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Even Peter Pan drives everywhere in Texas.
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Think wonderful thoughts.
Kaspar dressed as Peter Pan for Halloween -- his idea. We have a version of the classic book, and he requests it nighty. He didn't really understand Halloween last year; he rang exactly one doorbell, called it a night, and -- back home -- happily let us trade out his treat for some blueberries. This year, he took notice of decorations around the neighborhood, weeks before the big day arrived, and we've spent many walks since admiring ghosts, giant spiders, and jack-o-lanterns as they appeared on our neighbors porches and lawns. 

I'm really into holidays now that I'm a mom. (Also now that there's Pinterest -- follow me!) And although I was surprised Kaspar had such a definitive answer at the ready when asked what he wanted to dress as for Halloween, I shouldn't have been. He knows what's up. Which is why instead of planning to trade him something for his loot this year -- because even a cool toy doesn't make up for having your trick-or-teating stash confiscated, when you're two -- I pre-distributed Kaspar-friendly treats among our neighbors so he could have his cake (so to speak) and eat it, too. It worked like a charm. He just thinks everyone's really into applesauce. I'm not sure this plan will work as well in coming years, but I'll take it a step at a time. Last year he couldn't even eat applesauce, so who knows what lies ahead... (I'm optimistic!)

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Trick or treat!
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So much cuteness.
Happy (and emergency-free) Halloweening complete, I put Kaspar to bed on Wednesday night and settled down on the couch to watch a scary movie with Aaron. Almost as soon as we sat down, however, we heard Kaspar cough a few times, so I went to his room to check on him. It's been a tough pollen season around here -- tougher than usual, even, and Austin's always bad -- and we've had to give Kaspar nebulizer treatments every other week or so this fall, in addition to utilizing Ayurvedic and TCM prevention methods. (They've worked, too, but when the asthma's really under way, we have no choice but to rock the alburteral. Aaron's been taking his inhaler, too... and I think he only needed it once when we lived in New York.) 

Kaspar's breathing sounded fine, but he had a fever of 101.4. Over the next five or six hours, he had two extreme coughing episodes, two nebulizer treatments, two vomiting episodes and, needless to say, got very little sleep. We debated whether to bring him to the ER, and were pretty confused by his symptoms (some of which were side effects from the nebulizer itself...), but we made it through the night without having to go. I brought him in to the pediatrician the next day and confirmed my budding suspicion that Kaspar had a bad case of croup. He's had it once before, but it previously only featured one coughing episode, and we didn't have asthma on our minds at the time, so we hadn't hopped him up on other meds and complicated things. I also brought him to our local, amazing TCM doctor on Thursday afternoon, and she checked him out and modified his herbal prescription to address his asthma. (As for the croup, she administered some gentle acupressure and advised us to lay low and ride it out.)
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Feeling better already at Texas College for Traditional Chinese Medicine
It's been a few days, and while Kas is still a little sick, he's feeling MUCH better. Phew. And he keeps asking to have Halloween again. So cute. 

In other news, I'm five days in to a ten day Ayruvedic cleanse, led by an amazing practitioner here in Austin, Ivy Ingram. (If you're local, go see her. She's great.) In addition to certain dietary restrictions, breathing exercises and other, um, cleansing protocol (there's an enema coming up that I'm not exactly thrilled for... but hey, if the sages say jump...), I'm supposed to be laying low, too, and getting lots of rest. I've realized, one the one hand, that when I can go to bed by 10 pm, I don't. As in never. Even when strongly encouraged to do so as part of a structured cleanse, and even when I'm following all of the other protocol to a T, I don't go to bed at 10 pm. I know it would benefit me enormously. I know that two and a half years of hardcore sleep deprivation took it's toll, and that I signed up for this cleanse as a way to mark the wonderful shift Kaspar's made in recent months (Wednesday night notwithstanding) -- wherein he sleeps soundly, through the night, every night -- and to re-boot my own system in the wake of the sleep dep marathon. But still, I can't bring myself to go to bed at 10 pm, even a few nights a week. I'm working on it. 

