I know that someday you'll find better things.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Don't Do the Math

I fill up my gas tank every other Friday, and I try not to think about the cost. Try being the operative word.

Yesterday evening, it cost $65.02.  

Gas prices may rise and fall, but the price of $3.45 per gallon seemed like a reasonable average, until you start to do the math.

Annually, that's $1,690.52.

That's for a normal fortnight, just routine errands. Nothing special or out of the ordinary. The only big thing I do during that time period is take Mia to her dad's on visitation weekends, which is 70 miles round-trip. 

(How did I make that commute daily for three years? With an infant in a carseat?!)

Now, $1,690 a year is shocking on its own, but it's even more startling when you factor in other things. You know, like the tolltag. 

For part (not all or even most) of the journey to Mia's dad's house, I use the Dallas North Tollway.

Because the speed limit is 70.
Because unlike all the other roads, it is not under construction.

But mostly I take the DNT because no one else does.
It is a major time-saver during Friday afternoon/evening traffic, and time is money. 

Time on the road is gas money.

This one little jaunt on the first, third, and fifth weekend is a well-spent $40 per month, which works out to $480 per year.

Now we're up to $2,170.

Then you must consider insurance ($103/2 per month = $618/year)


Let's not forget annual taxes for registration renewal ($65) and the inspection renewal ($40). Plus how many oil changes, three? Probably $100. Three adventures through the carwash? Add another, oh, $18?

$3,011 each year.

Without a car payment.
Without repairs or even new tires.

And that's just ONE of our vehicles-- you know the Big Pig guzzles way more, which is why we try to use it less.

But let's multiply that annual figure by two, anyway.


That's twelve percent of our annual income.
Pretty hefty for two "paid off" vehicles.

Depending on where you live and how much time you spend in your vehicle, your situation might be even more extreme.

According to public relations manager Michael Green of AAA, whose interview with 24/7 Wall St was referenced in a March 2014 USA Today article entitled "10 States with the Highest Gas Prices", price per gallon is largely influenced by proximity to oil refineries. 

Generally speaking, the further you are, the more you will pay. 

Since there are no operable refineries east of New Jersey, the Northeast is particularly affected by this cruel reality.

On the other hand, we Texans have it good.

You know who doesn't have it good? These states, at least at the time that the article was published.

10. Pennsylvania ($3.64)
9. Maine ($3.64)
8. Indiana ($3.66)
7. Michigan ($3.72)
6. Illinois ($3.76)
5. Connecticut ($3.77)
4. New York ($3.78)
3. Alaska ($3.84)
2. California ($3.97)
1. Hawaii ($4.17)

The data and resources out there are fascinating. I could easily spend days immersing myself in all there is to learn and know about this topic. Look at these cool tidbits from the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge site.

Well, no surprises there.

It's amazing that there's only a five cent difference from last year, isn't it?

Meanwhile... Hawaii, wow! Four dollars and seventeen cents per gallon. Can you imagine?

Wait, don't imagine.

And whatever you do, don't do the math.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Power to Choose (.org)

Not all electricity is created equally.
Nor is it billed equally.
But by golly, the juice that lights my home and your home and just about everything else on the grid is one and the same.

It's almost an insult that the companies make us feel like we have a choice, seducing us with their emotionally-charged advertising and fooling us into thinking that we can make a powerful and positive change to the planet with our selections of plans and providers.

Watch this youtube video from Green Mountain Energy and you'll see what I mean: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6n-B9gJdT-E&feature=youtu.be

Let's see if I can embed it here (great for computer-based readers, but not usually successful for mobile device users)

Always a sucker for planet-related propaganda, I've historically attempted to select plans which are at least partially comprised of renewable resources, our primary option being wind. 

We have a lot of wind here. I think it's because there are so many open, flat places-- there's nothing to slow it down, and like a cartoon snowball careening downhill, it just gets bigger and more powerful as it proceeds. 

Might as well put it to good use.

