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Allergies, Asthma & Your Immune System

Farm Shot
My brother, his daughter, and The Farm. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

It was the year 2000. I was chatting with my favorite professor (or soon to be) after the MSU class. We did this occasionally. Since, I love idea swapping and learning all that I can, and my friend enjoyed sharing all the various things he knows, it was a good combination. We’d go to Crunchy’s. He’d have 2 or 3 beers. I’d struggle with one and a half. We’d talk all sorts of ponderings and meanderings in modern philosophy. Utah Phillips, Politics, the length of a cold, extra education from the class I took. The recurring themes: religion, environment, and how it all meshes with politics.

These conversations had a large influence on what I believe or choose to believe of religion and how I justify my understanding of it and especially the words within. These conversations also helped shape or give ideas and momentum to my environmental passions.

One of these conversations centered, albeit briefly, on the difference between allergy and asthma in city kids compared to kids who live in the country. Six or seven years later, I wrote about it for one of my final Sustainable Urban Development classes. The idea that we are building up our immune system by subjecting ourselves to “untidy” animals was and is fascinating to me.

My mother grew up with nine other siblings. They lived on a 160 acre farm (80 acres on one side of the highway, 80 on another) with their parents, my grandparents. My grandfather worked at the Munising Paper Mill (until he retired), planted and sold potatoes “on the side”, and my grandmother tended the garden (although she hated it) all the while my grandfather was at work. Their garden preserved the family through winter with most essentials. My grandmother made 16 loaves of bread weekly. They milked their own cows and pasteurized the milk on the counter. They’d make their own butter, slaughter their own meat, preserve their own food. They farmed. One year, they shelled so many beans not only was the kitchen sink full but so was the claw-foot bathtub. There was always an assortment of cows, dogs, cats, and pigs. Less common in my growing up years were horses, poultry, and rabbits. All said, this is The Farm. The Farm is what I consider home.

When I was in fifth grade, I started to itch and loose my breath around cats. I had been 3 years away from my constant Home. Although we didn’t live with my grandparents, we were there nearly every weekend until we moved downstate when I was in 2nd grade. Someone told me along the way that body chemistry can change (dramatically) every 7 years. So, the question, always on my brain, was how can my limited farm experience lend itself to moderate to severe cat allergies. Now, this past summer (of 2010), I was tested for allergies. The doctor did a scratch test of over 40 common allergens to the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest. I scored a significant reaction on more than half. I have year-round allergies.

So, again, the question begs: what’s the connection? How much of an affect to our sanitized cities have on our reaction to the environment? Am I just an allergic person, written into my DNA? I always thought I came from stout, healthy people – but now I’m not so sure. I have two considerable immune issues that require constant handling. I think that’s fairly significant, even if I’m not overtly bothered on a daily basis.

I think I need a couple of more beers at Crunchy’s washed down with one of their burgers and my friend to ponder this one out.

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On a Lighter Note

BOSTON - DECEMBER 01:  Andre Miller #24 of the...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Tonight, we were able to go to a Blazer Game, in a catered suite. My friend Kate, who went with me, warned me that once I experience this type of game-viewing, I won’t ever want to go back. She is right.

So, besides the awesome catering, the TVs allowing you a great view when you’re not in the great seats looking at the floor, it was a good reminder for me of the importance of Game Night. I’ve spent a lot of years chastising sports, our beer and circus culture, more anti-establishment than anything. (I’m working on another post titled Marketing & I Love Big Brother to give you a hint.) I grew up with my step-dad who constantly watched ESPN. I might not know all the rules of the game, but there was a time when I had all major baseball teams memorized and collected their cards. I could follow and pair most sports with the correct teams, and I can still follow a game with little to no problems. And really, I know how to boo the opposing team. Although, my tennis years chide me from that behavior as it really is not polite.

Things I enjoyed about tonight.

The bit that entertains me the most is the booing, and how much I don’t mind that. My mother always raised us that was poor sportsmanship, and she hated watching the evolution of back-talk, always convinced one year is worse than the year before. Now, I think of it as more just part of the game culture. We all know sports players are paid obscene amounts of money, the seats are obscene in their pricing, the food is obscene in its cost. But, we go for the environment. We go for the show. So, why not get caught up in it?

