Things One Should Not Do at Walmart

We’ve all been there. You’re shopping/schlepping through Walmart with a big list of stuff to buy. In the cart is your restless toddler. Distraction is key. Can you provide enough forms of distraction to keep the toddler below the tantrum ignition threshold until you’ve safely finished your shopping and are headed out of the parking lot?

By all means, break out the cheerios, hand the kid your keys, your iPhone, your lipstick, or grab a cute little stuffed animal or inexpensive toy off the shelf.

Yes.

Yes.

But whatever you do, DO NOT arm that child with a bicycle horn. Bicycle horns are for use outside, where you might have to warn pedestrians or other cyclists that you are coming up behind them. While your child might find the horn endlessly amusing, use of the horn deflects the tantrum potential onto all the other shoppers in the store.

Hell, no.

Hell, no.

It’s selfish, not to mention potentially dangerous. Harried unstable shoppers may well fly into fits of rage and ram their shopping carts into the premature Christmas displays, or track down the parent of said horn-tooting toddler so that they can helpfully suggest alternative uses for the bicycle horn, none of which involve a bicycle.

So, yeah, I just got home from a Sunday afternoon trip to Walmart. I think I’ll do all my shopping online for a while, you know, just until I regain my hearing.

Snapshots of a Road Trip

This is NOT my family. We're not blonde and we're not that happy.

This is NOT my family. We’re not blonde and we’re not that happy.

Rumor has it that there are those of you who eagerly anticipate the summer months, that idyllic time of year when you can pile the kids into the car and set off on the open road.

I am not among you.  I like the comforts of home, sleeping in my own bed, controlling my own thermostat, generously squirting my shampoo out of a full size bottle.

I do not enjoy being confined in the car for long periods of time. Perhaps this is because my childhood road trips always involved a large bottle of prescription strength Dramamine and the infamous red bowl that my mother STILL likes to remind me about. Perhaps it’s because on especially long trips (you know, anything longer than an hour and a half), my older sister had the privilege of stretching out across the back seat, while I was relegated to stretching out across the floor of the backseat – back in the ‘60’s, the floor of the back seat had a large hump in the middle, a hump for which no stack of pillows could adequately compensate.

My husband would likely tell you that I hate road trips because I am a very, very bad passenger. I stomp on my imaginary brakes, clutch the door handle with a death grip, and brace myself against the dash for impending collisions even when the nearest vehicle is no bigger than a pencil point a mile up ahead.

My best strategy for road trips, aside from total avoidance, is to do the driving myself, thus minimizing any potential motion sickness and eliminating my heart attack-inducing bad passenger behavior, which brings me to our recent road trip up north to visit family. It’s about a ten hour trek (and yes, I drove it all), from North Carolina through Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and finally, into New Jersey, a journey that you road trip veterans probably breeze through, never even stopping to pee.

Well, we did stop to pee. We stopped often and I’m cool with that. In fact, based on our stops, I wholeheartedly recommend the rest stops along I-81 in Virginia. They were spotlessly clean.  On the other hand, the one New Jersey rest stop we pulled into didn’t even have any bathrooms! Come on, Chris Christie, a rest stop without bathrooms?

Anyway, I wanted to share some highlights of our trip, so here you go:

Most Awkward Moment: It was at one of the lovely Virginia rest stops that my daughter and I entered the restroom, along with an older woman. We were the only 3 people in there and we each entered a stall and went about our business. In mid-stream, the older woman decided to strike up a conversation. “So, where are you headed? Where are you coming from? We’re coming up from Florida, it’s day 2 and we have 600 miles to go…” I didn’t want to be rude, but I didn’t want to encourage further conversation while we were all, uh, occupied.  Awkward.

Stinkiest State: Congratulations, Pennsylvania! Thanks to your miles and miles of farm land, upon which tens of thousands of farms animals graze and poop, you were by far the stinkiest state on our trip.

Most Roadkill: Congratulations again, Pennsylvania! There must’ve been 30 or so dead deer along the highways of Pennsylvania. Yikes!  Bambi should seriously consider relocating.