The other thing I'm realizing is that sometimes life stuff -- like kiddos with croup, and sleepless nights -- simply comes up, and our intentions for self-care get back-burnered. Rest wasn't in the cards on Wednesday night, or on Thursday, really, but I did scale things back a bit on Friday -- when Kaspar returned to school -- to give myself a chance to catch my breath. And I stuck with the other cleanse protocol throughout. I initially signed up for this cleanse on an impulse. I'd planned to take a long weekend away, alone, sometime this fall, to sleep and to process and to disengage for a bit. But I signed up for this cleanse instead, when I received an email about it. Already sold on Ayurveda as a profoundly powerful system of medicine, I sensed that the cleanse will ultimately be more grounding, and more beneficial, than checking out of my life for a few days would have been. (I might still go ahead and do that, though.) Remaining engaged with the many things I have going and, meanwhile, going through the cleansing process is more challenging, but it's also more relevant to my life right now, and it's exactly what I needed. 

Anyway, here's to Halloween, to healthy kids, to clean starts and to November. My birthday month. (The big 2-8 is just a few weeks away, y'all. I'm ready!)

I'll finish with some additional, gratuitous cuteness:
How was your Halloween? If you have kids with special dietary needs or food allergies, how do you handle the candy sitch? 
 
 
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Image credit: Kevin Sherry
As I’ve written before, I don’t have a problem with meat-eating in principle. (Animal suffering, however, is another story.) Kaspar, for his part, wouldn’t be half the healthy kiddo he is today were it not for his happy-meat habit.  But I noticed, a couple of months ago, that our family was eating a lot of meat. Like, more dinners than not featured animals (or their eggs), front and center, and Aaron and I  -- or maybe it was just me, but I’m the primary cook around these parts, so my vote counts for more -- weren’t feeling the meat consumption at quite the level we were living it. 

It wasn’t that we were eating meat in lieu of fruits and vegetables; our family eats (and drinks) lots of produce on the daily. And it wasn’t that we were getting fat or anything like that – Aaron and I are both naturally slender people who probably couldn't get fat if we tried. It wasn’t even that I think eating meat is unhealthy; Aaron and I both qualify, in Ayurvedic terms anyway, as people who can eat some meat here and there (though Ayruveda doesn’t recommend really regular meat-eating for any constitution), and Traditional Chinese Medicine similarly recommends small amounts of meat in one's diet, for keeping the blood balanced and strong.  I’m not sure what it was, actually, that caused me to initially re-adjust our meat habits, but whatever it was, it led to my arriving home from a library trip one day with a bag full of vegan cookbooks slung over my shoulder.

Aaron laughed semi-uproariously when he saw this; I was a strict, bumper-sticker-sportin’ vegan in high school and college. Although Aaron hadn’t met me yet, he knows this about me because I sometimes refer back to that time with a touch of self-directed snark and condescension in my tone. “I know so much more about nutrition and food politics now. Eating meat is not the problem. And soy is not the solution.” But I’ve also spoken fondly of those early forays into conscious food choices; I learned to cook when I was a vegan. I became attuned to what food feels like in my body. And I developed an appetite for food as a source of health, happiness, world peace and prosperity. Nothing less.

I still think it can get us there. And I still believe in my somewhat-later discovery of the local food movement – encompassing meat and produce alike –as paving (or, you know, tilling or some such) the way. (That organic ground beef you bought that was shipped in from the former-rainforest in Uruguay? Not so much.) But I also know now that our oceans are over-fished, our planet is getting warmer way too quickly and the resources that are fundamental to human survival  -- like fresh water -- are in short supply. These problems are all interrelated, too; beef production, for example, plays a major role in methane and nitrous oxide emissions planet-wide, and climate change – which is very real – is definitely worsened by this kind of pollution. Climate change, in turn, affects crop and cattle production; the local Texas cattle industry suffered pretty seriously as a result of last summer’s draught, and it hasn't rained down here, this summer, in well over a month. I'm really, actually troubled by, and worried about, this global warming thing, and feeling like there's nothing I can do about it puts me in an immobilized, inner panic. I certainly can't single-handedly stop the planet-destruction bus, but I can choose, three times a day, to do something about its momentum. So although my son must, for now, eat meat almost daily – and I will continue to source his meat from Earth and animal-friendly local purveyors – I’ve felt a recent desire to reduce our family’s collective footprint on the food front. How to go about doing so was not a mystery to me. It takes a lot more grain (or grass or whatever) to feed a cow than it does to feed a person. And two out of the three people in this family really don’t need to eat the cow to stay alive. 

