Posts Tagged "all natural"

At The Heart of Darkness

Posted by on Apr 17, 2013 | 3 comments

At The Heart of Darkness

I am a generally happy person. I try to find the humour and joy in everything, even when it would appear that there is none to be had.

It’s been difficult to find my smile lately.

I should elaborate. I have many reasons to smile daily, all day long. I have four amazing children, my beautiful, beautiful boys, whose every breath is reason to be joyous. I smile, but there is something lurking behind it. Something dark and sad, something I’m trying my best to understand.

I am anxious. I am depressed.

I have suffered from Post-Partum Depression (PPD) after each of my children’s births, in increasing severity. My youngest son was born in October and this time it came over me like a tidal wave, the worst yet. Many people and medications support me, but the dark cloud persists. I feel like I’m going through the motions, watching my happy life from the outside.

I’m trying to put my finger on it. Baby blues? Could still be, my child is only six months old. Four children seven years and younger? Of course. There is stress in wrangling them here and there, getting them into bed, entertaining them, feeding them. They eat a lot. Seriously, a lot. But all of those things are part and parcel with motherhood. All of those things are expected. If I didn’t think I could handle this job, I wouldn’t have applied, and kept applying. My entire life brought me to this point, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

(Ok, in a perfect world there are things in my past I would have done a whole lot different, but we don’t get do-overs. It’s easier to accept that the decisions I’ve made in life, for good or bad, have created my life today. And I kind of love my life today.)

Autism? Autism is a huge part of our lives. It’s pervasive, and up to now, we’ve made it work. I realize, however, that things are changing. It’s getting more difficult. Jack is getting older. He’s getting stronger and smarter. A lot smarter. And he’s busting through all of the tools I’ve used to help him – and myself – cope. So we’re at a plateau of sorts. Or maybe diverging paths. Jack is heading into his future, and I am scrambling, trying to keep up with him. Trying to get us back in sync.

I’m flailing.

Another entity has also invited itself into our family, or is trying to. ADHD*. We are having one of our sons assessed, and I’ll be surprised if that’s not the outcome. It’ll be a few more months and a few more doctor’s appointments and a few more assessments until we know for certain, but I want to know for certain. I don’t like ambiguity, especially in my home, with my children. I am staring down the barrel of this the same way I did with autism. If my child has a challenge, I want to know what it is so we can get going. Get a handle on it. Get ahead of it. Early intervention is the best solution in any situation involving a child. Involving anyone, honestly.

If that were the only issue, I would be fine. But no, ADHD didn’t want to stop there. In the process of understanding what’s happening with my son, I started realizing something about myself. The doctor we saw last week asked me something that threw me for a loop. After going over our family’s medical history, she asked a simple question. One I hadn’t ever heard put in quite this manner.

“Does his behaviour resemble anyone in your family?”

I looked at her, stunned. The sky opened up, the clouds parted, a window of clarity descended upon me.

Or maybe I blinked.

Yes, in fact, it did resemble someone in my family.


Insert montage of snapshots of my life: my elementary school report cards describing in detail how I couldn’t sit still, talked too much, couldn’t focus; a trip to the doctor as a small child, with the word “hyperkinesis” ringing in my mind; family members telling me I talked too much, sit still, calm down. I was obsessed with candy (the bad kind, not the kind I give my kids now). I stole money from my mother’s wallet and my father’s bureau. I couldn’t handle not getting what I wanted, and screamed and banged my head when I couldn’t deal. Punishments didn’t mean a lot to me, as I was somehow always able to adapt. I lived in constant anxiety about one thing or another. My main recollection of myself as a child? Obnoxious.

That is how I always thought of myself, until one day in high school I looked in the mirror and decided I wasn’t going to be that person anymore. I embarked on a long journey of figuring it all out. Teaching myself how to take turns in conversations and not only talk about me and mine. Working to tune out the sensory overloads that hurt my head. Putting myself into social situations and act accordingly, even though I was deathly afraid. Trying, desperately, to become a “me” I could look in the mirror and love.

