Fighting Attention Problems

We have stopped using the TV at our house on weeknights. Well, let me back up a step. We do not turn on the television before our son goes to bed.

Baby steps, people.

This is part of our effort to hit our son’s attention deficit disorder (ADD) from the environmental angle. Included in that is controlling things in his diet like artificial colors and added sweeteners (natural and artificial). I’m not saying we have completely cut those things, but when even my wife is reading ingredient labels before purchasing, I know we’re making progress.

After just one week, his bedtimes already have gone more smoothly.

I am proud to say, also, that the few times he has emerged from his bedroom this week to use the bathroom, he has looked down the hallway to catch us reading and playing Solitaire, not watching TV. It surely must be easier to enforce a rule when you yourself follow it.

Easier, too, when favorite shows like “Downton Abbey” and “Breaking Bad” are not showing new episodes.

It isn’t that we planted our son in front of the television or stuffed him with Skittles prior to these intiatives. On the contrary, he always prefers playing with friends in the neighborhood over anything else, and rarely eats candy. Sometimes, however, we would allow television after school if he had all his homework done and there was nobody available to play with him. From the food angle, I was surprised at some products that use artificial colors.

I also don’t want to come across as saying that TV causes attention problems, although there are conflicting rather than consensual reports on that claim. This seems to hinge on what age the television watching begins. I certainly believe it can aggravate what’s already there, and that for some children (and adults!) it is an unhealthy reprieve from real life. It’s one thing for an adult to use it as an occasional escape, versus letting children camp out in front of it before they have developed reading comprehension and social skills.

I had read at least 10 years ago that watching television stimulates the brain in ways that are not always conducive to calm behavior. Between then and now I also saw studies on artificial colors causing problems for those already predisposed to attention deficit, not to mention the potential cancer-causing effects. We decided to eliminate TV on school nights after a friend did the same and saw positive results in her ADD-afflicted son. Similarly, we started paying more attention to food labels after more than one friend saw fewer attention problems in their children.

We may not be trailblazers, but at least we try to be picky about whom we follow.

That brings me to whom the United States should follow. Why not err on the side of caution, as do many European countries? For one, Kraft Mac & Cheese in the United Kingdom is sold without artificial colors, but in the United States it is loaded with them. Likewise with M&M’s. If they consume these products in other countries, then what makes manufacturers think Americans wouldn’t?

Some companies are responding to consumers’ health concerns — sort of. For one, PepsiCo, already not using brominated vegetable oil (BVO) in Gatorade sold in Europe and Japan, has decided to pull the ingredient from that product in the United States. Sadly, however, they are replacing it with another artificial ingredient (sucrose acetate isobutyrate) that presents its own problems. That doesn’t impact our family because we don’t use Gatorade, but it is a good example of how hard it is to convince companies to go all the way with their efforts.

Aside from using only fresh ingredients and making everything from scratch (just not going to happen in our home), controlling what our family ingests is difficult, and I believe that companies already selling products without artificial ingredients in other countries should do better in the United States.

As far as television viewing time? That is strictly up to parents.

We’re just taking both of these problems day by day.

Further Reading:

Artificial Colors Linked to Behavior Problems in Children (2011)

F.D.A. Panel to Consider Warnings for Artificial Food Colorings (2011)

Food Dyes Suspected of Causing Behavioral Problems in Kids (2012)

PepsiCo Will Halt Use of Additive in Gatorade (2013)

Fixated by Screens, but Seemingly Nothing Else (2011)

There Is No Meaningful Relationship Between Television Exposure and Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Study Finds Link Between Television Viewing And Attention Problems In Children (2004)

Just a Simple Procedure

He made it sound so simple that it seemed too good to be true. To be fair, the trip to the ER had nothing to do with his work.

He was going to perform the procedure without a needle and without a scalpel. Just a few high-pressure sprays of local anesthetic, reminiscent of the hypo spray Bones used on Star Trek, and then a small puncture into which he would insert his tools and work his magic. Then he would clamp on a few titanium clips and cauterize the severed ends of the reproductive tunnels he had closed.

I read about it on my own, and found it was first developed in China to help men curb their fears of, you guessed it, vasectomy. The new way invented is needle-free, scalpel-free. Not in the original Chinese procedure, however, was my wife’s sheer panic and that pesky ambulance ride.

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Don’t Steep My Tea in Controversy

Sometimes it’s the simple things in life. I’m not the first one to say that, but I’m the one writing it at this moment. Thanks to the ease of finding information in today’s world, those simple things can get complicated very quickly.

In the case of sweetness in a beverage, my tastebuds perhaps never will mature. In fact, the only two plain drinks I enjoy are milk and water. Anything else — carbonated, extracted, brewed, aged in barrels, must be sweet either by the way it’s made or with an additive. There are a few hard ciders I enjoy that don’t actually taste sweet, but that contain enough sugar to drown out whatever it is that I normally don’t enjoy in beer.

Most of my adult life, I have been disappointed when I enjoy the aroma of a flavored coffee being brewed, or or an herbal tea being steeped, only to have the flavor come nowhere near its equal. It’s normally so far off the mark that I must add sweetener to either, and milk to the coffee.

