Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Critical Mom and The Measles Outbreak

An 18-month old child died of measles in Berlin, and plenty of children here have it.  Many conscientious parents believe that they are saving their childrens' immune systems--or protecting them from autism--or leading a life "close to nature" that is therefore healthier--when they refuse to vaccinate.  There's Nature dancing-with-the-daffodils and there's Nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw.  You don't get the one without the other.  I've listened to my doctor at the Traditional Chinese Medicine Center, the one whose potions and brews and acupuncture got me through menopause in a healthy way, when my gynecologist wanted to pump me full of hormones or take a knife to my uterus (yes, there are still a few doctors around here who wonder why you need that thing if you're too old to have children).  I've seen the MAD MEN episode with the kid running on crutches because he came down with polio a year before the Salk vaccine was available.  I've read Eula Biss:  On Immunity: An Inoculation ( and please--take your kids to get their shots.  After an earful from my very trusted practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine ("It's unnecessary!  It's big business!  Children die!") I went to the equally trusted pediatrician, who sighed, took off her glasses and shuffled thoughts in her head in that visibly thorough German way before saying with all her heart, "You know, I have seen a child die of chicken pox.  And I never forgot it."  My daughter got her shot that day. Yesterday I phoned the pediatrician to make sure all three kids were up to date on their immunizations. 
Germany promotes, and supports, many excellent sources of alternative medicine, exactly the kinds of things that I always thought of as the lunatic fringe when I lived in New York.  But when acupuncture works, it really works.  When chiropractery works, it really works.  When potions and herbs work, they really work.  And the folks who practice these forms of medicine belong to a cult that never lets in a grain of sugar or a morsel of meat or a dab of butter or a single fiber of polyester.  But they are nice people and they really do heal you.  They just think their way is the only way . . . some of the time.  I know practitioners of hair-raisingly non-traditional medicine who have kept wards of AIDS patients alive long after anyone thought they could, and using none of the drugs that Establishment Medicine claims are absolutely necessary.  That doesn't prove that either side is right.  It proves that there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than can be dreamt of in your philosophy.  And it proves that you, as a patient, have to listen to both sides, weigh the situation, and make up your own mind.  But if you don't get your kids their shots, you expose both them and other, often immune-compromised children, to pain, illness, and death.  

P.S.  See Roald Dahl's heartbreaking account of his daughter's death from measles--and just when they thought she was recovering.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Critical Mom's Crock pot

Or slow cooker, if you're British or Australian.  I was wary of mine, since the first few times I cooked a meat-and-vegetable dish the carrots stayed hard--as did the potatoes--while the meat was overdone.  I've learned to avoid all those beautifully illustrated recipes on the net that show somebody throwing a bunch of whole carrots into a crock pot, topped by potatoes, topped by hunks of meat, and glorified with five-star ratings.  Nope, it ain't quite that easy.  But here's what really does work, and really is pretty fast:

(1) Boil some water in your electric water kettle and pour into a big pot on the stove.  Keep heating that as you boil another kettle.  Add some sea salt.

(2) Meanwhile, wash, scrape and slice carrots into smallish pieces, also wash and cut into slices potatoes, and throw in pot.  Let cook around fifteen minutes.

(3)  While the potatoes and carrots are cooking, slice and toss into your crock pot peppers (around two big ones), zucchini, onions, and maybe peas.  And/or sliced celery.

(4) When you can easily push a knife into the potatoes and carrots--but they shouldn't be totally soft-- drain them and add them to the vegetables in the crock pot.  

(5) Take your chicken breasts (with bones is better--the bones add flavor) or your stew meat--and brown them in vegetable oil or olive oil.  The former is currently believed to be the heart-healthy choice, but the latter has more flavor, and if you read as many online health pages as I do you know how frequently ideas about what is really heart-or-total-body healthy change.  Do trust your instincts.  I'm assuming your instincts don't run to prepared foods and sugar shock, because if they did, you wouldn't be reading this recipe, would you?

(6) Back to the water cooker.  Pour boiled water into a large coffee cup in which you've put a tablespoon of dry chicken broth and another of dry soup greens.  Stir and let dissolve, pour over vegetables.  Add more water until the vegetables are nearly covered.  Add a bay leaf or three.  Pour in a little dry white wine (around 3/4 cup) if you're cooking chicken.  Use dry red wine if you're cooking chunks of pork.

(7) Put the browned chicken or stew meat on top.  Add garlic salt and freshly ground pepper.  Cover with lid and set the crock pot to high.

Your meal should be ready in four hours.  Enjoy!