So Close Yet So Far: After 10 long hours in the car, we were so close. We had made it to New Jersey and were only a few miles from our destination. Only it was rush hour. In New Jersey. Bumper to bumper, we crawled past the last few exits, so close yet so far. I don’t know how people navigate that vehicular nightmare every single day, if not twice a day. I suppose people would flee the state, if only they weren’t stuck in gridlock.

Welcome to the Garden State.

Welcome to the Garden State.

The good news is that we traveled safely, with only intermittent traveler crankiness and no major meltdowns.  We basked in familial love for a couple of days and left before the warm glow could morph into an inferno of tiny irritations. All in all, a good trip.

The Power of One

Marsha A1Cropped

45 years later… you learn the troubled 10 year old, with low self-esteem and other issues, has blossomed into a most amazing, caring, giving person who is made Chief of Police, all because someone cared 45 years ago.

Subject: THANK YOU

Hello Mrs. A., I owe you a debt that I can never repay. You were my teacher from [school name omitted].  Prior to this I had been shunted through various “special education classes” where very little real effort was made to educate. The program seemed designed to remove problem children from the “normal” students. I spent years in that emotionally and intellectually toxic atmosphere. Many of my classmates were profoundly challenged. You can imagine what effect this had on a young child’s self-esteem.

Everyone had given up on me. Most importantly I had given up on myself. There was no hope, until a bright, lovely and enthusiastic young teacher entered my life. You recognized potential seen by no one else. With indefinite patience you pushed and prodded me. Within a year I was back on track.

Today I have a Master’s Degree and I’m considering a Doctoral program. This Thursday, March 28, I will be promoted to Chief of the Police Department. The ceremony will be held at [omitted]. Refreshments, sandwiches, etc., will be served immediately following the ceremony. I would be honored if you could attend. 

I shudder to think of what my life would have been if not for you. Words fail to convey my sense of gratitude but words are all I have. THANK YOU!

________________________________________________

This powerful letter was received by Marsha A., who has been a friend of our family since before I was born.  She graciously gave me permission to share it here to illustrate the profound difference that one person can make in the life of a child. You don’t need to be a teacher or parent to reach out and show a child that he or she matters. We’ve all got a little Marsha in us!

Wild Thing

A journey through the T.V. channels this weekend landed me on Animal Planet, a channel that can be fascinating, bizarre, ridiculous and/or disgusting. For instance, Finding Bigfoot qualifies as both fascinating and ridiculous – fascinating because there may just be Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) out there; ridiculous because the intrepid team of researchers never ever finds any concrete evidence and the night vision filming gets old real fast. Then there’s Monsters Inside Me, a show I’ve never watched, but judging by the promos, it clearly falls into the category of disgusting.

This weekend, I stumbled onto an Animal Planet show I had never seen before, Raised Wild, in which an anthropologist named MaryAnn travels the globe in attempts to document reports of feral children who have seemingly been raised by wild animals. After watching 2 episodes back to back, I’m pleased to report that both the Dog Girl of the Ukraine and the Monkey Boy of Uganda were legit stories and both children are now healthy and relatively well-adjusted adults.

Upon further reflection, though, are feral children truly an anomaly? When you think about the kids you grew up with and the kids you know now, perhaps there is little difference between some of them and their feral counterparts. A few examples from personal experience (Note: if you read this and begin to wonder, “Is she talking about me or my kids?” the answer is “No! Of course not! Any resemblance is just a coincidence.”):

  • You’ve probably encountered families, usually families with many children, whose mealtime rituals bear a remarkable resemblance to a pack of starving jackals ravenously descending upon a fresh kill. Right?
  • How about families with multiple siblings, usually sisters, who relentlessly peck and scratch at each other like barnyard chickens fighting in the dirt over the last grain of corn?
  • There are the families with lots of brothers who are constantly fighting and literally butting heads, not unlike hyper-testosteroned big-horned rams during mating season.
  • Then there was that kid in elementary school who would eat anything from scraps of paper to balled up wads of dried up rubber cement who clearly would have felt right at home in a family of goats.

