Cookies for breakfast

By the time I was nine, I was regularly sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to steal a bite or two of leftover chocolate birthday cake. The trick was: use a knife and keep the edge clean. Wash and return the knife to the drawer. As I wasn’t allowed cake for breakfast, this covert rebellion stoked that wild corner of my heart that needed tending. Not to mention I Love chocolate cake.

I’m currently undergoing a dietary experiment. Remove the wheat. Cut back on the carbohydrates. Jump-started by my need to pay better attention to my body (I’ve struggled with various weakened immune system ailments for a couple of months now), what began as a necessity is turning into a choice. I think. The trouble? I love to bake. Big, flaky scones. Fluffy multigrain pancakes. Stretchy, crispy-chewy pizza crust. Homemade, whole wheat loaves. Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

Gluten is a kind of miracle. The sticky protein found in wheat (and some grains) acts as glue and elastic. And did I mention it’s delicious? Addictively delicious some would say. I stumbled onto a healthy living website/blog awhile back and read a provocative post titled “How Grains Are Killing You Slowly.” I was curious, and yes, I thought the author was a little kooky (she also advises giving up All grains and beans—right), but a lot of what she wrote made sense. Then I checked out Dr. William Davis’ Wheat Belly. A cardiologist who noticed significant reversals in heart related problems (high blood pressure and cholesterol, pre-diabetic or diabetic issues) in patients to whom he prescribed a wheat free diet—even patients with no known gluten sensitivity, Dr. Davis’ narrative and science made a lot of sense. He talked about the genetic transformations/mutations wheat has undergone over the years. He talked about the body’s chemical processes in terms of wheat digestion. Still, my inner skeptic was…skeptical.

I have never been one for diets and avoid fads on principle. There’s definitely a fad side to the promotion of Dr. Davis’ book (think Atkin’s or South Beach). Frankly, I was a little embarrassed carrying the book around in public. But. But. I decided to give it a go all the same. I’ve struggled for years with IBS symptoms that come and go in varying waves and degrees. I’ve tried removing almost all fat and milk products from my diet. Didn’t work. I even gave up coffee, but there wasn’t enough of a change to keep me at that for long.

Going wheat free doesn’t mean buying gluten-free products. I’m eating more protein—and finding that a couple of eggs with diced peppers and onions in the morning sustains me far better than my regular bowl of oats or porridge (and sustained energy is the name of the game around here). I’m eating more vegetables, something I’ve never done with any regularity. I eat lots of dairy. I drink water. I drink my coffee with cream.

And dang it, I feel pretty darn good. I don’t feel like I can say with certainty that it’s all about the wheat, but I sleep better and wake up feeling like I’ve actually slept. I don’t crash in the afternoon like I used to. My IBS symptoms have even decreased. This sounds like a testimonial, which isn’t what I set out to do at all. But there’s something here making a difference.

Still, what about the cookies? And the cake? The pasta? The scones?! I can’t tell you if I can keep this up, or if the benefits outweigh the obvious pleasures. But I did try out a new “cookie” recipe this weekend. Those apostrophes are meant to convey—“this ain’t the kind of cookie you imagine a cookie to be.” But wow, are they good. I’m not sure I’ve won John over (he’s a chocolate chip cookie connoisseur), but the boys love them, and there’s no sugar except what’s found in a couple of bananas. They don’t flatten out like a normal cookie. They’re more like granola infused banana bread bites. But there’s chocolate and there’s coconut (coconut oil actually holds them together, along with the banana) and there’s oats. And they’re darn tasty. Here’s the link: Nikki’s Healthy Cookies Recipe (her picture of them is more lovely than mine).

I love the blog they’re posted on, by the way. Full of deliciousness. The cookies are still a treat, but I’d serve a few up to the boys with their breakfast. I might even sneak down in the middle of the night. O wait. Leaving my bed isn’t worth the trouble. They’re also vegan, which makes them worth a try if you keep the Lenten fast.


