Power of Love Notes Redux – Share Your Stories!

I’ve gotten a few inquiries and want to reassure folks that I haven’t forgotten about The Power of Love Notes and have every intention of completing the book in the very near future.

It’s just that the Power of Time is commensurately less compelling with the Freedom of Self-Publishing. With the only deadlines self-imposed, it’s easy to keep pushing them out!

That said, my recent Summer of Sorrow (car accident, death of our dog, etc) has been kept in perspective largely because of the Power of Love Notes –  those of the written, spoken and visual nature, and the equally powerful yet more subtle experiences of clearly being loved, which constitute a different kind of love note.  I count among these “love notes” evidence of the bracing and embracing endurance of nature that I experienced in Alaska and the Ozarks this summer, and which I always feel when I’m outdoors.

However, without the whip cracking of a publisher and editor to impel me forward, I’m turning to you, my friends and readers, to help me fire up the muse and wrap up my manuscript.  I invite you to share here your stories of Love Notes that have made a difference in your life, or the lives of others.  

I may ask to use the most compelling and interesting in the book, and at the very least, as the starwheel churns out shorter days and longer nights, and the seasons of giving and sharing come around, we can all benefit from reminders about the power of expressions of love, in all their myriad forms!

Delicious Ambiguity

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. If we will only allow that, as we progress, we remain unsure, we will leave opportunities for alternatives. We will not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth of the day, but remain always uncertain … In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar.”  ― Richard P. Feynman

A great piece ran in NPR today, titled “The Liberating Embrace of Uncertainty” - a wonderful, celebratory ode to not knowing.

We feel it with each breath,” writes NPR blogger Adam Frank, author of “About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang.From birth to the unknown moment of our passing, we ride a river of change. And yet, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, we exhaust ourselves in an endless search for solidity. We hunger for something that lasts, some idea or principle that rises above time and change. We hunger for certainty. That is a big problem. It might even be THE problem.

In college, when I cast off the heavy cross of my Methodist upbringing, I felt an initially unsettling twinge of uncertainty.  No more absolutes now, no guarantees, no salvation. I was on my own with all the questions that entails and no more book of answers.  But almost immediately afterwards I felt completely free, totally unburdened. Doubt became freedom.  If, as the evidence of many paths suggested, there was no one true way, the playing field was leveled and the possible answers I came up with were as good as anyone else’s, and at the very least, acceptably valid for me.  I was no longer at the mercy of a myth I’d often found conflicting at best.  Now I could honestly deal with the facts of the realities of my life.

What took a little longer was the understanding that I won’t always find an answer or a solution.  We have a very human tendency to seek patterns and lend them a narrative, from which we then try to draw conclusions.  But sometimes – often – the patterns we see and the narratives we derive from them are just are own imperfect efforts to create order out of the natural chaos of life and living.  Most of the time, our narratives are workable, creating a functional and comforting linearity along which we can move forward in our lives.

Sometimes, however,  our narratives paint us into a corner, or lead us down blind alleys.  Sometimes, there simply aren’t any answers to the problems we encounter. Sometimes, especially if we’re honest with ourselves, our narrative boils down to an essential and enduring unknown.

This is the challenge of science, says Frank, accepting not only that we may not know an answer right now, but that we may never know it.

My co-blogger Marcelo Gleiser put it beautifully two weeks ago when he wrote, “what is pompous is to think that we can know all the answers. Or that it’s the job of science to find them.” When science as an idea is used to push away the tremulous reality of our lived existential uncertainty then it, too, is degraded. It becomes just another imaginary fixed point in a life without fixed points.”

For science, embracing uncertainty means more than claiming “we don’t know now, but we will know in the future”. It means embracing the fuzzy boundaries of the very process of asking questions. It means embracing the frontiers of what explanations, for all their power, can do. It means understanding that a life of deepest inquiry requires all kinds of vehicles: from poetry to particle accelerators; from quiet reveries to abstract analysis.”

“Embracing the fuzzy boundaries of the very process of asking questions,” is also a profoundly healthy and instructive way to live.  In my adopted Unitarian Universalist faith, which has no creed and no doctrine, nor pretends to any final answers beyond love, we have a hymn which contains the line, “Sometimes even to question, is an answer.”

