Eat for your Life! (aka: Our Flexitarian Family)

When I was a kid, food was all about three square meals per day. One food from each of the four crucial food groups: meat and eggs, bread & cereal, fruits & veggies, and, of course, milk, to do a body good. The food pyramid was pretty straight forward, too. Stuff yourself with bread and grains, add five servings of plants, then top it off with a little protein.

Vintage American meals

Back in those days, vegetarians were almost unheard of, too. Since I lived in the Bay Area, we always had one or two in each group, and the only choices they had for lunch were cheese sandwiches or PB&J. Everyone else ate pretty much the same thing — Oscar Mayer bologna sandwiches on Wonder bread, with a fruit roll-up on the side. The only thing that varied was the flavor of fruit roll-up, and the occasional novelty of Hostess treats or Capri Suns someone’s mom tossed into the lunchbox.

1980s kids lunch

My family’s diet was typically American, too. Spaghetti, chicken casseroles, sloppy joes. Meatloaf with a side of mashed potatoes. Plenty of salt, sugar, and simplex carbs for all. None of us dared to complain, or to request something healthier. After all, we were eating three square, all-American meals per day, provided by hard-working parents.

Fast forward several decades.

A few years ago, I lost a lot of weight. Around 60 pounds, total. Now I will admit that the final 20 pounds or so were likely due to an eating disorder. But the first 40 were due to a change in daily diet. I scrapped the nostalgic all-American diet, for the most part, and opened my mind to a global variety of healthy, whole foods. I cut way back on meat. I also began to exercise regularly, around 3-4 days per week.

Then came a startling health discovery. My doctor found that my blood sugar was slightly elevated; a somewhat common state known as prediabetes. Unchecked, this condition can spiral into full-blown Type 2 diabetes.

I was shocked. But my daily habits were so healthy! And my BMI was in the ideal range. How could this be? Answer: genetics. Sometimes, no matter what we do, our bodies are prone to develop unfortunate conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Luckily for me, I was able to make some more effective changes. I further reduced my intake of animal proteins. Switched out simplex carbs for complex carbs (aka whole grains). Cut out most sugar, except for the occasional treat. And I began to work out every single day, with few exceptions. And, yay! My blood sugar levels dropped back down to normal, healthy levels.

chickpea curry

With my own kids, I abolished the idea that everyone has to eat the exact same foods. After all, everyone is different. We have different tastes, different nutritional needs, different health challenges. My 13yo son can’t stand cooked vegetables. So he has permission to switch them out for fresh veggies or salad. My 16yo daughter has decided that she is now a pescatarian, and has begun a zero-sugar diet challenge with her friends. Luckily, I usually prepare a vegetarian option for family meals (not just PB&J, haha). Zero added sugar is a lot harder than it sounds, but I’ve been cheering her on, and being sensitive to her goals while grocery shopping. My 18yo? Well, he still hasn’t jumped into the health nut boat with the rest of us, so it’s still all-American junk food for him.

pescatarian meals fish

Our household of four has four different food pyramids. Some of us are more likely to nibble six small meals than three square meals per day. One of us prefers veggie dogs and veggie burgers to the meaty versions. Three of us are happy to munch on nuts, seeds, and roasted edamame for snacks. All four of us adore sweet, sugary treats more than we probably should — perhaps another genetic tendency. But we are learning and growing as we explore new yummy recipes and exercise together. Hopefully these healthy habits will stick with my kids as they head off into the world, and help them to live long lives, free of those killer diseases that plague so many us.

Healthy Choices

It’s not easy to change your diet for the better. It’s not easy to give up old favorites that remind us of childhood, like smoky grilled meats and big bowls of chocolate ice cream. It’s not easy to make yourself get up and move for 30 minutes every day. But the ability to enjoy a long, good life makes those changes worthwhile. Life is sweet. Live healthy.

Cake Intolerant (aka: Mother Nature is a Comedienne)

Snow White CakeI’ve finally come to accept the old adage, You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Yes, I know, this saying wasn’t meant to be taken literally. It’s supposed to mean that you can’t have two things that you desire if having one will cancel out the other. However, in my case, I literally can’t have my cake and eat it, too.