On the giant list of choices, renewable plans abound. They seemed like the responsible choice-- my little nod to the environmental activist I always thought I'd grow up to be before I was waylaid by everyday life in suburbia.

Sure, those plans are generally a tad more expensive than the non-renewable plans, but it's for the good of the earth. 

Mother Nature.

Not so long ago, I found out that when you select a renewable plan, you're not actually receiving 100% wind-powered energy. You're not getting fifty, ten, or even six percent wind energy. 

You're getting the same electricity that's piped into every other home in your neighborhood, except you are paying a premium for it.

Maybe you knew this.
I didn't.

There's something to do with not being able to store it or convert wind-power into house-power, or pipe it across great distances. Some such hindrance-- I can't remember. I tried to look it up, but the search topic is riddled by big business and bitter bloggers. It was challenging to extract precisely what was happening and why. 

After reading several articles on this subject, here's what I have concluded:

By paying an increased rate for a percentage of wind-powered energy, what you are effectively doing is using your dollars to say, "I support this idea, and I sincerely hope that someone, somewhere is able to benefit from it."

Much like sponsoring a child in Africa for just pennies a day.
Or purchasing and registering a star in the solar system to honor a loved one.
Or buying a paper shamrock at the grocery store and hoping that your full five-dollar donation finds its way to Jerry Lewis and his friends at the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation.

But there are other more financially responsible ways that you can show your support.
You can send an email to a congressman. 
Any congressman. 
All the congressmen.
For free!

So as I sit here, examining the options for my next electricity contract, I'm going to choose solely on cost. 

For the first time ever, I'm not going to let myself be persuaded by that billowing, arrogant bully.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Neighborhood Narc

The property appraisal people really need to develop a better system, because when tenacious junkyard dogs like me get hold of inequality and injustice, things are going to get ugly the moment I enter the arena. 

I am normally a peaceful person. Neurotic but peaceful. I keep to myself and take care of my business. Still, lurking deep down within is a powerful trait, normally dormant, which 99% of the people I encounter will never have to witness.

But it's there. 
I am my father's daughter.
We don't let go.
We take hold with our teeth, square our shoulders, and dare the red tape to leash us.

I'm not saying I'll go into the appraisal office with guns blazing. I couldn't if I wanted to-- they make you check 'em at the door before you go through the metal detectors. 

Instead, I will use my arsenal of data, and I can guarantee they've never seen anyone so well-prepared for battle.

Unfortunately, there will be collateral damage. I'll have to polarize my neighborhood in the process. 

You see, I have discovered that of 23 identical homes in my immediate vicinity, 13 have been incorrectly assessed for square footage. We are paying for more than we have. We are paying more than our next door-neighbors.

I have also discovered 9 unregistered barns, 6 unregistered covered porches, and two unregistered carports.

Six of the appraisal office's own comps aren't consistent with the realtor's advertisements of the homes, and these are substantial discrepancies. Seven-hundred square feet of additional living space discrepancies.

And that's just the exteriors. I haven't scoped out the interiors yet, but I'm betting there's a fair amount of updated flooring and granite counter-tops.

So, if pressed, I may have to dust off the binoculars or invent some sort of premise to gain entry to these homes. Don't worry, I've been studying up on cover-stories with the help of my Private Investigation for Dummies books. Plural.

No joke.

I resent the appraisal office for turning me into such a sleazy busy-body.

I don't want to spy on my neighbors. I already know more about them from this archaeological exploration through the property tax data than I ever wanted to know.

Nobody wants to be a tattle-tale, either, but come on.

This past winter, I sealed the back door with duct-tape because the draft situation was so out of control. We filled knee-socks with kitty litter to create draft snakes for the windows.

Currently I'm creating a radiant barrier out of aluminum foil to try to regulate our electricity costs against the summer surge. 

Our counters and floors are the original 1987 tile!

There's no way our home is worth $25,000 more than the 22 other homes in the same quarter-mile radius.