I wanted a perfect ending,” said actress Gilda Radner , before she died of ovarian cancer at the age of 42.  “Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”

That’s not to say that all answers are equal or even valid, or that debate and discourse in exploring possible answers aren’t important, or to negate the value of that one reasonable answer that may rise above other possibilities in the process of asking questions.   But sometimes, we just don’t know, and sometimes, we may never know.

These lives we live,” writes Frank, “surrounded by beauty and horror, profound knowledge and pitiful ignorance, are a mystery to us all. To push that truth away with false certainty, falsely derived from either religion or reason, is to miss our most perfect truth.”

Embracing the uncertainty of life –heading into that delicious ambiguity with abiding curiosity, an open mind and a willing heart – makes life exciting and worthwhile and beautiful.

Live in the question,” said Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet.

I can’t think of a more exciting and promising place to be!

World Book Night and Why it’s Important

World Book Nightis a celebration of reading and books which will see tens of thousands of people share books with others in their communities across America to spread the joy and love of reading on April 23.  Successfully launched in the U.K. in 2011, World Book Night got its start in the U.K. last year, and is kicking off in the U.S. for the first time this year, with hopes of spreading further across the world each year.

Why April 23?  April 23 is UNESCO’s World Book Day, chosen because it is the anniversary of Cervantes’ death, as well as Shakespeare’s birth and death.  UNESCO’s homage, actually called World Book and Copyright Day, is celebrated as an opportunity to “pay a worldwide tribute to books and their authors on this date, encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and to gain a renewed respect for the extraordinary contributions of those who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity.”
According to UNESCO, the idea for the celebration originated in Catalonia (Spain) where it has become a tradition to give a rose as a gift for each book purchased.  Here in the U.S., and in the U.K., World Book Night is celebrated by giving – a book!   I’m a World Book Night Giver, and on Monday night at Westfield Citrus Park Mall , I’ll be giving away copies of one of the most interesting and thought provoking books I’ve read in years – the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.

The story of Henrietta Lacks is one that has developed like a gathering storm over the last 60 years,  the far reaching and pertinent tale of a black woman whose cells – identified as HeLa cells – were taken with her knowledge or that of her family’s in 1951, and became one of the most important tools in medicine because of their incredible ability to be continually cultured.  HeLa cells have been vital to the development of the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more, lucrative to tune of billions of dollars even though her family today can’t afford health insurance.  Described as ” a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew, ” the story of Henrietta Lacks and her immortal HeLa cells remains deeply relevant to all of us.

Just today, in a Wall Street Journal story titled in part, “Lab Mistakes Hobble Cancer Studies,” HeLa cells are evoked for their virulent properties that are as responsible for compromising important research as they are for being instrumental in the development of cures and treatments of illness and disease.   According to the Wall Street Journal, “Cell repositories in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Japan have estimated that 18% to 36% of cancer cell lines are incorrectly identified. Researchers at Glasgow University and CellBank Australia found more than 360 such mistaken cell lines, including 100 that turned out to be the late Ms. Lack’s cervical cancer cells.”

Besides the fact that it’s beautifully written, and relatively easy to read, I was also moved by its message of how deeply connected we can be to complete strangers, by how much of our lives we may owe one another, without even being aware of it.  I think  the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is  appropriate and powerful book to give to others.  I think one of the most important things I can do as a writer is evoke thought and hopefully inspire action.  I think the action that this book inspires is simply the act of acknowledgement – the acknowledgement that common thread running through our lives is our shared humanity.

I can’t think of a better way to reconnect with that common ground than by sharing the gift of thoughtful literature.

 

Join Me at EcoFest 2012 on April 14!

I’ll have copies of my new book, the Florida Allergy Handbook, available along with samples of plants, insects, and various and sundry outdoor protection items.  Admission to EcoFest is free! There will be live music, workshops, demonstrations, informational booths, green living products and services,  local artists, green businesses, environmental organizations, alternative health practitioners, renewable energy specialists, organic farms and gardens with produce.  It’s spring! Come play outside!

An Allegorical Love Note of Geometric Proportions

Came across this sweet little piece on Brain Pickings this morning. The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics  is a 1965 Academy Award winning short film based on the 1963 book of the same name by Norton Juster.  Created by classic animation artist Chuck Jones, and inspired by the Victorian novella Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, the film tells the story of a lovelorn straight line – an ordinary, dignified and refined fellow – who falls in love with a dot with a penchant for a wild and woolly, directionless squiggle.