That’s a lot to carry around.

I pulled out those report cards not too long ago, and read them all in detail. And I cried. I cried for the little girl who never really understood why she was in trouble. Who didn’t know why she did the things she did, but couldn’t stop herself from doing them again. Who desperately wanted to fit in somewhere, anywhere, but just… couldn’t.

And I cried for my children. Because I don’t want them to ever feel what I felt. I want to shelter them from the awkwardness, the self-consciousness, the underlying feeling that they don’t belong.

I want my sons to know what is within them that makes them do things differently sometimes, and to understand not only how to manage and cope, but to know and believe that they are perfect exactly the way they were born.**

I’m not under the illusion that I can save my children every heartbreak, every hurt. Part of growing up is experiencing the things that will make them into strong men, whole men. Heartbreak and hurt are a part of the deal as much as love and fulfillment. Yin and yang.

at the beach

If I can do anything to keep my children from feeling the confusion I had, I will. If I can tell them every single day that they are beautiful and confident and awesome just the way they are, they might believe it. I can try. I have to try.

In the moment when the doctor asked that simple question, I realized that my child is very much like me. He’s the only one of our four boys who really looks like me (the other three are clones of my husband), and now I know he shares more than my features.

The most important thing I took out of that meeting was the very real possibility that if my son has ADHD, I most likely have it, too. It’s genetic, so it’s entirely possible. The most damning evidence, though, is that word I remember so vividly from long ago. Hyperkinesis. I’ve known it all of my life, but never really understood what it meant for me. I know now that hyperkinesis is what they called ADHD before it was ADHD.

I know that after my mother took me to the doctor and we learned that word, she put me on the Feingold Diet and cut out all artificial colours and flavours. I don’t remember anything else, though. No medications, no more doctor’s visits. No more addressing the elephant in the room.


Sadly, my mother has passed away, so I can’t ask her all the questions that are running around in my brain. My father has told me as much as he recalls, but there’s more. I’ve been questioning myself since Jack was diagnosed almost five years ago, and now it all seems to be making sense.

I want to know more. What can I do to get more focus? Would medication help? Is the medication I’m on making it worse? I want to banish the ambiguity.

So, I think I’ve discovered the source of the darkness: I am overwhelmed. I have several very large balls in the air, and I’m afraid if I drop them, I’ll fail my family. Autism. ADHD in my child. ADHD in myself. The anxiety. The unknown.

I am strong, I have been through worse. I just want answers, and I want clarity.

I want to help my son navigate his life with autism.

I want to help my other son cope with whatever is challenging him.

I want to get ahold of myself so I can live my life free of this weight that’s pressing me down.

I want to smile.

my heart


*There are some who may hear ADHD and think, “Oh, that’s not so bad, it’s not as bad as autism.” No, it isn’t, it’s different. It’s still a challenge, both to the individual who has it and the family that supports them. It’s work, on top of lots of other work. Not impossible, but difficult nontheless.

**I feel it’s important to note that I do not blame my parents in any way for the way I felt, or the way they handled me. This was forty years ago, and an entirely different world. If anything, my experiences have informed me well to guide my own children.

Share this: Twitter | StumbleUpon | Facebook | digg | reddit | eMail Read More

Tasty Tuesday Roundup 8/23/11

Posted by on Aug 24, 2011 | 1 comment

Tasty Tuesday Roundup 8/23/11

What a Tasty Tuesday yesterday was!  We enjoyed a lot of late summer treats, including these awesome lemon-blueberry pancakes from Heather’s Dish, this refreshingly tart Key Lime pie from Epicurious, and this really yummy honey baked chicken from All Recipes (and I will admit I added some dijon mustard to the grownups’ pieces for an extra kick).

I also made some super yummy fruit pops – I put bananas, peaches, blueberries, a bit of kale and some bananaberry juice in the blender and froze it in popsicle molds.  The kids love them.

