Six Things We’ve Been Duped into Believing About What We’re Eating

basket-1375743_1920Well, THAT title sounds rather negative, something I don’t like to be on this blog.  But today it’s for a good reason.

I’m mad, and you should be too.  I’m mad that although we have more information about how to be healthier through good nutrition, more Americans are overweight or obese than ever before.

Are we not listening to what we are hearing, or are we misinterpreting what we are hearing?

My Sister’s Story

I have a 50-year old sister who has a mild developmental disability.  Last year, she was diagnosed as having diabetes and high cholesterol (she is at a healthy weight).  I had so many things going on at the time that I didn’t realize that she was subsequently given three prescription medications by her physician.  When I found out, I asked her, “Did your doctor say anything about how to heal from diabetes and high cholesterol through diet and exercise?”  “No, never,” she said.  I confirmed this with another sister who had accompanied her, and made sure that the doctor didn’t diagnose her with forms of both that could not be reversed by a healthier lifestyle.

Needless to say, I was less than pleased.  My sister makes very little money and is spending a huge portion of it to buy these medications, and now is dealing with significant side effects.  My sister may have cognitive deficits, but she is not stupid.  If her doctor had just given her some sound advice about diet and exercise, she would have followed them to the letter.  There wasn’t even a discussion of taking meds for a short time while she worked on improving her health. Sure doctors are overworked and have little time, but what would it have taken to direct my sister to some helpful resources?

It’s a moot point now because I am now working with her to make these changes, and will present these to her physician.

Who Are You Listening To?

When I took my sister to the store to read food labels in order to make better choices, I was struck by how little she knew about eating well.  Again, it was obvious that this was not because she is “slow”.  It seemed like she had bought into the misinformation that commercials and the words on the front of food packages cause.  If we are looking to these two sources to tell us the optimal way to eat, we are in trouble.

Which of these six things have you believe?

Lowfat is Healthy

OK, admit it.  You’ve bought into this one.  I have too.  Just because something is lower in fat, doesn’t make it the best choice if it doesn’t have any other redeeming value.  Case in point:  all of the low-fat chips whether baked chips, lentil chips, rice chips, pita chips, veggie chips, as well as pretzels.  Often there is little nutrition and more salt than your body wants.  If you’re like me, however, you crave crunchy and salty food, and these SEEM like a better choice than Frito’s.  But they are adding calories that will not fill you up or give you sustained energy.  Try to incorporate some low-salt or raw nuts instead, or something like apples, carrots and celery to satisfy your need to crunch.

Zero Calories is Healthy

The only things you want to ingest that have no calories are O2 and H2O–oxygen and water.  Don’t think that you are doing yourself a favor by drinking zero calorie soda.  Take Coke Zero for instance.  Here is the ingredients list:  Carbonated water, colour (caramel E150d), phosphoric acid, sweeteners (aspartame, acesulfame-K), flavourings (including caffeine), acidity regulator (E331).  The only thing that sounds remotely nutritious is the phosphoric acid.  Yet even that has been linked to lower bone density in some epidemiological studies, including a discussion in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  Even Vitamin Water Zero contains things like sorbitol that can aggravate irritable bowel syndrome and other gastro disorders.  Try water with really natural flavoring, like fresh lemon juice or naturally flavored teas.

If It’s Labeled “Organic” It Must Be Good For You

We fell for this one in our household when we jumped on the organic bandwagon years ago.  We started buying packaged meals because they contained all organic ingredients.  The problem?  The ingredients weren’t much to brag about–cornmeal, white rice, high sodium or high fat sauces, etc.  We realized that we saved money buying unprocessed, organic foods and that their preparation didn’t take much more time than these “convenience” meals.  Also be aware that “natural”, “all-natural”, “100% natural”  and “organic” do not mean the same thing.  Natural foods are processed without preservatives or additives, but may have been grown with the use of pesticides or other conventional methods. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the term ‘natural’ only as it applies to added color, synthetic substances and fragrances.