The film speaks for itself, but I’ll add – never overlook the remarkable potential of what appears to be ordinary and one dimensional.

It’s 2012 – Enough with the Pink Stuff Already!

With the deep sincerity only a highly articulate four year old can muster, Riley Maida, of Newburgh, N.Y., went made headlines this week when a video of her railing against the unfairness of “the companies” that market “pink stuff” for girls went viral. Pressed by her Dad as to why it wasn’t fair, she replies, “Girls want superheroes and boys want superheroes, and girls want pink stuff and the boys.” Riley’s a rising star and a clear voice in the continuing bid for gender equity.

Hot on the heels of Riley’s video, the New York Times ran a piece by author Peggy Orenstein (Cinderella Ate My

Two Girls in a Gender- Neutral Box

Daughter: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture),  asking “Should the World of Toys be Gender Free?”  My kids would have given you an emphatic “Yes!” 20 years ago. And I certainly would have agreed over 40 years ago.

When I was about five or six, my father gave me a life-size walking and talking doll for Christmas (I think it was Christmas – he reads my blog and I’m sure will set the record straight!).  I don’t remember much beyond being terrified of it.  For the next 20 years, the doll sat on a trunk in my old bedroom in NJ, wearing one of my old dresses – pink of course –  and one of my old pink knit caps.  I eyed it warily every summer I spent in that bedroom, and it stared back in unnervingly unblinking reproach.

On the other hand, I absolutely loved ripping old produce crates apart with a claw hammer and then nailing the crate back together as a box.  And I loved climbing trees and exploring in the woods and riding a motorcycle through the corn fields with an older cousin, and drawing and writing.

I actually didn’t have a whole lot of toys.  I cooked in a real kitchen at a hot stove beside my Great Aunt Mary, not with an Easy Bake oven, and I used real tools to tinker with, not “child sized” toy tools.  I really never thought about toys much until we had our own children, and every well meaning friend and relative inundated us with a variety of pink “girly” things for our daughters and “boy” things like trucks and GI Joes for our son, most of which ended up on a closet shelf and eventually in a donation box.   (Sorry folks! We really appreciated the thoughts though!)

Buckets are Fun

Our kids clearly had their own ideas of what they liked to play with, and it usually amounted to sticks in the yard, boxes, sidewalk chalk and puppets. They were big into puppets, spinning endless yarns in a makeshift hallway theater.  They loved stories – hearing them and writing them – being outdoors and exploring, painting and drawing.  One of my daughter’s favorite items (hard to call them “toys”) was a toolbox filled with real tools her father put together for her when she was just two and said she wanted “tools like Daddy’s.”  She’s 21 and still has that toolbox, and the tools! My kids, and I when I was a kid, would have loved the move by Hamley’s department story in London, that the Times reported on.

“Hamleys, which is London’s 251-year-old version of F.A.O. Schwarz, recently dismantled its pink “girls” and blue “boys” sections in favor of a gender-neutral store with red-and-white signage. Rather than floors dedicated to Barbie dolls and action figures, merchandise is now organized by types (Soft Toys) and interests (Outdoor).”

Makes perfect sense to me! The article goes on to speculate on whether there are innate differences in boys and girls – something I explored here in “Baby X” back in May, when news of the Toronto family trying to keep their baby’s gender a secret from family made headlines in the spring.    Orenstein notes, “Human boys and girls not only tend to play differently from one another — with girls typically clustering in pairs or trios, chatting together more than boys and playing more cooperatively — but, when given a choice, usually prefer hanging with their own kind.”

At the heart of the issue, though, says Orenstein, “is not nature or nurture but how nurture becomes nature: the

Frogs are fun, too - and they're cheap!

environment in which children play and grow can encourage a range of aptitudes or foreclose them. So blithely indulging — let alone exploiting — stereotypically gendered play patterns may have a more negative long-term impact on kids’ potential than parents imagine.”

“Why do all the girls have to buy princesses?,” asks Riley. ” Some girls like superheroes, some girls like princesses. Some boys like superheroes, some boys like princesses. So why does all the girls have to buy pink stuff and all the boys have to buy different color stuff?”

They don’t, Riley. It’s 2012!  We’re free to be you and me, boy and girl, man and woman, doing what we love,  playing with what we love, loving whom we love.