I’m so thankful Jack has been adventurous in his eating lately, and is really excited when I make new things.  It’s a challenge, but one I can deal with.  Especially since I get to eat new things, too.  Yay!

Key Limy


Share this: Twitter | StumbleUpon | Facebook | digg | reddit | eMail Read More

Berry Happy

Posted by on Jul 21, 2011 | 6 comments

Berry Happy

Like all moms, I’ve been struggling to keep my children occupied over their summer vacation.  Unlike the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, however, I’ve also been dealing with rain.  Lots and lots of rain.  Every single day.  In biblical proportion.  We’ve had the occasional burst of sunlight, but rarely enough to enjoy for a full morning or afternoon, let alone make plans around.  Our new city is overflowing with amazing parks, beaches, playgrounds with water features, and wondrous natural sights to behold, but most just aren’t that fun when you’re drenched.

(I know, we moved here and we should expect rain – but we’re not completely used to it yet, and seriously, it’s rained a LOT this year.)

Basically, my point is my entire summer strategy has been put on rain delay.  I had hoped to run them ragged daily at the playground and spray parks or in our little backyard splash pool.  I envisioned sun-drenched children happily dragging themselves to bed each night, drunk on outdoor play.  I did not plan for a Junuary rainmageddon.

I took this photo June 13th.

Instead, I’ve been keeping them sane with arts and crafts, trips to the indoor playground (ok, Daddy takes them there while I recharge), and copious amounts of Dora and Diego.  Yes, my children have watched a lot of television this summer.  I’m not proud.

Today, when the rain stopped unexpectedly, we decided to go pick raspberries.  We have already picked strawberries twice and raspberries on two other occasions, but all of those trips save one have involved me picking solo while Daddy watches the boys at the farms’ playgrounds.  The one strawberry picking trip we tried with the kids resulted in Kieran throwing every berry he picked, Lennon eating every berry he picked, Jack analyzing every single berry for ripeness before picking three, Daddy overseeing everything while stating periodically that he is “not a farmer,” and me stooped over gathering berries madly while trying to keep my camera out of the rain (yes, it rained that day, too).

Not a lot of picking happening here.

We have been exploring the many farms in our vicinity, and decided to try a new one this morning (mostly because their raspberry u-pick price was the best).  We gauge a farm’s “awesomeness” on several things, mainly their ability to entertain the children.  I was on a mission for berries today, though, and put savings ahead of my kids’ happiness.  I figured if worst came to worst, they’d learn how to pick raspberries.  What could go wrong?

Of course, today’s farm had no playground, no petting zoo, no silly pictures of anthropomorphized berries they could stick their heads through for photos.  It was just a farm, with fields and some porta-potties.  And some wagons.  We grabbed a wagon and headed into the raspberry field, visions of raspberries dancing in our heads.  Actually, I had visions of my children red from head to toe with juice and screaming from pricking their fingers on the bushes, but I didn’t share those fears with my husband.

The raspberry bushes we encountered were taller than David, so much to his chagrin I put a bucket in his hand and set him to work on the highest branches.  Both Lennon and Jack had buckets, and Kieran was master of the wagon.  This scenario did not last long.  David picked a handful before abandoning his post, Lennon picked loads of gorgeous berries that only saw the inside of his stomach and not his bucket, and then he and Kieran fought over who got to run us down with the wagon.  Eventually, in the interest of actually taking some raspberries home, I told David to take the younger boys back to the parking lot to play with the wagons.  Jack stayed behind with me to pick, and pick he did.

Getting the hang of it

Once he understood how to pick the ripest berries, Jack was fully into the task.  He analyzed them, pulled gently, and tucked them into his bucket.  At one point, though, he got a little carried away with telling me how he was picking them and stopped actually doing it.  I grabbed a big, beautiful berry he had missed and said, “Jack!  You missed me!  I want to go in your bucket!”