I also really appreciated the National Anthem. Attending a liberal arts school, reading a People’s History of the United States and getting caught up in Utah Phillips sometimes encourages my anti-establishment mode of thought. But, I love our constitution, and pride is an important thing to have. So, when we all sit quietly, hands behind our backs or over our hearts, and listen to those words describing a fight for freedom and the joy seen when the flag was still there over the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air and the flag was still there. A society who enjoys its symbols overjoyed when the new symbol of freedom stands tall. And more than 200 years later, we try to honor that tradition – right or wrong – at our new Colosseum events: Basketball (and baseball and football).

So, not only do I now have an appreciate for big brother, I also want me some beer and circus.

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Image by doubledareyaa via Flickr

They never seem to go away. Have you noticed? They are in schools, at play dates, and in our offices. They are even at our churches (some would argue more so) and community events. Bullies. People who use cruel manipulation to get what they want or bolster their own egos by shutting others down.

I was seven or eight years old. I was at another new school, maybe my 3rd or 4th and I was in 3rd grade. We didn’t have a lot of money, like any, so I was wearing a bright, new-to-me dress we got from donations. It made me feel like a princess, and I liked to twirl. I had to pick someone to be my “buddy” for the day, and I picked a gal named Jennifer. Everything was fine, until lunch when we lined up to go back inside. A big gust of wind came and blew my skirt up. How they laughed, the other children. I was mortified. Completely, and utterly mortified.

I suppose, as an adult, if someone were watching it on some movie, it would seem slapsticky. But, as a seven year old who had a hard enough time “making friends” it was the last thing I needed to feel normal at that school. Isn’t that what kids ever want to feel anyway? Just normal. They want who they are to be accepted as normal. The late, great, Utah Phillips takes issue with the word normal, when his friend scolds his niece and says, “You mean average!” But, growing up, often, we don’t see it that way.

We have a zit. Abnormal. We don’t have the right clothes. Abnormal. We don’t have the right friends. Abnormal. We don’t have the right politics. Abnormal. It takes growing up, some grow up faster than others, to realize that we don’t have to be normal and Utah was right – we did mean average. As a 32 year old adult, I am now comfortable with my politics, I love my friends (who are all proudly anything but normal), am completely comfortable with my thrift store clothes, but I still get annoyed with the zits.

I am also fortunate to have a strong family support group, who through their myriad ways of miscommunication and communication have made it clear that I am loved no matter my mistakes. I have a compassionate family who taught me the importance of compassion and helping others. It took growing up for me to realize and embrace the support group I do have, and I still underestimate their compassion.

My home-state of Michigan is helping with that awkwardness in a recent news story where a self-identified male (that is transgendered) was voted as homecoming king. Despite the other instances where the school has allowed this student to flourish as a male by dressing male in every day dress and graduation dressed, being addressed as male with correct pronouns by teachers, student, and staff a like – this school has drawn the line at Homecoming King, a student vote, because the official registration says female.

And, then there was a recent article in the New York Times about an awkward young man, coming out of his teen years, as a freshman at college. Do you remember what it was like to be a Freshman at college? The first year, all over again, trying to adjust, be on your own, still fit in with a whole new group of people while coming terms with your own identity. For the 25% of us who graduate from college, many say their college friends are their life long friends. But it’s the work to get over those awkward growing up hurdles, because damn it, growing up is hard. This young man, Tyler Clementi, was trying, clearly, to find his own identity as he was growing up gay. His insensitive, maybe suffering from his own esteem issues, roommate broadcast his late night escapades to the world via twitter. Mr. Clementi, insecure in his own being committed suicide. The two teens who collaborated in the effort to make Mr. Clementi’s privacy public will likely be charged as accessories to his death.

They bulled an intelligent kid trying to figure out who he was.

Mona Shores high school is bullying a self-assured teen and student body into conforming to their wishes.

We encounter bullies in all aspects of our daily life when people who are insensitive, rude, or manipulative do things to make us do things we don’t like.

Utah Phillips didn’t like bullies, but he was able to use his humor and wit to chastise the Bum on the Plush while raising the Bum on the Log. We would do better as a society, a citizen in our communities, if we stood up stronger against bullies and insisted on compassion to rule our everyday lives because growing up is hard enough without all the added bullshit to make it harder.

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