Friday, October 16, 2015

An Open Letter to Our Cat

Dear Margot,

First, allow me to welcome you to the family.  I know it's been two and a half months since you've joined us, but we've been pretty busy, so you'll forgive my lateness.  We're a pretty fun group -- if your definition of fun is staying home, living a sedentary life of reading and watching tv and eating, with only brief bursts of energy that propel us off our posteriors and into equally brief moments of sociability -- but you're a cat, so that seems like a good fit.  The smallest member of the family (yourself excluded) has more frequent (and intense) bursts of activity (and sociability), but we figure she'll outgrow that.

We may have gotten off on the wrong foot in terms of your understanding of the contract of expected behavior, so this seems like a good time to break down the rules and expectations for living in this house.

1.  You have a litter box.  Use it.  Great news!  You've already got this one down.  No problems here.  Keep it that way if you know what's good for you, er, I mean, GOOD JOB!

2.  Chew nothing but your kibble and cat toys.  We've had a little run-in on this one already, haven't we?  My fault for not explaining the terms of your contract, sooner, I suppose.  So let me break it down for you.  You are adorable.  You are soft and fluffy and have big eyes and ears that you use to your advantage.  Nevertheless, there are not enough cute head butts and purrs in your repertoire to make up for destroying my MacBook charger.  Silky ears and twitchy tails do not keep my laptop running.  Keep those pointy little fangs to yourself, and we'll get along just fine.  And on a related note...

3.  DON'T BITE.  Not me.  Not anybody.  But especially not me.  Perhaps this one requires a little history.  You probably don't remember this far back (nearly three months ago), but you were rescued from certain death by a dear friend.  Together, she and I took one look at your tiny, flea-covered body and suited up for battle.  We knew we couldn't use any chemicals on such a young kitten, and so we spent the better part of a day picking hundreds of fleas off your squirmy, little self.  Did you catch that?  We picked them off by hand.  I'm not asking for much in return.  Just a little gratitude.  Ever heard that chestnut, "Don't bite the hand that feeds you?"  Didn't think so.  Well, it also applies to the hand that feeds and picks fleas off you by hand so as not to poison your baby body with chemicals.  You're welcome.

4.  Don't destroy my furniture/curtains/child's toys/etc.  Remember that story about how I picked fleas off you by hand?  How I provided you with a home full of food and warmth and a dog covered in cords/kitten toys?  Yeah, keep that in mind every time you get the urge to scratch the sofa or cling to the footboard of my bed using only your rear claws and killer balance.  Though I will say I appreciate your self-control in waiting at least two days before removing every one of the claw caps I so carefully applied.  It shows you have some self-control.  Or a sense of humor.

5.  Keep doing that thing where you sit on my chest and purr so loudly it can be heard across the room.  That's really working for me.  Especially when you combine it with the half-shut eyes and occasional chin or nose lick.  Keep up the good work.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

That's Perfectly Normal

I have never been normal (an admission that is shocking to exactly no one.)  When I was a small child, my family moved.  A lot.  Whether it was school (when I was even in an actual brick-and-mortar school) or church or ballet class, I was generally the odd man out.  Children are not known for their immediate acceptance of the new and/or different, and I was both of those things on a regular basis.

In junior high, I stepped up my weirdo game when I developed a skin condition that prevented me from getting any sun exposure.  Did I mention that we lived in Myrtle Beach at the time?  The land of sand, surf, and swimming pools is not exactly the ideal spot for a budding heliophobe (look it up, people, I did.)  There I was at the ripe old age of thirteen and no longer allowed to go swimming or to the water park.  I couldn't even play kickball in PE (admittedly, not a great loss.)

In addition to these relatively minor physical limitations, I also set about making sure I was viewed as a complete weirdo by deciding to make my life a never-ending Anne of Green Gable cosplay.  (No, there will be no pictures of that in my post.)  While I did attend an ultra-conservative Christian school at the time (you know, the kind where it's a big secret that girls have knees and shoulders), I still didn't exactly blend in with my petticoats and lace-up boots.  But the pretending got me through, and I regret nothing.

One of out two ain't bad.  Right? Anyone?

I managed.  Though I continued to get less normal, especially health-wise.  Mumps at eighteen?  Absolutely. (And yes, I had been vaccinated.  See? I told you I was weird.) Chronic sinus issues that ended up in surgery?  Why not?  By the age of twenty-five, I was in less than stellar physical condition and was diagnosed with systemic Lupus and Sjogren's Syndrome shortly before I got married. I had required corrective lenses since I was twelve, but would have to wear glasses for the rest of my life because of the severe dry eye.  (I would also never be far from my artificial tears bottle.)  I was easily tired and often in pain.  Still it was comforting having a diagnosis.  (And I'd given up on the 19th century garb by then, so that was a bonus.)

