Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What Does ADHD Look Like?

Boo has been taking guitar lessons since the beginning of second grade. Her Grandpa George was so excited to take us to the music store and pick out the right guitar for her little hands. We found a bright red Oscar Schmidt 3/4-size acoustic that fit her just right. Grandpa has given her a thirty-minute lesson every Monday afternoon for the last six months.

Yesterday he was concerned.

It's the same concern I've heard from Boo's teacher all year.

She won't focus.

I'm not ready to call it Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. I am willing to accept mental illness, learning disabilities, or other issues with my child. I'm just not sure that a teacher who believes doodling is "not consistent with grade level" is qualified to fill in the Conners test for my second grader. After all, I doodled my way through graduate school.

ADHD in girls is tricky. Most studies have focused on boys because they tend to display more disruptive, hyperactive behaviors than girls do. Boys are more likely to be more defiant and moody. However, girls are more likely to participate in substance abuse.Current research believes that ADHD is caused by overly thin brain tissue surrounding the parts of the brain that sustain attention. This theory attempts to explain children "growing out" of ADHD since the brain tissue will often grow as the child ages. Unfortunately, more girls are misdiagnosed as ADHD before the age of ten than boys.

I'm a little skeptical at this point. I have been teaching college students writing for the past six years. As a tutor and teacher I have worked a great deal with students with learning disabilities, particularly ADHD. The adult women who have been diagnosed with ADHD have struggled with inattention and hyperactivity their whole lives. They have been on medications at times (for example, while in college), and they have learned to cope without medication at other points. The key with these women has been the lifelong struggle. They didn't suddenly wake up attentive and calm. Just as I haven't suddenly woken from my mental health issues, I don't know that I can accept the possibility of suddenly "growing out" of a mental disorder.

The school has assured us that even if we choose not to medicate our daughter, a diagnosis will provide her with accommodations. We are five months into the twelve-month waiting list for clinical tests, and maybe we should take her to her pediatrician. There may be other issues, such as a generalized anxiety disorder. Of course I don't want her to break down in tears because she has lost her gloves again or because she is overwhelmed by the ticking clock. However, asking our pediatrician to assess the teacher's Conners test, so our seven-year-old can get through timed math seems odd.

Medication does seem like the easiest fix for ADHD. It's been really effective for a lot of people who have struggled with school and work. I am definitely an advocate for mental health medication. But the world Boo lives in is beautiful and imaginative. She constantly creates stories, characters, scenarios, and games. If a stimulant let her complete thirty addition problems in three minutes but took away the faery dust that constantly sparkles around her, how could I justify the loss?

It's such a colorful, magical world with Boo. I can't imagine changing it.

Pretending It's Summer

It snowed all night. Hardly any snow has fallen all winter, but the sidewalks and car were covered before work this morning. Our summer travel plans were thrown in a tailspin when our teaching schedules were posted since James and I are scheduled to teach opposite terms. Ji woke up crying at 1:30 this morning, completely inconsolable. He proceeded to vomit all over himself and our bed.

But yesterday we pretended it was summer.

Strawberries were on sale at the grocery store, so I bought two pounds this weekend. Yesterday morning I realized we hadn't touched them for two days, and winter strawberries don't last that long. I determined to make a strawberry pie.

Now, I'm not much of a baker. I once boiled a cake inside the oven. I'm not exaggerating. The boiled-over cake fell on the heating coils and caught on fire. We threw baking soda on the fire but missed most of the flame the first few throws. Our upstairs neighbors came down to ask if we were all right because they smelled burning. I had to admit that I lit the oven on fire, but everything was under control. But my love for pumpkin pie has driven me to experiment with pastries. I have made pumpkin pie every autumn for the last six years, but it wasn't until last summer that I decided to make strawberry rhubarb pie, peach pie, plum pie, and apple pie.

And nothing says summer like strawberries.