I used to love cake. When I was a kid, it was my favorite dessert. Spongy, angel-white birthday cake with creamy whipped icing. Thick, sweet slices of soft, butter-yellow cake topped with thick, gooey chocolate frosting – aahhhh! Cake was something to look forward to. Better than ice cream. Better than anything.

But then, Mother Nature decided to play a little joke. I can picture her now, hunched over in a grove of trees in a forest somewhere, rubbing her wicked hands together. “I know,” she says, her eyes flashing with mischief. “I’ll curse Tiare’s body and make her unable to enjoy this delectable treat.” There is a flash of lightning, and Boom! The curse is set.

Around a decade ago, I learned that cake had become my enemy. You know how some people are lactose intolerant? Well, apparently, I am now cake intolerant. Wait a minute, you say. That is so not a thing! There’s no such thing as cake intolerance. Anyone can enjoy a slice of cake. Surely, there is a pill, or a psychological treatment, or an alternative recipe that will allow you to eat cake like everyone else.

First of all, alternative cake recipes are just…grody. If it isn’t made with butter, sugar, flour with actual gluten, and fresh eggs, well then, I am not interested. Second of all, there is no cure, because cake intolerance is not a real disease. I am not allergic to anything in the cake – just the cake itself.

Sadly, my sweet tooth has not fully caught up with my inability to eat this dessert. For example, I decided to bake a carrot cake for my kids and me to eat after Easter dinner. It turned out perfectly – brown sugar-sweet, filled with pecans and cinnamon, spread with a smooth, thick cream-cheese frosting. Just the aroma alone was enough to make my mouth water. I didn’t go crazy – only helped myself to one delicious slice after a small dinner.

Mistake. Big mistake. My poor stomach gave quite a protest in the middle of the night, as though yelling, “Stupid, stupid, stupid – remember Mother Nature? You can’t eat cake, idiot!”

Me after eating cake

So the next day, I decided to eat another slice. Because hey – there’s no such thing as cake intolerance, right? Surely it was just a fluke. Plus, that cake was just soooo good. Stomachache amnesia fogged my memories as I happily indulged in that second slice. But then…

Trust me, you do not want the gory details. Let’s just say that Montezuma himself couldn’t have plotted a more vicious revenge.

rich chocolate cakeI’m done. No more cake. No carrot, no old-fashioned butter yellow, no birthday white, no angel’s or devil’s food. No cake. You win, Mother Nature, you win. I will return to the days of baking lovely, homemade cakes for everyone else while never eating a single bite. I concede.

And somewhere in her forest grove, Mother Nature cackles with glee. “That was too easy,” she says. “You might even say…that was a piece of cake.”

It’s the End of the World (and I Feel Fine)

emergency prep I’m pretty much the opposite of a Prepper. Although I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where even TV commercials constantly drill into your head the importance of being prepared for The Big One, I tend to be anything but prepared for natural disasters. Not that it isn’t important. It’s good common sense to keep certain things on hand in case of earthquakes, or alien invasions, or the zombie apocalypse. For example:

  • Flashlights / Lanterns (Great! We have about a half-dozen of these)
  • Extra Batteries (All AAs, which are great for WiiU remote controls, bad for dead flashlights)
  • A Well-Stocked First Aid Kit (Mine has exactly 3 band-aids and some expired Jr. Tylenol)
  • Drinking water (Do toilets count? Hey, if we were dying of thirst…)
  • Non-Perishable Foods (Humongous supply of Ramen noodles — check!)
Preparing for dystopia

I’m pretty sure that my survivalist relatives are preparing for this dystopian future.

By contrast, the rest of my relatives tend to be extreme Preppers. No, I am not exaggerating. I’m pretty sure that a few of them have actually built underground bunkers. They are often perplexed by my lack of concern that any minute, we could all be in a state of emergency due to North Korean bombs or falling meteors.

My mother called the other day in a panic. “Do you still have that stack of face masks I sent you?” she asked. “You may need to buy more. And when you get a chance, go over to Costco and stock up on food, just in case”

I groaned. “What for this time?” Silly me. Didn’t I know about the impending plague of Ebola Virus? Hadn’t I heard that our government had allowed for the return of two very ill American doctors who were going to spread the disease to the rest of us? Ebola! Seal your windows with plastic! Keep your kids home from school! Acquire weapons! This is not a drill. I repeat, this is not a drill.