Fast forward to two and a half years ago.  I was married with a small child, and I'd never felt worse.  Enter a new diagnosis: Celiac Disease.  What is that, you ask?  Well, the short version is that my gut doesn't like gluten.  No, it actually hates gluten.  Like get-those-kids-off-my-lawn-before-I-call-the-cops kind of hates gluten.  And every time I ate it, my intestines would call the cops, and the party was definitely over.  It got ugly.

Just for fun, try going a day without any gluten.  Trying going a meal.  It's tougher than you think.  Then, just to make things super-challenging, try to go a meal without eating anything that has even touched gluten.

And that's my life.

So here's the thing.  There's good and bad about always being that kid.  It definitely made me into a bit of a non-conformist.  I don't want to like the same things as everybody else.  And I don't feel the need to adjust my opinions/tastes/etc. to match those of the prevailing crowd.  Being an introvert, however, I do tire quickly of any attention my differences might draw (19th century cosplay notwithstanding. It's about forced differences.)

I like to be normal. (Not to be confused with conventional.)

I revel in routine.  It is a point of pride that I have lived in my house for nine years.  (A record for me by quite a few years.)  My little girl came home from the hospital to this house and knows no other home.  She went to the same preschool for three years and (I hope) will go to the same elementary school all the way through.  We have Taco Tuesday.  Every Tuesday.  We are incredibly boring.  And I LOVE it.

Kiddo and I started baking together when she was still in diapers.  One of my favorite videos is of her attempting to add chocolate chips to cookies only to miss the bowl entirely and dump them on the floor.  (Not included in the video is how sick the Big Dog got from eating just one of those tiny chocolate chips, but I digress.)  Every special occasion in our home included a heaping plate of my pan-fried chicken.  And my fried chicken fingers were a favorite at gatherings and parties.  I had a specialty.

But all of this ended with my Celiac diagnosis.  Our love of trying out trendy, high-end(ish) restaurants?  Over.  Baking anything we want in the cookbook with my assistant?  Over.  Having dinner with friends in restaurants and their homes?  Really over.  Being able to blend into invisibility at group functions that involve food?  So over.

Much like the condition that kept me from sun exposure in the land of the sun, Celiac keeps me from food in a time of my life when food is central to most social interactions.  When you have a severe food allergy or sensitivity, you become a problem to be solved, an inconvenience to be overcome.  Well-intentioned and kind people flock to your aid, only to be hurt and abashed (and sometimes flat-out offended) by your unwillingness to risk your health and sanity on their "gluten-free" offerings.  It's messy.

Still, I treasure routine and sameness.  Normalcy.  Celiac may have killed my love for cooking and baking much like my sun issue ended my enjoyment of swimming.  But there are bright spots that I treasure.

I found a way (through MUCH experimentation) to make gluten-free fried chicken and pan gravy that is comparable to my old glory.

There are a few restaurants where I can safely eat, but far better is the gluten-free restaurant in Asheville, Posana, where I can order anything I want off the menu.  Until that choice is taken away from you, there is just no way to appreciate how intoxicating that freedom really is.  Bread? Biscuits? Cheesecake?  It's all safe.  And in a gluten-free establishment there is no worry about cross-contamination.  It is, in a word, glorious.

The worst part of all of this (for me) is how it affects Kiddo.  While I understand that I can't protect her from everything, I desperately want for her to have the option to be normal.  I want her to have the same bedroom year after year.  I want her to know the same friends for as long as she chooses.  I want her to go to birthday parties and sleepovers and not to have to say, "I can't eat that, do that, etc." And most important to me, I never want my limitations and weirdnesses to affect her (an impossible dream, I know.)  If she wants to grow up to be a rebel, a non-conformist woman with a bit of an exhibitionist streak, so be it.  I just never want that label, that burden, placed on her shoulders by me.

So these are some of the things I treasure:

My little cookie-cutter house that looks exactly like at least three other houses in our neighborhood.

My church, where I've attended for nearly seven years, where the people and the place are beautifully familiar, and where Kiddo feels safe and loved.

My gloriously boring little family.

Taco Tuesday.

Kiddo's gymnastics class where all her little friends from preschool go.

Knowing my way around, not one, but two towns.

Having a specific doctor for every illness, having our dry cleaner, after-church restaurant, dentist, etc.

Friends that I've known and loved for nearly my entire adult life.