I don't have the simplest pie recipes, but my grandma's pie crust is delicious. My mom recently abandoned this family recipe for one that she said is "so easy to work with." Grandma's pie crust can get really sticky, so make sure to add plenty of flour before gently kneading. Also, this recipe works fine with shortening instead of butter, but margarine was a little bit of a mess.

My Grandma's Pie Crust
2+ cups flour
1 cup butter
a pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1Tablespoon vinegar
cold water
1 egg

Combine 2 cups of flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl.

Cut butter into the mixture until crumbly. Crack the egg into a liquid measuring cup. Add the vinegar. Fill the cup with cold water until it reaches 1/2 cup full. Mix together.

Add to flour and butter mixture. Add small amounts of flour to work with crust. Be gentle with the crust. The trick with pie crust is to handle it the least amount possible.

This is a sticky crust. To roll out, divide into two balls. Place one ball at a time in wax paper and roll flat with a rolling pin. Press into pie pan. Cut small slits into crust to keep from bubbling.

Strawberry Pie
2 pounds of sliced strawberries (about 8 cups)
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 lemon rind grated
1 Tablespoon of butter
2 pie crusts

In a large bowl combine sugar, flour, and lemon rind; mix with the strawberries. The mixture should be gooey. Place inside pie crust.

Cut small tabs of butter and place over the mixture. Top with other crust. Cut slits or shapes in the crust.

Bake at 425 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes. (If possible, cover the edges of the crust.)

Variations: I've made this same pie with peaches instead of strawberries. I originally made this as a strawberry rhubarb pie for my husband's uncle. The lemon rind makes the pie taste really fresh. Yum.

So to complement my unseasonal strawberry pie, I made a summer-inspired dinner. I used the leftover lemon (plus two others) to make frozen lemonade slushies. We feasted on grilled vegetable sandwiches, spinach and cheese baked beans, superfood salad, and sweet potato fries. 

My family was very happy to have a taste of summer despite the cold.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Mythic Life

Myth is one of the most misunderstood concepts in our vocabulary. We have, unfortunately, equated it with untruths or lies. A more generous definition is a system of outdated beliefs. Most of us willingly accept Norse, Greek, or Roman gods as mythology, but we don't see that our own beliefs fit within a mythological system.

I believe in a complex mythology that spans from the creation of the earth by the hand of Jehovah under the direction of His Father God. The mythos that inspires my day-to-day life is deeply rooted in beliefs of a premortal and postmortal existence with God the Father. Prophets, scriptures, and good people all contribute to my family and people's belief system or mythos.

N. Scott Momaday explored his family and people's mythos through his autoethnography The Way to Rainy Mountain. The book is laid out in three distinct sections: "The Setting Out," "The Going On," and "The Closing In." Within each section he tells stories, three parts at a time. The first part is the mythos, the experience or believe of the Kiowa. The second part gives a historical context, often drawn from anthropological records. The third part is his own. Here is a sample from the very beginning of Momaday's inspiring work:
You know, everything had to begin, and this is how it was: the Kiowas came one by one into the world through a hollow log. They were many more than now, but not all of them got out. There was a woman whose body was swollen up with child, and she got stuck in the log. After that, no one could get through, and that is why the Kiowas are a small tribe in number. They looked all around and saw the world. It made them glad to see so many things. They called themselves Kwuda, "coming out." 
They called themselves Kwuda and later Tepda, both of which mean "coming out." And later still they took the name Gaigwu, a name which can be taken to indicate something of which the two halves differ from each other in appearance. It was once a custom among Kiowa warriors that they cut their hair on the right side of the head only and on a line level with the lobe of the ear, while on the left they let the hair grow long and wore it in a thick braid wrapped in otter skin. "Kiowa" is indicated in sign language by holding the hand palm up and slightly cupped to the right side of the head and rotating it back and forth from the wrist. "Kiowa" is thought to derive from the softened Comanche form of Gaigwu.
I remember coming out upon the northern Great Plain in the late spring. There were meadows of blue and yellow wildflowers on the slopes, and I could see the still, sunlit plain below, reaching away out of sight. At first there is no discrimination in the eye, nothing but the land itself, whole and impenetrable. But then smallest things begin to stand out of the depths--herds and rivers and groves--and each of these has perfect being in terms of distance and of silence and of age. Yes, I thought, now I see the earth as it really is; never again will I see things as I saw them yesterday or the day before. 
Dr. Suzanne Lundquist, my master's thesis chair and a good friend, taught me how to bring students to an understanding of their own mythic experiences through this same pattern Momaday uses. She called it "Mythos, Logos, Ethos." Sue encouraged our small class to write our own three-part Mythos, Logos, Ethos stories. Here is one of mine:

After rising from intelligence and dust, man and woman dwelt within the Garden naked and unashamed. They ate freely of all of the fruit save the fruit of the tree in the midst of the Garden. God had warned them that death awaited them if they ate or even touched the skin of the fruit. Without curiosity or interest in the fruit of death, man and woman tarried in the garden until the beguiling serpent exposed the power of the fruit to the woman. “Naive one,” the serpent beckoned, “the fruit does not bring death but the knowledge of good and evil.” After she and her husband ate the fruit and opened their eyes, they discovered their nakedness and were ashamed. Desperately, they gathered fig leaves and sewed them into aprons to hide their sexuality. For once they understood good and evil, they discovered that nudity is fearful, shameful, and evil. When the man and woman later heard the voice of God in the garden, they hid their nakedness from their God. Having never before known opposition, their fear exposed them. “Who told thee that thou wast naked?” God asked, knowing His creations had transgressed. They were cast out; man and woman would suffer greatly on the earth outside of the garden.

Christian European colonists generally assessed a nation’s progress on few premises: agriculture and industry, technology, written communication, and  the traditional dress of its peoples. The elaborate costuming of Europeans during the Colonial Era reinforced the supremacy they had granted themselves over the “savages” of the so-called third world. Women in corsets and layers of petticoats signified the apex of civilization while men in starched collars and silk ties epitomized industrial progress. Peoples in arid nations whose clothing was scant and technology appeared less developed were categorized as primitive. The Primitive, the Oriental, the Noble Savage–all acted as symbolic binaries posed against the Civilized European. Exhibitions of “primitive” peoples whose torsos were bare especially fascinated the sexually repressed Victorians in England whose empire spanned the globe. In 18th and 19th century Europe nudity was equated with indecency, and the primitive was associated with sexual promiscuity. Sexual repression was indicative of devotion to God, as embodied by celibate Christian leaders and the image of the Holy Virgin Mother, and such repression maintained the binary between primitivism and civilization.