For those of us who grew up in the suburbs, running away to find a surrogate feral family was simply not practical. The choices would have been squirrels, stray cats and the occasional elusive skunk, none of which sound all that appealing. We had little choice but to remain in our human families and simply behave like animals when we felt like it. Alternatively, a few of us took solace in the knowledge that we were not authentically human, but rather extra-terrestrial visitors to Earth, who merely had to endure childhood until we could return to our home planets (mine is Jupiter, in case you were wondering).

Now’s your chance to ‘fess up – did you run away and grow up as a feral child?  Alternatively, have you personally seen a Bigfoot?  We want to know all about it…

A Very Martha Halloween

Oh Martha, you crack me up. It’s not that I don’t admire your creativity, your multimillion (billion?) dollar media empire or your ubiquitous line of Martha Stewart home products, but still, you crack me up.

For decades, you have taken DIY to a whole new level, especially when it comes to celebrating holidays. Christmas? Plan ahead and plant some evergreen seedlings on your vast Connecticut property and nurture them into perfect 12 foot Christmas tree specimens suitable for display in any palatial home.

Easter? Gather fresh eggs from the chickens you raise in your backyard chicken coop, extract dyes in various colors from indigenous plants that grow on your property, and create unique one-of-a-kind masterpiece orbs that rival the renowned Faberge eggs.

Now, of course, Halloween is nearly upon us and Martha has once again fired up her creativity to come up with some very special ideas, which she kindly demonstrated for us on a recent Today Show. It starts with little orange treat bags, stamped with bats, spiders or other Halloweenish images, and stuffed with the candy of your choice. (Personally, I was shocked that Martha used store bought candy and neglected to show us how to make Milky Way bars at home. Appalling.) Next, use thumb tacks to attach the filled bags to something round, which I’m guessing was a Styrofoam ball or perhaps a real pumpkin, but I missed that part. The little trick-or-treaters can come up onto your porch and yank a bag off the pumpkin.

Okay, cute idea, but Martha had special treats for the parents of the trick-or-treaters too because they get tired of schlepping around the neighborhood in the dark with a flashlight and deserve a little mid-trick-or-treat pick-me-up. That’s why Martha was making them martinis, special Halloween martinis, because on Halloween it would be wrong to just stick an olive in the martini, right?

Special Halloween martinis come with a creepy eyeball instead of a boring olive. And, since I KNOW you want to make your own Halloween martinis, here’s how to make the creepy eyeballs, courtesy of Martha. Take a radish and peel off most of the red skin, but leave a few streaks of red so it looks like a veiny bloodshot eyeball. Hollow out an indention in one end and stick an olive (with pimento) in it. Voila, instant creepy eyeball!

I suppose some parents bring their own beverages along for the candy pilgrimage, but never have I lived in a neighborhood where trick or treating included a progressive neighborhood happy hour. Then again, few of us have the privilege of living down the block from Martha.

However your neighborhood celebrates Halloween, please remember that mixing alcohol and large quantities of chocolate can be dangerous. Please trick or treat responsibly.

 

You Can Take the Girl Out of Jersey …

 

Autumn Leaves 2012 – those are the Blue Ridge Mountains off in the distance.

Don’t be frightened – this is not a post about the Jersey Shore or The Real Housewives of New Jersey.  It’s about me, and food, and how my taste buds have stubbornly refused to adapt to life in the south even though it’s been 3 DECADES since I’ve called Jersey home.

Nowhere has my gustatory ineptitude been more apparent than it was this weekend during the Autumn Leaves Festival here in my adopted home town of Mount Airy, North Carolina. It’s an event that attracts several hundred thousand people to our little Main Street to enjoy dozens of craft and food booths, along with live music and plenty of people-watching opportunities. People come from hundreds of miles away and eagerly anticipate this annual event, in large part because of the food.

There are the usual fair/festival staples, like hot dogs, hamburgers, kettle corn, colossal turkey legs and funnel cakes. Also popular are the deep fried Oreos and apple pies, and ground steak sandwiches (“come get yer heaven on a bun, right here, folks!”), but by far THE biggest draw is the collard green and fatback sandwich, which attracted a steady line of people about a block long for the entire 3 day event.