He loved it, and jumped right into the game.  He talked to every single berry he encountered, and had quite the conversations.  Some berries were ready to be in his pie, some wanted to swim in his stomach.  There were whole raspberry families, cousins and friends.  The unripe ones he had to leave behind, “because they’re still babies,” he promised to come back and get when they were ready.  Jack didn’t pick a ton of fruit, but he did pick happy fruit.

A job well done

We finally filled all of our baskets and buckets and started back to the pay stand, Jack pulling the wagon the whole way.  He was proud and excited about what he’d done, and made sure to tell Daddy all about it when we returned.

Old enough to do the manly work

As we drove home, I expected him to be sleepy and ready for his nap, exhausted from his great endeavor.  Instead, he wondered why we hadn’t gone to a playground, too.

How many days left until school starts?

Share this: Twitter | StumbleUpon | Facebook | digg | reddit | eMail Read More

Changes and Progress

Posted by on Feb 4, 2011 | 3 comments

Hello again!  I’ve been busy working on some changes and updates to the site.

You’ll see a new page, “All Natural,” where I’ve compiled a bunch of links and resources to help you and your family ditch the chemicals in your food.  I’ve also added a whole bunch of new items to the store, from all natural candies and cake/cookie decorations, music and books to sensory integration tools and yoga books and dvds for both neurotypical and ASD kids.

I’m working on a humor page, with links to autism and aspie humor.  There isn’t a lot out there (yet), but what’s there is pretty wonderful and really funny.

I’m also considering adding a forum, so we can open the discussion wider.  Please let me know if you’d be interested in that, and if there’s anything else you’d like to see here.

Most importantly, I have some new stories coming featuring our hero Jack.  He’s been a very busy boy.


Share this: Twitter | StumbleUpon | Facebook | digg | reddit | eMail Read More

A Naturally Colorful Life

Posted by on Jan 30, 2011 | 8 comments

A Naturally Colorful Life

We are a dye-free family.  Yes, I am one of “those” moms.  I’m the mom who won’t let her kid have Kool-Aid at the party.  I’m the mom who has to take every snack innocently offered at the playground and inspect it with a scientific microscope first.  I’m the mom who will not, under any circumstances, make an exception “just this once.”

Before you write me off as obnoxious and over-protective, let me tell you my story.  At the tender age of three, I became, as my father likes to tell it, a “nightmare.”  According to my mother, I was given some candy by a well-meaning relative and had somewhat of a reaction.  And by reaction, I mean a full-on personality change.  I was what they used to call “hyper.”    The change was so marked that my mother took me to the doctor, and I was diagnosed with “hyperkinesis,” the early 1970’s version of ADHD.

I don’t know exactly how it all went down, but someone had the wherewithal to realize it was the colors in the candy (red, specifically) that were causing my erratic behavior. My mother tended toward the natural side of things, and she discovered the work of Dr. Benjamin Feingold, and his book, The Feingold Diet.   Dr. Feingold hypothesized that artificial colors, artificial flavors and additives (like BHA, BHT and salicylates) were major contributors to childhood hyperactivity.   At the age of six, my mother attempted to put me on The Feingold Diet.

I was all for it, in theory.  I loved the attention, the “special” foods and the prizes she dangled in front of me as inspiration to stay on the diet for any length of time.  Looking back, I think we were doomed to fail.  By the time she implemented the diet in force I was already addicted to candy.  To be fair, there was no way the “healthy-tasting” alternatives were ever going to win over Fruity Pebbles and grape Bubble Yum.  There was not the bountiful array of alternatives we have today, and seriously, carob is no substitute for chocolate.  I was a lost cause, and my childhood was often a haze of erratic, candy-fueled behaviors.

I have known my entire life that consuming artificial ingredients is “bad” for me, but it took puberty to make me quit them completely.  Sure, candy and sodas made me moody and unpredictable, but that was mostly inconvenient for those around me, so I didn’t really care.  I realize now I was no more able to control my chemical consumption any more than an addict can control their need for drugs.  I needed a massive intervention, and thankfully, one came naturally.  Around the age of seventeen my beloved red sodas and purple gum and rainbow-hued candies turned on me.

