Thursday, May 2, 2013

Renting sucks.

The post could have really ended right there, but maybe you're looking for more than that. Or maybe you need validation for your anger or the question answered about your rights as a tenant. 

It's been 8 years since I started renting on my own at 18. After 13 moves, 3 court dates and every rental issue known to man, I now consider myself a veteran. I've learned about roommates and sharing. Of contracts and business law. Of pest infestations. Of deranged drug addicted housemates and my rights. And, most importantly, about what I can and cannot expect (especially while a parent) to be reasonable while renting.

I've been the reason two landlords have lost their properties due to their own negligence and wrongdoing. I've gone to court several times. I've been both the best tenant you could ever hope for and the downfall of your life. And here, I share with anyone who is interested, the top 10 truths about renting:

  1. Mi Casa Es Su Casa: Let's be reasonable here. You are a tenant. You are one party in a business relationship. While you do pay "good money" to live in your landlord's property, you need to be responsible and accept tenant responsibilities. (What, you thought this opinion piece was solely about bashing landlords?) You need to know what is and isn't your right. I can't tell you how many times I've heard gripes from people who didn't read their lease or think they can just pack up and leave without paying rent because their landlord is making them get rid of Fluffy, the lease-violating wonder cat, after the landlord specified "no pets." The woes from victims who think they are immune from policies and standards of living. What you sign off on is what you agree to do. If you agree that there is no smoking in the unit, don't be surprised when you lose your security deposit for puffing two packs a day indoors. Don't cry and call your parents to sue when you find it unfair that your "greedy" landlord is sending you a bill for the cleanup and extermination of the ants you attracted by leaving spilled beer and open food across every inch of your apartment.
  2. Then again... Just because you have an obligation to your landlord, it doesn't mean you have no rights. Even if your landlord lives upstairs, next to you or across the country, they are required to give you reasonable notice of entering your property (typically 24 hours notice, except in an apparent emergency such as a leak, fire or hazard) and you can refuse them entry if they fail to do so. You are entitled and protected to have fair and reasonable use of the property you rented- comfortably. Oh? Landlord didn't call or write to say he needs to get in to fix something? You can tell them they must give you notice and that it's not a good time, closing the door in their face. You can send the repair guy away. You can tell the landlord no, they can't just come in to check something or do a quick repair. Your landlord can't just waltz in to spy on you, check out your living conditions or "fix" things without you approving. If you find that they have entered unlawfully, you need to document it with photos and written correspondence. The more evidence you have, whether it's e-mails, text messages, certified mail or a log sheet made in a program like Excel, the better. Be sure to log times, dates and reasons for your landlord's visits. You can even call the police on them citing you think there's a burglar in your home or a landlord trespassing. If your landlord ever tries to evict you on his own, kick you out, throw your belongings out, turn off any utilities, lock you out or otherwise tell you that you have to leave without first winning in court and having the sheriff come on over, you can sue in many states for double or triple the damages. Landlords can be fined hundreds of dollars a day for violations in some states. Always call the police in escalated situations or times where a landlord has illegally kicked you out or intruded. If he changed the lock or told you that you have to be gone in 3 days, you don't. You have rights. You can't just be forced out. Bad landlords depend on you not knowing your rights so they can get even more money. 