Also, cows are cute. There, I said it. 

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Kaspar’s still going strong on his nightly coconut oil massages, and his system is still reaping the rewards. I’ve been making an effort to give myself a good warm-oil self-massage several times a week, as well; in Ayurvedic medicine, this is known as Abhyanga, and it’s prescribed for a whole host of conditions. The Sanskrit word for oil, sneha, also means ‘love,’ and self-massage does indeed do a body good, as an impactful form of self-love and care. It’s particularly useful in treating anxiety and nervousness, cracking joints, lack of focus, mental and physical stress, restlessness, dry skin and any kind of digestive issue. The skin is the body’s largest organ, and one that’s largely associated with digestion (this is why Kaspar’s gut issues manifested as terrible eczema); using a high quality oil to massage the skin not only imparts calming effects on the nervous system, but it also helps to cleanse and nourish the skin, helping it to better do its jobs (including detoxification). Whether or not you’re treating a specific condition, Abhyanga stimulates the inner organs, promotes digestion and restores our innate sense of well-being and optimism. In a nutshell, it cures what ails ya.*

Here’s how it’s done: before bathing, spread some towels (not your favorites… they’re gonna get messy) onto your bathroom floor, and pour some organic food-quality oil into a plastic squeeze bottle (or other container) – I use coconut oil, but you can also use sesame or almond oil for a warming, grounding effect, or corn or flaxseed oil if your constitution is generally sluggish or heavy. Place the bottle of oil in a bowl of warm water to heat it slightly as you undress (make sure the room isn’t drafty, too). Next, pour a small amount of oil into your hands and apply it to your face, including your ears and nose, but avoiding the eyes. Massage your limbs in long strokes, applying pressure as you move toward the heart, and then follow with circular strokes over your joints. Massage your abdomen in a clockwise direction, then your hands, your shoulders, your feet—give yourself a good rub-down. About once a week, massage some oil into your scalp using circular motions, as well. Chill out for a few minutes – ideally you’d wait for fifteen to thirty minutes, but… I don’t have that kind of time – and then carefully (your feet may be super slippery) climb into the tub or shower. Wash yourself, but go easy on the soap so as not to remove all of the oil. Pat yourself dry with a towel.

Look around. Do things look brighter somehow? Thanks, Abhyanga!

Now, this type of massage is a bit different from Swedish or Deep Tissue (which I can also rock!), so you don’t need to chug water all day afterward -- although that’s not a bad idea, regardless – and you shouldn’t focus too much on working knots out while you’re doing this. (Hire someone else to do that kind of work…). Instead, try to rest your attention during Abhyanga on gratitude for your amazing body and how much it does for you, how many functions it performs. Feel happy. Let your stress go. And go ahead and make a habit of this, from a few times a week to every day, if you can swing it.

*Note that Abhyanga is not indicated (i.e. safe/recommended) for anyone in the acute stage of an illness, pregnant or menstruating women, people with insulin-dependent diabetes, blood clots, edema, hangovers, infected wounds, or who are in chemotherapy. Safety first, folks!

 
 
In the last week, our ever-sweet Kaspar threw us a curve and acquired something of a split personality. I’ve heard two-year-olds described (only half-jokingly) by other parents as “in a nutshell, psychopathic,”  but the description never fit our kid, until now. Not that he didn’t have his moments, but this past week… he had many. He brought a whole new game, and honestly, we were kind of mystified and at a loss as to how to handle it.

Kaspar would be behaving in his usual happy-go-lucky way, chirping about this or that, when he’d suddenly do something he knows he shouldn’t: mess with Aaron’s computer, throw toys, hit us, you name it. We’d calmly explain that the behavior wasn’t okay, and ask him to stop. He’d ignore us. We’d give it another go, with our communication again falling on deaf ears. Then we’d tell him we were about to remove the object in question (or remove him from its proximity), and he’d FLIP out. Full-on howler monkey style. This happened at seemingly random times, and over seemingly inconsequential happenings (one such episode erupted when he decided he wanted the food I’d just put in my own mouth and swallowed. Another strawberry simply wouldn’t suffice… he wanted mine, although he knew as well as I did that it was gone). It’s all been rather confusing to the logical adult mind. Kaspar is extremely articulate for his age, too, which can be misleading in these types of interactions; he may scream something that sounds like a negotiation, but it’s not. He can’t be reasoned with when under the influence of toddlerhood. In fact, he’s tended to get upset while saying he wants to do one thing, and it’s opposite, all in the same breath.