Sugar-Free is Healthy

This was a big source of misinformation for my sister, especially with her diabetes.  She thought she could ingest whatever amount of artificial sweeteners that she wanted because sugar was the devil.  But Sucralose (Splenda) and Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweeet) come with a whole host of problems themselves.  They have proven to cause headaches and intestinal distress, and have recently been linked to cancer and the increase in MS, lupus, fibromyalgia and even diabetes (ironic).  Why risk it?  Food additives are not your friend.  Did God design our bodies to be able to process artificial ingredients?  Don’t just listen to me, there is so much information available about these sweeteners.  There are fabulous natural alternatives like agave nectar and honey, so why not give them a try?

Multi-Grain is the Same as Whole Grain

According to Mayo Clinic Registered Dietitian Katherine Zeratsky, multi-grain and whole grain are not interchangeable terms.  “Whole grain means that all parts of the grain kernel–the bran, germ and endosperm–are used.  In contrast, multigrain means that a food contains more than one type of grain, although none of them may necessarily be whole grains,” she says.  The reason we want whole grain is that fiber, nutrients and other healthy parts of the plant are lost when they are milled.  So we should look for breads and pastas that are labeled “whole wheat” or “whole oats” for example.

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Wheat Flour is the Same as Whole Wheat Flour

Since whole grains keep you fuller longer due to a higher fiber content (which also helps with blood sugar and colon health), they are a better choice.  But don’t be fooled by ingredient labels that say “Wheat Flour”, because that has been refined to lose the outer bran that contains the majority of the fiber.  Choose only “Whole Wheat Flour” if you are eating wheat at all.

It took a little while for my sister to realize that just because a commercial or a label gives the impression that a food is good for you, doesn’t mean that it truly is.  I think she has become a wiser consumer and actually feels empowered with this new information.  We both look forward to seeing her “numbers” at her next doctor’s appointment.

(And yes…she has also started walking and doing a bit of strength training which will also help).

What are some things that have tripped you up in your quest for better nutrition?

Why Biking Is Better Than Running–Or Why I No Longer Feel Like a Failure for Not Running a Marathon

We are coming out of a deep freeze in our neck of the woods. It has me dreaming of the first day I will be able to hop on my bike and get down to the trail that parallels the Fox River in our part of Northern Illinois.

As I was planning for how wonderful it will feel to be one with my 1994 Giant again, I started thinking about running vs. biking.  In my opinion, there is no greater accomplishment than finishing a long run, just because it’s so incredibly physically taxing.  Just to say that you ran several miles makes you feel like a legitimate athlete.  But for me, it’s not tremendously fun.  It’s work.  I don’t get the same sense of exhilaration that I get from working together with a piece of machinery to battle trails and hills.

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I came up with a list of 10 reasons why cycling is often better than running (for me).  This will infuriate the running purists that I know, but so be it.

  1. The most obvious difference is the distance possible with bike riding.  I can only run about 5 miles before my knees get sore, but I can bike forever.  This allows me to work on endurance and calorie burning longer, and get out of the neighborhood more.
  2. The terrain does not usually impact a biking outing.  I can ride on roads, trails, paths or even off-road.  With running, I’m limited to finding softer trails in the area so that I’m not running on concrete or asphalt.  There aren’t many of these.  And for some reason, getting in the car to drive somewhere to run just seems silly.
  3. As a woman, I don’t feel terribly safe running on trails, but on my bike I feel more in control.  Sure–some goof could jump out of the woods and make me topple over my bike, but I stand a better chance of getting away, or staying away if I’m faster.  That point may be delusional, but it’s worked for me so far.
  4. My arms are much stronger and toned when I ride regularly.  Having to control the handlebars, especially when standing going uphill, requires arm and shoulder muscles that I typically don’t otherwise engage.  I like how my abs feel as I ride, though I know running works them too as they attempt to stabilize the body.
  5. Running uses the hamstrings most, while biking works hamstrings, glutes and quads (especially when standing).  In addition, I can adjust my pedal push and pull to emphasize different muscle groups if I’m tired (this is definitely not the most efficient use of muscles while riding, but will help if I’ve gone too far, I’m spent and have to get where I’m going quickly).
  6. Even if I have a flat tire, I can still make it home.  A blown Achilles tendon is another story.
  7. Speaking of injuries, my chances are less with riding.  That is, if I don’t repeat the experience I had several years ago when I hit a curb and flew over the handlebars.  Because of my helmet, I only bruised my ego thankfully.  With running, I have to either do run/walk intervals to minimize injury or limit the amount of time I’m running.  In both cases, I don’t feel like I’m getting enough out of a workout.
  8.   I’m rarely overheated while biking since I’m creating my own breeze along the way.  And my bike carries my water bottle, phone and keys for me.
  9. Most running and biking experts agree that cycling can help with running, but running does nothing for cycling.  I think that’s rather selfish of running.
  10. I suffered a brain injury years ago (and no, it had nothing to do with that flying over the handlebars incident) and couldn’t ride for the longest time.  My brain couldn’t quickly process what my eyes were seeing, so I couldn’t travel very fast either by car or bicycle.  So the freedom to once again be able to jump on my bike and go wherever I want is one of the greatest gifts of healing.