We already knew the neighborhood had rats. (Remember Rat Attack?)
It's sad that I've been forced to become one of them.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Jimmy and The Emails

"Are you ready for your test?" Hannah asked.

"I'm not sure. I still get most of the matrix problems wrong, but I've gotten really good at Jimmy and The Emails. Go ahead, quiz me on it."

"Jimmy and The Emails... I'm not familiar with that one," she said.

"Jimmy receives an average of 22 new emails each day," I recited. "However, he does not check his email while on vacation. Prior to his first day of vacation," I continued, "he had 9 unread messages. How many messages would he have on the nth day of vacation?"


"Nth. It's sort of like X, but worse, because it's even more mysterious. It could be anything. It could be everything."

"So... 22x+9?" 

Jeez. That was fast.

"Well...yes. But it's much more complicated when you have to write it down. There are 'A's and subscripts and 'd's and all kinds of stuff. When you have to write it down, it's quite challenging."

Hannah nodded supportively and said nothing. It was a very wise decision.


Apparently ANYONE of ANY age can be asked to solve a 'Jimmy and The Emails' situation.

Look at my first-grader's homework!

And that Mia, she tackled it up to ten without so much as a peep of assistance.

But the 100th day part was messing with her head. Well, her patience, at least.

"Mo-om, I don't want to do this ninety more times. I want to go outside and play!"

"Mia, today is your lucky day. Mommy is a pro at these things. Here, I'll teach you all about it. It's just like Jimmy and The Emails, except it's a bird and seeds.

I didn't take her through the whole 'A' and 'Nth' and 'd' thing, because I didn't want to scar her for life. Instead, we went in through the back door by analyzing her existing pattern. It literally took two minutes to knock it out. 

Boom. Done.

"That was easy," Mia announced, scampering toward the door.

See? I told you I was a pro at Jimmy and The Emails. First grade homework no longer intimidates me now that I am an accomplished Collegiate Algebraean. 

(Algebrite? Algebrit? I'll think of something.)


"Mom, we need to take another look at the Chickadee problem. My teacher says we didn't do it right."


"We did it right. We did it right. All you need to do is explain to her," --deep breath, deep breath-- "that this is an arithmetic progression which is inherently recursive, and that you used the starting term, the nth term, and the difference-- in this case, a constant of +3-- to solve it through algebraic reasoning."

This is just one of the many, many, many reasons why I hate homework, but gosh darnit, we did it right.

Yes, it is preposterous that the little bird would eat 298 seeds in one afternoon on Day 100, but one should not get dazzled by the details.

Incidentally, it is not preposterous that Jimmy would have 229 unopened emails in his inbox after a ten day vacation.

That's just how math is. Sometimes it makes no sense at all, and sometimes it makes all the sense in the world. Sometimes it is confusing on paper and logical out loud. Sometimes someone else understands it immediately, while it takes you seven tries to pass one college algebra course.

Perhaps that was the true purpose of Mia's homework assignment--  to de-sensitize kids from an expectation of logic while they're still young and impressionable.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

La Famille en Francais

"My father's name is Russ. He is funny and bald," Hannah translated. She was practicing for her speech about her family for French class.

Emphasis on the adjectives.

"What does it say about me?" Mia begged.

"Hmmm... let's see...'My sister Mia is cute and smart.'"

"Oh, oh! Do me next! What about me?" asked Caleb.

"My brother Caleb is ten and mean," Hannah read aloud.

"Really, Hannah? Really?" Caleb was unusually indignant. I thought he was going to stomp his foot on the floor for emphasis.

"Well," Hannah stalled, scrambling for a suitable reason, "I'd already used a bunch of other adjectives, and we're not allowed to repeat any..."

"Brown hair, Hannah. You could have said, 'My brother Caleb has brown hair.'"

This was a surprise to everyone, because Caleb routinely claims to have never heard of the grammatical concept called adjectives.

Those who are familiar with this denial technique might describe his behavior as deceptive.