Sad, at School

More often than not, Jonah doesn’t want to go to school these days. It seems that Christmas break threw him for a loop from which he can’t quite break free. Unfortunately, his wonderful, warm teacher—Ms. Jennifer—has been absent more than usual. She is so good at taking him by the hand and helping him engage first thing. Once Jonah’s into his work, I don’t know that he gives home much thought, but it’s the transition that’s the hurdle (I’m with you on that one J).

By the time his intervention specialist arrives, he’s usually good to go. She sends home glowing reports on a regular basis (yesterday: “I have to tell you I am seeing him reading! It is sooooo exciting. I am taking letters and making 3 letter words. He is able to sound them out and put it all together to get the word. He even sometimes will use the word in a sentence.”). Of course, what’s not to love about a young beautiful woman giving you her undivided attention? J’s always had a special place in his heart for the ladies.

One morning this week was particularly heart-wrenching, and John spent a good twenty minutes easing him into the classroom. He then hid from J’s view to watch for awhile. Jonah plopped himself down at a table with his head in his hands. He made crying noises (he’s perfecting the cry-at-will skill). Finally, some work across the room piqued his interest enough to unstick him from his glum.

But the sadness is still apparent. That same day he brought home a rather pitiful looking snowman worksheet. Dear me. The poor chap looks like he’s been nailed in the eye with a snowball. Even his stick arms suggest a certain woe-is-me.

I don’t know how weather affects J, but it’s doing a number on me this winter. Last winter was cold and snowy, but bright, for all that snow. This winter is shaping up to be all grey and slush. Dreariness dreariness.

We had a rough sleep of it last night, and plans had to be cancelled today for lack of energy and stamina. I was okay in the morning (with a cup of coffee in my veins) but felt overwhelmed and sad on our morning walk. Sweet Jo was at his silliness, trying to cheer me up. Unfortunately, silliness often translates to a degree of oblivion. I had to get after him several times for running into light poles and crossing the street without even pretending to look for cars. He remained sweet and contentedly held my hand for the rest of our trek.

Later, while we were hanging our coats to dry, he said, “You know something mom? You were fine this morning, and then you were not.” That’s the way it goes my love. That’s the way it goes.

Still, Waiting

Yesterday I had an appointment. Nevermind that I arrived uninformed of particularly important—nay—imperative instructions, the lack of which forced me to leave (after about thirty minutes of waiting) without being examined. (Okay, okay—it was a consultation for lasik eye surgery and no one told me I couldn’t wear my contacts for a WEEK prior to the appointment. Something about getting correct eye measurements.) Now that I’ve got that out of my system…

The kind of marvelous thing about my time there was the waiting room. Yes, you heard me right. It was gloriously quiet. Not library quiet. Not even middle of the night everyone’s sleeping quiet. This place some how, some way, immediately settled my soul. There were other people waiting. A boy and his mother. A gentleman with a satin jacket reminiscent of Grease, with accompanying (and complementary) heavy gold chains. Two older fellows that struck up a conversation about the wonders of automobile factories. Even in the midst of their talking (they weren’t particularly quiet), the stillness prevailed.

These days, waiting rooms seem to be just another way to blast us with news or trashy T.V. or advertisements for the latest procedures and products or educational infomercials about a better diet/diabetic markers/how to take care of a child with a cold…It’s ridiculous. And maddening. Because you have little or no control over the environment. You’re a captive audience, and they are (whoever “they” are) taking blatant advantage of you being, well, trapped like cats. Maybe they think you need entertaining to keep you from lashing out at the nurses and doctors who are invariably keeping you waiting. Usually, it’s about selling something. Tack onto that the incessant buzz of fluorescent lights, and it can (subconsciously, at least) feel like a full blown assault.

But this was an untouched place. I realize this sounds a little silly. I try not to make a habit of hitting people over the head with my experience of spirituality, but when you experience something so Real, well, I think it does some good to say so. On that morning, on that day, in my particular frame of mind, I entered a place I haven’t touched upon in what seems like a very long time. Silence.

