Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dining Out

Dining Out.

Not necessarily an impossible feat.   But one that now requires preparation.

Yes, in advance -- preparation after-the-fact is called an ER visit.

First, find a restaurant that is able to tell you all of the ingredients in each of its dishes.  Fast food  and extremely small restaurants might not be able to disclose all ingredients, or could have compound food components which must further be broken down into subcomponents (that may or may not be available) before you can determine your risk.  Your goal should be places that can a) provide full ingredient disclosure, b) have facilities that enable them to segregate your food for uncontaminated preparation, and c) have service staff who are genuinely interested in accommodating you.

Three simple steps can tip the odds of a safe dining experience in your favor: 

  • Call to Arms:  Call the restaurant and speak to the manager in advance of your visit.  
    1. Inform the manager of your restaurant reservation day and time, or the day and time you plan to show up for a meal -- this allows them to identify the chef and staff who will be on duty at that time, so that they can prep the staff prior to your arrival, and make the necessary modifications in their kitchen practices on that day.  In some instances, they will even do the day's shopping with your constraints in mind.
    2. If they believe they can accommodate you, move on to step two.
  • Disclose & Review:  Verbally review your list of allergens with the restaurant manager (use your Allergy Flash Card to ensure that you have mentioned everything).  
    1. Offer to email your list of allergens (Allergy Flash Card) and ask for the manager's email address.  In some cases, the manager will offer his/her mobile number.  Start making that Key Connection now, with further intention to strengthen and broaden this connection when you visit the restaurant.
    2. If they put you in touch with the chef, confirm that this chef will be on duty when you plan to be there; then go through the details of your allergens with the chef. 
    3. If there are small things that you could assist with, like bringing your own soy-free butter or organic coconut oil, make the offer in this conversation -- you should be working together to ensure success.
    4. You might wish to ask if they have ever served anyone with a deadly food allergy.  The answer might (or might not) give you a further sense of comfort or discomfort with this restaurant.  
    5.  After the detailed allergen discussion, get verbal confirmation that they will provide a safe dining experience for you.
  • Flash & Bon Appetit:  Bring your Allergy Flash Card to the restaurant.  When you enter the restaurant and approach the maitre d'/host/hostess, identify yourself as the person who called in advance to discuss accommodations for a deadly allergy.  If they have assigned staff to accommodate you, the hand-off will be clear.
    1. Once seated, hand your table server your Allergy Flash Card and form that Key Connection with your server -- some of this work may have already been done as part of the staff prep that took place prior to your arrival -- but cementing it always rests with you, so don't forget.  
    2. Chances are that they will already have a printout of your email in the kitchen, and the chef might even come out to have a pre-dinner chat.  
    3. The manager and/or chef will most likely touch base one or more times during your meal to ensure that a medical emergency has been circumvented.  Try not to feel uncomfortable -- they have appreciated the seriousness of your requirements, and have partnered with you to ensure a successful social experience. 
    4. These are the places that deserve repeat patronage... and a tip that shows your appreciation for having honored your specific survival requirements.

Most importantly, as you leave, share your appreciation for their extraordinary service verbally.  Let your body language agree with the verbal gratitude -- a look in the eye and a genuine smile goes a long way.

Now, hit the town with gusto -- Bon Appetit!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ode to Thriving

Ode to Thriving.

Thankfully, we all have the right to survive... It's what gave Darwin the Warm Fuzzy, and Apple it's Core. But, once past survival, what's next? How could we kick it up a notch? Churn some evolution?

Simply. By thriving.

According to the Free Online Dictionary, to thrive is

1. To make steady progress; prosper.
2. To grow vigorously; flourish.

I must agree with esteemed blogger, Evelyn Chua -- to thrive is as basic to the human condition as is the need to survive. Not a luxuy, but a right.

Let's all take Evelyn's challenge (Thrive)... When they write your epitah, will you merely have survived, or thrived, having been an agent of wonder and change?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Alas, the Environment

Alas, the Environment.