OK cyclists and runners, what do YOU think?

Aldi and the Search for My Lost Dignity

I consider myself, and have been told by others, that I’m a reasonably intelligent adult.  I graduated cum laude from one of those “Ivy League of the Midwest” colleges back in the day.  I am a freelance writer and have run successful businesses.  As I result, I’m fairly confident, and think I’ve maintained a healthy, not-too-arrogant sense of self-esteem.

But today my self-worth was shattered.  In a way I never would have imagined.  It happened because I chose to test my commitment to frugality by shopping at Aldi.

I have to admit that I used to think that Aldi was a step above a food pantry.  There had to be a place for people who were subsisting on 59 cent mac and cheese.  Somewhere to buy generic sausage links and butter cookies.  God bless them.

Then I heard people say, “Oh, Aldi is the best.  They’ve even got organic produce now.”  So I headed out this afternoon, planning to impress my husband that I picked up our favorite foods for a fraction of the price that we normally pay at other stores.

shopping cart

Gaffe #1:  The Shopping Cart

The humiliation began before I walked into the store.  There were several other people walking in at the same time, so I thought I could blend into the crowd like a regular.  They didn’t have carts, so I didn’t need a cart.  I glanced over at the outdoor cart corral to see the chain gang of shopping carts, assuming that they were taking a time out because they hadn’t behaved.  You know those carts that make you look like a fool because their  wheels are all wonky and it ruins your entire excursion?  This must be their penalty box.

Once inside the store, the look of bewilderment on my face couldn’t be disguised.  Why was there absolutely no rhyme or reason to where items were located?  Why were there tents next to tomatoes and crew socks next to croutons?  Was it meant to be a scavenger hunt and I missed the sign as I walked in?

I played it cool and starting picking up items.  Indeed, there were organic berries, grapes, peppers, bananas, avocados.  Cool.  I started loading my arms with fruit, and realized I absolutely needed a cart.  But I didn’t see any.  Had Jesus come back and raptured the good shopping carts and I was left behind with the imprisoned ones?

As grapes began spilling out of the bag, I found an employee who indicated that you have to pay a quarter to get a shopping cart outside.  What?  I don’t come to the store with real money!  Where was I going to find a quarter?  Would I be forced to stand outside like a ticket scalper and try to con someone into giving me their cart as they were leaving?

Thankfully, the woman said I could borrow one that was up by the cashier.  As I did so, I could feel people sneering at me.  “Who does she think she is? I had to pay a whole 25 cents and she just waltzes in?”

Gaffe #2:  Are These Generic Brands?

Aldi cereal

My father has tried to convince me for years that there are only a couple of manufacturers that package food and they sell them to companies who put their own brand on them.  It’s possible.  But I’m skeptical as I’m looking at the weird, all-too-gleeful names on the products at Aldi.

Maybe it was because my parents bought generic items when they were the rage in the ’70s.  Who can blame them with seven kids and one income?  But while my friends were eating Lucky Charms in the beautiful red box with the joyful leprechaun, I got the black and white box that said “Marshmallow Cereal”.  To this day, I still can’t look that leprechaun in the eye without tearing up.