Wishing all children everywhere not just the freedom to play with what they like, but safe places in which to play, good people to love and care for them, and a future of equal opportunities for boys and girls to grow up to be happy, healthy, successful, productive and fulfilled men and women.

Happy New Year!

Food Allergy Field Guide @ Denver FAAN Walk

Many thanks to the Denver FAAN Walk for sharing this great picture from their event.  The young lady in the center is Denver’s Honorary Youth Chair, Ana Valdez.  Ana is  allergic to dairy, eggs, peanuts, treenuts and shellfish.  Ana, and youth like her, would love to have a cure for food allergies, and she’s working hard with FAAN to meet FAAN’s Denver campaign goals to help fund continued research.

I’m going to keep helping Ana  – through the end of September 2011, 20% of each purchase of the Food Allergy Field Guide made through my website will be donated to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) . Please note “FAAN” in the message section, so proceeds can be allocated properly. If you’d like your book signed in anyone’s name, please let me know when you order.

And look for the Food Allergy Field Guide at the Tampa FAAN Walk in  November, too!

A Walk for Awareness with the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network

Today, on a day when we commemorate sadness and loss, 500 people in Denver are doing something good for others , as they embark on the Denver FAAN Walk  to help fund food allergy awareness, advocacy, education and research .   Food allergies may not be anything you think about if you don’t have them, but  for 15 million Americans, nearly half of them children,  food allergies are a serious and sometimes life threatening problem.  When your need for sustenance is also a serious threat to your health, then life can become pretty complicated, for you and your family.

The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) is a nonprofit organization based in Fairfax, Va., with approximately 25,000 members in the U.S., Canada, and 58 other countries. FAAN provides information and educational resources about food allergy to patients, their families, schools, health professionals, pharmaceutical companies, the food industry, and government officials.

When we were trying to figure out my son’s vague and seemingly intractable health problems a dozen years ago, FAAN resources were vital, and I also drew heavily upon them when putting together my book, the Food Allergy Field Guide: A Lifestyle Manual for Families. Today, the Food Allergy Field Guide is part of the Denver FAAN Walk, and I’m happy to be hosting a month long FAAN fundraiser here, with 20% of book purchases made through my website benefitting FAAN.

Before we discovered my son’s food sensitivities, we never thought about food very much. Our family simply ate the foods we enjoyed without giving the source of our health and well being much consideration. After we learned about gluten intolerance, we began learning about food, its beautifies and complexities, its most essential qualities and its least essential ones. Our son was instrumental in raising our health intelligence quotient , in a way that was ahead of the national learning curve at the time.  Many of the families whose stories I share in the book reported similar experiences.

If there’s a silver lining to living with a food allergy, it’s that it forces us to reexamine our lives from its most basic and fundamental aspects to its most sublime.   Having access to resources and information like FAAN makes available helps those with food allergies live more intentional lives of health and safety, and their research based efforts are also helping pave the way for better labeling, treatments and practices for those with severe food allergies.

More than 80% of every dollar donated to FAAN is spent on research and education and awareness programs. Since 2004, FAAN has funded more than $4.6 million in research. And in education, which remains the single most important component of staying safe while living with food allergies, FAAN has funded nearly $175,000 in Community Outreach Grants since 2006 to local support groups throughout the country. Some of those local groups will be holding our own Tampa FAAN Walk at Lowry Park in Tampa, on November 12, for those interested in making a local impact.

For more information about FAAN, and to find great resources about food allergies, please visit www.foodallergy.org.

Power of Love Notes Revisited

Last week, I shared my thoughts on the Power of Love Notes in a lay service at Spirit of Life Unitarian Universalists in Odessa, FL.  Here’s the text of my talk, with a little old material, and a little new.  Wishing you the love of family and friends, and only labors of love, on this Labor Day weekend.

_______________________________

The Power of Love Notes

Shared August 28, 2011 at Spirit of Life UU

It’s funny when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed and have to write on the topic of love notes, and you’re feeling anything but the love.  But that is, after all, the whole point of the love notes I’m here to talk about.   From the notes you love to find on a pillow to the notes you put in lunch boxes, love notes have the power to change a day, repair a mood, lift a spirit, and put you back on the right side of the bed.  There are few things that can pack as much affirmation and encouragement in such a small package.