I ventured out for an invigorating walk on Saturday, January 7th.  My destination was one of my usual paths -- a tree-lined area surrounding a river... A very peaceful and beautiful promenade, allowing humans and wildlife to enjoy a bit of natural habitat close to home.  It was a lovely and unusually warm afternoon -- 60 degrees Fahrenheit in January -- and I was looking forward to disappearing into nature, surrounded by the sounds of small animals... looking forward to admiring the crane, geese and ducks that have made the river their home.  As I passed the halfway mark of a mile, I started to notice a nauseous, burny feeling in my stomach that caused just enough discomfort to have created a feeling of dis-ease... that feeling grew as my short walk wore on.

By the time I reached the mile mark, one of my eyes has started itching in a characteristically hive-ish sort of way -- hot and prickly... By the time I had made it to my door, my ear rims had started itching -- I could feel them swelling, and the inside of my right ear had that eery (no pun intended) feeling that I have only ever felt when my internal organs had started swelling... it was a pressure inside my ear, and a corresponding distortion of my hearing coupled with a tinnitus-like ringing.

Think fast, Simran -- think fast... this is clearly a reaction... was it to brunch (which was a combination of garden vegetables that did not cause any reaction when I had eaten it two days prior)?  Not likely.  My anaphylactic reactions to ingested food usually involve 
  • overall hive coverage, 
  • profuse, sheet-like sweating, 
  • comprehensive internal organ swelling, 
  • acutely diminished lung function (similar to a critical asthma attack),
  • tongue swelling, 
  • intense gastrointestinal distress, and 
  • immediate and forceful expulsion of the contents of my digestive tract.  
Minor implosion.  

No... this was different.  It had to have been environmental.  All of a sudden, I had a flash from my past... I had had an unexplained hive reaction to something that had bloomed six years ago, after having walked/jogged the same path into town on a lovely May morning.  This time, the reaction was more rapid and more intense.

After getting home, I noted how quickly the hives were spreading.  It had started around my left eye, to the palms of both hands and the back of my right hand... and to my ear rims and various parts of my neck... then to my right eyelid.  I took off my coat and hiking shoes, as the itching of my neck intensified.  I resisted scratching as much as possible, because the hives would spread like wildfire if scratched.  These hives looked different to food allergy hives -- they were narrower, pointier and taller than the food allergy hives, which were more disc-like, wider and flatter -- covering more area in a shorter amount of time.

An area on the size of my nose started itching... which heralded an onslaught of rapid-fire sneezes producing drown-worthy amounts of mucus... mucus overdrive continued, as i felt itching and irritation at the back of my mouth and palate, and in my throat... the pathway of a breath of air.

Clearly, the first thing I had to do was eliminate the allergens that were causing topical havoc.  As I disrobed, the neck irritation had spread to my shoulder blades and chest... then to the middle of my back... it was then that I realized that the allergen was on my hair, since the areas of hives on my upper body followed the path of my hair.  Hives had started popping up on my groin by the time I stepped into the shower.  I showered, being careful not to further irritatate areas of reaction, thoroughly rinsing, soaping and rinsing again.  The hives continued to spread.

I moisturized the hive areas, since the swelling stretches the skin... then dressed in loose-fitting clothes, since elastic and tight clothing tend to exacerbate and prolong the hives in those areas.  I took an Allegra (antihistamine), hoping that mind-over-matter would kick in immediately.  As the itching and spreading of hives continued, I remembered that I had bought a homeopathic remedy, Hyland's Hives, for use during some future incident of hives -- that time was now... so I took one of the sugar pills and placed it under my tongue.  I did this every fifteen minutes for the first hour -- by then, the itching had diminished 50%, making it tolerable enough to be distracted by a good book or movie.  During that hour, I also called a relative to ensure support in case I could not arrest the reaction on my own and would need to go to the hospital.

Throughout a reaction like this, I find myself treading the fine line between cerebral composure and panic.  The sight of red, swollen, itchy-hot hives making their way across my landscape remind me of times of the most severe reactions... and all of the uncomfortable symptoms.  If I give one moment's notice to the panic, the potential that I feel for the complication of my reaction will be realized... so, while all of this is in flight, the only way I can win the battle is by staying calm.