As a child and young teen, the chemicals jacked me up.  They wired me for sound.  I couldn’t really focus or function to the best of my abilities, but I wasn’t calling the shots.  I remember vividly the day six little gumballs came in the mail, promising a wonderful new world without sugar.  Those gumballs were my first taste of aspartame, marketed at the time as Nutrasweet.  The reaction I had to aspartame was essentially everything I’d experienced before, turned up to eleven.

Then, something happened.  I’m guessing my hormones changed, and so did my body’s reaction to the junk I’d been feeding it.  Instead of feeling awesome when I had a Hawaiian Punch at school in the morning, I felt ill.  My tongue felt thick and burned, I felt lightheaded and sick to my stomach.   I had to make a massive change in the way I was eating, and I had to do it quickly.

Fast forward to today.  I have lead a mostly all-natural life for the last 24 years.  In that time I’ve watched our society’s attitude toward food change drastically.  In the beginning if I wanted something other than fruit juice or water to drink, my only choice was Snapple.  All-natural hard candies were next to impossible to find,  except the awful ginger candy at the health food store (all apologies to those who love ginger candy – I just can’t do it).  Nowadays you can find a natural alternative to almost anything you’re craving, from soda to candy to snack cakes.

I’ve watched the food supply get overrun by chemicals, and not just colors, flavors and additives.  Now we have, in addition to aspartame, a whole host of imitation sweeteners, MSG, growth hormones in meat and dairy products, and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCs*) pushing natural ingredients to the wayside.   To make matters worse, most HFCs (at least in the USA) is made from genetically-modified (GMO) corn (there may not be a lot of research around GMO food yet, but I can’t see how messing with the DNA code of a plant to produce a sort of Frankenfood can be good in the long run).  Think I’m wrong?  Take a walk through your neighborhood conventional grocery store and pick something off the shelf.  Anything.  I’ll bet you it contains HFCs.  Bread.  Deli turkey.  Tomato sauce.  Cereal.  It’s pretty hard to regulate your sugar intake when there are added sugars in every single item in your shopping cart.  The purpose of HFCs is supposedly to substitute for sugar, but in reality it is used most often in addition to other sugars, and the more sugar you eat, the more you want to eat.  Pretty handy for the manufacturers.

The biggest secret about artificial colors especially is the ingredients used to make them.  Food dyes approved for mass usage commonly contain trace amounts of lead, azo and tartrazine (coal tar derivatives), aluminum, and many other ingredients that are potential carcinogens and asthmatic triggers.

Sure, in the last few years “all-natural” has become the fashionable thing to do.  However, unless you shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or Wild Oats or Sevananda or another store that only carries “real” natural and/or organic foods, you can’t be certain you’re actually getting a natural product.  Case in point – on a recent trip to Costco, I looked at Dempster’s Ancient Grains bread, chock full of whole grains and certain to be the real deal.  Nope.  Every Dempster’s product contains HFCs.  In fact, it was only in the last few years that Oro brands, one of the staples of mass-produced “natural” breads, eliminated HFCs from their ingredient lists. My point is don’t assume anything, and read everything.

I have spent my life reading labels.  I read every single label on every single food item I buy.  I used to spend hours grocery shopping.  I am now a one-woman resource on food ingredients, a crown I am proud to wear.

I have always said that when I had children, they would not eat artificial foods at all.   Everyone has things they will and won’t do as parents, and much of it is fantasy (how many of us swore *we* wouldn’t be the ones with the screaming child in the restaurant?)  Well, I kind of knew better on that front, but I had visions of my own.  Call me crazy, but I just don’t think children need blue ketchup or green yogurt or cereal with candy in it, and I was determined to keep those things out of our home.