I suppose this menu of offerings explains why there were several ambulances parked on a side street, apparently standing by for the inevitable grease induced heart attacks, though fortunately, I did not personally witness any medical emergencies.

No offense to my southern friends, but the aroma of deep fried southern goodness sent me scurrying rapidly in the opposite direction. Trust me, I’m no food snob. Had there been booths selling New York bagels and lox or Mallomars on a stick, I would’ve been joyously stuffing my face.

Food or no food, Autumn Leaves is one of the Southeast’s top fall festivals for good reason. The weather was spectacular, the people are friendly, and my daughter and I bought some stunning photographs from Winston-Salem photographer, Jerald Winter. Y’all come join us next year!

The Creep Factor

It may not be fancy, but it’s a great family car.

When it comes to cars, I’m as boring as it gets. I just want a car that I’m comfortable driving, that’s reliable and safe. I dutifully take it in for scheduled maintenance and otherwise pay very little attention to it.

I prefer to take it to the dealership for service because I know the folks there have to answer to a higher power if customers are unhappy with the service, but also because the waiting area and the restroom are clean, unlike some of the quickie oil change places that rate highly on the ick scale of hygiene. Plus, there are usually relatively current magazines lying on the table, even if one of them is entitled Gardens & Guns (I did not make that up) and most of the others are golf-related.

Still, you can never tell who else will wander in to have his or her car serviced, no matter where you go.  This morning, as I sat in the dealership’s service department waiting area, along with a decidedly geriatric crowd, watching an episode of Leave it to Beaver (because no one can figure out how to work the remote for the satellite TV), an old geezer guy came in – red face, rheumy eyes, tufts of hair bulging out of his ears. He said good morning to a guy sitting to the right, then looked at me, gestured to the chair beside me and said, “Good morning, beautiful. Mind if I sit here? I promise not to molest you.”

WHAT?! WHO THE F*** SAYS SOMETHING LIKE THAT?!

He took a seat and offered me a section of his newspaper. I declined. He turned to the obituaries and remarked that the oldest dead person listed was 103.

OMG, what is taking them so long to change the oil in my car? I’ve already watched a full episode of Leave it to Beaver and two thirds of an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Must escape…

As luck would have it, geezer guy couldn’t sit still for very long and left to wander around the dealership, no doubt spreading creepiness along the way. He may be a harmless old guy who thinks he’s amusing, but my instincts tell me he’s probably on some sex offender registry somewhere. Ick.

There Are Mutants Among Us

No, not those mutants.

It’s not often that I have the privilege of sharing information that may save a life, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do today. Despite the goofy title to this post (the reason for it will become clear), this is the real deal and I urge you to take the time to read it and share it.

First, a disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional and I’m not providing medical advice. I’m sharing information from personal experience that I hope will shed light on a very important health-related discovery. So, here goes.

A close member of my family* has struggled with a number of health issues for several years, including food allergies and sensitivities, anxiety and just plain not feeling well.  He/she sought help from a number of medical professionals and tried a variety of treatments, with very little improvement. More recently, he/she consulted with an integrative doctor (an M.D. who takes a more holistic and nutritional approach).

The new doc whipped out a big chart showing a complicated set of biochemical processes. He explained that through the Human Genome Project, researchers have discovered a common but not yet widely known genetic mutation that has far-reaching implications for dozens of health conditions. It can’t be “fixed” but it can be treated. Treatment can improve or prevent all sorts of health problems.

So, while I have about a 3rd grade understanding of all things scientific (for which I place a large part of the blame on my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. L., who came to class stoned every single day), I’m going to give you the basics and point you toward resources for more information.

What’s the mutation?

We all have 2 copies of the MTHFR** gene.  MTHFR stands for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. The purpose of this gene is to produce the MTHFR enzyme, which the body needs for a myriad of functions including production of neurotransmitters, immune system function, cardiovascular health and much much more. It does this through a multistep process that converts folic acid and vitamin B12 into methyl folate and methyl B12, which are the forms required to make the enzyme. (This is often called the methylation process or methylation pathway and there is much more to it than this one gene, but the MTHFR gene is critical.)