So as I looked at the brand names, I couldn’t figure out if they were indeed generics.  I looked around at the other shoppers.  They didn’t seem to have a problem.  I’m sure they knew the secret that my father knew and understood that generics were just as good, but I imagined having to con my husband into eating “G Free” brand of gluten free products, and I baled.

Instead I got “safe” foods:  eggs, milk, fruit and veggies and Kerry Gold butter.  Ah…Kerry Gold…a beacon of hope in a sea of brand confusion.

Gaffe #3:  The Checkout

Grocery bag

As I kept filling my cart I no longer felt like a newbie.  Seeing the lower prices for similar items took away some of the sting of my stupidity and I began to feel accomplished.  In fact I had planned to brag to my husband that I was the queen of the good deal.

And then I headed for the cash register.

As my items were headed down the conveyor belt, I realized the cashier was just piling up my purchase.  There was no bagging.  There was no bagger.  Was Timmy off work today?  I looked over to see a woman who had pulled over to the shoulder to package her own groceries in a bag she brought with her.  Oh okay.  I looked around in a panic and saw some plastic bags, and grabbed them with such flair that the guy behind me must have thought I had done this a thousand times.

That was until I too pulled over to the shoulder to bag up my stuff.  I had only grabbed and purchased two plastics so I had to make it work.  But I never took physics, and with the same concentration and effort that it likely took Newton to figure out why the apple fell on his head, I tried to determine how to get these groceries home unscathed.  What is the force exerted against a bunch of bananas by a jug of V-8 juice?  Should the eggs go on top even though the grapes underneath were no match for them?  The cashier checked out a half a dozen people in the amount of time it took me to put the contents of my purchase in two bags.

Of course I started dropping things in my haste to exit, and as I bent over to pick them up, my last-day-before-laundry underwear breached the top of my too-small capris.  When I put on the granny panties this morning, the last thing on my mind was that I would be sharing them with Aldi’s afternoon clientele.  It was the last straw.

I slunk out of the store, defeated in the 30 minutes I spent inside, and glared at the two women who were joyfully exchanging their carts at the corral, one handing the other a quarter.

Then I dropped my keys as I tried to open my car door.

You know, that never would have happened at Jewel.

 

 

 

Popcorn Contains Antioxidants? Who Knew?

My husband came home from work the other day with a spring in his step and a piece of paper in his hand. He triumphantly placed it in front of me as I sat at the computer doing research for a freelance assignment. “I’ve always told you that popcorn was good for you, and now here’s the proof,” he beamed.

Picking up the sheet he printed off of a news site also reported by Dr Mercola here, I took a quick glance at the headline “Popcorn Contains More Antioxidants Than Fruits and Vegetables”. It summarized details of a study conducted at the University of Scranton that found that popped corn serves up twice as much antioxidants as the foods we’ve been trying to eat to stay healthy.

girl eating popcorn

I immediately knew I would be eating crow, as well as eating more popcorn. For the ten years we have been married, I’ve rejected any and all notions that my husband’s favorite food was actually good for you. Of course I knew that it offered a healthy amount of fiber, but beyond that I thought it was about as nutritious as packing styrofoam.

I looked up from the paper and saw his face glowing with a mixture of vindication and relief akin to a death row prisoner being acquitted after years behind bars. I wish I could tell you that describing it as such was cheesy hyperbole, but no. My husband is undoubtedly the world’s foremost connoisseur of all things popcorn (challengers pay heed), and for the last 50 years has shot down anyone who has told him that his nightly treat was nothing but junk food.

I read on. Apparently a Scranton professor of chemistry, Joe Vinson, Ph.D., and one of his students Michael Coco, found that compared to fruit, popcorn has a greater concentration of polyphenols, a type of antioxidant purported to defend the body against free radical damage to cells.  A number of degenerative diseases including cancer and diabetes are known to be caused by harmful free radical reactions.

By grinding up corn kernels and popped corn, the researchers found the amount of polyphenols was up to 300 mg a serving compared to 114 mg for a serving of sweet corn and 160 mg for all fruits per serving. Popcorn is about 4% water compared to most fruits which average about 90% water, which helps explain the higher concentration.  And similar to fruit, the greatest amount of antioxidants are found in the skin, or hull.