  3. Pest Control: Your lease holds all the answers, but a property MUST be in safe, clean habitable condition. Regardless of what your state might say, if your lease states that pest control is your responsibility as the tenant, you're going to be the one shelling out the cash to fix the problem. Of course, there are exceptions such as a severe infestation or a pre-existing  condition known by the landlord. Did you move in and document ant traps all over or mysterious powder in the corners? Better document it and ask the landlord. Bedbugs are almost entirely the tenant's responsibility, though if you document the start of a problem and can show the problems were present at or very close to move in, you can be protected. If you live in a multi-family dwelling and your neighbor has an obvious infestation or problem, you may have protections against that and the right to have the landlord fumigate. A few sugar ants in the kitchen is on you to clean up. A spider or two isn't an infestation. Be responsible and diligent about cleanliness. Ants writhing out of the ceiling light fixtures, through the walls and out the pipes are your landlord's job, providing you live cleanly with food in containers, etc. Always check your state laws and tenant's right guide, but if your landlord refuses to do anything about your pest control problem or fails to respond to your written notification of a pest problem within a reasonable amount of time (typically 10 days- check your state laws), you may be able to pay for services you need and then deduct the amount from your next rent check. This is called "Repair and Deduct." Some pests, like ants or roaches, may not even count as vermin according to your state- just a mere inconvenience that don't pose a health threat. Even if you have a baby in the house, you may not be entitled to have the costs of repairs or pest control completely covered by your landlord. ALWAYS check your tenant's rights and state laws! 
  4. A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words...or Dollars: Take pictures of everything. Take pictures of the house or apartment before you move in, while you live there and when you've moved out. Take pictures of how YOU keep it. Keep dated materials (i.e. a newspaper with date) in the picture to verify dates. The "timestamp" option on a camera is no longer admissible in many courts.Your word against the landlord may not be enough to persuade a judge to get him to give you back your deposit or pay for repairs or even provide pest control if your landlord has better evidence against you. The same goes for voice recordings and emails. Both are court admissible. Check local state laws, but you may be allowed to record conversations without ever having to disclose that you are!
  5. Foreclosure Doesn't Mean You Leave: So, you've paid your rent, written your checks out monthly for your utilities or pay them in your name and now, all of a sudden, there is a notice on your door about you being evicted and the property put into foreclosure. 40% of all foreclosures leave people who don't own the house homeless.  What can you do? In many states, you are no longer required to keep paying the landlord rent, but you need to call a local lawyer for more info on this. In others, you may have "first dibs" on the property and the chance to buy it out from under the landlord and either keep or flip it. As of a newer law, you have 90 days from the notice of foreclosure before you have to be gone from the property. This gives you time to search for a new place and prepare your evidence if need be. If your landlord illegally prevented you from knowing you were in a property entering foreclosure or otherwise ripped off the notices telling you about it leaving you with absolutely no time to find a place to live, you may have a larger issue and need legal help immediately. 
  6. Discrimination May Be Allowed: Believe it or not, there are times when "discrimination" may be allowed and it's not illegal. While Federal Law states that it's illegal for a landlord, apartment manager, rental agent or real estate agent to discriminate against someone due to race, sex, religion, color, national origin, age, familial status (i.e. NOT necessarily marital status, but it does cover children, pregnancy, etc) or handicap (either mental or physical), a landlord can pick and choose candidates based on other factors. Especially if they own fewer than a certain number of properties in some states. A landlord has every right to say that you, as a college student cannot live in their basement because they don't like students. They cannot say, however, that you have to leave because you are pregnant. They can't tell you you can't rent because you are Jewish. Your partner (whether same or opposite sex) isn't entitled to live with you if you are not legally married in that state, so don't count on your girlfriend or boyfriend being allowed to live with you. Pets can be discriminated against.  If you think you've been illegally discriminated against, you can file a complaint with your state or federal agency. If you are a special case, such as a victim of domestic or sexual abuse or are in the military and need to leave early, you are exempt from obligations to a lease and may be able to leave early with no penalty.