I first came to consider love notes when I got mad at my husband earlier this year. Like the start of this sermon, it all started with a bad mood. Without going into details, suffice it to say I was cranky one day –I was annoyed, and frustrated and felt like I had no control over my life. So I took it out on my husband, my best friend of 32 years, my partner of 30, and I wrote him an angry anti-love note, complaining virulently about – everything. To make matters worse, I typed it – two pages of pouty bitter poopiness in Times New Roman 12 point.

The letter was still warm from the printer when I stormed into the bedroom to lay it on my husband’s pillow. He passed me coming out of the bedroom, and I told him stiffly, “I’m leaving a note for you.”

His face brightened, and he asked hopefully, “A love note?”

A love note! We used to write each other love notes all the time. My heart sank. I looked down and noticed he was holding some tools. He was fixing something.

“I’ll look at it when I’m done,” he said, smiling, as he headed towards the garage.

I snatched the letter back, tore it to shreds, deleted it from my computer and emptied my recycle bin. I wrote a new note, this one in a curly love font.  “I love you!” I wrote. “I appreciate everything you do for us, the hard work you put in at the office, the home repairs and improvements, and the wonderful pleasure of your company. Thank you for everything!”

My decision to say “I love you” instead of “I’m ticked at you,” made all the difference in the world. He beamed when he read the letter, and all the other stuff just fell away. We keep passing that one love note back and forth. I still get frustrated, but all I have to do is say “I love you,” and it comes back to me in spades.

Not long after that, I came out to my car with a load of groceries and found a note on my windshield. This is it here. It says, “I really love your sign. If only the whole world felt you. Thank you.”  It’s unsigned.

The sign on my car to which the letter writer referred? It’s my “Coexist” car magnet.

That simple outreach from a stranger was immensely thought provoking. While I’m sure the note leaver wouldn’t have considered his or her comments a “love note” in any way, “ it struck me as one.  Like an anonymous Valentine or a secret pal, the truest compliments are unsought, the warmest encouragements unsolicited, the best love notes unsigned.

While I was still pondering the Power of Love Notes, I began reading the Autobiography of Mark Twain , our Keystone Book Club read for the summer, and was surprised and delighted to find Mark Twain had some reflections on love notes, too.

The frankest and freest and privatist product of the human mind and heart,” he wrote, “is a love note.

Especially an unsigned one, Twain said, for those were compliments actually “given away” with no expectations of anything in return.

It was mine – all free – all gratis,” he enthused about an unsigned complimentary note he once received. “No bill enclosed, nothing to pay, no possible way to pay – an absolutely free gift.

What could be better, what could be truer, than something given away without any inherent or suggested obligations?

Love notes don’t actually have to be written notes, though – they can be made manifest as a hug, a generous act, or a kind word. Looking a cashier in the eye and saying, “Thank you and I really do hope you have a nice day,” is a love note.  Waving and smiling at your letter carrier is a love note. Stopping to chat with a neighbor is a love note.  Sending an unexpected letter of appreciation to a teacher or a boss or a co-worker is a love note. Calling a friend just to say hi is a love note.

As a matter of fact, love notes, for the most part, are simply acts of kindness, which is what makes them so powerful, and so accessible, for you don’t actually have to know or even actually love someone to be kind to them.   Kindness, said Samuel Johnson, is in our power, even when fondness is not.  And that’s a good thing, because some of the people who need love notes most can be some of the hardest people to love. But that’s really what makes a love note such a great tool, and one of the things that in giving it away makes you richer.

I’ve found for instance, that hugging someone I’m angry at (providing they’ll let me) goes a long way towards eliminate the anger because, truth be told, I shouldn’t be “angry at” anyone in the first place. Anger at others is almost always more indicative of something going on inside of us, than of anything the object of our anger is responsible for.  We can be angry or outraged at others’ acts – or inactions – of course, at meanness or injustice. But we also have to consider the source. A five year old or an 85 year old shouldn’t provoke the same kind of response we should reserve for congress, for instance.

Now I’m not saying everything can be made better with a love note – sometimes a letter of outrage is the most productive course of action.  But for most of our day to day interactions, with family, with the strangers of our daily lives, responding with unexpected kindness can make all the difference in the world. Complete a glum store clerk on a piece of jewelry, or his or her efficiency, or commiserate with the day, and see what happens. Hug a sullen or cranky child without comment – and you may not see any commensurate response, but that’s okay.  The best and most meaningful love notes, as Twain pointed out, are given freely and without expectation of reciprocation. They belong to the recipient to do with as he or she pleases, and that frees the giver, too.