We used distraction throughout the week as our main method for coping with his outbursts, and that worked when distraction was plausible. But in the case of refusing to settle down at bedtime, for example, we just ended up saying, in so many words, that we had the upper hand, and this –going to bed – was what was happening. (Because we said so… though we didn’t say that. Too cliché!).

Kaspar kept it more reined in at school, as I learned upon inquiring with his teacher as to whether anything had happened there (some upsetting event? I was worried) that might have led to this shift. Nothing had. His teacher told me this kind of experience is totally, 100% normal and predictable behavior with kids at around 2 and a half. So we’re early… sweet. He’s testing us, obviously. He’s also exploring and asserting his independence. I’m actually glad he is, as he’s been such an all-out sweetheart since day one that other, more aggressive kids his age have tended to overwhelm (or straight up plow over) him. I have only ever wanted to nurture him and love him for who he is, so I never set out to toughen him up or anything like that (I love his sweetheart self), but it’s good, no doubt, that he’s now starting to try the words “NO!” and “That’s MINE. Walk AWAY!” on for size. Since this has also amounted to some challenges, lately, at home, though, I’ve wanted to handle his freakouts here in the best way possible. I don’t want to discourage his burgeoning independence, and I also want to help him handle tough emotions constructively, and to know where the boundaries are. (On the emotions front, he moves on from the drama pretty quickly, which I appreciate. I also bear this in mind when he acts like the world is about to end because he’s not allowed to draw all over the walls).

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(a) Herbal (rooibos) tea with full-fat, raw local milk; (b) Sliced fresh berries; (c) Homemade paneer (made from said local milk); (d) Gorilla Munch. (Note that corn cereal is not the healthiest thing Kaspar could be eating, but he's pretty into it, so... a part of this complete breakfast it is).

Slinky, crayons and paper= incidentals.


What's on your breakfast table?
 
 
Kitchari is an Ayurvedic staple; it’s simple to prepare, balancing to all three doshas, and lends itself to endless interpretations (just Google it; you’ll see what I mean). It’s also classically enjoyed for its detoxifying properties, which makes spring the perfect season to get to know this dish. I love me some fresh juice and all, but cleansing my system with liquids (or veggies) alone leaves me feeling light-headed and less-than-awesome if I attempt it for longer than a couple of days. Kitchari—a one-dish, complete protein powerhouse of a meal—provides that grounding, stick-to-the-ribs (but not to the thighs) food my body craves daily, even when detoxifying. It’s also super tasty in a homestyle, hubby-approved kind of way that merits serving on regular weeknights. So, in honor of spring’s enthusiastic arrival (it was eighty-two degrees here today!), let the cleaning— by which I mean cooking—begin.

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I made Korma powder this week. Yum.
I’ve been completely geeking out on all things Ayurveda over the past few weeks, mostly because I’ve always loved to make a mess in the kitchen; Ayruveda’s reverence for food as a central pillar of overall health resonates with me.  Regarding food as (delicious, pleasurable) medicine— as sustenance that nourishes and restores our bodies and souls—is something my experience and instincts around cooking support. Hand me a 5,000-years-strong ‘science of life’ prizing food, above all, for its harmonizing, health-promoting properties, and y’all have one excited Taylor on your hands. Also a tired Taylor, though, as work and life are going full throttle at present (in a good way, but still). Of course, what better time than this kind of hectic present to implement some balancing measures? Staying up extra late (after doing the dishes and freelance work) reading about food combining is probably more counterproductive than helpful—in fact, Ayurveda definitely recommends against this habit— but I’ve been having fun following some basic Ayruvedic dietary guidelines, and incorporating a few new techniques, into my usual meal-prep routine. And that, actually, is one of the primary recommendations Ayurveda makes in terms of starting off on its path; food is an accessible and impactful piece of the puzzle; since balance begets balance, other aspects of overall health and well-being (including necessary lifestyle changes… like earlier bedtimes) reportedly begin to fall naturally into place from there... I'll keep you posted on the bedtime thing. But I definitely recommend diving into an Ayurvedic foodie fascination of your own.