  7. You can't withhold rent: No matter how bad, mean, nasty, negligent or anger inducing your landlord is, you can't just not pay rent. You also can't just leave without warning if you're on a lease. If repairs aren't getting done or if other problems arise, you are required to do everything legally or risk losing your security deposit or even be sued for the remainder of your lease or agreement. This might mean waiting mandatory 10 day periods or sending requests via Certified Mail and proving that the landlord ignored requests or otherwise acted unfairly. You can't just decide not to pay if your landlord didn't fix a light bulb or even if your heat hasn't been working a week (though many states have provisions about being able to call the local housing board if heat/water/electric hasn't been on for 24-72 hours as an emergency situation. In those cases, you can call police or appropriate authorities to restore utilities and refuse to pay rent until the situation improves). You can, however, check with local laws and lawyers to see if you are allowed to put the money into an Escrow account in good faith to show you're not scamming the landlord and do intend to pay, but the situation is forcing you to not pay. In some situations, you may be allowed to pay for repairs yourself and then subtract it legally from your rent. Either way, consult local laws before you do anything so you are protecting yourself.
  8. Your Lease Is Holy: So this was mentioned at other points, but your lease is the most valuable thing you own when you rent. Whatever is in that magical piece of paper is the law of the land. Don't have a lease? That's OK. Without a written lease or with a verbal agreement, you are considered a month-to-month tenant. Month-to-month tenants also have rights. Not the same rights, but you still can't be treated unfairly. You can't just be kicked out instantly. You can't have your utilities turned off or your stuff stolen or sold. You can't be locked out of your apartment by a landlord evicting you on their own without a court. Always either get a lease if possible or everything recorded one way or another. 
  9. Deposits are for Damage Only: A security deposit is only allowed to be used to cover damage beyond normal wear and tear. Thumbtacks used on the walls to hang posters are not unreasonable. Holes in the wall from the party you held is. You can't leave or otherwise not pay your last month's rent saying that "the security will cover it." It doesn't. It won't. And you can be sued. If your landlord wants to claim there were damages, you'll have your pictures of every square inch of the place at move-out to prove them wrong. ALWAYS get a walk-through inspection with your landlord and voice recording of the experience (if allowable by law). From personal experience, I've had a complex tell me they took $400 of my security deposit to re-paint and re-carpet because "every tenant gets new carpet and paint before move-in." That's not anyone's problem but THEIRS as landlords. Unless you stained the carpet or destroyed the walls beyond a tiny scuff, you are entitled to your security back. Security can't be used to make repairs. It also can't mingle with a landlord's other monies. Security deposits are supposed to be put into a separate bank account that accrues interest and, unless your lease states otherwise, you as the tenant are allowed to collect that interest when you move out. If a landlord puts your security in their personal account or in the same account as other money, it's hot water for them. You do not have to pay money because it's "just something they do." And yes, they have to refund your security within a reasonable amount of time- definable as 14 days in most cases.
  10. Room-mates May Bring Headaches: If you live with someone else who bails or otherwise doesn't pay and you're on a lease, the rent due is on you. The landlord is allowed to collect rent from ANY tenant. So if your roommate is responsible for a portion of the rent and disappears or otherwise leaves to go live with the love of their life, you can be pursued for the entirety of the rent. Your recourse? You have to sue your roommate personally to recover damages thrust upon you. And, as with a lawsuit with a deadbeat landlord, you can't squeeze blood from a stone. If they have no money or assets, even if they lose in court they can declare bankruptcy and never end up giving you a cent. Always sign roommate agreements and always sign roommate contracts. Contracts aren't because you don't trust someone- it's because you DO trust them to follow any agreement you make. If they won't sign, look for another arrangement.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Every day we make many decisions about food. It may seem like we always find ourselves trying to find food on the run, but most of our decisions about food actually happen in the supermarket- and they're not always easy. Between sticking to a schedule and sticking to a shrinking budget as food prices skyrocket, all while trying to make sense of nutritional labels and avoiding empty-calorie junk disguised as "sensible choices," most Americans have an easier time deciphering the federal tax code.