There are many variations of the mutation and since we each have 2 copies of the gene, there are a number of possible combinations. For instance, you can have 2 healthy MTHFR genes, one healthy copy and one mutated copy or 2 mutated copies. Generally, people with 2 mutated copies will have more significant health problems than people with one mutated copy. Overall, some studies suggest that as much as 40 percent of the population has an MTHFR mutation.

What health issues are related to MTHFR mutations?  

Are you ready for a truly astounding list? Here’s an abbreviated list (more available at www.mthfr.net):

  • Autism (a whopping 98% of autistic children test positive for the MTHFR mutation)
  • Addictions, such as smoking, drugs, alcohol
  • Depression, anxiety, OCD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Miscarriages
  • Pulmonary embolisms
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Chemical Sensitivity
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Stroke
  • Spina bifida
  • A variety of cancers, including colon, rectal and gastric cancer
  • Vascular Dementia
  • Blood clots
  • Congenital Heart Defects
  • Deficits in childhood cognitive development
  • Migraines with aura
  • Low HDL
  • High homocysteine
  • Post-menopausal breast cancer
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Type 1 Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Primary Closed Angle Glaucoma
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Potential drug toxicities including methotrexate, anti-epileptics
  • Cervical dysplasia
  • Increased bone fracture risk in post-menopausal women
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Myocardial Infarction (Heart Attack)
  • Nitrous Oxide Toxicity
  • Heart Murmurs
  • Impaired ability to detoxify heavy metals and other common toxins

I suspect you or someone close to you has one or more of these conditions. If not, then you are clearly from a genetically superior pool and we would like to begin cloning you immediately.

How do I know if I have an MTHFR mutation?

A simple blood test will tell you if you have the mutation. It will tell you if you have one or two copies of the mutation and identify which variation(s) of the mutation you have. The test is sometimes covered by health insurance and sometimes not.

The bad news is that it’s likely your doctor has never heard of MTHFR and if you ask about it, you will risk getting that I-wish-my-patients-would-stop-reading-crap-on-the-internet-and-think-they-know-more-than-me look. If that’s the response, you have a few choices: insist on being tested; find a more open-minded doctor; or get the test on your own (details available through the resources listed below).

What’s the treatment for an MTHFR mutation?

The basic approach to treating an MTHFR mutation is to simply supplement with l-methyl folate and methyl B12, which are available without a prescription. This by-passes the conversion process that is impaired by the MTHFR mutation.  The dosage you’ll need will vary, but it’s generally a good idea to start small and work your way up to higher doses. (IMPORTANT: Taking folic acid, which is a synthetic form of folate, can make the condition much worse.)

Of course, nothing in the world is THAT simple. There are many other factors at play. For instance, if your digestive system is a mess, you may need to fix that before the supplements can help or you may need to take additional steps to detoxify an accumulation of heavy metals from your body.

There are many other supplements that may be helpful depending upon your individual health issues.  The best case scenario is to work with a doctor who is knowledgeable about MTHFR, but they are few and far between. If you can’t locate one near you, the resources below include doctors who will consult with you by phone.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch …

The family member I referred to above tested positive for one copy of the MTHFR mutation. He/she began treatment about a month ago, using a supplement that comes in the form of a topical cream.

Within days of starting the treatment, there was a noticeable reduction in anxiety symptoms and an improvement in mood and energy levels. However, there continue to be some episodes (lasting several days or more) when he/she feels pretty bad. I believe this is a sign that his/her body is detoxifying. Overall, however, he/she has shown more improvement during the past 4 weeks than he/she had in the previous 4 years.

Since this is a close family member, there’s a good chance that I have the mutation as well, along with other family members. While we have not yet been tested, we have begun supplementing with l-methyl folate, methyl B12, and a variety of other supplements (there is no downside to doing this, even if you don’t have the mutation).

Want to know more?