I am standing before the mirror, naked and ashamed. The skateboarding and playground scars haven’t yet faded; years later they will be lost in the translucence of my skin. The roots of my shame are buried under skin and scars, unattainable and untraceable. I run my fingers over my hips, wrists, and palms, begging for an indication of the origin of my disgust. My mother never told me to despise the curve in my waist, to feel unquestionably dissatisfied with my appearance, or to loathe the inexplicable sexual impulses that sometimes inflict themselves upon my being. Through my mother’s refusal to weigh herself at the doctor’s office, the emotional escapade of clothes shopping, and the mournful loss of her slim thighs, she shows me every day the value of body-hate. Periodic church lessons and firesides on sexual purity reinforce my shame. Standing naked in the steamy bathroom after a shower proves my indecency. Studying the whiteness of my hips and smooth, round belly feels sinful. I am fourteen, virginal, unintentionally preoccupied with sexuality whilst curiously detached from sensuality. The guilt that drives my life begs me to cover my nakedness, clothe my body, hide the white curves. I close my eyes and picture myself standing before God unclothed and unconcealed. Mortified, I reach for the towel. My God tenderly asks me, “Who told thee that thou wast naked?” I search the map of my blue veins under my skin, longing to find the source of my humiliation. My veins tangle like roots, for I have inherited the fruit, the fear, and the sorrows. The legacy unfolds in my flesh, yet I cannot remember the fall.
For two consecutive semesters I taught an experimental service learning section of first-year writing and incorporated The Way to Rainy Mountain into the curriculum as a way for students to displace themselves as the "givers" and reconsider their positions to be more inclusive of the people with whom they served. When students turned in their own stories, I was amazed. Here is one I've never forgotten:
2nd Corinthians 4:8-9 8.We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9. Persecuted, but not forsaken, cast down, but not destroyed. Proverbs 3:5-6 5. Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide, and suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers. Sometimes untreated depression and other struggles lead to unhealthy ways in which we try and deal with the hurt and pain we are feeling. We try and find anything that we can do to take away the hurt, painful feelings, or negative thoughts we are experiencing, such as self-injury. Self-injury is also termed self-mutilation, self-harm, or self-abuse. It can be defined as the deliberate, repetitive, impulsive, non-lethal harming of one’s self, including but not limited to 1) cutting, 2) burning, 3) picking or interfering with wound healing,4) infecting oneself, 5) punching/hitting self or objects, 6) inserting objects in to skin, 7) bruising or breaking bones, and 8) some forms of hair pulling. While these behaviors pose serious risks, they may be symptoms of a problem that can be treated.  Experts estimate that 4% of the population struggle with self-injury. It has the same occurrence between males and females, even though in popular culture it appears to be more prevalent among girls. Those who struggle with self-injury may have many different reasons for their behavior, some of which may be feelings of emptiness, inability to understand or express what they are feeling, loneliness, fear, past abuse, depression, as well as many others. Self-injury, is sometimes a way to cope with emotional pain and suffering.  While self-injury may be someone’s way to cope with or relieve painful or hard-to-express feelings, relief is always temporary, and usually only perpetuates a destructive cycle that continues the struggle. This cycle often means that those who do not get help can become more depressed and shameful, adding to the pain and need for relief, thus perpetuating the cycle.
My battle began in high school. The acrimonious remarks to my face and behind my back from catty girls shattered my already fragile self esteem. Turmoil raged in my life, and I was out of control. I told myself I was searching for answers, but God seemed to have turned His back on me. I had to abate my inner pain, or else I was going to explode. So, I turned to physical pain to lessen my emotional pain. The pressure of the cool metal from the knife against my wrist was a welcome relief. Whenever life became Hell, I would turn to cutting. I was proud and I convinced myself that God didn’t care and I didn’t need help, that I was in control. I felt that God had let me get past my breaking point, and so I had to deal with my depression on my own. I felt ashamed that I had turned to such a harsh form of what in my mind was relief. I thought that I could stop cutting myself at any given time. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My body soon started to crave that physical pain when things in my life went wrong. It was a form of addiction. I was becoming baneful to my own self.  I had to find inner halcyon before it was too late. I swallowed my pride and turned my whole soul over to my Heavenly Father. I begged him for the help I so desperately needed. My parents became lachrymose as I admitted my problem to them, yet they supported me fully in my journey to recovery.  God blessed me with the strength to overcome my battle with self injury. I acknowledged that I needed His help, and he assisted me in my darkest hour.  God will let us get cast down, but not destroy us.
Each of us has a complex mythic life. Our inner lives. We can take time to explore our own mythologies to better perceive that which drives our choices, disappointments, and hopes.

Please share your own Mythos, Logos, Ethos. Even if it's only a glimpse into your mythic life.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Snakes and Spice

When Boo was born, I was determined that she wouldn't just be a girly girl. I had been a girly girl, but that's what I was expected to be. My sister could throw a baseball like a guy and run faster than most of the girls in her grade. During PE softball, I made dandelion chains while waiting for my turn at bat.

But I decided that my daughter would be taught that girls and boys can share interests and talents. She has been given tea sets and cars, Batman action figures and Barbie dolls.

Unfortunately, I can't get the Enlightened Parent of the Twenty-first Century award just yet. Even though she scooted a Batmobile around as a toddler, seven-year-old Boo told me recently that she's "just not that interested in her Batman toys anymore." Or her Star Wars toys. Or the box of cars that sits in the top of her closet.