While there are many things we should stay away from as common sense ("Super-size Me," anyone?), some food facts in America may surprise you- and for more reasons than you'd think.

The Truth About: Produce

Fresh foods are healthy. Every muppet on Sesame Street has made it clear in the past 20 years that we should all eat our fruits and veggies. Even Cookie Monster has incorporated a healthful approach to his lifestyle and stresses the importance of tomatoes, bananas and spinach. But, as every low income muppet also knows, especially after losing their jobs, many Americans have been bypassing the fresh produce section recently to conserve cash.

In fact, out of 1,000 supermarket shoppers recently surveyed,  40 percent said they avoid buying fresh fruits and vegetables due to concerns about cost. Instead, many find themselves stocking their carts with what they believe to be less expensive products that "contain real fruit" or make other claims about being healthy choices. But here's the interesting part: while fresh grapes might ring up at $6.50 to feed your family for a week and that box of cheese crackers might only be $2.99, the USDA has found that packaged snacks actually cost more than fresh produce. A serving of produce actually rings in at about 25 cents while a serving of packaged foods is 30 cents, on average. And while that sounds like mere pennies, it adds up- both in dollars and impact on your health. Fruits and vegetables are higher in fiber, so they're more filling than packaged foods. This means you will eat (and buy) less foods overall while enjoying fewer bouts of illness.

The strategy? Buy fruits and veggies that are in season locally or are on sale at warehouse clubs. Not only are you supporting your local farmer, but you're saving a ton of cash. If you can, grow your own. And yes, it is possible to grow your own without land, space or a lot of money to invest in a nice garden- I'll have your guide in the next few weeks!

The Truth About: Coffee

Did you know that coffee is actually America's number one source of antioxidants, accounting for 40% of our overall daily intake? According to research from the University of Scranton, a daily 8-oz. cup or two of coffee (either caffeinated or decaf) protects against heart disease and stroke and is linked to a lower incidence of death, in general. Of course, while coffee isn't as bad for you as some may say (there are plenty of ways to eliminate teeth staining and avoid caffeine addiction and extra fat without abandoning your favorite brew), it isn't a substitute for other antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables. Coffee only contains one class of antioxidants  called polyphenols, and not the entire spectrum.

The Truth About: Sodium

A few years ago, parents and nutritional experts demanded that those sneaky fast food companies we all know and love for their convenience stop making us fat and unhealthy by providing nutrition facts on the menu. Parents in schools argued that potato chips needed to be made inaccessible and that salty junk foods needed to be banned to children. Surprise: the biggest source of sodium in your diet isn't that bag of Cheetos. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported recently that the number one source of sodium in our diet is actually bread.

Two slices in a sandwich contain a whopping 460mg or 20% of the USDA's uppermost daily limit. And for people who are 51 or older, those with high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease or are African American, two slices of bread means more than 30% of their daily value.

Foods don't even have to taste salty to contain sodium. Many different forms exist that allow food manufacturers to preserve and texture processed foods, all contributing to your daily intake. And just because a manufacturer might label a product as reduced sodium (compared to the original version), it still might be too much. With Americans stressing 6 servings of grains a day and bread being one of the least expensive food staples in the U.S., no wonder over 90 percent of Americans consume too much.

The Truth About: Snacks

Snacking is somewhat of an American phenomena. In many countries, such as France, food is served at designated times and everyone, even as young as 4 months old, adhere to an every-four-hour feeding schedule. In fact, 41 percent of all retail stores in the United States sell processed snacks, according to the American Journal of Public Health. Gerber estimates that toddlers get about 25 percent of their daily caloric intake from snacks. The same goes for grown adults.

Noshing, nibbling, tasting, grazing and munching has become almost constant. The USDA estimates we consume almost twice the amount of snacks each day as we did in 1977. That's around 504 calories a day going to snacking between large meals.

Childhood obesity is on the rise and cities, like New York, has banned soft drinks being sold at food establishments in excess of 32 ounces (On that note: the average 12 ounce soda packs in 39 grams of sugar- way over the 25 gram a day limit). The better approach? Snack by bringing food with you. Healthy food options typically cost double what it would to stash some on your way out the door.

The Truth About: Eggs:

Recently, a study suggested that consuming eggs was as dangerous as smoking cigarettes, due to the increased risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, this study didn't factor in things like the participant's exercise or other dietary behaviors. In reality, a medium sized egg only contains 1 gram of saturated fat- way under the limit of 16 grams a day. Plus, eggs are high in hard to find protein and nutrients like lutein and choline- very important for pregnant and nursing women.