The best portion of a good man’s life,” said William Wordsworth, “are his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.  “

As important as knowing how to give love notes, is recognizing when you’ve been gifted with one.  How many times do you toss off someone else’s greeting or kind word, a swift peck on the cheek from a loved one, or a child’s smile.  Those are all love notes! Receiving them with gratitude recognizes and affirms the giver, and considerably improves the chances for more of the same.

Sometimes love notes consist of what we choose not to do – like not get angry, not say something critical, mean or cynical, staying instead of stomping off.  Choosing to overlook minor irritations, at home, at work, at school, on the road, in stores – and taking the time to tell friends and family and those we work and learn and worship and interact with on a daily basis that we  appreciate them says we see them as individuals trying to make their way in the world just as we are. Finding that common ground of humanity, at home and in our communities, in our families and among friends and even strangers, can change the dynamic of our interactions and put us on the same team, working towards similar ends, instead of in opposition to one another.

Always be a little kinder than necessary,” said James Barrie, who wrote Peter Pan, and knew a thing or two about what’s important in life.

That can be hard to do, of course.  As much as we like to think we’re caring and open, perhaps, as UUs, caring and open to a possibly greater degree than others,  if we take a long hard, honest, human look at ourselves we might see something else.

In a recent article by David McRaney, author of the book “You are Not so Smart: A Celebration of Self Delusion” , McRaney sets forth what he believes to be a common misconception many of us hold about ourselves: We celebrate diversity and respect others’ points of view.

And what he suggests is actually the truth:  We are driven to create and form groups and then believe others are wrong just because they are others.

You put on a mask and uniform before leaving for work,” says McRaney. “You put on another set for school. You have costume for friends of different persuasions and one just for family. Who you are alone is not who you are with a lover or a friend. You quick-change like Superman in a phone booth when you bump into old friends from high school at the grocery store, or the ex in line for the movie. When you part, you quick-change back and tell the person you are with why you appeared so strange for a moment. They understand, after all, they are also in disguise. It’s not a new or novel concept, the idea of multiple identities for multiple occasions, but it’s also not something you talk about often. The idea is old enough that the word person derives from persona – a Latin word for the masks Greek actors sometimes wore so people in the back rows of a performance could see who was on stage. This concept – actors and performance, persona and masks – has been intertwined and adopted throughout history. Shakespeare said, “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.

This is a topic for a whole other service, but the salient point here is that we’re probably not as good and kind as we like to think we are, a hard truth but one worth considering.

Love notes provide an opportunity for us to be better than we are, an easy, simple way to step out from behind the social walls we’ve built, sometimes out of a need for self-preservation, sometimes just out of habit – and allow us to connect with others on a more honest, human level.  The Power of Love Notes is a social experiment of loving proportions, an examination of what happens when you take the opportunity to tell others they matter, that you see them, that you appreciate them, that you care, that you recognize your and affirm your shared humanity.

So give it a shot – for a few days or a week or a month – and put the love out there, anonymously on car windows (don’t be a stalker! Just leave a nice note!), in compliments to friends and co-workers, in simple acknowledgements to those you meet in the course of your day – and see what some well-placed, low tech love can accomplish!

Don’t be yourself,” said Mignon Mclaughlin, author of The Complete Neurotics Notebook , ” – be someone a little nicer.”

Food Allergy Field Guide Goes for a FAAN Walk

Knocking on wood here, I’ll start by saying I’m one of those “hardy” people who rarely gets sick,  has never suffered a major injury, and can (and often will) eat just about anything.  I’m an ethnic mutt, bestowed of a motley Heinz 57 genetic legacy from parents of Caribbean and Mediterranean descent, with a smattering of Eastern Europe sprinkled in for good measure.  Much of my childhood was spent barefoot and outdoors, where I got splinters and ticks, stepped on nails and fell out of trees, and kept right on going.