Monday, May 19, 2014


Remember two weeks ago when I was Dinnertime WWM? (That's World's Worst Mom, the acronym of dishonor and underachievement.)

Well, last week, I tried to make up for it, which as it turns out was terrible timing considering that my Algebra final exam was on Wednesday and we were leaving for Boston for my sister's marriage the following morning. 

And let's not forget the whole Property Appraisal hoopla.

But, guilt is a powerful motivator, and I was motivated to try--really try--to redeem myself for the previous week's mealtime transgressions.

So, here is what we had:

World's most elaborate at-home weekday salad, featuring all kinds of things like sliced hard-boiled eggs, bacon, deli meat, lots of sliced vegetables, etc.
Dessert: sliced mango
Health Factor: Great, perhaps a little protein-heavy, but whatever
Effort Required: Way too much, but this might be because I was also trying to simultaneously prepare Wednesday's meal.

I forgot to give Russ and the kids the bolillo loaves to accompany their salads, which led to "World's most elaborate sandwiches" in their lunchboxes on Tuesday. 
Oh well.

Teriyaki pork kebabs with grilled vegetables served over rice
Dessert: grilled pineapple
Health Factor: Pretty darn good
Effort Required: Good grief! From here forward, this will be reserved for Saturdays and summer!

This was supposed to be the easiest meal, since Russ prepared and marinated the meat Monday night. The plan was for him to take the lead on this meal so that I could prepare/obsess for Wednesday's final exam. I'm not sure how things spun out of control so quickly, but it might be the latest we've ever served dinner. 


Did you know that grilling pineapple seems to quadruple the sweetness-factor? It nearly sent us into sugar-shock, but the kids didn't seem to mind.

Cottleston pie, blanched asparagus, sliced tomatoes, remaining lone bolillo loaf 
Dessert: sliced cantaloupe
Health Factor: Better than fast food
Effort Required: Manageable. Reasonable, even, as long as you're not trying to prepare it at the same time as another meal (and quiz the kids on their spelling words, and sign permission slips, and...) 

Cottleston Pie is one of those great flexible meals where you can substitute out just about any (and almost all) of the ingredients for whatever you happen to have on hand. The only annoying thing is that by the time you put everything into the baking dish, you've already done all the work of sauteing the elements that require cooking, namely the beef, bacon, and onions. 

To then have to bake it until hot and bubbly is an insult to efficiency.

This week, I discovered that you can combine all the ingredients into the crockpot, put on the lid, and shove the whole thing into the refrigerator to be re-heated later in the week, which worked out exactly the way I hoped it would.

If you were to seek out this recipe, you'd have the best luck searching for "Calico Bean Casserole. "Cottleston Pie" is our family's name for this casserole, based on the poem by A.A. Milne of Winnie the Pooh fame.

Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie,
A fly can't bird, but a bird can fly.
Ask me a riddle and I reply
Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie.

Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie,
Why does a chicken? I don't know why.
Ask me a riddle and I reply
Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie.

Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie,
A fish can't whistle and neither can I.
Ask me a riddle and I reply
Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie

Last time I shared a cost-breakdown, so to keep things fair, I'll do it again. I do need to include a few disclaimers, though. 

First of all, there were some things that we already had on hand that I will need to estimate (like rice). There are other things, such as the ingredients for the teriyaki marinade, that we had on hand which would be a complete pain to try to evaluate for cost. Especially since we use tamari instead of soy sauce, brown sugar instead of white, balsamic vinegar instead of white, etc. I will include a link to the recipe, though, because we have thoroughly enjoyed this marinade on beef and chicken, and now, pork, too! 

I think this is the one we use. It says at least two hours, but we've had the best luck marinating it overnight. (click here for marinade recipe)  

Also, I'll quote the fresh fruit price as if it were for a single amount, when in reality I purchased double of everything you'll see. This is because I was at Sprouts-- discouragingly-iffy when it comes to the freshness of the fruit. You never know when you'll get a rotten melon, and it's happened to us enough times that we've learned it's just easier to double up.