I found that I was right on the fiber issue: Vinson notes that popcorn is the only 100% whole grain food (did you know that according to the Whole Grains Council, food only has to have 51% whole grain to be labeled “whole grain”?)

However, there’s always a caveat when someone releases a pioneering study on nutrition.  Of course you know what Vinson said next:  you can benefit from the polyphenols in popcorn, but you’re defeating the purpose if you load it with butter, salt, caramel, cheese or any of the other glorious toppings that make popcorn so incredibly tasty.

My husband cooks his in organic olive oil and puts on a bit of organic butter (healthier than margarine any day) and a bit of organic sea salt.  I don’t know if Vinson would approve, but if my husband’s health history is any proof, forget the apple—a bowl of popcorn a day keeps the doctor away

Sugar: Spoiling Your Child or Ruining Your Child?

 

I couldn’t believe my eyes and could hardly contain myself.

I had stopped at a friend’s house to drop something off and saw her son, who had been kept home from school with the flu, eating a package of sugary “fruit” snacks.  Now I don’t want to be a nutrition snob, but I have mentioned so many times to anyone within ear shot that sugar suppresses the immune system.  How does she expect him to get better if her idea of helping him is letting him eat whatever tastes good?

  • kid candy
Photo by AdamCaudill

And then I thought, “Wait a minute.  My daughter invariably gets sick within a day of ingesting sugar, but does that mean everyone’s immune systems are sensitive to it?”  I finally decided to take a closer look to see what others were saying about this.

A Google search for the topic landed me on WebMD.com first (of course).  Their M.D. writer posted in June 2017, “Eating or drinking too much sugar curbs immune system cells that attack bacteria. This effect lasts for at least a few hours after downing a couple of sugary drinks.”  

Nancy Appleton, Ph.D., author of Lick the Sugar Habit, contends that sugar impairs the body’s defenses against infectious disease, citing a 1997 study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, entitled “Depression of Lymphocyte Transformation Following Oral Glucose Ingestion”.  

And AskDrSears.com, the “Trusted Resource for Parents” says, “The immune-suppressing effect of sugar starts less than thirty minutes after ingestion and may last for five hours.”  

Many of today’s experts have Dr. Linus Pauling to thank for what we know about sugar and its effect on the immune system.  Dr. Pauling is famous for his research in the 1970s that revealed that Vitamin C helps white blood cells, our body’s infection fighters, to attack viruses and bacteria.  Therefore many of us grew up believing that popping Vitamin C when we are sick will cure us.  But the other side of the coin is this:  Dr. Pauling also discovered that when glucose levels are high from the ingestion of sugar, it competes with Vitamin C to enter white blood cells.  So sugar keeps Vitamin C out, slowing the immune system’s response and compromising its ability to recognize and fight invaders.

So why don’t more people, especially parents know this?  When I bring my daughter to a party and tell her to avoid the sugary treats, the moms and dads look at each other as if they should call Child Protective Services.  I’ve heard “just this once” more times than I can stand.  If I dare to say something about sugar and the immune system, people are aghast.

On the other hand, I don’t want to encourage people to use artificial sweeteners either.  Though the U.S. FDA claims that aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal and others) to be the most thoroughly tested and reviewed food additive, others claim that it is a neuro-toxin responsible for the uptick in cases of Multiple Sclerosis and Lupus.  Since I can’t prove who is right, I prefer to choose natural refined sugar alternatives like Stevia and Agave.  And my kid seems satisfied.

When my daughter was a toddler, my mom used to have a huge bowl of M&Ms out on the kitchen counter at her house.  She put them within reach because she knew that I didn’t give my child sugar, and she thought it was horribly mean.  I would let my daughter take one, and she would savor it for an hour because she knew she wasn’t getting any more.  Now 22, she is sugar savvy, knowing that any more than a little bit and she will rush headlong into a cold.  While many of her “no holds barred” sugar-ingesting friends have been sick with all of the viruses that are rampant this year, she hasn’t missed out on anything due to illness.  So who’s horribly mean now, Mom?