Yes, I have heard about the tragic outbreak of Ebola Virus in West Africa. Yes, I have been following the news reports about the deadly disease. According to dozens of popular media sources, Ebola is highly contagious, and has a mortality rate as high as 90%. If it is not well-contained, then the illness could spread around the world, wiping out much of the human population.

protected and ready for anything

Ready to survive the Ebola Outbreak

But here’s the thing: Ebola is not that contagious. It is not spread by coughing and sneezing like the flu or common cold, but by absorbing the bodily fluids of an infected person. (Yes, I realize that this is exactly how people become zombies on The Walking Dead, but that’s beside the point).

“…to become infected in the first place, a person’s mucous membranes, or an area of broken skin, must come into contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, such as blood, urine, saliva, semen or stools, or materials contaminated with these fluids such as soiled clothing or bed linen. By contrast, respiratory pathogens such as those that cause the common cold or flu are coughed and sneezed into the air and can be contracted just by breathing or touching contaminated surfaces, such as door knobs. A pandemic flu virus can spread around the world in days or weeks and may be unstoppable whereas Ebola only causes sporadic localized outbreaks that can usually be stamped out.” (Scientific American, July 30, 2014)

Ebola is an unfortunate and devastating illness. I am hopeful that scientists will soon devise a cure, and am encouraged by the recent reports that the American patients are showing signs of recovery. And I will continue to make efforts to live as healthy a life as possible, by eating healthy, exercising, washing hands well, and getting plenty of sleep to keep my immune system strong. But I refuse to seal my windows with plastic, stock up on weapons, or build an underground bunker. Yeesh! This is not World War Z, people.

However, it would probably be a good idea for me to buy some more batteries. And some bottled water. You know — just in case.ultimate survival gear for preppers

A Letter to JMF (From Your Friend 4-Ever)

Dear JMF,

I know that you will never read this letter, but still I had to write it for you. Yesterday, I read on your Facebook wall that you have recently been diagnosed with HIV. On top of this, your father was terribly injured in a car accident. You have been thinking a lot lately about life, feeling worried that you are alone, and afraid of what the future may hold. You wonder whether you will die without anyone really knowing you, without making a difference, without touching anyone else’s lives.

J, when we were teenagers, you were my very best friend. You understood how hard it was for me to make friends, and you always tried to draw me into the group. You loved me at my best, and when the clouds were too dark and stormy, you held my hand until the sun shone again. (You had the same artistic temperament, and so you understood those melancholy moments).

And I knew you, J. I knew how you liked to tease and criticize, but how you were so sensitive when others teased you back. I knew how you loved to dance, and sing, and read Christopher Pike and Babysitter’s Club books, and how you never wanted anyone at our high school to know. But I knew, and I loved these things about you. I read those books with you, and together we danced around our living rooms and twirled flags and rifles in the yard. We shared one set of headphones, listening to Guns n Roses, and Les Miserables, and mostly Madonna. We knew every single song. We took long walks together, attached by our headphones, singing in harmony.

When I moved away, our telephone bills skyrocketed. We talked for hours and hours. Remember? We could talk anout anything and everything. We made cassette tapes for each other, filled with our voices talking, and favorite songs, and funny clips from TV, and we mailed those cassettes instead of letters.

And when your mother died so tragically, I raced to be by your side, to cry with you, to hold you, and to mourn the loss of a kind, loving woman who liked rock music and smoked little flavored cigars and loved riding motorcycles with her husband. She was always so nice to me, sharing stories about being a foster child, and comforting me when my problems at home were so bad. I loved her, too, J, because I loved you.

Oh J, of course you have made a difference. Of course you have touched lives. My life was so much better because of your friendship. In the middle of a troubled adolescence, you were an oasis of laughter, and understanding, and music. You got me. And I got you. We were best friends 4-Ever. We accepted each other, and we walked in harmony. I was not alone because of you, and you will never be alone, because you will always have me.

Love Always,