It wasn’t until I had my third child – an adorable little boy with bafflingly fragile health – that I made the acquaintance of allergies; more specifically food sensitivities and intolerances.  The first three years of his life, his father and I made good use of the fledgling Internet as we tried to narrow down just what his various symptoms were telling us.  Finally, as near as we could figure, we concluded he had celiac disease or gluten intolerance.  Our conclusion was more or less confirmed when we took wheat and related grains from his diet for two weeks, and all his symptoms, from GI distress to stuttering and developmental delays, seemed to disappear.

Our pediatrician congratulated us on our amateur diagnosis, charged us a $20 copay (it was 1994!) and sent us on  our way.  For the next few years, as we learned to live gluten free lives, I continued to hear similar stories from other families.  Since there were few resources at the time for families dealing with food allergy and sensitivity issues, and I happened to be a writer, I figured it might be a fun and useful exercise to put one together. The Food Allergy Field Guide was published in 2000, and followed by a second, updated edition in 2006.

My son is 18 now.  He’s a six foot tall, 115 lb. bean pole of a guy, good natured as ever, a budding programmer, finishing up his final year of high school, dual enrolled at a local college, active in his FIRST robotics team, learning to create apps, and constantly inventing the next great ithing.  A couple of years ago, he finally got a blood test to determine whether he really had celiac disease. It came back negative, but he knows he has reactions if he accidentally consumes wheat or related grains, so he still avoids them.  Maybe it’s a false negative. Maybe he has something else.  Either way, he’s made the choice to avoid wheat because he feels better when he doesn’t eat it.

While he’s always battled vague health problems, they’ve never dominated his life.  He bakes his own bread, can cook his own meals, shop for himself and knows how to order “safe” foods in restaurants. He is, as I had hoped he would become when I wrote the Food Allergy Field Guide a dozen years ago, a self-sufficient, self-reliant young man in control of his diet rather than controlled by it.

Over the years, the Food Allergy Field Guide became a dietary companion to many who sung its praises, on Amazon.com, in Good Reads, in support groups and doctors’ offices and a variety of reviews.  So it was with some sadness that I learned it would no longer be carried by  the original Colorado book publisher that had put the book in so many grateful hands.  I could only ship so many to my home in Tampa,  but wanted to make sure remaining copies got a second life.  After a little internet browsing, I came upon  Allergic Child, a wonderful site devoted to providing resources and networking to families of children with a variety of allergies.

It turns out Allergic Child is a sponsor of the upcoming Denver FAAN (Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network) Walk , on September 11,  and I was able to donate 500 copies of the Food Allergy Field Guide for inclusion in Goodie bags for walkers.   I’m delighted more families will have access to this user’s guide to food allergies and sensitivities, because even though we’ve come a long, long way in a dozen years, there are still pitfalls and misconceptions on which to be educated.

A recent Wall Street Journal article by Sandra Beasley, who identifies herself as a former “Allergy Girl,” suggests conversation is still needed on the topic of empowering youth,  and educating others on the subject of food allergies.  I actually agree with Ms. Beasley that the goal shouldn’t be “ to create a bubble around those of us with food allergies.”  But I also believe there’s a reasonable middle ground between what she describes as the daily mission of “dodging death”  and “living our lives”, for those with food allergies.   It shouldn’t be an either/or proposition, where those with allergies throw caution to the winds and take their chances with illness, or worse, in order to live  meaningful and enjoyable lives (which would be neither if they threw caution to the winds!).   My son is a great example of young adult who’s not consumed by his dietary limitations (pun intended) but intelligently careful and living his life quite fully.

Families and youth educated and empowered in handling food sensitivities – from learning at an early age to articulate their needs, exercise self-discipline in avoiding the wrong foods,  having the skill to read labels and menus, and the self-esteem to ask questions and politely demur questionable offerings – as well as being active advocates for healthy and safe foods in schools and public places, all  go a long way towards keeping children out of bubbles in the first place.  But labels should be clear, and schools and restaurants should be safe and accommodating. That’s the message of the Food Allergy Field Guide, my love note writ large for my son and other children and their families trying to reclaim their healthy birthrights.

I’m grateful to Allergic Child for helping put copies of the Food Allergy Field Guide in more families’ hands, where I hope it will bring comfort and reassurance, and help empower more children. Remaining copies are being given to Denver area hospitals, libraries, doctor’s offices and support groups.   And I’ll be republishing the book in a 3rd edition sometime in the next year, so the Food Allergy Field Guide will continue to provide common sense sustenance for many years to come!