What Do I Tell My Millennial About Freelancing?

Girl reading book

When my daughter recited the text of one of her picture books from memory at age 3 1/2, I knew this kid was going places.

I’m not talking about some pedestrian preschool writing like Seuss’s Hop on Pop; this was a book recommended for first through fourth graders.  The kind with full paragraphs per page.  I was so proud.

It wasn’t long after that my little girl was actually looking at the words and relating them to what her mind had stored.  She has been an avid reader ever since.

Not to mention she’s been a spelling and grammar fanatic since day one of formal education.  In fact, she had the nerve to repeatedly correct her first grade teacher who insisted that the word “gnat” started with “n”.  (Repeated apologies to Mrs. Zimmerman were offered for my daughter’s attitude, though I reveled in standing my ground that my daughter was indeed right.)

All throughout grammar school, junior high and high school, she never lost her passion for the written word.  She used free-time after school to write stories and read as many books as she could, with 19th century Brit Lit being her favorite.

Child sitting on books

As time went on, she wrote for and edited her high school newspaper.  She competed at the state journalism competition in the News Writing category.  She went away to college to pursue a degree in English, which was then revised to Journalism and changed once again to Professional Writing. She has written for her college newspaper and was a section editor. She’s honed the kind of writing that she likes and is proficient in, and has been published in small magazines so far.

Now What?

Now that my daughter is entering her fourth year of college, my panic has set in.  As a freelance writer/editor myself, I’m suddenly concerned that she doesn’t have a large enough portfolio.  “What do you mean Megan has a freelance contract this summer and Connor is working on getting his book published?”  Sweat breaks out as I wonder if the time she spent working her on-campus job to pay for her tuition would have been better spent vying for freelance gigs that may or may not have panned out.

So this summer she is pulling together the writings that she does have and is building her online portfolio.  She will be adding to it from her summer practicum of technical writing and marketing communications, as well as some piecemeal projects for companies.  However, my secret hope is that people will read her blog and see that she is an incredibly clever, funny and engaging writer in the same vein as a Nora Ephron, A.J. Jacobs or even Tina Fey.

Freelancing is a Great Life for a Millennial, Right?

Do I recommend that my daughter pursue full-time freelancing right out of the chute after graduation from college?

I imagine restarting my career at 21 as a freelancer, at a time when I had little cares, responsibilities or major expenses.  In the late ’80s, jobs were much easier to get and I assumed that you were a nobody if you didn’t have solid, steady, full-time employment after college.  After all, I graduated with honors from a challenging program, so of course I should be working 9 to 5 for a Fortune 500 company.

But I soon learned that I hated the corporate world.  The aggravation really started to fester when my daughter was born and I carted her off to daycare at 3 months of age.  The pressure to be present for my daughter grew and grew until one day I went to pick her up from daycare shortly after the change to daylight savings time in the fall.  She thought that since it was dark out, I had forgotten to pick her up and she was scared and crying.  That was it for me.

I finally decided to leave a full-time marketing communications job to freelance so I could be home for her.  At the time, I was 37 years old.  It was the best gig because the flexibility was unmatched and the opportunity so vast.  Never again would I miss seeing her after 3:00 p.m. and during the summer and holidays.  Little did my daughter know, and much to her chagrin later, I volunteered for absolutely everything related to school or sports from first through twelfth grade.  It was the most fun I’ve had in my life.

Coffee and notepad

So in my mind, freelancing is the best of both worlds.  If you do it right, you can have a steady income and still have a life.  I’ve told my daughter that for years.  So that’s what she has been looking forward to once she is done with the last of her classes.

Her father, on the other hand, has worked in the same industry in full-time employment for most of his post-college life.  Therefore, he has a completely different opinion of what she needs to do.  He believes that she needs to gain full-time employment after college to have a steady income for absolutely as long as possible.  We are definitely true to our personality profiles:  he the Determined Realist and me the Spontaneous Idealist.

My daughter is a Dreamy Idealist, so we know where her millennial heart is bent:  towards creating things, enjoying time freedom, making a difference in the world, living frugally, taking care of her health and having flexibility in the work that she does.