Some of these things may seem trivial, but I've made this sameness, this routine a priority for my own happiness and sanity.  I've made sacrifices for it, and I'm going to revel in it for as long as it lasts.

**My original intention when I started this particular post was to also talk about the beautiful normalcy that General Mills has given back to me with the addition of their gluten-free Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios (my go-to childhood breakfast.)  Since that time, however, General Mills has issued a recall on nearly two million boxes of Cheerios, due to incorrect labeling of "Gluten Free" on boxes that weren't.  When we're talking about people's trust and health, that kind of mistake is inexcusable. When the gluten-free boxes were released, Twitter was lit up with Celiac patients celebrating this bit of old-school normalcy (and safety) in their lives.  We could finally have something other than Chex for breakfast (don't get me wrong, I love Chex.)  Here was a cereal that wasn't a special variation on the gluten-filled version.  This cereal could be purchased in any grocery store and for the same price as other General Mills cereals.  And now we're told that General Mills was extremely careless with the health of its customers.  It's disappointing in a way that is difficult to articulate. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

It's My Birthday And I'll Buy If I Want To

It's actually the day before my birthday, and it's a good time to be me (mostly). Last night was dinner with a few dear friends, courtesy of my husband, The Grill Master.  There was even GF red velvet cake from Coffee to a Tea.  So much cream cheese frosting goodness, and the first red velvet cake I've had since my Celiac diagnosis.  YUM!

I may or may not have had a piece of this for lunch today.

Tonight, it's off to Asheville, just the three of us, at my favorite GF restaurant, Posana.  Until you've been diagnosed with a severe food allergy/sensitivity, it is difficult to understand the glorious freedom of going to a restaurant where everything on the menu is safe to eat.  It's intoxicating.

But I didn't write to make you jealous of my dining option.  This entry is meant, instead, to make you jealous of my Amazon book order.  (Isn't that more important, anyway?) I made the dizzying decision to spend a chunk of my birthday money on one big book order.  I hadn't placed such a large book order since grad school, and never solely for books I wanted to read.  I was practically drunk on the choices.  And the best news?  I got a B&N gift card from a dear friend, which means I get to do an abbreviated version of that order AGAIN very soon.

So here are the soon-to-be latest additions to my TBR:

Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff

I only ordered two new releases, and this is one of them.  Long listed for the National Book Award, this book already has so much buzz, and I can't wait to read it.

The Angel on My Chest, Leslie Pietrzyk

There was no way I was not [pre] ordering this book.  It doesn't come out for a few days yet, but this new release was written by my thesis advisor/faculty mentor from grad school.  I've read some of the stories from this collection previously, and they are amazing.  Can't wait to get this one.

White Teeth, Zadie Smith

Strangely, the only Zadie Smith book I've never read is her first.  Really looking forward to reading what the 24 year old Smith had to say.

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

Sad and embarrassed to admit that the only place I've read Diaz is on social media.  Starting with his Pulitzer Prizer winner.

Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion

Joan Didion + fiction.  Can't go wrong.  How have I not read this before?

The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr

Okay, so I lied.  Three new releases.  (I forgot about this one somehow.)  Anyway, so excited about this book.  I am so obsessed with Mary Karr's memoirs.  Lit was mind-blowing, and Liars' Club was gutting.  This is definitely going to be a worthwhile (and instructive) read.

Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood

I'm finally going to get to start the Maddaddam Trilogy! I adore Margaret Atwood, despite being woefully under read in her books.  Handmaid's Tale, Blind Assassin, and Alias Grace were impossible to put down, though, so I'm thinking this trilogy will also be right up my very dystopian alley.

Call the Midwife, Jennifer Worth

I am the world's biggest Call the Midwife fan (the tv show), so I cannot wait to start reading the first of Jennifer Worth's three books about her time as a midwife in East London.  I'm admittedly a little late to this particular book party, but I'll be all caught up in no time.


I started this post this morning while I was sipping tea in my jammies.  It's now going on eleven o'clock at night, and my jammies have reappeared.  Dinner at Posana was amazing (but that's a whole post of its own), and to make the night perfect, six of my eight ordered books were waiting on my porch when I got home from Asheville.  I had my own private unboxing on the bed, taking pictures of my new pretties.

Just look at those lovely virgin spines and crease-free covers.  Be still my heart

So now that you are gagging on all the saccharine-y goodness that is my perfect birthday weekend (well minus the monsoon weather that kept me from hitting the Asheville bookstores -- so sad), I suppose I will wrap up this post.  Look at this way:  At least it wasn't a rant!  And I'll be back to my grumpy self in no time.