In fact, she spends most of her playtime with dress up, jewelry, play food, and baby dolls.

What has surprised me, however, is that my seventeen-month-old son has gained his education from his big sister. Once he started scooting and crawling, he learned to reach for one of Boo's bright pink tea cups. Ji would turn the cup every direction, examining it with his wide eyes and slobbery mouth. As he became more mobile, he began to spend most of his playtime cooking with Boo's pots and pans and plastic foods. He had become jealous of Boo's attention to her babies, so we even bought him his own baby doll.

I'd like to say we're raising a sensitive boy who is all cuddles and sweetness. However, Ji's an adventurer who climbs on the furniture, jumps down the concrete steps, barks at the neighborhood dogs, and has torn his favorite books apart. He's also much more interested in that Batmobile than his sister ever was. People keep assuring me that my son's fearlessness can be wholly attributed to his sex.

I'm not sure what all of this means for gender roles. I don't believe that girls are "sugar and spice and everything nice" because I've known a lot of girls who were snotty and mean. Boys can't really be made of "snakes and snails and puppy dog tails" because that's just disgusting. Snakes are cool. Snails are okay. But puppy dog tails? Really? I've never shaken the image of dozens of little puppies' tails severed to mix into a giant pot of boy.

I heard recently about a couple in England who decided to raise their child as gender neutral for the first five years. The mother called gender stereotyping "stupid" and compared gender roles to horoscopes in limiting personality characteristics. Considering the number of times "like a girl" was used as an insult against me as a child, part of me wants to agree with her. But, I just can't believe it. I'm too attached to my femininity. I feel like it is most of what makes me who I am. And it seems to be the same for my daughter.

Boo has finally decided that pink is no longer her favorite color. (I'm a little relieved. So much pink can really get to a parent.) She's decided that she prefers turquoise. She assured me that "there are no girl or boy colors; they're all just colors."

At least there's something in that.

Friday, February 17, 2012

What the Tofu?

My father-in-law recently sent me this joke:

A man in the grocery store noticed a woman pick up a package of extra-firm tofu and put it in her basket.
"Excuse me, but what do you do with that?" he asked.
"I usually just put it in the fridge, forget about it, and throw it away when it expires," she said.
"Oh," he said, "that's what my wife does. I was hoping you had a better recipe."

I remember the first time I ate tofu. My friend was an inconsistent vegan; that is, she sometimes cheated on her veganism by going out with a milkshake or spending an evening with a grilled cheese sandwich. We were at her house one afternoon when she brought out some tofu, mixed it into a soup, and let it simmer.The soup may have just been bad, but the tofu made it worse. After a few spoonfuls of the slippery, slimy mess, I pretended I wasn't hungry. A grilled cheese with a milkshake would have been heavenly at that moment.

Everyone says, "tofu absorbs whatever flavor you cook it with!" like tofu is the food equivalent to lead andwith a little alchemyit can transform into garlic sauce, pancakes, or chocolate mousse. But, I have eaten enough mucousy tofu to tell you that isn't true. Tofu can easily ruin a dish.

So, what do you do you do with tofu?

Look toward Asia, go farther, yes, stop there in Thailand. I've been to every Thai restaurant in the valley, and I know that some cooks plop in uncooked tofu at the last minute. I don't return to those restaurants. Others, however, bring out crisp, spicy cubes of tofu dancing in a sea of chili-spiced coconut milk with potatoes, onions, and cashews.

Bom from Aiyara taught me the difference. "Do you want your tofu fried?" she asked.

At last, it all made sense. And now that I know the secret, I will share it with all of you.