What would you say to your soon-to-be college graduate?  If I could go back 30 years, I know what I would do, and I’ve told her that.  It’s her decision, so we will see where she is five years from now.  Hopefully writing her third book on a world tour to serve the poor.

Big Brothers and the Creature from the Black Lagoon

Scream

There’s nothing I hate more than being chased.

I don’t mean being chased by someone with violent intent.  I mean the garden variety “I’m gonna get you” chase game that we played as kids.

It’s not that I don’t like fun.  Lord knows I’m always up for a game of Twister.  But “tag” and “chase” were never my favorites.  Even now as an adult, if my daughter is running up behind me, I squeal like a toddler.  I blame my brother Tim for this neurosis.

Tim is five years older than me, the third kid in our family of seven (me being the seventh and most adorable).  For some reason, he loved to scare the crap out of me when we were kids.  Maybe it was because he had an older brother who did the same and he was just sharing the McGlinn family brand of love that flowed downhill.

Whatever the reason, he loved to see me scared.

Why You Don’t Let Brothers Control the Television

My parents were too busy with all of us kids that they didn’t pay attention to what we were watching, and really, back in the ’70s, how much trouble could you find on TV?  My parents didn’t think anything of my brother sitting me down in front of “Creature Features”, “Night Gallery” and “Twilight Zone” episodes when I was five.

King Kong

Holy cow.  Imagine seeing The Creature From the Black Lagoon, the original King Kong and Godzilla movies without little kid adrenaline kicking in.  Each film produced such nightmares, that I would crawl out of bed upstairs, go down the stairs in the dark and scare my mom and dad awake and ask if I could sleep with them.  That alone should have tipped them off that something…or someone…was making me a fraidy cat.

But no.  The more scared I got, the more it busted my brother’s gut.  He would chase me up the stairs.  He would chase me down the stairs.  He would chase me around a pretend boxing ring in our living room before church on Sunday morning.

Then one day, vengeance was mine.

Why You Don’t Let Brothers Babysit

In my family, if you were the oldest in the crowd that was running around the neighborhood one day, you were the one in charge.  So sometimes  Tim was in charge of me and my sisters.

On one of many such occasions, we found ourselves in the garage of the kids across the street:  six boys who were always up for adventure and mischief-making.  One of the things they loved best was to tell ghost stories.  Even in the middle of a bright summer day, a ghost story can wreak havoc on a youngster who has seen a giant lizard crush Tokyo with his bare feet.

On this particular day, the story was about the cemetery across the highway that we could see from our neighbor’s house.  One of the boys was telling about how the “Hatchet Lady” rose up from her grave and attacked a young couple who were making out in their car.  (Note:  all of the stories involved teenagers who were kissing in cars.  Why was this the prevalent theme?  Was this a warning from our sweet Catholic school boy neighbors?  But I digress…)

running girl

I got so scared that I ran out of the garage and across the street to our house.  In my haste, I failed to notice that my brother Tim began chasing me, but then passed me so that he could beat me there.  Being five years older and faster, he made it to the back door of the house before me, dashed in, locked it and then stuck his tongue out at me through the plate glass window that I could barely reach.

Forget fear.  Anger kicked in.  I was so mad that he was laughing at my anguish over the Hatchet Lady that I started banging on the window.  In no time, it shattered.

By this point my brother was in hysterics.  He couldn’t wait until my parents got home to tell them that I was the culprit.  He was sure that my Dad would get out “the whacking belt” that was reserved for special displays of corporal punishment.

No sooner had he started laughing however, my parents arrived home from the grocery store.  They looked at him.  They looked at me crying. It took them no time to piece together the story.  I was the innocent victim.  Tim was the evil urchin.  He was hauled off to face my father’s wrath (who after grocery shopping with my mother had had enough “merriment” for the day already, so you can just imagine.)

Fair warning:  to this day, I can’t walk up a flight of stairs if someone is behind me.  I get that startle reflex that I hate.  So if you’re coming up behind me and I turn around and slug you, please don’t blame me.  Take it up with my brother.