Corn is a four letter word.

Three years ago, I almost lost my son Vinny to his severe food allergy to tree nuts. He secretly ate a piece of toffee and lied about it. While his father and I sat in the E/R crying and watching Vinny sleep off his Benadryl/Epi-pen-induced coma, the doctor came out and said, “That boy needs to be under the care of an allergist.” Within the week, Vinny had an appointment.

We already knew Vinny was allergic to peanuts and tree nuts from an earlier blood test. But now we were requesting a food panel. They would only test for a couple foods, because of his potential for an anaphylaxic reaction. I agreed to be tested, too, to offer moral support. Turned out Vinny and I are both allergic to cats, dust, dust mites, and all the grasses, weeds, and trees that grow in Idaho. He’s also allergic to dairy and corn. I’m allergic to chicken, barley, malt, coconut, and corn.

At the time of the allergy test, I wore a size 10. I was still drinking beer, eating bread, fried foods, including chicken, you name it. I was running three miles a day several times a week and lifting weights. I looked pretty good and weighed about 160 for my five-foot-six frame. The allergist recommended a full elimination diet.

Later, I discovered that if I ate any type of food with corn in it, i.e., restaurant french fries (deep fried in vegetable oil that had corn oil) or enchiladas with corn starch, Heinz ketchup, gravy, within two days, tiny blisters formed on my fingers that opened up into full-blown eczema. And since I’ve taken corn out of my diet, I’m incredibly sensitive to its effects.

Corn is everywhere: dextrose, fructose, modified food starch, Xanthan gum, vegetable oil. I can’t eat at any fast food restaurants or fried foods at sit down places.imin

Vinny’s ten. He eats popcorn, which makes his skin itchy. He says he doesn’t care. The allergy will become worse with age. He cannot eat dairy. It gives him horrible flatulence and the runs. And as one teacher described his behavior after he dairy: he wilts like a flower.

The benefits of my food allergies are that I have been turned on to clean eating, and my body has shrunk four pants sizes. I’ve lost 30 pounds because of healthy eating! I have to watch every bite I put into my mouth, not because I want to lose weight, but because these foods I’m allergic to quite literally poison my system. The effects of chicken on me aren’t even worth discussion. Once you stop eating poison, your body loses inflammation. It’s that simple.

When I go to barbecues, restaurants and gatherings with friends, some say, “Wow. I’m lucky. I’m not allergic to anything.” I’m like, “Really? Have you ever had a food panel done? How do you know?” Plus, I didn’t ask for this. A little sensitivity goes a long way, folks.

This Scary, Evil Dog of Mine is Still Just a Puppy

About three years ago, I started researching good family dogs. Again and again, labs showed as the number one choice. They didn’t howl, they could be trained easily, and if you worked eight hours a day (as I did) they could be crate trained. At the time, my son was six, and it was very important to me to choose a dog that would not harm my child.

gussypuppyI’d never owned a dog before. My father and brother are allergic to almost every animal you can name, so our family pets were a rooster named Sam (another blog post, perhaps) and a few rabbits. After I finished researching and decided on a lab, I visited our local pound. As luck would have it, they had two black lab/Newfie pups, 13 weeks old, and as cute as could be. I chose the feisty one who bit my finger.

Gus is an alpha male and stubborn. He’s been to obedience class. He’s learned sit, shake, lie down, stay, and leave it. He still pulls when I walk him. He barks when he meets other dogs, because he’s a big chicken and tries to establish dominance. He nips the dog’s ears and has been nipped himself. When people see all 5’4″ and 97 pounds of him, they freak out. I have been screamed at more than once by terrified folks at the dog park, dog swim, and off-leash parks. One man said Gus bit his son’s leg. It was a pencil-tip nip with no blood, and it was after the boy and the man screamed because Gus came running over to them.

Alas, as Gus moves into his third year, he still acts like a puppy. I’ve spent at least 500 dollars on gimmicks to make him behave. And I research constantly (which is what I wish everyone would do). When I say, “Walk,” Gus leaps like Rudolph the Red-nosed reindeer or humps our other dog Ginger. I’ve been acting more assertive with him lately, taking him on more walks–trying to burn out his puppy-like aggression. He is not a mean dog. I love Gus, and people who know him think he’s wonderful. He’s a lab and a newfie, for Pete’s sake. I chose him for his attitude. Maybe in my next life, I’ll choose a slug.