The Truth About: Frozen Foods:  

Frozen meals used to look like mystery meat frozen into unrecognizable bricks. Fortunately, the industry has changed. Coconut-lemongrass chicken with quinoa and wild salmon with braised asparagus have entered the arena and provide restaurant style offerings as an option to the mac and cheese. Though there are concerns about sodium and preservatives, the truth is that most meals can be quite nutritious. And if you factor in convenience and portion control, slimming down suddenly becomes possible for those stuck to the 9-5 grind, away from home. The average adult can shed 6 pounds or more a year just by regularly eating frozen prepared meals, compared with other adults who tried their own versions of calorie restriction.

Just be sure your meal contains at least 5 grams of fiber and 20 percent of the RDA for vitamins A and C and no less than 400-600 calories. Anything less than that and you'll be hungry again in an hour.

Monday, February 4, 2013

                            Women in Skateboarding

It's currently 14 degrees out with black ice and I'm inside sick with a bad cold/virus/mystery for the 5th week in a row. All I can think about is how much I miss the West Coast and how my friends back home in Nevada are enjoying wearing light jackets while I'm shivering in layers in gloomy New York.

What I miss most of all? Skating.

You might not know it, but the number of women skateboarding has recently hit an all time high. 12.6% of all skaters are now female, though women in skating is still underground.

Skateboarding has had a special place in my life since I was a kid. It was my escape from reality. It was also "taboo." It was something girls didn't do, as far as I knew, stuck on the East Coast.

 Back in the 90's when I taught myself how to skate and emulated my hero Mike Valleili by jumping off trees and planters doing "bomb drops," there was no Billabong, PacSun or Roxie clothing for girls. And as an extra short and petite little thing, I had the extra problem with finding the clothing sizes I needed and resorted to wearing boy's hoodies if I wanted to claim my identity through clothing like any pre-teen. Did I look ridiculous? Absolutely. I was more masculine than I would have liked to be and there was no way for me to flaunt my pride of being a female skater. But I had fun and saved myself from ending up on drugs or otherwise throwing my life away. It was my anti-drug, my anti-drink and my escape from surviving serious childhood abuse that almost ended my life on several occasions. While it gave me an excuse as to where my bruises and cuts came from (though no one believed me and knew better), without skating, I would have ended up unable to cope with my life.

Skateboarding isn't as dangerous as some people think. In fact, according to a 2011 report by the New England Journal of Medicine, you are three times more likely to be injured while bicycling or playing football than Skateboarding. Even playing baseball is considerably more dangerous, yet we sign kids up for these sports without a thought. Of course, the majority of skateboard injuries are kids and teens and primarily when skating is done outside a designated park (which of course we lack out of fear in many communities and then complain about menacing skaters in the streets) and when not wearing proper safety gear.

Back a few months ago, while it was still safe to do so, I was ecstatic to learn that the only park for (dozens of) miles had just opened up. My husband was supportive and so we went off for a day at the park- baby park for baby and skatepark for mommy- first time on a board in 2 years, at age 25.

What's really awesome about today's youth skaters is that their tolerance is (typically) unmatched. It used to be cool to be rowdy, break rules and be depicted as a delinquent. My, how the skating culture (due in part to Tony Hawk and the X-Games) has changed things for the better. Old, young, good or bad they don't tend to care who's using the park. As long as you respect everyone's space and focus on yourself, there's no need to care what everyone else is doing. In fact, I've even been told it's gnarly that I'm showing my kid that mommy can skate and introducing them to the sport I love.

When my toddler sat on the sidelines with daddy waving to me as I carved around the outside of the park yelling "mamma," it did get a few heads to turn momentarily, but ultimately most people thought it was cool. The only people who had a problem with it was a group of moms my age (or older- who can tell with all these plastic surgeries, anyway?) who seemed to think it was unnatural for me to be participating in such an activity, despite dads older than me using the park. Apparently, it's OK for the Hawk (who is in his 40's), but not OK for mommy; it's a reason to question her abilities as a parent and loudly point and snicker at the playground, continuing the tradition of prejudice and wasting energy worrying about what the other moms are doing, rather than teaching your own kids the value of being better people.