Each of these meals yielded enough leftovers to create subsequent lunches even after feeding a family of five (including three forever-ravenous children ages 14, 10, and 7).

World's Most Elaborate At-Home Weekday Salad:
- one head of red lettuce: $.88
- two sliced heirloom vine tomatoes: $.70
- cucumber, sliced: $.50
- green pepper, sliced: $.50
- 1/4 of a sliced red onion: $.20? 
- half a package of uncured bacon: $1.75 (You can get uncured bacon super-cheap if you buy at the right time, but you usually have to buy a LOT of it to get the deal. Fortunately it freezes well!)
- six eggs (so, half a dozen): $1.75
- quarter-pound deli turkey (Boar's Head Oven Gold): $2.25
- quarter-pound seasoned roast beef (Boar's Head, grownups only): $2.98
- quarter-pound deli smoked ham (Kroger's Private Selection-- good quality but still house-brand. May contain gluten, but it's for the kids, anyway): $2.08
- bolillos (8-count from the bakery section. Pretend we had four that night): $.86
- mangoes (Pretend we had two, not four): $1.00
Total cost: $15.45

Teriyaki Pork Kebabs:
- 3-ish pounds of centercut porkloin: $5.01
- one bag of those cute little red, orange, and yellow peppers: $1.99
- one green pepper $.50
- one red onion: $.80
- one cup of rice: $.30
- one pineapple: $2.50
Total cost: $11.10

Cottleston Pie:
- 3/4 of a red onion: $.60
- 1.37 pounds of ground beef (grass-fed, grass-finished, which explains the price): $6.84
- the other half a package of uncured bacon: $1.75
- one can baked beans: $1.58
- one can kidney beans: $.68
- one can black beans: $.86
- two big bunches of asparagus: $3.59
- two sliced heirloom vine tomatoes: $.70
- the last lonely bolillo: $.22
- one cantaloupe: $1.50
Total cost: $18.32

So that's Good Mommy dinner week for you! Now, on the heels of a whirlwind trip up North, we've returned to an (intentionally) empty fridge, exhaustion, and an utter lack of motivation.

I am seriously considering making fish-sticks and macaroni and cheese for dinner tonight.

Don't worry, I'll redeem myself next week...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I Fought the Law

It's the magical time of year that happens after Mother's Day and before Memorial Day. It's the 'Protest Your Property Tax' window, and you don't want to miss it.

Traditionally, we do miss it, and those sneaky scallywags jack up our property value appraisal because they think we aren't looking. 

And that's because we aren't looking. 

May is a very busy month for everyone. Because, you know, Mother's Day. And Field Day. And Teacher Appreciation Week. And Class Picnic Day. And Mom-Did-You-Remember-I-Need-a-Baton-to-Twirl-in-the-School-Parade. 


Usually we realize we've missed the protest window around October.
Dang it!

But not this year.
This year, I am ready for them. The question is, are they ready for me?

The city--or maybe the county--makes the process painfully easy. The send their appraisal, along with three additional sheets of paper loaded with helpful tips about your rights and what to do if you'd like to contest their assessment. Most of this is in teeny tiny font, because there is so much helpful information.

(Front Side)
(Back Side)

There are a few things that are not in flea-sized font, and these are perhaps the most helpful gems of all:

To request an Informal Review or ask questions:

Now, that's just the requesting part, which if done in person is usually finalized right then and there. Here's where things get a little slippery, because if you request by mail or by phone, then they reserve the right to respond within approximately 15 business days.

I don't know how many business days are in May, but I think it might be around 20. Fewer if you exclude Cinco de Mayo and Memorial Day.

And watch out, because "If you have not received a written response to your informal review before the protest deadline, you may want to deliver your written protest (postmarked on or before the protest deadline OR hand-delivered to our office on or before the protest deadline) to reserve your rights to an Appraisal Review Board hearing. The Appraisal Review Board will NOT accept protests filed via facsimile or email. An informal review does not reserve your rights to an Appraisal Review Board Hearing."