I made myself comfortable on the couch -- propped up with pillows, and covered with a blanket.  If I wanted to arrest this reaction, I had to shut down activity to let my immune system stop its madness.  One positive -- it would be an opportunity to catch up on rest -- particularly since a reaction like this takes a significant toll on one's energy.

I continued to take the remedy, increasing the intervals of time as the reaction subsided.  The Allegra in conjunction with Hyland's Hives and rest did the trick.  Six hours later, there was very little swelling left, and the itching had completely subsided.

Specifically, what were the allergenic culprits on that fine day?  My Allergy Immunologist told me that many of my fellow respiratory allergy sufferers were also significantly affected, illustrating a tangible example of the detriments of global warming on human health.  Since the temperature soared to 60, the local vegetation mistook it as a sign that Spring had arrived, and that it was time to blossom.  A plethora of pollens and mold spores were released into the air, before the climate was able to support Spring blossoms... before our bodies were ready to handle the seasonal onslaught.

A warm, sunny day makes us want to spend time outdoors, breathing in lung-fulls of clean, fresh air.  It might be prudent to be thoughtful before setting out.  Back to the drawing board....

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Child's Gift of Christmas

The Gift of Christmas.


He entered the room, startling me -- then both our faces lit up as "Merry Christmas!" chimes filled the air like the bells of St. Mary's.  I rushed over to him, and could barely make it over before he lifted his bright, red Christmas train caboose, telling me all the details of its fine performance, switching on the light  and  then powering up the engine... Then bending down to let it chug its way across the floor with impressive speed... His little body seemed charged with energy, as he gave way to peels of excitement and laughter as though seeing it for the first time... I suspect he has enjoyed that same thrill before and after our show.  He couldn't get the words out quickly enough, as he started to tell me about the tricks the train could do by remote... And how the magical remote makes the train make real train sounds.  We traversed the floor back and forth a few times until the terrain of an area rug seemed tempting.  Just then, I thought it time to present an overstuffed Christmas stocking.

It was his first Christmas celebration in a western home... So everything was geared to recreate the magic of the day that I felt in childhood.  The norfolk pine suffered holiday ribbon and a garland, with a red bow on top.  The red-clad nutcracker made its first appearance after 19 years, gracing a backdrop of shimmering gold and silver leaves. A hollyberry wreath dressed up a candleholder... As did the Christmas bells on the front door handle and the stuffed Santa and Fosty the Snowman door decorations.  The Christmas cards made it into a display this year, proplonging the trip to the recycle bin... They accented the multidimensional tree centerpiece beautifully.  Decorations hung on various knobs throughout, and the mixed scents of balsam and pine were the finishing touches to the sensory imprint of, what I had hoped would be, a cherished memory.

He wasn't quite sure what to do with the Christmas stocking, so his Dad helped him unload the goodies.  There were iridescent wall stickers for his bedroom, a musical wand, a Christmas cap... This stylish boy would not let it come near his crown... And he wouldn't let his father wear it for long -- clearly too buffoonish, and not GQ enough for this youngster.  There was a large, organic candy cane, organic gingerbreadmen, gourmet jellybeans, chocolates and a beautiful Christmas tree ornament that was likely made in Rajasthan.  The one thing that he clung to was the 10- pack of Duracell AA batteries... He opened the package and took all of the batteries out, trying to hold them at once in his small hands -- as though, if he didn't hold them, they would be gone.  We asked why he had taken them out and why they were his favourite gift, and he said that his train needs batteries, and he was readying to put more in.  Once we explained the concept of battery capacity, his Dad got him interested in the pyramid of presents awaiting him.  

The boy's father opened the first gift to show his son how the present-thing works.  It was an educational toy that required PC setup -- low out-of-the-box setup and amazement = low initial interest.  It's an extension of the 2- second rule, really.  A gift wrapped in pretty paper has 2 seconds to capture a child's interest... If more than 2 seconds is required, it's onto the next.