Skating has helped my marriage. It keeps my stress levels down and lets me be a better parent. Kids can go to their park, I can go to mine. I can exercise, get the endorphins going and safely lose the baby weight. My husband takes a turn on the board and everyone leaves feeling rejuvenated. We have something to talk about and "monsieur is happy (cleverly inserted French culture reference)." In fact, there is a growing movement of Mommy Skateboarders. The Mighty Mama Skateorama has been encouraging moms to skate on or around Mother's Day for the past few years. Women have been discovering skateboarding and so have men.

So why the negativity from other mothers against me skating or (gasp) casually mentioning that my toddler will be learning to ride if she wants to when she's ready? Probably the same reason we have fewer women working and less programs to help them get back in the workforce. We train women to hone in on and drag down others who are "too different" from what a lady should be and men (who dominate almost everything from business to sports) to find reasons to keep them out of the manly domains. We claim women are "equal" but do everything to emphasize the differences between the sexes, as well as mothers and fathers, ultimately resulting in resentment and less satisfying marriages.

I might be benched for the next 8 months or so. Maybe even longer with a C-section. But as soon as I can, I'll be back out at the park turning heads as I enjoy my life, contrary to the American belief you have to sacrifice and be miserable as a part of motherhood. And hopefully, I'll soon have a 2 year old who will be doing a different kind of mommy and me outing.

So maybe it's a little late to post this since Superbowl was yesterday, but here's what I whipped up the other day to feed hubby and tot. Unfortunately, the baby in utero is still a vegetarian and I can't even handle a whiff of meat, but all other parties agree that these gluten free Dogs in a Blanket were a hit. You can also call these Gluten Free Mini Corn Dogs.

To make these gluten free bite sized treats, perfect for a quick dinner, lunch or snack food and have them ready in 15 minutes or less, you will need:

-Your favorite cornbread mix (I use Bob's Red Mill or Hodgson Mills)
-1 Package Nathan's Hot Dogs
-1 Non stick Mini muffin tray
-Butter or margarine (optional)


1. Pre-heat your oven and prepare cornbread mix according to directions on package
2. On a cutting board, slice hot dogs into bite sized portions
3. In muffin tray, place hot dog bits in center of each mini muffin well
4. Carefully spoon cornbread mix into each muffin well
5. Bake as directed (typically 11-13 minutes)

I didn't use butter to grease the pan as I found my non-stick pan does fine without it, but you may choose to.

These go great with ketchup and your favorite gluten free beer. For taste, I suggest Omission which recently won an award for the Best Gluten Free Beer at the 2012 Great International Beer & Cider Competition on Rhode Island.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Pamela Druckerman went to France and learned a lot about parenting. As a result, she wrote a book that I've been reading and couldn't put down. Not because of its "wisdom of French parenting," but because of the recognition of an underlying problem in America that many moms simply turn a blind eye to: what motherhood now means in America.

The basic idea behind Bringing up Bébé is that French parents don't live in the service of their kids. Mothers don't use their Operations Management degrees for the sole purpose of logistics when balancing their 3 kids' soccer practices, soccer games, nightly dinners, arts and crafts, martial arts, piano lessons, hockey practice, Mandarin Chinese lessons, SAT prep, bowling club and 27 other activities which leave mom pulling her hair out and crying in mommy forums about how hard her life is. In fact, most French mothers go to work after baby and few stay home. With France's system of paid maternity leave, subsidies for nannies and high-quality daycare and free preschool, any parent would be less frazzled and have the ability to remain the people they were before baby.