As the Swiss philosopher Max Picard writes in The World of Silence:

Silence contains everything within itself. It is not waiting for anything; it is always wholly present in itself and it completely fills out the space in which it appears…Silence is not visible, and yet its existence is clearly apparent. It extends to the farthest distances, yet is so close to us that we can feel it as concretely as we feel our own bodies. It is intangible, yet we can feel it as directly as we feel materials and fabrics. It cannot be defined in words, yet it is quite definite and unmistakable.

Since that day there’s been a palpable internal shift in me. It’s almost like I’ve met up with a very old, dear friend I hadn’t seen or communicated with in years. Why it is that I can access this friend now—why I’ve gone so long without her presence when she was seemingly near as the air I breathe—I can’t say. Receptivity is as strange and intangible as silence itself. But I am tangibly grateful. Just ask my lungs.


What’s in a name?

Jonah’s spinning. Standing in the middle of the kitchen floor he turns circle upon circle upon circle. He hardly ever tips over or crashes into the fridge. He simply walks away when he’s had enough. Or when his attention’s caught by something more stimulating. Like a rhinoceros bookmark; when you tip it forward and back, the rhinoceros look like they’re running. Which is probably what he’d like to be doing right now.

But he’s waiting for me to finish writing so that we can make “warm chocolate pudding” together. He insists on calling it “warm chocolate pudding.” Just pudding won’t do. He lives for the whip cream (whoop cream as he calls it) on top. When I ask him why he’s spinning, he doesn’t seem to understand. I try again. What does it feel like when you’re spinning? His response: “I just want you to get on with it.”

He’s been having trouble hearing lately, and I can’t tell if it’s drainage from the cold he had last week or something else. His hearing was checked this year at school. Nothing of note. Maybe it’s neurological. We’ve never actually visited with a neurologist, and I’m starting to think, as a point of reference, it might be a good idea.

We have been incredibly fortunate to have almost all of Jonah’s therapy covered by either our medical insurance or Ohio’s state autism scholarship program. When it comes to getting Jonah help and services, being labeled autistic (Asperger’s) has been invaluable. And not just for the services. For us in our struggle to understand him. Maybe one day for Jonah naming his difference will be helpful. Maybe he might even be a little bit proud. It sounds like a funny thing to say, but count on Jonah to see a diverging path as the most interesting one to be on.

So when I read a recent article in the New York Times concerning the DSM’s new autism diagnostic guidelines, anxiety and worry began to catch hold in my gut. And they spread. According to the article’s explanation of what’s going on (I’m not going to go into depth; you can read the article yourself HERE), the committee redefining the parameters of what it means to be autistic are tightening the reins. Kids (and adults) like Jonah with a diagnosis of Asperger’s or even high functioning autism may slip through the diagnostic cracks.

Jonah has Real issues—intense sensory needs, trouble with social pragmatics, fine motor delays, gross motor delays, difficulty with transition and self care, anxiety, cognitive quirks/impediments that make learning in typical ways stressful and confusing. Where will the money come from if “they” no longer consider him autistic? Forget the insurance coverage. Cross us off the scholarship list.

And this isn’t just about Jonah’s issues (and others like him). Call me selfish, but it’s also about us. We’ve spent the last year and a half trying to get our heads around this autism diagnosis. It was a big deal. Still is. That said, we have always done our best to accommodate J’s intense and very particular needs. Lately, I’ve heard both myself and John say in exasperation, “Jonah, the world doesn’t revolve around you.” But, in a way it does. That’s the reality. Any parent could say so, to some extent. Being a parent is a paradigm shift, and the best thing that’s ever happened to me. But there are days when I need help, because Jonah needs help, and John and I can’t do it alone. We’re worn out and losing ourselves. We need the perspective of professionals. We need a break, and we don’t have the skills or the energy to give J everything he needs.

Commenting on the panic generated by the NYT article, Landon Bryce of pointed out that the DSM isn’t really the issue here. It’s the money. As he put it, “the panic is legitimate but misplaced: people are already losing diagnoses and services because of economic pressure. The chairman of the [DSM] committee making the changes has admitted that this is one of the purposes for the change.” Okay, there’s not enough money to help autistic people, so let’s change the rules and get rid of some of the people. I guess you can give them credit for being upfront about it.