Please note, the menacing use of underline and bold are from the source and not the messenger.

Now, if you are going to make the drive up there to wait in person (typically 45 minutes, usually longer) they recommend that you pack accordingly.

"Please provide contracts, comparable sales data, appraisals, loan documents, repair estimates, photographs, and any other information you deem relevant."

Comparable sales data and appraisals? Don't let that discourage you. This can be easily obtained if you follow the steps from my handy checklist:

Step 1. Use satellite imaging from google to view your neighborhood. Identify your own roof-line, and then try to identify nearby homes with similar roof-lines. These could become your comps. (Pro Tip: The satellite imaging is strikingly clear, so try not to become distracted by neighbors' yard-clutter. Make a mental note to never become the neighbor with yard-clutter.)

Step 2. With candidates in mind, drive around your neighborhood slowly so as to verify that the front and sides of the potential matches are consistent with the basic format of your own. Stay out of the mailman's way-- that guy is on a mission! Stick a post-it note to your steering wheel and attempt to record the house numbers. This may sound tricky, but it can be done. Not done well, just done. (Pro Tip: Try not to write down any words, just the numbers, or you will drive yourself crazy wondering what the heck a "pestaley" is.)


Step 3. After you return home, use a real-estate website like Zillow to confirm the house numbers, just in case you can't read your own handwriting. Next (and unfortunately, this is every bit as creepy and stalker-ish as it sounds) log on to the appraisal district's website and run a property search on the candidates. Confirm square footage. Record important data, like the year their home was built, what they paid in taxes last year, and their home's current and previous appraisal values. What was the appraised value of their land lot? Do they have a pool? Covered porch? Tool shed? What years were these improvements acquired?  Is there anything unusual in the pattern of appraisal growth or decline? Has the property had an unusual amount of turnover in ownership? (Pro Tip: print out this data, since you'll need to use it as proof at the appraisal office (you know, the office that created the data...) And, since you're already in front of the computer, create a google spreadsheet of all those elements, so that you can compare and contrast on the go.)

Step 4. Now that you're armed and ready, wade through the fine print of the paperwork that arrived in the mail until you find the directions for filing an online protest. Aha! If you are eligible, you won't have to drive to the main office two towns away to wait a minimum of 45 minutes. 

Oh, sweet relief. 

What's this? An opportunity to explain why you feel your property has been inaccurately appraised in 1024 characters or less?

It might be a trap. 
Proceed carefully.

(And do spaces count as characters?)

Pro Tip: Count the spaces as characters, but aim to use every last character to really demonstrate your commitment to this matter. Draft your explanation in Microsoft Word, and monitor your character-count often. Revise thoroughly. Revise so thoroughly that your login status with the appraisal website expires four or five times. Aim for a light, friendly tone, as these folks probably get a lot of nasty-grams from the people who are tired of their taxes being jacked up year after year after year.

Here is a 1024 character sample:

Hi! There haven’t been any real improvements to our property in at least as long as we've lived here (and possibly since the house was built!) The floors and counter-tops are made of the original tile that was popular in 1987. Our pool, also original, is showing its age. Renovations/repairs would cost more than building a new one. This winter, we lost several backyard trees and much shade and privacy. Ice destroyed most of our landscaping efforts, too. We tried to replace it with grass, but with the water restrictions, it's been a failure so far. It's pretty sad, actually. We love our home, and we try to take care of it-- it's very clean-- but I was shocked when I compared the data to other neighborhood homes (with pools) with our exact floorplan and builder year. Ours has been appraised much higher than similar properties for the last 3 years (and I know we haven't purchased THAT much duct-tape!) I hope you'll consider reducing our appraisal value, and I’ll happily provide any photos or data to convince you.

Bonus Pro Tip: Take out the parts about the fire-ants, crabgrass, and the neighbor's yappy dog, Julio.