If you have any of the health conditions listed above, have chronic health issues that doctors have been unable to help you resolve, or are just curious to know more, here are some places to start:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mthfr-Support/301594793192098 

http://mthfr.net/ 

http://www.mthfrsupport.com/index.html

http://mthfrmd.com/ 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZA8GUIRqIkE  (4 part lecture from Dr. Neil Rawlins, about an hour total, well worth watching from beginning to end)

http://www.neurobiologix.com/category-s/12.htm (very informative videos and also a great source for supplements to treat MTHFR)

I’m tired of reading – is there more?

My apologies for the lengthy post, but after immersing myself in all the information about MTHFR and seeing first-hand that it’s the real deal, I genuinely believe that identifying and treating people with this genetic mutation will save lives and improve health tremendously.

The biggest challenge is to spread the word and educate people, especially doctors, about the condition. Please share this information in as many ways as you possibly can.

Class dismissed :-D

*I’m not identifying this individual because while some relish the opportunity to over-share personal information, there are still a few people out there who prefer not to reveal their personal information to the world.

**Bet you thought that was a vowel-less expletive, didn’t you?

A Whole Lot of Help!

A few days ago, when I asked for A Little Help Please, I knew that many of my kind-hearted blog reading friends would take a moment to vote for the little Mount Airy Public Library to win 5,000 much needed dollars from a contest sponsored by LEGO.  Hats off to all of you who voted and who continue to vote everyday – it means the world to our community.

A few of you even crossed community lines and voted for Mount Airy over libraries (one local Houston library in particular) that may be closer to home for you.  I acknowledge your courage and your willingness to piss off your neighbors in order to help us out. Unfortunately, some people who are supporters of their local Houston library were upset by my post. My apologies to you.

One of you, however, went above and beyond and wrote a beautiful post that every book lover will appreciate.  No Loss of Words by Phil, the Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge, is truly a tribute to books and libraries everywhere, and a genuine gift to Mount Airy’s library in particular.

Phil, this standing ovation is for you. Well done!

To everyone who cares about local libraries and took the time to vote (for Mount Airy or any other library), I sincerely thank you. And to Phil, Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge, a STANDING OVATION for your generosity. You’re all amazing!

The Introvert’s Vacation

The classic summer vacation: pile kids and kid-related paraphernalia into large vehicle, drive several hours (or more) to an overcrowded beach location, rendezvous at a large over-priced beach house with extended family members (the more, the merrier), unload stuff and kids from vehicle and schlep into beach house to begin a week of hot sandy family togetherness. Wooo!  Is everyone having fun yet?

For most people, the answer is “heck, yeah – having a great time!” But for me, the answer was no. For many, many years (I’m talking 2+ decades), the answer was “no.” Go ahead, call me a bad mother, a rotten wife, an ungrateful daughter-in-law.

What I really am, though, is an introvert.  I crave solitude. I crave silence. I need my personal space and lots of it. While I love to see the fam, after just a few hours, I’m done, and spending a week full of noisy togetherness, even with people I love, is tremendously depleting. Over the years I tried to find ways to cope. The most important coping technique is to approach the week with no expectations. That way, you’re not disappointed to find that you drove all that way just to cook, clean, shop for groceries, do laundry and watch the kids, except with more people and a whole lotta sand, compared to just doing all those things at home.

Of course, having no expectations will only get an introvert so far. My next attempt at coping was to go off to shop by myself or spend most of the day holed up in a bedroom reading or watching endless HGTV while everyone else trekked back and forth to the beach or pool. Still, by mid-week I’d be desperate to go home and feeling ashamed for trying to avoid the whole point of the week – togetherness. Before we even packed the car to go home, I’d be dreading next year’s beach week.

Worst of all, though, was the guilt. I could not hide my misery and felt like it infected everyone else. Why should I go to the annual beach week when it not only makes me unhappy, but everyone else too? Why indeed. So, several years ago, I finally did the right thing. I opted out. I sent the husband and the kids off to the beach and I stayed home – alone. It was not a well-received decision at first: it probably caused some hurt feelings and some people were certain I’d change my mind and go. I didn’t.

Since then, while the rest of the family enjoys the annual week of togetherness at the beach, I have quietly celebrated my Golden Week of Solitude at home. I still feel a little guilty for not going and probably always will, but even an introvert is entitled to a vacation every now and then, right?