 In fact, the French don't attend every soccer practice or interact every single second with their kid at the park loudly narrating every single thing they do while sanitizing their hands. In France, kids are expected to stay in their rooms playing in the evenings while adults have adult time. Not every little thing has to be cheered on and kids don't have to constantly work hard to pick up skills "early" to compete for college readiness before they can read. There is no Northern California, organic, free-range, Dr Spock philosophies about leading your kid silently back to their bed up to 20 times until they agree to go to sleep. Kids are trained to understand that they have needs and their parents have needs too. French parenting isn't about giving everything up and sacrificing everything from free time to money to sanity and competing against other parents about how much you've endured and suffered. In fact, according to the French, sacrifice isn't anything to boast about.

Druckerman's book discusses how the French use specific techniques in their "educating" practices (i.e. they never use the word discipline) with their children to produce happy, well behaved little adults who don't miss out on childhood.

While many argue across the internet and in book clubs that the practices described as "mostly just common sense," Voltaire hit the nail on the head when he said "Common sense is not so common." This is evident as we witness countless "parenting fails" here in America, blog about them, share them on Facebook and record videos to share on Youtube. The no-nonsense practical advice (though in my opinion, this book is more of an observational autobiographical experience than advice) includes tips like being firm but polite, treating kids as small people and techniques for establishing a sense of patience. Is it common sense? It should be. But unfortunately, it's not.

This book was at first difficult for me to read due to both the present and past tense being used. Occasionally, I had to re-read sentences in the first and second chapters as I wasn't sure to what Druckerman was referring. Aside from that, it offers an interesting perspective and allows the reader to let go of some of their own notions, insecurities and begin to repair their own child's broken sleep schedules and feeding issues.

I found portions of the book discussing theories and psychoanalytical perspectives of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Dolto both refreshing and enlightening, though no reviews online even discuss the more technical "boring" parts of the book. While I would have loved more in depth coverage of the socio-economical state America is in compared with France and the psychology behind very simple practices (i.e. the importance of greeting "bonjour" to induct children into the world of adults, breaking down classes of "us vs them" without placing kids on a pedestal when they enter a room as opposed to conditioning kids that their place in society is a give and take one where "please" and "thank you" are all they have to worry about). Surely kids are just small people and can be treated as such. But in America, the house is often changed to accommodate the child, not train the child to come into a home. Many children are more the head of household than the parents.

And while we baby-proof, puree our own organics, push everyone to breastfeed and spend more than any other 1st world nation on healthcare, France doesn't. Ok, so they believe in healthy organic foods, but not so much breastfeeding or the others. They also believe in sending kids to daycare, called Crèche, while both parents work a full day and even when a mother does, in the rare instance) stay at home. Mothers don't jump down the throats of other mothers for indulging in caffeine (fun fact: Daily coffee, including espresso is an important part of the French diet), smoking near their kids or chastise them about how to raise their kids, unlike the constant unwanted solicitation of advice found in the U.S.. And the kicker? While America has an infant mortality rate of 6.7 per 1,000 infants, France sees only 3.8 deaths per thousand born. Not only that, but France's life expectancy is higher by several years.

There may not be as many billionaires in France, but 90 % of their babies are sleeping through the night by 3 months of age and they far less postpartum depression than we have here. Maybe it's time the United States adopts some of the wisdom of the French after all.

It's been almost a week since I last posted any updates. Partly, it's because with no immune system I'm constantly sick while pregnant and partly having too much on my plate while juggling health issues leaves little time for blogging.

For almost 5 weeks straight I have not had a single day where I have not had some sort of cold, flu or virus. The OB says that with pregnancy, I can expect a weakened immune system, but with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, chemicals in the body can spell out having virtually no immune system at all if my body is attacking itself for other reasons (i.e. Gluten Allergy). This means any and all germs that enter my body can supposedly cause me to get sick when no one else would be affected.


For the past 3 days, I have run a low grade fever, had body aches, chills, runny nose, etc. But the good news: eating no gluten has meant no vomiting (when I make sure to always take my Ondansetron.).