The fantasy I have for my children is that they will know the difference between junk and real food.  It’s a long shot, but I’ve been working really hard for the last five years to make it happen.  We are fortunate that the first years of our young family were spent in Southern California, where eating naturally is the norm, and Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are on every corner.  We easily created habits for a lifetime that can persist even when we’re in less “food friendly” regions.

I was determined to create an all-natural family long before I knew my first born son had autism.  Before I knew how critical my choice would actually be for his well-being.  I gave him the best shot at “normalcy” without even knowing it (and that’s just my opinion – I mean no offense to anyone who has fed their child conventional foods).

There has been a lot of research lately about artificial ingredients and how they affect behavior in children, but I can tell you I’ve witnessed it firsthand.  I know exactly when Jack has had something “bad.”  He had a half of a red cookie in preschool once and he tantrumed the whole afternoon after throwing a Sybil-like fit.  On Halloween this year he had a cupcake with an orange candy on it and he was unable to sit still or control himself until late that night.  I have watched my child go from happy and calm to erratic and moody in the time it takes to chew a Skittle.  I can only imagine what I put my parents through eating that stuff on a regular basis.

These ingredients affect my neurotypical children as well.  If Kieran or Lennon get their hands on something artificial, you would be hard-pressed not to wonder if they, too, fall somewhere on the spectrum.  They become irritable, scattered, and just generally hyper, if you will.

I have endured criticism from many about how I choose to feed my children, but really, is it so bad to insist my kids eat actual food?  My children are far from deprived.  They have as much candy as the next child (too much), it’s just colored and flavored with fruit juices and vegetables.  As a former candy junkie, I can attest to the yumminess of it, too. My children get jell-o, I just make it myself out of gelatin and fruit juice.   We make brightly-colored cookies at Christmas and Easter and Halloween and Valentine’s Day.  Because I am so vigilant about what they eat 98% of the time, it’s no big deal if they get an Oreo or a HFCs-laden McDonald’s hamburger every once in a while (but, like I said, previously, I make NO exceptions for colors, ever).

I put a bag of “approved” lollipops and other treats in Jack’s school backpack for parties and other treat days so he will always have something, too.  I check with birthday party hosts ahead of time to see what kind of cake is being served, and bring cupcakes for my kids if necessary.  I carry natural treats and snacks with me all the time “just in case.”

Yummy and Natural

In return for my diligence, my kids are happy, healthy, and beginning to understand the difference between good and bad foods.  In the candy aisle the other day, Lennon pointed to a bag and said, “that’s colors, and we don’t eat that.” On Halloween they were patient as I weeded through all of their loot to take out the “yucky” stuff (I always buy extra “good” stuff ahead of time to supplement what I’ve removed, and we use the offending candies to decorate our gingerbread houses at Christmas).  I don’t see them pining for anything they think is “forbidden” to them.  That’s key in my mind, as children inherently want what they’re not allowed.  By explaining that those things are “not food,” they understand.  It helps, too, that both myself and my husband eat this way as well.  We don’t have “mommy and daddy food” and “kid food.”  In our house, it’s just food, and it’s all good.

I know that someday soon my children will have to make these choices for themselves, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t scare me.  I can only hope that by normalizing natural eating and not stigmatizing it, they will make smart decisions.  And if they don’t, they can stay in their rooms until they’re fit to be around again.


*in Canada, HFCs is called “glucose-fructose”


**UPDATE 7/1/2012

Recently, in our quest to get Jack properly diagnosed here in Canada, I gave him a bag of Skittles before an assessment.  You know, to “bring on some autism” – to ensure he’d display some behaviors worth documenting.  Not only would he NOT eat them (“Mom!! I can’t eat these!! They have colors!!”), when I tried to sneak them into a bag of all natural jelly beans, he methodically picked out every offending candy and gave them back to me.  I was disappointed, but so, so proud.

He did fine in his assessment, by the way.

Share this: Twitter | StumbleUpon | Facebook | digg | reddit | eMail Read More