Step 5. Wait. (That's the step I'm currently experiencing.) Pro Tip: While you wait, take pictures to verify your claims. The more pathetic, the better!

Because tile never goes out of style, right?

Pay particular attention to the pool tiles and trees...
(or lack thereof)

Grass (or lack thereof)

I will update you as things progress.
If things progress.
And they better progress.

Update! 5/14/14, 9:04 a.m.: They made their first offer: reducing the appraisal by $5,146 (which leaves essentially $25,000 worth of duct-tape in the past three years.) 

I don't think that's going to work out for me. 

Time to consult the ultra-fine print. 
And maybe take more pathetic pictures...

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mother's Fashion Tips

According to my mother, there are only three things you need to know. And one extra thing I need to know.

1. If you wear monochromatic outfits, you can get away with owning fewer articles of clothing. Stick to black-on-black, and people will usually forget what you wear altogether. Win-win.
2. Tan cellulite is always more attractive than pale cellulite.
3. You can always be blonder. Always.

Oh! Almost forgot:

4. For Pete's sake, it wouldn't kill you to put on a little makeup every now and then.

Happy belated Mother's Day, Mom!

See you at the airport on Thursday-- I'll be the very blonde, surprisingly tan one dressed in black and wearing cherry Chapstick, tinted sunscreen, and maybe some mascara and/or eyeliner (I've even been practicing!)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

When did Gluten-Free become the enemy?

I don't watch news or any live TV. (Big surprise, right? Remember the Lightning Mike incident?) The majority of my world, national, local, and social news updates arrive via Facebook, and lately I have noticed some ugliness about gluten-free lifestyles.

Nothing? I beg to differ.

See down there at the bottom-- "diet crazes"
 Diet craze? Really? Why?

Did you know that a gluten-free diet is trendy? I didn't.  And for the life of me, I cannot figure out who would elect to live this way to be hip, because let me tell you, it is a tedious and expensive inconvenience.

But I do it cheerfully,  because the alternative is far worse.

Long about four years ago, my health started going downhill for no apparent reason whatsoever. It started with pain and lots of it. Stomach, back, hips, shoulders, head. Almost everything hurt.

For several months, the pain in my side was constant and severe. Tests revealed it was not a gall bladder issue.

Minor issues were discovered during a laparoscopic probe-- ruptured ovarian cysts, infected something-or-other. Nothing permanent or explanatory of all the issues, though.

Sometimes, right in the middle of the school day and often mid-lesson at the front of the classroom, my whole body would go numb from the waist down. 

That was really weird. 

Then there were the mystery tumors flanking my spine. But, tests revealed they were benign.

I'd frequently run high fevers--102, 103, 104 for up to a week at a time, but the only thing ever detected was strep-- 9 bouts in 11 months during my final year of teaching.

The joint pain was probably the worst, though. Someone on a website (back then, I read a lot of websites all night long because the pain kept me awake) described the joint pain as having someone tear off your arms and legs, pour in glass and gravel, and then pop your limbs back into place. This was mostly accurate, but in order to truly recreate my sensation, one would probably have to pour in gasoline and toss in a lit match before corking the limbs into their respective sockets.

When nothing definitive emerged from the medical testing, we chalked the whole thing up to stress-- stress compromising the immune system.

It hurt to stand. It hurt to sit. It hurt to sleep. The greatest relief I could obtain came from flopping over the rectangular ottoman, knees on the ground, arms dangling off the front edge. It may have looked foolish, but the comfort it brought was worth it.

One day, I saw the Arthur Boorman video about how DDP yoga transformed his life.(http://youtu.be/qX9FSZJu448)

To be clear, my situation was not nearly as severe as his, but I thought that if someone in a dramatically worse condition could improve so dramatically, maybe it could help me, too.

Desperate for relief (but mostly because I am impulsive and easily influenced) I placed the order. 