P.S. Another pleasant addition is a Hokkaido pumpkin.  You don't need to peel it.  Just wash, cut, throw away the seeds (they're no good cooked--only regular pumpkin seeds taste good baked with olive oil and garlic salt).  Sauté with a little garlic, add water or chicken broth, let cook a bit, then add to the pot.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Critical Mom's Fifty Shades of Gray

Well, mine is actually on my very crammed bookshelf and I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't actually read it yet but it is on my list . . .  oh, is it ever.  I've been around long enough to see an amusing video of David Sedaris reading aloud from it in front of a packed crowd and stumbling over the word, "clitoris."  And to see a very charming young woman who ran several videos of herself singing (What a voice!  And so pretty, too!) a song whose lyrics belied the tune, which she had borrowed from one of my favorite singers:  "GIRLS JUST WANNA BE NUNS!"  I thought she was really hip until one day she related an anecdote about a friend saying she was thinking of reading Fifty Shades of Gray.  The singer advised us that she'd said "yeah, go for it!" but then dipped into the volume herself.  Her face changed.  She seemed outraged.  But she didn't say it was bad or evil or disgusting: she said it was "addictive!"  Well, so is life.  Food.  Sex.  I wonder about that word, "addictive" and what she really meant.  I can't ask her because she's in a Carmelite nunnery somewhere not, in my view, living her life with the fullness that nature intends.  I might diagnose her as being addicted to asceticism or to guilt or to her mother's ideas about the nunhood being a good place for a young girl.  There's really no accounting for taste, and that's the truth exposed by audience reactions to Fifty Shades of Gray.  I came across a rather brilliant feminist argument in the Atlantic saying that what's worrisome about the book is the portrayal of women agreeing to sex that they're not happy with or comfortable about.  Is anyone really suggesting that the book advocates that they have this sort of sex?  I think that instead, Fifty Shades of Gray is geared to those who find exactly this portrayal its main selling point, and exactly because it's all in a book, not in real life.  Today I was in Kaiser Foods gathering carrots and parsnips and creamed mushroom soup in to make a crock pot meal, and what should appear, like the big bad wolf waltzing up to Little Red Riding Hood, but a massive display case of the book strategically placed near wine and sweets.  My ten-year-old daughter wandered up the aisle in search of chapstick, so I didn't pick up a copy and flip through it to see if the German translation is just as dirty, but I did think wow, porn's mainstream!  And what, the nun might ask, if my child had asked about the book?  I would have said, as I have now said to her about a number of books, "you might like it, but probably when you're over twenty-five."

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Critical Mom's Emergency Room

Sometimes, it pays to live in a small city. 
How well I remember the time I stepped on broken glass, cutting my foot badly, on the afternoon of the day I was going to fly home to Germany from Paradise, aka New York.  The wonderful au pair scooped up the two-year-old, said, "I'll finish your packing!  Find a doctor!  Go!"  so I limped out of the house, thinking "at all costs I will avoid the St. Luke's emergency room down the block."  I stopped at the office of an ophthalmologist whom I'd known since I was six.  Could he possibly just stitch up my foot or give me a tetanus shot?  The secretary wouldn't even let me say hello to him.  I'd been out of the country too long to realize how much things had changed.  So I sat in the St. Luke's emergency room among the teenaged members of the oldest profession and the very old alcoholic men with gruesomely infected feet and what sounded like tuberculosis . . . they were coughing their lungs out in my lap.  A fist fight broke out among the girls . . .  "YOU da @#$%^Y&UI ho!" "No, YOU da #$%^Y&UIOP{!!! ho!"  I moved out of the way, not before hearing cuss words that even I, a  woman of forty-something at the time, had never dreamed existed, but the security guards intervened.  Suddenly I did a horribly middle class thing.  I got up, went to the secretary, pulled out my credit card, and said, "Please let me see a doctor.  I'll pay right now."  And they glued my foot together.  And I paid.  And I hated myself, but I made the plane.  The whole thing took around five hours.

Fast forward to today.  The two year old is now a strapping sixteen, and I was getting a quick dinner ready for him, his brother, and his sister, and their friend.  Guilty about the frozen pizza, I thought I should at least slice some cucumbers before zipping out to a concert with my husband, and even though we had exactly four minutes before I had to be out the door, I grabbed a knife and inserted it in the plastic wrap covering the cucumber, as I have done on numerous occasions.    Only this time my hand slipped and so did the knife, and blood spurted from a spot between my thumb and forefinger.  I closed the wound with a bandaid.

"Mommy, forget the concert!" said my sensible kids.  "Just go to the emergency room!"  I knew they were right but my voice teacher was giving the concert, and I really wanted to hear it.  So I went.  With my husband.  Who didn't really have time to go, since he had to drive the kid's friend to the airport . . . but it was great, and on the way home to drive the kid he dropped me at the emergency room.  

"Augenblick!" (Just a moment!") said the nurse as she pointed me toward the waiting room.  She was sympathetic, too.  And only about forty Augenblicks later (I was expecting at least four thousand Augenblicks) they treated my hand.  And here I am, typing with it.  But it still hurts, so I'll stop now.  But it's got a big bandage on it, oceans of disinfectant and everything!