions? Start by researching diets geared toward that. For example, if you have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, many experts recommend restricting dairy and/or gluten. For some conditions a vegetarian diet is recommended.
  2. Make a list of foods or food groups that you would like to test.
  3. Make a list of symptoms you feel.
  4. Make a menu plan. In my case, I did better using a general plan versus writing out complete menus with recipes, but do what is easiest for you. Aim for at least 3 weeks of NO suspect foods at all.
  5. Go shopping. Make sure you have plenty of allowed food in the house. No one needs to starve!
  6. Using a calendar, plot a plan for reintroducing foods one by one, with a 2 day gap in between for noting symptoms. This way you will be completely certain which food causes which symptom.
  7. When reintroducing foods, take careful note of how you feel the next couple of days. Don’t worry, it will be pretty clear if something bothers you.
  8. Get answers, and hopefully a little relief.