If you’re interested in further reading or perspectives on the matter, read Landon Bryce’s post, Panic Over DSM-5 Changes in Autism Diagnosis and his follow-up, DSM-5 Pandemonium: Updates and Worthwhile Reading. Melody Latimer uses apples as an instructive (and funny) analogy to explain the problem in DSM-V Under Attack, and Michael Forbes Wilcox points out that autism is a neurological condition, not essentially a behavioral one. So why is the DSM the authority?

So what’s in a name? Money, assuredly. But also my son’s understanding of himself as a human being. No, autism is not his identity, but it’s a fundamental—an ineradicable—part of who he is. He will (hopefully) find support and help from other people who share his disability and his spark as he grows older and comes to identify and understand his difference.

I can’t believe I’m writing this. Just a little over a year ago, John and I were wrestling with the idea of labeling our son. Now I’m concerned that he might lose that label. If you feel strongly about this issue, you can sign a petition to keep the DSM-V autism diagnostic criteria the way it is at More importantly, cultivate awareness. There’s a lot of kids and adults like Jonah out there. Take notice. Reach out. Make room.

Body Electric

The body is, well, Walt Whitman says it’s electric. He’s says a heck of a lot more than that, of course, not being prone to concision or thrift. He’s fairly rapturous.

Bodies aren’t something I think about particularly often. I take them for granted. My own. The bodies of those I love. Well, maybe not the boys, because there’s something about flesh of flesh that makes me want to eat them up. Especially baby flesh. As John is fond of saying, “I could eat you with a spoon.”

In “I Sing the Body Electric,” Whitman ecstatically registers the wonders of the body:

The voice, articulation, language, whispering, shouting aloud,
Food, drink, pulse, digestion, sweat, sleep, walking, swimming,
Poise on the hips, leaping, reclining, embracing, arm-curving and tightening,
The continual changes of the flex of the mouth, and around the eyes,
The skin, the sunburnt shade, freckles, hair,
The curious sympathy one feels when feeling with the hand the naked meat of the body,
The circling rivers the breath, and breathing it in and out,
The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward to ward the knees,
The thin red jellies within you or within me, the bones and the marrow in the bones…

Ah, the thin red jellies. The bones and the marrow in the bones. No one writes like that and pulls it off. No one except Whitman. Yet even for all his cataloguing, I didn’t pick up on the gratitude until the last few lines. Looking back and reading again, I see that gratitude is the underlying force here. Gratitude is the possible. It fuels wonder.

The exquisite realization of health;
O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul,
O I say now these are the soul!

Health is a transient state. You don’t realize you’ve got it until it’s gone. Between this January head cold, a weird eye and nose infection that still lingers with its strange blisters, hordes of yeast taking over my body, my family’s surrender to the flu, and the discovery that a small piece of my intestine is popping through a hole in my abdominal wall (thanks for that one Gabriel Keats), I wonder at the complexity of it all.

Health is not a simple thing. It is ephemeral and fleeting. The smallest of injuries or organisms throw the whole caboodle in disarray. And it can take months, even years, to right itself. I take my body for granted. I expect health and become angry when it fails me. Not unlike my response to any sort of failure, come to think of it.

But Whitman says the body is the soul. Abba Evagrius describes in graphic detail what happens when the body and soul become separated, drawing a correlation to the soul deprived of prayer:

As our body becomes dead and full of stench when the soul leaves it, so a soul in which prayer is not active is dead and stenches. That to be deprived of prayer should be counted worse than death is clearly shown us by Prophet Daniel, who was ready to die rather than be deprived of prayer at any hour. One should remember God more often than one breathes.

My friend at MichelleLouise wrote a post about gratitude (or lack thereof) that’s stuck with me all this week. In it she quotes Protopresbyter Gregory Petrov’s Akathist of Thanksgiving, sounding much like Whitman (I can almost hear him respond, “Alleluia!”):

How filled with sweetness are those whose thoughts dwell on Thee; how life-giving Thy holy Word. To speak with Thee is more soothing than anointing with oil; sweeter than the honeycomb. To pray to Thee lifts the spirit, refreshes the soul. Where Thou art not, there is only emptiness; hearts are smitten with sadness; nature, and life itself, become sorrowful; where Thou art, the soul is filled with abundance, and its song resounds like a torrent of life: Alleluia!