5 Lessons Robin Williams Taught Me

This is wonderful.

The Perfect Dad

I don’t have much to say about Robin Williams’ death. A lot has been said already and all I can add is that I’m saddened, depression is real, and if you need help don’t be ashamed to seek it.

His movies have shaped much of my worldview and I have a lot to say about them. I realize 1) That these films were written by other people and 2) He embodied these characters and improved half of his lines. I couldn’t see anyone else playing these parts. I will watch all of these movies with my kids one day and hope they learn these same lessons:

5. DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO BE AROUND YOUR KIDS

Mrs. Doubtfire fireFathers can be whacky, irresponsible, and unreliable. Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) was that kind of father and it drove his wife (Sally Field) to get a divorce. The judge finds Daniel unstable. His wife gets custody…

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Horrific sibling games–what did you invent?

My stepmother used clear plastic runners to protect the carpets in our house. My older brother Tony invented a game called “Torture,” employing said runners.

In order to make the runners stay on the carpet, the underside was affixed with sharp points. These had another purpose. After my father and stepmother left for the evening, Tony pulled up the runner and flipped it upside down. He cradled my little brother Jack and swung him back and forth over the runner. Tony chanted, “torture. . . torture.” Jack giggled with delight. The older kids version of Torture involved Tony and me, wrestling to see who could knock whom to the “mat” first.

Tony also invented the Food Contest. The first sucker, usually me, had to close her eyes and plug her nose and guess which food Tony shoved in her mouth. A giant hot pepper. Him: a salt-coated cucumber slice. Me: a spoonful of baking soda. Him: peanut butter on popcorn. Me: an old match. And we’re done.

The games always ended once the ‘rents came home. I love that Tony gave the games a name. He was structured that way. Maybe it’s because our real mother was born in Germany, right after WWII. I wonder what games she played with her brother. I’ll have to ask.

Only a self-delusional wacko would want five kids.

When I was sixteen, I wanted to have five children–a need, I think, that stemmed from the deep-seated loneliness I felt as a child. Sure, I had two brothers–one older and one younger–but my mother left when I was a baby, and I always felt a sense of longing. Of something missing.

I was certain that having five children meant I’d never have to be alone, and I’d prove to my father and his wife that I’d be much better parents than they were. Isn’t that what having kids is all about? Self-delusion?

After I had my first baby, a girl, I insisted on riding in the backseat with “Jessica” on the way home. She was 6 pounds, 8 ounces, and her car seat was too big. Jessica was hunched over, all tiny and delicate, her hands hanging limp. I started bawling. “She looks so uncomfortable,” I said. “Like a little bean.”

Her father Jeremy laughed at me. But I saw so clearly while looking at her why my father was so goddamned strict with me. If any person tried to touch a hair on that baby’s head, I would kill them. Not punch them, not kick them. Literally spend years in prison eating slop and never seeing the sun, for murder.

When I was sixteen, telling my father, “I want five kids,” he’d say, “Honey, no you don’t. All they do for the first year is eat, shit, and cry.” Well, he was wrong. All Jessica did for the first two years was cry. She may have eaten a little and dirtied a few diapers, but Jeremy and I spent many nights staring at the ceiling listening to that wailing little person, wishing we were dead. And we were there for stitches, and puberty, and her first heartbreak–wishing death on others.

Jessica’s a remarkable 22-year-old now, and she’s one of my best friends in the entire world. No, I didn’t have five, just for the record. Three is plenty. No, they didn’t cure my loneliness, and yes I’ve screwed up just as much as my parents. But more on that later.

“Writers don’t need tricks or gimmicks.”

This is so simple and true.

The Daily Post

If you write for an audience — be it millions of strangers or your mom — you inevitably think about how your words appear to others. Very often, this self-consciousness results in overstuffed prose and too-clever storytelling. Here to remind us of the virtue of simplicity in writing is Raymond Carver, a master of narrative and linguistic economy:

“I hate tricks. At the first sign of a trick or gimmick in a piece of fiction, a cheap trick or even an elaborate trick, I tend to look for cover. Tricks are ultimately boring, and I get bored easily, which may go along with my not having much of an attention span. But extremely clever chi-chi writing, or just plain tomfoolery writing, puts me to sleep. Writers don’t need tricks or gimmicks or even necessarily need to be the smartest fellows on the block. At the risk of appearing foolish, a writer…

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