I've had an accidental gluten-ing in the week and a half since I started my all Gluten-Free diet. This came from the Libby's Vienna Sausages we feed our toddler occasionally. Not really thinking about it, I quickly scanned the label. After reading the label and the allergy warning (May contain soy), I assumed it was probably safe. Nope. Wrong. The "chicken broth" used was probably not gluten free. This is why I am a believer in the FDA taking a bit more of a proactive approach in food labeling and setting a standard of what HAS to be labeled. If "Chicken Broth" contains wheat or has filler and you only write that your product contains chicken broth but neglect to mention the chicken broth contains wheat, I feel like there should be some penalty for putting thousands of lives at risk.

Needless to say, I spent the rest of the afternoon vomiting and having to lay down.

Other than that, nothing exciting to report. Still no solution to my problems other than my own research, but at least I'm not as nauseous as I was.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


I am the 1%.

No, not the Occupy Wallstreet 1%.

The 1% of the population (or less) that has Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG).
The 1% of the population (or more) that has Gluten Intolerance/Celiac Disease.

The odds aren't likely that I would have both of the two rarest diseases in America (according to every doctor who has no idea how to treat me for either). If I were part of the 1% who control 43% of all the money in the United States, perhaps I could find the help I need to survive being part of these other 1% demographics.  But, unfortunately for me being part of the 99% in terms of finances, not only does insurance not cover almost every test I need, but I'm the theoretical patient only heard about in textbooks. There is not a single bit of research up to date that links gluten to HG, however, according to Kimber MacGibbon, co-founder of the Hyperemesis Research Foundation (HER), women who have HG reveal some interesting correlations and connections. Not only do women who have HG have limited diets (i.e. have allergies and can't tolerate wheat or other foods), but cytokins are increased in the blood of these women. Cytokins are also elevated when gluten is ingested by someone with Celiac disease.

Some facts about Gluten Allergy:

  • Gluten Allergy is not the same as Celiac Disease.
    • Celiac Disease may show up more easily on a blood test, but allergy has to be genetically screened for, from a DNA sample.
    • Gluten Allergy doesn't produce the same exact symptoms that Celiac tests can pick up, but still leaves the sufferer extremely sick.
  • As with any allergy, Gluten Allergy causes your stomach to be "off" when you ingest gluten and results in leaking proteins from many foods which creates an allergic reaction (i.e. Leaky Gut Syndrome).
  • While only 1% of the population in the U.S. has Celiac Disease, an estimated 20% of the population has gluten issues and 97% of people who have gluten intolerance of any kind don't know it!
  • People with gluten allergy often have an allergy to corn as both corn and gluten follow the same metabolic pathways in the body. 
  • There is also a correlation between casein, sugar and other foods and gluten being intolerable by people with gluten allergy.
  • Gluten triggers MANY autoimmune issues within the body, including asthma, Rheumatoid arthritis and autistic symptoms (i.e. Autism, Asperger's), but there isn't enough data from studies. 
Quick Facts about Hyperemesis Gravidarum:
  • It's not a Harry Potter Spell. It's extremely severe morning sickness that sends you to the hospital because you dehydrate and can't keep down liquid.
  • In most mothers who have HG, their children have eczema, asthma and other allergies. 
    • Patients with Gluten Intolerance or Celiac disease also are co-morbid with these allergies which are also defined as (genetic) immune issues.
I've had gluten issues since I was born, but was misdiagnosed for almost 18 years of my life. I was told I had lactose intolerance, bi-polar disorder, depression, Asperger's Syndrome, ADHD, ADD and a plethora of other issues which specialists tried to unsuccessfully medicate me for as a child. Finally, when I became my own advocate at 18 and got off the chemical cocktail my doctor's insisted on, even my suspected Autistic and Learning Disability symptoms were reversed and, eventually with the help of therapy, eliminated. My stomach pain dissipated and my energy and ability to think clearly were unbelievably improved. Doctors wanted to say it was because I became an adult and magically "grew out of it" and told me it was all in my head when I had pain or thinking issues for several days because I was accidently "glutened."

 For the next 7 months, I will be dedicating the rest of my pregnancy to documenting my gluten free pregnancy journey and Hyperemesis in hopes of helping anyone else who has issues with either.