Can you hear that torrent of life? I can. It’s in Whitman’s poem and Fr. Petrov’s Akathist. It’s in the crazy exuberance of my sons, not unlike our dogs let loose in the snow. In my husband’s kind brown eyes. And I want it. I am weary of my own sadness and emptiness. Remembering God more often than I breathe might still be a ways off, but maybe if I just take a moment to breathe that breath will be the pause I need to turn away from my boiling temper and righteous self-pity. So I’ll take another. And another, which may remind me to ask for help. Lord have mercy.

And mercy’s what opens the door.

It Sifts from Leaden Sieves —

It sifts from Leaden Sieves —
It powders all the Wood.
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the Road —

It makes an Even Face
Of Mountain, and of Plain —
Unbroken Forehead from the East
Unto the East again —

It reaches to the Fence —
It wraps it Rail by Rail
Till it is lost in Fleeces —
It deals Celestial Vail

To Stump, and Stack — and Stem —
A Summer’s empty Room —
Acres of Joints, where Harvests were,
Recordless, but for them —

It Ruffles Wrists of Posts
As Ankles of a Queen —
Then stills its Artisans – like Ghosts —
Denying they have been —

Emily Dickinson

First substantial snow. First 2012 sled run (Thanks for the ride Grandma Lita!). If you didn’t catch what Jonah said, here’s the transcript:
“I flipped and it didn’t hurt! Know that?! I made a flip and then, then it didn’t hurt me Dad!”

Poor G has been missing out. He’s pitiful sick (you can always see it in the eyes). He stands at the door and screams, “Ou-sie!” Poor boo.

The only thing to cheer him today is The Kopecky Family Band. As he was drifting off to sleep at naptime I heard him mutter through his pacifier, “Pecky, Pecky…” They’re a little too hipster for me, but I’m coming around.

Smashed blond

Jonah just asked, “Why do you have smashed blond hair?” I have absolutely no response to that question. Here in Estes land, curly hair is a badge of honor (or something). J is very proud of his hair. He is proud of his father’s hair. There are wagers as to whether or not G will also have curly hair. I am a stranger in my own home.

I’m also in an ugly mood. Jonah is home from school after puking several times pre-and-post-6 a.m. But we’ve been free and clear of vomit since then, and other than a hacking cough (which may have started the whole puking thing to begin with), J seems right as rain.

I’m glad for that, really I am. I just wish I didn’t have to reschedule G’s two year check-up (our doctor only works on Thursdays, so it’s a real pain in the ass to cancel). I wish it wasn’t the day (which typically comes along about once a month) when the sight of John makes me want to punch something hard (I will never understand the complete irrationality of that, but it’s the gospel truth).

Even when he’s trying so hard to help. He, the genuinely sweetest person I know, who struggles mightily with his own demons.

So I drink an extra cup of coffee (which is all I can manage) between saving Gabriel from himself (climbing bookshelves, climbing dressers, climbing windows, climbing Christmas trees) and pulling about thirty toys out of J’s pajamas (I stopped him just as he was heading for the crash pit to have a good roll around). Let’s see, what was in there…a couple of old cell phones, two of G’s hammers, a stuffed dog, several wooden disks from a stacking toy, a string of snap-lock beads, five mini-tires from an abandoned Cars game, two Transformers, and balls of all shapes, sizes, makes, and models. You think I’m kidding.

But I’m still yelling too much, and I hate to hear it. I’m sick of myself, in all truth. All I know to do when I’m like this is establish a little order and try to make something—a poem, a card, a pile of leaves. A driveway cleared of snow. All of these are outside the realm of possibility today, so a batch of granola will have to do.

Reminding myself I’m always crazy this way, I try to move through it. But the chaos is against me. If only I could collect myself enough to send up a Hail Mary, full of grace. 

But as my son has so bluntly pointed out, I’m just a smashed blond at the mercy of some unruly curlies.