Thai Curry

One package of extra firm tofu
Two large white sweet potatoes
One large onion
Two cloves garlic
Fresh or dried basil
One bunch of asparagus
One large sweet bell pepper or six mini sweet bell peppers
A handful of cashews
Two 16 ounce cans coconut milk (I use light coconut milk and it's lovely)
Prepared Thai curry paste (like Thai Kitchen or something from the grocery store)
Ground fresh chili paste (Chinese style)
Flour and sesame seeds (about 1/2 cup)
Olive oil or vegetable oil for frying

Drain the tofu. Place on a plate and put some weight on it to squeeze out excess liquid (I usually put a stoneware bowl on it).
While the tofu drains completely, scrub the sweet potatoes. Cut off any blemishes. I don't peel potatoes because the skins are full of nutrients. Or because I'm lazy. Cut the sweet potatoes into cubes. Heat a shallow pool of oil in a frying pan. Add the sweet potatoes and stir frequently.
Slice the tofu in half laterally to make smaller cubes. Cut tofu into about one-half-inch cubes. Roll the tofu cubes in the flour and sesame seed mixture until each cube is covered. Remove the fried sweet potatoes from the oil and drain. Add more oil if necessary. Add tofu to the oil and let the tofu cubes become crispy on each side before turning them over.
Slice the onion into long strips. Crush the garlic. Chop the fresh basil. Trim the ends of the asparagus and cut into one-inch pieces. Slice the bell peppers in long strips. (I suggest red, gold, or yellow bell pepper with the sweet potatoes. I recently used six mini sweet peppers, and it was delicious.)
Remove the crispy tofu from the oil and let it drain. If necessary, pour out the excess oil in your frying pan. Add the onion. Simmer about two minutes and add the garlic and basil. When I use dry basil, I will just sprinkle a layer over the onions. If using fresh basil, add in about four chopped leaves. Simmer a couple more minutes. Add the peppers and asparagus. Toss in the cashews. Stir it around with all of the joy a stir fry deserves.
Shake the coconut milk really well. If you don't, the thick stuff will stick inside the bottom of the can. Pour in both cans of coconut milk. Add in a couple of teaspoons of curry paste. This recipe is probably better with red curry paste. Stir the paste in really well.
Stir the sweet potatoes and tofu into the curry.
Increase the heat with spoonfuls of fresh ground chili paste. You know how much spice you like, so you'll need to taste it. I like spicy (but I can't put in too much spice because of my children), so I'll add in three or four teaspoons. Stir it well.
Let the mixture simmer long enough for the vegetables to absorb the flavor.
Serve over white long grain rice. Jasmine rice is recommended with Thai food, but we always use Basmati rice.
Variations: use regular potatoes instead of sweet potatoes. With a green curry paste, use green bell pepper. Mix in your favorite chopped vegetables. (I do not recommend broccoli. Broccoli makes the curry taste kind of rotten.)

 Maybe next time you pick up tofu in the grocery store you won't just put it in the fridge, let it expire, and throw it away. Or, more likely, you'll actually buy the stuff because now you know what you can do with it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Shape of You, the Shape of Me

The shape of you,
The shape of me,
The shape of everything I see . . .
There's something magical in Dr. Seuss. Whether you are exploring decimated landscapes with the busy-handed Once-ler or walking along the beach with a star-bellied Sneetch,  Dr. Seuss delivers creatures no one else can.

Like the BLOGG . . .

So, why should I write a blog?

I wish I knew.

Here are my theories:

1) My husband, James, and I have been working on promoting literature by Latter-day Saint writers through the Mormon Lit Blitz and an upcoming web magazine. Until James and I met I wasn't too invested in Mormon Arts, but he's gotten me into promoting good work by LDS writers. Maybe this will be a good space for developing my own writing as well as encouraging others' writing.

2) The recent Republican presidential primaries have inspired me to breech my political neutrality in the classroom (I can't help but call Newt Gingrich "greasy") and online.

3) The school system is getting me down. My seven-year-old recently started half-day home school, so we can get her reading accuracy, timed subtraction, and writing process up to date. It's an adventure in balance.

4) My shower musings are constantly running through my head long after I'm ready for the day.

5) Oh, crap. Am I melding into my husband?