The next wrapped box had 2 second power -- it was the first of four sets of Legos... and these are the Lego years -- aaah the sweet spot.  He had learned fast... Tearing the gift wrapping away like a raptor, picking up speed with each successive box... Gasps of excitement filled the air as he realized how quickly his Kingdom of Lego had expanded.  Immediately, we had to build one of the sets.

His Dad convinced him that the police car should be the one we build... It happened to have the least number of pieces (50), making it a good choice.  He built it with amazing speed... At one point, the three of us gave advice as we studied the picture on the box and compared it to what was being built in-hand.  There were a few extra pieces left, but the car ran amazingly smoothly.  

We broke for an organic dinner, which was an effort for this finicky, little gourmand.  The chicken's texture was definitely too juicy, and couldn't be tolerated.  The beans and rice went down with more success.  He was so excited that he couldn't stop talking about the toys -- what he had done with them... What he planned to do... By the end of the meal, it had been deemed a necessity that we crash the police car as many ways as possible... Little did we know what this charmer had in mind....

You see, what's the point of crashing a police car if there is not another car?  The body damage should clearly be split evenly.  Parity.  A future politician.

Yes, I was suckeed into building the Jurassic buggy that would help the ranger escape the Lego raptor... 80 pieces... We played around with portions of the buggy components for a bit, and, after it was clear that we were making no appreciable progress, I opened the instruction book (I prefer to consult construction books only after the device is built or configured -- this was tantamount to a male driver asking someone for directions).  I started out with the buggy in my hands, and heard him say that he couldn't put these toys together.  It was a relatively symmetrical build, so I gave him pieces, and, step by step, we added one layer at a time.  Eventually, the legos were in his hands, and i just identified the pieces and gave them to him, instructing him as to the placement.  He did an amazing job, and I told him so several times along the way.  We even got to play crashy-crashy for a bit afterwards.

His Father fell asleep while we built the buggy, occasionally waking, eyeing us, laughing, and dozing off again.  When his son showed his new buggy, I explained who had built it.  The little boy minimized his own part, emphasizing that I gave him the directions... To which I emphasized, "But you built it, and you did a good job." His face lit up from the inside out.  

Why didn't I have a camera on hand? I hadn't celebrated Christmas for the last 7 years... In each of those years, I ended up alone, undisturbed.  Both by choice, and by circumstance.  There was nothing that had made me want to change that.

However, this year, a 4.5 year old gave me the most memorable Christmas ever.  And, henceforth, my Christmases will never be the same.  I was so grateful that my eyes filled with tears of joy.  It was a priceless day.

God bless you... one and all.*

* Not plagiarism.  Poetic license on use of punctuation.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Deluxe Lemons

Deluxe Lemons.

Not mere "lemons".  But deluxe lemons.

Life threw us some lemons, right?  Know what I'm going to do with mine?  I'm going to do a perfect downward facing dog in ode to it... And then I'll bite right into it, removing enough of the rind to get to the yellow heart... As I taste its treasure, it wakes up my mouth, and jump starts bile production... I rub some of the juice on my face to spur collagen and elastin function, and smooth away some of my worry lines.  Next, the younger, healthier me pops over to my garden to mulch the rinds and plant the seeds in soil... For my wealth will now be in lemons.

With some of the lemons I've grown, I whip up a batch of deluxe lemonade, with a frothy top and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg... Sweetened with agave. 

Oh yes... Destiny's bounty is in lemons, and, by golly, I'll be to lemons what Steve Jobs is to Apple! 

One can choose to be life's victim, or the victor -- grabbing it by the horns and rising above its cloven hooves. It's a constant battle -- maintaining balance is an art -- but it's one that each person finesses with the skill and poise gained from his/her personal evolution.

The victor evolves.  The victim withers in self-pity after defeat, due to his/her choice to accept a setback as "defeat".  One battle does not a war make.   Evolution is a patient, step-by-step process... Three steps forward, then one back... two steps forward, and a bit of a stall... then one step back, followed by three leaps forward... never giving up, never experiencing a setback as defeat... always recognizing a setback as 

                     an opportunity to devise a better plan... 