That’s why I was pleased when I discovered a tea that tastes as delicious as it smells without my adding any sweetener: Celestial Seasonings Cinnamon Apple Spice Herbal Tea. It is caffeine-free and its ingredients are cinnamon, hibiscus, chamomile, natural cinnamon and apple flavors with other natural flavors, roasted chicory, orange peel, and roasted carob.

I thought I had found the perfect drink for me. It’s the parenthesis after “other natural flavors” that caught my eye. It says “contains soy lecithin,” an emulsifier.

Further research revealed that Fooducate, another blog, already had asked Hain Celestial (makers of my new favorite hot beverage) why they use soy lecithin, and whether it is a genetically modified organism (GMO). To sum up, the company answered that it “keeps the ingredients smoothly blended together and prevents clumping,” and also that it “is not from a GMO source.”*

I wondered, though, why ingredients already locked together inside a tea bag need any assistance from an emulsifier. Would “clumping” prevent boiling water from penetrating in the recommended brew time? Wikipedia’s entry regarding soy lecithin states that it “helps complete dispersion in water.” That still doesn’t quite clear it up for me.

Regardless of the answers, I will continue drinking the tea, as it does not contain soy protein, a somewhat controversial ingredient on health-food blogs, whether GMO or not.

I also recommend that you try it if you like cinnamon. If you make it with 8 oz. of boiling water, as suggested, and steep it for six minutes, you can make a very tasty cup of tea. Like mine, your co-workers or family members might ask, “What smells so good?”

* Source:

Sporadically Yours

By the time this hits the web, my son will have been fasting in preparation for closed reduction surgery on his right arm. That’s when the parts of a broken bone haven’t lined up properly during the first couple weeks of healing, and surgery is required to avoid subjecting a 7-year-old to a 6-9 month healing period. Okay, so that might not be the generic definition, but it’s the one that applies in this case.

Almost everybody reading this is a friend on Facebook and already knows the above, and that brings me to the main thrust of this post.

Posting out here will become more sporadic, as the social aspect of this blog has dwindled to almost nothing. Also, work trips that once provided content have been reduced due to a shift to remote installs. I’ll still post when a thought or a photo hits me just right. Closing it down completely just doesn’t seem right, after all the work that’s gone into it.

I started blogging after first moving to a new state, and discovered other bloggers through the comment area of an online serial novel by the inimitable Cheeseburger Brown. A few of us became online friends and kept our respective comment areas busy. Thanks to RSS feeds, we knew when someone had posted without having to go back to the site every day. Sometimes a post would get 20-plus comments, often from only three or four of us going back and forth, and stat counters showed many more were reading but not commenting.

We weren’t setting any records for unique hits, but we were having fun. In fact, eventually it led to three of us meeting up in person and hitting it off well. We have met annually ever since, once with spouses in tow, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen this year.

Well before those last two annual meetings, the blog posts became increasingly sporadic, and we communicated primarily via e-mail. I had run out of funny stories from my past, and my staying up late to write fiction had to stop. Combine that with Facebook’s meteoric rise in popularity, and where some of us would have developed a thought into a full blog post in the past, we settled for a mere status update on Facebook.

Despite what some of them tell you, most writers love nothing more than a large number of readers, and my blogging friends and I are writers on at least some level, if not attention whores (there’s a difference?). I suspect that the veritable ghost town left by the desertion of the blog readers also left some of us craving the attention we once enjoyed. The large number of people on Facebook satiated that thirst.

However, I still feel that there’s something missing from the days of reading a few pithy entries written by a few people, rather than hundreds of throwaway missives written by 300 to 500 of my closest friends. A certain intimacy has been lost, and because I can check Facebook only at home or from another wi-fi connection, the folks I might care to keep up with get buried under the inane status updates posted all day while I’m at work.

To combat this, I created a Facebook group called True Friends. I culled about 100 friends from my full 300-plus list and put them in that group, and then set everything on my profile visible only to True Friends by default. I also set my Newsfeed to show items only from that group. Although it has helped a little, I’m finding that 100 still is too many.

I have used the Notes feature a few times to cross-post thoughts from the blog, but I suspect most Facebook users see anything more than a few sentences as too long. In fact, I’m surprised you’re still reading this.

In some ways, logging onto Facebook is like showing up to a huge party and flitting about from person to person, giving a shoulders-in, butt-out hug to each before saying a few words and moving along. I’ve always preferred small gatherings with a few friends, and I get the opposite experience on Facebook. I think that’s why I see the decline of our blogging community as a loss.

Just a Simple Drill and Fill

Overall my first filling went pretty well.

The start, on the other hand, was a little rocky.

I sat and the assistant tilted the chair so that my head was below the rest of my body. Then, from my right, she reached in with a long, cotton-tipped swab and rubbed it around the working area inside my mouth. Within seconds that area and the right corner of my lips were numb.

I wasn’t nervous at all; I had grown up around dentistry, had been in the orthodontist’s chair many times, and an oral surgeon had removed all four of my wisdom teeth in one trip. The last thing I felt was nervous.

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