There’s a LOT to say about Ayurveda’s dietary recommendations, which are intended to address each individual’s unique constitutional make-up, and right any imbalances that might be at play. I’m sure I’ll probably touch on some of this in future posts, but for now I’ll leave it to the experts, and recommend this book as a (gorgeous! Glossy!) gateway primer. As much as I’ve been having my own little nerd-fest filling my fridge with Vata-pacifying foods-- I'm a textbook imbalanced Vata case-- I’ve also been inspired by Ayurveda’s suggestions for how one can enhance the actual experiences of eating and cooking so as to derive the maximum benefit from these activities. Ayurveda is a whole-life system of health; it encompasses everything that’s going on for a person and contends that all of it— environment, work, stress, seasonal change — exerts some influence on the person, whether balancing or imbalancing. And just as what one eats can restore health and balance in the individual, the Ayurvedic approach to diet also accounts for how one prepares and consumes that food—and asserts that this how actually affects the food’s healing properties. Does the cook feel relaxed? Is the cook having fun? Is she using appropriate tools? Ayurveda offers up some ideas on making our kitchens into pleasant places for preparing health-promoting foods. And in the case of food preparation, both place and mindset matter.

On that note, let’s dive in to Kitchen Ayurveda 101: some basic recommendations regarding one’s environment, tools and approach to cooking to establish balance, health and—simply put—happiness in the cook and her dining companions alike. I've listed some ways that I've incorporated these ideas into our modern (and yes, hectic) life, and will be curious to hear if you're rockin' any of these strategies, 21st century-style, too.

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After taking a year off from allergy testing, Kaspar rocked rounds of both skin and blood tests last week. While allergy testing is notoriously inexact, the results reflect indisputable progress.

Our new allergist, although limited in his knowledge and treatment options by the bounds of Western Medicine, is also, to his great credit, pretty open-minded; he has another patient, a five-year-old, who’s ‘outgrown’ eczema, as well as multiple nut allergies—this is, statistically, an unlikely event—and avoided albuterol asthma treatments for years thanks to TCM doctors in New York (this boy’s mom called me yesterday, and we’ll meet with their family in the coming weeks to learn more about their story). He also has solid instincts, opinions, and—most usefully—interpretive skills, around this whole business of testing. Although I didn’t know it at first, this is just the medically-minded guy we’ve been looking for. (Yeah, I said it).

I was hesitant to subject Kaspar to countless blood draws as we did last year, when we hunted desperately (and with questionable oversight— the first allergist we saw lacked the above-mentioned skills entirely) for foods Kaspar could safely eat. The up side of having run those tests, however, is that we now have a lot of baseline info against which we can measure subsequent results. Kaspar’s numbers on last year’s tests came out markedly high; even our new allergist remarked, in looking over the records, at the levels of Kaspar’s nut, legume, and egg allergies: Not good. But he was optimistic around some of the others, and suggested we do skin tests for wheat, corn, oats, and some veggies.

Conflicting opinions abound regarding skin versus blood testing accuracy, and I questioned whether skin testing would be useful, given that we’d started with blood tests last year—why switch things up now? But this allergist handled my questions deftly and respectfully (he figured out pretty quickly that I’m savvy with this stuff and expect him to work with us, not to regurgitate some all-purpose SOP); he said that while skin tests do sometimes turn up false positives, they can impart a fairly reliable sense of whether a person’s system will react to a food upon ingestion, without running the risk of anaphylaxis in testing. Kids with eczema, too, regularly turn up blood test numbers that are all over the map (we knew this, and found it frustrating last year: how could we tell what was really a problem if the numbers were probably whack?). This allergist said there’d be no point in skin-testing, say, peanuts, since those results were so very high and pretty much guaranteed a bad reaction—especially since we’ve already landed in the ER once-- but some of the mid-range foods from last year’s tests would be worth taking to the skin first in order to get a sense of whether they’re really problematic, with the express goal of expanding Kaspar’s gastronomic options. 

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