                                  to catalyze a positive change to live a better life.

So yes -- let's DO lemonade... And lemon chiffon pie... Lemon butter glaze... Lemon rind icing...
Lemon-cilantro sorbet... Rum, honey and lemon...
Lemon rind body scrub.... 

Our possibilities are endless.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Heaven Has A New Visionary

Steve. I wore mournful black today. 

We all feel the void of his absence in the universal consciousness. Most of us have a hard time dealing with the concept of living in a world without our parents... And, until yesterday, we didn't realize that we feel the same way about Steve Jobs. He has changed the lives of every inhabitant of this planet -- over a billion of us directly, and the balance indirectly. 

He has pushed the envelope more than anyone of our time -- pushed it, reengineered it and perfected it in a way that seemed near magical. He drove innovation with a mercurial vision and empathic sensitivity that only visits earth once every few centuries. Like DaVinci. 

He never sought it, but wielded immense personal power... Amazing genius... Reaching into our minds and hearts, melding with the essences, and devising the most intuitive products ever created. He expanded our minds, evolved our thought, gave imaginations to those bereft, and touched our hearts in a way that makes each and every one of us a better human being. 

Some would say his devices were divisive, in that people spoke a little less, spending more time interfacing with an iMac, iPhone, IPad, etc. But those of us with a fraction of enlightenment realize that he united the world... Now, each person with an Apple product has brothers and sisters throughout various nations of the world. And we are doing wondrous things with them, from rendering medical service, to assisting the deaf, to nation-building. 

Humbly, he taught people how to fish... And, in so doing, spawned the next generation of innovators, if not visionaries. 

Vision is a gift; innovation an art; art can be taught. 

Will we ever have devices that give us that wondrous feeling of awe and excitement, as felt only in childhood? Ever again? Is it remotely possible that we could be blessed by another such visionary in our lifetimes? We've already had one... It seems it would be greedy to expect another so soon.

Tears have been shed today. What will we do without you, Steve? Why didn't we clone you? 

There is a distinct void in the universal consciousness. And it's echoing.

Sent from my iPad

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Questioning Immune Chaos

"The first Law of Chaos: There is no law. And Anarchy's its cousin."

Thus said my immune system, one fine day... after 30-something years of blissful obedience.

And so I wonder... What would make the immune system go mutinous? And why? Is there an external trigger, like stress, or burning Twin Towers? Or is it more of a post-embryonic, tasteless joke -- like a congenital cyst that pops up in the middle of one's forehead one day while reading in the library? Could it be recessive genetics? Perhaps I am the dumping ground for all of the bum genes in the clan. Or could it merely be the way this particular body has chosen to enter mid-life? 

Genetics can tell us of someone's predisposition to develop conditions, but it does not necessarily dictate destiny. Pollen allergies are the precurors to food allergies... but not everyone with a pollen allergy develops food allergies. So what are the determining factors? Do the effects of nature make their way into our genetic encoding? Post-mortem, do our genes look exactly as they did at birth? And in what way does aging play a role? 

Fifty years ago, kids brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school and shared them without a care. Two hundred years ago, kids ate raw peanuts. Today, peanut butter is not admissable in schools... And more and more people are living the reality defined by celiac's disease. Which begs the question... How are the younger generations different to their ancestors? Is it the environment? Modern agriculture -- the way we grow or raise our food? Or could it be the manufactured food industry? When last have you eaten a packaged food product that had less than six ingredients, none of which had more than three syllables? Or could it be something our parents used -- medications, creams, ointments, water -- something that seeped into their systems and into their gametes? 

Health providers understand the scientific mechanics of the body's immune system, but they don't understand the spirit of it -- the why it does what it does, the way it does it, bloody well when it decides to do it. Perhaps in 300 years, the barriers between scientific disciplines will have been eradicated. Maybe then they will be able to explain the nano-science of the neurotransmitters that relay the instructions to go haywire. Quantum Physics' mischievous conspiracy with Physiology... But will they ever be able to explain how the instructions were conceived and constructed?