The DVDs arrived with a suggested meal plan (they almost always do, don't they?) and this one was pretty consistent with the paleo diet, a clean-eating regime of pure ingredients in their most unadulterated form. 

Zero processing, zero preservatives, pretty much zero compound ingredients. Meats, vegetables, fruit, nuts. Oh, and little-to-no dairy. 

That was the worst part for me-- I love cheese and yogurt.

But, I wanted to give it the college try. If it was worth doing, it needed to be done completely. 

The yoga wasn't awful and neither were the meals we prepared.

By the end of the first week, I'd lost almost ten pounds and Russ had lost almost 15 pounds. Most importantly and incredibly, nearly all my pain was gone.

Crazy, right?

And the spine tumors, whose size often flared to gumball/bouncy-ball proportions had been reduced to Skittle-size. Some seemed to disappear completely!

Was it the yoga, the lack of dairy, or the lack of processed foods?

Unofficial experiments were conducted. 
The workouts were the first thing I dropped.
Still pain-free.

I brought back cheese and yogurt into my diet.
A little discomfort, but nothing major. My love for dairy has never been fully reciprocated, anyway.

Finally, I reacquainted myself with processed foods.
Holy Hell.
Every ounce of pain flooded back with a vengeance. 
The tumors surged. Standing upright ceased.

I'd nabbed the culprit.

Once again, I eliminated the processed foods, and within a week, the pain disappeared. After hurting for so long, I couldn't believe I'd stumbled upon a "cure".

Further unofficial experiments isolated the problem to grains and especially things containing wheat. 

It wasn't a huge sacrifice. I'd never cared for bread or baked goods and had only recently started to enjoy cake-- but only if it was baked by the talented Jennifer Penny.

Of course, the greatest loss of all was Boston's Pizza. You know how I feel about Boston's Pizza, right? A couple times I made an exception for it, but the pain resumed so quickly and fiercely that eventually it wasn't worth it. (They do offer a gluten-free crust. It is smaller, more expensive, and disgusting.)

Russ wanted to be supportive, and he immediately started buying all sorts of special gluten-free groceries, which was very kind, but most of the items he procured were things I didn't like even before the transition. 

Pasta? No thanks. 
Bagels? I'll pass. 
Cookies? Now here was a discovery. 

The Glutino brand chocolate sandwich cookies were outstanding. I'd spent my whole life feeling indifferent toward Oreos, but these were spectacular.

We've confirmed that as long as I stay away from gluten, I feel fantastic.
It is annoying and inconvenient, but totally worth it.

The rest of the family is not gluten-free. Creating 100% gluten-free (or paleo-style) meals would not necessarily require more effort, but it would be more expensive, and not necessarily worth it if there wasn't a significant impact on their health and quality of life.

I'm too lazy to prepare two full separate dinners per day, so I do my best to find a balance. I'll prepare meatballs in a GF way, and while they enjoy them over pasta, I enjoy them in a bowl with sauce. (This is not a great example, but it is a real example from last week. I didn't care for pasta even before living GF, so there's no point in always purchasing GF noodles for everyone else.)

Pulled-pork is prepared GF, and while the family has sandwiches, I use corn tortillas, or I just have the meat on a plate. No muss, no fuss.

Going out is the biggest pain of all, so mostly we don't. Russ can make just about anything, and he can make it far better than any restaurant, anyway.

Last of all, I keep a stash of Kellogg's protein drinks in the fridge, which I use as breakfast and lunch on most days. Making my own smoothies could be cheaper and healthier, but remember: I am lazy. The blender is a pain to clean. Store-bought protein drinks are expensive but worth it to me.

Haters say GF is a trend. The Celiac population retaliates with medical facts proving necessity of the GF lifestyle. Then there's me: I'm the undefined middle ground they're targeting, but I don't care. I'm just happy to stand, sit, and sleep without experiencing excruciating pain.

If your body hurts, maybe you should give it a try.

Haters gonna hate. Poor ignorant souls.